Good Grief

As we get older, it is a fact of life that we will lose more people who are dear to us.  It is a part of how life works.  Those we've grown up emulating are getting older, those we've grown up with are aging.  Many of our elderly friends and family have already lost a large number of loved ones.  The problem with death is that it never comes at an opportune time.  And grief?  Grief doesn't come at an opportune time either.  It is a complicated and untimely beast.  So how can we help our friends and loved ones who are grieving?  How can we recognize grief when it strikes us or someone we love?

There are several common stages of grief.  These stages seem easy to understand and in  a logical order on paper, but remember that they are not easy to go through.  They also do not seem to come in a logical order in most people.  Recognizing them may help as you grieve, and they may also be beneficial as you help someone else navigate the grief process.

Denial is often the first stage of grief.  Some people describe it as unbelief that the loved one has passed on.  Others describe it as “surreal” or as if they're walking around in a daze or a fog.  It is really shock that they are experiencing.  It takes one's brain a bit of time to catch up with reality.  If your reality has included a living person  for a great number of years, it will be very difficult for your brain to understand that they are no longer alive.  This stage can be helpful if it comes first, as it might buy you some time, without emotion, to attend to funeral preparations or travel plans.

Another stage is called bargaining.  This is usually when you wonder what you could've done to prevent the death of a loved one.  Or you wish that it could have been you instead of them.  This is natural as we tend to self-evaluate if everything that should have been done was done for them.  Did we give our best effort to save them, did those who were with them give their best effort?

Anger might come next, especially if we perceive that more should have been done by ourselves or someone else.  Anger also is sometimes directed at the loved one for leaving us in this world with no recourse  but to accept that they are gone.  They may have left many things undone, in our estimation, and it seems unfair that we have to pick up the pieces of their death.

Depression is common after this because we realized that we can't remain  angry forever with them, with ourselves and with others.  Anger is also a very exhausting emotion .  When the anger is spent, a deep weariness can come in waves.  Extra sleep might be required.  An inability to just move on with life is common.  Getting over-tired can sometimes result in an inability to sleep at all or to eat properly. This is a stage to have a strong support system in place.

Finally, acceptance is the final stage.  There is no set period of time to determine when acceptance will occur.  It is different for each person.  It might make it easier if you knew of someone's imminent death because they had a terminal disease, but not always.  Some people hold on to such hope despite prognosis that it is still a great shock to them at the time of death.

If you are helping someone else deal with grief, be sure to listen to the words and stories that they are telling you.  Taking the time to listen and care about the memories and relationship that they had with that person will encourage them to talk and process the memories.  Encourage them to let emotions out without using phrases like, “Everything happens for a reason” or “They're in a better place”.  Those statements might be true, but they are entirely overused and might not seem genuine to the person that is grieving, especially if they are in the anger stage.  If you notice that the person you are supporting seems stuck  in a state of depression for an extended period of time, suggest that they might want to see a therapist just to get help processing what is happening to them.  Finally, show that you love them in whichever way they can best accept it.  If they want to sit in silence, it is perfectly acceptable to sit with them .

Grief is a strange and slippery thing.  Finding life on the other side of it is possible.  It just may not look the same as it did before.

Care-giving After Hospital Stay

Many people experience hospital visits in their golden years. Bodies begin wearing out and the struggle against certain ailments or diseases can be grueling.  It is common for people in older age to go in because they've broken a bone, or had a stroke, or ended up with pneumonia that needed to be treated in hospital instead of at home.  There are also a number of scheduled surgeries and procedures that can cause elderly people to need extra care at home after they've returned, such as bypasses and a host of others.  The release from a hospital does not mean that they are clear to go back to normal activity, but simply that they are okay to go home as long as someone is there to care from them.  So with great love, many people take it upon themselves to offer care to the person who is being released.  They themselves will take care of this person who needs extra care and see to it that nothing else bad befalls them.  But often, the level of care-giving and the length of time that it takes for recovery is an unforeseeable part of the equation. They are signing up to have their lives turned upside down for an unknown period of time.  That can be exhausting and discouraging.  So whether you are a caregiver, or if you know someone who is, here are a few things to do to help avoid burnout and to ensure that the caregiver has the strength and energy they need to do their job well.

