Go Do Good: Volunteering Senior Care

We know there is a great shortage of senior caregivers. That looming need for qualified home health aide caregivers is a topic I’ll address in depth in a New Year blogpost, but for now I’ll address some of the abundant opportunities to help the elderly within your community.

Meal Delivery
I have a friend who works with a food pantry delivering meals monthly to homebound seniors in senior housing not far from her house. This month, she included in her deliveries a small three-dollar poinsettia. She said that the gratitude for not only the meal but the extra gift was immeasurable. She also said that the deliveries would have gone much quicker and easier with more hands. If you’d like to volunteer to prepare and/or deliver a meal to a senior, the Meals on Wheels program caters (pun intended) to seniors around the country through their local communities.

Relieve Isolation and Loneliness
According to the Census Bureau (2010), in Chicago, 1 in 3 householders over 65 years of age lives alone. Little Brothers, Friends of the Elderly has made it their mission to make sure no senior lives in isolation if they don’t want to be alone. It’s a national network of non-profit volunteer-based organizations committed to relieving isolation and loneliness among the elderly. (They) offer to people of goodwill the opportunity to join the elderly in friendship and celebration of life. Contact your local chapter to investigate opportunities to visit an elder in person or by phone.

Share Your Skills
Many nursing homes and assisted living communities are always interested in hearing from potential volunteers to help with activities and programs. Usually after passing a background check, a TB test, and signing a confidentiality agreement, volunteers are welcome to help with social activities, lead arts, crafts, music, drama, and educational programs. While you won't be able to help withe Activities of Daily Living (that's reserved for trained professional caregivers,) you can share your expertise to help better lives. Technology can help bring long-distance family together, so sharing your computer knowledge can assist a senior in keeping connected. If you have video skills, help a senior center go viral! You have so much to offer share where it will be appreciated most.

As my meal-delivering friend said, “It’s amazing how much a little interaction brightens the day of the senior crowd.” Keep the great holiday feeling going all year long. Perhaps make it a New Year’s resolution to bring a little light to a senior’s life by volunteering just a little bit of your time.

And from me and Caregiverlist, Happy Holidays!

Seniors Should Be Wary of Holiday Scams

We at Caregiverlist bring this up every year: the elderly and their loved ones need to be extra cautious of holiday scam artists. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports that up to 80 percent of scam victims are over 65.

According to the National Council on Aging, here are some of the more common holiday scams targeted to seniors:

Medicare Fraud
According to the Better Business Bureau, Medicare scammers ask for personal information such as Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, credit card or bank account numbers and promise in return free products and services to be paid for by Medicare and Medicaid. In October of this year, CBS MoneyWatch reported that the FTC shut down a scam in which millions of dollars were allegedly stolen from older Americans by callers who claimed to be working on behalf of Medicare. Those who gave their information saw hundreds of dollars in bank account withdrawals.

Beware the Nigerian Prince
Most seniors don’t have extensive experience with the internet and email, making them perfect targets for online scams. Oftentimes, there is a promise of lottery winnings or release of funds if the winner just pays an upfront fees. Scam artists collect bank routing and account numbers and, of course, the senior never sees dime one.

Dearly Departed Debt
In an especially onious scam, victims are found through obituaries. Victims are recent widows or widowers who are contacted and told that their deceased spouse had left behind thousands of dollars in debt. Usually flush with recent insurance money, the victim will seek to resolve the debt rather than face “financial ruin, eviction, and public disgrace.”

The Old “Grandparent Scam”
The Grandparent Scam is nothing new but the over the holidays, when many college kids find themselves back home over winter break, grandparents can find themselves on the receiving end of a disquieting call. “Often, the scammer will pose as a grandchild in college and tell the grandparent that they are in legal trouble or even physical danger,” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman wrote in a letter to colleges and universities across the state. “They will ask the unsuspecting grandparent to wire money immediately and, as a means of avoiding detection, ask the victim not to tell other family members about the situation.”

Why are the Elderly More Vulnerable to Fraud?
It may be that the part of the brain that detects suspicious looks and behavior becomes less active as we age. A study done by professors at UCLA has found that the area of the brain called the anterior insula diminishes the older we get, and “untrustworthy” faces can’t be distinguished from the trustworthy. Also, social neuroscientist Shelley Taylor of the University of California, Los Angeles, asserts that “Older people are good at regulating their emotions, seeing things in a positive light, and not overreacting to everyday problems.” However, this trait may make them less wary and more susceptible to scams.

