Aging Parents: The Pet-Human Bond Through Illness and the End of Life

“What will become of my pets if I get sick too sick to care for them?
What will happen to my pets when I pass?”…

…Sent from Dianne McGill, who founded Pet Peace of Mind in 2009.

It appeals to the animal-lover in me and the fact that I can make a little difference. I asked Dianne if she would share from her experiences and her program. The result: Dianne’s contribution written for my readers.

“What will become of my pets if I get sick too sick to care for them? What will happen to my pets when I pass?”

These questions are on the lips -and in the hearts- of many people facing debilitating illness or end of life issues. For those who share profound bonds with their pets, the connection is akin to that of a family member. It is no wonder that during the end-of-life journey, pets can play a critical role.

For these pet families, the human-pet bond takes on deeper meaning and value. Pets may serve as their sole source of companionship and provide a sense of responsibility and purpose outside of self. For many patients, they view maintaining a strong relationship with their pets as a reason to get up every day. When friends stop visiting because they don’t know what to say or how to act with someone who is terminally ill, pets often provide a significant source of unconditional love and acceptance about what’s happening in the patient’s life. Very few people can imagine what the end of life journey feels like yet time after time, we observe pets providing a sense of normalcy and stability in patients’ lives.

I know of countless patients who have said that their pet is their lifeline. The bond they share helps cope with the anxiety which comes from dealing with a serious medical condition. For many patients, keeping their pets near them during the end of life journey and ensuring the pet will have a loving home after they pass is one of the most important pieces of unfinished business.

In reality, most patients will need help with pet care issues at some point during their illness. Some patients are fortunate to have a broad support network and receive all the assistance they need from family or close friends. Unfortunately, as loved ones deal with the grief and loss surrounding the patient’s illness, treasured pets may be overlooked or treated as an afterthought by those who are unfamiliar with the patient’s bond with a pet. Pet Peace of Mind provides the solution to this challenging situation by helping local nonprofit hospice and palliative care organizations meet the needs of their patients with pets.

Pet Peace of Mind educates hospice and palliative care organizations about the importance of pets in the lives of their patients and helps them support those pets in practical ways. Our program provides a turnkey approach to help them establish a local program to train volunteers to help patients with their pet care needs and to find new forever homes after the patient passes on. We help them deliver help to patients when and where it is needed, provide funding to launch the program, and provide ongoing support so they are never going it alone.

This video link’s title, Maxwell Finds a Home, shows the program in action. Watch this video to learn more about our work. To learn more about how you can receive help or help a patient in need visit petpeaceofmind.org

Aging Parents. Holiday Depression. When Chanukah and Christmas Share the Same Day

 

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At a joyous time for so many who are young(er) and an emotional time for so many who are old(er) and have suffered loss, one wonders whether having the first day of Chanukah begin on the exact same day as Christmas compounds the number of lonely, sad, depressed people in the world.

Countless articles and studies about holidays bringing on depression are available. Advice for sufferers and information about available support exist in abundance. Googling “holiday depression” produces 1,220,000 results. Even here, on this blog since its inception, holiday ideas for helping elders feel supported, cared about and loved exist.

What do we know and what can we do to reduce holiday loneliness in those we care about? Speaking personally–which I try to avoid–is my onIy option. I know from my counseling training that I can’t be objective when my husband died just over 6 months ago. That’s the reason for the larger gap of time between my last post and this. I simply couldn’t figure out how to write on the subject again. With a different perspective I’ve reread my prior posts and can comment. (Click links below and check out ideas.)

Understanding Aging Parents: Elders’s Tips to Reduce Loneliness at Christmas 2015
It’s the Haa, Haa-py-est Time of the year 2009
Help Parents Age Well With a Drive in the Dark  2010
Aging Parents After Christmas Let-Down  2012

Basically I accept the ideas in them  just as much now, as I did when first posting them….with this addition:

Note the idea implicit in “Different Strokes for Different Folks” and “One Size Doesn’t Fit All” is reflected in the interviewees’s comments (see above posts). They pertain to:

Energy level,
ability to take initiative
comfort level being alone or with a pet(I’ve heard women say being alone at night is difficult)
availability of family living near, and no doubt the
ability to see “The Glass 1/2 full or 1/2 empty”

All are important aspects to consider when wanting to alleviate or lessen feelings of sadness and loneliness.

