Aging Parents vs.Vacations Plans–continued from yesterday

 I Need Your Help

These 4 words pull people we’re speaking to into our sphere of concern. They become partners with us as we search for solutions. They feel they need to help.  And thus, they almost always respond by giving all the help necessary to get the problem solved. Suffice to say, when we think we’re going to a possible parent’s deathbed, we need help.

And so, in the wee hours of the Italian morning, the airline personnel seemed to go out of their way to get me to my destination in the shortest time possible.

Fortunately I had a Plan A–someone to meet me at the airport should I ever need to make the quick trip back. That part of the plan went like clockwork, which is why it’s one of the “necessities” in yesterday’s post. Many years ago I spoke with my brother and a very good friend about their flexibility should I need to fly back on the spur of the moment. My brother was there, at the ready.

When we got to the house our frail, semi-asleep mother could barely keep her eyes open, and was in no condition to appreciate the new Italian sweater I brought–or anything for that matter. But I knew she was glad I was there.

With a list of Mother’s doctors and an updated list of her medications always in my wallet, (another necessity as many of us know), I was ready to communicate intelligently with her doctors. Turned out medication– too much and some unnecessary–caused the problem. So simple, yet so emotionally and physically draining for everyone involved.

What did I learn? Planning ahead for emergency situations is just plain sensible. When stress is high it’s comforting to know we don’t have to worry about certain things and we do have some control over others. When coming a distance, having someone who cares and shares our concerns there to meet us is welcoming and supportive. And keeping essential information at hand makes communication with professionals more effective and efficient. Last but not least, when the unexpected happens and we can’t do it alone, I NEED YOUR HELP are important words to remember.

I also learned we have good friends who we had to suddenly abandon in Italy. They survived and so has our friendship.

Very Sick Aging Parents–Mother’s Day, Any Day

Helping parents age well, includes helping them until the very end–you’ve heard me say that before. Tomorrow is Mother’s Day. Thoughts go to mothers present and those who are gone. We make memories and we remember.

We–or at least I–have treasured memories of gestures very near the end of both of my parents’ lives. I want to share them today, hoping they continue to lift the spirits of very sick aging parents–especially mothers and grandmothers at this time in May.

These gestures are not things per se, but they are gifts. They involve pleasures for the senses–smell, vision, and hearing.

My brother and I both remember a trip through Southern California when we were young and hearing Mother tell us an orange grove was coming up. We couldn’t see any orange grove and were puzzled. You see, Mother had an acute sense of smell and could smell the blossoms well before the grove became visible. We were amazed.

Not surprisingly Mother loved perfume, bath powder, the fragrance of flowers… In one of the episodes many older parents experience that cause their children to know life is getting fragile, mother, at 86, was at home in bed and very weak. I wanted to do something to lift her spirits.

With no time to go out and buy something, I remembered I had a wonderfully-scented little hand lotion that came from the Williamsburg Inn. I’d saved it, used it sparingly and brought it to her bedside, unscrewing the top. She could smell the aroma as I unscrewed the top. Before I got it near her nose, she said it smelled lovely, then held the bottle near her nose. A little gesture, bringing pleasure at a difficult point in her journey. She made it through the first of several recoveries–most of us have experienced them–until we don’t.

The “we don’t” experience came several years later, an emergency flight out west on a plane that took off and arrived late. I no doubt tested the speed limits racing to hospital. Yet in my haste to leave NY, I kept my wits about me long enough to carefully wrap a super tiny orchid plant that had 3 teensy blooms; I put it in plastic cup to take on the plane and show her.

Mother seemed alert and comfortable as she looked at, gently held, and commented about now special it was to see this tiny plant in bloom. She went into a coma shortly thereafter. Sad, yes; but she had a few moments of real pleasure that weren’t just related to my being there.

They say hearing is the last to go. While my brother was living with Dad who was in his 90’s, we also had male caregivers. I had been in Portland with Dad 10 days before his kidney failure seemed to rapidly fail. Another flight west. Returning I heard dreary, dirge-like music coming from the radio next to his bed.

His favorite song was “Mack the Knife,” from the ’50s. Thankfully Portland has a lot of funky shops on 23rd and sure enough, in a store with old records etc. I found “Mack the Knife” and brought it back to play–over and over. In retrospect–since Dad died that night–I’m wondering if that music was a little over-the-top based on the situation. But it was his favorite song, and at the time I was happy that he could hear it at the end of his life.

I rarely write about personal experiences with my parents. And I’ll be the first to admit these gestures may not have lifted their spirits or helped them forget the immediate situation for a time and experience something they liked. But I thought they did. And I share them in an effort to help parents age as well as possible, until the very end.

Changing often: “Of Current Interest” (right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities, plus some fun stuff–to help parents age well.