So have that talk with your senior loved one or client and make them aware that, especially at this time of year, they can easily fall victim to fraud. If you or a senior you know has been the victim of a scam or fraud, report it to your local police department and Department on Aging. You may help prevent others from becoming victims as well.

Modern Family: Rise of the Multi-Generational Household

“Grampa is coming to live with us.” “Mom, I’m moving back home.” A struggling economy and an aging society is creating a new living dynamic in American — the three- (and sometimes four-) generation home.

We know that people are living longer and, while long-distance family caregiving is still common, it is also expensive. Families may use senior home care agencies to provide professional care to assist their elderly relatives with activities of daily living. Costs can skyrocket in times of crisis when a son or daughter finds themselves scrambling to make last-minute travel plans and miss work. Senior care costs such as those for nursing homes and assisted living communities continue to increase,  and many families may find it more economical to take a parent or parents into their own home.

According to the Pew Research Center, 57 million Americans, or 18.1% of the population lived in multi-generational family households in 2012. That number has doubled since 1980. Why the uptick? Many factors come into play, but The Great Recession of 2007-2009 has had a huge effect in the change in living arrangements. Many families lost their homes in the collapse of the housing bubble, forcing them to combine households. Young adults aged 25 to 34 have become a new demographic; known as the “boomerang youth’, they find themselves returning to the family home when it’s no longer economically viable to live on their own.

I’m part of the “Sandwich Generation”. I care for my children as well as an aging parent. The time and effort (and money) I spend supporting two households could be minimized if I could just combine them. I might also be able to claim my parent as a dependent if I pay more than half of their financial support. As a dependent, my parent’s exemption will be worth $4,000 in 2015.

Multigenerational living is not a new concept by any means. In fact, prior to WWII, it was the norm. But prosperity and suburban sprawl gave way to the migration of the nuclear family. According to the Pew Research Center, in 1940, about a quarter of the population lived in a multi-generational home; by 1980, just 12% did.

The trend reversal has benefits that extend beyond the financial. If the grandparent is healthy, they can provide free childcare to the working parent(s). Many find that daily contact between grandparent and grandchild to be invaluable. And, of course, senior isolation is nonexistent. However, there are drawbacks.

The only way to make it work, according to many multi generational families who live together, is to find a space that provides separation and retrofitting existing living spaces to accommodate the elderly. This means building an addition to a current home to provide an “in-law” apartment, or adding an elevator to ease access to multiple floors.

Some builders like Lennar with their NextGen homes, are creating “homes within homes” — complete with bedroom, full bath, kitchenette, living room, laundry room and separate entrance.
Be prepared to see more of these types of living situations. It looks like I may have to give it a go in the near future. And while I’ve always dreamed of living on the Kennedy compound, I have a feeling my multigenerational family home will look a lot more like the Waltons.

Caregiverlist Picks: Senior Care Movies Streaming on Netflix

If you read the Caregiverlist® Blog: Caring for the Caregiver with any frequency, you know I’m a movie fanatic. Over the years I’ve recapped quite a few movies that deal with Alzheimer’s and other memory loss diseases, aging, and even senior caregiver robots.

If you subscribe to movie streaming service Netflix, here’s your opportunity to catch some of those great movies and documentaries on the privacy of your own device. Here’s some of the titles you’ll find in December:

Alive Inside

This moving documentary shows the power of music on the mind. Social worker Dan Cohen uses music to reawaken memory in nursing-home patients afflicted with Alzheimer's disease and dementia.

Advanced Style

Another documentary, this movie follows seven New York City women in their 80s and 90s who refuse to become invisible in a culture that values youth. Photographer and blogger Ari Seth Cohen has been documenting stylish seniors in NYC since 2008 and has now brought some of his most eccentric subjects to life in this film. Reviews are divided, however, between viewers who admire these ladies’ outrageousness and those who feel the aged should be a little more dignified.

