Caregiving, Cancer, Computer and Convention Come Together Tonight

Helping Aging Friends

While I should have been writing tonight’s post early this evening in order to watch the convention tonight (I’m a convention junkie every 4 years), my brother calls my cell phone. It’s dinner time in NY. Initially I let it go, waiting for a message. No message. Instead he calls my husband’s cell. I realize it’s important.

My brother’s very good friend, age 75, has cancer. A biopsy taken today may not be back for 3-5 days, but scans show 2 highly suspicious tumors. He’s in the VA hospital.  Should he come to NYC where the experts are–to Sloan-Kettering? Can I recommend someone? While I do know someone who “lives” the medical field and does thorough research, added information before action is needed.

I’m also aware that the sister whom I’ve never met and I assume is in her 70’s, is already caregiver for 2 sisters. One, 82, is confined to a wheel chair; the other has major health issues. The caregiver sister has been the sole caregiver for several years with a little help from her 75-year-old brother. Since all the siblings live together, it’s probable that she will soon have additional caregiving responsibilities because of her brother.

I first learned of the situation on my visit to the Northwest–understood from my brother that the caregiver sister said she didn’t think she “could take any more.” In trying to get her mobility-challenged sister from the wheel chair to the car the week before, she and her brother had fallen and suffered bruises. She was exhausted. And that was before her brother’s probable cancer diagnosis. So last week I complied with my brother’s first request that I speak with the caregiver sister.. He gave me her number and I phoned–trying not to be intrusive.

Caregiving in a Vacuum

The sister was appreciative, basically clueless about support. Visiting nurse services? She’d never heard of them. Social services? Her mobility-challenged sister was receiving physical therapy each week–had been for at least a year–but she didn’t know who arranged it and knew nothing about social services. This woman has been caregiving in a vacuum.

While my knowledge about specific support services in that city is very outdated, I know hospitals have social workers. And since she was spending time at the VA hospital, I suggested she start there and also tell nurses taking care of her brother about her situation and seek suggestions for possible help. Additionally I suggested she discuss her situation with the physical therapist the next time she came.

The writing of this post is halted.

Tonight, at my brother’s request, I once again phone the caregiver sister.  She’s appreciative and begins by telling me that she never would have known about visiting nurses or social workers had it not been for my phone call last week. (She immediately took action and scheduled a social worker’s visit for tomorrow.)

We talk about hospice. Like so many, she has the misconception that one must be on death’s doorstep to use their wonderful services. She never heard of respite. Said she was going to talk to the social worker about that tomorrow.

Then I ask about using a computer to gain information or even share concerns on a blog or website (like so she wouldn’t feel so alone. This seemingly smart woman is computer illiterate. Never used a computer. While it’s never too late to learn when one has a good mind, it saddens me that she’s without this valuable tool.

*                             *                            *

We do what we can to help aging parents–and  friends and our friend’s and sibling’s  friends. This caregiver sister is doing more than she stretched to the limit, while awaiting the biopsy report. So much is out of our control, yet we can take heart: sharing information and being supportive to caregivers is under our control.

Additional Resources:…l-when-to-call/ ‎  information from a former hospice nurse concerning when to hospice–as well as the fact that people under hospice care can still go to work, some actually get better with hospice care routines and some come off hospice.


Aging Parents and Arguments: Who Wins?

Aging Parents Set in Their Ways

“Older people get set in their ways,” Dad told me that when I was a preteen. I don’t think I understood anything but the obvious.  I’m much older now; better educated. Wiser. Due to many factors, I get it–with all its nuances….I think.

There’s something about attaining a certain age that makes some oldish people who still “have a good head on their shoulders” (perhaps more than “some“) exhibit problematic behavior. They become set in their ways–feeling some or all of the following: they’re entitled, they’ve earned the right to….
1….do nothing they don’t want to do
2….forget trying to be nice
3….have the courage of their conviction (right or wrong)
4….say whatever comes to mind without regard to its impact
5….expect more of us than is reasonable
6….change their mind on a whim

(Feel free to add to the list.)

