An Aging Life Care Specialist Goes Underground

An Aging Life Care Specialist Goes Underground

We Aging Life Care specialists ask a lot of questions. Most pertain to the medical, social, emotional and the home environment. Now we are going even deeper in the home and descending to the basement.

Why the basement you ask? Because in some homes, across all fifty states, evil may be leaking from the ground. It’s colorless, odorless, invisible and can only be detected by testing. This mysterious element is called radon. It is a radioactive gas that comes from the decay of uranium found in the soil one’s house is built on. It typically moves up through the foundation to the air and enters one’s home through cracks, walls, construction joints or gaps in the foundation around pipes. A home traps radon inside, where it can build up. The ventilation and the air flow patterns in a house will affect how much radon will be pulled into different areas of the house. The age of the home, does not make a difference. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers in the United States. The higher the radon level in a house, and the longer the exposure period, the greater the risk to the occupants.

Apologies for the scare, but the good news is that radon levels can be measured and if remediation is necessary, there are solutions. The place to start is with A Citizen’s Guide to Radon, published by the EPA. In a nutshell, the average radon concentration for homes in the United States is 1.3. It is when the radon levels, goes beyond 2 picoCuries per liter (the EPA will explain the jargon) that thought should be given to resolving the potential problem. While you can hire a professional tester to determine the radon level, you can easily start with buying a do it yourself test kit available in hardware stores or online. You can also call: 1-800-SOS-RADON (part of the EPA). This testing method consists of a small charcoal canister. The radon in the air is absorbed on the charcoal and the decay products can then be measured by a laboratory. The laboratory cost is usually incorporated in the cost of the canister. It is suggested by the New York State Department of Health, that two separate charcoal canister measurements be used before deciding to correct the situation. If mitigation is necessary the most common method is to have a vent pipe system and fan installed, which pulls radon from beneath the house and vents it to the outside. More information is available from the EPA at 1-800-55RADON.

So, why this article on radon? This past January was officially declared Radon Awareness month. But beyond this, often, as Aging Life Care specialists, we turn to our personal experiences when they can enhance the lives of those we help. Some years ago, with great excitement we closed on our dream weekend home in the woods. Surrounded by nature, deer leaping thru the woods beyond, a welcoming lake for rowing and swimming, what could be better? The answer would have been a tent for camping had we not taken care of the high radon level that was noted in the inspection report. As Aging Life Care specialists, it is our goal to keep our clients safe at home. Checking for radon is another step to ensure their safety.

Making Your Bed and Other Strategies for Lessening Caregiver Stress

Making Your Bed and Other Strategies for Lessening Caregiver Stress

Covid-19 has thrust many of us into new or expanding caregiving roles. Medication management, arranging doctors’ appointments virtual and otherwise, making sure a senior is eating more than tea and crackers, and doing our best to ensure our elders feel connected in a world where quarantine and isolation have been the keywords of these last nine months.

Alongside these caregiving responsibilities, we have family and work commitments and, yes, an obligation to keep ourselves healthy. While the initial reports are promising for vaccines, we are still awaiting that GPS to give us clear and consistent direction.  While waiting for those directions to appear, I would like to share five strategies to help you, the caregiver, lessen the stress that accompanies the increased role you may be assuming:

  • Accept the feelings that come with this time. Your anxiety doesn’t have to control you when everything around you feels so uncertain. Focus on what you can control: you, your thoughts, your actions. Speak with those friends who offer you reassurance and comfort and let the other incoming calls go to voice mail, especially when those unsolicited advice-givers are on the other end.
  • Have an emergency contingency plan. Try to organize what the National Alliance of Caregiving calls a “care squad” or simply a caring support team that can help in the care of a loved one in the event you become ill. Identify trusted people who can provide help such as bringing over groceries, picking up medications, offering technical guidance for virtual doctors’ appointments, and making those all-important outreach calls to a parent.
  • Practice self-talk. Remind yourself that you have coped with difficult situations before and think back to how you handled them. Re-discover that strength and confidence. Extend to yourself the empathy that you would impart to a friend in need.
  • Stay in the present, ask yourself: “What do I have to deal with right now?” “What can I control right now?” Think about all the times you worried about the future and the outcome was not as dismal as you imagined it would be.
  • Stick to a routine. As Gretchen Rubin speaks of in her book The Happiness Project, start your day by making your bed. You may say why do that, I’m just going to unmake it at night? Making your bed sets the tone for the day, it takes little effort and goes a long way in making order out of chaos. Holding on to a routine brings a sense of normalcy during very abnormal times.