  1. Adequate rest. You'll need plenty of rest, but how can you come by this if you need to be up all night, every night watching someone?  Call on backup!  Whether it is extended family or friends that you need to call in, or even putting a call out at church, you need sleep.  You'll not be able to adequately function if you do not have rest.  Ask them to come and sit with the person during the day so that you can go and get a nap.  Lack of sleep can have symptoms similar to drunkenness and your cognitive abilities really do decline.  Remember that you are responsible for another person's well-being, so if you won't do it for yourself, then do it for the person you're caring for.   If you know of someone who is a caregiver, offer a few hours of time that you can sit with their loved one so they can get a nap.  If you're a close friend, offer it more than once a week.
  2. Time away. If you feel you're getting enough rest, then also plan in some time away each day. It's important, especially if the care you are offering is for a very lengthy period of time, that you have some space from the situation and the individual.  It doesn't matter how much you care for one another, if you're cooped up in the same house with someone for weeks on end, you can get a little abrasive toward one another.  So take some time to go and re-charge, do something that interests you and energizes you and then come back to the situation.  If nothing else, you'll have something new to talk about!
  3. Eat well. It can be tempting in these situations to feed your loved one what they need and forget almost entirely about what your own body needs.  Keep up with your nutrition and also with your vitamins.  Make sure you're having adequate amounts of vegetables.  It is amazing how these simple things can fly out the window in times of stress, when our bodies need them the most.  We tend toward comfort food when times are hard and also when we're exhausted. So keep pumping in those veggies and notice an improvement in energy levels and mood.  If you're a friend, bring meals high in vegetable content so that you know they are getting some good vitamins and minerals at least occasionally.
  4. Hydrate! This is one of the top items that people forget in times of long-term stress.  Drink plenty of water!  Ask someone to pick up lemons or limes from the store so you can have fruit juice in your water for an extra treat.  Get some herbal teas if it's cold outside so that you can warm up and hydrate at the same time.  You'll not only have more spunk, you'll also sleep better when you are able to sleep because of the hydration.
  5. Know when to say 'no more'. This care giving is one of the most daunting tasks you'll likely ever have to perform.  If it is getting to be way too much for you to handle, admit it.  You can't endure it forever.  If you need support from other family members, ask for it.  If there aren't family  or other professionals to call on for back-up, seek help from either an assisted living facility or a nursing home facility.  There is no shame in this.  Even if your loved one is not happy about it, there comes a time when this may be necessary in order to preserve your own health.  Do not allow yourself to get so depleted that you'll be unable to make adequate care decisions for them and for yourself. It's imperative that you keep evaluating throughout your process of care giving to see whether they are genuinely improving to the point that they can be on their own or whether you need help.

Remember, as a care giver, you are arranging a huge portion of your life to accommodate the needs of the one you love.  This is admirable.  It is also grueling.  Do your best to take care of yourself  so that you can care adequately for the one you love.

Aging & Digestion

  Throughout time, it has been well known that aging has some rather annoying effects on the digestive system.  There seems to be a slowing down of things that once functioned normally.  You hear more and more about how bran and large amounts of fiber can help with all of the digestive woes of an aging individual.  Prune juice is recommended on a regular basis to keep a person, well, regular.  But how much of these things are indeed necessary?  How many have a basis in truth?  And are there other ways to go about aiding your digestive system to function normally without having to eat dozens of ill tasting bran muffins and drinking copious amounts of prune liquids?

  There are certainly numerous ways to deal with the digestive problems that accompany aging.  There is always medicine that a doctor will prescribe if your issues are fairly severe.  But generally, people do not want to take medicine unless it is truly warranted, or else the side effects from the medicine may end up being worse than the malady you're trying to be rid of.  Below I'll list some easy (and inexpensive) dietary and lifestyle changes that you can make that will aid your digestion.  After you've followed these tips, you can decide whether you need to see a doctor for further assistance.

