Holiday Gift Ideas for Seniors to Make It Healthful, Useful and Memorable

Our senior loved ones living in assisted living or other congregate living locations look forward to the holidays and visits with family members near and far.

Family caregivers love visiting them and want to shower them with goodies, often including food treats.

Unfortunately, too many or the wrong kind of treats could turn out to be unhealthy.

Caregivers, especially those who come from a distance, want to help nourish their seniors.

We want to help them bring only food goodies that are safe and healthy for their senior loved ones.

Bringing Safe Food To Their Home

Because many of our senior loved ones live in an assisted living or nursing care home, caregivers feel a strong desire to bring them home baked or cooked treats for the holidays.

Even if they live in their own home, sometimes food treats are dangerous and treats may replace eating the healthy food they need.

There are several reasons why food treats could be dangerous for our seniors. You can still give them a loving gift and keep them healthy.

Here are some tips to help you give the give of love this season if giving food:

  1. Always practice safe food handling when bringing homemade food gifts to any older adult. Seniors are more vulnerable to food poisoning and may become very ill when foods are handled improperly. Keep the food at the proper temperature from your kitchen to their table. Reheat any foods not at the proper temperature before they taste. Always pack cold foods in ice and refrigerate promptly.
  2. Bring small sweet treats, not a whole bag which could be eaten in one sitting. Small treat bags are ideal for their favorite sweets, just enough for one or two servings. Encourage them to share with others too so that they don’t over consume candy that their visitors are apt to bring.
  3. Avoid high fat, high salt treats, as these could disrupt their disease management, especially heart failure, high blood pressure, and edema.
  4. Be aware of any foods not allowed on their treatment plan, foods that could interfere with medications or other treatments.
  5. Find foods that offer nourishment as well as a treat, such as trail mix, granola bars, or fresh fruit.
  6. If you choose to bring a holiday meal, let the kitchen staff know so they don’t send them a meal at that time too.

It is a good idea to discuss your ideas for a food treat with your loved one’s nurse to be sure there are no conflicts with their medical care.

Non-Food Gifts for Seniors

Find other non-food treats that they will love throughout the year and think of you when you aren’t there, such as:

  • family photos in pretty frames
  • an insulated water mug or coffee cup
  • clothing protector
  • magnifying glass
  • pen and paper for notes and doodling
  • nail care goodies
  • foot spa
  • music player and their favorite music, perhaps with headset so they don’t disturb others
  • large print books
  • crossword puzzles
  • word search books
  • adult coloring book and colored pencils
  • sweater, lap blanket or shawl
  • handmade cards
  • monthly gifts that include their favorite things

The Gift of Time

Remember, the greatest gift you can give a senior living in a facility is the gift of your time!

Family caregivers want to visit as often as possible but that isn’t always possible.

Caregivers can’t always spend time each day visiting their senior loved one in a facility but we can connect in other ways that will bring joy.

Technology can help nearby and long distance family members ‘be there’ virtually.

You can FaceTime using your iOS smartphone or tablets (both you and they need to have one) and feel like you are in the room with your senior and them with you. They can see grandkids and great-grandkids doing all sorts of things virtually like reading a story, playing a game or singing together.

Caregivers can also use Skype and video chat via a computer or tablet when your senior is free.

These tech options will require some setup and training to be sure seniors feel comfortable with the technology.

However, staff at care facilities can also help them talk with you using either of these methods if you ask.

Low-Tech Works Too!

Family caregivers can also start a family tradition of writing weekly letters throughout the year not just at the holidays to your senior so that they can get letters from home.

Create a schedule and be sure everyone sticks to it!

A card, handwritten note, photos, or small care package that they can look forward to each week when the mail comes will brighten their year.

They will enjoy every minute spent with you and those they treasure!

So will you!

Busting the Myths of Hospice Care — Family Caregiver Quick Tip

Too many people are not getting the full advantage of all that hospice has to give to those at the end of life and their caregivers.

The myths surrounding hospice care are obstacles for many, so during National Hospice and Palliative Care Month we will bust some of those myths!

Hospice care is about improving a person’s quality of life as the end of life approaches.

