Having a healthy fear of the flu

Having a healthy fear of the flu

It had been a long time since I’d been around someone with the actual flu, but over the New Year’s holiday two of my friends came down with the virus.

Now I can clearly see I hadn’t given the flu enough respect.

One friend is a working mom with two children under the age of 8. The other is a working single 50-something woman with two pets. The working mom got the flu shot; the single gal did not.

Both of them were very sick, and even though they went to urgent care and were prescribed Tamiflu (or its generic version), both were down for the count for a good seven days and neither could complete a full day of work on their first day back.

It reminded me how glad I am that I get my flu shot each year and how lucky I was not to have caught the flu from them.

I accompanied one of my friends to her urgent care visit as she was unable to drive.

Doctor’s order is best gift of all

Doctor’s order is best gift of all

With a yearlong waiting list to enter a skilled-nursing facility for long-term care, my father was placed on palliative care at home recently. While it may not seem so, it was an early Christmas gift for our family.

The occupational therapist who had been helping teach my mother and sister how to safely transfer my father asked my father’s physician about a palliative-care consult, and the physician put in the order.

My father has advanced Parkinson’s, but he is not near the end of his life. He doesn’t have pain, but his breathing is labored, he has significant fatigue, he is depressed (who wouldn’t be?) and he has bowel and bladder issues. For all intents and purposes, he is homebound.

The local home health agency that was providing occupational therapy also has a palliative care and hospice division. So the same agency sent a new person to the home to evaluate my father.

Give gift of happy memories

Give gift of happy memories

As we age, our memories seem more significant, and more vivid.

Holidays are a great time for sharing memories. At our holiday events we inevitably end up in fits of laughter, holding our sides and wiping away tears.

Some of our stories get retold each year. Like the time my dad was using a blowtorch to remove the paint from the window frame and burned my mother’s silk curtains. Or when my sister at 5 years old asked how they trained monkeys to use guns—this was after she heard on television about the guerrilla troops fighting the war in the 1960s.

It doesn’t matter whether we are with our “real” family or with our local family of friends; memories offer an intimate view into others’ perceptions and can be a wonderful bonding experience.

This past holiday with our local family of friends we played “The Voting Game,” a card game intended to reveal the personalities of those who play. It was a lot of fun, and we learned a lot more about how we feel about one another.

Here are some questions that may elicit some good memories at your next family gathering:

This holiday season, don’t forget to shine your light on others

This holiday season, don’t forget to shine your light on others

“It feels good to be a part of the universe as it shines upon others,” Acorn’sFamily Man” columnist Michael Picarella recently noted.

Why is helping someone an action we associate with the feeling of being happy?

One explanation is that in doing so we experience “vicarious joy,” or the pleasure we get from improving another’s situation or well-being.

Holidays seem to be a time when many of us look to see how we can help others.

Actions can be as simple as putting coins in the kettle for the Salvation Army, dropping off baked goods for an elderly neighbor or driving a friend to an appointment.

Acts of kindness happen all the time between individuals, both friends and strangers. Facebook is filled with stories of one human helping another. And more often than not, the person doing the helping feels they got more out of the experience (vicarious joy) than the person they helped.

On aging with grace

On aging with grace

Earlier this year, history.com cited the “Seven Most Contentious U.S. Presidential Elections.” The current election had not, at that point, made the list.

I think it is safe to say that during this past presidential race, very little grace was shown at a time when our country could have used courtesy and goodwill from our candidates.

As two senior presidential candidates (ages 69 and 70) were campaigning to be the leader of the United States, each had the opportunity to be a notable role model for our younger citizens. They had the opportunity to demonstrate aging with grace.

By aging with grace, I don’t mean being comfortable with your wrinkles, gray hair or a few extra pounds. I mean living and acting in a state of awareness and seeing conversations, events and actions from multiple points of view.

There is a secret to aging with grace. 

Understanding new roles in healthcare

Understanding new roles in healthcare

Most of us know that hospital staffing is made up of doctors and nurses. But if you haven’t visited a hospital lately, you may not know about the evolving set of specialties found in today’s hospitals.

