Aging Mothers: A Life Changer….overheard in the Hair Salon

Sr. Advisor D

Sr. Advisor D

Meet D, our newest Sr. Advisor.  A former colleague and long-time friend, D has offered us aging insights for several years. Below she writes about a recent experience at her long-time “hair salon,” aka “hairdresser’s,” “beauty salon.” 

Regardless of name, it’s a place women go ostensibly to look better. But it’s much more than that for many older women. It’s socialization, getting out of the house, therapy of sorts. Indeed it’s one of the few patterns of younger days that can easily continue well into old age.

Where else can an older person relax and count on being listened to, being pampered, being treated well? The hair salon’s supportive atmosphere lends itself to sharing thoughts and feelings.  D takes it from here–

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“Each time you have a driver, you have to plan your trip. For instance, have him take you to the store, then to us to have your hair done, and then to meet your friends for lunch,” Karen explains.

Karen C., the proprietor of Magic Touch, a hair salon in the NYC suburbs, is advising Mrs. W, a bewildered 93-year old customer who has just stopped driving. Though she has long ago moved from the area, she has kept her weekly trips to Karen and wants to continue them.

A small, homey shop, Magic Touch has a large number of elderly women clients, many of whom have come to Karen since she, an enterprising 19-year old, bought the shop over 30 years ago. Some women have moved away from the immediate area but return for their regular appointments…with Karen for their hair; and with Karenʼs sister for their nails.

Mrs. L., still driving at 92, sweeps into the shop, her entrance a signal to Karen to despatch someone to feed the parking meter that Mrs. L. consistently forgets about. But she never forgets to give a warmly personal greeting to everyone. Her golden curls have remained unruffled since her last visit.

Karenʼs father has been a fixture in the shop since his failing eyesight forced him to stop driving six years ago. A good-looking man of 74, he spends most days sitting in the reception area, chatting with visitors. Heʼs fortunate in having his days pass in the company of his daughters and the many people, young and old, who come to the shop, but he says that the evenings are difficult. A widower, he lives alone and misses going out in the evening, to dinner or to see his friends.

Another customer, Mrs. S, stopped driving three years ago, at 89. “It changes your life,” she declares as Karen trims her boyish bob. “You can’t do anything on the spur of the moment. Before, when I wanted company, I loved jumping into my car to visit the library, where I could usually count on gossip with someone I knew. Or buy something I suddenly felt like eating, rather than what I had in my refrigerator.”

After her haircut, she settles in for more conversation. “So much of an older personʼs time is given to things she has to do – for herself or the house – Itʼs important to plan every day so there’s something you enjoy doing.”  She herself enjoys reading, especially memoirs and biographies. Not novels – she craves connections with people in the real world. She has just read Hilary Clintonʼs Living History.

Mrs. G, who stopped driving last year at 88, has found another solution. “I tell my family, ʻGrandma doesnʼt want any more things from you. Give me the gift of your time, and take me out to places I want to go to. Your time is the greatest gift of all.ʼ”

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Regular appointments at the hair salon provide several keys to successful aging: getting out of the house, socializing (connections with others), and no doubt ending up looking better (and thus, feeling better). The challenge may be finding a salon like Karen’s.


Help Parents Age Well: “The Worst Advice for Family Caregivers–Parent Your Aging Parent” Forbes blog 9/4/l3

The belief that we become parents to our parents has always seemed so disrespectful. We are always our parents’ children. They are always our parents. Even if not a biological relationship (eg. adoption), there’s the emotional component of being a parent or a being child, that endures.

Howard Gleckman, currently a resident fellow at the Urban Institute, and a Forbes blog contributor posted the following on the Forbes blog:

The Worst Advice For Family Caregivers: Parent Your Aging Parents

In the always-complex, often-painful world of family caregiving, there is no worse advice than this: When your parents need help, you must reverse roles and become their parents.

