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All of us worry about aging. Perhaps we should worry less–and learn from a pro. So, who’s the oldest person who ever lived?

The oldest woman (that can be documented) is Jeanne Louise Calment. She lived to the age of 122.

Born in Arles, France, February 21, 1875, and left this earth on August 4, 1997. Now, that’s impressive–but what’ more impressive is her mindset, her ability to embrace challenges and change. If anything is the key to longevity–with quality–it’s embracing challenges and changes with a measure of wit and grace.

What attributes do you need to live a long, healthy, and meaningful life? Living past 100 isn’t just about longevity–it’s about quality. Being a caregiver, I got to see “old age” close up. My mom lived to the age of 92 and it was only the last two years that were extremely difficult. ( My mom had Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and heart disease). There isn’t always rhyme or reason why one person makes it well past 100 with a sharp mind and a spry body while another person seems to hit one health problem after another.

Many centenarians have eaten what they wanted, smoked, drank (usually in moderation)–while someone else who tries to follow all the rules finds a not so pleasant diagnosis. Life isn’t fair. That’s a mantra we must embrace–and not in a negative way–but by choosing to love what is kind of way, and knowing the only thing we can change is our attitude.  Life’s a crap shoot, so let’s play some craps.

Highlights of Jeanne’s Louise Calment’s Amazing Life:

  •  Born the year Tolstoy published Anna Karennina
  • Born one year after Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone.
  • She met Vincent Van Gogh in Arles, her home town, when she was just 14. She wasn’t impressed.
  • In the end Calment was blind and almost deaf, but she kept her spunk and sharp wit to the end.
  • At age 121, she released her two CDs, one in French and another in English titled, Maitresse du Temps (Time’s Mistress). the CD features a rap and other songs. She wrote or contributed to five books.
  • Her husband died of a dessert tainted with spoiled cherries–she was a widow for more than half a century.
  • She outlived her only daughter who died of pneumonia at the age of 36. She raised her grandson who became a medical doctor and  lived him as well (he died in a car accident in 1963).
  • Calment took up fencing at the age of 80, and rode her bike until 100.
  • Calment enjoyed port wine and a diet rich in olive oil–and chocolate–two pounds a day.
  • At the age of 119 she finally agreed to give up sweets and smoking–because she could no longer see to light up.
  • Calment enjoyed a life of relative ease–from a bourgeois family, she always had enough money–not wealthy mind you, but enough.
  • She was active–and enjoyed tennis, bicycling, swimming, roller skating, piano and even opera. In her later years she sold some of her real estate and lived comfortably in a nursing home in Arles until her passing. She was affectionately known in France as “Jeanne D’Arles.”

Calment’s attitude and longevity s attributed to her decision not to worry: “She never did anything special to stay in good health,” said French researcher Jean-Marie Robine.  She once said “ If  you can’t do anything about it, don’t worry about it.”
Calment recommended laughter as a recipe for longevity and jokes that “God must have forgotten about me.” ( L’Oubliee de Dieu?) as her reason for her long life.

For skin care, she recommended olive oil and a dab of make-up.  “All my life I’ve put olive oil on my skin and then just a puff of powder.  I could never wear mascara, I cried too often when I laughed.”

Calment’s Quotes:

“I’ve waited 110 years to be famous, I count on taking advantage of it,” she quipped at her 120th birthday party.

Also on her 120th  birthday, when asked what kind of  future did she expect, she replied “A very short one.”

Getting used to growing media attention with every year that passes, she quips:  “I wait for death… and journalists.”

“When you’re 117, you see if you remember everything!”   She rebuked an interviewer once.

On her 120th birthday, a man in town said, “Until next year, perhaps.”

“I don’t see why not,” she replied. ” You don’t look so bad to me.”

Clement’s Best Quote:

“I’ve never had but one wrinkle, and I’m sitting on it.”

I don’t know about you, but aging like this doesn’t sound too bad. It sounds like a good life.

Enjoy life, learn to let go–even of those you love, crack a good joke, eat what you love, and don’t worry about the rest.

