Dwayne Clark

Honey, why are the end tables in the closet?

Yes, there may come a day—and perhaps you’ve already had it—when you walk out of your COVID-necessitated home office and ask your spouse that very question, and rightly so. Seniors don’t see things the way you do!Sight becomes a more significant issue as we age, and it gets even worse at night. So, with your senior parents now staying with you during this time of quarantine, you will need to “senior-proof” your home.

At Aegis Living, pathways are clear of things “below the knee,” like ottomans, tables, art, and even pets because tripping and falling is a huge issue for seniors. The last thing you want to do now is send your parents to the hospital with a broken hip.

Preventing Falls

We’ve all taken a tumble at some point in our adult lives, but falling becomes a much more serious issue when we get older. Additionally, seniors are at greater risk of suffering from more severe injuries from a fall, including head trauma, spinal cord injuries, fractures, or other long-term complications.

The statistics are staggering, and I won’t overload—or scare—you with too many, but here are a few that are eye-opening:

  • 1 in 4 people over the age of 65 falls each year!
  • Falls are the leading cause of fatal injury and the most common cause of nonfatal trauma-related hospital admissions among older adults.
  • Over 300,000 seniors are hospitalized each year for hip fractures.
  • Falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries (TBI).

One other less noticeable result of falls is the fear your parent may experience after falling. While falling may cause Mom to be more careful—which isn’t a bad good thing—this new fear may also cause her to cut activities out of her daily routine and become less active. This, of course, could cause her to become weaker, which then increases her fall risk. It’s a nasty Catch-22.

So, what should you do to “senior-proof” your house, while maintaining a fun, loving, and safe environment? Let’s take a look at four of the most significant areas that will need your parent-proofing attention.

Main Living Areas – Living Room and Kitchen

There are several easy things you can do to make the main living areas safer for Mom & Dad. In the living room, take a look at how your furniture is laid out—especially end tables and ottomans. Is getting to the sofa an obstacle course that could cause your parents to trip or fall? If so, try rearranging the furniture to make it easier to get to and less likely to cause an accident. You want to keep all traffic paths as clear as possible. Secure area rugs with non-skid backing to prevent slipping, and remove them if the edges or corners begin to curl up. Keep floor space free from clutter, including electrical cords, newspapers/magazines/books, shoes, and your children’s toys. Oh, and don’t forget to make sure Fido’s toys are picked up as well.

In the kitchen, you also want to secure any area rugs that don’t already have the non-skid backing. Floors should also be kept clean and dry. If there are any grocery items that Mom or Dad frequently use, keep them at a level that is easy to reach without using a step stool. But, if a step stool is used in the kitchen, make sure it is wide, sturdy, and has handrails.

Bathrooms

Another risky room in the house for your senior parents is the bathroom. Lack of space, slippery floors, and new physical changes in your parents  make this room one that definitely needs your attention. First, consider adding grab bars in the shower/bathtub and near the toilet. This will help with balance. A shower chair will also make it easier for Dad to shower without slipping. And be sure your tub and shower have no-slip strips or mats.

Also, consider switching out your current toilet for a high-profile one, making sitting and standing easier. If that’s not an option, get a raised toilet seat that can be placed on your current toilet. If grab bars are not an option next to your toilet, consider a standalone toilet safety rail (some even have a magazine rack!).

As just mentioned, secure any area rugs with a non-slip backing. And if your parents share a bathroom with your little ones, be sure all bath-time toys are picked up and stored in a place where they won’t have to move them.

One last suggestion—although this doesn’t directly relate to falling—adjust the thermostat on your hot water heater to no more than 120 degrees. This will help prevent burns.

Stairs and Walking Surfaces

It goes without saying that stairs can present a struggle for some seniors. Whether indoors or outdoors, be sure all stairs have secure handrails that run the entire length of the staircase. (An if the handrails are on both sides of the staircase, even better.) Also, remove any area rugs at the top or bottom of the stairs. Even if they have the non-slip backing, they can present a fall risk.  

