5 Holiday Gifts That Make Senior Living Easier

senior gift ideasTransitioning your mom or dad into an assisted living or retirement community is never easy. You have the best intentions at heart, but sometimes they may not see it that way, and it could take a little convincing for an easier adjustment. With the holidays right around the corner, here are the top 5 gifts you can get your parent that will help them enjoy senior living that much more.
Talking alarm clock

No matter how old you are, getting out of bed can be hassle, but it’s much easier when you have someone hassling you. If your parents are struggling with their vision, there’s no need for them to strain their eyes with this talking alarm clock from Senior Superstore. It features a voice time and temperature reader and allows you to choose whether you want the time/temperature announced when you touch the clock, if you want an hourly announcement throughout the day or if you want it on a 16-hour schedule (7 am to 10 pm).

 

Amazon Kindle

The Amazon Kindle can be a senior’s new best friend. These compact and easy-to-read devices are extremely portable and are perfect to help keep ensure your parents’ minds stay sharp. They can hold up to 3,500 books with a simple download, so as long as they have internet access, you won’t have to worry about a trip to Barnes & Noble each time they need a new read.   The Kindle is easy on the eyes; you can read it in the bright sunlight, and it doesn’t stress your eyes out like a computer screen does.

 

Lighted reading glasses

To further prevent parents from over-straining their eyes while reading, lighted reading glasses from LightSpecs are a great investment. These lightweight reading glasses feature small lights that focus light in the direction you are looking. The replaceable batteries are also equipped to last up to 50 hours.

 

Golf cart

Maintaining mobility is critical for assisted living or senior care, and golf carts are an excellent way to do that. If the community is in a subdivision like area with interconnected roads, shops and restaurants, golf carts are a great solution if they’re too far to walk. Road Rat Motors has a great selection of golf carts that are street legal, and they can double to be used for the golf course, too. These are also all electric, so with a simple charge, they’re ready to go, and you won’t need to make a trip to the gas station. While some of the prices may be a little out of reach, you could chip in as a whole family, and it’ll sure to be something they won’t forget.

 

Bath towel warmer

There’s nothing better than a warm towel fresh out of the dryer, and with a bath towel warmer, they can have that feeling every time. This is ideal warming your bones immediately after a nice warm bath or steam shower, especially in areas up north prone to colder temperatures.  The towel rack is also within arm’s reach of the bathtub or shower, so there’s no excess maneuvering that could result in slips or falls.

 

What are some other great ideas you have for gifts to make senior living a little easier?

 

About the Author: Kelsey Bohannan is a freelance writer who writes for the marketing agency 352 Media Group and has a passion for helping seniors.

Photo: rustybrick

Tips for Managing Caregiver Stress

Chances are that, to some degree, you been a family caregiver for your loved one for some time now. To one degree or another, you’ve been tending to their needs: taking frequent phone calls, grocery shopping with (or without) them, and performing chores around their home.

Whether you are the child, sibling, or the spouse of your loved one, you’ll be feeling the emotional and physical strain of the role you’re playing. There’s an uncomfortable shift in the dynamics between you.

If you’re the child, you’ve become a parent of sorts. If you’re the spouse, you’re forced into a new and often unwelcome level of intimacy. And, if you’re a sibling, it’s imperative that your decisions not be clouded by childhood memories or resentments.

Being aware of these shifts in roles and responsibilities is the first step in self- care for the caregiver (that’s you, remember). The second step could be to seek support and assistance. One great resources is National Caregiver Support Groups. These groups can put you in touch with their local chapters. In addition, you can get information regarding support groups in your area from local nursing homes or eldercare agencies.

The Effects of Caregiver Stress

Dealing with the health problems of someone you love naturally produces stress in your life. It can wear you down, both emotionally, and physically.