***

Mothering Mother is now available as an e-book! (click here to order for your Kindle)

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Dr. Christiane Northrup did a PBS talk on the Wisdom of Menopause in which she reminds me that nothing–not caregiving–not menopause is brought into my life to destroy me. It’s to make me pay attention. To love and accept myself more–not less. Over-caregiving is more common than you think. I’m guilty of it myself–at times. I had to learn that I couldn’t fix my mother–I couldn’t take the place of her beloved husband after Daddy died. I couldn’t stop Alzheimer’s. I couldn’t be her all in all. And I had to stop trying.

Dr. Northrup used the excellent model of breastfeeding to correlate how we should care-give. Being a young mother is another time of extreme care. We physically and emotionally give our all to birth a new life. In order to breast feed, you have to feed yourself. You use up 600-1000 calories a day breastfeeding. What you eat, how you sleep, how stressed you are–all effects your ability to produce milk. If you go for even a few days without eating healthy and sleeping well, your milk production will begin to wane. What a great example. You can’t give out, unless you give in. Your body–and your spirit just won’t do it.

She also mentioned that a doctor friend of hers wrote on his prescription pad to a woman “See your mother ONLY 2 times a week.” Doctor’s orders. Sometimes we need others in authority to give us permission to take better care of ourselves.

I remember one day when my mother shuffled into my kitchen with a scowl on face. She slammed her hand down on the counter and announced,

“I”m not happy!”

She had a “and what are you gonna do about it look on her face.”

I started to smile. Revelation.

I realized in that moment that the only person I could make happy–was me.

We can never fill up another human being. We can’t make up for aging and disease–or for their lack of caring for their lives and health all along. Our best way to give is to know what ways ive best.

How do you know when you’re over-caregiving?

When you have zero time for your own health and relationships. But, but…you argue. If you are getting less than 6 hours sleep, are spending all your time taking care of someone else’s physical and emotional needs, feel like your stress levels are above an 8 almost all the time, then yes, you’re over-caregiving.

How to stop over-caregiving?

Care-give  ala’ carte style. Pick and choose and don’t even try to do it all.

What are you good at?

What does your mom–or dad–or spouse value?

What seems to be working?

What isn’t working?

So, if you’re a great cook and they eat for you, then cook and fill their tummies with homemade soup and decadent brownies.

If they like for you to be at their doctor’s appointments, then build that into your schedule.

If you tend to fight every time you start trying to organize their house–then quit.

But I dont’ have a choice. If I don’t do it, it won’t get done.

Then it won’t get done. Be willing to live with it.

For example, I stopped going to re-check appointments. My mom had Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, as well as heart disease. I took her in for her six month check-ups, but no follow-ups. I got her meds and created a structure we could live with. I dealt as best as I could with the emergencies that came up.

I also said no to hospitalizations. They wanted to try exploratory surgery. Really? On a 90 year old with all these conditions? I said no. The medical profession looked at me as if I were a bad daughter, but I didn’t care.

Ask yourself: Does it need to get done? Will it improve the quality of life enough to warrant the work/commitment?

Yeah, some things do. But do the minimum in the area you’re not good at or don’t think it will pay off. Or ask someone to help.

If you have to choose–choose to meet your needs first.

What?

Yep, that’s what I said.

You can’t reverse Alzheimer’s once it’s started.

But you can prevent heart disease (the number one killer in the US) in your own heart!. Go for a walk. De-process food your house. Sign up for yoga. Rent all your favorite funny movies and invite a friend over for a laugh fest.

Sounds too simple? It’s because it is simple. Choose health CARE over health-care. Do what you can, but know that you can’t undo another person’s diseases or problems. Love them, make life comfortable, and give up over-caregiving.

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Are you already hearing people cough and sneeze in the grocery store?

I am. It seems as if the cold and flu season has hit early, and older adults and people with chronic diseases are at the greatest risk of problems associated with the flu.

But what if your loved one has late-stage Alzheimer’s, dementia, ALS, or Lewy Body, they’re not exactly communicative–not in a helpful way, any way. 

How do you know if someone with a memory disorder or a speech problem is sick?

