Saturday, June 6, 2009

Decline, like growth, happens in spurts

I find myself talking with the PARENTS of my friends more and more these days; they are dealing with the same parental situations as me. I was born when my parents were in their early 40's, they soon had grand kids near my age. Most of my friends parents are active, healthy and have done a lot for themselves. They are often shocked at things their parents do or can no longer do for themselves. I am not. At an early age, I saw and helped my parents with my very elderly grand parents.

Over the past year one thing has come up again and again from family to family - grandma or grandpa changes a lot during the 3, 6 or 12 months since the last visit. It seems that, like little kids who have growth spurts, elders decline in spurts as well. Within 6 months my Mom went from preparing simple meals like soup and a sandwich to being unable to open a can of soup with a conventional can opener. (We got an electric can opener but after another 6 months she was too weak to lift a 14 ounce can.) Her grip went from knuckle crunching to slight, like that of a six year old. Two years prior this, stairs suddenly became a huge problem. She feared going down stairs and going up she would take one step at a time putting both feet on a stair before tackling the next one. Our solution was to put in a ramp to the yard; we moved all of her living to one level of the house the year before.

My Mom's decline demonstrates the need to OBSERVE and ACT. If you are trying to keep your Elder in their home, look for ways to help them do as much as possible given their limits. Prepare to make adjustments often and make sure they are safe. Here's a minor example but one thta means a lot to Mom: She likes a cold Pepsi every afternoon. When I saw her pry open the top of the aluminum soda can a butcher knife I found some plastic gizmo's that fit over the tab and enable the user to lift it to open the can.

Often as our Elders age eating becomes a problem and is something that family must watch closely. Elders will TELL you they are eating well but often they are not. They compromise and eat what is at waist level - donuts, sandwiches for example. They forget how long left overs sit in the fridge and eat spoiled food. Mom's inability to make a meal for herself was a primary factor in our decision to move her to Assisted Living. I dropped by at lunch time to visit and Mom said, "It would be nice to have some warm soup." Translated this means, she can't prepare it for herself and she'd like me to make some lunch for her. It was rare that I visited Mom on a weekday and I suspected she was growing weaker. I told her we'd make it together so handed her a can and the electric opener while I got a pan and some sandwich fixings. I watched her struggle to get the can in the opener for a few minutes. Soon I blamed the opener as to clunky to help her save face. I fixed lunch and we had a nice visit. I left convinced it was time to move her.