When It’s Too Hot for Comfort, How to Keep Your Elder Safe

Temperatures in the 90s. Humid air thick as pea soup. Relentless, hot sun, with no relief under shade trees. Yep, it’s summer, all right, here in New England.

Even for hardy souls, when the heat index soars, it’s hard to get through the day without feeling totally exhausted. For aging loved ones, extreme high temperatures bring added risk of heat exhaustion or heat stroke. That’s because, as we age, our bodies are less able to adjust to excessive heat or sudden changes in temperature.

Chronic medical conditions can also compromise the body’s internal thermostats, and the prescription medications that treat those conditions can wreak more havoc on elders’ ability to adapt to heat. Some drugs may even hinder perspiration, which is essential to cooling.

Here are some tips to help the elder in your life stay cool and safe in hot weather:

  1. Stay indoors and avoid strenuous activities. Be sure the home or indoor space is comfortably cool. Keep shades down, windows closed against extreme heat and humidity, and use good fans or air conditioning. Make sure fans do not present mobility hazards. Inexpensive solar curtains can help maintain cooler indoor spaces. If those amenities aren’t available, encourage your aging loved one to relax at a library, movie, mall, museum, senior center or other public space that has good air conditioning.
  2. Keep hydrated. Don’t wait until thirst becomes insistent. Drink cold water or other cool beverages throughout the day—but avoid caffeine and alcohol, which can actually dehydrate the body.
  3. Wear lightweight, light-colored cotton or other natural fiber clothing that breathes. Layers help to moderate extremes when moving from outdoor heat to indoor air conditioning.
  4. Stay cool during the day with a foot bath, a shower or body bath, or a washcloth on the back of the neck. Water in all cases should be just below body temperature for the best cooling effect.
  5. Eat light, cold meals and avoid heavy, hot foods. Extreme heat tends to suppress appetite, but it’s important to get nourishment, even in small portions throughout the day. Cold snacks like popsicles or slightly frozen grapes can provide a boost.
  6. Watch for signs of heat exhaustion. Your loved one may complain of feeling faint, dizzy or nauseated, or have muscle cramps. Excessive sweating, a rapid and weak pulse, and cool, pale skin that feels clammy to the touch are all red flags. Get your elder to a cool place, help her drink water, and apply a cool compress to her forehead or back of the neck. She may need to lie down and rest.
  7. Beware of heat stroke. This is more dangerous. Throbbing headache, nausea or vomiting, and a strong, rapid pulse are all symptoms. Most importantly, your elder will not be perspiring, despite a body temperature above 103° F and red, hot, dry skin. He may lose consciousness. Call 9-1-1 immediately, get your loved one to a cool place and apply cold compresses until help arrives.

We can’t control the weather, but we can make plans and take precautions against extreme heat—for ourselves and those we love who are at greatest risk. Here’s hoping those hot, hot days are the exception and not the rule this summer!

President of Deborah Fins Associates, PC, since 1995, Deborah Liss Fins is a licensed independent clinical social worker and certified Aging Life Care Manager™. Drawing on more than 35 years of professional experience in aging life care management, DFA offers comprehensive assessments and planning, guidance in selecting appropriate care, help identifying resources for financial support and professional consulting. Please contact us to set up a complimentary initial telephone consultation.

For more on coping with aging, follow us on Twitter: @DeborahFinsALCM.

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Should Mom Move In With You? The Answer Isn’t Obvious

For some families, it’s a no-brainer. Mom or Dad can’t live alone anymore. Time to give back for all those years of care and support, and make room for your aging parent in your home. To do otherwise would be unacceptable.

But the decision to have a parent (or other aging family member) live with you and your family is often not that clear-cut. Even when intentions are good and motivations selfless, the move may actually not be in your parent’s best interest—or your family’s.

Indeed, since the move affects everyone, it needs to be a family decision. Guilt over perceived obligations can be a strong influence, but shouldn’t be the determining factor. After all, what you want to achieve is a living situation that is truly going to help your parent, not simply assuage your guilt or ease social pressure.

Here are some key questions to consider:

1. What are your parent’s needs?

In an ideal world, inviting your aging parent to live in your home can be a great boon to everyone. There is a renewed opportunity to deepen your relationship, a chance to strengthen bonds with your children, a time to learn from and share with each other. If your parent is still in relatively good physical and cognitive health, the responsibilities and cost of care may be minimal.

