Progress in Meeting Senior Health Challenges – A Report Card

Aging and Health in America 2013 was recently released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

This report is the sixth installment and is designed to be a snapshot of health in our country. It focuses on the aging health status of people 65 years and older.

The goal of this valuable report is to measure how well our country and communities are handling threats to the aging population. The researchers want it to be viewed as a report card of progress in public health.

How well do you think that the health and well-being of our seniors, behavior reduction to limit death and disability, functional mobility and prevention programs are improving the successful aging of your senior loved ones?

As the population of the US and the rest of the planet continues to grow rapidly, there are changes occurring in the healthcare landscape. The key cause of death in this country has shifted from infectious disease or acute illness to chronic disease such as heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, lung diseases, and cancer. The longer we live, the longer time we have to develop debilitating chronic diseases at the same time we are treating and curing infectious diseases with improved medical care. Chronic diseases usually have a long duration of decline affecting the ability to perform activities of daily living and impairing socialization leading to isolation and depression.

The report card covers 15 indicators grouped into 4 areas which are health status, health behavior, preventive care and screening and injuries.  All fifty states and the District of Columbia are measured and a scorecard available for the indicators.

The report finds states are doing well in some areas but is targeting specific items that they feel need improvement to meet the needs our aging senior loved ones.

Health Goals Unmet

  1. MobilityImpaired functional mobility affects many areas of daily life and can result in poor health outcomes for our seniors. You can improve mobility by altering the physical environment and increasing physical strength and balance. A mobility impairment can negatively impact quality of life for our seniors.
  2. Chronic Disease Prevention and Management – As we age, there is a greater potential to develop a chronic disease. However, your lifestyle choices as well as your management of chronic diseases to limit their effects will help your senior age more successfully. Controlling blood pressure and blood sugar, getting cancer screenings, follow the treatment plan set forth by your healthcare team, be physically active, eat a healthy diet and take medications as prescribed will help manage chronic disease.
  3. Alcohol – Excessive drinking, including binge drinking, by older adults is becoming an increasing problem. Alcohol consumption is worsening chronic medical conditions and creating more health issues such as liver disease. Drinking also increases the dangers of car accidents, falls and injuries in this population. If your senior is consuming more alcohol than is healthy, encourage him or her to get screened or attend counseling to deal with the issues triggering alcohol use.
  4. EmergenciesNatural disasters, man-made disasters and weather emergencies put our seniors at risk. Many of our seniors with medical conditions or disabilities will require more assistance from us and authorities. Be sure your community first responders are aware of your senior’s condition, make a plan for evacuation, know who your senior can depend on to get them to a safe place in case of emergency. Be sure they have adequate supplies and medications to weather an emergency for the entire duration. What will happen to their pet in an emergency?

Senior Care Behaviors to Adopt for Healthy Aging

  • Keeping your seniors’ natural teeth in good repair to help retain them throughout their lifespan. Brush daily and see the dentist regularly for checkup and prophylactic care.
  • Increase physical activity by keeping your senior active every day in a pursuit that brings them pleasure such as walking, dancing, sports, gardening, yoga, tai chi or other physical activities.
  • Help your senior stop smoking! It’s not too late to quit and get physical benefits.
  • Plan healthy eating with your senior loved one. Be sure they have access to a variety of foods; fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy and lean protein sources should be eaten every day. Help them with shopping, preparation and storage of foods.
  • Intervene if needed so that your senior takes medications properly in the correct dosage, at the correct time, prevent interactions with medications or foods and monitor side effects.
  • Be sure your senior participates in scheduled health screenings such as mammograms, prostate exams, skin checks, colorectal screenings as well as staying up to date on immunizations such as seasonal flu, shingles, and pneumonia vaccines.
  • Prevent falls that result in injuries! Keep your seniors home and especially bedroom free of clutter, renovate their home if needed to make it aging-friendly and help them improve balance and strength through physical activity geared for muscle strengthening. Drinking plenty of fluids prevents dehydration and confusion, since mental impairment may lead to falls. Have the pharmacist review your senior’s medication list to be sure there are no drugs which may increase the likelihood of falls. Consider installing monitoring systems, fall mats and other devices to reduce the potential of injury when falls do occur.