When aging parents behave poorly, we have response options if, indeed, we choose to respond. To make good decisions and respond appropriately we first need to ask ourselves (mentioned often in my posts; used often in my counseling to clarify for me and my counselees) “What’s the goal?”

3 Considerations

1. We can just go with it– if keeping the peace is our goal and we decide it’s not worth an argument. We don’t play the game, so to speak. There used to be a school of thought in business that went something like: If the monkey wants a banana, give him a banana.” Translated: “if it isn’t outrageous (like threatening to life and limb), don’t argue.” This incorporates values–knowing what arguments/disagreements/fights/are worth winning.

2. We think we must argue (and win) because our aging parents’ own good is our goal. This could involve an argument about something that puts life and limb at risk or is necessary to correct something that is clearly erroneous and must be corrected.

3.  We lose patience and get into an argument that probably won’t end well for anyone. A conflict between empowering aging parents (a goal of this blog) and our need (goal) to “set them straight” isn’t unusual. There’s a delicate balance here. Do we just need to “let off steam”?

Response Options

1.  When/if we decide it’s not worth arguing about, let it go. Why cause needless arguments? They make no one happy and affect relationships.

2.  When it’s worth the argument make a short, mental list of what’s involved and focus on that–don’t get sidetracked, keep the goal in mind. Then take ownership by using “I” and “to me” with “feeling” statements and “it seems” statements. By simply expressing our feeling as opposed to accusing or passing judgment, we open opportunity for a productive discussion, not an argument. No direct “attack” lessens the need to be defensive. Examples: “I’d  feel much better if you’d see the doctor about….”  “It seems to me, you misunderstood…..”

3.  We’re all human and can easily have a tendency to “snap back.” Especially when we’re tired, it’s easy to lose patience over even simple things. Maybe we should just acknowledge and express our fatigue and either give in (if it’s not a category 2 argument) or apologize–or try to put off the conversation until the next day when we’re less tired.

As people age they tend to have less contacts with others, get less compliments (once called “strokes”), thus less ego-gratification. Their egos may become more fragile. And they want to hold on to what they have, even if they know they’re not as able or knowledgeable as they once were–or they realize they’re wrong. Especially those living alone can become more sensitive to slights–real or imagined–and criticism.

When our goal is to help parents age well, doesn’t it make sense to think of long term consequences, pick our battles, do what we can to preserve our relationship and not make stubborn elders miserable? Arguing with them may only be important a small percentage of the time.

Related: Aging Parents: Ornery, Difficult, Unappreciative Part 1
                Tough talks, difficult discussions: The Best Way to Begin 

Note: “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities, respected professionals, selected publications–plus some practical  stuff–-to help parents age well.


Aging Parents: Generations Share Photos and Family History–a Priceless Intergenerational Activity

Regardless of current relationships, families’ histories are rooted in their common past. It’s a powerful commonality emotionally, in a good way. Or at least it was for us, as six cousins–ages 50’s to late 80’s–gathered for lunch and photo-sharing.

A far-away living child, I hadn’t seen some cousins and 2nd cousins in years. Our parents/grandparents are gone now. They were the American story. Four of the five surviving children of immigrant parents are pictured above (the eldest, born in England, is missing). When we came across this labeled photo, the feelings generated were indescribable. The girl born in S. Africa; the boy to her right born in Canada as the family made its way to the United States. Dad (left) and his younger brother (front) born in the USA.

We sifted through the photos and albums we brought, looking back a century–amazed to see our current selves in some of the faces. Some of us had only seen our grandmother with gray hair. We looked hard at her photo, into a youthful face that I, for one, would not have recognized had our older cousins not confirmed who it was.

