Caregiving During the Holidays

christmasvisits-resized-600As the holiday season approaches, it is helpful to be proactive in your caregiving role. Here are a few ways to find balance in your holiday festivities. Whether you are a family member or an employee, proper planning can ensure a holiday season that is fabulous for the aging.

Here are a few options for your consideration.

• Alter traditions to make them appropriate for your loved one with dementia
For example, large family gatherings can be overwhelming and stressful. A few smaller gatherings, if at all possible over the holiday, would be far more effective for the person with dementia.

• Send a letter to family and friends prior to the holiday, to assist them on how to successfully visit with your loved one. Members of our support group report that this has proven to be very effective for both the person with dementia and those who are unsure of what to say or how to approach conversations in an appropriate manner. “Dad loves to talk about his garden” Recommend they ask him simply yes/no questions so he isn’t struggling to find a particular answer. “Did you get many tomatoes this year?” is a much easier question for him to answer than “What kinds of things did you plant this year?”

• If it isn’t working, switch gears! Don’t try and stick to a plan that is causing frustration or anxiety for the person with dementia. Completing the gingerbread house doesn’t matter in the big scheme of things, the time together at the table does.

Screen Shot 2014-10-31 at 8.21.34 AM• Have fun, use humor and enjoy what is possible instead of trying to recapture what is no longer possible.

• Your caregiving role is important but also realize that this is your holiday as well. Allow yourself to enjoy the holiday season, creating new traditions and memories with your loved ones.

• If someone offers to help, say YES! Whether it is emptying the dishwasher or encouraging you to hit a Black Friday sale with your daughter for an hour or two, accept help when it is offered. You deserve it!

• It is okay to alter time-honored traditions to capture the spirit of the event. Grandma’s Christmas cookies can be altered to one batch of sugar cookies with everything out and ready to use, instead of a daylong event. A cup of tea with a sample of her hard work would be a lovely way to alter this tradition.

• Allow yourself to permission to say “no” if you feel overwhelmed by an invitation. Going to the restaurant for brunch on New Year’s Day may have always been a delightful family tradition. If it seems like too much to ask of your loved one who has had a lot of visitors and alterations to his/her normal routine, it is perfectly acceptable to decline this year.

Most importantly, less is sometimes more, and reminiscing is a fabulous use of your time. Those stories of old that can come out during the holiday season are the ones you want to be sure and have in your own mind.

Enjoy the holidays!!!

Meet Reggie, World War II Cryptologist

imgres-2We welcome submissions by other bloggers, and our marketing company’s Managing Director, Christine Merser, met Reggie, one of our clients while she was here working on our videos. This is her personal blog that we thought was perfect for a guest blogger’s post. If you would like to guest blog, do get in touch!

Sometimes my work makes a lucky girl. I do strategic marketing, and we have a client — Extended Family, out of Portsmouth New Hampshire — that is launching something called Ageless Lifestyle, which is all about providing information so you can minimize the effects of age by adopting a lifestyle that allows your body to be its best self all through your seventies, eighties, and nineties. As someone who has been way too busy to chat with my body much over the past 60 years, I’ve found it to be an eye opener.

One of the things we are doing with them is setting up “Ageless Interviews.” These are interviews with people who have gone before us, one or two generations ahead, in which we learn something fabulous about their lives.

I met Reggie when we were working on this project, and she and I hit it off. I was graced by her presence. I was graced by her life, and the possibilities it suggested for my own life … and my daughter’s life, and her daughter’s life. She was a trailblazer. I just didn’t know about her.

Reggie graduated from Barnard College in 1942. Following graduation she went with two girlfriends to DC, where she worked in the Japanese Code Breaking Group. Oh, my goodness! I asked her when we first met if she had seen the message they sent us declaring war, and she said she’d seen a copy of it at the office. Of course she had, because we all have copies of things like that lying around our offices too. I couldn’t get enough of her. After the war she worked for Glamour magazine from 1946 until sometime in the early fifties. We will be posting videos of those stories as well. Reggie is in her nineties; she lives alone with the help of Extended Family, and she has so many stories to tell that I can’t wait to go back on my own and take her to lunch.

