Aging Parents: The Importance of Psychological Support from Adult Children

Children with good parents feel a certain confidence knowing they’re supported. We’re talking about that warm, taken-care-of feeling that comes with knowing someone is on our side and truly understands and cares about us. While this also applies to aging parents, it’s the first time I’ve written about the subject.

I realize how very important “support” is to my m-i-l now. Knowing she’s 101, a knee-jerk reaction from people would be: “What do you expect?” What I know is that she has been amazing in almost all aspects of her life, having–and surviving–old age issues much later in life than the vast majority of elderly people. (See Broken Hip Recovery tab above.)

In the last few days of our ended-yesterday visit out west, R mentioned several times how much she “appreciates my support.” My translation: doing a lot of listening; not minimizing her travails; and lifting her spirits by words or deeds.

Words: Specifically Conversations Concerning Parents’ Problems

Unfortunately at her first appointment a year ago, with an ophthalmology specialist for the blood clot which caused much vision loss in one eye, R was told she could lose the vision in her other eye “any time.” Whether or not he used those exact words, who knows? But her mind and memory are quite good. Whatever the words, she has had constant worry–for a year now.

When people live alone (with a diminished social network and plenty of time to think), it’s easy to dwell on problems and become depressed. That’s when my counseling training automatically kicks in–

Words and Listening

True listening is a skill. We usually hear and respond in ways that seem appropriate and there’s nothing wrong with that.  But really listening can put us in the other person’s head and allows us to show understanding with a simple phrase (e.g. “it must be so hard,” “it sounds very frustrating”)–few words; no advice.

Example: the phone call several days ago. R was not a happy camper. Her vision loss has made daily life hard work. She insists on living in her home with help only 4 hours, once-a-week, from a cleaning woman. She can’t change her decreasing energy or drooping eye-lids (she’s too old for surgery to correct that). Reading is difficult, etc. etc. She’s resourceful and finally found a strong-enough hand-held magnifying glass, but needs the other hand to prop up at least one eye-lid in order to read. She’s tech-averse (can’t use a museum’s accoustiguide); went to a low-vision store and rejected reading machines.

R doesn’t want advice unless she asks for it. She has successfully figured things out for herself all her life. So I listen carefully and process what she’s saying, wondering if going almost blind in the better eye is as predictable as it sounds. Indeed it could be. Her major worry is vision in that eye–going at any moment. After saying something like “I know it’s very scary,” I shared accurate, positive (not PolyAnnaish) thoughts with her:

  • In the last 12 months she hasn’t lost the vision in the other eye (she says it’s getting worse; I just listen).
  • I wondered how many people her age that doctor has seen (she doubts many, if any).
  • I respond he’s probably using her as an example to give hope to those younger. (She laughs and agrees I’m probably right.)
  • I conclude by saying her internist says she’s in excellent health for an old person. Might that serve her vision well? (She names all her exercises, healthy foods and vitamins and repeats that her internist thinks she’s exceptional in the healthy way she lives.) Her spirits lift; she’s focusing on the reasons she’s doing well.

Deeds (unexpected treats lift spirits)

Halloween is almost upon us. I’ve been decorating pumpkins. I’ve learned never to foist anything on R that takes up space or requires work, without asking. So, in the same phone conversation, I next tell R about the pumpkins, saying I have a very small, not heavy, pumpkin I would decorate if she’d like. She was noncommittal…if I wanted to make one, bring it over and if she doesn’t want it I can give it to someone else or she will. As we hang up she says, in a heartfelt way, that she feels better and really appreciates my support.

Bottom line, R loves the pumpkin! We took it to her before leaving town briefly for a 95th birthday celebration. When I phoned after we returned, she greeted me with how much she appreciated my support last week. Said she placed the pumpkin where she “sees it each time she enters the room.” She also says she thinks her healthy diet may help her better/right eye, and that the ophthalmologist probably never had a patient as old as she… AND she’s praying that her right eye’s vision lasts as long as she.

There are many ways to help aging parents. Really listening–true listening–is one. And isn’t unexpected pumpkin like frosting on a cake!

Note: Newsworthy (right sidebar). Links to timely research and information from respected research institutions and prominent others–to help parents age well.