Quartet

Dustin Hoffman directs this film about a trio of retired opera singers as they prepare for their annual gala concert to celebrate Verdi’s birthday. Maggie Smith is their estranged fourth arrives and refuses to participate. With Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Billy Connolly, Pauline Collins.

Robot & Frank

It’s nice when caregivers and care recipients share interests. Companion caregiver robots are already more fact than fiction, so the premise of this film is not so far out of the realm of reality. Set some time in the near future, elderly Frank’s son and daughter are concerned he can no longer live alone. Rather than place him in a nursing home, Frank’s son gets him a talking humanoid robot programmed to provide care. Lucky for Frank, a retired cat burglar, the robot’s talents extend beyond basic senior care. Be warned, however—some caregivers have found the ending a little bleak. With Frank Langella, James Mardsen, Liv Tyler.

Take some time out from watching holiday classics to enjoy some of these senior-related films. Do you have favorites that are not on this list?

WSJ: Research Debunks Myths of Aging

“I hate growing old,” says everyone, “but it’s better than the alternative.” We tend to see aging as this inevitable decline in physical and mental capability. In American society especially, we see the elderly as somehow lesser than their younger selves -- weaker, sadder, lonelier. On November 30, Anne Tergesen wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal, backed by some solid scientific evidence, that shows that everything we believe about aging may just be wrong.

Myth #1: The Elderly Tend to be More Depressed
Are seniors more depressed? Not according to the research. Participant of a long term study conducted by research scientists at Heidelberg University, among others, older people focus on positive rather than negative emotions. “Contrary to the popular view that youth is the best time of life, the peak of emotional life may not occur until well into the seventh decade,” Prof. Laura Carstensen, director of Stanford University’s Center on Longevity says.

Myth #2: Cognitive Decline is Inescapable
With age comes wisdom. With age come experience and knowledge. Barring dementia, studies show that older people tend to see problems from multiple perspectives. Also good news? Studies have shown that older adults can improve memory by learning new skills. Old dog --meet new tricks.

Myth #3: We Become Less Productive as We Age
Fewer older workers can retire early, thanks to our economy. According to the Department of Labor, workers 55 or older make up 22% of the American labor force. That’s up from 12% in 1992. Older workers have the edge over their younger counterparts due to experience and tend to make fewer errors in their work.

Myth #4: The Aged are More Prone to Loneliness
The elderly have shown that when it comes to people they feel close to, they prefer quality over quantity. Closer ties with loved ones means that seniors value their inner circle more and shed the relationships they find problematic. Of course, loneliness is still a problem for some elderly, especially if they are isolated but, on average, research shows that older adults are less lonely than younger adults.

Myth #5: Creativity Declines With Age
This one I love: academic studies dating far back into the 19th century show that many artists are most prolific in their 40s, 50s and 60s. David Galenson, a professor at the University of Chicago, conducted research that showed artists who “rely on wisdome, which increases with age” take years to perfect their style. He cites Mark Twain, Paul Cézanne, Frank Lloyd Wright, Robert Frost and Virginia Woolf as just a few of the artists who did their best work later in life.

Myth #6: More Exercise Produces Better Results
While getting some exercise is key to healthy aging, too vigorous activity can cause “overuse injury” to the heart. Dr. James O’Keefe, professor of medicine at the University of Missouri-Kansas City recommends sticking to a “moderate cardiovascular workout of no more than 30 miles a week or 50 to 60 minutes of vigorous exercise a day, and taking at least one day off each week.”

We here at Caregiverlist are firm believers in healthy aging. With proper nutrition, exercise, and preventative measures, we know that we can enjoy life much longer than ever before. And it doesn’t hurt to follow the advice of the late Ms. Besse Cooper who made it to 116 years old. During an interview with the Guinness Book of World Records, when asked her advice on living a long, healthy life Ms. Cooper responded, “I mind my own business. And I don’t eat junk food.”

Take the time to read the full Wall St. Journal article, along with the substantiating data.

Holiday Stress Relief for Caregivers

The holiday season is in full swing and while it’s certainly a joyous time of year, it’s also a time when we are all are prone to holiday stress. Senior caregivers are especially vulnerable. It’s easy to become overwhelmed with senior care when family demands are also so high. Caregivers often have to two sets of holiday chores like shopping, wrapping, and writing cards; and if the caregiver is stressed, believe me, the senior experiences stress as well. Here are some ideas to help alleviate the stress and find time for some fun amidst the chaos that is the holiday season.

