Caring For Your Parents: Compelling PBS Documentary Glued Me To My Chair

I received an email from my cousin about the PBS documentary, Caring for Your Parents, a few days after it aired on April 2, 2008. He wanted to know if I was going to talk about it here. He thought it was a dynamite show.

I missed it the first time it aired. Fortunately, the entire show is available at the PBS website. So I was able to watch it today.


The Caring for Your Parents website has divided the show into small sections. I was only going to sample a few sections to get a sense of what the show was about. That turned out to be nearly impossible. I had to watch the entire show.

The show’s producer, writer and director, Michael Kirk tread a fine line between respecting the private aspects of each of these five families from Rhode Island while having them describe the unvarnished truth of their lives as caregivers for their aging parents. We follow them over the course of a year. From well-to-do to working class, each family is coping with their parents evolving lives. Several of these families were dealing with parents with dementia.

It’s funny how we sometimes think our own situation is different or unique. I was struck by how eerily similar many of the conversations between adult child and parent and health care provider were to my conversations with my father.

Early in the show, one of the parents was being reminded by his doctor that he needed to give up driving a car because his memory has started to fail. The conversation was so similar to ones I had with my Dad that I was stunned!

The families and situations were varied but the major themes were the same as those I had encountered. Here are a few highlights:

1. Many of our parents believe in being self-sufficient. They will not mention problems they are having because they don’t want to be a burden. So, it is important to have conversations about finances and medical care and to continue having conversations as your parents’ health changes. Their choices and decisions and wishes need to be written down. It’s not one conversation–it’s many over time.

2. Your interactions with your adult siblings regarding your parents will mirror the interactions you had when you were younger. If your fought as kids, you will likely fight about your parents’ wellbeing. You can break out of the old pattern. You need to toss your expectations away about what your siblings ought to be doing. Inter-family anger is likely when one sibling does all the caregiving. It needs to be dealt with in a positive way.

3. The family members providing care often deal with highly technical medical information in order to provide a parent with informed care. It practically takes a Masters degree to deliver medication, understand what the issues are, speak for the patient when she/he can speak for themselves and make the excruciating decision on when to stop a treatment that isn’t working.

4. All of this work takes a huge toll on the caregiver whose health may be in jeopardy from the stress and self-denial. Of the five families, the caregivers who took time to take care of themselves fared significantly better than those that didn’t.

Director, Michael Kirk, tries to end on an upbeat note by talking about “Transformative Moments”. My own experience bears out that there are often funny, happy and special moments shared with your parents as you care for them. The more you focus on those moments of joy the easier it is to get through the difficult moments.

Caring for Your Parents forces us to confront the idyllic myth that we and our parents may have of their independently living out their days in happy retirement until their “time is up.” Our elders are living longer, often in poorer health. They need more and more of our help as time goes on.

This documentary is a real eye opener. Please do watch it.

It is available for viewing on the PBS website and the DVD is available for purchase.

Train Your Brain… Forget Resolutions

Train your brain to get what you want in the New Year.

I hate New Year’s Resolutions.

The minute I resolve to lose weight or save more money, it seems like my brain starts to work against me. Suddenly, I’m seeing luscious chocolate desserts everywhere. Every store has phenomenal sales on items I would just love to own.

What’s with that?

It turns out that my brain is pretty normal. David DiSalvo wrote an article in Lifehacker that explained it in simple terms:

Our brains are reward-seeking organs, and targeting rewards (tangible and intangible) is part of their stock and trade. The problem is, the brain isn’t equipped with an especially keen sense of selectivity about which reward is best to pursue at any given time, and this results in mental conflict about how to direct our energy.

What to do: Be aware that your brain is tuned to seek rewards, but you have to impose a degree of control on the what, why and when of any pursuit. In other words, turn off autopilot and grab the controls.

So I have come up with a way to get my brain trained to cooperate with me. Instead of making a list of resolutions for the New Year, I visualize a picture about myself.

The picture describes in detail what my life will look like at the end of the next year. I imagine myself having robust health, surrounded by happy family and friends, enjoying a wonderful dinner in my home. We are laughing and talking about the wonderful times we all have had during the year.

Every time my brain brings up an automatic thought (like having an extra glass of wine), I stop and compare it with my end of year picture. If I act on the thought, does it bring me closer to my desired picture? If not, I toss it out.

