Q. My 87 year old mother-in-law still lives in the house that she grew up in. The house has very steep stairs, a small doorway and is not “senior-friendly.” My husband and I want to help her move to a retirement community, but she’s scared – how can we ease the transition for her?
A. Having just moved to a different home – I completely understand how she feels – moving is something that is very hard for all us and it can be especially difficult for someone who has lived in a particular neighborhood or house for a lifetime! But fear not, because there are “senior relocation specialists” who focus on helping older adults move with ease. They start with a pre-move consultation to help come up with a plan as to the best items to keep and those your aging loved one might consider leaving behind. The specialist makes it a very positive experience for the individual involved and makes sure they bring all of their sentimental belongings to their new home. The specialist then sets the older adult up in the new home and creates a look and feel as similar as possible to their previous home. This helps make the individual “feel at home.” Go online and google “senior relocation specialists” and you will find a specialist in your mother-in-laws area.
Q. My Mom has gotten a bit forgetful lately. I told her that she didn’t need to worry too much and that it was just a natural part of aging. Am I right?
A. Age related changes in the brain can make it harder to learn and remember certain things. Memory problems that aren’t usually considered to be a part of “normal aging” are: forgetting things much more often than you used to, having trouble learning new things, repeating phrases or stories in the same conversation and having trouble making routine choices or handling money. I would definitely suggest that you have your mother discuss her memory problems with her physician to make sure she is properly diagnosed. One decision that everyone, especially mature adults, should stick to is the promise to keep our minds sharp throughout our lives. Researchers call this lifelong process “cognitive vitality.”
Q. My husband just retired and he seems incredibly bored! Can you suggest something adventurous that we could do together outside of the regular “keep busy activities” that everyone always recommends?
A. This is a very common question – believe me you’re not alone wondering what to do with your spouse after they’ve retired! Why not try going on a volunteer vacation together? “Voluntourism” is one of the fastest growing segments of the travel industry and it’s about seeing the world from a firsthand perspective rather than as a passive tourist looking through a window. It’s very economical and it allows you to experience a country that you want to visit while working, eating and living with the local residents. Not only do you get to travel and see the world, but you will also be making a difference. You can find the top “volunteer vacations” online at websites like www.globalvolunteers.org and www.earthwatch.org. Safe Travels!
Q. My father unexpectedly passed away and he was in charge of all of my parent’s financial affairs. Where do I begin in terms of helping my Mom with her taxes?
A. My condolences to you and your family for the loss of your father. Fortunately, one of the programs the IRS sponsors is Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE). In conjunction with this program AARP offers its Tax-Aide counseling at more than 9,000 sites nationwide each filing season. Trained and certified AARP Tax-Aide volunteer counselors help people of low-to-moderate incomes with special attention to those aged 60 and over. For more information on TCE call 1-800-829-1040. To locate the nearest AARP Tax-Aide site, call 1-888-227-7669 or visit www.aarp.org. The IRS also offers many publications for older Americans to help them understand their taxes. You can learn more about this informatin on the web at www.irs.gov or call 1-800-829-1040.
Q. I’m 65 and I love to exercise but sometimes my arthritis gets the best of me! Can you recommend some low impact exercises that will help me stay fit?
A. There is no doubt that joint-jarring activities like aerobics and kickboxing are giving way to gentler pursuits for people, like you, who have a chronic condition. In your case I suggest you look into pilates, yoga, tai chi, elliptical trainers and exercise bikes. Whatever you choose – keep exercising regularly! With heart disease, cancer and strokes serving as the leading causes of death for mature adults, staying physically active not only helps to prevent many illnesses, it can improve the health of people who already have debilitating diseases or disabilities. Just a reminder, make sure you check with your physician before you begin any new exercise routine.
Q. My Dad has a really hard time sleeping – he says his joints and legs ache. Can you recommend something I can do to help him sleep better?
A. Changes in sleeping patterns are a normal part of aging. As people age they tend to have a harder time falling asleep and more trouble staying asleep than when they were younger. Fortunately there are several sleep aids that can help ease your Dads leg and muscle aches and provide more comfort to help him sleep. One of these products is called the Butterfly Leg Massage Pillow – you can get one for him online at www.target.com. This ergonomic pillow will put support where he needs it most so he can sleep better. You can find much more information and tips for better sleeping by visiting www.sleepfoundation.org or calling (202) 347-3471.
