Help Parents Age Well–With Hugs and Love–Until the End

Importance of Hugs and “Love You’s” for Older, Hospitalized Adults
(Seems obvious, doesn’t it)

“Hugs” and “Love You”–two expressions generously shared these days.They make us feel valued, nurture our souls, support emotional and physical well being.  They’re exchanged countless times by friends and family in our younger years, lessening in old age, and problematical for hospitalized elders and those who love them, especially at life’s end.

Much is written about what to do and say when a loved one’s life nears its end. (See “Related” below); but hospitalized elderly have a not-written-about reality that impacts our caregiving connection. Specifically the intrusion of hospital routines, physical barriers, and lack of privacy. These issues are rarely–if ever–addressed, although the specific nextavenue link below seems to have overcome the problem–or just neglects to address it in its useful, heartfelt article.

Hospitalization makes hugs and personal sharing tricky. Aides come in to draw a drop of blood and take temperatures numerous times daily. Physical barriers exist between us and the person in bed. IV poles, monitors, drips, lines, tray tables, night stands–and those bed rails–defy making easy physical contact….unless one has super-long arms or is a contortionist. Hospital regulations, loss of privacy and constant interruptions interfere with that special, loving connection we ideally want with our love ones. And touching is a powerful part.

In hospital nurseries babies are held and cuddled, no doubt infusing warmth, security, and a feeling of being cared about. But adult hospital patients in private rooms or with roommates lack the equivalent–be it a kiss, hug, a hand to hold, or a gentle massage. A kind of physical–if not mental–isolation results, whether patients are in private rooms or have roommates. No wonder people want to die at home.

According to the 2015 National Health Statistic Report more than 80% of Medicare beneficiaries aged 65 and over would want to die at home. However “in 2013, one-third of 1,904,640 deaths among persons aged 65 and over in the United States occurred in the hospital, about the same proportion as in the previous 12 years.”.

The Question: How do we convey our love and caring to one restricted to a hospital bed?

Giving my mother over to the hospital:

I’d forgotten–or perhaps repressed–the feeling until I was back in the hospital with my husband. I’d forgotten how hard it was to give my mother a hug when her small body lay in that wide bed with bed rails up to keep her safe. I forgot how ludicrous I thought it was when elderly people are so weak they need help to turn over, yet have bed’s rails blocking  access.

So here’s the recipe to combat that isolation and bring some normalcy and love into the equation:
1. Learn how to lower the bed rail on the side you’re on (and remember to put it up when you leave).
2. Sit on the bed if that puts you closer to hug, kiss, or simply hold or pat a hand.
3. If small grandchildren are permitted and can follow instructions, why not let them climb on the bed, crawl around, kiss and hug. If pets are allowed, so much the better, but have we ever seen a pet in the hospital unless it’s a therapy dog—but hey! Doesn’t “therapy dog” say something about contact between beings?
4. Today some hospitals provide chairs that make into beds for spending the night with a loved one. But the space between the newly-fashioned bed and the hospital bed can feel like the great divide. Again, lower the bed rail and scoot the newly-created bed right up to the hospital bed. Hospital beds can be raised and lowered so both are at more-or-less the same level….and if not the same level, get some pillows to fill gaps as a way of transitioning to the hospital bed’s lower or higher position.
5.  Learn how to lower or raise the hospital bed.

Lastly, as we keep in mind that older people, who no longer have a spouse, don’t get many sincere, loving words or touches any more–unless from grandchildren–it makes sense to remember that the simple  “Love You” when family and visitors leave can be an empty phrase. Perhaps good-byes that are upbeat and forward-looking—like “You’re the best….” or “See you tomorrow (fill in the day–it’s something to look forward to) can be added.