Growing older does not mean that your senior has to grow disabled, facing a life they end up feeling is not worth living. Taking steps now will help them manage their aging. Become part of the community and participate in health fairs, health initiatives and advocate for seniors in your area. Look up your state and challenge the local community to make seniors health and wellness a priority!

We would love to hear how your community is handling senior health and aging, please share your comments us!

THE REPORT:  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The State of Aging and Health in America 2013

Smartphone & Tablet Security Settings – Family Caregiver Video Tip

Seniors are increasingly engaging with family and community using social media, which we believe will help them enjoy better health and lives as they age. This is especially true for those who choose to age in place, living independently in the homes of their choice.

Growing numbers of our senior loved ones are using mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, to stay connected to social media and the world around them. We think this is great because it lets them stay connected wherever they go rather than only when they’re at their home computer.

Those mobile devices, though, bring with them risks — including the potential to be left behind or even “walk away” when backs are turned. That’s true for all of us and not just seniors, though the memory loss many experience as they age can make older adults more susceptible to forgetting a mobile device that has been put down and walking away without it.

Securing smartphones and tablets is the subject of this Senior Care Corner Family Caregiver Video Tip, which can be viewed below.

Risks Associated with Lost Mobile Devices

We use our smartphones and tablets for a wide variety of activities — including banking, social networking, email and more — that can make it easy for thieves to drain our bank accounts and steal our identities if they get access to our devices. Unfortunately, we read stories of that happening all the time.

Even if we avoid storing login settings for key apps and websites, merely having access to our email accounts can be enough for others to reset passwords and use many websites as us.

Fortunately, there are simple steps we can take with most smartphones and tablets to protect the data and apps from unwelcome access and sometimes even recover the devices.

Smartphone & Tablet Security Setup Demonstration

In this Family Caregiver Video Tip, I walk through the steps to set up secure access for iPads and iPhones. I demonstrate where to find the settings, shows how to change them and explains some of the security / convenience tradeoffs inherent in the security settings.

We recognize there are many other mobile devices systems in addition to the iOS devices made by Apple and know the steps may be different for seniors and family members who have Android, Windows, Blackberry or other smartphones and tablets.

It’s our hope that understanding the need for security and seeing how easy it can be to add will prompt family caregivers to encourage senior loved ones to protect their mobile devices (and even show them how).

Of course, family caregivers’ devices might be able to use that layer of protection as well. After all, caregivers’ many priorities can make it easy to misplace or leave behind a smartphone — and leave no time for the mess a device in the wrong hands can create.

 We want everyone to stay connected digitally, but to do so safely and securely!

Dad Can’t Take Care of Mom – Now What? Family Caregiver Burnout

Caregivers come in all ages, relationships and life histories.

Many times the caregiver of an aging person is the spouse. Naturally, children or grandchildren are supporting their family members who are caregiving but the main responsibility is on the spouse.

What we are seeing more and more is that spousal caregivers are getting burned out. They have been primary caregivers for many years as chronic diseases including Alzheimer’s or other dementias have dragged on. The person who needs care may have been slowly declining in functional abilities leaving the spouse with more and more tasks to complete including personal care and maybe even transferring or lifting.

More and more, the aging caregiver may not be physically able themselves to provide this care – – and maybe they are even growing less capable of meeting their own needs.

As chronic disease care can be required for many years, the spouse is also getting older and perhaps even weaker. Frustration also builds in spousal caregivers who just can’t handle the continuous demands, both physical and mental, of caregiving.

Statistics from the Family Caregiver Alliance

  • 43.5 million of adult family caregivers care for someone 50+ years of age and 14.9 million care for someone who has Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia.
  • An estimated 66% of caregivers are female. Research suggests that the number of male caregivers may be increasing and will continue to do so due to a variety of social demographic factors.
  • According to the survey, older caregivers are more likely to care for a spouse or partner (25%).
  • Many caregivers of older people are themselves growing older. Of those caring for someone aged 65+, the average age of a caregiver is 63 years with 1/3 of these caregivers reporting fair to poor health.
  • Older caregivers who are 65+ provide 31 hours in an average week on caregiving.
  • Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers provide care on average one to four years more than caregivers caring for someone with an illness other than Alzheimer’s disease (43% vs. 33%). They are also more likely to be providing care for five years or longer (32% vs. 28%).
  • 40% to 70% of family caregivers have clinically significant symptoms of depression with about a quarter to half of these caregivers meeting the diagnostic criteria for major depression.

