Saturday, April 30, 2011

Help Aging Parents: Veteran's Pensions revisited--on Blogtalk Radio

                                    All three levels of Veteran's Benefits
Healthcare (includes prescriptions),
Pensions (3 pension levels including Aid and Attendance)
are discussed on blogger Dale Carter's March 5, 2011 Blogtalk radio interview. Victoria Collier, a Vietnam Veteran, who's now an attorney specializing in elder law and veteran's benefits, is Dale's guest.
While attorney Collier obviously can't cover everything in depth, there are 2 reasons I highly recommend taking the time to click the link below and listen to this half-hour program.
 -- As an educator I know that while some of us are better visual learners, others are auditory learners who learn best by listening. 
-- The Veteran's Aid and Attendance Pension Program is no secret to my readers, never-the-less attorney Collier brings up more helpful details in a half hour than one can include in a blog. (We're told blogs won't hold readers' attention that long....surprise, surprise.)
Since our goal is to help parents age well--during the good times and during the challenges, if there's a veteran in your family--especially an aging one--check out Dale Carter's interview. It's such a good one--packed with information that can help parents (and grandparents), who are veterans, age well.
....And who knows, this might just turn into a life-changing present for Mother's Day....or Father's Day.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Aging Parents: Mother's Day Gift Ideas

Mother's Day crept up on me this year.  Suddenly it's less than two weeks away...actually too late for one of the best Mother's Day gift ideas--but perhaps not too late if you're creative.
I've never seen this handbag in the East....maybe because it comes from California.  But I've seen it in the West and grandmothers who have it, love it.  They should because it's pricey. (Yet we all know--everything pricey isn't loved by everyone).  At least one grandmother says it's "a thrilling gift to receive...I don't think any mother or grandmother would appreciate anything more." She has the "Vanessa." What makes it so special?
It's a Brighton handbag, with a photo expertly reproduced on the back and front-- a wonderful conversation piece of excellent quality...."sturdy," I'm told.
If you want to get it for Mother's Day, I'd like to suggest downloading a picture of the handbag and putting it in a Mother's Day Card.  After all, looking forward to something is half the fun and the photo won't be revealed until the handbag is unwrapped. When several people go in on the gift, needless to say, it becomes more affordable.  Click the link.
There's a phone number to call for specifics. You'll learn how to send the photo (which needs to be 4x6 horizontal) and when the gift will arrive. While I love the handbag with the family dog, I'm guessing grandchildren usually win out.
The second pricey gift: the iPad.  An 88-year-old with macular degeneration received one as a birthday gift last weekend and says she loves it because she can enlarge the font to read books as well as the apps (some of which her children installed for her).  This makes reading a so much better for her. (I understand her kids went to the Apple store at 7:30 in the morning and there was already a long line.)
A less pricey gift: the Kindle.  Again the size of the font can be enlarged which helps people with macular degeneration as well as others. While the Kindle is not as versatile as the iPad since it's made for reading books, it does help many aging parents to enjoy reading once again.
I will update previous posts featuring Mother's Day gifts on Saturday.  In the meantime, feel free to search them on my blog.

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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Lifting Aging Parents' Spirits on Dreary, Rainy Days

Another dreary, rainy day in the northeast--the day before Easter, a time when we expect Spring weather to lift our spirits.  For me it's cozy--rain pattering on the roof; my husband at home; and each of us is doing what we want with few "must do's" until we meet friends for dinner tonight.
Then I think about the older people who live alone on dreary days. My neighbor, with a husband, 5 adult children and umpteen grandchildren, is prepared for this kind of day. She has looked out for an independently-living 90+ year-old childless (and as I understand it "remarkable") aunt for 10 years...through the good times and some major health events.
Idea #1: a movie on a rainy day
Every weekend my neighbor visits her aunt, bringing a film from Netflix. What's better than watching a movie on a dreary day?  Sometimes it's an old movie, featuring stars of her aunt's era; sometimes it's a current film. She and her aunt watch together and often have a snack as if they were at the movies. It's something her aunt looks forward to and a responsibility my friend feels blessed to be able to do.
Idea #2: Live-streaming Forwards on a dreary day
We all receive forwards.  They can bring music, video, and interest to aging parents who use computers and know how to click the link.  Connecting with nature is uplifting and regenerating, so watching the live-streaming below should capture older people's interest:
1.  The 24/7 (special light that doesn't disturb birds, they say) live-stream video of an eagle pair and their 3 little eaglets. Who doesn't love watching babies?
2.  The NY Times live stream of red-tailed hawks, Violet and Bobby, on their nest, waiting for their eggs to hatch--any day now. It's mesmerizing. One person called it "a zen-like experience." The fact that the nest sits on the window ledge of New York University's President's office--smack dab in the middle of the big city--attests to the hawks' resourcefulness. Excellent technology makes this live-stream close and personal--actually, I think, addictive.
Idea #3: Links on a blah day
Links such as YouTube add entertainment to aging parents' lives. Our lives are busy and, speaking for myself, there's precious little time to watch and appreciate everything that's forwarded. But there are elders who aren't busy, who don't have much going on, who feel down on dreary days. Selected entertainment can be a "pick-me-up."
As we look for ways to help parents age well when those dreary days dampen spirits, why not give these ideas a try?
With hopes that one of the red-tailed hawk's eggs hatches soon....... 

