Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Aging Parents: Little Things Mean a Lot--Part 3

Keeping up With the Time: Changing Clocks and Gadgets
Palm Sunday. I visited an independent, involved, highly respected widow in her early 80's, M. She is a smart, welcoming, comfortable-to-be-with, common-sense person. Conversations with her have substance. You can count on her balanced way of looking at life for good, sound advice.

Her married son lives half an hour away and has a demanding job, as does his wife. They are supportive and don't interfere; although they are more than willing to offer help and do-- as appropriate. Yet M tries not to impose. She likes to handle things herself. I have invited her to be one of my blog advisors.

Sitting in her living room on a sofa facing a clock on a far-away wall, I realized that I had stayed longer than planned. But our discussion was substantive and time just whizzed by. When I mentioned the wall clock showed it was time for me to go, she informed me the clock didn't have the correct time. Indeed the time hadn't been right "for ages" and she'd planned to get it fixed but didn't get around to it.

I'd noticed the second hand going around and the time advancing, mentioned what I'd seen, and asked if she'd like me to take a close look at the clock. I'm no clock repair-person, and she warned me the clock was high up and might be heavy. So, not wanting to take over, I jokingly acknowledged my lack of repair expertise, but offered to take down the clock and have a look if she'd like. She agreed and stood by my side to help.

Turns out the clock was light, easy to handle, was plugged into a wall outlet; and it was easy to reset. I think the time was incorrect due to daylight savings time and power outages over the years, because I checked today; it's keeping time. M tells me not having an incorrect clock constantly reminding her it needed attention makes her feel better. A little thing. Then something else occurred to me.

Aging parents or any old people on ladders is problematical. So who changes clocks that may be above a kitchen sink or in other hard-to-get-to places? And what about the--for me--tricky thermostat clock (which I left for my husband to change when we went on daylight savings time)? Can older parents change the clock on the coffee maker, microwave, car, and latest gadgets--some of which may be gifts from us? When we go on and off daylight savings time in the spring and fall, might it be helpful to older parents and friends if we offer to reset their clocks? Could it be another of those little things that mean a lot and help to make life easier? Could it be one more ingredient to help parents age well?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Aging Parents: Little Things Mean a Lot--Part 2

Reactions to Tuesday's "Little Things Mean a Lot" Post
As you know I'm a far-away-living child of an aging parent (mother-in-law) ...not an aging parent. Nevertheless I must admit a few "little things" have meant a lot since Tuesday's post. I want to share them.

First: an elderly widow tells about months of frustration with "ify" TV reception and a sporadically shrill noise on her telephone that repair people tried unsuccessfully to fix for months. Then her son came to town and spent an afternoon providing a fix for these frustrating problems.

She writes: "You have no idea how wonderful it is to have the wireless phone system...It has alleviated so much stress for me. Along with the necessary digital updating of the TV, my energy level has improved decidedly with these problems solved." (Her son bought her a Panasonic phone system at Best Buy for under $100 that includes a base and three portable phones. I believe Costco advertises the same set in its Money-Saving booklet that arrived in this week's mail.)

The writer also wanted to tell adult children: "You have no idea what a word of encouragement means to an aging parent." So--confirmation that little things--be they words or deeds-- do make a positive difference in an aging parent's life. It reaffirms my blog's mission--doing what we can to help parents age well.

Second: Receiving compliments means a lot. So thanks to the writer of http://asourparentsage.wordpress.com who emailed me mid-week:"Wow! Great Blog-- Love Yesterday's Post. I have read your wonderful blog, Help! Aging Parents, more than a few times, so I have now listed it on my blog, As Our Parents Age, in the "Great Blog Writing" link category."*

With Palm Sunday, Passover and Easter upon us, there are many opportunities to do a "little thing" that can mean a lot to aging parents and to the other older people we care about.
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*She, as well as others, said they had trouble posting comments in the "Comments" space below. Thus she emailed me at http://helpagingparents@gmail.com (see sidebar).


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Aging Parents: Little Things Mean a Lot

You know those little things that are irritating because we should take care of them--or have them taken care of--but haven't?
--like the button from a favorite coat or sweater that we meant to sew (or have someone sew) on;
--the shoe that's been needing a repair that we couldn't wear the other day when we wanted to;
--the knife we've been meaning to sharpen or get sharpened that made a mess of cutting that tomato;
--or some battery-using device whose battery has died and not been replaced?

We adult children know we are self-sufficient and can take care of these problems at will, albeit when time in our over-busy schedule permits.
We know too how good we feel when these annoyances have been taken care of.