For me, personally, the fact that my somewhat rare terrestrial orchid (grows on the ground–pictured potted in soil) sends up this display every year around Christmas/Chanukah, reminds me: life goes on–even after loss. Indeed those tiny clusters of white orchids that resemble a lit candelabra do wither and die.

And while we might feel like the withering and die stage at times, especially after loss, life does go on; so we might as well do our best to make a comeback. And it might take help from caring friends and family if it’s allowed. The comeback will, perhaps, not be as spectacular as this orchid’s…but then…………..

As we try our best to help the elders we care about age well, we remember Grandma’s saying: “When we’ve done our best, we’ve done our best. Angels can do no more!”

MERRY CHRISTMAS     HAPPY CHANUKAH

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Related: the “top stories” about Holiday Depression on Google today:

Local Organizations Supporting Those With Holiday Blues
KGNS TV 12/23/16

Holiday Depression–Identifying the Signs and Finding Support
Fox 13now  12/ 22/16

Help Aging Parents–Loneliness: The Implications are Sobering

WHAT IS LONELINESS?
At its most basic, it is the lack of fulfilling social connection in people who yearn to feel connected.
The web of meaningful connections that keeps us healthy has “frayed to the breaking point.”
Lonely Planet

The holiday season is here. Several of this blog’s posts in years past have focused on holiday loneliness, offering ideas to mitigate some of it. That said, holiday loneliness is one thing. Perpetual loneliness is another, leading to sobering health consequences. We often think of the emotional. Do we understand the physical? And the implications for lonely, aging parents?

UCLA Health’s recent Lonely Planet  article  (click this link or “loneliness” in Newsworthy at top right) reiterates what many of us know: “Loneliness and social isolation take a steep toll on the human body.”  But are we aware that “Studies show people who are chronically lonely have significantly more heart disease, are more vulnerable to metastatic cancer, have an increased risk of stroke and are more likely to develop neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s? Lonely adults are 25 percent more likely to die prematurely, while elderly people who are lonely die at twice the rate as those who are socially connected. All of which makes the spike in loneliness in American society even more alarming,” according to the article.

Steve Cole, PhD (FEL ’98), UCLA professor of medicine and psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences and John Cacioppo, PhD, founder and director of the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago, and UCLA Dr. have done extensive research which Lonely Planet explains. Dr. Cacioppo says “The mortality rate for air pollution is 5 percent,“For loneliness, it’s 25 percent.”  We also learn 1/5 of the population suffers from loneliness.

While we know that older people’s social interactions decrease with age and friends die and/or move, and often family members don’t live near, options for meaningful social interactions have further decreased. Why? Think social media. The options for socialization may be broader, but they’re not deeper, thus encouraging loneliness, which Dr. Cole calls “a pending epidemic.”

Which bring us back to the holidays. Most adult children are capable of supplying the patches–temporarily filling the holiday loneliness void for aging parents. Meanwhile one researcher’s summation is “work that is physically demanding, cognitively stimulating and socially rewarding rids loneliness in older adults.”  With this in mind, impressive results for overcoming loneliness–much more lasting than a patch–are now being achieved by an intergenerational project resulting  from UCLA-Johns Hopkins research: Generation Xchange,  Lonely Planet supplies the details.

It may take a village to raise a child, but it may also take a village to provide meaningful work to dispel loneliness and keep grandparents healthy in the village.


Related:  Understanding Aging Parents: Elders’ Tips to Combat Holiday Loneliness
                Help Aging Parents: Connections, Socialization–Are You an Aging-Parent-Includer?

 

 

Thanksgiving and the Circle of Life: Transitions–2016

Traditions and Transitions Impact Aging Parents
and the Elders We Care About

Last year my annual Thanksgiving post focused on turning over a tradition, hosting Thanksgiving dinner, to the next generation. For me it signaled a major transition. We had hosted Thanksgiving dinner for family and friends since the first year of our marriage–whether we were in the East, West, or Southwest. Little did I know that now, a year later, my husband wouldn’t be alive. But since I’d relinquished the Thanksgiving tradition last year, being a guest for Thanksgiving this year was easy and welcomed at a time of many transitions that aren’t always easy….or welcomed.