3/26/14 Help! Aging Parents was just nominated again for the Best Senior Living Awards 2014, “Best Blogs by Individuals” category. It was a finalist in 2013. I appreciated your votes last year and would very much appreciate them again this year by clicking if you’re on Facebook. Deadline 4/28/14 Thanks so much!

Old Technology, Unique Advantages– for Aging Parents and Football Recruiting

Unexpected help. Big advantage to aging parents and college football: the Fax machine!

The Wall Street Journal reports in a short front-page article “In College Football Recruiting, The Star Player Is the Fax Machine” (2/2/11).  Readers learn the first Wednesday in February is “signing day,” the date when high school football recruits can officially finalize their college choice with a signed letter.  To expedite the process the “often ignored” fax machine becomes the focus of anxious coaches as the signed letters roll in.

“I’ve never seen a bunch of grown men so worried about a fax machine, said the University of South Carolina’s recruiting coordinator,” (according to the WSJ).

Of course! Fax machines are more affordable and easier to use than the newer technology that scans and sends, so “everyone” has access to them. The fax machine can be “the star” for non-computer-using aging parents too.  Instantaneous written communication can help parents age well, and the fax’s simple technology is often overlooked in this regard.

How is it helpful?

1.  Health Issues: We–or “with-it” older parents– can fax the doctor’s office to inform of a health issue, asking for a quick fax or phone call back that day when a question needs answering (ie. New medication is causing nausea and dizziness. What to do?)
2.  “Heads up” for doctors:  Within 24 hours of an appointment, fax with specifics of reasons dad is coming in. Saves some precious time at the appointment.
3.  Clarifying problem mail: At times parents (indeed all of us) have confusing bills or written notices.  Once faxed to adult children, they can usually help untangle things to the point where parents can take care of the problem themselves with a fax or phone call to the sender of the bills or notices. If not, the problem is not a surprise and children are “ahead of the game” when they need to intervene.
4.  Simply staying in touch.  We know the more connections older people have with others, the better.  So why not a quick fax?  A living-alone, computer-less parent can read and reread it–and even fax back.

You’ll no doubt think of other uses for that old fax machine.  Or perhaps you’ll buy an inexpensive new one.  As we try to help older people age well, maintain independence and confidence, isn’t it important that we try not to do for aging parents what they can do for themselves –even if we can do it faster and easier?  The fax is another tool–for them and for us.

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.

The Best Valentine’s Day Gift

I appreciate YOU! xxooWant to know one of the best possible Valentine’s Day gifts you can give an aging parent–especially one who is lacking confidence, feeling beaten down, or is having a hard time? A sincere compliment…spoken–or why not written on a Valentine?

Older people and the elderly, in the three groups just mentioned, get relatively few compliments when compared with younger people.  And isn’t making people feel good what Valentine’s Day is all about?

Remember the Valentines with our names on them that were pulled out of the red decorated box in our grade/elementary school classrooms on February 14th? Of course the most popular kids got the most Valentines, but–possibly owing to a sensitive teacher–everyone in the class got at least one pretty Valentine with a nice message.

I remember my 80-something-year-old grandmother would tell us–sometimes several times–about compliments she had received.  And why not?  It made her feel good, did something for her self-esteem and we kids would usually chime in in a way that confirmed the compliment and made her feel even better.

Yesterday a lovely and sensitive friend, Carol, who I’ve known since college, sent me a note. In it she enclosed a note that my husband’s mother (senior advisor, R) had recently written her from the rehab facility, thanking Carol for her Christmas card and wishes for a speedy recovery from her broken hip (described in my January posts).

I phoned R, to read her Carol’s note and the complimentary and fitting adjectives she used when writing about R. While R is truly an amazing woman (all my contemporaries say she’s a role model), who gets many compliments at 97, I knew she was pleased when I read Carol’s note over the phone.  And then she said, “And Carol sent me a Valentine….” and I could hear how unexpected and pleased it made her feel.

Almost all the really old (90+) people I sent Valentine’s to over the past decade have died–the last one being Alberta, the wife of the WWII veteran (mentioned in my June posts about veteran’s benefits), who died in her sleep last week.  Edie–at 100–remains and I will e-mail her Valentine to her daughter’s e-mail (she now lives with her daughter)  in Tennessee.

Sincere, not contrived, compliments make us all feel good.  But the unexpected ones written on a Valentine must make aging parents and the elderly feel especially good. Another brighten-the-spirits idea– as we strive to help parents age well.

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.

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.

Aging Parents:Technology Gifts for Non-Tech-Savvy Seniors–2011 update


Living far from my parents, I thought gifting Dad with a computer–just like mine so I could help him if he had problems–was a great idea on many levels–including our staying in touch.  Dad had a logical mind and could take apart and fix anything. Therefore I deduced, he would find using a computer relatively easy.  Wrong!