Family Caregiver Burnout Stories

We have recently heard about several cases of family caregiver burnout that prompted this informational post.

In one case, we know of a male caregiver who has been caring for his wife for several years. She has dementia which is progressing toward the later advanced stages. She asks the same question all day long, can’t be taken out of the house anymore as her behaviors are hard to control, she needs assistance with all activities of daily living including toileting and feeding, and is a safety risk all day and night. She is basically wearing out her husband who is also aged. He must cook, clean, care for the house and yard, and struggles to keep his social relationships such as attending church.

This caregiver is basically at the end of his rope. Family members don’t live nearby and come to visit throughout the year but can’t provide much support on a day to day basis. This man is at risk for depression and even suicide as he faces each day with trepidation about how it will be caring for his wife.

Another story we heard from our community was a man who has been caring for his wife since her fall three years ago resulting in a closed head injury and advancing dementia. She is currently at the point where he can’t leave the house for a minute to cut his grass or grocery shop without the fear of her falling and he can’t physically get her in and out of the car to take her along. She requires more physical care than his aging body can do. He is definitely depressed and has been observed yelling at his beloved wife and may harm her in a moment of frustration. He doesn’t want to place her in a facility but has no family support. The few remaining family members bring him more trouble than help so he has maintained a distance from them. He is also at the end of his rope.

Where Can Burned-Out Caregivers Turn?

Many spouses find themselves in similar predicaments. Where can they turn?

Many have gotten support from home health, private in home care, church friends or neighbors who provide respite, meals from an agency, cleaning or yard work help for hire or other support that comes their way. Many can’t afford help and have no family members to fill the gaps or provide them with relief. Their burnout could put the one who needs care at risk for abuse or neglect.

Some spouses just can’t handle the emotional stress of the changes that appear in such diseases as dementia. The affected spouse is not the person they married. Their personality is altered, they may not remember them, they may have behavior that is hard to handle, and the well spouse may be embarrassed by the changes and may not be able to understand that it’s the disease not the person.

Unfortunately, changes should happen in how care is provided to prevent danger to either spouse. It is not uncommon for suicide, neglect or abuse to occur when caregivers become burned out.

Family Caregiver Burnout Warning Signs

  1. Is the caregiver tired all day every day? Are they having difficulty sleeping at night?
  2. Is there no good day?
  3. Is the spousal caregiver sad that all their hard work is not appreciated and it doesn’t feel like they are really helping anyone?
  4. Does the caregiver feel overwhelmed, ready to cry often, is getting ill themselves, or not wanting to eat anymore or maybe eating or drinking too much?
  5. Does the caregiver feel hopeless, useless, trapped or beyond caring to complete necessary duties? Are they beginning to stop doing things or isolating themselves more?
  6. Does the caregiver feel like their life is not worth living?

Coping Strategies for Caregivers

  • Eat healthy meals.
  • Set limits on what you are capable of doing and get help for the things you can’t do yourself. Don’t try to do it all!
  • Get a full night’s sleep.
  • Find moments throughout the day when you can relax and recharge yourself.
  • Find someone to talk to about your feelings. Reach out for help.
  • Get respite, time away from your duties even if it is only for an afternoon. Agencies and organizations, even your church, may be able to help you with respite.
  • Get out of the house even if you have to find someone to fill in for you for 30 minutes.
  • Don’t push your friends and family away, you need them and they don’t mind providing a shoulder to lean on.
  • Don’t waste your effort on things you can’t control. Be aware of your own limits. Blame the disease not the person and realize that you can’t take the disease away but instead focus on what you can do to make it better.
  • Join a support group and lean on others either in person or online.
  • Don’t forget to laugh!

