Your Aging Parents: Tips for Staying Well (at Home) in a Changing Climate

Note of disclaimer: Coronavirus is an ever-evolving world health situation and I am not a physician. My advice is based on the most current research from the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of this writing on March 11, 2020.

For many of us, life may be feeling shakier than usual right now. With the outbreak of COVID-19 and its as-yet uncharted forward course, one thing we do know is that, as with any infectious disease (including the flu), the elderly population is more at risk than the general population for suffering the most serious effects from infection.

That’s why avoiding exposure is simply the best bet for staying well, for those in the at-risk population. 

 

However, as a caretaker of your elderly parent or parents, it’s important to exercise healthy vigilance without panicking, and to help Mom and Dad (and other family members) to do the same. So for those of us who have elderly parents who are still fortunate enough to be aging in place, these are a few of the tips I would suggest offering your folks right now, in the hopes of keeping them safe:

 

  1. Stay away from crowded spaces

Shopping centers, big-box stores, parties, religious services, etc. are not only full of people who may unknowingly be contagious carriers due to their own exposure, but public spaces are simply full of germs. Railings, door knobs, faucets, etc. are holding onto this virus for days, not hours.

 

What about groceries? Help Mom and Dad find a young and healthy neighbor or friend to shop and deliver the items to their doorstep, or use a grocery-delivery service. Many pharmacies today also offer delivery services, and some are doing so free of charge to help their customers stay well. Make sure your folks purchase enough of their most-used supplies so that they don’t have to “just run to the store,” for an item or two.

 

  1. Curtail unnecessary outings and appointments

If a person’s health depends on keeping their medical procedures (dialysis, chemotherapy, etc.), those are appointments to keep. An annual physical, on the other hand, can wait.

 

  1. Hands off

We should all wash our hands often, using soap and water, and wash for 20 seconds. Carry hand sanitizer (60 percent or more alcohol is best), though soap and water should be the first plan of attack. Use a tissue, your sleeve, or even a pen to push the elevator button. While it may feel strange or rude, it’s also time to stop shaking hands. 

 

  1. Don’t touch your face

It’s a hard habit to break, but be aware of face touching. Eyes, nose, and mouth are the areas we’re most prone to touch unconsciously. These are also the surest direct routes for infection.

 

  1. Keep it clean

Stay on top of cleaning and disinfecting the most-touched and used surfaces in your home, using a ture disinfectant cleaner.

 

  1. Cancel any upcoming travel plans involving planes and cruises (and crowds)

About all, do not take a cruise until health restrictions have been lifted. 

 

These restrictions and recommendations may go on for many months. We all feel unsettled and vulnerable, but it’s important to remember that the majority of people who do contract the novel Coronavirus get through it within a few days and without complications. It’s far more dangerous to those with health issues and the elderly, so implementing best practices in health is a good course of action right now.

  

If you or your family need to talk through any fears or how to strike the right balance of safety and composure, please get in touch.

 

All the best,

Rabbi Scott Saulson, Ph.D.

 

 

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Your Aging Parents: What to do when You’ve Got Nothing to Talk About

How often do you speak with your aging parent(s)? Now, I’m not referring to those quickie phone calls in which you make sure that Mom’s caretaker has been showing up and that her groceries are being delivered. What I want to know is: How many times a week do you actively engage in a give-and-take, genuine conversation with your elderly parent(s)?

If you’re like many of the adult children I counsel today, the answer is surprisingly low … and the number one reason I’m hearing for this lack of engaged conversation has nothing to do with the grown child’s hectic schedule. Rather, many adults fail to speak with their aging parent(s) because conversation has become stilted and awkward, as daily life becomes less relatable between the generations. As one client in his 40s said to me recently, “We just have nothing to talk about … it feels really sad.”

With that, I am sharing a few tips for creating better dialogue with your elderly mom and/or dad. You both deserve to have better conversations.

