Aging Parents: Gifts–Great and Therapeutic for Elders



Are aging parents and elders we care about bored?
Feeling unneeded? Lacking purpose?

At holiday time or any time easy-care plants are excellent and inexpensive gifts for combatting boredom, and/or feeling useless and unneeded. Caring for plants enhances lives. No kidding! If in doubt, see the 809,000 results of googling college horticulture therapy major.  Or read, from Oregon State U’s catalog:

Horticultural therapy is recognized as a practical and effective treatment with wide-ranging benefits for people in therapeutic, vocational, and wellness programs…now taught and practiced….in… mental health, physical rehabilitation..long-term care and hospice.

Here’s the update and the lowdown that may inspire giving easy-care, living plants–in some form–to aging parents and elders who live at home or in care facilities.

IMG_2902While most of us wouldn’t hire a horticultural therapist for our parents, gifting a plant provides some of the benefits. There’s a responsibility factor, the feeling of being needed, and satisfaction from watching a plant grow, produce new leaves, and possibly flower.

Example: Sr. Advisor R’s responsibility to her plants ran deep. She figured out how to continue to care for her plants as she aged. She used her walker. It carried the plants on its tray to her kitchen sink or carried a pitcher of water, in its recessed hole, to water the plants until the day she died at 101.

R was aware of every new leaf and kept each plant looking perfect. She also had philodendrons happily growing in containers of water or potted in soIMG_0254il. They were like her babies.

Easy-care plant options for elders

1. The snake plant adds decor–you can’t miss it. It survives neglect–just needs watering now and then…when soil dries out. My brother was given one, by friends who know him well, as a house-warming gift. It filled an empty corner. He loves it. It’s the only plant he has–waters it “once a month–maybe.” OK–it’s a succulent…and a tough plant to kill.

2. I planted a dish garden of succulents in Arizona–kept outside on a paDish Garden with Succulentstio with an overhang so it doesn’t get drenched when it rains. Because the bottom has no drainage holes (not a good idea for novices), it’s checked and given a bit of water every 2-3 weeks…when the succulent “leaves” show signs of shriveling.

All my other succulents are in pots and dish gardens–inside and outdoors–and have drainage holes.  All they need is light and, when the soil is completely dry, a good watering that drains out. Succulents take the same care/abuse as the snake plant.

Watching dish gardens of succulents or leafy plants  grow–and change, adds interest to life, especially when they flower. IMG_1056This rock garden was exhibited at the Philadelphia Flower Show.

3.  Terrariums: The open-terrarium below in the footed glass container was on the counter by thIMG_2709e sinks in the ladies’ room at a restaurant near the Philadelphia Flower Show. Horticulture seems contagious in Philadelphia–whether in the Convention Center or in surrounding venues. Being careful not to overwater is paramount as there’s no drainage.

Closed terrariums, on the other hand, are truly easy care. Plants grow in any nonporous container as long as it’s covered so as to be airtight. (Closed terrarium plants thrive in humidity and NO direct sun.)

This IMG_4800flowering prismatacarpa begonia in a brandy snifter, is from a cutting taken 5 months ago. A round piece of glass scotch-taped on top (cut at a store that replaces window panes) prevents drying out.  Plastic wrap works also, but doesn’t look as nice.

Click here for details and pictures of the following:
4. Christmas Cactus
5.  Golden Pothos
6.  Philodendron
7.  Syngonium
8.  Wandering Jew
+ 9. Oxallis
10. Bromilliad
11. Spathiphyllum  are featured in Related posts below.

As Thanksgiving, Christmas and Chanukah approach and we think gifts for older people, especially those living alone, aren’t “living plants” an appealing choice?

Note: Prismatacarpa begonia: a flowering favorite and described as a “small plant [that] proves mighty in its propensity for being nearly always in bloom” requires humidity. It grows in sphagnum moss–the soft kind (not the scratchy,”prickery” kind) in closed terrariums and seldom gets dry–but when it does (leaves begin to wilt), add a teaspoon of water.