The goal is dignity and comfort and it is a team approach between the person receiving care, the family caregivers and the hospice team — a caring, not curing, approach.

It is important that family members are able to spend as much quality time together with the help of hospice caregivers.

Myths of Hospice — Plus the Facts

There are many hospice myths from years ago that many people still believe to be true.

Here are just a few of them and the facts of how hospice works now:

MYTH: You have to have cancer to be on hospice.

FACT: Any terminal or end-stage diagnosis including COPD, dementia, kidney disease, AIDS, heart disease, etc. can be qualifying for hospice care.

MYTH: You have to go to a hospice house to get care.

FACT: You can receive hospice care in any setting you choose including home, nursing home, hospital, assisted living facility or hospice house.

MYTH: Pain medications given in hospice will kill you.

FACT: Hospice care entails a multitude of comfort measures including pain control, wound care, nursing care, emotional and spiritual support, and nutritional interventions. These techniques don’t hasn’t death but provide a more dignified end of life.

MYTH: You are allowed to starve on hospice.

FACT: All efforts are made through the use of nutrition and hydration for comfort to meet the needs of the person under hospice care as determined by the hospice team and family caregivers.

MYTH: Hospice care is expensive.

FACT: Hospice care is a benefit of Medicare, Medicaid and most private insurance companies. Your senior will not be denied hospice care based on finances if they meet hospice care criteria.

Hospice care helps not only the person at the end of life but also family members by providing emotional support during care and as much as eighteen months afterwards through their bereavement program.

Many people wait too long to gain the benefits of hospice, so if you think your senior would benefit, contact your healthcare provider for a referral or contact a preferred hospice company to seek more information.

Don’t let the myths deny your senior loved one — and the entire family — the benefits of hospice care.

Tips to Know If Hospice is Right for Your Senior Loved One

Your senior loved one might be ready for hospice care if these conditions are present:

  1. They have been diagnosed with a serious illness with a life expectancy of 6 months or less.
  2. Comfort care and symptom management are the desire of your senior loved one.
  3. Curative treatment is no longer possible or it is no longer your senior’s choice.

Talking about hospice and whether this is an option your senior wishes to consider when the times comes is a discussion that is best to have before a terminal diagnosis occurs.

Additional Resources

Here are some more in-depth articles to help you learn more about hospice and palliative care and how it might help your family members.

Here’s the Scoop on Hepatitis C – Family Caregivers Need to Know

Hearing in the media about hepatitis C and wondering what this talk is all about?

Commercials urge people of a certain age to get tested but should your senior – or you – do this now?

Because hepatitis C is a lifelong illness that attacks the liver, the sooner you learn if your senior has contracted the infection the better for their long term health.

Let’s learn more about what hepatitis C is and how seniors and family caregivers can be affected.

What is Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver, in this case caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV).

Inflammation of the liver can cause it to function improperly.

Our livers are important to our health because they filter our blood, process our medications, store nutrients and energy and help us fight infection.

We want our liver to be functioning at peak performance to keep us healthy.

We can’t live without our liver.

Hepatitis is often caused by a virus but excessive alcohol consumption, certain medications, and other medical conditions can lead to hepatitis.

The viral forms include hepatitis A, B and C.

20% of people can fight the hep C virus, but the rest of people who come in contact with the HCV can’t clear the virus from their systems and therefore will develop hepatitis C.

Hep C becomes a chronic, lifelong infection resulting in serious health problems, such as liver failure and liver cancer.

How Hepatitis C Spreads

Hep C is most often spread through the blood when one person comes in contact with another person’s blood who is already infected. It can happen by sharing needles, syringes or other medical equipment used to  to inject drugs or prescription medications.

Prior to 1992, hep C was transferred in blood donations to those getting blood transfusions or organ transplants. Since then the blood supply is tested before it is used.

A person getting a tattoo or a body piercing can also be at risk to become infected with hepatitis C.

It can be sexually transmitted as well.

Infants can be infected from mothers who carry the infection.

You don’t get hepatitis C from contact such as shaking hands, hugging an infected person, or being coughed or sneezed on by an infected person.

