It’s always wonderful to come home for the holidays. Like many families across the country, my family gathers in December to celebrate our favorite holiday traditions. Every year we make time to get together not only with my immediate family and my siblings families but we also make time for our extended family, my parent’s siblings and their children and grandchildren. It’s quite a group when we all meet up a week before Christmas to celebrate the Polish tradition of Wigilia. Yes, it’s not on Christmas Eve, but we like it and it brings to mind all my childhood Christmas’ at my grandparent’s house. As the family gets larger and more spread out across the country, this may be the only time all year that we see some of our relatives.
A number of years ago, the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (N4A) through the national Eldercare Locator (www.eldercare.acl.gov) started a “Home for the Holidays” campaign to encourage discussion of important issues affecting older Americans at a time of the year when family and friends often gather together. The holidays are the perfect time to get everyone on the same page about many different issues that face us as we get older and to talk about resources that are available to help families deal with the changing needs of our relatives as they age.
Locally if you know an older adult who needs a program or service you can call the Chautauqua County Office for Aging and our NY Connects helpline. Our specially trained operators talk you through local programs and services available to help seniors stay independent and living in the community for as long as possible. The Eldercare Locator is our national counterpart helping you to link with resources no matter where you live in all 50 states and U.S. Territories. The eldercare locator not only provides information about services, but also links you to the local Office for the Aging (aka Area Agency on Aging) where your relative lives. The Eldercare Locator is a free service and sponsored by the federal Administration for Community Living so you can be assured you are getting the best and most unbiased information.
Each year in the Home for the Holidays Campaign, the Eldercare Locator has published a resource guide for families around different topic areas. In 2012, they published “Protect Your Pocketbook, Tips to Avoid Financial Exploitation.” This is a growing problem that especially affects many older adults who are not as familiar with the technology and ruses used by today’s scam artists. The guide helps you identify the signs of financial exploitation and then guides you through the options of what to do about it. Another publication is, Let’s Talk: Starting the Conversation about Health, Legal, Financial and End-of-Life Issues. This is one of my favorites because too often I encounter families in the midst of a healthcare crisis with an aging parent. It is very difficult to get all the family to agree on care or make a decision in the middle of a crisis. So much of the stress that occurs at the end of life or during a serious healthcare event could be alleviated if we have those difficult conversations before the crisis occurs. How many of you have completed a healthcare proxy or discussed with your family and children what you want or don’t want at the end of life. This guide really talks families through all the issues facing the person and the family so you can proactively make some decisions and at least get everyone on the same page before a crisis occurs.
The 2017 Home for the Holidays campaign is focused on “Living Well with Dementia in the Community”. As the brochure states, “While longer lifespans bring great opportunities, older adults face an increased risk of developing a chronic condition or cognitive disorder. If you or a loved one is experiencing changes in self-management abilities, judgement, or behavior, it is important to recognize the difference between normal aging-related changes and something more serious like dementia.” It goes on to say “while living with the condition can be difficult, people with dementia and their caregivers can have independent, high-quality lives –especially when they are connected to local community services and supports.” Like end of life issues, dementia is a tough subject to discuss with family and especially older adults who fear that this will limit their independence and land them in a nursing home. This resource helps everyone to understand what dementia is and then guides through best practices to deal with cognitive changes and to maximize your life and independence.
Our National Association of Area Agencies on Aging and the Eldercare Locator are proud to be partnering with the Alzheimer’s Association, Dementia Friendly America, Dementia Friends USA and the Administration for Community Living on this year’s Home for the Holidays campaign. If you would like more information or a copy of any of the publications I mentioned contact the NY Connects helpline at (716) 753-4582, 661-7582, or 363-4582. To contact the Eldercare Locator you may call (800) 677-1116 or visit their website to search resources by location at www.eldercare.acl.gov.