Q. My daughter and her family are spending the holidays with her husband’s family this year. I don’t want to be alone but I don’t them to feel guilty about not being with me either. What should I do?
A. It’s okay to let your daughter know you’re a bit apprehensive about being alone over the holidays and you would rather be around people during this time. Perhaps you can join your daughter in visiting her in-laws so that the whole family can be together for the season! You can also consider volunteering your time in your community during the holidays. Giving to others is a great way to forget your own concerns and make a difference for someone who needs your help. For more information about volunteering, visit: www.volunteermatch.org or call (415) 241-6872.
Q. My Dad spends a lot of time alone and he constantly wants me to come visit. I’ve been thinking about getting him a pet – do you think this is a good idea?
A. Having a pet can offer a sense of well-being, encouragement and even a reason for living. Being responsible for another life often gives new meaning to the lives of those who are living alone or who have experienced a loss. Caring for and providing a loving home to an animal companion will also encourage your father to remain active and stay healthy. However, I strongly suggest that you don’t surprise your father with a pet. Instead, discuss the idea with him and see if he’s open to it, go pet shopping together so you can help him consider the costs, responsibilities and his lifestyle when making the decision! For more information about adopting a pet, visit the Humane Society of the United States at: www.hsus.org or call (202) 452-1100.
Q. I recently visited my Aunt and she appears to have lost weight, she says she isn’t sleeping very well at night and she isn’t her usual happy and energetic self. Should I be concerned?
A. You should definitely take these changes seriously as the symptoms you have described could be signs of depression. Depression is a medical illness and is nothing to be ashamed of. Many seniors are prone to depression as they have many losses in their lives – family, friends, etc. I would encourage her to talk about her feelings as this can help her understand why she is feeling this way. It is also important that she sees a physician who can ascertain if she’s clinically depressed. For more information visit the Geriatric Mental Health Foundation at: www.gmhfonline.org or call (301) 654-7850.
Q. What are some helpful tips for having a discussion with my Dad about his extremely dangerous driving skills?
A. As difficult as it may seem, it’s important that you approach your dad sooner rather than later about his driving. Whatever you do, try to stay calm when speaking with him ― he may be more receptive than you expect! It may take a few attempts to ease into the discussion. Lead the conversation with the idea of safety ― not only your father’s safety but also others on the road. Encourage him to share his own thoughts and concerns before discussing possible options. He may only need to make small adjustments to his driving routine such as driving only during the day. Lastly, realize that your dad may become upset or defensive. Research shows that men are typically more reluctant to quit driving than women; however, your continued concern and support will certainly help him feel more comfortable with this topic.
Q. My father will be enrolling in the Medicare Part D Plan this year but we are having a hard time understanding the plan and how it works. Where can we get some information about the plan that is easy to comprehend?
A. Enrolling in the Part D plan of Medicare (the prescription drug plan) can be a very confusing process and your father is lucky to have you helping him! You can talk to a Medicare Counselor at your State Health Insurance Counseling and Assistance Program by going online to: www.medicare.gov and clicking on your state. These counselors can answer all of your questions in detail and help you understand the plan. Also, for more general information you can always call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) for additional help as you tackle the Medicare maze.
Q. Every year my daughter bothers me about getting a flu shot and I keep telling her that I don’t need the shot because I had all my shots as a child. Isn’t it true that my childhood vaccines protect me for life?
A. Unfortunately when it comes to the flu, NO! As you age, the strength of your immune system decreases and some of the protection offered by childhood vaccinations also begins to decrease making you more susceptible to diseases like the flu. Since the flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses, the best way to prevent it is by getting a flu vaccination each year. As always, make sure you talk to your physician about this vaccination to ensure that you’re a appropriate candidate for this shot.