For those who have the support of family caregivers who can step in and help, we feel confident that they can avoid burnout. Many more are not as fortunate and are at risk for burnout. They are falling through the cracks and need our support to help them along the way and be alert to signs of oncoming danger.

Seniors Safe in the Comfort of Home? Thieves Working to Change That

It’s true that nothing is guaranteed but change — well, and that other thing we don’t like to discuss.

Since our parents and grandparents were younger many things have changed. Some changes are for the better, such as advances in technology and healthcare, some maybe not so much.

We live in a world where there are dangers lurking all around. We have to protect our seniors and educate them to protect themselves from people who want to cause them harm, be it physical or financial.

As family caregivers, we may worry about our senior loved ones when they venture out shopping or into areas where they may fall prey to criminals.

Unfortunately, seniors don’t have to leave home to be victims of scams.

Scams Hitting Home

We often worry about dangers in the home, such as falling in the bathroom, but there are other dangers from which we need to protect our senior loved ones that strike them while they’re “safe” at home.

Telemarketing fraud, home improvement scams, Medicare fraud, sweepstakes fraud and predatory lending are some ways seniors can become crime victims in their homes. There are simply too many.

  • Recently we have heard people being victim of theft from an unusual place – their own mail box! In the past, no one thought that putting a letter in the mailbox was a risk. Our parents knew the mailman personally and didn’t consider taking a piece of mail to town to put in the post office. But now, it is recommended that your seniors do not put any outgoing mail in their mailbox with the red flag up, especially anything containing cash, checks or your personal data. Criminals have learned how easy it is to swipe mail from the box when they see the red flag and it can lead to the loss of your senior’s identity, especially when banking or other important personal information is shared via mail. Take any important mail directly to a post office or dedicated mail box with a delivery time the same day.
  • Remind your senior to not answer the door to a stranger they are not specifically expecting. If your senior doesn’t have a peep hole, install one. It can be a do it yourself project or a quick handyman task. Seniors should be able to know who is at the door by looking through the peephole or a side window. Encourage them to ask for identification from whoever is there before opening up the door. A criminal may think there is something of value in the home to steal such as money, electronics or jewelry because our seniors have collected more over their lifetime.
  • Remind your senior not to give out any personal information, such as social security number or credit card numbers, over the phone to anyone to anyone who has called them. The bank will not call them! Seniors are usually very trusting and don’t realize that someone may be out to harm them so willingly give this information to anyone who asks for it. Sometimes these scam callers sound very convincing. In the few situations where sensitive information must be provided over the phone, it is safest to do so in a call your senior originates to a number known to be their intended party.
  • Have a conversation with senior loved ones about callers who are playing on their family love to extort money from them. Make them aware that a person calling from the police station or out of the country telling them to wire money to a grandchild in trouble is not real. Give them specific instructions or prompts for answering this type of call such as getting their name and phone number to return the call once they check it out. It is easy for criminals to find out basic information, such as grandchildren’s names, which can lead to scams.
  • Encourage them not to give their money to “charities” that are unknown to them. If someone approaches them for a check, they should not just hand one over.  Again, script out responses for them such as “I need to do some research first, can you give me some printed information or a phone number so that I can get more knowledge before I donate?”
  • Buying products that promise a miracle cure for a disease or memory loss over the television or other media can lead to seniors parting with their money. Talk with your seniors about quack cures and claims that cost them not only money but may open them up to other scams. Sometimes they think they may be getting something for free and end up getting the bank account cleaned out.

Scammers, mail snatchers, fake charities, fraudulent telemarketers? Let’s call them by their real name – criminals!

Why Seniors are Victimized

Seniors are very attractive to criminals who want to get their life savings and are seen as easy marks. They simply don’t see it coming so they are too often victims.

Seniors may be embarrassed to report it to anyone when they are victims. They may not realize that they were scammed or be nervous that their family caregivers will think less of them and may even point to becoming a scam victim as grounds for assuming control of their finances.

This means the criminal will keep targeting seniors.