Take a Mental and Physical Break
Often when the to-do list looks overwhelming, caregivers can feel that taking a break is somewhat indulgent. Not true. According to The Energy Project’s Tony Scwartz, we can accomplish more by doing less. Taking breaks can help you avoid burnout and stay motivated. Watch an old holiday movie like Christmas in Connecticut or The Bishop’s Wife and don’t feel compelled to multi-task when you’re doing it.

Get Some Fresh Air
If you live in a colder climate, it may feel like you’re running from indoor heated space to indoor heated space — from home, to car, to store, and back again. Caregivers know that it’s important to keep a senior active, even during the frigid months. But winter’s cold can limit a senior’s mobility and slick sidewalks can cause treacherous falls. If your city has an indoor botanical garden or conservatory, take your senior client or loved one for a stroll through some much needed fresh (warm) air. Check schedules for special programs like holiday markets, flower shows, concerts, caroling, and holiday light shows. I like to sit on a bench in Chicago’s Garfield Park Conservatory’s Fern Room and pretend that spring is right around the corner. Many conservatories are free (like the aforementioned Garfield Park Conservatory) or have discounted senior pricing.

The photo above shows the Garfield Park Conservatory White Holiday Flower Show in 2007

Eat Right
During the holidays, treats are everywhere! And when we’re stressed, we tend to gravitate to comfort foods that are not necessarily nutrient-rich. It’s especially important to eat healthy during this frantic time. Eating well not only strengthens our immune system (so important during cold and flu season,) but good carbs, fruit, and vegetables have been shown to raise serotonin levels, helping us to relax. And citrus fruits, in season this time of year, are chock-full of precious vitamin C and other antioxidants — known stress-busters.

Get Some Help
Don’t turn down any offers of help from family, friends, or neighbors. Sometimes caregiver stress can be alleviated with just a few hours away. If there are no offers on the table, consider hiring some respite help. Call a quality senior home care agency early in the season to book a companion caregiver to help with a senior’s activities of daily living, freeing you up to take care of your own holiday needs.

Caregiverlist wishes you the best this holiday season. If you feel overwhelmed as a senior caregiver, remember to take a few minutes out of your busy schedule to stop and enjoy all the holiday goodness around you. Remember, it’s your holiday too!

Feel free to post your own suggestions for beating holiday stress in the comments.

Chicago Approves Minimum Wage Hike

The Chicago City Council resoundingly agreed, by a vote of 44-5, to raise Chicago’s minimum wage to $13 and hour by mid 2019. it’s estimated that the wage increase would affect 410,000 workers, or nearly one-third of all Chicagoans.

Currently, Chicago’s minimum wage is $8.25. Under the proposal, the minimum wage would increase to $10 next July and rise incrementally each summer until 2019. But according to the bill, the increase is long overdue. "...rising inflation has outpaced the growth in the minimum wage, leaving the true value of lllinois' current minimum wage of $8.25 per hour 32 percent below the 1968 level of $10.71 per hour (in 2013 dollars)."

With this bill, Chicago joins the current trend of a metropolitan area having a separate minimum wage from the rest of its state. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio signed an executive order on Tuesday to raise the minimum hourly wage by more than a dollar to $13.13. The mayor said his plans are to increase the minimum hourly rate to $15.22 by 2019. Currently, the New York state minimum wage is $8 an hour.

In San Francisco, voters approved a rise to a $15 minimum wage in 2018. The state legislature, however, is just now proposing a hike in the state minimum wage to $11 an hour in 2016 and to $13 in 2017. And on On June 2, 2014, the City Council of Seattle, WA passed a local ordinance to increase the minimum wage of the city to $15 an hour by 2017, giving it the highest minimum wage in the United States.

Some Chicago aldermen like Tom Tunney (44th) argued Wednesday in the special City Council meeting that the wage increase would have adverse consequences by driving away businesses to other parts of the state or force companies to pass those bottom-line increases to the consumer.

