Today we are talking about strategies for successful family gatherings with seniors.  This time of year, families across the country are getting together to spend time with one another.  Older adults get to visit their loved ones and catch up which is great, but that also comes with some obstacles.  So how do you get through a day of family catherings with senior loved ones?  Listen and find out!

 

Successful Family Gatherings with Seniors

Ryan McEniff:
Hello everybody and welcome to episode number two of The Caregivers Toolbox, Tools for Everyday Caregiving. My name is Ryan McEniff and I’m here with Janet and today we’re going to be talking about how to best include an older loved one during family holiday gatherings. Whether that gathering is for just five people or 50 people, everybody’s trying to catch up, have great conversation, have great food, enjoy each other’s company. We want to make sure that you have a great plan to execute when you have an older adult that is going to be attending one of these family gatherings. What’s going on, Janet? How are you doing?

Janet:
I’m doing well. I’m battening down the hatches and getting ready for the holidays myself and I’m looking forward to it.

Ryan McEniff:
Excellent, excellent. We’re going to start out with the first thing that I would imagine somebody needs to talk about if you think chronologically throughout the day is going to be the transportation and getting somebody prepared to take the journey to a loved-ones house, correct?

 

Vehicles, Personal Items, Seniors & Family Gatherings

Janet:
Yes. I think that a lot of times there are many families where somebody in the family is going to go and pick up mom or dad or grandma or if you’re lucky, great-grandma, and bring her to the house and you want to be prepared to make sure you have what you need once you get to the house. Once they’re all ready to go and dressed and waiting by the window looking for you, when you get to go in I think it’s always helpful to say, “Do you have everything? Do you have a sweater in case you’re cold.” Ask them if there’s any medications they have to take in the course of the day. You want to make sure that you either have their pillbox, or you have the actual bottle, so you know what it is they’re supposed to take, and any other things that they might need in the course of the day at the family gathering.

If it’s someone that has trouble getting in and out of a car, sometimes you want two people to go along, just to safely get them in and out. A lot of people have issues these days. It’s best not to send the person with the SUV to pick up mom or dad because it’s too hard for them to climb up into the tree-house to get in the car. You want to think about those things so issues don’t come up at the family gathering.

Ryan McEniff:
I was just going to say, even though somebody might be willing to go pick up grandma, just because you have a pick-up truck that can go through the snow doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the best vehicle to pick grandma up in.

Janet:
Exactly. Exactly. We have that problem all the time. So many people have bigger cars now.

 

Family Gathering: Safety in the Home

Ryan McEniff:
One of the next steps that I think that’s involved with this, after you can get, you have an idea of how to get grandma or great-grandma if you’re lucky, like you said, to whoever’s home is dealing with safety in the home, right?

Janet:
Absolutely.

Ryan McEniff:
Some of the basic things that when we’re talking with a client, and these are just kind of the bare minimums that we suggest when somebody’s getting older, is you get rid of a lot of the throw rugs in the house because that’s a tripping hazard. Really, anything that’s a tripping hazard is best to remove and put into the spare bedroom or the office, just to get it out of the way.

Another thing that people might not think about, but makes a big difference, is that a lot of older adults, whether they’re in a wheelchair, but a lot of them are using a walker for assistance walking, removing some of the doors from the door hinges can open up the door frame enough that a walker can get through it. That can make life a lot easier for people at family gatherings and also it brings you a little bit room for people to move through the house as well and not have the door be impeding that movement, but it’s also great for the senior as well.

Another thing that’s big is things that are low to the ground and we’ll put these three into that category of toys, pets, and children. Though, they’re all amazing on their own, they are not necessarily the best thing to have running and on the ground when somebody is unsteady on their feet at a family gathering. So, making sure that pets are put into a spare room or removed from an area that the senior’s going to be in. Toys are taken off the ground or maybe there played with the children in a separate room so there’s less of a chance of tripping and falling or things like that.

Also, one of the more important things is bathrooms. Having somebody designated to help somebody at least get in and out of the bathroom, opening up a door for a person so they have privacy, and they have access to get in and out of the bathroom is very important. Because if somebody’s going to be at a family gathering for five hours or eight hours, they’re eventually going to be needing to use the restroom. Those are some things just around the house, would you agree, that are needed or do you think there are some things that need to be added?

Janet:
No, I think those are all very good points. The idea of toys and kids and pets, one of the issues with them is they’re not stationary. They’re constantly in motion and sometimes if an elderly person is perfectly comfortable to sit in that nice stuffed chair in the living and watch the show, then kids can be playing with toys or whatever. But I think it’s good if ahead of time someone decides who’s going to keep an eye on mom or who’s going to keep an eye on dad. Maybe even take turns. You, or one of your older kids, are there for a little while, then maybe your sister comes in or someone else. It’s just a matter of letting them be, letting them enjoy, but keeping an eye on things.

Ryan McEniff:
Absolutely and I’m not here to say that you’re going to get the kids to stay in one room with all the toys for eight hours.

Janet:
Never going to happen.

Ryan McEniff:
No, but it’s just being cognizant of trying to do your best in the situation and realizing that it might an uphill challenge, but it’s a worthy challenge to take on.

 

Social Engagement at Family Gatherings

Ryan McEniff:
The next step that we had decided was social engagement and can you expand on how to help out mom or dad with the social engagement aspect of these family gatherings.