Related:  next/avenue has done a series of articles on our subject over the last few months.  How to Be Present With One Who is Sick or Dying reallygets it,”

The Power of Touch:

USA TodayHugs Warm the Heart. concludes with Ohio State University psychologist Janice Kiecolt-Glaser quoted as saying “Although ours is a youth-oriented culture, older adults may benefit most from touch. “The older you are, the more fragile you are physically, so contact becomes increasingly important for good health.”

Huffington Post: 7 Reasons Why We Should be Giving More Hugs.” Read “Adults Can Benefit from Hugging the Most” which concludes “…Studies have shown that loneliness, particularly with age, can also increase stress and have averse health effects. By hugging someone, we instantly feel closer to that person and decrease feelings of loneliness.” This latter link lends validity to the loneliness aspect.

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



Aging Parents: When We Invest Ourselves in Caregiving

When we work hard at something, expend great effort–perhaps even go beyond what we thought were our limits–we’ve invested ourselves. Indeed, when we’ve put a lot of ourselves into something it permeates us. Be it caregiving or whatever, it becomes a significant part of life; the major part of life; and for some individuals–their life. Over time it’s easy to lose perspective and upset the needed balance to be emotionally and physically healthy.

                               “You’ve got to take care of yourself.”

How many times do caregivers hear that? We needn’t be geniuses to know that food and sleep are necessary for physical health and stamina; but there may be precious little of both due to circumstances beyond our control. It’s also easy to get so caught up in the demands and decisions that we forget priorities. We may think about our needs, but other demands supersede.

  • We skip meals or vitamins or meds, planning to take them later, then forget.
  • We get less sleep, planning to make it up with a short nap that never/rarely happens.
  • We fool ourselves into thinking we can remain in high gear forever, not knowing how long our caregiving will need to continue.
  • We may be in denial that people with certain conditions that require caregiving can outlive their caregiver.

Whether loved ones are at home, in hospitals, or in care centers our lives and routines are impacted. That spills over to physical health and emotions.

On a personal level: Having experienced some of the above almost half of this year, and being aware of the consequences of overextending, I tried to do it right. I ate well (although sometimes only two complete meals+snacks a day), walked about 2 miles daily, but was admittedly often sleep-deprived. Thinking I took care of myself pretty well under the circumstances, I’ve had a shock!

A few weeks ago, I got dressed to go out. I put my iPhone in my pants’ pocket. To my amazement, and almost embarrassment, after taking a few steps the iPhone’s weight (which isn’t much as we know) caused my pants to start sliding down, I put on another pair–same result. I rarely get on a scale, but I did. Scale shock! I’ve lost almost 10% of my weight, and was too busy to realize it until the other day.

Solutions and Remedies
Two Questions:

  1. How does one get more sleep when he or she is called upon to do other things? How does one turn off a racing mind? Why does exhaustion make it harder to sleep?
  2. How do we know when we’re not eating enough?

I contacted a highly experienced counseling colleague (our offices shared a waiting room and secretary years ago) to weigh in on #1. She’s one of the most effective counselors I know– always sees the big picture and has the capacity to “nail things.”  She innately “gets it.” I shouldn’t have been surprised when she lumped #’s 1 and 2 together.

“Sometimes you have to deal with the fact that you’re losing weight and sleep. But you have to accept the fact, otherwise you’re giving yourself additional stress when you already have so much. You won’t starve to death and you may not sleep–but your body will tire eventually and you will sleep.” She continues: “Feeling that you have to sleep, for example, causes stress–it keeps you awake. Focus on the awareness instead of the stress. Whether it’s sleep or eating enough, be aware of your body signals–monitor yourself; and if out of control, seek medical help.” 

                                            Monitoring Ourselves

When during the day do we make the best decisions? have the most energy? have the least patience? Sometimes things seems less solvable and more urgent at night because we’re tired, but in the morning answers and solutions come more easily. Can a walk or a certain amount of time spent exercising help us analyze problems more objectively?

                                                  About Friends

Barb just ended 6 months of 24/7 caregiving in their home, for her husband’s 91-year-old mother who recently died. That plus her private practice and cooking for four people on different diets would have overwhelmed many; being sleep-deprived was the norm. A month later, she has helped me. And that’s where friends come in.

