5 Calming Foods to Help Seniors Overcome Sleep Difficulties

Many seniors complain of difficulty sleeping, listing a variety of reasons, and look for solutions to help them find the restful sleep they seek. As their loved ones, of course, we struggle with them and want so much to find a way to help them overcome their problem.

This is not a new problem, of course.

A National Institute of Aging study several years ago found that over 50 percent of men and women aged 65 and older complain of at least one chronic sleep issue.

The inability to sleep is more than just a threat to comfort but is a health issue for seniors. Sleep deprivation can impair their memory and cognition. As serious as these are, many seniors are inviting other risks in their attempt to get more sleep.

We previously discussed the newly updated medication guidelines for elders, the Beers Criteria, which tells us that seniors often take more sleeping aids than are safe, resulting in some harmful effects.

We would like to share some natural solutions that your senior loved one (and you as an exhausted caregiver) can try to help find relief without the harmful and unsafe effects that some sleeping medications can cause. Some suggest devices as solutions, which you may want to check out yourself. Our focus in this post in on dietary changes, which many have found to be their answer.

5 Calming Foods to Help Your Senior Loved One Sleep

  1. Tart Cherries and Cherry Juice – they contain not only antioxidants but also melatonin, which has been shown to aid the sleep/wake cycle. Seniors who were studied were given 8 ounces of tart cherry juice twice a day with positive results.
  2. Bread – foods containing carbohydrates, such as bread, potatoes, pasta, corn and brown rice, assist tryptophan and aid your senior’s sleep response.
  3. Turkey – contains tryptophan, which enhances the function of the hormone serotonin, which in turn aids relaxation and sleep.
  4. Chamomile Tea – this non-caffeinated herbal tea gives a calming effect, according to research.
  5. Fortified Cereal – vitamin fortified cereal provides additional nutrients, which may be lacking in many seniors’ diets, including B6. B6 helps the body produce serotonin, which helps give a more sound sleep. Other good sources of vitamin B6 are tomato products, bananas, rice and turkey.

While it might help your senior to add some of these foods to promote sleep, other foods may be robbing them of much needed rest.

Foods to Avoid for Better Sleep

  1. Fatty Meals
  2. Caffeine
  3. Alcohol
  4. Spicy Foods

Adding a few of the “calming” foods everyday and staying away from those on the “avoid” list may help your senior loved one find a more restful sleep which will pay off benefits in their health. The senior’s loved ones might find some benefit from this tip as well!

Don’t Let Social Media and Online Deals Bypass Our Senior Loved Ones

Many seniors pride themselves on their ability to seek out the best deal for many of the items they need or want to purchase. The trying financial times of the last few years have made that skill even more important, turning what for many was a pastime into a necessity.

Jokes about seniors and early bird restaurant dinners are good for a stand-up laugh, but the practice demonstrates a willingness and ability of many older adults to trade on their time flexibility to save money. Eateries have known this for many years and used it in their marketing to increase revenues during periods that would otherwise see many empty tables.

Unfortunately, a sizable number of our elder loved ones are limited to finding the deals about which they read in traditional media or hear through word of mouth. They are missing out on the many discounts and special offers found only on the web because, well, they aren’t active online.

The New “Word of Mouth” is Social Media

Each day we learn of many offers in our communities via email, Facebook, Groupon and SO many other sources, including a new favorite of ours, ReferLocal.com. The key to most of these offers is that, unlike the flyers in the local paper or TV ads, they don’t come looking for us. We typically have to go where they are to express interest or otherwise sign up to receive them.

For the last year, Senior Care Corner has actively campaigned to get more of our senior loved ones connected and active online – – social media in particular. One of the drivers behind our campaign is to give them access to the deals and offers available to those who seek them out. This reason alone is motivation enough for many seniors to join the parade to the web.

Take the Lead for Senior Loved Ones

Many seniors look to the lead of their younger family members when it comes to technology, including how – and whether – they will access the web. We may have to go beyond urging them online and take a more active role by setting them up with the devices and web access best for them, then working with our senior loved ones to make sure they are comfortable and protected online.