  • Look for change in behavior–are they more agitated? Less? Lethargic?
  • Look for skin changes–do they look flushed? Pasty? Change is the key word
  • Are their hands usually cold due to poor circulation–are they now warm and beet red? Or vice versa?
  • Try the kiss test–I can tell a fever by kissing their forehead or cheek–more than by the back of my hand
  • If you don’t go to the bathroom with them, you might need to–check for changes, smelly urine, diarrehea
  • Look at their tongue–does it look white?
  • Use a flashlight to look at their throat–do it to yourself first and let them look at yours
  • Are they like a little kid and pulling on their ears?
  • Are they making a great effort to swallow?
  • Does their abdomen look bloated? Will they let you press on it–is it tender?
  • Check their urine for a foul smell, cloudy, bloody, or low output–signs of infection or dehydration–both common in our elders. Check out my blog post, UTI’s Don’t Let Your Elder Suffer in Silence”
  • Do a full body check every few weeks–it’s easy to miss a broken bone when they can’t tell you it hurts

You need to take your mom or dad to get their flue shot, but as their caregiver,

you need one as well.

 Most caregiversdon’t have a lot of “back up” options–not the spur of the moment kind, the kind you can call because you’re running a 101 degree fever when you get up in the morning and your throat feels like a gravel road. So do all you can to prevent getting sick this winter.

So head to your doctor, your pharmacy, or wherever you read about is offering free to low cost flu shots and roll up your sleeve. You don’t want to be the carrier that brings it into your house.

Why are our elder so suseptible to colds and flus?

Because older adults have reduced cough and gag reflexes, which means the infection just sits and gets worse. They also have weakened immune systems that comes with age, and sometimes the medications they’re on, and that makes it harder for their bodies to fight flu complications such as pneumonia.

Did you know that of all age groups, those over 84 have the highest risk of dying from flu complications?

Second highest category? Those over 74 (which in many cases, are the spouse or caregiver). 

The next category are children, age 4 and younger. 

How can I tell if my loved one has the flu?

Obvious flu symptoms:

  • fever (usual)
  • headache (common)
  • tiredness and fatigue (can last 2 or 3 weeks)
  • extreme exhaustion (usual at the start of flu symptoms)
  • general aches and pain (often severe)
  • chest discomfort, cough (common and can become severe)
  • sore throat (sometimes)
  • runny or stuffy nose (sometimes)

Less obvious symptoms:

 Look for gastrointestinal problems that can accompany the flu?

Sometimes stomach symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, may occur with the flu. But these gastrointestinal symptoms associated with the flu are more commonly seen in children.

What flu complications should older adults watch for?

Complications of flu for older adults may include the following:

  • pneumonia
  • dehydration
  • worsening of chronic medical conditions, including lung conditions such as asthma and emphysema and heart disease

It’s important for your elder to see your doctor immediately if you have any of these flu complications. They simply don’t have a strong enough immune system to effectively fight off the flu. 

How can older adults prevent getting the flu?

The best way to prevent the flu is to get an annual flu shot.

Because the flu viruses change each year, older adults need to get a flu shot each year.

According to the National Institute on Aging a flu shot for the elderly

has the following benefits:

  • reduces the risk of hospitalization by about 50%
  • reduces the risk of pneumonia by about 60%
  • reduces the risk of death by 75% to 80%

Where can older adults get a flu shot?

Visit http://www.flucliniclocator.org. Enter your ZIP code and a date (or dates) and you’ll receive information about flu shot clinics scheduled in your area.

Can older adults use the nasal spray flu vaccine?

FluMist is a nasal spray flu vaccine that contains a live flu virus. FluMist is not recommended for adults over age 49.

When should older adults get flu shots to prevent flu and flu complications?

The flu season can begin as early as October and last until May. It’s recommended that people get a flu shot in October or November so the body has a chance to build up immunity to the flu virus. It takes two weeks for the flu shot to start working. Still, if you miss the early flu shots, getting a flu shot in December is wise.

How is flu treated in older adults?

  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Drink plenty of liquids.
  • Ask the doctor or pharmacist before buying a new over-the-counter cold or flu medicine to make sure it won’t interfere with prescribed medicine.

Antiviral drugs are also available by prescription to treat the flu. The antiviral drugs must be used immediately upon having symptoms of flu. These drugs work by blocking the replication of the flu virus, thus preventing its spread. Antiviral medications for flu include:

  • Tamiflu (oseltamivir)
  • Relenza (zanamivir)

If antiviral drugs are taken within 48 hours after the onset of the flu, these drugs may reduce the duration of flu symptoms. Sometimes antiviral drugs can also be used for prevention if someone is exposed to a person with the flu. Talk to your doctor.

