Strange Behavior in Your Aging Parent: It May Not be What You Think

As I have written here in the past, common medical conditions can manifest quite differently in the elderly than they do among the general population. Whereas an ongoing headache and fever after a cold of flu would indicate a likely sinus infection, it is not safe to jump to similar conclusions when your elderly parent becomes similarly symptomatic.

In a parent who is already suffering from deficiencies in memory, it can be especially difficult to distinguish a new physical ailment from his or her continued mental degeneration.

In this type of instance, err on the side of caution and get Mom or Dad an appointment with a doctor who is experienced in geriatric medicine.

I was reminded of this when I got a call from a client whose mother had been in the early stages of dementia for a year and a half. Not surprisingly, the disease was less pronounced during those first few months after diagnosis. However, after the year mark, Mom’s behavior began to change and her short-term memory started to falter.

This seemed normal enough to family members—unfortunate, but to be expected.

That is, until Mom began to behave outrageously and completely out of her norm.

Her behavior was described to me as “petulant,” “childlike,” and “manipulative.” While she was in no way aggressive, her moods swung wildly. Sometimes her actions bordered on the bizarre.

In one such example, she packed and mailed off a large box of holiday gifts for the son (and his family), but she neglected to include her grandson in the enclosed card. Equally strange, the “gifts” she did send (to her son and his wife) included such oddities as an old, ragged towel, random cutlery from Mom and Dad’s kitchen drawer, as well as the older couple’s guestroom bedspread.

While this may almost sound amusing, it is not. Think about if you had been the recipient of this holiday gift from your own beloved mother?

What was going on?

Was a new medicine to blame? Had her disease robbed her of her mental faculties this quickly?

This adult son lived across the country from his elderly folks, and he felt helpless. His own father seemed emotionally beaten down from taking care of the ailing wife, and soon family members everywhere were offering opinions and taking sides.

It was a mess.

This is when my phone rang.

I strongly suggested that Mom be taken immediately to a physician knowledgeable in elder care and geriatrics so that she could be given a thorough once-over.

And guess what? She was suffering from a severe urinary tract infection. It had been raging within her body, reeking havoc, for months.

Mom has now been through three very long, strong rounds of antibiotics and I am told that she is much more clear-headed again. Overall, her behavior has leveled out to a more tolerable state.

This family is not out of the woods. We have scheduled an online, group session, during which I will be walking them though setting up a next-step action plan so as to hopefully ease the burden on Dad, while securing the safe care of Mom.

I can do the same for your family or the family of someone you may know.

All the best,

Rabbi Scott Saulson, Ph.D.

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How to Save Money on Your Aging Parents’ Prescription Costs

It’s no secret that while the costs of prescription medications continue to skyrocket, the majority of our incomes are not rising accordingly.

This is especially true for the elderly. How can you help your aging parents stay healthy when many are too embarrassed to mention the fact that they are skipping doses of their medications, just to save money?

You may be able to alleviate some of your parents’ stress by teaching them to use the internet to comparison shop their medication refills. (If Mom and Dad are not technically savvy or require assistance, offering to be in charge of refilling their medications for them will yield the same results.)

t all boils down to this: Like any business, your corner pharmacy stays afloat by making a profit. Pharmacies in particular use complicated formulas to establish their wholesale costs (and contracts) with various drug companies—and none of these formulas are transparent to the public. This means that the cost of a given medication can vary dramatically from pharmacy to pharmacy, even those in the same city or town. Believe it or not, having insurance coverage (private and/or Medicare) does not guarantee the customer will pay the lowest price. To the contrary: quite often, the cash, or self-pay, price is going to be the cheapest option, most notably when the medication is a generic and the sale is combined with a discount card (which may be found online using your search skills, and/or at physicians’ offices, etc.). Please note: not every medical condition and/or patient makes a good candidate for a generic substitution. Thyroid issues, as well as health issues in the elderly, in general, can be especially finicky to manage. Please track any changes in medication carefully and see your physician for a followup.)

