Thursday, July 10, 2014

Warning: Dangerous Children

As a parent of many sons (6 as of the writing of this blog), my life is wild adventureland of dirt and noise. The idea of a quiet home is a fantasy construct that my wife and I harbor no hope of ever enjoying. And we love it.

Having once been a rambunctious boy, I am amazed to have survived my own childhood. The very act of being a child: to challenge, to push to the limits, to see how far you can go until something (or someone) pushes back seems to bring with it the threat of almost certain death. My summer days were spent racing a red metal wagon with a box duck-taped to the top down the steepest street in the neighborhood. Eventually, a car, a speedbump, or a pothole would cause the wagon to swerve, tip over, and disintegrate on impact. The rider would then extricate himself from the wreckage, wipe the blood off of his appendages and along with his posse begin the process of looking for a new box to strap to the top of his wagon of doom in preparation of making another run. If no further boxes could be found, we would head off into the woods on our bikes in search of snakes and drainage creeks with enough water in them for a swim. It is amazing that any of us survived.

To parents of this age, the situation I just described is a nightmare of biblical proportions; children, unsupervised, careening down streets, below the eye level of any car, on wagons not constructed out of high impact-resistant plastic resin, with no visibility, risking the almost certain loss of at least a finger with every crash in what is essentially a coffin of recyclables and duck tape. Oh the humanity. Oh the sweet sweet humanity. When your pulse returns to normal and you are no longer at risk of having a stroke, I will tell you what we did during Texas Hill Country thunderstorms. Awesomeness.

We are children of a bygone era; relics of a better time.

Today's children would never be permitted to flirt with the type of disaster we courted on a daily basis. Today's child is well supervised and kept at a distance from anything that could potentially harm it. As for endangered species, we have created faux worlds in which our children may exist. These environments and play areas perfectly mirror the real things only without any of the dangerous aspects. Predictably, when an endangered species is released into the wild after being raised in captivity it is savagely devoured by the animals who have grown up in the actual jungle. Increasingly, our society is finding itself facing similar challenges. Our perfectly sheltered and safe children are released into the wilderness of the real world neutered of every instinct and ability which would have helped them survive.

In her upcoming film "The Land," director Erin Davis documents a Welsh play space which challenges the traditional American instinct to shelter and protect our young. "The Land" offers children a chance to experience the world around them; a world filled with wonderfully dangerous opportunities. Open fires, hammers, saws, old tires, mud, ropes, rusty metal shipping containers, and trees which beg for a climber all populate the space aptly described as an adventure playground. Missing from the canvas are instructions and rules, protective rubber playmatting, overzealous nannies and anything else which would prevent young humans from creating, appreciating, and learning about the themselves and the world by which they are surrounded.

Even as I type these words, there wells up within me an instinct to reject notions like this. As a parent, I must protect my sons from dangers like these. The poisonous culture shift has infected even a staunch independent like myself. What if they are hurt? What if they cut off a finger? What if they slip and fall and experience pain? As of these fears are legitimate possibilities. These things might actually happen. They are worthy of consideration.

But consider also those things which are not mere possibilities but rather the probable outcome of raising a child in the manner our society has now deemed most advisable. What happens to them when they grow up unable to contend with the challenges the real world throws at them? What happens when noone is around to hand them a participation trophy for the job they didn't get? How will their fragile egos cope? What happens when they confront actual violence which threatens more than just their avatar on some video game? Who will the men of the next generation turn to to protect their families? What happens when they graduate with their advanced degrees and certifications, perfectly programmed to obediently follow the rules yet completely unable to compose an original and creative thought? Who will find a cure for Cancer? Alzheimer's? Write the next great symphony?

What will the world look like if we continue to keep our children from becoming the wonderfully dangerous individuals they are hardwired to be?

Watch the trailer for the upcoming film "The Land" below.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Helpful or Intrusive? Keeping An Eye On Your Aging Parent

Over the last several years, the increase in the aging population has brought about the invention of a slew of gadgets and gizmos which purportedly help seniors live independently. While many of these devices have great intentions, they walk a fine line between 'my daughter likes to keep in touch' and 'my daughter is trying to run my life.'

