Dietitian’s Tips for Keeping Your Senior Loved One’s System Regular

Let’s not be squeamish…it’s time to deal with irregularity.  It’s not all about eating yogurt every day!

Even though it happens in every person, seniors are most often affected by irregularity and many seem to focus their attention on their bowel movements more than they realize.

While an occasional bout of constipation is probably natural, constipation on a daily basis that requires major intervention to relieve can be causing other serious effects in seniors. Unfortunately, they may not be telling you what is going on or even admitting it to their doctors until it is too late.

Then again, it’s probably not a subject you as a caregiver are jumping up and down about discussing with them either.

What is Constipation and What Could Be Serious Consequences?

Constipation is defined as a condition which leads to difficulty having a regular bowel movement, characterized with stools that are usually hard, dry, and difficult to eliminate. Constipation is not a disease and is often temporary. It’s usually a result of a diet that doesn’t help keep the bowels running regularly and the lack of muscle power to keep the intestines moving properly.

More than 4 million people are constipated regularly with 2.5 million seeking the help of a doctor.

Symptoms of constipation can include bloating, cramps, gas, feeling of fullness, loss of appetite, and pain. Complications include hemorrhoids, tears around the rectum or anus, bleeding, loss appetite over a period of time resulting in weight loss, rectal prolapse, impaction of stool, and possible need for surgery.

Our gastrointestinal system is vital to health because what we eat is then digested and the nutrients absorbed into our bodies to fuel all of our systems. The end result is elimination of wastes that weren’t necessary.

Constipation Prevention

  1. Drink enough water or other decaffeinated fluids throughout the day! The lack of thirst sensation in our seniors often results in drinking too little water. Many seniors are fearful of drinking too much because they may not be able to get to the bathroom fast enough and consequently stop drinking. (This is an all too frequent malady!)
  2. Eat more fiber! Try to eat 20-25 grams per day. Be sure to eat foods that contain fiber such as whole grain breads, cereals with 4 or more grams of fiber per serving, fresh fruit and vegetables and other sources of naturally occurring fiber.  Seniors may sometimes cut down on these types of foods if they find them difficult to chew, hard to prepare or feel they cost more money on their tight budget.
  3. Be active! Maintaining physical activity every day will help keep all your body systems healthy and help you stay regular. Your intestines need strong muscles to do their job. Couch potatoes beware! Walking can be very beneficial for regular bowel movements.
  4. Include foods that aid digestion, including dried fruits such as figs, raisins and prunes; yogurt or smoothies and other probiotics; and flaxseed and psyllium.
  5. Your doctor may recommend a laxative, stool softener or bulking agent, but be careful to follow the directions closely. Overuse of laxatives can lead to dangerous outcomes. If you take stool softeners or fiber pills, you must drink sufficient amounts of water to process these medications or you can block yourself up. You can also become dependent on laxatives for a movement and lose your muscle tone and function. Beware also that some prescription medications can cause constipation so you may want to review that with your doctor or pharmacist.
  6. Go whenever you feel the urge! Don’t put off going to the bathroom when you feel a movement coming on because it can cause your bowel to have difficulty moving the stool later. You may also lose the feeling in the future to move your bowels if you routinely ignore the urge.
  7. Know your own pattern. You may go daily or not for three days. Each of these is normal for different people. Be alert to changes in your normal pattern. If you don’t eat enough substantial food to digest and excrete, you may not have enough bulk to expel – nothing in, nothing out.
  8. Discuss your bowel pattern with your physician including signs of hemorrhoids, discolored stools or pain in your abdomen.

Like so many health ailments and effects of aging, prevention is the best medicine. Sometimes prevention strategies don’t keep our bowels running smoothly and we may need treatment from our doctor. Don’t be shy, or worse yet, embarrassed to discuss your bowel movements with your healthcare professional.

Caregivers, you may need to encourage your senior loved one to talk freely about it with you and the doctor for the improvement of their overall health.

Do you have some tips that will help others?

Seniors’ Financial Identity Under Attack – Senior Care Corner Show Discussion

Seniors’ finances ARE under attack from those who want to take their money or make money stealing their identities to impersonate them.

Our latest episode of the Senior Care Corner® Show addresses how we can help our seniors protect what they have from ID theft.

Of course, everyone’s finances are under attack, but our mission is to support family members in the care they provide for senior loved ones. If we pick up something along the way that we can use to our benefit as well, it’s icing on the cake.

Data Society Subject to Security Breaches

Almost weekly there is news of another major breach of sensitive customer data that a company has discovered. It’s not limited to businesses, either, as South Carolina taxpayers can attest. How many breaches are there that don’t make the news – – or that aren’t even known to the companies whose systems have been breached?

