Family Visits with Ill Parents

Family VisitsFamily visits are typical in South Florida during the winter months.  Many adult sons and daughters will visit their elder parents at least once a year to enjoy the sunshine. When an older parent has a disease or illness, some preparation from all sides are warranted.  When a mother or father has a degenerative disease and the adult children haven’t seen them in a while, it is very important to bring everyone up to date. Whether the impairment is cognitive (Alzheimer’s or Dementia) or physical (Parkinson Disease, ALS, Multiple Sclerosis) if there has been a progression in the disease since the last visit, it can be shocking to the family members.  Even if the offspring do not listen or want to hear about their mother or father getting worse, it is important that they are told and warned of what to expect. Family visits are anticipated by all and when there is impairment or other challenges, more planning is prudent. Remember, this winter trip to Florida may also be the children’s vacation and may include the grandchildren or great-grandchildren. If that is the case, everyone has expectations for the same number of days. Since you know your parent has an illness or disease, you may want to do some research about resources and other ideas before your visit. You may also use the visit to observe how each parent is doing and what may be of help to each. Remember, you are visiting and leaving. Your caregiver parent is staying and likely doing the best they can or know how to do. No need to be critical of them or any other local family member.  Make mental notes and discuss it when a discussion can be planned or even after the visit.

Rally for the Kids

One parent, the caregiver parent, may be in routine communication with their sons and druthers and describe how much help is needed, or how apathetic or stubborn the unwell parent can be and when the family visits, they find anything but. This can make the Caregiver partner feel embarrassed or angry, as if”they’ve made the whole thing up”, when what has happened is the impaired parent has rallied.  They are on their best behavior and doing more. It may be the excitement of having their children there but it does not last. Then when the adult children (“Chadults”) leave, they collapse and the caregiver spouse has to “pick up the pieces”.

Communication is Key for Family Visits

Check to see if the dates of your visit work well for your parents.

Discuss Lodgings – will you be staying in your parent’s home or elsewhere?

Expectations of Meals – Do you plan on eating many meals at your parents’ home, or just meeting them for a few meals? Who is paying? Are diets and strict mealtimes understood?

Planning Activities – Have you checked with your parents on what they’d like to do? Have you told them what you are planning to do, especially if children or teens are there?

Consider each other’s schedules and routines. If your aging parent has a diet to stick to, a medication schedule and exercise routine to do it must be built into the plan.

Speak about expectations – what each parent and son or daughter wants or expects from this family visit – regarding time, costs, activities and family “business” to be accomplished.

The goal is for everyone to have good time, certain things to get done and a quality visit. If the Caregiver parent is secretly planning to let their son or daughter – or an in-law take over as caregiver so that the parent can have respite time, it best is discussed beforehand. Try to avoid situations that will become uncomfortable or lead to resentments. If each person has their own private plan, no one will be happy, because a family of diverse people needs a “family plan” as well as the individual plans within the group.

Family get to-gethers by nature can be stressful, especially over holidays. If the visiting family knows what to expect, they will be better emotionally prepared and better able to help. Remember, the caregiver parent sees and manages their spouse daily and are “used” to or familiar with the changes. It can be very jarring for a son or daughter to see their mother or father sick or impaired. Denial works better a distance. Keep the surprises happy ones.