Inching Towards 80: Challenging and Jumpstarting Aging Minds

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To my Readers and Followers~

     A personal note that makes a point about older people’s mental agility–or at least mine. Since my absence from blogging, WordPress (my ‘publishing platform’) has made what are no doubt well-thought-out improvements/changes, communicated in the same way we get messages on any of our devices that have been updated, or need updating. I paid little attention to them during my blogging absence. Result: I’m learning some changes by trial and error (always fun and heartening when I’m successful); but I’m still challenged by others.

     Indeed as I try to transition my Help!Aging Parents blog to Inching Towards 80, I realize I’ve lost/forgotten certain mastery over blog techniques once learned, taken for granted, and now having to be rekindled in my memory bank. And thus it was with day-before-yesterday’s post. While I like to hold posts at least a day before publishing to catch typos, clarify, often rewrite bits, it went out in “Publish” form, rather than “Preview.” Below is the finished product I planned for you to ultimately read.

BABY GRANDMA IT’S COLD OUTSIDE! 

I doubt there’s much argument: the world is screwy–a mess–and the weather isn’t exempt. Especially recently, unusually cold weather has gripped much of the country.  What are implications for older people?

  1. Bundle up: We’ve known since we were bundled up as little children that we had to wear different, warmer clothing. But did we know that loose–as opposed to tight–layers of clothing keep us warmer because of the air trapped between the layers? or that mittens are much warmer than gloves?
  2. Be alert–slick pavement: We learned to walk carefully on slippery, icy  pavement, most likely when our young, supple little bodies slipped and fell–relatively close to the ground and were not as susceptible to the consequences of aging broken bones. Click the  US News older adults guide –dealing with cold weather.
  3. Over-exertion is bad: Children heard that older people shouldn’t over-exert themselves–something about the heart as I recall; but what exactly did that mean? In our younger days–at least mine–I happily shoveled snow for our next-door neighbors who I thought were old (50-60?), and thus could have heart problems if they shoveled. Would older people today find this act of kindness a sweet insult?  (Read Mayo Clinic’s explanation of low temperatures’ impact on aging bodies…eg. narrowing blood vessels.)
  4. Older bodies lose heat faster than younger bodies. At the same temperature, older people can feel colder than younger people. Why? The fatty layer below the skin thins with age, reducing the fat layer that helps conserve heat, thus tolerance for cold decreases. Aging parents, who stayed with their married daughter and family over Thanksgiving, caused major complaining: They raised the thermostat to stay warm. The daughter “suffocated” throughout their visit because it was “intolerably hot.” A ‘heads-up’ for us when we’re house-guests?
  5. Dress smart. Should we, older adults, “wear boots with non-skid soles even on short trips outside and make certain our walkway is clear and treated with sand or salt? If using a cane, do we make certain the rubber tip has been replaced before it has worn out? Some health professionals recommend using specialized tips for canes and walkers designed to provide extra traction on the ice…..” Good advice? It comes from US News’s Older Adults Guide To Cold Weather.

Many of us inching towards 80 don’t consider ourselves old and value staying healthy, staying mobile, and having independence. Sr. Advisor R, who you may recall lived in her home independently over 60 years (and died there at 101) had many wise sayings–this one jumps out at me: “Take care of yourself or you won’t be able to take care of anything else. Isn’t that what aging smart is all about?
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Related:
–Changes in the Body With Aging: Richard W. Besdine, MD, Greer Director, Division of Geriatrics and Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University
–Cold Weather Safety for Older Adults:  NIH–Nat’l Institute on Aging
Video: from AGE UKHow Older People are Affected by Cold Weather 

Next, I’ll work on updating the right and left columns. But first I’m escaping the cold weather for a few weeks– next week. So publishing will be sporadic–a surprise for you and for me! Feedback from you on this new start is welcomed and appreciated. Thanks!