This is not intended as an attack on those who hold our data, as even the most secure systems in the US are getting hit by hackers. Rather, it is a signal to us to take what actions we can to protect our financial lives against these breaches.

Identity theft may never happen to one of your senior loved ones – – and we hope it does not. It’s so much easier to take protective steps up front than it is to repair the mess it can become afterward, however, that we should help the seniors in our lives consider and implement those steps.

Freeze and Monitor Credit Files

Credit freezes, also called security freezes by the credit reporting agencies, are the top line of defense against ID theft for many. For seniors who are not making applications for new loans or credit cards, there may be no inconvenience as a result of the freeze and little or no cost for the protection it provides.

Another line of defense is monitoring our senior loved ones’ credit reports. There are abundant ads for companies offering to provide a variety of services for a range of fees. Most of us, however, can effectively monitor credit without paying fees.

Download or stream this episode of the Senior Care Corner Radio Show to learn more about steps we can take to help seniors protect their financial identity and why those steps are so important.

News Items in This Episode

  • FBI Executes Search Warrant at The Scooter Store
  • Chemicals in Cookware, Carpets may Raise Arthritis Risk in Women
  • Aging Doctors Leave Supply of Physicians in Critical Condition
  • Everyday Activities May Have Same Health Benefits as Going to the Gym

Links Referenced in This Episode

We hope you enjoy this episode of the Senior Care Corner Radio Show and find the information helpful to you and the seniors in your lives.

We appreciate the feedback we get from our listeners and would love to hear from all of you what we can do to better help you improve the lives of your senior loved ones. Please leave us a comment or send us an email through the Contact Us page.

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

Family Mediation: Resolving Differences Regarding Senior Loved Ones’ Care

Family differences abound. Usually we can work them out but some are tough to resolve.

Many families find themselves at odds about how to care for their aging loved ones, something that’s likely to grow as the population of the US continues to age.

The hardest times seem to come when care needs or location changes and at the end of life. Decisions such as what to do about healthcare goals and financial assets can come at us fast and furious. Siblings and other close family members who disagree about how to answer these questions may need help to keep the peace while making tough choices.

Mediation to the Rescue

Business impasses are often resolved through mediation. The same can be true for differences between family members.

What is an Elder Care Mediator?  An elder care mediator is someone who reconciles disputes between differing parties, specializing in elder affairs. A mediator is a neutral third party giving voice to all participants.

It has been estimated that as many as 40% of adult family caregivers have serious conflicts about the care of their parents.

Mediation for family members is done outside of a courtroom setting and without an attorney. The mediator doesn’t make the decisions needing to be made but rather works together with the family members so that collaboratively an agreement can be reached that is acceptable to all involved.

Topics for family mediation can include end of life decisions, finances, caregiving responsibilities, living arrangements, healthcare decisions and wills to name a few.

There is often a fee for this type of service, as with most services performed by professionals, but it may be better in the long run to seek out a specialist instead of going to court or causing family rifts that can never be repaired.

The elder family member whose care is at issue should be involved in the mediation; they should have a voice in the decision and be given the opportunity to share their desires.

Mediation is Discussion Among Family Members

Open, respectful and honest discussion can help family members understand each others’ viewpoints. Adult siblings may not be used to having to work together but it is important for all involved to think of the desires, wishes and needs of the elder involved first — putting aside individual ideas.  A mediator can help bring all the parties to the table and be a conduit for open communication.

Be aware that mediation is typically not binding, unless agreed by all involved, especially in the eyes of the law. Sometimes the disagreements are really buried hurt feelings that have erupted in the family unit when pressures of caring for and about aging family members become overwhelming.

Healthy conversations about caregiving issues will make it easier to reach resolutions for the best quality of life for our seniors and for their family caregivers.

Help in the form of an elder care mediator can help put conflict into perspective for the best care of your senior.

Have you used a mediator? Are you a mediator yourself? We would love for you to share your story with our community.

Medicaid: Is It What Your Senior Loved One Needs?

FACT: there are more than 40 million people in the United States who are 65 years old or older.

Over one third of these elders have household incomes below 200% of the poverty threshold — $20,916 for individuals and $26,388 for couples.

In excess of 5 million of these seniors need long term care assistance to complete their activities of daily living.  Those who have chronic medical conditions that are disabling require even more extensive support as they age.

Is your senior family member among those with limited resources who need help in order to receive necessary care? Are you filling the gap, caring for them as you care for the needs of your family and yourself as an unpaid caregiver?