I mentioned in my opening story that at one point in my mother’s illness, I was driving hundreds of miles each week to visit her in the hospital or skilled nursing facility. My mother’s condition was the result of a sudden event – which is different from the lingering decline described as part of the assessment process. With such a dramatic event comes shock, guilt and acute sorrow.

The time spent on the road gave me hours to think about how things could have been different; the traveling to and from her bedside took time away from my work, and my relationships. The stress of my mother’s illness was dominating my life and had manifested itself in many ways.

Stress manifests itself in three ways: physically, cognitively and emotionally. Below is a list of stress symptoms. Looking back at that period in my life, I realize stress has manifested itself in many of those symptoms.

Physical Symptoms

  • Headaches
  • Sore back / stiff neck
  • Teethgrinding
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Heart palpitations
  • Restlessness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Heartburn
  • Diarrhea/constipation
  • Jumpiness
  • Chronicinsomnia

Cognitive Issues

  • Difficulty in making decisions
  • Decreased problem-solving ability
  • Obsessive thinking
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Decreased concentration
  • Drop in organization skills
  • Limited attention span

Emotional Signs

  • Loss of interest in hobbies or recreational activities
  • Frequent crying or tearfulness
  • Persistent sadness or depression
  • Irritability
  • Chronic anxiety

Are you currently suffering from one or more of these symptoms of caregiver stress? I’m not surprised! Even in the early stages in dealing with the chronic health issues of a loved one – whether parent, sibling or spouse – you’ll find that you’ve become (more or less) tolerant of many of these manifestations of stress.

What I’ve learned is simple: taking care of yourself is essential to the well-being of your loved one. Here’s a short list of some of the things you can do to support yourself during the coming weeks:

Seek support from others. Turn to your loved one’s neighbors and friends; or other family members. They may be able to spend a few hours caregiving while you run errands, or even just take a short nap. Don’t feel you have to do it all alone!

Find a way to release your emotions. If you’ve got a pastor, spiritual advisor, close friend, or a therapist – someone you can trust 100% – be sure to reach out to them. They will be able to listen to you lovingly, and keep what you tell them to themselves.

Take time for yourself. If you like to walk on the beach, go shopping, take your dog to the park, or simply go see a movie – do it! Do not procrastinate on this: taking time for simple pleasures every day is critical to your well-being.

Simplify your life. Ask yourself this question: What can I let go of right now? Maybe you shouldn’t tackle new projects at work; maybe you should let go of hunting for that new house – whatever you can put ‘on the back burner,’ now is the time to do just that.

Avoid excessive alcohol or drugs. Ah, the temptations of self-medication. Don’t give into them. It’s not the wise path; ultimately, the care you are trying to provide suffers, and you’re less able to take care of the other things in life. Your job, marriage or parenting duties will suffer. That’s why I highly recommend the next tip:

Continue or begin an exercise program. It’s been clearly proven: aerobic exercise causes the brain to produce endorphins, which are your body’s natural way to enhance your mood and relieve your stress. Find a way to build regular exercise into your week: walk, run, practice T’ai chi; go bowling or play a round of golf with friends. Note: Always check with your doctor before beginning a new exercise program!

Do yoga. Yoga can be a fantastic stress reliever which providing a great deal of exercise and better flexibility. I cannot recommend Yoga enough, as it alone helps me reduce my stress level and irritability. A note for the men reading this book: Yoga can be hard work, very challenging and a great way to relax and build muscle. Don’t think Yoga is effeminate or too easy!

