Wednesday, December 3, 2014

4 Easy Ways to Make Christmas Merry for Grandma

Christmas is a wonderful season; rich with experiences and opportunities. While there are many chances to delight your children with glitter and gold in December, Christmas also offers a fantastic opportunity to bring the older members of your family into the merriment.  Like anything else, a merry Christmas for all does require some planning. What follows is an easy list of ways to make Christmas merry for Grandma.

1. Christmas is a Season of Memories-

Even at my age, Christmas brings a flood of memories. I can vividly remember moments of unbridled joy when I received a basketball hoop. I can remember spending each holiday with my grandparents, helping serve meals to the less fortunate in Oklahoma. I can remember the smell of my grandmother's perfume when I would run up the front sidewalk to hug her upon pulling up to her house for the holiday. Even writing these lines, I start to drift away in a sea of happy thoughts of days gone by. For older adults, memories are a vital part of life. Especially for seniors who have begun to deal with short term memory loss, being able to recall and recount events from the past not only provides a sense of confidence and great pleasure. Reminiscing also provides what is known as "life review," an important part of the aging process. Plan to spend an evening in December with the older adult in your life looking through an old photo album or watching old home movies. Let them bring the ghost of Christmas past back to life.

2. Quality not Quantity-

It is easy to create Christmas overload with the best intentions. It is only December 3rd and my personal holiday docket is already jam packed with parties, gatherings and events. For seniors, it is particularly important to consider the dangers of doing too much. For many older adults, having an established routine is crucial. Throwing a couple extra things on the calendar is fine but don't attempt to drag your aging parent to every shindig and ugly sweater party available. Less is more. Plan on having them accompany you to no more than a few events and have an early exit strategy. People who struggle with hearing loss can become very agitated among big crowds and in noisy environments. Take this into consideration as you do your planning.

3. Connect

Isolation is a danger for seniors throughout the year but is especially painful at Christmas. If possible, try to connect your aging parent with peers or relatives that they might not get to visit often. For instance, plan to take your mother on a trip to Aunt Thelma's house to deliver one of your mom's world famous lemon pound cakes. It will be a great opportunity to share the Christmas spirit with both your mom and your Aunt. Who do you know who will be alone this Christmas and might appreciate a visit?

4. Watch the Booze-

Everyone has heard the cautionary tales of a coworker who had one too many glasses of eggnog at the holiday party and ended up xeroxing her own derriere by the night's end. Many of the medications that seniors take may make them especially susceptible to alcohol. No one likes to be babysat and that is certainly not what I am suggesting. However, knowing the effects that too much alcohol might have and planning (there's that word again) an early exit strategy might not be the worst idea ever.

Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. Make a plan to enjoy it.

And to all ages a good night!

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Importance of Mother's Health

For the record, I am not a woman.

I have never been a woman.

To my credit, I have been involved in an extremely in-depth case study of a woman for the last 13 years known as marriage.

One of the things that I have noticed over the last decade is that my wife is consistently placing her own health on the back burner. If one of my children has a fever, she coordinates a trip to the pediatrician. Her calendar is the one which tracks the annual physicals and immunizations for everyone in the home under the age of 18. She arranges dental cleanings each year.

But if you were to ask her about her own health, you would hear a quick laugh followed by the popular internet refrain: "Ain't nobody got time for that."

Many women fall into the same pit, particularly during childbearing years when pregnancy necessitates frequent visits to the OBG. Unfortunately, proper health practices are habits which are formed and followed over years and have ramifications which unquestionably affect women as they age.

The Easy Mistake-
It is easy to think about OBG's as doctors. They are. But it is more accurate to think about them as surgeons. That is what they are.

An Obstetrician-gynecologist is a surgeon in the truest sense of the word. They are required to go through a four year surgical residency which contains curriculum entirely surgical in nature. It is natural to assume that, over time, OBG's will become competent in areas of outpatient medicine. However, it is important to remember that their knowledge base, skill set and entire training is limited to the female reproductive system.

There is more to women than just lady parts.

The mistake many women make is feeling that an examination as invasive as the one they receive at their OBG visit would surely catch anything major going on. That simply isn't the case.

Why It Matters-
For all of the reasons that men go to the doctor, women should go to the doctor. Things like hypertension, osteoporosis, thyroid disease, and diabetes are just a few of the first things that come to mind that OBG's do not (and aren't trained to) diagnose and treat. Additionally, screenings to detect things such as cervical and breast cancer are female specific health concerns which must be monitored on a regular basis. They are not concerns which are typically addressed during routine pregnancy visits.

