Tag Archive | eldercare

The Gift of “No Gifts

Courtesy of pixaby.com and ChristianDevotions

Courtesy of pixaby.com and ChristianDevotions

Here come the holidays. Long before Halloween ended, stores began the Christmas holiday push. Gift giving catalogues have hit the mail, on-line shopping has begun, even morning news shows have started sharing holiday gift specials. The world says, “It’s time to shop!”

Several years back we let my mom “off the hook” for Christmas shopping.  It wasn’t hard to see how quickly our family had grown. Shopping for every child, grandchild, and great-grandchild, though it was joyful and fun for mom, was financially taxing on her small monthly pension. In fact, it was unreasonable.

My mother is no different than any other aging parent. Christmas has always been the time when they could shower all the “grands” with loads of gifts. After all, the world insists Christmas is about giving. But many aging seniors are not fortunate enough to devote two or three months of pension to assuring gifts are under the tree. Yet they spend this money without hesitation.

For grandparents, the joy of purchasing gifts is something they look forward to on a yearly basis. It’s something they plan to do, one way or the other. So when your aging parents are faced with the grind and guilt of holiday purchases – offer them a new alternative.

Refocus the Christmas holiday to family. Invite the crowd over to a potluck dinner –the working word here is “potluck.” Feeding a small army is expensive when you consider the price of a turkey to be approximately $25 and a ham as much as $30. The question then arises . . .will one be enough? One meal for a family of 25 can soar as high as $300.  None of us set out to bust mom and dad’s budget – we simply don’t think about the cost. Encourage a potluck dinner where each portion of the family provides a part of the meal. Suggest parents provide their family’s favorite dish and everyone else will bring the fixings. You will not only save hundreds of dollars for your aging parents, but you will preserve their pride in providing Christmas dinner. A potluck allows mom to decorate the table, pull out her prettiest dishes, and spend time with those she loves without spending the day slaving over a hot stove.

Draw names. If your family insists on exchanging gifts as a whole, then consider drawing names. This cuts the cost of gift giving in half.

Set a dollar limit. Set a feasible dollar amount on gifts. If you have parents who insist on purchasing for every family member, setting a dollar amount will help curb the cost. This is equally as true when drawing names. The idea is to control spending.

Silly Santa or Family traditions. Taking gift giving back to the joy of fellowship draws families closer. Find a family tradition that brings out the fun around the Christmas tree. In our family, there is a joke about getting only socks. Yearly my mother spends a great amount of time (and little money), making sure she wraps one or two pairs of socks for each family member.  The fun comes when gifts are passed out and everyone knows what’s in the box. Each box of socks that is opened brings a rousing cheer and applause for being accepted into the family for another year. The holidays aren’t about gifts, they are about family fellowship and love.

Some families choose the chaos and fun of Silly Santa (otherwise known as Dirty Santa). Again, gifts are inexpensive, and fun.

Photo courtesy of pixabay.com & geralt

Photo courtesy of pixabay.com & geralt

Handmade or sentimental giving. In our case, mother is a quilter. Each year she makes small quilted items – wall hangings, beautiful fabric bowls, potholders, or table runners. After all the gifts are opened, she has everyone pick a number then she sifts through a bowl and draws the winner. The gift may be a quilt or a magnificent wall hanging . . . the trick is, it’s made by her and for every family member the gift is sentimental.

Family cards. If your aging parents are like most, they want to purchase something. Consider prepaid gift cards to local restaurants or stores. $5, $10, even $20 cards are appreciated and much more affordable than going “all out.”

Make Christmas about your aging parents. Make the majority of the gifts under the tree, gifts for mom and dad. Give them photos of your family. Gift cards to the local grocery store or gas stations. Hire a cleaning service for a monthly visit. Purchase and paint a room in the house. Pre-pay the electric bill for a month.  Most of our parents have all the trinkets they need around the house, make your gifts practical. Your parents will appreciate the efforts.

