Nutrition for the Health of It (Seniors & Future Seniors)

Many of us, seniors and those not yet seniors, are bombarded with health messages every day about which foods we need to eat, super foods that will keep us young and foods that will prevent diseases such as cancer and diabetes. Unfortunately, not all of those “health messages” are really healthy for us.

Sometimes it is difficult to separate fact from fiction or to identify someone who is out to sell you something no matter the consequences. We are left to our own best judgment to pick the right meals and avoid causing harm with things we should be avoiding or simply ignoring it all and doing what makes you happy, accepting negative consequences such as obesity.

We recommend seeking out advice from trusted sources with research behind them, such as the American Heart Association, the American Institute for Cancer Research and the American Diabetes Association. We can also trust the information from the USDA, which bases their recommendations on evidence.

We will break down their recommendations for you here so that you and your senior loved one can begin making changes that will improve your health as you both age. It is NEVER too late (or too early) to make positive changes in your food intake and lifestyle to reap benefits in your health!

The American Heart Association – To Help Prevent Heart Disease, Lower Cholesterol and High Blood Pressure

  1. Use as many calories as you take in (in other words—stay active and burn off your food calories with regular physical activity)
  2. Be sure to eat a variety of nutritious foods each day. To get all the nutrients you need, choose foods like vegetables, fruits, whole-grain products and fat-free or low-fat dairy products most often.
  3. Don’t smoke
  4. Know and manage blood pressure
  5. Maintain a healthy weight
  6. Take charge of your cholesterol by knowing your number and affecting it through diet choices
  7. Use flavors and seasonings instead of salt

The American Institute for Cancer Research – To Help Prevent Cancer

  1. Choose mostly plant-based foods, limiting red meat and avoiding processed meat; phytochemicals in plants prevent cell damage which may lead to cancer
  2. Be physically active every day, in any way, for at least 30 minutes
  3. Aim for a healthy weight throughout your entire life – as you age, your body needs fewer calories to maintain its current weight so use lower calorie, nutrient dense foods to satisfy hunger without gaining weight
  4. Don’t smoke or chew tobacco

The American Diabetes Association – To Control Blood Sugar

  1. Learn to eat well-balanced meals in the correct amounts
  2. Stay fit and get to a healthy weight
  3. Take your prescribed medications
  4. Know your blood sugar number and keep it in the right range

USDA – To Eat a Well Balanced, Healthy Diet Every Day

  1. MyPlate, a simple, powerful visual cue to promote healthier eating at mealtimes. You can use the Super Tracker to evaluate your menus and create a meal plan with fitness goals to keep you and your senior on track. MyPlate is supported by tools and resources at ChooseMyPlate.gov
  2. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, our nation’s fundamental policy reflecting the latest science on diet, health and physical activity.

Are you sensing a trend here? Each national organization helping us stay well are all encouraging us to get moving, get to a normal weight, and eat right!

Remember small changes – one new change every day – will payback in big benefits for healthy aging.

Portrait of the Senior Population to Help Us Know OUR Loved Ones

Helping family caregivers see themselves and understand their own needs, as we do in “You Might Be a Family Caregiver“, is a frequent topic of Senior Care Corner posts and podcasts. Gaining insight into the lives and needs of our senior loved ones is our focus in this podcast episode.

We often feel we know our senior loved ones very well, since we may have known them our entire lives. It’s one thing to know parents and grandparents in their role of caring for us and others but quite different, however, to know them as adults in need of our care.

It is also our intent, as advocates for seniors and family caregivers, to help those who develop and market technology products to see seniors and their families as being ready, willing and financially able to purchase devices and tools that improve the health, safety and enjoyment of older adults’ lives.

Older Americans 2012

Our portrait of the senior population is drawn from “Older Americans 2012: Key Indicators of Well-Being”, a report from the Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics, a collaboration of several US government agencies and departments. We discuss a great deal of information from the report but go beyond the raw statistics to give them meaning in understanding seniors’ lives.

Keep in mind that statistics about 40 million seniors can’t possibly describe each of them as the individuals they are. Instead, it is our hope we can help build a better understanding of  what our loved ones may be facing by gaining insight into the factors that impact and shape their lives. By knowing where and at what to look we might be better able to see them.

