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.

Aging Parents: Easter and Passover Treats–a Very Short Outing

Happy EasterHolidays provide endless opportunities to help parents age well. Taking elders out for a change of scenery is one–especially for those who are basically housebound, mobility challenged, or don’t venture forth except for essentials like doctors’ appointments. It’s uplifting, muscles are exercised, and it can be exciting–like those field trips we went on in grade school.

First, simply being with others–namely us–is special, even for grumpy and depressed elders who don’t readily admit it. Second, outings needn’t be a big deal. (The biggest deal may be helping elders get in and out of the car.) But the outing is a big deal for them.

Ahead of time, while on errands, be on the lookout for colorful/fun displays. Check out  Passoverdisplays at markets, florists, and specialty stores. While upscale stores aren’t necessary destinations, these stores no doubt put more money into displays. Take note of the ones that deserve a return visit.

Bakeries offer endless possibilities for Passover and Easter. Treats for the eyes and the taste buds. What’s more beautiful or delicious than colorful macaroons? No doubt French bakeries everywhere have tried to replicate LaDuree’s beauties.

IMG_2976And who doesn’t love tasty little gifts! At 100, Sr. Advisor R prefers small. Several small cupcakes are perfect for her.

Cupcakes on a stick are different andCupcakes on Sticks certainly pretty. Men–at least those I know–prefer the old fashion size. Bigger is better. Note the two sizes above. Of course all cupcakes are not pastel. And some have additional decorations–bunnies etc.


While simply looking into the bakery cases delights the eye, what’s better than eating some of these sweets? And when shopping carts are available for less-confident walking older people, we hit a home run in our efforts to help parents age well: stability when walking; feeling normal (others use shopping carts); confidence to explore; exercise…and the sweets.


Related: Aging Parents: Ideas/Thoughts for Passover and Easter

Photos: AJ’s, CVS, Safeway
NYC 2013 Ralph Lauren window
Click to enlarge


Easter Window



Click to Enlarge


NYC Sidewalk Display

NYC Sidewalk Display

Halloween is one of those festive holidays. Decorations abound–displays in store windows; on suburban lawns; in New York City’s postage-stamp-size yards, even on the sidewalks of NY outside of two restaurants I passed today.

When our parents are young-old, chronologically or psychologically, they’re usually out and about interacting with others, with plenty of exposure to the black cats, ghosts, witches, pumpkins etc.–at grocery stores and super markets, gas stations and malls–and, of course, bakeries and candy stores.

I remember my parents coming back to visit in late October one year. They were mobile and could drive. They were in their ’70’s. Halloween night stands out, with the excitement that each ring of the doorbell created for these active seniors. With that in mind, I share ideas for involving aging parents in the Halloween fun.

 Invite aging parents to your home to marvel at
the trick-or-treaters’ costumes.

Dad loved answering the door bell’s ring–then seeing the little kids in costume. Their high pitched’ “trick or treat” elicited his 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 excited little kids having such a good time.

It was then I realized what a fun night Halloween could be for older parents at their adult childrens’ homes. From watching the grandchildren get made-up and into costume, to answering the front door and dispensing candy (we had healthier treats in later years), it was pure fun–double fun when the kids come home with their loot to be examined by all.

 Celebrate Halloween with parents at their home

Halloween can make old people living alone, and those who don’t like to go out, apprehensive about the tricks and answering the doorbell. Can an adult child arrange to be at his or her  parents’ home during the trick or treat hours? I know my parents felt stress when the doorbell rang late at night. Older age=feelings of vulnerability…..but we can lessen that on Halloween, making it possible for the old folks to enjoy the kids and costumes while we are at their home (and have possibly provided the treats). And if few children ring the bell, you have been with your parent(s) and that in itself is a gift (as we know).

Take old/older people out for a ride to view the decorations

I wrote 2 posts on short drives with elders– on Halloween in suburbia–viewing the home decorations and lawn displays. A dry run to preview the most festive streets and homes is almost a must.  Seeing the lit displays at night is more dramatic.

