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Coping with the holiday blues
Caring for a seriously ill family member can lend a tinge of blue to the holidays. It may be sadness that cherished family rituals are no longer possible. Or worry that this year will be the last for your loved one. Here are some ways to handle these common stressors.
It doesn’t have to be “all or nothing.” Even if some family customs are no longer realistic, embrace what’s still possible. And let go of the guilt-laden “shoulds.”
- Keep it simple. Perhaps you still gather at Mom and Dad’s, but order a precooked, take-out meal. Or have everyone contribute to the meal. Try to capture the essence in a way that no one person shoulders a big burden.
- Focus on the most meaningful activities. Your energy and your loved one’s energy are limited! Pick one ritual that truly gives you that holiday lift and consider any others an “extra gift” of the season.
Acknowledge the “anticipatory grief.” You’re not crazy if pulling out your holiday sweater brings on a bout of tears.
- A holiday can sharpen awareness of life’s impermanence. You may feel grief about the losses you have already experienced. And grief as you realize your loved one may not be with you next year. These feelings are normal. If possible, share them with someone who understands.
- Celebrate your loved one’s presence. Trying to “make this holiday the best” may distract you from spending quality time with your relative. Instead, take the opportunity to cherish what you have now, and revel together in shared memories of holidays past.
Maintain your normal self-care routines. In this season of extra stress, it’s especially important to get enough sleep, eat sensibly, and exercise regularly.
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If you must take away the keys
Driving performance, not age, dictates when it’s time to curtail driving. If your parent is showing problems with driving, it could be time for “that” conversation.
Ideally, you’ve set the stage through candid discussion over the past months or years. Perhaps you’ve even talked about how others have handled this phase-of-life issue. Sensitivity to your own emotions can help guide you when you talk with your loved one. It’s better to acknowledge the sadness than avoid the conversation and risk an accident.
- Consider who should deliver the news. It’s typically best received from a trusted family member or a health professional. Choose someone who can be supportive and empathetic. If Mom is able, have her talk to Dad, or vice versa. If it’s your role, go easy. Expect to have several conversations. Show your concern for maintaining your parent’s ability to get around and participate in life activities.
- Practice using alternatives. Work toward zero driving. Have family members and friends provide rides more often. Make it natural by saying, “Let’s go shopping together today.” Join Mom in trying public transportation. Arrange for home delivery of goods and for automated bank deposits/payments.
- Work with resistance. If Dad doesn’t follow through with promised changes, you need to take further action. See if the doctor will set limits. Remind Dad his behavior puts others at risk. Impose family restrictions, such as telling him he can no longer drive when the grandkids are in the car.
- Be firm. If all else fails, contact your state department of motor vehicles and find out how to report an unsafe driver. This will trigger a driver evaluation. If the license is revoked but your parent continues to drive, consider disabling the car or “losing” the keys.
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Making the transition from hospital to home
There’s a lot to do after bringing someone home from the hospital. The obvious goal is continued recovery. But roughly 20% of older adults are rehospitalized within 30 days because of problems that develop at home.
Research shows there are three things you can do to prevent a backslide. It’s important to get going on them even before your loved one is discharged.
- Understand the new medication schedule. Meet with the discharge planner to review medications. Bring a list of what your loved one was taking before hospitalization. If any of these drugs are not on the current list, ask if they should be restarted. Review each new medication. When should it be taken? How long should it be taken? Any side effects? Have new prescriptions phoned in to the pharmacy before you leave the hospital.
- See the doctor for follow-up within a week. Find out what doctor(s) your loved one should see. Request that the hospital forward records to all of them. Before you leave the hospital, call the doctor’s office to set up an appointment for the next week. You may need to be firm with the receptionist and explain that your loved one has just been hospitalized.
- Know the signs and symptoms of problems. Before leaving the hospital, consult with the discharge planner about what to expect. Ask them to group symptoms as “green light,” normal recovery. “Yellow light,” early signs of a possible problem. And “red light,” a significant problem. Find out what to do and who to call in case of yellow or red light symptoms.
Focusing on these three tasks can significantly speed recovery and reduce your family member’s chance of rehospitalization. If you are confused about any of these tasks, don’t be shy about asking questions. You want to be sure you understand what will be needed at home before you leave the hospital.
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