Take a look at the video of her describing her work in Washington during the war. It’s worth the three minutes. Trust me. (Yes, that’s my voice in the background asking her questions. Do I really sound like that?)

This experience made me pause for a moment. How many other stories are out there in our communities? Stories that should be told, that must be heard by us all? My grandparents were long gone before I hit my teens. My mother and father have both passed away within the last three years. My biggest regret is that I didn’t take more time to sit with them and hear their stories. If you are lucky enough to have people in your lives who have untold stories, take a moment. Make a lunch date. Ask the kinds of questions they will not answer without some prodding. Then e-mail me. I want to hear them all.

Christine Merser is a blogger with two blogs of note: Freesia Lane, where she muses about this and that, and her blog, More Than Movies, where she reviews films. 


Meet Mary Lincoln

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMany people look to retirement as a time to kick back, stop working, enjoy life’s little pleasures, and travel. After almost fifty years of working to make a living, we all deserve that break. But into the later years, our bodies slow down, and travel isn’t as easy as it once was. Maybe our kids live far away, and doing daily activities gets more and more difficult. One 86-year-old member of Extended Family, a Portsmouth-based organization that provides premium services to elderly clients who choose to live at home, has found a way to keep contributing to society, continue her education, and keep her mind busy.

Mary Lincoln has had a full life to this point. Her family is from the Portsmouth area, and she grew up with her aunt and uncle in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. She attended college to study education. She spent two years at Vassar College, but her education was interrupted by the war, her marriage, and the birth of her children. Later, when Mary was a single parent raising three children, she worked as a preschool teacher while her kids were in school. She became passionate about early childhood education, and the effect education has on young developing minds.

Mary’s aunt and uncle were close friends with the German developmental psychologist Erik Erikson and his wife. According to Wikipedia, Erikson was “known for his theory on social development of human beings, and for coining the phrase identity crisis.” Mary’s close association with the famous scholar helped fueled Mary’s interest in child psychology.

When her kids were older, Mary decided to go back to school to finish her degree. She attended Tufts University, and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in education. But this still was not enough. Her desire to learn pushed her to keep going, and she continued her education at Harvard University, while working as a preschool teacher, and earned her Master’s degree in education. Living in Brookline, MA, at he time, Mary soon became a consultant/advisor for the New England Association for Nursery Education, specializing in preschool education. She also helped at university preschools’ “laboratory schools” that trained student teachers.

Even after a long and successful career, and raising three driven and successful children, Mary’s eagerness to give back remains strong. For the last year, she has been authoring an essay with a thesis that supports the reform of preschool education. She believes it should be mandatory, state funded, and available as part of the welfare program for families who cannot afford to send their children to private preschools.

When asked why she is writing this piece, Mary answered, “Because preschool is so important. The advances children can make between the ages of 3 and 5 are profound.” She adds, “Families with hardships need help, and this time in a child’s education is no less important for those families.” Mary became committed to this cause when she herself was a single parent who needed a little help with her children’s education.

How does she find the energy? Mary believes that a good night’s sleep, eating right, and exercise are all important to maintaining a healthy amount of energy. In addition to working on this essay two to four hours a day, which she says keeps her mind alive, she walks two to three times a week, and attends a yoga class weekly to keep body moving. She enjoys the challenge of keeping up with modern technology, using the computer, and the discipline of keeping her education current with continued research and extensive reading. And I’d like to remind you, she’s 86. She feels lucky to be so healthy at her age and to have the ability, capacity, and drive to write her essay.

She watches television to keep informed about political and current events. She sees young people as very important, and thinks it necessary for them to “keep an eye on the government and insist that it makes sense.”

