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.

heart-icon

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: https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/201303/the-power-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.

 

 

Elderly love–Desire too

HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAYHAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY

What is it that’s so endearing about seeing an old couple holding hands, walking arm in arm, smiling at each other in that certain way?

Is it what each one of us hopes for when we hit the old age mark?

I remember my birthday party some years ago. It was a small dinner party with close family and friends–a mix of ages from my infant niece to three elders–late 80’s-mid-90’s.

We sat around a large table in a hotel’s small private dining room. When the meal was winding down, I asked a question of the older guests. It was something like: “What would you tell us younger people that we should know, but might not be aware of?”

The oldest guest, my friend’s mother in her 90’s (the lady I took to lunch at a bar for her 100th birthday) shared: “I may be old, but Inside I feel like I did when I was an 18-year-old (pause) with all the same desires too.”

It’s so easy to forget that inside an old body can be a young-feeling heart.

With wishes that we can help aging parents and the elders we care about
find that young spot in their hearts this Valentine’s Day.
From Help! Aging Parents

Aging Parents: Control and Respect–Do We Inadvertently Mess Up at Thanksgiving (and other times)?

                                        You may have received the Thanksgiving forward below–or not…

In any case, I share it. Supposedly it’s from a grandmother. Disregarding its length and the possibility that a non-grandmother created it, it conveys an important message–irreverently highlighting elders’ values–exaggerating basic, irksome things younger people, whether adult children or beloved grandchildren, do. Even if we don’t get caught up in the specifics or the humor, the need for elders to have control and respect comes through loud and clear.

I’ve become even more keenly aware recently. For Senior Advisor R, now 101, life has become hard work. There may be no other 101-year-old in this country who still lives alone in her own home of 65+ years, getting regular help only 4 hours a week from a cleaning person. Admittedly neighbors on both sides and across the street discretely watch out for her 24/7. I’ve written about this previously. They treasure her.

Maintaining control–basically of her well-being now, is her occupation. She wants to do things her way and resents what she considers interference from us or anyone else.The elasticity of her younger years is gone. Yet her appreciation of and concern for others continues and has always endeared people to her.

She is frazzled by anything that disrupts her routine–no deviation unless necessary; no unasked-for gifts (clutter); no surprises or unannounced visits–even from her 2-year-old great niece (her home is not childproof, she values her possessions); or from her son coming unexpectedly to do an errand she requested.

She considers it disrespectful.  She calls it “thoughtless” for people to take it for granted that she’s home so they can just drop in; or they talk too long on the phone, tiring her out because she can’t gracefully end the conversation; or they leave a gift on her doorstep that’s heavy (for her) to lift or requires additional care on her part. (Avoid giving any box filled with styrofoamish “peanuts.”)

Self-esteem. Dignity: so important in aging well. Being respected reinforces self-esteem. With a shrinking network of contacts, as people age, there’s a loss of the positive feedback from others that most of us regularly get often without even realizing it. We do a job well (we know and so does our boss or the people we do it for); we get the compliments; our dog greets us as if we’re the best person in the world.

And of course there’s the need for control, for feeling independent. ‘Nuf said.

