Aging Parents: Control and Respect–Do We Inadvertently Mess Up at Thanksgiving (and other times)?

                                        You may have received the Thanksgiving forward below–or not…

In any case, I share it. Supposedly it’s from a grandmother. Disregarding its length and the possibility that a non-grandmother created it, it conveys an important message–irreverently highlighting elders’ values–exaggerating basic, irksome things younger people, whether adult children or beloved grandchildren, do. Even if we don’t get caught up in the specifics or the humor, the need for elders to have control and respect comes through loud and clear.

I’ve become even more keenly aware recently. For Senior Advisor R, now 101, life has become hard work. There may be no other 101-year-old in this country who still lives alone in her own home of 65+ years, getting regular help only 4 hours a week from a cleaning person. Admittedly neighbors on both sides and across the street discretely watch out for her 24/7. I’ve written about this previously. They treasure her.

Maintaining control–basically of her well-being now, is her occupation. She wants to do things her way and resents what she considers interference from us or anyone else.The elasticity of her younger years is gone. Yet her appreciation of and concern for others continues and has always endeared people to her.

She is frazzled by anything that disrupts her routine–no additions unless requested: no unasked-for gifts (clutter), no surprises or unannounced visits–even from her 2-year-old great niece (her home is not childproof, she values her possessions) and baby sister; or from her son coming unexpectedly to do an errand she requested.

She considers it disrespectful.  She calls it “thoughtless” for people to take it for granted that she’s home so they can just drop in; or they talk too long on the phone, tiring her out because she can’t gracefully end the conversation; or they leave a gift on her doorstep that’s heavy (for her) to lift or requires additional care on her part. (Avoid giving any box filled with styrofoamish “peanuts.”)

Self-esteem. Dignity: so important in aging well. Being respected reinforces self-esteem. With a shrinking network of contacts, as people age, there’s a loss of the positive feedback from others that most of us regularly get often without even realizing it. We do a job well (we know and so does our boss or the people we do it for); we get the compliments; our dog greets us as if we’re the best person in the world.

And of course there’s the need for control, for feeling independent. ‘Nuf said.

Grandma’s Letter

Dear Family,

I’m not dead yet. Thanksgiving is still important to me. If being in my Last Will and Testament is important to you, then you might consider being with me for my favorite holiday.
Dinner is at 2:00. NOT 2:15. NOT 2:05. Two 2:00.
Arrive late and you get what’s left over.
Last year, that moron Marshall fried a turkey in one of those contraptions and practically burned the deck off the house. This year, the only peanut oil used to make the meal will be from the secret scoop of peanut butter I add to the carrot soup.
Jonathan, your last new wife was an idiot. You don’t arrive at someone’s house on Thanksgiving needing to use the oven and the stove. Honest to God, I thought you might have learned after two wives – date them longer and save us all the agony of another divorce.
Now, the house rules are slightly different. This year because I have decided that 47% of you don’t know how to take care of nice things. Paper plates and red Solo cups might be bad for the environment, but I’ll be gone soon and that will be your problem to deal with.
House Rules:
1. The University of Texas no longer plays Texas A&M. The television stays off during the meal.
2. The “no cans for kids” rule still exists. We are using 2 liter bottles because your children still open a third can before finishing the first two. Parents can fill a child’s cup when it is empty. All of the cups have names on them and I’ll be paying close attention to refills.
3. Chloe, last year we were at Trudy’s house and I looked the other way when your Jell-O salad showed up. This year, if Jell-O salad comes in the front door it will go right back out the back door with the garbage. Save yourself some time, honey. You’ve never been a good cook and you shouldn’t bring something that wiggles more than you. Buy something from the bakery.
4. Grandmothers give grandchildren cookies and candy. That is a fact of life. Your children can eat healthy at your home. At my home, they can eat whatever they like as long as they finish it.
5. I cook with bacon and bacon grease. That’s nothing new. Your being a vegetarian doesn’t change the fact that stuffing without bacon is like egg salad without eggs. Even the green bean casserole has a little bacon grease in it. That’s why it tastes so good. Not eating bacon is just not natural. And as far as being healthy… look at me. I’ve outlived almost everyone I know.
6. Salad at Thanksgiving is a waste of space.
7. I do not like cell phones. Leave them in the car.
8. I do not like video cameras. There will be 32 people here. I am sure you can capture lots of memories without the camera pointed at me.
9.Being a mother means you have to actually pay attention to the kids. I have nice things and I don’t put them away just because company is coming over. Mary, watch your kids and I’ll watch my things.
10. Rhonda, a cat that requires a shot twice a day is a cat that has lived too many lives. I think staying home to care for the cat is your way of letting me know that I have lived too many lives too. I can live with that. Can you?
11. Words mean things. I say what I mean. Let me repeat: You don’t need to bring anything means you don’t need to bring anything. And if I did tell you to bring something, bring it in the quantity I said. Really, this doesn’t have to be difficult.
12. Domino’s and cards are better than anything that requires a battery or an on/off switch. That was true when you were kids and it’s true now that you have kids.
13. Showing up for Thanksgiving guarantees presents at Christmas. Not showing up guarantees a card that may or may not be signed.
14. In memory of your Grandfather, the back fridge will be filled with beer. Drink until it is gone. I prefer wine anyway. But one from each family needs to be the designated driver.
I really mean all.
Love You,