One of the more recent innovations to surface is something called "Lively." In short, Lively is a series of sensors placed discreetly around an aging parent's home to accumulate data. The sensors then use that data to establish patterns of behavior and alert authorized family members whenever a significant deviation from the norm takes place. In their online video, the makers of Lively are very quick to point out that this is "not like big brother monitoring with anything like video cameras pointed at you." In actuality, that is exactly what it is like- minus the video cameras.

So where should the line be drawn?

Most of the independent seniors that we work would emphatically reject having sensors placed throughout their lives so that an adult child could monitor them. Still others may be more amenable to the idea if for no other reason than to pacify a daughter who is prone to worry.

Whether a family places a low-tech nanny cam or a state-of-the-art sensor network in their aging parent's home, they are subtly inserting themselves into a senior's life. Seems like a I remember hearing a phrase about putting lipstick on a pig.

While most seniors fiercely reject the notion of needing any help even up to the point when the need for help is undeniable, aging in place is not something that can be done alone. In my experience through Home Instead Senior Care, living independently is not as much a matter of allowing other people access to your habits and routines as it is deciding for yourself what those habits and routines will be.

Have a conversation with the aging parent in your life. Allow them the opportunity to tell you what they want the next 10-15-20-25 years to look like and then work together to create that reality. Lively provides a fun new tool to help families to that end. But without an open dialogue, it will be received as just another example of you meddling in your dad's affairs.

For great information about how to have these initial conversations visit

Watch the promo video below for more information about Lively.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Things That Are Easy 

This morning I was speaking with one of my neighbors. She assists an elderly man once a week through a ministry at her church and is having a difficult time getting him to engage in activities of any kind. She has tried to get him to participate in various groups and activities but to no avail. He lives a solitary life with little to no interaction with anyone save the once a week visits from the nice church lady. That is who he is and that is likely who he will remain.

My neighbor remarked how grateful she was to know him on several levels. She is obviously grateful for his friendship but she is additionally grateful for the lesson that his isolation has taught her. Perspective is a powerful thing and seeing the manifestation of his choices has helped inform hers.

Getting involved in the world around you is not a difficult task. There are a thousand things from small to huge which beg for each of us to play a part. At this neighbor's church, a group of seniors gets together every Saturday afternoon to put together the bulletins for Sunday; not an incredibly difficult task but one which provides both purpose and community.

Jim Rohn, one of the world's most reknowned personal development coaches, famously quipped: "The things that are easy to do are also easy not to do."

Stuffing church bulletins is easy. Answering phones twice a week for a few hours at the local senior center is easy. Helping to keep a local food bank organized is easy. Visiting church shut-ins is easy. All of these things are easy. Unfortunately, all of these things are also easy NOT to do.

This elderly gentleman is reaping the harvest that he has sown by his own inaction. It would have been easy to stuff bulletins with the group from church. It would have created community and purpose for him in his later years. But it was also easy NOT to stuff bulletins with the group from church. Now, he faces solitary days. The ordeal of trying to join a new group or begin to participate in a new activity is far more daunting now than it had previously been.

I am grateful for the good examples in my life. My grandfather did not neglect to do what was easy. He visited seniors in the hospital, was active in his church community, and delivered meals to shut-ins. None of these things were inherently difficult. They were easy things to do and he did not neglect to do them. I am equally grateful for the seniors I encounter who have neglected to do the easy things. While sometimes sad to observe, their lives offer a cautionary glimpse at the repercussions of inaction.

Wisdom of the day:

Do not neglect to do what is easy.

Click here for more information about how Home Instead Senior Care can assist the senior in your life.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Brick House

Late last night I was roused from my slumber by the prod of my wife's elbow in the small of my back. Convinced that there was an intruder downstairs, she insisted that I investigate. With the appropriate home protection device in hand, I ambled through my bedroom door and made my way down the dimly lit hallway to rescue my family from the villainous ice-maker which I was convinced had made all of the ruckus to start with. Just a few feet from the top of the stairs, I had not yet found any signs of an intrusion. Cautiously, I took one final step to the look down from the top of the stairway and immediately doubled over on the floor, writhing in agony. Having awakened everyone in my home and neighborhood with what was undoubtedly not my finest verbal exposition on the subject of human suffering, I turned on the light in the hallway and began the process of removing the small red Lego brick from my right forefoot.