Unfortunately, many people are unaware that they are infected and then can’t determine how they got it.

Symptoms of Hepatitis C

People who are infected with hepatitis C often show no symptoms.

If they do experience anything it includes:

  • Fever
  • Tiredness
  • Upset stomach
  • Throwing up
  • Dark urine
  • Dark colored stool
  • Poor appetite
  • Joint pain
  • Yellowing of skin and eyes

These symptoms could be random and hard to identify for medical professionals or attributed to some other chronic condition.

When hepatitis C is chronic (that is you have had it for a number of years without knowing), symptoms are often now associated with advanced liver disease.

If you or your senior develops acute hepatitis C infection, you will experience symptoms 2 weeks to 6 months after acquiring the infection.

Getting a Diagnosis

The only way to determine if you or your senior has contracted hepatitis C is through a blood test called a hepatitis C antibody test.

A positive test results confirms that you or your senior has been infected at some point in time.

This does not mean you will still have hep C. You will then need a test called RNA test to tell if you are currently infected.

Experts agree that if you fit these criteria, you should get tested:

  1. Born between 1945-1965
  2. Received donated blood or organ transplant before 1992
  3. Used injected drugs – even if it was only once
  4. Have abnormal liver tests, liver disease, or HIV/AIDS
  5. Had exposure to blood from someone who is infected with hep C
  6. On hemodialysis
  7. Born to a mother with hep C

You or your senior’s doctor may request you get a liver biopsy to look for liver damage.

Prevention and Treatment Tips

You can prevent becoming infected with hep C by avoiding sharing or reusing needles or syringes to inject drugs, steroids or hormones; not getting tattoos or body piercings from an unlicensed facility; and avoiding sharing personal items that may come in contact with an infected person’s blood such as razors, nail clippers, toothbrushes or glucometers.

There is no vaccine for hepatitis C.

Once infected, treatment will depend on many factors. It is best to consult with a physician who is experienced with hep C to develop an optimal treatment plan. Usually an antiviral medication or other newer medicine can fight the virus.

If liver damage is severe, your or your senior’s doctor may recommend liver transplant.

The sooner the virus is found and medications given, the quicker damage to the liver will be stopped.

It is a good idea to eat right, stay physically active and avoid drinking in order to stay healthy every day.

Strengthening your immune system to prevent opportunistic infections from taking hold of your senior or you as a family caregiver is a good idea.

Caring for yourself will help you care for your senior loved one.

Helping Our Seniors Fight GERD – Family Caregiver Quick Tip

As we observe another health ‘holiday’, this time Gastroesophageal Reflux (GERD), we are reminded that GERD can be limiting our seniors’ independence.

GERD is a disease where the acid from the stomach or bile backs up into the esophagus (food pipe) at the point of the lower esophageal sphincter. Having a hiatal hernia compounds the problem.

It results in pain that can be severe mimicking chest pain.

Often called heartburn, GERD can cause those who suffer from it many symptoms including:

  • Bloating
  • Bloody or black stools or bloody vomiting
  • Burping
  • Dysphagia — a narrowing of your esophagus causing difficulty swallowing food and fluid
  • Hiccups that don’t stop
  • Nausea
  • Weight loss for no known reason

There are 3 million people affected by GERD!

50% of all those with GERD symptoms report that they have more heartburn at night than in the day.

63% report trouble sleeping and 40% said that daily functioning was compromised the next day.

Lifestyle changes can make the symptoms better but sometimes medication is needed so if symptoms persist, talk with your doctor to develop a treatment plan.

Reducing the Symptoms of GERD

Here are some things your senior can do to alleviate GERD:

  1. Avoid foods that can trigger an attack such as chocolate, peppermint, coffee, carbonated beverages, fried food, and alcohol.
  2. Avoid foods that irritate sensitive gastrointestinal tissue such as acid foods, citrus, tomatoes, spicy food, and pepper.
  3. Stop smoking
  4. Eat more frequent, smaller meals to avoid being overfull and don’t eat within 2-3 hours of bedtime
  5. Elevate your head while sleeping with extra pillows or a bed wedge
  6. Keep weight in control, as excess belly fat can push up on the stomach
  7. Review your medication list with a pharmacist to determine if a medication is increasing symptoms

Additional Resources

Here are some articles you might find helpful for your senior loved one.