How do you get them interested in the web? Show them some of the deals that are out there. Walk them through some of the Facebook pages offered by their favorite brands and stores. Go out to Groupon, ReferLocal and other sites so they can see a sampling of the offers available in their community. Once you do that you might find it hard to keep them away!

Supporting Senior Loved Ones in Their Memorial Day Remembrances

Memorial Day has become, to many Americans, a welcome long weekend from work or school, a reason for a BBQ with friends, time for a trip to the beach – – the unofficial start of summer. For more, including many of our senior loved ones, Memorial Day is first a day of remembrance for those who have given their lives in service to America.

Remembering those who have died serving America is especially personal to many seniors (and those of all ages), for whom those numbers include grandparents, parents, siblings, children, grandchildren and close friends from over the years. Memorial Day can be, for them, a sacred day to recall the ultimate service given by family.

Senior loved ones who want their Memorial Day to be one of remembrance may need our help in doing so. Sharing stories is a key part of remembering for many, which means patient, loving ears and hearts to listen – – not just to their words but to the feeling accompanying those words. We can help our elders by simply bringing our ears and hearts to listen.

Thinking and talking about family members and friends who are no longer around can be a very emotional time, especially for older and elderly adults who have so many to remember. Memorial Day, with its call for remembrance of SO many at one time, can be overwhelming. Being someone on whom our senior loved ones can lean for support can be a real act of love, especially when we are also remembering those important to us who are among the fallen.

Don’t let outward appearances by senior loved ones fool you. They may host or join the family for a picnic, welcoming the chance to make new memories with children and grandchildren, while keeping their remembrance and the pain out of sight. Give them a chance to let you share in their Memorial Day by asking to hear their stories and watching for signs of hidden emotion. Be one on whom they can lean for support.

Don’t carry the emotions of elder generations alone. Encourage others, especially younger family members, to join you for at least some of the stories. The story tellers will feel the love of those who care enough to listen and will appreciate that their stories of beloved heroes will carry on when they themselves are no longer around to keep the memories alive.

Let’s never forget why there is a Memorial Day, even if we also use it to celebrate the start of summer!

Preparing Seniors’ Homes for Visits by Grandchildren

Bringing the family together to share memories and special moments, especially intergenerational events, is cherished time for most families especially for our senior loved ones. Seniors benefit in so many ways when they can interact with young children including improved well-being, mental and emotional health and a more positive outlook on life.

There are, however, some safety tips that family caregivers need to remember when grandchildren and great-grandchildren spend time together with seniors, especially if it is possible they’ll be left in rooms unattended.  After all, it may have been a while since our senior loved ones have had small children in their homes so the house is probably ill equipped for the adventure.

Our senior loved ones might just need our help in child proofing their homes!

Safety Tips for Grandparents when Grandchildren Visit

Be aware of potential hazards in the homes of seniors who haven’t had small children around in some time.

  1. Check for frayed wires or electric dangers, such as cords exposed where they’ll be tempting, that may present themselves to active youngsters
  2. Move fragile items senior would not want broken out of the reach of the children, putting as much up high as you can to be sure it is safely out of reach (don’t forget to move them back later so your senior loved ones aren’t injured retrieving them)
  3. Relocate sentimental items that could be damaged in the hands of young ones like family photo albums or other irreplaceable momentos
  4. Move poisonous plants out of the reach of curious kids
  5. Keep sharp objects out of reach and anything with small pieces that can be easily swallowed or choked on
  6. Keep the number for poison control near the phone in case it is needed
  7. Lock away chemicals that might interest young children and get swallowed
  8. Safely store out of the reach of all children (young ones and teens) your senior’s prescription drugs or over the counter vitamins, minerals and other herbal supplements
  9. Be sure any space heaters or other heat sources are safe for young hands and feet
  10. Put matches, lighters and flammable liquids away so children can’t start a fire
  11. Check out the fire extinguisher (hopefully there is one!) for proper function and replace if needed
  12. Never let a senior drive a child in a car without a car seat (just because they did that back in ‘their day’)
  13. Be aware of even small amounts of water around the house or yard that can cause drowning – –  a child can drown in as little as an inch of water
  14. Be careful about which type of foods are served, such as hot dogs, nuts, popcorn, grapes, hard candy; these can lead to choking especially in children under five years
  15. Remind seniors to watch sleeping children, keeping them on their back and don’t let them nap with seniors to prevent accidents

We love spending time together, but wouldn’t want to have a wonderful experience marred with a preventable accident!