In the wonderful book, When Someone You Love Needs Nursing Home Care, the authors, Robert Bornstein and Mary Languirand help their readers to build a long-term plan, based on six principles:

  • Plan ahead. It may be a difficult subject to broach with your loved one, but planning ahead provides them with the opportunity to fully participate in the decision-making process.
  • Get advice. Don’t discount the value of speaking with those people who have been down this same road. Join a support group (online or offline), and speak with doctors, nurses and health care professionals. When it’s financial or legal advice you need, turn to attorneys and accountants.
  • Get others involved. Share the workload with family members, co- workers, and friends. Remember they care about you, and would love to help when they can – so don’t hesitate to ask!
  • Keep colleagues informed. Those people in your workplace need to be taken into your confidence; they’ll want to know why you’re frequently absent from your desk, or unable to take on additional work.
  • Take care of yourself. We’ve already touched upon ‘self-care’ as being critical not only to your well-being but to the well-being of your loved one as well.
  • Put things in perspective – and keep them there! Short-term thinking (“Things are falling apart and will never get better”) is a trap. As I’ve learned so clearly, people grow through adversity, and you’ll never be able to know just how this growth will manifest itself. Remember that change is inevitable…“this too shall pass.”

Photo Credit: lululemon athletica.

My Experience with Elder Care and Assisted Living

elder careEighty-four percent of Americans over the age of 50 expect an immediate family member to move into a senior living community within the next 10 years, while 24 percent over the age of 65 expect the same for themselves, according to a new national survey of American attitudes on assisted living released today by the Coalition to Protect Choice in Senior Living (CPCSL). The poll found just more than half (51 percent) expect their parents to live in a senior living community within 10 years, with 15 percent expecting the same for their spouse and 10 percent for a sibling.

My Story

I’d like to briefly share the story of the event that started me on this path. I imagine it’s similar to your own in that it begins with an unexpected phone call.

My wife and I had just returned from celebrating our engagement in Greece, and we were sharing stories over bowling with some good friends.

I was the product of a second marriage, and my mom and I had become quite close since my father’s passing while I was in high school. We spoke often, so I wasn’t surprised when my cell phone rang and the caller ID showed it was her.
I was surprised when I answered and it was the paramedics.

Apparently, my mother called 411 asking for my name and phone number as she could not remember it. The operator called 911, and in a matter of minutes, they had arrived, kicked down the door and called me.

My mother had a stroke. I was only 33, and totally unprepared for the depth of emotions, or the complexity of the decisions I was about to face.

That a 73-year old woman had a stroke is not unusual. My mom’s case was unique because of the series of complications that nearly killed her. In the eighteen months following her stroke, she endured major back surgery to remove a staph infection from her spine, a perforated intestine that required stomach surgery, several MRSA infections1 requiring IV antibiotics and a broken hip. She spent several weeks in the surgical intensive care unit recovering from her back surgery. Many of these nights, I feared the worst. But my mom is a fighter.

The medical system these days isn’t designed for long-term recovery. Hospital personnel are highly trained at treating acute problems and dealing with specific injuries and conditions. In fact, we have some of the most skilled doctors in the world.

But when you’re older and recovering from a serious illness, your options are usually to go home, or go to a skilled nursing facility – where staff can provide physical or occupational therapy, administer IVs and perform other functions requiring a registered nurse.

During this time, she spent nearly six months moving back and forth between the hospital and skilled nursing. In January of 2006, I moved Mom from San Diego to Orange County. She graduated from skilled nursing and was on her way to assisted living.

Trust, Hope and Hard Work

When Mom arrived in assisted living, she could not stand or walk and required a 24-hour caregiver. She could not eat or drink on her own and was in a deep state of depression.

While I found much advice on medical conditions and treatment, I found virtually nothing on understanding assisted living. Sure, there were some Websites that taught you the basics, like “make sure a nurse is on duty” or “make sure the kitchen is clean.” But this is my mom and I wanted far better for her. I wasn’t putting her away; I was playing a key role in her recovery.

Because of the lessons I learned – and a lot of hard work on the part of my mother – she is doing very well. In fact, we’ve become very close friends. She walks with a walker; her memories are clear and vibrant. She has a circle of friends and a packed calendar.

She even made it to my wedding. And she looked beautiful. I cried. They say your wedding toast is one of the most important speaking opportunities you’ll ever have. And I consider myself to be a good public speaker, routinely speaking at tradeshows and other events. But when I looked into the crowd and saw my mother smiling, I fell apart.

