Aging Parents: 101st birthday

Birthday card from the staff

R reading birthday card from the staff

We stick to our philosophy. We do what aging parents want as long as it doesn’t threaten life and limb and they still have, what Sr. Advisor R calls, “a good head.” R’s birthday was Saturday…her 101st. She didn’t like our original suggestion, thinking our plan of going to La Jolla overnight (which she loved when she was in her ’90’s–she spent summers there in the ’40’s)) would be too strenuous.

Thus, we follow the advice in last year’s post: Celebrating Elders Birthdays: What They Want, Not What We Want. R initially suggested a short drive to the mountains with lunch at a hotel she likes; but she changed her mind saying she didn’t have the energy. Next choice was the club she likes–where she has celebrated past birthdays and the staff knows her. She wanted to make the reservation for just the 3 of us and specify the table she wanted. Plan in place.

The morning of her birthday was not a happy one. Possibly she felt burdened by the responsibility unfolding–the abundance of cards and the phone calls–not to mention things (2 cakes, stew, cookies, flowers), that will require a thank you note. She keeps a list, still thinking she must send a thank you for each one. Old habits die slowly but she decided she would not write notes for local phone calls. She had over 30 remembrances when I spoke to her mid-morning.

Well-wishers’ phone calls made it difficult to get her on the phone. When I finally did, in addition to hearing about the cards and gifts, she had complaints: she’d lost her appetite, nothing was tasting good, she had no energy. When she spoke with her son, my husband (who called from the golf course unbeknownst to me), he heard the same thing. According to him, his response was something like: “you can do whatever you want; whatever you want is fine with us. It’s your birthday and your decision.” 

R was raised to be disciplined. I think that includes “don’t disappoint people” and was the only reason she followed through and was ready when we came to pick her up for dinner.

Our waitress remembered her (as does everyone, it seems). She said and did all the right things. A birthday card from the staff accompanied her cake (pic above). People at the next table hearing it was her 101st birthday (pic below) began a conversation. First, the man sitting nearest, then one of the women left her seat, and came and asked R her aging secret.

Answer: she eats healthy and equally important exercises every day. She may have disappointed the woman by graciously responding to a second question, saying she never drank much, adding she never really liked the taste.

By the time we left evidently everyone had gotten word of her birthday because she received congratulations from many strangers as she walked by their tables. (FYI: R walks with a cane and took the arm of her son–only uses her walker in the house to move things that could throw her off balance if she carried them [eg. pitcher of water to water her plants]).

R not only regained her appetite, she was energized and (as usual) very talkative. While my husband was outside getting the car, R sat inside on one of the chairs near the door. I had stopped briefly. By the time I reached the entry the new young woman who greets guests had left her position behind a desk and was sitting next to R, having an intense conversation. No surprise. People are drawn to her like a magnet. First by her age, I think; then her wisdom and empathy capture them.

I’ve always thought jump-starts are important for older people and adult children should be proactive in this regard. This small birthday celebration shows what a jump-start can do. We take no credit; R made the decision to stick with the plan. Had we insisted, would the result have been the same?


Check out: “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities,

plus some fun stuff–to help parents age well.



We had the small birthday dinner R requested at her favorite place. Early in the day we got the feeling R really didn’t want to go out, Her mood was clearly not upbeat. That said, she has always been a disciplined person and I guess decided she needed to be a good sport and take the time and go to all the trouble of getting dressed up and putting on her make-up–not easy at 101. 101 BIRTHDATShe said her phone rang all day–I can vouch for that having tried to telephone her. She knew she’d need a nap since she tires so easily, and said she stopped answering the phone in the afternoon so she could rest. We were concerned about how the evening would work out. This photo may give a hint. But details must wait until tomorrow….probably after we fly back to New York. Every day we learn more about helping parents age well. Until tomorrow….

Aging Parents: Making Memories for Older People


Sharing with SantaMemories are part of our being. They allow us to momentarily recapture ourDad's 90th youth, milestone events, surprises large and small and so much more. If “Time Takes  All But Memories” (see August post) from elders who’ve lost spouses, good health, friends, family etc., can we supply happy memories for them–as well as for aging parents and the older people we care about?

Five suggestions

1. Momentarily recapturing youth: What immediately comes to mind is celebrating a lady’s 100th birthday with lunch at a bar. (She died at 104.) I’m quite certain she never forgot that lunch, nor have I.

What made it memorable? Doing something no longer normal, that was once an enjoyable, normal part of her life.

Going to a bar is a normal occurrence for younger people. Not for the elderly. Normal for us, can be new and invigorating or exciting for the elderly. The fact that two strangers–young guys–sent drinks to our table in honor of her birthday, thrilled her. (I couldn’t have staged that; if I could have, believe me I would have.) Can telling the wait staff how old your guest is produce something extra special?

2. Doing something that’s “today” could be a special event that comes to town; an outing to something contemporary that you go to together; something that elders know about, but may not have experienced, or an ordinary occurrence that wasn’t ordinary in their day.

That said, I remember Sr. Advisor R telling us on the phone (we’re far-away-living adult children) when some younger friends (then in their 40’s and 50’s; R was in her 80’s), took her to a gay bar one night. R has always had a worldly view of life, which includes staying up to date on what’s going on.

Picnic by the ocean: Mother (79) and me

Picnic by the ocean: Mother (79) and me

3.  Family togetherness: may produce the best memories for aging parents. Don’t we, in fact, remember special times with family?

It could be a holiday or a gathering when all children and grandchildren are together. Interestingly we can amass all family members from near and far for the funeral, so why not do it while aging parents/grandparents are able to enjoy it and the memories it leaves?

4.  Reunions and visitations from meaningful people in elders’ lives: Can we provide the occasion for childhood friends, buddies from military service, and old friends to be reconnect, share past memories and possibly create new ones?