These cards are not gimmicks. They work. (Well, I cannot vouch for all of them, of course.) It was my own doctor who told me about GoodRx, in fact, as he, too, is now “of a certain age” and swears by not only this website but by Google, in general. (He even helps his patients search online for the cheapest medications for their needs, prior to writing out a prescription.)

Of course, the downside is the fact that refilling Mom’s medications will require a few moments of internet sleuthing, as well as extra phone calls to her physician’s office and possible followup regarding the electronic filing of said prescription(s), and as mentioned above, followup with Mom to make sure she’s feeling fine.

However, saving real money is worth these few moments invested, not to mention, for some families this can mean being able to keep the electricity turned on while still taking much-needed medications.

Here are my three best tips for refilling your parents’ prescriptions for the lowest price:

  1. Always comparison shop prior to submitting that refill (or first prescription) is an excellent starting point and takes mere seconds to use. is another favorite. Order their free prescription discount cards and carry them in your wallet. Try using these and the “self-pay” option (which means you’d like the prescription charged through without the insurance contract price) at your current pharmacy, or go online and type the name of the medication you need into the discount card websites. You may find yourself driving to a different pharmacy each time you need a refill, but saving several hundred dollars is worth a few minutes of your time.
  2. Do not blindly accept the name brand version of any medication from your doctor without questioning him or her first. Would a generic suit you (or Mom or Dad) equally well? The difference in cost will likely mean a savings of hundreds of dollars a month to your family, per prescription.
  3. Consider ordering from a reputable Canadian pharmacy. There is no substitute for health, and sometimes only a certain brand of medication will do. In these instances, you may find marked savings by having your medication filled across the Northern border. (Don’t forget tips 1 and 2 while you’re at it.)

I hope this information is useful to your family and that you will share it with others. If you, or anyone you know, is dealing with the stressors borne of aging and its impact on the extended family, I am here to help. Please reach out to me.

All the best,

Rabbi Scott Saulson


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Your Aging Parents: Ignoring the Situation Won’t Make it go Away

When I last heard from Lacey, she was having a crummy holiday season.

She’d spent Christmas Eve in an airport, catching an exorbitantly-priced, last-minute, cross-country flight home to be with her ailing, aging parents, both in the same hospital but on different floors.

She then missed the rest of the holiday season as her husband, back at home, struggled to find care for their school-aged daughter—home on break—while Lacey sorted through the hassles of her parents’ insurance issues and future care needs and plans. For the most part, she told me, she was just trying to get through every day.

Once her parents made it through their life-or-death issues, she flew back home.

Lacey is a responsible adult who loves her family. Yet despite knowing that her parents were in rapidly declining health and had no one nearby to help them with their care, she’d opted to wait until an emergency occurred (her father fell and broke several ribs and then subsequently developed pneumonia, all from trying to care for her mother on his own), rather than to have put into place some kind of emergency plan of action.

It’s the same thing I find myself harping on time and again: Talk to your parents before something happens. Know what to do before these inevitable events take place. Have a plan at the ready.

In Lacey’s family’s case, she told me that since Mom had refused to consider leaving home for assisted care living, she didn’t bother pushing the issue. Since the other, much nearer, sister was in school, worked full time, also had her own family and refused to be of any help, she, Lacey, has to hop on a plane and fly across the country in the event of parental troubles.

This family needs help.

It’s always easier to be an outsider looking in on another family’s issues, it’s true. However, in this case, I sense either denial or avoidance of something … I’m just not yet certain what that something is. I’m hoping that a conference call with the two sisters can help right this ship and get them working more as a team, especially for the sake of their parents—who are now out of the hospital and left at home on their own to convalesce once more.

Perhaps the problem has more to do with the sisters’ relationship than with their relationship to their parents? It’s too early to tell. Regardless, through counseling, even by phone, I aim to help both sisters feel heard and understood, and to guide them to finding imminent solutions before the next crisis arises.

It’s not as if this situation is going away anytime soon….

If you know of another family with aging parents and that family is also in crisis, I urge you to send them to my website, directly to my blog or Facebook page, etc.

I want to help.

All the best,

Rabbi Scott Saulson, Ph.D.