Aging Parents: Halloween Ideas Roundup: Part 2 –8 Things Aging and Elderly Adults Can Look Forward To

kids halloween costume picture

Princesses, witches and pirates are set to rule this Halloween. Credit: Getty.

An active, appropriately-involved grandmother recently said: “Oh! I won’t be able to resist going to my daughter’s and seeing the kids in their costumes before they go trick or treating.” She was looking forward.

We can never be 100% certain when we plan ahead for older people, because stuff happens–usually more for/to them than us. Yet we know giving older people something to look forward to lifts spirits. Below are 8 plan-ahead, look-forward to–ideas…only the party takes real work.

 Halloween fun for Elders

  1. Invite grandparents, older aunts and uncles, and/or any older adults you care about to see your children in their Halloween costumes–either before kids go trick-or-treating or when they come back.
  2. If aging/older friends or relatives are in care facilities, or are basically housebound, take your costumed children for a quick visit–before Halloween if convenient, but afterwards works too. There’s an additional benefit– lifting spirits for every old(er) person in care facilities (those who always sit in the hall in wheel chairs or other chairs) who sees the Halloween-costumed kids walk by.
  3. When grandchildren can safely trick-or-treat with an adult chaperone, invite grandparents to go along (and remain far enough away to be almost invisible?)
  4. When PTAs, recreation departments, elementary schools etc. sponsor Halloween parties, invite at least one aging family member to accompany you, as you transport the kids.
  5. Have a Halloween party at your home. (links below for party ideas). Invite grandparents.
  6. Invite aging parents to come to your home for Halloween to see the trick-or-treaters. (You need’t have children). I remember my parents coming back to visit at Halloween and the excitement following each ring of the doorbell. The high-pitched  “trick or treat” elicited Dad’s compliments about their scary look, great costume etc. They beamed at the compliments as they took their candy. Dad beamed back. Mother, in the background, seemed happy to replenish the candy supply. She too had a big smile on her face as she watched these little kids having such a good time.
  7. Make plans to be at aging parents’ homes during trick-or-treat hours, thus alleviating the fear and apprehension that can accompany a ring of the doorbell on the dark Halloween night. Aging adults can once again enjoy the trick-or-treaters. If few trick-or-treaters come, you have been with your parent(s) and that in itself is a gift (as we know).
  8. Take Older People To See Halloween Displays Details: Click these posts, if you haven’t already seen them.

Probably all older adults went trick-or-treating as kids. How can it not be fun for them to observe youngsters repeating this tradition…….another small aspect of helping parents age well.

Related: http://helpparentsagewell.com/2013/10/29/halloween-treats-for-aging-parents-and-grandparents-couch-potatoes-and-those-in-care-facilities/
               https://helpparentsagewell.com/2014/10/11/aging-parents-a-halloween-activity-in-the-city-or-the-suburbs-planning-ahead/

Party planning: http://www.hgtv.com/entertaining/host-a-kids-craft-party-for-halloween/pictures/index.html
http://kidsparties.about.com/od/celebratingholidays/a/HalloweenParties.htm
Checkout classic Halloween party (last paragraph)

Aging Parents: Little-Care Live Plant Gifts –flowering or not

 

Dish Garden with Succulents

Click to enlarge

DISH GARDENS
Dish gardens make great gifts–easy upkeep with the right plants.

I began making dish gardens in elementary school, which speaks to how easy creating these small landscapes is…. easy to make, easy to maintain with easy-care plants. And they add enjoyment…fun to watch grow and possibly flower. AND  they add a decorator’s touch, regardless of decorating style. Aren’t they a good gift for older people who appreciate nature, don’t get outdoors much–and even those who do? You can purchase a dish garden, or do-it-yourself.

