Aging Mothers: “Thriving at Age 70 and Beyond”–Jane Brody’s 4/26/16 Column is Timely for Mother’s Day and for Us

With Mother’s Day just over a week away, the Well column in Tuesday’s NY Times, Thriving at Age 70 and Beyond, is timely and worthwhile.. It provides understandings, information and insights for those of us with older mothers and grandmothers and–for women in their 70’s and beyond who face a myriad of changes and challenges.

Jane Brody begins by discussing a recently published book, 70Candles! Women Thriving in Their 8th Decade,”  saying it “inspired me to take a closer look at how I’m doing as I approach 75 and how I might make the most of the years to come. It would be a good idea for women in my age cohort to do likewise. With a quarter of American women age 65 expected to live into their 90s, there could be quite a few years to think about.”

I remember Sr. Advisor R, at 98,  judgmentally reporting a relative 30 years her junior asking her if she ever thought about dying. I don’t remember how R answered that question other than thinking how inappropriate it was.

Jane Brody puts it another way: “It’s not the first time I’ve considered the implications of longevity.,” She then shares a fear, talks about the toll age takes, and suggests that the information in “70 Candles”  illuminates the most important issues facing older women, and how society could help ease their way into the future. “What are the most important issues facing these women as they age, and how might society help ease their way into the future? Leading topics the women chose to explore included work and retirement, ageism, coping with functional changes, caretaking, living arrangements, social connections, grandparenting and adjusting to loss and death.”

Reading Jane Brody’s Thriving at Age 70 and Beyond gives us insights into mothers and grandmothers–and even ourselves; and for creative adult children, it could spark ideas for Mother’s Day gifts.

I especially love my friend Linda’s creative frame below (not part of the column, but included in the Great Gifts tab above). Linda hand-decorated this picture frame for a Mother’s Day gift, using old buttons, chains, orphaned earrings, no-longer worn pins, and objects that belonged to her or her mother. And doesn’t the photo within complete the specialness.  Definitely one of a kind, lovingly personalized. What mother wouldn’t love it!.

Linda and Her Mother--a moment in time

Linda and Her Mother–a moment in time

 

 

 

Help Aging Parents Must Postpone

Since my husband’s heart valve replacements on February 4, I’ve continued to post weekly–albeit not always on Saturday night. Two months after the surgery, as we prepared to fly–with doctors’ clearance– to the Southwest for the sale (closing) of his mother’s home, a major problem connected with the valve surgery occurred.

Chronology

Trip cancelled,  We went straight from the cardiologist’s office to the hospital for observation and diagnosis.

Mt. Sinai heart is ranked #7 in the country. A specialist in heart repair was called in and doctors felt the best choice was a procedure that–although less risky than another major surgery–carried with it other concerns, as all procedures usually do.

“Misery is not a competitive sport.” I’ve remembered  these words from decades ago, spoken by Ann Kliman who, with her husband, Gilbert, founded the Center for Preventive Psychiatry in Yonkers, NY back then. Thus, I leave out details–except to say progress is slow and my husband is still hospitalized, now in a getting-ready-to-go-home unit.

I’m at the hospital first thing each morning to catch the  doctors on their initial morning rounds around 7 am.and don’t get home until rather late at night. Since it’s important for caregivers to take care of themselves and currently sleep is in short supply, for me, I will complete this when time allows…. .but not tonight.

Help Aging Parents: Sr. Advisor D’s reflections on her 90th Birthday

Understanding A Well-functioning 90-year-old’s Appreciation
for Friends and Life
***
ON WAKING UP ON MY 90th BIRTHDAY I’VE MADE IT!
(written August 2015. Sr, Advisor D died March 2016)

In spite of two cancer attacks, the lung weakness and the backbreaking weight of so many years, I inhabit the living world.

Still in bed, I look out the window on this August morning. From my high apartment perch, I can see trees, backlit by a weak sun. Yes, I tell myself, I’m here. I can breathe and see. My legs move without a protest from the weak knee, my back agrees to let me sit up and I can breathe again. Yes, I can breath, see, move, breathe, think, hear, breathe again. I’m deeply grateful.

Later I will be thankful again for being able to walk (haltingly, carefully), prepare breakfast, eat without difficulty (if I chew carefully), read the paper (with magnifying aid for the obituary columns), talk on the phone, shower, and dress. So many friends are unable to do these remarkable things.