Related:  Live Plants in Little Landscapes –Terrariums
                 Easy-Care Plants for Aging Parents
                 Aging Parents: Little-care, Live Plants, Gifts–Flowering or Not 

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

Aging Grandmothers, Mothers, Younger Women: Public Bathroom Problems

Outsmarting a Disgusting Public Bathroom

Val Grubb’s travel bog’s post will probably resonate with women who’ve waited impatiently in a line for the Ladies’ Restroom, only to enter a vacated stall that’s disgusting. How many times have we found ourselves in the situation of these millennials? They’re at a club (click: short video belowso well done). And guys….. How often have you waited for the woman you’re with because her bathroom line is always so much longer than the line for the Men’s Room?! Now you’ll know one reason.

Aging mothers like my mother–as well as younger women–can slow the line as they try to make the best of an unacceptable, toilet-paper-and/or-seat-cover-deficient stall. Pee Pocket or KleenGo to the rescue  ….seriously!

This product, a portable, foldable, disposable funnel, no doubt comes in handy when camping or for those traveling and needing to use bathrooms in less-developed countries. (I do remember China.)

It’s a unique (to say the least) Christmas-stocking-stuffer possibility for a woman– traveler or not–or simply a gift for a close friend. And, if we have aging mothers, it may simply save everyone time and frustration… if it’s in our purse.

I haven’t tried it yet. While I don’t think it’s as useful as the rubber band I’ve often written about for opening jars and tight lids, for some it could be a strong contender!

 If it makes life easier for aging women…doesn’t it help them age well?

*    *    *

Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely tips, information and research from top universities. respected professionals and selected publications–to help parents age well. Especially note Mayo Clinic free webinar 11/17/15 on holiday stress. Noon Central Time. Click link in sidebar to learn more and register for webinar.

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Veteran’s Day 2015

Honoring Those Who Served ~ 5th Avenue New York City

Again we honor those who serve, have served, and made
the ultimate sacrifice.

We also learn that ongoing research focusing on the “transition of veterans from military to civilian life,” is underway at Teachers College, Columbia U.  Today’s just-received email, Beyond PTSD: Exploring the Stresses of Veterans’ Transition Back to Civilian Life gives details about the newly established Resilience Center for Veterans & Families.


 Also check out this short, well-done, video that spans the generations–grandfather,  grandsons and those in between. It caught my attention this year. Click here-


Related: Pointe du Hoc–D Day (mentioned in video) and Link for additional Pointe du Hoc photos.

  • <b>Pointe Du Hoc</b>

I visited the Normandy beaches in the late 1960’s, when one could walk all over–including in and out of the pill boxes. How that steep, rugged cliff fortified by Nazi pill boxes–loaded with artillery and the advantage of seeing everything below–was captured by the Americans is mind-boggling!

Help Aging Parents–Hospice: Why Wait To Call?

Call Hospice for Your Mom!

I meddled! A former neighbor sounded awful when I phoned the other night. She’s very old; has had cancer successfully treated over decades, but it sounds like the end may be near. There’s no “maybe” about the pain she says she has had for some time.  There’s an aide with her 24/7 so I didn’t think hospice was involved, although it sounded like they should be.

After speaking with a mutual friend, I talked myself into feeling comfortable phoning one of her two adult children. (I knew them from years ago–although I’d only been sporadically in touch since their mother moved away.)

Uncomfortable conversations immediately trigger my What’s the Goal? response. My answer to myself: Find out if hospice is involved. If not, respectfully and gently provide information.

Both children live far from their mother. Knowing the family dynamics from way back I understand one bears 99.9-100% of the responsibility and has been great. That’s the logical child to contact.

I made the call, leaving a simple message. It had three parts, the first–objective information: I phoned your mother several nights ago and she said she felt awful and could she call me back.” Next, the personal: “I haven’t heard back so I’m wondering how she’s doing.” Then conveying understanding: “It sounds like this is a rough time and I hope my phone call isn’t an intrusion.”

