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Ten Traveling Tips for The Elderly

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1. Research and Plan Ahead

Whether you will travel together or your parent will be solo, planning, reserving and confirming must be accomplished sooner rather than later. When the destination is resolved with target dates, research airlines, Amtrak, buses, cruise lines. For air and land transportation, seek the most direct and shortest travel times.

If there is a choice of three airlines, for example, enroll your parent in the no-cost frequent flier program for each. This should give you access to the lowest fares and possible benefits at the airport and aboard the flight, as well as for requesting special services.

Know that once very common, most senior discount fares are history except for Southwest Airlines and Amtrak. To find other senior-special offers, go online to SmarterTravel.com.

2. Request and Reserve Special Services

Request seat assignment in the rows designated for disabled travelers. And, importantly, request cost-free wheelchair service at every airport origination, connection and arrival location. If there is meal service aboard, advise the reservation system of any dietary needs.

If traveling alone, ensure your parent will have human assistance from the counter, through security, to the gate and then to aboard the aircraft. If staffed by an airline employee, there is no cost for wheelchair or assistance. If staffed by Red Cap-type personnel, you or your parent will be expected to tip for that assist. If you are traveling together, you can offer to handle the wheelchair.

If you don’t make and confirm all of these requests at the time of reservation, the airline, train or bus line has no obligation to make them available on check-in or while en route.

3.  Prepare Documentation

A government passport is accepted as the highest level of identification by federal TSA security officers. If you or your parent do not already have a passport, consider applying for such months prior to your travel. Your local post office will have the application forms; or you can go online to access the information and forms. Official photographs are available at AAA offices and at many large drug and department stores. Personal photos are not acceptable. Two copies of the photograph must be sent with your application.

Request copies of prescriptions and/or statements of medical conditions from each physician and medical treatment center.

Make at least four photocopy sets of the passport, driver’s license, Medicare and insurance cards, travel tickets and itinerary, boarding pass (if secured in advance online), plus any physician prescriptions and/or statements. One complete set is placed in your parent’s hand-carry bag, another in his or her roll-aboard luggage. One set is forwarded to family at the arrival destination, and one is left at home.

Provide a telephone calling card so that he or she can maintain contact. An alternative is to provide a cell phone, perhaps one with a predetermined number of minutes. Program in your telephone number as the first emergency number.

4.  Be Practical When Packing

Pack light. For a person traveling with at least some limitation, aim to pack everything necessary in a roll-aboard suitcase plus a medium-size over-the-shoulder carry-on. Do not check the roll-aboard as luggage, as in-cabin flight staff will gladly stash it in the overhead rack. Such will save a lot of time at the final destination airport.

All prescription and over-the-counter medications should be placed in a one quart zip-lock freezer bag, including also copies of any prescriptions and/or physician statements in the hand-carry bag. Do not place the pill combinations separately into a separate plastic box as “the next combined dosage.” Such will never get through security. Enclose also any medical appliances such as extra braces or first-aid needs.

If Mom or Dad is toting gifts to relatives, do not wrap them. Place the items in the roll-aboard luggage.

If your parent is traveling alone, before you close up her or his carry-aboard bag, prepare and slip in at the top a note stating “I love you” and “I delight in your new adventure.”

5.  Think about Safety, Security and Comfort

There are thieves everywhere and, particularly, in high-traffic travel centers. Don’t give the scalawags any opportunity to steal from your parent.

Mom should not carry a purse but, instead a money belt worn under a blouse or a neat Passage Wallet hidden under her coat by a neck cord.  Dad should not carry a wallet in his back pocket but, instead, the same Passage Wallet from the neck cord or as a hidden wallet tucked into his pants and secured by a cord to his belt.

Advise Mom or Dad, if traveling alone, always to keep their carry-on between their feet when standing, or with the shoulder strap looped around the leg of a chair when seated.

For comfort, consider the purchase of a travel pillow, a c-shaped balloon that supports the neck and head when resting aboard transportation. 

6. Arrange Medication Management

Most mature adults take five or more medications once or even several times a day. The transportation staff has no obligation regarding the medical dosing of your parent. But you can ask in advance that at a specified time (stated in local time), the staff remind Mom or Dad to take the medication. The alternative is to provide your parent with an alarm watch.

7.  Plan for Security Checkpoints

If Mom or Dad is in a wheelchair at transportation centers, access to and through TSA (transportation security administration) security may actually be quicker than through the long line of other travelers.

