When visiting with your aging parent living alone over the holidays, take some time to check over their home to ensure they are as safe as possible. There are many things to check for to ensure they are still safely living independently. I recently wrote about signs to look for in your loved one’s habits and appearance, but you should also make sure they have the following items in place, for their own health and safety.

Here are the top five things to equip your senior parents with in their home:

  • A pre-programmed phone: Pre-programming a parent’s phone can eliminate difficulties in the case that they need to call someone in the case of an emergency. Be sure to program important and frequently used numbers on the phone and place an easy-to-read chart of the short cuts right next to the phone. For instance, program emergency services, family members, and doctors for easily made calls.
  • Automatic Locked Pill Dispensers – the average senior takes multiple prescription medications on a daily basis.  Remember when to take them is challenging enough but insuring that they are not mixed up or fall on the floor is equally dangerous not only for the person but any children that happen to be visiting.  There are several pill dispensers on the market that are tamper-proof, locked and will alert you when you are running low.
  •  Safety devices in the bathrooms: As the floors and surfaces in a bathroom can become especially slippery, it is vital to have safety devices such as grab-bars and shower benches in the bathroom in order to prevent falls and to steady seniors as they move around their bathrooms.
  • A Vial of L.I.F.E. information sheet: In case of an emergency, this is a great thing for seniors to have posted somewhere easily seen, perhaps on their refrigerator. A Vial of L.I.F.E. (LIFE standing for Lifesaving Information For Emergencies) has all of your parent’s vital information such as their name, hospital preference, medical conditions, emergency contacts, and insurance information posted for emergency personnel to have easy access to. This is especially useful if during the emergency situation the senior cannot give the information themselves. Download a blank Vial of L.I.F.E. sheet to fill out for your elderly parent here.
  • Monitoring systems.  One out of every three people over the age of 65 will experience a fall.  Falls are the leading cause of serious injury among seniors and can be the start of a rapid physical decline. Whether you live a mile away or 1000 miles away from your parents, a monitoring system with motion sensors and alarms that can alert you if there is a problem is crucial.  Additionally if there is an emergency, first responders can be notified immediately.  There are several on the market that can meet your particular needs.Equipping your parent’s house with a medical alert button will assure you that in the case of an injury, fall, or sudden illness they will be able to call for the medical attention they require. Many of these come with buttons that can be worn as a bracelet or necklace for constant accessibility, and many of them offer two-way communication with the medical alert support team so that communication can be maintained while your parent waits for medical assistance.

If your parent is still able to live independently and is not quite ready to live conveniently with you in a PALS Built modular home, be sure to utilize these necessities to keep them safe and allow you to have peace of mind.

Visiting your aging parents for the holidays after not having seen them for a while can be eye-opening.  You might notice some changes – confusion when they’re relaying a story,  less agility when they’re getting out of a chair – but there also could be some serious red flags that your parents might need the help of a caregiver or a different living situation.

Here are some things to look for:

Change in routine – Have they lost interest in social activities they used to engage in and/or have they distanced themselves from friends and/or family?

Poor eating habits – Check the refrigerator, is it well stocked or is it pretty bare with expired food?  Are they eating regularly?

Not managing finances – Are there stacks of mail and bills unopened? Take a glance at their check book and bank statements to make sure they’re paying bills promptly, not bouncing check or overspending.

Disregard for personal hygiene – Is your mom the type that has always been perfectly dressed and groomed?  Has she lost interest in her appearance?  Does your dad seem rather disheveled?  These could be signs of depression or another issue.

Frequent injuries – Chances are your parents might not want you to know if they’ve slipped and fallen or injured themselves.  Look for signs of bruises, a limp and/or that they’re favoring one arm over another.  Check the house for fall hazards such as throw rugs, clutter on the floor – especially near stairs, slippery surfaces in the bathroom and poor lighting on staircases.

It’s hard to admit that your parents are getting older and need help but it’s important to take a realistic look at the situation.  But, be careful how you bring up the subject to your parents as you certainly could meet with resistance – but that’s for another blog!

Caregiver burnout takes a toll on everyone in the family

Tips to alleviate the financial and emotional stress of caregiver burnout

Do you suffer from caregiver burnout?  If you’re one of the 65 million people providing care for a chronically ill, disabled or aged family member you’re a likely candidate.

I definitely fall into the category. Caring for my children – one of whom has special needs, my husband – who has MS, and my aging father – who has advancing Alzheimer’s, can prove to be a challenge, to say the least. Physically, mentally, and emotionally, it is nothing short of exhausting. Constantly I feel that I’m short-changing someone. There’s not enough of me to go around and I’m confident that the pressure I feel in having so many people rely on me is taking its toll physically.

