Incontinence is an issue of embarrassment among many older people. According to a report from 2014, about half the population of older Americans experience urinary leakage or accidental bowel leakage. And roughly 25% have moderate, severe or very severe urinary leakage. That's a lot of people! Perhaps because people are unwilling to talk openly about this condition, there tends to be a bit of misinformation floating around about the topic. This can easily be corrected for the benefit of the sufferer in order that they might have a much less complicated life.
There are many causes of incontinence in older adults. The causes can range from poor posture, to inflammation or other underlying conditions. Incontinence occurs when muscles are too weak or to active. Prostate problems (in men) or nerve damage can also contribute to incontinence issues. People often say is that it is normal to have urinary incontinence as you age. Although older women are about twice as likely as men, this is simply not true. Do not accept this as it is a common belief. Perhaps your incontinence is caused by something that could be easily fixed. Or it may be that you have a medical condition that needs to be addressed. Regardless, determining the cause will allow you to move forward and possibly even find a solution.
Poor posture is one of the least talked about but most common causes of a weak bladder. For a variety of reasons, we tend to slouch or slump forward as we age. It is somewhat natural, but what happens to your internal organs when you allow your body to slouch forward? Your organs are arranged inside of you atop of one another. And also supported by the spine in the back. If you slouch forward the organs push forward and rest fully on top of your other organs. Specifically atop your bladder. Apart from causing terrible back, neck and shoulder problems, slouching will often cause weak bladder. Or, if left for long enough, incontinence.
Another common cause is inflammation in the lining of the bladder. If you have an infection, it may be a simple matter of receiving a prescription for an antibiotic and you could be on your way to recovery! Sometimes it really is this simple, and yet people will suffer for months thinking that they are just getting older and that incontinence is a natural part of that process.
Another way to prevent or reverse incontinence might be exercise. Sometimes you may need to do exercises to help strengthen the pelvic floor. And other times you may need to receive a treatment if the physician finds something more serious. The main concept to remember is that if this problem begins or persists, you need to listen to your body and try to solve the problem by discussing with your doctor.
Take Good Care of Yourself
If you need to wear adult incontinence pads or underwear, do your best to get the proper size and absorbency for your needs. Some folks that are on a limited budget try to economize by getting a smaller size (there are generally more pairs in the smaller sized packages). Or by getting some that are less absorbent (because they are cheaper). The result of this is that you can end up getting sores from ill-fitting underwear or end up in an embarrassing situation when the absorbency was not up to par.
Whatever your current situation with incontinence, if it IS an issue for you, do not be afraid to raise the question with your doctor. Start the conversation so that you can begin the process of healing and return to a more active and less stressful lifestyle!
The gift giving season is upon us. Not that we do not give gifts during the rest of the year, but for many, this quarter of the year is fraught with frenzied buying, wrapping & giving, as well as receiving, returning or re-gifting. Why so much frenzy? Why so much stress? Often, it has to do with too little thought. Of course, the giving of a gift to another person is a sign that you are thinking of them. Most people feel gratitude when they receive a gift, even before they’ve unwrapped it. But, once the gilded paper is off the gift & you’ve returned home, does it still hold the same warm spot in your heart? Or has it now become an extra burden? You must find a place to store it. It was not precisely what you were looking for. It doesn’t fit you properly. The material irritates your sensitive skin. The list goes on. Added to this is a sense of obligation to keep said gift because of the thoughtfulness of the giver. The shirt you received may make you itch incessantly, but you feel obligated to keep it hanging in your closet for years because you love the person who gave it to you.
For the elderly, this problem is even more pronounced. They want to show love & care by giving gifts, but often their income is very limited in their later years. They love to receive gifts, but space in their apartments or rooms may be very limited & it is very difficult for them to get rid of anything that they cannot use.
We are in search of a better way. Refraining from giving gifts would take much joy out of the season we’re celebrating. We do not want to turn into the Grinch. We just need a bit more thoughtfulness to go along with the gift-giving. Gifts that will not give the recipient a disappointed or frustrated or obligated feeling once they’ve brought them home. Gifts that will show that we really care, without burdening the giver by their expense or the receiver by their bulkiness. Because of that, I’m going to offer a few minimalist gift suggestions that might help during this season.