Meet Mary Lincoln is part of our Meet the Ageless Series to introduce the gifts and historical significance that those that have gone before bring to our lives. If you have someone you’d like to introduce through our series, let us know. We’d love to hear from you and to hear about them.  

Second Chances

Strolling through the parcCan one have a second chance?

I’m 70 years old. I was married for 50 years to my high school sweetheart. My husband and I raised 4 beautiful and successful children and are proud of our 9 grandchildren. We survived a war together, the wild 60’s and more than one recession. Then one day I woke up and I was alone. You see, my Henry died 1 year ago today.

As I look back on this year, much of it seems like a blur; the kids trying to comfort me, while trying to comfort themselves; friends and neighbors calling, dropping off meals and inviting me to social gatherings. When I found myself alone in the house, I felt Henry there. I kept the news shows and sporting events that he watched on the television. Accept that he was no longer sitting in his favorite chair; the house sounded and seemed as before.
What I am not mentioning is the day of the funeral and the days after. The one strong arm I remember was that of John, Henry’s roommate from college. John and Evie were married shortly after Henry and me, and the 4 of us were best friends. We did everything together. We vacationed with our kids together, John and Henry played golf most every Saturday, and Evie and I played tennis and planned dinner parties together. Who ever imagined someone as vibrant as Evie would die of cancer the year that John retired?

Now it is just John and me. At first it was an old, dear friend helping me bury my husband, while both of us tried to rebuild our lives without a best friend and a sweet husband by our sides. John would fix things around the house for me, drop by to see if I needed anything, and call from time to time to check in on me.

Now it is more than that. The fondness that I felt for John all of those years has turned into a kind of love, not the love I had for Henry, but a love just the same. Is this real or is it just a convenient arrangement? We are so comfortable together. It is the same but different. At first, John started staying a little longer for a cup of coffee, then a glass of wine. We started to have fun and laugh together, like when it was the four of us. This sometimes made us feel guilty, like we were cheating on Henry and Evie. We dealt with this uneasy feeling by one of us pulling back and slowing the other down; we even avoided mentioning Henry or Evie’s name.

Today I decided it is time to relax and just let this happen. I honestly don’t think Henry will mind, or Evie for that matter. I would want Henry to move on and not be alone for the rest of his life. A few months ago John suggested we take a trip together after the holidays. Although people know John and I spend time together, this would be the first time we were truly open to the world about our relationship. I worried how the kids would take it. Would they be shocked or even angry? I drew on advice I gave to them over the years, “You can’t always worry about what other people think. You know what is right for you. Be true to yourself, don’t hurt anyone along the way, and just go for it”!

Can I do this? Am I too old to start over? Can I be comfortable enough with myself and my body to love another man? I decided I had to try. So tentatively picking up the phone, I dialed John’s number…

Second Chances is part of our Walk in My Shoes Series. If you want to submit a piece for our blog, email us. We’d love to give it a place to speak your truth. 

We Know You Don’t Want to Exercise. Alas.

images-4I know you don’t want to exercise, but you have to!

Only 32% of adults 65 and older follow a regular plan of exercise. Studies show that the reason for this is fear of falling, fear of chest pain and fear of becoming short of breath. Older adults also believe they should not exercise because of their disease state. They feel that inactivity is just part of getting old.

The benefits of exercise for older adults are numerous: lowers overall mortality, lowers risk of diseases – heart, colon cancer, breast cancer, diabetes – lower risk of obesity, decreases blood pressure, improves mood, decreases depression, relieves symptoms of arthritis, lowers risk of falling, improves sleep, decreases constipation, increases metabolism, and improves posture and flexibility.

Now, how can you get started?

