Four key challenges to caring for aging parents

What can we learn from caring for older loved ones? I believe there are four factors we need to understand so we can better interact with them. The four key challenges to caring for aging parents are:

1.     Time. Everything takes longer, because often the elderly are not as mobile and flexible. They need longer to get out of the wheelchair, to walk across the hall, to drink a glass of water.

2.     Processing. Most older minds take longer to process what is happening or what is being said, and the more complex the activity, the instruction, or the conversation, the more it takes to process and then act on it.

3.     Respect. They all want to be respected. They need to know they are not just another body on what for many seems like the conveyor belt of health care.

4.     Fear. There often will be an element of fear in more aging parents. Whether caused by the setting, language issues, the nature of illness and treatment, or whatever: most will have anxieties and fears that while often unexpressed will cause them to either withdraw or become even more assertive.

Checking remotely on elderly loved ones: technology helps

This article is worth a read:

New technology is allowing for myriad remote monitoring of elderly loved ones. It's a mixed but good blessing for all, once aging parents understand the vlaue and benefits and their children know how to use it respectfully. 

3,500 coat hangers: cleaning out and selling my parent’s empty home

Once I inherited my parent’s now empty house, I resisted for a while. I found all sorts of reasons to hold on to the house, but in the end, I knew selling what had been their home for 31 years was the right thing to do.

What an adventure. First, I recruited a real estate agent who gave me invaluable advice. Then, I started the clean-up-and-out process. It was a nostalgic, sad exercise, punctuated with many funny things. It’s rather remarkable what our parents can accumulate.

Me, a pack rat?

Thankfully, I had the lady who had been helping for several years at the house to help me. She stood by me throughout the exercise, challenging me with, “If you keep putting all those things in the ‘to keep’ boxes, you’ll have kept just about everything.” I thought that was a bit harsh, but I realized after the first day of cleaning that she was right. That’s when I became more ruthless!

Okay, so it was easy tossing the roughly 3,500 coat hangers. Then came the bags. I don’t know why, but for some reason my parents seemed to have thrived on keeping stashes of plastic grocery bags: thousands of them, in boxes, in cupboards, inside other bags in drawers. I found boxes of mothballs probably 20 years old, and the retired old wringer washing machine that I remember from my childhood.

And clothes. Clothes they hadn’t worn for at least a decade. Clothes even the charities wouldn’t want. And furniture stored in the basement that no one in his or her right mind would take for free. So I cleaned. For more than two weeks, for several hours most every day.

A twinge of guilt

I have to admit that, as the piles of old furniture mounted outside and as the dozens upon dozens of large, black, plastic garbage bags accumulated in the garage, I did feel a sense of guilt.

It was as if what I was doing was irreverent or somehow disrespectful; it was as if I were somehow tossing away very real bits and pieces of their very lives. After all, every item in that house was theirs, a part of them, a part of their personal histories.

Don’t look back

When the job was done, there sure was a lot more open space in the house. The “for sale” sign went up, and anonymous people poured through for days.

Suddenly, it was done: their house was sold. After the closing, I was never able to go back, to touch their world, to feel their lives, to poke at memories. And that’s a shame.

Even though I believe I did the right thing not hanging on to the house, it’s something I’ll miss. After all, there were some lifetimes of memories lurking in that home: theirs and mine.

Better manage limited time to help aging parents in need

We’re all pressed for time. Too much to do at work, too much at home and with our kids, and then there’s needed ‘self time’ too. Better manage limited time to help aging parents in need. Here are seven really important questions to ask yourself to see how you can achieve that goal.

·      If you can answer them honestly, you’ll find your personal roadmap to a better quality life. And only you will know if you are answering candidly. Good luck!

·      What can others and existing services do for you?

·      Who can help and what services can you engage to help relieve the pressure you are feeling right now?

·      What can you do less of?

·      What are you doing now for your parents that you can reduce in terms of your own hands-on involvement?

·      How can you best use your newfound free time? What can you do to best help yourself?

·      What should you stop, keep or start doing?




Alzheimer’s impacts more than we thought

Here is an interesting article from the Washington Post about the impact of the dreaded Alzeheimer's disease well worth reading and thinking about, as in my affect our aging parents and perhaps us next:

Exercise is good for the brain and the body at any age

We have all heard it before. There have been government programs promoting exercise. The Participation program funded by the Canadian government was originally launched in the 1970s, to promote healthy living and physical fitness but shut down due to financial cutbacks in 2001. It was revived in 2007 with a grant of from the federal government. It is just one of many governmental efforts at all levels to promote a healthy life-style among Canadian citizens.

The public health as well as the individual health impact of poor exercise habits appears increasingly to point to the need to do something to encourage and maintain health exercise practices among citizens at all ages. After all, exercise is good for the brain and the body at any age.

 Not New but deserves to be implemented

I recall a wonderful program in Scotland where I studied medicine, where a group leader, standing on a centrally placed small stage, and surrounded by literally hundreds of seniors, led them a routine of dance and movement steps accompanied by very compelling Scottish country music themes. The compelling musical themes and beat and the “group” involvement resulted in an outstandingly successful exercise program that was beneficial and great fun at the same time.           

The important thing for our North American senior population is the understanding that exercise, whether walking, running, dancing, biking, swimming or cross-country skiing is not just for the young but for all of us throughout a lifetime. Although the nature of the exercise might change, the importance of it in terms of long term health benefits continues. According to one study reported in the venerable Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), “Limited mobility is a tell-tale sign of functional decline in ageing patients.”