Finally, some years ago at a tag sale, I picked up a small 4X4 framed piece of embroidered needlework, never knowing how relevant it would be for these times. It reads: “Long is Not Forever.”  I hope you will hold on to those words as I do.

Putting Pen to Paper in the Time of COVID-19

Putting Pen to Paper in the Time of COVID-19

To write a letter is human, to receive a letter, divine
—Susan Lendroth

Four years ago, I downsized. Living in an apartment house, I am now part of a community, not a formal one, but one with a passing hello in the lobby or weather conversation in the elevator. However, it was my relationship with our fifth-floor neighbor that went beyond the hello and the weather. Meg was of an earlier generation, there was no computer in her home and only the most basic of cell phones. In lieu of these items were plenty of paper and pen.

Given the generational gap, Meg was a woman of notes. Invariably, they would be slipped under our kitchen door. They varied in nature, telling us she would be visiting family, wishing us a happy Thanksgiving or my favorite, letting me know how much she enjoyed looking at my hanging geraniums that she could see from her living room window. In our three years as neighbors, I left my computer and iPhone behind. From my side of the hallway, it was a note thanking her for taking in our newspapers or a holiday card with an accompanying note. There was something so special about our across the hall communication. These notes were acts of thoughtfulness. Sometimes on a random piece of paper or other times on a real piece of stationery, especially when Meg’s birthday rolled around. The common characteristic that each of our exchanged notes shared was gratitude.

As much as I delighted in having Meg across the hall, I knew that a woman approaching her ninetieth birthday with an array of minor health problems, should not be living alone. Her children, also knew this. Meg would tell me in her soft voice, that while she understood the logic of a move to assisted living, she was saddened to leave her beloved New Rochelle where she was born and raised her family. Inevitably, acceptance trumped resistance. We had said our good-byes many times, voicing how fortunate we both were to have each other as neighbors. I returned home one day, the wreath that changed with the season was off Meg’s door and Meg was gone.

In the weeks following Meg’s move, I sent a note, bringing her up to date on what was going on with my family and inquiring about how she was doing. In return, I received a lovely card from Meg. A few brief sentences, with her ever-thoughtful sentiments.

Quoting Phyllis Theroux, a writer based in California: “to write a letter is a good way to go somewhere without moving anything but your heart.” In these times of COVID-19, where going anywhere is done with an abundance of caution or not at all, a note not only moves the heart but let’s those we care about know they are remembered.

The Art of Listening: Achieving Successful Communication

The Art of Listening: Achieving Successful Communication

As Aging Life Care specialists, we are called upon to provide an assortment of services. The needs are as varied as the families we are helping. We continuously strive to be experts in our knowledge of homecare, entitlements, senior residences, elder law attorneys, and providing skilled and supportive counseling. But we are only effective if, throughout our dialogue with families, we listen. Effective listening combined with effective communication sets the foundation for successive and successful outcomes.

The art of listening, sometimes referred to as “active listening” requires two essential tasks. First, that we as care managers, listen, making a mindful effort to hear the words that seniors and their families are saying. Second, we must concentrate on what is being said establishing a virtual stop sign that leaves no room for our own assumptions and prejudices. We cannot assume or anticipate conclusions. With these two tasks as starting points, our listening is enhanced by four other components.

We listen mindfully, putting aside any distracting (as opposed to professional beliefs) thoughts. We listen without having an inner dialogue that will have an automatic response to a situation that is verbally evolving.

We listen without interrupting, knowing it may disrupt a client’s train of thought, especially if the person is cognitively compromised. A semi-smile (think Mona Lisa) or an encouraging “uh-huh,” lets the person know we are with them, we are listening.

We ask for clarification at the appropriate time. Siblings may finish telling of their conflicting feelings about what they each think is best for mom, and we reply: “So let me make sure I understand.” It is that clarification that allows for modification and affirmation.

Finally, after all information has been shared, the Aging Life Care specialist summarizes what has been said and listens for what has not been said, the latter perhaps a clue to the issue at hand.

Our listening skills remain strong as we adapt to the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 virus. Historically, families have sought the guidance of an Aging Life Care specialist as they pondered whether a parent would be better served in assisted living or remain at home with help. Now, families are asking our guidance as they question if a parent should return home or remain in their senior residence. Whoever would have thought? Thru this crisis, we will stand strong with our families, listening deeply and fully, a north star during uncertain times.

