Aging Parents: Becoming A Caregiver–Life Changes in the Blink of an Eye

Another Christmas gift idea: A gift we give ourselves or others who are caregivers (and don’t already own it)–Passages in Caregiving.

As readers know, Help! Aging Parents takes no ads and rarely reviews books. That said, we’re always on the lookout for gifts to help parents–and elders we care about–age well. Books that help us as caregivers, translate into helping those we care about and care for.

Gail Sheehy’s book, Passages in Caregiving, was published in 2010. Research skills.The ability to ferret out what works. Commitment. Add these to Gail Sheehy’s creativity and journalistic experience. All contributed to one goal: to navigate through the healthcare challenges and maintain quality of life for her and her husband, following his surprising recurrence of cancer. Her book recounts their journey and more.

Many know the accomplishments of Gail Sheehy and her husband, the late Clay Felker. I wondered how applicable the book would be to “normal” people, who lacked the advantages of this couple. No need for wondering. Excellent writing skills and the ability of a seasoned journalist  who’s “been there,” produce a sensitive personal narrative. It also seamlessly combines interviews with diverse people involved in various caregiving situations with a wealth of factual information, helpful resources, plus distinctly-formated “Strategies” pages for many chapters–a comprehensive, interesting read.
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Gail and her husband, who had been declared cancer-free after surgery to remove a “benign cyst” two years before, were suddenly jarred out of complacency and a very good life by “The Call” from the doctor. Clay’s cyst had come back bigger than ever, reported the doctor. That dreaded phone call, experienced by so many of us, changes life as we’ve thought it would be, or expect it to be, or have plans for it to be… in the blink of an eye.

“Dizzy from conflicting opinions, many delivered with more egotism than expertise, I didn’t know whom to trust. It began to dawn on me that my life, too, had changed radically. I had a new role.
Family caregiver.
I didn’t expect it. I wasn’t prepared for it. Nobody briefs us on all the services we are expected to perform when we take on this role……
…And I had no idea that nearly fifty million other American adults were stumbling along the same unpredictable path…..” (pp. 9-10)
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Note: I planned to give my copy of Gail Sheehy’s book to a caregiver friend several months ago. Having moved to NYC 3 years before, remembering which unpacked box it was in proved a challenge. Once located, I reread it and decided not to part with it. It’s a keeper. Indeed, you will find snippets from it in future posts. (PS–my friend will get a new copy.)

Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities and respected professionals, plus practical information–to help parents age well.

Aging Parents: Older Teeth and Sugary Holiday Treats

  • mall desserts $ 42 large desserts $ 78

A visit to my dentist and his hygienist compelled me to ask about older people’s teeth. My dentist’s (and his wife’s) parents are in their 80’s. I wondered if aging took its toll on teeth–and if so, why.

My first question was to the hygienist who I always see first. It was something like: Do older people’s teeth present different problems than younger people’s teeth?

Thus began a conversation about–
1. Holding a tooth-brush correctly so older people can do a thorough brushing
2. Dry mouth (xerostomia)–not uncommon as people age.

The hygienist told me she learned many years ago that tooth-brushes can be difficult for old, arthritic hands to grasp. The suggestion was to securely tape the tooth-brush to something allowing for a larger grip–like a soda can. Her second suggestion was an electric tooth brush, but that has drawbacks if older people don’t use it correctly.

I didn’t realize brushing could be a problem, but now I’m certain it is. Asking Sr. Advisor R (101) about it, I learned her dentist said she wasn’t brushing as well as she once could and recommended rinsing her mouth with Biotene. There are quite a few Biotene products–one especially for dry mouth and one with PBF; the latter Sr. Advisor R uses. It would seem worthwhile to check this out.

When my dentist came to do the final check of my teeth, he weighed in, giving me a paper he wrote entitled Dry Mouth and Dentures. (It will be the subject of another post). Readers may already know this, but I learned:

Our salivary glands produce less saliva as we age. And “saliva,” according to Dr. Gary Markovits, “contains hundreds of the body’s ‘natural medicines’ designed to keep our mouths healthy……. It also regulates the microorganisms (‘germs’) that cause oral infections.” Thus, dry mouth makes us more prone to oral infections.

“If you have some natural teeth,” Dr. Markovits writes in his Dry Mouth and Dentures piece, “decay is the most frequent cause of tooth loss in older adults who have a dry mouth. Without saliva to regulate the germs that cause decay, they are able to grow in number and cause more damage. Ask your dentist or dental hygienist for ways to reduce tooth decay.”

It’s not only aging that can cause dry mouth.  Certain medications as well as chemotherapy and radiation cause glands to produce less saliva. WebMD, in its slideshow on teeth and gums, sums it all up and identifies medications that can cause dry mouth (slides 3 and 4):

“Saliva helps protect teeth and gums from bacteria that cause cavities and given that a chronically dry mouth raises risk of cavities and gum disease, you may want to check your medicine cabinet. Antihistamines, decongestants, painkillers, and antidepressants are among the drugs that can cause dry mouth. Talk to your doctor or dentist to find out if your medication regimen is affecting your oral health, and what you can do about it.”

Which brings us to the holidays and the sweet treats and excessive amounts of food that tempt young and old. If older people we care about have teeth problems, this seems like a good time to be proactive and check out the above with your dentist or have your parents do it with their dentist.