1. Ask questions—about your parent’s life, childhood experiences, memories, etc. It may even help you to jot down a few questions in advance of the phone call. Show Dad or Mom that you’re interested in their life and history, and at the same time take the pressure off of everyone. Not only will this help to fill the conversational void, but you’ll learn a whole lot about the person who raised you. (Note: Consider using an app on your phone to record these conversations for future reference.)

2. Speaking of phone calls … today’s technology makes it possible to connect face to face no matter where each individual is located, and all each party needs is a computer, a tablet, or a Smartphone. Walk your parent through getting set up on FaceTime, Google Hangouts, Skype, or Zoom. If you think this might be too complicated for Mom or Dad, have them download WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger. Both of these platforms allow for sending photos, texts, voicemails, and even video chats. They are simple and free to use, no matter where in the world the parties are located, and are cross-platform. I truly believe that a visual interaction could be more engaging as well as more revealing of moods and parental wellbeing.

3. If you happen to live near your mom or dad, ask them if there’s a class they’d like to take or a hobby they’ve always wanted to try (or rediscover), and sign up together. Then take time after class to grab a snack or a meal and let the conversation flow. If you don’t live near each other, encourage Mom to sign up for that class anyway, then make sure to call weekly to hear all about it.

4. Find a book you both can read. Provide Mom or Dad with a Kindle e-reader so that you may also deliver e-books and audiobooks (often available free for checkout from your local library) directly to your loved one’s online library. (If they have a tablet, simply make sure that the Kindle app or other appropriate app is downloaded to it.) Agree on a “read by” date and then get together in person or by phone/FaceTime, etc. to discuss your individual perspectives.

Finally, when chatting with your parent, remember to enunciate your words and to speak slowly. Many senior citizens have difficulty hearing, and cell phone connections can contribute to the problem.

The world has changed exponentially in just the past few decades. Your parents did not grow up with an internet, or even with a home computer. Life was simpler in many ways, and it was certainly slower. With just a little creativity and a bit of legwork, you and your parent(s) can find a way to relate to communicate meaningfully—and that’s irreplaceable.

For more ideas and personal assistance in navigating sometimes difficult familial conversations, please get in touch. I am here to help.

All the best,

Rabbi Scott Saulson, Ph.D.

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Your Aging Parents and Technology: Taking Away Their Electronic Devices

Being a caretaker or decision maker for your elderly parents means having to make difficult choices, all in the name of safety—your parents,’ and those around them. Taking away their car keys is one such example; but have you ever thought about the fact that you may need to take away Mom or Dad’s Smartphone or tablet?

Smart devices can bring the entire world right into our homes, keeping us connected and entertained. The ability to download free library books, take an online class, watch movies, and chat fact to face (virtually) with friends and family is especially rewarding for a person who is aging and whose mobility is waning.

And yet, with the sensitive information we store on our digital devices today—medical records, bank account and routing numbers, home security settings, etc.—an iPad in the wrong hands can be disastrous to any family. Thieves abound globally, targeting senior citizens specifically for scamming.
How at risk is your mom or dad?

That depends on their online habits, and especially on their cognitive health.
Sites such as Facebook allow a peek into our age brackets, interests, and even the names of our family members—leaving certain population segments more at risk for scams than others. Shopping sites offer us the ability to purchase practically anything we can imagine … a real problem for someone who may be becoming more and more forgetful.

If your parent has been an ardent iPhone user, but of late is having trouble putting the device to use, consider how Mom or Dad has been managing in other areas of their daily routine. It’s possible that the real issue is a cognitive decline—a sad but not uncommon result of aging. At minimum, a physical workup is in order.

And what about continued use of at-home devices, PCs, phones, and the like?
Aging is hard enough. The last thing we want to do is to cut off your parent(s)’ ability to easily socialize with friends and family, access photos and entertainment, and generally feel independent. Instead, make use of the devices’ parental controls, limiting Mom or Dad’s ability to visit certain websites, access the internet during certain hours, etc. There’s no need to let them know. In order to manage spending, remove access to third-party payment services such as PayPal by deleting any connected credit cards and banking information. Contact an IT specialist for further advice.