Optimal Nutrition for Senior Care – Put Life in Their Years

Change diet now? But they’ve eaten this way their whole lives – – should we really be pushing our senior loved ones to eat better this far into their lives?

Only if we care about them! The foods older and even elderly adults eat and drink have a definite impact on their health and well-being — good and bad.

We not only want to be sure our senior loved ones are eating right when they are home alone and we go to check in on them, but often as family caregivers we are the ones who will be selecting and preparing foods for them. Sometimes we also have to feed our own family at the same time making the task that much harder as we try not only to please all the different ages and preferences, but also try to keep them all healthy at their different life stages, with their different needs.

Why Seniors Need Optimum Nutrition as They Age

  • Impaired immune systems lead to more risk of food borne illness if they eat risky foods
  • Help fight chronic diseases that are taking a toll on their bodies
  • To reduce the effects of high blood pressure, uncontrolled diabetes and obesity
  • Help maintain normal bowel function with adequate fluid and fiber in the diet
  • Slower metabolism requires fewer calories so they need more nutrition in the foods they do eat
  • Decreased gastrointestinal function leads to more difficulty with digestion and absorption of key nutrients such as B6 and B12
  • Medications can affect appetite, taste buds and nutrient intake
  • Depression or isolation can lead to inadequate intake

Foods Seniors Should Avoid to Reduce Risk of Food-Borne Illness

  • Raw eggs and seafood
  • Unpasteurized juices, ciders or soft cheeses
  • Ready to eat foods that are not heated to kill bacteria
  • Unheated leftovers or leftovers that have been left unrefrigerated for more than two hours
  • Sprouts of any kind
  • Unwashed melons, including cantaloupe, watermelon and honey dew
  • Undercooked meat
  • Unwashed produce such as lettuce and spinach
  • Produce cut using the same knife or cutting board as raw meat or poultry

What and How Much Should Seniors Eat?

  • Women over 50 years who have low activity levels, basically typical day-to-day duties, should eat about 1600 calories a day
  • Men over 50 years who have low activity levels, completing ordinary activities of life throughout the day, should eat about 2,000-2,200 calories a day
  • 2 ½ cups of vegetables choosing those with the most vibrant color
  • 2-2 ½ cups of fruits
  • 6-8 oz servings of grains, with half from whole grains
  • 2-3 servings of dairy foods, preferably from lower fat sources such as skim milk and part skim cheese
  • 5 ½ ounces of protein sources, choosing lean sources such as skinless poultry, fish, dried beans, eggs and lean ground beef
  • Less saturated and trans fats and limited salt/sodium
  • Stay well hydrated, drinking water and non-caffeinated beverages – don’t let them wait until they’re thirsty!
  • Be sure they take necessary vitamin and mineral supplements, based on doctor’s advice, such as calcium with vitamin D, B12, folate, fish oil and multivitamins
  • Put a rainbow on the plate, foods that are colorful are higher in anti-oxidants and nutrients

If senior loved ones begin to lose their appetite – and consequently weight – visit the doctor to be sure there are no untreated medical issues that, if treated, could lead to better health.

Often just a few small improvements in the diet of our senior loved ones can make a real difference in how much life they have in their years!

4 Tips to Keep Seniors Surfing Safely Online

We hear from many seniors and their family members that they don’t know what they would do without the internet and social networks because the web has added so much to their lives. At the same time, there are many older adults shying away out of concern for the risks they associate with the web.

Senior Care Corner promotes the use of the web and especially social networking, or social media, sites due to the benefits that our senior loved ones can gain. We discuss some of those benefits in our post 5 Benefits of Social Media for Seniors and in other posts.

In this episode of the Senior Care Corner podcast, we discuss some tips family members and caregivers can use to show seniors and elderly adults how to use the web safely and, hopefully, overcome their fears enough to get them online.