Prevention & Treatment Planning for Our Seniors During Diabetes Month

During November, the American Diabetes Association wonders how you will stop diabetes?

The number of people suffering with diabetes in America may astonish you.

30 million adults and children in America live with diabetes, that is 9% of the population or one in eleven of us.

Another 8 million diabetics are going undiagnosed. And 86 million have prediabetes and 15% to 30% of these people will develop type 2 diabetes within 5 years if left undiagnosed and treated.

Diabetes is considered to be a deadly disease, not just a condition to be dealt with everyday, so becoming serious about prevention is important for our seniors — and us too.

It is estimated that the risk of death is 50% greater for people with diabetes.

The cost to the country is staggering, as healthcare costs for treating diabetes in the US exceed $245 Billion!

The Need for Prevention

Due to the growing number of people at risk for developing diabetes, November has been set aside to learn more about the disease and how we can all prevent becoming one of the statistics.

The best way to fight diabetes is through prevention.

The first thing to do is get tested to be sure your senior loved one or you isn’t one of the millions of people who are unaware they have diabetes already.

Once you or your senior get tested and know your numbers, you might want to use this screening tool to determine the likelihood your senior or you will develop diabetes.

Now that you are both armed with the information you and your senior need, it is time to create a plan for prevention.

Research has shown that a moderate weight loss and physical activity of 30 minutes per day, 5 days a week can prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes.

A 5% to 7% weight loss will have a great impact on your senior’s health.

Your Plan

Being in control of our health does take a commitment on our part to take action every day.

That action doesn’t have to be time consuming or involved but it needs to be incorporated into our lifestyle to succeed.

Eating a healthy diet, maintaining a weight in the normal range, and staying physically active will help you prevent the onset of diabetes.

Eating right is very important for health so help your senior:

  • reduce portion sizes
  • limit saturated fat
  • eat more fresh fruits and vegetables that are deep in color
  • include fiber on the menu
  • make half their grains whole
  • avoid candy, cakes, sweets, and desserts
  • avoid sugar sweetened drinks like soda, flavored drinks

Help your senior find ways to get more active and join them for your own health!

Pick an activity they enjoy and can do regularly despite the weather or location.

Some fun ideas include:

  • dancing
  • bowling
  • yoga and tai chi
  • exer-games on Wii and Xbox
  • walking, mall walking
  • exercise class
  • golfing
  • pickle ball or other sports

Some of these activities they can do in the comfort of their own home using YouTube or other technology.

They will enjoy it more and stick with it if they have a buddy!

Prediabetes and Diabetes Control

If your senior or you have already been diagnosed with prediabetes or diabetes, this month is a great time to review how you are doing.

  • Are you testing your blood sugar regularly and logging your results for your doctor, dietitian, or other healthcare provider?
  • Are you staying physically active?
  • Have you been maintaining your weight in a good range?
  • Have you been following your diet plan including meals and snacks to control your blood sugar?
  • Have you been to the podiatrist lately to get a foot check?
  • Have you had your vision checked this year, including a dilated eye exam?
  • Have you been to the dentist for preventive care of your gums?
  • Do you need a session with a health professional or dietitian to get reminders to help you better control your diabetes?

Another important part of diabetes management and treatment is lowering cardiovascular disease risk factors, such as high blood pressure, high lipid levels, and tobacco use.

Get the Benefits of Treatment

If your senior is receiving Medicare benefits, they are eligible to receive diabetes care education and treatment each year.

These benefits include three hours of one-on-one counseling services with a dietitian for medical nutrition therapy (diet) the first year and two hours each year after that.

If your senior’s condition, treatment, or diagnosis changes, they may be able to get more hours of treatment with a doctor’s referral.

A doctor must prescribe these services and renew your senior’s referral yearly if continuing treatment is needed into another calendar year.