Mobility is the Key

“The key to healthy ageing and independence therefore lies in retaining one's mobility”, according to a US study published in JAMA; their review “confirmed that increased physical activity and exercise are extremely important for healthy aging… A decline in mobility seems to quickly lead to an across-the-board decline, including the routine activities of daily living."  We know from other studies that heart and brain health and function are also enhanced by continuous physical activity.

Moderate exercise fine

To complement this recent addition to our knowledge and understanding of the benefits of exercise and physical activity in the older population is a recent study from Denmark that demonstrates that moderate exercise is an even greater motivation for a healthier lifestyle than more intensive exercise.  This is important to understand for seniors and those who promote and organize exercise programs for seniors who often still believe that the goal should be “maximization” of efforts. Such inordinate exercise goals are often not tolerated by many elders who therefore drop out of the programs or sometimes unfortunately sustain injuries from the excessive intensity of the exercise effort.


How important are your aging parents… and what do they need from us now?

Once upon a time, many years ago, we were all innocent, giggling dream-filled little children.  Now we’re grown-up, with kids of our own, got careers to nurture, bills to pay and futures to plan. And parents to care for, parents who are aging and vulnerable and perhaps in need of the same kind of attention they gave us way back when.

Even if your parents are still independent and in good health, don’t kid yourself, they may not be for much longer. And if they are already frail or in declining health, you may already be deep into coordinating their care. Either way, our parents who sacrificed so much for us, now our attention, involvement, concern, care, commitment and advocacy. And, perhaps most importantly, the simple knowledge that we are there from them now, as they once were for us.

Prioritize your parents

If you’re like me, your life is cluttered with demands and priorities – including your
own need for space and ‘downtime’. It’s all the more difficult to help your parents
because this scenario wasn’t even on the radar screen. How important are your aging parents… and what do they need from us now?

The reality is that we have to find a way to support them through the final chapters of their life story. That’s why we must take stock of our lives and ensure that our parents are among our priorities and work towards ensuring the quality of care they deserve.

It can be a difficult task, and one that will only get tougher with time. We’ll never get it right. No matter what we do we’ll always feel that we could have done more. All we can hope for is that at the end of the day, we can look at ourselves in the mirror and know that we did the best we could.

If you need motivation, just think back to those special moments of your childhood. If we recall how our parents worked so hard to give us those moments, we will find the inspiration to do our best for them now.

Just giving back for all they gave us

I know I’ll never forget when I was a terribly uncoordinated seven-year-old, playing catch in the backyard. My father would throw me the ball in a way that was impossible not to catch – building my confidence and not embarrassing me in front
of my friends. It was a small, yet incredibly loving thing to do. I also remember by mother, patiently going over the multiplication tables the night before a big math test.

In so many ways my parents were there for me, as I’m sure yours were for you. You just have to delve back into your memories. Sure you will come across moments of frustration, but it’s the good memories you should latch on to. They are the important ones – the ones to cherish.

Use the past as a signpost to the future. One built on a foundation of the love, affection and support our parents gave us. One that will give us the strength and courage to support them both today and tomorrow.


A parent is now in a nursing home?

Here are six important questions to ask yourself if a parent is now in a nursing home. Think this over and let your honest answers drive your actions.


·      Do you visit often enough? Are you spending quality time or just putting in time?  


·      Do friends of your parent visit him or her? How often?


·      Do you really know what kind of care and attention staff gives your parent?


·      Do you have at least annual formal review meetings with staff regarding your parent’s condition, status, prognosis, issues and challenges?


·      Does your parent have enough stimulation to keep her or him as mentally and physically agile as possible?


·      Should you have a caregiver spend time with your parent on a regular basis? What would be the added value benefit? 

Love your elders this Valentine’s Day

So men do it. Women do it. Even kids. When it comes to sending Valentine’s wishes, acts of love span all genders and ages. So remember to love your elders this Valentine’s Day.

Unfortunately, many people neglect to spread the love to aging parents and other elderly family members. Valentine’s Day is a perfect time to show aging loved ones you remember and respect all they’ve done over the years. All too often, we boomers caring for aging parents don’t show enough emotion or express enough appreciation and affection to those who over many years tried to give so much.
Here are five suggestions for sharing some “elderlove” this Valentine’s Day:

1. Go visit, even if it’s only a half an hour. Distance an issue? Call, or Skype.

2. Take a box of sugar-free sweets and a Valentine’s card. So many of our elderly parents and other loved ones have diabetes or weight issues that the taste will be welcome, but the sucrose won’t. And after the sweets are gone, they can look at your lovely card.

3. Take or send potted flowers, which last longer than cut flowers. Attach a note that explains why these flowers are especially meaningful.

4. Plan a lunch or dinner together and recollect childhood stories about how your parent demonstrated love and affection.

5. Build and present a small album of old photos, complete with brief descriptions.

And if you want to do even more, try gathering the family clan and creating a spontaneous love-in with your parents and other aging relatives. That means organizing at least a handful of close family members and with little notice show up with heart shaped balloons, treats to share, and some appropriate songs to play and engage them in a short but heartfelt event.

Or, try arranging a series of telephone calls to your parents spaced out over the course of Valentine’s Day, with family members and friends calling just to share a telephonic hug.
 All in all, it really doesn’t take a lot to make our parents and other aging family members feel like they’re at the centre of our universe and much loved. They’ll appreciate it, and relish in the attention and affection we’re showing them.