  1. Stay hydrated!  Fluid is paramount for good digestion.  Your body cannot function adequately without it.  It is one of the most important parts of digestion.  Whether you get your fluid intake from water or good bone broth, juice or even from juicier fruits & veggies, make sure that you're increasing your fluids if you're having digestion issues.  You don't need to go overboard and drink water until you feel sick.  Start out with just a couple of extra cups per day and see if it helps.  If not, keep increasing it. Most people find that when they start drinking water regularly, their body begins to crave it.  This is good.  It's sometimes difficult to make these kinds of lifestyle changes, especially if you've gone for 50+ years without staying hydrated well.  Once you switch, however, you'll probably find that you have more energy, that your skin is not as dry and also that your digestion improves.
  2. Eat fiber.  Yes, you do need to have fiber in your diet.  If however, you focus on having many whole vegetables and fruits, and you also have adequate hydration levels, you may not need to eat dense bran muffins 3 times a day!  Focus on various vegetables in a myriad of colors.  Eat the skins when it is safe to do so (if you know where they're grown and that they're grown without the use of harmful pesticides).  Think about vegetables that will give you a bit of water as well as fiber (lettuce, for instance).  Juice is fine, but oftentimes it is far less beneficial than the whole vegetable or fruit with skins, pith, etc. with regards to fiber.  Our body needs fiber and water foremost to move things through the digestive tract.
  3. Walk.  Sedentary lifestyles make for frightening digestive problems.  Be sure to walk regularly and do light, natural movements to keep you system in tact.  If you're unable to walk, do exercises from a wheelchair similar to the chair exercised discussed in other articles on this blog.  Our bodies were made to move & that movement aids in many of our internal systems.
  4. Pay attention to chewing.  This may seem silly, but sometimes digestion is helped when people begin to chew their food more carefully and fully.  Enzymes in your saliva begin to break down the food in your mouth, and if you chew more fully, digestion will begin earlier and probably have a better chance of full digestion as it enters the gut. 
  5. Try good quality probiotics.  All probiotics are not created equal, so you may want to ask around to some of your friends or family that are really into health.  Probiotics have good bacteria that can help combat the bad bacteria in your gut.  You can also try probiotic rich foods, like yoghurt, kefir, kombucha, or even sauerkraut and kimchi. These should have positive benefits for your digestive system over the course of a couple of months.  If you begin taking a good probiotic supplement, you'll probably see results much faster.
  6. Finally, reduce your stress levels.  Digestion can be adversely affected by high stress levels.  Reducing stress will make a dramatic change in your well being, as well as your digestion.  Eating a more balanced diet should also help in reducing anxiety, so if you are not able to control the situations causing stress, you can at least control your diet & begin to reduce the stress response of your body and the havoc it is wreaking on your digestion. 

  Digestion is something that most people take for granted, until it is not working properly.  Once that happens, it becomes an urgent situation very quickly.  The steps listed above are not the only measures that can be taken, but they can be taken safely by everyone.  If you've given them a chance and are still having distressing digestion, seek help from a medical professional.  Life is too short to be worried about your intestines all the time! 

The Gentle Art of Skin Care for the Aging

  When you were young, do you remember looking at the skin of aging or elderly individuals?  Sometimes the quantity of wrinkles was astonishing!  Sometimes brown aging spots showed up on otherwise smooth skin and it made me wonder what caused them.  The thing that befuddled me the most, as a youngster, was just how thin and fragile skin becomes as people age.  It made me nervous and encouraged me to be a little gentler with grandparents. Even now as I watch nursing care procedures, I hold my breath and intervene if there’s even a hint of a chance that something will be too rough on the skin of those whose skin is thinning.

  As we age, both the dermis (the layer under the skin) and the epidermis (the top layer of skin) thin dramatically.   This, along with the loss of elastin in the skin contributes to how loose our skin suddenly becomes.  It begins to slacken a bit.  It doesn’t “bounce back” like it used to.  It also has a number of new dark spots that appear in various places, especially if we’ve spent a good deal of time in the sun.  Wrinkles appear.  Some who have never had problems with dry skin suddenly need to use lotion.  Bruising is more common-place and the bruises do not heal as quickly.  This is caused by the thinning of the blood vessel walls, but even if you know this it can be disconcerting to see this change in your own body. Other people may not notice the small changes that occur over time, but when we evaluate ourselves, we know what is happening, we are aging!

  While various skin care products will try to convince us that we can turn back the hands of time and see a reversal in how age is taking its toll, we know that no cream can erase years from our face!  In fact, many skin care products contain things that will harm skin, especially fragile, aging skin.

  Our goal, then, should not be to erase the signs of aging.  We’ve lived, and that is something to be proud of, after all!  Our goal should be to have the healthiest skin that we can have.   So here are a few suggestions for keeping your skin as healthy as possible so that it reflects the health that the rest of your body enjoys.

