Tuesday, December 29, 2009

New Year's Resolutions

This barely filled space doesn't signify zero resolutions; rather the resolutions are being amassed to be featured in the January 2, 2010 post. If you wish to contribute a resolution before January 2nd, send it to the gmail address at the right, letting me know if you are an aging parent or an adult child. Happy New Year to all.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Day After Christmas

What happens after an event that we've been anticipating--hearing about well in advance--takes place? No matter the event, it happens (present tense). Then it's over. Ended. Done. And we are left with the emotional residue--wonderful or not so wonderful, depending.

When it's something we've been dreading, it's no doubt an emotional relief to have it over. When it's something we've looked forward to, and it meets or exceeds our expectations, we may be filled with happiness and wish it could last. But since it can't, we may feel sad, or it's a "let down."

The day after Christmas signals such an ending is coming and it's not uncommon for people who enjoy the festivities to have an emotional response. When aging parents have a busy life the holidays don't necessarily fill a void, rather they are a welcome addition to an already busy schedule. When parents live alone, however, and don't have a busy life, the void left at the end of the holidays can intensify feelings of emptiness, and of being alone. And the fact that winter weather sets in and it gets dark earlier isn't helpful in certain parts of the US.

Can adult children inflate that let down feeling? Yes. First, refer to this past Tuesday's post and reread the three suggestions. Next, use your 2010 calendar to ensure the three suggestions aren't forgotten.

I am remembering the advice given to me by a priest interviewed for my divorce book years ago. He talked about the importance of touching base on a regular basis with people we care about when they face challenges or need us in their lives. To this end, he said, he wrote on his calendar at regular intervals--daily, twice weekly, weekly, monthly etc. etc.--"phone so-and-so," putting their telephone numbers next to their names. He said it was the only way he could be certain of regularly continuing the connection. That advice turned out to be helpful for me at certain times with my counselees and their parents. It's rarely lack of interest that prevents us from doing something additional on a regular basis. More likely we just get busy and forget.

So once again I guess we need to be thinking about picking up the phone--after we take out our 2010 calendar or whatever date-book technology we use and write in a few names and numbers of our older, living alone friends and possibly even our parents.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

It's The Haa, Haa--py--est Time of The Year

The words and melody from the radio fill my car as I drive to the post office to mail the holiday cards. We have snow.  It looks like a winter wonderland. And kids, amid shrieks of laughter and merriment, are sledding down our shared driveway on anything they can find that's large enough to sit on. Sun is shining, snow balls are flying, and I'm certain school vacation is adding to this happiest of times.

Then my counseling background kicks in and I remember that holidays aren't always the happiest of times for people. So I decide to check in with a few older people and see how they're doing. (I'm a counselor, trained to ask objective questions.) My findings:

The consensus, from my small sample--but there's no disagreement: This is the haa, haa-py-est time of the year for children who have none of the responsibilities of adulthood, for newly marrieds who are looking forward, and for young couples with children who still believe in Santa. It's an especially happy time when older family members are geographically near enough to children and grandchildren so that they can gather together to celebrate and talk about shared past experiences. Meanwhile the excitement of the children in the family provides a background of energy and optimism.

"The holidays are a time when our mind drifts back to past Christmases that were happy times. It's a sentimental time," recalls one older widow. "It's a wonderful time when families can get together, yet a lot of people are completely alone. As people get older, they have experienced losses. Especially for those who've lost their mates, other people's happiness can be a reminder of the losses we've incurred. We're just more vulnerable to that kind of thing when we get older." "Unless there's a lot of family around and a lot going on, it's not the happiest time of the year. It's depressing," shares a 70-year-old man.

There's agreement that it takes effort for older people to find this a happy time. "It doesn't just happen," says one. "It's what you make of it when you're older," says another. "If you make the effort to be with people it's good, but it can be exhausting. We may continue to decorate and continue to write notes on the Christmas cards because we want our home to look festive and we like to get letters back after we write the notes. But we need to trim down and trim back so we aren't too tired to enjoy."

So then I ask the question: How can younger people help? Can they help?

The answers:
1. Keep in close contact with elders--aunts, uncles. Make sure they're not forgotten.
2. A phone call even; it doesn't have to be a visit. I had a wonderful phone call from a far-away relative recently. You know older people don't relate to an email as they do to a phone call.
3. It's nice to take older people out to something, but take them to something that is rather quiet, that isn't too taxing an experience.
* * * * *
OK, everyone. Why not pick up the phone and talk with at least one older person who lives alone or feels isolated. Brighten his or her day. Make these older people feel special, cared about...because they are. Raise their self-esteem. Add interest to their lives. Major studies confirm that connections are one of the most important factors in successful aging. It may not be the Haa, Haa-py-est time of the year for most older people, but we can make it better.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A SAD STORY (begun 12/17; finished Sat. 12/19)

This situation may not be all that uncommon, although I hope I'm wrong. It involves a retired, respected professional in the health care field and his independence; and his capable, caring adult daughter with an extraordinarily busy life. And stuff that can happen, but shouldn't.

