The Bells are having a special holiday season this year. December 22nd, both sets of parents will be coming as house guests and staying until the day after Christmas.  They are anticipating a time of fun, fellowship and food.   Unfortunately, if the Bells don’t plan adequately, the holiday season could instead be the time for falls, fiascos and frustration.

Carole loves decorating for Christmas. She and Edward purchase a Christmas ornament to commemorate every trip they take. They add other festive decorations every year so that every room is embellished. Some items require extension cords to reach an electrical outlet. These can foster falls.  Fortunately, Edward runs all cords are safely along the walls, but not underneath rugs. Carole makes certain larger things, like carolers, Santa Clauses and reindeer that sit on the floor are placed out of walking paths.

Carole loves a live tree, but Edward’s mother is allergic to cedar, fir and pine. This year the Bells will settle for an artificial version. Carole’s father recently had a knee replacement and, although he has graduated from walker to cane, Carol has taken up small area rugs and stored them for the occasion.               

Carole’s mother is in middle-stage Alzheimer’s. Her father has mentioned that clutter creates confusion for her. Consequently, the Bells are paring down their decorations and have removed knickknacks around the house to avoid triggering that reaction.

Both Edward’s and Carole’s parents frequently bemoan the fact that so many of their friends have passed on. Carole’s mother sometimes tears up over having lost the ability to cook for the family as she used to. The Bells plan to be alert to signs of sadness and depression in their parents during the visit.  I they notice that something isn’t right, they are prepared to be especially empathetic. They will ask about medication and if one has been prescribed for depression or anxiety, make certain it is taken. If symptoms become acute, they plan to seek medical attention.

As a precaution against depression, all year long, but especially leading up to the holiday visit, Edward and Carole have engaged in regular phone and email contact with their parents, so that they feel cared for and loved.

Carole and Edward have noticed that their parents have become less able to tolerate conflict as they have aged. They used to be able to discuss attitudes about social issues and politics with civility. In recent years, when such topics are brought up, their parents have become argumentative, creating discord and dissension.  Carole and Edward have made a pact not to turn on the news and never to bring up politics or any other unpleasant topics of conversation to avoid pushing their parents’ combative buttons.        

Carole’s father is on a low-salt diet due to high blood pressure. Edward’s father is borderline diabetic. The Bells are planning the menus for the season with sensitivity toward these dietary restrictions. They have decided to serve buffet-style so that each guest can pick and chose those items that fit within their allowed boundaries. Since they realize Carole’s mother may not be capable of avoiding harmful food choices on her own, Carole will serve her plate for her.

Carole and Edward realize their parents have become accustomed to quieter environments than hose they will experience during their Christmas visit. Consequently, the extra noise generated by the number of people in the home and the number of devices emitting sound is likely to get on their parents’ nerves.

To manage the problem, the Bells have made some thoughtful accommodations. Among these, they have purchased earphones that can be used for the television sets, tablets, computers, smart phones and other audio devices. These will allow individuals to create unique sound settings without disturbing others.

Follow the Bell’s lead and prepare for a Merry Christmas and happy holiday season. Come up with your action plan that suits the individual needs of your family. Happy Holidays!

Sandra W. Reed is an attorney with Katten & Benson, an Elder Law firm in Fort Worth. She lives in beautiful Somervell County, near Chalk Mountain. If you have questions about this column or wish to suggest a topic of interest.