Also covered are diabetes self-management training with a diabetes educator, blood glucose monitors, test strips and lancets. Self-management education focuses on learning new self-care behaviors such as healthy eating, being active, adhering to medications, learning coping skills, and monitoring blood glucose.

Your senior only pays 20% of the Medicare-approved amount after the yearly Part B deductible.

Don’t let your senior miss out on their benefits — take advantage of health education and supplies.

Learning new information, reinforcing old information and getting back on track will help your senior handle their diabetes instead of it handling them!

Family caregivers can attend these educational sessions with their seniors in order to assist them to carry out their treatment plan.

We wish you and your senior loved ones good health to prevent diabetes or manage it if you have it!

Technology Needs of Seniors & Other Generations Meet at CES 2017

“My parents/grandparents will never use that smartphone. They’re too old and set in their ways to learn something new.”

“Seniors won’t let technology into their homes and lives.”

“Tech devices for older adults have to be stripped down and simplified. They won’t be able to use the same ones as younger generations.”

We’ve heard all those and more from family caregivers, so-called experts, and tech company employees over the several years we’ve covered CES®. We still hear it from some.

Our responses?

  • You’re underestimating the willingness and ability of older adults to adopt new ideas.
  • Have you really tried to get seniors to use tech devices – – taken the time to explain and demonstrate how the devices work and given seniors a chance to see the benefits from using them?
  • You can’t lump over 45 million Americans (and growing) into one bucket, as if they all have the same interests, needs, abilities, and desires.

and, an important one we believe,

  • That’s one area family caregivers can make a difference!

We’ve seen signs the tech industry has gotten those points over the last few years and even more so in our review of the program and exhibitor list for CES 2017.

Technology for All at CES 2017

My review of the conference program for CES 2017 reinforces what we have seen and heard over time – – while seniors may have specific technology needs, their perspective on tech is not that different from other age groups.

Why do I say that?

It’s not because the CES program contains a lot of discussion of seniors and their needs. There are, in fact, relatively few. But I see that as a good thing.

Rather, the CES conference program reflects that the topics and concerns many seniors may have about technology are shared by those in other age groups and are being addressed by the tech industry.

Could it be that concerns attributed to seniors about letting technology have a significant role in their lives are a reflection of how family caregivers and others who are younger feel?

We have long thought that may be the case.

Technology Concerns Addressed at CES

My review of the CES 2017 conference program has me excited about what will be discussed. While many of the session topics carry over from prior years, the descriptions reflect advancements in thinking and approaches from what we have seen before.

Let’s look at how a few of the concerns expressed by seniors — or those speaking for seniors — are being addressed.

Simplicity

It turns out technology that’s easy to use is important across age groups. We have seen talk about this in the past but there seems to be more action now.

The tech industry has recognized for a while consumers aren’t interested in the inconvenience of opening up a different mobile app for each connected device in their homes.

There are several sessions in the CES program that reflect a thinking that goes beyond common control and operation of our connected devices. Instead, our devices should just work for us, doing what we need them to do.

Letting Tech Into Our Homes

Seniors are not the only ones who may resist letting technology – and with it the loss of personal privacy – into the home. We see that concern raised by those of all ages.

The tech industry, parts of it anyway, recognize a more marketing-oriented approach will be needed to penetrate beyond those who jump at the latest and greatest the industry has to offer.

The industry seems to be understand one of the responses we have long given to the concerns about the intrusion of technology into seniors’ homes, that consumers need to be given a chance to understand the benefits of that technology.

Tech has long been discussed in terms of its features and sold based on what it can do. That approach limits the market to those who can make the leap and understand the benefits associated with those features. Tech companies, understandably, want more.

The CES program reflects a broader realization the marketing of technology has to go beyond the features to what that technology will do for the lives of those who bring it into their homes and those of their families. I see this as a real step forward.

Data Privacy and Security

The loss of personal privacy is a key concern about technology, not just for seniors but those of all ages. When we let connected tech into our homes, pockets, cars, and everywhere, who are we letting into our lives that we don’t want?

