Dr. Mauk’s Boomer Blog
Each week, Dr. Mauk shares thoughts relevant to Baby Boomers that are aimed to educate and amuse.
Rose’s family knew that she was having some memory problems as well as balance issues when walking, but they told themselves that she was getting long okay and was safe to stay at home alone. After all, of Rose’s three grown children, only one lived near her, and all the kids had their own families to tend to in addition to working. Rose told herself this as well. She didn’t want to be a burden to her kids and she didn’t want anybody in her house. She was 86 but she could still take care of herself…until one day.
That one day, Rose was in the attic trying to get down some Christmas ornaments. She was standing on a chair and fell, crashing to the floor. Rose felt a searing pain down her leg and she wasn’t able to stand up. She lay there crying, not knowing what to do. She felt so confused. There was no phone in the attic, and no windows to call out for help. She couldn’t get herself up and every time she moved, it hurt so bad that she stopped trying. Rose lay on the cold, wooden floor of that attic with no food, water, or help for 2 days before the neighbors got worried and called the police and her family. By the time they found her, Rose was confused and dehydrated, in bad shape. She had broken her hip when she fell, had a mild concussion and bruised ribs as well. She spent a week in the hospital and then another 3 weeks in a rehabilitation unit within the nursing home after hip surgery to repair the fracture. During her hospitalization, she was diagnosed with middle stage Alzheimer’s dementia. When it came time for discharge from the rehabilitation unit, Rose’s children felt she was no longer safe to stay at home alone and sent her to a memory care unit in a local nursing home. Rose felt like she had done something wrong. Because she fell, she could no longer live in her home and she felt her children didn’t care about her. She didn’t get to set her affairs in order or say goodbye to her beloved home and neighbors.
Recently, I have noticed this alarming trend in the care of older adults. Family members know a crisis is coming, but still they wait. They wait to get help into the home. They wait to tell the doctor what is going on. They don’t seek help or even want to talk about the physical and mental problems they see in their older parent. The older adult is afraid of losing independence so she hides her problems. Sometimes the older person doesn’t realize how serious her memory problems are until there is a crisis. Often the family is too busy or overwhelmed to deal with the realities of what is happening to their loved one. Maybe the older person refuses to have help…until that day when she no longer has a choice.
Planning ahead at the first sign of problems is a positive step for older adults and their families. It avoids the crisis scenario that so often happens. Waiting for the crisis to occur puts everyone in an uproar when it does. Wouldn’t it be better and easier to avoid the crisis by planning ahead? Getting an assessment from the physician done early and making plans for help in the home as soon as it is needed can help avoid all the negative feelings and emotions that come when a catastrophic event occurs suddenly. You may even be able to avoid traveling down the crisis road altogether.
So, don’t wait for the crisis to happen. Be proactive. Take action now. Taking the time to explore assisted living options or arrange for some help in the home could make all the difference in your loved one’s quality of life and will help preserve positive family relationships for the future.
This week we celebrate National Nurse’s Week beginning on May 6th and ending on May 12th (Florence Nightingale’s birthday). The profession of nursing has come far since its inception. When I went to nursing school in the late 1970’s, we were still wearing blue pin-striped uniforms and caps. There were striping and pinning ceremonies to mark milestones in the 4 year journey to the Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree, and it wasn’t until the early 1980’s when my nursing school started to eliminate those bulky caps that were so difficult to keep on our head. When the mandatory uniforms and nursing caps were no longer the symbol of the nurse, we had to develop other ways for patients and families to recognize us. I hope that we are now recognized for the knowledgeable care and comfort that we provide to others. It has been said that nurses are the backbone of the healthcare system. I would suggest that we are that and much more:
Nurses are timeless. Florence Nightingale left the comforts of home care for the sick. Nurses are there for the beginnings and ends of countless lives. We hold the hands of the young, the old, and everyone in between. The shifts are long and if a patient needs us, we work overtime to finish the job. We might wear a uniform, scrubs, a lab coat, or a suit, but we transcend fashion to don whatever our patients need for safe, quality care.
