Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Aging Parents: Alert Pendants/Bracelets Reviewed and Researched--Part 1

Good News! My 97-year-old mother-in-law should return home soon, after sustaining a broken hip from a fall in late-September.  Surgery and rehab are successful.  She's in the final stages of strengthening the leg that couldn't be weight-bearing until everything healed.  She will go home with a cane and walker...and an alert pendant.
She needs (for practical reasons) and we need (for peace of mind) an alert pendant, which up until now she thought she had no need for.  The doctor says only 3% of people her age make such a good recovery, and it has been hard work.  She understandably doesn't want a repeat of the falling and crawling.
Two octogenarians and I gathered information about the following companies, aided by contributions to "the cause" from older friends.  Below are companies rated A+ by the Better Business Bureau. Clearly our list is not all inclusive, but gives you a start.
First, repeating from an earlier post: 9 Things to Consider When Deciding on an Alert Pendant. 
1. Cost
2. If there's a trial period
3. Cancellation/return policy: 
read the fine print.  Among other things, it seems some people have signed a 3-year contract without realizing it can't be broken, short of death.
4. Ease of installation
5. The range (will the button work if I fall in the laundry room?)
6. If a hearing aid is compromised due to a fall, can the fall victim hear the monitor's voice?
7. How--and how often--the "alert" pendant is tested
8. Whether the alert/alarm signal goes directly to a trained person, is outsourced, or goes to a central place then redirected to a trained person.
9.  Portability.  If going to Florida, for example, is it easy to take along?
Now, a partial list of companies. For detailed information on each, go to my new site: http://helpparentsagewell.com where the layout works better.
American Medical Alarms: (800-542-0438)   www.americanmedicalalarms.com
Lifeline (1-800-797-4191) www.lifelinesys.com (a Philips product) 
Life Station (1-866-220-0942) www.lifestation.com.
If you have 3 minutes, click this link:http://www.telecareaware.com/index.php/which-pendant-for-aunt.html  and click the "Call for Help" link within this link. You'll become more informed and--equally important--see how confusing the names are because many are so similar.   

List of companies concludes on Saturday. The details for each company will be posted on my new site, in the same way I'm posting them  today.  Clearly a lot of thought should go into the purchase of an alert system.  The implications for helping parents age well are great, especially for those who live alone. 

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Help Parents Age Well with Drive After Dark to View the Christmas Lights

The Joy of Holiday Lights
Christmas decorations make streets look festive and homes look welcoming. Especially at night, they can transform the ordinary into something uplifting and magical.  In a world of unrest and uncertainty the colors and twinkling of the holiday lights on homes seem--in a way-- protective, signaling all is well within.  And so it was comfortable for me to take a drive around my town last night to view the holiday lights.
After a wonderful Christmas eve party that included many little ones, representing the 3rd and 4th generations of a 96-year-old and his 87-year-old wife, I decided to extend the festive feeling by taking a detour on the way home to see lighted Christmas decorations on streets I rarely travel.
While the wonderful decorations are amateur, compared to the extravaganza we've seen in the Phoenix, Arizona area, they showcase the hard work and commitment of families to enhance their homes, yards, and neighborhood--a laudable goal under any circumstance.
As I climbed out of my car into the black, frigid night to snap these pictures (wearing non-sensible shoes), I could glimpse party-goers within, hear dogs barking to signal a stranger approaching, and realize some home owners had turned in for the night but left their colored lights glowing warmly in the yard.
Standing outside on the edge of their frozen property, I wondered if anyone realizedthe pleasure their displays provide. I wondered how many of us drive around to look at the lights; then wondered do we take our spouses and our children to enjoy the lights?  Do we ever think of taking an aging parent, relative, or friend?
I'm sharing some of last night's pictures here. (Click on photos to enlarge.) Perhaps you'll be inspired as I am--to take a senior out for a drive after dark--before the year ends and the decorations come down.
After a certain age, many seniors don't drive at night.  So here'a an opportunity to give them a change of scenery, to add interest to their lives--to contribute to helping parents, grandparents, and others age well.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Aging Parents: It's the Haa, Haa-py-est Time of the Year---or is it?

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.

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?