Here is the reality: If you are the adult child of an aging parent, you will always be their child and they will always be your parent. They may need your help with the most intimate personal care. But you will never become their parent.

I saw this all the time when I was researching my book Caring for Our Parents. I had the opportunity to spend as long as two years with people who needed assistance and their family caregivers. I saw heartwarming successes and sad failures. Often the difference was the ability of adult children to understand their role.

I was thinking about this after seeing Courtland Milloy’s column in this morning’s Washington Post describing his experience as a long-distance caregiver visiting his parents in Louisiana.

He wrote, “Some elder-care experts say that when aging parents stop acting in their best interest, the grown children must “reverse roles” and simply make them do the right thing.”

As he learned, this advice is so wrong on so many levels.

To start, what is the “right thing?” Who are you to decide what is right? As a matter of law and, I believe, ethics and morality, each of us gets to decide the “right thing” for our own life, as long as we are cognitively able and our choice does not harm others.

A wise man once said it like this: “When I was 22, I did some things my parents thought were remarkably stupid. But I was an adult and they were my choices. Now, my parents may be doing some things that I think are remarkably stupid. But they have the same right to make mistakes as I did.”

Put yourself in the position of an aging parent. As you become physically frail and cognitively limited, you lose control of your life. All those day-to-day decisions that healthy people take for granted—when to go to the movies, when to eat, when to walk across the room and even when to go to the bathroom—are increasingly shared with others. It can be embarrassing and demeaning.

And it is why a big part of frail old age is about maintaining independence and respect.

Now comes your child. He may be 50 years old, but he is still your child. And he is saying, “Mom, you’ve got to go to the doctor. You’ve got to stop driving.  You’ve got to move to assisted living.” He may have just parachuted into town for a few days. He seems rushed and impatient. And you, who on some level still view your son as the 18-year-old who left home to go to college, are resentful, embarrassed, and maybe even angry.

Needless to say, this is not a great environment in which to make decisions.

What’s the alternative? As much as possible, share decision-making. As the adult child, never start any sentence with the words: “Mom, you’ve got to.…” Instead, try, “What do you think we should do….” Help them choose.  But work together as much as you can.

Of course, if a parent or other relative is emotionally or cognitively incapable of making decisions, you may have to step in. But that is much less common than many suppose.

To his credit, Milloy finally got it, despite starting out with that awful “reverse roles” advice.

Like the proverbial bad penny, this parenting your parents business keeps coming back. Years ago, when I was writing for Business Week, an editor suggested a consumer caregiving column. It would be called, you guessed it…Parenting Your Parents. I told her I’d love to write the column but the name had to go. That was the last I heard about the idea.

And let’s hope this is the last any of us hear about the worst advice a family caregiver can get.
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Help! Aging Parents’ philosophy has remained constant on role reversal. Unless aging parents’ actions threaten life and limb (our parents’ or anyone else’s), and assuming parents still have a good mind, we remind ourselves we are their children and act with due respect.

There’s a delicate balance here, especially when certain life-changing issues, like driving, are involved. Granted people (old and young) can be stubborn and irrational. Yet there are ways to accomplish our goals and remain respectful, given that our parents still think clearly.

When frustrated, sharing our concerns and getting help from geriatric social workers or our parents’ doctors makes sense. They’ve no doubt heard the frustrations many times before and should be well-equipped to help us deal respectfully and effectively with aging parents.

Related: ARPS’s Driving Discussion Seminar

New: “Of Current Interest”(right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities about cancer, dementia, Parkinson’s, plus some fun stuff–to help parents age well.

Do Fears for Aging Parents’ Well-Being Unnecessarily Curtail Their Independence?

Of course the responsible answer is “yes” and “no.” But looking at a few examples can give us a “heads up” so we aren’t premature in our actions.

We’re heading for the Grand Canyon today. An experience there, over a decade ago, flashes back. The last time my husband and I spent time there my parents were alive (but not with us). We and the people sitting next to us at lunch began talking. Conversation ultimately turned to aging parents–we all had them. Sometimes I think we brag about old parents like young parents brag about their children.