But what about aging parents? If they don't drive, they are dependent on others to take things for repair or replacement. If they're old, technological malfunctions that may be a second-nature fix for younger people and grandchildren are frustrating, causing insecurity and necessitating a dependency on others.

Are we aware how often others--service people, for instance--disappoint, even if their intentions are good? And as our parents age, the people they have counted on to provide services--be they doctors, painters, tailors, plumbers---you name it--retire, move away or die.

In the olden days, families members more often than not lived in the same town and would gather once a week for a meal after church or regularly for dinner one night a week. I am told this regularly planned family get-together offered a continuity of support to older family members, giving them an opportunity to mention things that needed attention in their homes, after which one family member would volunteer to take care of the situation.

"The stress (of things that are in disrepair or not taken care of) begins to build up," confides a widowed aging parent. "It's hard not knowing if or when, for example, my clogged drain will be fixed."

One of my senior advisors says that kind of stress could simply be alleviated if an adult child or another caring younger person could be counted on to come over once a week on a regular basis--for an hour even--to help take care of the simple things (and bring a container of Draino). "Just knowing that you can depend on that once-a-week visit would alleviate the stress that begins to build up," she says.

So take note: It sounds like just an hour a week of our time--to help take care of whatever our parents might need us to do--is another way of helping older parents (as well as other older people who are special to us) age well.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Aging Parents' Needs Unintentionally Overlooked-part 2

Airports--and Answering Machines
An octogenarian tells me that I neglected to mention answering machine messages in Tuesday's post that discusses imperfect hearing and the problems aging parents can have understanding unseen voices that convey important information. How thoughtless of me. How astute of her!

Haven't we all--young or old--received messages on answering machines and voice mail where important information (a call-back number, a meeting time, even the name of the caller) is said so quickly or softly it's unintelligible, even when replayed at a higher volume?

Evidently one smart 80-something-year-old woman with hearing problems has put the following instructive message on her answering machine: "please speak slowly and clearly and loud enough when leaving your message." Adult children can and should mention this message idea to older parents, especially those hampered by hearing loss. It makes sense for so many reasons. And asking if parents want to put the message on by themselves or have help doing it shouldn't seem like an intrusion. It's so sensible and scores another plus in our efforts to help our parents age well.
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Now airport strategies: While I clearly oppose the concept of becoming parents to our parents (unless our parents are mentally incapable), there are two potentially helpful strategies for getting around in airport terminals that can alleviate worries for older people while contributing to their adult children's peace of mind.

The first concerns a provision that allows parents to accompany unaccompanied minors to the gate, which of course necessitates identification etc. etc. and can vary from airline to airline. But it has a flip side that enables adult children to accompany their aging parents to the gate in the same way parents arrange to accompany their young children to the gate. Simply the thought of having a responsible family member there is supportive and can reduce worry for aging parents. It can make the getting-to-the-gate-and-on-the-plane aspect--which is stressful at best these days--relatively stress-free.

Some of my friends were critical of the fact that I "let" my father travel alone on airplanes when he was in his early 90's; my mother-in-law travels alone at age 96. It seems logical that once up in the air flight attendants are better trained than we (unless we've had special training) to handle problems that occur. Initially I got the special pass to accompany my father and my mother-in-law to the gate, because they both liked to--and could--walk. Assuming a responsible, punctual person can be at the other end to meet aging--and elderly-- parents, is there any reason why people in their 80's and 90's shouldn't fly alone?

The second strategy involves the wheel-chair. As terminals grow, walking distances increase, and at a certain point, both my father and my mother-in-law ended up ordering wheel chairs to get them efficiently to the boarding area. It's reassuring to know that attendants not only push wheel chairs and see that passengers get on the correct plane easily, but provide another set of eyes and ears and they're usually pleasant companions. In addition, a wheel chair can make a carry-on-bag--often too heavy for older people--easy to bring along. (When my dad learned about the carry-on luggage option, he gave up walking and enjoyed wheel chair rides for the last 2 years of his life.)

Travel is invigorating; we all know that. It adds knowledge, fosters relationships, can provide some exercise and usually provides fun. All are a plus for aging well.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Are Aging Parents' Needs Unintentionally Overlooked?

When Speaking Clearly Can Make a Big Difference
Have you ever wondered how well someone with imperfect (or sometimes even perfect) hearing can understand what an unseen voice is saying?

Think aging or elderly parents--or even yourself--calling an office where the person answering the phone rattles off the name of the business so quickly it's unclear whether the intended party has been reached. Usually there's a chance to confirm with a human being that you have reached the intended phone number. But what if the voice delivers important messages over a loudspeaker?