Every parent of small children has shared the wondrous joy of the Lego-foot. It is an expected pain which always happens unexpectedly. From the moment my children open up their overpriced plastic bricks on Christmas morning, I know that at least one of the 4,337 pieces will take me down.

In each home there are similar dangers lurking in dark corners. For some of us, the evil Dutch blocks are the antagonists. For others, household dangers could take the shape of throw rugs or extension cords. Regardless of the shape the cause may take, the risks associated with taking an unexpected tumble grow larger the older we become.

To help make home a safer place to be, Home Instead Senior Care has recently launched a fantastic collection of free resources aimed at reducing some of the dangerous pitfalls which plague seniors who have chosen to age in their own homes. In our experience, the vast majority of seniors would prefer to age in place but many of them are denied that opportunity due to an accident of some type.  Most of what we see as potential dangers are simple matters of organization and order; the frayed edge of a throw rug, a stack of old newspapers or magazines next to a favorite chair, the cord to a lamp which sticks out from behind an end table just enough to catch a passing foot. Thanks to the increasing number of American seniors making the choice to age in place, the cost and trouble of making other minor safety modifications to a home has dropped dramatically in recent years. Once something left in the hands of licensed contractors, things like grab bars around the tub are now available at every home improvement store across the fruited plain and easy enough for anyone to safely install.

Household dangers are real and completely avoidable. Whether you choose to download the safety assessment and check out your aging parent's home yourself or would rather have a member of our staff walk through their home with you and point out some of what we have seen as potential problem areas, there are great resources available at your fingertips. The stakes are too high to do nothing.

Click here to find out more about our Making Home Safe For Seniors Program.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Grandpa's Poppin' Pills

While watching TV with my wife the other night, a commercial came on for a new drug that promised to relieve the suffering associated with RLS.


What on earth is RLS?

The commercial explained the symptoms of RLS (Restless Leg Syndrome) in great detail and told 60 seconds worth of heartbreaking stories; individuals who's lives had been reborn thanks to this new drug. As I sat there, I couldn't help but notice a slight twinge in my right leg. Could I be suffering from RLS? All these years, living with the agony of condition I never knew or noticed? As suggested, I made a mental note to ask my doctor if this new treatment could be right for me. I would additionally be calling my pediatrician, as I am sure that at least four of my children have an extreme case of RLS as well.

In all seriousness, the growth of conditions and drugs to treat them in this country over the last generation has been spectacular. Sending my oldest child off to Boy Scout camp this week took the coordination of nurses, doctors, camp medical staff, and a troop appointed medication supervisor. All for an allergy pill and his inhaler. #overkill

Even anecdotal evidence suggests that we are doping up our children at an historic rate. However, the number of seniors who find themselves dependent on an endless barrage of drugs is equally alarming.

As a result of their advancing age, no other group uses more drugs than seniors. The aches, pains and maladies of getting older are nothing to be scoffed at and do require serious medical attention. But the cure is sometimes worse than the disease as we are now beginning to see.

According to SAMHSA (The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration- I had to look it up too), one out of every four adults over the age of 50 is now using psychoactive medications- mostly opioid pain relievers and benzodiazepines such as Xanax and Valium. The only thing more staggering than that number is the rate at which that number has grown.  The number of prescriptions written for seniors to obtain drugs in those categories has grown by twenty percent over the last five years. That is nearly double the growth rate of the senior population. Double.

The obvious concern with narcotics is misuse. While there are staggering statistics regarding the number of seniors who are misusing or addicted to drugs, I suspect that many of the victims of this epidemic are never counted. They suffer in isolation; continuing to attempt to chase away pain and anxiety with the contents of  a little plastic bottle. They often meet their demise with little fanfare. Perhaps a heart attack or stroke which was brought about by the massive amount of narcotics that noone knew or will ever know they were ingesting.

But if you prefer a Dragnet approach, here are "just the facts."

-Annual emergency room visits by patients 65 and over for misuse of pharmaceuticals climbed by more than 50% between 2007-2011. That is a 50% increase in four years.

-The rate of overdose deaths among people 55 and older, regardless of drug type, nearly tripled from 1999-2010.

-The CDC states that of those deaths in 2010, 75% involved a senior using narcotic painkillers and a full third of those seniors were also on a benzodiazepine.