Safe Senior Surfing Topics Discussed in the Podcast

  1. Constant recognition of the permanent nature of information shared on the web
  2. Avoid the major risks associated with email
  3. Selection of passwords and password hints
  4. Caution while using WiFi hotspots to access the web

While we want to help senior loved ones overcome the fears keeping them from the web, we want to maintain some level of apprehension. Caution while online is a healthy approach for all users, regardless of their age.  As such, these tips are intended to both reduce fear and build respect for online safety.

Our list of safe surfing tips is intended to cover areas of significant risk while being short enough to be actionable and remembered by new users of the web.

If you have tips or techniques you have used to help elder loved ones overcome their fear of the internet and to become active online we hope you’ll share them with us in the comment section or on our Facebook page.

News Items in this Episode

  • Veterans Affairs to Equip 1000 Family Caregivers with iPads
  • Exercise Plus Computers May Boost Senior’s Brains
  • Older People with Dementia Cared For Mostly at Home
  • Seniors & Doctors Should Speak Freely at Checkups

We hope you enjoy this episode of the Senior Care Corner Podcast, find the information of value, and will share the podcast with others who have senior loved ones in their lives.

Podcast Transcript – so you can follow along or read at your convenience

So It’s Older Americans Month – But Why Should a Senior Care to Play?

Seniors Are Never Too Old to Play!

May is Older Americans Month, a perfect opportunity to show our appreciation for the older adults in our community. The theme of this year’s Older Americans Month is Never Too Old to Play!

One way we can celebrate the seniors in our lives is to encourage and provide opportunities for them and their loved ones to PLAY!

What exactly is play? It’s defined in the dictionary as the state of being active; a recreational activity; and brisk, fitful or light movement.

“Okay”, you might say, “but why is it so important for my senior loved one to play?” There are many reasons it is important to them and to us (the young’uns), but we’ll keep it brief.

For them: Lifelong participation in social, creative, and physical activities has proven to provide seniors health benefits, including retaining mobility, muscle mass, and cognitive abilities.

For us: When seniors are involved in play, especially with others of all ages, they perform an important role in sharing their experience, wisdom, and understanding, and passing on that knowledge to other generations in a variety of significant ways. Studies show their interactions with family, friends, and neighbors across generations enrich the lives of everyone involved. Young people who have significant relationships with a grandparent or elder report that these relationships helped shape their values, goals, and life choices and gave them a sense of identity and roots. Plus, we get to have fun spending time with them.

In order to provide ways for our seniors to continue to play as they age, many communities have increased their efforts to provide meaningful opportunities for older adults—many of whom remain physically and socially active through their 80s and beyond.

Here are some examples of community sponsored ways to engage your senior loved one in PLAY!

  1. Dancing – whether it is line dancing, square dancing or ballroom dancing, many centers and agencies are hosting ongoing classes and clubs to bring together seniors for fun, sharing and exercise.
  2. Swimming – water aerobics or swimming in the warm waters of community and neighborhood pools offers another way to play, exercise and meet other people.
  3. Mall walking – many malls across the country open their doors for seniors who want a safe, climate controlled location to exercise. Many malls have created mall walker clubs providing times for like-minded seniors to get together to share experiences and friendship.
  4. Senior Events – check out your local area administration on aging for month-long events such as Senior Fun days, carnivals, health fairs, play dates, whale watching, arts and crafts, quilting classes, ball games, picnics and Zumba fitness.
  5. Tai chi – join other seniors practicing the gentle movements of this activity that connects mind and body and has been called “meditation in motion”
  6. Take a stroll in your local botanical gardens and don’t forget to stop and smell the flowers!
  7. Check out activities at your local American Legion post or Veterans Post. They often have socials and activities your senior would enjoy!
  8. Urge your senior loved one to join a book club and talk with others about a good book! This keeps the mind active.
  9. Get them to attend a performance of the local community theater. There are many showings that can tickle the funny bone!
  10. Suggest they volunteer for a local organization such as the Red Cross, Meals on Wheels, Church group, library, hospital, nursing home, museum, service organization or school. Your senior has years of wisdom, expertise and adventures to share with others, especially children!

