Tuesday, June 29, 2010

AGING PARENTS: Caregivers, Nurturing Nurses and Vision

Following up....
Yes, male aides or caregivers--because of their physical strength, do help aging parents--men especially--to feel more confident and secure, according to one currently hospitalized grandfather in his 70's. His take: the nurturing and gentle nature that female nurses provide in a hospital setting is wonderful--"kind of like a mother" and very much appreciated after serious major surgery in his case. And he never gave a second thought to "privacy" issues when being bathed.

On the other hand, this grandfather was quick to mention the very attractive blonde woman--a "Fellow" who was part of the surgeon's team that visited him each day--as well as the attractive and very able physical therapist.

This reminded me of my father's emergency quintuple bypass surgery in southern California when he was 76. The heart surgeon (who a few years later had among his patients a former president of the United States) had put together a highly experienced team of good looking men and very pretty women. Prior to surgery, patients received a small booklet with photos--explaining each team member's background and hobbies.

My unmarried brother's spirits picked up when he met a very beautiful team member and I remember saying to my brother something like: Dr. X's patients aren't going to die--the men are going to want to see the women team members again and the women are going to want to wake up and see the handsome men.

No doubt it was the surgeon's skill, but the team had to be an asset. It not only helped aging parents to feel better about the situation (Mom and Dad), but it gave us all something to talk about which diverted our minds from a serious situation. And Dad lived to be 94.
* * *
Today I also heard from an 86-year-old woman who said she needed to tell me that the lighted pocket magnifying glass is the best for older people. She has vision problems and uses it daily--many times. As stated in an earlier Mother's Day Gifts post, it truly helps parents age well and at $9.99 how can you go wrong?

As we try to help aging parents, hearing your thoughts and being able to pass them on to others through this blog, helps us reach our goal--to help parent age well. Thank you.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Summer Ideas to Motivate Unmotivated Aging Parents

"My parents were my priority. I devoted myself to their needs," says a 60-year-old married daughter who had three teenagers and an important volunteer job at the time. "For over a decade their commitments and evening social engagements took precedence over plans my husband and I had as well as my friends...In retrospect, I gave up a lot." This is the extreme, of course. Her parents remained connected and engaged, aged well, lived long lives, and she was at their "beck and call" until the end.

Being engaged and connecting with people is important--we know that . To that end we've spent untold hours providing opportunities for our children. Think: hours spent car pooling and driving back and forth to various activities and birthday parties when children needed a driver? We make these efforts to help children age well. Should we make the same effort to help parents age well? Some do.

Most of us don't make such a sacrifice. The dedicated daughter's parents never had the chance to become couch potatoes. But what about those who are at risk or have already slipped into that mode? It's frustrating...

... But summer presents additional opportunities to jump-start aging parents, assuming they can walk--unaided or with walker or cane...and go for a ride. Even a wheel chair works in most instances. Usually this doesn't entail a huge commitment from adult children and most aging parents want to get out for something they will enjoy.

If they don't, don't be disappointed. It happens. Just plant the idea and let it "gel." Then try again later. It may make them feel good just knowing that you care enough to try and try again.

  • To begin: Set aside enough time so this isn't a "rush job." Time is in such short supply for us, but often hangs heavy on older people plus, they move slower. If they're going to feel this is an imposition--older people have pride and many won't want to impose--forget it.
  • Plan with them (including them shows respect and gives them something new to think about) or give them options to choose from. For those who don't get out much (except to go to doctors), "short and sweet" may be best. You can judge that based on your comfort level and theirs. It can be as simple as:
  1. sitting in a park, having a sandwich and watching the people, dogs etc. which provide easy topics of conversation
  2. taking a drive through town, to places your parent is familiar with, to new buildings and areas of town (if a parent rarely gets out), to your home (have a snack there)
  3. going to a mall, watch the people, go into a shop that interests your parent or has inventory that used to interest your parent (sporting goods, technology, hardware store) and check out what's new, have a snack
  4. a planned-ahead visit to a friend of your parent's, or to see a grandchild, or family member
  5. a drive that includes the grandchild's school, your workplace, another important place in your life or their earlier life (assuming they'd like that).
Obviously during the nice-weather days of summer, opportunities are unlimited. Time, your parent's strength, the activity, and your tolerance are the keys to success. And, if successful, planning for the next time gives aging parents something to look forward to. Senior advisor, R, calls that a "carrot." And, according to her, "carrots" are extremely important to older people and definitely help parents age well.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Aging Parents: Is a Male Caregiver or Companion Better for Older Men?

