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How Do You Mend a Broken Heart?

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Abigail folded her hands and bowed her head. “Thank you Jesus for our food. In Jesus Name. Amen.”

“That was sweet, Honey. Wasn’t it dad?” Marilyn patted her aging dad on the knee. “Dad. Didn’t Abby do a great job with the prayer?”

Her father stared at the table. He unfolded the plaid cloth napkin and placed it in his lap. Marilyn’s teenage son gently nudged his grandfather’s arm. “Green beans?” Still no response.

Marilyn spooned a small helping onto her dad’s plate. “They’re cooked just like Mom made them. Big chunk of pork and simmered until tender. Salt. You’ll love them Dad.”

The tension was thick. The moment uncomfortable. And Marilyn couldn’t ease the anxiety. Her had mother passed away a few months earlier and she’d moved her dad into her home so she could care for him.

Marilyn’s dad poked at the green beans then scooted his chair away from the table and excused himself. He pressed his palm against his chest, and groaned. “My chest hurts.”

Charles and Eleanor Morrison had spent 62 years of their lives together. Eleanor never left Charles’ side even after two strokes nearly took his life. She’d help him walk, literally helped him place food in his mouth when his face was numbed from the stroke. Eleanor was not only his lifelong soul mate, she was his caregiver – the joy of his life. So when Charles woke early that Saturday morning and Eleanor didn’t roll over to kiss his forehead, life as Charles knew it . . . ended.

Marilyn and her sister made numerous efforts to help “snap” their dad out of his sadness but nothing seemed to work. A trip to the doctor gained the diagnosis of “Broken Heart Syndrome.” Marilyn laughed. “You’re not serious?” But indeed, the doctor was very serious.

Broken Heart Syndrome is in fact a very real diagnosis with patients experiencing:
*shortness of breath
*chest pain
*irregular heartbeats
*an overall general weakness
*appetite loss
*weight loss
*depression and fatigue

According to Mayo Clinic the exact cause of Broken Heart Syndrome is unclear but when the body experiences a devastating event or trauma a surge of “stress” hormones are released (i.e. adrenaline) striking the heart and causing the symptoms to present.

Studies on the elderly show Broken Heart Syndrome is not uncommon for the surviving spouse after the loss of their mate. Stress, loneliness, depression all play into the effects. Insurance companies who pay life insurance benefits followed the mortality rate of widowers/widows to discover a higher mortality rate in the second spouse within in six months of the passing of the first. They also noted that women who suffer the loss of their husband are at higher risk than men to experience Broken Heart Syndrome, though men do also experience it as well and in a more devastating way.

What Do Families Do?
At best, the loss of an aging parent is difficult for children but the surviving spouse suffers far worse. It’s important for families to realize they cannot set a time frame for grief. Where their lives move ahead with the busyness of their immediate families, the lives of the aging parent becomes far more emptier. Children are grown, retirement has taken away the daily grind of work, and the glaring fact of their own immortality looms as a reality.

There is no real “best” way to ease the symptoms of Broken Heart Syndrome but families can follow these suggestions as a guideline:

*If the grieving process is remains severe after 60 days, contact the physician for a health exam.
*Plug into a grief/loss support group or become involved in an active seniors group through local churches or the Department of Aging.
*Encourage walking (exercise strengthens the body and allows the mind to process thoughts without interruption).
*Do not force the issue, rather work with the physician and even grief counselor to help bring a parent into acceptance.
*If the symptoms listed above are continual . . . seek medical attention (Broken Heart Syndrome mimics a heart attack. It’s always better safe than sorry.)
*Encourage family members to renew relationships with the parent. Calls, cards, communication is vital.
*Grieve WITH your parent. Sharing your own grief allows the parent to grieve as well. But be wise in how, what and when you share. It helps when a parent realizes they are not alone in vortex of void.
*Don’t try to replace the loss but encourage new adventures. Plant the seeds of activity so they can sprout.
*Be sensitive to the emptiness your parent feels and love them even when it’s hard.

Families often think a “quick fix” is moving the surviving parent into the home of a child. It’s important to remember that, unless it’s medically necessary, sudden uprooting may not be in the best interest of your loved one. When a loved one has spent over half of their life with a spouse, it’s enough to suddenly be without them, but uprooting the surviving parent without allowing them adequate time to grieve may be equally as detrimental.

Allow time for the family to come together and sort slowly through the memories that hang in the closet or are stacked in a cabinet. Physical possessions are something surviving parents can touch, feel, and identify with. Seeking to empty out personal belongings to quickly may be an effective coping mechanism for children, but not for the surviving parent. Be compassionate and understanding while walking your loved one through the loss.

The loss of a spouse is a traumatic thing. Seek out patient and effective ways to help your parent grieve and move past so a new beginning appears hopeful and not debilitating.