There’s also talk that Chicago’s minimum wage hike has more to do with Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s upcoming reelection than with concern for a living wage for Chicago’s workers. Not surprisingly, mayoral challengers 2nd Ward Alderman Bob Fioretti and Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia are are critical that the Mayor Emanuel’s proposal doesn’t go far enough, saying they would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

But it has had the effect of sending state legislature scrambling for a state-wide referendum that would raise the state's minimum wage to $9 an hour July 1. The rate would increase by 50 cents an hour each year until 2019, when the wage would reach $11 an hour.

Senior care agencies already pay more than minimum wage and the average caregiver hourly wage is 38% above national minimum wage, but there’s no doubt that new minimum wage proposals would affect caregiver wages. The question is, will costs be passed on to seniors and their families? Will higher wages in cities drive senior care company growth in suburban and rural areas? There’s no doubt that the cost of living is higher in major metropolitan areas, but will the cost of doing business become too high? I look forward to reading your comments.

Cyber Monday Holiday Gifts for Seniors

Everywhere you turn, retailers are offering up Cyber Monday gift ideas. I happen to be in the market for a holiday gift for my elderly mother. When asked, of course she tells me she has everything she could ever want or need, but that won’t stop me from trying to find the perfect present to knock her (supportive) socks off.

I have never been to, nor will I ever attend, a Black Friday door-buster event. Luckily for me (and you), Cyber Monday provides many excellent deals to be had from the comfort of my (and your) own keyboard. Here’s a few that I found.

Digital Photo Frame — Best Buy
As the family gets bigger, there’s no more room on surfaces for conventional photo prints in traditional photo frames. I wanted to find a digital picture frame that was easy to set up, loaded photos quickly, had good quality resolution, and decent internal memory. Best Buy came through with their VistaQuest 8" Digital Photo Frame in Espresso, on sale for $29.99 (down from $79.99.) It scored a 4.1 out of 5 stars from its reviewers and 87% of customers would recommend this product to a friend. Will my normally tech-averse mother like it? At that price, I’ll take the chance. And she’ll get to see a changing array of photos of her favorite people without taking up more precious table space.

E-Reader — Amazon.com
She’s a voracious reader, and it pains me to see my mother struggle with diminishing eyesight. My mother has nearly exhausted all the large-print books the local library offers, and it’s hard for me to keep track of what she’s read so far. What to do? An e-reader like Amazon’s Kindle holds thousands of books, is lightweight, and gives the reader font-size control. The very basic version is listed at $79, does not come with a power adapter and, most importantly, does not have a built-in light. The Kindle Paperwhite is the next step up in Kindle e-readers and it provides improved resolution and the all-important backlight, but at $119, I think I’ll pass unless I see it deeply discounted.

Warm and Cozy Throw — Wayfair.com

Chicago winters get cold and seniors tend to feel the chill more than others. I wanted to splurge on cashmere but I have to be somewhat frugal as well. Wayfair.com carries Cashmere Republic’s Signature Waterwave Cashmere/Wool Throw in a variety of colors on sale for $132.99 (a 26% savings.) One reviewer says it feels like being wrapped in a large cashmere sweater. Just the effect I was looking for!

Fragrance — Department Stores; Beauty retailers
Chanel No. 5 will never find itself on a discount list. Everywhere I look, the 1.7 oz. Eau de Toilette spray comes in at $78. My goal is to find the online retailer that will offer me free shipping and maybe a little extra gift that I can use as a stocking-stuffer for my daughter or a special little gift for myself. Sephora not only offers free 3-day shipping on purchases over $50, but also give you a Cyber Monday Mystery Bag containing 7 free samples when you use the code: SURPRISE at checkout. Macy’s gives me 3 sample fragrances along with a choice of a free silver or gold clutch along with free shipping. Unfortunately, my purchase doesn’t qualify for the store-wide 15% Cyber Monday discount. Nordstrom Online also doesn’t offer any discount on Chanel, but gives me an option to add 3 of a variety of beauty samples, including Laura Mercier Tinted Moisturizer. All the sites charge IL sales tax.

Of course, the most important gift we can give the elderly is the gift of our time. If you find yourself too far from home to give the gift of family caregiving, consider contacting a quality home care agency who can provide companionship care for your senior loved one. And don’t forget those important caregivers on your holiday shopping list!

How Long Should We Live?