Changes in walking surfaces can cause a stumble. If possible, highlight changes in floor surfaces, particularly in doorways, by adding a brightly-colored tape to the floor. Bright reflective tape can also be very helpful outdoors to highlight the change from steps or a walkway to a surface that is lower than the previous surface (like stepping down from a sidewalk to the driveway).

Lighting

Poor lighting and decreased vision are common issues contributing to falls. Not only does a person’s eyesight change as they age, but other conditions, like cataracts, may affect their ability to see clearly. Add more lighting and brighten current lights will make it easier for your parents to see. Make sure dark hallways are well lit, and use motion-sensor night lights to provide light at night when needed.

Lastly…

You can do a few other things, not related to your house, that can help reduce their risk of falling. First, check their medications for side effects. Risky side effects include those that make you drowsy or cause dizziness. Both of these will throw off Mom’s balance. Another would be to make sure they’ve recently had their eyes examined.

If it’s been more than a year, get Dad in for an appointment to make sure nothing is going on with his eye health that is diminishing his ability to see. Lastly, and probably my favorite, encourage them to exercise, especially any exercise that improves balance. Tai Chi is excellent for that.

Hopefully, Wellness Warriors, these tips will help make your house safer for your parents to live in, especially during the pandemic. And a safer house is a happier home.

I hope you’ve been enjoying this series of blogs about your parents living with you during the pandemic. Next time, I want to discuss what I refer to as “campfire chats.” It’s time to gather the whole family, and listen, learn, laugh, and love. Join me then!

Live Well, Live Long,

~Dwayne


Dad never struggled THAT much to open the mail…

These are certainly interesting times…no one saw 2020 the way is turning out to be. You probably didn’t predict much of what you’ve experienced this year, and especially that your senior parents would be living with you during a pandemic! Yet, here we are!

I’m sure there are many special times that have come from having your parents with you—day and night—for the past few weeks or months! But, it’s certainly different than seeing your parents at holidays, maybe 3 or 4 times a year; you may have even had some startling observations about your parents’ behaviors and habits.

But having your parents live with you during the COVID-19 quarantine period is a rare opportunity to evaluate your parents’ health, which may make you ask: “What’s normal? What’s an expected part of aging and what should alarm me?” I’d like to spend a little bit of time today examining conditions that would be considered a “normal” part of the aging process, and what might be something that would warrant a call or visit to your parents’ doctor.

What’s Natural and What’s Not

There are many different or new behaviors you might observe in your parents, and it would be difficult to cover all of them in one, or even a few, blogs. Here are some of the most common changes you might be noticing. I’ll share what’s considered “normal” (or a natural part of the aging process), and what might raise an alert to seek the advice of your parents’ PCP. While it can be challenging to care for a loved one whose habits and behaviors have changed from what you’re used to, patience—along with the appropriate medical care and attention—often reaps rewards.

And please remember that, while I am around amazing seniors in my work at Aegis Living, I am not a physician. Please do not use what follows as a diagnostic tool. Always seek advice from a medical professional when you see something that is concerning to you.

Energy, Stamina, and Physical Abilities

Age-related changes in stamina, strength, and ability will vary based on your parents’ current (and past) health choices (diet, exercise, lifestyle), medical history, and genetics. Natural changes in cells may slow them down or alter their capacity. With age, we lose muscle tissue and our muscles become more rigid and less toned. While there are ways to improve strength and flexibility, we can’t completely reverse this natural course of aging.

Frequently, though, we tend to write conditions off to, “I’m just getting older.” Marie Bernard, MD, deputy director of the National Institute on Aging and a geriatrician, shared, “I’ve had many a patient come in and complain about pain in their knee. They’ve said, ‘It’s just my age.’ The reality of the matter is both knees are the same age. Why is one knee painful and the other is not?” If your parent has a sudden change or if she feels pain, that is a red flag that should be checked out.