We encourage you and your senior to go out and PLAY today!

We would love for you to share how you played today ~ feel free to drop us a note to tell us about your adventure!

Pills: Seniors Taking Too Many To Organize & Track Effectively?

Too many pills? As family caregivers of senior adults, many of us wonder if our senior loved one is taking more medications than are needed or healthy, not to mention so many that we fear keeping track is difficult.

It is not uncommon that elders with more than one chronic disease condition see more than one doctor to control these conditions. It is also not uncommon that medications can be prescribed without always knowing what other doctors are doing, which may lead to poly-pharmacy – or numerous medications – with numerous effects and unsafe interactions.

Over-medication in the elderly is far too common a problem, a public health crisis that compromises the well-being of older adults according to an article published in the New York Times. It reviews the recently updated Beers Criteria published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, outlining a number of medications most likely to cause adverse reactions in the elderly.

More than 40% of adults over age 65 take five or more medications and one third of these will experience an adverse side effect, which can result in serious health outcomes.

There are three groups of medication categories about which your doctor needs to be aware in order to be sure that the drugs your senior loved one takes everyday are safe for him or her. Unfortunately, not every doctor in general practice may be aware of the new guidelines especially when geriatrics is not his practice focus.

Key Medication Categories for Seniors

  1. drugs to avoid in general in the elderly
  2. drugs to avoid in older people with certain diseases
  3. drugs to use with caution in the elderly if there are no acceptable alternatives

It is important to help your senior navigate the myriad of medications they are taking to be sure there are no potential interactions that can make the drug dangerous to take or make it ineffective in treating what it was designed to effect.

Advocating for Seniors Regarding Medication

  1. Ask your senior’s doctor and pharmacist to review their drug list, including any over-the-counter medications taken regularly, vitamin or mineral supplements or herbal preparations which may cause adverse effects with their prescribed medications.
  2. Keep track of your senior loved ones’ medications using the Geriatrics Society’s Foundation for Health Aging Drug Diary that lists your senior’s medications and dosages. They recommend this diary be completed and kept current. It should be taken with you to every doctor and health care provider visit for review to prevent duplication or adverse interaction.
  3. Don’t forget to ask your senior’s health care professional about any side effects when being given any new prescription. Let the doctor know immediately if any reactions are experienced or the drug does not seem to be working – – but do not stop taking the medication without talking with the doctor.
  4. Let your senior’s doctor know of any unusual symptoms or changes in behavior in your senior loved one, including pain, when you notice these changes so that he will be able to make the best decisions.
  5. Let your elder loved one’s doctor know of any supplements or over the counter pills your senior takes to be sure there are no harmful interactions. Even something as innocent as ibuprofen or antihistamine has the potential to cause problems.
  6. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or consult the Beers Criteria to be sure your senior is safe.
  7. Help your senior remember to take medications as prescribed. There are several different kinds of medication organizers and reminders that can be helpful. The medication can’t work as it is intended if it is not taken as prescribed.
  8. Trust your senior’s doctor to make the best choice for your loved one with all the available information you can provide. Remember that some of the medications that your senior needs may have no alternative and therefore the doctor will weigh the risks and benefits carefully. Be involved in the discussion but don’t make demands that you may not be qualified to make. Your senior’s doctor wants what is best for your senior too!
  9. Don’t forget to learn about each drug. Sometimes food can also interact with medications and should be avoided while taking certain drugs. Also remember that the time of day a medication is taken is important for beneficial results so be sure that medications are taken according to the directions.

 Knowledge is power and can lead to better health and well-being for your senior loved one!

Sleep Evading Senior Loved Ones? 10 Sleeping Pill Alternatives

Is your senior senior loved one unsuccessfully chasing sleep?

Many seniors have experienced trouble sleeping in their lifetimes and likely more often as they age, when sleep pattern changes are a normal occurrence.

Seniors have been shown in studies to not sleep as deeply, to have periods of time when their sleep is disturbed or often sleep during waking hours therefore not at night. Restful sleep goes through specific cycles and seniors need to achieve all cycles to maintain physical and mental health.