Recently and rather infamously, Ezekiel Emanuel, Chair of the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania and brother to Chicago’s own mayor Rahm Emanuel, wrote a piece for the Atlantic entitled Why I Hope to Die at 75.

Citing the physical and mental degeneration that often accompanies old age, Dr. Emanuel asserts in his essay that he will forego not only life-sustaining interventions such as dialysis, ventilators and defibrillators after the age of 75, but also simple diagnostic and preventative measures, like colonoscopies and flu shots.

Reading his essay, one gets the distinct impression that Dr. Emanuel doesn’t buy the notion of aging well — the idea that as we increase our lifespans, diet and exercise (both mental and physical) can delay the decline and disabilities we face as we age. Instead of what he calls “American immortality,” Dr. Emanuel espouses his “75 and no more” philosophy.

It was like the shot heard ‘round the world, prompting responses and rebuttals from all over the web. As you can imagine, such a provocative essay hit people where they live (pun intended.) When one imagines a long life, it comes with the caveat of being able to continue functioning fully, without descending into frailty or senility.

What got me, however, was Dr. Emanuel’s supposition that your creativity declines as you age — his assertion that the elderly have nothing left to give to society. I disagree. Heartily. And I am not alone. Our friends at Homecare Together, a Dublin-based quality home care agency, sent me this wonderful infographic, Life Begins at 60+, which presents examples of seniors who changed direction, reinvented themselves, gave back to the community, and prospered well into later-stage life.

 

Of course, not all of us will enjoy such a run, but it won’t happen without trying. I may not take drastic measures to prolong my life after 75, but I hope by the time I get there, with the help of an exceptional senior caregiver ( or perhaps a robot companion), an aged quality life full of vim, vigor, and creativity will be the rule and not the exception.

"Do not go gentle into that good night... Rage, rage against the dying of the light" — Dylan Thomas

Thanksgiving with Seniors: Checking for Signs of Dementia

Thanksgiving is right around the corner and with it, the holiday season officially begins. If you are like the host of other Americans that celebrate by gathering with family and sharing a delicious meal, it’s a great time to assess the health, both physical and mental, of the aging member(s) of your group.

Holidays are a prime time for families to detect dementia in a family member, according to the Alzheimer's Foundation of America, especially if it’s been a while since you’ve seen your older family members. While it’s certainly an exciting time, it’s also an extremely stressful time — regular routines are disrupted, and large groups of people means noise and excitement — it’s sort of a perfect storm of a time to determine if your aging loved one is exhibiting signs of memory loss.

If you spend Thanksgiving at your senior’s home, a quick bit of detective work will give you some insight into their mental health. Remember to do this stealthily! This is not the time for confrontation, but an opportunity to gauge if your loved ones are living their best lives.

Take a good look (and smell)
Has there been obvious weight loss? People with memory loss often forget to eat. If they are depressed, which often happens when someone begins to experience mental acuity changes, they may decide that cooking is too much bother.

How is their personal hygiene? Are clothes clean? Make note of their grooming to determine any odd or peculiar changes in their regular appearance.

In the house
Check the refrigerator for expired food. Or multiples of the same food. Take a look in the living areas; are they clean and free of clutter? Peek at more personal spaces. While common areas might have been picked up in anticipation of guests, out-of-the-way areas like bathtubs and closets might give a truer picture of a senior’s ability to keep up with general tasks. If they have plants or animals, are they thriving?

Is there any unopened mail hanging about? Paying bills, especially, may seem overwhelming. According to Forbes, financial decision-making capacity erodes early on in those suffering with memory loss, dementia, or Alzheimer’s disease.

Talk to neighbors
If you aren’t around much, talk to those who are. If you happen to see neighbors, ask if they have noticed any changes in your senior loved one. A certain red flag is isolation. If they don’t see your senior as often as they used to, it can be cause for concern. Now is the perfect time to exchange phone numbers and ask them to contact you if they see anything remiss.

If you do suspect that there are changes in your senior loved one’s mental acuity, don’t hide your head in the sand. Take the opportunity to talk to other family members and make a plan of action. The first step? Consult your elder’s primary care physician and in the meantime, perhaps enlist some help.

From all of us at Caregiverlist, we wish you a happy and healthy Thanksgiving.

Log in