 

 

INCHING TOWARDS 80: Phones- Tech-Challenged Seniors vs Teens

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The video below is making its rounds. What does it say about the brains of older people–and of those much younger? We may be too hard on ourselves??!!

You will realize from the re-do post that follows tomorrow, returning to blogging is posing some challenges for my older brain–frustrating, not critical. It was written yesterday; planned for publishing today. I’ll save it until tomorrow to publish, that way no one is on overload. Since the weather is still very cold and getting colder, the redo perhaps adds insight into the older brain–as well as dealing with cold weather. 

Watch this video and the next (the interview that follows). Does it lift spirits?
Related: A Test for Teenagers  

INCHING TOWARDS 80

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Help! Aging Parents continues now– as we age and inch

Expediency and other factors make it necessary to add “Inching”  posts to my Help! Aging Parents blog–at least for the time being.  The best information and advice initially published for adult children of aging parents in Help! Aging Parents, is now repurposed for those of us now Inching towards 80.
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Aging Smart

After a decade of writing Help! Aging Parents, I realize that I and my readers–every day–are inching towards 80. Indeed, from the day we are born we inch towards 80, don’t we?

That said, didn’t the “inching” seem so much slower when we were young…. (remember how long it seemed from one birthday to the next)? And as we’ve aged haven’t all–or at least most– of us found birthdays come faster and faster. Of course, they don’t.  But….

Although I’m not yet 80, I think we all want to give ourselves the best chance to age with as few 80-ish problems and as much luck as possible. So it makes sense to be informed.

To that end, Inching Towards 80 commits itself. Preventing the preventable and controlling what we can seems smart and worth the effort. Because the Sr. advisors to Help! Aging Parents  shared so much about aging smart, Inching Towards 80 honors them–and motivates me–to combine their wisdom with reputable research, augmented by my counseling background.

Still not completely back~however…

 

While “must-do” and “don’t know how to do” have prevented my planned return via “INCHING TOWARDS EIGHTY,” I return here to wish all who are continuing to follow, a very MERRY CHRISTMAS and a HAPPYand hopefully much more stable and peaceful—2019.

Simplifying Helps People Age Better

As we inch towards 80–a new normal for me is attempted, taken from the late Sr. Advisor R’s “SIMPLIFY, SIMPLIFY, SIMPLIFY.”  Admittedly I don’t get an A+. That said, after trauma, overload etc. it makes sense to be conscious of ratcheting down…simplifying.

When on overload, it’s difficult. It involves decisions: what must be done and how to do it efficiently. Reconnecting at holiday time this year— after a 2-year absence since my husband died—topped my to-do list.

I was going away. Armed with address list, boxes of cards and stamps, in addition to the normal necessities, I headed to the DC area. Perhaps the break, getting out of the routine, contributed to clearer thinking. In any event, I take out the address lists, look at the quantity of people, and think “options:”

1. Computer-generated letter: print, fold, sign, address envelope, lick stamp…perhaps more personal and informative than a card, but as time-consuming.

2.  Emailed cards: Subscribers (I’m one at Jacquie Lawson) have loads of choices and the attractive holiday note cards allow for short or long personal messages. Some people prefer a card that can be held and displayed (I’m usually one). But the red and gold e-note-card prevailed. My unexpected reward came via the reply card that accompanies the e-card. I received many notes back—heartwarming and interesting, especially for someone who has been “out of the loop” and that includes so many older people.

Whether snail mail or email connecting at holidays enriches life. Doesn’t that help all ages feel good? And shouldn’t that help parents and us age better–if not–well.

Note: This blog still takes no ads. The link to JL is to get an idea of e-card offerings.

Aging Independently and Well Over Decades–10 How-to’s

“As we live our lives, we write our own destiny” Sr. Advisor R 

Sr. Advisor R,, my mil, was a poster child for aging independently, unselfishly and well. She said, to the extent she could, she’d done everything; helped everyone; and given to those she wanted to give. She was ready to go. It was no secret. And I’ve been thinking–since her timely death last week at 101–about how she managed life so well.