Nurses are trusted. Gallup polls consistently show that the public trusts the ethics and honesty of nurses above even that of physicians, making us one of the most trustworthy professions in the eyes of the people. Nurses adhere to the ANA Code of Ethics that emphasizes supporting patients’ autonomy and the concepts of beneficence, justice, fidelity, and veracity. All nurses receive education in ethics, with patient care at the center.
Nurses are inspiring. How many people can say that their jobs changed a life? As a rehabilitation nurse, one woman who had experienced a stroke told me, “I had stroke and died three times. I was in ICU for weeks, but I didn’t feel alive until I came to rehab. Rehabilitation nurses helped me live again!” Yes, transforming lives is what nurses engage in daily. In fact, many of us can name that one nurse that we remember and would choose to have with us if we were sick or dying – that nurse who knows how to inspire and care.
Nurses are experts. Nurses are expert caregivers, patient advocates, teachers, and researchers. We know the realm of health care better than anyone because we are the licensed professionals who are there 24/7. There are more nurses with advanced practice degrees and certifications than ever before. Nursing has evolved into a discipline with multiple specialties that support best practice in numerous areas that affect health and wellness. Nurses hold positions of leadership in government, the military, organizational systems, health care corporations, and major companies, all attesting to the value of our knowledge and education.
Nurses are still carriers of light. Florence Nightingale was known as “the lady with the lamp”. I always found that image inspiring. One of my favorite memories from my early career occurred while I was working the night shift on a geriatric unit. An elderly man couldn’t get the music he liked to play on the radio, so he asked for someone to sing some old hymns to him. I did so reluctantly at first, holding his hand and singing all the old songs of the faith that I could remember. The next day, I heard him excitedly telling his family members, “An angel came to my room and held my hand and sang to me last night!” I was puzzled when later he didn’t seem to recognize me as the singing “angel”. The following night, he died unexpectedly. Reflecting on that experience, I believe that higher powers were at work there. Maybe I was just the vessel through which a bit of healing flowed. Since then, I have seen countless similar examples of extraordinary happenings when caring nurses are involved.
Nurses do more than just enact art and science. Sometimes…our work is like a little piece of heaven.
I have been fortunate to have a number of mothers in my life – by birth, marriage, or adoption. Each of these women has helped to shape my perspectives and values in various ways during different seasons of life. As Mother’s Day approaches, reflecting on the role that mothers play in our lives is a worthy exercise. So, here is my tribute to my mothers.
My first mother is the one who gave me life. I like to think of this as the Spring of my life. Mom Phyllis raised me until the age of 9 years. She tended to the scrapes and cuts, helped to mold my personality, hand-made my clothes, and made life an adventure, all whilst being the wife of a busy doctor who was studying to be a pediatric surgeon. Thank you, Mom, for treasuring my childhood.
When my parents got divorced, a second mother entered the Summer of my life. Mom Kay took three confused and fragile children under her wings as a young step-mother in her early 20’s. She nurtured us as if we were her own. She helped me navigate the difficult teenage years and transition into young adulthood, listening to countless stories of puppy love, crushed hearts, and future dreams. Mom brought faith and light into a home that had been shattered by divorce. She has given me an example of a loving and faithful wife to my father for 45 years. Thank you, Mom, for preserving my spirit and encouraging my faith in God.
In college, I attended a little Baptist church where they had a program in which families could “adopt” a college student. Through a round-about way, I was adopted by Marvin and Patsy Bell. Grandma Bell, as my children later called her, saw me through my first 17-year marriage, a painful divorce, and was a second mother to many other young women like me. She has been a faithful friend and mentor for more than 38 years. Ma Bell stood in the place of the mothers who couldn’t be with me during some of the coldest and darkest Winters of life. She attended countless school programs for my kids and never forgets a birthday to this day. Thank you, Ma, for giving me the example of the kind of Grandmother I want to be.