Janet:
Yeah, I found both through professional experience and personal experience that a number of elderly people have hearing issues and people think that if you talk louder it’s going to help. All it is really is more noise. In fact, often time what people do when there’s a lot of noise in a room is they shut their hearing aids off, so now they’re hearing less than they otherwise would. To be aware of that, and the best thing you can do is make sure you have the person’s attention and ask a simple question. If there’s kids running around and there’s screaming and the hearing aid’s not on, you want to be able to still make contact and let them enjoy themselves. Maybe you just touch mom on the shoulder or something and say, “Isn’t the tree nice?” You have communication they’re not isolated, but understand that a lot of noise is both … It’s hard to hear, they don’t understand, and it’s also sometimes painful and tiring. That can be one of the bigger issues.

It’s also easier if one or two people are having a conversation or visiting with them. Maybe grandma is sitting in a chair in the corner, but somebody’s over there just being with them, looking at the tree, talking to people, but not expecting her or him to be in the center of everything that’s going on. A lot of times grandparents love to just sit and watch the kids with their toys. They’re in as much amazement because these toys didn’t exist when they were little. It can be fun for everyone, but it’s kind of nice to have somebody that’s the team captain, so to speak, to help them enjoy the time.

Ryan McEniff:
Yeah, I think it’s that balance of making sure somebody feels that they’re not left out of the socialization, but also making sure that they are not over … That they don’t feel that there’s …

Janet:
Overstimulated.

Ryan McEniff:
Exactly. Thank you for helping me out on that one. It’s a fine line. It’s not perfect but it’s certainly something you can strive to do.

Janet:
You don’t want it to be a full-time job for one person, because then they can’t enjoy the day.

Ryan McEniff:
Absolutely. With that being said, what about, we’ve gotten through the cocktail hour and now we’re kind of getting to the main meal, the ham or the turkey or whatever your family prefers to eat is being cooked and it’s ready to go. What about dietary restrictions for somebody that’s older.
Janet:
Well, it’s important to know whether there’s something that they should or should not eat and most older people are on a sodium restricted diet. The irony is that salt is what a lot of elderly people crave, because as you get older your sense of taste diminishing, so you give something flavor by dumping salt on it. It’s a catch-22 for them, but I think that for most people they don’t want to feel singled out. If you’re sitting there with a whole bunch of people and you’re 85, you just want to be like everybody else and you don’t want someone treating you like a child in a high chair.

I think often time if you know what it is to know what they can and cannot eat and a lot of times the Christmas is just packed with food and people are passing plates around, sometimes it’s easier to make mom or dad’s plate. Just someone get up, you or a family member and put what they they in a small portion on the plate and say, “We’re spare you from having to hand dishes around.” You put their plate in front of them with an appropriate portion and it looks nice and it’s enjoyable. You also have to remember, as you mentioned earlier, if they’re in a wheelchair or if they have trouble getting up and out of a chair, where do you sit them. Usually, dad’s at the head of the table on the holidays, but maybe mom moves to the side so the wheelchair can come up to the end of the table. You don’t to have grandma go have to sit at the kids table just because there’s no room for her at the main table. Those kinds of things.

 

The End of the Family Gathering

Ryan McEniff:
Absolutely. In my opinion, whatever is easiest for the person that has the most physical trouble getting up or getting down is more important in the positioning of the table than anybody being at the head of the table or things like that. But that’s just my personal opinion and some people might want to stick to tradition.  Now that we’ve gotten through dinner, everybody’s tired. They’re stuffed, the pie, they’ve had three pieces of pie too many.

Janet:
The turkey’s kicking in.

Ryan McEniff:
Yeah, the turkey’s kicking in and the wine and whatever else is going on and everybody’s tired, so if you’re 40 or 50 years old and you’re already tired, what’s going on with the 80 year old that’s been going since 8 o’clock in the morning? What do we do about fatigue? What do we do when we can see that somebody’s starting to run out of gas?

Janet:
That’s a time you have to really be careful because when someone is tired, us or anybody, you’re more of a fall risk and the kids are also tired, so they probably left the toys on the floor and somebody forgot and let the dog back in. There’s even more, obstacles. If your mom or dad want to sit on the couch and relax, maybe they need a footstool to put their feet up. Maybe they want to just quietly sit and not talk and just take in the scenery that’s occurring at the family gathering.

My grandmother was notorious for after dinner at family gatherings wanting to sit in a big chair that was near the tree and just sit there. She was just happy looking at ornaments and seeing that the kids have grown and that’s a nice thing, because that’s giving them good memories to take from the dinner. But as the evening goes along, we need to remember that they still need enough energy to get ready for bed when they get home. So of all the revelers, someone who’s the designated driver for grandma needs to recognize that maybe they’re going to leave a little bit earlier than other people. Make sure that they’ve had a chance to use the bathroom before you leave and make sure that any gifts they have you put in a bag and said, “Okay, I’ll bring them home in the car.” Then you want to safely get them home and squared away in their house. Then they will have good memories, just like you will have had good memories at your family gatherings.

Ryan McEniff:
Absolutely, and you want to leave enough in the tank to be able to get them home and get them in bed safely as well. You don’t want them falling asleep in the back of the car and then figuring out how the heck am I going to get them inside and get them ready.

Janet:
Absolutely. Who’s got the key to mom’s house after you leave the family gatherings you go to? Because if it’s in the bottom of that purse, you could be out on a cold porch for a little bit.

 

Wrapping Up Family Gatherings with Seniors

Ryan McEniff:
This gives our listeners a better idea of how to plan for a day like this. Again, we at the Caregiver’s Toolbox try to provide tools for everyday caregiving. Hopefully, you found this beneficial. This is will wrap up our second episode. We’re really getting deep into it. If you have questions or comments, please reach out to us on Twitter. Our handle’s @mwhomecare. Thank you very much for listening. Have a great holiday and we’ll see you next week or you’ll hear us, from us, next week. Have a good day.  Thanks again for listening to strategies for successful family gatherings with seniors.