Then, it becomes a game. My brain sends thoughts and I accept or reject them based on my end of year picture. I’m training my brain to give me the thoughts that will bring me closer to the results in my story.

Does it work?

Yes! You do need to take the time to develop your mental picture and stay focused on it when your brain sends wayward thoughts.

Having trouble creating that mental picture? Use Pinterest to create a vision or dream board. Clare Diaz-Ortiz has a great example of a Pinterest Dream Board. You don’t even need to leave Facebook to set up a Dream Board. Here’s a Facebook app you can use to share your Vision with your friends or keep private.

I believe that it is important to keep my vision to myself until it happens. You might find that sharing a dream with a close friend can help. Do what works for you.

Do you train your brain?

Easing Your College Student’s Transition Back Home

This is the third Thanksgiving that our youngest son has traveled home from college to celebrate with us. My husband and I are well adjusted to the changes in our relationship with our young adult. Yet, I clearly remember the frustration and worry I had when our oldest son came home  for Thanksgiving his Freshman year.

We were overjoyed to see him after working through the pain of sending him 3000 miles away.  Having gotten a bit homesick,  he was overjoyed to be home. Yet, we had some significant adjustments to make on both sides.

4 Tips for Parents to Help  College Students Transition Back Home

1. College students are often wide awake at 2 a.m. They are accustomed to roaming about campus  or dorm. Your son or daughter will likely maintain that schedule at home. I learned to plan for late brunches instead of family breakfasts.

2.  In your dorm, no one asks where you are going. My son would often come and go without saying a word. After a few anxious episodes, we talked about it with our oldest son and convinced him that it was important to let us know where he was going and when he would return.

3. Plans are fluid for college students. They might start at one house and end up at another. They might spontaneously decide to get dinner out.  After a couple of frustrating delays in meal time waiting for him to come home, our son agreed to text me when he was not going to be home for dinner.

4. Some underage students drink alcohol at parties in college. I couldn’t control that but I had a very firm rule–no alcohol for anyone under 21 in our home.  Yes, that was strict. But I was comforted by the fact that my son’s friends would not drive away drunk.  You may have different rules.  That’s okay.  Just be clear with your college student on what your rules are. Interestingly, now that they are all legal age, my son and his friends are very responsible drinkers.

Want More Tips?

If you have a college student home for the holidays, you’ll want to check out this great little book, When ‘Junior’ Comes Home From College: A Guide for Parents and College Students It’s actually a two part book.

Part One has tips for parents. The author, Rosalinda Randall, is an experienced parent and etiquette civility master. She offers tips that can make your holiday time with your son or daughter more mellow and joyful.

Part Two shares common courtesies that helps your young adult integrate back into your family with minimal drama.

It is a quick read…just 41 pages in all… yet, powerful in terms of fostering a warm and loving environment in your home. And, these tips also apply for any young adult returning home after being away.


You Might Be A Caregiver If …

Are you one of the 65 million Americans, mostly women, between the ages of 40 and 60, who are caregivers for a family member or friend? Your loving care is making a huge difference for your loved one.

Not sure you are a caregiver? Check out the hilarious video by Jeff Foxworthy below. (PG Content)

November is National Family Caregivers Month.

New research from AARP suggests that caregiving can take a tremendous toll on the caregiver’s personal health and overall well-being. Yet, many caregivers can be reluctant to ask for help.

AARP has a wonderful set of online resources about caregiving that you won’t want to miss. There is even a great article from Dr. Nancy Snyderman about her experience becoming the caregiver for her mom and dad.

Many Thanks

And, if you know a caregiver who could use a pat on the back, check out the, where you can share a message of thanks with a caregiver you know and post it publicly alongside other messages from people across the country to illustrate the number of caregivers nationwide.

If you are a caregiver, let me say “Thank you!” You are making a tremendous difference in the life of your loved one. Know that you are not alone. There are resources to help.

And the entire 3GenFamily Blog Community is cheering you on!

5 Tips On Nutrition Needs For Seniors

 My Dad was 70 when my mother died. Although he often helped to prepare peaches and tomatoes for canning or sliced green beans for dinner, he left the actual cooking to my mother. So I worried that he wouldn’t eat well living alone.