Time. Our lives grow busier and busier each year but time is the greatest gift you can give your aging parent. Daily or weekly phone calls, visits, inviting them to your home for dinner or even a weekend stay. Going to the park, a meal out, a movie – nothing is more precious than your time especially if your parent has lost a spouse.  Remember the holidays, though joyful on the outside, can be the most painful for a single aging parent. They’ve spent over half their lives with the one they loved and now that person is gone. Seniors face loneliness, depression, and heart ache during the holiday seasons. Memories flood back as they decorate their tree and then take it down.  Your time with your parents is vital.

It’s been said that regret is a horrible bedfellow. If you have disagreements with your aging parents, put them behind you. Move ahead with forgiveness, peace, and love. Make every effort to spend quality time with your loved ones during their golden years. Unchecked efforts become deep and inconsolable regret after they are gone.

Make this holiday season a joyful and memorable one. Cut costs. Refocus on family. Make your gift to parents, the gift of no gifts. This year change up the game and allow the reason for the season to take first place in your Christmas plans.

How Do You Mend a Broken Heart?

Photo courtesy of Microsoft.com free photo gallery

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 ).

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.

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.

Be and “Elder” Elf

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By Cindy Sproles

The holidays have arrived. Christmas trees, decorations, parties, a flurry of friends and family, keep us filled with joy and fun. However, the fun does not always resonate with our seniors. There are a number of things that “put a damper” on such a festive season. It’s important to become sensitive to those things that may trigger hardship or sadness for our elders.

Despite the stumbling blocks the holidays bring, we challenge you to put on an elf hat and become an “Elder” Elf. What does an Elder Elf do? It’s simple. Make visits, calls, visit nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Make yourself available to those seniors who may be lonely or forgotten for the holidays.

Be aware of the following things and take action:

*Loneliness is a major source of depression – The holidays spur times of deep reflection for everyone. Fond memories of loved ones past swirl in our minds as we pull out the Christmas decorations. For aging parents, the loss of a spouse or even children, surface and the longing for times past rise. Be mindful of those elders who have lost their spouse. Invite them to spend time with you, call, visit, include them in your holiday activities.

*Take note of the things that cause stress – For some aging parents, the festive hoopla is confusing, i.e. Alzheimer’s patients, those with dementia. Festivities sometimes cause confusion and stress. Simply be mindful of those needs and adjust visits and interaction to fit their needs.

*Give seniors permission to NOT purchase Christmas gifts – It sounds a little harsh, but the truth is, many seniors will overspend their already slim budget, in order to purchase gifts for grandchildren and great grandchildren. Those gifts can sometimes number in the 50’s depending on the number of children. Be sensitive to the small retirement budget of elder parents and give them permission to stop the Christmas spending. Initiate a “name drawing” or a dirty Santa Christmas where only one gift is purchased rather than buying for every family member. It’s a hard habit to break but one that will relieve enormous stress from your aging parents.

*Note holiday safety – Scams will be on the rise, opportunity for robberies and even identity theft – Take the necessary precautions to firm up security for your aging parents. Be sure deadbolts are in place, windows and less used doors are locked. Encourage seniors to never give their social security or bank information to anyone over the phone. Place charge cards and debit cards in a secure location. Keep an eye on bills and if your aging parent has difficulty getting to the street for their mail, check with the Postal Service about adding a mailbox at the door of a parent’s resident. Safety is always first.

One other suggestion. If your aging parents have since passed, adopt a senior at a nursing home or hospital. Look in your church at seniors who may be alone and make them part of your Christmas season. Assisted living and nursing home facilities maintain a list of those who have no family. Make Christmas stockings by gathering items such as toothpaste, skid-free socks, lap blankets, short devotional books, fragrance free sensitive skin lotions, close-heeled house shoes, soft cookies to deliver to nursing homes. Something so small can make such a wonderful difference.

This Christmas, be an Elder Elf. It’s our job to care for our aging parents and friends. Put on the elf ears and become a senior’s special elf.