Saturday, February 26, 2011

When Helping Aging Parents Isn't Helpful

4 Common Mistakes We Make When Trying to Help Parents Age Well
Some "courtesies" today may be considered good manners, but in fact don't help older people age well.  They chip away at independence and work against physical fitness, so necessary for successful aging.
I've become conscious of this since my 97-year-old mother-in-law (and Senior Advisor to my blog, R) has made a full recovery from her broken hip and is again living alone (with an alert pendant) in her home of 60+ years.
She still goes to physical therapy twice a week, where she's being trained to walk confidently on her own--without cane. Surprisingly I realize my instincts weren't helping this goal.
After spending 4 months in a rehab center doing physical therapy to strengthen muscles and regain her ability to walk, her handicapped parking sticker is readily available.  But why use it to park up close (except in emergency situations) when walking is excellent exercise for her?
Nor do I open the car door for her any more.  She was taught how to open a car door and get in properly--cane and all. It took hard work on her part to accomplish this. Do I reinforce independence or contribute to her muscle strength by opening the car door? or closing it?
"It's nice to let people do for you," says R, "but pretty soon you get used to it and you begin to lose independence.  And that happens with too many people.  I've been watching it.  Pretty soon they can't do for themselves what they really are capable of doing--and they lose a lot of their life."
When/if this happens it lose-lose for everyone, except perhaps for assisted living facilities and 24/7 caregivers.  Adult children must "step up" and fill in. Don't we want to avoid this as long as possible--if not forever?
Are we helpful, when we help old people out of a chairIf they can get up by themselves they exercise leg and arm muscles. Older people get up--unaided--more easily from a chair with a sturdy seat and sturdy arms. Every older person's home should have one--as should their children's.
Fact: countless older people can't get off of the toilet due to weak leg and arm muscles. (Worry not--they've found raised seats in the catalogs and surgical supply places, but why help parents get into that situation?)
When parents use a walker but are seated, for example at a restaurant, it's common to see well-meaning children pull them up from their seat. This deprives the walker-user from exercising arm and leg muscles, plus elderly people have thin skin--bruising can occur. We should stand firm, reach out and let the walker-using person grab our hands and pull him/herself up.
What else is not helpful? Basically--even with the best of intentions-- doing anything for aging parents that they can do for themselves.

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Aging Parents' Appearance--Helping Fathers and Grandfathers Look Their Best

Ever wonder why Dad doesn't look as good as you think he should?

Appearance is the first thing people notice. And this is one area--in our efforts to help aging parents--where adult children can make a significant contribution.
When we do thoughtful things we help parents age well. Some of these things have an added bonus. Such is the case when we help older women and men to look better.
Some older men (especially when there's no woman in their life), seem to let themselves go appearance-wise. Some may just be lazy. Or they may find it difficult to shave well due to eyesight or dexterity limitations. Or they may live alone and have difficulty getting to laundry facilities in a basement or elsewhere.  Or if they can access laundry facilities, they may be clueless as to how to operate the machinery.
Many of these conditions are correctable once noticed so adult children can provide remedies--by helping them get to a doctor or barber shop, by arranging for the laundry to be done, by teaching a willing aging father how to use a washing machine and dryer or by gifting a new, easier-to-use razor, an article of clothing and/or an appointment with a good barber.
(Is a professional shave a gift idea? When Dad was in his final months I remember his delight when the caregiver gave him a shave in the morning, complete with a warm, damp towel.)
While thoughtful overtures definitely bring pleasure, helping an aging parent look better offers 2 more potential benefits: improving strangers' reactions to him--be it at the grocery store, a new doctor's office, wherever; and getting compliments from people who know him and notice the change. All enhance self-esteem.
Grooming and clothing-- can make a big difference. A clean-shaven man makes a good first impression. Stubble and that unshaven look tend to be vagrant-looking on most old/older/elderly men... unless of course your dad or grandfather has the looks off a Brad Pitt, Justin Timberlake.
Hair loss, an issue for men, leads to some strange/creative hairstyles which a good barber should be able to restyle more suitably. Dad solved this problem with a hat to protect his balding head and avoid more skin cancer. Here, at 91, he's at my oldest, best friend's beach house. We stayed overnight reminiscing, with the priceless warmth countless years of friendship provide.
While older men don't need fashionista clothing, it needs to be neat, clean, color coordinated and appropriate for the occasion. This 72-year-old, recuperating from major illness, had just come from physical therapy and was waiting for his wife. "She'd kill me," he said, "if she thought I was having my picture taken looking like this." But he's clean-shaven, his hair looks fine on this windy summer day, and his clothes are in order.
Many elderly fathers have favorite clothing combinations that they wear again and again--like a uniform. Before everything wears out, what about taking dad shopping? Visit stores or websites--or surprise him with a gift of clothing that enhances his wardrobe. Sounds like a plan.
Father's Day is less than 4 months away...but who's counting when we can help aging fathers/grandfathers in more ways than one with a single gesture.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Old Technology. Unique Advantages--for Aging Parents and Football Recruiters

