Flu shots important for aging parents, yourself

 

            “I never get the “flu”. I often hear that from patients, colleagues and friends. After awhile the public seems to ignore news about the “flu”. When reports first came out of Mexico about the “swine flu” in 2012 (more accurately called H1N1) and the number of cases mounted and the World Health Organization issued reports about the potential for a world-wide outbreak (pandemic), the media issued reports every day which caused a great deal of concern in the US and Canada.

            However, as it became clear that for most people who contracted H1N1 infections, the cases were mild, there seemed to be a sense of boredom on the part of the public about the risks entailed in this “flu” outbreak. The excessive media focus on the outbreak may have done an inadvertent disservice to public health officials who were trying to prepare the public for the upcoming “flu” season. The fact is, it’s important to get a flu shot each year to ward off illness for aging parents and yourself and family.

Personal History of “Asian Flu”

            As a teenager growing up in Brooklyn I contracted the Asian “flu”. I recall how terribly ill I was, being bed bound for a week with high fevers and excruciating muscle pains. The Asian influenza outbreak of 1957-1958 was followed years later by the Hong Kong outbreak of 1968-69. In both outbreaks it is estimated that hundreds of thousands if not more people succumbed to the illness directly or indirectly due to underlying chronic illnesses worsened by the infection. This was especially the case in the senior population.

            One problem with the public’s recognition of the potential seriousness of such outbreaks is that we have tended to use the term “flu” for a disease which rightfully should be called influenza. The term “flu” is used almost dismissively for almost any type of viral infections, many of which are minor in nature and have nothing to do with influenza. Sometimes health care professionals will describe non-specific illnesses with fever and respiratory symptoms as the “flu”. Since these illnesses are usually not serious, the whole idea about the potential catastrophic nature of true influenza is lost. Telling people to get the “flu shot” even when used by public health officials may be perpetuating the false sense of security about influenza being relatively innocuous.

            People who refuse the vaccine often justify their decision with, “I never get ‘the flu’ or last year I got the ‘needle’ and got ‘the flu’ anyway so what good did it do?” Then there is always the story about someone they knew or heard about who got the ‘flu shot’ and got sick or died or was paralyzed or some other perceived and often unsubstantiated disaster. Most of these stories are erroneous and part of the well-known tendency to propagate myth as if it is fact, especially when it is self- serving.

What to do?

            The first and most important point for you, your parents and health care professionals to understand is that characterizing influenza as “the flu”, especially when it is preceded by the phrase “it’s just” is very misleading. Influenza can be a very serious and potentially lethal disease. The influenza outbreak of 1918 following the First World War killed more people than that terrible war itself. According to the website of the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US): For everyone, getting vaccinated each year provides the best protection against influenza throughout flu season. It’s important to get a flu vaccine every year, even if you got vaccinated the season before and the viruses in the vaccine have not changed for the current season.

Historical Perspective Should Inform Us

            The development of influenza vaccine during the Second World War and its improvements subsequently has been one of the great advances in medicine. We have been very fortunate in the United States and Canada in that the vaccine is readily available to the population and in some jurisdictions it is available without cost to everyone. Manufactures are trying to include a fourth strain of influenza into the 2013-2014 vaccine repertoire so that we can decrease its risk on our population. So remember, “it’s not the ‘flu’ – it’s influenza’- get the ‘shot’ and encourage everyone in your family, especially aging parents to do the same.

Giving thanksgiving with our aging parents

Thanksgiving is upon us. It’s a great time to remember that those aging parents who now need some of our support for years selflessly supported us.

The Thanksgiving tables are turning for Boomers and many others with older parents who aren’t as able to look after all their needs as they once could. Now, it’s our turn to help out, whether they’re experiencing some degree of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or any cognitive or physical challenges.

Remember Thanksgivings from years ago, the sense of family, that amazing meal, the wonderful tastes, the sense of total contentment after a mega-meal?

Well, if you do, help make this Thanksgiving just as memorable for your older loved ones. Let them know they’re important, and give thanks together for being able to be together. Thanksgiving with our aging parents is special ever time we can share it.

Taking to bed: an undercover problem

 

            Staying in bed is not a “normal” aspect of aging, other than for the occasional day or two which may occur as part of an underlying short-term illness. Most people want get out of bed and greet the day as soon as they can. So if an elderly loved one ‘takes to the bed’ and stays there, a full health evaluation and possibly intervention for depression, should be done.

Proper Assessment Is Essential

            The most important aspect of an in-home assessment is discovering any underlying medical problems that could cause someone to ‘take to bed.’ Clearly, any distinctive physical symptoms—such as pain or shortness of breath— that are relieved by staying in bed will need to be addressed.  In the absence of such fairly obvious physical symptoms, major depression ought to be considered.  Older men in particular have a significant risk of late onset depression, a condition that is easily overlooked, especially when the person denies feeling depressed.  Not every depressed person expresses negative or ‘blue’ thoughts, or mentions feelings of hopelessness or helplessness. Fortunately, treatment for depression, which might include medications or other therapies, is usually effective. 

What’s Wrong with Staying In Bed?

            When older people start taking to bed and refuse to get up, it makes perfect sense to them.  “I don’t have the energy or interest to get out of bed,” or “I just feel better being in bed,” are common explanations. But bed rest of more than a day or two very quickly becomes problematic, causing muscle tone and functional ability to deteriorate so that after a short period of being in bed, the person may indeed have difficulty performing everyday activities. Sometimes, physical condition can deteriorate seriously, leading to the need for hospitalization and urgent medical intervention. Family members often have a difficult time persuading their loved ones that staying in bed is bad for them. 

