Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Puppy Love

Puppy Love
Introducing Cody, the newest member of our family.  For sixteen years while our sons lived at home we had a loving, loyal dog named Woody Allen.  He fit perfectly into the active lifestyle of young boys -- Scout camping trips, kayaking on lakes, hiking mountains, and riding in the convertible with the top down to BJ's for ice cream.
When Woody died of old age, my husband Ken and I decided we were ready to live without another dog for awhile.  We still had our African Grey parrot, Bigfoot, and an adult cat, Keikei.  Bigfoot was entertaining mimicking all the sounds of a busy home filled with teenage boys.  Their favorite teaching was to shut the front door and yell "Hide the beer!"  Bigfoot happily associated the comings and goings with his shouting out "Hide the beer!"  He also knew exactly when the trash truck was coming down our street and did his best (and loudest) imitation of the back up beeping of a large truck.
Now as Ken and I are facing retirement, this sweet puppy is infusing our home with lively, happy activity.  Keikei is uncertain about this newcomer as if she hopes he is just a visitor and will go away soon.  Like a true puppy, he loves Keikei, loves toys, loves all the neighbors.  Best of all -- he seems to love my family -- a mutual affection of how we feel about him! 

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

May is known for many celebrations – May Day, Mothers Day, carefree daydreams of warm days to come, and Older Americans Month.  While we often associate spring with new growth and appreciate all things young, our senior citizens are to be celebrated for their decades of mentoring families, communities, and society.

The Administration on Aging (AoA) has issued a theme for Older Americans Month – “Never Too Old to Play” encouraging older Americans to stay engaged, active and involved in their own lives and communities.

 In an article from AARP, a 90 year-old was interviewed and asked, “What is it that makes you excited to wake up each day?  What keeps you going?”  Robert answered, “The key is to always have something to look forward to – and if you don’t have anything, make something, whether it’s a vacation or just a dinner date.”  His wife, Judy, stated “That’s why I always keep my calendar near the phone – to pencil in something to look forward to, be it tomorrow, next week, or next month.”

Robert went on to share that he wanted to go steady with Judy (over 60 years ago) because they laughed and had fun wherever they went!

On money, Robert said something very profound – “From the cradle to the grave, the money that matters most, is the money you gave.”  He laughs when he shares that the $10 bill he gives to his grandchildren in an airport may not mean much to the child.  What he understands is the immense joy it gives him.

Considering that our seniors are often the caregivers of their grandchildren, play should be very important in their lives.  Children learn important life skills from playing – skills like teamwork, sharing, helping someone younger, smaller, or less fortunate.  Play has rules but also encourages laughter and FUN.  More than 78% of all caregivers are female.  Many of these women care for young children, are married, continue to work, suffer from depression, and provide $450 billion worth of unpaid care annually.  Finding that place in their days where they are happy is vital.

With 7.5 million grandchildren in the United States living with a grandparent, the financial impact is staggering.  Some of these grandparents have had to change their living arrangements.  Additionally, 85% expect to pay some or all of their grandchildren’s educational expenses.  What the grandchildren bring to this scenario is their free-spirited, unabashed capability to play.  Their energy and pure joy is a wellspring of renewal for the spirits of their elders.

As we age, play may no longer mean being involved in physical sports.  Finding pleasure in telling a funny story or sharing an experience of happiness can be playful.  An old song, maybe to include dancing to it, brings joy.  The warm, genuine smile of a stranger is a welcome pleasure to most ages.  To a senior, it is a validation of their existence.  We cannot walk in the shoes of our elderly; but we can display kindness and appreciation for their contributions.

In Robert’s words, “Do what you can to make people smile.  Smiling faces always find a welcome.”

Kathy Allen has a B.A. in Communication from the University of Colorado. Kathy lives in Colorado Springs with her husband of 41 years.  Her work at Silver Key Senior Services brings her humility and insight into the plight of aging gracefully. 

Monday, April 29, 2013

Five Suits, One Robe, and a Bad Toupee

Often my work with senior citizens involves lighthearted, gentle assistance as they navigate through the operations of Silver Key Senior Services.  Our interface involves explaining processes, giving directions, lending an arm, pushing a cart, and kindly listening to their stories.


As I walk through my workday, I am often pulled away because my cell phone is demanding my attention to another senior’s plight – my older sister who is a victim of elder abuse in another state.  While I possess the knowledge of dozens of resources available in the Pikes Peak region, I am challenged in my efforts to speak on my sister’s behalf over 1000 miles away.


For five months, my family has been fighting a very conniving perpetrator who has committed crimes of financial abuse that have led to my once millionaire sister now being homeless, without the ability to drive, medically unstable, depressed, and finally (and most importantly) unable mentally to work against this invasion!  In less than a year, her new “friend” wormed his way into her emotions, her checkbook, control over her decisions (i.e. a new will), alienated her from her family and friends, took medical oversight, obtained Power of Attorney and Temporary Guardianship…all without the knowledge of her children, her sisters, and her friends. 


My story is a common one in the world of agencies like Silver Key, Department of Human Services, Adult Protective Services and even AARP.  But today, for me, this is personal. 


Elder abuse is an insidious crime.  As I have talked with friends and co-workers, I have heard dozens of stories where a family member has been taken advantage of.  The term “abuse” is not always used in conjunction with our seniors being mistreated financially or by a new friend surfacing to make mom or dad happy.  We tend to understand child abuse and domestic abuse.  Elder abuse is not as frequently identified. 


Although it can be a family member abusing the senior by knowingly obtaining money or cars, it also can be at the hands of a caregiver.  In my sister’s situation, she befriended a man her age through her son.  At first, they were enjoying each other (although he is married).  We did not understand the direction this friendship was headed.  Within a couple of months, my sister began telling her friends and sisters that her relationship had deepened and that this new friend was her soul mate.


Life takes curious turns of events and mine is no exception.  While I have not always agreed with my older sister and her decisions and choices, I have always been willing to let her live her life and follow her own path.  Today, the stress of her life choices has created a deep abyss of psychosomatic dementia.  Her mind has literally shut down to protect her from her grief.  Once she created beautiful needlepoint works of art that are treasured by friends and family.  Today my 69 year old sister cannot pull the threads of her memory together to create a sentence.


We go to court in October to determine guardianship for a once vibrant, intelligent, compassionate, and devoted member of the family.  The perpetrator has fought diligently to retain control as he stands to lose much more than money.  There is a criminal investigation, a guardian ad litem, adult protective services, and an attorney hired by me in opposition of the petition for permanent guardianship.  Five suits, one robe, and a bad toupee (perpetrator) will determine the future of my sister.  My sister will have no voice…her fate now in the hands of lawyers and the courts.


As stewards of our families and our community, it is vital that we raise awareness of this crime against our aging population.  This is a crime that crosses all barriers – education, financial, religious and upstanding citizens.  It is our responsibility to be tuned in and to report any instances of abuse, not just bruises and black eyes but bullying, control, and isolation.