I was at the airport yesterday, waiting to board a flight. The gate was in the back corner of the very crowded terminal. Thus two gates were at right angles as were their lines to board two flights--which happened to be leaving for different destinations at the same time. Announcements for many departing flights were continually blaring over the loudspeaker--some in understandable English, some in heavily accented English, and some in very good English that was spoken so quickly you couldn't catch all of it.

A lady and a man were trying to help an elderly woman who hadn't heard all of the first boarding announcement for her flight: the announcement welcoming people needing extra time etc. to board first. The helpful lady and man were standing in separate, big lines so close together I assumed they were husband and wife. In actuality they were strangers, but they were the kind of people you hoped would be near your aging parent if he or she ever needed help.

The elderly, nicely dressed woman was, I observed, legitimately flustered because she knew she missed part of the announcement. She questioned the helpful lady who confirmed that the elderly woman could be boarding at that moment. Yet there was a crush of people making it impossible for her to move to the front of the line. That's where the helpful man got involved. He overheard the conversation as did I, got out of his place in line and--as if on a football team but gentler--blocked for the elderly woman and eased her way to the ticket taker so she could comfortably board the plane before the crowd.

The helpful man returned to his place in the line, spoke with the initially-helpful lady, I interjected my observation that they were both very thoughtful, and we talked about how difficult it was to hear the boarding announcements during a busy time in a crowded airport. Are the people responsible for giving important information--be it on the telephone or in public places like airports--aware of the necessity of speaking clearly?

As we try to support--not reduce--older parents' quality of life, it makes sense to think about common situations, such as hearing loss, that can impact outcomes and cause anxiety. While airports can be a challenge waiting to happen for older people, two solutions that don't rely on the kindness of others, will be the subject of Saturday's post. Helping an aging parent to feel comfortable flying alone affords opportunities to travel, visit family. It's empowering. It enriches life. And each time we can support our aging parents' quality of life, we are helping them to age well.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Aging Parents: An Arizona Experiment

A Trial Transportation Program That Can Help Aging Parents

Phoenix is a city where cars prevail and public transportation options for non-driving seniors, although increasing, are still quite limited. I learned that a monthly pamphlet, about city affairs, accompanies the water bill and this month announced a small scale experiment aimed at improving the transportation situation. (I understand there was also a short article in the newspaper, but of course not all older people read the newspaper.) The notice is copied below:
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City offers seniors reduced taxi fares

oncerned about the heavy demand for the city's Dial-A-Ride service, Phoenix Public Transit has initiated a pilot program that allows seniors to ride taxis at reduced rates.

Funded jointly by the city and the federal government, the Senior Cab voucher program is seen as alternative public transportation for persons 65 and older.

About 400 seniors are being signed up to take part in the pilot program that is expected to last about 19 months, after which the city will decide if it should be made a permanent addition to its transportation offerings.

Senior cab was developed at the request of the City Council, which asked the Transit Department to explore alternative modes of transporting seniors because Dial-A-Ride has increased demand for Americans with Disabilities Act-certified users, making it increasing unavailable to seniors.

Participants each month can buy up to four $10-voucher books for $3 each, which is 30 percent of their value. The vouchers can be used for an entire trip, combined with cash fares to travel further or banked over several months for a longer trip. Riders are responsible for their own gratuity.

For more information call (number given, I've omitted it).
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While only an experiment, it's a creative idea that I'm thinking some readers might want to share with their town or city officials. Let me know what you think.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Aging Parents: Flexibility

When our goal is to help aging parents regain an interest in life, assuming they once had it (if they never did, a behavior change is unlikely), it makes sense to keep two issues in mind: our parents' flexibility as well as our own. These issues will impact the ease and satisfaction of reaching our goal--be it to have our parents leave their home or apartment to go anywhere but the doctor or to once again become engaged in life.

Young people who are basically healthy (physically and emotionally) are usually fairly elastic--physically more flexible and emotionally more able to rebound unscathed from emotional upsets. (Think
teenagers, who are in despair one day and on top of the world the next.) But at a certain point in the aging process this elasticity or flexibility begins to decrease. If this weren't the case, why are there countless exercise programs and where did that old saying "You can't teach an old dog new tricks" come from?

The analogy, that speaks to the mental part of this equation,
conveys the idea that old dogs are set in their ways--inflexible; not a flattering analogy to an aging parent to be sure. And yet most adult children of aging, old and very old parents have probably experienced the inflexibility--sometimes puzzling-- that comes with age.

Do older people seem inflexible because hanging onto certain ways of doing things that have worked for them in the past gives a sense of security that they don't want to put at risk? And how elastic are we, in understanding the insecurities and reasons that seem to frustrate our attempts when we try to help?

