Aging Parents: “Time Takes All But Memories”

Can the elderly be sustained by memories?

https://i2.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/3a/Sundial_2r.jpg/128px-Sundial_2r.jpg

 I came across a speech excerpted from a 1965 memorial service. A sun-dial inscribed “Time Takes All But Memories” inspired a sermon (in part below) making me wonder: What’s it like for the isolated elderly? Do they have only memories?

“What is true for the dead, is equally true for the living. When there is no one to think of us, no one to care for us–even though we be alive, is it not as though we are dead? To be sure, I am not speaking of mere physical survival, for a man might breathe and eat and pump blood for 969 years like the legendary Methuselah in the Bible–but who wants to live if he has no one who loves him, no one who cares for him, no one who remembers him? Total, perpetual endless loneliness is, I daresay, even worse than death itself.”

Old people must work hard to maintain relationships. We know loneliness is an issue for them. Contemporaries move away; many die; others are incapacitated. There are those who can’t “get out” because they no longer drive and public transportation isn’t easily available. And while pets can fill a void, personality and needs must be carefully and thoughtfully weighed before placing additional responsibility on an elderly person.

So that leaves only memories–and usIDEAS–

If we’re already burdened with responsibilities (caregiving, work, child-rearing), we can only do what we can do. On the other hand, a quick note (snail-mailed), every week if we can manage, translates: someone remembers…someone cares.

A faxed note can carry the same message, can be easily sent more often and can be more time-efficient (although not quite as nice). Inquiring at a nursing home and/or assisted living facility whether a fax will be accepted for someone living there, can offer that possibility. There’s also paw paw mail (click “Blogs and Sites I Like” tab above). And there’s always a phone call, which elders say is so welcome and next best to a visit. It may come down to the amount of time we have.

Indeed,  if we have time, what about outings for those who are able?

2 Examples

First: Two cousins in their 70’s made plans to get their mothers (sisters in their 90’s, living about 2 hours apart in Oregon) together.They hadn’t seen each other in two years. Click “Related” link below.  Next: Since her mother’s death 5 years ago, an energetic daughter has regularly contacted her dad’s friends and invited them to have lunch with her and her dad (now 95).

We were away for his birthday celebration this year. She emailed us immediately after his birthday party that “we were missed,” and included several dates to join them for a future lunch. She says she tries to plan something for her dad (dr.’s appointments count) for most days of the week. Although in a wheelchair, he’s has an active life

Skype also enriches many elderly lives. By the time we’re old there will no doubt be even better technology to keep us connected and thus, help ward off loneliness. In the meantime for today’s elders who fall into the “lonely, isolated” category and don’t use a computer, it seems the old-fashioned ways of showing we care are the best we have–and give elders something to think about–in addition to memories.

RELATED: “Dementia, Mobility-Challenged, 90 year-old Sisters Meet After Two Years for a Summer Outing”

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.

Aging Parents: It’s the Haa, Haa-py-est Time of The Year?

First posted 12/09. A reminder…

Sharing with Santa

 


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

     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. As a counselor, I’m trained to ask objective questions–not leading questions that will give me the answer I want (or think I want). That said, let me share my findings.
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     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 80-year-old 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,” says 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 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 the notes on the Christmas cards because we want our home to look festive an 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 tire to enjoy.”
     So then I ask the question: How can younger people 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. An old person related “I had a wonderful phone call from a far-away relative recently.” (Most old people prefer a phone call to an email.)
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.
*                *           *
Why not pick up the phone and talk with at least one older person who lives alone or feels isolated? We can brighten his or her day We can make older people feel special and cared about…because they are. Add we can 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.

HELP AGING PARENTS: CONNECTIONS, SOCIALIZATION–Are You an Aging-Parent-Includer?

Connections with others are important for aging well.
Research confirms that–time and time again. Can we help make it happen for our parents?