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Working Through Sibling Rivarly to Care for Aging Parents

Recently, I counseled a woman who was struggling with the ever-increasing demands of caring for her aging parents while trying to manage her own family’s needs. “Mia” has two young children, a husband, and a full-time job—in addition to her caregiving duties.

In our first meeting, I learned that she had been the sole outside caregiver for her parents for nearly two years. Mia’s mom and dad had been less than friendly to dog walkers and house cleaners alike and had developed a terrible habit of simply firing anyone who’d been contracted to lend a hand, which made their daughter feel all the more more tied to their needs.
I also discovered that Mia has a sister—in perfect health—who lives about 25 minutes away.

In an all-too-common caretaking scenario, one sibling had neither asked for the other’s help; the other had not stepped up to offer.

“How is this possible?” you may be wondering. (Yes, the sister was well aware of her parents’ health and activities, as she has had regular phone exchanges with them and they have kept her up to date.)

It’s quite simple, really: No matter their true age, siblings tend to take on the same roles they played in childhood whenever they are engaged in stressful family dynamics—parents’ aging being one of the most stressful situations we will ever encounter. Our relationships to our parents and siblings are vital in shaping our personalities and our views of ourselves; each family member takes on a different role within the unit. Times of difficulty only tend to heighten unresolved feelings. “Dad never listens to me, anyway,” “They’ve always liked my brother better than me,” “Sissy has always had it so much easier than the rest of us!” etc.

In my role as a mediator for such families in crisis, my goal is not to heal these old wounds, but to help each family member better understand how he or she can play a role in the successful operation of the family unit as it stands today.

Not all of us are as self aware as we’d like to be. Sometimes we need a third party to come in and help us see where we really stand.

Such was the case with Mia and her sister, who were stuck in their roles from yesteryear. By first speaking with each woman separately and reminding them of the real focus, caring for their parents, the sisters were able to come together and articulate how each could best be of aid—be that financially, physically, or through making phone calls and arrangements.

Mom and Dad were also brought into the conversation, and they agreed to stop haphazardly firing contractors and instead to bring any complaints to the sisters, who would then take these concerns to their proper places.

Thus far, this family is doing much better, and Mia and her sister are able to see one another as the capable, grown women they are, and not the children they were so long ago.

If I may be of assistance with your family, or if you know someone whose family unit is also struggling with the fallouts of aging, please reach out to me

All the best,

Rabbi Scott Saulson, Ph.D.


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Emergency Disaster Planning for Senior Citizens: Putting a plan in place for your aging parents

During these past days and weeks, as the entire country has been transfixed by news of first Hurricane Harvey’s, and now Hurricane Irma’s, impending upheaval, I’ve been thinking about disaster-preparedness and the elderly.

If you have aging parents, I would venture to guess that this same topic has been on your mind as well.

Imagine being in the path of a potentially deadly storm and having to worry about not just your nuclear family’s physical safety, but the safety of your aging parents, who have also come to depend on you. Equally terrible, what if you and your family are not in danger but your folks are, yet simple distance prohibits you from being able to help them prepare for, or evacuate from, a life-threatening storm? You would feel powerless and scared.

Then you would probably kick yourself for not having had a disaster-preparedness plan already in place. Below, I’ve written up the basics for you, but I recommend that you visit the links I’ve added in order to more thoroughly read up on the specifics as they apply to your family.

Geography/natural elements

First, consider your parents’ location and any seasonal or likely natural forces for which their area is known. Obviously, no one can predict the future, but if Mom and Dad live in an area known equally for its forest fires as for its beauty, along coastal waters, or perhaps in an earthquake-prone part of the country, etc., you can help them be far more prepared for the risk(s) they’re likeliest to encounter.

Create a plan (and practice it with Mom and Dad)

This website is fantastic. In fact, it even has a dedicated page for senior preparedness, complete with an on-target YouTube video for Mom and Dad to watch. The key to a disaster-survival plan involves putting into place, in advance, the following three elements:

  1. Support network

Your support network is someone who has agreed that in the event of disaster/community emergency, he or she will check on Mom and Dad immediately following the crisis. This can be a neighbor, a trusted friend, a pastor. This person will be given a key to your home and access to medical information. Remember that in a crisis event, travel may be challenging, so factor distance into your decision-making. More information about establishing a support network for an aging parent is offered by the American Red Cross.

