Here in Atlanta we are looking at a brutal heat wave, with temperatures expected to be in the mid-90s for the next couple of weeks. Summer begins officially on June 21, but in some parts of the country it has arrived early.
It’s important this time of year to check in on elder loved ones and neighbors. No one should be dying of heat exposure in their homes in our modern times, yet each year, heat-attributed deaths occur. Those at greater risk include elders, those with pre-existing health conditions and those in public or institutional housing which may not have adequate air conditioning.
I would note another factor, which may be the most tragic of all. Some elders may have air conditioning, but are afraid to turn it on because of the cost. That’s why it’s important to check in and make sure your elder loved one’s homes are adequately cooled. Fans may not be enough in areas experiencing a prolonged spell of extreme heat. Check with local officials to see if public cooling stations are available.
One aspect of the pandemic that could be seen as a benefit to family caregivers is the embrace and expansion of technology that assists with basic tasks in our daily lives. While some of us were already utilizing such services before the pandemic, many others learned the convenience of having groceries delivered to their home, for example.
A sandwich caregiver interviewed by MarketWatch recounted what a major benefit it was to have groceries delivered. She used to spend a good chunk of her day off taking her elder parents to the grocery store. When the pandemic struck, she shifted to grocery delivery and signed up her own family as well. Sometimes it is the simple things that can make all the difference. A caregiver reclaiming a few hours of her life each week can have a major impact on her wellbeing and those in her care.
Of course, there is always a price to pay for that convenience, and I never forget the fact that there is a human being who is picking out my groceries and delivering them, putting their own lives at risk to complete a chore for me. I always make sure to tip well.
Zoom and other video calling tools also exploded in popularity during the pandemic. While some are understandably suffering from Zoom fatigue at this point, for those families who were able to get their elder loved ones comfortable with the technology, video calls served as an important lifeline for those separated during the pandemic. Being able to check in on an elder loved one from afar with a simple video call helped put a family caregiver’s mind at ease. Of course it’s not the same as being able to hug and socialize in person, but for elders who otherwise may have been completely isolated, video calls kept the connection to family intact.
Remote tools, whether for working, socializing, or caregiving, are now receiving greater public interest, which is sparking investments from major technology companies like Amazon, who has developed a caregiving hub called Alexa Together. While there are security, privacy, and ethical concerns when it comes to monitoring technology, overall I think these tools can be helpful for the long-distance caregiver.
From my experience, I found tools such as a cellphone designed for older people, fall-sensing technology, and automated shipping of supplies to be of great help as a long-distance caregiver. As I wrote in my book, The Reluctant Caregiver, I was able to convince my mother, long skeptical of high-tech gadgets, to embrace these tools to help keep her living at home safely, versus having to enter assisted living.
As I grow older, I will be watching this growing field of technology with interest.
I hope that you are having a wonderful holiday weekend with loved ones and appreciating the simple joys of being together, something that many had to sacrifice over the last two years.
Black Friday has earned a sordid reputation as displaying the worst of consumerism, but there is another notable day happening soon that may be worthy of participation: Giving Tuesday. If you have nonprofits and charities that you donate to or volunteer with, you probably are aware of the upcoming Nov. 30th event.
Giving Tuesday is a relatively new movement, beginning in 2012 as a way to simply designate a day to encourage people to do good. The movement has now spread globally. It’s easy to participate, and giving support to our elder community is one of the movement’s areas of focus. It can be as simple as checking in on a neighbor, writing a letter to an elder in a nursing home, supporting a local fundraiser, or donating your time and skills virtually or in-person.
Whether it’s Tuesday or any other day this holiday season, let’s find our own unique way to support the elders in our families and communities.
You are never too old to have a roommate, or in the concept of home sharing, a housemate. It’s not a new concept. Popular TV shows like “The Golden Girls” put home sharing in the national spotlight and the arrangement continues to spark interest among elders looking for alternative housing options. With more single elders wanting to age in place while on fixed budgets, home sharing could be a viable solution.