Connections

Two days before Christmas: Photo above taken at a family’s yearly, multi-generational  party, Originally held in people’s homes, 4 generations numbering over 50–including little kids old enough to walk–and a few best high school friends of young married adults–eat, socialize, and catch up on everyone’s doings over the past year–now in a private room at a hotel. The far-away-living adult children of the  90-year-old great-grandparents carry on the tradition in the elders’ home town. They also supply some entertainment by telling stories and leading songs.

I’ve always been impressed with adult children who make the effort to increase and/or maintain  connections for their aging parents. Two more examples immediately come to mind.

The daughter of a man we’ve known for over two decades, recently emailed to ask if my husband and I could join her and her dad for lunch. We’d been invited to his 91st birthday celebration last summer, but couldn’t attend. She remembered that and followed up a month later, emailing us with the lunch invitation.  I notice she seizes every opportunity to plan social engagements for her dad with people he’s known over the years. She knows the more connections with others, the better. He’s in a wheel chair now; his vision is poor; his mind is good. He loves being with old–and young– friends

I write this with admiration for his daughter.. She’s the sibling responsible for his care. She lives closest to him–a good half hour away–with a husband and teenagers. That said, there’s no question she’s in charge, well organized, and on top of things. When someone asks about her dad, she responds “Why don’t you phone him, I’d know he’d love that.” More connections, more outside stimulation. She’s a parent-includer.

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I wrote a January post about the weekly bridge games my friend’s friend arranged for her 90+ year-old, now hearing-challenged mother. She obviously thinks creatively and rotates my friend and others in their age group in to play on a 3-week cycle. My friend says the elderly woman was an excellent player but her hearing deteriorated and many didn’t want to play with her any more. I say the daughter is a “parent-includer.” And my friend, she’s always ready to help out an older person or a friend.

The holiday season approaches…..a time of profound sadness and loneliness for many. On the other hand, opportunities to help parents age well by including them and increasing their connections with others are everywhere–when we stop and think about it.

 

Aging and Alcohol–2: Random Thoughts

IMG_0818A bottle of alcohol may feel/seem like their best friend for a number of living-alone, lonesome older people.  One “little drink” doesn’t suffice, as it did for 1o0-year-old Mrs. Miller (last post), who obviously aged well.

I think about someone I knew professionally, probably in his late 60’s. How to help him was a dilemma and a challenge. On one occasion when I was at work, I received a phone call from the police station in a neighboring village. He was there, charged with DUI. Could I come and pick him up?

Because of my counseling position at an outstanding high school, I assumed he thought I’d add some respectability to the situation. In any event, my principal excused me and I “rescued” him from the police station. He was embarrassed. I chose to be a good counselor and just listen and respond to whatever he wanted to talk about which, as I recall, was that he just “swerved over a double line.”

I’ve forgotten whether he had to pay a fine. He definitely was required to attend a certain number of AA meetings and I believe special group meetings with other DWI and/or DUI offenders for around 3 months before he could drive again. The outcome for him: he continued to drive, was never arrested again, and continued to drink–every few months a binge, during which he’d sometimes phone me with slurred, hard-to-understand words.

If AA couldn’t make a difference, I knew I couldn’t. I haven’t the training. Loneliness was part of his problem. I was certain. But he was estranged from all family so there had to be other “stuff” that only a skilled psychiatrist could unearth; and he chose not to go that route. (Possibly because he was very smart, he rationalized he’d need a therapist much smarter than he.)  And while I truly cared, I knew there was only so much I could do for him.

I could listen objectively, respectfully make suggestions–usually begun with “You probably know this but…” or “I know you’ve already thought of this but to my way of thinking…” and simply try to be a friend. Sometimes that involved bringing him food because when he went on a binge, he not only didn’t eat, but his fresh food would spoil; and he was in no condition to go to the store for staples like bread and milk. Once (that I know of) he was hospitalized.

