Aging Parents: My Parents’ Home–The Long Farewell

NO GIRLS ALLOWED sign in front of boy's clubhouse--decades before Woman's Lib.Would you guess the young girl is now a well-recognized low vision specialist?

NO GIRLS ALLOWED sign in front of boy’s clubhouse–decades before Woman’s Lib.
The young girl is now a well-recognized low vision specialist.

How many of us have had the bittersweet experience of being back on the street where we lived, in the bedroom of our growing up, years after our parents have died?

Our street was a micro world–kids about the same age who, when very young, built summer huts of tall weeds on a vacant lot near the end of the street. Before adolescence our early “architecture” morphed into the boys’-built clubhouse in a neighbor’s back yard. It had the requisite “NO GIRLS ALLOWED” sign.

Time passes, people pass. Our old home is no longer an Ozzie-and-Harriet kind of home and the neighborhood is no longer filled with the high-pitched voices of the neighborhood kids.

We readjust and move forward with–hopefully– the strength gained and wisdom learned from navigating in our micro world. It was our world until we all left for college.

Amazingly in today’s world of rapid change, the houses remain with few changes. Only the inhabitants have changed.

And instead of our street being flooded with kids and dogs, construction vehicles have taken over. A new home is being built across from ours–on the “playground,” an empty, grass-covered lot connected to my first best friend’s home. We kids spent a lot of time there–first on swings and teeter-totters, then playing ball, alway hanging out. Times change. Developers don’t. The construction signals time to sell. Time for a new family. New expectations, new dreams.

As I contemplate readying our family home to be sold, which involves emptying out 6+ decades of memories in addition to the tangible belongings, we’ve had more years than most to cut the umbillical cord. It’s time to let go of the house that provided us security for so many decades–a house that was home…for many years more than one has the right to expect.

A childhood friend of my brother’s, growing up with us on our street but now living in Florida, said on the phone recently: “Visiting your home was like a time warp… still the same inside. I’ve loved being able to come back over the years and experience that.”

So have I.


Aging Parents’ and Grandparents’ New Year’s Resolutions

Many traditions disappeared with the last century yet New Year’s Resolutions continue. One teenager thinks today’s resolutions are more self-serving (exercising regularly, losing weight) than focusing on others. Perhaps. An octogenarian recalls her teenage resolutions like giving up candy didn’t last very long. But she says that her resolution to be nicer to and spend more time with her widowed grandmother who lived with her family sticks in her mind as lasting.

When talking about resolutions that involve family as opposed to self, my small sample of older people (from Arizona, Delaware, New York, and Oregon) care deeply about their children and grandchldren and are making–or have made–resolutions to further cement the relationship.

For example, resolutions to “let go”–or at the least not pressure–when family situations and values upset an older generation prevail:

“I will try to accept what my grandchildren and children do. (I must learn to accept it ’cause there’s nothing I can do about it.)”

“I’m going to try and figure out how to take a “stand” that would work and not destroy family relations.”

“I speak for myself and other friends–we’ve just been discussing values. I’m making a resolution not to get upset by the fact that adult children may be wonderful; but they don’t value the same material things we do…old family heirloom things: furniture, a cup collection from my grandmother, my great-grandmother’s Christmas tree ornament etc.”

Other resolutions involve family in a different way:

“I’m going to tidy up this year. If I die I’d hate for my kids to come in and have to clean up all the stuff I’ve accumulated over the years.”

“I’m going to make it a point to listen more, to find out more about my far-away-living grandchildren and what they’re doing. I visited at Christmas, listened to their music with them, discussed the lyrics, learned who One Direction is and what’s important in their lives. I even learned about hockey and watched a game. My grandchild is a star hockey player. Now we have a commonality to email about and discuss.”

“I am going to accept the fact that my far-away living son and family are very busy with their own lives. While they’re at the top of my priority list, I know my husband and I are not at the top of theirs even though we all get along very well. So if we want to be with them more often than twice a year, we have to make the accommodations.”

“I want to maintain my health (I’m 92) so I can be around to see my great-grandchildren develop; and I want to keep working at my business.”

One admittedly “very opinionated” grandmother says “This is a big stretch for me, it’s so unlike me not to say anything, but I made a resolution years ago–I have many children and grandchildren–and it has worked to keep our family together. It goes like this:

Whatever they do is fine.
Whatever they say is fine.
Whatever they want is fine.

It seems adult children and grandchildren, whether living near or far, live large in their parents’ and grandparents’ minds; perhaps even beyond what we might expect.

Is a New Year’s resolution by adult children and grandchildren to make an effort to regularly communicate with and include the older generation in order?

It would certainly make aging parents and grandparents happy.

Changing weekly: “Of Current Interest” (right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities, plus some free and some fun stuff–to help parents age well

Aging Parents and Us: Memory Loss or Loss of Focus?

I usually publish my blog Tuesday night. Yet I was immersed in readying for, and cleaning up after, a New Year’s Eve party and completely forgot. While multitasking has been a constant in the lives of many of us with old/older parents, the following from Mayo Clinic is a quick, timely read for me and quite possibly for you.

