October 23, 2017

Helping Your Aging Parents: What To Expect

One of the toughest things many of us face is dealing with our parents as they age. Watching someone you love decline is not pleasant. I will tell you my parents' story because it is probably rather typical, and the one I know best.

As my mom and dad started struggling with older age issues I had to learn as I went along. Since I lived within 35 minutes of their home, I became the primary caregiver. My brothers lived quite far away. They did what they could with occasional visits, but the bulk of the responsibility fell on my wife and me. We were just fine with that role and enjoyed a strong loving relationship with mom and dad.

In 2006, my parents had the foresight to move into a retirement community. Dad was 82 and mom was 79. At that point, both were in good physical and mental shape, certainly well enough to be allowed into the community. It offered independent and assisted living options as well as a nursing care center. They wanted to avoid the situation where one or both became unable to care for themselves or too sick to be accepted into such a facility. We had discussed other options: caring for them in their own home for as long as possible, or even moving in with us.

But, in the end mom and dad insisted that the benefit of the three level system was best. As it turned out their timing was excellent. Dad was a trouper but his failing memory and hearing loss often left him somewhat befuddled. Within 18 months my mom’s health began to take a dramatic turn for the worse. Four years after moving to the community she died. Dad made it on his own for several more years, dying in 2015 at age 91.

Anyone with aging parents knows about all the daily decisions that I faced. Can anything be done to make their independent cottage safer to help prevent falls, burns, or other accidents? Do the bathrooms have grip bars? Are the throw rugs slippery? What in-home services does the facility offer? Asking these questions directly to my parents usually didn’t generate helpful responses. For quite awhile their contention was that they could handle everything even when that was not so. Finally, I had to just go ahead and take the necessary steps.

Older folks often suffer from poor nutrition. Meals are skipped or poorly planned.  Staying properly hydrated is a major problem. If the person’s eyesight is failing or gone, even the heating of meals becomes a big challenge. Luckily, the facility where my folks lived had a few dining options so two of the three daily meals were taken care of. Breakfast at home or a light lunch was possible for the first few years. Then, too often, one of these meals would be skipped or forgotten.

Next on my list were financial issues. Again, some foresight proved very helpful. Various health and legal directives were up to date. What about paying bills and taking care of taxes?  I assume that this can be an area of conflict, particularly if the relationship between parent and grown child isn’t the best. The fear of being taken advantage of is very real for seniors. Careful explanations of the consequences of missing credit card payments, utility bills, or tax problems are required.

My dad was more than willing to turn almost all of that over to me.  I was able to interact directly with their investment counselor and make decisions. After being added to the checking account I paid the few bills that still were required.  

One the biggies I had yet to deal with was the taking away of the car keys. From discussions with friends and what I read in various blogs, I knew this would not be fun. My mom was unable to drive the last four years of her life due to macular degeneration and other injuries.  So dad was the designated driver to take them to doctor’s appointments, food shopping, and all the errands of daily living.

I checked his car every time I visited for new dents or scratches. Even though the retirement community has shuttle and on-property transportation, he liked this last bit of true independence. Finally, at age 88 he agreed he was putting himself and others in too much danger to continue. The solution was to gift the car to a granddaughter.  He didn't want to let go of the keys, but felt good about helping her. 

Each parent took multiple pills every day, so the management of that couldn't be left to chance. I met with their family doctor and had the legal authority to intercede if needed. Of course, there was no one to guarantee that the right pills were taken, at the right time, and in the correct dosage as long as they lived independently.  I watched for signs of trouble and understood that a move into assisted living might be triggered by a pill problem.

Memory loss comes with age. Already I sometimes have those frustrating “senior moments.” Both parents were having issues in this area. In my mom’s case, she broke her leg and ankle a few years before her death. That put her in a hospital for almost two weeks and then into the nursing center. She didn't remember breaking her leg. I assume some of that is the brain blocking out bad experiences. But, it is still shocking to me that whole episode was not real to her at all.

In his last few years dad had almost no short-term memory either. Luckily, he was a list-maker. His daily to-do list was written down in great detail in a notebook he carried with him always. He finally became comfortable with answering a cell phone. But, calling me always created problems.

The broken leg really accelerated mom’s decline. While she was allowed to “visit” their apartment, she was not allowed to return there to live. That awareness, along with her almost total blindness left her with little to fill her day and mind, so the slippage continued. Dad spent most of each day sitting in her room, reading the paper, or discussing doctor appointments, but that was causing his world to close in, too.

I’m afraid this is not a post that will end of a burst of optimism. Dealing with aging parents is mostly about facing reality. On several levels my folks were blessed. They had the financial resources to be in an excellent facility. They had family in town who visited at least once a week, sometimes more. Through 63 years of marriage they remained deeply in love and committed to being there through good and bad. Mom and dad were there for me. It was my time to be there for them.

 If you haven’t faced this issue yet, you may have it in your future. If you have been through this, then you have experiences I ask you to share with all of us. There are all sorts of questions, problems, and possible solutions I have skimmed over or missed completely. I would very much appreciate your feedback and comments on this subject. It may not be pleasant, but it is real.

