Are we facing a loneliness epidemic?

Are we facing a loneliness epidemic?

Joanie and her husband lived a full life, busy careers and wonderful vacation trips after retirement.

Today, Joanie sits silently, alone in front of her television, eating her dinner.

Joanie’s life partner died five years ago at the age of 74, and now that he’s gone, a week can go by without her connecting with a single human being.

Hearing-impaired, she has settled into a life of seclusion.

Joanie possesses the financial net worth to enjoy life, activities, trips, outings and events, but what she lacks is a social network. She is one of millions of seniors suffering from social isolation.

AARP estimates that more than 8 million older adults are affected by this trend.

Socially connected seniors are those who have relationships present in their lives, who have friends or family they can rely on and who are satisfied with those relationships.

As parents age, denial sets in for adult kids

Fear is often root cause

As parents age, denial sets in for adult kids
In my conversations with home-care agencies, residentialcare facilities and hands-on family caregivers, I hear an almost universal challenge: family members who are in denial about their senior loved one’s mental, physical or emotional health.

 

“Dad has never been violent,” says the son whose father with dementia punched the female caregiver in the chest.

“I visited Mom last week and she seemed fine to me,” says the daughter who’s been told her mother is taking and hoarding the possessions of other residents.

“I think you’re exaggerating,” says the brother who lives hours away after being told by his sibling that their father is ready for hospice care.

According to the Mayo Clinic, “Denial is a psychological defense we use to reduce our anxiety when dealing with a stressful situation.”

When caregiving becomes too much

When caregiving becomes too much

Over the years, I’ve watched family caregivers perform heroic acts in caring for their loved ones. I’ve seen spouses and adult children give up their work and social life—and essentially any semblance of freedom—to devote themselves 24/7.

Many of these individuals began their caregiving journey years earlier, perhaps somewhat in the dark about the changes that would occur as their loved ones’ physical, mental and personal needs increased. These caregivers continually added more duties to their plate, often more than any one person should ever be expected to do.

I’m both reassured and troubled by this phenomenon.

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.

The yin and yang of caregiving

The yin and yang of caregiving

On a recent trip home to New Hampshire I felt the yin and yang of family caregiving or, more specifically, the interconnected and sometimes opposing forces of the local family caregiver and the long-distance ones.

While my mother is the primary caregiver for my father, my sister Carla, who lives less than 5 miles from my parents, assists them with all their needs. She picks up groceries, accompanies my parents to appointments, sits with my father so my mother can run an errand, attends doctor appointments and joins my mother on her respite outings.

She’s also the one who is enlisted to help transfer my father when he falls, fix the internet or TV when my mother’s skills are outmatched or interpret complex insurance and financial forms.

About four years ago, as my parents realized their needs exceeded their abilities, all three daughters suggested Mom and Dad move closer. Their choices included New HampshireConnecticut and California.

Spa day

Here’s a snippet from a recent phone conversation I had with my mother, who speaks with a thick New England accent.

Mom: “Yesterday I took Daddy for his checkup with the doctor. The doctor asked Daddy how he was doing. Daddy pointed his finger at me and said, ‘I think she’s had it with me.’”

Me: “Why would Daddy say that?”

Mom: “I told the doctor I was very tired and maybe not as patient as I should be. I said I just needed a good night’s rest and I would be fine. Dr. Nguyen told me I needed to go to a bar (pronounced baah).”

Me: “What?? He told you to go to a bar? Man, I like this doctor.”

Mom: "No, no, not a baah—a spa!"

A future look at caregiving

A 2009 study concluded that the majority of family caregivers are white, female, employed, average 50 years of age and help in the care of a relative, often their mother.

The support systems for seniors and their family caregivers are built around this pattern.

Since the world is changing at lightning speed, I wonder what caregivers might look like in 2050.

The first step is to take a look at the changes coming to the senior population.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, by 2050 our population will be older and more ethnically and racially diverse. Minorities in the senior population today represent one-third of the population, but

The expanding role of pharmacies for family caregivers

pharmacyAs a family caregiver, my local pharmacy has been a great resource for me in the care of my aging loved ones. Besides stocking a cornucopia of items I never thought I’d be searching for—liners for adult diapers, oral rinse for dry mouth, compression stockings—my pharmacy offers a valuable service I never knew existed. While caring for my dad, my mother and I took advantage of CVS’s “brown bag” review of prescription medications. At one time, my father was taking 13 different medications at eight different times during the day. We gathered all of his prescriptions as well as his over-the-counter medications and brought them to his CVS pharmacist. She reviewed the prescriptions and doses and checked for any possible interactions. Since my father has a chronic health condition (Parkinson’s), is being treated by more than one physician and takes over-the-counter medications, it was really helpful to have all of his medications reviewed as a whole. For example, we learned one of the...

Nominate a caregiver-friendly workplace

happy office workerA recent article in the Los Angeles Times titled “The Caregiver’s Dilemma” chronicled the author’s struggle to care for herself as she looked after her mother, who has dementia and was in a rehab facility with a broken hip. As I read the article, I could feel the author’s exhaustion. When she concluded that she could not take care of both herself and her mother at the same time, stating, “It’s one or the other, one at a time,” I completely understood what she meant. So many of us are becoming unpaid family caregivers, and the toll is not just on the caregiver. People are astonished when I tell them that family caregivers provide 80 percent of the long-term care services in this country and those services are valued at $577 billion—more than the total cost of Medicare. Yes, caregiving is a silent epidemic. Those caring for loved ones are often thrust into unexpected roles that are complex, costly and stressful. It’s not just a social issue; it’s a workplace issue too. According...

My whine moment

whiningFor those who know me, I am more apt to have a “wine” moment than a “whine” moment, but every so often you just gotta give in to complaining. Even though I consider myself to be in good health physical ailments can still be a bother. For me of late, it’s been my shoulder. Several years ago, I was in my house playing catch with the dog and tripped and fell, dislocating and breaking my right shoulder. My husband would be the first to say he told me not to run in the house, but it happened. Five years after the injury, I’m still in pain. Come to find out, injuries like a broken shoulder can result in joint damage and cause post-traumatic arthritis. And a body can compensate for a once-broken bone in not-so healthy ways—like when other body parts take over for the injured area, thereby creating new problems. My shoulder hurts when I reach up for a dish in the cupboard, when I stretch my arms to fold sheets and towels, and when I put my arm around my husband or my dog. These little...

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