For the most part, as an elderly person’s judgment and cognitive capacity continue to slow, interest in emails and Facebook groups will diminish; but in the meantime, Mom and Dad have more than earned their screen time.
If your family, or one close to you, is dealing with the inevitable issues associated with caring for aging parents, please reach out. Together we can find a solution that works for everyone involved.

 

All the best,

Rabbi Scott Saulson, Ph.D.

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Caring for Your Aging Parents: How to Decrease Your Feelings of Isolation

One of the most difficult and stressful jobs you’re ever likely to face is one for which you don’t get paid. This work can be so all encompassing as to wreak havoc on your paying employment, as well as on your ability to fulfill your at-home and familial duties.

It’s a job at which most of us will have a turn.

Of course, I’m talking about being the main caregiver of your aging parent(s).

The descent into isolation looks something like this:

Initially, you’ll cancel social plans in the hopes of finding a few more hours in the week. There’s no time for leisure activities, you tell yourself, and your real friends will understand. As the months wear on, you find yourself failing to return these friends’ phone calls and texts … until your phone stops ringing. Eventually, you notice a hollow sensation in your gut. It’s a loneliness you feel from the depths of your soul. You may tentatively reach out to someone whose calls and texts had gone unanswered, only to now find yourself on the receiving end of the returned silence.

You haven’t been to exercise or art class in what must be forever. Who has the time or the extra money anyway, you reason?

With each passing day, you become more isolated, both physically and emotionally.

So how does someone with a plate overflowing with responsibility manage to reconnect with the world once more? Here are a few recommendations to keep you, the caretaker, tuned in to the world around you:

Put your own wellness first

Yes, you hear it all the time: You can’t take care of another unless you first take care of yourself. Logically, it just makes sense. Make certain you’re well nourished (not merely fed). Get appropriate sleep. If your duties tend to creep into the overnight hours, take a short daytime nap when your parent is also asleep. Make sure you manage to grab a quick shower each day, even if this means getting creative to make it happen. This small act of self-kindness works wonders.

Do something for yourself a minimum of once a week

Take a walk, go to a class, spend time wandering through your local bookstore, have lunch with a friend. The energy boost experienced from being with others is a must for the person whose day-to-day life is so isolated. How can I do this, you ask? Well, if Mom is still mobile, take her out with you, even for a stroll around the mall. Better yet, ask a trusted friend or neighbor to relieve you of your duties for an hour while you treat yourself to a low-cost massage at the local massage school. You can also try calling your place of worship, where there is usually a list of volunteers who are just waiting to do good for others.

Find support online

Odds are, your downtime is nearly nonexistent. Luckily, we live in the digital age, where the next best thing to a phone conversation is as close as your nearest device. From therapy with a licensed clinician, to private social forums and affordable online photography classes, communication is available to you at any time of the day or night. Simply search key words on Facebook, Google, etc., to find like-minded people at a moment’s notice. Depending on where you live, you may even be able to find free assistance with some of Mom or Dad’s needs. Start sleuthing.

Speak up

Your friends and fellow community members can’t help you if they don’t know what it is you need. One thing’s for certain, and that’s the fact that all of us with elderly parents will have our own turn at this difficult post.

There’s simply no need to go it all alone.

If I may be of assistance to you and your own family during this time, or if you know someone else who is currently overwhelmed by their own caretaking responsibilities, please get in touch.

All the best,

Rabbi Scott Saulson

 

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6 Tips for Dealing with Your Aging Parent’s Speedy Remarriage

Few situations tend to bring about as many strong feelings, often banding adult children together against parent, as when your widowed, aging mom or dad decides to remarry—especially after a relatively short period of time since the death of your other parent.
It’s natural that your initial reaction to such news may be a negative one, but I’m here today to offer advice on how to move forward without fracturing your lifelong relationship with a parent who has otherwise been a source of love and support to you and yours.

