“All the lonely people, where do they all come from?” The Beatles, 1966

Like many people my age, I have medical and mobility issues. This causes me to spend time alone. However I am among the fortunate few who lives with a partner. Donna, my wife, loves cooking for us and she is an excellent cook but it seems every time she does we have enough food for 3-4 meals so I try to take her out as much as possible. While we were out to breakfast one morning, I saw that of all the occupied tables, half of them had just one person eating at them. This made me sad.

Old age can bring about changes that contribute to a more isolated life. One of my biggest problems is my social circle shrinks more and more the older I get. My friends and family members move away or pass on and I left the workforce. I no longer have the daily interaction with coworkers. I know we all promise to stay in touch with those that retire before us, but who among us really does? I know I have lost touch with all of my work “friends”.

Whatever the cause of loneliness it can lead to depression and a serious decline in physical health and wellbeing.

Even for those people who still live near to me, it may be difficult to see them due to limited mobility, particularly for seniors who cannot drive. Changes in one’s physical health due to age like hearing loss or impaired vision makes it seem like it is not worth the effort anymore. Embarrassment might also be a cause of isolation.

Seniors might suffer from incontinence, are on oxygen therapy or need to use a mobility aid like a cane or a walker to get around. These logistical challenges makes it difficult or uncomfortable to leave home, but people must overcome feeling embarrassed about these noticeable signs of aging.

Many elderly people feel like they have been “pushed to the side” and forgotten about. This is particularly true for families that have spread out across the country and have a hard time scheduling visits and even phone calls. It’s important to remember loneliness can affect anyone, of any age. Even when a senior is being assisted by a family member, there is frequently little attention given to having a deep and engaging conversation between the senior and the rest of thier family.

Yes, I have experienced loneliness and it is depressing. I am a social person but I seldom see anyone other than my wife. Everyone seems to be too busy to worry about us. Few people come to visit us or help us out.  My poor wife had to shovel the snow herself all this year. I have conversations with the bible thumpers that ring my bell. After a bit they look at each other and slowly start to back up.

However, I have seen a trend recently with small restaurants and a few fast food places offering communal tables. The most noticeable one I visited recently was a small store front eatery called Tina’s Place in Sanborn, New York. They had individual tables along either side and a long table up the middle seating at least a dozen people.

As we ate, I noticed there was a constant turn over at this table with seats filling up as soon as they were empty. It seemed that everyone knew everyone else at the table and many seniors along with people of all ages were seated at this table. The conversation from this table was lively and spirited and by the few snippets that I heard it covered a multitude of subjects. What an excellent way to maintain friendships and make a few new ones.

There are ways for people to combat loneliness. I grab every chance I can to begin a conversation with a stranger like the cashier at the store or the person sitting next to me in the doctor’s waiting room. My wife says I can hold a conversation with a mugger. Try asking people about themselves. People love talking about themselves.

If you’re feeling alone, it’s very tempting to think nobody wants to visit you. But often friends, and family don’t want to bother you. So make that call or send that text and invite them over. However, chatting with a friend or relative over the phone can be almost as good as being with them. My wife used to call her aged mother every day. It only took a few minutes and made her feel valued.

Older people are particularly susceptible to loneliness and social isolation and it can have serious effects on their health. Older people say that they sometimes go for over a month without speaking to a friend, neighbor or family member.

While several cultures value their elders, America is one of the countries in the world where their senior citizens are frequently ignored and forgotten. We put them in group homes and let strangers look after them. We must change this. Mom and Dad selflessly took care of you, it’s time to return that favor.

Living better with Niagara Hospice

I recently spent eight days in ENH due to pneumonia and was sent home with a bottle of oxygen. Once I arrived home, I had an in home oxygen generator delivered and set up. I was now virtually house bound due to my difficulty in going up and down the steps to get into my home. I was limited in the amount of time I could be away from my home due to needing oxygen bottles whenever I went out.

My best friend suggested I call Niagara Hospice. It was a hard decision. I hesitated calling them because I thought that meant I was giving up. I would never give up!

My last experience with Hospice was when my father in law passed away from cancer. Since then, Niagara Hospice has changed their focus. Niagara Hospice has evolved since then to meet the increasing needs of the seriously ill and their families. Their goal is to prevent and ease suffering, reduce hospitalizations and trips to the ER, all while improving quality of life. All this is provided at no additional costs to eligible patients

Honestly, the only reason I even considered it was to help make my care easier for my wife. I thought by having someone else helping with my care, she could take it a little bit easier.