"Honey" or "Sweetie:" No. "Boss" or "Chief:" Yes!

Finding "the right" caregiver/ aide/companion when a parent comes home from the hospital--or at any time-- is a challenge most adult children face. But other things being equal, our first thought for an aging father is usually not about the aide's gender.

This prompted my very first post, "Release from the Hospital." I explain some men prefer men for obvious reasons or because they don't appreciate the nurturing nature (which often includes being called "Honey" or "Sweetie"). They want "Boss," or "Chief."

"Recently I mentioned this to a friend as we discussed helping aging fathers. My friend quipped something like "they'd prefer a male to an attractive female?"

OK. All that sounds sexist. But to my knowledge I haven't been proven wrong. Women are supposed to be more nurturing; I'm guessing for the most part they are. When caring for older men they may get A+ in the nurturing category, yet score well below that in the empowering category. And isn't feeling empowered an important ingredient in the getting-well-and-aging-well mix?

While I'm basically clueless about knowing whatever it is that men do to generate "can-do" feelings and masculine pride when they are together, I want to share a recent experience with a man in his 90's, but precede this with my father's experience when he was in his 90's.

When my father came home from the hospital and needed temporary help, he was adamant about having a man. They talked cars, sports, male-stuff--it was empowering, interesting; and he loved getting a shave--even though it was something he could very well do for himself (male pampering?). And even when he was feeling weak the aide made certain he was dressed well. Look good, feel better. Dignity reinforced. You get the idea.

So I "stuck my neck out" recently when a much older couple, who have a part-time, competent cleaning woman, needed more help. They had recently downsized in the town where they lived and the formerly very gregarious, involved 90+-year-old husband seemed to lose interest. Depression was ruled out by his doctor, but he seemed depressed. The fact that he was having some physical problems could have contributed to this sort of "shutting down."

The competent cleaning woman was like a family member and was helping the husband as needed. Yet when I heard the story, I strongly suggested a part-time male companion. A male has come to help out and I'm told it has made a real difference.

Among other things, the male helper (because of his physical strength?) gave the husband confidence to take regular walks with him; he also gave the old man a shave. And they went together to a driving range to hit golf balls.

"Honey" and "Sweetie" are decidedly different than "Boss" and "Chief." This awareness may prove helpful at some point-- for older fathers and grandfathers--as we try to help parents age well.


Saturday, June 19, 2010

Father's Day and Adult Children Siblings

Getting Together for Father's Day
As a far-away-living daughter I never gave much thought to being with Dad on Father's Day. Didn't mean I didn't want to be with him. It just was impractical. In addition--
  1. Mother was alive for all but 4 Father's Days so my parents and brother celebrated the day together, often with relatives on my father's side of the family.
  2. After Mother died, my father spent Father's Day with my brother. They had a ritual of going out to breakfast together at the Hilton Hotel many Sunday mornings; Father's Day was no exception--except that they also went to an older cousin's for dinner. She considered my father like a father, not an uncle. Her father died when she was young and my dad stepped in where he was needed to help his sister and her two daughters (one being this cousin).
It never occurred to me to check whether or not this was convenient for my brother--he never complained; I thought he enjoyed it. Nevertheless having heard Francine Russo, author of the recently-published They're Your Parents Too!, discuss her book at a gathering two weeks ago, I found myself having questions--questions about how my brother felt about being the child who was there and my being so far away, even though I assumed major responsibility for orchestrating my parents' care with them as they grew old. So I telephoned today to check out the Father's Day "obligation" and was glad to find my perception was correct.