I wrote about disorganization at holiday time and feeling like ADD was at work. So this MD’s short answer, “Stop multitasking an learn how to focus” (from the Adult Health category on Mayo Clinic’s website), speaks to me with 4 timely suggestions. Indeed, they are doable and 1 (or all 4) could be considered a New Year’s resolution for some.

In previous posts (see “Related” below), Sr. Advisor R talks about how she decided it was essential that she learned to discipline herself to focus. Widowed at 51, as she aged alone in her home, she began forgetting where she put things. When she lost her keys and could ask no one for help, she told herself “You’ve got to pay attention.” And she realized her head was often thinking one thing, while her hands were doing something else (like putting the keys in an unlikely place).

It’s easy for me–and no doubt us if we are caregivers and/or have aging parents–to  juggle too much and lose focus. Depending on our age, we may or may not have memory concerns about ourselves.  On the other hand, when older parents start forgetting, an alarm bell is often triggered.

Since Sr. Advisor R, 100-years-old and my mother-in-law, is way ahead of me in life’s lessons, I needn’t share the 4 suggestions with her. She lives by them. That said, sharing these suggestions with elders who seem frustrated–or are frustrating us–because of memory problems, is another way we can help parents age well.

Related: 2 posts written in early January 2012–basically this same time of year with Sr. Advisor psychiatrist, Dr. Bud’s (MD) observations and suggestions A Burke Rehabilitation (NY) physician distinguishes between benign forgetfulness and dementia, plus a difficult conversation model.

Changing weekly: “Of Current Interest” (right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities, plus some free and some fun stuff–to help parents age well.

Sense of Purpose: A Gift for Aging Parents–at Thanksgiving, Chanukah and Beyond

Thanksgivng 2013

I think everyone would agree: having a sense of purpose is essential to feeling good about life. The big question: How do we instill a sense of purpose in aging parents who no longer have it?

Do remember, those who never had it will no doubt never get it–
People Change, Not Much.

I recently read a short blurb about the importance of having sense of purpose. While there’s a chapter in my book about it, I haven’t addressed it directly in my posts. They have focused more on the positive feelings that come from being needed. So here goes–

First, when older people are married, there is someone in their life, whether healthy or sick…there’s purpose. So it’s most likely we’re talking about people living alone. And we may need to dig deep in our thinking about how to instill a sense of purpose when aging parents have lost it.

Next: Think about parents’ strengths (both objective–eg.talent fixing things, cooking, art, music and the touchy-feely–eg. kind, warm, patient, what they are passionate about). We may need to go back in time, remembering what they enjoyed/cared about when younger.

Then decide: can we instill and/or support sense of purpose?–or does it need to come from somewhere else?

Now: Think creatively and in a macro, big-picture way–for example:

The most universal sense of purpose (the macro) for many will be wanting to maintain independence. What efforts (micro) can they make towards that end?

In the case of Sr. Advisor, R, for example, I think it has been to keep herself healthy enough to be able to do what’s necessary to remain in her home. (I’ve written many posts about her, as you know.) Thus shopping for her own groceries (the shopping cart provides stability and confidence when walking) gives her purpose. And while her shopping takes forever, the entire experience is win-win. R gets exercise, uses her brain and makes decisions about needed/wanted food and its cost, and has connections with others…the cashiers know her (told her she was so amazing yesterday, reinforcing self-esteem and good feelings).

Best for us, we can support this since it involves someone driving her to the grocery store and waiting; yet we do our own marketing at the same time and spend the extra time on our cell phone. If your parent would feel that is rude (once you know how long a parent’s shopping takes), wait in the car and go back when you think (s)he’s about finished. You needn’t hang around–as if they’re not independent enough to be on their own–unless they want you to.

The shopping is followed by R’s putting the groceries away and ultimately cooking for herself and eating healthy.

There are, of course, less universal themes. One which immediately comes to mind is volunteering; but it must be meaningful. I’ve always thought old people being with young children in a daycare or school setting is ideal. That said, children spread many germs so this may not be a good idea for all elderly people.

Another is having a pet to take care of; but this is tricky for older people. A veterinarian weighed in on this in a past post with–at least for me–good information.

Thanksgiving is tomorrow. So is the first day of Chanukah. Give aging parents a micro sense of purpose by giving them a task and/or asking for help. I’ve written about the oldest guest stringing the cranberry necklace for the turkey at our Thanksgiving dinners. I’ve written about bringing those in rehab or care facilities home for the holiday meal, including some specific ways aging parents can help.

Lastly, after Thanksgiving brainstorm with friends who have living-alone aging parents for new ideas.

Restoring a sense of purpose is an intangible gift. It not only helps aging parents feel better, it makes us feel better.

Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Chanukah

Changing weekly: “Of Current Interest” (right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities, plus some free and some fun stuff–to help parents age well.

Traditional, Remarried and Blended Families: Navigating the Holidays to Help Parents and Elders Age Well

To Grandmother's HousePack the car and the kids–To Grandmother’s House We Go–perhaps. But what if there are 3 or 4 or more living grandmothers with husbands? What about siblings, step-siblings and siblings-in-law?

