Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Eldercare Tip: Making Visits to the Care Center Memorable

When you visit your aging parent in a care center, the cat can get your tongue. First, the pleasantries. Then the silence. What happened to those '80s platitudes about 'quality time'?

Fortunately we Boomers are creative. Here are 10 simple activities that may add zip to your visits. Most are geared for elders who are alert and oriented. Others may stimulate those with dementia as well.

1. Bring a loved one. Two is company; three or more is a party. Just the presence of another will brighten the visit and lighten your emotional load.

2. Add a child or more, preferably a grandchild or great-grandchild, and your group will gather a following. Add a baby and presto! Your aging parent will go gaga.

3. Bring small items to entertain the little ones--bubbles, balls, crayons and color books. Don't forget toy cars and dolls. Watching the little ones play will engage your aging parent.

4. Let your elderly parent play the host (or hostess.) Purchase a guest book and invite everyone who visits to sign and date it. That includes care staff workers, clergy and children. When you come again, open the book and ask about recent visitors.

5. Have a family sing-along. Try almost anything from "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" to "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" to "Amazing Grace." The public library and the care center's activities director may be able to provide CD's to help. My most treasured memory of Grandma Ethel was hearing her sing "Jesus Loves Me" long after she ceased to recognize us and after she had stopped talking.

6. Bring in your aging parent's favorite food,either home-cooked or takeout and eat together in the family visiting room. Better yet, plan a family potluck in which members all prepare Grandma's family recipes. As you eat, share memories revolving around the special dishes.

7. Root, root for the home team. Watch your favorite Major League team in your parent's room or apartment. Don caps and other sports regalia and call on the little ones to serve as pint-sized cheerleaders. And be sure to sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."

8. Get glued to the tube. Watch television classics together, whether "The Lone Ranger," "Mickey Mouse," or movie-length blockbusters like "Sound of Music" or Shirley Temple flicks. Bring popcorn, soda pop and movie candy.

9. Take a walk outside. The sunshine is a wonderful boost for a loved one spending day after day in a care setting.

10. Pray together. Everyone can take a turn, thanking God for the many blessings.

Can you think of other activities which have made your visits memorable?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Eldercare Help: Three Kinds of In-Home Care

"I'm staying home until the undertaker takes me out."

If similar words have popped out of your aging parent's mouth, he or she is in good company. Until recently 85% of seniors said they wanted to remain home until they died, according to senior care national statistics. Today that number has swelled to between 91 and 92%.

Multiple reasons make "home sweet home" a natural choice. There's the draw of the familiar house, neighborhood, social connections and services. Add in other factors: new technology, a slow economy, and the availability of in-home help, and voila. A recipe for "staying home for life."

As your parent's health wanes, in-home help may become necessary. The dizzying array of choices falls into three types:

Chore Services--Yardwork, housecleaning, shopping, cooking and transportation all help seniors stay independent. These basic services cost relatively little--approximately $10 to $15 an hour. Sometimes there's no cost. In the Seattle area, Catholic Community Services trains volunteers from congregations to help low-income seniors remain at home. The program is called Volunteer Chore Services. Seniors of all incomes in the Greater Issaquah and Sammamish area are helped at no cost by another volunteer-based organization, Faith in Action. Other similar programs operate throughout the country. Related to Chore Services are Companion Services which provide a "watchful eye" to seniors with memory deficits.

Home Care--Trained caregivers help with bathing, dressing, grooming, toileting and other personal needs, as well as providing light housekeeping, meal preparation and chore services. These agencies employ their staff and provide benefits and training. The average hourly charge is between $20 and $25, and often there is a four-hour minimum charge. Home care agencies differ in the kind and amount of training they give workers and in the experience they require for hiring. Seniors Helping Seniors, a national company, hires only people age 50 or over.

Home Health Care--This is the highest level of in-home care. Home Health Care services are provided intermittently as needed by licensed nurses, physical therapists, speech therapists, medical social services, etc. A physician must write orders and people must be homebound. Medicare and insurance plans cover these services. People can also pay privately.

Have you had a positive--or negative--experience with in-home care services? Tell us about it.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Eldercare Tip: When Choosing a Nursing Home, Be Wary of Advice

Choosing a nursing home is a race against time. In "The Greatest Race" style, the hospital social worker sets the rules. From the crack of the gun (not literally), you have one or two days to look for clues and find the right place.

How do you choose a good nursing home for your aging parent? Following a friend's advice may work. But don't take it as gospel truth without investigating, especially if his or her report isn't recent. Neither can you assume the nursing home your parent used for rehab three years ago is still a good choice.

Claudia Kelley, an occupational therapist with the State of Washington, spent more than a decade working in health care centers. But she admits she was caught off guard when her grandma was hospitalized for the second time. The family had been pleased with Grandma's earlier rehab experience at Nursing Home A, so they automatically chose it again.