Memory Loss

This one hits close to home, as my mother had Alzheimer’s (ALZ). It’s important to know that not all forgetfulness is a sign of something as serious as ALZ or dementia. Mom forgetting where she put her keys or Dad forgetting the name of that action movie star is common when you get older. So are occasionally having trouble finding the right word or forgetting why you walked into a room. As one ages, it becomes more difficult to think quickly and to multitask. This is normal. While changes to our brains are inevitable, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease go far beyond normal memory loss. With dementia, your parent may find it difficult to remember conversations they just had, or they might not be able to remember the names of family members. Beyond problems remembering, other symptoms might include problems with

communication, reasoning, concentration, and impaired visual perception. Loss that affects daily functioning should be evaluated.

While it’s important to be alerted to warning signs, don’t over-react every time Dad forgets something. If more signs of dementia become apparent, see a primary care physician or geriatrician to rule out other causes that might be easily treatable. 

Longer Response Time

In addition to the normal decline in short-term memory, it’s also not unusual to see your parents take longer to respond—they learn more slowly and retain new information less effectively. Generally, information processing slows as we grow older, and seniors have more trouble multitasking. 

Many seniors make a conscious effort to maintain mental alertness by reading, learning new skills, taking classes, and/or maintaining social contacts with people from a variety of age groups. These are all great ways to keep your brain sharp.

It’s also important to acknowledge what our parents are able to do now versus what they have been able to do in the past. That said, don’t sell Dad short. Give him the time and opportunity to stretch and grow. Just be observant and adaptable.

Hearing

Some loss in hearing is normal as we age. In fact, roughly 30% of those over the age of 60 have some hearing loss. This may be due to the loss of sensory receptors in the inner ear. At first, some sounds may seem muffled, and high-pitched voices may be harder to understand. Changes in tone and speech may also be harder to distinguish.

You may find that, at times, you have to repeat things and Mom may have “Jeopardy” on a little louder than you’d like. This is not out of the norm.

On the other hand, pain, drainage from the ear, or a rapid loss of hearing could be a sign of an infection or a condition that’s a bit more serious. Hearing in one ear being noticeably worse than the other is also something that is not normal.

Robert Dobie, MD, professor of otolaryngology at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, advises that, “If your parents aren’t hearing quite as well as they did a few years ago, that’s the aging process. If they don’t hear as well this week as they did last week, that’s not the aging process, and should prompt a call to the doctor.”

Rest Assured…

Kenneth Minaker, MD, chief of geriatric medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School says, “We shouldn’t think of aging as a failure of our bodily systems…Aging is a life-saving process. It is a process of lifelong adaptation to prevent us from developing cancers that would kill us.”

The normal changes that come with aging may be a bit unsettling to see in your parents, but they’re nothing to worry about. It’s when you start to observe extremes that you may want to see the advice of their doctor. To learn more about ways you can stay healthy, check out my latest bestseller, 30 Summers More. Not only will you find tips that will help your senior parents, there are also things in there that will help you on your path to longevity. It’s never too early (or too late) to start living your best life.

Come back next time as I will share tips on ways to “mom- and dad-proof” your house. Until then, Wellness Warriors, Live Well, Live Long!

~Dwayne


How Many Siestas Do You Need, Mom?

Seniors sleep when they need to, not necessarily when it’s convenient. So, it’s not unusual to see Mom or Dad dozing off in the afternoon. It’s their daily siesta! It’s ok—they need it. Remember, quality of sleep often deteriorates as we age. In fact, nearly half of men and women over the age of 65 say they have at least one sleep problem.

It’s a fact that as we get older, our sleep patterns change. In general, seniors sleep less, wake up and go back to sleep more often, and spend less time in deep sleep than younger people.

But regardless of your age, you still need quality rest to be healthy.

Let’s take a look at a few of the more common reasons seniors nap so much, along with a few tips to help Mom and Dad sleep better at night.

