Flu is here and for the next couple of months or so many of us will need to take precautions to prevent, if possible, getting sick.
Some influenza seasons are worse than others, and this year appears to be more severe than the last few flu seasons. But no matter what year it is, it’s doubly important to help aging parents avoid influenza exposure as much as possible — for elders every season is a severe flu season, and no senior of any age should get very far into the fall months without getting a vaccination at a physician’s office, pharmacy, or local clinic.
Today I went to Google Flu Trends to learn where in the United States influenza is hitting the hardest, and right now this dynamic mapping site indicates that the flu is everywhere. Google collects its data by keeping track of internet searches for symptoms such as fever, headache, or sore muscles. The collected search statistics turn out to be good predictors of what parts of the country are experiencing influenza-like illnesses.
Right now, January 12, 2013, the Google flu map shows that the flu is widespread — almost every state in the U.S. is the same bright read color, indicating that lots of people are sick with the flu and searching to learn more. A user can click in each state to look at the influenza-related searches from there. Click on the map to visit Google Flu Trends. Read more »
Each year, during the two-month holiday season, I see an article or two urging adult children to use the holiday visits as an opportunity to spy — discretely, of course — during family gatherings. The goal is to discover how well parents are doing.
When it comes to the instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs) and the activities of daily living (ADLs), the trick is to observe how well these tasks are accomplished and share those observations with a parent. I know that writers are using the word spy in a puckish manner — trying to add a bit of levity to a serious and potentially stressful family situation, but I’d still like to lose the word.
As we go about helping our parents find ways to maintain independence while aging gracefully, we need to be honest and direct — as much as possible. Sure, it’s difficult to speak about extra support and less independence when a parent who has lead a successful and fulfilling life feels a great sense of loss.
However, the concept of spying, no matter how discrete, just complicates the communication.
A few years ago, when my mother-in-law was sinking deeper and deeper into dementia, my husband and I suddenly realized, with some help from professional geriatric counselors, that the devious brain disease had been lurking for some time. Although we had noticed a number of memory issues and behaviors, we continually chalked them up to mundane issues of aging and personality. By the time we realized what was really going on and got serious about supporting his mother, she was well into the fourth stage of dementia, and we had missed many opportunities to offer support.
When I first read Inside the Dementia Epidemic by Martha Stettinius, I could not put it down. Right in front of my eyes, the author described and documented almost every step that her mother (and ours) experienced, first early on and then as it progressed incrementally. I wish that the book had been around for us to read five or six years ago.
Inside the Dementia Epidemic should be required reading for anyone who is beginning to notice changes and to feel concern about an elderly parent. Stettinius writes clearly, though not without emotion, about her caregiving role and her mother’s developing illness, sharing observations, explaining how her mother was changing, noting the effects of caregiving on her family’s life, and documenting the many caregiver support services that she found to be personally helpful. She describes the nuances of aging parental finances, sharing what she learned, pinpointing her mistakes, and highlighting the difficult decisions that she and her husband made.
When my husband’s mother lived in an excellent assisted living community, we found severe weather to be a challenge. Huge storms, no matter what the season, made it difficult to stay in touch.
Gail Sheehy’s November 3, 2012 article about elder and medical caregiving during Hurricane/Superstorm Sandy is posted over at Caring.com. It’s a must-read for adult children whose elder parents live in caregiving settings or if a senior parent expects visits from visiting nurses or other home care assistants.
In How Assisted Living and In-Home Care Providers Responded to Superstorm Sandy, Sheehy explains that senior caregivers and visiting nurses went to great lengths to ensure the safety and health of the people in their care. She also describes efforts to remain in touch with adult children and other family members.
Up and down the northeast corridor dedicated and caring individuals continued to provide care during the storm, sometimes even moving in with a patient for the few days so they could be sure no lapse in care occurred. Other nurses and caregivers waded through water, talked themselves through police roadblocks, and found novel ways to charge their portable devices.
We’ve all had experiences trying to accomplish a task that is way too hard — and one reason it’s so difficult is because the environment is not designed to help a person function and work efficiently. Many of us have watched our aging parents grow frustrated, especially in medical settings, where equipment and furniture is overly complex and where even simple things, like light switches, sometimes look like they belong in the complex control panel of an airplane. And it’s not just elders, but patients in general. In the biography by Walter Isaacson, Apple Computer’s Steve Job, then seriously ill and hospitalized, noted that hospital equipment needed dramatic redesigning.
To learn more check out Empowering Patients Through Design, a short article at Wired Science reporting on a speech at the Wired Health Conference. The October 15, 2012 article describes Michael Graves’ presentation, explaining how he became a hospital patient and then discovered that he could no longer function efficiently — even in a rehabilitation setting. The medical rooms, equipment, and other materials were poorly designed for people with disabilities.
Graves, a renown architect, found a new calling, combining his professional knowledge with his experience as a patient and becoming a proponent of human centered design. This type of architecture aims to make health care environments, as well as other settings, more comfortable and user-friendly. “I decided that since I was a designer and architect and a patient, I have the credentials to do this,” Graves said at the conference.
In health care human centered design focuses on every part of the patient’s care experience from hospital and patient rooms to floors, light switches, and even signs. Graves and his group have designed hospital furniture that takes the specific needs of patients into consideration.
Adult children who help aging parents should check out the Washington Post article At End of Life, Medicare Beneficiaries Spend Thousands Out-of-Pocket. Reporter Sarah Kliff explains that a recent study, Out of Pocket Spending in the Last Five Years of Life (abstract), published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, examined the amount of money that aging Medicare recipients spend on health care during the last five years of life. The abstract leads to the first two pages of the study, freely available.
According to the Post article, “The average Medicare beneficiary spent $38,688 out-of-pocket during the last five years of life.” This is in addition to the portion that Medicare covers. The Post article also features two excellent charts.
Researchers studied people who died between 2002 and 2008 using data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), based at the University of Michigan. HRS is a large nationally representative study funded launched in 1992 and funded by the National Institute on Aging.
These tips for adult children and their families look like common sense suggestions. Often however, when family members seek an assisted living community for an elder parent, they need to make decisions quickly without much time to read all of the fine print and ask the less obvious questions. Sometimes time constraints can put common sense at the bottom of the list.
Check out item number eight in the Smart Money list, “We pay people to put you here.” A family needs to know a lot about the placement service itself before considering its recommendations for an assisted living community.
Our family was most fortunate to discover Chesterbrook Residences in Northern, Virginia, where my husband’s mother lived for nearly two years. Their policies were transparent and clear.
On her Facebook page A Bittersweet Season author, Jane Gross, mentioned that one of her book interviews with On Being radio host, Krista Tippett, will re-air today (Thursday, July 26, 2012). Gross wrote her book after her journey in the elder parent caregiving world, and she shares a broad range of insights, ideas, and thoughts.
I listened to this program when it was originally broadcast, and it’s worth hearing the program again — my NPR station has it on right now.
On Facebook Gross, who started the New Old Age blog, wrote:
”On Being,” a popular NPR radio program hosted by Krista Tippett about the big questions at the center of human life, will re-air today their interview with me about A BITTERSWEET SEASON. It’s probably my favorite interview of all the ones I did over the past year about the book.
All of Tippett’s On Being radio programs are archived and available for listeners. Schedule issues keep me from hearing every program broadcast on my local NPR station, so I often listen to past shows when I am driving.