Last November and again this November I think of Eloise, often written about in this blog’s early years.. My mother’s age, she was incredibly creative and energetic. She was also philosophical about human behavior and generously offered me advice. Although valuing and perpetuating traditions, including her Christmas-tree tradition (featured in House Beautiful in the 1940’s or 50’s and continued another 40-50 years), Eloise emphasized that it’s good to break with tradition. Reason: we shouldn’t be saddled with–or bound by–it. That perhaps paves the way for gentler transitions as people age. Eloise, who died at 95, would have known that.

As the holiday season begins (granted Christmas displays seemed to spring up the moment Halloween ended, so perhaps it already began), I’m in a better position to understand how meaningful it is to be–and feel– included. Clearly major holidays that celebrate family and togetherness call for more sensitivity to older people’s emotional needs. For many–if not most at some point in time– social networks dwindle and families with whom to celebrate may no longer exist.

Early this October a letter from City Meals on Wheels arrived, soliciting funds for special Thanksgiving dinners for those New Yorkers who are alone and needy. My empathy and heightened sensitivity prompted an immediate response.

Tender times. Things change. I’ve chosen to forego air travel to the Southwest for Thanksgiving this year. My goal is to reduce stress and, when possible, avoid situations that make me feel sad. I plan to have a happy Thanksgiving and wish the same for you.

The twisting kaleidoscope moves us all in turn*
*       *      *

Related:  *From The Lion King: “Can’t You Feel the Love Tonight” Tim Rice (lyrics), Elton John (music). Click to watch and listen on YouTube.

Check out new article on loneliness from UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine in Newsworthy–right sidebar

90th–or Younger– Birthday Party: Another Creative and Clever Idea

 Image result for red chinese take out boxes

Was there ever a milestone celebration that didn’t involve a lot of planning, some surprises (problems), energy and fatigue? And so it was for Laura’s 90th, written about October 18th.

A phone call to Laura to tell her how much I enjoyed being part of her birthday celebration, led to some revelations. Among them, there were “goody bags” for guests to take home as they left the party.  However, in the excitement of the evening, Laura’s adult children forgot about them so guests never got them.  I think they’re another good idea for elders’ birthday parties.

A Chinese Take-out Box Containing 2 Fortune Cookies……is what the guests were supposed to take home, but the fortune cookie messages were not the usual. Examples:
1.  32,872 days old…but who’s counting?
2.  Consider yourself fortunate that your life has been touched by a special woman
3.  The party always begins when Laura arrives

For creative people who are do-it-yourselfers, this link and this link demonstrate two ways to of putting the personalized message in the professionally-made fortune cookie.

Milestone events are clearly special occasions, especially as people age. Birthday celebrations give opportunities for elderly honorees as well as elderly guests to have fun and take away wonderful memories (and possibly a fortune cookie). And shouldn’t these occasions create that extra dose of excitement and connections with others that help parents age well?

          *                  *               *

PS. A helpful tactic for the scavenger hunt written about on Oct. 18th: Laura’s adult children used a ploy to enable a thorough search for expired food in Laura’s pantry. By asking Laura questions about the past and the “old days,” Laura’s children were able to keep her far away from the pantry, thus allowing them the needed time to look for food containers with long-ago expiration dates.

 

Help Aging Parents: Halloween–a Treat for All Ages (updated 2016)

Taking aging parents and elders we care about
to see the Halloween displays

Who doesn’t enjoy Halloween decorations! They’re 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 homes. However…..aging parents and older people we care about may not have the pleasure of seeing them.

Here’s how to remedy this–

Country Farm Stand in Oct.

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

Whether in the country or the city, various-shaped, and even white-creamy-colored-pumpkins, along with Halloween themed inflatables–plus ghosts skeletons, and witches–are common sights. Every year it seems more suburban and urban homes and commercial

Halloween Pumpkins

 

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. And sidewalks yield surprises.  Isn’t this a perfect time to make plans to talk older people out for a great change of scenery?

In addition to daytime outings, consider 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 their days 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. 

img_5418For 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.

It turned out to be a dreary day for an outing we had a few years ago–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. img_5451We 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 and small towns yield their own attractions if we know where to find them. And let’s not forget the store windows and–for those who like to walk or use a wheel chair–why not explore the malls.

Any outing is always a win-win: stimulation, companionship and 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!

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