Sleep Deprivation

Sleep deprivation is the most common cause of daytime sleepiness. This can be caused by something as simple as a bedroom that’s too warm or cool, a heightened sensitivity to noise or light, too much caffeine during the day, achy joints at night, or frequent trips to the bathroom due to an overactive bladder.

Sleep Disorders

Stemming from different reasons than just discussed, having a sleep disorder definitely affects your parents’ ability to sleep well, causing them to be tired during the day. These disorders can include insomnia, sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome (RLS), periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD), and REM behavior disorder. Each of these conditions will prevent your parents from getting the sound, restful sleep they need.

Boredom and a Lack of Activities

Your once-active mother is now less active. Whether because of health conditions that limit her ability to do certain things, not being socially connected at your place, or social-distancing and other pandemic-related reasons, there may be less to do and occupy her time. Simply put, Mom may be napping a lot because she’s bored and there’s just nothing better to do.

Also, if she isn’t getting enough physical activity during the day, then not only might she get bored, but this lack of activity could make it harder for her to fall asleep at night.

Medication

It may come as no surprise that researchers at Oregon State University’s College of Public Health & Human Sciences estimate that Americans age 65 years and older take an average of four prescription medications. While beneficial in its intended way, all medications have side effects. Some medications cause drowsiness, so that nap could be related to Dad’s medicine. Other drugs could actually stimulate him and make it difficult to sleep, so this could not only make it difficult for him to go to sleep at night, but to stay asleep, and hence the daytime nap.

And then, remember that’s the side effect for just one medication. Consider the possible multiplied effect of taking several medications with sleep side effects. It all adds up.

So, What to Do About All the Napping?

Depending on why your parents are frequently napping, the best thing may be to just let them nap. Not all day, mind you, but a brief nap at some point in the day may be just what their bodies need to rejuvenate and refresh.

Here are some tips to help improve your parents’ nighttime sleep, and hopefully reduce or eliminate the need for a daytime nap:

  • Exercise – If physically able, make sure your parents exercise every day. Even a walk around the block or through a park will help improve the quality of their sleep. Yoga and deep-breathing exercises can also improve your parents’ sleep.
  • Activities – Get Mom or Dad involved in activities. As a Wellness Warrior, you know I firmly believe that having a purpose in our senior years gives us a reason to get up. See if there is a safe way they can volunteer at a local church, community center, or foodbank. If your parent can’t get out of the house, then involve them in things around the house. Folding clothes, helping to plan meals, and watching your little ones are ways that they can help you and feel like they are contributing.
  • Good Sleep Routines – There are several good, simple habits that will develop into healthy sleep routines. Get your parents to start doing these to help them get the nighttime rest they need:
    • Avoid all forms of caffeine for 6-8 hours prior to bedtime. Not only does this include that afternoon cup of coffee or tea (hot or iced), it also includes chocolate. While this can present its own set of challenges, finding different beverages and snacks for them can help them sleep better and even improve their health.
    • Avoid alcohol before bed. While that glass of wine might help Mom go to sleep, the sugars in it will wake her up in the middle of the night (and possibly cause her to have to go to the bathroom).
    • Avoid large quantities of liquids before going to bed.
    • Avoid electronics that emit blue light for an hour or two prior to going to bed. These include the television, smart phone, and tablets/computers. This can be a nice time to listen to music, read a [physical] book, or take a soothing bath. If they insist on watching tv right up until bedtime, consider having them wear special glasses that block the blue light.
    • They should go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time every morning, even on the weekends. This routine will help train the body to know when it’s supposed to sleep.
    • While short naps can be helpful, longer naps will cause your parent to stay awake longer in the evening and not be sleepy at bedtime. Try and encourage your parent to limit naps.
  • Medications – Be sure to consult with the pharmacist or your parents’ physicians regarding any side effects their meds might have on sleeping, especially if taking several different medications that might have a compounding effect. Also check to see if taking a melatonin supplement would be helpful.
  • Your Parents’ Sleeping Environment – Ensure that your parents’ sleeping environment is a comfortable temperature, dark, and free of distractions. 
  • Sleep Journal – As a Wellness Warrior, you likely know that I keep a daily health log, where I track various things about my health. Keeping a sleep journal can help track patterns and be better able to help your parent pinpoint the reason for napping. It is also very beneficial for your parents to share this information with their doctor.

