Hospitalization Tips That Make a Difference: For Aging Parents, Grandparents, Our Children, and Us

     I recently learned that a friend who worked in the health professions needed surgery.  He recently turned 65, is medicare eligible, but elected to remain with his managed care plan. The hospital he selected was one he knew and liked, was near his home, and was approved by his plan.
     Surgery was successful, but was followed by an infection, then other complications. His family insisted he be moved to a larger, more comprehensive hospital for additional treatment. This took a lot of doing–was not easily accomplished.
     After well over a month and several weeks in the larger hospital, he is in rehab for physical therapy, but health issues remain and he’s very weak. There’s conversation about his returning to the comprehensive hospital.

This sobering chain of events calls attention to:

1. a slogan
2. advice, gained from Dr.Susan Love’s (surgeon and prominent breast cancer prevention advocate) hospital experience about the importance of family.
3. information from Jon La Pook, MD (NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia U. Medical Center and Chief Medical Correspondent for CBS News) about how to get optimal hospital care.

1. WHERE YOU’RE TREATED FIRST MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE. Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center’s slogan (goes back to the 1990s if not earlier).

2. The IMPORTANCE OF FAMILY MEMBERS WHILE HOSPITALIZED.  NY Times 2/19/13 Science Section interview, Susan Love’s Illness Gives New Focus to Her Cause. Dr. Love discusses the 4-week ordeal following her bone marrow transplant and the fact that family members “offered round the clock support,” advocated for her during that time “when she wasn’t very articulate,” and the fact that one family member “slept in the hospital every night.”

While the article initially focuses on Dr. Love’s reasons for devoting her efforts to the cause of disease rather than the medicines to treat it, we learn about the importance of family, which translates into good advice for all of us.

Likewise, Marti Weston shares a personal experience as she blogs about the importance of family in her 2/9/13 post  Elder in Hospital. Does a Family Member Need to be There, Too? The bottom line is “yes.”  Marti gives specifics about why and about certain things/actions family members can do/take (which includes sleeping at the hospital) to avert problems.

3. OPTIMAL HOSPITAL CARE. Dr. Jon La Pook’s TV interview on CBS (following  NY-Presbyterian/Columbia U Medical Center’s earning #7 Best Hospital honors in the latest US News Best Hospital’s edition) gives the excellent advice about how to get optimal hospital care these days.

For example, Dr. La Pook stresses the importance of communication between the patient’s regular doctor and the hospital’s doctor or the hospitalist, emphasizing it needs to be “a good hand-off” and likening it to the passing of the baton in a relay. You don’t want the baton dropped.

He opens our eyes to to basic, but critical, things like hand-washing “it could save your life;” tells you what to be on the lookout for; and introduces new terms ie. “electronic healthcare buddy.” Link to this enlightening interview:

This information can benefit all generations, as we try to help parents age well.

Note-New: Check out “Of Current Interest”(right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities about cancer, dementia, Parkinson’s, plus some fun stuff–to help parents age well.

Celebrating Elders’ Birthdays– What They Want; Not What We Want and Why

98th birthday

98th birthday

9 Factors to Consider

If we’re fortunate enough to have very old parents and grandparents who are still relatively healthy, chances are we become involved planning their birthday celebrations.

Sr. Advisor R will be 100 in  September. We are planning her party, again in her home town. There have been various kinds of parties for her over the years–taking into consideration health issues and energy. Indeed many variables that we might not think about become important for elders’ celebrations.


Comfort level
1.  Do they like large (20+) or smaller gatherings?
2.  Do they mind–or like–surprise parties?
Practical considerations
3.  Do they have the energy/stamina for the large party? the smaller? or neither?
4.  Do they wear dentures?*
5.  Can they travel?
6.  How large is the party budget?
7.  Are invites telephoned, emailed, or snail-mailed?
8.  Gifts or not?
9.  What about family members who don’t get along?

The “Whys” 

Many of us, regardless of age, have preferences for small or large parties. Sometimes, especially for milestone birthdays, we think BIG, when small may be better. Yet energy level and health are major factors that can–and should–determine size. For example, Senior Advisor R had experienced pneumonia followed by lesser health issues the winter-spring preceding her 90th birthday. They sapped her strength; she lost considerable weight. Getting back to normal took many months.