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Best Cell Phones For Seniors

"I just got my new cell  phone, and it's one that I  can understand, outsmart, and know how  to operate!!!  I got it at  the Verizon Cell Phone for Seniors store at the mall!"

This email was forwarded to me by a friend following my telephone posts of April 9 and 12. (Love it when people send ideas for my blog.)  I did some research but am also anxiously waiting to hear from the originator of the forwarded email above. I'm want to know exactly which cell phone has empowered her.

What is the best cell phone for aging parents? I thought PC magazine might have the answer.  Its three-page article "The Top Simple Cell Phones"  (Feb. 2011) offers excellent information in text, plus ratings and a slide show of seven phones. I knew Jitterbug (third page) was senior-user-friendly, but had little knowledge about the other cell phones.

Another review of cell phones for seniors,, (updated April 2011) lists only one phone on PC Magazine's list: Doro Phone Easy 410. The comments at the end from adult children purchasing cell phones for parents and grandparents offer an additional perspective.

I was completely clueless about Verizon Senior Stores.  Google and Yahoo are always a first line of research for me and I found several Verizon Senior Stores are located somewhat near me.  While three stores had ratings and comments, the sample of respondents is too small to be valid by any research standards. Yet some stores appear to be more senior client-centered than others. There were rave reviews, for example, about a certain saleswoman at one of the Verizon Senior Stores, while some people complained about service at other stores.

Cell phones are a real convenience and can obviously save lives in an emergency. Check out the offerings.  Clearly a user-friendly cell phone is a necessity as we try to help parents and older people age well.  The right cell phone encourages connections, is a practical gift, and will hopefully empower older people just as it empowered the writer of the forwarded email that began this post.

And what was this cell phone that she could understand, outsmart and know how to operate with such enthusiasm? I promise to post the name as soon as I hear from her.

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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Challenging Doctors To Help Parents Who are Patients Age Well

Are We Brave Enough to Question a Doctor?

Reaching old age in relatively healthy condition involves many things. Along the way, there are the inevitable health issues that may require hospitalization.
I also think it's safe to say that most of us just naturally want to please our parents' doctors or at least not get on their bad side. We want to collaborate, not seem critical or questioning.  But sometimes.........
While it's not uncommon to feel stressed just thinking about having a difficult conversation, especially one that involves someone in authority, it can be more daunting when we feel we must have this kind of conversation with our parents' doctor or other health workers who care for our parents.
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Maureen Dowd tackled this issue in her  April 13, 2011 NY Times column, informing us that--among other things-- "A report in the April issue of Health Affairs indicated that one out of every three people suffer a mistake during a hospital stay."
For those of us trying to help parents, older people or anyone age well, I think this column really is a "must-read," especially if a hospital stay is imminent or might be in their future.
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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Unintended Consequences as We Try to Help Aging Parents

When Aging Parents Move and We Try to Help--Telephones!

Will Our Telephone # Move Too?