“Many a true word has been spoken in jest”–from an old adage

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: Problems Swallowing Pills? Here’s Help.

Milk? Tomato Juice? Pill Cutter?

Prescriptions for pills–more prevalent as people grow old. Yet before we are old, many of us are accustomed to taking non-prescription pills–some large, like Calcium. Perhaps that’s the time we learn whether swallowing pills is easy for us.

I never thought about pills causing anyone difficulty….until Mother, who had osteoporosis, couldn’t swallow Calcium pills. “Purchase a pill cutter” and “take them with a liquid heavier liquid than water, like tomato juice or milk,” was the advice. The heavier liquid solved the problem, although we’d already purchased a pill cutter (which we discontinued using).

One in three people vomit, gag, or choke when swallowing pills, according to the Harvard Health blog’s post/article about swallowing pills (see sidebar for recent article or click link). Pharmaceutical companies, aware of the problem, have manufactured pills in many easier-to-swallow forms than those chalky white aspirins of decades past. Yet this hasn’t solved the problem for many.

While the article offers two “tricks” (which seem a bit odd to me) and the warning “Don’t try these alone,” plus other suggestions, there is professional explanation–with diagram– of how swallowing works and can be evaluated (some people suffer from dysphagia). The Comments section (at the very bottom following the post) offers additional simple “tricks,” and one reader who said the “tricks” worked.

It’s human nature to avoid doing something that’s difficult or unpleasant, we know this. We also know it’s easy for older people to forget to take their medications. Can avoidance subconsciously enter into forgetfulness? In any case, avoiding an important medication because taking it is difficult or unpleasant, can only encourage the problems the medication is prescribed to prevent.

Remembering the swallowing tips is another way we can be helpful–as we try to help parents age well.

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

Aging Parents: When the Family Home is Sold–post postponed

The family home is sold. Faxed and scanned papers signed today; actual closing this coming Tuesday. Today’s technology makes it possible to conduct important business and fly cross country on the same day. Although hectic, there’s no down-time to feel nostalgic–well, perhaps a tiny twinge. There’s definitely no time to post tonight. So–post postponed; come back tomorrow.


Veteran’s Day 2014–Honoring Our Veterans–Human and Canine in NY

Honoring NY's 7th Regiment 1917

Honoring NY’s 7th Regiment 1917

Veteran’s Day in NY. Wreaths at one of the many monuments are above.

The Veteran’s Day parade up 5th Avenue always attracts huge crowds, and rightly so. This year former Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, himself a Viet Nam Veteran, is honored as Grand Marshall. And, for the first time, 6 dogs who served in the military marched with the soldiers they served with. They too are veterans and play an important part in the military. How fitting to see them walking with their masters.

As World War II Veterans become fewer and fewer, and Viet Nam Veterans become aging parents, it was poignant to listen to a Viet Nam Vet talk about how heartening it was for him to see the respect and honor accorded the younger Vets today. He said this was never accorded him.

Click to read about and view these heroic dogs who worked in the bombing fields of Iraq and in military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.



Family: Making Room–with Aging Parents Living Beside You


Mansion, the Saturday real estate section of The Wall Street Journal, ran a cover story:
Make Room For the In-Laws.
“…Why space for aging parents is a hot real-estate amenity now.”

