Aging Parents: Dilemma– Including Frail Elders for Holiday-Family Dinners

If we are fortunate enough to have aging parents and old family members, at some point we’ll probably face this dilemma: Can/should frail elders be included in family celebrations like Thanksgiving/Christmas/ Chanukah?  Our guidelines over the years have been:

1. Do they want to come?
2. Are they at physical risk if they come?
3. Is our home elderly-user-friendly?
4. Is it better for them or better for us?

This is how it has worked and still works for us:

1.  They want to come: Until they were in their 80s, my parents and Sr. Advisor R (my mil) wanted to come for Thanksgiving. They made the trip East from Oregon, California and Arizona. They stayed with us. Those were special times.

When travel became more difficult for them, we moved Thanksgiving dinner to Arizona. My parents could come over. Our tradition continued.

For many years, back east and out west, the night before Thanksgiving, found Mother, R and me, in our bathrobes in the kitchen, doing all preliminary preparations and enjoying the special togetherness that comes from working together. I smile as I think back. R phoned Wednesday night while I was doing the preparations by myself, recalling her happy memories of that night-before routine. Although Mother died in 2000, R and I continued the tradition until R broke her hip 4 years ago.

2.  Physical risk was a problem, first when Dad was undergoing daily cyclotron treatments for prostate cancer and later because R had broken her hip.

Dad’s treatment schedule was interrupted a bit (it wouldn’t have taken place on Thanksgiving day in any event); and doctors said “no problem” taking a  few extra days off to drive over to Arizona for Thanksgiving. He and Mother spent a happy and uneventful (health-wise) Thanksgiving weekend in Arizona.

Four Thanksgivings ago R, at 97, was a patient in a rehab center, receiving therapy after broken hip surgery the end of September. She wanted to come for Thanksgiving dinner, but was unsure whether that was doable. Making her wishes known to the rehab staff and discussion with her doctor, generated lessons on how to get in and out of our car without putting any weight on her left leg.

She learned how to do what she needed to do, worked hard in rehab to be able to do it, and practiced transferring from our car to her wheelchair and back with the physical therapist when we came to visit.  We too learned: how to help her transfer from wheelchair to car and back and that the wheelchair could possibly be moved to the dining room table so she wouldn’t need to transfer from it to a dining room chair. The wheelchair, however, was bulky and a straight back chair with wooden arms was her seating arrangement of choice.

Admittedly, my husband and I felt some stress. Transporting a fragile elder with issues, is a responsibility. We were very cautious. We repeated our instructions to each other as we made each move–from car to wheelchair, from wheelchair to arm chair and finally back again to wheelchair to car. We could have paid for an aide from the facility to come with us. But that would have been an indulgence and R valued independence–however slight.

3. Is the home elderly-user-friendly? A comfort-height toilet (or grab bars in the correct bathroom location) and a solid straight back armchair with a firm seat provide needed support for older people with weak muscles and elders who are heavy. (I’ve seen elders stuck in a soft-cushion chair at family gatherings, far from the “action” and unable to move.)

4.  Is it better for them or better for us? Although we knew we were capable, we were fearful (unjustified as it turned out), about transporting R from the rehab center to our home for that Thanksgiving dinner. We truly didn’t consider it better for us.

All the “what if’s” came to mind as we were making that decision. And we had a Plan B, just in case. But we knew R wanted to come. What we didn’t realize was the psychological jumpstart getting out and being with family would give her. And the change of environment added to the pluses. She could see her goal. It motivated her–especially at those times when the rehab was very difficult.

Conclusion: My husband and I lost our previous hesitancy to take R out for a brief ride, when it first was allowed. I realized I could help her transfer from car to wheelchair etc. by myself. The week after Thanksgiving  I asked if she would like to go out for lunch at a quiet place not far from the rehab facility. She was so appreciative. And that made me feel good…So it was better her–and for me too!

Related: Encouraging elders’ help in Thanksgiving day preparations

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: The Importance of Psychological Support from Adult Children

Children with good parents feel a certain confidence knowing they’re supported. We’re talking about that warm, taken-care-of feeling that comes with knowing someone is on our side and truly understands and cares about us. While this also applies to aging parents, it’s the first time I’ve written about the subject.