Before you and your sibling(s) say or do something you’ll regret, here are my 6 suggestions for learning not only to make the most of the situation, but to do so while making sure your fears and concerns are still being heard:
1. Offer up congratulatory sentiments, even if you’re feeling less than celebratory. Give yourself time to react privately to any negative feelings you may have. Trust me, there is likely nothing you can say, no threat you can make, that will undo or alter the plans ahead, so you may as well get on board (or at least pretend to).
2. Just because a person is feeling happiness does not mean that he or she isn’t also feeling grief. One of these emotions does not exclude the other. Your mom or dad is not attempting to disrespect the parent who has passed, but is instead trying to find joy and companionship for the limited time still stretching ahead. In fact, wanting to remarry quickly is a direct sign of just how happy and fulfilling your parents’ relationship really was. The surviving parent is eager to experience the joys of marriage once more.
3. With a smile on your face, email or print a list of important pre-wedding to dos, then help ensure that each item listed gets accomplished. Tasks should not only include, “guest list,” “order invitations,” etc., but also “meet with estate planner and or accountant.”
Let the professionals tend to those angst-inducing topics such as financial history, credit reports, pre-nuptial agreements, etc. Arrange for a meeting with an elder-care lawyer, just for good measure.
4. Seek perspective on your own with the help of a professional, if need be. Dramatic changes are ahead for your family and possibly even your future finances, and you likely will have no say in these decisions. Your love for your parent should not waver—even if you truly believe that he or she is making the wrong decision and may get hurt in the end. (Do you remember when you were a teenager and insisted on making your own mistakes?)
5. Be an active participant in your mom or dad’s festivities by arranging a get together with both the bride and the groom’s extended family. Remember that the other family may be experiencing the same doubts as yours. Keep the gathering upbeat and positive. Who knows? You may even find an unexpected kinship.
6. Attend the wedding, wearing a smile.

Change is hard on everyone. It breeds feelings of uncertainty.
All we can control is the way we act as we move forward.
If I can help you and your family as you navigate your own sea of change, please get in touch.

All the best,

Rabbi Scott Saulson, Ph.D.

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Suicide Among the Elderly: Signs of Danger

In life’s sometimes painful progression, we, as adult children, expect to outlive our parents. This is the circle of life. One day, natural causes or an ongoing illness will lay claim to our elderly parents.  Yet there’s something we don’t anticipate: losing an aging parent to suicide. And yet, according to experts and organizations including the National Institute of Mental Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it’s actually this very population—specifically those between the ages of 65 and 85 (and beyond)—who are most at risk of self-inflicted death.

While statistics vary based on the year cited, it is said that this demographic, which makes up 12% of our population, is also responsible for as much as 18% of annual suicides. Worse, the actual number of elder suicides is underreported by as much as 40%. An older person’s suicide efforts are rarely just a cry for help and are almost always successful.

Would you recognize the warning signs in your own mom or dad? Here are some of the most common triggers of suicide ideation in seniors, in no particular order:

  • Increasing social isolation (through the loss of friends, family, loved ones, and mobility)
  • Substance abuse or misuse (alcohol, medication, etc.)
  • Intense feelings of grief (mourning the loss of a spouse, a career, or other activities)
  • Chronic illness and physical pain
  • Stressors of finances and housing
  • Depression and other neurological/behavioral changes (and no, these should not be regarded as a normal part of growing older)

Certainly, your own parent(s) may be experiencing one or more of these major life’s difficulties without any thoughts of self harm; but if your parent seems depressed or withdrawn, begins giving away prized possessions, or if you’ve noticed a change in his or her demeanor, please take immediate action.