Give the gift of paying for something they already purchase on a regular basis. Whether that something is gasoline, a haircut, a meal out, or a coffee, getting that item paid for can be just as exciting as opening a traditional gift because you know that the next time you go to the shoppe, you won’t have to purchase that item. It’s like receiving cash, only better, because the person giving it knows you well enough to know which places you frequent & what you like.
A family history. If you have grown children, this gift would be an amazing one that costs very little monetarily. Write or verbally record your family history. Include any important dates that you can think of. Include prints of photographs that you have. Include mementos if they are in your possession, or the location of those mementos for them to look at when you both have time. This gift would not be appropriate for most six-year-old children, though they would appreciate sitting to look at photos of their ancestors & hearing the stories just as much as anyone.
An excursion. Perhaps plan an excursion for someone you love. It’s better if the pair of you can do this together, but if that’s not possible, plan it all the same. Perhaps a trip to see a theatrical production with a hotel included. Maybe a trip to a national park. Maybe a fishing expedition. Think about things that they would like & plan them far in advance so they can arrange their schedule around it. Provide anything that they might need for the excursion. Many people need time away, but few people will take it for themselves. This forces the issue, as they will not want to waste the effort you’ve put in.
For younger children/teenagers consider gifts of lessons in some area in which they’re interested. Music or voice lessons. Dancing lessons. Horseback riding lessons. Cooking lessons. Sculpture lessons. The list of possibilities is long. These things are often fairly expensive & not something that families can always afford. Find out an interest area for them, the time commitment involved and be sure to check with a parent to ensure that the child would have transportation available if needed. This gift might also be suitable for an adult with varied interests.
Gift a massage or chiropractic appointment. A house cleaning service. A makeup or skin consultation. A membership to a gym. Giving anything that includes a little bit of pampering makes it feel like a luxury.
Something they won’t do for themselves. If you know someone who is going through trying times, consider giving them something that they need but will not get for themselves. If they’re without insurance, gift them a dental or eye appointment that they need. Oftentimes parents will go without these necessities if they have children that are also needing them. When choosing between wants and needs, they see their children’s issues as needs and their own as afterthoughts or wants. If they are having true difficulties, this will mean far more to them than that adorable sweatshirt you found at the department store! You’ll have to use discretion on this gift, so as not to make the person feel like a case for charity, but rather that you understand times of life that are tough & have walked them before.
Pay for a subscription that they already order or something new that they’d be sure to use. Whether it’s Netflix, Amazon Prime, Audible, The New York Times, or GRIT magazine, it is always fun to gift things that you know the person will get use out of.
This list isn’t meant to be comprehensive, but to start the brainstorming process. You can give & receive gifts that enhance the lives of those giving and receiving without being a source of frustration for them or you. You can give things that make people feel cared for without burdening them.
This holiday season, give with that end goal in mind.
Emergency Preparedness Especially For Seniors (Part 2)
In the first part of this article, we covered three top priorities for the elderly in case of a large emergency. Those three were: water (a minimum of a 3 day supply), non-perishable food, and sanitation. We'll continue this article with other considerations that must be taken when caring for seniors or the elderly to help prepare them in case there is a widespread emergency.
Perhaps listed within the topmost priorities when dealing with a senior citizen would be to have a good supply of any life-saving medicines that they are on. If they have heart issues, or asthma, for instance, be sure that their supply of medicines do not run so low that they would not be able to be sustained for a couple of weeks. If there is a widespread disaster of some kind, perhaps utilities would be in running order within a few days, but often accessibility to a pharmacy or drugstore could be impaired. They will need time to come up with a game plan for how they can refill prescriptions, so be sure that their supply of medicine currently on hand allows them that time so that it does not add extra stress to an already stressful situation.
Temperature control should also be a consideration. If you live in extreme weather areas (the far north or the far south), be sure that they have the means they need in order to keep their core temperature where it needs to be. In the far north, where temperatures can go as low as -50, they need to have a propane, fuel oil or wood heat source in case the power goes out. Also be sure that they have an adequate supply of blankets & even a hot water bottle so that they can climb in under covers & heat the bed directly around them to get truly warm. In the far south, be sure that they have access to water for wetting down towels to place on their neck & also a battery operated fan. Sometimes extreme temperatures can be just as devastating medically for them as dehydration. The bodies of aged individuals have a harder time coping.