First of all, your program should include 3 complementary areas:


Find a friend to walk with, briskly, for 30 minutes, 5-7 times per week. This will condition your heart and lungs, build endurance, as well as improve your bone density. In the bad weather, walk in the mall.
2. Strength Train – I know you can’t picture yourself weight lifting, but you have to, and you have to 2-3 times per week. This will build and maintain strong muscles and bones. You can join a gym or get a personal trainer to work with you for a few sessions to get you started on a program. You can start your own program at home by buying a book such as the one by Miriam Nelson, Ph.D., called Strong Women, Strong Bones. Miriam Nelson, a professor at Tufts University, conducted research that was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Her research showed that after a year of strength training twice a week, women’s bodies were 15 to 20 years more youthful; they had less fat and more muscle; bone loss was prevented or reversed; their strength and energy increased dramatically; and they showed surprising gains in balance and flexibility. This book shows you how to tailor a program to your needs. It is filled with inspiring quotes and motivational tips. My favorite story is about the 90 year old woman who could not walk up stairs at all. After following the program for 12 weeks, she can now walk up stairs, 2 at a time!
Another good book is Growing Stronger by Rebecca A. Seguin, M.S., CSCS. You can also check out their website.

Flexibility and Balance

Good flexibility and balance will prevent injuries and falls. Work on flexibility and balance 3 times a week to maintain it, 5-7 times a week to improve it. Studies show a direct correlation between decreased strength with loss of balance and increased risk of falls. The books I just mentioned above will also guide you in flexibility and balance work.

Some of the strength training and flexibility and balance work can be done while you are watching television, talking on the phone or listening to your favorite music.

Here are some motivational tips for starting your program:

• Start slowly, with both the number of exercises that you do and the length of each session
• Use visualization daily: visualize yourself completing a great work out
• Take responsibility for your emotional and physical health
• Schedule, prepare and plan your exercise: make a regular appointment with yourself
• Set realistic goals
• Make exercise a top priority
• Keep a daily exercise log
• Enjoy your work outs
• Don’t feel guilty when you miss a session or two; negative feelings hinder motivation. It’s never too late to get started again.
• Believe in yourself: you CAN do it!

One final quote from The President of the American Geriatrics Society, James E. Fanale, MD, “People who get active or stay active as they age are more secure on their feet, safer in their homes, and most importantly, remain independent longer.”

Barbara Trimble

Taking My Keys Away

imgresI’m 80 years old; you can’t take my keys away!

I have a vivid memory of being 16, getting into my car early on the 1st warm day of spring, so welcomed after a long, cold Pennsylvania winter, and being greeted by the Rascals as “It’s a beautiful morning” exploded from my radio. It was a beautiful morning and why wouldn’t be; I had the day ahead of me, I had the freedom to do anything I wanted, and I had the keys to get me there.

Fast forward to me today; I am 80 years old, I can smell spring just around the corner after a long, cold, New Hampshire winter. I have the day free, in fact most of my days are free, but my kids just told me they decided I should not drive anymore. The irony is those “rascals” that I drove around for years, are singing a very different tune to me today, because, this does not feel like “a beautiful morning”.

I pride myself on being fiercely independent, strong, in control, funny, spontaneous, a “get the job done” kind of girl. Now that control is beginning to slip away.

The day after the “family meeting,” I putter around the house convincing myself that I am not feeling that great, so staying “close to home” makes sense. As I think back to the meeting, the affront, the bomb exploding, the invasion, I feel embarrassed, sad, hurt, and angry. The kids looked equally uncomfortable, but determined to get me to agree with them. “You’re too smart to fight this, you know better,” they say, in a voice sounding strangely like my own, as this was a message I delivered to them many times over the years. “Robby, I can’t believe I found cigarettes in your room…” or “Katie, you can’t move to LA, you don’t have a job…, you’re too smart for that, you know better…”

At around 5pm that day, with the clock’s chime signaling permission to pour my end of day glass of wine, I sit down and begin to think about how to maintain control of this latest hurdle. Truthfully, I know driving is becoming more difficult. Hadn’t I had already stopped driving at night on my own, without the prodding of my 50 year old “parents”? I glance at the booklet they left for me to read, still rebelling like I teenager, I read out loud in a nasally, sing-song voice:

“The most common causes of unsafe driving by older adults include vision impairment, cognitive limitations, side effects of medications, slower reaction times, muscular difficulties and limited range of motion”.