There are many reasons your mom or dad might be napping, and there are many ways to help them improve their sleep. Keep track of the points mentioned above, and don’t hesitate to contact their physician if you become concerned. In the meantime, be ready to accommodate their need for sleep and an earlier bedtime than yours.

Tell me, have you had success helping your senior parents with sleep? What worked for you? Please share with us all below.

Next time, in our continuing adventures of your parents living with you during the pandemic, I’ll share more about whether the things your parents are doing are “normal.”  Join me then.

Live Well, Live Long,

~Dwayne


When Did the Bathroom Become the Most Popular Room in the House?

“Mom, grandma is in the bathroom—again!” These may be frequently-uttered words in your house while your parents are staying (or living) with you. And for seniors, bathrooms are a big deal. Your senior parents may have special needs of which you’re not aware. Whether you have multiple bathrooms in your house, or you have just one to share, you may need to plan or adjust the bathroom scenarios in your household during this period of social isolation.

Remember, seniors don’t get many choices when it comes to planning—their internal organs don’t work like yours anymore. Whether from medications, underlying conditions, or simple aging, there are many reasons your parents may need extra time in the bathroom. Today, in my continuing series of blogs on adjusting to your live-in senior parents, I’d like to address a few of the most common reasons why seniors need more bathroom time, and how to we can make it easier on them and your entire family. Stay with me…while some of these topics aren’t exactly suitable for the dinner table, I will share helpful tips to make this situation better for all.

Reason #1 – Urinary Incontinence (UI)

In my last blog, we talked about how your parents still need to feel in control of things. Needless to say, it’s difficult (and embarrassing) to not be able to control when you have to urinate. Incontinence can be the result of many different things, including one’s diet, a urinary tract infection (UTI), medications, and even constipation. Three of the more common types of incontinence seniors experience include:

  • Stress incontinence – pressure exerted on the bladder brought on by coughing, sneezing, laughing, or even lifting things
  • Urge incontinence – a sudden urge to go caused by a variety of reasons, including an overactive bladder, an infection, or other more serious conditions
  • Overflow incontinence – a result of the bladder not emptying itself completely

Regardless of which type(s) of incontinence your parents may be experiencing, here are a few things you can do to help improve the situation:

  • Diet – There are several things that can actually irritate the bladder. Try removing or limiting the following to improve bladder health: caffeine, chocolate, alcohol, artificial sweeteners, citrus fruits, carbonated drinks (including fizzy water), and spicy foods. I know this list probably has some of mom & dad’s favorites on there, so take these foods one at a time so they don’t feel deprived of the foods and drinks that make them happy.
  • Water and Fluids – Believe it or not, drinking enough water can actually help with incontinence, especially if they’re dealing with an overactive bladder. When you don’t drink enough water, your urine becomes very concentrated and that can irritate the bladder.It also increases the likelihood of constipation (which can also cause incontinence) and can cause the body to retain fluids (which could then cause the need for diuretics). It’s important to find a good balance. In addition to non-carbonated water, apple juice, pear juice, and herbal teas are all bladder-friendly—and tasty.
  • Healthy Weight – This is, of course, an excellent idea in general, but can also help reduce the effects of UI.  When one is overweight, more pressure is put on the bladder and its surrounding muscles and can cause mom to leak a little when she coughs, sneezes, or laughs.
  • Pelvic Floor Exercises – Exercises to strengthen one’s pelvic floor muscles are a great way to get your parents off the couch, moving, and strengthening the muscles that control urinary flow. Be sure to check with your parents’ physician before starting these exercises. You can even do the exercises with them. After all, you’ll be their age one day!