Contact with the outside world will become increasingly important. Often landlines go down during emergencies, so a cell phone may be in order. If they have a cell phone, a non-electric way to charge it will be necessary. Various companies make transistor radios with hand-crank charging options for phones. They often have attached flashlights, as well. The radio itself will become invaluable during an emergency. Be sure that if you are going to have these available for them to use, that they are aware of how to use them. Using them several times a week is a good idea so that they do not forget important aspects.
Extra amenities that will be helpful are listed below. These are simple suggestions that can make life a little more bearable when the pressure is on. They are not necessary for physical survival, but can be of great help to make the emergency tolerable mentally.
-Chocolate or another favorite snack
-Crosswords or other puzzles to help pass the time
-Hobby items that do not require power
-Photo albums to look through
-Books to read
Add other things that you think might be helpful for keeping your loved one calm under pressure. Put all of these things in an easy to reach location, along with other emergency supplies. None of these things should take over your life. Your time or theirs should not be consumed with worry about a disaster. These are just measures to take to help in various rough patches that can occur during an emergency. Once you have a decent supply in place, check in about every 6 months to see what has been used, or what might need to be updated or replaced. No one is every fully prepared for a large emergency, but hopefully these two articles will give you something to think about as you consider the seniors in your life & their safety.
Pass On What You Know
There is a long held belief that wisdom comes with age. While I'm not sure it comes just with the passing of time, it may be true that it comes with a multitude of life experiences. Life experiences come in many forms, through difficulty and triumph, in good times & bad. The ones that seem to stick with us longer are generally the ones that were harder to learn. After going through so much effort to learn what we have learned, it would be a tragedy for that knowledge to pass on with us. While we cannot give another person the actual experience, we can give them the next best thing...the gift of story. Throughout centuries, people have shared their history, their experience, & their knowledge through story. It is important for us to continue this tradition, especially in the modern age when there is a temptation for people to think that knowledge is mostly gained through technology.
Think through some of the most important lessons that you've learned in your life. Prioritize them. What is number one? Was it learning to stand up for yourself when others were against you? Was it learning how to deal with the loss of a loved one? Was it learning how to deal with a child that seemed against you for a time? If you have 3 or 4 experiences that jump into your mind, write them down.
Next, consider the people that you are surrounded with that may benefit from the knowledge you have to offer. Family would be an obvious choice for this, as it will be more meaningful for them to know about your experiences if you've been close to them. If you do not have family that is close geographically or emotionally, think about others that surround your life. Choose one person to whom you will tell one story in the next couple of weeks.
Think through the details of your story & decide which details to leave out. We can get bogged down in the details while telling the story. Try to keep it interesting, but short. If the person is intrigued, they will ask for more details. If you are undecided, try writing it out, or recording it as you tell it, then play it back again. Most smartphones have the option to record your voice.
If there is genuinely no one that you would feel comfortable sharing with, consider writing it out or recording it for future generations to benefit from after you are gone. Some parts of our story may shed light for our families on our behaviours, & why we feel so strongly about certain subjects. Oftentimes the things about which we feel strongly are imprinted in us because of a difficult situation. Maybe you feel strongly about women's rights because we've felt inequality or worse. Maybe you've dealt with a deep sadness after a child's birth. Those things may not seem like things to pass on to children, but it can shed light on many things. Deep sadness after childbirth can help your grand-daughter know that postpartum depression might be genetic, & to seek help as soon as possible. Maybe you've been prone to drink too much & cause problems for your spouse or others. This can help future generations in your family to fit together pieces of family health history & to know what to look for so that they can avoid similar pitfalls.
While you are passing on tough lessons learned, also be sure to share light stories of beautiful times in your life. Share about your courtship with your spouse, about your first car or your favorite car, share the secret of your recipes, share where you've stashed meaningful letters & mementos. Though they are your experiences & your stories, they eventually become a part of your family's collective history when you share them. When we have shared history, we also have a very important part of emotional stability...a sense of belonging. Give that as a gift to those you love, you won't regret it!
Aging Skin Care
As we age, our skin changes. We notice little things at first. Perhaps it becomes drier, or we notice that it’s a bit more like crepe than it used to be. Wrinkles can be an issue & so can age spots. Skin grows thinner, especially on the hands and face because of a slowing in collagen production as we age. It’s a natural process, but there are certain things that we can do to slow the process down.
