Making sure your parents are prepared for a safe winter

In the same way that a car owner makes sure a vehicle used in winter is prepared for the challenges of cold, snow, ice and other aspects of inclement weather, so should seniors make sure that they have had a similar winter check up. This includes doing everything for their “medical” safety but assuring also that their environment is also safe. And this so far sever winter seems to be especially a threat for many seniors.

Medical safety

Medical safety includes making sure that  the risk of illness that are more common in winter are taken care of in anticipation of winter’s special challenges. On top of the list is vaccination against influenza which is necessary every year, as the strains of virus changes from year to year. Even though sometimes the yearly outbreak is mild you will never know in advance what kind of outbreak might occur. For seniors who may have  an array of chronic illness affecting their cardiac and respiratory systems or have impairments of their immune responses, a bout of influenza, can cause a very serious and debilitating illness  and at times can be fatal. As a child of an aging parent it might be your role to make sure that your parent and the treating physician are aware of the importance of such vaccination.

Other safety check-points

Other safety check points include reviewing all necessary medications that are taken by your parent and review them with your parents’ physician. Make sure that there are refill orders already available so that there isn’t a chance that your parent may run out of necessary medications during inclement weather. If your parent(s) are fortunate enough to vacation in the south for part of the winter make sure that they have the necessary supply of medications.

If travelling

Check with any travel insurance provider that travel insurance is in place and that you have determined that there is no risk that should something medically happen to you while traveling that you will not discover that your insurance did not cover that eventuality: the general rule is that you must reveal to the insurance company all your illnesses and any changes in your medical status and medications prior to your trip.

What about the cold of winter?

If you will be staying put in the Northern United States or Canada the important steps for winter home safety should be taken. Whoever it is that takes care of your parents heating system should make sure that maintenance servicing is done well in advance of winter  to avoid the risk of a breakdown during a cold spell that could potentially put your parent(s) at risk. Determine what the network of family supports is and if there will be an periods of absence and what steps might be taken to fill in which could be very important should something unanticipated happen. Having access to help and if necessary a place to go while repairs take place is very important.

With the risk of power outages, be sure to have flashlights positioned around the house and purchase a few units that sit in outlets as “nightlights” which double as emergency lighting if there is a power failure. Get some flashlights that will last a few hours with sealed batteries so that your parent(s) do not have to be concerned about batteries going dead. Avoid depending on candles for blackouts because of the risk of fire and make sure that smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are installed in the proper places.

Safety inside and outside

Make sure that safety is a priority around inside and outside your parent(s) home especially if it is a private home and not an apartment where someone is responsible for assuring walkways and stairs are safe. Make sure your parent(s) have a means (usually through another person) to clear snow and ice from walkways and steps and that there are secure handrails on steps, that salt or sand are available for slippery surfaces and that places that might become covered with snow or ice are well illuminated.

Having an automatic light that goes on at dusk is one way of assuring that the walkways will always be lit when darkness falls. This will help you navigate walkways and steps.

Preparing for a safe winter takes little time; not preparing can result in injuries that can take a long 

Pivotal year in eldercare closes with challenges for us all

In many ways, 2013 will be remembered as a pivotal year in the evolution of the brave new world of eldercare in the family.

In Canada, this year marked the start of a more open discussion of the moral and ethical implications of assisted suicide for the willing aging and ill.

It marked the Supreme Court of Canada ruling that a family’s decision to maintain it’s ill loved one on life support trumps the verdict of health care experts.

This year saw more media attention to the challenges families face in offering care and attention to the aging elderly.

As well, during 2013 we saw more reports of violence in nursing homes: elderly attacking elderly, suggesting cognitive issues perhaps not yet really defined, not to mention questions of supervisory and safety standards in nursing homes across the country.

Globally, the Canadian experience is being repeated over and over most everywhere. Perhaps it’s being most strongly felt in China and Japan where the aging population can no longer count in the sustained support of their children and grandchildren who are moving away from the traditional family home to find better jobs and brighter lifestyles.

Strikes close to home
Personally, this past year I’ve been in some way or shape engaged in a host of situations experienced by many friends involving some aspect of family care and resulting pressures and conflicts. Here are four examples:

•    A couple with a son who returned home six months ago ‘for just a few weeks’ after losing his job and with no firm new prospect while concurrently looking after three aging and frail parents and all the while still both working full time. They are struggling to make ends meet and keep getting up five days a week to long, long work days. They don’t know where all this leads; they’re too loving to challenge their son to be more proactive in getting back on his feet, and too loving to find better solutions to eldercare.

•     A 71 year old bachelor with a 94 year old ailing mother who still lives alone in a tiny apartment and is suffering from severe arthritis and mild diabetes; they live in the same region but he’s an hour’s drive away and expected to visit at least four or five times a week. And because both are strapped financially, he feels compelled to come help her, clean her apartment, and of course has to run errands for her and take her for doctor’s appointments. Problem is, while he’s in relatively good health, he needs time to live his own life. 