  • "Stay in close contact with elders--aunts, uncles. Make sure they're not forgotten."
  • "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 dholidays,on't relate to an email as they do to a phone call."
  • "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.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Aging Parents: 4 Last-Minute Holiday Gifts--Exciting, Entertaining, Practical, Easily-Obtainable

Need a last-minute gift for an older person without the enduring the hectic last-minute crowds?  Here's my short list.  It highlights exciting, pleasurable and practical gifts that can help parents and grandparents age well.
  • Lottery tickets, whether they are the scratch-off or wait-for-selection-of-the-winning numbers kind, add excitement to life.
  • Netflix conveniently provides seniors, who don't go out to the movies, many hours of entertainment.
  • Filling the car with gas for a senior on fixed income, or helping with other such essentials is a welcome gift.  While shopping and taking out my led pocket magnifying glass to help the saleswoman read the care label on a coat, an 81-year-old lady, buying a jacket for her granddaughter, joined the conversation. When I asked her what she'd like for Christmas, she quickly replied "my health," then added "and someone filling up my gas tank....I just bought gas and it's so expensive."
  • An IOU to take non-driving seniors shopping/to the doctor etc. and back.
While Netflix comes with a gift card, and lottery tickets speak for themselves, making a card for the last two gifts only requires a recipe card or a piece of paper onto which a picture of a car is pasted.  Happy gift-giving.
PS  While not easily obtainable (because it takes a while to get), the gift of an appointment at one of the leading hospitals' geriatric departments may be the best gift you can ever give a parent with health issues. Click the link http://helpparentsagewell.com/2010/09/13/update-on-best-hospitals-geriatric-division-visit/ and read Karen's short letter about her mother's experience.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

2 Technology Gifts for Lonesome, Non-Tech-Savvy Seniors

I've written this before; I write it again: People Change, Not Much.
As adult children we have the ability to view parents in a different "light" than when we were young.  Thus,
  • If--thinking back--parents were never self-starters, chances are this will never change.
  • If they didn't initiate relationships when they were young, what makes us think they will be any different when they're old?
Indeed, certain personality traits may have been masked because of a people-loving spouse who orchestrated the social life. Or perhaps natural relationships that develop among parents of children's friends, work colleagues, neighbors-- created a ready-made social group.
On the other hand, perhaps normally sociable, connected parents have just had bad luck, have lost friends to death or relocating, and can't get going again.  (After 3 months, consider it depression that they should get help for.)
The truth is--lonesome, isolated-feeling older parents can infect adult children with an emotionally-weighed-down feeling.  Another truth is, lonesome seniors aren't easy/fun to be around--so it becomes a vicious cycle.
While we can't change who a parent is, holidays like Christmas present an opportunity to delicately insert something into aging parents' lives that can help them age well (if enjoying life more qualifies for this category).
Here's where the Presto Printer Mailbox (see last post) could come to the rescue. Connections to others can come in daily, with "deliveries" much more often than snail mail.  And connections with others is one of the three most important factors in helping people age well, according to every study I've read.
If this works, parents can graduate to PawPaw (see last post), where they can receive and send mail. PawPaw has a free trial period. Presto has a 60-day-trial period, after which there's a refund if not satisfied.
While both of these may be a bit pricey for some, it's the kind of gift a family can join together to give.  And what better gift can a family give than the gift of connecting with others...one of the most important factors in helping people--in this case our parents or even grandparents--age well.
Visit my new site: http://helpparentsagewell.com

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Aging Parents: Technology Gifts for Non-Tech-Savvy Seniors