I realize, at this point in life, feeling she has our support is very important to my m-i-l. Knowing she’s 101, a knee-jerk reaction from people would be: “What do you expect?” What I know is that she has been independent and amazing in almost all aspects of her life, having–and surviving–old age issues much later in life than the vast majority of elderly people. (See Broken Hip Recovery tab above.)

In the last few days of our ended-yesterday visit out west, R mentioned several times how much she “appreciates my support.” My translation: doing a lot of listening; not minimizing her travails; and lifting her spirits by words or deeds.

Words: Specifically Conversations Concerning Parents’ Problems

Unfortunately at her first appointment a year ago, with an ophthalmology specialist for the blood clot which caused much vision loss in one eye, R was told she could lose the vision in her other eye “any time.” Whether or not he used those exact words, who knows? But her mind and memory are quite good. Whatever the words, she has had constant worry–for a year now.

When people live alone (with a diminished social network and plenty of time to think), it’s easy to dwell on problems and become depressed. That’s when my counseling training automatically kicks in–

Words and Listening

Really listening is a skill. We usually hear and respond in ways that seem appropriate and there’s nothing wrong with that.  But really listening can put us in the other person’s head and allows us to show understanding with a simple phrase (e.g. “it must be so hard,” “it sounds very frustrating”)–few words; no advice.

Example: the phone call several days ago. R was not a happy camper. Her vision loss has made daily life hard work. She insists on living in her home with help only 4 hours, once-a-week, from a cleaning woman. She can’t change her decreasing energy or drooping eye-lids (she’s too old for surgery to correct that). Reading is difficult, etc. etc. She’s resourceful and finally found a strong-enough hand-held magnifying glass, but needs the other hand to prop up at least one eye-lid in order to read. She’s tech-averse (can’t use a museum’s accoustiguide); went to a low-vision store and rejected reading machines.

R doesn’t want advice unless she asks for it. She has successfully figured things out for herself all her life. So I listen carefully and process what she’s saying, wondering if going almost blind in the better eye is as predictable as it sounds. Indeed it could be. Her major worry is vision in that eye–going at any moment. After saying something like “I know it’s very scary,” I shared accurate, positive (not PolyAnnaish) thoughts with her:

  • In the last 12 months she hasn’t lost the vision in the other eye (she says it’s getting worse; I just listen).
  • I wondered how many people her age that doctor has seen (she doubts many, if any).
  • I respond he’s probably using her as an example to give hope to those younger. (She laughs and agrees I’m probably right.)
  • I conclude by saying her internist says she’s in excellent health for an old person. Might that serve her vision well? (She names all her exercises, healthy foods and vitamins and repeats that her internist thinks she’s exceptional in the healthy way she lives.) Her spirits lift; she’s focusing on the reasons she’s doing well.

Deeds (unexpected treats lift spirits)

Halloween is almost upon us. I’ve been decorating pumpkins. I’ve learned never to foist anything on R that takes up space or requires work, without asking. So, in the same phone conversation, I next tell R about the pumpkins, saying I have a very small, not heavy, pumpkin I would decorate if she’d like. She was noncommittal…if I wanted to make one, bring it over and if she doesn’t want it I can give it to someone else or she will. As we hang up she says, in a heartfelt way, that she feels better and really appreciates my support.

Bottom line, R loves the pumpkin! We took it to her before leaving town overnight for a 95th birthday celebration. I phoned R when we returned, She greeted me with how much she appreciated my support. Said she placed the pumpkin where she “sees it each time she enters the room.” Also says she thinks her healthy diet may help her better eye, and that the ophthalmologist probably never had a patient as old as she… AND she’s praying that her eye’s vision lasts as long as she.

There are many ways to help aging parents. Really listening–true listening–is one. And isn’t the unexpected deed (pumpkin) like frosting on a cake!

Note: Newsworthy (right sidebar). Links to timely research and information from respected research institutions and prominent others–to help parents age well.

Aging Parents: Halloween Ideas Roundup: Part 2 –8 Things Aging and Elderly Adults Can Look Forward To

kids halloween costume picture

Princesses, witches and pirates are set to rule this Halloween. Credit: Getty.

