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Posted: June 25, 2007

Practical Caregiving

Banishing Elderly Loved One from Family Event Draws Reader Ire

It seems I struck a nerve with my recent column about a young woman's wish to keep her aged great-grandmother from attending a famly celebration for her brother, a military vet returning from Iraq. She had said that she didn't want her great-grandmother to attend because "she is a gross person. She is 85, and acts very old."

You can see how I handled her request for advice in the column titled Is Aging a Reason to Exclude Elderly from Family Events?, but the young woman's question really sparked an outcry among readers. I received quite a few responses and many, many good thoughts and suggestions on how to include -- not exclude -- an elderly member of the family in the party for the returning "hero."

I think you will enjoy and benefit from these responses:
Dear Jean:

I wanted to let you know your article titled Is Aging a Reason to Exclude Elderly from Family Events? had this 40-year-old man crying for some time. I read this at work, and spent some time explaining the tears, for you see, I lost my grandfather a little over a year ago, and I would love to be able to sit and talk to him again, hug his neck or just see him.

Grandmother is still here, and she knows she is loved, cherished, and more than welcome anytime, anyplace. Regardless of any perceptions, all of our elderly are richer in ways we can only dream to achieve. In a few weeks, my 3-year-old daughter is having a birthday party. I am looking forward to that day of rejoicing with family and friends, and I would be heartbroken not to have my grandmother there.

Your letter definitely touched my heart, and I wanted to extend to you a huge thank you for such elegant words, for they were put in pen by the hand of an angel. I know you don't know me; however, I hope this letter of thanks returns to you in some way a bit of joy.

                                                                                                                                                                                                         Greg C., Madison, Georgia
Dear Jean:
I like the reply you sent to Christina regarding her not wanting to take her elderly great-grandmother, who is in a nursing home, to the "Welcome Home" party for her grandson.
The year I turned 50, I recall thinking, "How old this is, Lord! I don't feel old, but when I look at friends my age, they are looking older, so I know I must look older to others also." As I walked around my yard and meditated on the problem of suddenly feeling like I had arrived at old age (I am now 80), the Lord spoke to me in my heart. I heard Him say: "Sarah, only the body grows old. The spirit never ages."
Your reply to Christina lined up exactly with what I believe the Lord would want all of us to do: Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You.
I pray that Christina will rethink her thoughts, and take time to enjoy and get to know her aging grandmother, for hopefully she, too, will live long enough to be a grandmother, or great-grandmother.
Sarah B., Augusta, Georgia
Dear Jean:
I'm with you, Jean. I believe this is a very YOUNG person. In January 2007, my mother, who is 94, moved into our home after a year of medical problems that left her unable to stay alone any longer. For the past 20 years, she lived in a senior building doing for herself as well as being very active in voluntary activities. She was resident counsel of her building twice and she ran the bingo game (except for the last two years when she just participated), among other voluntary jobs. She has always been a very independent person. As you say; it's just the body that doesn't function as well; she is still the same (well, almost the same) person. She still gets around in her walker, manages to prepare her own breakfast and dress herself.
Right now, my husband works late evenings/nights so he is home during the day should an incident occur. I get home from work about an hour or two after he leaves, so we have it covered. Yes, she needs assistance at times in the bathroom, and yes she sometimes drops her food, and yes she sometimes makes strange remarks, and yes she sometimes is a little short with people. Yes, I have screamed at times to have my sweet mother back -- BUT, I could not imagine not including my mother in any family activities; especially, when welcoming back a hero who is her great-grandson? Your writer has a lot of growing up to do.
Linda F., Houston, Texas
Hey, Jean:
An excellent answer to the question. I might add that not only should great-grandmother be invited, but a helper should be hired to take care of the necessities for great-grandmother so family can focus on their returning veteran and great-grandmother’s dignity is preserved by not showing total dependency on the family for biological needs.
Bob M., Sammamish, WA
And again, the same suggestion with a couple of different twists on the reason for hiring someone for the event:
Dear Jean:
Your recent column about including a great-grandmother in a welcome home party for a great-grandson returning from Iraq was quite thorough in addressing the concerns of the letter writer. One more suggestion might have been helpful, and that would be to hire a caregiver for that time period to assist great-grandmother with transportation, toileting, assisting with oxygen and eating. This would free up the family from those responsibilities and reduce any embarrassment from anyone who might be embarrassed.
Andrea E., LCSW, Houston, Texas
Dear Jean:
I am a geriatric rehab nurse, and I want to thank you for encouraging this young lady to invite her great-grandmother to family functions.
Family is all most elderly relations have left (besides the caring staff of a nursing home), and family functions are important for them. I am always amazed how recall is affected in the elderly when they are allowed a few hours with their family in an outside-the-facility setting.
Here are some suggestions for taking "Grandma" or "Grandpa" out:
-- If they spill food, make them a cover-up for their clothes. Toweling with velcro closure at the neck is simple and easy to make, or request to borrow one from the nursing home for the day.
-- Assistance to the bathroom. Make sure there are a couple of people who have been taught how to transfer and assist at the toilet. Have them switch off the duty during the event.
-- Buy an "event outfit." Take it to the nursing home and ask that your loved one be dressed in it 30 minutes prior to being picked up. Make sure they understand it is NOT to go through the laundry at the facility, provide a bag and pick it up the next day. This will ensure the clothing does not get mangled in the facility laundry. Also ask that your loved one be toileted just before being picked up, schedule extra pick-up time for this. You usually can't just swoop in and run when dealing with the elderly.
-- Get a sturdy gift bag (just so it doesn't look like a care bag -- for dignity issues) and pack it with some essentials: face wipes, incontinence wipes and products if needed, Also, a hair pick, comb or brush, a can or two of Ensure or other supplement, bottled water and finger food snacks.
-- Understand dietary needs and be prepared to cut-up or puree food for your loved one so they can eat, too.
-- If it is a day-long event, make sure you provide a quiet place for the elderly to nap.
Events early in the day are better than later events. Late afternoon and early evenings are when the elderly person's strength and cognition are waning. And it's definitely okay to only have the elderly present for a few hours, the younger people can keep on partying into the wee morning hours.
Elizabeth Y., RN, Montana
These letters reinforce the special place our elderly loved ones hold in our hearts, as caregivers, and in the life of the  broader family. I hope all readers will keep this in mind when making plans, as Christina was doing when she wrote me. Remember: we will all be there, at that special age, and will want to be treated well at 85, just as we are -- respectfully -- at much younger ages.

© 2007 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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