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.

Aging Parents: Do We Help or (Inadvertently) Diminish Them–3 Self-esteem

Good job!” How often parents say this simple phrase to their children. Good parents praise and reinforce self-worth. No elaboration needed. What is needed is the reminder of how easily self-esteem can be unwittingly undermined in the elderly–be it by strangers, acquaintances, or family members.

Is it due to assumptions people make about older people?
Is it that a well-meaning phrase, used to show affection, is actually belittling to a proud elder?
Is it that an unthinking remark, in response to an elder’s age-related issue, hurts?

Assumptions

While Katie’s mother, at 85, had mobility problems, her mind was excellent. When she went places where much walking was involved, she preferred a wheel chair. Katie–a perceptive daughter–realized the wheel chair caused receptionists, sales people, and other strangers to aim conversations at her, not her mother. Katie quickly and nicely told them they needed to speak to her mother, not to her.

That said, we don’t always catch the disrespect in time. I took my m-i-l, then 99, to a specialist when she visited NYC two years ago. We sat in his office on one side of the desk, he on the other with her X’ray images on his computer. My m-i-l sat across from him. I was farthest away on her right. He could look straight across at my m-i-l, but turned to me when he spoke. The words to nicely make him aware, didn’t come to me fast enough. I heard my m-i-l’s voice–strong and clear–saying something like: “Dr., I pay the bills for my care, please direct your remarks to me.”

Older people who have learned to stand up for themselves, speak up. But whether they’re take-charge elders or “shrinking violets,” the result is the same: they feel belittled, disrespected. My m-i-l would not go back to him regardless of how skilled he was. She still brings up the experience and it was over two years ago.

Affectionate Expressions and Informality Can Convey Disrespect 

While Katie was a pro at deflecting disrespect, she too had a surprise. She took her mother to a bridal shower. While they were not seated at the same table, Katie could see her mother was animated and engaged in conversation throughout the afternoon. On the way home Katie asked about the girl her mother was talking with. “She was insulting,” was the response. Katie was taken aback. It seems they had a “very nice conversation,” but when it was time to leave the girl said “It was so nice talking with you, Grams.” “Grams?!” Katie’s mother had felt equal, not old; and no amount of explaining that this was undoubtedly a friendly expression, could placate Katie’s insulted, aging mother.

Unwanted informality can also cause problems. I remember a representative from a California college who came to speak with our 12th graders. Looking at her watch, she mentioned to me the 3-hour time difference and her worry about her elderly mother who had undergone difficult surgery the day before.

She explained that her mother was a strong woman, accustomed to being treated with great respect. If the hospital staff used the “honey-sweety” language, she feared her rather helpless-after-surgery mother would feel lessened, and her will to embark on the difficult recovery process ahead could be affected. “She needs to be called Mrs–not even by her first name…that’s too familiar,” said this college rep.” She planned to phone the hospital as soon as the morning shift was on duty to alert them.

Mrs. M (who died at 104) had one child–a dutiful son. While not needing hospitalizations until she  was 100, her son quickly realized that she would not cooperate with staff she decided was “beneath” her intellectually or otherwise. When she was given a room, the first thing her son did was to apprise the staff that she should be called “Mrs. Miller.” Things went perfectly for those who did. We won’t discuss the fallout when they didn’t.

Unthinking responses

On the other hand, Bebe, another strong woman who said her daughter was the best, admitted she had one complaint. Being somewhat hard of hearing, but not yet needing a hearing aid according to the audiologist, Bebe related a common occurrence that emotionally “hurt.” While she knew it wasn’t purposeful, she said it happened time and time again.

Bebe and her daughter would be having a conversation and Bebe would ask a question (that no doubt she’d asked before). Her daughter would say something like “Mother, this is the second time I’ve answered that question” or  “This is the second time you’ve asked that question.” Should we call attention to elderly parents’ imperfections–like hearing or benign forgetfulness– when they aren’t threatening life and limb?

It’s a delicate balance–physically and emotionally—where aging parents are concerned. There’s so much we can’t control. Yet we can try to control unthinking responses that tip that balance and cause hurt.

