Visiting the elder parents this holiday season with your small kids? What to watch for to keep them safe.

Part 1

Reading between the lines: Become an expert!

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.

We love our family members and know that things will change with time, however, time is a progression of life and it is not a stop and go process. It may not be noticed if grandma is not the same as last year, doesn’t remember your name or hasn’t had a cooked meal in years. Too many times, we laugh it off when an elder forgets something or things are amiss and that is not something to laugh about; it is a red flag. Pay attention!

Check your surroundings constantly and stay alert. Never leave your kids unattended, never!

Part 2: Medical devices that can harm children or those who are not alert as to their danger.