The elder care crisis that our nation faces has a trickle-down effect on the younger generations who, as caregivers, are struggling to maintain a job, care for children and financially provide for multi-generations.

Even in large families, the role of caregiver and the demands it entails, usually falls on one sibling.  The others are usually in denial or in hiding.  As one eldercare attorney said to me, I’m the perfect client as I’m an only child.  The primary caregiver not only must deal with a potentially cantankerous parent, the demands of children and the requirements of an employer, but the lack of support or criticisms by siblings.

The value of a family caregiver is tremendous yet support services for them are incredibly limited.  According to a 2009 survey conducted by Evercare and National Alliance for Caregiving, the value of the services family caregivers provide for “free,” when caring for older adults, is estimated to be $375 billion a year, almost twice as much as is actually spent on homecare and nursing home services combined ($158 billion).  These individuals are virtually on call 24/7 and receive little if any respite.  Corporations, while recognizing the increasing demands on adult children to care for their parents, have done little in the way of structuring flexible working situations.  In fact, lost wages from caring for parents will cost men who are 50-plus an average $89,107 in 2011 dollars over their lifetime, according to a study last year conducted for the MetLife Mature Market Institute. They also stand to lose an estimated $144,609 in Social Security benefits and $50,000 in pension benefits.  Caregiving not only impacts the employee but the employer.  American businesses can lose as much as $34 billion each year due to employees’ need to care for loved ones 50 years of age and older.

The emotional and physical implications of “caregiver burnout” are equally troubling.  Attempting to carve out romantic time, let alone private time, is difficult enough with children in the house.  Adding the demands of elder care makes it virtually impossible. In a study conducted by Caring.com, 80% of respondents reported strains on their relationships due to caregiving and 25% of divorced baby boomers stated that caregiving played a major role in their divorce.  Many times there is resentment when a caregiver is placed in the situation of caring for in-laws.

In general, women tend to overlook their own health issues and necessary preventative care as they juggle the needs of the rest of their family.  When her time is absorbed by doctors’ visits, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning and paying bills for an elderly parent, the additional obligations leave little time for a caregiver to care for herself.  In the same Evercare study, nearly three quarters (72%) of family caregivers reported not going to the doctor as often as they should and 55% said they skip doctor appointments for themselves.  This leads to a dramatic increase in health-related issues for caregivers.  More than 1 in 10 family caregivers reported that caregiving had caused their physical health to deteriorate.

November is National Caregiver Month and should be used as a catalyst to engage in conversations among families and corporations about caring for the caregiver.   Unfortunately, without support, the caregiver will quickly turn into someone who needs care herself.  It’s vital that the well-being of the caregiver be acknowledged and addressed as well.  The enormous financial and social issues surrounding elder care that we are facing as a society will magnify if we do not put services into place now to relieve some of the caregiver’s burden.

The first step is getting the caregiver to acknowledge they need support.  The spouse of a dementia patient might be reluctant to leave him with someone else, fearing an aide  won’t provide the quality of care she does.  She might deny the magnitude of her daily responsibilities to prevent her adult children from “interfering.”  An adult daughter might feel she has no one to turn to and therefore hide what’s really happening.

Family and friends need to look for the signs that a caregiver needs help and, when necessary, bring in a professional such as a geriatric social worker to intercede.  If a caregiver feels as if adult children are trying to take over, she will resist any help and perceive it as an intrusion.  It’s important to listen, acknowledge and respect the caregiver’sfeelings.

On October 19th, just a few days shy of my 47th birthday, I was invited by Pfizer to participate in a blogger summit to talk about my feelings on getting old.  Why does Pfizer care how I feel about getting old?  Well, in June, they started an initiative, GET OLD (www.GetOld.com),
supported by nearly a dozen organizations, to amplify the conversation on aging and learn more about how Americans of all ages are tackling aging for themselves, their family and society.

One component of the initiative is GetOld.com, a site that asks people how they feel about getting old: ANGRY, UNEASY, OPTIMISTIC or PREPARED. The site encourages people of all ages to discuss aging by sharing and viewing stories, photos, and videos about getting old, and provides valuable information on aging from leading experts, partner groups and individuals like you and me.

To better understand how we feel, Pfizer invited several bloggers, between the ages of 30 and 60 years old, to share our feelings and hear from some experts on how to live better as we age.  I’ll be honest, up until the moment I sat in the room and was asked “how do you feel about getting old”, I really hadn’t thought much about it.  I’m too busy working, raising my kids and caring for my aging father to even consider it. I have a feeling that’s true for many women like me who are smack-dab in the middle of the sandwich generation.

