Golden Girl Finance
Dr. Marion Somers
Posts (52)

Ask the Expert

Q&A: The joy of photos for the elderly

May 8th, 2013 by

Q: My father used to love to look at photos of his family and friends, but in his advancing age, he often doesn’t recognize who the people are. What should I do?

Asked by Charles, Arizona


Many of us have a few photos in our home and/or office. It feels nice to have family members close by. But your problem is a very common situation for the elderly. As a person ages, their memory and acuity diminish. Pictures become a big question mark. But there are ways to alleviate the problem.

I like to write the names of people in the photo on the front with a sticky note. Then I flip the photo over and write the subject’s age and when/where the picture was taken. Was it at a wedding or a picnic? Was it taken in Hong Kong or in Brooklyn? This helps bring the photo to life before the picture loses relevance. It also makes it easier for your father to share with others. He can be proud of his family and friends. It gives him something to talk about, and he’ll feel more connected to his family and community.

When you clean out old photo albums, gather any information and history and put everything in a new album. Your father is coming to the end of his life and he still needs to feel connected. Photos with clear histories help stave off isolation. They can also help your elder’s short-term memory. Consider enlarging photos so your elder can see them better. I even like to keep a magnifying glass handy, just in case.

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Q&A: Feeling alone in the caregiver role

April 10th, 2013 by

Q: I’ve been a caregiver for my mother for the past decade, and sometimes I feel so alone. Are there other caregivers out there who feel like me?

Asked by Jeanie, Hawaii


Many caregivers feel exactly like you do. Almost everyone has aging parents, and many adult children find themselves in a caregiving role at some point in life. Elder care cuts across all economic and social levels. It doesn’t make any difference if someone is a CEO of a major corporation, or a small business owner, or a sanitation worker, the likelihood is high that they’ll also be touched by elder care at some point. So be reassured, you’re not alone.

More than at any time in our history, all walks of life are being touched by elder care. It knows no bounds. I once had a very famous and powerful man as a client. He was one of the world’s most influential bankers. His mother was having some problems, and he was in shock and didn’t know where to start. This was a man who was used to having people jump through hoops for him, and he was scared, confused, worried, and powerless in the face of his elder care challenge. He felt very alone, too.

I was also hired by a blue-collar family of seven adult children, who were caring for their aging parents.  The caregiving challenge was tearing their family apart, so they decided to move them into a nursing home in order to get their lives back. After struggling to pool their resources together, I came on board to help them find the best facility. I quickly realized that the parents were eligible for financial assistance - in this case, Medicaid. After walking them through the process and helping them fill out the forms, their parents were 100% covered. It was thrilling as they placed their parents in the facility.

Seek support groups in your area or online communities - and know you are not alone.

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Q&A: Spirituality in the elderly

March 20th, 2013 by

Q: My father is coming to the end of his life and for the first time ever, he has begun to talk about spirituality. As his caregiver, I’m not sure how to handle this. What would you do?

Asked by Nancy, New York


By all means, encourage your father to explore his spiritual thoughts and feelings. Many seniors believe there are forces at work in the universe, and many of them have tapped into some form of spirituality. It’s just not possible to understand everything that happens, and spirituality can help explain things. Even if spirituality is not discussed, it does exist in most people’s conscious lives. The connectedness to a spiritual life helps people deal with hardships, face fears, and can ultimately give hope. Most of my clients get a great deal out of their religious activities. It helps them feel that their life has a meaning and a purpose.

Nearly every one of my clients experiences an inner awareness or a quiet peace before they pass on. Even if fishing is their “religion,” they know where they need to go to find that quiet space for reflection, to recharge and gain perspective. This process helps our elders find a way to let go of emotions and worldly trappings, and become ready to travel free.

Not everyone acknowledges or feels the need to have a spiritual life, and I respect that too. We all have a right to make the decision on our own. But for those who embrace a spiritual life, it can provide a source of strength above and beyond a person’s own weak humanity. I’m not talking about spirituality in terms of the regular routine and/or regimentation of going to a house of worship. It does not need to be confined by four walls and icons and meeting times and rituals. Spirituality is the path each of us takes to find the quiet within ourselves.

Some people like the routine. Going to a house of worship can also provide a sense of community and companionship. Spirituality can really be whatever a person wants it to be. The crucial part is to have a quiet knowledge that there’s something beyond you that can help give meaning to the peaks and valleys of life. Religion and spirituality can be a way to center oneself and find internal and external comfort.