We ponder these questions and how they impact vacationing with aging parents and providing other opportunities to help them regain or increase their interest in life; and we realize one size doesn't fit all. But if we keep flexibility in mind, as well as the importance of empowering, and if we think about using the "I need your help" phrase when appropriate, we can hopefully find at least some of these strategies useful as we try to help our parents age well.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Aging Parents: Able but Apathetic Older Parents Part 2

Additional Ideas to Engage and Invigorate
Spring does exist for those living in the hard-hit-by-winter East--the moment they enter the Philadelphia Flower Show. It does wonders to help older parents' spirits as well as our own, even when we must return to our homes with inches of accumulated frozen snow in the yard. So what other attraction could provide that "pop" for aging parents?

Before leaving the subject of flower shows--if they are of interest--Google "flower shows" and shows all over the country are at your finger tips. Click "flower shows 2010" and check out Chicago--March 6-14; Portland Me.--March 11-14; Chicago and San Francisco--March 24-28 and Newport RI--June 25-27 to name a few.

There are boat shows, car shows, etc., some of which should appeal to apathetic aging parents. If music and theater hold more appeal, check out:

Tanglewood in Lenox, Mass. The Boston Symphony presents outstanding musical programs during the summer--indoors and outdoors. Located in the Berkshires, the surroundings are beautiful and it's very popular with older people. Bring a picnic if you wish, but do check the weather forecast.

The Shakespearean Festival, Ashland, Oregon. This is a favorite summer destination, now in its 75th year, and the quality of the productions is well known. Ashland is a picturesque town not far from the California border. While the pear trees in Ashland are the delicious variety used in Harry and David's famous fruit gift packages, there is also a well-remembered, disgusting-tasting mineral water, Lithia water, that comes from an underground source. Dad stopped to make us drink some from a fountain in the park anytime we drove through Ashland when we were kids. Said it would help us live to 100. He died at 94. Hmmm.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Aging Parents: Able but Apathetic Older Parents

First Aid For Languishing Seniors
It may be puzzling when an energetic, productive mother or father succumbs to almost couch-potato status after retirement or another major life-changing event. But who wouldn't feel bad and lack initiative when, to cite but one example, being able to drive anyone, anywhere, any time for most of a lifetime comes to a halt.

And while medications can help relieve this kind of symptom, especially useful if it has lasted over several months, the presenting problems remain--most likely under the umbrella of loss. Depending on the specifics of the situation--loss of a spouse or cherished friend, loss of a certain kind of control, loss of routine, loss of the ability to get involved at will in activities, and loss of the ability to get in the car and connect with friends and family and go places whenever--the inertia can be triggered. You can undoubtedly add to the list.

The question then-- what can adult children do to help older parents become engaged again? We discussed jump starts in an earlier post. We know getting involved is a start and we know being with friends and family is, in most cases, good medicine. We also know that looking forward to an upcoming event may have as much psychological value as attending or participating in the event itself and can last over many weeks, even longer. It can begin to encourage an aging parent--or anyone for that matter--out of "the dumps."

Thus, I want to mention several well-known events in the next few posts that involve travel (more or less depending on distance involved) and are special, memorable, and can continue to inspire well after the event has taken place.

Taking aging parents on a day trip, short trip, or vacation can be a highlight if it's planned well and talked about in advance. The kind of trip I envision is sort of like a school field trip, meant to be enriching, but for adults. Unlike school field trips, however, and unlike organized tours, taking parents with you offers much more flexibility and individualization for them, the fun of participating in something together, and may cost less.

Today I want to introduce-because it's going on now,The Philadelphia Flower Show (Philadelphia, Pa.)--renamed this year the Philadelphia International Flower Show. It was the nation's first flower show back in 1829. Since that show, which exhibited a bird-of-paradise from the Cape of Good hope and a new plant, a poinsettia, from Mexico, international influences and contributions that have been integral to this awesome undertaking.

Listed in 1,000 Places to See Before You Die (along with places like the Taj Mahal in India), it is extraordinary. It's "on" this week and I had the pleasure of being there yesterday. At the box office a husband was overheard saying to his wife: "Are there senior discounts?" She replied: "Look around...almost everyone would get a discount." It's a favorite or it obviously wouldn't have made the 1,000 Places book. And clearly older parents--and aging parents and old parents--enjoy it.

Saturday's post will bring two more special additions to the list.

In the meantime, please share your knowledge of special places that aging parents and adult children can enjoy together so we can add the to the list. (Email me by clicking the helpagingparents address on the sidebar.) And if you're in the Philadelphia area this week, give some thought to the Philadelphia Flower Show when considering adding stimulation, education, relaxation, and fun to older parents' lives....as well as to your own.