The joy I felt at seeing her on that special day was overwhelming. So was my commitment to her continued well being. It was my clear intention that she be given every opportunity in her assisted living situation to thrive, to grow, and to be fulfilled.

Recall the statistics at the beginning of the chapter. While I was shocked these numbers were so high, I completely agree. I did some homework. In an informal study of about 40 people, I sensed an almost inevitability about needing assisted living. I also found that financial issues and quality of care topped the list of concerns for both Baby Boomers and their children.

I followed up my informal study with a formal study of nearly 200 families. The Assisted Living Family Attitude and Preparedness Report showed that 75% of respondents believed a friend or family member would soon require assisted living. The report is free to anyone who wants to read it and can be accessed at the link above.

My goal is to share with you some of what I learned through my journey. My hope is that these lessons can make it easier for you and your mom, dad, relative or loved one. I assume you’re reading this blog because you or a loved is considering assisted living. Since you likely haven’t gone through it before, the decisions can be overwhelming. I’ve written this blog to help you make more informed decisions, and to be calm in what is likely to be an emotional storm. I sincerely hope I can help you avoid some of the pitfalls of learning the assisted living ropes.

While a move to assisted living may initially be seen as negative, I know first- hand that with some careful and thoughtful planning, you can make it a huge positive for all concerned. Over the last several years, my relationship with my mother has strengthened. She has become one of my best friends and an integral part of my life.

I hope you enjoy reading this blog and that I’m able to somehow make your journey a bit easier.

Photo Credit: andrewmalone.

Seven Ways to Talk to Your Parents About Getting Help at Home

It can be difficult to acknowledge the fact that your parent needs some help with day-to-day activities, let alone introducing to them the idea of hiring a professional caregiver for help. Your parent is likely to react to this decision with some resistance. Approaching the subject requires patience and tact. However, there are certain considerations to keep in mind that can help you approach this conversation with your parent with greater success.

Below are some ideas to consider, based on our years of experience with families facing these struggles:

1. List advantages. Make quality home care provided by a hired caregiver desirable to your loved one. Some benefits for hiring in-home care for your parent may be: rather than having to move to an assisted living facility or nursing home, they can remain at home; in-home care is often less costly; they will be given one-on-one attention when their caregiver is there.

2. Focus on independence. Explain why hiring a caregiver is a way for your parent to maintain their independence in their own home. Of course, this is easier said than done. Perhaps paint a visual picture for them. Have they already fallen once or twice? Explain what could happen if they fall again – how it could lead to broken bones, surgery and hospitalization, followed by a lengthy recovery period. The same method could be used if they frequently forget to take their medications, or often miss doctor appointments.

3. Try a different approach. If your parents are still living together, try suggesting that in-home care would benefit their spouse. They may be more willing to accept the care for the sake of their loved one, even if in reality, it is equally beneficial for both parents. If they live alone, focus on concerns or activities that are important to them.  For example, your parent may deny needing help, but may be amenable to someone helping with housekeeping and preparing some meals. They may acknowledge that they don’t like to drive at night but still want to attend their weekly bridge game.

4. Make it about you. Explain to your parent how much you worry about them. Or if you have been acting as primary caregiver explain that it has become too much on top of career or parenthood responsibilities. According to a recent study by Genworth, 55 percent of Americans say being a burden on their family is their biggest concern regarding long term care issues. Take this into consideration when approaching your parent about accepting in-home help. You might say, “Mom, I worry about you…and even if you tell me I shouldn’t, it keeps me up at night. Would you try having someone come in once a week for me?”

