This article was inspired by a phone call from my own mother. My dad had passed away suddenly in 2013, and she was now alone and living in Florida, about 3000 miles from me.
In a meal that was close to one of the last ones I actually had with my father, he shared with me that was worried that my mom would end up alone. Commence the guilt and worry on my end.
I know I’m not alone in this regard as many of you reading this perhaps are wondering how to manage your own lives, kids and aging parents who need you too.
Some of us are lucky with parents who seem to skate through their older years, yet many of us have one or more parent who needs a lot of medical attention for various reasons. This is compounded of course by severe neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s or Lou Gehrig’s disease or prolonged battles with cancer.
Even the sudden deaths like what I had experienced with my dad usually leave one parent reeling and in need of financial and emotional/physical support. She wasn’t prepared to bury him. They hadn’t planned their funerals or any of that so my brother and I divided the cost on our credit cards.
There are two awkward “talks” that parents and kids have with each other. The first one is the sex talk (this can include the coming out gay “talk” if that applies). The next most awkward is the one where a parent asks you for Life Alert of some sort of remote transmitter in case of a fall.
A few months back my own mother, who had fallen in her home alone from low blood pressure and received a subsequent pacemaker because of this, called and said for Mother’s Day and her birthday present (same month) she wanted me to get some sort of device like this for her.
She actually talked herself out of it after she realized she wasn’t quite there yet, but it was her decision to make (we were happy to oblige). That too, is important. I know it is a matter of time before she may well need one. In the meantime, I am fortunate that my brother and his family lives nearby and his kids are keeping her busy.
But I know if she lives long enough there has to be a plan B. She will never live in California with me, and prefers the east coast. So the onus will be on me to get creative and make sure she is in the right place, a manageable place until she can no longer manage.
There are so many people trying to cope and help their parents as best they can, I have been fortunate to get some amazing advice from many people who are walking in my shoes.
Some easy ways to help parents who are aging is to help them simplify their lives. My parents were good at jettisoning or selling things that no longer served them, but many out there hold on to everything. If you can help them unburden from possessions, and organize ephemera like photos, this is a great start. Clutter is stress inducing. Help them make executive decisions to redistribute unused or unnecessary things.
The financials are something that needs housecleaning too. Have that talk with parent(s) and ask them if they have a trust or will set up, and do they know where all their important papers are.
Help them organize the details like insurance papers, pension information, stocks and bonds and what birth certificates, armed services documents, bank accounts are where and then assign someone responsible for knowing where this ledger of Intel is, so that when a death in the family happens, there isn’t panicked search for things while grief-stricken.
Even something as simple as designating who gets what possessions and then writing it down ahead of a parent’s death alleviates so much stress and potential animosity among siblings. As awkward as discussing these things are, the less one has to do in the event of a parent passing, the more time you have to heal emotionally as a family unit.
If you can afford to divvy up bills for fixed income parents, this alleviates a huge amount of stress for them. The smaller bills like cell phones, TV, gardener and cleaning service, the newspaper, or perhaps grocery gift cards all help to make them feel their standard of living does not fall once they are solely existing on social security or a pension.
If not, you can divide chores, yard work, and even cooking to give them a sense of ease and familial connectivity. But once you decide to do this, make an agreement with siblings and stick to a schedule, don’t commit to taking on yard chores or cooking a meal every week unless you can really stay with it. Elderly parents are like your children in that they need to count on you, and have consistency in their routine.
Since my brother lives near my mom and I am far away, we do a combination of these things, and obviously he is on hand for home repair issues, and I cover her cell phone and extras since I live far away.
However you can, share the costs and time commitment, verbalize and discuss at length with family members and if something happens that affects your original commitment, speak up and treat each other with respect and kindness. Sometimes a job is lost, a divorce happens or a child’s tuition becomes the issue and modifications to the original agreement need to be made.
Here are some useful everyday items for seniors that we were impressed by and found to be helpful:
Recipes-the heart of the home:
My mother has a million scraps of paper, magazine pages and index cards in a binder that holds her prized recipes. Her favorite go-to must make ones were all copied and enlarged, making sure the font was increased as her handwriting as a young woman was barely decipherable now.