Put away the snarky in-law jokes,” we read. “For both domestic and foreign buyers, the hottest amenity in real estate these days is an in-law unit, an apartment carved out of an existing home or a stand-alone dwelling built on the homeowners’ property. While adult children get the peace of mind of having mom and dad nearby, real-estate agents say the in-law accommodations are adding value to their homes.” WSJ 11/7/14

We learn:

  • Homes with in-law units (technical name:accessory dwelling units, ADU’s) are priced about 60% higher than those without.
  • We learn almost a third (32%) of the 550 respondents, who had one or more aging parents, said they expected to have a relative live with them in the future, according to a 2012 survey by PulteGroup (one of the US’s largest homebuilders).
  • We learn in the Southwest Pulte “rolled out casitas,” stand-alone in-law units.” Personal note: “Casitas” are not a new concept for Pulte, although an interior design that’s adult friendly (if it is) would be new. Pulte has, for many years, built casitas for use as guest houses, even/especially for home owners of normal-size homes, who like having guests or grandchildren.
  • We learn in the Southeast Pulte has introduced “Multi-Gen dwellings” that are built into the main house.
  • We learn that in 2011 Lennar (Miami-based) introduced “NextGen dwellings.” They are part of the main house, but have a separate entrance–and their sales grew 27%.

I wonder: “Which Comes First, the Chicken or the Egg?” Are economics driving this? or Are adult children caring more about their aging parents?

Two aging mothers, mentioned in the article, say that having their adult children living only steps away eases the transition; and knowing their children are right next door keeps them from feeling lonely.

For aging parents who can still “do,” this living plan has the potential to work well. Everyone is more or less independent; everyone still has his and/or her own life; and while health problems probably exist, they are no doubt manageable. Connections, stimulation, and feelings of security for aging parents exist and are all factors in helping parents age well. And they can extend aging parents’ ability to continue to do.

For adult children, there’s a sense of control and the peace of mind that comes from knowing they can come to the rescue sooner, rather than later should parents need them. And the additional expense of providing an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU)–to their home (or to their parents’ home if they decide to move into that home, which some children decide to do) has no doubt increased the home’s value.

When aging parents begin having health issues that require caregiving, adult children will need to rethink sharing responsibilities with siblings and making decisions with their parents. This should NOT come as a surprise. In the meantime, adult children can take heart in the fact they’re doing their best to help parents age well. And shouldn’t that instill confidence in their future decision-making ability ……as they help parents age well until the end.

Related: Click “Make Room for In-Laws” link at top.

Note: Newsworthy (right sidebar). Links to current research and information from top universities and respected professionals, plus practical and spirit-lifting ideas, to help parents age well.

Aging Parents: 9 Stress-Relief Tips for Caregivers

Vanquish Stress at Holiday Time

Mayo Clinic’s latest online issue of HouseCall, links to one of its earlier articles, Stress Relief for Caregivers. “How appropriate,” I thought. We’re heading into the holiday season. What caregiver won’t feel stressed! And who doesn’t need relief!

For those of us with dual responsibilities as caregivers to aging parents plus our own families–or triple responsibilities if a job is also part of our life–adding holiday expectations and must-do’s creates a life just waiting for stress. If we let it consume us, can we see our way clear to delegate or think of ways to lighten the load? Don’t we quickly nix delegating responsibilities because it feels like explaining to someone will take as much time as doing the job ourself?

Before overload takes over, in an effort to help everyone reduce stress when time is short and responsibilities mount, I’ve copied tip #8 “Get Musical, Be Creative,” below because it worked well for my counselees and usually isn’t thought of first.

Get musical and be creative

Listening to or playing music is a good stress reliever because it provides a mental distraction, reduces muscle tension and decreases stress hormones. Crank up the volume and let your mind be absorbed by the music. 

If music isn’t your thing, turn your attention to another hobby you enjoy, such as gardening, sewing, sketching — anything that requires you to focus on what you’re doing rather than what you think you should be doing.

I often suggested to my counselees, who complained of stress overload, that they try something that gives them a time out, perhaps a non-rushed shower, warm bath–something they really enjoyed. And I remember one girl came to my office the next day to tell me she took my suggestion and it worked.

She started hooking a rug–something she’d learned to do in middle school. She loved it, had left over materials and wanted to do it again, but never had time. She said it was like waving a magic wand for reducing stress. My suggestion was, of course, general. Hooking a rug would never have entered my mind.

That said, Tip #1, “Get Active,” is no doubt thought of first, when stress-relief comes to mind.

For all of us who are helping aging parents, may these timely tips result in he most stress-free holiday season we’ve had in many years

(Read entire article-clickStress Relief for Caregivers) 

Note: Newsworthy (right sidebar)Links to timely articles and research from highly respected universities and professionals–to help parents age well.