Reason #2 – Constipation

Another reason your parents may be spending more time in the bathroom is that they are having trouble “going.” Like incontinence, constipation can be caused by several different factors, including diet, medications, changes in routine, and various other lifestyle choices. Being constipated can also cause other issues, including a loss of appetite and, as noted above, incontinence.

You can help relieve your parents’ constipation by encouraging the following:

  • Stay hydrated. Drinking plenty of fluids, especially water, will help prevent constipation and may help keep them regular.
  • Don’t resist the urge to go. Waiting for a “better” time to go can actually cause them to back up more. Encourage them to go when they need to and give them the time needed to take care of business. You can even set aside a special time each day (maybe 30 minutes after their breakfast) to make the bathroom available to them so they know they’re not inconveniencing others.
  • Adjust your diet. Find ways to increase your parents’ fiber intake. More than a bran muffin, Mother Nature provides many foods that are high in fiber. Vegetables high in fiber include asparagus, brussels sprouts, and carrots. Fresh and dried fruits are also a great source of fiber. (A note about bananas: unripe bananas can actually cause constipation, but ripe bananas can actually relieve it.) Also reduce the amount of meats, dairy products, and processed foods. These are all low in fiber and tend to be higher in unhealthy fats.
  • Exercise regularly. When your body moves, your bowels move. You know I’m a big proponent of moving, and even simple things like taking a short walk, gardening, or yoga will help.
  • Add a mild laxative to their daily routine. Laxatives, as a relief of occasional constipation, can be effective to getting things moving again. Be sure to follow instructions and drink plenty of fluids. Do be careful, though: using laxatives (or enemas) too often can cause the body to forget how to work or become dependent on them. Check with their doctor if you think they’re overusing them.

Reason #3 – Something Non-Physical

Of course, there are numerous other possible reasons your parents are in the bathroom as much as they are—some which are quite harmless and others you might want to monitor.

  • For some, it’s quiet time (especially if they’re introverted and you have a household of energetic little ones). This could be the few minutes they need to recharge.
  • For others, it may be their routine. (“Dad always reads a chapter while he goes.”)
  • In cases like these, try and find other spaces in your house for them to get the time they need to do these other things.
  • It could also be an issue of memory; perhaps they don’t remember having gone to the bathroom 5 minutes ago. Or maybe they’ve started taking a new medication. Or maybe they’re just anxious about having an accident.

Regardless of the reason(s) your parents are spending so much time in the bathroom, it’s important to remember that they’re likely not doing any of this intentionally. Pull other members of your family aside and have a private conversation about why grandma and grandpa need extra time in the bathroom. Always speak kindly, and when feeling frustrated, take a deep breath before responding. You’ve got this, Wellness Warrior!

In my next blog, I’ll be sharing about Mom and Dad affinity for naps!

As always, Live Well, Live Long!

~Dwayne


Mom, Do We Really Need 50 Pounds of Epsom Salt?

If you’re like many today, your senior parent(s) may have moved in with you during the pandemic. While this time can be a truly special time, it is different than their just coming for the holidays. In my last blog, I shared ways to easily accommodate the picky eaters your parents may have become. Today, I’d like to address another question you may be facing: When did my parents become such over-planners?

Many seniors are planners. It’s not unusual. They’ve raised families, juggled jobs and family responsibilities, and enjoyed a new season of life after you and your siblings moved out. They’ve lived their lives and enjoyed their independence. But now that they are in their senior years, a few things may have changed. Planning makes them feel secure, and this need to plan is especially true when it comes to having basic necessities and enough medication. When you’re worried about things like your heart, diabetes, or other chronic disorders — having enough medicine takes a front seat in driving your thoughts and reactions.

The lack of a plan creates fear and stress no one needs — especially during a crisis. Planning allows seniors to gain back a bit of control and to feel productive. After all, even though they’ve moved back in with you temporarily, they’re quite used to being in control and doing these types of planning activities for themselves.