CES has included much discussion of cybersecurity for years and it is woven into many conference tracks for CES 2017, but that discussion is taking on even more of a consumer focus with the Data Privacy and Security Summit track.

The title of the first session of the Data Privacy and Security Summit, Building Trust in Emerging Technologies, says a lot.

Or maybe it doesn’t, as the rest the Summit looks at monetizing the personal data that is produced by consumer devices, which challenges the privacy and security of the data. It will be interesting to see the details of this discussion.

Exhibitors at CES 2017

While we see the discussions at CES conference sessions as interesting and important, CES is really about the exhibitors, the companies large and small putting their technology on display for the industry and media attendees.

As with the conference sessions, there is no marketplace in the CES 2017 exhibits that will focus on the needs of older adults. There are, however, several marketplaces that include products that will be important in meeting the needs of seniors.

Doing some quick searches on the list of CES exhibitors gives us this information:

  • Health & Biotech includes 416 exhibitors
  • Wearables has a whopping 763 exhibitors
  • Smarthome/Appliances tops that with 971 listings
  • Personal Privacy and Cyber Security is listed by 81 exhibitors
  • Robotics, which we see as important to the future of aging in place, includes 277 exhibitors

I was exhausted after just reading through the exhibitor directory for CES 2017!

There will be a second Press Day for CES 2017, a further indication of the number of companies that want to show off what they have to offer.

Excited for the Future — and for Today

We always look forward to CES with anticipation about what insights it will offer into the future of technology for seniors and family caregivers. CES 2017 is no different.

If anything, in fact, we have reason to expect more promising and specific insight into what that future has to offer.

Even more than in the past, however, we expect CES to provide us more insights into what TODAY has to offer for seniors and caregivers.

That has us very excited!

Digital Eye Strain in Our Seniors – Family Caregiver Quick Tip

We encourage seniors to use technology for communications, information, entertainment, and health.

They are doing so in growing numbers and reaping real benefits.

Of course, there are costs associated with those benefits beyond those related to the digital devices themselves.

The more seniors use their technology devices, the more time their eyes will be exercised looking at the screen for extended time periods.

Because many seniors already have impaired vision, straining at screens – including computers, tablets, smartphones, game systems and even smart TVs – can worsen vision.

Staring at a TV, computer, smartphone or tablet can cause a problem known as computer vision syndrome, or digital eye strain. It is not uncommon and can be treated.

Symptoms of Eye Strain

The American Optometric Association says to watch for these warning signs:

  • Feeling that your eyes are strained
  • Developing headaches
  • Having blurred vision
  • Developing dry eyes
  • Having pain in your shoulders and neck
  • Increased sensitivity to light
  • Difficulty concentrating

Help for Digital Eye Strain

There are some things your senior can do to alleviate digital eye strain.

If the symptoms don’t improve, see your eye doctor to evaluate other, possibly serious, problems that need to be corrected.

  1. Place screens 20-26 inches away and slightly down from the field of vision
  2. Keep screens clean, as smudges can blur vision
  3. Use an anti-glare screen
  4. Sit in an adjustable chair and under adequate lighting
  5. Take a break from looking at the screen every 20 minutes
  6. Use artificial tears or a warm, moist wash cloth to wet dry eyes
  7. Keep any eyeglass or contact prescription up to date or try special computer glasses

Using technology is important to our senior loved oned, but so is maintaining proper vision, therefore putting some of these practices into place will help achieve both goals.

Additional Resources

Here are some more articles about vision and protecting it as we age that caregivers might find helpful.

Seniors and Families Talking Turkey About the Future During the Holidays

Most families enjoy special moments during the holidays, whether they travel great distances to meet or just come across town.

It is a time of year when caregivers take a break from our hectic schedules to sit down with the ones they love and reminisce about the good times they have shared.

As seniors get older, these time become even more precious to them and the whole family.

It is important for family members to have enough time planned to get comfortable, have time to reacquaint yourself with out of town family, and spend time with your senior loved one when they can connect.

There should also be time set aside to “talk turkey” with the entire family around the table with your senior and take advantage of the opportunity of togetherness.