•    A couple in their early sixties in Toronto with both sets of parents still alive: one set in their early eighties and one in their latter eighties. What complicates their lives and stretches their resources is that her parents live in Kamloops and his in Halifax. Trying to provide long distance loving attention to both sets of parents is becoming ever more difficult and expensive for them. They have committed to at least annual visits to each set of parents and have been working on finding local support resources to help out.

•    A friend just past his mid seventies whose wife has been diagnosed with early stage Alzheimer’s and has lost her driving license while they still need to find ways to support her 94 year old mother in a close-by nursing home who demands a lot of time and attention. He is starting to fray at the edges as he juggles his wife’s expanding needs, his mother-in-laws continuing needs, his relations with his children and grandchildren, and the need for time for himself.

The common denominator
What all these friends and acquaintances share is the element of an aging and ever more needy parent. And it’s what growing numbers of Canadians are experiencing. More than four million of them, in fact. And hundreds of millions more worldwide. 

It’s what’s come from being hidden on the back streets of society to finally blasting onto main street: the monumental range of issues and challenges of eldercare in the family. We’re all listening now, experiencing it, starting to share it, finally learning how to deal with it.

The warning signs have been there for more than a decade, but we’ve elected to ignore them. Now we don’t have a choice. Now we share the enormous challenge of finding better and more ways to care for the elderly in humane and responsible ways.

It’s not easy. And that’s been a major lesson this year.

Michael and I wish you all good experiences for the next year.

Financial abuse of the elderly is a real issue

Financial abuse of the elderly is a real issue many people don't know about or elect to ignore.

Ensure your aging parents aren't sujbect to financial abuse.

The International Federation on Aging recently releeased an interesting and thought-provoking report that is Canada-centric that is worth a read. You'll find it here: http://www.ifa-fiv.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Financial-Abuse-of-Seniors-Meeting.pdf

Prepare parents for a safe winter

In the same way that a car owner makes sure a vehicle is prepared for winter use, so to should we prepare parents for a safe winter. This includes doing everything for their “medical” safety while assuring that their environment is also safe.

Medical safety

Medical safety includes making sure that the risk of illness that are more common in winter are taken care of in anticipation of winter’s special challenges. On top of the list is vaccination against influenza which is necessary every year, as the strains of virus changes from year to year. Even though sometimes the yearly outbreak is mild you will never know in advance what kind of outbreak might occur. For seniors who may have  an array of chronic illness affecting their cardiac and respiratory systems or have impairments of their immune responses, a bout of influenza, can cause a very serious and debilitating illness  and at times can be fatal. As a child of an aging parent it might be your role to make sure that your parent and the treating physician are aware of the importance of such vaccination.

Other safety check points

Other safety check points include reviewing all necessary medications that are taken by your parents and review them with your parents’ physician. Make sure that there are refill orders already available so that there isn’t a chance that your parent may run out of necessary medications during inclement weather. If your parent are fortunate enough to vacation in the south for part of the winter make sure that they have the necessary supply of medications.

If travelling

Ensure travel insurance is in place; determine that should something medically happen while traveling that your parents are covered for that medical need. The general rule is that you must reveal to the insurance company all illnesses and any changes in medical status and medications prior to their trip.

What about the cold of winter?

If your parents will be staying put in the Northern United States or Canada the important steps for winter home safety should be taken. Whoever it is that takes care of your parent’s heating system should make sure that maintenance servicing is done well in advance of winter to avoid the risk of a breakdown during a cold spell that could potentially put them at risk. Determine what the network of family supports is and if there will be an periods of absence and what steps might be taken to fill in which could be very important should something unanticipated happen. Having access to help and if necessary a place to go while repairs take place is very important.

With the risk of power outages, be sure to have flashlights positioned around their house and purchase a few units that sit in outlets as nightlights that double as emergency lighting if there is a power failure. Get some flashlights that will last a few hours with sealed batteries so that your parents do not have to be concerned about batteries going dead. Avoid depending on candles for blackouts because of the risk of fire and make sure that smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are installed in the proper places.

Safety inside and outside

Make sure that safety is a priority around inside and outside your parent’s home especially if it is a private home and not an apartment where someone is responsible for assuring walkways and stairs are safe. Ensure they have a means (usually through another person) to clear snow and ice from walkways and steps and that there are secure handrails on steps, that salt or sand are available for slippery surfaces and that places that might become covered with snow or ice are well illuminated. Having an automatic light that goes on at dusk is one way of assuring that the walkways will always be lit when darkness falls. This will help you navigate walkways and steps.           

Preparing for a safe winter takes little time; not preparing can result in injuries that can take a long time to heal. So be prepared and prepare for your parent’s safe winter—wherever they are.