Dad surprised us all when he took to cooking like he had done it all his life. He grew his own vegetables, too, until he sold his home and moved to a retirement community. My mother-in-law, on the other hand, was more likely to open a can of soup for dinner when she was alone.  It seemed to “settle her stomach.” But, the family worried that she might not be getting enough nutrition to meet her needs.

Does that sound like someone you know?

Helping Seniors Meet Their Nutrition Needs

Eating the right foods is important for all of us but especially for seniors. As people age, they may have less of an appetite but need just as much nutrition as before.  A poor diet often leads to chronic illness.  Even if you aren’t in charge of preparing meals, there are a number of things you can do to see that your elders eat well.

1.) Learn about their medications. Some drugs can lead to dehydration or interact with foods like grapefruit. Help your parents remember their special food requirements and substitute better foods when you shop together.

2) Encourage them to drink water instead of soft drinks. Buy a water filter pitcher and a supply of filters or have a water filter installed on the kitchen faucet to provide good tasting, clean drinking water.

3) Stock their kitchen with healthy snacks, frozen veggies and fruit. Try natural nut butters and whole grain crackers, hummus and celery, baby carrots and red bell pepper slices, and plain yogurt with honey or stevia and cinnamon.  Steer away from processed food bars, chips, candy and baked goods.

4) If your parent doesn’t like to cook or eat alone, enlist family and friends to dine with her. Staff at the Council on Aging in my father’s county told me about a low cost lunch program which provided a meal at the senior center for just $1. My father loved the idea of getting such a bargain! He developed a number of friends and occasionally won the Bingo game.

5) Mobility an issue? You can find local agencies that provide meals delivered to the home on

My Plate For Older Adults

Tufts University Research Center on Aging created this illustration to highlight recommended food portions and exercises important for those over 65.  My Plate was created by the USDA to replace the Food Pyramid. Tufts researchers have adapted the USDA guidelines specifically for older adults.

Imagine filling your dinner plate. Half of the plate should contain veggies and fruit. One quarter of the plate should have a protein like chicken, tofu, beans, eggs or cheese. The final quarter is made up of whole grains like oatmeal, brown rice and quinoa.

OK, maybe oatmeal isn’t for dinner but you get the idea. Focus on vegetables and fruit for the largest portion of your plate. The goal is to eat REAL FOOD instead of processed products.

Seniors need to get plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration, too Many medications are dehydrating. At one point, my father was taking 11 medications every day. He needed to watch his fluid intake very carefully. Is your parent getting enough fluid? (Sorry,  soda or alcoholic beverages don’t count.)

Exercise Goes with Eating

My father’s health started to deteriorate shortly after he stopped taking his daily walks. Walking is one of the best ways for anyone to get exercise and, for older adults, strength training with weights and stretch bands can help maintain muscle strength.  We tend to lose muscle mass as we age. Gardening can be another great way to get exercise, stress relief and save money by growing your own veggies.

You are never too old to start exercising.  Dr. Mercola’s mother started exercising at age 74 and, as the video on this page shows, now at age 77 “she has gained significant improvements in strength, range of motion, balance, bone density and mental clarity. After a bit of apprehension at first, she now, as you can see on the video, loves her workouts and, I’m hoping, will inspire you to get active as well, no matter what your age,” writes Dr. Mercola.

Is there such a thing as “successful aging?” Yes, I think there is. It means that one lives healthier and happier for as long as possible. Eating real food and getting regular exercise are two major factors in making that happen.

5 Most Common Problems For Senior Health

I’d like to introduce today’s guest blogger, Leah Korkis. She is a registered nurse and family caregiver for her grandparents. In this post, she offers practical advice for the 5 most common problems seniors encounter. Enjoy! –CK Wilde

Old Age Is No Place For Sissies

Aging has its ups and it’s downs. Here is a list of the 5 most common problems I hear about as a nurse from those 55 and climbing, and how you can prevent, overcome, or manage them.

1. Memory Loss

“Senior moments” can happen to anyone. As one women I know in her sixties said, “People lose their keys when they are my age and they think it’s their age. Even though, plenty of teenagers lose their keys, and when they do, they just say they lost their keys.” Until recently, scientists thought this was due to information overload. However, now they have started to truly pull apart the differences between the start of dementia versus just regular… well… forgetfulness.