That’s when I began wondering:  At this stage of his life–
–he’d been hospitalized due to alcoholism, could no doctors help him?
–was the bottle his best friend?
–if he was staying out of trouble and hurt no one but himself is that a bad thing?
–do we make him more miserable by taking away something he want/craves?
–do we simply pray if he continues excessive drinking, no one else will be hurt?
–etc. etc.

Of one thing I’m certain, it’s sad…very sad.

With healthcare costs skyrocketing, government plans to cut those costs, and the expense to society of an aging population’s alcohol-related problems, there must be solutions to helping these elders. This isn’t rocket science–or is it?

Selected sites relating to this post:
http://www.bettyfordcenter.org/treatment/doctors-office/can-loneliness-be-a-cause-of-alcoholism.php
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/joseph-nowinski-phd/alcohol-abuse_b_1392596.html Excellent article.
http://nihseniorhealth.gov/alcoholuse/alcoholandaging/01.html     http://newoldage.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/04/12/the-aging-drinker/
There are 62 comments on “Aging Drinker” Read some in the middle.

http://www.eldercarelink.com/Assisted-Living/loneliness-can-cause-some-elders-to-turn-to-alcohol.htm.

Help! Aging Parents was just nominated again for the “Best Senior Living Blogs by Individuals” category, “Best of the Web” 2013.  It was 1st runner-up in 2012.  I appreciated your votes last year, and would very much appreciate them again this year by clicking http://www.seniorhomes.com/d/help-aging-parents/2013-best-senior-living-awards/ if you’re on Facebook or Google+. Deadline 2/4/13. Thanks so much!

Aging Parents and Loneliness

What makes old people lonely? Were they lonely when they were younger, and if they are our parents were we never aware?

Were they shy?  Were they slow to initiate–did they even try? Did they have friends? Were they loners? Were their personalities such that people didn’t like being with them? Remember–people change, not much.

Many old people are lonely. We just know that, even if we don’t know them.  But if they’re in our family, it’s troubling isn’t it?

For many of us there’s an internal pressure to “make it better” for them. With the demands of life today, however, this isn’t necessarily easy. So do we feel guilty, do we do the best we can and connect whenever we think about it and have some free time, or do we repress this reality and go about our life?

A short article from this summer’s issue of UCLA Medicine (the University of Calif. at Los Angeles Medicine Magazine) caught my attention. While we know loneliness is emotionally awful, their researchers report that people who continually feel lonely may also be at higher risk for cardiovascular disease, cancer, and neurodegeneration. Any of those undesirable conditions are burdensome for aging parents and add additional complications to their children’s lives.

If our aging parents fall into the loneliness category, what can we do? Probably not much of substance unless we:

Post Reminders
     — on our computer calendar, paper calendar, engagement calendar, the refrigerator–making certain they have human contact on a daily basis.  OK. Easier said than done, I know, but it can become 5-10 minutes of a daily routine if we phone or fax.

A fax takes only the time spent to write it, which I think is the beauty of a fax.  A lonesome aging parent has something newsy come into his/her life to read and reread, while a phone call lasts for an unspecified amount of time with good or bad news, but leaves only memories after it ends.

On the other hand, D in her 80’s, who will soon be added as a Senior Advisor to this blog, relates: “One morning recently I made two phone calls to friends and received one from a third, and as I thought about the three calls, I felt buoyed up for the day.  

To assuage the feeling of loneliness, nothing can approach the power of a phone call and the warmth of the human voice, which is multiplied geometrically by a second call -no matter how brief – from the same person or another one.”

A visit is best, a phone call is evidently 2nd best, then comes the fax. Also Paw Paw email (click “Sites and Blogs I Like” tab above) qualifies for non-computer users. Its simple purpose is to bring email into a person’s life.

There’s an old saying–I think it an AT&T ad:  “Reach Out and Touch Someone.”  Daily personal contacts can help dispel loneliness as we aim to help parents age well.

Related: Click link for some specific lonesome-parent strategies

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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.

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.
* * * * *
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.