As we try to help parents and the older people we care about age well, a good offense is the best defense. If the above information can improve the odds for older peoples’ teeth remaining healthy while they enjoy eating whatever they want, isn’t it a win-win!

Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities and respected professionals, plus practical information–to help parents age well.





Aging Parents: Sugary Holiday Treats and Older Teeth

Is it because I’m sick today that I feel like the grinch taking candy from a baby (or older person)? Having my routine dental exam recently elicited a conversation about older people’s teeth and sugar and saliva. Doesn’t that sound fascinating? Come back tomorrow to find out whether I follow through as the grinch–or save that subject until after Christmas and post something more in the holiday spirit.

Aging Parents: Gifts That Look Great!

They say “It’s what’s inside that counts.” No argument here. That said, doesn’t anything that looks great on the outside raise our spirits…and those of our elders?

Two gift-giving holidays are fast-approaching. I think of the value of extra nicely wrapped gifts–where the initial fun is seeing them, followed by the joy of discovering what’s inside. Again this year, the Garden Section of our Woman’s Club has purchased gift items and wrapped them attractively–always making sure they contain some plant material (nothing artificial).

Three days ago they were on display, lining one side of the main room at the Holiday Open House. Some are above, once again ready to be taken to a nearby nursing home the next day. The Club member, who has always headed this project and transports the gifts to the nursing home, reports that the patients “light up” when they see the carts filled with these packages come through the door.

The stuffed dog has its nose in the air, while the list of contents in the adjoining basket looks you right in the eye.

All gifts are on the approved nursing home list, since we don’t know the recipients. Note list in photo at right. The pine cone with red bow counts as plant material. (Click once or twice to enlarge photo.)

Of course when gifts are for parents and friends, the only rules for gifts are those you set. Tins of hot chocolate and boxes of cookies and candy aren’t off limits. Additionally you know their wants and needs.

Cellophane makes baskets and open boxes look great! Putting it over a basket with a bow or ornament at the top converts a plain basket of gifts into a professional-looking showpiece.

Ditto for today’s colorful Christmas bags….just gently twist red or green tissue paper around the gift(s) and put it or them in the bag. Use tape and wrap gifts in the traditional way if you wish. But it’s not necessary with the decorative bag.

This year I learned lining a box–inside and out with holiday paper–is easy, requiring just a scissors and scotch tape plus the paper. And placing wrapped or unwrapped gifts inside makes a wonderful display–no top needed (below). Cellophane around the box and over the top, tied at the top, is an option (but not necessary).


Sometimes it’s the little things that ignite the spark of joy. A few extra minutes to buy tissue, cellophane, bags and ribbon can bring added excitement to aging parents and elders we care about, whether living independently or in a nursing home. As the letter Garden Sections members received years ago reminds us:

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.

Aging Parents’ Advent Calendar of 24 small gifts

Doesn’t a small gift a day sound like a way to continually brighten up the holiday season for older people? Whether living at home or in a care center, don’t we all love a gift! Here’s my list of easily purchased, inexpensive Christmas or Chanukah gifts, keeping in mind:

Most older people
–don’t like clutter.
–don’t want what they don’t need.
–appreciate gifts they use up.

special bottled drink

Most gifts can be eaten or used up–but not all. Purchase them in any order as the inspiration hits! And definitely click links to anything on the list. Click photos to enlarge.   Think DECEMBER–

Battery-powered candle

$3.99 bouquet-Trader Joe’s

 1. Wide rubber band*
 2. Box of candy
 3. Music
 4. Snow globe
 5. Lottery ticket
 6. Miniature Christmas tree
 7. Personalized Coffee Mug
 8. Box of instant cocoa or special tea bags
 9. Box of cookies
10. Bouquet of flowers**
11. Postage stamps (for sending Chanukah or Christmas cards)
12. December magazine focused on their interests
13. Manageable-size holiday door wreath
21. Lightweight throw blanket
14. Framed photo of family
15. Small succulent needing little care (Red Kalanchoe)
16. Bottle: wine, beer, sparkling water, flavored water
17. New lipstick for woman/new socks for man
18. Battery-powered flickering candle
19. Small basket of favorite fruit
20. Hand or after-shave lotion
21. 2015 Calendar–(personalized from Shutterfly?)                                                                      

Red Kalanchoe-Green container

Red Kalanchoe-Green container

The last 3 days–repeat a previously winning idea: lottery ticket? cookies? something to drink (hot or cold)? flowers? fruit? candy? Your inspiration will raise the spirits of aging parents and elders we care about…and help them age well.


Battery-powered flickering candle at night


Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

*The rubber band is the best gift for unscrewing jar and bottle caps (older people’s hands are weaker) and it’s free! (See photo at right, showing 2 rubber bands–pink one at work!)

**Trader Joe’s $3.99 bouquet of flowers (without vase). Didn’t use all the flowers in the original bouquet to do this arrangement. A bargain for flower lovers.

Note: Definition–Oxford Dictionaries: ad·vent  noun: advent; plural noun: advents
1. the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event.
2. the coming or second coming of Christ

Today’s post takes the place of Tuesday’s. I’ll be flying cross country then.

Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities and respected professionals, plus practical information–to help parents age well.