Unexpected help. Big advantage to aging parents and college football: the Fax machine!
The Wall Street Journal reports in a short front-page article "In College Football Recruiting, The Star Player Is the Fax Machine" (2/2/11).  Readers learn the first Wednesday in February is "signing day," the date when high school football recruits can officially finalize their college choice with a signed letter.  To expedite the process the "often ignored" fax machine becomes the focus of anxious coaches as the signed letters roll in.
"I've never seen a bunch of grown men so worried about a fax machine, said the University of South Carolina's recruiting coordinator," (according to the WSJ).
Of course! Fax machines are more affordable and easier to use than the newer technology that scans and sends, so "everyone" has access to them. Yet the fax's attributes are often overlooked when thinking about helping aging parents and older people who don't use current technology.
How is it helpful?
1.  Health Issues: We can fax the doctor's office to inform of a health issue, asking for a fax or phone call back if we're asking a question (ie. Mom wouldn't take her medication.  Says it's making her nauseated.  What to do?)
"Heads up" for doctors:  Within 24 hours of an appointment, fax with specifics of reasons dad is coming in. Saves some precious time when we're there.
Clarifying problem mail: At times parents have confusing bills or written notices.  Once faxed to adult children, they can usually help untangle things to the point where parents can take care of the problem themselves. If not, the problem is not a surprise and children are "ahead of the game" when they need to intervene.
You'll no doubt think of other uses for that old fax machine.  Or perhaps you'll buy an inexpensive new one.  As we try to help older people age well, maintain independence and confidence, isn't it important that we try not to do for an aging parent what he/she can do for him or herself --even if we can do it faster and easier?  The fax still has its place.

Visit my other blog:  Same post, additional resources.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Tuesday's post delayed until Wednesday

Subject: often ignored technology called "king" for college football recruiting, has relevance for aging parents, older and elderly people, as well as the old old--and perhaps for ourselves!  

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Best Valentine Gift?

I appreciate YOU! xxooWant to know one of the best possible Valentine's Day gifts you can give an aging parent--especially one who is lacking confidence, feeling beaten down, or is having a hard time? A sincere compliment...spoken--or why not written on a Valentine?
Older people and the elderly, in the three groups just mentioned, get relatively few compliments when compared with younger people.  And isn't making people feel good what Valentine's Day is all about?
Remember the Valentines with our names on them that were pulled out of the red decorated box in our grade/elementary school classrooms on February 14th? Of course the most popular kids got the most Valentines, but--possibly owing to a sensitive teacher--everyone in the class got at least one pretty Valentine with a nice message.
I remember my 80-something-year-old grandmother would tell us--sometimes several times--about compliments she had received.  And why not?  It made her feel good, did something for her self-esteem and we kids would usually chime in in a way that confirmed the compliment and made her feel even better.
Yesterday a lovely and sensitive friend, Carol, who I've known since college, sent me a note. In it she enclosed a note that my husband's mother (senior advisor, R) had recently written her from the rehab facility, thanking Carol for her Christmas card and wishes for a speedy recovery from her broken hip (described in my January posts).
I phoned R, to read her Carol's note and the complimentary and fitting adjectives she used when writing about R. While R is truly an amazing woman (all my contemporaries say she's a role model), who gets many compliments at 97, I knew she was pleased when I read Carol's note over the phone.  And then she said, "And Carol sent me a Valentine...." and I could hear how unexpected and pleased it made her feel.
Almost all the really old (90+) people I sent Valentine's to over the past decade have died--the last one being Alberta, the wife of the WWII veteran (mentioned in my May posts about veteran's benefits), who died in her sleep last week.  Edie--at 100--remains and I will e-mail her Valentine to her daughter's e-mail (she now lives with her daughter)  in Tennessee.
Sincere, not contrived, compliments make us all feel good. Perhaps the unexpected ones written on a Valentine make aging parents and the elderly feel especially good as we strive to help parents age well.
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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Help! Aging Parents Who Are Downright, Dangerous Drivers