Rodney, divorced, and in his early 80's, was living happily by himself in a condo in a very nice southern California suburb. Because of his profession he had many friends who valued his wisdom and kind ways. But he was increasingly seeming "spacey,"-- "dementia-like" to those who knew him well. He appeared unsteady on his feet at times. Close friends obviously noticed this and may have attributed it to his age. (We've discussed how people hesitate to "rock the boat" in a previous post.) So the reasons for no one questioning this physical and mental change could be many.

One day Rodney took a bad fall in his apartment. A neighbor heard his call for help and phoned 911. At the local hospital where supposedly they did a full evaluation to determine the cause of his fall, his daughter was told he needed assisted living. She quickly and efficiently made arrangements for assisted living, but it was soon evident that Rodney needed even more help so a private aide was hired to be with him. More falls, more trips in and out of the hospital. No one understood the cause, only the effect as Rodney became more and more frustrated and, at times, unruly.

Assisted living could not provide the care Rodney required. So his daughter located a group home with adequate staff to watch him and prevent more falls. The superviser of the home, a thorough person, had a hunch... that medication could be causing Rodney's problems. It then surfaced that Rodney (who could legally write prescriptions), had prescribed a medication commonly used to aid sleep for himself. Rodney had no primary care doctor (unrelated specialists treated him). And evidently prior to the "hunch" no one was aware Rodney was taking this medication and that it could produce the side effects Rodney was experiencing.

The good news: the group home's superviser put Rodney on a new medication. He's himself again; he's much steadier on his feet. The bad news: he has nothing in common with the residents at this group home. He doesn't like living there. But during these many months his efficient daughter quickly sold his condo because, she was told, he could no longer live alone and because funds were--and would be--needed for his care. Rodney has no condo to return to.

Initially his daughter was glad to see him cared for, didn't wanted another upheaval, and thought she would have peace of mind. But with new medication, Rodney made it clear he had no reason to stay in the group home.

A bad start, lack of information, incomplete knowledge, inaccurate assumptions, and a busy, caring daughter's well-meaning quick fixes. Upon rereading this story, it makes sense that people, who have--or have given--power of attorney and/or health care proxy responsibility, reread and share the "Key Thoughts" (see sidebar at right). In addition:
1. It would make sense for adult children to have a current list of parents' medications.
2. Getting help from an experienced geriatric social worker would most likely have reduced stress on the busy daughter and led to well-thought-out changes with a quicker, better outcome.
* * * * *
Oh yes, Rodney did move from the group home, but much time had passed and other problems arose, so he moved to an assisted living facility.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Ambition and Reality

Why is it many of us think we can do more than is possible in a given amount of time? Do our internal clocks run faster than those of most aging people? Or are older people just more realistic than we are?...and/or better at judging time due to more years of experience?

Yes, this is my way of explaining that my holiday-card-sending is still in progress. But I want to take a minute to talk about the fact that so many adult children feel there is too much to do and too little time to do it in. A friend has aptly named this phenomena "compressed time." I don't think I speak only for myself and my friend when I say many of us are slaves to this phenomena.

This may be one of the reasons younger people can seem rude to older people, whose metabolisms probably run at a slower pace. In this coming Saturday's blog I am going to discuss a sad, but true story, reported by someone I've known for decades. It may have been driven by caring adult children's feeling of "compressed time." You can judge for yourself. In any event, it's an instructive story that will be a gift to two generations if it saves any other caring adult children and their adult parents from such a situation.

I could not find a place for the story in my book. But it needs to be publicized. The consequences of not knowing this story are too great, in my opinion. So, until Saturday when all of my cards will be in the mail, think about "compressed time" and feel free to share your thoughts for this blog.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Christmas and Holiday Cards

Chanukah began last night, when the first candle was lit. Christmas is 13 days away. Getting the Christmas cards out is now at the top my "things to do" list. This post will be very short, since I have yet to begin the job of writing little notes on the cards, then signing, addressing, and adding the stamps to them.

I don't know why I feel compelled to write a note on each card. Possibly because we live on the other side of the country from where we were born and have many friends and much family in the West, so it's a time to catch up. But I don't send the first cards to the people who live the farthest away. I send the first cards to the oldest people on my list.