While friends mean well, it’s important to enlist certain friends’ help for certain problems. Good friends always want to help and want the best for us. But we need to think carefully about who’s the best resource for help with a given problem, otherwise we’re vulnerable to more frustration.

If we discipline ourselves to think broadly, and remember the “6 degrees of separation” theory, we should be able to find the best help for those entrusted to our care.

As we invest ourselves in caregiving, we also need to recognize and attend to our needs. To this end the value of certain friends is priceless.

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



Caregiving and Time for Self

  • One reality is that we can’t stretch a 24-hour day.
  • A second reality is that–and we all know this, but easier said than done, those entrusted with caregiving must take care of themselves.
  • A third reality: it’s hard not to push ourselves….just this one time or just a little bit more…but it’s not good for us if it must continue over an extended period.
  • And the last reality–at least for me–is that my time for keeping up with my blog remains in short supply for the time being.

Having set mental markers in my head to warn me of when my ability to remain helpful to anyone, even myself, is at risk–I have asked for help several times since my husband’s surgery to replace his aorta and mitral valves on February 4.

While we planned to go to the Southwest the beginning of April and had been cleared by doctors to go, there was a serious issue connected with the surgery, that hospitalized my husband on April 1st….and he is still hospitalized, although we’re hoping he can come home in a few days.

So the help I now need is finding a bit of time for myself–something I’ve done to a small extent each week. Yet as this hospital routine continues, and time walking, running, taxi-ing, bus-ing back and forth to the hospital continues to eat up time, I need more rest or unassigned time, as well as time to prepare for his homecoming.

With no family members east of the Rockies, the ultimate caregiving responsibility is mine. Good friends are a blessing and have been wonderful. With many friends in the counseling profession like myself, there’s a certain supportive understanding that most people don’t have.

For now I take a break from my blog and will get back when I can….hoping it will be soon.


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.


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–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…!

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




Help Aging Parents: Caregiving–A Caregiver’s Story

As parents age concerns about heavy-duty caregiving are common. The NY Times published  a powerful piece in early March. Elizabeth’s experience as told to NY Times science/geriatrics-writer/columnist, Paula Span will resonate with many caregivers, Alzheimer’s caregivers or not.

            Living with the parents I’m losing to Alzheimer’s:

     One night recently my dad was so confused, up so many times, and I was exhausted and full of frustration and anger and overwhelming grief. I just went in there and cried in his arms, begging him, “Please, go back to sleep.” He didn’t understand, but he was holding me and crying, too, and saying, “I’m so sorry. I’ll do better. I’ll do better.”
     I don’t know how to describe that feeling, where you just don’t feel like you can go on anymore. And I know I have a lot of things on my side relative to other people in this situation. A supportive husband. Paid help.
     We just got a grant from the organization Hilarity for Charity. They gave us 25 hours of care a week for a year. We also have a caregiver from one of the state programs. So now we have help Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sunday mornings.
     But most of the caregivers …..
     There was a point in May of 2013 — we’d been here two and a half years — when we had plans to move my parents into a facility. We were going to do a respite stay, and if they fit in, if it went well, we’d sell the house.
     We did everything we could — we brought couches and furniture from their bedroom — to make the place feel homelike. But it wasn’t home. For my dad, it lasted three days. He started having panic attacks, to the point where he was throwing up.
     He was still with it enough to call us. I remember getting a message from him, weeping. “It’s Daddy. Please, me and Mom want to come home.”
     Everybody, including his doctor, said, “You have to leave him, you have to let him adjust.” I couldn’t do it. I would never judge the people who do, but I couldn’t.

Click title link above to read complete piece.

We try to help parents age well. We give our all. As Grandma said many years ago, “Angels can do no more.”