Computer? for ChristmasLiving far from my parents, I thought gifting Dad with a computer--just like mine so I could help him if he had problems--was a great idea on many levels--including our staying in touch.  Dad had a logical mind and could take apart and fix anything. Therefore I deduced, he would find using a computer relatively easy.  Wrong!
While his hands were steady at 85 and a mouse was no problem, he seemed eager to try but there was no natural instinct (as there is with today's children.) He was fine when I was sitting next to him; but when I left he couldn't do it. I'm an educator and know how to effectively teach.  But I failed.  That said--
7 Gift Ideas for Non-Tech-Savvy Seniors
1.  A computer? Nancy M., a computer educator who successfully taught octogenarians, among others, for over a decade says: "If people are mentally sound and have the dexterity, they can successfully use a computer."  To start out right, she advises, find a teacher or someone who understands how people learn.  An older person should be taught at home on his/her own computer.  Arranging the computer desktop so that only needed icons are there is a must...reduces confusion, she says. She also makes a folder for the desktop, containing an individual file with simple instructions for each procedure. Instructions are there if someone forgets. (I neglected the last 2 suggestions when helping Dad.)
2.  PawPaw http://pawpawmail.com/learn/: easy e-mail for nontech seniors and grandparents. There's a 10-day free trial period.
3.  Presto Printing Mailboxhttp://www.presto.com/ E-mail comes to the recipient as a printed-out letter; photos can also be sent. One-way communication from you to noncomputer users. There's a monthly fee.
4.  Fax: Most aging parents are comfortable with this old technology. Its original purpose was to transmit letters and documents. Excellent for: making copies; communication to/from doctors' offices; obtaining copies of records or lost bills; enlisting your help with confusing letters or bills. When mother was recovering from her stroke, it gave her incentive to exercise her hand and fingers by writing me--then faxing (or have Dad fax) it to me. Short notes grew into letters--good, meaningful fine motor practice.
5.  An ipad: a touch screen is easier than a mouse or keyboard for many older people. Marti Weston provides excellent information as she shares her experience with the ipad she bought for her dad.  http://asourparentsage.net/2010/12/03/holiday-gift-buying-an-ipad-for-your-senior-parent/#more-5951
As many of us know, major studies confirm social connectedness is one of the three most important factors in successful aging. The above gifts support this goal.
While the last 2 gifts don't promote social connectedness, they do promote pleasure:
6.  The iPod Shuffle-- "tailor-made for seniors, according to Phil Moeller's "Best Holiday gifts for Seniors" in US News&World Report."Once it's set up, to operate it all one has to do is click-on and click-off. Someone else who is already familiar with iTunes needs to learn what their favorite music is, obtain it, set up the playlist, and load it. If the senior knows how to operate a TV remote, they'll be able to handle this single-button operation."
7.  The Carson EZ read, helps the visually impaired (think macular degeneration) by magnifying a page onto a TV screen.  (Thanks to Susan Estrada, an engineer and member of the Technology and Aging Coalition of San Diego for this idea plus a technology gift guide.)
Gifts that expand aging parents' connections and knowledge, also help them to age well.
Visit my new site: http://helpparentsagewell.com

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Aging Parents-Holiday Gifts: When Small Gifts Mean a Great Deal

We know the holidays can be a difficult time for many.  Yet there's an opportunity to bring a sliver of  joy to them as we try to help parents and grandparents and older people age well.
What may be a little thing to us--(making a nursing home basket like those featured on my blog last week) can surprise with its impact.
*  *  *
Dear Ladies,
My nice little plant is doing very nicely and is happy.  The Christmas tray and notepaper plus pens are a wonderful gift.  We are all very appreciative of all the goodies you sent to us. You make our holidays much more exciting. We are old and sick, not dead. I hope you all know that your thoughtfulness is appreciated.

My Christmas basket from last year still decorates my room.
Thank you and God Bless.
*  *  *
While no more important than a gnat's eyelash when compared with the challenges of the older people in nursing homes, normal age-related changes affect many people's eyesight as well as strength as they age.  For them two of my most favorite, most  helpful small gifts (pictured below):
  1. A wonderfully-designed pocket magnifying glass--with LED light that gives light and 3x magnification with a simple pull. $9.99 at the Container Store. (It also comes in a low vision model  called "Low Vision Amber Contrast.)"  The website has more details and lists additional stores.   http://www.lightwedge.com/Shop/On-The-Go/Pocket-Magnifier-with-LED-Light.  In addition, the Container Store's site has reviews:  http://reviews.containerstore.com/1626/10017878/led-pocket-magnifier-reviews/reviews.htm  
  2. The best jar opener I've ever used, no matter the size of the screw-top--and it's FREE: a wide rubber band (found on produce in grocery stores or produce markets).  Note below how it grips the cap on the jar/bottle.  Older people's grips weaken, making twisting off tops more difficult.  Rubber band to the rescue.  Just twist and turn.  PS--it takes up no room. 
Gifts needn't be large or expensive, we know that.  Sometimes, as we also know, it's the little things that mean the most.  And both of these gifts--as well as the baskets for those in nursing homes--enhance older people's exisence and--in many cases--contribute to their aging well.