Talking Turkey About the Future

Many caregivers may be looking across the table at parents, grandparents or other senior loved ones who appear to be aging right before their very eyes.

Reality strikes as caregivers realize that these family times will not last forever.

This is a great opportunity to discuss topics that might have been hard to raise in the past, such as what would happen in case your senior is hospitalized, injured during a fall, gets a terminal condition, needs placement in a facility or should die suddenly.

Has the family discussed these possibilities and are they ready for the challenges that may face them if a tragedy occurs?

Together there are some questions you should be asking out loud and expect answers from your senior loved one.

Do You Know…

  • if your senior loved one has advance directives, such as a living will or a healthcare/durable power of attorney? Who knows where they can be found when needed?
  • who is the power of attorney or the executor of their estate and how do you contact them?
  • their wishes for medical care if a calamity strikes? Do they want to be kept alive artificially or do they want nutrition to be given in the form of a tube feeding?
  • if they wish to have a Do Not Resusciate (DNR) order or do they want everything done despite potential consequences?
  • who will take care of their pets if they no longer can?
  • if they have a funeral home picked out or a burial site already planned/paid for, do they want to be cremated, do they have an outfit already picked out and a plan for a memorial service?
  • the names of their doctors, which medications they take, which hospital they prefer, and when they had a flu or pneumonia shot?
  • if there is a will directing who gets what in their house or their finances?
  • where their checkbook is or which bank they use?
  • if they have a safety deposit box with valuables and/or important papers?
  • if there are passwords for accounts or computer sites that you will need to know to access if they no longer can do so themselves?
  • do they want to stay in their home for as long as possible, if they’re OK if they need to go to a senior living facility near you, or prefer to be close to friends and the community they know?
  • who they want controlling their finances if they can’t any longer?
  • everything they would want you to know in the case of emergency?

Time Is Now

Now is the time to learn all you can so caregivers can help them through the tough spots as they age and especially in the event of an emergency.

Being informed will allow caregivers to act quickly and decisively when time is of the essence.

It is a good time to make observations about the functional abilities of your senior instead of accepting that everything is fine.

What can you see for yourself? Is there food in the kitchen and its not all spoiled, are their clothes clean, are they physically stable, is the home in good repair, is the car damaged from fender benders of which you aren’t aware, are there unpaid bills laying on tables or counters or other problems that become obvious when you look closely?

If your family doesn’t agree on some of your senior’s decisions, now is the time for open dialogue.

Siblings arguing over what senior loved ones want in the emergency room is not going to help keep them alive.

Be sure their wishes are clearly understood and written in the form of an advance directive that will help guide healthcare professionals when the time comes.

Also be sure that your senior is integral to every step so that they can speak up for themselves and let everyone know their wishes.

Some seniors may need you to be aware of their personal schedule when you visit to talk turkey especially when these topics are discussed. Perhaps they have a special nap time or take a bath at a certain time. You should work the family into their schedule for best results and allow for rest periods as needed.

Tough Talk

Some of these topics are hard to talk about but openness is vital. Ignoring the issue will not change the outcome.

A little planning will be helpful such as have someone be the recorder so there won’t be any miscommunication or lost details in the future.

If necessary, create a schedule with out of town family and keep things short and to the point.

This isn’t the time to bring up old hurts or blame family members for past issues, put the focus on your senior’s needs and wants.

It may be painful to think of your senior as being mortal or that they may not be able to care for themselves, but getting these issues out in the open so everyone knows what to do in an emergency will be empowering for family caregivers.

Just as important, it relieves your senior loved one of a burden, as they will not longer have to worry about leaving all those issues for a loved one to resolve later.

Decluttering the Lives and Homes of Our Seniors – a Family Caregiver Role

Has your senior been saving a lifetime of belongings in the basement, attic and closet?

Have you ever moved them into a new location with box after box of stuff and wondered what they may need it all for?

Our seniors have collections, old magazines, books, clothes, memorabilia, photos, and a million odds and ends such as bags and rubber bands they have kept for years.

Each one is a precious object that is difficult for many of them to let go just because their caregivers think they should.

But what will you do when they need to move, downsize or leave this life when the house is bursting at the seams with ‘stuff’?

