This time of year can be an eye-opener for adult children of aging parents.

Going “home” can mean finding out that mom or dad isn’t doing as well as you thought.

With the traditional “holiday” season and New Year under our belt, many adult children have recently been with family.  For many, this is a time to visit and reconnect with family we may not see throughout the year. For many, going “home” is an event that is anticipated all year long. Adult children return home expecting to taste Bubby’s homemade recipes or to simply relax and experience Mom and Dad’s familiar home.

For some adult children, their visit home may yield some surprises.   They discover Bubby’s refrigerator is empty, except for a few items that expired a month ago, and she has not cooked in months. She has also lost a great deal of weight. You find Mom and Dad’s home filled with clutter, piles of old newspapers and a month’s worth of unopened mail.

Suddenly this time of year takes on a whole new meaning and brings with it questions and concerns.  How did this happen?  Are they safe living on their own?   Should they continue to drive?  Is she safe using the stove?  Will he remember to bathe?  Can they maintain their house?  Will they remember to take their medications?

As Americans age, some will face problems with their cognition or thinking. Cognition involves a number of skills, including memory, orientation, judgment, problem recognition/solving, decision-making, attention, sequencing, and frustration tolerance. “Often problems in these areas are not noticed by family until a crisis arises such as a fall or a hospitalization” states Andrea Horvath, Director of Therapy for Sholom.  Often an aging relative may notice problems or changes in themselves but do not want their family members to know.  Suddenly adult children are forced to make decisions about their loved one’s finances, health, safety, and appropriateness of the current living environment.

When a family is faced with these questions they often feel overwhelmed, alone, and unsure of available resources.    Families are often reluctant to “pry”. They do not want to “offend” their loved one by suggesting they need assistance.  So, they take notice of the situation and continue to check-in and evaluate.  “I see families that leave it to fate.  Mother or father are left at home until something drastic happens which forces an immediate decision”, states Linda Kulseth, Admissions Coordinator for Sholom Home West.   Other families will make their best guess and hope the level of assistance put in place is adequate.

“It does not have to be a guessing game.  Families don’t have to wait for a crisis to make a decision.  There are signs and “red flags” that can be recognized to be able to make the right choice,” states Kulseth.

One resource that can be assist families in identifying “red flags” is an Occupational Therapist. By engaging individuals in several predetermined activities the therapist is able to make an assessment of the individual’s cognition, identifying the individual’s current abilities as well as existing deficits.  Once determined, the therapist can interpret the meaning of the results to the family and caregivers providing them with strategies for care, ideas how they can intervene, i.e. how to compensate for the skills their loved one no longer has, and offers recommendations for appropriate level of supervision to assure safety”  states Horvath.  Horvath observes that with information provided by the Occupational Therapists, “families often report an increased sense of confidence and feel more equipped to make informed decisions regarding the health and safety of their loved ones.”

“The end of the year visits home are a huge eye opener for many adult children,” comments Kulseth.  “Our phone is the busiest in January after adult children recognize from their visit that their loved one is declining. If families knew there was a way to predict and get accurate strategies to meet their frail loved one’s needs I believe they would feel more confident in their decisions and avoid crisis.”

If you are interested in learning more about Occupational Therapy or other Sholom services, in St. Paul call 651-328-2000. In St. Louis Park call 952-935-6311.  Andrea Horvath can assist you with an evaluation through Sholom Home Care.