Here are a few simple things you can do to calm their concerns, reduce stress (for them and for you), and help them to still maintain (and feel) some level of independence.

  1. Go Ahead—Stock Up a Little – While some people reacted to the pandemic by hoarding supplies, it’s not hoarding to stock up a little on a few supplies that are essential to your parents’ well-being. You definitely want to keep an extra month’s supply of medications on hand (and if your insurance will allow you to get the 90-day supply, do that). Also, look at what other things are essential for their well-being and comfort. Keeping an extra month’s supply of incontinence products, Epsom salt, lotions, pain rubs, and especially their favorite snacks will go a long way to helping your parents feeling secure.
  2. Talk with Them – Talk with them about what they need to stay healthy and comfortable, and come to an agreement on how much is needed. During a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic, they’re naturally going to be a bit more worried about running out of things. While it’s helpful to stock up a little as noted in #1, it’s also important to talk with them about what’s going on and about what’s truly needed. This is not a time to exert your control, but rather, a time to speak calmly and confidently about the situation and how they can help you make sure you do have sufficient supplies. Agree on things like how low the supply of something should be before adding it to the grocery list. Coming to this agreement allows them to have input and gives them a sense of control.

3. The List – Let them help with the grocery list. As mentioned in #2, agreeing on when something should be added to the list is an important step. Now, involve them and help them to feel like they are contributing in a positive way.

4. Stress-relieving Activities – At the root of this need to plan and be in control is fear. Fear of running out. Fear of getting sick and of dying. Fear of not being able to control things. Address the fear by encouraging them to become involved in other activities. Turn off the tv and the constant, negative news reports. Activities like meditating and forest-bathing are great to calm oneself and bring inner peace. Other activities like gardening, baking, working on a puzzle, listening to music that they like, or even watching old movies are also great ways to take their focus off the pandemic, reduce stress, and channel their planning energies in a positive way.

More than anything, my best advice to you for your over-planning parents, Wellness Warriors, is to be patient with them. None of us have been through this type of pandemic before and we’re all learning how to navigate these waters. Accommodate their requests as best as you can, encourage their participation in the planning and shopping process, get them involved in relaxing activities, and, most of all, love them through this. They’ve probably loved you through worse situations.

Next time, we’ll discuss a potentially sensitive subject: your parents’ need for time in the bathroom. You don’t want to miss it!

~Dwayne


But, Dad, You Loved Spicy Chili Tacos When I Was 12!

So, your parents have moved in with you. Maybe it’s temporary—just until the pandemic has passed—or maybe it’s more permanent. Either way, it’s very different than their coming to visit over the holidays. This can be a wonderful and rewarding time, but it can also present its own special set of challenges.

Over the next few weeks, I’d like to help by discussing some of the different challenges you may be experiencing with your now live-in, senior parents, and providing tips to make each challenge a little easier to handle.

Today’s challenge: When did my parents become such picky eaters?! After all, Dad LOVED spicy chili tacos when I was 12!

As a Wellness Warrior, you know I’m a big proponent of healthy eating. So here are six possible eating challenges your senior parents may have along with tips for managing them.

1. Loss of Control – One reason you may have a picky eater on your hands could be because they don’t feel in control of making decisions for themselves. This is especially true of your otherwise healthy, independent parents. Not having a say in meal planning can be hard for them.

TIPS: Get them involved by planning meals ahead of time. Make a list of healthy options and get their input. Also, have them assist you in preparing the meals. This will give them a sense of purpose and help them feel like they’re helping out and part of the family team.

2. A Change in Common Foods – Many foods that are popular and common today wasn’t widely available over the lifespan of many seniors. Think about it, foods like hummus and tofu have become commonplace over the last 10-15 years, but this may be long after your parents’ taste buds (i.e., their dietary habits) were already set.