Time is the ultimate healer and for some that time is longer rather than shorter. Finding patience, offering hope, and praying together as a family, brings comfort. Nothing surpasses love. When families come together to support one another the process is bearable.

For more information on Broken Heart Syndrome visit The American Heart Association and their article on Broken Heart Syndrome or ( www.heart.org ).

Love Them Gently Into the Golden Years

Photo courtesy of www.openculture.com

Photo courtesy of http://www.openculture.com

Written and released originally by recording artist, Otis Redding, Respect became the signature and hit for R&B singer, Aretha Franklin and the anthem for many who appreciated what respect meant to them.

The very nature of humans teeter on respect. Our self-esteem, our confidence, even decision making, pends on how we feel about ourselves. When we feel pushed down or brushed off, the very thing that builds us, tears us down.

Our country is seeing the last of those veterans who served in World War II, laid to rest. Those who were an active part of this nations greatest technological, industrial, and medical technologies era are slowly fading. The age of work ethic, strong sense of family, and personal responsibility fades with them. As the new fast-paced world of instant messages and cell phones over take our seniors, it leaves behind the one thing valued most by them – their respect.

At a slower time in this country’s history, a man was known by his integrity and his word. If he committed to a task, he completed it regardless of issues. It was, by all due rights, what earned him the title of respected.

Our seniors are caught in a time warp. Nestled between the old and the new. In their lifetime, they’ve seen the invention of every major life’s convenience known to man. Yet, in the midst of the of all this development, our seniors – the creators of these modern conveniences, are forgotten. Treated as second class. Disrespected. And it has only served to break them.

In this world of instant gratification, the youth of our country grow impatient when grandma can’t operate a smart phone or granddaddy gives up on the newest remote control. Instead of showing grace or offering assistance, they quickly snap at them, leading seniors to feel less than adequate and incapable.Senior woman contemplating

It’s important to remember how the aging process works and then practice the necessary methods needed to uplift their aging loved ones rather than tear them down.

According to a recent article posted on WedMD.com,  Dr. Kenneth Minaker, MD, chief of geriatric medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School stated, “Aging is a life-saving process,” he says. “It is a process of lifelong adaptation to prevent us from developing cancers that would kill us.” Though we look at aging as a deterioration of our bodies, in essence, it’s an adaptation of our bodies to help us adjust as we slowly complete the life process.

Outside of the obvious decline in eyesight and hearing, reflexes, movement, and mental aspects begin to slow. The mind processes slightly slower. The ability of being agile lessens, joints and muscles tighten and stiffen. Our ability to problem solve lessens somewhat. The result of these things reveals itself through frustration and agitation.

Learning to be an encouragement to our aging parents is important. Make a concerted effort to offer them the respect they have earned in a lifetime of hard work, and family rearing. It’s enough to come to the realization that our bodies do not function the way they once did, but when seniors are constantly treated as second class or as a problem to the family, the respect is gone. And when the respect leaves, aging parents falter.

Practice these tips to learn a deeper respect for your aging parents:

Reflect over your own life – Regardless of our age, we have a past. Grant you, the past of a twenty-year-old is nothing compared to that of a eighty-year-old, but the fact remains, taking a small amount of time daily to reflect over your own life’s choices, successes and even failures, softens your attitude toward others. Self-reflection allows us to look into ourselves and take notes, which in turn, help us self-correct.

Joe, a thirty-year-old computer analyst, entered his workplace frustrated a co-worker had parked in his space. Even though it was an open parking lot, spaces were not labeled, Joe parked in the same spot everyday. Three rows back, second from the end, just enough space to get in easily and exit quickly. Today, a co-worker took his parking space. Madaline, an older receptionist, greeted Joe daily as he entered the building. Her smile and sweet nature was a joy.  Joe bolted through the front door angry. Breezing past Madaline, he remarked wasn’t it time she retired because she just didn’t “get” the needs of the employees any longer.

Self-reflection gave Joe the perspective he needed to understand his actions toward Madaline were  unwarranted and hurtful. Not only had he insulted Madaline out of anger, but as his elder and having forty plus years in the company, he disrespected her.

Elderly Man Touching ChinSpend time with the elderly – Take note of the company you keep. Do you spend time with seniors outside of your grandparents? If not, ask yourself why. Many times, aging seniors frighten us. Not because of who they are, but because of what they represent to us. In them, we see our own immortality. Our future; and that can be scary. However, making the effort to spend quality time with seniors allows us the opportunity to learn about our past and to understand the aging process is natural and nothing to be feared. Sensitivity develops and a deeper compassion for those who “can’t move”  as fast as they once did.

Notice the seniors around you – Pay attention to the seniors who surround you. Take note of their value and contributions both past and present. Build them up. Thank them for their wisdom and service. After all, without them, we would not be.