With the AARP’s Warning Signs when someone should begin to limit driving or stop altogether coupled with my second glass of wine in hand, I read and feel chagrinned, as I find myself checking off more boxes than I like to admit:
 Feeling less comfortable and more nervous or fearful while driving.
 Difficulty staying in the lane of traffic.
 More frequent “close calls” (i.e. almost crashing).
 More frequent dents, scratches, on the car, or on fences, mailboxes, garage doors, curbs etc.
 Trouble judging gaps in traffic at intersections and on highway entrance/exit ramps.
 Other drivers honking at you more often; more instances when you are angry at other drivers.
 Friends or relatives not wanting to drive with you.
 Getting lost more often.
 Difficulty seeing the sides of the road while looking straight ahead (i.e. cars or people seem to come “out of nowhere” more frequently).
 Trouble paying attention to or violating signals, road signs and pavement markings.
 Slower response to unexpected situations; trouble moving foot from gas to brake pedal or confusing the two pedals.
 Easily distracted or hard to concentrate while driving.
 Hard to turn around to check over shoulder while backing up or changing lanes.
 Medical conditions or medications that may be increasingly affecting your ability to handle the car safely.
 More traffic tickets or “warnings” by traffic or law enforcement officers in the last year or two.

Ok, so what’s the big deal? It is what it is. I can make this a horrible thing, or I can agree that it makes sense, and begin to interview the numerous, handsome chauffeur candidates that I am sure the kids are organizing.

Here is what I will do:

1. Look for places I can walk; isn’t that why we moved close to downtown in the first place? So there is the whole of downtown, the library, even a few friends are within walking distance. I will talk to me daughter, the artist, to see if she has an interest in painting walking sticks, to have a “cool” line ready for when I and others need one.
2. Find a driver from Extended Family’s group of fun, capable drivers. Maybe even share the cost of one with a friend.
3. Give my car to my grandson who lives nearby in exchange for some free chauffeuring.

So there you have it, my plan for this new “situation.” I feel remarkably peaceful about it, truth-be-told, but I think I won’t let the kids know that quite yet.

I will act a little distant and quiet for a few days. I might even let a few of their calls go to voicemail. I’ll tell them I have been so busy that I haven’t even been able to answer the phone. When they ask what I’ve been doing I’ll say, “Oh, just stuff”.

And then, while out taking my daily walk, I’ll turn on my iPod, crank up the volume and once again enjoy, “It’s a Beautiful Morning”.

Taking My Keys Away is part of our Walk in My Shoes Series. If you want to submit a piece for our blog, email us. We’d love to give it a place to speak your truth. 

Wearing a Lifeline Pendant

I am so frustrated, why won’t my mother wear her lifeline pendant!

imgresWell let’s think about that. Would you welcome wearing a cheapish looking plastic pendant, trying to mimic, maybe a cameo from yesteryear? Hanging on a black cord, that screams, I may fall at any time and, oh by the way, if I do, there is little chance that I will be able to get up by myself.

Now, the thought of lying on the floor for hours is not a pretty site either, so what to do?

ME? I would put the dumb thing in my pocket so that “If I’ve fallen and can’t get up”, well you know the rest.

A better plan might be to get some exercise so that:

1. You decrease your chances of falling, and
2. If you do fall, you have some strength to get yourself up or to a phone to call for some help.

Truth is; exercise or not, just being 65 or older increases our risk of falling.

Yale University has developed a fall risk scale, which rates your chances of falling.

Fall Risk Factors:

 Age 65+
 3 or more diagnoses
 1 or more falls in the last year
 Incontinence
 Sensory Impairment
 Impaired Functional Ability
 Environment Hazards
 4+ medications
 Pain affecting Level of Function
 Cognitive Impairment
 Postural Hypotension
 Fear of falling

If you have 3 of these risk factors, you have a 60% chance of falling, 4 gives you a 78% chance.