Arrange for young children in costume to visit
relatives and friends in care facilities

My brother is probably the oldest father in the PTA. Until last year he loved joining his daughter as she and her friends went trick-or-treating in costume. When she told him last Halloween that she was going to a party with her girlfriends, he said he felt bad not being part of these middle schoolers’ experience any more. Can we take our children, in costume, to brighten up the lives of people where “trick or treat” no longer happens?

Take a pumpkin to the care facility

An option to the quick decorated pumpkin as a gift for someone–whether living in a care facility or not–is the hollowed-out pumpkin. Fill small jar with water and use as a vase inside empty pumpkin. Just add some chrysanthemums. They’ll think you came from the florist. And it will brighten up any room.

Holidays provide opportunities we can take advantage of– to jump-start aging parents and add some joy to their lives.

Related: Gifting Easily-decorated Halloween Pumpkins With Flowers and Whimsey Lifts Spirits of Aging Parents and Care-Center Elders 

                Halloween Treats (no tricks) for Aging Parents, Grandparents–Us Too! Includes going for rides to see displays and decorations–city and suburban
Halloween Front Yard

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

Aging Parents and Spring’s Little Things That Can Mean a Lot–2013 update

The first day of Spring, March 20th, the vernal equinox–
Vernal Equinox

 Eight Ideas For Spring and Aging Parents

1.  Ask older people who live in one of the 47 states that go on Daylight Savings Time if they’d like help checking that all clocks that should have been set ahead indeed were; offer to set them if appropriate–especially digital clocks and clocks that require ladders to reach the mechanisms (eg. a clock up on a wall in an old kitchen).

Red Kalanchoe, green container, ivy2.  In states with  bad winters, spring brings thoughts of gardening, presenting opportunities for thoughtful inexpensive gifts: a long-lasting, low maintenance flowering indoor/outdoor plant (eg. kalanchoe at left for a touch of spring; or a flowering, easy-care indoor plant that blooms year round, such as Oxallis (Lucky Shamrock) below, available at Trader Joe’s and no doubt everywhere because of  St.Patrick’s Day.

3. In states with warmer climates, seniors who still garden will no doubt appreciate a new pair of good gardening gloves and perhaps knee pads. Could they use help cleaning up the yard or flower beds (send a capable grandchild to help)? Aging joints and bones make gardening more difficult as one ages Aren’t good gloves, knee pads, and doing something together with children and grandchildren great, thoughtful gifts?

4.  Aging parents who don’t get out much should enjoy the entertainment that a bird feeder (using bird or thistle seeds) brings,  if there’s a place to install or hang it near a window. Bird watching is addictive–as long as someone can refill the feeder. (In warmer weather, when nature provides seeds, neglecting to fill a bird feeder is less crucial than in winter; yet a full feeder insures the birds will be at window level for bird watching.)

5.  More sun and warmer days make getting out easier.  The Philadelphia Flower Show (link to short video of the 2013 highlight–Beatles et. al British– and to the “teaser video” for 2014’s Flower Show “Articulture.” Philadelphia’s Flower Show begins the first weekend in March and ends Sunday of the second weekend. A thought for next year perhaps. New York Botanical Garden’s 2013 Orchid Show continues through April 22nd. There’s a parking lot for handicap-designated cars. The Conservatory is a bit of a walk, but on a nice day wheel chairs make access easy.

6. Flower shows seem to be very popular with older people (many older men and women at the Orchid Show and Philadelphia Flower Show). Happily regional events abound. Examples: (N.C); (in San Mateo, Calif.); (This issue lists spring shows in New England. Although a year old, it’s the most current and has phone numbers to double-check this year’s dates)
Also check local papers for big events as well as the small garden clubs’ flower shows.

7. Sports fans think “baseball” in Spring (but of course there are other sports). A game–be it major or minor league or grandchildrens’ games–is a fun outing in nice weather.  Busy moms and dads often get to the last innings of a baseball game, even if they can’t make the beginning.  This may be a perfect time-frame for aging parents who tire easily.