Be considerate of seniors’ well being – Learn patience. Take extra steps to assist a senior in the store, or on the street. Be kind and understand their hearing is not what it used to be. More so, treat them with respect. They’ve earned it. Treating a senior with respect lifts their spirits, encourages their health, and strengthens their desire to maintain.

Finally, be respectful – Remember, our seniors are from a different age in time when things were different. Manners were important. Practice good, old fashioned manners. Call them Mr. or Mrs. unless they request otherwise. Stand when they enter a room. Say thank you and please. Today’s world preaches for us to meet the youth of America, “where they are.” When in retrospect, the same should apply to our seniors. Meet them where they are. Help them where it is needed and be respectful of their past position and current status.

Respect comes in scores of ways. Our seniors deserve our patience and respect. Practice these skills and see how your own life improves.

Start the Year Right for Aging Seniors

MP900309664Now that the holidays have come to a close and the decorations are down and stored for the year, it’s a prime opportunity to sit with your senior and sort out the upcoming year. Being organized is the best way to start a new year, especially if your loved one has been ill throughout the previous year.

Arranging and rearranging the needs of our seniors can be a long task, but the effort more than repays you when the time comes. Follow these suggestions to start “new” in the New Year.

Make a portable carry file with individual file folders inside. Name each file with individual Doctor’s names, addresses and phone numbers. As medical, pharmaceutical bills, and EOB’s (Explanation of Benefits) forms arrive in the mail box, they can be easily filed and accessible.

Keep additional addressed envelopes and copies of every bill paid, the date, and when. Often, especially if the medical expenses are extensive, you may be asked to produce past paid invoices for physicians or even hospitals.

Update personal files. It pays to update medication lists twice to three times yearly. Sort through medications and dispose of old prescriptions. Make note of new ones. It’s always wise to make several copies of this list and keep them in your files for fast and easy access in the event of emergency or new doctor visits. We suggest a list inside your primary information notebook that states the drug, the last time purchased, and if the drug has been suspended, when and who suspended it. This is important too, to update dosage changes. Changes will be in order of date for easy reference.

Again, place a copy in your car and in the car of your senior (should they still be driving) along with a list of important phone numbers i.e. doctors, hospital of their choice, key family members so you and your loved one are always prepared.

Power of Attorney and Medical Power of Attorney are must have papers. Be sure Power of Attorney and Power of Medical Attorney are in place and keep copies with key family members as well as in your loved one’s personal file. Carry copies to doctor’s visits and add them to your senior’s medical files. Place copies of these papers along with Living Wills, DNR (Do Not Resuscitate), and other end-of-life requests in an envelope and tape them to the refrigerator or inside a cabinet door in the kitchen in the event EMT or Paramedic services are required.

Banking needs. Make arrangements with banks and lending institutions so that key family members are able to access funds in the event your loved one is unable to manage their personal business. It is important to understand, simply being listed on the signature card of the bank does not give you access to funds in the event of the loss of a parent. Check with all banking institutions, life insurance, 401K providers, and retiree benefits to be sure the proper paperwork is in place should access to funds become a necessity otherwise, accounts can be locked by the institution and made inaccessible.

Verify Insurance co-pays and coverages. The new year brings new co-pays and changes in old coverages. Take time to contact insurance companies and verify deductibles and co-pays. Inquire about old coverages, especially the most used ones, and verify nothing has changed. If changes have occurred, have the companies mail an updated coverage sheet so you are prepared. As unstable as the economy is, never assume that insurance remains unchanged. Healthcare is changing monthly with our government’s hand now forcing coverage for all individuals. There is no longer security in what you “once” had. This is one area you cannot afford to skip over. Failure to keep up-to-date on insurance can cost your loved one thousands of dollars.

Logs and calendars are important. Keep a log book of Doctor visits, what the issue was and anything discussed, any medication changes, and referrals. We tend to think we won’t forget instructions, but if an emergency arises the details are easily forgotten or confused—dates in particular, so keep a log book. If there is an in-home caregiver having this log book provides up-to-date information for the care of their patient, but for you, it provides accountability in how those caregivers are providing services.
Write upcoming dates on a large calendar so seniors can see the appointments clearly. Keeping a calendar can be one of the best things you do for your aging parent. It adds a sense of security and routine to their lives and it reduces stress and worry. Large erasable calendars are available at local office supply stores and make for easy updates.

Personal Emergency Response Button. PERS units are valuable assets for aging parents. Units are placed in the home and the client wears a button around their neck. In the event of a fall or an emergency, aging parents can simply press the button. A representative from a call center responds immediately securing the necessary emergency help necessary. Unit service costs range from $29-$59 per month, but it is a service well worth the investment. PERS units save lives by getting immediate response to family members and dispatching necessary emergency personnel.