TIPS: Present foods in a different or fun way. If your dad needs more veggies in his diet, then substitute spaghetti squash for traditional noodles. You get an extra serving of veggies in his diet while also reducing his starches (and gluten). Quiches and casseroles can also be a great way to “hide” healthy new foods in something they are more willing to eat.

3. Loss of Appetite – There are many reasons why your parent might have a loss of appetite. Common reasons include medication and loss of taste and smell, but there are other reasons that are more easily addressed. Constipation is a big reason. When you don’t regularly empty your bowels, your brain senses that you’re full, and you don’t get as hungry. Another reason is a lack of physical activity. When you’re physically active, your body is stimulated to get more energy from eating. The reverse holds true as well…not active, not hungry.If you’re like many people, at some point in the past few months, you’ve experienced fear, and that’s ok. We’re all going through a time of fear and confusion. But during times like these, when something negative like this happens, it’s important to ask yourself, “What is the value of this in my life? What lessons have I learned and how am I going to grow from this?”

TIPS: In the bathroom department, make sure they don’t ignore the urge to go. “Holding it” for a more convenient time to go only backs them up more. Make sure they’re drinking plenty of fluids (and yes, prune juice really does help), and make their time going a peaceful and comfortable time. Don’t rush them. Encourage them to be active as well. Walking is a great activity (and you know you’ve been meaning to walk more too!), but even activities like gardening get them off the couch and moving.

4. Eating the Wrong Things – Many seniors find it easier to grab junk food than to eat healthy. Remember, this is the mother who sent you to school with a Twinkie or Ho-ho in your lunch box every day. Sometimes it’s just easier to grab a few cookies or a handful of chips.

TIPS: Keep plenty of nutritious and convenient snacks on hand. Low-sodium cottage cheese, unsalted nuts, yogurt, and canned fruit (in juice, not syrup) are great, healthy, and super convenient.

5. Feeling Overwhelmed – It’s possible that your mother looks at her plate, and it’s just too much. A plate full of food can be overwhelming to someone whose appetite isn’t what it used to be.

TIPS: While I’m a firm believer that a dinner plate should be ½ veggies and fruits, ¼ protein, and ¼ (or less) starches, it’s also possible that that’s too much for Mom. Try several smaller meals and snacks throughout the day is better than three big meals. Having nutrient-filled smaller meals or snacks every 2 ½-3 hours may be a more realistic goal and does not highlight their “failure” to eat the same way they used to.

6. Textures – Textures of foods play a big part in a senior becoming a bit pickier about what they eat. Some have difficulty chewing now because they’ve perhaps lost a tooth or two. Others may be dealing with dysphagia (difficulty swallowing). These and other factors may make it more difficult to eat the foods they normally like to. It also can cause issues with their getting proper nutrition.

TIPS: Certainly, include soft foods in their diet. You can also puree or mince their favorite foods and make them a little easier to eat so they can still enjoy those flavors. Also, consider adding pureed or high-protein foods to other common foods, like blending cottage cheese and adding it to the pasta sauce to create a delicious pink sauce for their spaghetti. Protein shakes are also a great way to add protein. And, while they may turn Dad’s fruit smoothie green, adding greens, like spinach and kale, will up the vitamins without changing the flavor.

One final tip: “Come on, Dad! If you’ll just try it, I know you’ll like it. Pleeease!” Be careful. Are you encouraging Dad, or are you nagging him? Yes, there is a fine line between the two, and no one likes to be nagged. I know it can be frustrating for you, but remember that, more than likely, your parents are not intentionally being difficult. Their needs have simply changed. Try not to pressure your parent(s), give them the ability to choose some of what they eat, and keep mealtimes positive and upbeat.

Wellness Warriors, next time I‘m going to share more about another challenge you may be experiencing with your live-in parents: their need/desire/compulsion to over-plan. Join me for it.

Until then, what challenges have you experienced with your senior parents and getting them to eat? Share your experiences and any tips you may have! Sharing is caring!

Live Well, Live Long

~Dwayne