Aging Parents: Older Teeth and Sugary Holiday Treats

  • mall desserts $ 42 large desserts $ 78

A visit to my dentist and his hygienist compelled me to ask about older people’s teeth. My dentist’s (and his wife’s) parents are in their 80’s. I wondered if aging took its toll on teeth–and if so, why.

My first question was to the hygienist who I always see first. It was something like: Do older people’s teeth present different problems than younger people’s teeth?

Thus began a conversation about–
1. Holding a tooth-brush correctly so older people can do a thorough brushing
2. Dry mouth (xerostomia)–not uncommon as people age.

The hygienist told me she learned many years ago that tooth-brushes can be difficult for old, arthritic hands to grasp. The suggestion was to securely tape the tooth-brush to something allowing for a larger grip–like a soda can. Her second suggestion was an electric tooth brush, but that has drawbacks if older people don’t use it correctly.

I didn’t realize brushing could be a problem, but now I’m certain it is. Asking Sr. Advisor R (101) about it, I learned her dentist said she wasn’t brushing as well as she once could and recommended rinsing her mouth with Biotene. There are quite a few Biotene products–one especially for dry mouth and one with PBF; the latter Sr. Advisor R uses. It would seem worthwhile to check this out.

When my dentist came to do the final check of my teeth, he weighed in, giving me a paper he wrote entitled Dry Mouth and Dentures. (It will be the subject of another post). Readers may already know this, but I learned:

Our salivary glands produce less saliva as we age. And “saliva,” according to Dr. Gary Markovits, “contains hundreds of the body’s ‘natural medicines’ designed to keep our mouths healthy……. It also regulates the microorganisms (‘germs’) that cause oral infections.” Thus, dry mouth makes us more prone to oral infections.

“If you have some natural teeth,” Dr. Markovits writes in his Dry Mouth and Dentures piece, “decay is the most frequent cause of tooth loss in older adults who have a dry mouth. Without saliva to regulate the germs that cause decay, they are able to grow in number and cause more damage. Ask your dentist or dental hygienist for ways to reduce tooth decay.”

It’s not only aging that can cause dry mouth.  Certain medications as well as chemotherapy and radiation cause glands to produce less saliva. WebMD, in its slideshow on teeth and gums, sums it all up and identifies medications that can cause dry mouth (slides 3 and 4):

“Saliva helps protect teeth and gums from bacteria that cause cavities and given that a chronically dry mouth raises risk of cavities and gum disease, you may want to check your medicine cabinet. Antihistamines, decongestants, painkillers, and antidepressants are among the drugs that can cause dry mouth. Talk to your doctor or dentist to find out if your medication regimen is affecting your oral health, and what you can do about it.”

Which brings us to the holidays and the sweet treats and excessive amounts of food that tempt young and old. If older people we care about have teeth problems, this seems like a good time to be proactive and check out the above with your dentist or have your parents do it with their dentist.

As we try to help parents and the older people we care about age well, a good offense is the best defense. If the above information can improve the odds for older peoples’ teeth remaining healthy while they enjoy eating whatever they want, isn’t it a win-win!

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.





Aging Parents: Problems Swallowing Pills? Here’s Help.

Milk? Tomato Juice? Pill Cutter?

Prescriptions for pills–more prevalent as people grow old. Yet before we are old, many of us are accustomed to taking non-prescription pills–some large, like Calcium. Perhaps that’s the time we learn whether swallowing pills is easy for us.

I never thought about pills causing anyone difficulty….until Mother, who had osteoporosis, couldn’t swallow Calcium pills. “Purchase a pill cutter” and “take them with a liquid heavier liquid than water, like tomato juice or milk,” was the advice. The heavier liquid solved the problem, although we’d already purchased a pill cutter (which we discontinued using). That was a decade ago. Chewable calcium has now solved that problem for many.

One in three people vomit, gag, or choke when swallowing pills, according to the Harvard Health blog’s post/article about swallowing pills (see sidebar for recent article or click link). Pharmaceutical companies, aware of the problem, have manufactured pills in many easier-to-swallow forms than those chalky white aspirins of decades past. Yet this hasn’t solved the problem for many.