Caregiver services are available to offer respite to families. Many seniors may need minimal assistance bathing, dressing, and help with daily living skills. Caregivers placed by in-home, non-medical companies can provide this assistance. It is important to remember that even though there are many willing individuals able to provide this service, they are not licensed, bonded, or insured and can be held accountable to the State for failure to adhere to state requirements for in-home care. The client is responsible for state and federal taxes, social security, and Medicare payments or for a Federal 1099 for these caregivers as long as they are employed by them. Seeking caregiver services through a company provides families with the security that individuals coming into the home are safe, reliable and fully meet state licensure requirements for in-home care.

Start the year by being prepared. Taking these advance steps will bring your loved one into the new year with a new sense of security and ease.

Senior Beware – Ask, Get Informed, then Decide

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Aging parents will reach a stage in their lives where families begin to question if living at home is best or should their aging senior move into assisted living. It’s a valid question and one that deserves a lot of attention and consideration. But, before families make the decision to move their loved ones into a facility, there are definite questions that need to be sought out and answered.

What is assisted living?  Honestly, there’s not a real definition by industry standard. It varies from state to state. The best explanation for assisted living is a facility with limited care. Most are not licensed for medical care like a nursing home. It’s important to understand assisted living facilities are not medical care facilities. For lack of better words, we can dumb down the explanation to this: Assisted living is group home living where residents can perform all the necessary assisted daily living skills (ADLs) with minimal help. The general rule for assisted living is, that in the event of an emergency, a resident must be able to remove themselves from the facility (without assistance) within a small time frame. If they cannot, they do not qualify to stay.

Assisted living facilities perform levels of care for residents from those who simply need daily monitoring to those who require assistance with personal care. Residents rent a room or small apartment where they can either cook for themselves or join others in a dining room area for meals. There is usually an RN or LPN on staff in the event of an emergency and who, if the service is needed, will regulate and distribute medications to residents. Those who live in assisted living facilities are fairly mobile and are charged according to the needs.

For example, if you require house cleaning, you may be charged. If a resident needs a higher level of care, i.e. assistance with a bath or dressing, they may be charged a higher price. Should they need transportation, this is additional as well (however, it’s fair to say this service will vary from facility to facility. Some provide transportation as part of the basic package while others charge per month or even per ride.)

Independent care living – It’s important to understand the difference between independent care living and assisted living. The best explanation for independent care living is:  A group retirement facility or community – a  place where seniors in good health can retire to be with friends their own age. They generally pay a homeowners association fee so their home maintenance is provided. They are able to maintain their own care in its entirety, able to function and drive without help. Cook, clean, bathe – all the things they would do in their home on Maple Street.

Some “communities” allow seniors to purchase condos, small homes or even build within a gated community (this instance requires in-depth understanding of the rules of habitation). They can sell their dwellings to other seniors should they come to a point where their care moves to the next level. It’s important to read every line on independent care contracts and notice where the line is drawn in the sand as far as qualifications to remain living in the facility/community.

Many pre-built homes, duplexes, condos or apartments revert back to the owners of the facility/community upon the death or the need for the resident to move away. Wording can be misleading and so can the sale of the properties. Potential residents may be told they are “purchasing” an apartment, condo, or duplex when in fact, it’s a glorified way to say leasing or renting. The purchase may even resemble the purchase of a home with a down payment and monthly payments, and a closing). The greatest surprise may come when independent care facilities or communities see residents growing frail and begin to push residents out, informing them there is no refund or resale on the property. Instead it reverts back in its entirety to the facility or community. This happens more in independent living facility complexes with apartments or condos but it’s important to know, it happens all the time. Read the contracts in their entirety. Invest in a visit with an attorney to read and understand the jargon and wording so your aging parent is not surprised when their needs shift and they are asked to leave. If there are HOA fees, verify they are yearly and not an extravagant amount monthly. To live in an independent care facility, residents must be fully able to maintain their own care completely. If that changes, they will be asked to move.

Seniors BEWARE! – Assisted living, independent care living, and nursing home facilities are expensive. Unfortunately, insurance does not cover what families assume it will. There is no coverage for independent care living and often with assisted living, there is little to no coverage. Families cannot depend on receiving financial assistance from resources, i.e. Medicaid. If seniors have Long Term Health insurance purchased early in their lives, they will receive some payment here, but as a rule, most insurance companies will pay limited amounts on assisted living facilities but far more on nursing home facilities when their resident requires full medical assistance and care.

Facilities are beautiful. Their lobbies are adorned with lovely flowers, pretty furniture, and smiling faces but none of that bears any thought to what actually goes on behind closed doors. Pay attention to the staff. Make unscheduled visits. Does the staff know the residents names, are they interactive, kind, and attentive?  Talk to residents. Are they happy with their care? Seek outside references. Ask past resident’s families about hidden charges or unexpected financial surprises. If ever there was a time to be due diligent, this is it.