Many older adults (like their younger counterparts) turn to medications to help them fall asleep and stay asleep. Unfortunately, in our elders, sleep aids often cause side effects that are detrimental to their overall health.

Medications often prescribed by doctors to reduce anxiety and help sleep patterns are in a class of drugs known as benzodiazepines. These drugs slow down the central nervous system. Oftentimes, at the insistence of sleeping seniors, these medications are prescribed more often and in higher doses than are considered safe for elders.

Sleeping pills are not intended to be used for more than seven to ten days but many of our senior loved ones have been taking them nightly for many years, often refusing to give them up. Doctors stress pills should not be used as a ‘crutch’ to fall asleep.

Potential Side Effects of Sleeping Pills for Seniors

  • Confusion and lack of concentration in the middle of the night and the morning
  • Dizziness, lack of coordination and grogginess
  • Irritability, depression and changes in heart rate
  • Forgetfulness, anxiety and depression
  • Headaches, constipation or nausea

Which Can Lead to Outcomes Such As

  • Increased risk of falling and sustaining a fracture or other injury
  • Errors in medication administration
  • Poor safety awareness
  • Inability to sleep, even with the medications
  • Weakness, illness and hospitalization
  • It has been reported that some seniors have started home fires when they were in a fog after taking sleeping pills
  • Other reported unsafe behaviors include sleepwalking and sleep driving

Side effects of sleep aids occur most often in seniors whose bodies are more sensitive to the medications because the drugs remain in their system longer. Drug interactions can occur and alcohol consumption will increase the effects of sleeping pills. Be sure your senior loved one’s doctors are aware of other medications and over the counter pills being taken to prevent interactions and unintended side effects.

Alternatives to Sleeping Pills for Seniors

  1. Keep your senior love one’s bedroom comfortable and free from distractions; use room darkening curtains, run an overhead fan to keep the air moving, keep the temperature comfortable, remove any annoying sounds such as tree limbs hitting the windows and get a comfortable mattress – it might be time for a new one.
  2. If your senior is having trouble falling to sleep, don’t let them lie in bed “chasing sleep.” Encourage them to get up and do something until tired.
  3. Don’t forget the old standby – warm milk. A glass can help your senior’s body calm down naturally enough to sleep.
  4. Unwind before it is time for bed. Take a warm bath using lavender soap/oil, read, or listen to soothing music; make a routine and stick with it so that your senior’s body prepares itself before getting into bed.
  5. Tire out fully each day by staying physically active and seek fresh air and sunshine. However, it is not a good idea to participate in exercise before bed because this could have the opposite effect and keep your senior awake.
  6. Have a scheduled sleep and wake up time to again allow your senior’s own internal clock to react.
  7. Eliminate sleeping during the day; fight the feeling to catch a cat nap because it could keep your senior from deep sleep at night. If your senior is bored, find something to do instead of sleeping.
  8. Caffeine should be avoided in the evening.
  9. Avoid alcohol, smoking, large meals and spicy food late in the day.  These can all stimulate your senior’s body and keep him or her awake.
  10. To reduce sleep disturbances related to frequent bathroom trips, avoid drinking fluids two hours before bedtime unless necessary to take nighttime medications.

Dr. William Dement, director of the sleep disorders clinic at Stanford University, said there is no medical justification for the chronic use of sleeping pills. He said that he usually prescribes them for “one to two nights, and rarely more than 10 nights.”

Other physicians agree that use of sleeping pills should be with caution. “The reason the elderly take more sleeping pills is that they don’t sleep well,” said Dr. Westbrook. “They tend to lose very deep sleep, their sleep is more fragmented, and they have a lot more arousals during the night.” Despite the widespread use of sleeping pills by the elderly, Dr. Folstein said, “it’s extraordinarily rare to find an old person who actually requires them.”

You and your senior loved one may want to carefully discuss with your doctor the options available if sleeping is problematic. There may be medical reasons for having trouble sleeping such as restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea, or insomnia that should be addressed and may be masked with sleeping pills. A good night’s sleep can payoff in many ways with improved health and wellness.

Do you have any tips for ways to get a good night’s sleep? We would love to hear your ideas!