5. Mitigate fear. An elderly person can act hostile towards a hired caregiver at times, but this action is most likely out of fear. Prior to attempting to alleviate this fear, it is important to understand it. Common fears include loss of independence, losing control and dignity and financial worries. The presence of an outsider is likely to leave the elder feeling vulnerable. Take this into consideration when communicating with them, and respond with empathy rather than with frustration. Realize how your own emotions may be impacting the conversation and increasing resistance. It is important to choose an appropriate time and place for these discussions and set aside time for them.

6. Test it out on a trial-basis. Try hiring an outside caregiver for in-home help on a short-term basis for respite, or recovery care, after being discharged from the hospital or after a fall. This provides an opportunity to show your parent that having a caregiver is not something to fear and often leads to them being open to receiving ongoing care. If they currently rely on you, another family member or friend as their primary caregiver or source of help, try using vacation as an excuse to bring in a professional caregiver while gone. Explain that it is for your own peace of mind.

7. Get advice from a professional. Try discussing the situation with your parent’s primary care physician (this is most likely someone they have known for years and trust). If they share your concern for your parent, they are likely to help by talking to them, explaining why in-home care is the best option for them. Another option is to consult a geriatric care manager, a professional with special expertise in making these assessments. They will be able to provide you with further advice on how to prevent resistance when introducing the new living arrangements with your loved one.

Photo Credit:  Eggybird

About the authors: Alex Chamberlain is executive director at EasyLiving, Inc., a fully licensed, private duty home health care company serving individuals and families in Pinellas and Pasco counties in Florida.

Shannon Martin, M.S.W., CMC, serves as Director of Communications for EasyLiving, Inc. and Aging Wisely, LLC. Shannon has worked for Aging Wisely, a professional geriatric care management and consultation firm, for over 8 years.

Seniors and Caregivers Connect Online

There’s a pervasive notion out there that older people can’t, or don’t want to, use computers.  Facebook fan pages like I Hate Teaching Old People How To Use Computers, boasting over 200 members, Yahoo! chat forums, the Lifestyle section of some newspapers and guests at cocktail parties can all be counted on for stories of someone’s mother/grandfather/elderly neighbor messing up when it comes to computers and getting online.  These anecdotes spread and grow and eventually morph into a general perception that seniors and technology don’t mix.  The reality, however, isn’t so clear-cut.

Given the opportunity, seniors can and will use computer technology in much the same way their younger counterparts do.  A 2004 study, for example, found that older US Web users do product research (66%), purchase goods (47%), make travel reservations (41%), visit government Web sites (100%), look up religious and spiritual information (26%) and do online banking (20%).

What does set older and younger computer users apart, however, is their ability to get-online in the first place.  Seniors are much more likely to be grappling with vision loss, hearing loss, cognitive impairment and diminished motor skills, all of which create barriers to getting online.

Why Is It So Important That Seniors Get Online?

When Cora McCune’s husband passed away, her family became worried about her being on her own.  Phone conversations were beginning to get difficult for Cora yet her children needed an easy way to check in with her everyday.  The solution was to set Cora up with a computer and email account.

Connected individuals are healthier and happier than their non-Internet using counterparts.  The evidence is compelling.  Those who connect with family, friends and the wider community via email and the Internet are less likely to suffer from depression.  Age-related dementia can be slowed, and possibly reversed, when seniors take advantage of computer-based brain-fitness games.  Self-esteem goes up when individuals learn something new.  And some studies suggest that those who take advantage of what the Internet has to offer stay independent longer.  The list goes on and on.

Cora’s computer became her link to the outside world.  It was both a source of entertainment and communication.  When Cora wasn’t using it to play games, do puzzles or read the online version of the local paper, she was emailing her children and grandchildren.  And her grandchildren, who were more comfortable connecting online than picking up the phone, emailed back.  Cora’s computer was like a friend in her room.

