The end of a two-year holiday hiatus – family gatherings can be a wellness check-in
As we come back together for the holidays after nearly two years apart, family gatherings can be a wellness check-in opportunity for our aging parents

November 22, 2021

Matt Cookson

elderly man at a holiday dinner with hand on his shoulder

The holidays in late 2021 are likely to be even more special and welcoming for many families who have gone upwards of two years without a larger, celebratory gathering due to the pandemic. This might include meeting a new grandchild, niece, or nephew for the first time, or even a new partner or spouse. It’s also a great time to really check in with one another and have those in-person conversations that often fall short over Zoom or other online tools. This as an opportunity to ensure they are doing okay after a long gap of distance visiting.

Our family is hosting 18 people for Thanksgiving. For Christmas Eve, we’re at my sister-in-law’s house with about 15 people and the same for the next day at my mother-in-law’s house. Like many families, we have some visitors from far away and some who are flying for the first time since 2019. With very limited large family gatherings in 2020, a two-year period represents a significant amount of time and a lot can happen in that time. Undoubtedly, it will be a time of joy, and probably some discovery.

Think about the kids who were in 6th and 7th grade back in 2019. They’ve likely grown four to six inches since then. And there are the 11th graders from 2019 who have graduated high school and are back from a college break, in the workforce for the first time or serving in the military. There are also the ones who cannot be with us due to illnesses and other issues associated with aging, and those who have passed. In our families, our thoughts will undoubtedly turn to the two individuals who will not be at the table this year for the first time in decades.

Zoom and other tools have allowed us to maintain some visual connection with loved ones from afar which is nice but not the same as physically being together. This was a lifeline for many, including aging parents or relatives who have had limited direct contact with their families for a significant amount of time. However, video and phone calls do not provide a full look into your loved one’s life as you can get from an in-person visit or overnight stay. As families come together in late 2021, it’s worth doing an informal mental and physical health check-in to see how they have endured this history chapter we are living through known as COVID-19.

One specific thing you may want to look for is how our aging parents and relatives are getting by and if any lifestyle changes or additional help might be needed. Masking signs of early-stage dementia and memory loss can be easier over the phone. Being in-person, however, always provides a better sense of seeing those “senior moments” of forgetfulness but might be more than just that. Of those 65 and older, about 10.5% have a formal diagnosis and suffer from dementia. This rate jumps to 14% of those 70 and older (or one in seven). Many others may be undiagnosed.

There are several signs to look for, including the following:

  • Slippage of short-term memory and repetitiveness
  • Worsening ability to remember names or recent events
  • Less attention to appearance and grooming
  • Forgetting to pay bills or regularly taking medications
  • Heightened anxiety

While some individuals will write off minor changes in these areas as “senior moments” that come naturally with aging, others who recognize they are slipping a bit maybe in a state of denial. These are fine and sensitive lines and family members who have concerns should be cautious on how to respond – especially at a large and celebratory family gathering. It’s not a conversation to have over the holiday dinner table. It’s a private conversation that should be handled gracefully and tactfully.

Many of the holiday hosts – including myself – are in the sandwich generation. We’re middle-aged individuals literally sandwiched between our early adult-aged kids and our aging parents. Beyond being responsible for the turkey dinner, we are or will likely become the caregivers in some way for our aging parents – from a health perspective, financial perspective or both. This two-year holiday hiatus is a good time to consider if a post-holiday conversation is in order. If a concern arises, it might be time to take a more active role in understating their finances and the tools available today – such as Kincern – that allow for easy access and sharing. This blog post focuses on how to start these conversations around financial caregiving.

As 2021 nears an end, first and foremost we are looking forward to connecting with loved ones, getting overdue hugs, catching up in person, and creating or continuing traditions that will be extra special this year. Family will be celebrated well this year. Pass the mashed potatoes!

 Financial caregiving begins with Kincern.

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