An active, appropriately-involved grandmother recently said: “Oh! I won’t be able to resist going to my daughter’s and seeing the kids in their costumes before they go trick or treating.” She was looking forward.

We can never be 100% certain when we plan ahead for older people, because stuff happens–usually more for/to them than us. Yet we know giving older people something to look forward to lifts spirits. Below are 8 plan-ahead, look-forward to–ideas…only the party takes real work.

 Halloween fun for Elders

  1. Invite grandparents, older aunts and uncles, and/or any older adults you care about to see your children in their Halloween costumes–either before kids go trick-or-treating or when they come back.
  2. If aging/older friends or relatives are in care facilities, or are basically housebound, take your costumed children for a quick visit–before Halloween if convenient, but afterwards works too. There’s an additional benefit– lifting spirits for every old(er) person in care facilities (those who always sit in the hall in wheel chairs or other chairs) who sees the Halloween-costumed kids walk by.
  3. When grandchildren can safely trick-or-treat with an adult chaperone, invite grandparents to go along (and remain far enough away to be almost invisible?)
  4. When PTAs, recreation departments, elementary schools etc. sponsor Halloween parties, invite at least one aging family member to accompany you, as you transport the kids.
  5. Have a Halloween party at your home. (links below for party ideas). Invite grandparents.
  6. Invite aging parents to come to your home for Halloween to see the trick-or-treaters. (You need’t have children). I remember my parents coming back to visit at Halloween and the excitement following each ring of the doorbell. The high-pitched  “trick or treat” elicited Dad’s compliments about their scary look, great costume etc. They beamed at the compliments as they took their candy. Dad beamed back. Mother, in the background, seemed happy to replenish the candy supply. She too had a big smile on her face as she watched these little kids having such a good time.
  7. Make plans to be at aging parents’ homes during trick-or-treat hours, thus alleviating the fear and apprehension that can accompany a ring of the doorbell on the dark Halloween night. Aging adults can once again enjoy the trick-or-treaters. If few trick-or-treaters come, you have been with your parent(s) and that in itself is a gift (as we know).
  8. Take Older People To See Halloween Displays Details: Click these posts, if you haven’t already seen them.

Probably all older adults went trick-or-treating as kids. How can it not be fun for them to observe youngsters repeating this tradition…….another small aspect of helping parents age well.


Party planning:
Checkout classic Halloween party (last paragraph)

Aging Parents: Little-Care Live Plant Gifts –flowering or not


Dish Garden with Succulents

Click all photos to enlarge

Dish gardens make great gifts–easy upkeep with the right plants.

I began making dish gardens in elementary school, which speaks to how easy creating these small landscapes is…. easy to make, easy to maintain with easy-care plants. And they add enjoyment…fun to watch grow and possibly flower. AND  they add a decorator’s touch, regardless of decorating style. Aren’t they a good gift for older people who appreciate nature, don’t get outdoors much–and even those who do? You can purchase a dish garden, or do-it-yourself.

(and ask questions of sales person)

  • Plants that are smallish
  • Plants that are slow growing (if the goal is reducing work)
  • Plants with different textured leaves
  • Plants with leaves of different colors
  • At least one plant that could flower (it’s a bonus)
  • Plants that grow either indoor or outdoors…not both in same container
  • An attractive container (dish) with a drainage hold and saucer

(Light and Watering Requirements Should be on Plant’s Tag)

  • Watering nonuscculents: Proper watering leads to success or failure.Thus, each plant in the little garden should have the same water requirements. Overwatering causes root rot, that’s why the dish’s drainage hole is important–as is a plate or saucer underneath. Otherwise furniture gets damaged (and equally bad, you will have left an eyesore reminder of your well-intentioned gift.) My favorite “saucers” are free–lids on plastic take-home containers. They’re clear, unobtrusive, come in various shapes and sizes.
  • Watering succulents: Succulents (see top photo), need very little water. A light spray on the top or a little water poured on the rocks doesn’t upset the sandy look and does the job. Succulents store water in their “leaves.” They begin to shrivel when too dry, but rebound when give a bit of water.  monitor a succulent dish garden and add water before a disaster could occur.
  • Light: Plants should also be grouped by their light requirement–full sun, partial sun etc. To flower, plants need light. For example, miniature violets and sinningias need indirect light at the least, but never full sun.