October 21, 2017

Two Quick Getaways Make Memories

Since we sold our RV last spring, we have been staying rather close to home, enduring another blistering Phoenix summer There was a 4 day trip to Disneyland with the family in August. Otherwise, it has been a time of swimming  pools and family dinners with movies and games.

As the temperatures began to cool off in northern Arizona, we took two trips within the last few weeks, just for a change of pace. In six days we managed to enjoy the beautiful red rocks of Sedona, the former ghost town, now artist community of Jerome, and the cool green of Flagstaff. 

Actually, the Flagstaff trip was quite a family gathering. There was a fun run/walk to help raise money and awareness of Parkinson's disease. My son-in-law's father suffers from this progressive affliction, so the cause is very personal.

We decided that twelve of us would go north, spend some time together, and then participate in the 5k run or 2k walk. With the help of a walking stick, even Papa was able to complete the 2k walking portion in good shape. It felt really nice for all of us to be with him as we banded together to support him and this cause.

I thought you might enjoy seeing some pictures from these spectacular parts of my home state, as well as a few of our family teaming up to fight Parkinson's.

Yes, the rocks behind me are actually older than  I am

Beautiful river just south of Sedona

A view of the hillside (almost) ghost town of Jerome

Typical "street" in Jerome

Several fires have burned Jerome to the ground. This was once a 4 story hotel

Jerome is supposedly haunted (this isn't real, unfortunately!)

The Grand Hotel at the very top of town

And, the view from its steps

Betty chatting with Albert Einstein

The start of the Parkinson's Fun Run in Flagstaff

Tom: the reason for all of us participating

The whole crew after the race/walk!

October 18, 2017

Retirement: Feeling Fulfilled Is a Personal Path

A month ago I had a post about working after retirement.  Then, there was one about volunteering. There have been posts about financial investing after retirement, moving, developing your passions....kind of a laundry list of topics that retirees have said are important.

But, still stuck in my mind was a comment from earlier in the summer from a reader that took me to task for what may have been a bit of a contrarian view. He wrote that being busy, traveling, volunteering, or engaging with others isn't really the only way to took at retirement. His point was that not everyone wants to do those things to feel fulfilled. Not every satisfying retirement journey involves all sorts of activities. 

His comment wasn't health-related. It was not that he can't do these things, it's that he chooses not to. His view is that he worked hard all his life to get to a point where he could stop, disengage, unconnect. Being alone with his thoughts, reading when he wanted to, sitting on a park bench, watching TV that entertained him...whatever made him happy was how he chooses to go through his retirement journey.

While I would not be happy that way, if it were the same every day,  that doesn't make me right and him wrong. It makes us different. Fulfillment is a very personal path, and in retirement even more so. Most of the distractions that come with work and extra responsibilities are gone. The path forward is of your making.

I have some close friends who preach the importance of mindfulness. Focusing on what is happening in the present and being very aware of your surroundings is the core of this way of living. While not necessary, meditation or yoga are often cited as examples of engaging in mindfulness. Trying to quiet and focus our minds on the now is the goal. I assume this approach would urge a simpler lifestyle, one that isn't packed with activities and commitments.

Another path to retirement fulfillment could be the concept of minimalism. This doesn't have to mean minimal belongings and living in a tiny house, though it could. At its heart, minimalism requires each possession we have and each life decision we make work to improve how we define a quality life. We attempt to minimize distractions caused by things and maintaining those things. 

Some of my friends are snowbirds. Others travel more than I would want, but that choice satisfies them. Another couple just fulfilled a twenty year dream to live within sight of the ocean. I know some folks who are fighting constant health problems. They are happy to make it through each day without a doctor's appointment and be able to function.

The bottom line is the fellow who left the comment was right: our fulfillment is something each of us sees through a different lens. The only person we should judge in this regard is ourselves. If we are feeling good about our retirement, happy with where we are, and not hurting others, that should be enough. If that means being involved, active, and busy, then great. If it means stepping back from the world and all its noise, then OK.

How do you feel? How much activity and involvement do you require to feel satisfied? Has that changed over the years? Does a porch swing and a good book sound just about perfect nowadays?

October 15, 2017

A Wife's Perspective: Betty's View of Retirement

Over the past few months I have received several requests to share some of my wife's thoughts about retirement. This post was written about almost 5 years ago but not much that is important has changed,except we have been retired for that much longer. I have left it the way she answered the questions in January 2013. I will plan on a full update sometime in the coming months.

Over the past 30 months of writing for Satisfying Retirement  there have been lots of posts that have included information about my wife, Betty, and our journey together. Probably two or three dozen e-mails over that time have asked to hear more from her and what she thinks about the retirement from her perspective.

So, I took the bait and posed some questions for her to answer. Wow! Her insight and responses were so interesting and important that I am turning this into a two part post. This time, you can read her answers to the first four questions. Next week I'll have part two with her answers to the last three questions.

…What have been the biggest changes in your life over the past 11 years of retirement?