What to do if you suspect your aging parent has suicidal ideations:

  • Remove any firearms from the residence
  • Search thoroughly for any hoarded quantities of medication
  • Make an emergency appointment with a psychotherapist who specializes in the geriatric population
  • Do not leave the person alone until he or she has been assessed by a professional
  • Encourage your parent to speak openly with you. Listen with compassion and without judgment
  • Find a support group of other seniors, so Mom or Dad can experience the ongoing support of peers
  • In the meantime, encourage your parent to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)

Above all else, take the threat seriously. “What if?” and “If only…” are terrible burdens to bear.

Aging is a complex process, ripe with its own unique issues. I help families navigate these waters through healthy dialogue. If I can be of assistance to your family, or if you know someone who’s struggling with how to care for his or her older parents, please get in touch with me.

All the best,

Rabbi Scott Saulson, Ph.D.

 

 

 

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Your Aging Parents: Reframing your Focus to Find the Bright Side of Caretaking

The job of caretaking your aging parents is one that is bittersweet. Aging is rarely kind to any living being, bringing with it a host of ailments, both emotional and physical; and yet, learning to refocus the grief or fear you may be feeling during this time of flux is worth the effort.

When Josephine began coming to see me, her active, elderly mother, who’d always lived on her own nearby, was just beginning to slow down. Mom was experiencing multiple falls, one of which had just led to a broken shoulder.

Josephine knew the time had come for Mom’s house to be sold and for the two women to finally live together—a change she was absolutely dreading. (This hesitancy had to do with Josephine fearing she’d feel crowded or “mothered” in her very own home, someplace she’d been happily living on her own for years.)

But the move-in went far better than Josephine had anticipated. The pair were enjoying one another’s company tremendously and making plans for future travel. Sadly, however, the reason for Mom’s falls was soon diagnosed: she had an aggressive brain tumor and died peacefully in her sleep, in the new bedroom she’d helped to decorate at Josephine’s, just one year after having moved in with her daughter.

Josephine’s positive takeaway was the blissful year the pair had shared. They’d watched television together each night, they chatted, crafted, laughed etc. Mom was one of the rare examples of an elderly person in failing health whose upbeat mood never dimmed, and Josephine was so glad to have had this time with her mom. While she grieved for the short period of time in which they actually were together in one home, the year was easy on both women. Every day they spent together was a good one. Mom never suffered, she was never in pain, and she was never fearful.

Though not easy initially, our conversations together helped Josephine find peace in the positives of the entire experience and the comfort it had brought to her Mom.

Through my work helping members of the sandwich generation to navigate the rough waters of eldercare, I’ve helped caretakers learn to:

  1. Strengthen boundaries with others
  2. Release and bury feelings of guilt
  3. Prioritize self-care
  4. Learn to see others with more compassion

Nearly every one of us can learn to find the blessings we’re given during these challenging times. Sometimes, an overwhelmed and over-worked caregiver simply needs help in learning where he or she needs to look.

If I can be of help to you or your own family during this time of transition, please get in touch with me. There’s no need to walk this road alone.

 

All the best,

Rabbi Scott Saulson, Ph. D.

 

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Your Aging Parent and Serious Medical Conditions: 6 Life Management Strategies

Aging is challenging all on its own, but it’s that much more complicated when a serious illness is added to the mix. As the adult child and main caregiver of an elderly parent who is facing a serious medical diagnosis such cancer, dementia, heart failure, etc., knowing what to expect is key to keeping your own day to day life running as smoothly as possible.

Here are 6 tips for managing life when your aging parent is diagnosed with a complicated illness or disease:

  1. Create a shareable online informational hub for family and other caregivers

Google documents and associated spreadsheets, calendars, etc. make sharing Mom’s list of medicines (and updated changes), doctors’ names and appointments, meal delivery, etc. a breeze.