I think of the many people I’ve loved, friends and family, who have gone, almost all of them before my present age. My grandparents, parents, my dearest husband, my younger brother, aunts and uncles, friends and more friends….all this love for me and from me catches me up and helps support me.

In spite of my losses, these last years have been wonderful. Thanks to my beloved son I have been able to live fully, seeing friends and family when I wished, and my doctors when I needed them. He has helped and accompanied me in the seasonal moves to and from Florida. His presence has been a constant support.

I am grateful, too, for beloved nieces and nephews, my loving sister-in-law and faraway cousins.

I am grateful for the fruitful working life I have had and the beloved colleagues who worked with me in founding the Scarsdale Teachers Institute and the Mentor Institute, both enterprises that stretched my vision and abilities. Both enterprises have given me friends who write from other continents. I am grateful for former students who have known me as teacher or principal and remain connected with me by phone or email.

I am grateful for the living friends–a few here in Westchester, most of them scattered over the country and world–younger than I and wonderfully tolerant of my slow gait and lagging energy.

The day ahead of me promises the intense pleasures of a walk in the neighborhood, an hour with a book, birthday phone calls, cards and emails…and finally an evening my son has planned that will begin with drinks at a favorite outdoor restaurant by the Hudson River’s edge.

I feel that I am at my life’s edge, and when I take a tumble, it will be into Lethe, the river of forgetfulness, and there will be nothing more for me, no people to love, no world to try to fathom, no beauty to fill my eyes. I expect nothing after death, but I’m willing to be surprised…

Sr. Advisor D, 89th birthday

Sr. Advisor D, 89th birthday

Help Aging Parents–Post Written, but Vanished–Caregiver Stress?

What a surprise to awaken this morning and find yesterday’s I-thought-published post missing—gone, nowhere to be found. Help! Aging Parents’ goal is to share the best information and some creative ideas to help the elders we care about age as well as possible. With my husband’s recent heart valve surgery, I’ve been more focused on helpful caregiving ideas and yesterday decided to offer some personal reflections. For the first time in the history of this blog, they vanished.

I had written about stress–our cancelled plans to fly this past Tuesday to warm weather and sign the closing papers for the sale of my husband’s mother’s home. Doctors gave the necessary permission two weeks ago, following my husband’s heart valve surgery in February. But all changed at the end of last week when the new mitral valve developed a hole. (That’s my layperson’s term. I’m a counselor, not a medical professional. Medical information is only available by clicking links–usually from highly respected sources like Mayo Clinic and often in Newsworthy.)

My husband was immediately hospitalized. The delicate balance of best available options as we age needed careful thought.  In this case the blood thinner that’s given for 3 months to ensure the new heart valves (he has cow’s valves) won’t get clots–presented a challenge  A procedure to plug the hole took place Wednesday and was successful, but an unintended consequence occurred after the procedure. So the hospital routine and resulting stress continues…..plus!

My mil’s (Sr. Advisor R’s) home was sold. The closing was this past Friday–2,000 miles away.  Since his mother died, the home became my husband’s. We planned to be there for the closing–obviously couldn’t. Thus, I needed to sign the many legal papers and that required an original POA (power of attorney) document which the NY law office held for safe-keeping. (We had copies–not accepted for this sales transaction, That requirement may vary by state). We had also purposely left certain items in the home to be taken out before the closing. Friends and family were invaluable in helping this effort, but I also needed to organize this last minute activity.

A lot of juggling, a lot of time involved, a lot of emotion and stress this week…which I thought was under control until my post–supposedly published last night–disappeared. I’m thinking we probably live with the illusion of control–and that is a good thing.

***
Will post again as time permits

 

 

 

Aging Parents: Medical and Dental Procedures–When More May Be Too Much

DIFFICULT JUDGMENT CALLS
Factors to Consider

If our parents live long enough, there will no doubt be times when we are–or will be–hesitant to have them experience more misery and/or pain due to unpleasant procedures. But it happens. And if we/they are responsible, the memories can fill us with later regret: the wish-we/they-had-done-differently kind of memories.

To begin, it helps to remember we aren’t perfect. Most of us are lay people. We act out of love, concern, caring and compassion or what people we respect suggest. That’s emotion or instinct. Even when presented with facts and solid information we can make misjudgments…as can older people.