Typically, however, the decision to move a parent is spurred by a health crisis. Your parent’s care needs may be significant and intensifying with time. That introduces a host of variables that may or may not be within your ability or means to address. A realistic, independent assessment by an Aging Life Care Professional® will help you to understand what’s at stake.

2. What help can you truly provide?

All the best intentions in the world can’t compensate for the real demands of caregiving for a frail adult whose health is compromised. You need both reliable information about your loved one’s health (consult with your parent’s physician) as well as an honest assessment of what you can actually do for your parent.

This includes being realistic about your own health, any family issues at home that demand attention and energy, work expectations and other time commitments. Are you really home enough to provide needed support? Do you need to hire outside support when you are not available? Can you afford to?

3. How well do you get along with your parent?

While the idea of having Mom or Dad live with you may sound like a wonderful chance for closeness, old issues and resentments are sure to surface. It’s certainly possible to resolve past conflicts, but living in close proximity can also intensify friction. In addition, clashes with your parent can aggravate conflicts with your own children or spouse. Once again, being realistic about your ability to get along and work through issues rather than simply hoping that everything will be fine is essential for everyone’s sanity and well-being.

4. Can your home accommodate your parent’s needs?

The physical layout of your home is a key factor in any decision to house your aging parent. Stairs, hallways too narrow for a wheelchair, bathrooms that present too many obstacles—these can create serious safety concerns. If your home is small, will moving your parent require one of your children to lose his or her bedroom, or a family room? How will that affect your family’s ability to be accepting of your parent—or will it cause too much resentment? If modifications are required to make your home accessible and safe for your parent, who will pay?

5. How will your parent’s presence affect the life of your family?

If you take on the role of primary caregiver for your parent at home, what will you be giving up? Caregiving is a serious time commitment. It can also be physically and emotionally stressful. Will you need to cut back at work, if you are employed? How will that affect your family finances?

If your parent demands more of your attention, your children may feel slighted and act out. They may also feel uncomfortable about bringing home friends or constrained in other ways about socializing. While you might argue that your parent sacrificed for you, and now it’s your turn to sacrifice for him or her, foisting that on the rest of your family without taking their true feelings and needs into consideration may not be either fair or wise.

6. How will your siblings or other family members be involved?

Your siblings may be grateful that you’ve stepped up to take care of Mom or Dad. They may also be jealous, judgmental and otherwise difficult. At the very least, it’s wise to discuss the move with your siblings, not only to keep open communications, but also to establish realistic expectations.

Caregiving, even if you do it yourself, can be costly—both in terms of needed equipment or home modification, as well as foregone income. Who will help you pay? You’ll also want to discuss ground rules regarding visits, advice and your own needs for emotional support and respite, so that you and your family can get away for vacations and other special times alone.

7. What is really best for your parent?

Your parent’s medical needs aren’t the only issues at stake. Mom or Dad’s emotional well-being is crucial, too. Even if you have a wonderful relationship, will you be home enough to provide the social companionship and stimulation that your parent needs? If dementia is a factor, while early stages may be manageable, do you have the time and patience—let alone physical and emotional strength—to be present and supportive of him or her as the disease advances?

None of us can really predict whether and how we could rise to the occasion of caring for an aging parent at home. The most important thing to remember is that the decision is not yours alone to make. Your parent’s desires should be respected, as well as your family’s. You, too, need to care for yourself. An Aging Life Care Professional® can help you to sort out the complexities and determine the best solution for everyone involved.

President of Deborah Fins Associates, PC, since 1995, Deborah Liss Fins is a licensed independent clinical social worker and certified Aging Life Care® Manager. Drawing on more than 35 years of professional experience in aging life care management, DFA offers comprehensive assessments and planning, guidance in selecting appropriate care, help identifying resources for financial support and professional consulting. Please contact us to set up a complimentary initial telephone consultation.

For more on coping with aging, follow us on Twitter: @DeborahFinsALCM.

View Privacy Policy here.

Image Credit: Christian Langballe

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What to Do When Fighting Over Mom’s Care Threatens to Destroy Your Family

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

So goes the oft-quoted opening sentence of Tolstoy’s classic Russian tragedy, Anna Karenina. Perhaps an oversimplification, but his words capture a basic truth that harmonious families often have common qualities, such as mutual respect and good communication skills. And families that fight find many ways to despise each other.

Especially when an aging parent needs care and siblings disagree over how to help, who is responsible, what care should cost and who’s paying, relationships can strain to the breaking point. Just because everyone is now an adult doesn’t mean that old family roles—the favorite, the decision-maker, the black sheep—disappear. For a family that struggles with power dynamics and listening to one another, the stress of watching Mom or Dad weaken can bring out the worst.

