Saturday, May 29, 2010

Memorial Day--a nostalgic look back

The celebration of Memorial Day has changed from the holiday our parents experienced when they were young, which was on May 30th. In those days it was celebrated over a 3-day weekend only when it fell on a Friday or a Monday. It was a day for some families to visit the cemetery and pay their respects. For others, my senior advisors recall, it was a major family-get-together day that brings back many fond memories.

"In those days I would be so busy I wouldn't even have time to talk to you on the telephone," said R, age 98 and one of our senior advisors. "We would have around 35 for a barbecue--children, cousins--I miss it...very much. Today is a different generation. We used to live close--a hop, skip, and a jump away. But now family is more spread out....and a lot of people are lazier. They don't want to do the extra work; they prefer to be a guest."

Whether a worker or a guest, enjoy the holiday weekend. Tuesday I'm hoping to have important information for widows of men who worked hard to make the world a safer, better place--widows of World War II veterans.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Why Hearing Aids Get Put in A Drawer, Never to Come Out Again

Discomfort. Expense. Strange sounds. Vanity attack.

...And we wonder why older people resist hearing aids--or put them in a drawer. Is it because they are too expensive to throw out or because they are reminders of aging and thus too difficult and depressing to have to deal with?

Which-ever. The bottom line: people who aren't hearing well-- are missing out. If our parents have hearing loss, we know they're at a disadvantage but did we realize:
  • they may feel self-conscious about asking people to repeat or
  • about not responding appropriately to what has been said...a joke, for instance
  • they seem more likely to put up with hearing loss than people who have vision problems
As we think about M's experiences in last Saturday's post, many of us can no doubt empathize.

"Better Hearing Month"
To help aging parents who may be experiencing hearing loss or hearing aid frustration, check out "Hearing Loss Isn't Just an 'Old' Thing", "Hearing aids still considered an old people thing" and WebMD. Also check out the hearing aid information. These links augment previous "Hearing Loss" posts, and provide additional understandings and information. And since May is "Better Hearing Month" there is more information than usual "out there."

FYI: I shared this post with several older women and learned all had tried--and discontinued--hearing aids. "I've had it (the hearing aid) in a drawer in a little change purse...about 4 years," said one. All said they would be interested in trying again if there was a return policy. So, adult children--take note.

Initially I planned to link to "Hearing Well in a Noisy World," Consumer Reports July 2009, and tried to do that, but couldn't since I'm away from my own computer as I write this. You can no doubt search and find the 2009 article as well as other timely articles's May!

Reading these articles supports and reconfirms M's experiences and suggestions; and hopefully offers additional ammunition to help our parents age well.

Saturday, May 22, 2010


Why Hearing Aids Get Put in a Drawer, Never to Come Out Again
"Two years ago I discussed hearing aids with my doctor. He told me the best place to have an evaluation and said, just like someone needing a hip replacement, I'd know when the time was right. So I had the evaluation recently--two years later." M, age 80+
* * *

Help Parents Age Well offers something special. An advisory panel of stellar seniors with "smarts" and good, common sense that have served them well as they do their best to age well. They live in several parts of the United States, have at least one adult child (many of whom have spouses), and they'll share thoughts with you and participate in answering your questions in the weeks ahead.

All senior advisors are at least 80 years old; possess a good understanding of themselves, and were selected because of their sensitivity to the challenges of aging, their ability to meet those challenges and their ability to express themselves.

A weekly check with my advisors reviews ideas for the weekly posts. When I first contacted M about hearing loss, she informed me she just got a hearing aid. She knows first hand; it's all fresh in her mind. So I introduce her today, and will continue to introduce at least one advisor each month.

Inscription over a gate on the campus of Scripps College, Claremont California

* * *

Meet M. She has been widowed 11 years and had two sons. One son died unexpectedly after finishing college and becoming engaged--two years before the death of her husband. She has one married son, who lives less than an hour away.

M was a stay-at-home mom, helped her mother (who died at 108) to age well, and had a responsible office position at a company's headquarters while her boys were in college. Since her husband died, she has been involved in volunteer work, was president of a club of 300+ women and today handles rentals for the historic building that houses that club.

M's hearing aid experience

Not good! "Initially the hearing aids were so uncomfortable I pulled them out while driving--after leaving the audiologist's...and managed to drop one of the tiny batteries on the floor. They aren't that easy to see and find! I was so discouraged and thought what a waste of thousands of dollars.

I probably would have gone home like so many people do--and put them in a drawer and never looked at them again, except for the fact that they gave me an appointment for two weeks later. (It was included in the price.) But I left them in a drawer until two days before the scheduled appointment and decided I'd better try them. They didn't seem to fit well--felt lose, were uncomfortable, and my ears itched."