We shared stories passed down from our parents–basically the same stories although some of the specifics differed. We looked to our older cousins for facts, finding ourselves in a situation where our elders were the stars with the most to contribute, a situation where even the biggest “know-it-alls” (and I use this expression fondly) took a back seat as we eagerly gleaned new information from those in their 80’s.

One of our older cousin’s mothers was the eldest in the family and, bless her heart, was meticulous about details. Every photo in her album had identification written under it. We realize how important it is to do this for posterity.

iPhones took pictures of the old pictures. We will email them to those who use computers. Some borrowed photos to reproduce for others. Some simply gave photos away.

Our main problem was the fact that we didn’t have enough time together. Not everyone drove. One cousin was picked up early. Another took an extended lunch hour and needed to return to work. We all agreed we had the best time and wanted to do again. 2 1/2 to 3 hours isn’t long enough.

We also realize this is an easily-planned get-together, that’s really a gift for everyone. It’s doable anywhere there are flat surfaces. Think: care center, where photos can be spread out on the bed. This kind of gathering was, for us at least, like hitting a home run when we think about enriching lives….older and younger….and helping parents age well.

Aging Parents: Family Photos Link Generations

IMG_0162Family Photos Link Generations

Photos connect us– to each other, to our families, to our heritage, to our gene-pool. They remind us of our younger selves. They rekindle the ties and feelings we have for those who’ve gone before us….grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, those we held dear and those we hold dear. Indeed, we may have inherited some of their features, some of their traits. On the other hand, some in the photo album are unnamed. We wonder who they are.

These feelings enveloped me the other day as I began cleaning out my parents’ home of 60+ years. They were accompanied by feelings of frustration as I struggled to recognize people in photos that lacked both name and date. Then it dawned on me:

Invite my cousins and one of their children (total age span about 27 years) to come for lunch, bring family photos, and look over each other’s pictures. We can each help identify unknown persons and–at least in my case because I’m cleaning out–give some of the old family photos to the cousin whose family member is in a particular photo. Fortunately one of my cousin’s daughters is fascinated by genealogy–only hesitates to go on because she fears she won’t surface from her computer for at least 2 weeks.

I phoned her first to test my idea.  She was enthusiastic–(surprise, surprise!) Result: she volunteered to make a salad–the party’s on.

Older cousins, well into their 80’s, sound excited about coming. We know connections are important in helping older people age well; and isn’t looking forward to something  always uplifting? Meanwhile, the younger cousins are coming with energy and enthusiasm.  Is this is a good idea or what??? (We’ll know Tuesday night when I do my next post.)

This coming Tuesday at noon  boomers, elders and those in between on Dad’s side of the family will reconnect. There will be lunch. And we will share pictures and memories from our younger years as we look at and lovingly recall, those who came before us–mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, and grandmothers and grandfathers. They, of course, contributed to who we are today. 

Help Aging Parents with One Short, Stimulating Outing

One of my cousins is in assisted living. This cousin has always been a favorite. She’s much older than I (Dad was next-to-the youngest of 7 children) and was unfailingly caring and welcoming to all family members in her younger days.

Still vacationing in the northwest, I wanted to do something special with her. I decided on lunch at a restaurant and a visit to the Oregon Historical Society in the city she lived in for the better part of her life…and still lives in–Portland, Oregon.
English: Entrance to the Oregon Historical Soc...

English: Entrance to the Oregon Historical Society Museum in Portland, Oregon, USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It would:
  • be easy to navigate with a walker
  • provide exercise,
  • not overtire her
  • be something she could relate to and think about after our time together ended.

New museums have media and technological innovations that many in their eighties are unacquainted with.  From voices as a section is entered– to sounds of nature and music–to interactive displays. In the case of the the Oregon Historical Society I knew the small recreated 40’s and 50’s rooms would resonate with her, so too an old black and white TV that played–I think–an old Ozzie and Harriet program. And there’s a replica of the city’s light rail car one sits in, complete with video taking the viewer along–I presume–one of its routes.