  1. Write it down

Make a habit of note-taking. Whether it’s a list of questions for the doctor, or what he or she said at Dad’s last visit, a written record is much better than trusting anyone’s memory. Keep a small pad of paper and a pen in your bag at all times, or make use of the note-taking abilities of your smartphone or tablet.

  1. File the paperwork

If you don’t live in the same state as your folks (and even if you do), make sure the doctor has a signed release from the parent/patient in treatment stating that the office is allowed to share medical information with you.

  1. Have the difficult discussions

Now more than ever, you need to know how your mom and dad feel about undergoing extraordinary medical efforts at prolonged life. Make sure that your parent’s doctor is on the same page as well.

  1. Have the practical (but still difficult) discussions

Where do your parents keep their important papers? Is their will up to date? (Is there a will?) Do you know if your parents each own a burial plot? No one enjoys thinking about the post-death details of losing a loved one, but knowing how to handle what’s ahead will be easier than not knowing—especially during a time of grief.

  1. Be prepared for exaggerated behavior

Stress and upset typically bring out the worst in all of us, so be prepared for your tactless aunt to be as forthright as ever, for the brother who continuously lets you down to remain steadfastly unavailable—and perhaps more so. Sure, one can always hope for the best, but high-stress times may not be the most realistic time to look for change in others.

Illness is stressful on everyone in the family and adds even greater complexity to the job of caregiving. Don’t go it alone. Please reach out to me for assistance in navigating the difficult terrain ahead.

All the best,

Rabbi Scott Saulson, Ph.D.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Changing Face of the Sandwich Generation (Which One are You?)

The term “sandwich generation” is one you’ve no doubt heard before, and if you’re reading this you’re likely also a member of its pack: adults who are sandwiched in between the actual parenting of their own children while at the same time responsible for the full-time care of their aging or elderly parents.

It’s a populace so commonplace that in 2006, the term was added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

Yet the face of the original generation, initially baby boomers of the 1980s whose parents were living longer thanks to medical and pharmaceutical advances, is changing as it has aged out of the original, boomer generation. Now there is updated terminology being used to describe it.

Read on to see which name best describes your situation, or that of someone you know:

Original Sandwich

Female baby boomers in their 30s and 40s who were responsible for the care of their own young or school-aged children, as well as for their jobs, households, and their aging parents (both biological and by marriage). The elderly parents may have even lived in the caregiver’s household, or they lived nearby.

Traditional Sandwich

Similar to the original, only now somewhat more inclusive of either parents’ sandwiched responsibilities and referring to a broader age range within the nuclear family, as more and more people delay marriage and child-rearing. The sandwiched parents may have children of any age, from youngsters to college-aged kids, still requiring assistance.

Club Sandwich

This is the label for when the family stacks up even further, now including grandparents and even grandchildren in the mix. A parent, usually between the ages of 50–60, may be assisting his or her adult children through financial or physical means (such as helping out with the care of the grandchildren), while still being responsible for overseeing the care of their own elderly mom or dad—whether in home or nearby.

Also included are younger parents (30s–40s) who are raising their small or young children while assisting with the care of their own grandparents.

Most of the time, these sandwiched parents are still working in order to try and put away money for their own futures, while struggling to provide assistance to the generations on both sides.

It’s not unheard of for these parents to even themselves be skirting the age of senior citizenship.

Open-Faced Sandwich

Anyone of any age who has at some point in time been responsible for the wellbeing of an elderly relative. (Studies show this may be up to 25% of the population.) One example is college-aged kids who live with their grandparents in order to assist in their care, allowing their own parents to better focus on work and other children, still living at home.

Regardless of the specific classification, all sandwich generation caretakers face the same hurdles: stress, financial and emotional burdening, and a sense of being all alone in their struggles.

Do you know a person or are you yourself someone who fits into any of the above caretaking categories? Please get in touch so that we may begin a helpful dialogue.

All the best,

Rabbi Scott Saulson, Ph.D.