When ‘Stuff’ is a Burden

Helping your senior loved one find new homes for some of their precious belongings may be hard because our seniors don’t want to part with their things (who would, really).

However, it is important for them to work through this process with your help because for some seniors excess ‘stuff’ can become a safety danger. Walking through scattered items can be a trip and fall obstacle, attract pests or even be a fire hazard.

Unfortunately, family caregivers are often the ones who will have to determine what should be kept, who in the family should have this or that, and clear out what isn’t wanted when their senior loved one passes away.

For some caregivers, this is an overwhelming task.

Burden for Family Caregivers, Too

Many family caregivers will tell you that they worry about how they will cope with their seniors’ belongings in the future.

Excessive ‘stuff’ can hold back seniors who would do better in a more senior-friendly home or neighborhood because they themselves don’t want to struggle with sorting, packing, moving and downsizing their belongings.

Imagine what their caregivers are thinking.

Newer, safer and more livable options will be avoided because of the amount of stuff that would need to either be moved or find a new home.

That is a shame for seniors aging in place.

Decluttering their space will help them feel that they have avoided burdening caregivers with a pile of stuff to distribute after they’re gone.

Size of the Problem

Can you believe there are 50,000 storage facilities in the US? That equates to 2.3 billion square feet of storage room for ‘stuff’.

Worse yet is the fact that 50% of those using storage are simply storing what won’t fit in their homes despite the fact that average home size has doubled in that last 50 years.

Currently there are 7.3 square feet of self-storage for every man, woman, and child in the nation.

One in 10 Americans rents offsite storage. Perhaps your senior loved one also has some of their collections in a storage unit that will eventually get cleared out by you as their caregiver.

Storage within a home is reaching into every corner of the home, including the garage. 25% of people with two-car garages don’t have room to park cars inside them.

As a result, home organizers are quickly growing in number to help seniors and their caregivers negotiate the ‘stuff’.

Decluttering Senior’s Homes

Seniors who have collections and mementos stored in boxes are really not enjoying them, have little access to what is kept in boxes and may not even remember all the things they own anymore.

A good strategy to begin decluttering their homes is to begin slowly.

  • Start tackling an area of boxes or one room at a time.
  • Schedule a day for downsizing each week or month so that there are no excuses for not working on the collection.
  • Determine how much time each scheduled session is doable for your senior; it may be an afternoon, an hour or even fifteen minute blocks before they tire.
  • Ask family members if there are things they would like to have. Don’t assume they have room for the basement furniture or desire the old tea set. Let them tell your senior what has meaning to help them hold onto the the senior’s memory.
  • If money is needed, hold a garage sale to make some cash for your senior or take some items to a consignment shop to make a little on their value without the effort of a garage sale. If a tax benefit is important, find some worthwhile organizations who need your senior’s possessions and take the tax deduction instead of investing your precious time in a garage sale.
  • If your senior balks at your assistance, hire a professional organizer who will be impartial about helping them downsize.
  • Remember this as you help them get more organized – keep, toss, donate/sell. Making these piles ahead of time will help you and your senior focus on the task at hand.
  • Be aware that when you help your senior give up some of their possessions you are reminding them of their fate so they may experience emotional loss over this process. Giving away may mean giving up to some seniors who may not be fully ready for this change in their life. This may be even more difficult if they are grieving a loss of their spouse and giving away their shared memories may be tough.
  • Some of their lifelong possessions or objects they inherited may be valuable. You may want to get an appraiser’s opinion before you start the process. Selling valuable antiques or other items for their true value instead of garage sale negotiations may turn into a financial boost for your senior.

Benefits of Decluttering Process

Making room for new things or just to walk around the house without bumping into things will take a bit of work but, in the end, it will be a big relief for both your senior loved one and family caregivers.

Take your time, allow them to enjoy the memory once again and be mindful of the emotions that will surface with your senior and the process will certainly go more smoothly.

Look at the effort now as a way to spend time with your senior instead of a chore that consumes your time now!

You may learn something about them you never knew and create new memories of them you will hold forever!