  1. Communication tree

What could be worse than being hundreds of miles away from loved ones whose community is in turmoil and worrying whether or not they’re okay? Your parents’ disaster plan will therefore include specifics on communication (among your extended family as well) in the event of a disaster. While cell towers may be too jammed to allow for phone calls, texts are usually successfully delivered. Teach Mom and Dad how to text, download a texting app on their tablets, etc.—whatever it takes. Then practice texting with them routinely, so it’s not a foreign concept when the time comes.

           3Emergency kit

An emergency kit should contain not just food and water for each person for several days, but also a stash of medication, which is going to need to be replaced once a year or so if stored beyond its effective date. Other items to stash in the kit: a NOAA radio and extra batteries, important documents such as insurance policies, doctor’s names and numbers, medical information/limitations/allergies and schedules, a copy of the emergency plan, etc. You should also add a portable battery charger for Mom and Dad’s electronic device(s) and schedule a reminder for yourself so that you can have the folks recheck the charge a couple of times a year. Don’t forget about Fifi and Fido, who will need the same few days’ worth of food and vital supplies.

It’s a good idea to also include a flash drive of the same information—not for the folks, but for them to hand off to an aid worker or to the trusted family friend who is in your support network.

More information, including what to do after a disaster hits, where to seek shelter, how to have Mom and Dad’s Medicare payments wirelessly deposited directly into their bank account from now on (to avoid disruption in payment), etc., may be found online, HERE.

At some point in time, your parents  or parent may be safer in a different setting, one in which there would be more assistance during a crisis, but that is a conversation for another day (one I am happy to help you and your family to evaluate). Please reach out to me so that I may help lead you all through a constructive dialogue.

All the best,

Rabbi Scott Saulson, Ph.D.

More resources:

For even more perspectives on this topic, see the CDC’s page on senior emergency preparedness HERE

To stay atop disaster awareness and to locate shelter by area, download the FEMA app

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Why Your Aging Parents Need a Voice-Activated Home Speaker

While voice-activated smart speakers (Amazon’s Alexa-enabled Echo  and Google Home)  were not created specifically with senior citizens in mind, these fairly inexpensive gizmos are a futuristic dream come true for any member of the sandwich generation who is caring for an aging parent (either onsite or from afar).

These speakers are small in size (the same size as most portable speakers) and sit unobtrusively on a table or desk in the room, where they are listening, at-the-ready, for the appropriate wakeup word or phrase. Over time, they get even “smarter” after better adjusting to a person’s voice. Fun, yes? While I would never suggest a plastic speaker take the place of a caregiver, I can say that a smart speaker can ease the load on a caregiver’s shoulders, and I highly recommend that everyone make sure their aging parent has one in their own home.

Here are but a few examples of what these devices can do (with additional improvements being made all the time)

  1. Depending on the system you choose, a smart speaker can greet your parent every morning and tell him or her the local weather forecast, traffic, day and date, scheduled appointments, and news updates.
  2. A smart speaker can play music, direct-dial other users, play podcasts, movies and audiobooks, and even link to certain television systems. Mom or Dad can even ask the speaker to call for an Uber or deliver food.
  3. Depending on the system, the speaker can become the hub of your parents’ smart home, connecting to the digital thermostat, doorbell alert, even making sure the deadbolts are locked, all adjusted or activated by voice command.
  4. For safety’s sake, several medical alert companies offer monitoring through the speaker hub, as do major home security systems. Pill reminders can also be connected to the hub, alerting Mom or Dad when it’s time to take their medicine.

If your parent has memory issues, well-placed signage could be of assistance here, as only the right word or phrase will awaken the speaker and put it to use.

Of course, certain services may need to be turned off through the online settings; say, if Mom or Dad has a heavy-duty shopping habit….

Overall, however, this could be the perfect device for the elderly person who is suffering from some degree of dementia and who asks the same question over and over again.