Hydration is extremely important when it comes to skin care. It’s one of the most important aspects of skin care, if not the most important, no matter your age. Our skin is comprised of almost 64% water. The problem is that we lose water out of our bodies at different rates throughout the course of a day. The most common advice when it comes to water consumption is 6-8 glasses of water per day. You must, however, not be bound to that number. If you are exerting a large amount of energy, or if the temperatures are higher, you must take that into consideration. Also, take into consideration whether you’ve been drinking caffeinated beverages. These are diuretics & can deplete your body of the water that it needs. The water helps our skin to stay supple and elastic, but it is not all that we need.
Collagen is produced in our bodies naturally. As we age, that production slows, but there are ways that we can increase that production so that our skin does less drying & wrinkling. Certain foods will help to improve your collagen production. Carrots, blueberries, sweet potatoes and dark, leafy greens are among a few, but it would be prudent to look up a full list & be sure to incorporate those foods into your diet. Also pay attention to those things which can deplete collagen in your body, like nicotine.
If you live in states that are notoriously dry, consider a humidifier. Dry air can be good for several ailments, but it can be very hard on the skin. In very northern states during the winter, the dry air can cause dryness, & even chapping to the point of bleeding. In these cases, it is probably best to consider a moisturizer that is suitable for your skin type. Remember, though, to also increase your water intake. You may not realize how much water you’re losing during a day when the air is terribly dry.
Lastly, consider the sun. Caring for your skin includes making sure it doesn’t get burnt. If you enjoy being out in the sun, wear a hat that covers your face, & also light cotton clothing that allows your skin to breathe. Be sure to go into the shade to cool off periodically, and, as always, re-hydrate!
None of these suggestions are akin with finding the fountain of youth, but they are sound, practical ways that you can improve your skin so that it can do its job of protecting you. We should show our thankfulness to this important organ of our bodies by caring for it in the best way that we know how!
New Year's Resolutions
All of us who have lived past age 25 have probably made resolutions at this time of year, at least once or twice. Some people just resolve not to make resolutions, but that too is a kind of resolution! And while everyone jokes about the fact that those resolutions do not usually stick past the second week in January, they're still important. They force us to think about what things in our life NEED to change, & what we are going to do about that. They force us to evaluate the direction we're headed & fine tune where we'd like to be going & how. They force us to admit that we are not perfect & can use a little work ourselves! Because of this, we've come up with a list that will, hopefully, make it a little easier to take a snapshot of each area of your life & rate where you're at and what you might like to improve in the next year!
Physical Self: How are your eating habits? Your exercise patterns? Are there physical therapies that you should be doing daily that you know about, but have not been doing? How about your vitamins/minerals? There are a lot of different areas of our physical selves that can easily be put on the back burner & forgotten, but which ones will you move to the front burner & improve this year?
Spiritual Self: Are you as giving as you'd like to be? Or forgiving? Anger and resentment can have a huge impact on our emotional & physical well-being. If there are steps you need to take to let something go, then let January 1st, 2018 be the day to do it & not look back again! Do you have people or organizations that you've been meaning to support with volunteer work or financially? Start now & don't put it off any longer. Actions speak much louder than words.
Mental Self: Are you challenging yourself mentally? Are you learning new things and improving your skills in the areas you're interested in? Are you ensuring that you do not become stagnant mentally? Are you getting enough rest?
Relational Self: How are your relationships? Are they blossoming under your care or withering? Are you reaching out to those you care about? It can be easy to glide along & hope everything is okay, but generally relationships need cultivation in order to be successful. Resolve to be more present in your conversations & in your actions towards those you love.
Financial Self: How are your finances? Are there things you'd like to change? Is there debt that you need to overcome? Resolve to sit down and make an action plan for giving attention to those things that can easily be neglected throughout the rest of the year.
Creative Self: Are you nurturing your creativity? Are you finding new outlets to create beauty & usefulness in the world you live in? If you're a painter, paint. If you're a writer, write. If you work with wood, carve. If you are a baker, bake. However you create, create. It feeds our souls & helps us to be better able to help others, too!
If you've always balked at the thought of New Year's Resolutions, we all understand. We've all been in that place where we don't want to resolve to do anything that doesn't seem as if it will be profitable for us. But all of the things listed above will have great impact on you, your life & on those around you, so... Resolve to make a resolution today! You will be happy you did!