Q. How can I convince my twin sister that giving up the keys to her car doesn’t mean giving up her independence?
A. Today’s mature Americans are among the most active and community-engaged seniors in our nation’s history, and mobility and independence are essential to preserving those qualities. Use a respectful tone and speak from a position of concern. Stress your concern for her safety and the safety of others on the road. Be prepared to share alternative transportation options (e.g., how she can get to and from her local grocery store or the doctor’s office) and encourage her to gradually begin using them. Offer to accompany your aunt during the initial “trial run” of her new transportation option to show your support during this adjustment period.
Q. This year my wife, who is a full-time caregiver for her mother, and I will be celebrating our 35th wedding anniversary! What can I do to show my “bride” – and the mother of my 4 children – how much we love and appreciate her?
A. Congratulations on celebrating such a wonderful occasion! How about renewing your vows. What could be more romantic than for you to express your love and appreciation for your wife (and everything she does for the family!) by asking her to marry you all over again? You can start by visiting the website “I Do, Take Two” which offers guidance on vow renewals (www.idotaketwo.com). You will find a wealth of information on how to make your vow renewals both memorable and unique. Here’s a heads up – if you want to get her a present, traditional 35th wedding anniversary gifts have a theme of coral and more contemporary gifts have a theme of jade.
Q: My husband was just diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and I’m lost. What are some tasks I should take care of in advance so that I can be the best caregiver possible?
A. I’m so sorry to hear about your husband’s diagnosis, I wish you all the best on your caregiving journey. The first thing you must do is get all of your papers and financial affairs in order. This seems to be a common-sense type of thing but it’s one that is often put off until it’s too late. At some point during his illness your husband will no longer be able to sign for himself and if you wait until then the situation will become much more complex. It is important not to just get a will made and signed, but to take care of all the other paper work. Mortgages and all debts should be caught up. You should consult with an experienced eldercare lawyer about the disposition of assets while your spouse is still considered legally competent. Also, make sure that you have other legal documents such as a Durable Power of Attorney (POA) filled out for both you and your spouse. Without a durable POA you may have to go and get a guardianship later in order to speak for your spouse and protect your spouse’s rights. For more detailed information about how to prepare for your role as a spousal caregiver I suggest that you consult the Alzheimer Foundations website at www.alz.org or call their toll free number (800) 272-3900.
Q. I will be 62 this year and I’m working part time, can I apply for Social Security benefits?
A. You can apply as early as 62 for these benefits, but the amount you receive each month will be less than if you wait until full retirement (also called “normal retirement age”). If you want to keep working while collecting Social Security, your payments may be reduced depending on the amount you earn from your job. Once you reach full retirement age, there is no limit on the amount you can earn from working while collecting Social Security benefits. For more information on estimating your potential benefit amounts using different retirement dates and levels of future earnings, visit www.socialsecurity.gov or call 800-772-1213.
Q. My parents are moving in with me and I’m trying to make my home more “senior-friendly” for them. I’ve heard the most dangerous place in the home for older adults is the bathroom – what can I do to make it safer?
A. The bathroom is one of the most hazardous places in the home for accidents; as a matter of fact the majority of broken hips are the result of slipping in the bathtub. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reported that there are more than 300,000 bathroom accidents each year and that 2.5 million adults over the age of 65 need special assistance in bathing. Here is a list of things you can do to help prevent these bathroom accidents:
- Install grab bars on the bathroom walls near the toilet and along the bathtub or shower.
- Place a slip-resistant rug adjacent to the bathtub for safe exit and entry.
- Mount a liquid soap dispenser on the bathtub/shower wall.
- Place nonskid adhesive textured strips on the bathtub/shower floor.
- A combination safety seat/transfer bench can be used in the bathroom to provide additional stability and comfort for transition in and out of the bathtub.
- Create a more stable toilet by using either a raised seat or a special toilet seat with armrests.
- Replace glass shower enclosures with non-shattering material.
- Place night lights between the bathroom and bedroom to help for safe maneuvering at night.
ALEXIS ABRAMSON, Ph.D. is cited as America’s leading, impassioned champion for the dignity and independence of those over 50. Abramson is the author of two highly acclaimed books — The Caregivers Survival Handbook and Home Safety for Seniors. For more information go to www.alexisabramson.com.