Fortunately my counseling training kicked in well over a decade before my parents had health issues. In my head I had loosely carved out a plan of action for when the time came. Why? Because aging grand-parent issues, that affected some of my counselees' families and found their way to my office, provided a "heads up.

Father’s Day and other major holidays signal family togetherness. Adult brothers and sisters and their families join aging parents to celebrate on these occasions. Their adult lives may be different from the life of their youth, their competencies may have changed, but on these holidays the family members who come together fulfill most aging parents’ wishes. Remember: time with family is the gift most older parents say “means the most.”

Siblings who get along reasonably well bring parents pleasure, which certainly helps parents age well. More about siblings in this coming Tuesday’s post

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Help Parents Age Well: Father's Day and Neckties

If neckties are indeed the most popular Father's Day gift, I guess I need to include them--with a twist.

But I must admit, I wouldn't have done it had I not received an email from Matt at http://www.tiepedia.com/tie-blog/49-crafts/155-tie-cake. It's a cool site with posts about real ties... plus! Obviously Matt's in the Father's Day spirit.

Check out the photos of 16 cakes, the creative work of Esperanaza above and others. Below is one I just have to include; one I would have tried to make for my Dad when he was alive--the sweater vest with buttons down the front. However, my dad was more traditional.....his sweater vests: one entirely gray, one all navy. And my husband would vouch for the fact I'm not much of a baker.

But possibly you are. So if you are doing the Father's Day barbecue--or any meal that calls for dessert this coming Sunday, I found a site with an assortment of simpler dessert recipes for Father's Day, including an easy cake that sort of resembles Esperanza's creation. Of course, there's still time to buy a tie.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Meaningful Father's Day Gifts Help Parents Age Well

Neckties are the most popular Father's Day gift purchased,
according to the US Census Bureau

We often think "traditional gifts" when pondering gifts for aging fathers. What follows is a mix of gift ideas for older fathers who are relatively healthy and independent-- all designed to help parents age well.

Think technology! Gifts that contribute to social connections definitely help parents age well. S
ocial connectedness is one of the three most important factors in successful aging, according to every major study. Non-tech-savvy elders can use and should love: technology that simplifies email--plus an oldie.
  • The Presto Printing Mailbox provides one-way computer communication for older people who don't use a computer. It receives and prints (but doesn't send) emails and photos and can be programmed to receive email at times the recipient chooses. It must be connected to a telephone jack, but doesn't interfere with phone service.
  • PawPawMail calls itself "easy email for seniors. And it is!
  • The fax machine: an oldie but goodie. Its original purpose was to transmit important documents (still best for sending information to doctors and for reviewing bills parents question, for example). It also enables children to put something on paper and fax it to parents, who then have a hard copy to read, reread and show to others if it contains something they're proud of (could be a grandchild's artistic effort). Easy technology for anyone who has ever placed paper in a typewriter and used a telephone.

Not the usual clothing gifts for old fathers: my father had two clothing requests that I think elderly fathers who--if they're like my father and want to be protected from sun outdoors and warm indoors--would like.
  • A long-sleeve sport shirt. Why? His 90+ years in the sun made him (and his arms of course) susceptible to those skin cancers that need to be removed before they turn into harmful skin cancers. Short-sleeve shirts prevail in stores in June. But I found long-sleeve ones on sale and also learned to buy ahead in the winter, especially if I happened to be in a warm weather climate (where there was usually a good selection).
  • A sleeveless cardigan (not over the head) sweater vest. Older people "run" cold, and Dad liked--no loved--to wear his sweater vest with any and every shirt. It looked great; easy to get off and on and no problem for him (but possibly for some) to button or unbutton. He wore it at home. It also looked good under a jacket when he went out. His problem: he only had one. I had to really search to find another one, which was his Father's Day request when he was 93. Wish I'd known how to knit!

Vision Enhancers: (We know aging produces vision changes in many.)
The following, from the Mother's Day Post, are equally good gifts for dads:
  • The mini-maglite, small flashlights that give great light in dark places.
  • The small-size lighted pocket magnifying-glass takes up little space, is light weight, not pricey, and truly helps parents age well by providing enlarged, lit-up print--that remains lit without having to keep a finger on any button (unlike the popular thin credit card style). Handy for reading menus in dark restaurants.