If you’ve put one of these speakers to use in your own family, I’d love to hear about your results. Please reach out to me.

As always, if I may help you and your loved ones in seeking relief from the stresses brought on by caring for your aging parents, I am here for you.

All the best,

Rabbi Scott Saulson, Ph.D.


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Make a Phone Call, Make a Difference

How often do you call your aging parents?

(Pause for uncomfortable silence…)

I completely understand. I have been there myself. Now, In this digital age especially, it can feel as though your days are not your own: work seems to demand more from us all than it ever has; friends, colleagues and acquaintances are able to reach out to us 24 hours a day on multiple social media platforms; plus, as a member of the sandwich generation, you have your own growing family to care for. With the day-to-day errands and chores needed to keep dinners rolling out nightly and children (not to mention yourself and your spouse) dressed in clean clothing, it’s no wonder that days, even weeks, may go by in between check-ins with Mom and Dad.

This past week, an article about the development of a robot companion for the elderly caught my eye. Intrigued, I began to read it in greater detail, initially thinking that a blog post about geriatric technology could soon be in order. Instead, the real detail which stuck with me was nothing new, and that is this: Our elderly are dangerously lonely.

Here’s an example from the article: “According to Age UK, nearly half of all people aged 75 and over live alone and more than 1 million say they always or often feel lonely. Thirty-six percent speak to fewer than one person per day and 11 percent say they spent five days or more a month without seeing anyone.”

Additionally, since science and medicine are helping to extend people’s lives, our aging population is living longer–and mostly “confounded by” the very technology needed to stay interactive and engaged with the rest of the population.

And so … a team in Israel is working on creating a robot, one which is programmed to know the aging person’s likes and dislikes (among other things) as reported in part by family members, in order to provide missing companionship as well as guidance for technological needs.

I’m sure that this is a good thing (yes?), and yet for some reason it causes me just a twinge of pain.

Can’t we also all resolve to make a few more phone calls, specifically to those we know who are old and lonely?

If you have a loved one who is elderly and alone, or if you know of such a person in your neighborhood, I’d like to ask you to please schedule five minutes into your day today to phone that person.

Making a difference in someone’s life doesn’t necessarily take a team of engineers. Sometimes all it takes is just one small action.

All the best,

Rabbi Scott Saulson, Ph.D.


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Virtual Chatting with Your Aging Parents: How Skype and FaceTime Could Benefit Your Entire Family


It’s something you probably do regularly in your business or personal life (either with colleagues, friends, or both), and yet you’ve likely never even considered making it a part of your ongoing routine with your aging parents. The “it” I’m referring to here is virtual communication, such as FaceTime, Skype, Google +, and various social media apps (though you may need to ask your teenage children for help with those).

Just as speaking “face to face” through the magic of today’s technology helps to make business and personal conversations clearer and interactions more meaningful, why not bring these same feelings to your conversations with your mom and dad? Most of our parents own tablets and/or Smartphones, and even if not, they are certainly computer-literate enough to download software to a computer and plug in an earpiece/mic. (If not, you can talk them through the process.)

Here are some benefits I see to conversing with your folks via virtual chat:

  1. If you have kids of your own, you are opening up a world as vast as their imaginations can take them in terms of all new ways to engage with their grandparents. Now your aging parents will be able to read bedtime stories, play games, help with homework, or simply be available to to talk at the press of a widget. Whether you live across the country or across town from your folks, you are allowing your kids and your parents to forge an entirely new bond for themselves.
  2. See above, but think of yourself, and even your spouse. While you may be too old for bedtime stories, perhaps closing out an evening or two weekly with a (virtual) face-to-face goodnight or recap of your day will bring a renewed closeness with Mom or Dad. Nobody enjoys hearing from you as much as your parents do. They want to hear from your spouse or partner, too.
  3. If your parents have trouble with their mobility, or if you are separated by miles, imagine being able to spend a few moments of your holidays together, virtually: opening birthday or Christmas gifts and getting to enjoy real-time reactions, lighting Hanukkah candles, and more. I know of a family who FaceTimed their elderly parents into their Passover Seder last year. It was a resounding success for all involved and brought the family members on both ends much joy.
  4. You and I know that these software applications are fairly user-friendly, and yet people of our parents’ generation may not have had reason to have engaged in the use of many online tools for communication, other than email. This boost of knowledge (and confidence) is valuable to the elderly in so many ways.
  5. With a renewed ability to reach out and engage with family members, your parents will likely feel how loved and needed they are. Depression is such a problem for the elderly population. Simply having a need to shower and dress daily improves anyone’s mood.