Triggers for disputes are many, but the big ones usually involve time, money and who’s in charge:

Who is going to care for Mom?
Often, this falls to the sibling who lives the closest. More often than not, even if several siblings live nearby, it falls to a daughter rather than a son, given social bias that caregiving is a woman’s responsibility. Problems arise when other siblings try to override whoever has taken on the mantle of primary caregiver. Sometimes those concerns are legitimate; maybe the sibling on the ground lacks capacity or good judgment. Other times, the faraway siblings may be butting in without taking any responsibility for their demands. Mom may complicate the picture by playing favorites. Or the primary caregiver may try to manipulate other siblings by playing the martyr.

Where should Dad live?
For some families, sending Dad to a nursing home is a violation of deeply held values about what children owe their parents. For others, the big issue is money. Keeping an ailing parent at home is an expensive proposition that can foster disputes over who is paying for what—especially if Dad’s savings can’t cover the expenses, or if an inheritance will be diminished in the process. The same goes for placement in assisted living or a nursing home. And the solution of moving Dad to live with one sibling or another involves a host of other issues—cost, accommodations, time constraints, competition with other family and/or work responsibilities, to name a few. Not to mention fighting over who gets him.

Who decides?
Whatever the argument, the ultimate question of a parent’s fate depends on whether Mom or Dad is competent to make decisions. If the answer is yes, but Mom leans on a favorite adult child (“Mom always liked you best!”) or rejects another, resentments fester. If the answer is maybe, siblings can get stuck arguing over Dad’s true intentions. And if the answer is no, more power struggles can arise over what to do if a parent’s desires were never clearly communicated and put into writing—and who should be designated to make those decisions.

How to Resolve Sibling Disputes

Bottom line: It’s complicated. What to do if sibling infighting is tearing the family apart—and eclipsing appropriate care for Mom or Dad? One solution is to bring in a certified mediator who specializes in elder care disputes. These professionals are trained to help your family resolve issues ranging from caregiver burnout to inheritance infighting. They focus on facilitating good communication, crafting thoughtful strategies and developing workable solutions for all parties involved.

Another option, if all are willing, is to work with a family therapist to deal with longstanding, destructive family dynamics that are impeding your ability to cooperate in your parent’s best interest.

Aging Life Care Managers® can also help your family to determine what your aging parent actually needs for services, appropriate living accommodations. access to qualified professional caregivers, resources for financial planning, how to assess the value of providing care, as well as guidance for resolving conflicts.

While it’s not always possible to mend all the ways that unhappy families are unhappy, when it comes to working through sibling conflicts over Mom or Dad’s care, an impartial, professional third party can help you take important steps toward mending relationships in order to reach the best decision with or for your parent. And that, of course, is what you all really want.

Related Posts
End-of-Life Choices: Honoring Your Loved One’s Humanity
Planning Ahead for a Medical Crisis: Must-Have Directives, Consents and Contact Information

President of Deborah Fins Associates, PC, since 1995, Deborah Liss Fins is a licensed independent clinical social worker and certified Aging Life Care® manager. Drawing on more than 35 years of professional experience in aging life care management, DFA offers comprehensive assessments and planning, guidance in selecting appropriate care, help identifying resources for financial support and professional consulting. Please contact us to set up a complimentary initial telephone consultation.

For more on coping with aging, follow us on Twitter: @DeborahFinsALCM.

View Privacy Policy here.

Image Credit: CloudVisual

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Celebrating Aging Life Care™ Month

May is Aging Life Care™ Month! So what do we means by Aging Life Care? It’s a holistic, client-centered approach to caring for older adults or others facing health challenges. An Aging Life Care Professional®  is a health and human services specialist who is a guide, advocate, and resource for families caring for an older relative or disabled adult. Working with families, we strive to provide answers at a time of uncertainty. We are dedicated to guiding families toward actions and decisions that ensure quality care and an optimal life for those they love, reducing worry, stress and time off work for family caregivers.

As members of the national Aging Life Care Association® (ALCA), we must meet stringent education, experience, and certification requirements of the organization, and all members are required to adhere to a strict code of ethics and standards of practice.

Deb will be speaking on Aging Life Care issues at several events, both national and local, this month:

May 11

ALCA 34th National Conference in Chicago
Panel discussion on “Awareness in Preparedness: Disaster Lessons”
Click here for details.