While the article offers two “tricks” (which seem a bit odd to me) and the warning “Don’t try these alone,” plus other suggestions, there is professional explanation–with diagram– of how swallowing works and can be evaluated (some people suffer from dysphagia). The Comments section (at the very bottom following the post) offers additional simple “tricks,” and one reader who said the “tricks” worked.

It’s human nature to avoid doing something that’s difficult or unpleasant, we know this. We also know it’s easy for older people to forget to take their medications. Can avoidance subconsciously enter into forgetfulness? In any case, avoiding an important medication because taking it is difficult or unpleasant, can only encourage the problems the medication is prescribed to prevent.

Remembering and suggesting the swallowing tips is another way we can be helpful–as we try to help parents age well.

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

Aging Parents: 101st birthday

Birthday card from the staff

R reading birthday card from the staff                      (Click to enlarge)

We stick to our philosophy. We do what aging parents want as long as it doesn’t threaten life and limb and they still have, what Sr. Advisor R calls, “a good head.” R’s birthday was Saturday…her 101st. She didn’t like our original suggestion, thinking our plan of going to La Jolla overnight (which she loved when she was in her ’90’s–she spent summers there in the ’40’s)) would be too strenuous.

Thus, we follow the advice in last year’s post: Celebrating Elders Birthdays: What They Want, Not What We Want. R initially suggested a short drive to the mountains with lunch at a hotel she likes; but she changed her mind saying she didn’t have the energy. Next choice was the club she likes–where she has celebrated past birthdays and the staff knows her. She wanted to make the reservation for just the 3 of us and specify the table she wanted. Plan in place.

The morning of her birthday was not a happy one. Possibly she felt burdened by the responsibility unfolding–the abundance of cards and the phone calls–not to mention things (2 cakes, stew, cookies, flowers), that will require a thank you note. She keeps a list, still thinking she must send a thank you for each one. Old habits die slowly but she decided she would not write notes for local phone calls. She had over 30 remembrances when I spoke to her mid-morning.

Well-wishers’ phone calls made it difficult to get her on the phone. When I finally did, in addition to hearing about the cards and gifts, she had complaints: she’d lost her appetite, nothing was tasting good, she had no energy. When she spoke with her son, my husband (who called from the golf course unbeknownst to me), he heard the same thing. According to him, his response was something like: “you can do whatever you want; whatever you want is fine with us. It’s your birthday and your decision.” 

R was raised to be disciplined. I think that includes “don’t disappoint people” and was the only reason she followed through and was ready when we came to pick her up for dinner.

Our waitress remembered her (as does everyone, it seems). She said and did all the right things. A birthday card from the staff accompanied her cake (pic above). People at the next table hearing it was her 101st birthday (pic below) began a conversation. First, the man sitting nearest, then one of the women left her seat, and came and asked R her aging secret.

Answer: she eats healthy and equally important exercises every day. She may have disappointed the woman by graciously responding to a second question, saying she never drank much, adding she never really liked the taste.

By the time we left evidently everyone had gotten word of her birthday because she received congratulations from many strangers as she walked by their tables. (FYI: R walks with a cane and took the arm of her son–only uses her walker in the house to move things that could throw her off balance if she carried them [eg. pitcher of water to water her plants]).

R not only regained her appetite, she was energized and (as usual) very talkative. While my husband was outside getting the car, R sat inside on one of the chairs near the door. I had stopped briefly. By the time I reached the entry the new young woman who greets guests had left her position behind a desk and was sitting next to R, having an intense conversation. No surprise. People are drawn to her like a magnet. First by her age, I think; then her wisdom and empathy capture them.

I’ve always thought jump-starts are important for older people and adult children should be proactive in this regard. This small birthday celebration shows what a jump-start can do. We take no credit; R made the decision to stick with the plan. Had we insisted, would the result have been the same?

Check out: “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities,

plus some fun stuff–to help parents age well.

Help Aging Parents: A Plea for HELP!


Have you had this experience? If so, please respond with situation and resolution (or not) of problem using our blog email: or simply comment below. children in their 50’s-60’s and two elderly, ailing parents will be eternally grateful.

Details: Father and his wife (92 and 90 respectively) have been paying for Kaiser Plan Health Coverage for 25 years. Father’s prostate cancer of 20 years has metastasized to his ribs and tail bone, making it difficult for him to bathe himself and perform other normal daily functions. He just returned home after 6 days in the hospital and 12 days of rehab due to a fall. Other health problems: dementia, COPD and asthma.

