Is 80 the new 60? Not quite..and that's a problem

Is 80 the new 60? Not quite…and that’s a problem 

By Pat Drea 

At 82 my father was amazingly active. So active that he fractured a vertebra by taking the door off the bathroom to plane it down so it would fit better. When he was being treated, the doctor asked why he had been trying to do something like that, didn’t he know better? Dad said it was OK, because his wife was helping him. She was 80 at the time.

My father wasn’t alone in not seeing his age as a limitation. Very few people truly perceive themselves as having the age, or actual capabilities, that they truly do. We see ourselves, whether we’re 80 or 40, as being able to do more, lift more, accomplish more than sometimes is safe. Even at younger ages, this denial of actual ability exists. The difference is that in younger years, that denial can function perfectly well as a mechanism to push us to accomplish more. But for older people who may have some significant limitations, and also issues with appropriate judgment, it can become dangerous.

It’s no secret that Americans are living much longer today than we ever have. But what is less often acknowledged is that we have not come to terms with the fact that this longevity may also mean that we are going to need some assistance to maintain the independent lifestyle we want. Working in the home care field, I’ve come to see that denial – of circumstances, needs and limits – is one of the most dangerous health issues confronting people today.

Very smart people, of any age, who are very good at taking care of themselves can often have poor judgment when it comes to their own limits. “But this is who I am!” people think. People see themselves as the person who does the home repairs, the one who regularly climbs ladders to dust the ceiling fans. They don’t see that their balance may not be as good because they’re older, they don’t recognize that the reach to dust the ceiling may strain their backs. And if they are fortunate enough to have people who do see this, they often deny they need help.

So how can we get people to accept the help they need? That’s one of the most common questions providers hear when a family wants to bring in home help, and it can be a challenge. Help that is effective, and accepted, is subtle, never “taking over” anything but only making it easier for the care recipient to accomplish what they want. Respect is critical, and so is the training and experience to know how to offer help so that it is seen as enhancing and not diminishing a person’s abilities.

One of the best techniques to make the idea of help more palatable is to make it not about the care recipient. For example, if you have a father who is Mr. Fixit, don’t try to make him stop fixing things. Instead, let him know you want him to keep doing what he does well and loves, but that you’d like him to get help with the heavier, harder aspects of the job and lend his expertise to supervising and teaching. Make it an intergenerational activity, where you use your dad’s tools to do the more difficult aspects with him teaching – you can turn a dangerous repair job into a moment you’ll be able to always treasure, and still respect his skills in a safe way.

Sometimes you may need to get help at home for a loved one. It’s easier if there’s a clear issue – recovering from an illness or something similar – but when it’s just a matter of managing daily life it can be difficult to persuade people to accept assistance. We find for many people that they may be resistant to accepting help for themselves, but they’ll do it if it’s for their family. Make it clear that you understand your loved one doesn’t feel a need for help, but tell them you are not comfortable with them being alone because you care. Look for aspects of their lives that they’re concerned about – maybe it’s the laundry not being ironed or not getting to the grocery store easily. If you and a caregiver focus on those aspects, home care can be restorative. Having help doesn’t have to mean a person is less able, often it can make them more able to be independent and do the things they want.

As a nation, we’re living longer. But if we want to keep quality and independence part of that longer life, we are going to have to come to terms with our limitations. Limits need not define us, but we need to acknowledge them, and get the help we need to manage them, in order to make the most of all of our time.

Pat Drea is the Chief Operating Officer of Visiting Angels, one of the nation’s leading home care service companies. She is a 23 year veteran of the private duty home care industry, a nationwide presenter on homecare issues, a contributor to industry publications and is on the Advisory Board of the National Association of Private Duty Home Care.   1-866-492-6435 serving three locations in Auburn, Nashua and Stratham New Hampshire

October is National Organize Your Medical Informatin Month

Most of us have a ‘Someday’ list. That list of things we mean to get around to doing someday. If organizing your health information is on that list, October is the official month to tackle it.