  1. Be sure to stay hydrated.  It is common for elderly individuals to reduce their intake of water because it becomes inconvenient to use the bathroom so often.  It is one of the worst things that you can do for your skin and for your overall health!  Your skin needs to be hydrated.  Your digestive system also needs that hydration in order to move food and toxins through your system.  If those things start backing up in your system, you’ll notice problems with your organs, but your skin will also be a huge indicator that there are problems.
  2. Enjoy healthy amounts of sunlight.  Your body needs Vitamin D.  The sun is a great source of that.  If you’re not spending any time in the sun, you may want to increase your exposure to it. Likewise, if you spend loads of time in the sun, you may want to decrease your exposure.  Moderation is the word of the decade & with good reason.  You do not want to burn, but you also ought not to be afraid of any sun exposure (unless you’re on medications which mandate that you must stay out of the sun). If you’re afraid of skin cancer, cover up with cotton shirts that have long sleeves.  Fresh air and morning sunshine are good for everyone!
  3. Practice natural movements.  High intensity workouts are not advisable to elderly patients, but even natural movements can be a great aid in taking care of skin.  Encourage chair exercise or any other moderate activities to help maintain current abilities, but simply encourage it more often so you’ll benefit with healthier skin.
  4. Eat right!  Include a wide variety of vegetables and fruits throughout the day.  These can help fight inflammation in your body & keep your skin looking great!  Try to stay away from sugar since it compromises the elasticity of your skin. Eat good fats.  Don’t smoke.
  5. Sleep tight!  The ritual of sleeping is very important for your body and for your skin.  During this time your body rests itself & repairs tissues, especially skin.  Do not feel bad for getting adequate sleep.     Enjoy it and embrace the good skin that goes with it!

  Our skin can be an indicator of our overall health.  Pay attention to what it is telling you.  Be gentle with it. You may need to moisturize with a gentle, chemical-free lotion if your skin is too dry, but try to refrain from this until you try out the tips above first.  See if you can tell a difference when you begin drinking more water, then see what happens when you add good fats to your diet.  You might be pleasantly surprised at the results that come from listening to what your body needs!

End of Life Decisions

There are many decisions to make about the end of your life, perhaps especially while you are feeling well and healthy and can think clearly about the choices that you need to make.  It is difficult, however, to make those when you’re unsure about all of the terminology involved.  What is the difference between a will and a living will?  What is a DNR order? Why does it matter that you have those things in place? When do they become effective?  I’ll attempt to answer these questions and more throughout this article.

Most people have a basic understanding of what a will is.  You draft this document with the help of a lawyer to detail where you want your children to go if you should die, who you want to leave your belongings and money to, and who should manage your estate after you pass to make sure that it all goes smoothly.  This process is meant to help make decisions about where your THINGS should go after you leave and also to ensure that the person you choose to raise your children is willing to take on that responsibility if the worst should happen.  It is not a legal requirement to have a lawyer draft the will but do look up the requirements in your state.  It may be a very good idea, especially if you have minor children or if you have large amounts of money or assets in your name.

A living will, on the other hand, is a document that you have written up or write up yourself.  It does not even need to be witnessed to be legal.  It might be helpful to have a lawyer help you write it if you are unsure of wording that you’d like to use.  This document is in place to let doctors know that you do not want to be kept alive using artificial means.  Doctors are ethically required to do all in their power to keep you alive.  After they have exhausted all avenues to try to help you, then (and only then) will they follow a patient’s wishes in the living will.  This is for situations where your body will die unless it is kept alive by machines doing your breathing, feeding, etc. for you.  In many states when you go in for a doctor’s visit, they’ll ask if you have a living will on file at each visit.  It is a good thing to put on file with your primary care physician so that there is no question in the future if such events should require its use.

A DNR, or Do Not Resuscitate order is a specific document that needs to be drafted and signed by your doctor.  This document ensures that you will not receive CPR if you do not wish for it to be performed.  A DNR has its limitations, however.  It must be in plain view to all medical personnel who come to attend you.  First Responders, EMT’s and Paramedics are required, both ethically and legally, to perform CPR on a patient who needs it, unless there is a DNR in plain sight.  They cannot take the word of a family member, no matter how distraught.  Obviously, this limits its usefulness because it would be impossible to carry it on your person at all time and also keep it visible.

All of these documents are incredibly important for you to think about, especially as you approach the end of life.  If you do not care one way or another, it may not matter much to you. But, if you think on the subject for a time, you may discover that certain things that may happen disturb you.  In order to prevent that from happening, these documents need to be in place BEFORE you need them.  It is also advisable to have a “Death & Dying” book with all of your important information available to your loved ones or the manager of your estate after you pass on.