See above for plant selection

The two dish gardens below were entered for competition at the Philadelphia Flower Show. The first container is a bonsai dish with indoor plants; the one below looks like it contains outdoor succulents and is, I believe, made from a composite. (Click to enlarge.)


Pink/green leaf plant is fittonia, I believe. More common is green and white leaf color.

Dish Garden

Succulents and ???

  • Dish gardens can sprout up in unlikely dishes.
  • As long as there’s a drainage hole, you’re good to go.
  • Potting soil for cacti and succulents differs from soil used for growing leafy plants.
  • For Fertilizing:   follow instructions, using 1/2 or 1/4 strength or less.
  • Avoid potting soil with fertilizer or plants will quickly outgrow the dish.

Caring for plants, if not too taxing and fussy, gives elders a responsibility that offers the joy of watching them grow, keeping them healthy and being needed. It’s also fun and life-affirming. Doesn’t this help parents and older adults age well?

Check out Some of my favorite little plants: Sinningia pusilla (tiny tuber).Rob’s Scrumptious (miniature violet). Ficus pumila Quercifolia (tiny ivy). Nephrolepis exalta  Fluffy Ruffles (little fern). Kalanchoe (check out colors)

Related: Thanks to Lori for an additional way of growing plants–the Miracle-Gro Aero Garden.This hydroponic garden seems easy from start to finish–can add interest and fun to an elder’s life.

Helpful sites: –about dish gardens Site for small plants

Red Kalanchoe-Green container

Red Kalanchoe~Green Container

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

Great Halloween Gift Ideas Roundup for Aging, Elderly, and Hosptialized Adults–Part 1: Pumpkins–Decorated, not Carved

Favorite Farm Stand 2014

Favorite Farm Stand 2014

Decorating pumpkin patch pumpkins in an unorthodox way–
Unique and fun gift for aging parents and elders.
Click photos to Enlarge

When I lived near this farm stand I’d take pumpkins home and decorate–not carve–them on the kitchen counter….gifts for elderly friends at Halloween. However when we moved to the City, transporting them became a logistical challenge because cars in the City are basically an expensive nuisance. Thus, our car is in a garage in the suburbs. Last week I took the commuter train to the suburbs, got our car, then purchased the pumpkin, flowers etc. without knowing where I would assemble everything.

Decorating in the car would be a last resort, as there’s no electrical outlet for the glue gun. Decision: this year’s pumpkin–only one–would not require a glue gun, only the skewers to poke the holes. I forgot it last year and ended up using a fondue fork. It works too.

Halloween 2013 Scarecrow Pumplin

2012 Halloween Pumpkin, Skewers, Glue Gun, Scarecrow.    Click to enlarge

2013 Scarecrows

2013 Finished Hallwoween Pumpkins              (with fairly short stems)

This 2014 non-messy project began at the farm stand, where I selected an easily-portable pumpkin with a curved stem that had strings dangling from it. At Trader Joe’s I bought the $3.99 bouquet special, then went in search of some ornaments.

I’ve used small scarecrows in the past, but couldn’t find any this year.  The best I could do was purchase a head band with black feathers and pumpkins quivering on a spring ($2.99). That was a bit of a splurge for me, but what the heck! A dollar store was too far away.

I’ve learned to phone to double-check that it’s still convenient for me to bring a pumpkin to an elderly person–things can easily change as we know. The 96-yearr-old man’s caregiver said to come on over and decorate the pumpkin in the kitchen, which I (we) did.

The finished 2014 whimsey pumpkin above: We inserted an orangish chrysanthemum to look like a tooth was missing in the smile and added the purple mums for cheeks or ears.

Alternative to a fresh pumpkin: purchase ceramic or paper mache pumpkins with open tops or cut the paper mache top off, place container of water (plastic deli kind works well) inside, fill with fall flowers. Chrysanthemums in water last as long as the ones that have their longish stems inserted through the skewered hole into a fresh pumpkin’s liquidy center. The pumpkin above should last about 2 weeks. (Unused flowers are left in a glass of water and can replace any flowers that wilt.)