Change in the traditional family, mobility, work schedules. This (and much more) presents challenges for older and younger generations at Thanksgiving, as well as at other major holidays where meals are important. Who hosts? Who goes where?

4 Questions to Help Us Address this Change

1. What’s the Goal? Asking ourselves this question provides the framework for making good decisions. Goals also change as family situations change. So we may need to revisit this question again and again.

Goal Possibilities:
To please aging parents and grandparents
To put our children first
To make it easy on ourselves
To provide family togetherness/inclusiveness
The more the merrier or
Less people, more comfort

2. Is it better for them or better for me?
Which is my priority?
What is its impact?

3. What are the givens that can’t change?
Size of home/apartment–can it accommodate everyone?
Where family members live
“Ify” relationships (families often cater to the most neurotic member)

4. What is the compromise?
Weigh the goal and the givens, then-
Think about #2.

Variables abound. Yet one thing is clear: divorced parents with children, who get along for the sake of the children, have emotionally healthier children. In all families children need security and stability in their lives. This may involve additional planning for those in blended and remarried families–and can be especially important when deciding who celebrates holidays with whom–and where, if it wasn’t legally decided.

When both parents remarry, there can be two sets of biological grandparents plus two additional sets of grandparents who want to share the holidays with grandchildren. Is this a logistical problem now–or later?

Family units age. Children grow up and marry (possibly divorce, remarry and/or move). Grandchildren enter the picture. The result: the numbers of grandparents and great-grandparents, who are typically part of family holiday dinners and festivities, multiply. A large, centrally-located home is ideal. Unfortunately that isn’t always possible.

Adding to that, our new senior advisor, D, 88, soon to be introduced, reminds me that she has older living-alone friends without children or with far-away-living children. These elders were once part of the family Thanksgiving celebrations, but are no longer invited anywhere for Thanksgiving. Does it make sense, if we have room, to ask aging family members if they have a friend they’d like us to include for Thanksgiving dinner?

We try to do things to help parents and elders age well. Thanksgiving provides opportunities, but can also provide challenges. We hope the “4 Questions” can help with the challenges.

Changing weekly: “Of Current Interest”(right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities, plus some free and some fun stuff–to help parents age well.

Hospitalization Tips That Make a Difference: For Aging Parents, Grandparents, Our Children, and Us

     I recently learned that a friend who worked in the health professions needed surgery.  He recently turned 65, is medicare eligible, but elected to remain with his managed care plan. The hospital he selected was one he knew and liked, was near his home, and was approved by his plan.
     Surgery was successful, but was followed by an infection, then other complications. His family insisted he be moved to a larger, more comprehensive hospital for additional treatment. This took a lot of doing–was not easily accomplished.
     After well over a month and several weeks in the larger hospital, he is in rehab for physical therapy, but health issues remain and he’s very weak. There’s conversation about his returning to the comprehensive hospital.

This sobering chain of events calls attention to:

1. a slogan
2. advice, gained from Dr.Susan Love’s (surgeon and prominent breast cancer prevention advocate) hospital experience about the importance of family.
3. information from Jon La Pook, MD (NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia U. Medical Center and Chief Medical Correspondent for CBS News) about how to get optimal hospital care.

1. WHERE YOU’RE TREATED FIRST MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE. Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center’s slogan (goes back to the 1990s if not earlier).

2. The IMPORTANCE OF FAMILY MEMBERS WHILE HOSPITALIZED.  NY Times 2/19/13 Science Section interview, Susan Love’s Illness Gives New Focus to Her Cause. Dr. Love discusses the 4-week ordeal following her bone marrow transplant and the fact that family members “offered round the clock support,” advocated for her during that time “when she wasn’t very articulate,” and the fact that one family member “slept in the hospital every night.”

While the article initially focuses on Dr. Love’s reasons for devoting her efforts to the cause of disease rather than the medicines to treat it, we learn about the importance of family, which translates into good advice for all of us.

Likewise, Marti Weston shares a personal experience as she blogs about the importance of family in her 2/9/13 post  Elder in Hospital. Does a Family Member Need to be There, Too? The bottom line is “yes.”  Marti gives specifics about why and about certain things/actions family members can do/take (which includes sleeping at the hospital) to avert problems.

3. OPTIMAL HOSPITAL CARE. Dr. Jon La Pook’s TV interview on CBS (following  NY-Presbyterian/Columbia U Medical Center’s earning #7 Best Hospital honors in the latest US News Best Hospital’s edition) gives the excellent advice about how to get optimal hospital care these days.

For example, Dr. La Pook stresses the importance of communication between the patient’s regular doctor and the hospital’s doctor or the hospitalist, emphasizing it needs to be “a good hand-off” and likening it to the passing of the baton in a relay. You don’t want the baton dropped.

He opens our eyes to to basic, but critical, things like hand-washing “it could save your life;” tells you what to be on the lookout for; and introduces new terms ie. “electronic healthcare buddy.” Link to this enlightening interview:

This information can benefit all generations, as we try to help parents age well.

Note-New: Check out “Of Current Interest”(right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities about cancer, dementia, Parkinson’s, plus some fun stuff–to help parents age well.