Brief your parent (or state to the TSA, if you are traveling together) about any medical condition that would set off alarms, such as surgical hip and knee implants. To avoid unwanted delays, get a physician’s statement about the implanted steel and make sure the senior has that documentation with them. Oftentimes, personnel will ask the elder to step aside and perform a wand screening, rather than passing through the sensors. If your parent is in a wheelchair, security will use a wand while he or she is seated.

Dress your parent in easily-removed (but safe) walking shoes. Security will probably want them removed. Present, if pertinent, any physician statement regarding your Mom or Dad’s medical condition or limitation.

Before traveling, explain to Mom or Dad that the security process is vital to her or his safety.

8. Consider Destination and Travel Options

The world of travel is open to just about everyone, even those elderly parents receiving care. Start a discussion with Mom or Dad to learn her or his travel wishes. Determine if your parent can travel solo, or if you want or need to share in the adventure. Start with the mission of fulfilling a parent’s dream; don’t just go online to find cheap air tickets.

9. Consider Tours and Cruises

There are thousands of tour and cruise possibilities. Tours and cruises offer a unique service, in that they are totally planned, operated and staffed to deliver the promised program and destination discovery. Several tours operators, including Accessible Journeys and Flying Wheels, specialize in “accessible lifestyle vacations,” which cater to those with special needs and disabilities. 

Cruise and tour accommodations are priced on a per-person basis based on double-occupancy. Therefore, if choosing a tour or cruise, travel with your Mom or Dad to provide caregiving assistance while in the room and during non-programmed times. A cruise or tour may be the ultimate escape and very civilized adventure.

10. Ensure Those at The Destination are Prepared

If your parent is flying solo to visit other family, schedule a telephone conference with your relatives to go over the caregiving support your elder needs. Advise of your approach in assisting Mom or Dad, so that they do not assume to take the domineering and dictating role. Advise of your parent’s favorite foods and activities so that they can try to be accommodating during the visit, making it all the more “like home” for Mom or Dad. And, importantly, advise of the medical and medication regimen that must be followed. Also make sure that they have all important legal documents with them should an emergency arise (for example, if you are listed as their agent for the Advance Directive, be certain this information is with them should something happen).

On the day of travel, arrive at the airport or other transportation two hours early, to visit with your parent without pressure, share a meal or snack, review the travel plan and itinerary and, importantly, to use the wheelchair-capable restroom shortly before heading to the gate. The latter should reduce the need for your parent to access the small restroom during travel.

In Summary

Travel with Mom or Dad. You may find it to be one of the best experiences of your life.  Yes, you continue to be a caregiver, but your travel and destination will probably prove to be an escape, a freedom because of the new setting, environment and opportunity.

Travel safely and well.

How to Talk to Elderly Adults About Giving up the Keys

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If you have concerns about an older adult’s ability to drive, addressing them promptly could be a matter of life and death. It may be tempting to procrastinate to talk to him next week or before the first snowfall, for example but think how you’d feel if the delay led to an automobile accident that resulted in a serious injury or death. Considering the possible consequences should help you overcome your hesitation but that doesn’t mean it will be easy. It’s awkward and painful to have to inform older adults that they aren’t capable of doing something as basic and essential as driving the car. For them, it’s another humiliating reminder of their growing inability to take care of themselves and manage the tasks of daily life. As difficult as it is, if you have reason to believe that the person in your care could be dangerous behind the wheel, it’s important to deal with the issue sooner rather than later, because later could be too late.

Plan Ahead

It’s a good idea to plan how you’re going to approach the subject before bringing it up. Take time to consider how the situation looks from the driver’s point of view and what driving means to him.

In his book How to Say It to Seniors, geriatric expert David Solie points out that because elderly people face so many losses at this stage of life, they tend to rigidly control the few things they can. This struggle for control will almost certainly come into play where driving is concerned, because giving up the car keys could affect where they live, who they see, and what interests and activities they can pursue. To you, this decision is a simple matter of good sense and safety; for them, it represents the end of life as they’ve always known it.

Make sure your expectations are realistic. If you assume that one discussion will neatly resolve the matter, you’re bound to be disappointed. Given how charged the driving issue is, you need to think of this as a process that will take some adjustment and fine-tuning. Consider this a preliminary discussion only; a way to get the issue out on the table so it can be dealt with openly.