5. A collage of photos: Actual photos may be confined to those of Ansel Adams and the like in museums–in another generation. Today, however, we still have photos of special times (often stored in boxes).

Can’t those who do crafts, make a collage of photos and put them in a picture frame as large as an older person’s empty wall permits? It captures memories that can be relived over and over and over.

With hopes that the above contributes towards our goal of helping parents age well until the end.

“Noteworthy” (right sidebar) links to timely information and research from top universities,
plus some fun stuff–to help parents age well.


Aging Parents: Changing Birthday Plans and Flexibility

Adult children of aging parents need to be flexible. I doubt that’s a surprise to any reader. With busy lives, changing plans can have a domino effect. But when it’s an elderly parent who’s doing the changing, we abide by her wishes if humanly possible.

Sr. Advisor R, (my mother-in-law) still “calls the shots” and will continue to do so as long as her mind is good. We decided years ago If it’s a choice between her living longer and being angry and resentful (as opposed to feeling good because she still feels in charge) as long as life and limb aren’t threatened, she’s in charge.

She wanted no 101st birthday party this month–not even the usual family birthday dinner. My husband and I offered to take her to the beach overnight. She used to love that. (Bad idea, she doesn’t want to go anyplace anymore where she must pack and unpack.) But her idea of an hour’s drive to the mountains, just the three of us for a change of scenery–and lunch–sounded good….until she changed her mind.

She was concerned it would be too long of a day to go to the mountains because her energy is in short supply. Instead she suggested dinner at her favorite place, about 15 minutes from her home, adding she’d be glad to make the reservation…for the three of us. Without asking, I will phone and have a special, small birthday cake made for the occasion.

We all need to feel competent, no matter our age, and I’m guessing we need some sort of purpose for getting out of bed each day, especially when we get old.  Sr. Advisor R has no doubt already made the dinner reservation. I, on the other hand (as probably most of us) have a list of “to-do’s” facing me when I awaken each morning. I tend to feel incompetent if I can’t get through it. Cake ordering is on that list.

Tomorrow, after an early morning board meeting in another town, then lunch with a 95-year-old whose birthday luncheon we couldn’t attend, followed by errands and visiting a friend before boarding the commuter train to take me back to NYC, will be full. Regardless, I must make/find time to order that cake!

It won’t make me feel any more competent. But this 101st birthday needs something to make it a little more special. Ordering a beautiful and delicious little cake is the best we’ll be able to do….We’re fine with that. I’m sure R will be too.

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

Do Parents Get Enough Exercise? How Much Should They Get? HHS Guidelines for Older Adults’ Physical Activity

man using weights

Older People Worry About Falling
Older People Want Independence
Older People Don’t Wish To Be Limited By Physical Problems

I doubt anyone will dispute these assertions. On the other hand, are we–or most older people–aware of the physical activities that help aging adults retain independence so they can continue to age well?

Do we know older people who are couch-potatoes or elders whose leg muscles are so weak they can’t get out of a chair or off of a toilet seat without using chair arms (or equivalent)–or aging parents who can’t walk far without tiring? Won’t we help them age better by encouraging them to do some degree of exercise, so infirmities that could have been prevented don’t limit them?

In 2008 the Department of Health and Human Services published Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, the first comprehensive guidelines on physical activity ever issued by the Federal government, with a section that focuses on “Older Adults.” Tufts provided this update this week:

Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter

Special advice from the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans:
– When older adults cannot do 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week because of chronic conditions, they should be as physically active as their abilities and conditions allow.

- Older adults should do exercises that maintain or improve balance if they are at risk of falling.
– Older adults should determine their level of effort for physical activity relative to their level of fitness.
– Older adults with chronic conditions should understand whether and how their conditions affect their ability to do regular physical activity safely.
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The following is excerpted from the Physical Activities Guidelines, Older Adults section: Click link to read complete CDC article. Also Click “More Videos” below for a quick demonstration of recommended exercises.

“If you’re 65 years of age or older, are generally fit, and have no limiting health conditions you can follow the guidelines listed below.

Older adults need at least:

jogging 2 hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (i.e., brisk walking) every week and
weight training muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms).
jogging 1 hour and 15 minutes (75 minutes) of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity (i.e., jogging or running) every week and
weight training muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms).
walking jogging An equivalent mix of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity and
weight training muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms).

Need more help with the guidelines?
Watch this video:
Physical Activity Guidelines Introduction Video
Windows Media Player, 4:43
More videos

10 minutes at a time is fine

We know 150 minutes each week sounds like a lot of time, but it’s not. That’s 2 hours and 30 minutes, about the same amount of time you might spend watching a movie. The good news is that you can spread your activity out during the week, so you don’t have to do it all at once. You can even break it up into smaller chunks of time during the day. It’s about what works best for you, as long as you’re doing physical activity at a moderate or vigorous effort for at least 10 minutes at a time.”
*               *                *

Also note: “…some people should check with their doctor before they start becoming more physically active. Experts advise that if you have a chronic disease, such as a heart condition, arthritis, diabetes, or high blood pressure, or symptoms that could be due to a chronic disease, it’s important that you’re under the care of a doctor and talk to him or her about the types and amounts of physical activity that are appropriate for you.”

As we try to help parents age well, this is good information to have–not only for aging parents, but for ourselves as well.


Related: –Physical  Activity Guidelines for Older Adults from the CDC 2008 study
                   –CDC information  for older adults with chronic problems or disabilities
                   –“Growing Stronger,” Older Adult Exercise Program from Tufts and the CDC
2008 Health and Human Services Guidelines Physical Activities Guidelines for Americans–complete publication for all ages