R lived by the following:   

 1.Take care of yourself (or you won’t be able to take care of anything else).
2. Be responsible
3. Don’t abuse yourself. (You get enough from the outside)
4. Know when to say “no.”
5. Simplify (as you age)
6. Don’t assume (you can be wrong; it causes unnecessary problems)
7. Don’t expect anything and you won’t be disappointed
8. Concentrate. (If your hands are doing one thing while your head is thinking another, you forget where you put things.)
9. Remember life is good–it’s the people who mess it up.
10.To bring joy in today’s world there are three things you can count on: animals, flowers, music.

Elaboration

1.  The African proverb “It Takes a Village to Raise a Child” resonates loudest. It may sound like an oxymoron. R was clearly not a child and independence was her highest priority. Making it easier for other family members was a necessity in childhood and became part of her being. She was smart–smart enough to know she couldn’t help others without taking care of herself first. At a very young age she was part of the village. Later the village gave back.

2.  “You’ve got to be responsible,” R vividly remembers her father saying when she was 4. It had a huge impact and she acted accordingly.  She recalled their quarantined home during an epidemic, an older sister’s death, another sibling’s health issues, the Great Depression, WWII, being a caregiver for close family and friends. Everyone knew R was 100% responsable. It was who she was.

3.  R’s home was the buffer for any outside abuse. She made it tranquil, lovely and loved–a place to gain strength and renewal. Widowed at 50, she didn’t indulge in activities that would be bad for her. This doesn’t mean she didn’t overdo in certain areas, but she had the discipline to know when she’d overdone and compensated as appropriate. She treated herself to things that brought joy or made life easier. Her easy-care plants symbolized life and joy thus, she replaced and watered them as needed until the week she died–not easy at 101.

4.  R taught us early there was nothing wrong with saying “no” and “I don’t know.” Simply  because someone asks, doesn’t mean we are obligated give the answer we think they want. (This doesn’t make us selfish. It makes us real–my opinion…and we can be very nice while being real.)

5.  Normal age-related changes slow us down. Simplifying allows us to continue life as we’ve known/enjoyed it. Examples:
–R’s many house plants decreased in number and care requirements as she aged. She gave many away and concentrated on the easy-care ones.
–While she went out every day in her younger years, she reduced to only one activity a day, then going out every other day. The last few months she only went out for doctors’ appointments.
–Still making her own meals, R realized she could save dish-washing by putting Trader Joe’s chopped salad greens along with salad dressing in a zip-lock bag, giving it a good shake, and spilling it out onto the plate with her dinner.

6.  Don’t assume. See #6 above. This is so true. Test it!

7.  Don’t expect. See #8 above. Seems jaded, but saves disappointment.

8.  How many times have we forgotten where we put something because our hand did one thing while our mind was on something else? We weren’t concentrating. Shortly after R was widowed she lost something important. She couldn’t remember where she put it. Without anyone to ask for help, R promised herself, from then on, she would never again lose things due to lack of concentration.

9 and 10 above: Life, animals, flowers and music–thoughts R kept front and center as she encountered the challenges of living.

In recent years R acknowledged that she did everything she felt important to do; helped everyone she’d wanted to help, and given what she could to specific charities that served a larger need-base of people and pets. She had significantly contributed to the village.

Since R’s only-child son and I live 2,000 miles away, the village–basically two wonderful neighboring women, Pam and Barb, and a nephew and his wife–made it possible, on a daily basis, for R to continue to live in her own home–with only a cleaning woman working half a day and a gardener. What better “assisted living” could anyone ask for! R had unfailingly done for them over the years and they could never do enough. R was a giver; never wanted to be a taker. In the end, what comes around, goes around.