Perseverance! "I might not have persevered if the audiologist hadn't been persistent and encouraging, making an adjustment, and giving me some pointers along with another appointment (again included in the price). I felt I would have to give an accounting of myself in two weeks so I wore them but still wasn't convinced. I learned I wasn't putting the batteries in correctly at the next appointment, and then--"

Amazing! "I left the audiologist's after the third appointment to attend a meeting when I realized I was hearing everything! I didn't have to pretend laughing when people laughed at something I couldn't hear; I didn't have to be embarrassed to ask someone to repeat something. I was used to piecing a conversation together as well as I could and maybe missed 10-15%. Now I hear it all."

End Result: "I no longer must turn the TV volume up so loud that I worry about my neighbors complaining. It took three additional appointments, but I'm used to the hearing aids and I'm no longer aware of what I call 'exaggerated sounds' that I heard in the beginning--things that sounded weird-- like the rustle of tissue paper or water running. I'm very pleased at this point and I give credit to the encouragement of the audiologist."

THE BIG QUESTION: Why do people resist hearing aids?

  • "Certainly because they take time to get used to and they must be cleaned and batteries must be put in correctly and replaced when necessary.
  • But also hearing aids--unlike glasses--are a symbol of old age--like a cane. And many older people's vanity gets in the way.
  • You know it takes wisdom to start using a cane, and it takes wisdom to know when you should start using a hearing aid."

M reminds adult children:

--"Old people can become very stubborn about certain things." Translated: if you've mentioned a hearing aid to a parent once, continued suggestions probably won't help (unless it's a suggestion from a doctor).

--"If you're asked to repeat something, repeat slowly--not louder."

--"The tone of voice that accompanies talking loud, can be easily mistaken for impatience."

--"Try not to convey impatience to your parents."

PS. M also mentioned the fact that men may be more resistant to hearing aids because they usually don't have hair, like women, that hides their ears and thus, their hearing aid.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


An aging parent's hearing loss can't help but impact--to some degree--his or her quality of living and potential to age well. And, as many will attest, it can exasperate others' efforts to communicate. While we most likely make polite allowances for casual acquaintances, it can be especially frustrating when it hampers communication with our parents.

We're discussing important matters. We're pressed for time and are asked to repeat. Curt responses like that of the "wonderful daughter" in Saturday's post aren't unusual. Aging parents' hearing loss may cause our responses to inadvertently chip away at their self-esteem. And doesn't this work at cross purposes to our efforts to help parents age well?

  • Pull them into the conversation as equal participants
  • Beware of--and resist-- role reversal
  • Realize that proving we're right may be less important than reaching the goal of having parents "buy in" and move forward
  • Remember that using "I" statements prevents feelings from coming across as a lecture or as fact: ("I may not be correct but.../ it may just be my concern don't seem to be hearing as well as you used to/ you don't seem to be using your hearing aids
"You know, Mom/Dad, lately I've noticed--and maybe you have too..." (this is respectful; pulls them in as an equal participant in the conversation) "that you've been asking me to repeat things a lot lately."
Parental response: "I don't know what you're talking about."
"You don't know what I'm talking about..." (we repeat back and we confirm respect with an accurate account) "well yesterday you asked me to repeat several times what I said about Sally's new home."
Parent: "well there was that truck going by and making a lot of noise."
"True, but I repeated about Sally's new home twice after that. You know it could be a hearing problem. Do you think it makes sense to check it out with Dr. Smith?" (respectful, validates parental participation. And chances are, unless parents are in denial, they realize there is a hearing problem and most should act to get help).

Of course when something threatens life and limb, we know we must deal with it immediately. Hearing loss, while not as dramatic as dangerous driving, can be a threat. An inability to hear properly, for example, can result in a failure to heed warnings and could preclude anticipation of a dangerous situation. ( A previous post about falling mentions the affects of inner ear problems on balance.)

The preceding makes a good case for older people with hearing loss to schedule a hearing evaluation. I understand from my senior advisors that finding an experienced audiologist who can instill confidence in an older person is important. As opposed to going to an ophthalmologist or optometrist who writes a prescription for eyeglasses (which usually give noticeable vision improvement very quickly), most often hearing aids don't solve hearing loss problems as easily or quickly.

Is this the reason there's usually a 30-day return policy on hearing aids? Many older people (including ones I spoke with) missed or were unaware of the return policy and just gave up on their hearing aid. Children committed to helping older parents age well may be surprised to find that at one time in the past their parents tried and gave up on still-in-the-drawer--hearing aids.