(I don’t want this to be too long so follow-up will be Tuesday–Caregiving: Ever feel you want to scream)
Related:   Aging Parents, Grandparents and Loved Ones: Can Family Members do it All?

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

Caring For Aging Parents–The Pope and Respected Financial News Sources Weigh In

Family Caregivers for their Aging Parents
are Worth Their Weight in Gold

Valuing “old people”–included in Pope Francis’s speech–shouldn’t have surprised me. “Old people.” (At 78 is Pope Francis old?) Those words made an impact, while watching his presentations to Congress on TV, and again–while watching, I believe, his UN speech, on TV in New York.

And today I was told (by someone who hadn’t read the article) that a high-respected financial weekly, Barron’s, came out today promoting a “Caring For Aging Parents” article. Is this a coincidence? In any event, I was curious about its contents. Google supplied the article. (More about Pope Francis at post’s end.)

The article’s subtitle “How private banks are tackling the financial and emotional issues that affect older parents” reveals a niche focus: wealthy older people, “private clients” of banks’ private client division. That said, parts are instructive for everyone.

Paragraph three enumerates the responsibilities and situations affecting aging parents that banks can take over for private clients (at additional cost). “Boiled down to its essence, clients are looking for the best care and services they can find for a loved one—before a situation reaches a crisis stage.”

Don’t all of us want this for our loved ones? Most of the chores and attention-to-detail things described in the Barron’s article are routinely handled for elderly parents by their unpaid adult children caregivers. What the wealthy are paying for is no doubt time involved and hopefully expertise.

Realizing, from the article, the expense involved when the bank’s special personnel assume various caregiver responsibilities confirms something we already know: Adult children caregivers are worth their weight in gold (my words). Note: AARP Finds Family Caregiving Worth 470 Billion a Year (July 16, 2015).

My next thought was “While many don’t have the wealth to qualify as ‘private clients’ can we take away creative ideas from the article that all adult children with elderly parents can use?”

Perhaps. For example:

An aging husband on dialysis wants to take one last trip. The bank finds a highly-paid specialist who finds a trip that will allow this husband to get his dialysis treatments three times a week while on vacation. Couldn’t we/don’t we, regardless of income, do this kind of research if our parent with special needs wants a vacation?

Skim the article looking for themes and ideas.

Lastly, and importantly, the Geriatric Care Management profession has grown considerably from its debut around 20 years ago. With backgrounds in healthcare, social work and psychology, these professionals can do much of what the private banks are making available–no doubt less expensively (but they’re expensive) and equally well. Just be certain to hire someone you “click” with. For more information, check out this NY Times Old Age Blog’s excellent column.

Additionally, this July 2015 article from How To Handle The Financial Challenges of Caring for Aging Parents addresses the subject of caring for parents in your home.  

And Bob Rosenberg, former Los Angeles Times financial writer writes about “Medical Tax Breaks You Never Heard of For Ramps, Assisted Living, Rents, Elevators.”  Check out his site in “Blogs and Sites I Like” (tab above under header).

*      *    *  Now back to Pope Francis.

NYC’s last 2 days have been filled with Pope Francis (less than 3 months until his 79th birthday) who, like many older people, has some health issues. Perhaps the following is a stretch. That said–

Couldn’t those who surround Pope Francis daily be loosely thought of as caregivers? He is The Holy Father to multitudes. In addition, connections with others and having a purpose in life–all significant in helping parents age well–are part of his daily life.

Does this enable him to carry out a packed schedule with speeches each day that would be exhausting for one half his age who doesn’t have his “underlying health problems? I think the answer is “yes”—with help from a higher being.  Something for us to think about as we try to help our parents age well.

Many NYC streets were blocked off to provide speedy, secure access for the cavalcade that includes the Pope’s easily-recognezed small Fiat. Crowds spontaneously appeared as the police took up their positions, signaling he was about to pass by.  In the right place at the right time, I share this iPhone-taken-photo on a NYC side-street.


Click to enlarge