Medicaid Benefit Facts for Your Senior Love One

  • Medicaid helps seniors, especially those with limited income or resources, to pay for the care and assistance they may need.
  • Medicaid coverage will provide a variety of medical and support services for eligible seniors who can’t perform one or more activities of daily living (ADLs/IADLs) themselves without help.
  • ADLs include: dressing, bathing or showering, grooming, toileting, eating, feeding themselves, functional mobility (moving from place to place), personal medical device care, and walking.
  • IADLs or instrumental activities of daily living are those duties that allow someone to live independently and include cooking, shopping, housework, taking medications correctly, managing finances, using transportation, and using technology (including the telephone).
  • Medicaid benefits will also be available when certain medical conditions or disabilities are present, including cognitive impairment.
  • Over 60% of nursing home residents rely on Medicaid for assistance, however, Medicaid also covers services provided in the home or community setting for those who are able to age in place.
  • Medicaid is administered by states and financed by both the state and federal governments.
  • In 2009, Medicaid provided $81 billion in medical care for 6 million elderly beneficiaries by providing for home health, personal care, medical equipment, therapy, adult day care, case management, home modifications, transportation and respite care for caregivers.

If your senior is eligible for Medicaid assistance, you will need to complete the application process at your state’s Medicaid office, including providing financial information and proof of medical or functional needs for ADLs/IADLs.  Some states allow online applications. The rules and requirements vary from state to state, since each state sets its own guidelines for services. You can apply for your senior but need all the appropriate information available to you.

It may take time to fully process your senior’s application and get the benefits started, but you will likely find your time investment getting your senior benefits for which they are eligible to be worth it in the end.

You have many challenges when caring for your senior loved ones but paying for care for which they are entitled shouldn’t be one – – especially when help is available.

We would love to hear your experiences, especially lessons you’ve learned the hard way that you can help others avoid!

Seniors Tracking Their Health – There’s an App for That

Medical tracking using the latest technology is growing stronger every day. We believe that your senior loved ones, while beginning to adopt technology, probably haven’t yet gotten familiar with some great technology apps that can help them track and improve their health and wellness.

Many of our seniors are using smartphones in a variety of platforms whether Android, iOS  or Windows 8. The platform they choose is not as important as making the most of the apps that are currently available, though the choice of platform will dictate the apps from which they can choose.

Research indicates that, even with the abundance of available health monitoring apps at our fingertips, our seniors (and even we ourselves) are still primarily using their heads or paper to track and trend their health data.

It has been estimated that about seven out of ten adults are tracking their health information such as weight, diet, symptoms, physical activity, or vital statistics including blood pressure, blood sugar and oxygenation for themselves or their senior loved ones. Instead of using technology, they are using only their heads.

Smartphones, tablets and computers provide what is thought by many to be an easy way to track and analyze this information but we are apparently not taking advantage, according to a recent Pew Research study.

Most believe that when health information is tracked great improvements can be made in health outcomes. We can make progress in changing our habits and lifestyle for prevention and early treatment of chronic medical conditions, including obesity, diabetes, heart failure and other major medical concerns. Researchers point out that we are all carrying around this technology, often in our pockets, but not using it to our greatest benefit.

Health Data You Can Track

  • Weight
  • Diet and food intake
  • Activity programs and time spent exercising
  • Blood pressure
  • Symptoms such as headaches
  • Sleep patterns

Health Tracking Statistics

  • 49% say they keep health information in their heads
  • 34% say they record it on paper
  • 21% say they use some form of technology
  • 34% share their collected health data with anyone including healthcare providers

There seems to be a proliferation of wearable devices that will track all of our health data, mobile apps that can track and analyze all our data and help us decide on what foods to eat. Researchers feel that this wave of technology will be used more and more once it doesn’t require so much input on our part. Doctors will begin asking for electronic data collection so that it can be stored and shared among all healthcare providers more easily versus paper notes that can be lost or discarded.

What do you do for yourself and your senior loved ones regarding health data? Are there apps that you use that work well? Do you share them with your doctor? We would love for you to share your techniques.

Complementary Medicine: Will it Benefit Your Senior Loved One?

Chronic diseases are taking hold of our senior loved ones as they age and have many of us looking for alternate strategies to help them improve their health.

If that’s you, know that you’re not alone in the quest. Many people are turning to complementary and alternative medicine (also called CAM).

Yes, alternative medicine. Before you dismiss it quickly, you should know that it’s becoming pretty mainstream. As a matter of fact, a recent study found that 38% of American adults use CAM.