Days later: I found–and bought– another pumpkin at Trader Joe’s and found scarecrows at Michael’s. Scarecrows are $1.25 on sale. Tomorrow I will phone my 101-year-old m-i-l and tell her I’d like to bring over a small decorated Halloween pumpkin, if she would like. Having control, at 101, has become even more important to her. She has become very  particular about not having anything unnecessary around–she will recycle it to a friend or throw it away. That’s why I’ll ask first.

Related: 2013: Decorating a Gift Pumpkin: Instructions and finished product
               2010: A Halloween Surprise 

The first Decorated Pumpkins 2010

2010 My first Decorated Pumpkins                    Click to enlarge

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

Aging Parents: A Halloween Activity ~ in the City or the Suburbs…..planning ahead…(especially for elderly who don’t get out)

Who doesn’t enjoy Halloween decorations! They’re a treat for all ages and are becoming increasingly widespread. Indoors and out-of-doors these decorations are so much more elaborate than the orange, carved, candle-lit pumpkins–and perhaps a black cat or witch– sitting on the front porches of our childhood. However…..

Are aging parents and older people getting out to see them?
And–How can we make this happen?

Country Farm Stand in Oct.

Country Farm Stand in Oct. Can you see the tractor in back?

Whether in the country or the city, various-shaped, and even white-creamy-colored-pumpkins, along with

Halloween-themed inflatables–plus ghosts and witches–are common sights. Every year it seems more suburban and urban homes and commercial establishments dress up for Halloween. Even New York City townhouses get fancied-up for the occasion–a friendly ghost, a sedate townhouse’s front stoop. City sidewalks may also yield surprises. Isn’t this a perfect time to make plans to take older people out for a great change of scenery?

And what about an evening drive when lighted Halloween displays create a theatrical atmosphere? Whether it’s day or night, how many old and/or somewhat infirmed people rarely go out, spending most of their time indoors–at home or in assisted living or more structured care facilities?  Still others don’t drive–or don’t drive unfamiliar roads or at night.

For older people who are able to get into a car–with or without our help–going for a ride provides countless opportunities for stimulation and lifted spirits. Anticipating the event is an added bonus if we make the date ahead of time.

We arranged an outing last year. It turned out to be a dreary day–yet we had smiles on our faces as each Halloween display came into view. There was anticipation as we turned a corner to a new block. We never knew what to expect, although I did a “dry run” ahead of time several years ago to scope out decorated neighborhoods. They haven’t disappointed. While a drive to the country or suburbs is a change of pace for city dwellers, cities yield their own attractions if we know where to find them. And let’s not forget decorations in store windows and malls.

Any outing that gets older people out, seeing something new, is a win-win: stimulation, companionship, something to think about long after the event itself. Indeed we know major studies confirm that connections with others and stimulation are important factors in aging well.

We may have limited free time and our elders may have limited staying power, in which case a “dry run” could be in order. Whether carefully planned or spontaneous, the benefits of a ride–long or short–are clearly worth the time and effort.

Aging plays so many unexpected tricks on older people. Isn’t is great when we can give them a treat!

Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Click links to timely information and research from respected universities–plus some fun stuff–to help parents age well.

Help Aging Parents: Making Older People Feel Good

Compliments. Saying something nice to people about themselves.

I’d forgotten how much this means to old people until I heard an old person tell me–not once, but three times–about a compliment a “young person” gave her. It brought back memories of my father’s mother.

She was always telling us (perhaps not “always” but it seemed like it to my 10-year-old mind) how “pruddy” someone said she looked. I thought she looked old, not “pruddy” (pretty) and it made no sense. The point is, in telling us about the compliment so many times, I think in her mind she legitimized for us that people said good things about her. And I’m guessing that made her feel good.

Doesn’t a compliment makes us feel good, regardless of age? But when you’re old your connections to others shrink so it stands to reason you get less compliments (or “strokes” as they were called in the ’60’s-70’s). So a compliment can feel especially good to an old/older person.  It confirms people notice them, they’re Continue reading