Samples of What We Can Learn About Seniors

  • Learning that more than half of women 75 and older live alone can help us prepare for what our own loved ones may need from us when they are in that situation and help plan the tools family members will need to care for loved ones living alone.
  • Understanding that seniors today are better off financially than those of the past can demonstrate to technology firms that capability exists to purchase products that appeal to seniors. Combined with the greater longevity seniors are experiencing, family members might see a need to help their loved ones make their nest eggs last.
  • While 75% of seniors described themselves as being in good health, the 25% who did not represent 10 million seniors. Without knowing which 10 million are not in good health, all family members might look for signs of health problems older loved ones might be hiding in an effort to avoid worrying us.

 Listening to this podcast episode will help you gain more insights like these.

New Items in This Episode

  • New mobile app from National Institutes of Health helps women learn about their health in 52 weeks
  • Sharp as a tack at 90 – here’s why
  • Cocoa may sharpen aging brains
  • Heart Health: how to improve your heart without vigorous exercise

All this and Kathy’s quick tip when you listen to this episode of the Senior Care Corner Podcast.

Be sure to sign up to get our updates by email, RSS or on iTunes so you don’t miss a single episode!

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

Seniors Getting Physical – How To Do It and Why We Must

Many people feel that as they age they have earned the right to sit back and watch as others are active.  You’ve seen those seniors who are sitting on the front porch rocking in the wicker chairs. We all have. They are more or less a stereotype.

Senior years are not the time to sit back and stop moving!

Scientists continue to study aging and find benefits to staying physically active for us all, but especially for seniors. Physical activity is not only good for seniors’ bodies but also their minds. Who doesn’t want a fitter body and sharper mind? But more importantly, staying physically active will allow your senior to maintain function, keep strong and balanced, prevent falls, relieve depression and help prevent chronic diseases (like arthritis, heart disease or diabetes) or disability associated with aging.  It can help seniors be themselves longer.

Choosing Activities for Seniors

One of the most wonderful things to be said about getting physically active is there is something for everyone. Your senior can choose favorite things and that will make it fun and increase the desire to keep doing it every day. Whether being active in brief moments several times throughout the day or participating for longer times once a day, your senior will feel the benefit.

  1. Brisk walking, walking the dog (practice safe walking habits)
  2. Raking leaves, doing yard work, gardening
  3. Active video games
  4. Dancing
  5. Playing tennis
  6. Yoga, Pilates or stretching
  7. Tai chi
  8. Swimming or water aerobics
  9. Golfing or fishing or bowling
  10. Biking
  11. Household chores like vacuuming, laundry, bed making
  12. Playing with grandchildren, carrying grandchildren
  13. Walk the stairs
  14. Exercise videos, especially for sitting positions
  15. Balance exercises
  16. Walk all the aisles in the grocery store, mall walking

Your senior loved one may want to set short and long term goals to help make a plan of participating in physical activities every day. You can help them set goals and, at least as importantly, stick with them. A short term goal might be something such as “I will walk to the corner after lunch every day.” A long term goal could be “I will walk 1 mile to the high school and back every day before lunch gradually reducing my time (or increasing my distance).”

The key to sticking with an activity is for your senior loved one to make it a part of the day (and you can join in too – most of us can benefit from more activity) and be sure to pick a favorite activity.  Writing down the goals – including where, when and how long – will help keep your senior motivated to succeed. Your senior’s goal should be 30 minutes a day of moderate intensity activity, subject to medical clearance of course. Be sure to walk or play in a safe place and wear comfortable clothing and shoes that will allow movement.

Ask your doctor before your senior starts with any new physical activity explaining the where, when and how long so that the doctor can evaluate the safety of the activity and advise your senior appropriately. If after beginning a new activity, physical symptoms appear, have your senior seek the advice of the doctor. Don’t forget to keep hydrated by drinking plenty of water!

Today is the day to find a new activity or exercise, join with loved ones and make it a habit to keep moving!

8 Memory Improvement Tips for Seniors (and Their Family Caregivers)

Memory impairment with aging is a fact of life for many of us. Oftentimes we see it happening in our seniors, even though (admit it) it happens to us too.

Researchers report that the brain function decline of aging can begin when we are only age 45 and that by age 80 normal people have lost 40% of their memory.

How many of us have asked ourselves why we came into a room and just for what we were looking when we did? How many times have we misplaced our car keys or forgotten someone’s name?

Have you ever looked everywhere for your reading glasses to finally find them next to the sink – or on your head?

