Are you in one of those families that conveniently looks the other way? Sure, it might be acceptable to look the other way when Cousin Fred has a mid-life crisis and buys a motorcycle or when Aunt June starts wearing a bad wig. Don’t get involved, it’s not your business, right? However, looking the other way from an elder who is physically declining or suffering from isolation and depression could be devastating in the long run. Here are the signs that a family meeting is overdue.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), every second of every day an older adult falls in the United States making falls the number one cause of death in this demographic group. If your loved one has fallen in the past year or reports an increase in injuries, unsteadiness, or an amplified fear of falling; they may be overdue for a discussion with their physician. It’s possible that they may need to re-evaluate their medications, increase their vitamin D or engage in some strengthening and balance exercises to reduce the risk of falls. In some cases, the physician may suggest that living alone is no longer a good idea. Remember, looking the other way when it comes to falls may mean that your loved one could lie on the floor with a painful injury for hours and sometimes days before they are found. Save your family this heartache and protect your loved one by starting the conversation immediately.
We can all be forgetful from time to time but continued displays of confusion and forgetfulness must be addressed. Many families put off an honest discussion in fear of obtaining a much avoided diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease. Sometimes, looking the other way is a coping mechanism when you fear the worst. It is important to understand that confusion in older adults is not always related to a memory loss diagnosis. The diagnostic approach is exhaustive and could include a variety of considerations why your loved one is struggling. In some cases, the disruption to normal thought patterns can be caused by a disturbed sleep-wake cycle, deep depression or emotional stress, a urinary tract infection or even a medication change to only name a few. If your loved one has increased confusion, it’s time to set a family meeting and get them connected to their physician to discuss next steps.
Apparent loneliness, helplessness or boredom:
Have you ever noticed that the media portrays older people as lonely and purposeless? Movies seem to depict scenes that promote this idea as the norm. IT IS NOT THE NORM! If your family has somehow accepted this as the norm for your loved one, you are failing them. All of humanity needs companionship, something bigger than ourselves to be a part of and something meaningful to do each day. This is central to our well-being and must not be ignored for the older generation. Loneliness is a desire for companionship that isn’t available and helplessness is the desire to contribute to the world in some way and yet having no outlet to do so. Finally, boredom occurs when our world lacks variety and spontaneity. Does that seem to describe your loved one’s day-to-day experience? If so, this is a dangerous state of being, one that eventually leads to depression, physical decline and a disengaged lifestyle. You owe it to these patriarchs to begin a conversation about how they can be fully fulfilled in their lives.
Understanding what’s next
Once you’ve decided that a family meeting must occur, you’ll need to gather the key players and make sure everyone understands the totality of the issues at hand. In this process, you’ll want to make sure that your loved one has a seat at the table because their autonomy and voice is vital for understanding the best way forward. Remember, you are honoring them by no longer ignoring these issues that are detrimental to their well-being and continuing to honor them by seeking their input. All in all, this family meeting may not be easy, but doing the right thing rarely is.
In some cases, the conversation may lead to a discussion about living alone versus moving into a retirement community. Be prepared for that moment in the discussion and the emotions it may bring. You’ll want understand the Eden Alternative Domains of Well-Being: identity, growth, autonomy, security, connectedness, meaning and joy, as a baseline for the recipe for true wellness and fulfillment. Looking after their best interest is not simply just a clinical care concern, it’s about soul care too. You’ll need to consider how to tend to their deeper needs in tandem with their medical needs to help them live life to the fullest.
This is a journey for your family, one that must start with a conversation. No more looking the other way, it’s time for a family meeting.