Most people are uncomfortable thinking about the things listed above but think of how much more uncomfortable your family will be if they have no inkling of what your wishes would be.  This is a way to ease the decision-making process for them and help make sure that your desires are carried out.  It needn’t be a morbid process, but can actually be quite calming to know that you’ve done all you can to prepare for the stepping over at the end of life!

 

 

 

Aging Caregivers

I was recently speaking with a woman who told me of her own mother's life.  Her mother lived until age 96, and she was the primary caregiver to a loved one with special needs until she was aged 90!  I was so impressed by this that I decided to look into the average age of caregivers in the United States.  The average age is 63!

Since that is the average age, it stands to reason that many caregivers are quite a bit older than that, and while 90 might be on the extreme side of the care giving spectrum, many adults do offer care to those older and younger than themselves who are in poor health even after they themselves are in their 80s.

 

The question then becomes, how long is this safe?  Below I'll list some parameters that can be used for you to ask yourself in order to determine whether or not you should continue to give care to someone else as a primary caregiver.

First determine whether your own health/abilities permit sound care for the other individual.  What is your own health like?  Are you prone to falling or having severe blood sugar issues that could leave the person you're caring for without supervision unexpectedly?  Is your strength sufficient for the type of care that they need?  If they fall, are you able to pick them up?  If they need help bathing, are you able to do that in a safe way?  Run through scenarios in your mind in order to answer these questions.  If you are able to help in many scenarios, but find that bathing them on your own might be a challenge, consider getting help on certain days for that activity.  If your own health is fairly unstable, it might be time to consider getting help so that you do not become run down.  Many times other family is available, or there may even be help from the state or an in home health care program for the person that is now in your care.  If you are able to have periods of rest or help with some aspects of their lives, you may be able to continue care for longer.  If your health is in rough shape, it might be time to hand off care giving responsibilities to someone altogether.  You could still offer to give them periods of respite so that they have rest, but should not offer long term care.  The one to whom you are offering care might also benefit from an assisted living facility.  If this is the case, be sure that you continue to visit them on a regular basis so that they have some consistency in their schedule & care, as well as a buffer against loneliness and depression.

Second, if you are able to continue care, determine how much help you need.  As was stated earlier, you may very well be able to continue care into your later years, but only if you have help from others.  If you are feeling very run down, it may be time to consider asking for help occasionally from others.  See if someone would be willing to sit with the one whom you care for on certain days of the week so that you can plan an outing or shopping trip.  Find out if there is anyone willing to help with transporting when necessary, or with showering days, or even with cooking a meal occasionally.  This should offer you support and relieve the pressure that you feel on a regular basis, making it more likely that you can continue care for longer.

Finally, determine a plan of action for when you will not be able to maintain care. None of us likes to think about this eventual day, but it will likely come and it's better to be prepared so that the transition will go smoothly.  Inquire into group homes or assisted living facilities.  Inquire into rehabilitative centers or nursing home facilities.  Ask family members whether they'd be willing to consider care.  These plans do not need to be set in stone, but they should be written down & shared with someone else in case anything happens to you, the current primary caregiver.

 

Care giving can be a very fulfilling purpose for the later years of life, but should only be attempted with plenty of support from others.  Your health is just as important as the health of the one to whom you offer care.  Do not be afraid to let people know what you need and when it has become too much for you to handle.  Being realistic in your expectations of yourself will go a long way toward giving the best care to others.   Next week we'll look at some of the most common statistics with regards to caregivers and their struggles & offer some simple way to combat them.  Until then, keep your chin up!  Your service to those you offer care to is incredibly valuable!

How To Help Fight Influenza With or Without A Shot

For the elderly & infirm population alike, the influenza vaccination is a hot ticket debate.  People on both sides of the issue are adamant that their way is correct & that the other side is wholly uninformed in the debate.  (I've yet to understand how anyone with a reputable search engine could be uninformed about anything nowadays, though).  The truth of the matter is, people have different opinions about it, & we're all just going to have to be okay with that.  But, whether you've decided to have a vaccination or not, the truth is that you can still catch the flu.  Since this is flu season, I thought I'd write a bit about how to increase your odds against contracting this ever mutating virus.