In the case of both my parents, there are things I wish had been different. Sr. Advisor R, my m-i-l, said several times there were things she wished she had done differently. For Leo, well-researched “more” worked. For my Uncle Harry, possibly not understanding long-term implications, “less” didn’t. Let’s look at some examples, as we try to make the best decisions to help parents age well.
***
Face: “You should see your Dad,” my older cousin cautioned via telephone, the day before I was flying out west to see him. “He had some skin cancers removed from his face–he’s really a mess.”

I couldn’t ignore the many discolored spots on Dad’s face when I arrived at his home, the home I’d grown up in. Dad’s longtime dermatologist had taken many biopsies over the years, probably because Dad spent many winters in the desert. Those basel cells kept appearing–in spite of the fact Dad always wore his cute hat to cover and shade his balding head and face.

Now 90+ years-old, driving, and still going by himself to the dermatologist, he’d stopped questioning doctors about procedures ((he always questioned when younger). Family members wondered why such an extensive procedure was done on his face. It had to be painful. Dad’s face looked awful for a while; but what was done, was done…..and the pathologist found no cancers.

Teeth: Then there was the tooth. Dad was diligent about keeping his teeth in good shape. One tooth suddenly broke off (Sr. Advisor R also experienced that) and his longtime dentist did a simple “fix”. I was in town and went with Dad to the broken-tooth appointment. The dentist knew Dad well. I think Dad’s age and good mind made him a favorite patient.

At that visit we learned there was a potential problem with another tooth It wasn’t bothering Dad “but it could cause infection leading to serious problems…No rush, but it should come out,” said the dentist.  Dad wouldn’t miss it.

I forgot about it–only to be reminded months later by my brother, after Dad returned from his semi-annual dental checkup. My brother, who didn’t focus much on Dad’s health, wondered how necessary a major extraction was. (I was surprised–and happy–that he was paying attention.) Dad was 93 and had developed serious kidney problems. That was more pressing than teeth, my brother thought as the extraction appointment neared. Should he cancel it?

We both agreed “cancel it for now.”  This was not the time for more based on previous information. When extraction was first suggested I asked the dentist what would happen if we waited and I remembered the infected-tooth dangers etc. information. Older people don’t need avoidable infections. But how imminent was infection? Dad died of kidney failure at 94 1/2, with all of his teeth (and no infections).
***

Mammograms: Sr. Advisor R, who always found mammograms unpleasant and painful, in her late 80’s let everyone know there would be no more mammograms. She’d already decided if the mammogram showed signs of cancer she’d do nothing, so why bother? She died at 101–of old age as far as we know.

Heart: And then there’s Leo, a high-functioning, high energy, octogenarian who, in his mid-80’s, was still flying around the country on business. He knew he would need heart surgery and decided to do it while he was still healthy enough to have good odds of getting through it without problems. He interviewed every specialist in NYC who would operate on someone his age, had the surgery, and is still remarkable 6-8 years later. Careful research and doing more at a certain age worked.

Prostate Cancer: My Uncle Harry was the youngest of Dad’s siblings. All were born on a farm, strong, and healthy for many years. Dad was the one they turned to for advice (the one will the college degree). Yet no one told Dad when Uncle Harry was first diagnosed with prostate cancer. Indeed, Dad expected all siblings would reach their 90th birthdays. Uncle Harry’s prostate cancer killed him decades later and was a complete surprise to Dad. The story (from Dad): Uncle Harry was initially told prostate cancer was slow growing and he could die before it impacted his life. Did he never think to follow up? Was not doing more caused by denial? ignorance?

Bottom line: Challenging situations should remind us that serious thought needs to accompany the decision to do more–or less–especially when it comes to health issues. Doctors are on the front line and their opinions are of extreme importance in helping parents age well. And sometimes the decision to do more needs to be given more attention than we might think. Asking the questions, getting all the information at our disposal, and talking with our parents about the consequences makes sense.

As Grandma used to say when we try our best: “Angels can do no more.”

 

 

 

 

 

Passover and Easter 2016: Thoughtful Ideas and Gifts for Aging Parents/Elders

IMG_2981   2016   Easter March 27       Passover: April 22-30

Ideas for adding pleasure to the lives of Aging Parents and the Elders We Love

Small bunnies add whimsey to spring baskets. Wouldn’t they bring joy to aging parents or to seniors in a care facility?