So get in touch with Mom or Dad today and figure out which software download will work for your family. You may be in for a few minutes of frustration while you get both sides set up, but I assure you, the end results are well worth any potential (and very minimal) aggravation.

As always, I am here to help you and your family navigate the waters of communication during the challenging time of parental aging.

Wishing you a happy and healthy 2017.

All the best,

Rabbi Scott Saulson, Ph.D.

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Are You a Caretaker? Make Your Life Seem Calmer in Less Than 30 Minutes a Day

By now we all understand why the term “sandwich generation” was coined. It’s an apt description of living life as the main caregiver for two generations, one above and one below. This person is sandwiched in-between his or her two lives, caring for aging parents while still struggling with the more traditional and already challenging routines associated with being a parent, a worker, a spouse, partner, friend, etc.

Sometimes I like to articulate the role in a slightly different manner, to aid in expressing just how pressure-filled being a caretaker in the sandwich-generation truly is: I think of this person as the bread of the sandwich — the very stabilizer of the entire family.

Today I’d like to discuss adding yet one more responsibility to the caregiver’s routine: care of self. It is the No. 1 ingredient for long-term energy and success, and without prioritizing yourself, if only for a few moments each day, you will surely attain burnout in no time — and that’s bad for everyone involved.

So consider yourself as important to your weekly calendar, to-do list or daily activities as the other family members who fill these spaces, and save a few for slots for yourself. You will be amazed by how spending a serene few moments alone, focused on your own well-being, can lift your spirits and rejuvenate your energy, and better get you through the stresses of your days.

Here are five calming ideas to get you started:

  1. Grab a drink. No, not that kind. I am talking about a frothy and ridiculously-priced coffee or tea from a place such as Starbucks. There is something about treating ourselves well that is rejuvenating. With specialty coffee houses located seemingly on every corner, most with drive-throughs, this is a simple stop to brighten any day. (They also have cold, bottled drinks and snacks if coffee and tea aren’t your thing.)
  2. Go to the library. When was the last time you spent an hour reading the latest issue of your favorite magazine — in peace and quiet? Oh, and it’s a completely free outing. County libraries typically stock the latest issues of all kinds of major periodicals. While they are available for check-out to library cardholders, anyone is welcome to come in and peruse the shelves and sit and read amidst the quietness. Bring your book, if you prefer. Just try it.
  3. Take a walk around the block. I learned this tip from a writer friend of mine, who swears by it as her singular remedy for head-clearing, creativity awakening and energy cleansing.
  4. Meditate for 10 minutes. I like the downloadable app called Headspace, which talks you right through 10 minutes of daily meditation. It may be used on any digital device. Or, check your preferred app store for a similar program.
  5. Soak in a hot bath or shower. It just feels good, and that’s what we’re aiming for here — simple ways to regroup in just a few moments’ time. Just as your children have scheduled bath times, perhaps you may look forward to your own 30 minutes of escape each evening

Here’s an extra tip, and it’s a vital one to accomplish most of the other five, as well as any of your own: Learn to accept help, then go out and find some, if need be. We all need to be able to phone a neighbor or a friend, or even a reliable sitter, who can come be with the kids or the parents when we need a 15-minute break. “I have got to get out of here to clear my head. I’ll bring you a Starbucks if I can drop off the kids with you for 30 minutes?” Who would say no to that.  Tell your spouse or partner how helpful it would be to you if you could get even 20 minutes of silence each night, then go read in the tub, uninterrupted. Our friends and loved ones don’t know how to help us if we don’t speak up and ask first.

I hope that adding these small snippets of time for yourself into your days can be of overall value to you. Please try it for a month and see. I would love to hear your results.