Making It A Priority-
The reality is that no mother has time to attend to their own health. In no world does a mother wake up to birds chirping outside their window, the beginning of Rossini's "The William Tell Overture" playing in the background, and wistfully wonder what she will do with all of the extra time she has that day. The reality of a mother's day is far more chaotic and is unimaginable to anyone who hasn't walked a mile in those shoes. The finale of "The William Tell Overture," known by most as the theme song to the Lone Ranger, is a far more appropriate soundtrack for most. How would one find the time to tend to their own needs in the midst of the daily onslaught known as motherhood? Perhaps a good place to start would be to replace a word in the previous sentence. No one will ever "find" the time. One must "make" the time. Like Nike used to say- Just Do It!

Many of the seniors we serve are currently dealing with the reality of having ignored their own health needs earlier in life. Whether it is borderline hypertension eventually leading to a stroke, poor diet eventually leading to diabetes, high cholesterol eventually leading to a heart attack, or lack of sleep eventually leading to dementia; daily we are confronted with the repercussions of decisions made and habits formed much earlier in life. It is easy to ignore the piper when you won't likely have to pay him for another 40 years. The seniors who are enjoying long life and greater independence than their peers are not doing so by accident. Their success is a byproduct of careful planning and persistent attention to the little foxes which can so often spell disaster down the line.

Mothers, make time to take care of yourself; not just for yourself but for all the people who rely on you and care about you.

Fathers, make your wife's health your priority. The Bible tells us to love our wives as we love ourselves. If that means that once a year you need to take a day off of work so that she can go to the doctor then make it happen.

Friday, November 21, 2014

4 Easy Ways to Live Longer

Everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to go today. Here are four easy ways to increase your longevity by almost 20 years.

1. A Salad a Day
 Italian researchers have pinpointed an easy habit you can adopt which will yield two additional years to your life span. A new study suggests that the simple practice of eating a salad a day is enough to make your life longer. The antioxidants found in vegetables such as broccoli, dark leafy greens, bell peppers and tomatoes have been shown in studies to ward off everything from major diseases to the common cold.

+2 years

2. Oh Nuts!
The crack team at Loma Linda University noticed something funny about Seventh Day Adventists in California; they were living longer than everyone else. Seventh Day Adventists are known for their healthy lifestyles and the avoidance of things such as caffeine, alcohol and pork. Scientists were able to pinpoint their practice of eating nuts as being particularly beneficial. After compiling all of the data, the research team asserted that snacking on nuts at least five times a week can add almost three extra years to your life.

+3 years

3. You Get By With a Little Help From Your Friends
In Australia, researchers found that the individuals with the largest networks of friends lived the longest. Whether just having someone to check in on you from time to time does the trick or perhaps it is the physiological benefits of companionship, having a good solid gang of buddies tacks on an additional seven years.

+7 years

4. You Gotta Ac-cen-tuate The Positive
Yale University researchers help us understand that not everything regarding longevity can be quantified as easily as a bowl of leafy greens. Older adults who enter the golden years of retirement with a general sense of doom and gloom are not likely to last very long. The mind is a powerful thing and can create health realities either positively or negatively. Individuals who approach the next chapter of their lives with a sense of optimism and purpose have been shown to live more than seven years longer. Programs like our Salute to Senior Service promote and recognize the contributions that older adults make for just that reason.

+7 years

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Three Simple Steps to Beat the Winter Blues

My wife and I were lying in bed this morning wondering why on earth our children were running all over the house at such an early hour. After shouting various things in an attempt to curtail the Crack-o-dawn shenanigans, I angrily tossed back the covers and began the heavy footed march of doom with the intent of politely informing them in a loving fashion that if they ever woke me up at an ungodly hour such as this again I would be forced to search for new homes for at least three of them. To make sure I had the facts to illustrate my point, I glanced at the clock on my way across the room to find two things. First, my still-too-noisy-for-this-time-of-the-morning children were not as guilty as I had thought them to be. Second, it was already 7:00am and I was going to be late to work.

The change of seasons is hard to deal with for many reasons. The shorter days, the chilly weather, the dark mornings all combine to wreak havoc on the schedules our bodies have grown accustomed to during the long, hot summers. Aptly acronymed Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), affects some of us more prominently than others. "People affected by seasonal affective disorder, also called SAD, may feel overly tired, lack motivation and even have trouble getting out of bed," says Dr. Angelos Halaris, a professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at Loyola University Chicago Stitch School of Medicine.

For seniors struggling with dementia and Alzheimer's, the affects of SAD compound what are already a challenging collection of symptoms.