Grandma’s Letter

Dear Family,

I’m not dead yet. Thanksgiving is still important to me. If being in my Last Will and Testament is important to you, then you might consider being with me for my favorite holiday.
Dinner is at 2:00. NOT 2:15. NOT 2:05. Two 2:00.
Arrive late and you get what’s left over.
Last year, that moron Marshall fried a turkey in one of those contraptions and practically burned the deck off the house. This year, the only peanut oil used to make the meal will be from the secret scoop of peanut butter I add to the carrot soup.
Jonathan, your last new wife was an idiot. You don’t arrive at someone’s house on Thanksgiving needing to use the oven and the stove. Honest to God, I thought you might have learned after two wives – date them longer and save us all the agony of another divorce.
Now, the house rules are slightly different. This year because I have decided that 47% of you don’t know how to take care of nice things. Paper plates and red Solo cups might be bad for the environment, but I’ll be gone soon and that will be your problem to deal with.
House Rules:
1. The University of Texas no longer plays Texas A&M. The television stays off during the meal.
2. The “no cans for kids” rule still exists. We are using 2 liter bottles because your children still open a third can before finishing the first two. Parents can fill a child’s cup when it is empty. All of the cups have names on them and I’ll be paying close attention to refills.
3. Chloe, last year we were at Trudy’s house and I looked the other way when your Jell-O salad showed up. This year, if Jell-O salad comes in the front door it will go right back out the back door with the garbage. Save yourself some time, honey. You’ve never been a good cook and you shouldn’t bring something that wiggles more than you. Buy something from the bakery.
4. Grandmothers give grandchildren cookies and candy. That is a fact of life. Your children can eat healthy at your home. At my home, they can eat whatever they like as long as they finish it.
5. I cook with bacon and bacon grease. That’s nothing new. Your being a vegetarian doesn’t change the fact that stuffing without bacon is like egg salad without eggs. Even the green bean casserole has a little bacon grease in it. That’s why it tastes so good. Not eating bacon is just not natural. And as far as being healthy… look at me. I’ve outlived almost everyone I know.
6. Salad at Thanksgiving is a waste of space.
7. I do not like cell phones. Leave them in the car.
8. I do not like video cameras. There will be 32 people here. I am sure you can capture lots of memories without the camera pointed at me.
9.Being a mother means you have to actually pay attention to the kids. I have nice things and I don’t put them away just because company is coming over. Mary, watch your kids and I’ll watch my things.
10. Rhonda, a cat that requires a shot twice a day is a cat that has lived too many lives. I think staying home to care for the cat is your way of letting me know that I have lived too many lives too. I can live with that. Can you?
11. Words mean things. I say what I mean. Let me repeat: You don’t need to bring anything means you don’t need to bring anything. And if I did tell you to bring something, bring it in the quantity I said. Really, this doesn’t have to be difficult.
12. Dominos and cards are better than anything that requires a battery or an on/off switch. That was true when you were kids and it’s true now that you have kids.
13. Showing up for Thanksgiving guarantees presents at Christmas. Not showing up guarantees a card that may or may not be signed.
14. In memory of your Grandfather, the back fridge will be filled with beer. Drink until it is gone. I prefer wine anyway. But one from each family needs to be the designated driver.
I really mean all.
Love You,
Grandma

“Many a true word has been spoken in jest”–from an old adage

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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: 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: Are Thank You’s Obsolete?


Wouldn’t you think THANK YOU like I LOVE YOU
would never go out of style?

What happened to “THANK YOU”
….not to mention “THANK YOU” notes

There’s a ubiquitious complaint among aging parents and grandparents, mostly ages 75+, who have sent gifts to younger family members (and others–think weddings). They don’t always receive a thank you.

  • For an older person who has spent time thinking about THE perfect gift–
  • For grandparents who have contacted their adult children to find out what gift their grandchildren would love the most–
  • For every old person whose way of showing love and caring includes time spent picking out the exact, perfect gift, possibly going to the trouble of wrapping it or having it gift wrapped–
  • Plus paying to send or mail those gifts….

…lack of a thank you can cause worry and/or hurtful thoughts (they aren’t appreciated, recipients are too busy).

Good manners were instilled in our elders. People wrote thank you notes for gifts…period. While good manners are much more relaxed these days, wouldn’t we think “Thank You” like “I Love You” should never go out of style? That said, many elders who have sent gifts (as opposed to personally giving them) are left wondering…

Did the gift arrive? Did they address it wrong? Did the store slip up?  Instead of gift-giving bringing joy, there’s doubt, anxiety and additional effort if they feel the need to track the gift.

If the gift was a check and they and don’t hear back, they not only worry if it arrived–but if it hasn’t been cashed when the next bank statement comes, the concern mounts. This age group remembers the old days, before computers, when bank balances were computed by humans, a time when mistakes were sometimes made. These elders may well check their balances to the last penny.

And there’s additonal frustration for those, especially widows (whether on fixed incomes or not), wanting to live within their means. An unbalanced checkbook is unsettling.

On the other hand, when a gift check is cashed in a timely fashion and no thank you is forthcoming, the reminder is one of thoughtlessness, lack of appreciation, not to mention bad manners.

Most elders can’t hop in a car any longer and drive to the mall to find that perfect gift. They may not order gifts online…may not use technology.

And if they don’t use technology, they can’t receive thank you emails. In the US and other countries where going paperless is gaining popularity in many schools and businesses, perhaps it becomes even easier to forget the value of sending a thank you, unless it’s by email or text.

That said, the cell phone is ubiquitious. And the only thing older people love–after being with children and grandchildren and those they care about–is hearing from them. Indeed, a timely phone call with a from-the-heart THANK YOU coming through the earpiece–be it a tiny little voice, or the mature voice of a very appreciative adult–can do wonders to lift the spirits of older people.

Related ideas:
http://smilingmarketressmama.wordpress.com/2014/01/09/last-of-the-holidays-thank-you-ecards/  This mother has taken care of THANK YOU for her young son with this email that includes a short video of her son and the gift.

I hear from a grandmother that her daughter takes a picture of her son with his gift and sends the photo to the gift-giver with a thank you note on the back. She writes THANK YOU and her son, now 5, writes “love” and his name below.

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.

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–

*       *      *

“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”

*   *   *

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.