“Driving” entered the conversation. None of us lived near our parents. My dad was still driving; he was younger than the father of the woman sitting next to us whose husband nudged her, urging her to tell us about her dad.

Old Car

Old Car (Photo credit: dr.stabo)

This couple had been reading the statistics about older drivers and decided that even though her father lived in a relatively small town, he had already defied the averages for people his age driving safely by a good many years. So they had the driving discussion with him, explained their thinking, were mindful of his independence, and said he could keep the car,  but he really shouldn’t drive any longer. The town wasn’t large, he could get around by other means. He agreed; they could take the car keys. It was a relief to the couple.

What they didn’t know–and didn’t find out until much later– was that he called the guy he knew at the gas station, said he’d lost his car keys, someone made him a new key and he continued driving safely until he died. His daughter and her husband decided if he was that sharp, they wouldn’t interfere or tell him they knew, and he died happily–in his early 90s, I believe.

Aging parents driving safely and living safely are two understandable concerns.

Because adult children are quick to see assisted living as a solution to many of the problems associated with aging, it’s important for them to be aware of what J. Donna Sullivan, CSW, former Director of Older Adult Services for the Scarsdale & Edgemont Family described as “typical crises” that prompt adult children to “run to put them (their parents) in assisted living prematurely.

“It’s premature,” she said, “because their parents could continue to live fairly independently for another 5-6 years if they took advantage of services that are available in almost all communities.”  (And these services usually cost less than being in an assisted living situation.) Picture the scene: parents aren’t eating properly, they have deteriorated medically, the bills aren’t paid, the mail has piled up, the laundry isn’t done, clutter is everywhere.

“What I’ve probably seen most, is the deterioration of older people’s health because they’re physically not able to get to doctors or dentists or get their hearing aid batteries—things that probably could keep them in their home and keep them independent longer.  There are services to assist them with meals, with transportation, with housekeeping, but they’re not getting them.  The bills aren’t paid and the mail piles up because they can’t see well and need new glasses and ultimately it gets to crisis mode.  These older people need ‘care management,’ not assisted living.”

Local social service agencies can be very helpful: first, by doing an assessment of elderly parents’ needs; then by making appropriate referrals for special services (eg. Meals on Wheels, home aides) or to other appropriate professionals.

We try to help parents age well and that involves supporting their independence for as long as possible. It may not be easy. Indeed it may require a lot of thought and obtaining good information. But assuming they’re doing nothing that threatens their life or limb, we will never feel guilty–in fact we will always feel good knowing that we did the best we could.

Related: :links to 10 vision safety tips for older drivers; “We Need to Talk” (about driving); CarFit; Should you take a Driver Safety Class?


Will This Video Game Help Aging Parents to Drive Safer Longer?

We’re reading more about research studies leading to “games” involving “Brain Training.” We see and hear the advertisements for ways to improve memory, alertness etc.  Is that a reason we find more and more older people hoping to keep their minds sharp by playing bridge, doing crossword puzzles and even signing up to learn a new language?

One of the latest games to come out of the research is a video game, Road Tour. I can’t recommend–or not recommend–it; but it’s an interesting addition to games for older people. Its focus is worth knowing about. It involves vision, specifically expanding one’s field of vision, which evidently tends to shrink as we age. A positive outcome of this game is that it could keep older people driving safely longer. Wouldn’t that contribute to independence and happiness and thus–by deduction– help parents age well?

A professor of public health at the University of Iowa, Fredric Wolinsky, and his team tested the mental benefits of playing Road Tour for people 50 years or older, compared to the benefits from solving computerized crossword puzzles. They divided participants into four groups, separating them into sets of people 50-64 and people over 65. Three groups used the Road Tour game repeatedly. The fourth group was given computerized crossword puzzles.