The flip-side is finding ways to help aging parents feel good. Praise, compliments, acknowledging past things we’ve learned from them, asking for advice–all raise feelings of self-worth………. as we try to help parents age well.

http://insidesantosguardiola.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/fdsfgd.jpg

 

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

To Help Parents Age Well: US News & World Report: Best Hospitals 2014-2015

U.S. News Ranks Best Hospitals 2014-15

Again this year US News & World Report has published its Best Hospitals issue. Of the 17 hospitals to make the 2014-15 Honor Roll, top honors in Geriatrics are earned by Mayo Clinic in Rochester, followed by Mt. Sinai in New York, UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, and Massachusetts General in Boston. Click above link for Geriatrics honor roll.

For difficult and out-of-the ordinary diagnoses and procedures the best hospitals are most likely to have the most experience, so aren’t we’re also talking about best doctors here? It makes sense to have the above list should especially worrisome health issues arise.

For more “garden-variety” health issues there are many fine regional hospitals which are recognized in the US News and World report. To find the one(s) near you or aging parents, here’s the map of the best regional hospitals. 

Also know that the several changes were made to the ranking methodology this year. They may account for some of the changes from last year’s rankings. Check out the details at: http://health.usnews.com/health-news/blogs/second-opinion/2014/01/11/us-news-hospital-rankings-to-boost-role-of-patient-safety-cut-back-reputation 

Lastly, for a quickie snapshot and information about the 17 best hospitals, take the “photo tour.”

To help parents age well–(or for all challenges it would seem)–the more good, solid information we have beforehand, the better prepared we are. And isn’t this especially true when it comes to health issues.

 

Aging Parents–Research: Wisdom’s Importance in Successful Aging

For satisfaction in later life–to age well, research has told us that maintaining physical and mental health, volunteering and having connections with others are necessary.
One researcher, Dr. Monika Ardelt, an associate sociology professor at the University of Florida in Gainesville, wondered could people in poor health, those who’d suffered losses, and those “whose social roles were diminished”–age successfully or would they just have to “give up.” Her recent findings:
Wisdom is the ace in the hole that can help even severely impaired people find meaning, contentment and acceptance in later life.
The above and what follows come from an interesting 3/13/14  NY Times article: The Science of Older and Wiser.” It highlights research confirming the importance of wisdom in aging well–in part: 
  • “People who show evidence of  high wisdom are also more likely to have better coping skills …they would be more active than passive about dealing with hardship”
  • “….when people in nursing homes or with a terminal illness score high on Dr. Monika Ardelt’s wisdom scale, they also report a greater sense of well-being”
  • “True wisdom involves recognizing the negative both within and outside ourselves and trying to learn from it”
  • “Wisdom is characterized by a reduced self-centeredness”
  • “If you’re wise, you’re not focusing so much on what you need and deserve, but on what you can contribute.”
  • “Gererativity”–thinking about the next generation, giving back without needing anything in return….the wisest people do that in a way that doesn’t see their lifetime as limiting when this might happen.”
  • Whatever the nature of one’s limitations, simplifying one’s life is also a sign of wisdom.”
(Looking back we find that Erik Erikson, renowned for his 8 stages of human development theory, and his wife were in their 80’s when they added a ninth stage emphasizing wisdom.)
R, now 100 and a Senior Advisor to this blog, is the wisest person I know. She has maintained her mental and physical health as well as her connections with others. While she doesn’t volunteer in the literal sense, she is constantly doing for others–giving support– and advice (when asked), and little gifts. Her “Words of Wisdom,” posted a year ago:
  • As you age, it helps to simplify your life.
  • Know when to say “no.”
  • Don’t abuse yourself; you get enough from the outside.
  •  Don’t assume.
  • Take care of yourself or you won’t be able to take care of anything else.
Is it wise to say more? Perhaps. The above may give an idea of our parents’ wisdom. For specifics–and an “impediment” to wisdom, click the full article.
Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities and professionals, plus ideas–to help parents age well.
*****