While his hands were steady at 85 and a mouse was no problem, he seemed eager to try but there was no natural instinct (as there is with today’s children.) He was fine when I was sitting next to him; but when I left he couldn’t do it. I’m an educator as well as a counselor and know how to effectively teach.  But I failed.  That said–

6 Gift Ideas for Non-Tech-Savvy Seniors (updated 11/2011)

1.  A computer? Nancy M., a computer educator who successfully taught octogenarians, among others, for over a decade says: “If people are mentally sound and have the dexterity, they can successfully use a computer.”

To start out right, she advises, find a teacher or someone who understands how people learn.  An older person should be taught at home on his/her own computer.  Arranging the computer desktop so that only needed icons are there is a must…reduces confusion, she says. She also makes a folder for the desktop, containing an individual file with simple instructions for each procedure. Instructions are there if someone forgets. (Knowing the the last 2 suggestions when helping Dad would, I think, have given him the confidence he lacked when I wasn’t there.)

2.  PawPaw easy e-mail for nontech seniors and grandparents. The NY Times New Old Age blog had a post about it in the spring of 2010. There’s a 10-day free trial period.

3.  Presto Printing Mailbox E-mail comes to the recipient as a printed-out letter; photos can also be sent. One-way communication from you to noncomputer users. There’s a monthly fee.

4.  Fax: Most aging parents are comfortable with this old technology. Its original purpose was to transmit letters and documents. Excellent for: making copies; communication to/from doctors’ offices; obtaining copies of records or lost bills; enlisting your help with confusing letters or bills. When mother was recovering from her stroke, it gave her incentive to exercise her hand and fingers by writing me–then faxing (or have Dad fax) it to me. Short notes grew into letters–good, meaningful fine motor practice.

5.  An iPad: a touch screen is easier than a mouse or keyboard for many older people. Marti Weston provides excellent information as she shares her experience with the iPad she bought for her dad.

As readers know, major studies confirm social connectedness is one of the three most important factors in successful aging. The above gifts support connections with others who have differing abilities where tech is concerned.

While the last gift doesn’t promote social connectedness, it does promote pleasure….

6.  The iPod Shuffle— “tailor-made for seniors,” according to Phil Moeller’s 2010 article “Best Holiday gifts for Seniors” in US News&World Report.” Once it’s set up, to operate it all one has to do is click-on and click-off. Someone else who is already familiar with iTunes needs to learn what their favorite music is, obtain it, set up the playlist, and load it. If the senior knows how to operate a TV remote, they’ll be able to handle this single-button operation.”

With hopes one of the above gifts will be an enriching, meaningful addition to a non-tech savy-senior’s life.

Changing weekly: “Of Current Interest” (right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities, plus some fun stuff–to help parents age well.
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3/26/14 Help! Aging Parents was just nominated again for the Best Senior Living Awards 2014, “Best Blogs by Individuals” category. It was a finalist in 2013. I appreciated your votes last year and would very much appreciate them again this year by clicking if you’re on Facebook. Deadline 4/28/14 Thanks so much!



Aging Parents-Holiday Gifts: When “No Big Deal” Means a Great Deal (updated 2012)

We know the holidays can be a difficult time for many.  Yet there’s an opportunity to bring a sliver of  joy to them as we try to help parents and grandparents and older people age well.
What may be a little thing to us–(making a nursing home basket like those featured on my blog last week) can surprise with its impact…..
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Dear Ladies,
My nice little plant is doing very nicely and is happy.  The Christmas tray and notepaper plus pens are a wonderful gift. We are all very appreciative of all the goodies you sent to us. You make our holidays much more exciting. We are old and sick, not dead. I hope you all know that your thoughtfulness is appreciated.

My Christmas basket from last year still decorates my room.
Thank you and God Bless.
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While no more important than a gnat’s eyelash when compared with the challenges of the older people in nursing homes, normal age-related changes affect many people’s eyesight as well as strength as they age.  For them two of my most favorite, most helpful small gifts.

Click to Enlarge

1.  A well-designed pocket magnifying glass by Great Point–LED light and 3x magnification with a simple pull. (It also comes in a low vision model called “Low Vision Amber Contrast.”) It was carried by Staples, The Container Store, and Office Max. This year it’s advertised at Barnes and Noble. Just enter it in the search box. I have the red one pictured at right. 
The Great Point website gives more details along with reviews. 

2.  The best jar opener I’ve ever used, no matter the size of the screw-top–and it’s FREE: a wide rubber band (found on produce in grocery stores or produce markets).  Note how it grips the cap on the jar/bottle.  Older people’s grips weaken, making twisting off tops more difficult.  Rubber band to the rescue. Just twist and turn.  PS– it takes up no room.
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The most valued gifts needn’t be large or expensive, we know that. Indeed it’s the little things that often mean the most. And both of these gifts–as well as the baskets for those in nursing homes–enhance older people’s existence. Doesn’t that contribute to their aging well?

Changing weekly: “Of Current Interest”(right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities, plus some free and some fun stuff–to help parents age well.