Social Distancing-Social Engagement in the Age of Covid-19: What We Can Do

Social Distancing-Social Engagement in the Age of Covid-19: What We Can Do

I live in New Rochelle, New York, a city whose fame is rooted in the Petrie’s of The Dick Van Dyke show. That image of a suburban family living on a quiet tree-lined street changed dramatically on March 10. New Rochelle became the first COVID-19 containment area in the United States.

On that date, I was visiting a client. Twenty minutes into my visit, the governor made his announcement. Although I felt fine, after checking with the caregivers to make sure food and medications were in good supply I left. Not yet knowing what a containment area meant, I shamefully headed to the supermarket, one thirty minutes away from the city where I have lived and shopped for forty years.

For people over 60, of which I am one, the instructions, even before this declaration, was to stay home. I had not taken the directive seriously. But the time had come. So instead of home visits, the telephone has become my link to clients. My weekly tutoring sessions at a local elementary school stopped. The library where I volunteer closed. My world had narrowed. Like the icon I tap when I take that occasional selfie, I now had to reverse my focus, making sure that my social engagement trumped my social distancing.

So, what have I learned that we can all practice and share with adult seniors? First, is the heightened importance of staying in touch. Communication whether it be by phone, emails or the use of video conferencing is paramount. But sadly, the oldest of the old are the least technologically savvy. This is where letters, especially with a photo enclosed, and cards and drawings from grandchildren will go a long way. Also, contacting a senior’s house of worship can result in congregants phoning members to fill the void created by COVID-19. Local aging in place organizations have volunteers who are also calling community members.

Beyond communication, the significance of a daily routine is important. For older adults who were going to senior centers or adult day programs, their regular schedule has been disrupted. Taking a walk has both mental and physical benefits. Combining this with in-home activities such as watching The National Park Virtual Tours or The Georgia Aquarium Live Cams can lessen the isolation and provide mental stimulation.

Is there a “What not to do?” Definitely. Dr. Laurie Archbald-Panno a geriatrician at the University of Virginia suggests a “news diet.” One news viewing in the morning and one in the evening. That’s it.

Our seniors have seen much in their lifetimes. They have lived through wars, TB and Polio epidemics and some, the Great Depression. Our government has assured us that at some point the COVID-19 virus will pass. But who better to give us this reassurance than our true survivors, our seniors. Let’s help them as they help us.

Can an Adult Senior Remain at Home? …That is the Question

Can an Adult Senior Remain at Home? …That is the Question

As an eldercare consultant, I am familiar with the statistic that close to 90% of adult seniors, have expressed a desire to remain in their homes for as long as possible. The terminology in the world of eldercare is “aging in place.”

My lack of surprise about aging at home, while corroborated by AARP, has its source in the adult children who visit my office frustrated that their parents feel there is no compelling reason for them to move out of their house. A typical scenario as described by a son or daughter: no bathroom or only a half bathroom on the main floor, stairs that must be ascended or descended to get to the kitchen, no direct access to the outside without holding on to a hand rail that is unstable accompanied by a walkway that is crumbling, nonstop repairs both large and small.

Sitting across from these adult children, I understand their unease. They are often wakeful at night, distracted at work, consumed with the responsibilities of calling the plumber, roofer or making sure a path has been shoveled after a snowstorm.  I also know from talking with adult seniors the comfort that comes with continuing to reside in a lifelong home. Change is never easy or welcomed.  So, what’s an eldercare consultant to do?

For this consultant, the major consideration is safety. There is no compromise on this issue. To ensure this safety there are three necessary requirements. First, the willingness of a parent to agree to whatever modifications should be made to the house. First, the readiness of the parent to accept home care if necessary and first, the financial wherewithal and/or community support services to achieve these outcomes.  Yes, they are all number one priorities.

To this end, I frequently visit the parents in their home. Often, mom and dad need to be heard and understood, with a focus on empathy. Once they know I understand their situation, it is easier to start to effect change. The secret is small steps. With each step, it is validating their willingness to undertake necessary changes. That validation provides the incentive for the next step until a safe living environment is accomplished.

But please don’t think I come with a magic wand. Sometimes the ideal, or even close to it, becomes unachievable. It may be the staunch autonomy of a parent or it is the symbiotic relationship of husband and wife who create such a strong wall (yes, this one is achievable), that adult children, the family favorite, or even this eldercare consultant cannot convince them that they are putting their safety at risk. Then Father Time steps in and removes aging at home as a choice. A fall, noncompliance with medication, or one of those all too frequent storms we’ve been having here in Westchester County, may result in a whole new aging in place definition and destination.