Magnifying Glass and Rubber Bands
Please visit: http://helpparentsagewell.com.
My new site.  Same post, more information.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Holiday Gifts for Aging Parents--4: Mothers and a Few Things for Dads

              "I'm going to a party tonight," says a former colleague, retired years ago and now in her late-80's.  A friend will drive her.
"It should be fun," I say.
"What's fun is to see my old friends," she replies.  "The hostess has been a good friend since grade school and she has this big party every year with friends, their children and grandchildren, who are now teenagers. Actually the younger generation plans most of it."
"What are you wearing?" I ask.
"Don't know, will have to see what's in my closet," she replies.
It's too late for her, but NorthStyle catalog( NorthStyle.com, 800-336-5666) has velvet drape-neck tops ((NA-133 in chocolate or black) with 3/4 length sleeves. For a woman who is physically able to put something with a wide-necked-opening over her hair without messing it up, they would look great over black slacks, pulled together with a jacket.  Check out Copper Foil Jacket N4-707 (hand washable).
Serengeti (SerengetiCatalog.com, 800-426-2852) is loaded with holiday and everyday wearable clothing...more than I can begin to name, so you need to check everything out! However, the silver-sequined zipper jacket & velour elasticized drawstring-waist pants set (W9-297) would be great for my former colleague to wear to the party tonight.
Appleseeds (www.appleseeds.com 800-767-6666) has the $79 black velvet jacket MQ1-61F (Misses) MQ1FP (Petite) that is a "must-have" for many--along with attractive pants, shirts, skirts, sweaters, jackets, coats, pant suits--you name it. Definitely check out Appleseeds.  You may find something for yourself too!
Lastly, aging/older/old dads.  My dad liked to look "sharp," he would say. But I could never figure out exactly what that meant or what to buy.  His sister had cornered the pajama gift...at least one new pair a year.
His favorite article of clothing in colder weather was a wool knit, button-down-the-front sleeveless vest. When it was sunny, he wanted cotton long-sleeve shirts to protect his arms from skin cancer when outdoors.  He also liked a nice zipper jacket (lightweight for summer, warm for winter), and slacks with an adjustable waistband.
I found the latter (check out 130221 @ $99.50) in The Territory Ahead catalog, which is fairly pricey (territoryahead.com 800-882-4323).  Wool knit sleeveless cardigan vests were always fairly expensive but the ones in this catalog aren't the kind he liked. There is, however, a wide variety of zipper jackets.  While marketed for much younger men, my dad in his 80's and 90's thought they were just fine--and on him, they were (in fact I still wear his gabardine one with jeans).
Remembering parents' physical limitations and personal preferences (make certain flabby arms are covered), makes gifts of clothing more problematic. Yet if we subscribe to "look good, feel better" it can be worth it, especially for the holidays, as we try to help our parents age well.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Help Aging Parents--Trying to-do-it-All-Children--Help!

Reassess, Prioritize, Change Plans ("Holiday Gifts for Mothers" postponed 'til Saturday, but read on for nursing home gift baskets), Move Forward  Isn't there a song--"Mamma Said There'd Be Days Like This.."
Fly home Tuesday...cross-country.  Weather delay.  Arrive home after 1am this morning. Early morning commitment for the Woman's Club Open House.  Sleep-deprived. Volunteered to do a holiday table setting which requires going out to buy flowers for the centerpiece.
We're having heavy downpours; high wind gusts.  My car is dead!  Won't start. Will need a ride to the Club, but first must go outside and cut holly and other greens.  My centerpiece will have no flowers, berries win out.
The sore throat that kept me from visiting my mother-in-law at the rehab center the last two days because I was concerned about spreading something--hangs on; and being drenched by the rain as I cut the holly isn't the medicine the doctor would order if I had time to check with him.

Nursing Home Gift Bag
Nursing Home Gift Bag

Gift for a Woman
I want to share photos of some of the Woman's Club's holiday gift baskets for the nursing home this December.  I mentioned them in November's "Gifts for Aging Parents in Care Facilities" (along with a gift list.) They always look great and contents cost under $12.00 total.  AndOpen House guests always want to buy them, but they aren't for sale.

Gift Basket (click to enlarge)
Click to enlarge
Of course, today I wanted to finish the Holiday Gifts for Aging Mothers--4, but can't stretch 24 hours into the 30 hours I need.  Thus, I'm saving the "Holiday Gifts..." for Saturday.
In the meantime, a letter received today from K, whose mother's experience with a geriatrician at Mt. Sinai was shared in September-http://helpparentsagewell.com/2010/09/13/update-on-beshospitals-geriatric-division-visit/:
Susan, I took my mother to Mt. Sinai yesterday for a follow-up meeting. I can't begin to tell you how much I like it and Dr. P in particular. My feeling is that they are all just as wonderful.
My mother was walking on air when we left. He makes her feel validated and not just "old and complaining."
Another gift idea: an appointment with a geriatrician (especially at hospitals with highly regarded geriatrics departments). It can help parents age well, just as it's helping Karen's mother.  And when our mother's feel good, don't we feel good? Thanks for sharing, Karen.