WHETHER PURCHASING OR MAKING YOUR OWN– LOOK FOR
(and ask questions of sales person)

  • Plants that are smallish
  • Plants that are slow growing (if the goal is reducing work)
  • Plants with different textured leaves
  • Plants with leaves of different colors
  • At least one plant that could flower (it’s a bonus)
  • Plants the grow either indoor or outdoors…not both in same container
  • An attractive container (dish) with a drainage hold and saucer

CARE
(Light and Watering Requirements Should be on Plant’s Tag)

  • Watering nonuscculents: Proper watering leads to success or failure.Thus, each plant in the little garden should have the same water requirements. Overwatering causes root rot, that’s why the dish’s drainage hole is important–as is a plate or saucer underneath. Otherwise furniture gets damaged (and equally bad, you will have left an eyesore remainder of your well-intentioned gift.) My favorite “saucers” are free–lids on plastic take-home containers. They’re clear, unobtrusive, come in various shapes and sizes.
  • Watering succulents: Succulents (see top photo), needs very little water. A light spray on the top or a little water poured on the rocks doesn’t upset the sandy look and does the job. Succulents store water in their “leaves.” They begin to shrivel when too dry, but rebound when give a bit of water. The easiest dish garden– any adult can monitor a succulent dish garden and add water before a disaster could occur.
  • Light: Plants should also be grouped by their light requirement–full sun, partial sun etc. To flower, plants need light. For example, miniature violets and sinningias need indirect light at the least, but never full sun.

DO-IT-YOURSELF
See above for plant selection

The two dish gardens below were entered for competition at the Philadelphia Flower Show. The first container is a bonsai dish with indoor plants; the one below looks like it contains outdoor succulents and is, I believe, made from a composite.

IMG_1055

Pink/green leaf plant is fittonia, I believe. More common is green and white leaf color.

Dish Garden

Succulents and ???

  • Dish gardens can sprout up in unlikely dishes.
  • As long as there’s a drainage hole, you’re good to go.
  • Potting soil for cacti and succulents differs from soil used for leafy plants.
  • For Fertilizing:   follow instructions, using 1/2 or 1/4 strength or less.
  • Avoid potting soil with fertilizer or plants will quickly outgrow the dish.

Caring for plants, if not too taxing and fussy, gives elders a responsibility that offers the joy of watching them grow, keeping them healthy and being needed. It’s also fun and life-affirming. Doesn’t this help parents and older adults age well?
Related: Thanks to Lori for an additional way of growing plants–the Miracle-Gro Aero Garden.This hydroponic garden seems easy from start to finish–can add interest and fun to an elder’s life.

Check out Some of my favorite little plants: Sinningia pusilla (tiny tuber).Rob’s Scrumptious (miniature violet). Ficus pumila Quercifolia (tiny ivy). Nephrolepis exalta  Fluffy Ruffles (little fern). Kalanchoe (check out colors)

Helpful sites: http://www.thegardenhelper.com/dish~gardens.html –about dish gardens
https://www.violetbarn.com/shop/index.php?_a=category&cat_id=30. Site for small plants

Red Kalanchoe-Green container

Red Kalanchoe~Green Container

Note: Newsworthy (right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities and medical institutions–to help parents age well.

Great Halloween Gift Ideas Roundup for Aging, Elderly, and Hosptialized Adults–Part 1: Pumpkins–Decorated, not Carved

Favorite Farm Stand 2014

Favorite Farm Stand 2014

Decorating pumpkin patch pumpkins in an unorthodox way–
Unique and fun gift for aging parents and elders.

When I lived near this farm stand I’d take pumpkins home and decorate–not carve–them on the kitchen counter….gifts for elderly friends at Halloween. However when we moved to the City, transporting them became a logistical challenge because cars in the City are basically an expensive nuisance. Thus, our car is in a garage in the suburbs. Last week I took the commuter train to the suburbs, got our car, then purchased the pumpkin, flowers etc. without knowing where I would assemble everything.

Decorating in the car would be a last resort, as there’s no electrical outlet for the glue gun. Decision: this year’s pumpkin–only one–would not require a glue gun, only the skewers to poke the holes. I forgot it last year and ended up using a fondue fork. It works too.

Halloween 2013 Scarecrow Pumplin

2012 Halloween Pumpkin, Skewers, Glue Gun, Scarecrow.    Click to enlarge

2013 Scarecrows

2013 Finished Hallwoween Pumpkins              (with fairly short stems)

This 2014 non-messy project began at the farm stand, where I selected an easily-portable pumpkin with a curved stem that had strings dangling from it. At Trader Joe’s I bought the $3.99 bouquet special, then went in search of some ornaments.