In fairness to facilities, it’s important to know there is a horror story for them all. There are few businesses who are incident free. However, 98% of these facilities are wonderful and provide great care. There are those residents and family members who are demanding and are simply unable to please.  You, however, can look at the overall picture and get a good feel. Bottom line. If you walk into a facility and your gut says no. Stick with your gut. Instinct follows us for a reason. Listen to the nudge should you feel it.

Elderly Hand Holding Cane

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In-Home Care – The question that rises within families is this:  “Why pay for an assisted living when we can get someone to stay at home with our folks?”

It’s a valid question and one that deserves an answer. It is a proven statistical fact that seniors thrive in their own homes. Their own home is familiar and it gives them a sense of holding on to some control in their lives when their cognitive and physical abilities begin to slip away. Educating yourself is still important.

Private caregivers are a dime a dozen. Many are wonderful. But few, if any, meet state and federal regulations for in-home care. There are a few pros. Family members, friends, or someone’s best friend may be willing to care for your senior for a reasonable hourly rate.  They will help manage the household chores, take seniors to appointments and provide companionship.

The cons:  Many private duty caregivers take pay without paying income tax. Senior’s families are required to provide a 1099 to the caregiver and to pay Social Security/Medicare taxes to the state. Families can be sued if a caregiver is injured because homeowners insurance does not cover paid employees. This injury falls under workman’s compensation. Caregivers can call out and leave families in a bind with no one to care for their parent when they are required to go to work. Eldercare abuse, elder scam and thievery are at a higher rate because no background checks are done. Medical procedures are performed (i.e. sugar tests, feeding tubes, wound care, or injections) with no supervision and limited training. Important warning: This not acceptable by most states governing authorities and families tread on dangerous ground when they allow these procedures to be performed by non-medical personnel.

In fairness there are many private duty caregivers who provide excellent care for aging parents. Either way, this is a job that is regulated by the State and if your caregiver is not licensed, paying the taxes due the government, and receiving continued training, then families and the caregiver run the risk of being called out by the state.

The truth:  Cheaper is not always better.

In-Home Care Companies – There is security in hiring a caregiver through a company. First and foremost, caregivers are screened with background checks, credit checks, and motor vehicle driving records to provide the safest care possible. Companies are regulated and licensed through the state. This forces the highest level of care possible. Should a caregiver be ill and need to call out, companies can provide a replacement so families are not left in a bind.

In-home companies provide workman’s compensation. They provide W-2’s, assure federal and state income taxes, Social Security and Medicare taxes are withdrawn. Companies have liability insurance, provide full background, credit checks and motor vehicle reports on all caregivers, and caregivers are bonded. When all is said and done, in-home companies allow aging parents to remain in their homes as long as possible with exceptional care provided. Cost comparison on a senior who requires 24/7 care runs slightly less to equal to assisted living.

All things said, when it’s time to consider living situations, be pro-active. Do not hesitate to research every aspect of the facility or company you are considering. Understand the cheapest route may end up costing you the most due to hidden fees and agendas. Do the homework and find the facility or company that best suits the needs and care level of your aging parent.

Care for the Caregiver

More Baby Boomers are caring for their aging parents than ever before.  According to the Family Caregiving Alliance (The National Center on Caregiving) over 48.5 million Americans are caring for aging parents.With a swaying economy and more individuals now out of work, these people are stepping in to help care for their seniors.

The truth to these statistics is both good and bad. It’s wonderful more family members are caring for their aging parents. Americans are in the minority worldwide when it comes to caring for their family members.  Western countries show a priority in parent care by bringing their loved ones into their homes and caring for them until death.  The down side is  the majority of these caregivers are unpaid.

Family trends show when an elder parent needs assistance the task will generally fall solely on one family member. This is due to the logistics of that family member to the simple fact they are the only one to step up– and these individuals will burn out.

Caring for your caregiver is important. Their hearts are open and kind. They are generally very patient and willing people. Taking advantage of their generosity happens frequently. It is vital families band together to offer assistance to these warm-hearted caregivers.

What can you do to care for your caregiver? 

*Offer them a full 24 hours off.

*Occasionally pop by and help with household tasks

*Provide a meal

*Write a thank you note or card

*Call and chat with the caregiver. Make them feel loved

*Recommend hiring a non-medical in-home care company such as Comfort Keepers  to share the load

Many times caregivers feel as forgotten as those they care for. Make time for them. Show your appreciation. Sometimes all that is required is just a simple thank you.

Avoiding “The Eldercare” Talk

By Cindy Sproles

In a perfect world all aging parents would understand at some point in their lives, there will be need for assistance. When the time arrives, parents would willingly comply with the suggestions of their well-meaning children. But it’s not a perfect world. And…we avoid having the conversation. Here are a couple of reasons why.

*Anger

No one likes to admit their abilities are slowly becoming inabilities, especially when, through the years, they’ve been independent, self-reliant and able. Still avoiding the conversation is not wise.