There are several criteria for Hospice to provide palliative care. They include cancer, whether or not the patient is undergoing active treatment with radiation or chemotherapy, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), congestive heart failure (CHF), progressive neurological disorders, advanced Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia, repeated hospitalizations or emergency room visits, breathing problems, depression and exhaustion, sleeping problems or fatigue and late-stage illnesses. I qualified with my COPD, cancer and repeated emergency room visits.

I first called Hospice on Tuesday morning, January 21st. By that afternoon a social worker and an intake nurse arrived at my home. We talked and they evaluated me for their program. By that afternoon they called to tell me I was eligible. That Friday my assigned nurse came over for meet and greet and to get a baseline assessment.

During the first week, a United States military veteran appeared at my door. He brought me a nice, framed certificate from Hospice thanking me for my service. We swapped war stories for a while before he left. A spiritual care counselor also came over to discuss any religious issues or life concerns

On January 28th, an aide showed up to help me with my personal care. She now comes twice a week to assist me with that.

On Wednesday, January 29th I called Hospice because I thought I had a Deep Vein Thrombosis. I have had these before and knew how they felt. Hospice called Buffalo Ultrasound and by noon they showed up with a portable Doppler machine. They verified my suspicion. A script was called in that day and I was started on blood thinners.

On January 30th, I woke up very early in the morning and something just didn’t feel right. I was restless and couldn’t sleep. I felt the oxygen coming out of the nose piece was less than usual. Donna, my wife traced the hose looking for problems. She found a hose that was kinked on the tank that put humidity into the oxygen stream. I had her unkink it and the proper flow was recovered. Because it was 4:30 in the morning I had her wrap the hose with painter’s tape to strengthen it and prevent another kink. Due to the fact it was so early and we had temporarily solved the problem, I waited till later to call. In the morning, we called Hospice to tell them the problem. My nurse contacted the oxygen concentrator company and they arrived later that morning to replace the hose.

That afternoon, being a Thursday, my nurse came for her regularly assigned visit. She tried to flush my port but had difficulty. After 2 tries, she called her office to schedule “the expert”. The next day, another nurse came over and was successful.

Over that weekend, I developed a rash on my leg. I called my nurse on Monday and she came right out to look at it. She called my primary care physician who also came over after his office hours to diagnose the problem. It was decided it was a reaction to some medication. Steroids were called into my pharmacy to combat this reaction. It seems to me that every “cure” comes with it’s own set of problems.

I am now visited by a regularly scheduled social worker who comes over to check on me and see if I have any concerns.

Each and every Hospice representative I met was helpful, respectful and sensitive to my needs and wants. I truly appreciate their attitude and concern. They always have a smile on their face and are very responsive when we call. It seems to me that they are working for Hospice because they really are concerned and it is not just a job. They seem like friends we have had for a long time.

Watching Children

Donna and I watch our grandchildren and a few other children. As we counted them up, we have watched over 20 children not counting our own children. I think that babysitting your grand-kids improves and extends your life and studies have confirmed that.

If you discovered the secret to a longer and more meaningful life I am sure we would all do it.  Apparently, watching children is that secret. People frequently say that being around children will make you feel younger and reports can actually measure and identify the benefits from caring for children. If the experts are all saying that “caregiving” gives older people a purpose in life and helps keeps them active, then maybe even small doses of babysitting may extend your life.

 “Caregiving may give caregivers a purpose of life because caregivers may feel useful for the others and for the society,” said Bruno Arpino, who was the associate professor at the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, Spain, in 2016, according to Reuters Health.

Researchers have actually found that grandparents who watch their grandchildren have a tendency to live longer than seniors who don’t. Researchers with Berlin Aging Study conducted investigations over almost 20 years on the effect of caregiving on mortality. The study was published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior in 2016.

The Berlin study showed that after factoring in grandparents’ age and state of health, the risk of dying over a 20-year period was one-third less for seniors who took care of children as compared to those who didn’t. More than 500 seniors were interviewed and had medical tests at their homes, doctors’ offices, and hospitals, and these tests were repeated every other year between 1990 and 2009.

Participants were asked how often they cared for children of during the last year. This was defined as looking after or doing something with a child without the parents being there. Then this was scored from 1 (never) to 7 (every day). The sample did not include any primary caregivers who had full custody of the children, though it did include those who watched non-family members.

We are watching both grandchildren and children of friends that I affectionately call the strays or OPCs (Other People’s Children). The oldest OPC, Andrew, will be 22 in August and lives in Arlington Texas. Donna started watching him after the company Donna was working for closed. We are looking forward to seeing Joedin this summer another of our OPCs. She and her family moved to North Carolina seeking employment. She comes up during the summer to spend time with us. We think of them both often. They feel just like kin to us.

This study concluded that spending time with your grandchildren and helping friends and family members with their children most likely gives people a feeling of purposefulness and assists them to keep mentally and physically active running after a child. Anyone who has looked after a preschooler can attest to having to be physically active.

