I remember seeing a TV special about The Sandwich Generation. I was wondering when the time would come for me to be sandwiched…so to speak. The Sandwich Generation is made up of people in their 30’s and 40’s who are responsible for rearing their children, but also for caring for aging parents. Then, it happened. I was getting ready to take my son to an appointment. My Mom called and said she wanted to come along to help. Before I could catch myself I told her that it was actually more work if she came along. My heart sank, and I’m sure hers did too. I thought about the time it would take to pick her up, help her get into and out of the car and alllll the questions. Everything seems to take much longer then it used to due to the endless explaining of why’s; Why I do this, why I do that, why the kids do things. Not necessarily a cognitive decline, but the gap between technology and lifestyle she is familiar with. The lifestyle my children are growing up has create a gap between Grandma’s generation that is getting wider and wider…and I’m sandwiched.
But my Mom’s not Old I thought. Then, I remembered that purse, the one she never closes and always has things falling out of. The purse she carries on her forearm, instead of on her shoulder, just asking to be pick pocketed. I say to her again “Mom, close your purse, you don’t want to get robbed.” She won’t. The purse has been hanging open for years. It’s just now that as she ages and slows that I see it as a giant target yelling “take advantage of me!” Could my Mom be a senior?
When we visit, I find myself looking for fall hazards. As an OT I evaluate for falls, and in the back of my mind I’m always looking for things can can lead to my parents falling onto the floor. Every time I visit their house I say “Mom, you really need to avoid these front steps, you could fall and break your hip.” Why? Because I know that 1/3 people over the age of 65 reports falling annually (2). That’s reported falls, I’m sure the number is much higher with unreported spills.. Fall statistics are terrifying, and after helping others recover from hip surgery, I know my parents should take as many precautions as possible to avoid it. What can I do?
- Increase Lighting
- As we age our eyes don’t adjust as well. Dark becomes darker and it takes more time to adjust to changing the light. I found some long-lasting bright light bulbs at Lowes. Grandma and Pop were thrilled to have them installed when I told them it wound save $$! Lighting is at night too. Night lights that turn on when the sun goes down are a great way to light the path for midnight bathroom runs.
- Remove falls hazards like throw rugs and uneven surfaces.
- Last year we put anti-skid treads on Grandma’s front steps and took out the throw rugs she had piled on top of her other rugs. Bathroom carpets with a rubber back are beneficial on her slippery linoleum floor, but carpet on top of carpet is unnecessary.
- Encourage proper footwear.
- Grandma still loves heels, but her balance doesn’t. A fashionable pair of flats with a rubber sole that gives traction, bit isn’t too sticky. A great pair of sneakers. Explaining to Grandma that she was going to have to literally chase my brood was a great way to get her into a pair of athletic sneaks.
- Help maintain good physical condition including strength and balance.
- Take Grandma to the playground with the kids, playing outside and walking at the store. Helping care for the Grandkids definitely keeps Grandma on her toes, and she is definitely not the type to go to the gym or take a spin class.
- Have the Bladder Talk.
- There are few things that can get someone moving faster and with less regard for safety…then the fear or peeing their pants. If Grandma is experiencing some bladder weakness from having my brothers and I, chances are that in her near 70’s her bladder isn’t what it was in her 20’s. Using a light panty liner can give Grandma the confidence to walk more slowly with less nervousness until she makes it to the bathroom.
- Grab Bars and Railings
- A young healthy person can slip and fall easily in the bathroom. Make sure Grandma isn’t using the towel bar for support. Install bars that are secured to the studs and in places that are natural to reach for when stepping over the tub or shower, or onto an off of the toilet.
- Grandma takes multiple pills during the day. Drugs like painkillers, blood pressure medications, sleeping pills, mood medications and blood sugar concerns can all cause dizziness, altered state and other symptoms that can lead to fall. Making sure they’re taken correctly can be as simple as using a daily pill box.
Anything going beyond the basics is definitely something an Occupational Therapist (OT) should be consulted for and if you fear your parent may fall act before you’re waiting for them to come out of a hip replacement surgery. OTs look for things that non-practitioners may overlook and I’m a firm believer that OT can help everyone. As for my Mom, my words only goes so far. She will never stop using her front steps, even when they’re icy and even though I have asked her repeatedly to walk down a more safe route. I had to tell her the throw rugs were bad for my sons’ allergies to get her to remove them (she was ‘protecting’ the carpet underneath from dirt). I will continue to make recommendations, and she will continue to need to be finessed. I hope she never falls and I will always be searching for ways to make her home safer. Most of the time I need to take action, like replacing her light bulbs, instead of just verbally recommending that she does so.
The more people I work with, the more I realize that we are the same person we were at 20 as we are at 80…our bodies just change dramatically. How do you convince a 20-year old that their body is 80 or 90 for that matter? Talking to our parents like they’re the wise adults they are, and not children can help. Enlisting the help of a therapist, physician or trustworthy friend or relative may help safety measures seem more friendly. No one wants to be seen as weak and feeble. Visit AOTA’s fact sheet about falling and see how an OT can help. As for being sandwiched? I’m learning to multitask more and more every day. I hope that Grandma chooses her sneakers instead of the heeled shoes she’s had for 25 years when she walks out of the house alone, and I do my best to keep her in shape in friendly ways. I’m in the middle of this sandwich. The bread, lettuce, meats and condiments are always changing and I can just hope that each ingredient compliments the next.