There are so many excellent documentaries about caregiving that have been released over the last few years and I’d like to highlight a recent entry, “Duty Free.” It’s about a woman named Rebecca who gets fired from her job at age 75 and is facing a dire housing and economic situation while caring for a son with mental health issues. Her other son, a young filmmaker, uses the challenging moment as an opportunity to help his mother complete a bucket list of adventures and experiences she never got to enjoy as a single immigrant mother raising two children. What transpires are moments of joy and heartbreak as Rebecca forges a new path for herself while addressing her past.
I found this documentary to be very moving while spotlighting an issue that more and more elders find themselves facing. Retirement is becoming less of a certainty as rising economic insecurity means more and more older people will continue to work their entire lives. Rebecca immigrated to this country when she was young and worked hard all of her life in the hotel industry, working her way up to a supervisor position in the housekeeping department before being fired at age 75. Her housing arrangement was also nullified as the result of her job termination, so Rebecca was facing dual hardships. We know from studies that starting around age 50, women in particular find it much harder to secure employment or move forward in their careers. At Rebecca’s age, though she is still vibrant and physically active, the job search is even more grim.
The film also is about caregiving, as Rebecca financially supports her son who has schizophrenia and is unable to work. So many older people find themselves supporting their adult children for a variety of reasons, and that adds to their own economic insecurity. Her other son, Sian-Pierre, is limited in financial resources but does offer something priceless, which is encouraging his mother to do all of the things she never had time to do while raising children and documenting his mother’s story for the world to see.
I encourage you to watch this film and share with others. If you have seen it, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
The good news is that COVID-19 vaccines have been developed in record time and are being rolled out to the public. The bad news is that the distribution of the vaccines is off to a rocky start.
Front-line health care workers and nursing home residents are supposed to be top priority when it comes to the first phase of vaccine distribution, according to federal officials. The problem is that the coordination and management in distributing the vaccines has been left to local governments, meaning each city/county/state has their own rules on how the public can sign up to get the vaccine. New York City residents report facing a ton of red tape in trying to make an appointment. Some regions have online only appointment systems, which can be a roadblock for those who are not tech savvy. The strict temperature requirements for the vaccines mean that in certain cases, places open up vaccinations to anyone, in order to avoid having to discard spoiled doses. The chaos that has ensued and the lack of efficient communication at the local level has left some elders to contact their local media outlets for assistance in setting up a vaccine appointment.
In short, it’s a mess. I do have some hope that more stable leadership at the federal level will help iron out the vaccination rollout. Getting the pandemic under control will be the top priority, and there should be a greater willingness to partner with local governments to support the success of their vaccination programs. This truly needs to be a group effort. The more effective the vaccination program is, the quicker people can return to the lives they cherish, including spending time with family and supporting the businesses in their community.
So if you are an elder or an elder caregiver, where do you begin? Start with your family physician, who can confirm which vaccine phase group you are in, and offer a general timeline on when you may be eligible to receive the vaccine. Next, reach out to your local health department. Policy & Medicine offers this state-by-state list of local health department resources. Be patient, as websites and hotlines are overwhelmed right now. As the vaccine stockpile grows, there will be more places that will offer the vaccine, including pharmacy chain stores like CVS. Finally, don’t skip the second (booster) shot! It is necessary for the vaccines currently available to the public. I’ve seen several news reports of a steep decline in the rate of people returning to get their second vaccine dose. While a single dose will offer some protection, two doses are necessary for the most effective protection. Johnson & Johnson is working on a single dose vaccine, which hopefully will gain approval soon.
If you or your loved one has received the vaccine, please comment below about your experience.
I’m always interested in new technologies that can help elders and their caregivers. So when I received an email about Amazon Alexa’s new Care Hub, I took some time to look at its features.
Smart home devices such as virtual assistants have become popular over the last several years, and their ease of use means a wide range of people, from children to older people, can adopt them without much of a learning curve. The privacy concerns are real and should not be ignored, however many find that these devices are helpful in their daily lives. I have one of the older Amazon Echo devices and I use it to automate the house lights and to use as a timer when I’m cooking.
The new Care Hub requires the elder user to have an Amazon Echo device in their home and for the caregiver to at least have the Amazon Alexa app on their phone. Echo devices start around $50, though you can get older generations at a discounted rate, especially during Black Friday or other deal days. For example, a deal right now offers an Echo Dot for $29.99.
A customized activity feed is linked with alerts so that you can monitor when your loved one first interacts with the device each day. If activity is delayed, then you can check up on them, either through the Care Hub or by phone. Alexa will also notify caregivers if their loved one asks for help, allowing the caregiver to check on the person and call emergency services if necessary.
There are a lot of things that Alexa can do to help elders, from offering pill reminders to adding items to the shopping list and making hands-free calls without having to remember numbers.
I haven’t had the chance to use Amazon’s Care Hub because I’m not currently caregiving for anyone, but would love to hear feedback from anyone who has had the chance to try it.
Summer is here, and while outdoor activities remain in flux due to the coronavirus pandemic, now is a good time to make sure you have your summer safety plan in place.
Every year, several hundred people die from extreme heat, according to the CDC, and the majority of victims are older. Increased heat sensitivity and risks associated with chronic health conditions and prescription medications make older adults more prone to heat-related issues.
Another issue is the lack of air conditioning. My parents’ condo did not have air conditioning, and while summers in their mountain community were generally mild, there were heat waves that would send temperatures soaring into the high 80s and low 90s. After they had passed, I spent a week or so there during one of those heat waves and even with a new fan that I bought, it was very uncomfortable. But what may be uncomfortable for someone younger can be dangerous or even deadly for those over 65 or in poor health.
Even more heartbreaking, some older people on a fixed budget fear the high utility bills associated with running an air conditioner, so even though they have one, they don’t use it.
Here are some things to consider as a caregiver when preparing your elder loved ones for the summer heat:
What are their cooling options at home? Are they adequate? Keep in mind that with coronavirus restrictions, cooling stations that some depend upon in their community may be closed. Have an alternative plan if it becomes too hot for your loved one to stay in their home.
Exercise is still important. Try to arrange walks or other outdoor activities in the early morning or evening hours, when it’s not quite as hot. Keep outdoor activities brief and make sure to bring water so your loved one stays hydrated. Focus on indoor activities like yoga or dancing to keep older adults active.
Provide shade: If possible, provide a shady spot for your loved one to spend time outdoors at home. Make sure elders wear breathable, light-colored clothing and wear a hat when outdoors.
Hydration is key: I found it was tough to get my parents to drink water. It is crucial that older people drink enough water, especially during the summer. Dehydration can occur more quickly than you think and have serious health consequences. Consider adding a lime or lemon slice to sparkling or still water to make it more interesting, or make a pitcher of unsweetened herbal iced tea to encourage extra fluid consumption.