The Journey of Aging Well
with helpful tips for family caregivers
Memorial Day is coming up and then we’re officially into summer. We hope you, or someone you know, will find these articles helpful.
Going on vacation with an elder
If your summer vacation plans include travel with Mom or Dad, a little preparation can make a big difference in ensuring a good time for all. Consider the following:
- Travel by car: Plan for leisurely travel, with ample flexibility and time for rest stops. Avoid hotel reservations if you can. Instead, gather information about lodging options along the way. Then you can change gears if your loved one loses steam earlier than expected. Consider a handicap pass for your vehicle to spare fatiguing walks from the parking lot. Pack a first aid kit.
- Travel by plane: Allow plenty of time between connections. Inform the airlines of any special needs. Consider requesting a wheelchair, especially if you have children with you also. Even if Mom’s still walking, it will ensure an airport escort helps you all get through security.
- “Essentials” bag: No matter how you’re traveling, carry a bag with at least a one-week supply of your loved one’s medications. Include a list of prescriptions, physician contact information, a basic medical history, and copies of health directives. Don’t forget personal care items such as hearing aid batteries, eye drops, etc. Water, snacks, and an extra set of clothes can be surprisingly helpful.
- Activities: Dad doesn’t need a lot of entertainment. Plan for relaxed days. Create a list of options for unstructured activities at your destination. Casual sightseeing and picnics, for instance, allow you to respond readily to changes in your loved one’s strength and stamina.
The healing power of remembrance
Memorial Day is traditionally a time of remembrance. As you reflect on loved ones who have passed on, consider a ritual now, or later, in their honor. Ritual is a helpful way to transform a lifetime bond so that your once vital connection lives on in a new way.
You may make plans to join an existing event during the year, or create a private family ceremony or personal sanctuary on Memorial Day itself. For instance:
- Light a candle. The candle flame is a universal symbol of vigil and honor. You can create your own annual candle lighting ritual. Tell a story, read a letter to your loved one, or just observe a moment of silence.
- Create a sacred space. Assemble a “memory box” of photos and small personal items to open annually. Or create a home altar as a space for reflection in the privacy of your own thoughts. For public honor, arrange to plant a tree or donate a bench to a nearby park.
- Walk, run, or ride for a cure. Gather a team or go by yourself to raise funds for research in your loved one’s name. The Alzheimer’s Memory Walk, the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure (breast cancer), and the Diabetes Tour de Cure are among the annual events held nationwide. Or pick any race and dedicate your participation to your loved one, raising funds for hospice through the Run to Remember program.
- Support their passion. Learn to grow tomatoes like your dad did, or bird watch like your mom. Host an annual family gathering and serve your loved one’s signature foods. Or play their favorite music and games. Make a yearly contribution to your loved one’s favorite charity or club.
When Mom wants only you
Perhaps you’ve decided it’s time for some caregiving assistance. The next obstacle may be that Mom or Dad wants “only you.” A first step is to ask her or him to tell you more about why. Common issues include:
- Safety – Concerns about “strangers” can be addressed by seeking helpers from your loved one’s natural community: friends, church, or neighbors. You can use a licensed, bonded home care agency. Or, check the eldercare locator for the nearest Aging and Disability Resource Center. These centers often keep a registry of home care workers who do not have a past criminal record.
- Cost – Go to benefitscheckup.org to see if your loved one is eligible for free or low-cost services. Many veterans and their spouses are entitled to “Aid and Attendance” benefits. In addition, if your relative has long-term care insurance, find out if it covers in-home care.
- Dignity – It may be difficult for Dad to admit a need for help. Spare his pride by saying it’s temporary or something that you need. For instance, tell him you need assistance with the cleaning rather than that you’re worried about him being alone.
When resistance remains, it may be necessary to set limits. State specifically what you are able to do, and offer suggestions for the things you cannot do. Start small and whenever possible, involve your loved one in choosing who will help and when they will come. For example:
- “I know you feel most comfortable with me, but John wants to participate, too. Let’s have him come one day next week, just to try it out. What day would work best for you?”
- “I can help on the weekends. But that still leaves Wednesday, which I can’t do. Of the two agencies we interviewed, which one did you like best?”