Visiting The Elder Parents This Holiday Season With Your Small Kids?
What to watch for to keep them safe.
Going on vacation for the holidays and bringing your kids along is a great time for family bonding. Grandparents may be living farther away these days and only an occasional visit may be in the cards. While this may seem like a welcome relief to overworked and tired parents to have more adults in the house to amuse the kids, it may also carry some potential risks you may never have dreamed of. Don’t let up on the parenting while visiting elders but rather be higher on alert until you can assess the surroundings.
As we grow older, we like to remember our elders as the people who took care of us, nurtured us when we needed it and protected us at all costs. What we forget is that our elders are aging and a few years between visits may seem like a lifetime when you open the door to visit.
Once the ‘kids’ are out of the house; we tend to release all our worries and just live freely with no ‘reasons why’ we do things. Medications can be left where ever we choose, laundry can sit for days or weeks, the kitchen can take over a whole new design with convenience in mind and our lifestyle may take on a whole new look.
When health concerns start to filter into the picture, you may not be aware of the tools to monitor a disease or the treatments that are done in the home. If your elders have not told you about their health; it is very important to read the signs very quickly and determine what is going on in the home before settling down ‘for a long winters nap’. Just closing your eyes may prove to hold significant risks to your child’s life or health.
First: ask the questions of the people you will be staying with prior to your visit:
- How they are feeling: they may say ‘oh, my knees have been hurting and I am not getting around too well’. That may indicate a walker or cane in the house. Additional medications may be at arm’s reach and the home may be less taken care of than what is normally expected.
- Have they been sick lately: an example might be an elder had pneumonia for the last few months and now they are ‘feeling much better and looking forward to your visit’? However the germs may in in the home, on dirty laundry and things that have not been properly cleaned since they have been sick. Ever wonder why when you go on vacation to someone’s home and return sick?
- What is their routine when you are there: they may say ‘oh, I go to get my blood tested every few days’. That may tell you they have a medical condition that needs constant monitoring. While they may think it is no big deal and they appear to be fine, a medical test is a sign of something that is important. Note the process and see what you can find out. An example may be a person on blood thinning medication and getting tested for clotting of the blood. That would be important if you have your kids at their home and while enjoying the holidays with many people talking and moving about, the elder could become hurt and it not noticed until it becomes a medical crisis. Know beforehand.
There have been many times that parents don’t tell their kids that something is wrong with them until they come to visit and the bombshell gets dropped. You may never know your parent might be having cancer treatments, may be bed ridden, may have had a life threatening medical crisis or is at the end of their life until you get there. Ask questions prior and see what you may sense is going on. You never know until you ask and they may say ‘you never asked’ in their defense.
More questions that may be important to ask before your visit:
- Do your elders have any appointments while you are there: this may indicate a need for you to change you holiday joy filled family adventures to accommodate your elder and help take them where they need to go. It may also signal there is an issue they are not saying with their health.
- Ask if they would like help with anything while you are there: to know if they have set things aside and could ask for help when you come is a great time to check out their ability and ease of living alone perhaps or just make things easier for them in daily living
- Is there any possibility that it will be a burden to stay with them: many elders are on a fixed income and may not want to say they do not have the funds to stock the refrigerator or to turn up the heat 24/7 or to have cable for the kids to watch? Increased health problems may take all their expendable cash and you may not even know. People have taken to reducing their entire life to purchase lifesaving drugs. Ask questions no matter how uncomfortable you feel about it now, you would feel worse if you expected something and got another when you opened the door for a holiday visit.
- Ask questions about changes in the home since you were last there: you may have moved out years ago and expected your old room to be the same or turned into a guest room. What you may not know is that your parents now sleep in different rooms due to health conditions or other reasons. To ask them to ‘go back to the way things were’ may be more difficult than you realize. There may also be rooms special for medical devices or machines which you are unaware of.
When you knock on the door and it opens:
Do not leave kids out of your sight until you scan the home quickly.
See if it meets your standards of safe. Check all rooms, doors, and floors. A baby crawling on a floor that hasn’t been vacuumed can find a diabetic needle faster than your eyes. Kids love adventure and a new space is like an amusement park to them, fun and new paths to blaze.
Assign one adult per kid to be required to not let your eyes off until the area is deemed safe. Even after you feel ok about taking a nap, consider taking shifts to keep things safe.
Alert: Here are a few items that seem very safe and if you have not been exposed to them in your home, your children may become intrigued by their presence at their arm’s length.
Wearables: testing wearable monitors may be linked to blue tooth and if the child puts them on, a warning reading may alert professionals of a change from normal. The inconsistency in information may alter test results or incomplete monitoring post or pre medical interventions.
Blood pressure cuffs: they seem benign in danger as they are literally everywhere these days. They can be found at the grocery store, the mall and in many homes whether the residents are sick or not. The danger is when a child straps on the cuff and hits the button to check the blood pressure; the machine will pump up until it finds it resting point to get a reading. Some kids have been known to put them around their heads, legs, arms and neck without a second thought and the pressure that is automated does not stop when a child starts to scream. When seconds count, aborting the pressure increase is very scary and sometimes hard to do. Just keep them up very high and never show kids that it is ‘fun’ to take your blood pressure. It is a medical test and it is for only the people who can control the machine. Never take a child’s blood pressure with any device, ever, no questions asked.