Consider your own role. Remember that it’s not up to you to convince the person your caring for to immediately cease driving, even if you think this is the best course of action. Unless the driver has dementia or is otherwise incapacitated (see below), it’s best to respect his right to make decisions about his life — with your input and support.

Consider temporarily giving up the car yourself. Elizabeth Dugan, a geriatric researcher who wrote the book The Driving Dilemma, reports that a colleague stopped using his car for two weeks before talking to his elderly father about driving safety. His carless weeks gave him firsthand experience of the inconvenience and lack of mobility that his father was going to have to endure. You may not want to give up your car before you talk with an older adult, but you should give some thought to the emotional and practical issues he’ll face when he gives up driving.

Plan your discussion for a quiet time of day. Find a time when you and the driver you’re concerned about are both relaxed and rested and no one has any deadlines or commitments pending.

How to Bring It Up

When you introduce the subject, try to avoid coming on too strong, or you’ll set the discussion off on the wrong foot. You may feel a keen sense of urgency, but if you jump right in with, “You have to stop driving! You’re going to kill someone!” he’ll probably either get angry or tune you out.

Remember that if you’ve noticed that his driving has grown erratic and sloppy, he’s probably aware of it, too. You can be most helpful by helping him express and work through his own concerns. A good way to do this is to initiate the discussion with a question. For instance, if you know that he has received a traffic ticket, ask him about it, and then follow up with another question like, “How are you doing with your driving? Are you finding it a little difficult to manage?”

Handle Objections With Reflective Listening

Your loved one may respond by pointing out all the practical reasons he can’t stop driving (“What about my weekly golf game?” or “My wife’s physical therapy appointments are clear across town!”). Without directly answering your question about his driving ability, he’s already making the case for why he can’t stop. This is valuable information because it provides a glimpse of his own internal struggle: He knows that he’s having trouble driving safely but can’t fathom how he’ll manage without a car.

Encourage him to discuss his concerns without immediately jumping in with solutions (don’t rush in with “I’m sure Jack or Stan will be happy to drive you to the golf course” or “The bus goes right by the physical therapy office”). It’s also usually counterproductive to offer reassurances (“Don’t worry, it will all work out fine”). Such responses may offer temporary comfort, but they won’t help you or him explore the larger issues involved.

Instead, you can help him express his fears by using “reflective listening,” a technique Elizabeth Dugan recommends when talking about driving and other difficult issues with an elderly parent or other older adult. Reflective listening — which essentially means rephrasing what the person has said — conveys support and encouragement and helps the speaker gain insight about his experience.

To use reflective listening in the example above, you could say something like, “Look, I know you’re probably worried that giving up driving would mean you have to give up some of your usual activities.” This type of response will encourage him to keep talking about his worries and reflect upon them, which is an important step in working through major problems and transitions.

Allow Space for a Long Conversation

When reflecting about driving and its role in the driver’s life, don’t be surprised if he begins to talk about the past. He may reminisce about his honeymoon road trip to the Grand Canyon or recall how he saved up money for his first car or taught all the kids how to drive.

Resist the temptation to interrupt and get him back on track. Instead, try to encourage the reminiscences by asking questions or even requesting to see photos. Sifting through memories will help him come to terms with this life transition as he reflects on the role driving has played in his life and gradually accept the fact that he’ll soon have to give it up.

As the discussion progresses, ask him directly what he thinks he should do about driving. You may want to help him jot down some of the pros and cons of the alternatives he faces. This approach can help someone realize that there are actually some benefits to not driving (tremendous savings on auto insurance, car maintenance, and gasoline, for example). It also may help focus him on the stark consequences — such as a fatal accident — that could result from maintaining the status quo.

Depending on how everyone is feeling, this might be a good point to put the discussion on temporary hold. Agree to meet again in a couple of days, after you’ve all had a chance to reflect on the various options. (You might want to set a specific time to meet to ensure that it happens.)

Of course, there’s no telling how the discussion will unfold, since that will have a lot to do with factors unique to the situation. But the discussion is much more likely to be productive and positive if you approach it with a genuine desire to learn more about his experiences, ideas, and concerns.

Find Out if Other Issues Are Affecting Driving

Find out if medical problems are causing driving issues. If the person you’re caring for acknowledges that he’s having difficulty driving, find out the specific problems. Make appointments with his physician and eye doctor, and be sure to ask about medication, side effects, and drug interactions. It’s possible that the problem can be remedied with a change in medication or a stronger pair of glasses. Make sure his car is suited to his needs and physical abilities, and ask his doctor if assistive devices might help address driving difficulties.