We celebrate miracles: The Resurrection of Christ after the Crucifixion. The exodus of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt with the Red Sea’s parting.

Older generations fondly recall traditions that brought family members together: Passover–with Seders and children hunting for the hidden matzo; Easter–with church services, Easter egg hunts for the kiddies, and a special Easter meal. The timing of Passover and Easter usually coincide. The Last Supper was a Passover Sedar.

Holidays evoke warmth of family, feelings of togetherness. Yet we know holidays can be depressing for older people living alone, without children to visit or invitations to partake in family celebrations. On the other hand, opportunities for bringing pleasure to old and/or lonely people during Easter and Passover are many:

Attending Easter services together, then…

…dining at a place with beautiful surroundings that make the outing special
…going to a restaurant in town where aging parents who don’t get out much can take a short walk (walker? wheelchair?), window shop, enjoy seeing normal activity
…having a meal at home with family–togetherness, conversation, participation…
…If having an Easter egg hunt in the yard, invite family elders to join the fun of watching

When the Easter meal is at home and elders want to help, accept the offer. We know how good it feels to contribute, to do our part. And feeling useful helps elders age well.

Ditto for Passover. One of our now-departed Senior Advisors said proudly that she made: chopped liver, matzo balls, gefilte fish, and horseradish for the Seder. Not easy at 89.  Yet she said she was able “to work it out so I could make everything ahead.” And best of all perhaps for her, “It was a good feeling because everyone wanted to take some home and there wasn’t anything left.”

Passover Sedars follow a prescribed ritual in which children participate. Usually at home with family, it’s also customary to invite guests. Children read from the Haggadah and search for the hidden matzo as part of the ritual. Several years ago there were no children at a Sedar in Portland, Oregon. Who would look for the hidden matzo? Creative thinking perpetuated the tradition.

The oldest guests were sent on the hunt. We’re told that an excited 86-year-old found the matzo. While not traditional, life today with children and grandchildren living near is not the same as in times past. Adapting is the name of the game for holidays (and so much else).

And last but definitely not least, what about the frail, isolated elderly who are confined to their homes or care centers? A visit is always welcome, of course, and bringing little gifts–perhaps a basket with  Easter treats or Passover macarons–while unnecessary–is a welcome surprise.

IMG_2977 Suggestions:

 Bring a little lunch or snack (“nothing big,” I’m told) to share while you talk (consider dietary restrictions if known).

…Easter-decorated cookies or cupcakes or fruit, nuts  or macarons (above) for Passover
…an easy-care living indoor plant–possibilities: (philodendron [sweetheart plant], fern [nephrolepis], spathiphyllum [peace lilly–wallisi variety] or kalanchoe)
…a flowering outdoor plant for a sunny indoor spot or patio (geraniums work for both)
–a bird feeder that can be placed near a window and easily watched (if there is someone who can keep the bird feeder filled)
…flowers
…pollen allergies a problem? baskets with goodies (sweets, fruits, nuts–a game?

Easter and Passover celebrate miracles. While we can’t make miracles for our elders, we can give them something to look forward to if they know ahead that we’re coming. And if we bring a spirit-lifting little gift, it’s an additional spirit-lifter–beyond our presence. All contribute to helping parents and elders we love age well, especially during holidays.

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

 

Fun for Aging Parents–Watch the Baby Bald Eagles Live in Wash. DC

1470088_875954325848033_733735372968724871_n

Eagles (eaglets) have hatched high up in a tree at the US Arboretum in Washington DC.

Watching live streaming, courtesy of the Arboretum and American Eagle Foundation (the latter supplied photo here) is captivating–wonderful entertainment for all ages, but think about the stimulation for older people! And then think about those who are homebound or in care facilities.

Take a laptop, notebook, iPad (a cellphone’s screen may be a bit small for aging eyes) to aging parents or elderly friends if they don’t have one. If they do have one, email the link below or add the link for them.

From personal experience, watching live streaming awaiting–and then–the hatching of the red hawk’s eggs on the window ledge at New York U a few years ago–was addictive. Ultimately only one egg hatched and we watched, in anticipation, for weeks.  My computer was on all day and was the first thing I looked at when I came back from any outing. (It’s additional fun on Twitter, if that works for elders. And chat is connected to the American Eagle.org link below.).

Here’s the link: http://dceaglecam.eagles.org/.   Spread the addiction.   Another way to Help Parents Age Well.

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