 

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Your Aging Parents: 8 Simple Brain Exercises to Improve Memory or Slow Down Its Loss

We all know that physical exercise is important to our bodies’ wellbeing, but did you know that cognitive stimulation is equally important to the health of our brains? Experts say that the brain can be strengthened through targeted exercise, just the same as any other part of the body. This is especially important for senior citizens—even for those who may already be showing signs of cognitive decline.
Helping your own aging parents to exercise their brains is easier than you may think, too. Depending on their level of overall wellness, your mom or dad may be able to add some or all of the following “brain-building” exercises into their routines. If Mom or Dad has a caregiver, speak to that person about the possibility of working the following ideas into the day:

• Social interaction
Social engagement is about more than companionship. The give and take of conversation, practice with word recall, and ongoing facial and environmental recognition help give the brain a workout.

Creative work
Does Mom or Dad play an instrument, paint, draw, knit, or sew (etc.)? Studies show that time spent creatively is time that reinvests itself exponentially in terms of health: the brain is open to problem solving and new ideas for hours after such pursuits. Maybe Dad no longer has his full woodworking workshop since downsizing homes, but is there a class at the local arts center he, or both parents, may enjoy attending each week? Maybe your mom would enjoy jewelry making or working with beads, and either parent can benefit from coloring with your kids. It’s easy enough to make sure that supplies are on hand. Show your parent(s) how to search for instructional videos on YouTube, and help them ignite a new or long-buried passion.

Exercise
We can all benefit from exercise, but pumping oxygen through our veins is good for our brains, too. Safety first, of course, but perhaps some low-impact stretches or a few yoga poses could be added to your parents’ days? There is usually some form of movement we can all add into our lives, no matter our physical limitations. Talk to your parent’s doctor(s) first for clearance, then help Mom or Dad find a YouTube channel, website, exercise membership site, or even borrow a few DVDs from the library.

Cooking
Do(es) one (or both) of your folks like to cook? So long as they are not displaying dangerous signs of memory loss or dementia (which could cause injury to self and/or environment), let them! Send your folks to a cooking class they can experience together; encourage them to use their favorite cookbook(s) and/or to buy new ones, as following a recipe uses problem solving, memory, logic, and other skills.

Gardening and getting outside
I’ve listed these together because the real benefit here is Vitamin D, which comes from the sun. Just like plants, we all need actual sunlight to thrive—and the elderly population tends to show the most Vitamin D deficiency. If Mom and/or Dad are no longer able to get digging in the dirt, see what plants will grow in containers right outside their door, then help set up an outdoor area where they can sit and enjoy the beauty of the garden each day (and possibly help improve cognition).

Reading
While your parents are outside drinking their morning coffee and soaking in the sun, they can further exercise their brains by doing some reading: magazines, daily newspapers (although the news can be upsetting…), novels, etc., these are all excellent for keeping the mind engaged. Help them download Overdrive and/or favorite their local library online, and your parents will have an endless supply of free reading at their fingertips.

Puzzles and Games
Old-fashioned puzzles, board games, card games, crossword puzzles, sudoku, online games, even popular game apps found on your PC/phone/tablet, are not only brain stimulators, but brain boosters, too. Teach Mom and Dad to better utilize their devices and you’ll help them build even greater critical thinking skills.

Change in routine
It’s fine to enjoy a routine … many of us do. However, when we do something the same way day after day, the task becomes so practiced that it’s done without thought. We could all benefit from a daily shakeup of sorts, such as: finding a new route to work or to a friend’s house, grocery shopping at a different store or location, applying makeup or getting dressed in a different than usual order, and so on. These small daily challenges call on our brains to reason differently, to use new processes.

All it takes is a little critical thinking on our parts to ensure that our aging moms and dads are getting the cerebral challenges they need to stay as fit as possible. If you need help thinking through this or any other aging-related topic, please reach out to me.

All the best,

Rabbi Scott Saulson, Ph.D.

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