Step #1: Organize Your Information

There are two ways to do this. Some people prefer to have a physical copy of their records that they keep on hand in their home. Others may prefer to have an online health diary that can be accessed from any computer anywhere they are. We will explore both options.

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Self-Neglect - A Misunderstood Abuse

Self-Neglect – A Misunderstood Abuse

As we meet with clients or hear from families regarding their personal situation in the Greater Manchester, Concord, and Derry areas we see self neglect a growing concern for the families in our area.  Many needs are neglected due to lack of education or resources and as Jeffrey Johnson writes below you will have a greater understanding with his great insight.

It is estimated that as many as 50% of abuse cases that are reported to authorities are cases involving self-neglect.

Self-neglect cases within the senior population generally involve the unintentional neglect of an elder’s basic needs; such as clothing, food, shelter, hygiene, medical treatment, by that elder. This self-neglect may be caused by the aging process itself or as a result of some form of mental illness, dementia, or brain injury (

These cases are most often seen by the local Adult Protective Services (APS) and it is their charge to determine if the abuse (self-neglect is a form of abuse) is actually self-neglect or truly neglect by relatives, etc., or physical, sexual, or financial abuse at the hands of a third party.

Some signs and symptoms of self-neglect could include:

  • Dehydration, malnutrition, untreated or improperly attended medical conditions, and poor personal hygiene
  • Hazardous or unsafe living conditions/arrangements (e.g., improper wiring, no indoor plumbing, no heat, no running water)
  • Unsanitary or unclean living quarters (e.g., animal/insect infestation, no functioning toilet, fecal/urine smell)
  • Inappropriate and/or inadequate clothing, lack of the necessary medical aids (e.g., eyeglasses, hearing aids, dentures)
  • Grossly inadequate housing or homelessness

Certain characteristics tend to come to the forefront when analyzing the self-neglected elder. For example, many self-neglected elders:

  • Live alone
  • Are women
  • Suffer from Alzheimer’s disease or some other form of dementia
  • Suffer from decreased physical abilities
  • Abuse alcohol or drugs

Self-neglect often breeds more self-neglect, leading to additional concerns; for example, an increase in smoking or use/abuse of alcohol, an increase in the use of drugs, and/or the refusal to obtain treatment for these and other illnesses.

Although treatment may be difficult to administer, home care workers and family members can identify some of the signs of self-neglect which can lead to appropriate intervention by professional social workers, mental health professional, and physicians. In extreme cases, a change of living arrangements (i.e., from home to a residential care facility) may be deemed necessary. Early and frequent intervention by family and home care workers can often prevent, or at least lessen the effects of self-neglect on the elder.

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Live to Learn...You Are Never Too Old!

Do you want to know how you can improve your cognitive skills and keep your memory sharp all while having fun? Take a class! Participating in a class of almost any kind will help you accomplish all three things. You could learn to: knit, use the internet/computer, garden, paint, book club, become an art museum docent, photography, cake decorating, small engine repair, yoga, play chess – the list is endless!

If you’ve ever taken a community education class or a class at a local arts center, one thing you are sure to notice is the number of older adults in your class. A 2006 George Washington University study of 300 senior citizens highlighted the role the creative arts can play in aging. Art, music, dance and creative writing can all help slow the aging process. The end result is fewer doctor visits and stronger cognitive functioning.