"I couldn't believe the difference. You'd hardly know it was the same building," Claudia said. Between Grandma's two stays, administrators had changed. Organization plummeted, and staff now spent more time gossiping than caring for residents.

How do you check on a nursing home that you've been pleased with in the past or a friend has recommended? Some suggestions.

1. Call the nursing home and ask, "How long has your current administrator been working there?" or ask, "Is Administrator Jones still overseeing care?"

2. Double check your experience or your friend's recommendation by visiting the Medicare website which rates nursing home quality.

3. A personal visit is always a good idea, if possible.

Do you have any other suggestions for choosing a nursing home?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Eldercare Truth: All of Life is Junior High Recycled

Granted, elders are each unique. But as Art Linkletter says, "They say--and do--the darndest things."

See if you recognize your aging parent in any of the following:

1. Elders can be unpredictable. Cupid can strike willy-nilly, turning widowed 80-somethings into old versions of love-struck teens. At our retirement community we witnessed three marriages in one year. Sweet-talking and hand-holding led to quickie marriages, with grown children reeling in shock, initially. "It was sort of like a shotgun wedding without the baby," one Boomer said. Everyone adjusted, though, and it was fun to see the newlyweds coo and glow in their newfound love. But definitely unpredictable.

A different example of unpredictability involves autos. One day 96-year-old Ethel announced, for all to hear: "Alice, I have a surprise. Can you guess what it is?" I wondered. Had Ethel's car suffered one more owie? Her nephew had tried for years to convince her to give up driving.

"I've decided to contribute to the public good, to do my duty to my community," she said with a smile. "I won't be driving anymore." Who could have predicted her sudden change of mind? Her decisiveness reminded me of my two-year-old son who potty trained himself after months of my coaxing and "training." Unpredictable? Ya betcha!

2. Seniors sometimes see themselves as invincible. One morning I walked outside our community and spotted a 92-year-old resident standing on the top rung of a ladder which leaned against his cottage apartment. Tempted to yell, "Get down right now!" I tried to collect my thoughts before asking, "Are you OK? I get scared when I see you up there. You could fall." What was he doing? Watching a workman repair the roof on the sunroom. This elderly macho man assured me he was safe. After all, he had experience with ladders--40 years ago.

Ditto for the invincible elderly golf cart enthusiasts who began zipping down the sidewalk next to the nursing home. Picture the glee in their eyes as they zoomed around the corner. Staff, and frail residents with walkers, were not as entertained.

3. Our elders give us great stories to tell. You have your own sagas starring your elderly parents. Heartwarming, touching, hilarious, your stories can bring you to tears--or to laughter--when you share them with others, especially your kids and grandkids. Such tales bond generations.

Is life like junior high recycled? Or toddlerhood replayed? I think so. These periods of life revisit us unbidden, whether we're 14, 40 or four score and 10.

Do you have any stories starring your aging parent you'd like to share?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Your Aging Parent Needs a Great Advocate: You!

Everyone needs an advocate. Especially your aging parent.

The value of advocacy hit home with me a decade ago. Home alone on a Saturday, I slipped down the stairs while attempting to carry out the trash. Boom! A broken ankle. The four-hour wait in the emergency room was easy street compared to Monday morning when I phoned for a referral to an orthopedist.

"The referral manager doesn't work Mondays," said the young woman. The Vicodin had eased my pain but muddled my brain. I was a health care professional, but the words I needed escaped me. Finally I blurted out:

"Someone in your office should be able to facilitate referrals, even on Monday."

Hours later, after many phone calls, I sat in the orthopedist's office, thinking to myself, " I really need an advocate."

So do our aging parents, on an ongoing basis. We interpret life, speak for them to authorities and serve as their cheerleader. Several qualities will help us do our best in the advocacy role.

1. Compassion. Good advocates place the welfare of their parents above everything else. Money, power and selfishness are cast aside. That doesn't mean we don't make mistakes, get tired of the role, or sometimes wonder, "How did I get into this?" But our mission--to help them finish life well--enables us to advocate well.

2. A Desire to Learn. There are so many bodies of knowledge to master: legal, financial, medical. The more we know, the better questions we can ask of the doctors, financial planners, lawyers and others in our parent's lives. The more we know, the clearer we can communicate with our parents.

3. A strong sense of ourselves. This is not to be confused as selfishness. But knowing who we are will keep us from being stepped on by others, including our siblings or our parents.

4. A willingness to ask for help. Advocacy sometimes is more than one person can bear. Finding partners--paid or unpaid--to share the load eases our burden. In addition, taking a break--for a few hours, a few days, or even a few weeks--can help us come back to our parents refreshed and renewed.

These qualities don't come packaged for us to unwrap. We develop them by seeing other advocates, and by doing the job ourselves. As our mothers said, "Practice makes perfect."

What is your most difficult task or role in serving as an advocate for your aging parent?
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