One of my senior blog advisors, wearing a brand new hearing aid, will be introduced in this coming Saturday's post. She shares her experience--and possibly that of some contemporaries--to help older parents (in this case) with hearing loss--age well.
* * *
For excellent professional hearing loss information: check out NIH and Mayo Clinic. For recent questions/answers about situations with parents' hearing loss, browse the Caregiver Questions in's comments. Carol Bursak, the site's "Community Moderator," has been writing for a long time--offers solid information and good advice. You can also check out Carol's site.

Posting comments below is still "ify." Contacting me at the gmail address to the right is best.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Aging Parents: Hearing--or Hearing Loss?

"What did you say?" "I just told you......." Does this snip-it of conversation with an aging parent sound familiar? And if it does, is there anything wrong with it?

We know that hearing loss may be a normal part of aging; but not all older people suffer (and I do mean suffer) from it. Mother could hear a pin drop right up until she died less than two weeks short of her 89th birthday. My dad, on the other hand, wore his hearing aid when he felt like it. Yet as both were--I guess you could say literally on their deathbeds (that sounds rather awful, doesn't it)--I was told "hearing is the last to go." Thus, we were all careful about what was said in their presence.

Currently my
18+ year-old cat, who sees probably better than I, has almost total hearing loss. It seemed to come about quite suddenly. I wonder how it mirrors the human experience. She, a stray, no longer hears nor comes running when called; she loved being outdoors but not any longer unless someone is out there with her; and she's often scared when we apparently sneak up on her. So we have great patience with her; perhaps because she never asks "What did you say?" and we never need to repeat.

As we try to help parents age well, we try not to diminish or demean by saying something--or saying something in a way--that makes them feel bad. Obviously! And yet--

An 80-year old mother pointed out that her perfectly wonderful daughter had a habit of responding to the u
biquitious "What did you say?" with a bit of impatience in her voice (which made her mother feel bad) as she repeated whatever it was she initially said. So, for starters, when repetition is requested it may make sense to think carefully about how we respond. Who knows--that old saying "it's not what you say, it's how you say it" might possibly be applicable.

Tuesday's post will make use of my counselor training with suggestions for responding to an aging parent who isn't hearing well or isn't using an already-purchased hearing aid; followed by tips for helping parents age well by doing what's necessary to confront and combat hearing loss.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Aging Parents: Empowering Old/Older Men


Saturday, May 8, 2010

Aging Parents: A Goat as a Mother's Day Gift?

Random thoughts: I was feeling a bit dismal this morning. The response to my last post was---my interpretation--not that enthusiastic. I guess a goat, given in mom's honor as a Mother's Day gift, isn't as popular as I thought it would be...

But I was heartened by one email reinforcing the value and popularity of supporting Heifer International's work throughout the world. I also like the idea that there's a colorful gift card that's downloadable after making a donation. Thus, a last-minute donation to honor someone, doesn't necessitate scrambling for an appropriate card. But I don't know how many clicked on the link to learn that.

Next I went grocery shopping. Trader Joe's featured a "bouquet in a box" --roses, lillies, gerber daisies, small pom pom mums, and two stems of daisy-type flowers in a complimentary-color, plaid, box-shaped, waterproof bag for $12.99. Really pretty! You felt good just looking at it. Bought one; took it home with the groceries; then inspected it and took it apart to get leaves out of the water as they disintegrate and make the water bad. So I cut off leaves, recut stems, put in fresh water, then decided to take it to 99-year-old Edie, who's fragile, but "with it."

She's the "Edie" featured in my book and her words of wisdom are in past posts. I heard she had fallen a while back. Went to her daughter's home to find out I'd missed her by 15 minutes. She was on her way to the airport with her other daughter, who lives in the south. And she will be living with that daughter from now on.

I have her phone number, I will phone tomorrow. I will--no doubt--never see her again. Am I feeling a bit dismal? No. I have a very pretty bouquet in a box that I will enjoy on Mother's Day and beyond. And I will speak with Edie tomorrow and wish her a happy Mother's Day. And I will ask if she'd like a goat--or a share of a goat--donated in her honor to help raise a family out of poverty. I think she will.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Aging Parents: Older Mothers and Nonmothers on Mother's Day

Sunday is Mother's Day as we know--a day we do more than just help aging parents. We celebrate mothers--old and young...and grandmothers and great-grandmothers and mothers-in-law.

I began thinking:
What about important women in our lives who have no children to honor them? And what about the less organized among us who still need a last-minute gift that shows special thought and caring?

I was with a woman last week, a senior citizen who has no children or living parents although she has two nieces she thinks the world of. I asked if she and her husband had plans for this coming Sunday. Her reply: she hoped she would hear from her nieces. They had phoned on past Mother's Days. They lived in another state and she loved when they called--but of course, she couldn't be certain they would phone. That conversation generated a few ideas.