My call was returned within the hour, with appreciation. (We need to be careful not to make adult children feel defensive/judged. Easier said than done.) The simple, thought-out-beforehand sentence works.

I learned things were stressful. Doctors weren’t returning calls in a timely fashion; things got delayed, cancelled. A special trip to visit the mother in Florida 10 days earlier resulted in employing a geriatric care manager to move things forward. Approval from the insurance company was needed for an important test. They’re still waiting–it has been over a week.  Depending upon the test results, the plan is to check the availability of hospice care.

Bingo! The logical time to mention hospice was at hand. “Why wait to call hospice?” I asked, following up with the thought that hospice could provide some relief. Not knowing if hospice requirements differ by state, I made that known. Then I shared my parents’ experience when hospice became involved, made them more comfortable, and the relief I felt having the extra support. The response I got makes me think the message–why wait– got through. Calling hospice sooner, not later, seemed to be the new plan.

Bottom line: Calling hospice–or suggesting someone contact hospice–may be uncomfortable. But calling sooner–rather than later–offers professional, appropriate comfort to patient and family and a better chance for a satisfying ending. So many have said “I wish I’d called hospice sooner.”

Related: Aging Parents and Hospice: To Call, Not to Call, When to Call
A sample of what Googling  “who is eligible for hospice in Florida” provides.

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

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Help Aging Parents: Halloween in New York City


Halloween decor and costumed kiddies holding their parents’ hands are ever-present in NYC today. For young and old who are mobile, the side-streets of NY offer everything–except the inflatables seen on front yards in the suburbs. For non-mobile, see Related: companion wheelchairs below.

IMG_4782The ghoulish and creepy displays on the upper eastside–just a block east of Central Park made the NY Times. Very young, pushed in strollers by parents (and often accompanied by their dogs), and those older who could walk, stopped to view the spooky surroundings. We share some here…….witches on broomsticks fly over parked vehicles…skeletons back from the dead…


spiders and bats–all seem to have found a home on this side-street. Below is the same townhouse during the day and at night.IMG_4791


Click small photos to enlarge and click here for previous Halloweens’ non-ghoulish photos.

Related: My friend, who had polio as a child, recommends a companion/transport wheelchair for outings on non-hilly/rugged terrain. It’s light weight so a friend, who must push it because wheels are small, can easily get it out of her car. (She drives, but can’t use a walker for long walks.) It’s as easy to use as the strollers I saw parents pushing their excited little ones in the day before Halloween. I can’t recommend a maker (above link gives ideas of what’s available). My friend got hers at CVS or Walgreens in Arizona, where they evidently have medical supplies. Couldn’t this enrich frail, old peoples’ lives on a nice day?

What 90-year-olds Want From Doctors

Look at older patients instead of typing notes into a computer, take more time with them and answer their questions…

Periodically I go through the “Sites and Blogs I Like” (tab above)– reading, adding and updating. The Kaiser Health News site often has relevant aging articles: “Seniors Tell Medical Students What They Need From Doctors” (9/25/15) is one. (NPR picked it up.)

Sparked by the need for many more doctors (geriatricians) to meet the special needs of an aging population, Case Western Reserve Medical School recently held its annual panel discussion, “Life Over 90,”  for their 2nd-year-medical students. The 90+-year-old panel members shared experience and advice–equally instructive for anyone whose elderly loved ones go to doctors. And isn’t that everyone?.

I remember Sr. Advisor R’s last trip to NY, three years ago at age 98– making the effort to navigate airports and flying cross country alone. She had two goals:
1. to see our new apartment and
2. to get a second opinion from our ophthalmologist.

The second was a disaster. After many tests, we went into the doctor’s office. He sat on the other side of the desk, his swivel chair in the right angle between his computer and R, who sat directly across from him. I was on R’s right. Perfect–in terms of where he sat and his ability to glance at the images on the computer then turn to talk. But he flunked the conversation by looking past R–to me–when he spoke.

