Moving Grandma: Resources for Loved Ones with Dementia, Alzheimer’s

Over the weekend, my family came together to begin the process of moving my grandmother to a long-term care facility.

She is in the middle stages of vascular dementia, caused by a series of mini-strokes that have cut off blood flow to parts of her brain over the years (with symptoms that aren’t all too different from Alzheimer’s).

We organized and boxed up treasures and junk, and years of papers, magazines, photos and clutter, getting her home ready to list on the market. Right now, we don’t have the luxury of time to sit around and read the notes that my mother wrote home from college in the ‘70s (though, I did skim it and laughed at how she sounded as a teen), or look through the photos of their early lives; we’ll get to that when things are more settled.

Now that we’re to this point, it’s begun to sink in that cognitive diseases are extremely hard to deal with for patients and caregivers. It will take a group effort from my grandmother’s family and friends to help her – and each other – through this emotional time.

I began looking online for resources to help us make informed decisions going forward. The Alzheimer’s Association has a lot of great information, a 24/7 helpline, programs for education and support, access to local support groups and online message boards. Most hospitals around have caregiver support groups, and there are several books available on the topics of caring for those with dementia. The National Institute on Aging also offers a wealth of knowledge about cognitive diseases.

One really interesting thing I’ve found is an online community for friends and family to sign up and see a shared calendar of activities, lists of medications, doctor contact information, a place to share announcements and more.

We are getting to the point that decisions about my grandmother’s future have to be made – typically without her input – which is hard for my parents, aunts and uncles: to make major life choices for the person that gave them life.

But, being prepared ahead of time with proven resources and a bit of organization will be one of the more important things that we are able to do for my grandmother. If you’re in a similar situation, I urge you to do some research and find these answers for your family as well.

These Pets are Living the High Life

I found out something today about pet pampering that has my tongue wagging (sorry, I couldn’t resist).

It seems that the tokens of affection I present to my pets – extra comfy beds, entertaining toys, trips to the groomer and tasty treats – pale in comparison to the way others dote on their animals.

According to the American Pet Products Association (APPA), U.S. pet owners will spend an estimated $50.84 billion in 2011. What in the world are people spending so much money on?

Food expenses top the list at $19.53 billion. Medical care also ranks high. But, pet owners also are dishing out dollars for luxuries such as massages, manicures, designer duds, travel gear and spa days. Hey, I’ve never had a spa day! Not unless you count the time I had my eyebrows arched and for one terrifying moment thought half of one was missing.

Don’t fret, my pet (just bear with me), it’s not all give and take. The APPA cites several health benefits of pet ownership. Among them:

  • Pets help to lower blood pressure. A recent study at the State University of New York at Buffalo found that people with hypertension who adopted a cat or dog had lower blood pressure readings in stressful situations than those who did not own a pet.
  • Pets help to prevent heart disease. Because pets provide people with faithful companionship, research shows they may also provide their owners with greater psychological stability, thus a measure of protection from heart disease.
  • Pets help to fight depression. Pets help fight depression and loneliness, promoting an interest in life. When seniors face adversity or trauma, affection from pets takes on great meaning. Their bonding behavior can foster a sense of security.

Learn more

Age is Just a Number in These Communities

“Youth,” penned playwright Bernard Shaw, “is wasted on the young.”

Some people consider this expression as a criticism of young people. It has always compelled me, however, not to take my childhood or early adulthood for granted. That’s not to say that I’ll enter my Golden Years kicking and screaming when the time comes. Instead, I’ll recall Shaw’s words once again – this time living my older years to the fullest.

That’s how my grandmother approached life. Just months before she passed away, she was dancing her heart out to her favorite Rod Stewart song at her 84th birthday party. You truly are as old as you feel and she always refused to let her age define her.

She would have fit right in at a Naturally Occurring Retirement Community (NORC), which contains a high concentration of older adults, but wasn’t originally designed for seniors. The goal is to help residents maintain a strong sense of independence by promoting social engagement and providing access to a variety of supportive services (transportation, health care, education and more).

A recent BizVoice® story I wrote highlights a NORC in Linton as well as another type of senior-friendly community project under consideration in Rising Sun.

Elder-Friendly Communities (EFC)  – the state’s first NORC – was formed in 2004 on the northwest side of Indianapolis. Today, it boasts 163 individual households. Work is currently underway on a new initiative involving shared housing that will accommodate two to four older adults each. Residents will share one modified household while maintaining their private bedroom and bath. Potential benefits include preventing social isolation and enhancing safety.

Don’t Take Older Workers for Granted

They say you don’t truly appreciate what you have until it’s gone. I can personally relate to that. My grandmother passed away last year and now that she’s no longer here, I wish I had taken advantage of more opportunities to learn from her wisdom.

Many businesses are experiencing their own losses – with the impact felt more on their bottom lines than in their hearts – as seniors retire from the workforce and take their knowledge with them.

Addressing the shrinking and aging of the nation’s workforce is at the center of the Workforce Wise initiative, launched by the Chamber in December 2009. We’re covering this topic with a five-part series in BizVoice® magazine. The current issue features the second installment, which focuses on training opportunities for older workers.

Sometimes, downsizing or a desire to switch careers prompts seniors to pursue training. Often, this happens in the manufacturing field, where people need to upgrade their skills to meet the increasingly complex demands of new technology. Higher education institutions often partner with companies and individuals to provide the training. Ivy Tech Community College’s work in this area is highlighted in the story, along with an organization called Experience Works, which delivers training and employment assistance to low-income, unemployed individuals age 55 and older.

What I miss even more than my grandmother’s cooking (she always lamented that her food didn’t turn out well while the rest of our family members were clamoring for her recipes), is her wisdom.  “What you worry about today, you’ll laugh about tomorrow,” she would say. That was one of my favorites.

Perhaps companies that prepare now for the retirement of older workers will have the last laugh.