8.  Unusual entertainment: if you read this blog on March 20th, you know it’s the vernal equinox. At a certain point day and night are equal in length. The thought is that due to gravity forces a raw egg can stand straight up! There’s an “expert” who says you can stand a raw egg up any day of the year– I failed the “any day of the year attempt.”  If you want to try and entertain an aging parent or school-age children, this video might help!

Here’s 3/20/11’s s success with the egg
Vernal Equinox

Happy Spring

Note: Click photos to enlarge

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Lifting The After-Christmas Let-Down– 6 Suggestions (updated 2012)

Understanding and Lifting Aging Parents’
After-Christmas Let-Down

What happens after an event takes place that we’ve been anticipating–hearing about well in advance? We are left with the emotional residue–wonderful or not so wonderful, depending. No matter the event, it happens (present tense). Then it’s over. Ended. Done.

The day (and week) after Christmas.  The media’s holiday focus on family togetherness, generating warm fuzzy feelings and a celebratory spirit aimed at making people feel good, ends. The media then calls attention to the past, generating pleasant or unpleasant memories; we are encouraged to improve ourselves by making New Year’s resolutions. Isn’t it easy to see how the end of the holidays can intensify feelings of emptiness and of loneliness in seniors living alone? And the fact that it’s winter, and it’s colder, and it gets dark earlier doesn’t help.

Can adult children elevate that let down feeling? “Yes,” according to our senior advisors, who offer 4 suggestions (I’ve added a 5th and 6th):

  • “Stay in close contact with elders–aunts, uncles. Make sure they’re not forgotten or feeling abandoned.”
  • Make a phone call; it doesn’t need to be a visit. I had a wonderful phone call from a far-away living relative recently. You know, older people prefer phone calls instead of emails.”
  • “Take older people out to something, but take them to something that is rather quiet, that isn’t too taxing an experience.” 
  •  “Make a plan for the future so there’s something to look forward to.” Sr. Advisor, R, calls that “a carrot,” and says it keeps her going.
  • When old people receive new technology (eg. iPad/notebook) that fosters keeping in touch, contact them often at the beginning through that technology. Older people need the practice in order to feel comfortable with new technology. Also you will quickly discover if they need more help. 

I remember the advice given me by a priest I interviewed for my divorce book years ago. He emphasized the importance of touching base on a regular basis with people we care about– whether or not they are facing challenges or need us in their lives.

To this end, he wrote on his calendar at regular intervals “phone so-and-so,” putting in names and telephone numbers. He said it was the only way he could be certain of regularly continuing the connections.

It’s rarely lack of caring that prevents us from doing something additional on a regular basis. More likely we just get busy and forget. So…I guess we need to take out our new calendars or whatever technology we use; put in a few names and numbers of our older, living-alone friends and family; then make at least one phone call before New Year’s Eve……at which time I’ll return with my last post for 2012.

Related articles

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6 Easy Outings for Mobility-Challenged Aging Parents and Others

Mobility-challenged elders often remain confined to their homes, except for periodic trips to doctors

Do we instinctively visit aging parents who are mobility-challenged….as opposed to taking them out? I’m guessing it’s easier to visit and bring goodies or grandchildren than to round up older people’s paraphernalia and navigate putting it–and helping them–into a car for a short outing.

On the other hand, early in the life cycle, we drag buggies, strollers, and additional paraphernalia– making certain efforts

Mom, toddler, stroller and “stuff” navigating the NY subway…not easy!

for infants and toddlers that many of us neglect making for our parents in their later years.

We give these littles ones, pushed in their buggies and strollers, the stimulation of connecting to the outside world. They’re breathing fresh air, eyes following things of interest. On the other hand, don’t elders often look at the outside world through a window or the TV screen?

6 ideas for short outings that get aging parents out of the house

1.  Fall foliage: Go for a short drive and enjoy the splendor when it’s beautiful in your area. Leaf-peeping and people watching from a car does it!