My instinct was to redirect the conversation but before I could, R announced: “Dr. I pay my own bills, kindly address your remarks to me.” Granted, R didn’t achieve living independently, alone– in her home of 70+ years –by being a pussycat! She knew how to advocate for herself. But what about many elders who either never had–or have lost–that assertiveness?

Initially I faulted myself for not speaking up quickly enough. Then I decided it was much better that R advocated for herself, once again confirming she was in control. (Key Thoughts–right sidebar: Do actions empower or diminish? or Don’t do for aging parents what they can do for themselves.)

R’s experience highlights the fact that while doctors may be tops in their field, far too few have been trained to understand the special needs of older people now–and there will be even less as boomers and those younger age.

Past posts (several years back) emphasize the value of geriatricians for older people’s health care. Read Karen’s short letter re: her mother’s appointment with a geriatrician at Mt. Sinai in NYC.

Case Western Reserve and no doubt other medical schools realize that geriatrics is a relatively low-paying, underpopulated specialty. Even when medical students have interest, most incur huge debt from student loans that will need to be repaid, so they select a higher paying specialty.

Efforts are being made to encourage medical students to specialize in geriatrics–or at the least better understand the needs of older people. That said, a severe shortage of doctors, with an understanding of the special needs of those 65+ exists. It affects not only aging parents and older loved ones now, but portends pitfalls for us in the years ahead. While sobering, check out Related below.


Related:  When do you need a geriatrician?
                American Geriatrics Society–Find Health Care Providers
                Castle Connolly Finding the Best Geriatric Doctors
                Healthgrades Geriatric Medicine-State Directory
                US News– Health: Find Geriatricians-US Doctors

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

Gifting Easily-decorated Halloween Pumpkins with Flowers and Whimsey Lifts Spirits of Aging Parents and Care Center Elders

IMG_46312015 Pumpkins for Elders

Pumpkins with interesting stems and the potential for whimsey make uplifting October gifts.

And once again they’ve been given to older people this past week, the oldest being 97-year-old J.

He and his (now deceased) wife were inspiration for the first pumpkin I decorated in 2010.  They were having health issues and when I saw the lopsided pumpkin (photo below), the outcast, relegated to the unpopular side of the bin–I wondered who would buy it. Then I realized it could bring a smile if filled with chrysanthemums…and immediately I thought of J and his wife. .

It was a medium-size pumpkin. I quickly drove it home and put it on the kitchen counter, thinking I’d cut off the top, put a plastic container inside and fill it with water and flowers. However visualizing the lopsidedness and not wanting to discard the stem, sparked another idea: Why not poke holes in it, carefully push chrysanthemum stems into the holes, and see how it looks.

2010 Pumpkin

2010 Pumpkin

I purchased Trader Joe’s chrysanthemum bouquet ($3.99), took ivy from the yard, and bought little scarecrows at Michael’s ($1.50 I think). The 2010 pumpkin lasted over 2 weeks I was told.

Since we’ve now moved to NYC and use public transportation, I bought small pumpkins this year, the little pie pumpkins, because they’re easier to transport.

I focused on size and long stems, not realizing, until I read in Mayo Clinic’s Nutrition-wise Blog:”Pumpkin Trivia–10 facts about this fall favorite, that these little pumpkins are sweeter but have less water inside than the larger ones bred for carving. I immediately understood why the larger pumpkins lasted two weeks (stems must suck up the liquid inside).

Because there”s less liquid in the little pumpkins, I squirted some water in the holes before poking in stems, hoping to make up for the lost moisture. And since there are alway left-over flowers, I left extras at J’s this year. All should last a week without having to add extra flowers. (I’ll post an update on that in a few weeks.) Next year I’ll buy carving variety pumpkins, looking for the smallest.

Four pumpkins were decorated. The one at the top is J’s. The three below went to women ages 70-90.  (Click photos–except 2010 photo–to enlarge)

IMG_4720When we can put smiles on elders’ faces, we’re adding a bit to help them age well, aren’t we?


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

Related: Click “Halloween Posts” tab under header above for past posts and photos