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Most of us understand how pets bring joy to people and why they are important. This is particularly true for older folks who may have lost loved ones and who have also lost regular human companionship. A dog or cat can provide that unconditional love we all need.

More assisted living facilities and homes where elders live independently now allow pets, with certain restrictions, such as size and weight of the pet. When visiting my 95-year-old mother in law, Alice, we often see people walking their dogs around the place. It’s a senior’s community which offers independent living apartments as well as assisted living. Like many of that type, it’s pet-friendly. In other locations, such as nursing homes, pet programs include bringing in dogs, birds or other small creatures for the residents to pet and play with on scheduled visits. The residents love it. Elders with dementia often relate very well to the creatures who visit.

It’s not all fun though. When an older person lives alone in declining health, he or she may not be able to adequately care for the pooch or kitty. Someone has to take their animal to the vet for their shots or for treatment with the various ailments older pets suffer from just as their human counterparts do: arthritis, pneumonia, flu, etc. And a frail elder with balance issues may not be entirely safe with a rambunctious dog that likes to jump up, run around them and increase the risk of tripping or falling on Rover. Canes and walkers don’t always mix well with beloved pets.

Families have to consider the pros and cons of keeping the pet on hand as a parent ages, perhaps has vision problems or is unsteady on his feet. Some families take in the parent’s cherished animal and bring the pet to visit Mom or Dad at the seniors’ residence. Some elders are forced to part with their favorite four-legged friend when a move to a new residence and loss of ability to drive makes it impossible to care for the pet properly.

As a dog lover myself, I can only say that all solutions should be considered before the heartbreak of separating anyone from an animal they love. There are dog walkers who can be paid to exercise a loved one’s pooch every day, run them to the vet, ensure that pet medication is given and that the dog or cat gets all needed care. Caregivers helping an aging parent may be recruited to care for a pet right along with caring for its owner. When recruiting a caregiver, that additional responsibility could be included in the job description, perhaps with a pay bonus for certain additional chores. Finally, if it is impossible to keep the pet where the parent lives, it is an act of caring to find a way for someone in the family, a neighbor or friend to adopt the animal and bring it for regular visits to see its owner. That’s good for the human and good for the pet too.

It’s not fair to any pet to allow it to be neglected as an aging parent becomes cognitively impaired. Memory loss might mean forgetting to feed the animal or keep it safe. We don’t want to see any pet with less care than it needs because the elder’s family forgot about the risks of aging and how the aging parent might do unintentional harm to the animal. Cognitive decline, “early dementia”, Alzheimer’s disease and many other problems can pose a danger to the pet. Considering long-term care plans for your elders, be sure to consider a matching long-term care plan for the elder’s animals. Their pets are indeed family too and do a lot to comfort and support an aging person with communication difficulty or even with the loneliness that so many elders face. That furry cuddle from the cat or that doggie smile with a wagging tail can give your aging parent a lift that goes beyond what words can say.

If your family is finding a challenge now with how to care for aging loved ones, get the expert help you need at AgingParents.com. Our nurse-lawyer, psychologist team can save you hours of time and aggravation in helping you solve the stickiest problems.

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By Carolyn Rosenblatt, RN, Elder law attorney, AgingParents.com

My mother in law, Alice, 95, was looking forward to getting fixed up and going to the birthday party for her friend of many years. He just turned 100. She had help from her caregiver to find the right outfit. She donned her fancy clothes. Her hair and makeup were done and her nails manicured. She looked terrific.

At the head table of the party were other friends, one her accountant, also 95. He still works at his profession and still drives. Her other buddies were there, a married couple. The husband is 100 and the wife is 99. Imagine living that long and being friends that long. Alice had a great time at the party.

No matter who at the party has cognitive impairment (most of them) or who can manage without help at home (one of them), the common denominator is that all of them can enjoy a celebration. We don’t lose our emotional need for companionship and fun with aging. We don’t lose our need for social connection. And most of us are going to need some kind of care in the meantime.

Consider that due to advances in medicine, science, and technology, the world’s population of centenarians is projected to reach nearly 6 million by midcentury. We are already seeing more walkers and wheelchairs around than baby strollers. The number of centenarians is projected to grow at more than 20 times the rates of the total population by 2050, making them the fastest growing age segment. It would be great of all the centenarians were in good health, but that is not the case. Many are in declining health and many have dementia. (If that describes your aging parents, learn how to manage them best at AgingParents.com).

As with Alice, we provide the needed care for these frail elders. On top of that, we need to offer opportunities for fun.

Boomers with aging parents are taking care of these parents, with some of us on the job of caregiving in our 70s. The images we see of Alice and her friends tell us we may be doing some level of caregiving for at least 30 years in many cases. That’s longer than we spent raising our own kids. If you’re doing retirement planning, you might need to add the work of caregiver into that plan.

