Aging Parents: Practice What You Preach

1. “Keep in close contact with elders–aunts, uncles. Make sure they’re not forgotten.”
2. “A phone call is wonderful; it doesn’t have to be a visit.”
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These suggestions to lift elders’ spirits during the holidays, came from a small survey I took several years ago. Twice since I posted them last Saturday, their ability to raise people’s spirits and make them feel good has been proven–once for Sr. Advisor, R; once for the seniors who work on Help! Aging Parents.

The fact that they came as a complete surprise, makes them even more special. The fact that Holiday cards provided the “contact” in one case, allows me to make the leap of faith that #3 should be “An unexpected Holiday card”—and possibly  #4: an unexpected “anything good” should be added.

Shortly after publishing last Saturday’s post, I spoke with Sr. Advisor R. Readers know she’s 101 and still, as she likes to say, “has a good head.” She has also suffered major vision issues in the last year–loss of vision in one eye and compromised vision and a droopy eyelid in the other.

While she is a creative problem solver (that’s the reason she’s a Sr. Advisor) and uses 3 magnifying glasses of different magnifications (which she ordered from catalogs) because reading is part of her life, she’s not a “happy camper” these days. When she phones we’ve learned listening, being supportive–and not offering advice unless asked–is important if we want a nice conversation.

You can imagine my surprise, hearing her spirited conversation. R immediately began by telling me she received two completely unexpected Christmas cards that day, from people she cared about and didn’t realize still cared about her.

One was a Christmas letter (took a long time to read, using the magnifying glasses she said) from a once-very-good-friend’s son. (The good friend died at least 5 years ago). His letter was full of interesting news that gave R new things to think about, but the fact that he was thinking about her was what she focused on.

The second was a Christmas card, with message, from the woman who cleaned my home 4 hours a week during my working years. Widowed at 51, R came to NY to visit twice a year over many decades–Thanksgiving and Mother’s Day. In smidgens of time, they logged a lot of time together. Being remembered and the words in the note on the card really touched R. She literally sounded buoyant..

Then yesterday we got the news that Help! Aging Parents is cited as one of 2014’s “Top 10 Websites for Aging” by the people at Good Learning this clearly boosted the spirits of my Sr. Advisors and myself–in the midst of the last-minute stress produced by the holidays the unexpected does this. (We’re in good company with the American Society on  Aging, Aging and seven others sites, check them out.)

Recapping events for this post is making me feel good in more ways than one. Why? Because when I finished last Saturday’s post, I went back to my Christmas-card-addressing, looking carefully at the list that has been added to and crossed out over the years. I took a second look and found two husbands from my husband’s working years had died, but I knew their widows. Hearing from us would be a surprise–additional cards were addressed, with a short note added. Then I remembered being told my high school PE teacher (who I loved) was in her 90’s and still functioning; so I contacted the friend who told me–another card with a short note was addressed.

Interestingly, practicing what I preached (well, suggested) in last Saturday’s post, made me feel good. So I know it’s a win-win.

Wishing you a MERRY CHRISTMAS and a NEW YEAR that’s a win-win.

Holiday Gifts for Aging Mothers–1 2012 update

Also Click Great Gifts tab above

Fashionable, Appropriate Clothing and Accessories:
7 Excellent Sites 

A never-worn St. John knit hangs in my closet.  Normally a very pricey label, it was so inexpensive (a “buy” you can find in NY). I couldn’t resist getting it for my mother years ago–her size, her color, two piece. But she never wore it.  Why?  At age 83, she tactfully told me that she didn’t wear short sleeves because of flabby arms. Who knew?

Something to think about when selecting clothing: older women’s particular wants and needs, as well as challenges.  Can can they button and unbutton easily? What about hooks and eyes? clasps to necklaces? things that zip, button in back etc. etc.  Do they want to downplay/hide certain parts of their body?

Senior advisor R, 99, still uses catalogs…and always looks well-put-together. Check out her favorite catalogs and their URLs. If you want to entertain your mother, while getting an idea of what she likes, check them out together.  (In counseling we call the latter “a hidden agenda.”)