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

Good Therapy’s “2014 10 Top Websites for Aging” honor–plus A Discussion of Differing Realities/Avoiding Arguments

Help! Aging Parents was honored in late December–selected as one of Good Therapy’s 2014 “Top 10 Websites for Aging,” they write:

As a self-proclaimed “serious, well-educated cheerleader for helping parents age well,” this blog shares information and insight about issues that affect geriatric parents and their adult children. Susan, the sole author, often tackles everyday issues that seem banal but can become problematic in old age, like swallowing medication or planning dinner events. She writes with humor and candor, and cites input from professionals as well as her “senior” advisers.

As we end the first month of 2015, much of the US is cold and elders understandably remain indoors. If we don’t live with them and are conscientious, we visit as often as possible. An issue that’s definitely “banal” (“ordinary or commonplace”) is the high temperatures at which elders set their thermostats to stay warm. It’s problematic when it’s suffocatingly warm in their home for us, but not for them.

There’s a lesson here–about who’s right and who’s wrong. It can avoid, happily more often than we like to think, arguments with older family members. First, the facts:

The NY Times addressed the issue of elders being cold in its no-longer-published Booming Blog, Factors cited include “a decrease in circulation as the walls of the blood vessels lose their elasticity and the thinning of the fat layer under the skin that helps conserve body heat. And as people age, their metabolic responses to the cold may be slower. Vasoreceptors, for example, may not be as quick to direct blood vessels to constrict to keep the body temperature up.”

Johns Hopkins’ After 50 Newsletter responds similarly to the question: “I’m older and colder. Why?then discusses Hypothermia. We learn “It doesn’t have to be subzero outside for hypothermia to set in. Research suggests that very frail, elderly people can develop hypothermia at room temperatures as high as 71 to 75 ˚ F! And 50 percent of those who develop hypothermia do not survive, usually as a result of going into cardiac arrest.” This article also has advice about staying warm, especially if elders must go out in cold weather.

Sr, Advisor S.RN adds that especially when she made home visits to those who had COPD, she “had to brace herself,” because their homes could be “so incredibly hot–like opening an oven door.” But they needed that additional heat.

OK. We know the facts; yet there’s something additional that’s important to understand. Reality is not carved in stone. In a counseling class at Teachers College years ago, the professor posed the hot/cold question. Its purpose, to legitimize people’s differing realities. He said something like “You and I are in the same room. It’s comfortable for me. It’s too cold for you. Who’s right?”  

If we keep an open mind, we can understand that both are right and save ourselves arguments. When elders are clearly “off-base,” we have choices. We can “pick our battles.”  When their “right” is clearly wrong and must be corrected, we most often must correct the wrong.

Here’s to avoiding some arguments and disagreements with our aging parents and the elders we care about.
Related:  Tough Talks, Difficult Discussions: The Best Way to Begin
                Aging Parents and Arguments: Who Wins?
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Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities and respected professionals, plus practical information–to help parents age well.

 

Tailoring the Holidays for Elders’ Needs

Some aging parents are lifted by the excitement and activities of Christmas; for others there’s overstimulation and stress. And at some point, for all aging parents, there’s a slowing down. Do we notice this? Can/should we do something?

Indeed, the holidays can be tricky for some and need to be simplified for two groups: aging parents/elders and those with Alzheimer’s. (See Related below for latter.)

There comes a time when aging parents and elders we care about can’t do what they used to because of aging-related conditions. I ran the preceding sentence by our Sr. Advisor, Dr. Bud, MD, (psychiatrist) asking for his thoughts.

‘”The consequence of aging is difficult to process. You (older people) feel weakness, frustration–less and less in charge. Your expectations of yourself to perform at a certain level leave doubts.” For example: “It can be a struggle to articulate thoughts and responses, causing frustration and fatigue from trying.” …And hearing–“You keep hearing loss hidden because it’s embarrassing. A joke is told, you miss the point because you don’t hear; yet everyone’s laughing so you laugh to hide your (hearing) deficiency. it’s embarrassing to expose weaknesses in oneself.”