No matter what we need to do to meet their physical needs for safety and comfort, to transport them to the endless doctor’s appointments, to watch over their financial health and to provide company, we must not forget that we need to plan some parties, some enjoyable outings and things that make them smile. As long as we are with it enough to have a good time, we never get too old to laugh.

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Living with aging parents suffering from dementia can be a tough time for all members of the household. It’s something a lot of people are dealing with, as the World Health Organization estimates that over 50 million people in the world currently suffer from the condition.

Aging Parents previously touched on the fact that there are certain things you have to adjust so the quality of life of everyone living with a demented person improves. Another smart way of helping people suffering from dementia is changing their diet because there are great food choices that can boost brain and memory health.

A gradual and long process

Changing the diet of your parent/s is a long-term commitment. Gradually replacing some food groups with healthier counterparts is a great way to ease them into the new meal plan. The Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay or MIND diet is a popular meal plan to follow. As its name implies, it is derived from the Mediterranean diet and Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH). They all serve the purpose of delivering brain-friendly food to the table, according to a feature on dementia by Patient.info. Here are some tips to incorporate these types of food:

Avoid processed foodAlzheimers.net explained that processed meat contains nitrosamines, which increase fat in the liver that are toxic to the brain. So the diet’s focus must be on vegetables and whole grains. Leafy greens like kale, spinach, and broccoli have been found to have nutrients that support better memory function.

Eat more fish and less dairy – Salmon and other cold-water fish are great examples. Try to avoid processed cheese as they cause protein build up in the bloodstream linked to memory loss.

Switch to extra virgin olive oil – Extra virgin olive oil contains a substance which helps boost the production of proteins and enzymes that break down plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Try preparing meals with this ingredient, which works best with salads.

Berries and dark-skinned fruits as go-to snacks – If they’re craving for a light snack, a bag of berries is great because they are rich in antioxidants. Free radicals affect every part of the body, including the brain, and food rich in antioxidants fights these harmful molecules.

Cut out beer – Older people digest alcohol differently, meaning the safe intake levels might have gotten lower. Research also shows that beer contains nitrites which are harmful to the brain. Regulating their drinking habits or stopping it entirely will be immensely beneficial.

How eating healthy can help

CBS News reported on a study conducted at Rush University Medical Center, where participants were asked to follow the MIND diet. The results turned out to be promising: the participants’ risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s disease decreased by 53%. This study shows that diet plays a huge factor in avoiding dementia or how affected people can cope with it.

Taking the necessary adjustments for better brain health will be something even you can benefit from. After all, continuing to eat healthily will not just boost brain health but overall health, which is good news for everyone in the family.

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Many of us will be impaired at some point late in life. We may need someone to articulate our wishes about healthcare as we near our end. How do we choose the right person or persons? What do they need to know? The American Bar Association offers a free Consumer’s Tool Kit For Advance Healthcare Planning, which most people have never heard about. This is to introduce you to the toolkit. In a series of these posts, I will go through some of the tools in it that I recommend and will discuss how to put them to use. I’ve tried them with my own adult children and we’re on the right track. They work.

Here at AgingParents.com, we see many struggles over these issues in our clients, most of whom are the adult children of aging parents. The parents are in declining health and some have dementia. Most of the adult children are taking some responsibility for their aging loved ones, either financially, with various aspects of caregiving or both. In every case, after addressing the first identified needs they have for advice, we bring up the issue of planning for the end of life issue. Folks squirm in their chairs when this is raised. No wonder. It’s uncomfortable. And talking about it is hard, but we have to do this if we want any sense of control over our journey out of here. Most people do want to feel in control of what happens to them. Help your aging parents and yourself get that sense of control.

Tool # 7  in the Tool Kit is a 10 question quiz that raises various scenarios about which you would want to make a decision or have your assigned person make a decision for you. One example is the possibility of having Alzheimer’s disease and being unable to recognize anyone anymore. It asks if you were in that condition and could not eat, whether you would want to be tube fed. This kind of specificity is exactly what you or your loved ones need to know. Should you be in a position to answer the medical staff’s question on tube feeding about your own aging parent, you will know what to say. I personally had to answer that question for my own mother’s doctor when she was no longer able to speak near the end of her life. I did know what she wanted. It is empowering to know what to do, rather than to let others decide for you. If no one knows what the aging parent wanted, the default position of medical personnel is usually to treat and treat and treat, regardless of what others might guess about what the elder would have wanted. Try it out by downloading the free toolkit with this quiz in it so you can help yourself or the ones you love. It may be uncomfortable but it ultimately brings peace of mind to all involved.

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