Appleseeds (800-767-6666) The $79.95 washable, red Cascade Ruffle Pointe knit jacket Cascade Ruffle Ponte Jacketcould be a “must-have” for the holidays. (A woman 65+ reviewed it.)Pair it with black pants and a festive top. Pants, shirts, skirts, sweaters, jackets, coats, pant suits; accessories, handbags, shoes, gifts–you name it, Appleseeds has it. They carry Women’s sizes. Click the Santa’s weekly specials. The “Ruffled Front Boiled Wool” jacket, that comes in various colors, could pull an outfit together nicely in colder climates.

Chico’s (888-855-4986), has online shopping, as well as bricks and mortar stores. Attractive clothing, jewelry and accessories suitable not only for us, but for women of all ages. Check out online: the Mesh Marine cardigan $53+ (hand wash), and Traveller’s Collection Bree cardigan $65+Travelers Collection Bree Cardigan(machine washable) that add a contemporary look and can hide “a multitude of sins” (as they used to say) for older figures. Their ever-changing sales have just changed again, so always check them out along with Today’s Deals.

I visited a Chico’s store recently. I’m told older women especially love their jackets (which also include “cardigan sweaters;” cardigan sweaters are in the sweater category as well) and jewelry. Indeed a well-dressed older woman was trying on a jacket at a bricks and mortar store in Arizona.

Coldwater Creek (1-888-678-5576) emerged from bankruptcy with new ownership, as an online business (no bricks and mortar stores for the time being at least), in November 2015. Many were saddened to see the “Going Out of Business” signs last summer and hopefully will have expectations met with this new business model. While offerings are relatively small as the business gets up and running, they continue to carry all sizes (petite to plus), accessories, a clearance ……. , offer customer service by phone. This link explains the difference between the old and the new (,

Don’t want this to be too long; list will be continued next post.
Happy Shopping!

Help Parents Age Well With a Drive in the Dark–After Christmas

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Christmas decorations make streets look festive, homes look welcoming. Especially at night, they transform the ordinary into something uplifting and magical. In a world of uncertainty and unrest, the colors and twinkling of the holiday lights on homes seem–in a way– protective, signaling all is well within.  And so it was comfortable for me to take a drive around my town last night to view the holiday lights. 

After a wonderful Christmas eve party that included many little ones, representing the 3rd and 4th generations of a 96-year-old and his 87-year-old wife, I decided to extend the festive feeling by taking a detour on the way home to see lighted Christmas decorations on streets I rarely travel.

While the decorations are amateur, compared to the extravaganza we’ve seen in the Phoenix, Arizona area, they showcase the hard work and commitment of families to enhance their homes, yards, and neighborhood–a laudable goal and certainly appreciated.

As I climbed out of my car into the black, frigid night to snap these pictures (wearing non-sensible shoes), I could glimpse party-goers within, hear dogs barking to signal a stranger approaching, and realize some home owners had turned in for the night but left their colored lights glowing warmly in the yard.

Standing outside on the edge of their frozen property, I wondered if anyone realized the pleasure their displays provide. I wondered how many of us drive around to look at the lights; then wondered do we take our spouses and our children to enjoy the lights?  Do we ever think of taking an aging parent, relative, or friend?

I’m sharing some of last night’s pictures here. Perhaps you’ll be inspired as I am–to take a senior out for a drive after dark–before the year ends and the decorations come down.

Many seniors don’t drive at night. They often don’t even get out at night. Here’a an opportunity for a change of everyday scenery that adds interest to their lives, fills the after-Christmas void, and once again contributes to helping parents, grandparents, and those we care about age well.

The Day After Christmas

Saturday, December 26, 2009
The Day After Christmas–also see 2010 update: The After-Christmas Let-Down

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

When it’s something we’ve been dreading, it’s no doubt an emotional relief to have it over. When it’s something we’ve looked forward to, and it meets or exceeds our expectations, we may be filled with happiness and wish it could last. But since it can’t, we can feel sad, or it’s a “let down.”

