A Season for Sugar

sweetAnyone who has cared for the elderly knows the challenges inherent in the process. Especially when it comes to meal time. I can remember fighting back the tears when, night after night, I would prepare delicious dinners for my Mom only to have her push the plate aside and retreat to her room and eat her “hidden” Hershey Almond Bars. This went on for months. When she had recovered from her cancer surgery and was well enough to live on her own again, she would eat the occasional meal out but at the end of her life, her diet consisted of coffee, cans of Ensure and her beloved chocolate bars. My Grandmother was bedridden during her last year of cancer and refused most of what we prepared except for rice pudding and chocolate chip cookies. That stubborn German streak came out in full force whenever we tried to make her eat something “good for you.”

Years later, my work in hospice taught me much regarding the eating habits of the aged.  As “care” givers, the last thing we give up is the urge to feed our loved ones. Like that mama bird with a worm for her little ones. We want to nurture. It’s VERY hard to let that instinct go. At the same time, the body of our loved one shuts down to prepare for its transition, it stops wanting food. Sweets are typically the last item on the list. I’ve cleared numerous homes for folks who have lost a loved one and am always amazed at the number of candy wrappers found in the bedroom. The 92-yr old tennis player and mother of four that lives above me is not suffering from any illness but she, too, has started her journey home and only desires ice cream and orange Cuties. My approach to all of this is softer and wiser now. I’ve decided that there is a reason and a season … even for sugar. And as a recent article in The Oregonian reminds us, it’s okay to let Grandma eat custard.  Read the article now.  Are you in the process of relocating an elderly person? Click here to read my special Handle With Care tips.

Click here for more tips and resources on Seniors.

The Reality of Hoarding

kitchen 3You don’t have to watch the reality show to experience the horror of hoarding. It is alive and growing right here in PDX. And cases aren’t limited to low income, uneducated welfare recipients. Most people are shocked to learn that their sweet neighbor, elderly aunt or retired college professor lived in floor to ceiling filth – sad but true. It happens much more than you realize.  I completed a project last month that required two 2.5 ton dumpsters of garbage, eight loads of scrap metal and five trips to the recycle center. This woman had been a scientist, artist and world traveler.  After a fall prompted her move to assisted living, the family called for HELP!

It seems ironic that hoarders are often articulate, well educated people who offer sophisticated reasons for saving and acquiring. Recent studies on the brain activity of hoarders show an inability to deal with focus, attention and decision making. The pattern of behavior generally increases with age. Hoarding is a disorder and it’s important to understand its symptoms and warning signs. There is no medical cure at this time. Originally thought to be treatable with drugs used for OCD, medical science has found patients do not respond to the same therapy and/or medication. This calls for compassion and understanding.

Common symptoms of hoarding:

  • assigning value to worthless items such as: food cartons, scraps of paper, junk mail, soiled clothing

  • rooms filled with clutter, boxes, etc. with only a trail to walk through

  • defensive or “keep out” behavior

  • fearful of anyone touching their things

Dealing with a friend or family member who has a hoarding issue can feel like a frustrating battle. It is. The best thing to do is remember that you cannot reason or argue your case. The person will only become hostile. If possible, get outside help to intervene on your behalf. Someone detached from the emotional setting will be more effective in attending to the safety and health of the individual which should always come first. For more information on hoarding visit the OCD Foundation.