Discuss interim measures, if possible. Once you determine the source of the problem, you can decide what to do next. His physician might suggest that he limit driving to daylight hours or essential errands. If he’s going to continue to drive at all, it’s a good idea for him to brush up on his driving skills and the traffic laws by taking a senior driving refresher course. AARP, AAA, and commercial driving schools all offer such courses. Agree to revisit the decision every few months to see how it’s going.

Help explore other transportation options. Whether or not he has to give up the car keys immediately, it’s a good idea to help your loved one become familiar with other transportation options. Take the bus with him if he’s apprehensive and help him find out more about local senior transportation services. Encourage him to carpool with friends.

Take a break if he refuses to address the issue of driving safety. He may become angry when you try to talk about driving or refuse to discuss it, so it’s a good idea to temporarily drop the issue. There’s no point in engaging in a battle — it will only make him more resistant. Give the matter some time, and then bring it up again in a week or so. You may find that he’s become more receptive to discussing the matter over time, as he grows used to the idea and realize that the risks of continuing to drive outweigh the benefits.

 

Should Elderly Drive?

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The amount of accidents and fatalities caused by elderly drivers has increased and will continue to increase as the baby boomers hit age sixty-five. What makes it more interesting is most cases are without citations or jail time. Even when a fatality has occurred, senior citizens don’t seem to do any jail time. If it was you or me, you can pretty much count that we would be locked up. I can not understand why State Governments have not stepped up to change our current requirements for the privilege of driving a motor vehicle.

Elderly drivers account for a nearly 19% of all automobile accidents. This number is indeed staggering enough to have many people asking, should older drivers be allowed on the road? And if so, should they be retested more often than younger drivers? For some, the answers to these questions are quite clear. For others, they are subjects of much debate.

Some have proposed that older drivers should be required to retake the driving test at age 65, and then again every few years. This proposal certainly seems reasonable, given the current accident statistics. Where problems may occur would be in the fact that there is a fee to take the driving test. This fee helps to pay the salary of the driving testers. It may not be fair to ask senior drivers to pay this fee more often than others.

Another problem may be that the number of individuals needing to take a driving test would increase. This could place extra burdens on testing spots that are already extremely busy. Wait times could increase, and even those who are for more frequent testing for senior drivers could very well find themselves inconvenienced. Some may be willing to endure longer wait times, while others would not.

Would this be some form of discrimination? Again, there are people on both sides. Laws are in place to protect people. However, not everyone will agree with the laws that are supposed to protect them. Seniors that cling to the ability to drive for their very survival will certainly consider any such law a form of discrimination.

The solution may actually lie somewhere in the middle. It may be possible to ask that any senior driver that has been involved in an accident to retake the driving test. Obviously, this possible solution also has flaws, as who is to say that the individual will survive a serious accident. This could also come to late to save the life of others that may be involved in the accident as well.
It is unclear as to whether or not the government will get involved in this debate. It may be that this decision will need to be made on a state or even local level. In a perfect world, seniors that realize that their driving skills are not up to par would relinquish their drivers license voluntarily. However, many do not realize that this is the case until it is too late. Clearly, there is no easy solution to this complex problem.

Seniors Who Adopt Senior Pets Often Stay In Better Shape

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Pet ownership can open up a whole new world for senior citizens.  By adopting older pets, seniors get companionship without housebreaking or training. Life occurs in stages.  And as we move from infancy to adulthood – and eventually into our senior years – our needs and wants change.  For pet lovers, the joy and satisfaction that comes from owning a pet rarely weakens with the passing of years.  The type of pet they desire, however, may be subject to change as living arrangements or health conditions evolve.

Today, a growing number of seniors are stepping forward to adopt older dogs and cats.  Not interested in taking on the challenge of housebreaking and training a puppy or keeping a kitten out of mischief, seniors would rather have a pet that has an established personality and knows the rules about good behavior.  These adoptions are a win for the senior, who benefits from the companionship of a pet.  They are also a win for the pet, which gets to spend his or her years in a loving home, rather than a shelter.