CAM Terminology

Complementary and alternative medicine is a medical system or practice that is not considered standard treatment in Western culture.

Complementary medicine refers to techniques used along with traditional medicine.

Alternative medicine refers to techniques used instead of traditional medicine.

The combination of both the traditional medical care with which we are familiar and CAM is called integrative medicine. It is becoming increasingly accepted that this combined approach may provide effective quality and safety when used properly.

Before starting any new program of CAM, you should discuss it with your physician to be sure it will not have harmful effects for your senior. Some of these alternate treatments can be detrimental to an older person’s health or interfere with the action of necessary prescription drugs.

We should remember that many CAM treatments have not been studied by the scientific community so their safety and effectiveness has often not been proven. Some precautions therefore need to be taken when our seniors pick a provider of CAM therapies.

The credentials and experience of providers should be investigated before you begin any program. Dietary supplements can interfere with prescription drugs. Because herbs and supplements are not regulated, their authenticity, effectiveness and safety are not assured.

CAM Therapies Which May Be Beneficial for Your Senior

  • Acupuncture
  • Aromatherapy
  • Antioxidants
  • Probiotics
  • Nutritional Supplements
  • Relaxation Therapy
  • Chiropractic
  • Biofeedback
  • Magnet Therapy
  • Exercise
  • Spiritual Healing
  • Tai Chi
  • Therapeutic Massage
  • Music Therapy
  • Melatonin
  • And many more…

Integrative Medicine and Your Senior Loved One

Your senior loved one may benefit from these types of programs, but how will you decide what you should pursue? Naturally, the first step should be with your physician. Ask them what they recommend and what you should avoid. Here are some other questions to think about.

  1. What side effects or symptoms is your senior hoping to relieve?
  2. Which type of therapies is your senior interested in trying?
  3. Why do they want to use CAM?
  4. Has your senior told the doctor about their symptoms and are they using the prescribed traditional medicine appropriately?
  5. Has your senior loved one (or you) done any research on the CAM they are considering to be sure it is right for them and not harmful? Have they investigated the provider or organization they wish to try?

We are all trying to increase our health and well-being and improve our longevity with a high quality of life in our years. Many techniques, treatments and plans can help us feel better.  We urge our seniors to proceed with caution to get the best benefits with the least expense and harm.

What CAM programs or treatments do your senior loved ones use now and how is it working? We would love for you to share your stories with our community.

Mobile Health: Are We Ready For It? Senior Care Corner Show Discussion

Mobile health is acclaimed by many as what will save the US healthcare system by crushing the cost of providing care – – if anything can, that is.

Will we be ready for mobile and it’s impact on the care we receive when it gets here? Even more crucial for us, will our senior loved ones be ready? Since it may take seniors and family caregivers working together to get the greatest benefit, we hope the answer is a resounding “yes” for both.

The feature segment of this episode of the Senior Care Corner Radio Show looks at what mobile healthcare has to offer today, how we use what’s there and what, if anything, that means to our acceptance of the innovation in mobile health to come.

Signs of Mobile Health Readiness

Two of the key factors we see in the successful adoption of mobile health are a willingness to use formal tools to track our health and evidence from the experience of others that doing so produces positive results. As such, we see these as positive signs.

  • The CDC has released a mobile app, remarking that half of smartphone owners have used their devices to seek health information.
  • A recent study from Northwestern University followed 70 people through a year of their weight loss efforts and found those who used apps to track their progress lost more weight than those who used handwritten tracking.
  • A search for “health” in the iPhone App Store bring over 7,000 results.
  • Pew Research recently reported that a much greater number of those who formally tracked health indicators reported their tracking resulted in changes to their overall approach to health and affected their decisions as compared to those who said their tracking was done in their heads.

 We also discuss areas for caution in the current mobile health world, as highlighted by controversy over the lack of effectiveness or even potential harm from some health apps.

News Items in this Episode

  • Acts of Kindness Can Make You Happier
  • PET Scans Helpful, but Not Definitive, for Alzheimer’s Diagnosis
  • New NIH Resources Help Growing Numbers of Americans with Vision Loss
  • New Stroke Guidelines Stress Treatment Within One Hour of Arrival in ER

All of that and Kathy’s Quick Tip on eating less sodium in this episode of The Senior Care Corner Radio Show. We hope you enjoy it and find the information of value in your own life and in caring for senior loved ones!

We appreciate the feedback we get and would like to hear from all of you what you would like us to cover and what you think we could do to improve the show. Please leave us a comment to this post or through the Contact Us page on Senior Care Corner.