Lastly, when I remarried to my current husband, Jim, I gained a wonderful mother-in-law. Gracie is true to her name. She has a loving and nonjudgmental spirit. She always thinks the best of people and is kind and gentle. In the Fall of my life, she embraced me as a daughter and is always ready to help in times of need. Thank you, Mom Mauk, for showing me what unconditional love looks like.
All of us have mothers in our lives that we need to thank. So, this Mother’s Day, purpose to give a special blessing to those women who have so influenced your life. Without them, our days would be less rich and the journey much lonelier. Celebrate those who have traversed the seasons of life with you!
America’s senior citizens are often stereotyped to be bad (sometimes unsafe) drivers. But the truth is that simply growing older does not impair a person’s ability to be safe behind the wheel by default. Many healthy seniors remain skilled drivers and are as adept and alert as anybody, but others struggle with the early signs of health conditions that can affect driving, and would like to do what they can to keep driving and be safe. If physical or cognitive health conditions have progressed to a point where focus and reflexes are hindered even during daily activities not behind the wheel, then driving is not advised.
How Age Affects Driving Competence
Dementia: Cognitive diseases, like Alzheimer’s can hinder an elder’s memory, critical thinking, and problem solving skills needed for minding the road.
Vision and Hearing Impairment: Aging may naturally dull a driver’s sense of sight and hearing. Aged eyes may be more sensitive to sunlight in the windshield or headlights at night. It is important for senior drivers to routinely schedule vision and hearing tests to make sure they are safe to drive.
Arthritis and Weak Joints: Conditions like arthritis can hinder hand dexterity required for turning steering wheels or shifting gears. When joints are weak, actions like buckling a seatbelt or pushing the brakes may be difficult which can be unsafe for drivers.
Reflexes: Sometimes it’s not you who mess up, but other drivers around you. Adept reflexes are crucial to reacting to dynamic developments on the road. Reflexes can be tested by doctors during checkups and physicals to guarantee senior safety.
Over-cautiousness: Sometimes seniors become self-conscious about their difficulty focusing on what’s going on, and may be too safe by going dangerously slow to prevent speeding or car crashes, but actually put other drivers in danger who try to maneuver around them.
Tips for Senior Drivers to Keep License
- It’s wise for very aged seniors who notice the warning signs to stick to familiar destinations with short distances and avoid any anxiety or possibility of getting lost.
- Driving while stressed or tired can lead to making mistakes on the road, which can lead to a revoked license. Only drive when you feel completely ready.
- Keep track of how medications may impact driving skills.
- Always make sure to check your mirrors constantly, especially when changing lanes.
- Give other drivers space by not driving too close behind.
Introduction: Being a grandparent is special in many ways. It sometimes means overspending and spoiling our grandkids. We tend to cut down on other expenses rather than buying gifts for our cute little ones.
What’s so special about being a grandparent? Grand parenting brings along with it opportunities for loving a new person, the magic of childhood, play and fun and the joy of parenthood minus the heartache that often goes along with it. It is also an opportunity to share your hobbies with a young, curious mind, watch as the kids grow and develop, provide encouragement and make an impact, draw upon your breadth of experience to guide the child through life’s challenges. Many grandparents, in today’s graying America, provide care for their grandkids while mom goes off to work. This can be a very enriching experience for both.
Why do we overspend on our grandkids? A 2012 study by AARP shows that 89% of grandparents spoil their grandkids. USA Today says that 40% of Americans spend $500 or more per year on their grandchildren. Some grandparents even pay for their grandchildren college education and afterschool activities, such as piano lessons and dance classes. Grandparents often find themselves in a dilemma where they would like to be there for their adult kids financially but don’t want to jeopardize their retirement savings.
Where can I cut on spending?
- Give the gift of time. It doesn’t always have to be a gift. Going on a hike together or doing a baking project can be a very memorable one for the two of you, much more so then a gift. Share stories. Your grandchildren will be delighted to hear stories about when their parents were children. Get with the times and learn to text and build a relationship that will last.