 

Exercise is good for us: boomers and our aging parents

This is worth a couple of minutes of your time to read: http://cbc.sh/0ctW9JL.

It's a good CBC News story about the benefits for the eldery to exercise. It's an easy read, but the message is important for all of us pressing into their late fifties and over.

Plan good holidays for elderly loved ones

When you’re planning for the festive season, remember that older parents and other aging loved ones often have different needs than our children or we do.

Because they’re such an important part of our sense of family and the holidays, we need to plan good holidays for elderly loved ones. Too often we take for granted that our older family members can be as fully involved as we’d like. The fact is elderly family members may be lacking the stamina we’d wish they had.

That’s why it’s so important to plan all holiday events to ensure aging loved ones can enjoy them fully and that we can have the pleasure of their company.

Here are five steps for you to consider and apply in order to assure elder enjoyment at your family events this holiday season.

1. Reduce ‘wait time’. You can spend a lot of family wait time while meals are being prepared or people are dressing, or getting to a religious ceremony early in order to have good seating. But these are actually tiring times for the elderly. Help them by planning the latest time you can bring them to the event. That way, they don’t have to spend tiring ‘wait time’ doing nothing.

2. Build in ‘down time’. Make sure there’s at least half an hour or hour of rest time between events so your elderly parents can relax and perhaps catch a catnap or at least just have some personal quiet time. Their batteries run down faster now, and some recharge time becomes important.

3. Make meals more manageable. The more courses and the longer time a full meal takes, the more agitated little kids become… and the more aggravated older people become. Elderly parents will find long, drawn out meals fatiguing, even if they pretend to be enjoying themselves. So plan meals to be shorter, or plan strategies to respectfully give them options during a drawn out dinner so they’ll have some rest time.

4. Smart wrap for gift giving. Opening gifts that are tightly taped and tied with lots of ribbons is often difficult for the elderly. With reduced dexterity and maybe some arthritis, they can be stymied by some of the packages we present. Make it easier—and eliminate the embarrassment of being unable to open a package—by either wrapping their gifts much more loosely, or better yet, by putting them into attractive gift bags, covered with colorful issue paper.

5. Slow down and speak up. The elderly tend to process less quickly and don’t hear as well as once ago. To help them get the most out of your holiday events, slow down how fast you talk or do things, and speak more slowly and louder. Be sure to watch their reactions and body language very carefully for clues about how well they’re staying with you in terms of what’s being done and said.

And it’s also important to consider that for an elderly person who has lost a loved one, this is an especially difficult time of year. The loss, and the memories that inevitably freely flow especially during religious festivities, combine to create a level of personal hurt and pain we often don’t understand or respect to the extent we could and should.

When we consciously plan to meet the oft-unexpressed needs of our elderly family members, we’re ensuring they’ll be active participants in our holiday events. And we’ll know that their engagement is satisfying to them and to every person in the family.

Care for yourself during the holidays!

During any festive season we all have our prescribed periods of time to observe, reflect, celebrate; times when families draw close to share and offer thanks for what we have.

For families with aging parents and other loved ones who are no longer in good health, this can be a more difficult and demanding time. How to be together? Where? Under what conditions? If various forms of dementia are involved, what are the implications? If physical disabilities are an issue, how can they be dealt with, or what alternative might there be?

Caring for your loved one requires attention, planning and coordination.

But there’s also you. The caregiver. Care for yourself during the holidays! How will you get through the holidays with the demands you’ll be facing? Because it’s important to realize that in striving to make every holiday a special one for aging and failing loved ones, you’re probably dipping into your personal well of reserve strength.

So just this caution from one whose had to learn the hard way: make some time and room for yourself. Give yourself a much-deserved slice of down time. Whatever the size of that slice, it will be good for your body, mind and soul. Take a moment now to decide how you’re going to do that.

The next blog will give you tips on how to make the holidays better for your aging parents and other elderly loved ones.

Elderly winter wardrobe changeover

We’re well into fall now, the warm days are gone, we’re turning the clocks back, and the nights are cooler.

Those of us in the colder climes all change over our wardrobes, putting the sweaters up front, the corduroy slacks close at hand, and dig out the boots, hats and gloves.

But let’s not forget to help our aging parents and other elderly loved ones do the same. Don’t assume it will happen without your asking, or maybe even your help. Assisted elderly winter wardrobe changeover can make their lives that much easier.

Way too often, many elderly people just don’t think about what kind of preparations are needed for seasonal weather changes, or sometimes, with the onset of diminishing cognitive skills or any form of dementia, there’s a mental disconnect regarding what to do and why, and sometimes how to do it.

That’s why during seasonal changeover times it’s good to ask, check, help in terms of wardrobe changeovers. Have you done that?

 

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.