I’ve used small scarecrows in the past, but couldn’t find any this year.  The best I could do was purchase a head band with black feathers and pumpkins quivering on a spring ($2.99). That was a bit of a splurge for me, but what the heck! A dollar store was too far away.

I’ve learned to phone to double-check that it’s still convenient for me to bring a pumpkin to an elderly person–things can easily change as we know. The 96-yearr-old man’s caregiver said to come on over and decorate the pumpkin in the kitchen, which I (we) did.

2014  Whimsey Pumpkin

We placed an orange daisy in mouth to appear that a tooth is missing and added purple cheeks or ears

The finished 2014 whimsey pumpkin:We inserted an orangish chrysanthemum to look like a tooth was missing in the smile and added the purple mums for cheeks or ears.

Alternative to a fresh pumpkin: purchase ceramic or paper mache pumpkins with open tops or cut the paper mache top off, place container of water (plastic deli kind works well) inside, fill with fall flowers. Chrysanthemums in water last as long as the ones that have their longish stems inserted through the skewered hole into a fresh pumpkin’s liquidy center. The pumpkin above should last about 2 weeks. (Unused flowers are left in a glass of water and can replace any flowers that wilt.)

Today I found–and bought– pumpkins at Trader Joe’s and scarecrows at Michael’s. The scarecrows are $1.25 on sale–I bought 3. Tomorrow I will phone my 101-year-old m-i-l and tell her I’d like to bring over a small decorated Halloween pumpkin, if she would like. Having control, at 101, has become even more important to her. She has become very  particular about not having anything unnecessary around–she will recycle it to a friend or throw it away. That’s why I’ll ask first.

Trader Joe's Scarecrows

Michael’s Scarecrows

IMG_3471

Trader Joe’s Pumpkins

Related: 2013: Decorating a Gift Pumpkin: Instructions and finished product
2010: A Halloween Surprise 

The first Decorated Pumpkins 2010

2010 My first Decorated Pumpkins                    Click to enlarge

Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Click links to timely information and research from respected universities, plus some fun stuff–to help parents age well.

Aging Parents: A Halloween Activity ~ in the City or the Suburbs…..planning ahead…(especially for elderly who don’t get out)

Who doesn’t enjoy Halloween decorations! They’re a treat for all ages and are becoming increasingly widespread. Indoors and out-of-doors these decorations are so much more elaborate than the orange, carved, candle-lit pumpkins–and perhaps a black cat or witch– sitting on the front porches of our childhood. However…..

Are aging parents and older people getting out to see them?
And–How can we make this happen?

Country Farm Stand in Oct.

Country Farm Stand in Oct. Can you see the tractor in back?

Whether in the country or the city, various-shaped, and even white-creamy-colored-pumpkins, along with

Halloween-themed inflatables–plus ghosts and witches–are common sights. Every year it seems more suburban and urban homes and commercial establishments dress up for Halloween. Even New York City townhouses get fancied-up for the occasion–a friendly ghost, a sedate townhouse’s front stoop. City sidewalks may also yield surprises. Isn’t this a perfect time to make plans to take older people out for a great change of scenery?

And what about an evening drive when lighted Halloween displays create a theatrical atmosphere? Whether it’s day or night, how many old and/or somewhat infirmed people rarely go out, spending most of their time indoors–at home or in assisted living or more structured care facilities?  Still others don’t drive–or don’t drive unfamiliar roads or at night.

For older people who are able to get into a car–with or without our help–going for a ride provides countless opportunities for stimulation and lifted spirits. Anticipating the event is an added bonus if we make the date ahead of time.

We arranged an outing last year. It turned out to be a dreary day–yet we had smiles on our faces as each Halloween display came into view. There was anticipation as we turned a corner to a new block. We never knew what to expect, although I did a “dry run” ahead of time several years ago to scope out decorated neighborhoods. They haven’t disappointed. While a drive to the country or suburbs is a change of pace for city dwellers, cities yield their own attractions if we know where to find them. And let’s not forget decorations in store windows and malls.

Any outing that gets older people out, seeing something new, is a win-win: stimulation, companionship, something to think about long after the event itself. Indeed we know major studies confirm that connections with others and stimulation are important factors in aging well.