Over time, the specific benefits of seniors adopting senior pets are becoming better known.  Studies have shown that, aside from having a constant companion that is always there when you wake up or put the key in the door, seniors who adopt senior pets seem to: Have a buffer against loneliness 

  • Maintain a clear sense of purpose
  • Derive a profound sense of satisfaction from living with an animal
  • Be more likely to exercise
  • Have lower blood pressure and a decreased likelihood of depression

In addition, pets appear to provide a sense of consistency in a rapidly changing world, and may reinforce feelings of self-sufficiency, dependability and optimism with their owners.   Above all, pets offer their owners unconditional love and attention, regardless of how old the owner is, how grey his or her hair is, or how wealthy or poor the individual might be.

Pet ownership among seniors can also act as a therapeutic agent that allows individuals to escape stress and concentrate on something other than the challenges that face them in their daily lives.  This release can have a considerable impact on overall health and well-being.  A 1990 UCLA study showed that pet ownership could actually improve overall health and reduce the time a senior individual spends in a doctor’s office.  A subsequent study by Alan Beck, Director of the Center of Animal-Human Bond at Purdue University indicated that pet ownership can act as a health enhancer for seniors by:

  • Improving morale
  • Encouraging independence
  • Allowing them to handle stress better Pets can also act as “’social lubricants” for seniors, who may not be outgoing individuals by nature. Pet owners are often attracted to one another, and the topic of their pets frequently breaks the ice and starts discussions.

    Adopting a senior pet can often open a new world for seniors.  To find out how to adopt senior animals in our area, contact your local animal shelter.

Here are some things caregiver’s should consider when purchasing a pet for their senior mom or dad.

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  • Right pet for the right owner. But because people age so differently, the decision needs to be made carefully and not just by grown loving children who think it sounds like a way to provide camaraderie. Because there’s no single right pet, ask the following questions to help narrow the field.
  • Are you set in your ways? If you don’t like change, you may not be a good candidate
  • Have you had a pet before?  I thinks its best if the elderly person is an experienced owner.
  • Do you have disabilities? Dogs can be wonderful companions who encourage a senior with no major physical limitations to walk and interact with others . For those who are physically challenged, cats often need less care than dogs, she says. A small dog that’s paper-trained or an indoor bird is also sometimes preferable. 

    • Do you need a therapy pet? If the person is very infirm or impaired, they may be a candidate for an assistance or therapy dog to help them function or interact.
    • Is the pet the right age? A puppy or kitten may not be the best choice for elderly owners because of the care they require. A young pet may outlive its owner. Birds especially have long life spans. Yet, it’s also important that the pet isn’t too old since it may start to have physical limitations and get sick cautions.
    • Does the pet have a good temperament? Although some older owners may think a Great Pyrenees would be too big to handle. Many older people might think they’d do better with a Jack Russell terrier because it’s small but they are very, very, very high energy and require more effort and commitment. So much depends on personality.
    • Is the pet healthy? It’s important that any pet be examined by a professional. You don’t want to compromise an older person’s immune system since some pets carry diseases. 
      • One pet or two? While multiple pets can keep each other company, that may not be a good idea for an older person. Two puppies may bond with each other rather than with the owner.
      • Are finances an issue? Pets cost money. A small puppy can run more than $810 its first year for food, medical care, toys and grooming while a fish is less expensive–about $235, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. If the pet takes ill, dollars snowball. Groups are available to help allay costs.
    • Where to find the pet. While breeders are a good source, some shelters also provide a pet for less and offer the advantage of rescuing it from euthanasia. Purina Pets for Seniors partners with 200 shelters nationwide to provide seniors pet adoptions at a reduced cost.

The Healing Power of Pets for Elderly People

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For elderly pet owners, who often live alone or in group facilities, pets can help reduce stress, lower blood pressure, increase social interaction and physical activity and help them learn. “A new pet can stimulate someone to read up on an animal or breed, which can be very mentally stimulating and important at that age,” says Dr. Katharine Hillestad, a veterinarian with the office of Doctors Foster and Smith in Rhinelander, Wis., which provides online advice and retails pet supplies and pharmaceuticals.  Pets provide other intangibles. Dogs and other pets live very much in the here and now. They don’t worry about tomorrow. And tomorrow can be very scary for an older person. By having an animal with that sense of now, it tends to rub off on people.

And pets can reduce depression and lessen loneliness. Older pet owners have often told us how incredibly barren and lonely their lives were without their pet’s companionship, even when there were some downsides to owning an active pet. Pets benefit, too, particularly when older folks adopt older pets. These lucky pets go from the pound to paradise. Since most of the adopters are retired, they have lots of time to devote to a previously unwanted.