#1.  Wash your hands.  I know, I know, this is standard advice given everywhere.  But, some people are not aware that simply soaping up & rinsing their hands is not enough, you need to soap, use very warm water & rub vigorously for at least 15 seconds in order to kill germs on your hands.  The friction caused by scrubbing your hands is really what is doing the work, not the type of soap you use, so do not worry if you're not using anti-bacterial soap.  Many cities are against the use of anti-bacterial soap in their sewers.

#2.  Humidify!  Studies have shown that influenza virus cannot thrive in very warm (think 86) or very humid (45-50%) environments.  Buy a humidifier, hang wet clothes in the house, simmer water on the stove, or find another means to raise the humidity in your home in the winter, especially if you live in a very cold or very dry environment.

#3.  Become a recluse!  This will not work indefinitely, so try to save it for the worst part of the cold/flu season!  Plan less outings & meetings.  Be sure that you're well rested when you do have contact with the masses in places like clinics or big box stores.  Do your best to limit your contact to healthy people.  If you work in the healthcare sector, this will not be feasible, but following the other suggestions should still help to protect you.

#4.  Rest up.  Getting adequate sleep can help to boost your immunity.  Get sleep when you need it.  This season is not the time to kick it into overdrive.  Take a clue from the levels of sunlight.  If the days need more sleep, so do you!

#5.  Supplement.  Look into supplements that will boost your immunity.  Garlic, Vitamin D3, echinacea & elderberry syrup are just a few that come to mind.  Be sure you're getting probiotics in your diet or through a supplement to help you fight off any secondary bacterial infections often associated with the cold/flu season.

#6.  Hydrate.  Drink enough water so that your body can function smoothly.  Often in very cold climates, people tend to reduce their water intake because of the preference for warm drinks loaded with sugar.  Coffee, tea, hot cocoa or hot lemon are great, but be sure they're not replacing the good old fashioned water that your body needs.   Too much caffeine can also lower your immunity, so if you're overly addicted to caffeine, consider cutting back & replacing it with something else in your beverage diet.

#7.  Try diffusing some essential oils that are known for their anti-viral properties.  Just ask a friend who is really into oils, they will be happy to let you know which ones are the best & where to find the best deal!

#8.  Remember that we will never have a foolproof system against virus spread.  If all of us do our best to control the environments that we're in charge of, however, we should be able to make a dent in the amount of people that catch/transmit influenza.  So do your best, don't go out if you have flu-like symptoms, don't allow your children to go places if they're feeling ill, and above all, cover your cough!

 

 

The Benefit of a 3rd Party

A while back, I had an encounter with an elderly individual which reminded me that sometimes a 3rd party can be extremely beneficial.  She'd called me with concerns about how she was feeling.  Because of how she'd described her symptoms to me, I immediately thought of a blood sugar issue.  Later I heard that she may have been placed on an anti-anxiety med, but that she wasn't sure about that & didn't actually have a diagnosis for what was going on in her body.  It made me want to do further research to find out exactly what was going on.

At this time point in history, we have access to loads of information.  Those who have grown up using the internet may not even remember what it was like before this was so.  In years before I can remember, doctors visited patients, instead of the other way around.  Information about disease & diet was difficult to come by, & much of it was inaccurate.  People died at alarming rates, simply because they couldn't be treated quickly enough or because they were misdiagnosed.  Yet during those times, there was a great deal of respect for doctors because the doctors were educated & because they were genuinely trying to help the individual to become healthy again.

Fast forward to today.  If a doctor even hints at the idea of a certain disease, people tend to go to websites like Wikipedia or webmd to find out more about that particular disorder or disease.  Then they talk with 20 friends via social networking to find out if anyone knows of anyone else with that particular problem & how they treated it & what the results were.  They familiarize themselves with the different medications that might be prescribed & their side-effects.  They familiarize themselves with any natural treatments that might be helpful & possible interactions with prescribed medications.  At the end of a week, they probably have more information than is good for them!

With elderly friends it can sometimes be frustrating that they go to the doctor without asking many questions.  If the answers they receive are not to their satisfaction, they don't seek understanding, but rather decide that it must just be too complicated for them to understand.  They are used to not having all of the information.  They are also used to (sometimes blindly) taking whichever method of treatment is suggested, even if they knew what the medication or treatment was for, they might not go that route.  This is where a 3rd party can be of huge benefit, both to the doctor & to the patient.