- Make a budget. “Making a budget is the most important thing you can do because then you will be able to understand where your money is going and where you can afford to make cuts,” says Meg Favreau, senior editor of Wisebread.com. Grandparents should not fall into the trap of overspending on their grandkids. “If it’s affecting your ability to meet your obligations or is dipping into retirement savings, that’s a sign that it’s excessive spending,” says Suzanna de Baca, vice president of wealth strategies at Ameriprise Financial. For full article, click here.
Save your retirement for the fun things in life. Very often, without proper planning, our retirement funds get totally wiped out down the road if a loved one requires long-term care. Medicaid will usually cover for many types of care, including in-home, assisted living and nursing home care. They will however “look back” for a period of five years prior to application to uncover monetary gifts granted- “spent down” during that period, in which case they will impose a penalty corresponding with the gifted funds. Plan ahead and gift the monies to your loved ones now, so it doesn’t hurt you in the years to come. A Medicaid planning company like Senior Planning Services can guide you through the application process if you’re eligible and help shoulder the burden in these stressful times.
Conclusion: Being a grandparent is one of life’s most meaningful pleasures, but it can also be a juggling act. Knowing when to educate, when to spoil, when to stop spending, when to “spend down” and when to save your retirement funds; are all part of this blessing called grandparenthood.
This is my dog. Her name is Grace. We fondly call her Gracie.
Gracie is a miniature pinscher, born just over 9 years ago, the last of a six-puppy litter. She was barely 3 inches long at birth and a third the size of the other puppies. We doubted she would survive. Her mother rejected her and tried to throw her out of “the nest” because she was different than the other puppies.
But my children and I believed in Gracie’s survival. We fed her by hand with an eyedropper as we cradled her in our palms, and we gave her the love and nurture she didn’t get from her own family of dogs. I had to lay her mother on my lap so that Gracie could be nursed apart from the others. When she was too weak to nurse, the kids and I took shifts to feed her around the clock and speak encouraging words of survival to her. Soon she became the strongest and most dominant of the pack, although still the smallest. She could fend off her five littermates from the food bowl with a fierce growl and scary glance. And Gracie repaid our faith in her will to live by returning the care and comfort she received from us with a lifetime of love and companionship.
Now that she is an older adult dog, she shows those signs of aging that we all do: gray hair, hearing loss, cataracts, stiff joints, and some excess weight around the middle. But like so many of us Baby Boomer humans, Gracie has the heart and soul of her younger years. She will still chase a chipmunk, but no longer catches it. She can still jump around with excitement, but then promptly falls asleep on the couch. Even in her old age, she continues to teach us about another kind of grace.
When I return from a business trip, Gracie is the first to greet me. Long before my husband or kids make it to the door, she hears my footsteps and comes running. You would think I was the most important person on earth as she jumps and whines and licks me, climbing in my lap for some affection. She makes me feel like a queen. It doesn’t matter to Gracie if I am in a grumpy mood, if I’m overweight, or if my hair is gray. She doesn’t care if I’m smart or not, or if others find me attractive. I am her person! She loves me the same in the morning, noon, or night and she never holds a grudge. In fact, I think that my dog seems to know more about unconditional love than many people do. She doesn’t hold my faults against me and she loves me just the way I am. She always shows it no matter what else has happened in the day. Gracie is the one at my feet in every room of the house. She sleeps next to me when I watch TV. She follows me everywhere. She is always at the door to protect me from strangers. She would give her life for mine in an instant if she could, and without a thought for herself. I sometimes find myself wishing that I had her strength of character.
It is a wonder to me that an ordinary, common, little runt of a dog without the powers of human reasoning could possess qualities that we so seldom see in people. The judgment and unforgiveness of others, sometimes even among our own families, is outshone by the loyalty and companionship that little Grace gives me every day.
So, maybe today we can learn a lesson from the simplest of God’s creatures. Show your enthusiasm for life and each other. Be a loyal companion. Take time to show affection. Miss each other terribly when you are apart. Be happy when you are together again. Forget past mistakes and harsh words. Practice forgiveness. And above all, love unconditionally.