"First of all...Are you kidding? I get a whole blog post on my opinion about everything!"

Before Bob retired he worked 5 days and nights a week in other states. I worked as a pre-school teacher while raising our two daughters. Our family had two schedules. The girls and I lived a rather unstructured life (except for school work and extracurricular activities) when Bob was on the road. When he was home on weekends the girls and I “switched gears” and led a structured life with planned family fun time.

Bob has always had this marvelous way of finding fun things to do either as a couple or a family. It sounds as if it was hard for the girls and me to “flip” into another schedule but it really wasn’t at all. We had the best of both worlds. My Bohemian way of living (Eating when we’re hungry, dropping everything and veering off or doing messy projects all over the house and staying up late to finish projects) enabled the girls and me to be at our creative best during the week. It also taught the girls to be more disciplined on the weekends. The difference was we were scheduled and disciplined on the weekends and more laid back on the weekdays. Most families are the exact opposite.

The big change is having Bob here all of the time. He’s not used to seeing messes everywhere. (The girls and I would clean everything up on Fridays before he got home) He also was used to all of these projects being done every week before he got back. He never experienced the processes of our creations.

My spiritual life is deeper, more fulfilling and in turn, my friendships have become much more satisfying and more meaningful. My relationship with Bob is on a higher level, too. We have grown much closer.

What have been your biggest surprises about retirement?

That I can deal with a lot of change. Bob and I retired and I got another full time job, We downsized into a house half the size and retired about the same time the girls left for college. My doctor of 12 years moved away, my health insurance company pulled out of state, our beloved dog Muffin died, we started going to another Church after 20 years. Then the tragic events 9/11 happened which meant we cancelled our 25th anniversary trip to Europe which was to leave on 9/14. This was just the first year of our retirement!

I didn’t completely fall apart when we experienced a completely empty nest, but I loved it when one of our daughters temporarily moved back home.

I'm surprised we are still living in Arizona. But, with whole extended family living within 40 minutes of each other, moving wasn't really an option.

We own an RV! I never, ever dreamed that would be part of our life.

….What have been your biggest disappointments about retirement?

I still cannot find enough time for myself each day. I find myself comparing myself with Bob. He seems to be able to get all of his chores done and have lots of time for all of his hobbies. It’s been almost 12 years and I still can’t find the time!

My health is not where I thought it would be at this stage of my life. I have had lots of problems earlier than most people. Health is a huge factor when planning retirement. Do everything possible while you can because no one knows when you can lose your health.

I wanted to live in a small town where everyone has a huge front porch and you can walk to the downtown area or ride your bike around a nice lake. I wanted a place where the weather has mild seasons with green trees and grass that turn all different colors in the fall and all of the family is within walking distance of each other.

I live (and have lived for 28 years in a place where every house has a walled backyard, you have to drive a car to get to everything, the heat is in the triple digits for 5 months of the year, (you have to drive your dog to a grassy park because the sidewalks will burn the pads of their feet) most of our trees are 4 feet tall and prickly, and our front yards consist of rocks and not grass.

But… and this is a BIG but… My loving family is close by, we go to a church that we love, we can have lunch outside in short sleeved shirts in December, and most people have wonderful grassy backyards with swimming pools! You just have to put things in perspective!

My retirement has been wonderful in every sense and I couldn’t be happier with Bob and my family!

…How do you spend your days?

I would say that for the last year, two thirds of my day is spent taking care of our new pup! She has some emotional issues that have taken a lot of extra training and TLC.

I am just the opposite of my husband when it comes to planning anything. He will have lists of things that need to be accomplished every day, week, year. He will plan these things out on his smart phone and or his “Weekend List.” He then tells me what needs to be accomplished, we do it then if there is any time left I will do my list.

Unfortunately I never seem to have any time left in the day. I realize what a blessing this is for me knowing that he is taking care of me even beyond the grave. It is quite comforting to know that if Bob dies tomorrow I will know exactly what day to start compiling our tax information or his Father’s quarterly taxes, take out the recycling or the trash or our families’ Birthdays, until the day I die.

The thing that bothers me is that Bob seems to have plenty of time for reading and studying the Bible, pleasure reading, guitar practicing, e-mailing, reading blogs and writing his own blog; napping, etc…I can’t even find time to take a nap! We both watch the same amount of TV each day and he does 1/3 of the housework (We cut everything into 3rds with my grown daughter) and he does all of the finances plus all his own laundry etc….

Note…I think I have found out how I spend a huge amount of time around the house. I am the one in our household who does all of the seasonal changes to the house. I have “displays” that I set out for spring, summer, fall, winter, and all of the major holidays. I put up, take down, pack, unpack, buy new things, and creatively arrange them. I’m also constantly re-arranging the storage shed for all of these boxes. I also do all of the major projects around the house. Painting all of the walls, furniture, paintings, photography etc… Sanding and painting doors, replacing floor tiles, bathroom tiles grouting, and caulking and then cleaning the grout and re caulking the baths! I also dig holes and make waterfalls and ponds and such. Whew! It makes me tired just thinking about it!