We are in our 70’s and are still looking after grandchildren and OPCs. Every time a child leaves our care due to entering school, moving or a change in their family situation, we discuss taking on another child. We both agree that we don’t need the money or that it’s tiring for us to do but then someone asks “Are you still watching children?” We always answer yes and take on another child.

As per Reuters Health, half of the grandparents who took care of their grandchildren were still alive 10 years from their first interview. Whereas, those who didn’t provide help lived for only about five years. It is extremely important however for every person to decide, just what “moderate amounts of help” means. As long as you do not feel frazzled about the help you provide you might just be doing something good for others and for yourself.

Researchers have found that grandparent babysitters had a 37% lower mortality risk than adults of the same age that do not provide care. Research has also indicated that people involved in providing care to children had a reduced risk of dying during the study follow up than people that didn’t watch children. But the study can’t prove cause and effect can only suggest this correlation.

So if you are a senior, go find some relatives or neighbors who need your help or support part-time. It might be a challenge but there are all sorts of ways you can help others. Watching kids so mom and dad can work or have a night out, picking kids up after school or providing a “bridge” between the time the kids get out of school and the time their parents get home. We have done all three.

Additional research would be required to find out the cause of the longer life expectancy of caregivers, however researchers present a few explanations. But I really don’t need some expensive research from some razzle dazzle organization to tell me just how good watching children makes me feel, how it lets me connect with my youth again.

The home medical care industry

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The home medical care industry will face a shortage of caregivers as aging baby boomers attempt to stay in their homes. The lack of qualified workers, ever increasing costs and a huge shift in demographics has America facing a major crisis. There aren’t going to be sufficient numbers of geriatric staff to make certain seniors are okay when they can no longer care for themselves.

It’s a problem that not many families anticipated but one that many will have to face. It frequently becomes evident that falls, lapses of memory and a number of maladies has taken a toll on elderly relatives and some may need help. There is also a tidal wave of baby boomers that are being diagnosed now with some form of dementia.

“We are absolutely in a crisis mode. Providers are routinely reporting that they can’t recruit and they can’t retain direct care workers, which makes it impossible to provide the care that consumers need.” said Robert Espinoza, vice president of policy for the New York-based Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute, a direct care workforce research organization.

At times professional caregivers complement family caregivers and they are the primary choice for supporting seniors in the daily activities of life, such as eating, dressing and bathing. Over fifty percent of home caregivers only have a high school education or less, according to PHI, and the pay they receive is about equal to wages received by fast-food and retail workers. With the new push to give fast food workers $15.00 an hour the wage gap between the two could widen and cause more care aids to opt for flipping burgers. The working conditions can be very, very trying when they can go a few doors down the street to McDonald’s and make just as much if not more money. Employers now struggle to hire and keep home health care workers, who make a median hourly wage of $10.49 per hour, or about $13,800 per year, according to PHI. Two thirds of caregivers work part time.

However their wages might grow appreciably in the next few years due to the fact that the U.S. population is rapidly aging. About 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 every day, according to the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan think tank based in Washington, D.C. Over half of them will need some type of long-term care eventually, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 2016.

There are many nursing homes and assisted living facilities, but more and more seniors are looking to remain in their own homes as they grow older. You can’t replace the feeling of living in the home you might have lived in for decades and possibly raised your children in. We just completed a first floor addition for this reason and it will enable us to stay in our house longer.

The demand for personal caregivers is already more than the present supply some experts say. A real good reason for this is that we’re seeing an increased demand for home health care workers is a societal shift from putting seniors in a “home” and having them grow older in their own homes.

For many families, trying to navigate the maze of state regulated home care service agencies to locate the right caregiver won’t be easy, and it will be very expensive. The cost of home health care has increased over 6 percent just last year, according to a report published by Genworth Financial, a Virginia-based firm that sells long-term care insurance. That is 6 times the rate of inflation.

Consumers pay a national average of $22 an hour for home caregiver services, or over $49,000 a year, according to the report, which is based on studies with over 15,000 service providers.

Health insurance and Medicare do not completely cover these costs and while Medicaid does help cover care giver costs for seniors with chronic conditions who meet certain income requirements, most seniors do not qualify.

Home healthcare is one of the fastest growing occupations in the U.S., with the labor force expanding to 1.6 million over the last 10 years and another 600,000 jobs anticipated to be added over the next decade, according to PHI, the direct care research organization.

Low wages, a lack of training and isolation are a part of the cause for a significant turnover among caregivers and the ongoing shortage of workers for the industry. But maybe the hardest aspect of the job for many is not low wages but caring for patients when the relationship invariably comes to an end.