So there you are. You know who you are. If you have had some falls or you rate high for being at risk to have one, and you live alone, best advise is to have a personal emergency response system of some kind.

Here are some tips:

1. Now that we have established you have to have it with you all the time, here are some ideas: wear it around your neck UNDER your clothes, keep it in a pocket (but don’t forget and let it go through the laundry), or wear it on your belt like a pager.

2. When you are in the shower, wear it. The shower is a common place to fall. If you have it hanging on the door or someplace near by and you fall, chances are you won’t be able to reach it. So there you will be, lying naked, for who knows how long and when someone finally does find you, well, enough said.

3. At night, have it near by. If you fall you have to be able to reach it, that’s all there is to it.

Oh, and one more thing, if you do fall and it is the middle of the night, don’t do what one of our members did. She lay there all night until about 7am. She didn’t want to wake anyone up.

Not a problem, the call center has people there 24 hours a day in case you call.

Helping Me Walk: Think Cary Grant & Katherine Hepburn

Strolling through the parcWe had to present this first person account of assisting someone who might be on shaky ground. Dignity. Elegant.

I’ve been an exerciser all my life. Secretly, I like to think of myself as an athlete. In middle school I played volleyball, ran track and was the “roving “guard on the 8th grade all-star basketball team. I’m curious to see how many of you know what a roving guard is, as it doesn’t exist today in women’s basketball.

In high school I was a cheerleader. Then from ages 20-60 I was a runner. In fact I ran a marathon the year I turned 50; finished it in not too bad a time, either.

At 60, my knees begged me to stop running, so from ages 60-80 I participated in cross fit, spin and bikrum yoga classes.

At about age 80 I decided to work with a personal trainer focusing on strength and balance.

Who would ever have predicted that me, an athlete, would slip on black ice in my driveway one morning while getting my newspaper. My disbelief continued when my doctor told me that I had broken my hip and would need surgery.

That was a year ago, and all things considered, I’ve recovered pretty well.

What is different, however, is my confidence. I feel a little nervous walking outside especially in the winter. I am terrified of having another fall. Ironically, I am told that fear of falling is a risk factor in itself, to falling. So I guess I had better get a grip on that one.

The point I want to make is how best to support me and others who find themselves in my predicament.

It goes something like this: I am leaving the house with my son. I can see the fear/discomfort in his face as he tries to decide how best to help me. The pavement is uneven, and he must be thinking, “but she’s an athlete, how do I help her without insulting her?” So much thinking. So few words.

So let me tell how I would like it to go…

1. Position yourself on my strong side.
2. Don’t grab my hand or clothes.
3. Don’t look at me like I am an invalid.
4. As we set off walking extend your elbow closest to me and signal with your eyes, inquisitively, to ask if I would like to take your arm.
5. If I don’t pick up on the clue, and you feel the conditions warrant some assistance, ask “may I take your arm?”
6. When I reply, “yes”, simply cradle my elbow in your hand. Don’t grab my elbow; just be on the ready should I falter.
7. Look straight ahead, continue conversing with me, and act like this is normal and pleasant for both of us.
8. Add a bit of jauntiness to your offer and step.

Think Carey Grant and Katherine Hepburn… and thank you.

Kale & Spring Allergies

April means spring and spring means allergies. Look to kale, which has become quite the popular leafy green. Friends of mine who are following the ever-popular paleo diet (no sugar, bread, caffeine, alcohol etc.) are roasting kale until it is browned and crisp, salting it with sea salt, and trying to convince me it is as good as any potato chip. (Really?)

imgresBut one thing is true about kale. It has an abundance of carotenoids, which, research suggests, protect against the development of seasonal allergies. Your body best absorbs these carotenoids when you eat them with some sort of fat; so make a kale salad and dress it with the best extra-virgin olive oil you can find.