Where is my primary care doctor?

A relatively new trend in the care of hospitalized patients is the “hospitalist,” a doctor who specializes in the care of such patients. In most instances, it will be the hospitalist, not your primary care physician, who will be treating you during your stay.

Hospitalists are most often board-certified internal medicine doctors who have training and experience in caring for the complexities of the hospitalized. Because they do not have a community practice, they’re able to concentrate on patient care, testing and timely communication with everyone from the patient to their families, other physicians and the nursing staff.

A hospitalist’s “home base” is the hospital, so they are experts at navigating the policies and protocols within that setting. This is a great benefit to the patient. The downside is they may not be familiar with a patient’s medical history or their current medications.

Picking the right skilled-nursing facility

Picking the right skilled-nursing facility

An individual typically takes one of two paths to a skilled nursing facility: straight from the hospital or from home when they become too frail or sick to care for themselves.

In the first case, when the stay is for temporary doctor-ordered rehabilitation, the patient rarely has a say about which facility they’re transferred to. Instead, the decision is based upon bed availability, which facilities have connections to the hospital and the patient’s insurance plan.

In the second case, patients, most often seniors, do have a choice—if they do their planning and research.

Begin by figuring out which skilled-nursing facilities are covered by your Medicare plan. My parents, for example, have a Medicare HMO plan. With most HMO plans, you can go only to doctors, healthcare providers or hospitals on the plan’s list, except in an emergency.

Since my father will soon be living at a skilled-nursing facility and may need medical care there in the future, it’s important that he’s able to use his Medicare coverage plan to pay for treatment.

Dealing with the most difficult transition

Dealing with the most difficult transition

Next week we begin the heart-wrenching steps to place my father in a skilled-nursing facility in New Hampshire.

Parkinson’s disease has taken its toll on him and on my mother, his caregiver. I am thankful this day was so long in coming— over 20 years from the date of his diagnosis—but still too soon for all of us.

Over the past month my father has lost his ability to assist with his care, especially transfer r ing f rom bed to chair to commode and back. On a good day, or moment, my sister and mother can help him make the short trip. On a bad day, like a few weeks ago, my sister and my mother struggled for an hour to get my father—upon returning from getting his flu shot—out of the car and back into the house, even with the help of a third person.

In the best sense of the word, my mother is a martyr, having sacrificed her own pleasure and well-being for years to ensure my father lives with the greatest level of dignity and enjoyment.

Widows may see benefits in shared housing

Widows may see benefits in shared housing

Today, widowed persons make up fully one-third of the U.S. population age 65 and older. The vast majority of them are women. Women are more likely than men to be widowed for two reasons.

First, women live longer than men. And second, women tend to marry older men, although the gap has been narrowing.

For several decades, the proportion of our senior population living alone has been increasing, especially among those age 85 and older, and more people are living alone now than at any point in the country’s history.

Losing a spouse is one of the most traumatic events that can occur in a person’s life. Oftentimes there is a snowball effect—first the trauma of losing the life partner and then the trauma of living alone.

According to “The Lonely American: Drifting Apart in the Twenty-first Century,” authors Drs. Jacqueline Olds and Richard S. Schwartz cite studies that living alone increases social isolation as well as loneliness and results in reduced happiness, health and longevity.

New rituals for an aging society

New rituals for an aging society

Rituals are as old as humankind, and they transform over time as our culture changes.

Consider the days when girls were considered the property of their fathers. Marriage was less about love than it was a business transaction—the father giving his daughter to another man and the man promising to support her.

We still see remnants of this ritual in today’s traditional wedding ceremonies, with the father of the bride walking his daughter down the aisle to “give her away” to the groom.

Rituals often involve a rite of passage, a marking of an important stage in someone’s life. We have birth rituals like naming ceremonies, wedding rituals like walking the bride down the aisle and death rituals like a wake or a funeral.

Rituals are a way to publicly acknowledge a change in status or a new stage of life.

But what happens when we don’t have rituals for the new normal in our society?

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