There’s always an excuse to prevent families from discussing the care of their aging parents. One of the greatest fears in sharing this information is anger. It’s difficult for parents to hear the words, “You need help.” Remember, our parents were raised during an era in America when they were forced to be self-sufficient. Many survived World War II and even some lived through the Great Depression. Times were hard and survival depended on their determination to care for themselves. Be sensitive to this ingrained independence and self-preservation. Many parents know they need assistance but simply refuse to accept the truth. Sometimes handling the conversation of acceptance in little doses is better. For example, a parent’s laundry may be stacking up because their washing machine is located in a basement. Getting up and down the stairs with a load is hard. They realize this and let the laundry slide. Approach the subject from the laundry stand point as opposed to saying, “You can’t do this anymore.” A dialogue might be like this:

“I see you’re towels are low in the hall closet. Can I help you get that laundry done?” This can lead to conversation that helps the parent see a need for assistance. Perhaps suggest having the appliances moved upstairs for convenience or “Maybe we can find someone to come by weekly and do the laundry for you.” Will there be resistance? Probably. But the subject is approached from a task needing to be completed rather than saying they are just not able anymore. It may take time, but small doses of conversation showing need is better received.

*Depression

Families fear an onset of depression when aging parents are approached with a need for assistance. Depression is a possibility, especially in those who have lost spouses. When a parent has depended on a spouse for 50+ years, that spouse dies…two things can happen. The surviving parent over compensates by taking a strong initiative in their life or they sink into a deep depression feeling as though they can do nothing for themselves. Depression is best handled by a physician but it is not a reason to gently approach aging parents about assistance in their homes, especially if they are in situations that could endanger them.

*The truth hurts
Unfortunately, the reality of aging hurts. Our immortality becomes imminent especially as they see their peers enter nursing care facilities or pass away. Aging can be frightening and it’s something only few face head on.

The fact remains, if an aging parent needs assistance, take time to have the discussion about their care. Nothing supercedes their health and safety. The conversation is never easy but there are ways to approach the subject that eases tension.

The Terrible F-word…Fear

As baby boomers assume more and more responsibility for their aging parents a number of issues move to the forefront—questions that need to be answered, fears that need to be soothed.

Providing appropriate care for our aging parents places a huge and unexpected burden on young families. Adult children are torn as to how to offer the most appropriate care for their parents.

Here are a few suggestions which will help ease the fear that accompanies the decisions for our aging parents.

Private caregivers verses company hired caregivers. The first choice of family members for the care of their elder parents is immediate family members. However, extended family quickly dissipates as the weeks of care progress. Immediate family members have the responsibility to care for their own families as well as their parents. One cannot interrupt the regular schedule of a home for an extended time without dire consequences.

A second choice is to hire private duty caregivers. These usually come from friends or  media sources such as classified ads. Though there are many wonderful caregivers found through this method, families are placing themselves in a high risk situation.

If a private duty caregiver is ill or out of town, families are left without care for their senior. For every one caregiver hired outside a company that is wonderful there are five who will not be reliable.

Most insurance companies will not cover any injury to a private duty caregiver under the homeowners policy. Why? This is a workman’s compensation claim and most general homeowner polices do not provide coverage for “employees” of the homeowner. You are at serious risk to be sued to cover major medical expenses.

Backgrounds checks are costly and difficult to attain for the average individual. Most families will only attain a county background check and assume their search is complete. Full background searches through a national data base are necessary to protect your family and your senior from serious consequence.

The benefits of a caregiver company.  There is no question that it is more costly to attain the services of a company who provides caregivers. However, the benefits far outweigh the cost.

By hiring a licensed and bonded company you are hiring quality and responsibility. Many companies are not licensed, bonded, and insuranced even though the State of Tennessee requires these items. Companies who are licensed adhere to the strict standards set by the State and Federal guidelines and are accountable for their actions. Families who hire companies have a mediator in the event there should be any questionable actions of the company providing care.

Companies provide their own liability insurance as well as their own workman’s compensation to cover their employees. And quality companies bill the client, taking any financial responsibilities away from the caregiver and providing records for insurance and accounting.

You will not be left without care. Companies provide quality caregivers and should one become ill or be unable to work, they are able to replace that caregiver quickly and keep your family on track.

By hiring a quality company such as Comfort Keepers, the needs of your loved one will be met with pride, love and compassion taking the fear away from the family and allowing exceptional care that is necessary to keep the aging parent comfortable and happy.

The Natural Progression of Life

elderly-handsDeath is a hard subject, one most individuals prefer to ignore. The popular idea of, if it’s not thought about then it’s not a reality, hides beneath the surface. Yet, death is very much a reality. No one has a magic “get out of jail free” card on this one. Death will, at some point, touch every individual.

The thoughts of giving up a loved one are sometimes more than we can bear. Life without that person is unimaginable.