Me and some incredible bloggers and the amazing chef Carla Hall who cooked us a delicious lunch at the Live Well Get Old blogger summit

And, I must admit, that I never considered myself old – until I realized that OH MY GOD I WAS TURNING 47 – ALMOST 50!

It reminded me of that Talking Heads lyric – “Well, how did I get here?”

I started to think how I would answer the GetOld.com question and I realized that I would have to say OPTIMISTIC.  I fortunately inherited my mom’s eternally positive outlook on life.  I’m in good health, I married a wonderful man last year and I truly feel that the best is yet to come.  My 20’s was devoted to starting my career, my 30’s was about starting a family and my 40’s so far has been about reinventing myself.  Thinking about my 50’s and listening to other incredible women sitting around the table, I realized that this will be a time to relax and enjoy being me. 

How would you answer the question?  Do you feel like you’re on a rapid slide down hill or are you excited thinking about what’s to come?  Let me know your thoughts and go to http://www.getold.com/ to answer and find out about some great resources. 

PALS Built multigenerational living handicap-accessible modular home additions allow elderly to age in place

Multigenerational living may be somewhat new to our culture and generation but, in reality what’s old is new again.  What we used to think of as “the in-law suite” (also known as “The Granny Pod”)  has become a viable solution for Americans who want to provide a private residence within an adult child or other caregiver’s home for one, two or even three elderly family members.

Half of US women aged 85 and up live alone,  The risk of injuries from falls and declining health, coupled with the financial burden of maintaining a home, is creating an unfeasible situation for this older population.

The National Council of Aging reports that one in six seniors lives below the federal poverty line, many because of the financial strains that accompany living alone.   A recent article in the New York Times pointed out that many seniors, pushed into taking risky reverse mortgages, are now being forced out of their homes and facing foreclosure.  There is also a financial burden placed on the adult child caregiver.  19 million Americans care for someone over the age of 75, and this number is rising.   Corporations, while recognizing the increasing demands on adult children to care for their parents, have done little in the way of structuring flexible working situations.  Many caregivers report using all of their vacation time in small increments to care for their aging parent throughout the work day, bringing them food, picking up prescriptions and driving them to various doctor’s appointments. In fact, lost wages from caring for parents will cost men who are 50-plus an average $89,107 in 2011 dollars over their lifetime, according to a study last year conducted for the MetLife Mature Market Institute. They also stand to lose an estimated $144,609 in Social Security benefits and $50,000 in pension benefits.  Caregiving not only impacts the employee but the employer.  American businesses can lose as much as $34 billion each year due to employees’ need to care for loved ones 50 years of age and older.

As adult children begin to investigate alternative living solutions, they realize that the options are slim.  Assisted living facilities can cost upwards of $ 7,000.00 per month and, when additional caregiving assistance is required, that number can increase dramatically.  What families are also discovering is that the quality of care in assisted living is questionable as cuts are made to staff and the staff/patient ratio rises.

The most practical and financially feasible solution is multigenerational living.  While bringing together several generations can present its own set of challenges, when handled properly from the outset, it can be a rewarding situation for everyone.  Establishing rules, managing expectations and allowing elderly parents to maintain some area of privacy is crucial.

PALS Built modular home additions are studio, 1-bedroom and 2-bedroom handicap-accessible dwellings that can be seamlessly attached onto a caregiver or family member’s existing home.  They are a fraction of the cost of assisted living facilities or nursing homes and can be completed, start to finish, in as little as six to eight weeks.  They have their own separate entrance but allow family members to be nearby and to oversee caregivers.  But, they are a private residence which allows the person to maintain their privacy.

When the Child Becomes the Caregiver

Paula Spahn wrote yesterday about a new show, “Ruth and Erica,” that is aired  exclusively on the Wig Channel on  YouTube, centered on a grown woman who is beginning to face the reality  that her aging parents may not be so self-sufficient anymore (her father fell  asleep at a stop sign – “Once!” her mother protests – while behind the wheel of  his car).  To make matters more  complicated, her parents are in total denial of their fading capabilities and  her mother, in particular, seems determined to deflect any implication that she  and her husband are starting to show signs of decline: when presented with  rotting food in her fridge, she tells her daughter, “I’m going to make  something with that!” to which her daughter replies, “What are they? Seriously  identify the fruit and I’ll put them back.”

This is a classic example of something that is going on in  millions of homes across America right now.  Adult children are in a tough position to make sure that their aging parents  are safe (and not a hazard to innocent pedestrians or guests over for a meal),  while meeting with obstinate defensiveness that their parents are “just  fine.”