Intentional Inter-generational Gatherings
Recently I saw a small town newspaper that was advertising an “inter-generational gathering” and they were hoping to have several generations represented to encourage conversation, a sense of belonging & health in all of the groups that attended. It struck me as a bit odd that our culture has changed so much over the years that what was once a normal part of life now has to be intentionally arranged because it is so rare. It also caused me to start thinking of ideas that anyone could implement in their own communities to encourage the benefits that were once natural. Of course, integrating life with several different generations daily would be optimal, but if it is not possible, I'll list some ideas below that might help anyone interested in enriching their lives through these types of gatherings.
Teach yourself to paint! There are several of these types of studios opening all across the country, where friends can reserve a time slot to get together and learn a new technique. Reserve an evening & advertise it specifically as inter-generational. When people arrive, try your best to seat them next to people of a very different generation. You may need to do a couple of ice-breakers to begin since some people have a very difficult time beginning conversations with others, especially if they don't think they'll have anything in common.
Consider your library as a meeting place. Many libraries have community rooms that can be reserved free of charge for gatherings of this kind. You could host an author to speak, an inter-generational writing course, or even something completely unrelated to the library that will be of interest to everyone involved.
Plan an inter-generational community gardening day. If your community is forward-thinking enough to have a community garden, consider hosting a day that is for all generations. Set up extra benches or chairs with umbrellas to keep the sun off older participants & have people that are specifically enlisted to go around asking about people's best tips & tricks for successful growing. Do the best you can to make it during a harvesting part of the season so that you can send some of the elderly home with fresh produce that they may not get as often as they would like!
Set up interviews. If you're unable to set up an entire gathering with many people involved, consider a smaller scale & more adaptable approach. Set up interviews between the elderly & younger people for them to share their stories. Try your best to record them or have a written record so that in the future, should you find a way to make a large gathering happen, you'll have some amazing material to work with to show the benefit of the gatherings to others.
The benefits are astounding, but some people may be shy or may need to be convinced that it is necessary. Once people begin interacting, however, they will see how important the interactions are to all parties involved. Our culture is, at times, so separate that it become nearly impossible to occur naturally. Help to make them happen & just see how much life they bring!
Low Energy and Passive Income Ideas for the Elderly
Everyone thinks that by the time Americans are retired, they should have plenty of money to live on from day to day & have living expenses all figured out. This is becoming increasingly untrue as we watch Social Security ages rising. Many people wonder how they will make ends meet, even with Social Security payments coming to them. So, if you find yourself among those who are wondering what you can do to fix this problem without maintaining a 9-5 that you can no longer physically handle, read on! Find ways that do not require long hours of physical labor, & in some cases, once you've set up a system you may not have to work on that project anymore, you'll just get paid for it!
If you have a nice camera (or even a phone that takes nice photos) you can sign up to contribute to stock photo companies and get paid for your work. Continue to upload to your portfolio. When people are buying your photos, you are getting paid!
Storage Units. If you have a bit of capital up front, you can buy these units, then rent them out & rake in the dough. Of course, it will require a little work...you'll have to take some calls & probably go and open up the unit for the customer initially, as well as checking on things from time to time. Another potential income from the storage units would come from the unit owners who can not pay their bills, then you can hold an auction for the items inside.
Rental Property. This also requires capital up front. You'll need to hire someone to get everything up to code & you'll want to do a thorough check on anyone moving in to be sure that they will not destroy the place, but once you have a renter inside, you can put your feet up & accept the monthly payments that will benefit your bank account!
Vending machines. There are some that require more maintenance than others. Some of the smallest, with the least amount of maintenance are spirit machines which go into high schools and sell sticker & other items with school mascots and colors. Usually the schools that you place them into get a bit of a percentage of sales as an incentive for having them in the school.
Check with a local florist to see if they have openings for those who are good at floral arrangements. Sometimes they have need of extra help during holidays & wedding seasons.
Tour guide. Sign up as a tour guide for a museum, park or national monument. Generally these jobs are seasonal & not physically demanding.
If you have special skills that you've developed over time, consider offering your knowledge on subjects to those who are just starting off. Everything from accounting, sewing, small engine repair to advertising can be marketed for consultation without you having to go back to full time, daily grind work!
Be creative! Think outside the box. If you've taken an interest in watercolor, see if you can sell it online or in a local gallery. Do things that you enjoy & see where it leads you. For possibly the first time in your life, you have time to sit and observe & think about what might work. Take advantage of that time & make the most of your golden years to have fun while making money!