It’s reported that mental and perceptual benefits began to show up after only 10 hours of play.  A year later those who had done crossword puzzles showed a decline in their useful field of view, while those who had played Road Tour for 10 hours were protected against this decline, actually showing a slight increase in their field of vision.

The effects of Road Tour were the same for both age groups: those 50-64 and for those over 65. Other measure of cognitive abilities such as concentration, the ability to shift from one mental task to another, and the speed at which new information is processed suggest that Road Tour players were protected from 1.5 to over six years of decline.

For those wanting to read more about Road Tour, click this link from the UK Daily Mail on-line version (note: the video demo at the end of the article doesn’t seem to work).

Continuing with the subject of “brain training:” While learning a new language was never touted to improve field of vision, interestingly a recent report suggests that speaking a second language later in life–in other words, learning to speak another language when older, doesn’t offer the same benefits to brain functioning that early bilingualism does. “The brain changes were really seen in the older group who had been bilingual for most of their lives,” according to the article (see link above).

We never know what new research will produce; we do know sometimes there’s a significantly helpful result.

83-year-old Driver Uses Her Wits

Couldn’t resist this forward. If it were true, it’s the kind of event that, depending on adult children’s responses, could be one of those pivotal moments in efforts to help older people age well.

Aging Parents: Best Speeding Excuse Ever

When asked by a young patrol officer “Do you know you were speeding?”
This 83-year-old woman gave the young officer an ear to ear smile and stated:
“Yes , but … I had to get there before I forgot where I was going.”
The officer put his ticket book away and bid her good day.
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The driving dilemma is seriously addressed in past posts in late January (28th) and early February (1st, 5th, and 8th) this year.  People are living longer; many are driving longer. Who’s to say if this woman is a dangerous driver or–perhaps like some of us–puts the pedal to the metal when she shouldn’t…and gets caught.

But she’s clever, or is she? In all honesty I think this event would qualify as one of aging parents’ secrets (July 25th Senior’s Secrets post) and her children would never have known about it.  But–and this is something that deserves thinking about beforehand–how do we handle such a situation if we know about it?

Help! Aging Parents Who Are Downright Dangerous Drivers

How Elderly Drivers Become a Road Hazard:
Part of the Problem

I’ve forgotten whether Dad’s driver’s license came up for renewal the year before or the year after his 90th birthday. What I do remember is the fact that it was renewed for 8 or 10 years. (Other states have this renewal procedure, I’ve found.)

Dad went to the DMV bureau in a smaller town 20 minutes from his home. Parking was easy; they were nice. He had a habit of keeping his wallet (with driver’s license) hidden in the trunk of his car. As he began the renewal process he realized he didn’t have his soon-to-expire license and told the DMV person it was in the trunk of his car–he’d get it. No problem–the computer could access data. He only needed proof of who he was.

The only “document” that had his name: a Safeway Grocery Store club membership card in his pocket. ID accepted. Renewal granted.  (Thankfully Dad was a good, safe driver.)

Fact: Some older drivers (and others) drive under “ify” circumstances.
Fact: When it’s threatening to life and limb, prevention is key.
Fact: Parents resent being forced to do something, just as we would resent our children forcing us to do something.
Fact: The entities and agencies, you would expect help from, may be of little or no help.

Parents who drive dangerously must be stopped, but how--without straining family relationships? If you’re an only child, it’s your burden. If there are siblings and the majority agree, you can say “we’re worried about your driving and while it hurts to tell you this, the majority of us think your driving at this point is dangerous so we need your help to think about options.”  If this presents problems, see #4 below.

The Strategy and Reality

#1. What seems like a major problem, may be easily solved (could be medications). Remind “with-it” parents of this. Including them in pondering the problem and acknowledging  the problem may be easily solved, is respectful, empowering, and helps them buy into whatever may come. To rule out serious problems, with your parents agreeing and perhaps making the call, consult the primary care doctor, which may lead to testing (eg. vision, neurological) or medication changes.