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Q&A: Wheelchair safety for the elderly

February 21st, 2013 by

Q: My father just turned 90, and he uses a wheelchair to get around.  I want to be sure that I know how to use one so I can lend a hand when I visit.  Do you have any suggestions? 

Asked by Barbara, Wyoming


A few years ago, I had a fresh-faced batch of Geriatric Care Management students in my program. For their first training mission they had to spend an entire day in a wheelchair and try to get around town as if it was a regular day. They had to get to my class, try to make a phone call from a pay phone, get in and out of an elevator, use a public restroom, drink from a water fountain, eat at a restaurant, shop in a convenience store, and so forth. Boy did that mission wake them up to the realities of a wheelchair-bound life. I suggest that if you are working with an elder in a wheelchair, you try to do the same so you have a real understanding of what your elder goes through.

Safety is an important issue when using a wheelchair. Before transporting your elder, you should become an expert at using hand grips and push handles to climb up curbs as well as descend from them. They also come in handy when maneuvering in and out of elevators. Watch out for common hazards such as uneven floors, cracks in the ground (especially on sidewalks), and gaping holes in the pavement. Wet floors are a danger too, as are automatic doors and elevators. Wheel locks and brakes should always be engaged before your elder gets in or out of the wheelchair.

Always make sure your elder is seated properly in the wheelchair, not tilted to the side, front, or back. Their feet should be comfortably resting on the footrests, not hanging or dragging on the floor. Make sure the footrests are adjusted to the correct height - you don’t know how often I see elders’ comfort improve significantly after simply adjusting the foot rests to the correct height for their frame. Their arms should also be inside the armrests or on their lap, not hanging to the side. Seat belts must be fastened at all times. Many don’t realize it, but it’s the law.

Preventive maintenance is also important, and it will reduce the amount of time and money you spend on repairing the wheelchair. Make it a habit to clean the wheelchair; wipe off spills the moment they occur (they’ll occur often). This prevents movable joints from becoming caked with debris. Also clean and disinfect seat upholstery on a weekly basis, especially if your elder is incontinent. Finally, inspect the tires and spokes, and remove any items that have become stuck to the tires, such as gum, strings, wrappers, and food.

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Q&A: Making food accessible for the elderly

February 6th, 2013 by

Q: My 82 year-old mother was always a great cook, but she isn’t able to make most of her own meals anymore.  How can I still make food fun for her?

Asked by Kristine, North Carolina


Food is one of the areas in your elder’s life that is sometimes neglected, but you can step in and make sure it is something they look forward to, and can have fun with. Nutrition might be more important to them now than ever before, so fill the house with healthy foods that they enjoy eating, as long as their doctor approves. Always consider your elder’s likes and dislikes (within reason) and shape their diet accordingly. It sounds obvious, but many elderly are given processed liquid drinks and hard-to-handle food, and many do not get anything resembling balanced meals.

If you have time to cook yourself, find your elder’s favorite cookbook and go to the dirtiest pages - that’s where their favorite recipes are. Prepare these recipes for them, allowing your elder to help you, if he or she wishes. Cooking the meals together can turn eating into a fun activity. Make sure to plan a diet and eating routine that allows your elder to feed himself or herself as often as possible, to maintain independence. You also have to remember to make eating elder-friendly. If your elder has lost some manual dexterity, encourage finger foods, smaller portions, and use non-breakable plates.

It is important that your elder eats regularly, and gets the right amount of calories for their age, height, and weight. Check with your elder’s doctor for proper nutritional details, as well as any dietary restrictions. Change up the meal plan occasionally, so that food remains fresh and interesting for them. Many elderly lose interest in food and just don’t eat enough, and you don’t want that to happen. 

To supplement any meals you prepare yourself, find out if Meals-On-Wheels, or a similar delivery service, is available in your town. Also, investigate the local restaurants that are within delivery distance of your elder’s residence. Try them out with your elder, and find the ones he or she enjoys. This can be a good way to add variety to your elder’s meals. Always look for healthy options on the delivery menus. Check with the restaurants and see if you can set up a tab ahead of time, so your elder doesn’t have to worry about paying every time there is a delivery. Also, look into deliveries from a local grocery store, to ensure there are always fresh fruits, vegetables, and other staples available.