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Home for the Holidays

Many adult children get a wake-up call about their parents' health when visiting for the holidays. Anne Marie Gattari recalls her own situation and offers suggestions for those wondering "Now what?"

As the holidays come around again, I am reminded of how different Christmas was just a few short years ago -- when my parents were both alive and still independent. By Christmas of 2009, however, everything had changed. That was the year Mom’s dementia kicked into high gear (following a fall, surgery and repeated hospitalizations) and Dad, try as he did, realized he could no longer manage alone.

When my out of town siblings came home to visit that year, they were struck by how drastically Mom and Dad had changed. Until they spent a night or two with our parents, they had no idea. On the phone before their arrivals, I sensed they thought my in-town sisters and I had been exaggerating. They couldn’t quite understand why we were “always there.” Then they arrived and found out.

It’s a common scenario this time of year: Adult children who live out of town come home to spend the holidays with their elderly parents. Some see and experience first-hand what they had suspected throughout the year, but wanted to believe – needed to believe – that their parents were alright alone.

But then they saw it first hand: Their hygiene is not what it should be. The house isn’t as tidy as you remember it. The refrigerator is empty or filled with old food.

Even before Mom fell, my parents needed help but my sisters and I ignored it. Dad kept a pair of pliers next to Mom’s bed to help her fasten her bra in the morning. I can hear Dad cussing now: “Damn those tiny hooks.” And the meds…  Mom’s pills were often found on the floor and her insulin syringes remained filled and in the refrigerator.

Looking back, I see it in slow motion. It all happened so gradually, it was easy not to see. But after Mom’s surgery and rehab and hospital stays, we had to act. Like so many adult children in this situation, we asked: “Now what?”

While the situation can be overwhelming, there is no need to panic. There are many private-duty home care agencies like BrightStar of Grosse Pointe / Southeast Macomb, that specialize in helping families find a solution.

It’s difficult to make decisions during a short holiday visit. I faced similar challenges, and I didn’t have the added pressure of a flight departure date.

My advice to families in this situation is to buy yourself some time by getting help, even if it’s temporary, while you investigate longer term solutions. Call several local home care agencies before settling on one and ask these questions:

  • Are your caregivers certified as Certified Nursing Assistants or Certified Home Health Aides?
  • Are your employees insured and bonded?
  • Are they background-checked and drug-screened?
  • Does a Registered Nurse conduct the initial evaluation AND follow up with ongoing visits to the home?
  • How will your caregiver keep my loved one engaged throughout the day? What will they do to make the day cheerful and interesting?
  • Is your home care agency accredited by a third-party quality organization such as the Joint Commission. (Because Michigan doesn’t require a license for home care companies, BrightStar has voluntarily sought accreditation to ensure oversight by a renowned healthcare auditor.)

When you find an agency that you trust with a caregiver that your parent(s) look forward to seeing, you will have what you deserve to have: complete peace of mind. If you can’t be there to “take care of things,” know there are experts out there who can.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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