#2. If it’s not correctable, the doctor is in a good position to deliver the message. This is a huge loss, a chunk of life is being removed. Doctors have practice in delivering bad news and hopefully do it in a skillful way.

#3. Many adult children have phoned police, insurance companies, DMV etc., in efforts to curtail parents’ driving. The results vary. It’s sneaky, which is disrespectful and undermines self-esteem among other things. Understandably children usually don’t feel good about it. Only as a last resort, it may have merit.

#4. If we must deliver the stop-driving message, how do we give facts, affirm our parents’ ability to participate in the decision-making and arrive at a no-more-driving result? If we’re uncomfortable attempting this and have watched AARP’s we-need-to-talk link’s video in Saturday’s post, a social worker experienced with the elderly can be a big help. Contact a local family counseling agency or an agency with social workers specializing in geriatrics. They’ve no doubt helped countless aging parents and their adult children resolve the driving dilemma.

Help! Aging Parents: A Driving Discussion? To Drive or Not to Drive–Part 3

We begin to realize, for aging parents life is a delicate balance–physically and mentally. J reminds us in the first driving post that no one likes seeing a lessening of him/herself–but “there comes a time.”  And when the time comes, no one wants to be told what to do, made to feel he or she is being treated like an infant.  So how do we discuss driving with parents?

Most of us think driving is necessary to maintain quality of life. No wonder we dread having the not-driving talk with our parents! To help parents age well we don’t want to diminish their quality of life.  If we can have this talk before driving is an issue we’re a step ahead. If we’re in crisis mode, it’s so much harder.

Since it makes sense to have good information before plunging into anything problematical, here’s another valuable link to an AARP website seminar: Although long–this is a life-changing topic after all– it’s well-thought-out, may well resonate, and you can watch in installments. If it doesn’t meet all your needs, continue reading below for strategies I knew, wish I’d known or used successfully with my parents.  They can improve chances for success when attempting difficult conversations.

With the goal of helping aging parents and the realization that “one size doesn’t fit all,” I put older drivers into three groups:

Those in group 1: know themselves, are honest with themselves and quit driving when they should. They have pride, pre-empt, don’t like being told what to do.

If your parent is in the first group like my father was, you’re lucky. Dad took the “Driving Miss Daisy” movie to heart; we had the driving discussion early. As a far-away-living adult child who believes in empowering, I found excuses to visit him every 4-6 weeks after Mother died. If we were going some place together, I always asked whether he wanted to drive. He volunteered at least once each visit. He stuck to the speed limit. Not over, not under. His depth perception was better than mine. He no longer had the radio on. “A distraction,” he said.

Friends constantly pressured me to make him quit driving after he turned 90.  If there was no threat to life and limb, why do that? I checked his car for scratches, dents, or newly painted areas during each visit. (I would have done that regularly, even if I lived in the same town.)  He ultimately decided to stop driving at 93.

The second group is in denial. Denial, a psychological defense mechanism, can exist without our realizing it. It keeps us from facing a reality we’re not yet ready to deal with. Can we speed up parents’ readiness to face reality? We can only try.

An often successful strategy: to say something that suggests “I need your help.” This pulls parents into finding a solution as a partner; lets us offer information (ie. about resources that extend older drivers’ ability to drive) perhaps from the last post’s links. It opens the conversation to objective observations about their driving–or about something connected to their driving that could be problematical.

For example, my mother had a stroke. She recovered well, but her balance was shaky. She worried about falling. She still planned to drive. My knee-jerk reaction was to tell her all of my reservations. Instead I said “let’s figure out how,” pulling her into the conversation as a partner. I said that she could drive (true); she could have lessons to boost her confidence or go with me to an empty parking lot if she wanted to try driving there first. I also explained that she needed to be able to get in and out of the car by herself and maneuver her walker alone (reality). Initially she said she wanted to try, but then decided there was too much effort involved. Perhaps because Dad was still alive to drive her, she never drove again.

The third group, downright dangerous drivers, is next Tuesday’s post.