Various gifts for the right dad--
  • A library card
  • Large print books
  • Newspaper subscription (some have large print editions); possibly one from his hometown
  • Magazine subscriptions (older people like getting something in the mail)
  • A membership to the YMCA
  • A paper map of the world for traveling or well-traveled Dads, plus colored pins so they can mark where they've been and where they're going if they still travel.
  • A good blood pressure gauge may be the gift that helps parents age well and is appreciated by an aging father or grandfather. It may even be recommended by doctors in some cases, but obviously depends on the person.
  • Starbucks's new VIA ready brew individual instant coffee packets--regular or decaf. According to discerning-coffee-drinking friends, the Columbia Medium coffee is excellent (they don't like the other roast). Available in 3 or 12 packs. No mess--just add the packet to the water in a mug, microwave for 1 minute,15 seconds. Because it's pricey, coffee-loving dads may resist buying it. Samples may be available.
  • Tickets to a ballgame on Father's Day with a family member--brings us full-circle to the fact that being with family is the best gift for an aging parent. And for one Yankee's fan father--nothing could top being at the game with his son on Father's Day.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Aging Parents: Father's Day Gift Ideas for Older Fathers and Grandfathers

June 20th Marks the 100th Birthday of Father's Day
Its history is interesting which is why I've provided the above link to what I think is the most comprehensive, accurate account. However another site offers close to a primary source historical account (it's short) provided by the great-granddaughter of William Jackson Smart, the widowed father who inspired the idea for Father's Day. The commercialization, of course, has come later; but celebrating fathers has deep roots--going back to the original idea in 1909 and the first celebration in Spokane, Washington in 1910.

Noncommercial tops the list.

  • Being able to do something with their child(ren)/their family. Some say it really doesn't matter "what," it's just good to be together. (And this doesn't differ from what most mothers want for Mother's Day.) Easier to do when children live near. Ideas for being together are only limited by our imagination. We go to them; they come to us. We do something special based on their interests (day trip, ballgame, picnic etc); they come over and "it's just good to be together" (and usually includes a meal).
Aging, old and very elderly parents like to reminisce with family who share common memories. One nephew, whose father has died, invites his 90-something-year-old uncle and wife to his apartment for dinner in June each year. They talk about old times, the uncle shares his remembrances and loves the evening.
  • Being able to do whatever they want with their child(ren) on a given day. In other words, an IOU for a day and doings of their choice.
on the other hand--
  • To get a nice card, with a nice sentiment, and be left alone (or with only his wife) is the wish of one aging father who see his children daily or almost daily has a need to "carve out time for himself."
Of course, celebrating Father's Day (as well as Mother's day) is especially meaningful when far-away-living children can participate; but that's often not possible. A Father's Day card, with a calendar page enclosed marking the date with plans to be together at a later time or enclosing tickets for something to do together at a later time, has both immediate and long-lasting value. And sometimes we just hit it right and that big effort becomes a cherished memory.

"Dad was beginning to have problems. I think he knew it.
He wanted one more opportunity for a fishing trip...just the two of us.
And he phoned me here in the East and asked if I could come out West so we could go fishing together. It was his last fishing trip. It was like old times."


While some older fathers are clueless about technology, deep down some may be curious. And when we think about it, adding new technology to their lives would help them age well--or better. The simplicity or complexity depends, of course, on an ability to learn--regardless of age.
  • One grandchild who thought grandpa would like a computer has written simple instructions beginning with turning on/off the computer, and accessing, writing and sending emails. The instructions are very limited and simple. Grandpa's new computer--a gift from the family--comes with beginner's lessons from the grandchild, (using the little, hand-made, newly-created, simple instruction booklet).
  • An adult son has downloaded his elderly father's favorite music to an iPod and showed him how to use it. His father loves music, but doesn't "do" technology because he's in his nineties.
  • An IOU from a child or grandchild to come over and help with any technological problems (reprogramming the coffee maker, "fixing" the computer etc.) may be welcomed. Or we could substitute: "come over and help with repair problems, gardening or other chores."
Saturday's post will highlight the practical and the "little luxuries"-- things that contribute to help parents--in this case dads and granddads-- age well.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Aging Parents: Veterans of D-DAY

