The Journey of Aging Well
with helpful tips for family caregivers
December 2012/January 2013
Safety and a loved one’s comfort are prime concerns for family caregivers. Here are some articles to help you accomplish both.
- Choosing a complementary medical practitioner
- Supporting those in grief during the holidays
- Tips for air travel
Choosing a complementary medical practitioner
Is Mom considering an herb-based remedy? Or perhaps you’re wondering if acupuncture could help Dad’s arthritis. Nearly 40% of American adults are turning to complementary and alternative medicine (“CAM”).
You probably have heard individual success stories. But the risks and benefits of many alternative treatments have not been scientifically confirmed. And sometimes seemingly harmless herbs or supplements can actually interfere with prescription drugs.
It’s not that your loved one shouldn’t try alternatives. You simply want to take reasonable precautions. Then coordinate with your relative’s regular doctor.
Find a competent practitioner.
- Ask your loved one’s doctor for a referral.
- Look online for a professional organization. They can provide information about training and licensing and a directory of providers.
- Find out if there is a state regulatory agency that records problem practitioners.
- Check out our January 2012 article about how to find a good doctor. Use the same guidelines while choosing a CAM practitioner.
Learn about the practitioner. Check out their website or brochure. Ideally, have a brief, introductory interview in person or over the phone.
- Ask about training and licensing and years in practice.
- Find out about areas of specialization. Do they have experience with elders? Can they point to research that shows their method(s) to be effective?
- Ask what your relative should expect in terms of benefits. What about risks? How might this treatment affect other current treatments?
- Inquire about office practices. What are the fees? The typical number of sessions? Is the treatment covered by your relative’s health insurance?
Before starting treatment. Share the CAM plan with your relative’s primary care doctor. Does the doctor have any concerns? It’s better for your loved one overall if the two plans of care can become an integrated approach.
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Supporting those in grief during the holidays
In past newsletters, we’ve talked about the holiday blues as you anticipate a loved one’s final season. This year, we present touchstones for coping with the holidays after a loss. For instance, you may be comforting your mother as both you and she grieve your father’s absence. Or you may be expecting a visit from a bereaved aunt or uncle.
This is a fragile time of year. Use these tips to help support your loved ones through the season.
- Speak up. Let your relative know that you are thinking about his or her loss. And that you are aware the holidays may trigger difficult feelings. Your words give them permission to talk about what’s hard.
- Listen. Provide opportunities for your loved one to tell you about the memories and feelings that are arising. Retelling stories is a necessary part of healthy grieving.
- Allow. Let your relative decide how to celebrate the holidays. Some people prefer to follow their old traditions. Others want to do things in entirely new ways.
- Ask. If your relative is expected at a family gathering, ask if he or she would like anything special to be done, perhaps in honor of the person who died. Likewise, ask if there is anything they particularly want to avoid.
- Offer. Let your loved one know that you are available to assist with shopping, decorating, or any tasks of the season.
- Invite. Think of opportunities for your family member to join you. Perhaps for sharing a special meal or attending a holiday concert.
- Donate. Make a monetary donation in memory of the loved one who died. Or ask your relative to participate with you in a volunteer project that honors the person who is gone. Giving to others is often healing.
Above all, reassure your loved one (and remind yourself!) that an upwelling of sadness during the holidays is a normal part of the grieving process.
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Tips for air travel
Is your older relative traveling by air anytime soon? Use these suggestions for an easier, less confusing trip.
- Check in with the doctor. Get an “okay” for travel by air. Ask for a note to support the need for early boarding, a wheelchair, or any other special assistance.
- Book by phone. Look for nonstop flights at less crowded times: midday and midweek. Get a seat with easy access to the lavatory. Ask about help with check-in, security, boarding, and for wheelchairs at both airports, if needed.
- Prepare carry-on items. Put nametags on all carry-on items, including a cane or walker. Don’t forget dignity items such as briefs, wipes, or a change of undergarments. Gather health insurance card, doctor contact information, and a current list of medications. Keep all medications in a separate baggie in their original bottles.
- Contact TSA. Older travelers are allowed to have one person help them to the gate. Call the Transportation Security Administration’s hotline (855-787-2227) at least 72 hours ahead of travel to request airport support through security or to meet your family member at the gate upon arrival.
- Facilitate check-in and security screening. Persons 75 years of age or older do not have to remove shoes or light jackets during security screening. Be sure you have your own government-issued identification if you will be escorting your relative to the gate.
- Ensure comfort in the air. A head pillow, layered clothing, and gum for takeoff and landing are very helpful.
- Support arrival. Have your relative wait to deplane after other passengers. That makes it easier for airline staff to provide assistance. If you have arranged to meet him or her at the gate, arrive an hour early to get through security. Don’t forget to bring your own ID!
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