Caregivers Benefit When Their Loved One Is Online

Cora’s daughter Sheila was a two-hour drive from her mom.  Being able to check in with her mom every day, even when she couldn’t physically be there, was a godsend.  Being able to videophone her mom using Skype™ technology was especially useful.  “It let me monitor the room,” says Sheila.  “I can listen in, for example, when the TV repair man visits.  And there’s something more intimate about being able to see her.  It’s one thing to talk to someone but being able to actually see how they look is even better.”

There’s also an economic benefit.  In a May 2010 study done by Volunteers of America, 48% of women surveyed say the recent economic downturn has made it harder for them to care for loved ones.   And nearly 80% of those same women believe people should receive paid leave-of-absence to care for an elderly family member.  In Canada, individuals providing four hours or more of care per week were more likely to reduce their work hours, change their work patterns or turn down a job offer or promotion. (From Balancing Career and Care.)

While email, video phone and Internet connections are no substitute for personal interaction, they can provide a cushion that allows caregivers to keep working a little longer while still caring for aging parents.

About the author: Karen Hamilton is a writer and blogger with PointerWare Innovations Ltd. PointerWare is an easy to use computer platform that helps anyone get online and stay connected with family and the wider world. Using PointerWare, anyone can send email messages to loved ones, play brain-fitness games, organize photos and see and talk to their children and grandchildren with voice and video conferencing.  For more information, visit their website at www.PointerWare.com

HOW TO: Creating a Elder Care Support Network to Reduce Stress

It is important to remember that when caring for an adult parent that you also care for yourself as well.  Any form of elder care can be draining on an emotional, physical and time commitment level.  In order to be able to sustain your generous efforts, you need to seek out and be able to ask for assistance.  You will want a network of people and agencies you can rely on for consistent support, when you need a respite or in the event of an elder care crisis.

As you begin to develop the support team as described below, remember that the key to success lies in the ability to ask for help.  Even if other family members live farther away, still enlist their assistance and together you will come up with ways they can best support you.

Steps for Developing Your Support Network

  1. Make a list of each person who may be available to you such as family, friends, neighbors, members of your community groups and churches. For each person take note of the following:
  2. Phone number for easy reference
  3. What they are available and willing to provide in the form of help
  4. What days and times they can offer to you
    1. Check with your local Area Agency on Aging for respite and other assistance.
    2. Create a list of your regular responsibilities both in the role as caregiver and your personal duties to yourself and your immediate family.  Don’t forget to include activities such as picking up your children from school or practice or helping with other errands.
    3. Next to each task estimate the duration of time (including commute) so that you can provide a realistic time commitment to your network and you do not feel the stress of rushing around.
    4. Begin asking your network in what areas they would be most able to support you.  Because your list is detailed and specific it will be easier to get positive responses for these individual needs.

It really helps in sharing some of the responsibility if you make this list easily accessible to other members of your family so that if need be, they can make phone calls in case a change or crisis should arise.  Remember that just because you took the initiative to create the network system does not mean you have to manage it alone.

Other Resources

In order to help you create, complete and maintain a thorough and organized support system, I have developed easy-to-use worksheets in the workbook of The By Families, For Families Guide to Assisted Living Workbook.  While the book is written for assisted living, the worksheets are applicable to all levels of care.

photo: BrittneyBush

Home Health Aides: Present and Future (Jane Gross)

In today’s issue of the New York Times’ New Old Age blog, Jane Gross adds the third part of her series on home health aides.  The topic is so closely related to caregivers and the value they provide outside of providing care, that I wanted to share it with everyone.

Here’s an excerpt from this great article:

This is our third, and last, installment of questions and answers from Marki Flannery, president of Partners In Care, an affiliate of the Visiting Nurse Service of New York, the industry leader in licensed home care services. Previously, in part one, I discussed with her Home Health Aides: Why Hire From an Agency? In part two, we covered Home Health Aides: What They Make, What They Cost.

Today, Ms. Flannery offers advise about hiring and managing people essential to our parents’ well-being, and of what the future holds once the baby boomers need home care for themselves.

Click to read the complete article on the New Old Age blog.