All the best,

Rabbi Scott Saulson, Ph.D.




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Surprise! Paying an Unannounced Visit to Your Aging Parent and Caregiver

Have you ever dropped in unannounced, just to check on your aging parent and his or her caregiver?

If not, you should.

There is so much more to true daily caregiving beyond just feeding, dressing and medicating a patient. Environment is everything. Does the caregiver speak compassionately to Mom throughout the day? (Does she speak to Mom at all?) Is there light music playing in the background to elevate the mood at home or in Mom’s room in the facility, or is the caregiver glued to her cellphone and texting while blasting endless angry hours of daytime television at your dad to keep him “occupied?” How often are the sheets changed? How often does your parent get outside for some sunshine and fresh air? Where did they go on their last outing? How do they pass the time?

Don’t feel bad if you don’t know the answers to these questions, but do make it a point to try to find out more about the daily atmosphere in which your parent is living. If distance or other physical obstacles prohibit you from dropping by, enlist the aid of a friend or relative, or even a clergyperson who lives in the area.

If the thought of showing up unannounced on anyone’s doorstep , even at the home of your own parents, makes you break out in hives, then phone ahead without much notice— perhaps just prior to hopping in the car and heading over.  The whole point is to see what the atmosphere is like on any given day and at any given hour. Feel free to bring Mom’s favorite snack or beverage, a plant or flowers to brighten the home, a box of tea, etc., as an ice-breaker. “May I pick anything up for you and Mom while I’m still out?” is a friendly and non-threatening conversation starter.

What to look for when dropping in unannounced on your aging parent and caregiver:

  1. Glance around the main living area to see whether it’s clean and tidy, or whether yesterday’s lunch dishes are still stacked in the sink (or worse, haven’t even made it to the sink). Dad’s bathroom should be wiped up for his safety and sanitation, his sheets should be clean and fresh—certainly not soiled. Above all, your parent should appear to be groomed and wearing clean clothes. Other signs of trouble: Extreme body odor, greasy, unkempt hair, overgrown fingernails, raw, angry skin in need of care, bad breath.
  2. On a similar note, is your parent dressed, or is Mom hanging out in her bathrobe and nightie at 3:00 p.m.? Daily routine is important to us all, and simply being allowed the dignity of ritual washing and grooming, along with fresh clothing, can make for a happier day and a greater feeling of productivity in any human being.
  3. As you sit and make conversation with your parent, take a look at his or her view of the world. Can Dad reach his books and his iPad from his chair? What surrounds him to help him stay occupied? Can he look out the window, or at photos of family members? Can he reach the telephone if he wants to make a call or to answer one made to him? Make any necessary adjustments while you’re there—a pillow, a handmade blanket from the guestroom, a photo album brought to your parent to peruse … these can all improve anyone’s mood by surrounding them with love.
  4. Chat with your parent.  While still keeping the visit upbeat, ask Mom directly how she feels about the quality of the care she’s receiving. While it’s true that you may have to take some of what she says with a grain of salt thanks to the effects of aging, if there are any complaints, you should hear them out and see if they ring true to you.
  5. Don’t forget to engage in conversation with the caregiver herself. Is she friendly? Does she seem put out by your visit? A true professional would welcome the added brightness this visit brings to her patient’s otherwise ordinary day. It is okay to ask about excursions and doctor’s visits. In fact, you have every reason to do so. Use this as a springboard to better ongoing communication between the two of you. If the caregiver pushes back, she may not be easy to get along with, and that could mean that your parent also has trouble getting his or her own needs met by this person. This is also a great opportunity to see how the caregiver presents herself outwardly in other ways. Is she dressed in clean, professional clothing? Does she reek of cigarette smoke? Perhaps your dad has had to give up smoking. Can you trust this match? We all have good and bad days, so just take this visit as what it is—a welfare check on your aging parent.  Of course, should you see anything truly alarming, deal with it immediately. Don’t forget, always listen to your gut …

If you need any help sorting through these or other issues you encounter while navigating the difficult waters of eldercare, please reach out to me.

All the best,

Rabbi Scott Saulson, Ph.D.





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