Edie tops my list this year. She is either 98 or 99. I'm going to phone her tomorrow to have a little chat and I will confirm her age. She's a petite, very wise woman who is always perfectly put together and is often quoted in my book. I understand from others that her daughters give her hairdresser appointments for the entire year (that's a great gift, they set up a charge at the beauty shop), which is certainly one the of the reasons Edie always looks immaculate.

So I'm off to begin the cards and plan to finish before Tuesday's post. If I run into problems, I'll let you know.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Deck the Halls--well, sort of

I visited a sick friend in a nursing home last week. Every nook and cranny greeted me with colorful holiday decorations, creating such a spirited atmosphere that I almost forgot where I was. The theme was Christmas (with a smidge of Chanukah). Clearly much time, thought, and energy went into decorating this nursing home. I thought about how uplifting it was to be surrounded by a holiday atmosphere and how much I loved it as a child.

It reinforced the reason, throughout my growing up years and even now, with no children present in the house, we decorate for holidays. Why? Tradition no doubt, but I think it goes deeper. Going through the ritual lets us indulge ourselves as we think about times past; and with the tradition and creativity that go into transforming our homes for the holidays comes a special feeling of warmth and joy.

Eloise and Earl, who died in their 90’s, had to be the masters of this art. (You haven’t met them yet but they figure prominently in my book.) Their tree decorations were unique, and chronicled their life and their friends. No surprise that their tree was featured in House Beautiful and provided a photo op and text for a NY Times article some years later. Its ornaments-- a nut cup from their wedding, an eyelash curler from some still-secret event in their lives--along with hundreds of items from friends and from their travels to almost every place in the world, conjured up countless memories. These older people had inordinate energy; and while I think many older people would love to have this kind of energy and decorate every year, most don’t.

Yet well into their 80's, Eloise and Earl made a decision. Climbing to the highest step on the ladder and stretching out over the staircase railing to put the honored piece on the top of the tree needed to be done by someone younger. The tree, over a story tall (and positioned in an area where the staircase curved up to the second floor) required stretching and reaching from the balcony to the branches for the finishing touches. My husband inherited this job, wobbling on the ladder, finally putting the ornament perfectly in place when Eloise would teasingly say "Could you move it about half an inch to the right (or left)."

Back to the present I wondered: would offering to help with holiday decorations bring additional joy to aging parents as it did to Eloise and Earl? Does it make sense to renew everyone's curiosity in that old box of ornaments (it's probably stored somewhere) so we can share a special experience with parents or other older people in our lives? If the old box no longer exists, do we start our own tradition and purchase some decorative items? Older and younger people engaged in a project together is empowering and generates a sharing of ideas and memories we might otherwise never know about.

My parents are no longer alive. But I'm thinking of someone to whom I may offer my help. I love to decorate. So my offer may turn out to be a more meaningful gift for my older friend than any I've listed in the previous two posts...except for the wide rubber band jar opener, that is!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Gifts for Aging Grown-ups Part 2

Making distinctions between gift suggestions in categories 1 and 2 has been more difficult than I imagined. The good news: most gifts in Category One seem helpful to all older people. Some additonal Category One suggestions are below. Category Two gifts follow.

Gifts that lift the spirit
Amaryllis plant: Easy care. Flowers are showy, beautiful and reflect the holdiay season. The plants, from which the flower stalk has already started growing, are in flower shops, gardening centers, and grocery stores (Trader Joes has a nice supply in my area). It takes a week or two for the buds to open, depending how far along they are. Bright light helps them open faster. Blooms last about a week in an enviornment that is not too warm and where the soil is kept damp, but not soggy. Check with a salesperson and purchase ones now whose buds aren't yet open if you want them to look beautiful for Christmas. Watching nature unford is uplifing.

Snuggie: from my then 9-year-old niece, Lilli, who requested one of these fleese, blanket-like, sleeve added "garmets" for Christmas last year, to older people who want to wrap up in a warm, comfy way in a chair or on the sofa, this is a welcome, fairly inexpensive gift. Google "snuggie". there are some money saving offers during the holiday season.

Specialty magazines. According to my unofficial advisors (I susbscribe to none of these) check out: Art and Antiques, Bon Appetit, Kiplinger's Personal Finance (http://www.kiplinger.com/), National Geographic, Sports Illustrated, Travel and Leisure. While I don't subscribe, I like Harper's Bazaar (http://www.harpersbazaar.com/) with its "Fabulous at Every Age" section. Don't we love getting mail that isn't junk?

Latest photos of the family, children and grandchildren.

Anything made by a grandchild.

Gifts that lift the spirit continues. Our Category Two gift recipients drive or have easy access to purchase what they need.