As our seniors get older, they tend to have more difficulty remembering or completing other mental tasks and report mental lapses or forgetfulness occurring more often. However, there are ways we can help many of them to maintain their memory and head more easily into their golden years.

Boosting Seniors’ Memory

  1. Help them get enough sleep. 7-8 hours of sleep each night is ideal for many. Look for obstacles that your senior may have to getting a good night sleep and try to overcome them. Do they need a new mattresses, is there light or sound coming from somewhere disturbing them, are they drinking caffeine or eating snacks too close to bedtime, do they need to use the restroom frequently or have they napped too much during the day? These are a few ideas to think about that could be disrupting a senior’s sleep and are easily fixed.
  2. Encourage them to eat well. Not only eating a well balanced diet that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low fat foods but also including some foods that stimulate brain health such as omega 3 fat from fish or fish oil supplements, antioxidants in berries and brightly colored produce including tart cherries, drinking green tea and adding foods containing resveratrol such as grapes and cranberry juice. Avoiding excessive calorie intake as your senior ages not only keeps their weight in check but will help their memory.
  3. Find ways to keep your senior active during the day such as walking, yoga, tai chi, and other favorites to keep the body moving and ready for sleep. Exercising your senior’s body will exercise their brain.
  4. Provide mentally stimulating activities such as brain fitness games, crossword puzzles, sudoku, Wii video games, reading, singing and playing cards. Laugh loud, deeply and often!
  5. Engage them in social activities. Attend cultural and music events, senior centers, support groups, volunteer opportunities, or church sponsored activities. Being active in the community will keep their brains sharp!
  6. Seek out the advice of your senior’s doctor. There may be medications or uncontrolled chronic diseases negatively affecting their memory that can be corrected.
  7. Drink plenty of fluids. Seniors who are even just mildly dehydrated can suffer cognitive impairment.
  8. Get your senior connected! Joining family and friends on social networking sites, such as Facebook, will exercise their brains but also keep them engaged, learning new skills and enjoying their connections. Maintaining relationships and avoiding isolation will improve brain health and emotional health for seniors.

Our brains are marvelous creations that have the ability to reshape themselves with learning and stimulation, often with some help from us.

Many of the tips above should be fairly easy to incoporate into your senior’s daily life and the benefit will be great for all of you!

Check out the special section on brain health at the Senior Care Corner Bookstore for more reading.

Do you have more tips for helping improve your senior’s memory? We would love to hear them!

Successfully Navigating the Medicare System with Senior Loved Ones

Over time many caregivers of senior loved ones find themselves taking on many more challenges than ever imagined. It certainly doesn’t stay as easy as simply going grocery shopping or preparing a meal for them anymore.

One of the tasks for which we may find ourselves taking responsibility is their health care financing. Do they have medical insurance and, if so, what does it cover? Who, how much and when does it need to be paid? Do they have supplemental benefits from Veterans Affairs or private insurance? What do those policies cover?

Many seniors are eligible for Medicare and may already be receiving benefits before you take over their care. Do you know what is covered and how to access your senior’s benefits?

What if you have to apply for Medicare or Medicaid on their behalf? Is there something that needs to be done to keep them eligible?

Tips to Get Started with Medicare

  1. Medicare is a health insurance program for Americans 65 years of age and over. Some people with certain disabilities or medical conditions can qualify earlier.
  2. You or your senior must apply for benefits, either online or in person, to elect for particular coverage. Medicare Part A, benefits that cover skilled nursing services in hospital and rehabilitation, is automatic but Medicare Part B, which covers other types of services such as oxygen, diabetic supplies, and medically necessary equipment for in home use, can be declined. Part B requires your senior to pay a monthly premium.
  3. Medicare Part D or prescription coverage plans can be selected from different providers according to your senior’s particular needs. Your senior will pay a premium for this plan, which can be deducted from their social security payment.
  4. Your senior’s healthcare provider makes claims for covered services to Medicare, as other health insurers do for you. Not all services or equipment are covered. Non-skilled services, such as nursing home placement, are not covered by Medicare but may be if your senior is Medicaid-eligible.
  5. Medicare will pay for Hospice care if your senior becomes eligible for those services.
  6. If you will be applying for Medicaid for your senior, it will require a multitude of documents to be filed to ascertain eligibility.  Remember that there are state requirements and timeframes for spending or using assets of which you’ll want to be aware. You may want to consult a qualified elder care legal or financial adviser to help you with securing financial assets and completion of appropriate paperwork to protect both your senior and you.
  7. There are deductibles, copayments, premiums and coinsurance costs associated with Medicare of which you should be aware. Your senior will receive a Medicare Summary Notice after a healthcare provider files a claim similar to your explanation of benefits detailing charges covered under Part A or Part B plans. This will inform you and your senior of any amount not covered which becomes your responsibility.
  8. Medicare has an appeals process if you disagree with any decisions regarding healthcare payments that you can (and should) investigate if needed.