The wife, at 90, has mobility problems, walks with a cane, can’t help husband’s physical needs.

The family interviewed caregivers before their father came home, some of whom didn’t want the job because–after hearing the situation—didn’t think he’d live many more months. That said, his Kaiser doctor refuses to give permission for Hospice. She says it’s “too early” and they can talk about it later.

Specifically, the children met with the Kaiser doctor last week and inquired about hospice or palliative care. The doctor said “when the time comes” it would be addressed and, according to the child who inquired, doctor looked puzzled that they knew about palliative care.

The Kaiser doctor further says if the kids don’t get their parents into assisted living or get home care help, both will end up in a nursing home. They have hired a caregiver, but funds are limited. They don’t understand why Hospice–or at the least–palliative care isn’t being offered.

This blog follower and her siblings are hoping you will respond asap with suggestions. They don’t know where to turn next.

When Aging Parents Can No Longer “Do.” Ways To Empower So They Can Continue to “Do.”

“No one likes to see a lessening of themself.”
Julia age 80+

I’ve never forgotten a counseling course at Teachers College.  We were told how important it is NOT to take something away from one’s psychological foundation (it gives us our psychological strength/confidence) without replacing it with something positive/helpful. To take something away and not replace it, weakens the foundation.

Yet normal age-related changes can take away–or at best lessen vision, hearing, energy, flexibility, strength and much else. As we try to help parents age well at some point we become aware of the “lessening” (which parents may have tried to cover up–think driving).

How can we support, compensate, empower or substitute so elders can continue to “do?”

While we know one size doesn’t fit all, we can do some of the leg-work and perhaps partner in the final “doing.”

Five Examples

1.  Julia, a noted master gardener and very proud woman–then in her 80’s– had less energy, less muscle strength and was physically less flexible. Bending and digging in her garden was painful. As a Mother’s Day gift, her adult children accompanied Julia (she still drove) to the nursery. She selected the plants; they planted Julia’s garden. Julia could continue to pick and enjoy the vegetables and flowers and pull a few weeds when she wanted to. With her children doing the physical labor, Julia  continued to do what she loved.

2.  Karen was an instinctively supportive daughter. She always bought more than she needed when items were on sale at the grocery store. Her mother (87) loved cooking, but food shopping was difficult and tiring, especially in NYC with taxis involved. So Karen, who worked full-time, would plan–on a weekly basis– an afternoon, take the “extras” to her mother and they’d cook together. Karen’s mother could continue to “do.” Priceless togetherness–plus her mother had a new supply of nutritious, delicious prepared food–some of which they froze.

3.  Failing hearing was creating a significant loss for Linda’s friend’s mother, whose mainstay was playing bridge. Her bridge group no longer wanted to play with her because of her hearing loss. The friend’s idea: replace  She continued her mother’s weekly bridge games–by asking 6 good friends to play in every-other-week rotations. (See “How a Good Friend Helps.”)

4.  Mobility problems can cause additional problems from falling to isolation. Thus how we support and substitute is key. If it isn’t easy for elders (and those who transport them) to get around, they don’t.  This means doing the research and getting it as right as possible the first time. Translated: initially buying the best required equipment, making certain it’s adjusted so the fit is right, and making certain one uses it correctly–especially canes and walkers (light-weight ones, heavier ones with a basket or tray and/or seat); and wheelchairs (companion wheelchairs, “regular” wheelchairs).  For still-driving people, perhaps a mini-van, whose back area easily accommodates a wheel chair (and obviously a walker), makes everything more doable.

(A polio victim’s son found a used Chrysler Town and Country mini-van for his 74-year-old mother, with a remote that opens/closes doors and the tailgate and a pushbutton inside that opens/closes the aforementioned. She has continued her life, causing little additional burden to anyone.)

5.  Safe driving requires good vision, hearing and reflexes. Carefully-planned solutions need to be substituted or result in isolation or unsafe driving. One daughter offered transportation for social outings when parents no longer drove at night. Since she or her siblings needed to know ahead of time, they and the parents decided on the one night parents would go out each week. With advanced notice they’d make themselves available 1-2 additional nights.