Are there warning signs with flu that older people need to watch for?

Call your doctor immediately if you have any of these signs and symptoms with the flu:

  • You have trouble breathing with flu.
  • Your flu symptoms don’t improve or they worsen after 3 or 4 days.
  • After your flu symptoms improve, you suddenly develop signs of a more serious problem including nausea, vomiting, high fever, shaking chills, chest pain, or coughing with thick, yellow-green mucus.
  • You become lethargic to the point of not being able to communicate
  • Your fever goes above 101 and does not respond to Tylenol or Advil
  • You become extremely dizzy and fall
  • You stop putting out urine–you can’t keep down any liquids and you become dehydrated

Being a caregiver means being alert–your elder could take a drastic turn for the worse. Pay attention to the warning signs, and when in doubt, call your physician.

Do all you can stay healthy and strong.

Take mega-doses of Vitamin C. Get your rest. drink your liquids, wipe your hands often when out in public with a disinfectant gel or spray. Take Zicam or other cold preventative at the first sign of a cold–and avoid people who are actively coughing or sneezing.

I’m Carol O’Dell–and I hope you visit this blog again.

And check out my book, Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir

available on Amazon

Carol O’Dell is a family advisor at www.Caring.com

www.mothering-mother.com

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“I could go at any time.”

My mother said that line for a good 15 years.

It got old.

I knew she said it for attention, but did she really want negative attention?

Was she afraid of dying or just wanted us to reassure her she wasn’t?

Is your parent or spouse negative all or most of the time and is it driving you crazy?

It’s bad enough on the occasional visit, but if your caregiving responsibilities have increased, and you may be even living with them, then the negativity might be getting to you.

I know it got to me. And this isn’t the only kind mother engaged in.

“Why don’t your children like me?”

“Are you really going to wear that? Women your age shouldn’t wear mini-skirts” (It was barely above the knee)

“This chicken is rubbery.”

“You’re not as spiritual as you used to be.”

And my favorite…

“I don’t know why the good Lord just doesn’t come on and take me.”

***

I won’t tell you all the snide and irreverent comments I had for each of those, but I bet you can guess.

Basically, being grumpy and talking negative is a bad habit.

It’s meant to draw attention, to gain back power, or to make a jab at all the resentments that are building.

Basically, it’s saying something mean instead of having an honest discussion–and/or it’s a bad habit and thought pattern that’s been there for years.

HOW TO STOP NEGATIVE TALK:

  • Call their bluff–’I know you’re trying to get my attention, but there are better ways to do it. How about…” Or, “You want to run by the funeral home?  You said you wanted to go…” (sounds mean, but it just might get your point across)
  • Shift their attention–offer something better in its place. Turn on some music, change the conversation, make an excuse and leave the room. Get the point across that this is no longer working.
  • Say, “STOP!” Say it firm and with eye contact. If it continues, say it louder and firmer.
  • Be a good example. Stop yourself when you hear it. Stop mid-sentence. Say, “STOP!” to yourself. Correct what you just said with a positive spin.
  • Be consistent. Just like with a child, if they sense a your defenses might crumble, they’ll hit harder and more manipulative the next time.

Negativity leads to depression and depression leads to all sorts of ailments.

Besides, who wants to live with, drive with, or work with someone who always negative and complaining?

Will someone who is in their 80s or 90s and has been this way for years really change?

They can. Especially if there’s simply no tolerating. They may still think it, whine it under their breath, but you as a daughter, son, spouse, caregiver set the mood and tone of your household and all those who are around you. You have the right and the obligation to keep things on an even, pleasant keel. It’s best for everyone, so suck up the fact that it may take a confrontation and do it. You’ll be glad you did.

Negativity rubs off and can damper an entire household or place of work.

But being positive is contagious too. You don’t have to be annoyingly, overly giddy, but being pleasant, helpful, and easy to get along with is something all of us aspire to.

“Folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

–Abraham Lincoln

~Carol D. O’Dell, Family Advisor at www.Caring.com

Author of Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir

available on Amazon

www.mothering-mother.com

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