Here some simple steps you can take to battle the SAD-ness:

1. Get Outside- 
Despite the shorter days, we are still blessed to have relatively warm weather and beautiful fall foliage in North Carolina. Getting outside to enjoy the sunlight is one of the best things you can do to avoid SAD. Exposing your skin to sunshine is helpful as well. If weather permits, expose your arms to the sunlight and avoid wearing sunglasses if possible.
2. Let the Sunshine In-
Open the curtains and drapes to let in as much of the outside light as possible. Consider leaving the blinds in your bedroom open when you go to sleep in order to allow the sunlight to stream in as soon as it comes up in the morning. For homes with poor lighting, light therapy boxes are available that are designed to mimic the effects of sun exposure. Always consult your physician before engaging in light therapy.
3. Exercise-
There is nothing that sabotages my exercise regiment more than the foods of fall. Squash, root vegetables, pot roast, and all of their fatty friends make me want to lie on the couch catch up on past episodes of Downton Abbey. Make yourself exercise. The endorphins released by even 30 minutes of daily activity can have a profound affect on your energy levels.

None of these are revolutionary concepts. None of these things are hard to do. These are all of the things that your great grandmother would have encouraged you to do long before we made up a fancy name for how we feel starting in October. Unfortunately, what is easy to do is also easy not to do.

For more information on Seasonal Affective Disorder click here

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Meaning of Life

As I sit down to write this post, I am not really sure how to begin. I am not really sure what content will fill this space. I don't really know how I will bring it to a close.

I know that I want to say something that will affect people positively. I want to make a difference.

I suppose I could move on if things become difficult; if the words to fill the page elude me. But I feel that I have something to contribute and I don't think I can or should move on until I have finished the task at hand.

At Home Instead Senior Care, we believe in a culture of life. We believe in living life on your own terms and aging according to your wishes. We believe in making the most out of each and every day which has been given. That belief is what drives us to serve families the way we do. That belief brings patience and understanding to us in the midst of sometimes difficult circumstances and family dynamics. We want to make the world a better place. We believe that we have something to contribute.

Despite our commitment to life, we are never far removed from death. The conclusion of life is something we face often. In those moments, we take great comfort in the work that we did. We console each other in the knowledge that, for however brief a time we were a part of their story, we made that person's world a better place. Still, it isn't easy. Loss never is.

Throughout the many journeys we have been a part of, we have stood by as the people and families we cared for endured tragic things. We have watched people battle painful chronic conditions. We have seen people become prisoners in their own bodies due to ALS or Parkinson's. We have watched as a person stricken with Alzheimer's slowly fades until the moment they no longer recognize their own reflection in the mirror. Friends have been taken from us far too early and without any warning. In each case there is requisite separation. 'Just part of the business we're in,' we tell ourselves. But that truth is a lie. If it weren't, we wouldn't be any good at what we do.The reality is that losing people hurts. Watching people suffer hurts. Saying goodbye hurts. Death hurts.

Over the last several weeks, the media has been highlighting the story of woman in Oregon who has chosen to end her own life on November 1st rather than fight an aggressive type of brain cancer. Many have hailed her decision as brave. At first glance, I guess I can see that. After all, we believe in living life on your own terms. Shouldn't that include dictating the terms of its end?

But the more I reflect on her decision, the sadder I become. How sad that because of the suffering set before her, she believes that the best decision is to avoid the pain completely. That is and should be her right- both legally and ethically. Still I can't help but think about the innumerable ways in which my life has been blessed by those around me who have endured unimaginable difficulty. In moments of personal trial, I find myself bolstered by reflecting on their courage and bravery in facing those challenges. Those are my heroes.

There is a pervasive myth in our society that beating a disease is the same as winning. The reality is that some diseases, some conditions are still and perhaps always will be incurable. Life itself is the ultimate terminal condition. Facing death, despair is understandable. Choosing to avoid that struggle is pragmatic. Bravery, however, is rarely the reasonable choice.

Each day brings with it an opportunity to create, to share, to laugh, to love, to serve. While we may not know exactly which words will fill the page, we still choose to write because we believe that we have something to give. We are here for a reason. We have a purpose.

Sometimes we fight to win. Other times we win simply because we fight. In both instances, we affect the world around us. We make a difference.

I do not know how my individual story will end but I choose to put words on the page because I believe I have something to contribute. I am grateful for all those around me who have chosen to fight and in so doing made the world a better place.