May 22

Worcester Alzheimer’s Partnership
“What is Aging Life Care™?” at Noon
100 North Parkway #105, Worcester, Mass.
508-799-2386

May 23

Alzheimer’s Association of Massachusetts and New Hampshire
A Map Through the Maze Conference for Alzheimer and Dementia Care Providers
“Collaborative Care Planning in the Community,” with Attorney Laura Traiger, at 10:45 a.m.
DCU Center, 50 Foster St., Worcester, Mass.
Click here for details.

President of Deborah Fins Associates, PC, since 1995, Deborah Liss Fins is a licensed independent clinical social worker and certified Aging Life Care® manager. Drawing on more than 35 years of professional experience in aging life care management, DFA offers comprehensive assessments and planning, guidance in selecting appropriate care, help identifying resources for financial support and professional consulting. Please contact us to set up a complimentary initial telephone consultation.

For more on coping with aging, follow us on Twitter: @DeborahFinsALCM.

Image Credit: Tiago Muraro

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How to Help Your Aging Parent Travel Safely to That Special Family Event

It’s that time of year when weekend calendars are jammed with graduations, weddings, award celebrations and other special family get-togethers. You want to include your aging parent in the festivities. But what happens when Mom or Dad lives farther away and is getting too frail to make the trip?

Here are some tips to help your aging loved one arrive safely:

1. Plan the shortest, most direct route.

Whether your loved one is traveling alone or with a companion, it’s worth the added expense to keep her travel as easy and time-limited as possible. Travel, especially by air, is tiring for everyone, due to long security lines, crowded flights and unpredictable delays. Having to get up early to get to the airport, arrive late at night, or make connections through a large terminal is exhausting for even younger, seasoned travelers. Whether your parent is able to travel alone or not, encourage her to spend the extra for non-stop, midday flights. And if she’s concerned about cost, offer to help pay.

2. Make advance arrangements for your parent’s special needs.

Airlines and airport authorities in the U.S. are required by law to provide accessible bathrooms at the airport as well as other accommodations, such as electronic cart or wheelchair transport to the gate. Plan ahead for special needs. Contact the airline’s disability specialist at least 48 hours in advance to make arrangements for onboard wheelchairs and other medical equipment. You’ll find a good overview in this article from Senior Care Advice.

3. Clear travel with your parent’s doctor, if necessary.

Here’s where you need to weigh the stress of travel for your loved one against his desire (and yours) to join in the family celebration. The last thing you want is for travel to trigger a health emergency! While there’s no way to prevent every medical crisis, some can be avoided with common sense and a healthy dose of precaution about what is really doable. Consider, too, whether the stress of travel would overwhelm a parent who might become disoriented or confused due to dementia or other cognitive conditions.

4. Be sure your loved one has travel insurance.

It’s worth the money to be certain that any medical emergencies are covered when your parent is away from medical support within her health plan network. Travel insurance also helps to cover unanticipated costs of cancellations, delays and other travel mishaps, such as lost luggage.

5. Accompany your loved one on the trip or arrange for a trustworthy travel companion.

Whether you (or another family member or friend) can travel with your parent is, of course, a matter of schedules and logistics. If your loved one is well enough to travel, but too easily fatigued or confused in high stimulus environments (like crowded airport terminals), or has special needs, then it’s worth ensuring that he has someone with him along the way. There are services that will help your loved one to make all travel arrangements as well as provide trustworthy travel companions. Be prepared and do your research: These services come with a hefty price tag.

6. If your parent is traveling alone, make sure she is met by someone reliable at the end of her journey.

It goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway. Your aging loved one will be tired from travel. Even if she’s always been the gung-ho, organized planner of the family, give her a break, a warm greeting, and a hand with luggage and transportation to wherever she is staying.

7. Be clear about whose needs are being met.

This is probably the most important piece. Don’t guilt-trip your parent into travel when it’s really more than he can handle. In the age of the Internet, we’re fortunate to have options for virtual visits via video chat. While being there in person is preferable, there are times when cyberspace travel is a better, safer choice.

President of Deborah Fins Associates, PC, since 1995, Deborah Liss Fins is a licensed independent clinical social worker and certified Aging Life Care® manager. Drawing on more than 35 years of professional experience in aging life care management, DFA offers comprehensive assessments and planning, guidance in selecting appropriate care, help identifying resources for financial support and professional consulting. Please contact us to set up a complimentary initial telephone consultation.

For more on coping with aging, follow us on Twitter: @DeborahFinsALCM.

Image Credit: Omar Prestwich

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