As I listened I gained new insight–realizing why some elders I’ve known, who appear to function well one-to-one, begin to drop out of the “social scene.” It seems to come down to at least 3 age-related conditions:

1. Less tolerance for confusion
2.  Changes in energy level
3.  Pride

Knowing this, we can offer the support and do some of the “tailoring” so the holiday festivities provide less stress and more fun as parents age.

Confusion: Too much going on can be confusing. Think: holiday events–too many people to remember, too many conversations to pay attention to; too much energy in the room; too much noise–makes listening difficult. The solution: Encourage small festive gatherings of friends and family. They work best.

Dad enjoyed people, regardless of number. He held a high position in the Hospitality Industry and loved speaking at large conventions (introduced Ronald Reagan at one). Yet, in his later years, he slowed down–preferring fewer people, more easily-heard conversation. On short notice he (in his early 90’s) let us invite his friends for New Year’s Day 6 months after Mom died. We were visiting, made the suggestion, and offered to make the calls and bring in the food. Around twelve elders (88-90+) arrived that afternoon–ate, talked, laughed, watched TV. Our effort was minimal (Trader Joe’s everything) but their enjoyment was great. An easy way to lift spirits at the start of a new year on a small scale.

Similarly Sr. Advisor, R, remarkable at 97, had an unusual amount of energy for her age–even after her recovery from broken hip surgery. At 99 she was rationing her energy–declining invitations to go out two days in a row and avoiding large holiday parties. Shortly after her 100th birthday party, at her insistence a smallish affair–just family– she lost the “oomph.” Doctors say her health at 101 is “excellent for her age,” yet she uses lack of energy as her reason for staying home. She controls– has tailored the holidays as a time of giving to others. She no longer wants the festivities.

Energy: Older people’s energy declines. “Energy is always a problem,” according to Sr. Advisor D, now 89. She says sometimes it’s necessary to “pick and choose” what you’re going to do and it’s often dictated by the energy involved.

For example, this year she didn’t attend her family’s Thanksgiving dinner, an hour’s drive away. A family member could easily take her and bring her back. Just recovering from a bout of something, she said she didn’t have the energy to make the effort.

Do we realize it takes energy to have conversations? The need to quickly remember things and people can cause stress. It also takes energy to dress especially nicely to go out. It takes additional energy if a long drive is involved.

No-longer-driving elders are dependent on someone for transportation, which creates an additional obstacle: if they  want to go home early for any reason, they don’t want to impose on their driver, according to Sr. Advisor, D.

One solution: Someone (their friend?) drives elders to the event. They can call you on their cell phone if they want/need to come home early. We’re not talking about an every-night responsibility. Most likely an available family member can handle that responsibility during the holidays. ls this payback time? Isn’t this what parents did for us, should we have needed to leave a party early when we were teenagers? Of course, they may decide to stay and go back with the person who brought them.

Pride: Older people may not want friends and/or former colleagues to see any lessening of themselves.

One 90-year-old with advanced macular degeneration, for example, declined all invitations to large social activities, rather than risk the embarrassment of misidentifying or not recognizing people she knew.

While we can’t tailor large parties, there’s a solution so those with low vision can feel comfortable going. Several older people with macular degeneration go to parties with an early detection device– a good friend or family member who stays with them and discretely whispers in advance “Here comes Sally.” Can we be an early detection device for low-vision elders?

If this works for the President, who has people standing behind him quickly whispering the name and position of the person coming up to greet him at events, why not use this “crutch” for aging parents who have low vision and even those with bad memories?

After all, connections with others help older people age well. Isn’t that our goal?

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


Related: 
Mayo Clinic Alzheimer’s blog. Especially read comments.
                For Elders Who No Longer Drive at Night: Suggestions for enjoying the Christmas lights