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

Alzheimer’s Family Caregivers Making End of Life Decisions

End of life care decisions are among the toughest of the many difficult decisions caregivers face along their journey caring for senior loved ones.

When caring for someone with dementia, especially Alzheimer’s dementia, these decisions can be even more difficult, but planning ahead can help you tread these waters at least a bit more easily. Each decision you will make should target the improvement in quality of life for your senior as the disease progresses.

End Of Life Considerations

  • Treatment goals your senior loved one affected by Alzheimer’s has for him or herself. Knowing the answer to this question will keep you focused when asked to make decisions along the way. What do they want or hope to have happen once they have heard their diagnosis?
  • Knowing how your senior would like to spend his or her final years will help you decide which treatment options to pursue such as medication management or treatment strategies. Will these options help or just complicate the process?
  • Making your senior loved one comfortable is a priority at the end of life because the progress of Alzheimer’s disease is slow. Unfortunately, they likely won’t be able to tell you then what will make them comfortable when the time comes. This is where some advance planning will help. Do they prefer to stay at home, will they want medications to stay comfortable or have some soothing music play to give them comfort?
  • You are not alone in feeling frustration, not only with end of life discussions but also facing all these decisions as the time comes. Adding to your frustration will be the inability of your senior to communicate thoughts, feelings and desires to you at the end of life. You may feel helpless but with some advance planning, perhaps you won’t feel hopeless since you will know that what you are deciding to do is what your senior loved one would want.
  • Reach out for help from healthcare professionals, family, friends and support groups to get you through this difficult time. Healthcare professionals are trained and have had experience with other families and can offer support to you.
  • Don’t overlook the wealth of support that a palliative care or hospice care program can offer you and your senior loved one during the end of life. These special professionals will help you keep your senior comfortable and pain-free at the end of their life as well as support you through your journey of good-bye during and afterward.
  • It is understandable to feel a bit of relief for the loss of your senior loved one who has come through such a long period of decline during the degenerative process of Alzheimer’s in addition to your grief. Even though these are natural emotions, you will need help to cope with the loss so seek support so you can recover.

As difficult as end of life discussions are with any family member, especially our senior loved ones, it is very important to openly discuss everyone’s desires and wishes so they can be met with a minimum of guilt, regret and added trauma when that time actually arrives.

Get Moving: Health Benefits of Exercise at Any Age

Get moving – or have you heard that before? We all know it’s important to exercise and most of us wish we did more of it. There are many reasons to get started, even if it’s just a little.

Numerous lifestyle changes have been shown to make a great difference in our health and aging. As family caregivers we should encourage and motivate our senior loved ones to participate.

A dear friend, a boomer who I consider a healthy individual, is a role model to all of those she meets, whether seniors or adults who are caregivers. She has espoused healthy eating and has made eating nutritious, whole foods part of her existence. As she ages and has struggled with her weight, as do so many of us, she has added movement and exercise into her daily routine.

What is so exciting is her inspiration! She motivates those around her — family, friends and co-workers — to incorporate healthy habits into our own lives. So much so, that I thought I would share her passion with you to help inspire you and your seniors as well!

My health guru’s advice is to get moving and keep moving every day, no matter your age!

Benefits of Exercise as We Age

  • Increase energy
  • Improve bone density
  • Stress relief
  • Help to reduce joint pain and increase muscle function
  • Improve balance to reduce trips and falls
  • Relieve boredom and make new friends
  • Lower blood pressure to maintain health number
  • Manage blood sugar levels in the normal range
  • Improve mood, decrease depression
  • Manage weight or lose weight

Exercise You and Your Senior Can Do

  1. Yoga and Pilates
  2. Stretching
  3. Water aerobics or swimming
  4. Resistance and weight training – try to include twice a week
  5. Sports like golf, tennis, bowling, or jogging
  6. Aerobic activities such as Zumba, Zumba Gold, Jazzercise and treadmill or speed walking
  7. Exergames on the Wii
  8. Dancing
  9. Gardening and yard work
  10. Walking

There are a variety of ways to keep moving throughout the day, such as: taking the stairs more often; parking further away instead of waiting for the closest space; if you spend time behind the desk or computer stand up more instead of sitting; and, use a balance ball when watching TV to build your balance.

My inspirational friend says “exercise helps not only improves your health, but it will make you feel younger too! I am healthier and happier than ever before!”

As we age, we all lose muscle strength. In addition to increased muscle weakness, many of us have three or more chronic diseases to manage and are likely overweight. The key to longevity, but a life worth living, is staying physically active.

Let’s all get moving today!