Towns/cities provide transportation services for seniors. Getting them to replace being able to jump into the car and go at will with a bus schedule can be difficult. That said, Aunt Mildred took the bus downtown to the Beauty School in Portland until she was in her early 90’s (and baked cookies for the drivers). When she moved to assisted living, a small bus came, by appointment, so she could continue her hair appointments at the Beauty School (where she also enjoyed gossip, and her manicure).

Creative thinking isn’t everyone’s forte. But we can tap our parents’ doctors, out-of-the-box-thinking friends with aging parents, and professionals specializing in geriatrics (ie. geriatric social workers) for ideas to supplement the “lessening”—as we try to help parents age well by continuing to “do.”

RELATED:  Mayo Clinic article on Canes
                        NY Times article re: problems from non-fitting canes
                        How to buy a cane
                        The Right Cane for Aging Parents  8/13/11 Help! Aging Parents

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



Blog Award

Again this year Help! Aging Parents has been nominated in the Best Senior Living Awards 2014 “Best Blogs by  Individuals” category. We were honored to be judged the sole first runner-up and part of a 3-way tie for first runner-up in this category in 2012 and 2013 respectively.

How this works: Initially it’s sort of a popularity contest which, this year, ends April 28th. A certain number of popular votes qualifies us for the judging round. After that, it’s up to the judges.

Meanwhile, there’s a virtual universe of informative, humorous, personal, and commercial blogs and resources that focus on various aspects of aging. You can check them out by clicking on the badge above. It’s a win-win for everyone……and of course, we appreciate your vote which, as you will see, is via Facebook.

Changing often: “Of Current Interest” (right sidebar). Timely links to research and information from top universities, plus some fun stuff to help parents age well.

Aging Parents: Stark Reality–When Eyesight Fails

Letting Go–Preparing The Last Income Tax at 100

This is the last time Sr. Advisor R is doing her income tax preparation for the accountants. Yes, she’s 100. Yes, she still lives independently, alone in her home of over 60 years. Yes, she has a blood clot that has greatly diminished vision in one eye. Yes, she uses not 1, but 2 magnifying glasses when the normal print is too small. And yes, all of this is pretty amazing, but it has been extremely arduous and overly time-consuming this winter and has been a source of stress.

That said, R has worked at simplifying everything in her life as age has slowed her down. Giving up income tax preparation  (still using legal pad and adding machine), is a big concession. She has been doing it over 40 years. As Julia, another independent elder referred to in past posts, said many years ago “No one likes to see a lessening of themself.”

(R prided herself on doing the preparatory tax work and has been praised since widowhood for her understanding and accurate attention to detail in this regard. In fact, in the early 1060’s, when most women her age knew little about their husband’s [or their] finances, one accounting firm asked if she would do the intake and explain the process to widows.)

Although there’s some peripheral vision, I’m quite certain R’s left eye (with the clot) would qualify as legally blind. She was just told it cannot improve. That’s a big blow.  Especially to R, who always does exactly as the doctor orders. Aging, however, takes its toll on the body and stuff happens–sooner or later–as we know.

So where’s the sunshine on this cloudy day? It could be that in spite of macular degeneration, R’s right eye has fairly good vision; yet the ophthalmologist indicated it could change. Sunshine? R feels there just isn’t any. Yet I believe all mental health professionals would agree–at times like this it helps no one to play the Pollyanna role. Support and a lot of listening is the operative advice for caring friends and family.

We’re talking about loss. It’s hard.  It’s real and no doubt scary; particularly for an independent centenarian with a still-good mind. So unless a friend or family member has recently had the same experience, many sayings like “I know how hard this must be” aren’t helpful. Rather “What can I do for you?” or “I’d like to do something to make it easier this week–can I …………..?” show caring.

We may not do everything perfectly from here on out and consulting with people from Lighthouse will be–or possibly has been–suggested, subject to R’s agreeing. Many cities have Lighthouse branches that, I hear, do a great job making life better for people with compromised vision.

So we say a prayer, try to be there if possible to lend support and love, and will do the best we can as we help R face another hurdle. As R’s mother used to say, “Angels Can Do No More.”

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

 3/26/14 Help! Aging Parents was again nominated for a blog award. Click the top gold badge (right sidebar) to vote and view all senior living categories. Deadline 4/28/14 

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