In an article by Craig Bowron, MD, published in the Washington Post (February 17, 2012), Dr. Bowron brought to light many thought provoking ideas every family should consider when it comes to the natural progression of life for their aging parents. Some of his ideas are heartbreakingly shocking and they deal not with the aging, parent, but with the families and their duty to care effectively for them.

Dr. Bowron noted how and why life expectancy has risen since the 1900’s. Improved medical advances certainly played a role, but the simple development of improved diets, cleanliness, and urbanization decreased infant and maternal mortality by thousands. Still the primary cord that rings true in our present day world is the lack of family involvement until death’s knock suddenly arrives.

Simply translated, in the early years of our nation, as age stole away the elderly’s abilities, they came to live under the same roof as their children. Families as a whole, shared the sometimes lengthy and harsh suffering their aging parents experienced, changing their view on death. Death, in these times came as a welcomed visitor, allowing their parents to slip away with dignity and in an environment they felt loved and cared for. It was, by all due rights, normal.

Today’s world separates families. Children move across country in search of a better life, leaving aging parents behind. Though they may keep in touch, distance does what it does best – it takes away the connection.

For many, the care of an aging parent is not intentionally ignored, rather it’s skewed by the distance. The inability to be actively involved in the day to day routine of a senior’s health issues has vanished. As a parent’s health deteriorates, children no longer experience the progression of illness or disease. Instead, they assume all health issues are fixable. Medical technology is amazing. There are things that can be done to stop this process. Care is tossed into the hands of medical professionals and exceptional results are expected. Dr. Bowron goes on to state, “…our culture has come to view death as a medical failure rather than life’s natural conclusion.”

Take this story as an example. A seventy-one year-old man, strong in appearance, apparently healthy is stricken suddenly with stage 4 lung cancer. His children have always been actively involved in their parent’s lives. As a close knit family it was natural for the children to step alongside their mother in the decisions and care of their father.

The prognosis from doctors was bleak. Radiation would be a temporary solution but ultimately his comfort should take precedence.heat

Entertaining the idea of death was not an option for this family however, after only one month into his treatment they realized the desires they longed for, were their own.

Their father willingly submitted to the care the family suggested. Though his thoughts were that compliance would make this season easier on his family, when they asked him to consider traveling to a hospital that specialized in this type of cancer, he said no. They suddenly understood his treatment was not about them, it was about what was best spiritually, mentally, and physically for their father.

Studies have shown the effects of prayer on those who suffer extreme illness. Though every patient may not recover, they have a lower stress level, peace, and personal acceptance level for their treatment and prognosis. As Christians we understand the power behind prayer and we understand the will of God may not be our will. God knows best in every life. And here in lies the truth in caring for aging parents who are ill. Trust in the natural progression of life and the will of God.

When we stand toe-to-toe with death, it forces us to reach for preservation. The ultimate desire to extend the life of an individual only to cause them more pain and suffering pushes us into a catch twenty-two – the love we have for our aging parents verses the  natural progression of life.

There are exceptions to every rule. Families who intentionally do not participate in the care of their elders then demand medical interventions out of an unrecognized guilt. The attitude of “I’ll fix this,” allows them to take control and paint the picture of love and care that serves as personal satisfaction rather than gentle and loving care. When death claims the life they’ve stepped into repair, they find their comfort in blaming the medical profession. They could have done more.

The hard truth is, death is the natural progression of life and though we should make every effort to use medicine as a means of healing, there is something to be said for the quality of life. Acceptance of the progression.

The family of this elderly man, sought out their father’s desires. They cared for him, kept him comfortable, and allowed him the dignity he requested. He accepted treatments but when he drew the line, the family stepped into the role of support. Though his loss was devastating, they rested in the peace of their father’s wishes. Their faith turned to a deeper trust that God’s will was to take precedence over their own desires.

Four months later, the man passed as his family kissed him and offered him permission to leave them. And there was peace.

This article, by no means, advocates that families opt out of medical care or lifesaving measures. These things are truly personal preference. Modern medicine is a blessing and for many, the lifesaving advances are miracles. However, what this article does advocate, is the awareness, acceptance, and compassion for caring for an aging parent , and the importance of understanding their end-of-life desires. It advocates personal and family involvement, long before illness strikes building deep, strong bonds that live on after the loss of a parent.

???????????Care for your parents. Remember, even in the busyness of your life, the priority of family stands greater than anything else. Discuss end-of-life decisions with aging parents to know their wishes. The conversations are hard at best. It may be extensive measures are the choices of the parent. And then, it may not be. Either way, there is peace in knowledge. Knowledge allows a family to prepare and then in the throngs of hardship and loss, accept the progression.

Just a Nibble – Nutrition and the Elderly

A decline in appetite and nutrition is a serious problem especially when seen in the elderly. Regardless the adage “they’ll wither and die” seniors do not have to wither before they die.  Age doesn’t matter. As humans we require good nutrition to function. The body still needs energy and without the energy obtained from food, malnutrition happens.