The Medicare.gov website has many resources to answer all your questions and we encourage you to learn as much as possible to be sure your senior gets all the benefits to which they are entitled.

You Might Be a Family Caregiver… (with Thanks to Jeff Foxworthy)

Our posts and podcasts here at Senior Care Corner often address the importance that family caregivers look out for their own needs in order to be at their best when providing care to their senior loved ones. That is especially important for those who are, as we say, in the “middle of the triple decker sandwich” caring for aging family members while still raising their own children.

Certainly addressing the needs of the caregiver is something with which all agree – though many caregivers say it’s difficult to find the time and still meet the needs of those under their care. That is where support networks and other resources come into play – – but that is a topic for future (and past) posts.

Feature Segment in Jeff Foxworthy’s Style

We note increasingly that many family caregivers don’t identify themselves as caregivers or even realize they are in that role. To many it is a matter of supporting their spouse, parents or children because, well, “that’s what families do.”

Those who provide care to family members are family caregivers, whether or not they see themselves in that role. Not seeing themselves as caregivers, though, may result in them not seeing they have the same need as other caregivers to give their own well-being priority.

Our feature segment in this episode is an effort to help caregivers identify themselves as such so they understand they are among those whose needs should be met along with those of their senior loved ones. We’re taking a somewhat different approach – part education, part entertainment (or at least we hope so!). We decided to model our discussion after the trademark routine of comedian Jeff Foxworthy, one of our favorite entertainers.

By modeling our discussion after Jeff’s routine we mean . . . well, you’ll just have to listen yourself to find out. We had fun putting it together and hope you will find it informative as you enjoy listening. Just don’t expect us to be as good as Jeff, nor nearly as funny!

UPDATE: Based on the feedback we received on this podcast – and the fun we had doing it – we put together a You Might Be a Family Caregiver video that expands on the examples we give in the podcast.

News Items in This Episode

  • Balance, Strength Training Reduce Falls for Elderly, Study Finds
  • Surveillance May Help Doctors Decide to Prescribe
  • More Evidence Exercise Keeps Aging Brains Healthy
  • Exergames Can Help Inactive Folks Get Moving

It is our hope that, after listening to this episode, more family caregivers will identify themselves as such and put attention on their own needs as well as those of their senior loved ones. In addition, we hope that other family members will recognize those who are family caregivers, supporting and encouraging the caregivers’ focus on their own needs.

We would love to get your feedback on this post and any other comments you may have. Did we hit the target? Should we leave the entertaining to Jeff and stick with the education? Go ahead, we can take it!

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

Don’t Let Cataracts Blur Senior Loved Ones’ Vision of Life

You say your senior loved one complains of blurry vision or says things are looking foggy?

Is he having trouble in sunlight or other bright light or glare – – or perhaps trouble with night vision when there is little light?

Maybe your senior tells you that colors don’t seem bright and are more dull looking?

Or she complains that her glasses just don’t seem to be working anymore and that she’s bothered by her lack of clear vision?

It could be that your senior has developed cataracts. They are the leading cause of vision loss in those over 55 years.

Cataracts are a clouding of the lens of the eye and often occur as we age. When the lens of the eye becomes clouded it is difficult to focus light images onto the retina, which works to send the images to our brain.

Cataract Surgery Can Help

Surgery which replaces the cloudy lens with a new lens is the best way to treat a cataract. Currently there are more than 3 million cataract surgeries per year performed in the United States. It is a widely considered to be a safe and effective treatment. The surgery is usually pain free, taking only 20-30 minutes to complete.

Most seniors find that they are resuming their normal activities the day after having cataract surgery performed.  Drops may be given after surgery to prevent infection.

There is no waiting for the lens to be severely impaired anymore and most surgery is done as soon as the cataract impairs a senior’s quality of life. Not treating a cataract can lead to blindness. Generally a cataract will not return but a secondary cataract may develop, which can be treated with a laser and not another lens transplant.