2.  Halloween: Driving through neighborhoods showcases
not only pumpkins–but ghosts, witches, technological displays and  some surprises. These rides can be repeated many times exploring holiday decorations and lights in different blocks and neighborhoods …repeated again during the Christmas season.

3.  A movie, in a movie theater: perfect on a dark, cold, dreary day. Yes, Netflix etc. can be enjoyed in the comfort of one’s home; but that doesn’t offer the people-watching or the smell of freshly popped popcorn. (Check whether theaters have space allocated for wheelchairs.)

4.  A ride to the mall: ideal for people-watching, especially on a bad-weather day. It’s dry and warm inside, with options for eating–a nutritious–or not so nutritious–meal or snack….and shopping.

5.  A drive to a practical destination: for example the grocery store….an opportunity to make certain aging parents have needed supplies. Grocery shopping is a normal part of life and the heavy shopping cart provides stability and exercise for those who can walk.  Some larger stores have mechanized transport “vehicles” for cruising the aisles. Looking at products and people-watching is part of the fun for aging parents.

6.  Involving an aging parent in an act of daily living: (your ADL) that involves chauffering–picking up children/grandchildren from school or from an after-school activity.  Spirited youngsters, getting into the car after activities, are uplifting (most of the time).

Getting out of the house. Connecting to the outside world. Stimulation. Some exercise. A change of scenery helps aging parents and those who are mobility challenged feel they are participants in life–not merely observers.
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Note: The physical effort expended to get in and out of a car–if done correctly–is probably good for aging parents.  As always, when in doubt, check with your parent’s physician.

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.


Entertaining Aging Parents: Destination Outings and Short Drives

  WHERE?  A drive of an hour (more or less) offers a change of scenery–a beautiful view from any coast, lake, or river, plus a perfect setting for lunch (or picnic if doable) with aging parents. (Remember the water and sunscreen.)

Touristy or not natural attractions take people out of themselves, into what’s real. Clearly a change for aging parents who don’t drive much–or at all.

For example, I think of Multnomah Falls (Columbia River Highway out of Portland, Oregon), which Sr. Advisor, R, visited with us 2 summers ago, when she was 95. Loved the drive along the river, the falls is spectacular, and the restaurant lovely (check to see if reservations are advised)…or take a picnic.

Last weekend, for example, we were in Massachusetts–the Stockbridge, Lenox, Williamstown, Bennington area–all within a short driving distance. Lots of art, music, plus theater and dance. (Such options may be near you.)

We attended two Tanglewood performances–the Boston Symphony at night; the Boston Pops on Sunday afternoon. These kinds of concerts attract older people–lots of gray hair and canes and a few bus tours at night; loads of walkers, wheelchairs, canes as well as an uncountable number of buses, clearly marked “Senior Tours” for the daytime Boston Pops.

It seems loads of aging parents and grandparents enjoy summer music outings; so many take day bus tours.  An older woman in front of me proudly told me she had driven herself to the Sunday concert. She lived close and was soon joined by the 40-something (thoughtful) neighbors, who often give her a ticket.

Culture abounds: The Clark museum (Williamstown, Mass. photo above plus link to slideshow)– world-class paintings, user-friendly for older people (handicap accessible, wheelchairs, elevators, benches, excellent cafe). The  Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass. and the Bennington Museum in Vermont with its Grandma Moses collection, are gems. The latter should be uplifting. Grandma Moses was still painting at 100.

When living near parents, driving them to small towns they used to frequent but don’t drive to any more, is a welcome outing…sometimes perhaps they can bring a friend. I know Sr. Advisor, R, has a friend whose daughter often includes R in short outings. She has a wonderful time–it means so much to her…and she usually treats them to lunch.

Zoos, local museums, a drive around the old neighborhood (past their old school if it’s still standing), a picnic in a park, an unexpected trip to the mall–the options are only limited by our imagination and, I guess, finances. A destination outing or a simple drive with lunch or a midday meal helps parents age well–gives older people a lift–something to think and talk about. And we too can enjoy that.

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