Unlike our cell numbers, hard-wired telephone numbers don't necessarily follow to a new residence--even when it's not very far from the previous residence. For aging parents, telephone numbers need to follow from the "get-go."Obvious? Perhaps. Under stressful conditions--perhaps not.
Unintended consequences, are just that. We don't think about them until we're left with the damage control. And if we're responsible as we try to help aging parents, it's easy to become angry with ourselves for creating an additional problem that disappoints parents and can unnecessarily involve siblings.
An 85-year-old relative recently moved from her condo to assisted living--not a move she initiated. Several months of worsening mobility problems and a series of hospitalizations jeopardized living alone.
The last several years she and her 3 grown children had discussed the wisdom of moving. Friends in her condo complex had died or moved. And there was an attractive independent-living place nearby, making it easy to maintain her routines.
My relative is smart, organized, active, loved her condo of 40+ years and hung on to her independence--through many serious health events.  But last month her doctors advised she needed assisted--not independent--living. She gave in and asked her children to arrange for the move while she recovered in a hospital.
What's a telephone got to do with it?
To reiterate from past posts, connections to others is one of the 3 most important factors in healthy aging. And telephones provide a major way of connecting with others. Indeed older people may have their friends' numbers on automatic dial as memories fade.
My relative's caring, efficient children notified the phone company to close her account immediately.  It was an easy thing to cross off a long list. But then they realized she was issued a new phone number at the assisted-living facility, which had another provider.  Friends couldn't contact her.
Think about new phone numbers being a problem for aging parents and grandparents who downsize (and for their aging/old friends).  If they remain in the same area of their city/town and stay with the same phone company it's more likely that the phone number won't change. Simply tell the phone company that although the address is changing, your parents want to keep the same #.
1.  However, do not notify the phone company to stop an aging/old parent's existing phone service before asking if they can transfer the old telephone number to the new address.Otherwise the existing phone number can be given away.
2.  Check out--ahead-- the phone system/provider at the new place. When an institution has its own system or a different phone provider, it may be best to ask the person in charge to take care of having your parents' old phone number transferred immediately if it's doable. This eliminates having aging parents who just changed living situations feel even more isolated because friends can't phone them.
My relative's children report it was a hassle to get the old phone number back--took 3 weeks to accomplish.  "We were just lucky," they added.  (It may not be this difficult everywhere.)
It was simpler back in the day, when "Reach out and touch someone" was a well-known saying; when accessing a live human being on the other end of a business's line was the norm. Never-the-less we can prevent unintended consequences and, in the case of telephones, maintain that connectedness so important for older people's aging well. It doesn't take too much effort...when we know how.
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Saturday, April 9, 2011

Aging Parents, Phones and Frustration

Automation, Confusing Menus, "On Hold" Forever, Can You Talk to Real People?

 To help older people age well, we know how important it is to stay connected. Face-to-face is great; phones are next best. That said, making a phone call to get information, check billing status etc. is no longer simple. Today's automated technology can frustrate and discourage older people, undermining feelings of self-reliance--increasing their dependence on adult children to handle "stuff" for them. Does this help parents age well?
Telephoning to Get Information--Complicated 
Haven't we all experienced it --first the menu, next a series of instructions, then often a long hold which clearly the machine doesn't mind--but what about us humans on the other end!?
For older generations who spent most of their life talking to a person, being subjected to a menu of endless, seemingly unsuitable or quickly-forgotten options is frustrating and confusing... No doubt even worse for those with some hearing or memory loss.
Help Has Arrived 
The Ask The Experts column in AARP's March 2011 bulletin provides it. (Click link and maximize to see column in readable-size font.)

"How can I quickly reach a live person when calling a customer service number?" is the third (and last) question in the column. AARP's Experts introduce three . coms that come to the rescue. With companies' customer service numbers (answered by human beings) and the "how-to's" of bypassing automated prompts to reach live representatives, there is help for aging parents....and us.

1. provides a long, alphabetized list of companies' phone numbers where human beings answer the call. I clicked the link; be certain to scroll to the very end for 8 additional suggestions about bypassing prompts and reaching a human being.

2. displays a list of popular companies' phone numbers, a long alphabetical list of companies, or you can type in a company's name. You'll be able to see average wait time, user reviews, customer satisfaction ratings for phone accessibility among other things.

3. prevents you from being placed on "hold" and is another free service. Clicking the link brings up the simple-to-follow instructions. Interesting details in this NY Times Business Section article.

The above should help aging parents who use computers.  For those who don't, we can print out a list of company phone numbers our parents often use (where humans answer the phone), along with the 8 suggestions found on  And--oh, yes, won't this information help us too?

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Do you know your parents' long-standing phone number may be taken away if/when they downsize but remain in the same town? This coming Tuesday's post elaborates.

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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Easter, Passover Miracles and Opportunities to Help Parents Age Well