A Return to Meaningful Mornings and Engaging Days

            ‘Remaining in bed’ may not sound serious, but it can be symbolic of an important underlying condition which needs to be addressed and treated quickly and properly by the whole team of those who care for the older person. Sometimes, especially for the person who is living alone, moving to the more engaging and supportive environment of an assisted living facility may be worth considering. Ultimately, the ‘best decision’ is whatever helps the person look forward to getting out of bed and participating in the world around them. 

Five key tips for interacting with your children about eldercare issues in the family

When you get busy helping your aging parents or other elderly loved ones, make sure you take the time to help your kids understand what’s going on and how you can do things together moving ahead.

Here are five key tips you may want to consider.

Don’t pressure.

Understand that no matter what their ages, your children sense and comprehend the pressures at play. The more you press them to be part of a caregiving team, the more they may well resist, especially as they reach adulthood.

Do explain.

Work hard to explain the situation, the medical prognosis and the timetable to likely events. Giving your children information helps them make their own decisions and take what the right actions are for them.

Ask a lot of questions.

Help your children construct and express their own feelings by asking a lot of questions about how they feel now, how they think they’ll feel when there is a death, how they think they’ll cope after a death and what it all means to them.

Share your feelings.
While it’s hard, share what’s on your mind and your own feelings about your parents’ health and decline, and how you’re dealing with their impending death. Let your children see and feel your emotions: they’ll respect you for it.

Be there for them.
As much as you may love your parents and work hard to help them, never for- get or short change your children: they need you, too. They need to feel and know that they’re also an important part of your life and that they have the comfort of your time and attention. 

Yet new data about elder caring gaps, this for Canada

Here is the start of a Globe & Mail article the other day, and it totally supports our ealirer UK posting on this subject:

Sys­tem must fo­cus on se­nior care strat­egy
AN­DRÉ PI­CARD api­card@globe­and­mail.com
The Globe and Mail Metro (Ontario Edition)
19 August, 2013

Cana­di­ans have lit­tle con­fi­dence in the abil­ity of the health-care sys­tem to meet the needs of a bur­geon­ing num­ber of se­niors and they are look­ing to gov­ern­ment to shift their pri­or­i­ties and come up with a plan.

That’s the mes­sage that emerges from a new poll com­mis­sioned by the Cana­dian Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion.

“The anx­i­ety Cana­di­ans have about health care in their so­called golden years is both real and well-founded,” said Anna Reid, out­go­ing pres­i­dent of the CMA.

Na­tion­wide, three in five re­spon­dents said they be­lieved there would not be suf­fi­cient hos­pi­tal beds, long-term care and home-care ser­vices to meet de­mand in their golden years.

How­ever, there are sig­nif­i­cant re­gional dif­fer­ences. In Que­bec, for ex­am­ple, 56 per cent of those polled said the health sys­tem is ready for the so-called grey tsunami, com­pared to 31 per cent in At­lantic Canada.

Where there is near-unan­i­mous agree­ment – 93 per cent – is around the idea that gov­ern­ments should unite to de­velop a com­pre­hen­sive se­niors’ strat­egy. A large num­ber of re­spon­dents, 78 per cent, said Ot­tawa should play a sig­nif­i­cant role in de­vel­op­ing the strat­egy, de­spite the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s stand that health is strictly a pro­vin­cial mat­ter.

“Let there be no doubt that a na­tional strat­egy for se­niors’ health care should be a fed­eral pri­or­ity,” Dr. Reid said.

She added that the poll re­sults send a strong mes­sage that the pub­lic wants ac­tion.

The repeating key point is that the system can't deliver to meet our expectations about eldercare. We need to work harder than ever to plan ahead, to research needed resources, to define and enlist  the help of others… lots to do! And we can't start soon enough anymore. 

Care of the elderly a challenge that’s growing everywhere

Take a look at this short story on the BBC tonight: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-23810109
 
It's an excellent example of the kinds of help and support shortages that will keep growing not just in England, but across Canada and the United States, too.
 
All the more reason to think about what kind of care our aging parents will need and likely when, and then plan now for how to get that help. 

Welcome to the Parenting Your Parents blog!


Parenting Your Parents 3rd EditionOur newest book in the Parenting Your Parents series is just making its appearance. We believe it's more fulsome and robust in terms of content and relevance than the earlier editions.

And we’re committed to more engagement than ever with our readers. In fact, we’ll be posting helpful tips and stories on a regular basis on this site. We’ll also share other useful articles and references that we think will be of interest to you.

That’s because we can see how pressing eldercare in the family is becoming as a North American issue. The needs of aging parents and other loved ones are a reality and challenge millions across our continent are facing. Usually, though, there’s no preparation, no planning, and no safety system in place.

Over the years, we have together and separately written almost a dozen books on various aspects of the challenges and consequences of aging in the family. We each write in other publications and speak extensively on the subject.

What we want to share with you is our knowledge. And all we ask is that you start planning now for the issues that come with aging in the family: inevitable and often intense situations that can take their toll on families and friends in many unwanted ways.

By planning and preparing, you can navigate the uncharted shoals of eldercare more effectively and successfully. That’s what we’re all about and what our books are all about: anticipating, learning, setting the groundwork, helping yourselves and your aging parents and other loved ones do better. The fact is, by preparing now you can change your family’s future.

Thanks for coming by. We hope you’ll keep coming back. Share your thoughts and experiences with us in the comments. And if you know others who are struggling with caring for an aging loved one, please share this site with them.