How Elderly Drivers Become a Road Hazard:Part of the Problem
I’ve forgotten whether Dad’s driver’s license came up for renewal the year before or the year after his 90th birthday. What I do remember is the fact that it was renewed for 8 or 10 years. (Other states have this renewal procedure, I've found.)
Dad went to the DMV bureau in a smaller town 20 minutes from his home. Parking was easy; they were nice. He had a habit of keeping his wallet (with driver’s license) hidden in the trunk of his car. As he began the renewal process he realized he didn’t have his soon-to-expire license and told the DMV person it was in the trunk of his car--he'd get it. No problem--the computer could access data. He only needed proof of who he was.
The only “document” that had his name: a Safeway Grocery Store club membership card in his pocket. ID accepted. Renewal granted.  (Thankfully Dad was a good, safe driver.)
Fact: Some older drivers (and others) drive under “ify” circumstances.
Fact: When it’s threatening to life and limb, prevention is key.
Fact: Parents resent being forced to do something, just as we would resent our children forcing us to do something.
Fact: The entities and agencies, you would expect help from, may be of little or no help.
Parents who drive dangerously must be stopped, but how--without straining family relationships? If you're an only child, it's your burden. If there are siblings and the majority agree, you can say "we're worried about your driving and while it hurts to tell you this, the majority of us think your driving at this point is dangerous so we need your help to think about options."  If this presents problems, see #4 below.
The Strategy and Reality
#1. What seems like a major problem, may be easily solved (could be medications). Remind "with-it" parents of this. Including them in pondering the problem and acknowledging  the problem may be easily solved, is respectful, empowering, and helps them buy into whatever may come. To rule out serious problems, with your parents agreeing and perhaps making the call, consult the primary care doctor, which may lead to testing (eg. vision, neurological) or medication changes.
#2. If it’s not correctable, the doctor is in a good position to deliver the message. This is a huge loss, a chunk of life is being removed. Doctors have practice in delivering bad news and hopefully do it in a skillful way.
#3. Many adult children have phoned police, insurance companies, DMV etc., in efforts to curtail parents’ driving. The results vary. It’s sneaky, which is disrespectful and undermines self-esteem among other things. Understandably children usually don’t feel good about it. Only as a last resort, it may have merit.
#4. If we must deliver the stop-driving message, how do we give facts, affirm our parents’ ability to participate in the decision-making and arrive at a no-more-driving result? If we're uncomfortable attempting this and have watched the we-need-to-talk link in Saturday's post, a social worker experienced with the elderly can be a big help. Contact a local family counseling agency or an agency with social workers specializing in geriatrics. They've no doubt helped countless aging parents and their adult children resolve the driving dilemma.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Talking to Aging and Elderly Parents: To Drive or Not to Drive--3

We begin to realize, for aging parents life is a delicate balance--physically and mentally. J reminds us in the first driving post that no one likes seeing a lessening of him/herself--but "there comes a time."  And when the time comes, no one wants to be told what to do, made to feel he or she is being treated like an infant.   So how do we discuss driving with parents?
Most of us think driving is necessary to maintain quality of life. No wonder we dread having the not-driving talk with our parents! To help parents age well we don't want to diminish their quality of life.  If we can have this talk before driving is an issue we’re a step ahead. If we’re in crisis mode, it’s so much harder.
Since it makes sense to have good information before plunging into anything problematical, I begin with a link to another AARP's web offering:  The  6 1/2+minute "We Need to Talk" video, obviously well-thought-out and professionally produced, may resonate. Click it on, turn up the volume, take time to watch it and listen.  If it doesn't meet your needs, read on for strategies I knew, wish I’d known or tried successfully with my parents, that can improve chances for success when attempting difficult conversations.
With the goal of helping aging parents and the realization that "one size doesn't fit all,"  I put older drivers into three groups:
1.  The first group know themselves, are honest with themselves and quit driving when they should. They have pride and don't appreciate being told what to do.
If your parent is in the first group like my father was, you’re lucky. Dad took the “Driving Miss Daisy” movie to heart; we had the driving discussion early. As a far-away-living adult child who believes in empowering, I found excuses to visit him every 4-6 weeks after Mother died.  Friends constantly pressured me to make him quit driving after he turned 90.  If there was no threat to life and limb, why do that? I checked his car for scratches, dents, or newly painted areas during each visit.(I would have done that regularly, even if I lived in the same town.) If we were going some place together, I always asked him whether he wanted to drive. He volunteered at least once each visit.
He stuck to the speed limit. Not over, not under. His depth perception was better than mine. He no longer had the radio on. “A distraction,” he said. He maintained control and ultimately decided to stop driving at 93.
2.  The second group is in denial. Denial, a psychological defense mechanism, can exist without our realizing it. It keeps us from facing a reality we’re not yet ready to deal with. Can we speed up parents’ readiness to face reality? We can only try. An often successful strategy pulls them in as a partner to find a solution. We could offer information about resources that extend older drivers' ability to drive, sharing information from the last post’s links; or could introduce an objective observation about their driving--or about something connected to their driving that could be problematical; and encourage conversation hoping something resonates.
For example, my mother had a stroke. She recovered well, but her balance was shaky. She worried about falling. She still planned to drive. My kneejerk reaction was to tell her all of my reservations. Instead I said "let's figure out how." I said that she could drive (true); she could have lessons to boost her confidence or go with me to a large empty parking lot if she wanted to try that first. I also explained that she would have to be able to get in and out of the car by herself and maneuver her walker alone (reality). At first she said she wanted to try, but then decided there was too much effort involved. Perhaps because Dad was still alive to drive her, she never drove again.
3.  The third group, downright dangerous drivers, will be discussed in the next (Tuesday's) be continued.
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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Aging Parents: To Drive or Not to Drive--Part 2