Making a Plan (The Twilight Years)
We all come to the end of life. That is difficult for some of us to deal with emotionally, & in some cases it causes people to neglect preparing for it. But neglecting to think about it does not make the issue go away. In fact, the longer the task is put off, the more stress it causes just because you have to think about it again & again. So how do you avoid neglecting the important decisions that need to be made for your twilight of years without becoming overwhelmed by everything that should be done?
Baby steps. Goal setting is daunting for many people. For most of us, it only takes a little progress in the right direction to encourage us to go attain more. If you can convince yourself to take one step of progress, however small, toward your goal each day, you will be surprised how quickly you reach your goal. If you have a goal of writing a will, for instance, take the step of researching wills online for 10-15 minutes on the first day. Small increments of time are often thought of as useless, but in reality, much of what we accomplish is in smaller time periods.
Choose how you're going to prioritize the thing you have to accomplish. Some people start by doing the thing that is the most mentally taxing on them. Others start with the most urgent order of business. Others begin by doing the item that will cause the most harm if it is not completed. Determine how you will prioritize what you have to accomplish & put things into a logical order.
Be thorough. Once you have determined which item is your priority & you've begun taking baby steps, stay consistent & finish that item thoroughly so that you do not have to re-visit it. If you start making a will, finish it & sign it & distribute it properly so that you know the item is complete. If you are making a DNR order for yourself, finish it up, have it signed by a doctor & post it on your refrigerator.
Tie up loose ends. As you move through your list in a consistent manner, you may find that other questions come up, and that more items are added to your list. Be sure to write these things down so that you do not forget them. Re-visit them after you've completed your priority list.
We all have things that we neglect dealing with in our lives. To-do lists pile up with things that “should” get done “someday”. The above list could be used for completing any project or task in any stage of life. The only reason I've discussed it in this article is because it is a very common problem as we approach the end of life because the subjects that are to be dealt with are uncomfortable to even think about, let alone talk with others about. Do not let your discomfort dissuade you from peace of mind. You will feel better & your family will certainly thank you for having less stress to deal with after you've passed. Begin with making a plan of action, it's the first in a long series of baby steps toward peace.
Extreme Frugality in the Elderly
Have you ever experienced what you would consider extreme frugality in an elderly parent or grandparent? There are varying levels of frugality for each person, but what about things like saving aluminum foil, plastic containers, glass jars or re-using tea bags? It can be somewhat frustrating for those who have not walked the same roads on their journey to watch this process, especially if the saving of things progresses or worsens or becomes problematic because of the sheer quantity of items that are salvaged. But how did it get to this point? Why is there a compulsion to save as much as possible, or not spend, if possible?
For many elderly people this has come through years of experiences that we can only hear about through stories. Many have lived through the Great Depression, WWII, several recessions, not to mention the ups & downs of life that can leave people reeling & thankful that they made it through them. Lack of jobs & food during the depression, rationing of many items during the War, etc. can leave a lifelong impact on the psyche of anyone that has lived through them. If there has been great instability during their lifetime, it is more common for an older person to desire to hold on to things, “just in case”.
And what if you are the person that is slated with the task of helping them keep house, or to clean out their place to prepare for a move? There are a great many relationships that have been strained or broken over this issue. So the first thing to remember is to have grace for the person you are helping. They have been through more in their lives than we can imagine. Remember to treat them with respect & dignity in the process.
Talk with them about their past. Ask about the things that they've been through. Things that seem somewhat irrational to you might be very rational once you've heard their story. Some of them had large families & became accustomed to saving things in bulk because they would get used. They may feel unable to throw things out that have a use. Discuss with them ways that you could donate items so that others may have use of them. If they keep clothes that need to be mended, & are in good condition otherwise, consider hiring someone that could mend them, or ask at a local thrift store that has a mender whether they'd take them. If they have plastic containers, ask in the art department of your local school whether they might have use of them for mixing paints or other art mediums. Get creative in coming up with ways that the items might have real value to others. Yes, this process can be exhausting, and yes, it would be easier just to throw everything out, but it may be terribly offensive to some who have been through so much. What better way to honor them than to take the time to sift down the things of life with them?
If they are accustomed to having many things surrounding them, it may feel a bit frightening to them to have less around for rainy days. Assure them that you will be there for rainy days, because everyone needs assurance of these things. Above all, learn from them & offer them the optimism of brighter days to come!