The production is high quality with veteran actors – Maura  Tierney (of ER and News Radio fame) as daughter Erica and Lois  Smith and Philip Baker Hall as her aging parents.  Its subject matter gives credence to the fact  that many of us are in the same situation: trying to maintain our parents’  dignity and sense of independence while ensuring their well-being.

I find myself battling my mom over what my father is capable of doing these days; I’ve written before on my situation helping my mom care for my dad,  who has Alzheimer’s, and while heartbreaking to see such a vibrant, active man  morph into something else, the hardest part is the struggle I’m having in  getting my mom to admit that she needs help.  We see through Erica’s eyes the pain and dawning realization that her parents, who have always kept her safe and cared for her, now may need her more  than she needs them.

I look forward to watching all the installments of “Ruth & Erica.” Check it out  for yourself and understand that you are not alone! It’s about time the  entertainment industry paid more attention to this issue.

September is World Alzheimer’s Month and National Grandparent’s Month

 Alzheimer’s Action Day

While I was well aware that September is World Alzheimer’s Month and tomorrow is Alzheimer’s Action Day, until today I didn’t realize that it’s also National Grandparent’s Month.  I’m wondering if it was planned that way given that one in eight older Americans has Alzheimer’s and 70 million Americans are grandparents.  There’s a big overlap I’m sure.  My father, in fact, is one person who is in both groups.

Alzheimer’s is a devastating disease for everyone involved but, for grandkids, it’s really confusing.  It’s a disease that changes a fun-loving grandparent into someone who behaves strangely and may no longer recognize them.   Explaining it to kids isn’t easy.  Sure there can be some outward signs such as shuffling when they walk, but this is a disease of the brain, something they can’t see.

As an only child, I was committed to having my kids grow up around their grandparents.  The history and bonds that are forged can last a lifetime.  Over the past few years as my dad’s condition has worsened it’s been hard watching him slip away.  It’s difficult to know sometimes whether he recognizes me and the kids as he always has a smile for us when he sees us.

This past summer was the first time he couldn’t go on our family vacation, having had a stroke just several weeks prior to the trip.  It was hard on my mom, who still joined us for a few days.  I can’t imagine what it’s like for her on a daily basis, watching the man she’s loved for 50 years
slip away.

I will always be grateful for the time my kids have had with their grandpa – they are memories they will have forever.  And I will continue to explain as best I can to them that grandpa might not always recognize them but I’m convinced the love in his heart will shine through no matter what.

Tomorrow is Alzheimer’s Action Day.  Please wear purple to commemorate the day and learn more about what you can do to fight the stigma of this terrible disease that affects over 35 million people around the world.

Caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s

As is the case with many bloggers, I find writing about my personal situations is not only cathartic but often times will help one of my readers who is facing a similar situation.  Currently my topic du jour is being an adult child caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s .  As a national family safety and wellness expert, I’ve frequently focused on child and teen issues.  But my career has consistently followed my
life path and now I’m becoming well versed in the issues facing aging parents.

I’m not sure what’s been harder, watching my dad decline and succumb to this horrific affliction or standing by as my mom tries to deny the situation and handle it herself.  Actually that’s not true – it’s been much harder dealing with my mom.  Truth be told, my father and I were never very close.  There has always been an emotional dis-attachment between the two of us.  My mother, on the other hand, has been my best friend forever.   I’ve watched her age before my eyes.  Nurses and social workers have all commented about the incredible care she provides my dad.  Her love for him is endless and, as a result, she has lost herself in becoming a 24/7 caregiver for her husband.

And now, a bad situation has become worse since he suffered a stroke last month.  To her credit I’ve watched her work with him first in rehab and now at home to regain most of his mobility that he had prior to the stroke.  She was warned that he would only be able to walk up and down the stairs in the house once per day and that she should have help for all waking hours.  But my mom is a determined woman.  Not only is he back to walking up and down stairs numerous times but she has him outside taking walks with her.  This effort doesn’t come without a price however and, even though she won’t admit it, she’s overwhelmed by the daily chores and inability to have time to herself.

As an only child, it’s up to me to alleviate as much of this burden as I can.  I realize that in many families, even when there are multiple siblings, these obligations usually are managed by just one of the adult children.  I’ve suggested they move in with me so that I can at least help out more – cook, clean, do errands and care for my dad so she can have some time to herself.  So far she’s resisted.   With a full time job and three small children at home, it’s hard for me to get down to her house to do these things as much as I’d like to.  Even when I can, she declines the help, insisting she can do it on her own.

So, here I sit, frustrated that I can’t help more, sad watching what it’s doing to them and, yes, a little scared of what the future is going to bring.

Are you dealing with similar issues with your aging parents?  How have you been able to provide help when it’s turned down from your parents?