If there is a person who is there who is even a little more familiar with medical terms & very familiar with the patient in question, that person can be a lifeline for both parties.  Doctors do have very pressing obligations.  There are many people who need their help & there are never enough hours in the day for them to spend as much time as they would like with a patient.  Especially in small towns where there is limited staff to begin with, the pressures may be such that they only have time for a quick visit.  If the patient is unable to articulate clearly what is going on, a doctor may be forced to make a suggestion without having all of the information.  A 3rd party could help the doctor by talking with the individual ahead of time about symptoms.  Sometimes things like that take extended time because it's difficult to remember everything.  They can write things down that may be related at the appointment so that nothing is missed.  In the example given above, they could narrow down the “nervous feelings” as whether they are worried about something or whether they drink a lot of coffee & caffeine might be affecting them or whether they're not getting enough protein in the diet & their blood sugar may be plummeting.  All of those things could then be mentioned to the doctor instead of the elderly individual simply saying “I'm feeling nervous all of the time.”  Nervousness in the elderly is a common complaint, & if you do not have all the information associated with it, could easily be misdiagnosed simply for lack of time to delve into the subject with them.

For the patient, a 3rd party can be beneficial for multiple reasons, as well.  Another set of ears in the room is never a bad thing when the doctor starts naming off several treatment options or names of medications.  Another person to talk with about what the doctor said afterwards is also beneficial.  The better that the patient understands what is going on, the better chance that things will be diagnosed & treated correctly.  If the 3rd party knows the individual well enough, they can often tell when they are not comfortable with something or if they are not understanding things that are told to them.  The individual will feel more comfortable admitting this to the 3rd party than to the doctor, in most cases, because they have grown up without exposure to medical jargon or the capabilities of multiple sources of alternate information.

The elderly among us are fully capable of knowing their mind about a certain ailment & what they would like to do about it, but they may need translation for specific terms & diagnoses.  They also may need to be encouraged to speak up about the things they're confused or concerned about.  Medicine has changed greatly in their lifetimes & so have doctors and the way that they diagnose.  We owe it to the generation that goes before us to help them navigate all of these changes to be able to find the help that they need with the things that ail them.  It will improve their lives if they are diagnosed correctly & we might just learn a lot from them along the way!

Pass Down The Good

Family history is something that can really go either way.  Sometimes people are awfully proud of the roots that they come from.  Others can be deeply ashamed.  It has little to do with money or prestige, for there are certainly times when those with both attributes have mistreated others to the point that the family name is blemished beyond repair, & conversely there are times when those with humble beginnings go on to do great things.  If there is something  to be learned from all of the family histories that are passed down verbally & in print, it is that many things are lost in just a few short generations.

The bad will be passed down, as well, and that may be necessary as a warning against morals gone askew.  Health problems also need to be discussed.  But the focus of family histories should be the good things that have gone before.  Take time to talk about these good things with those in your family (whether related by genetics or adoption). It's perhaps even more important for those who have been adopted to know the new family tree that they've been grafted into.  In most cases, the good far outweighs the bad but the stories have been lost by lack of people ready to tell them.  If your grandmother could throw bales just as fast as the men in your family, tell about her.  It may inspire a girl who feels ashamed of her size or strength.  If your grandfather was compassionate with animals & could cure almost anything that ailed them, tell about him.  It may inspire a young man who is struggling with not being great in sports.  If your family tends to be generous to a fault, discuss it as a good thing & that you'd rather be generous than miserly any day of the week.
Having a knowledge of your family history can give you roots from which to grow.  When times get tough, you can look back and say, “I'm a (insert family name here) and we do NOT give up,” or any other such attribute that is looked upon as good in a particular family.  For children who come from humble beginnings, this is perhaps even more important.  Knowing that your family once had money, but it was given away during the depression, or knowing that your family was known for being the best at raising horses in a 4 state area can give children something to aspire to.  Inspiration is necessary for everyone.  Having the bar set high is not a bad thing.  Of course we must not use it as a source of pressure or comparison, but knowing that they have come from greatness helps those of younger generations to know that they, too, can rise to greatness, even if it doesn't happen to be in the family business.

  We all know that we pass on to the next generation far more by genetics & nature than we ever pass on through intention, nurture or education.  Let those things that we pass on be looked upon in the kindest light that they can be looked upon.  The people of yesteryear were just like us.  Trying their best to make it in difficult times, & doing their best to raise another generation with hope instead of bitterness of heart.  Perhaps they succeeded, or perhaps they left a void in that area.  If they did, we can certainly begin to fill the void & begin good stories to be passed down.  Let our stories be those that will inspire a younger generation & give them hope for a better future & a stronger family line for years to come.