Home sharing comes in many different forms. In some cases, an elder opens up their privately-owned home to another elder who is seeking housing. In some cases, home sharing could involve a tiny home on the property or a part of the main house which has been retrofitted into an apartment or separate dwelling. This is a good solution for those who want to maintain a higher level of privacy. In other cases, home sharing may involve larger multi-resident dwellings, where each person had their own room but share common areas. Home sharing organizations can help applicants find the right housing situation for them along with a vetted, compatible housemate match.
It’s important to remember that home sharing is not a substitute for those who require daily medical care. Housemates are not allowed to perform medical care for liability reasons, but can help with household tasks such as cooking and cleaning for a reduction in rent. Home sharing organizations draw up contracts that outline housemate expectations in great detail to support a successful arrangement.
Annamarie Pluhar, author of “Sharing Housing, A Guidebook for Finding and Keeping Good Housemates,” identified five essential benefits to sharing a home, especially for older people:
Help and security
Health and well-being
Some people in home sharing arrangements have said that the mental and emotional benefits of companionship ended up outweighing the financial benefits. For independent older adults who are not interested in traditional retirement communities, home sharing is a an option worth exploring.
Those who have been following the coronavirus pandemic closely are likely not surprised that a concerning variant has emerged. This was one of the scenarios that worried infectious disease experts. Here is what caregivers should know about the delta variant:
What is different about the delta variant: It’s more transmissible, and is running rampant through America’s large swaths of unvaccinated populations. The debate is ongoing on whether it causes more severe disease. Hospitals across the US are seeing younger people fill up beds, which is different than earlier iterations of the pandemic.
How to protect elder loved ones: The good news is that roughly 80 percent of Americans over the age of 65 have been vaccinated, according to the CDC. If you have an elder in your life who has been reluctant to get vaccinated, now is the time for them to seriously reconsider. For those who cannot or will not get vaccinated, extreme caution when interacting with others, especially in public, is critical. That includes masking and limiting contact with unvaccinated people.
But what about the breakthrough cases in fully vaccinated people? Vaccines have never been full-proof. The influenza vaccine in particular is a roll of the dice each year when it comes to effectiveness. The COVID-19 vaccines face the same challenges, especially when it comes to variants. While the studies showing that vaccinated people can carry a similar viral load to the vaccinated, it’s important to focus on the bottom line. The overwhelming amount of people who are being hospitalized due to the delta variant are unvaccinated. The vaccinated breakthrough cases typically result in asymptomatic or mild symptoms. Down the road, booster vaccine shots may be necessary to address variants.
What about nursing homes? According to the government, 81 percent of nursing home residents and 58 percent of staff have been vaccinated. A concerning study found that aides working in nursing home have lower vaccination rates. These are the staff members who interact with residents the most, so for the well-being of residents and staff, more facilities may consider vaccine requirements. If you have concerns about unvaccinated staff members at a facility where your loved one resides, talk to management. It’s also possible that facilities will reimpose visitation restrictions to reduce the risk of outbreaks of the delta variant.
Will this ever end? I wish I had a crystal ball. Everyone is exhausted. It is particularly disheartening for those of us who followed the guidelines and got vaccinated, and now find that a variant is threatening to upend the cautious reopening phase. Some experts approach the future of coronavirus like seasonal influenza, where as a society we take precautions as we can, but accept that there will be cases, hospitalizations and even deaths in vulnerable populations. Former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb estimates that we are further along with the delta variant than we may think, and that while brutal, the variant will sweep through the country fairly quickly. Other variants may follow, so stay vigilant when caring for anyone who is older or in a vulnerable population. If it is safe for you and your loved ones to do so, try to stay engaged in activities that you enjoy, whether it’s being out in nature or in low-risk social situations. It’s important not to overlook our mental and emotional health while we address COVID-19 variants.
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.