In this process, we also eliminated another huge clutter pile. Bonus was that I found some recipes that my brother and I missed from my childhood that were wonderful to regain. Make sure to put the new enlarged recipes inside plastic clear protectors so spills do not ruin them.
Cleaning – take two:
Cleaning, unless you are of means and can afford a cleaning service for your parent(s), is a wonderful thing. A dirty home is depressing and helping a parent keep their home ready for the church group or Bridge Club is important.
If you cannot swing a maid service do not fret, as there are ways to help out by purchasing a few clever new items that we investigated and tested out for ourselves. Dyson, an English engineer who makes the best vacuums on planet Earth, invented a fantastic “Dyson Small Ball” (don’t snicker) vacuum half the size of their bestseller.
It looks almost like a toy vacuum but this 12-pound sucker does the work of a full-sized machine. This is important as vacuums are often unwieldy and hard to maneuver for older people, and this genius version is perfect for anyone with limited strength and mobility.
I recommend you investigate and replace the heavy vacuum probably in the closet that your mother/father dread pulling out when they have to clean. It is pricey but the warranty and the performance make it a good investment.
Another low tech gadget is The Wisp. An ultra lightweight broom that can even sweep some carpets. This brush’s design makes the chore an effortless affair and one pass with it is all you need, no back and forth like a traditional broom. My mother thinks this is the best invention since sliced bread. It really is a fantastic affordable tool and grabs everything in sight.
Remote alarms that are contract free
We tried and loved the Made in the USA ditto that clips on to clothing and never needs charging. This electronic tether alerts the wearer when their smartphone is going off and even features a vibrating alarm that gets the wearer up on time.
You can even swim with it. At under $40 it’s a fantastic gift for a senior who forgets where the phone is or worries about missing an important call. The hardest thing to do is download the APP for the phone to sync with the device.
Wearable hearing aids that are discreet
You can find many hearing aids out there, but affordability and discreet design combined are worth their weight in gold. The best one we found was the MDHearingAid doctor designed and audiologist tested FDA approved AIR device. This sits comfortably inside the ear and allows the wearer to control volume and boast a comfort tip for ease of use. At half the cost or more of most hearing aids, it truly is worth your time to investigate if hearing loss is a problem.
We interviewed Scott Page, a retirement expert, CEO of the Lifeline Program, and author of It’s Never Too Late: Getting Older, Wiser, and Worry-Free in Our Golden Years for his take on how to manage these things that we will all face.
His book addresses common issues and worries that come with getting older and offers practical advice for building a secure and fulfilling future after retirement. Scott is an expert on how to age gracefully, comfortably, and joyfully. His experiences working with senior citizens makes him a valuable advisor, too.
Monsters and Critics: Scott, what are your favorite recommendations of cost effective – inexpensive thoughtful things adult children can do for their aging parents to ease their monthly burdens financially and their day-to-day quality of life issues?
Scott Page: Encourage them to downsize. They likely don’t need the big House and the maintenance cost associated with it. Consider a transitional retirement community.
M&C: What are some of your favorite products that help seniors remain in their homes?
SP: I would only recommend that they stay in their home if that decision is financially feasible, and the home is”elder-proofed.” That is, no stairs, close to healthcare, and equipped with grab bars and emergency alert devices.
M&C: What is the best thing people in their late 50s to 60s can do to get their home ready for less clutter, what can they part with that will ease their ability to keep up with keeping a home organized?
SP: They should part with everything that they no longer need and can safely use. Go to ScottPage.com and download the helpful Down-sizing/Inventory worksheets.
M&C: Should they look to buy a smaller home immediately after children leave the nest to keep things simplified?
SP: That is great time to start such a discussion, but the timing of such a move greatly depends on the age, health, and financial condition of the parents.
M&C: What are you doing (aside from financials) to prepare yourself for your senior years?
SP: I am researching retirement locations that will best meet my needs. I am staying active and watching what I eat (Eat less, Move more). I am prioritizing friendships that will comfort and sustain me in my golden years.