In any other segment of the population, tripling the death rate would be cause for alarm. To truly appreciate the complete lack of any discernible outrage regarding this issue, perhaps it is best to look at the current event which elicits a passionate response from persons on both sides of the issue.

Prescription Drug Deaths vs School Shooting Deaths

In 2008, there were 20,044 deaths officially recorded by the CDC as a result of the misuse of prescription drugs.

In 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014 so far there have been 122 fatalities as a result of school shootings.

That is roughly a 164:1 ratio of deaths by prescription drugs in a single year to school shootings over a 6 and a half year period.

Are we sending postcards to physicians who have become known as "pill-mills" saying 'Not One More?'

Are we demanding that dangerous drugs be outlawed?

Are we insisting that more extensive background checks into a person's medical record be made before allowing them to take home lethal narcotics?

Not even close.

Rather, we sit back and watch television at night, instructed by another commercial to ask our doctor whether some new wonder-drug could be the pill-shaped solution to the problem we didn't even know we had.

For more information on what Home Instead Senior Care can do to help the senior in your life click here.

Friday, May 23, 2014

'Smart-Spoon' Makes Miracles Happen For Parkinson's Sufferers

Perhaps the most commonly recognizable symptoms for people with Parkinson's disease are tremors. These frustratingly sporadic movements make life's most simple tasks difficult. I have memories of the way my grandmother's hand used to shake when she attempted to lift a coffee cup to her mouth during breakfast.

For many, these tremors are more than just embarrassing. The tasks of personal grooming and feeding oneself can become virtually impossible in some of the more severe cases.

Enter Liftlabs.

Liftlabs is a San Fransisco based company which has developed a remarkable new device to assist people with Parkinson's or any other tremor inducing conditions. While the concept may not be new, the application is revolutionary. Consider that most newer digital cameras are equipped with motion cancelling technology; microprocessors which detect and counter any movements by the picture taker in order to capture a clear image. Liftware is similar device which applies the same idea to a more commonly used daily apparatus- a spoon. When using a Liftware spoon, patients who would normally toss their food all over the plate and table are now able to bring the food successfully to their mouths.

To read the entire story click here.

To learn about how Home Instead Senior Care is able to assist the senior in your life click here.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Top Five Regrets of the Dying

"Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to their graves with the song still in them."
-Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience and Other Essays

For most, there is still an opportunity to live a life of purpose. It is no small task to be continually intentional regarding who you are and what you were created to do with your life. Life has a not-so-funny way of throwing distractions into your field of vision which, while they may be good and worthwhile things, may nudge you slightly off course at critical moments. 

I often think of the movie Far and Away. The main character, a poor Irish tenant farmer, comes to America with dreams of owning his own plot of land. Like so many of us, along the way he loses track of the dream that drove him to the land of opportunity in the first place. While riding a train back east, he spots a caravan of settlers heading west. As if awakened from a sleep, he grabs his belongings and leaps from the train to join them. His fellows on the train call after him- "Mick! Mick! Where are you going?!" "I was on the wrong road," he answers back.

Unfortunately, many will reach the end of their journey with heavy regrets that they no longer have the time to correct. It is helpful to hear some of them as a cautionary tale. On my final day, I hope to be able to echo the words of the Apostle Paul who declared:" I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith."(2 Tim4:7)

Here are the top five regrets of the dying as recorded by Bonnie Ware in her new book, The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing.

1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

How many of us have fallen into this trap? It is easy to conform to the expectations of those who care the most about us but ultimately, it is not their life to live. Make it your own.

2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

This regret was shared by an overwhelming number of male patients during their final moments. Go home and through the ball with your kids.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

Bottling up emotions is not a new art form. The results of hiding your thoughts and feelings are well documented on every possible level: physical, mental, and emotional. In the words of Elsa, let it go.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

Creating true community is a VERY intentional task. As lives get busier, carving out time for the people in your life that matter is not automatic. How many of us have people on our list that 'we just lost touch with somehow?'

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Perhaps the most surprising of the top five, this is not an easy fix. Happiness and joy are choices that we make throughout our lives despite our circumstances. It is far easier to become mired in whatever difficulty we are currently facing than to celebrate all of the remarkable aspects of the life we have been given along the way.

For more information about the way Home Instead Senior Care can help your loved one live the life of their dreams visit