Thus she wanted a small dinner party for her 90th birthday in September: 12 family members plus her best friend, at her favorite restaurant. We complied. It was perfect. We followed up with brunch at our home the next morning, as R agreed that the 4 out-of-towners deserved more than a dinner. It felt like a festive weekend on a small scale.

We initially agreed on a large celebration for R’s 95th birthday, but R nixed the idea after we (she and we) compiled a guest list of nearly 100. Instead she wanted to be surrounded by the people who were meaningful in her life (family, her best friend, and certain young neighbors) at a restaurant.

These neighbors know how to help an old person continue to age well. They bring her newspaper to the door each morning; the mail from the mailbox at the street to the door each afternoon; 2 women call ahead each week when they plan to go marketing, inviting her to go with them or have them bring groceries to her. R says she doesn’t know how she could continue to live independently without them. They mean the world to her and, I think, she to them..

The next year one of these dear neighbors–at her home– gave R a 96th birthday luncheon. No present could compete with the genuine love and caring that was evidenced by that birthday luncheon. We took R out to dinner with her niece and nephew the next night. (Only one big outing a day at age 96.)

R’s subsequent birthdays have basically included family members, her one remaining friend and neighbors at a club that has been wonderfully cooperative and attentive. The staff makes R feel very special in just the right way.  The photo above is at her 98th birthday party there.

We will celebrate R’s 100th birthday in September with a smallish birthday party–at the club–inviting 18 family members and possibly one surprise guest. (A surprise we are positive would thrill her.) Because R finds she gets too tired to enjoy herself when she must talk with too many people, she suggested two small parties. In October she’d like a simple, second party–around 18 guests: the neighbors and meaningful others in her life. In R’s case, it’s divide and enjoy.

We realize it’s not about what we want, or we think R would want. Rather it’s about what we know R wants. While she needn’t plan birthday parties any more, she still has definite ideas about what she likes.
*          *          *

Tuesday we focus on birthday party ideas, sharing a sample of past celebrations–some really good, one bad, one….well, you’ll need to decide for yourself.



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

Aging Parents: Family Photos Link Generations

IMG_0162Family Photos Link Generations

Photos connect us– to each other, to our families, to our heritage, to our gene-pool. They remind us of our younger selves. They rekindle the ties and feelings we have for those who’ve gone before us….grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, those we held dear and those we hold dear. Indeed, we may have inherited some of their features, some of their traits. On the other hand, some in the photo album are unnamed. We wonder who they are.

These feelings enveloped me the other day as I began cleaning out my parents’ home of 60+ years. They were accompanied by feelings of frustration as I struggled to recognize people in photos that lacked both name and date. Then it dawned on me:

Invite my cousins and one of their children (total age span about 27 years) to come for lunch, bring family photos, and look over each other’s pictures. We can each help identify unknown persons and–at least in my case because I’m cleaning out–give some of the old family photos to the cousin whose family member is in a particular photo. Fortunately one of my cousin’s daughters is fascinated by genealogy–only hesitates to go on because she fears she won’t surface from her computer for at least 2 weeks.

I phoned her first to test my idea.  She was enthusiastic–(surprise, surprise!) Result: she volunteered to make a salad–the party’s on.

Older cousins, well into their 80’s, sound excited about coming. We know connections are important in helping older people age well; and isn’t looking forward to something  always uplifting? Meanwhile, the younger cousins are coming with energy and enthusiasm.  Is this is a good idea or what??? (We’ll know Tuesday night when I do my next post.)

This coming Tuesday at noon  boomers, elders and those in between on Dad’s side of the family will reconnect. There will be lunch. And we will share pictures and memories from our younger years as we look at and lovingly recall, those who came before us–mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, and grandmothers and grandfathers. They, of course, contributed to who we are today. 

Aging Parents’ After-Christmas Let-Down (you will be taken to updated version)

                            The After-Christmas Let-Down
Holiday Window

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. an iPad) that fosters keeping in touch, contact them through that technology often at the beginning. Older people need the practice (often again and again) 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.

Note: I’m posting a day early so there’s more time to make the phone call before New Year’s Eve.  Happy 2013 everyone–to you and all the older members in your family.

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