The adult brain actually may function better in some ways, because it knows how to ignore what it deems as unimportant. Did you catch that? What IT deems as unimportant. So, when you’re on your way to the kitchen, and you get there with a blank stare completely forgetting what you went there for, don’t fret. Your brain just ranked “it” lower on the importance scale. This particularly applies to the 50 and 60-something’s.

The best thing to do to keep your neurons in gear is: Stop smoking if you do, exercise if you don’t already, and keep your mind active with things including playing puzzles like crosswords or sudoku, learning new things, and reading.

2. Depression

The good news is that the majority of older adults aren’t depressed. The bad news is, it’s on the rise. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “major depression in older people living in the community range from less than 1% to about 5% but rise to 13.5% in those who require home healthcare and to 11.5% in older hospital patients.” Depression can especially come to those who have multiple illnesses (like heart disease, diabetes, kidney failure, etc.) or those who have lost multiple loved ones.

There are means of getting help if you see yourself or someone else going in this direction. There are medications available (prescription and non-prescription). Studies have also shown that simply increasing physical activity, increasing the amount of time spent doing enjoyable activities, and spending time with others (whether volunteering or simply spending more time with friends/family) may also improve mood.

3. Visual impairment

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 65 % of all people who are visually impaired are aged 50 and up. A leading cause of vision loss in the USA: macular degeneration.  Macular degeneration results in a loss of vision in the center of the visual field (the macula) due to damage to the light-sensitive tissue lining the inner surface of the eye (the retina).

As a result, the center of your vision is lost making it difficult to read or recognize faces. The peripheral vision remains however.   To help prevent macular degeneration, wear sunglasses when in direct sunlight, manage high blood pressure, and do not smoke. In the picture on the right, the top shows what someone with good vision sees. The bottom shows what happens to the vision of someone with macular degeneration.

4. Joint pain

First, the bad news. With age, joints do become stiffer and less flexible. The fluid-filled sacs that once served as soft cushions between cartilage or bone may have less fluid in them or none at all. This causes cartilage to rub together and erode. Minerals may deposit in and around some joints ( referred to as calcification). This is especially common in the joints of the shoulders. Hip and knee joints may begin to lose joint cartilage due to degenerative changes. However some joints, such as the ankle, typically change very little with aging.

The good news is that exercise will actually help maintain bone mass. Also, a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D (which helps absorb calcium) will also do you good. There are prescription and non-prescription means of preventing bone loss and maintaining joint health.

5. Hearing problems

Hearing loss can be difficult for the individual affected, as well as their loved ones. There is no one single cause of age-related hearing loss, but it seems to run in families. Another reason for hearing loss may be exposure to too much loud noise. Less commonly, it can occur due to a virus or bacteria, heart conditions or stroke, head injuries, tumors, and certain medicines.

You may not be able to change your genes but you can protect your hearing from exposure to loud noise. Here is an infographic that outlines the degrees of sound that affect our ears: How Loud Are The Sounds Around Us. The best thing to do if you start to notice hearing loss is to speak with your doctor about what is causing the loss. From there, they will help you find the best route for management.

Multigenerational Living Is Increasing


To travel a circle is to journey over the same ground time and time again. To travel a circle wisely is to journey over the same ground for the first time. In this way, the ordinary becomes extraordinary, and the circle, a path to where you wish to be. And when you notice at last that the path has circled back into itself, you realize that where you wish to be is where you have already been … and always were.” ― Neale Donald Walsch

Multigenerational living was common in our neighborhood when I was growing up. My dad and mom lived in their parents homes until they married.  My parents moved in with my father’s parents’ home after they married.  When my mom and dad moved next door with me, my Uncle John moved into my grandparents house with his new bride.

As my grandparents got older, my parents took care of both houses. I can remember my Dad having noisy debates with my grandfather over the proper way to trim the privet hedge.

In the early 70′s,  I married and left for California where I lived in a classic, single-family house. Most of the Baby Boomers, like me, moved into their own homes. It was challenging trying to raise children and work full-time. Caring for my elderly father who was 3000 miles away entailed a lot of travel and extra expenses.

Today, the number of multigenerational families is on the upswing prompted by the need for caregiving, weathering a weak economy and mutual support.  This video provides an overview of this new old trend.

Do you have a multigenerational family story? Tell us about it.