There are a number of reasons seniors eat less and when families or caregivers see these signs, it’s important they address them immediately.

        • Dental Issues–  Ill-fitting dentures make gums tender and sore. A quick trip to the dentist for regular visits (especially to have dentures and partials checked) is important. Sores, blisters and even serious infection can occur in the mouth and though a parent may have dentures, dental hygiene is still important for healthy gums and bad breath.
        • Loneliness and depression – Depression and loneliness are major contributors in malnutrition for seniors. Their desire to live slips away and “the nothing left to live for” syndrome creeps in. A caregiver or regular visits and phone calls help with this issue. It’s not fun to eat alone and  adding calls or visits at mealtime boots moral and the sense of being needed or loved. If depression seems evident, contact a physician for additional help and care.
        • Bodily functions slow – As the body ages, the stomach empties slower, digests slower and the senses of taste and smell lessen. The body doesn’t crave to be fed but it still needs to be fed. Adding bright colored foods and “stick to your ribs” meals, helps. Bright colored fruit and steamed vegetables (steamed to a soft chew) are more enticing. Their consistency is softer and the availability is much easier for snacking. Baked sweet potatoes, oatmeal with a spoon of powdered milk added, thickens to an easier consistency to aid the swallow reflex. Adding cinnamon, thyme, and other flavorful and aroma filled spices to warm cereals and hot teas aid in stimulating hunger.
        • Dementia – Varied types of dementia lead seniors to simply forget how to prepare foods or even how to or when to eat. As dementia progresses foods must be pureed to a consistency that can be sipped through a straw or from a spoon. Careful monitoring is required at this stage as the body will forget how to swallow and choking is a hazard.
        • Preparing meals is too cumbersome – Seniors are more apt to skip meals when they feel cooking is too much for one person.  Adding easy to cook meals is a great answer. Though frozen meals are not high on the nutrition list, something is better than nothing. So add easy one-step meals to the freezer and look for meals which offer more vegetables and higher proteins. Rather than purchasing the single serve meals, purchase the middle size (2-3 serving size) this will allow for left overs that can be reheated for another meal. Prepare casseroles that can be broken into single or double size meals and frozen. Small fresh servings of salad, coleslaw and cut-up vegetables can be placed in zip-loc bags for easy access.
        • Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate – A great investment for aging parents  – a water cooler. Companies will deliver and change the water bottles to prevent seniors from lifting and tugging. Coolers are available with hot and cold water making it possible for hot soup mixes, coffees and even some one-step meals to be prepared by simply adding hot water. Keep cups or plastic glasses in the places seniors frequent most. If it is there, they will usually sip.

Yes, loss of appetite is a sign of aging. But it is not the norm. When seniors skip meals or weight loss occurs, seek the guidance of a physician and a nutritionist. Remember, eating is essential to good health…regardless of the age.

Qualities Every Caregiver Should Possess

Happy Senior Couple


The care of an aging parent is important. It’s difficult enough to invade their  independence with a caregiver but placing them with someone who’s personality doesn’t mesh, is worse.  The role of a caregiver is tough and finding the person who possess the “gifts” necessary is important for the happiness of your senior.

Here are a few qualities that every caregiver should possess before they become part of your aging parent’s daily routine.

*Willingness for Flexibility – It’s important a caregiver be willing to “bend” with the changes in the life of client. Changes in routine and schedule are not always wanted but are certainly a given when caring for the elderly.  Working with the “flow” is an important quality.

*Patience – If a client suffers with a dementia patience becomes a must. Repeated questions, constant reminding, and difficult moods require a person with the ability to change and adapt. One who is willing to smile, repeat, and move on.

*Listening – Sometimes the best medicine is simply to listen, hold a hand, and be supportive. Knowing a caregiver cannot always “fix” things is okay, but are they willing to sympathize and encourage?

*Attention to Detail – Finding the caregiver who has the gift to catch the “little things.” Things that may not seem important to most, are monumental  to a senior.  A caregiver with the gift to notice the small things and act on them is a jewel.

*Joyful – A caregiver who has the gift of happiness and joy is a welcome individual into the sometimes lonesome life of a senior.  It’s important a caregiver leave their personal drama at home and bring a peaceful, kind and happy attitude to work.  Happiness, singing, and laughter are proven morale boosters and sometimes they jog an aging senior’s memory to a time when things were different.

*Pro-Active – A caregiver should be pro-active in the care of their client. If something needs to be attended too, they make the necessary calls or take the initiative to do something.  Including their senior into the process of daily activities is healthy and motivating for seniors so sharing the task of cooking over simply taking charge, encourages important cognitive skills in the elderly.

No one is perfect. But the search for a caregiver can be much easier when you know what to look for.