Help Parents Age Well by Driving--or Not? Important Links--read on..
“Perhaps the scariest road hazard is the one they don’t make a sign for.” The large bold type on the back cover of the August  2009 New Yorker caught my eye: The silhouette of a girl, leaning forward, hands on the steering wheel, pony tail flying fills a drawing--a yellow and black, road-hazard-shaped sign, with a smaller sign just below saying TEENS. I save the back cover.
If teenagers are “perhaps the scariest road hazard,” what about older drivers? We've read the research: drivers age 55 and older are 25% of the driving population but have only 1% of the accidents. AARP tells us that older drivers usually drive fewer miles each year than younger drivers, so we must consider that. Also the number of accidents per mile rises sharply at age 75, which may be why some think older drivers are scary.
The New Yorker back cover informs us that “teens make up only 7% of America’s drivers but account for 12% of all accidents,” elaborating “IN 2007 TEENS KILLED MORE THAN 3,000 PEOPLE IN OTHER VEHICLES.” With the goal of helping parents age well, which involves supporting self-esteem and not curtailing independence prematurely, how do adult children proceed?
Aging parents.  Teenagers.  Signs of dangerous driving.  Are we more likely to ground a teenager (whose whole life is ahead) but take away the keys and permanently change the life of an older person?  The consequences of unsafe driving are usually far more life-changing for the elderly. Also-- should one size fit all older drivers?
Unless there’s a threat to life and limb, when trying to help parents age well think “Make Haste Slowly.”  Having good information ahead of time, leads to informed decisions instead of knee-jerk reactions. Taking time to think things through avoids the sobering, life-changing reality of "taking away the keys" unnecessarily.
While my parents were alive, I was clueless about information and programs to help older people continue drive or conclude that they shouldn't.
Information I wish I'd known about:
AARP's site,, with information about AARP's Driver Safety Course, (added bonus--usually a discount on auto insurance). A friend told his mother that he would take the course with her every year. As long as she passed, she could continue to drive--assuming no accidents. (She stopped driving at 98; they both took the course many times.) Check out other AARP information, ie. warning signs for when to stop driving--

CarFit,, sponsored throughout the country. Individual appointments are scheduled for a “quick comprehensive check” examining how well your car fits you (your parent’s car fits her/him).  End result: recommendations for car adjustments and adaptations, and a sheet of resources. I went to our woman's club one day, found "CarFit" was taking place in the parking lot, asked if there was time for me, and was surprised to find my mirrors weren't adjusted to give me the best range of vision.
Lastly, booklets: The Effects of Aging on Driving Skills, is excellent, free, and small. Downloadable from (phone 800-531-8159).
I also like The Older and Wiser Driver, Put "older and wiser and driver" in the search space, the brochure comes up or phone (202-638-5944).
The preceding may keep capable older parents, driving longer--safer.  When older people can continue to drive safely, they maintain their independence, their way of life. We know that. They feel good, so we feel good as we help parents age well.

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