We’ve put together a few suggestions for you to explore to get your creative juices flowing:

  • Call your local community college or university to see if they will let you audit a creative arts program. Auditing a class means that you take a class without the benefit of a grade or credit and is often free or at a minimal cost.
  • Research programs offered at your local parks, botanical gardens, libraries, senior centers, churches, and art museums. Most offer creativity programming at budget friendly prices.
  • Investigate the Road Scholar program, formerly known as Elderhostel. Members can participate in escapades big and small including train treks, intergenerational journeys, international travel, watercolor workshops and more. Road Scholar offers over 7,000 programs and adventures. They also extend scholarships to help those on limited budgets. To learn more, visit them at
  • Explore the National Center for Creative Aging at On their website you will find lots of helpful resources on the creative arts. They also maintain a “Directory of Creative Programs in America” broken down by state. You can learn more about everything from The Alzheimer’s Poetry Project in Brooklyn New York to Caring Clowns in Zelienople, Pennsylvania here.
  • Lifetime Arts is another great online resource. They promote their organization as “the intersection of art and aging”. You can complete a “Creative Aging Profile” with them and they will keep you updated with new opportunities. Visit them at




Start "Roughing" IT!

I am sure that you have heard a lot of news and read many articles that roughage is good for all of us and is an essential part of our diets, especially for elders. Roughage may be a difficult part of an elder’s diet for many reasons, including the dulling of our taste buds as we grow older, except for the one that tastes sweets – that is the last one to be dulled. This results in a challenge to entice them to eat roughage, so you will need to be creative with how you prepare them. So, to help you with this challenge here are some tips to making roughage appealing to elders, children and even grand- and great-grandchildren.

  1. Load up on flavor. Many folks believe that because vegetables are healthy, they taste bland. Well, they do not have to be. And, you do not need to add salt for extra flavoring. Using garlic powder, herbs, spices and even lemon, lime or orange juice spices them up and adds wonderful flavors to them. For example, you can add a dash of squeezed lemon or lime juice after steaming vegetables or sautéing them with herbs, garlic and olive oil.
  2. Find that happy medium when cooking vegetables. Overcooked vegetables lose their flavor and become soggy – yuck! And, more importantly the nutrients can be cooked out of them. But, if you undercook them they are too difficult to eat and can also lack flavor. Remember, only cook vegetables for a short time and try to find that happy medium so they are just right.
  3. Presentation is important. Make sure you use different colored vegetables to enhance the look and textures. Place them on the plate neatly and arrange them so they look good enough to eat! A few good combinations are broccoli with chicken, stir-fry vegetables with cod or other white fish, or green beans with salmon.
  4. Be sneaky! If you have an elder that absolutely does not like vegetables, try grating them or pureeing them into soups, casseroles, curries, and pastas dishes – this can be a great way to mask the flavor and texture.
  5. Be creative with your cooking method. Whatever cooking method you choose – grilling, roasting, boiling, steaming, or barbequing – it will result in different flavors at the end. So, if one method of cooking doesn’t do it for your elder, try something else.
  6. Try stuffing vegetables – it may make a big taste difference. Stuffing vegetables such as artichokes, tomatoes, mushrooms and bell peppers can make them very tasty. You can fill them with sautéed onions, garlic, ground hamburger or turkey meat, and season them with herbs or top them with a little cheese. You may find that the elder who does not like vegetables may eat them if they are stuffed.
  7. Dip them!Try blending up a mix of frozen spinach, diced onion, reduced fat sour cream and a tablespoon of lemon juice, then serve with a selection of cut-up raw vegetables.
  8. Try them raw. And, speaking of raw vegetables, they are great for dipping! Vegetables such as carrots or celery taste wonderful with a sour cream or plain yogurt dip that has been made with dry Ranch Dressing or Onion Soup mixed into it. Dip is also wonderful with raw broccoli or cauliflower, green peppers or even tomatoes. Yum!
  9. Mix them up!Why not try adding a bit of zesty flavor to your vegetables by throwing in some fruit? Start off with baby spinach leaves, then add orange segments, sliced strawberries and top with some nuts and a raspberry-based vinaigrette.

  10. Drink them. If all else fails and you are still having trouble with eating vegetables, why not try juicing them? Remember that no matter how many glasses you drink it will only count for one serving of vegetables per day.

So, if you are challenged with getting your senior loved one to eat their daily roughage, try to entice them with some of these 10 tips.

If you have other ideas that you have used, please share them with us by commenting here. Bon appétit!

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