We may have limited free time and our elders may have limited staying power, in which case a “dry run” could be in order. Whether carefully planned or spontaneous, the benefits of a ride–long or short–are clearly worth the time and effort.

Aging plays so many unexpected tricks on older people. Isn’t is great when we can give them a treat!

Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Click links to timely information and research from respected universities–plus some fun stuff–to help parents age well.

Aging Dads: Incontinence Issues Part 2– A Urologist Weighs In

Dr. Leonard Plaine, a highly respected, recently retired urologist at NYU Langone Medical Center, was a logical choice to double-check my last week’s “Aging Dads: Incontinence Issues–Part 1″ post. He has treated men’s urological issues for many decades and I especially wanted his “take.”

Dr. Leonard Plaine weighs in:

1.  The links are well-chosen. They provide the important information men need. But he wanted to make a point about human nature, saying “Many people are not motivated to do Kegels regularly.” And that’s a good point. Some people certainly are; but what about those who have good intentions but won’t follow through? Is “Know Thyself” the key?

2.  Harvard’s Prostate Knowledge article,“A patient’s story: Overcoming incontinence,” is excellent–very complete– a piece every man wondering about incontinence issues and prostate surgery should read.

Coincidently, it was timely. Dr. Plaine had been consulted by a former colleague, earlier that day, about the advisability of his patient’s having the artificial sphincter procedure for overcoming incontinence. Dr. Plaine’s opinion raised an important caution. It involved radiation.

His former colleague’s patient had successful prostate surgery several years before and carried on life as usual. Then his PSA rose and another doctor ordered radiation treatments, which the patient had. Incontinence followed. The artificial sphincter procedure, detailed in Prostate Knowledgewas being contemplated. Dr. Plaine said once tissues in the area needed for the sphincter have been subjected to radiation, they are compromised–reducing the likelihood of a problem-free solution. In fact, he would not recommend the artificial sphincter procedure in that situation.

This prompted me to phone the friend mentioned in Part 1, whose husband had radiation after prostate surgery, was living with incontinence issues, and was considering the sphincter procedure. She said her husband consulted 2 doctors. One surgeon–according to her–was ready to do the sphincter procedure; her husband’s surgeon (who did his prostate surgery), on the other hand, was very hesitant–said chances were my friend’s husband “wouldn’t be happy.”

Lastly, I learned two new terms: “urodynamics ” and the “Cunningham clamp.”
The first is the sophisticated study of how the bladder works and helps diagnose reasons for incontinence. When ordinary answers aren’t the answer, urodynamic testing may be recommended. Mayo Clinic explains “urodynamics” testing in the preceding link.

The second, “Cunningham Clamp,” is what Dr. Plaine calls–an “old fashion” device, meaning it has been around for years, to control incontinence. Although he said he hasn’t heard much about it recently, he thinks it’s good daytime option to adult underwear, pads etc.

With hopes that some of the information in these last 2 posts will help older dads age well……..

Check out: “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to current information and research from highly respected universities to help parents age well.

 

 

 

 

 

Aging Parents: Choosing The Right Doctor

If we live in a smallish town, we somehow usually know who the best doctors are. In a big city like New York City where there are many excellent doctors, people find the selection process daunting. We usually get referrals from our own doctors; we also ask friends who may connect us with other friends who’ve successfully navigated the same health issue. In cases where our problem is not “garden variety,” we may think it important to select the doctor who has had the most successful results, done the most procedures, and /cared successfully for the most patients with whatever our problem is.

The medical centers usually have specialists within the specialty (kidney stones, male infertility and erectile disfunctuon–cancer of prostate or bladder inction -voiding problems in women within the specialty (urology)

We may not need a top doctor for everyday problems. And top doctors can be prima donnas with no bedside manner. We must, therefore, prioritize our needs—personality or skill. There’s a practical element that also comes into play. Not all doctors take those n Medicare, making it more difficult for some to even find a doctor who will accept them as a patient.

For those who have no encumbrances besides a health issue, this link:

http://www.castleconnolly.com/about/nomprocess.cfm   and   http://www.castleconnolly.com/doctors/index.cfm