Memberships. Depending on parents' interests, memberships to: botanical gardens, museums (art, natural history etc.), historical societies, zoos, libraries, woman's clubs, etc. Many offer exhibits and members' meetings and most offer lectures and send timely, informative magazines. In New York City, for example, the 92nd Street Y offers a wide variety timely, stimulating programs--lectures, concerts, classes. In many of today's libraries card holders can check out everything from DVDs and movies to books formatted for the Kindle.

Tickets for parents to attend or take a friend or go with you to a concert, performance, sporting event, the theatre, dog show, boat show, auto show, flower show etc.

Invitation to go on a trip with you--a short trip to a nearby beach or lake (if you live near water) or the mountains or a more involved trip (cruise, group tour). For far-away-living children, taking care of arrangements for parents to come for a visit is usually a very precious and welcome gift.

Subscribe to a premium channel for your parents' TV (eg. HBO, Showtime, a sports channel).
* * * * *
Lastly, my gift for you or anyone whose grip has become weaker with age. A suggestion for a jar-opener that costs nothing-- a somewhat wide rubber band that you stretch around the lid of a jar. It grips the lid making it easy to turn and thus easy to open. Somewhat wide rubber bands are found on produce (like celery) in grocery stores that don't use twist-ties for that purpose. Rubber gloves may also accomplish this, but they're bulkier and cost money. Happy shopping!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Gifts for Aging Grownups

The day after Thanksgiving signals the official start of the holiday shopping season. Time to think about gifts. According to my aging advisors, the gifts below will please older people. Why? Because they reinforce independence while adding pleasure.

For organization’s sake, they’re in two categories:
Category one, today's post. Gift suggerstions for chronologically old, independent-living people. who may or may not be young at heart. Most of these gifts are practical and make life easier. Some are fun, add excitement and could be considered a luxury. Having most of them will, according to R (age 96)—"SAVE." She says they’re “a time saver, an energy saver, and a money saver” because they save old people, who are more frail and don’t get out as readily or easily from having to go out and buy them.

Category two will be Saturday’s post. Gift suggestions for chronologically younger, independent-living older people who may or may not drive, but easily get out more often. They can include gifts from category one, but additional gifts join this list. Many gifts are not exclusive to one category, indeed some may work for everyone on your list.

Practical, time saving, great to have on hand
Postage stamps
Mailer envelopes with “bubble” lining
Small note paper (for writing short notes, when long letters are unnecessary)
Selection of greeting cards (eg. birthday, sympathy)
Attractive note pads
Wrapping paper and ribbon (for holiday, birthday gifts etc.).
Nice soaps, small guest soaps--bars or liquid
Pen supply (know favorites kinds—fine point, felt tip etc.)

Good to have when needed
A good blood pressure monitor (if appropriate)
Nice pill box (a small one or the 7-day kind)
Magnifying mirror
Small magnifying glasses (for different reading areas)
Good, sturdy step stool with something strong to hold onto. We know falls are major health hazards and we may not be told about them. (Oct. 31 post) (Check Williams- Sonoma catalog)
Small alarm clock, that glows in the dark, for nightstand.
A good nail file (nails become more fragile with age). Check the double-sided crystal nail files http://www.supportplus.com/
Moisturizing creams and lotions
Favorite snack foods

Stylish dressing with ease. Criteria: does it slip on easily; is it attractive?
The challenge: finding clothing for the older person who takes pride in his/her looks—or for others who should take more pride in how they look. Mostly worn in the house, but still appropriate if unexpected guests arrive or if going to the mail box. Requirements: easy to put on--no difficult or small buttons--or hooks--in hard to reach places, no unreliable zippers.

Good-looking easy-to-slip-into slippers or sandals (non-skid soles)
Zip-front hostess coat, duster, caftan that doesn’t look bed-roomy. Check: http://www.carolwrightgifts.com/, the Carol Wright Catalog, or local stores. Older people often prefer models with two big pockets (eg. for Kleenex).
Sweaters, sweater vests, shawls, shrugs (provide warmth; enhance wardrobe)
A gift certificate for a dressmaker or tailor to do alterations (possibly come to the house) so favorite clothes fit well.

Gifts that lift the spirit
Lottery tickets
A written invitation to take parent(s) or older friend for light (errand) shopping.
A written invitation to take parent(s)/or older friend for lunch, movie, sporting event etc.
Food baskets
Attractive night light
Taxi script
New towels and washcloths, not too heavy and luxurious, so they dry out easily; don’t smell stale. One old-timer says the “Bar Mop Dish Cloth” at Williams-Sonoma is “soft and light weight--great for washing your face.” http://www.williams-sonoma.com/
* * * *
Saturday’s post will feature Category Two gift suggestions.