The day after Christmas suggests such an ending and it’s not uncommon for people who enjoy the festivities to have an emotional response. When aging parents have busy lives the holidays don’t necessarily fill a void, rather they are a welcome addition to an already busy schedule. When parents live alone, however, and don’t have a busy life, the void left when the holidays end can intensify feelings of emptiness and of being alone. And the fact that winter weather sets in and it gets dark earlier doesn’t help.

Can adult children inflate that let down feeling? Yes. First, refer to this past Tuesday’s post and reread the three suggestions. Next, use your 2010 technology/calendar to ensure the three suggestions aren’t forgotten.

I am remembering the advice given to me by a priest interviewed for my divorce book years ago. He talked about the importance of touching base on a regular basis with people we care about when they face challenges or need us in their lives. To this end, he wrote on his calendar at regular intervals–daily, twice weekly, weekly, monthly etc. etc.–“phone so-and-so,” putting their telephone numbers next to their names. He said it was the only way he could be certain of regularly continuing the connection. That advice turned out to be helpful for me at certain times with my counselees and their parents. It’s rarely lack of interest that prevents us from doing something additional on a regular basis. More likely we just get busy and forget.

So once again I guess we need to be thinking about picking up the phone–after we take out our 2010 calendar or whatever technology we use and write in a few names and numbers of our older, living alone friends and possibly even our parents.
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For an additional idea that adds upbeat short-or-long-as-you-want-to-make-it stimulation for older people before the New Year begins click the link above.

It’s the Haa, Haa–py–est Time of the Year

December 2009–first posted. I like to repost at this time each year….as a reminder.

The words and melody from the radio fill my car as I drive to the post office to mail the holiday cards. We have snow, it looks like a winter wonderland; and kids, amid shrieks of laughter and merriment, are sledding down our shared driveway on anything they can find that’s large enough to sit on. Sun is shining, snow balls are flying, and I’m certain school vacation is adding to this happiest of times.
And then my counseling background kicks in and I remember that holidays aren’t always the happiest of times for people. So I decide to check in with a few older people and see how they’re doing. You must remember that I’m a counselor, trained to ask objective questions–not leading questions that will give me the answer I want (or think I want). So let me share my findings.
The consensus seems to be, from my small sample but there’s no disagreement, that this is the haa, haa-py-est time of the year for children who have none of the responsibilities of adulthood, for newly marrieds who are looking forward, and for young couples with children who still believe in Santa. It’s an especially happy time when older family members are geographically near enough to children and grandchildren so that they can gather together to celebrate and talk about shared past experiences. Meanwhile the excitement of the children in the family provides a background of energy and optimism.
“The holidays are a time when our mind drifts back to past Christmases that were happy times. It’s a sentimental time,” recalls one older widow. “It’s a wonderful time when families can get together, yet a lot of people are completely alone. As people get older, they have experienced losses. Especially for those who’ve lost their mates, other people’s happiness can be a reminder of the losses we’ve incurred. We’re just more vulnerable to that kind of thing when we get older.” “Unless there’s a lot of family around and a lot going on, it’s not the happiest time of the year. It’s depressing,” shares a 70-year-old man.
There’s agreement that it takes effort for older people to find this a happy time. “It doesn’t just happen,” says one. “It’s what you make of it when you’re older,” says another. “If you make the effort to be with people it’s good, but it can be exhausting. We may continue to decorate and continue to write notes on the Christmas cards because we want our home to look festive and we like to get letters back after we write the notes. But we need to trim down and trim back so we aren’t too tired to enjoy.”So then I ask the question: How can younger people help? Can they help?

The answers:
1. Keep in close contact with elders–aunts, uncles. Make sure they’re not forgotten.
2. A phone call even; it doesn’t have to be a visit. I had a wonderful phone call from a far-away relative recently. You know older people don’t relate to an email as they do to a phone call.
3. It’s nice to take older people out to something, but take them to something that is rather quiet, that isn’t too taxing an experience.
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OK, everyone. Why not pick up the phone and talk with at least one older person who lives alone or feels isolated. Brighten his or her day. Make these older people feel special, cared about…because they are. Raise their self-esteem. Add interest to their lives. Major studies confirm that connections are one of the most important factors in successful aging. It may not be the Haa, Haa-py-est time of the year for most older people, but we can make it better.