Breathing machines: with fancy masks and smelling medications can affect a child within seconds. Just bringing the mask close to the face can smother a child with the nose and mouth both covered and panic sets in. A child can pass out rather quickly and never think that your ‘breathing machine’ might help them in any way. There is no instance in the world that children should be exposed to a breathing machine. CPAP machines, nebulizers, or anything that alters the air you breathe should be at arm’s reach in your home. Essential oils, vaporizers and diffusers should never be used in the home with the child unless it is something the parents brought with them. Breathing and air items may carry germs that are normal to the daily user but foreign to someone else. If they have been using a diffuser for an extended period of time, they are used to it. If kids have never been exposed to it, they may have symptoms or a reaction to something that is new to them. Even putting on a mask of a CPAP machine to ‘play’ can transmit germs that can prove to be a danger to a child. Remember that play activities with adult devices may lead to experimentation as a teen and, well, you can take it from there.
Diabetes testing needles and insulin syringes:
Can be a daily experience for an elder and having them lying around the house is common for them and they just don’t see what the big deal is. They may carry them around in their purse, have them on the kitchen table, or on the coffee table since it makes it easier to do testing or inject insulin if they are in reach. A child may want to ‘play Dr.’ and get you these items to ‘help Nanna’ but that would also take away the fear they should have for touching any such items. While diabetes is a condition where the necessity of having insulin at a moment’s notice may occur, this is a time where your kids may be informed but they are not the responsible party to rescue an adult in crisis. Know what is safe for the age of your child and act accordingly. If you don’t know the risks, ask a healthcare professional prior to your visit.
It is not enough to tell the kids to keep away from such items, it may only increase their tendency to check them out when you are away or not close by and the results may be devastating
Medications, vitamins and supplement food items:
These items are common in many homes regardless of the age. While your child may take ‘gummie vitamins’ at home, it does not in any way signify the safety of the adult ‘gummie’ items. You have no idea what is in them and neither do your kids. Even a tiny piece of chocolate on a bedside table can look like candy but it can be a powerful laxative. Vitamins come in all shapes and sizes these days. They look cool, they smell intriguing and if the ‘squish’ and ‘feel cool’ they are on your kid’s radar. A gel capsule with orange liquid is ‘neat’ to squeeze until it pops and see what is inside can amuse kids for hours but the potential for ingestion is high and even just the residue on their hands can harm them. Let us also remember the ‘little blue pill’ that can be found in many homes these days, but what may not be recognized is the potential to find them in any location in the home and even on the floor or under a furniture piece. Out of sight does not indicate safety. Many animals become ill with items that are unknowingly dropped on the floor.
Edibles and smoking items should not be used in the presence of visiting kids unless their parents are present. Hiding the use of these items and doing it when the ‘big people’ are out runs the risk of signaling to the kids that secrets are ok and that they are doing something that is cool and should be done when no adults are around. That could lead to a potential that they use the items when no one is around and in secret. Teens may gravitate towards grandparent’s medicine box when they are on a visit to see what they can experiment with.
Child safety caps and bottles:
May not always provide the protection you need to not worry about kids getting into things. A child safe cap can be turned over and used for ease in opening and you may never have thought of that. Kids can open almost anything these days. Never allow items to be at eye level for kids, from the refrigerator to the table to the bed to the television room, purse or car. All it takes is a second for a child to find something. Example: a child gets into the purse of an elder that is left on the table, a child opens a prescription bottle and takes a few, they then come running to you when they start to ‘feel funny’ and you have no clue what they took or where they got it from since you don’t know where they were in the house in the first place, precious moments pass and you try to assess the problem, not knowing there is an issue the child may fall asleep or pass out, you don’t think much or you let the child sleep, is that a risk you are willing to take? Anything that goes into your mouth is enticing to go into their mouths with no reason. Be alert, always.
Electric beds or chairs:
They seem like fun and an elder with a medical condition can put the child on the automated bed or chair for ‘a ride’ and not think anything of it. Automated devices for ease of use can be set to a patient’s level of comfort and they are not toys. A chair that rises to help a person to stand is a medical device. A hospital bed that is in the home for comfort to rise and lower is a medical device. It is important to note that a child’s arm or body part can get into a space that is moving on a chair of bed and since it is automated, it does not recognize an arm in the way and will continue to proceed to the setting designated. Once it engages a body part it is very hard to pull your arm out. Example: try this with your seat in your car. Set a pair of reading glasses on the car seat where you would sit. Hold the button on the seat that raises the back forward or back and see what happens to the glasses after a few seconds. They can be destroyed. Automated items do not stop when they meet resistance, they continue.
Kids love them, they grew up with them, they rule their lives and they see absolutely no reason why they cannot play with them. Parents have given kids remotes when they were babies to ‘play with’ when the baby would scream since they felt it was ‘just a remote’ and safe. Kids have learned how to point and push and see what changes in their environment. Now these remotes can move an electric chair, control medical devices, regulate treatment machines and be used for just about anything these days. Keypads like mini computer screens are all around on medical devices, even medication dispensing machines or monitoring devices. If these items are in the home, the children should never be left alone in this home. It indicates a medical condition that under constant treatment and recording for the safety and care of the patient. At no time should these devices be played with or ‘tested out’. If there are any times when a device was altered, alert the medical professionals immediately to assess the risk of device settings being changed or potential unknowing danger to the patient.
After reading all these potential issues in an elder home, does it instill a level of fear in your thoughts about making a visit to grandmother’s house? The intention here is to expose you to potential dangers in the environment you enter that you may never be aware of. It is so much safer and better to learn risks than to be claiming you had no idea when a disaster occurs.
Holidays are a light hearted time to spend precious moments with loved ones you may not see for years. It is also a time where the challenges of a loved one come to light and you may feel you are unprepared for the visit. While it is great to sleep ‘at Nanna’s’; you are the parents and you can take a day or so and stay at a hotel until you can check things out in the home for any potential risks for your kids prior to staying there overnight. If you have wandering kids at night, be on alert.
Enjoy the holiday times with ease and safety forming great memories with your loved ones; notice how the time goes by very quickly and breathe it in while you can.