While my blog is becoming a .com, my posts will feature relevant themes from other sources. Writing about D-Day is a logical successor to Tuesday's post on the Veteran's "Aid and Assistance Pension Program" benefits. Are all qualified elders receiving these benefits? Don't they have the potential to remove some of the stress from care-giving children as well as from qualifying old and elderly parents?

"45,000 Allied troops" are alive today, is Wikipedia's answer to: "How many D-Day veterans are alive today?"
Additionally, Wikipedia informs us: According the Department of Veterans Affairs, an estimated 2,583,000 veterans from WWII were still alive in September 2008 but dying at the rate of about 900 per day. This puts the total living population at just over 2 million in November 2009.
* * *
The 66th Anniversary of D-Day

Joint Chiefs chairman pays tribute to D-Day fallen
By ROBERT BURNS (AP) – today

Meet a D-Day veteran in Vermont and in Tennessee
and learn their story as featured in the newspaper. I think you'll be glad you did! It was a great generation.


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Help Aging Parents: Possible Benefits for WWII Veterans and Spouses

Memorial Day weekend is behind us. Yet old and young veterans, their wives and their widows remain.
They may be parents or grandparents; may have aged well--or not. While veteran's benefits are widely discussed, widows of WWII veterans are more likely to have outlived their husbands and the benefits discussed below (which are under-used), may have never entered anyone's mind.
When these older and elderly parents still live at home and have serious health issues, adult children know only too well how much is required to help them remain at home. Family and friends may be giving them the help that they need even when assisted living or a nursing home would be more appropriate, but not doable for various reasons.
Possible Help From the Department of Veteran's Affairs
The Department of Veteran's Affair's "Aid and Attendance Pension Program" may help aging parents with certain health issues to remain in their home (and help their adult care-giving children as well).  Or, may help with assisted living or other living situation's expenses. While my posts focus on relatively healthy, independent-living, aging parents, I'm taking changing the focus a bit here based on a longtime friend's recent experience with her elderly mother.
Her elderly mother (a WWII veteran's widow) has lived in an apartment attached to my friend and her husband's home for decades. An intelligent, interesting, involved and independent widow, these qualities helped her age well until her macular degeneration progressed to the point where she is legally blind in both eyes at age 90+. She now needs additional help to remain in her apartment.
My friend is smart; enlisted the help of a social worker and learned, among other things, about available services. The "Aid and Attendance Pension Program" is one. The following are general guidelines for eligibility:
*One must be a veteran or surviving spouse of a veteran--the latter married to the veteran at the time of death.
*The veteran must have served 90 days of continuous service--one day being during time of war.
*The person must have medical need, that won't improve, and affects some acts of daily living (ADL) to the point that help is required.
*the person needs to live in a "protected environment" (could be own home) for his/her own safety (think dementia or stroke)
*the person is legally blind in both eyes.
The key is to have the maximum monthly pension offset all of the veteran's monthly income with qualifying medical expenses. Those "qualifying expenses" can include caregiver expenses for caregivers who come in to help, as well as for adult child/children if they do the care-giving. (In the latter case children must be paid like a regular employee based on what's reasonable.)
The Next Step
Dealing with any governmental agency takes time and we know if we are busy trying to keep our parents afloat, we may not be able to stretch the 24-hour-day enough to find that time. Knowing that there's a law practice with professionals who specialize in veteran's benefits may be useful, so I'm including a link. I do not endorse nor am I qualified to endorse. But my smart friend is using it to help get through the paper work. Communicating directly with the Department of Veteran's Affairs and reading the website is, of course, always a first step that costs nothing but time.
For annotated, additional sites and links click Sept. 22, 2010 post.