Preparing Your Home for An Elderly Relative

 

Are you considering having an elderly family member move in with you?  This is often a transition step that people take to save money on nursing home or other expenses or in order to assist them emotionally in a transition such as the death of a spouse.  But, how difficult is this change, and is it even advisable?  Hopefully you'll find some help below.

The first thing that you need to consider is whether your relationship can withstand long periods of time together while being enjoyable for both of you.  Be honest when you answer this question.  If you've always struggled with resentment against a parent or relative or if they've struggled with the same thing from you, make sure that you do not enter into this arrangement without a GREAT deal of forethought.  Financial or other kinds of stress can sometimes make us do things that we would normally not consider to be good choices.  If your choice to have someone join you in your home is due to feeling so compulsion or obligation, resentment will only grow into bitterness & worse in the years to come.  Neither of you will be healthy & your relationship could go from rocky to horrible very quickly.

Next, if you both feel that your relationship can withstand this arrangement, set up some ground rules.  Talk about how you will handle any conflict that comes up.  Consider having a protocol in place where either individual can feel free to say, “I feel like we need to talk, will it work for us to talk tonight after dinner,” or something similar.  If there is a standard in place, neither of you will feel it necessary to yell to be heard & both will feel that they can talk in a healthy way.

Another ground rule to have in place is that you'll both have responsibilities.  It's important that everyone in a household feel useful, from the smallest member to the oldest.  Perhaps your older relative is not physically able to do much, but they can help in other ways.  If there are youngsters (grandchildren/great-grandchildren) that come to visit, it could be their responsibility to sit with them for a time after dinner & read stories or teach them a card game.  They could put photographs into books or boxes that need to be sorted.  They could crochet or mend, look for grocery sales/coupons, or perform some small effort that would genuinely be valuable to the household, yet not be physically demanding.  If they're unable to read because of poor eyesight, or write anymore, ask them to record a verbal family history so that you & the rest of the family will have it for the future.  Your responsibilities should also be clearly in place.  Talk about who will cook, clear, & wash dishes.  Mundane things can often make or break relationship.

Discuss finances before any moving takes place.  It will be on the minds of the both of you, so you might as well “air the laundry” in advance.  Discuss who is responsible for what.  If you are fine with them living in a guest home that you have free of charge, are you also fine with covering utilities.  If you'll be eating every meal together, who will pay for the groceries?  Discuss these things in detail & don't forget things like insurance costs and other things that are uncomfortable.  Might as well get all the discomfort out of the way from the first so that you can all be comfortable afterward!

Schedules.  Talk about this too!  Schedules are nearly as important as finances when it comes to daily tasks. If you work full or part-time & they tend to have many appointments for medical needs, discuss an arrangement that might work for driving to & from, or find a local shuttle service that might be able to transport.

Consider their comfort.  Our bodies change dramatically as we age, so if they'll be sharing the same quarters as the rest of the family, consider things that might help them to feel more at home in a foreign place.  Room darkening curtains so that they can get the rest they need when they need it (this might include a nap...even if it makes you jealous!)  Finding a way to make their area of the home the right temperature for them can be a big help to both of you.  If you like it very warm or very cool in your home, make accommodations for them if they are opposite.  Ask BEFORE they move in what they usually keep their thermostat at in the house so that you can prepare.  Also, be sure that you have a heating pad & blankets close to their favorite chair.  Find out what type of chair & bed they use for comfort.  If their current ones are too difficult for them to maneuver on their own, consider getting a different one that will work better to keep them as self-sufficient as possible.  Install a shower chair, shower head with a hose, gripping bars, etc. in the bathroom for ease of use.  Consider the entrance to your home, stairways & other potentially hazardous spots.  How will you make those things safe for the newest member of your family to stay with you?

Finally, talk with them about their will & if they have any living will, as well.  If they'll be spending their waning years with you, you will need to know what types of life support they are okay with, should their medical needs come to that.  After their death, you'll need to know whether they have funeral arrangements made somewhere & which parts are already taken care of.  None of us likes to think about these things in advance, but having it squared away in advance gives us the time we need to go through the grieving process without additional anxiety about arrangements.  It's also very comforting to know what your loved one wants when they are unable to speak for themselves.

This is obviously not a comprehensive list, as every situation will be different.  Communication is key when it comes to every area of life, and this is no different.  Make these years spent together be a gift for both parties to hold in their memories.

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