"This is my quest, to follow that star.
No matter how hopeless, no matter how far.
To fight for the right, without question or pause
To be willing to march into hell for a heavenly cause.
And the world will be better for this, that one man scorned and covered with scars
Still strove with his last ounce of courage to reach the unreachable star."
The Impossible Dream- Man of La Mancha

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

"I Bake Bread" - Minnesota 114yr old Shares the Secret to Longevity

Anna Stroehr has seen a lot of changes in her life. Born in 1900, today marks her 114th birthday. An infant when President McKinley was assassinated, she cites the addition of electricity as the most significant change she has seen take place during more than a century of years on this planet. But don't let that rather predictable observation fool you into thinking that Anna isn't a modern lady.

Anna was trending at number one this morning on Twitter once news of her birthday and her fondness for social media began to hit the news outlets. Like so many teenagers one hundred years her younger, Anna had to lie in order to set up her Facebook account. Apparently, Mr.Zuckerberg didn't account for Supercentenarians wanting to participate. His setup protocol only allows you to go as far back as 100 yrs., a fact which forced Anna to lie about her age when she set her account up several years ago with the help of her 85 yr old son.

A few years back, Anna did an interview and was asked the typical range of obligatory questions. She described the secret to her long life in a two fold manner. "I bake bread," was her first explanation. Second she says "I know it was the good Lord's doing. I sure didn't do anything to deserve it."

My favorite part of the interview was when she was asked about exercise. "I never understood people walking for exercise," she said. "If a person does what they're supposed to be doing, there doesn't seem to be any need for that." Geriatric specialists at the Mayo Clinic attached big, fancy words to her recipe for long life. They say that strength training, cardio activity and being part of an active social community are the things that have helped Anna become the seventh oldest living American. Those words are as foreign to Anna as the concept of Facebook undoubtedly is to many of her 100 year old peers.

Long before the sedentary, screen-engrossed, overweight, disconnected-yet-always-connected plague swept through this nation Anna held the secret to a long and happy life. Her recipe didn't call for fancy words or expensive studies. Her holistic approach didn't even require the aid of modern medicine. Anna's secret in those days was just called "living."

After having to fake her age to get on Facebook, Anna sent a one sentence message composed on a typewriter to Mark Zuckerberg. It read simply: "I'm still here."

Happy Birthday Anna.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Overcoming The Parent/Child Dynamic

I can remember a Sunday School teacher once chiding me for being disruptive. "Stephen, God gave you two ears and only one mouth for a reason. He wanted you to listen twice as much as you speak." At the time, those words fell on deaf ears, both of 'em. However, I have found myself returning to those pearls of wisdom on many occasions throughout my life.

Many adult children approach their parents as a collection of problems to be solved. Mom needs help at home. Dad is not safe behind the wheel. Mom and Dad's finances need to be managed more carefully. The real problem is that many times we attempt to solve problems we know nothing about.

Problem: Since Dad passed away Mom lives by herself.
Solution: Mom should move in with us and live in our spare bedroom. She could spend more time with her grandkids and save some extra money.

New Problem: Mom doesn't want to move in with you. She is afraid that she will be viewed as a permanent on-site babysitter. She already raised her kids and, as much as she loves yours, doesn't want to be a mom again. She is 75 and saving money is not on the top of her list. Your dad did a great job of making sure that she would be well provided for. What would she be saving money for other than your inheritance?

Problem: Dad's eyesight isn't what it used to be and I don't feel he is safe behind the wheel.
Solution: We should take away his car keys.

New Problem: Dad's vision is fine except that he doesn't see well at night. He is terrified every time he drives but even more terrified that if he tells you then you will want to take his keys away. Rather than risk admitting his weaknesses and fears, he refuses to address what he knows is going on and becomes increasingly defensive.

Home Instead's own Mary Maxwell once quipped: "Be patient with me as I age. This is the first time I have ever been old." Aging is a new experience for everyone. There are no practice rounds. There are no take backs. The only person who knows less about aging than the person enduring it is the aging child watching it take place in the life of their loved one. Yet it is not uncommon for an adult child to jump into solving a collection of issues they know nothing about.

The 40-70 Rule is a program put together by Home Instead Senior Care to help families navigate some of these tricky conversations. The program includes a downloadable "Action Plan For Successful Aging" which covers a variety of topics important to discuss with an aging parent. Each topic is broken down using an 'Assess, Consider, Talk (ACT)' model which encourages every member of the situation to consider the aging process from a variety of different angles BEFORE talking about potential solutions.

"It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt."   Mark Twain

For more information about the 40-70 Rule Program and to obtain your free Action Plan For Successful Aging visit