First, Mother's Day is our opportunity to let women--our mothers and others--know that they mean a lot to us. A phone call, mailed cards, flowers, candy--all can convey the message. And for older people, the importance of being remembered by someone other than children may be greater than we think. Three women--age range late eighties to 102--all with children and grandchildren,
report for years they have received a Mother's Day card from one of their children's friends. That, they said, was extra special.

Second, two very different, last-minute gift ideas for mothers. Nether is "stuff." The first, in honor of your mother, make a contribution to a recognized charitable/nonprofit organization 501(c) (3) that is meaningful to her. The second is in the "help parents age well" category, connected with driving/transportation, exercise and stimulation.

One rather unusual, but worthy charity idea that may be "right' for certain mothers is a donation to
Heifer International, A Heifer International email said in part:
Mothers go by many names:
Mom, Momma, Ma, Mati, Nay, Mzaa…
We have a few others:
Hen, Ewe, Cow, Sow, Doe.
This Mother’s Day celebrate your mother by giving one—a mother that will provide a new means of income and nutrition to a hungry family. The mothers of the world will thank you...Whatever gift you give through Heifer will be passed on, with proper training and tools, from one mother to another. Entire communities will be changed in your mom's honor.

I checked out the
nonprofit organization with Dr. Viola Vaughn, Teachers College Distinguished Alumni from Senegal, who knew about its worthwhile work. Since I was thinking of donating a goat, we discussed goats and she explained how much they contributed to a family's being able to sustain itself. Clicking the Heifer link informs us that as little as $10 gives a share of a goat, (an entire goat is $120; $20 buys a flock of chickens etc.).

The second idea involves transportation, exercise, and stimulation, which take on more and more importance as parents age. Gifts that incorporate these aspects of living into an aging mother's life can be a real plus, if they don't already exist.

  • First, check to see if/when a CarFit evaluation (sponsored by AARP and AAA) is available in your community then give your mother an IOU to accompany her to one. See additional safe-driving suggestions in my October post. Last month I was in a parking lot where a CarFit evaluation was going on; asked if they could take me without an appointment. They did. They check how well one fits into his/her car for safe driving and make suggestions: ie. seat cushions to elevate drivers who may have age-related "shrinking" that limits visibility, wider rear-view mirrors etc.
  • Taxi script may be a welcome gift if mothers no longer drive or are hesitant about about driving.
  • Or consider a gift membership to organizations like the "Y" which usually offer stimulating programs as well as exercise; or a gift certificate for an exercise program like Silver Sneakers that accepts medicare in many states (check it out) and helps older mothers stay fit and engaged.
Whatever we do to help aging parents on this day, mothers usually appreciate our efforts and--to reiterate from previous posts-- spending Mother's Day with children and grandchildren is the best.

PS It would be great--and helpful-- if you could share your thoughts on the gift ideas in these posts with me at the gmail address to the right.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Aging Parents: Gifts--Lighted Pocket Magnifying Glass Revisited--+1

I stopped by the Container Store to purchase lighted pocket magnifying glasses as Mother's Day gifts for older friends. (See last post.) Later that day, looking at my schedule for the following week, I was reminded that D's birthday was Wednesday.....A chance to check out reactions to this gift idea that I think can add quality to life--and thus our efforts to help parents and older friends age well.

We went to lunch and D opened the small package before the menus came. I knew she had vision problems; what I didn't know was that it was her
88th birthday. She phoned me later to say "thank you" and followed the phone call with a written note the next day. It provides some insights and says in part:

"Good friends become more and more important as years go on--I didn't think I needed anything--but you found the perfect present."

D used the magnifier to read the main menu and dessert menu. A waiter came to take dessert orders and I asked if he needed a Mother's Day gift idea for a mother or grandmother. He told us his mother was in her 80's, had vision issues, he knew that a Container Store was located near his home, and he was going there after work. Another waiter joined the conversation. Same reaction.

A few days later another Mother's Day gift suggestion came from a friend: A traditional picture frame with a picture of the entire family/families--all the children (and spouses if any) and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. It's nice to have the whole family inside one frame, it seems. This caused me to ask about the new frames enabled by technology. One former stock broker in her mid-late 60's said her children gave her one that "has never been out of the box." A capable computer-user, she just didn't want to be bothered downloading.

Which brings up the point that at a certain age, many people just don't want to be bothered with gifts involving unfamiliar technology.....even when they've used a computer at work for the better part of their life. So it would make sense to check it out with parents beforehand. If they're comfortable, go for It. If not, hopefully ideas from the last three posts are helpful.

As we try to help parents age well, check out the lighted pocket magnifying glass and-- if there's still time get every family member together-- you could arrange to have a family photo taken to put in a nice traditional frame.


I'm interested to know which gift ideas you like best. Please comment below or use the gmail address at the right.