Holiday Thoughtfulness and Aging Parents
Peter Cotton Tail Garden Basket
A small bunny peaks out from under a flowered hat at bottom left of this gift basket, made by my friend. Wouldn't it bring joy to an aging parent or to a senior in a care facility?
2011   Passover: April 18th-26th      Easter: April 24th
We celebrate miracles: The emancipation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt, and the Exodus when the Red Sea parted. The Resurrection of Christ after the Crucifixion. Older generations fondly recall traditions that brought family members together: Passover with Seders and children looking for the hidden matzo; Easter with church services, children's Easter egg hunts, and a special Easter meal. The timing of Passover and Easter are inextricably linked. The Last Supper was a Passover Sedar.
Holidays evoke warmth of family, feelings of togetherness. Yet we know holidays can be depressing for older people living alone, without children to visit or invitations to partake in family celebrations. On the other hand, opportunities for bringing pleasure to old and/or lonely people during Easter and Passover are many:
Attending Easter services together, then...
...dining at a place with beautiful surroundings that make the outing special
...going to a restaurant in town where aging parents who don't get out much can take a short walk (walker? wheelchair?), window shop, enjoy seeing normal activity
…having a meal at home with family--togetherness, conversation, participation ...
When the Easter meal is at home and elders want to help, accept the offer. We know how good it feels to contribute.
Ditto for Passover. One of our Senior Advisors says proudly that she made: chopped liver, matzo balls, gefilte fish, and horseradish for the Seder. Not easy at 89.  She says she was able "to work it out so I could make everything ahead." And best of all perhaps for her, "It was a good feeling because everyone wanted to take some home and there wasn't anything left."
Passover Sedars follow a prescribed ritual-- usually at home with family and often invited guests.  Yet there were no children to look for the traditional hidden matzo at a Sedar on the West Coast last year. What to do? Creative thinking perpetuated the tradition.
The oldest guests were sent on the hunt. And an excited 86-year-old found the matzo. While not traditional, life today with children and grandchildren living near is not the same as in times past. Adapting is the name of the game for holidays (and so much else).
And last but not least, what about the frail, isolated elderly who can't get out easily? A visit is welcome and bringing little gifts, while unnecessary, is always a pick-me-up.  Suggestions:
Bring... a little lunch or snack ("nothing big," I'm told) to share while you talk (consider dietary restrictions if known)
… a few holiday decorated cookies or cupcakes easy-care living plant--possibilities: (philodendron [sweetheart plant], fern [nephrolepis], spathiphyllum [peace lilly--wallisi variety] or kalanchoe)
...a flowering plant for a sunny indoor spot or patio
…Allergies a problem, what about a basket like the one above?
Easter and Passover celebrate miracles. While we can't make miracles, planning ahead and giving older people something to look forward to is an additional gift--a gift that contributes to helping parents and elders age well, especially during holidays.

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Saturday, April 2, 2011

Aging Parents and The New American/ British Geriatric Societies' Updated Elderly Fall Prevention Guidelines

I was invited to write a guest blog for EPOCH Senior Living (EPOCH offers levels of living and care for seniors); and while I write few guest blogs, I liked the idea of this one. It was interesting to relate the new guidelines--which make sense in theory--to practice (the experience of a few older people I know).  What follows comes  from my blog post for EPOCH's blog.
AGS/BGS Guidelines should lessen falls among the elderly. Yet they wouldn’t have helped my husband’s “with-it,” 97-year-old mother, R, (the subject of my January "falling, broken hip, complete recovery" posts).
When R fell, her health was very good (no heart, high blood pressure, etc. problems). She ate healthy, took calcium citrate+D, exercised and walked daily on a non-electric 1960’s treadmill, powered by her feet.
Guideline’s-recommended Tai chi--confirmed in countless reputable studies to improve balance and help prevent falls, and now offered at many senior centers--may have prevented R’s fall.
I attended a class at our local senior center several years ago. Coincidently, the abrupt twist that caused R’s fall was one focus of that class--practicing a gentle turn of legs and body, as opposed to twisting part of the body, which disturbs balance. (Isn’t that what we instinctively do, for instance, when a phone or doorbell rings unexpectedly?)
That said, driving to regular exercise classes is impossible for non-driving seniors like R.  Obviously many needy seniors without transportation miss out on tai chi and other exercise classes.
Because faulty vision can cause falls, in addition to regular vision check-ups
, at least one New York U. Medical School faculty doctor recommends that his elderly patients have a night--light in their bedroom, especially if they read/work in bed and throw those materials on the floor before going to sleep. “I warn older patients they can easily slip and break a bone (as some have) if they get up in the middle of the night and don't see them.”
One sensible Guideline--“Evaluation for gait and balance” by doctor after one fall—may be easier said than done. Falls are often kept secret. An 87-year-old had many falls before one caused a broken hip. Her doctors discovered an imbalance that a simple device in one shoe remedied. Had she not been so secretive, after the first fall, her broken hip could have been prevented. The new assessment “examination of feet and footwear” didn’t exist then. It might have prevented her falls in the first place.
An alert pendant/bracelet, while not preventing falls, would have saved R additional pain, from pulling her body 30 yards over 3 hours to a phone.  Her badly bruised knees healed more slowly than her hip. How many seniors have, but don’t wear, those pendants? R never thought she’d need one because she took such good care of herself. Doesn’t it make sense for elderly people, living alone, to have one? (Click link for some researched options.)
Denial, keeping falls secret, and transportation difficulties can undermine even the best fall prevention efforts. We have the Guidelines, we know some of the problems, now it would seem that the challenge is for seniors’ doctors, rational older people and their children to embrace them.