Being able to see clearly will improve the quality of life for your senior, prevent falls resulting from impaired vision and keep your senior engaged! Don’t let blurry vision keep your senior from enjoying life — get your senior in to see an eye doctor if they complain of poor vision.

Actually, regular vision exams are recommended by many professionals as a way of catching problems before they affect vision and quality of life.

Senior Care Corner Survey: Is Alzheimer’s Genetic Testing for You?

The subject of Alzheimer’s genetic testing in a recent post triggered quite a bit of feedback to us through social media and email. It seems many people have thoughts about whether or not they would choose to get tested for genetic characteristics related to Alzheimer’s Disease.

The buzz created by the post has us curious what more of you would say if asked the question outright…would YOU be tested? That curiosity drove us to create the first Senior Care Corner survey, which you will find below.

We hope you’ll take a minute (it probably won’t even take that) and let us know what you think. We are using SurveyMonkey so you know responses are being collected the right way. In the setup process we told SurveyMonkey we don’t want them to collect any information about respondents other than your responses.

Once we collect responses, we will report the results to you and discuss the overall feedback in a new post. We will also provide you more information about genetic testing for Alzheimer’s.

One more thing before we get to the survey – – we would like to get the thoughts of as many people as we can and hope you will ask your friends to respond as well.

Thank you for taking the time to respond and for being part of the Senior Care Corner community!

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey, the world’s leading questionnaire tool.

Alzheimer’s Genetics: Would You Want to Know?

Alzheimer’s disease is a scary diagnosis, both for the patient and their loved ones. There is almost no one in America who is currently unaffected by this disease either with a loved one, friend or possibly themselves.

What if you were told you have the “gene” for Alzheimer’s? Would you want to be tested or even know if you might be in the early stages?

A recent article that we found extremely fascinating explored these specific questions and gave a glimpse into the world of a family in the grips of Alzheimer’s disease.

A Family Afflicted by Alzheimer’s

At a family reunion there were gathered 14 siblings ranging in age from 29 to 52 years. Included in the family photo were cousins, aunts and uncles in addition to the siblings. One observer remembers that many of the siblings did not “seem right.” They appeared confused, stared into space and found difficulty keeping up with the conversations that day. This was behavior that was shared by the grandfather – the father of the siblings – who, at age 53, lost track of his driving and steered himself and his wife into the path of a train, killing his wife. He survived and in the next decade became even more confused and subsequently died, unable to care for himself.

A doctor would later confirm that the observer’s father had Alzheimer’s disease. His mother, as so many do, wanted to keep the diagnosis a secret but one of the aunts told the family, who also wanted to keep the secret. As it turns out, 10 0f the 14 siblings developed Alzheimer’s disease, with symptoms appearing around age 50.

This family would become part of a large study known as DIAN – Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer Network. Researchers are looking at family members and studying their brains before symptoms appear. Soon they will give a new drug to these individuals in hopes of slowing or even stopping the progression of the disease in those predestined to be diagnosed with it.  They believe these individuals have a gene mutation leading to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers believe that a gene mutation on chromosome 21, as well as two others which are inherited from the parents, result 100% of the time in the development of Alzheimer’s disease since the brain can’t fight against the accumulation of plaque. In addition to the hallmark plaque formation of beta amyloid, shrinkage of the brain matter seen on autopsy correllates with specific declines in memory, attentiveness and eventually ability to care for oneself.  By studying individuals in families with know gene mutations, they feel much can be discovered in treating and hopefully preventing the disease.

What If This Were Your Family?

One of the children, now faced with a possible diagnosis of his own, changed his life to accommodate any future mental decline and made plans for that eventuality. In the meantime, his extended family became involved in the DIAN project.

It is interesting that of the family members taking part in the DIAN project, few want to know if they have inherited the gene mutation. They just don’t want to know. Only those who have the gene mutation are given medication so now placebos are being used so no one will know if they have the genetic marker or not.

What would you do? Would you want to know?

What plans or changes would you make in your life – or would you go on as before?

None of us has a crystal ball to see what the future holds, but somehow I wonder if knowing would be easier so that appropriate plans could be set in motion for those loved ones affected.

We hope you never have to find out and we find a cure – and prevention – for Alzheimer’s soon!