My cousin was a “bobby soxer” during the war years and the display of the war years’ staples (uniforms, headlines reproduced on the walls, photos, dishes, caps worn by department stores’ delivery people etc. etc.) brought back a bygone era that evoked memories…….sweet. Then there was the typewriter that reminded her of the one her father gave her for her 16th birthday. And on and on.

I know the museum experience was meaningful and suggested she might want to ask one of her children (the one in the family who’s interested in the family history) to bring her back, since we couldn’t see everything in one visit.

She admits (when asked directly) that she’s bored at the assisted living facility, even though they have many planned activities. No doubt like so many people of “the greatest generation” (thanks Tom Brokaw), she doesn’t want to bother her attentive children. On the other hand, I think her children might like doing something different with her. It’s easy to get accustomed to routines. We forget some of the options right in our own back yard.

We help parents age well by adding stimulation to their lives. For me, this was really easy; for my cousin it wasn’t the same-ol, same-ol. For both of us, it was a great way to spend an hour after lunch.

Help Aging Parents: Grandchildren–priceless?

Can grandchildren help our parents age well?

The short answer: Yes! Especially when they are adorable and lovable (and don’t almost all grandchildren seem that way to grandparents?)

The next question is why and how.  Their energy, curiosity, and eagerness create a mood of vitality, discovery, hope. While they’re the future, their youthful ways are uplifting and contagious. They make grandparents proud and can ignite grandparents’ feelings of being young again.

Around holiday time in December each year I ask aging parents (grandparents) what they’d most like as a gift. Before I even ask the question I know the answer of many. Grandmothers say their greatest joy is being with grandchildren. (So much for the many hours we devote to being good sons and daughters!)

My 6-year-old niece liked to visit Mrs. M, who lived in an “elevator building.” She had no grandchildren and treated me like a daughter. My niece could barely reach the button for Mrs. M’s floor, but she’d stretch her little body high enough and when she hit the button it was exciting.

On one occasion my niece was dancing around like little girls do when Mrs. M. (age 100) rose from her chair, grabbed my niece’s little hands and started dancing with her–that is until she began to lose her balance. Only by the grace of God did a male friend, standing near, steady Mrs. M. and help her sit down. Mrs. M’s remark, while showing a bit of embarrassment, was something like “Watching her I forgot my age and felt like a girl again.”

The other day I watched a youngster, carrying an oversized stuffed rabbit with over-long ears come into a restaurant–obviously with her grandmother. Wearing the ubiquitous pink, little-girl clothing, she hopped up on the banquette, settled her rabbit snugly next to her, and sat like a little lady, coloring the children’s menu. She looked like her grandmother’s pride and joy. Her grandmother’s face–looking at this child and beaming– confirmed it.

It took me back to my youth and my birthdays. Every year my grandmother and I went downtown and followed the same routine: lunch, going to the department stores where I met ladies my grandmother knew and they gave me perfume samples. And lastly we visited one of her friends in their home or apartment–more fun for me!

As I look back, from my adult vantage point, she must have loved it also and tailored the day to suit my age. Our last outing was on my 16th birthday. We no longer collected perfume samples. I got to pick out my present at the jewelry store–a pearl ring. But I couldn’t understand why it took so long to wrap it and finally get it—-until we got to my home and I opened the door to my friends yelling “Surprise.” My grandmother–long gone now–was in on it. She must have had as much fun as I.

Grandchildren provide the jump-start, the shot-in-the-arm, the entertainment. They engender pride and a perspective that shouts “future.” I think we can understand why so many grandmothers say being with grandchildren is what they want most.

Yet with the distance between many far-away-living children and their parents, bringing grandparents and grandchildren together is no doubt more difficult.  So as we do with many other things, we must weigh priorities.

That said, when we know our aging parents really need a lift, a jump-start, something to make them feel better, to help them age well, should we think more than once about whether or not we could/should contribute a grandchild to the cause?  We’ll know when that time comes, I’m certain.