Family Meetings During the Holidays

‘Tis the season for listening to holiday music, shopping special sales, sharing a nice meal, and spending time with the family. The holiday season is a perfect opportunity to gather to enjoy gifts and create new memories. It also allows family the time to reflect on memories of the past and to share their thoughts on how things have changed. Such change could be a new home, marriage, and grandchildren.

Change can be exciting for families, but it can also be very daunting. When generations of families gather for the holidays from around the country, some adult children are met with the sobering reality that the health condition of their parent has worsened since their last visit. Still other adult children who live closer to their elderly loved one have become familiar with their parent’s daily needs. Holiday gatherings can reveal that some adult children are familiar with the role of caregiver and others have yet to come to terms with their parent’s growing needs.

So what’s next? Take the opportunity of the family being together under one roof to have a family meeting. Remember that the intention of a family meeting is to be open and honest about observations of a loved one’s condition and future needs. It should be held in a comfortable setting where family members can feel less inhibited about sharing. Ensure that the elderly parent is included and consulted throughout the meeting. The intention is to have a collaborative discussion about concerns and next steps, not to simply “talk at” an older person who has long had a role of leader in the family unit. Be mindful of an elderly family member’s barriers to communicating effectively. Individuals with hearing impairments may have a great deal of difficulty following a conversation in a big group. Make sure to avoid speaking at the same time as another family member and to not speak too low or too fast.

Gerontologist Jeanette Franks further discusses the players and goals of a family meeting in her article titled “Guide to Elder Care Planning & Family Meetings.” To read the full article, visit http://www.aplaceformom.com/senior-care-resources/articles/elder-care-planning. She notes that the roles assumed by adult children and their siblings are influenced by a variety of factors, including culture and gender. For example, one sibling might volunteer to assist with lawn care and snow removal so that their parent is not burdened with this physically cumbersome work. That same sibling might not be comfortable with assisting with the personal care needs of their loved one such as bathing, toileting, and dressing—tasks essential to everyday success. Often the issue of overall safety is the primary discussion point in a family meeting which focuses on an elderly loved one. Remember to consider all perspectives and be willing to compromise, and to determine “back-up plans” to consider in the future. For example, Franks suggests coming up with about three possible senior communities to further research and visit. 

Participation in a Life Care Plan at Weatherby & Associates, PC can include the advocacy of our life care coordinator in the planning and execution of a successful family meeting. While the meeting may not solve all problems, it can help clarify ongoing concerns and move the family in the right direction. An objective third-party who is experienced with elder care issues can be a very helpful addition to the process. For more information on our practice, contact us at 860-769-6938.

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