If family caregivers open the lines of communication with senior loved ones about the potential for being scammed in the home, it may prevent real life tragedies from happening.

Thinking Holiday Gifts for Seniors – Think of Tech They Wouldn’t Get Themselves

“Noooo, it’s too early to be thinking about that already” is the reaction we expect to hear from many of you. The challenge of what gifts to get senior loved ones for the holidays — or anytime — stumps many of us.

We just don’t know what they want!

Why not get something they wouldn’t think to get themselves — something they might even tell you NOT to get them.

Many technology products fall into this category, including many you might think your senior loved ones would really enjoy if only they had a chance to try them.

CEA Ownership & Market Potential Study

Few would be surprised to hear that seniors lag the rest of the US population in their ownership of technology devices. That’s largely confirmed by the 15th Annual CE Ownership and Market Potential Study, a research report from the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) we look forward to reading each year. CEA is the producer of the International CES, the annual gathering of those who shape the future and an annual calendar fixture for Senior Care Corner.

One note about the study data before we dive into some of what it tells us. While we wish they would publish statistics about seniors, they lump the over-65 group into an age category we’ll call “older adults,” those 55 and beyond. Seniors, or those 65 and older, make up just over half of the responses in the older adult category of this year’s study.

While there is no indication, of course, how seniors’ responses impacted the age group stats, it’s probably fair to say their numbers would be lower than the younger members of the older adult category for most items.

Now onto the study results…

Older Adults & Entertainment Tech

Seen a tech gift you just KNOW one of the seniors in your life would love if only they tried it? If it’s anything cutting edge, they probably won’t get it for themselves, but they’re not alone. Most Americans say they won’t buy a new tech item at least until it’s commonplace, with many saying they won’t go for it until the traditional alternative is no longer available.

Commonplace is what you would call HDTVs, which is reflected in the more than 70% of older adults and all American’s who report having at least one, and in most cases more than one, in their household. Other than standard DVD players, which about two thirds of both older adults and all respondents reporting owning, and 3D TVs, with ownership at less than one in ten, older adults lag the rest of the age groups in ownership of what we would call entertainment technology.

There are several items where older adults lag that you might not see as the right gifts unless you know your senior loved one will make use of them. This includes such tech as digital cameras, blu ray players and digital media players (think Roku or Apple TV).

What about mp3 players, such as iPods? Think your senior loved one would use one if showed what they could really do with it? Many are finding it’s a great way to bring back memories of their youth with much of the times. Less than one in four older adults (even fewer seniors?) own one, compared with more than half of overall study participants. Only one third of older adults expect to ever own one, so if you think your senior would really enjoy an mp3 player it might be up to you to get it for them.

Computing Devices & Older Adults

Ownership of computing devices by older adults is up significantly over that reported in the 2012 report, which is a good sign in an area where we advocate getting senior loved ones active. Among the many ways seniors, especially, can benefit from computers and tablets is getting connected to social media sites and thus the world around them. It’s great to see this area growing so much.

While there is growth, older adults still lag other age groups significantly in ownership of computing devices — which means there is opportunity for family members to get loved ones connected. Beyond desktop computers (yes, those are still sold), where ownership by older adults nearly matches that of the overall population at six in ten, less than half of older adults’ households have computers or like technology. Almost half have laptops, which is promising, but only one in four report ownership of tablets and e-readers.

Think your senior loved one could benefit from a tablet or e-reader? If so, there’s a possible gift idea, as less than half of older adults expect to ever own them.

Smartphones Not Yet Popular with Older Adults

It looks like a number of older adults have swapped out their regular cellphones for smartphones since the prior study, but only three in ten of them still have a smartphone. When you consider that many in this age group are still employed and may have smartphones for work, the smartphone ownership by seniors may be much below that.

Taking into account all the things that can be done with smartphones, including picture and video-taking, getting directions via GPS, using the vast multitude of mobile health and other apps, connecting to social media sites and so much more — not to mention making phone calls — many family caregivers would love to see senior loved ones using smartphones. In the past the cost has put them out of reach for many as a gift, in no small part because of the ongoing bill for data services that goes with one. Competition has brought down the cost of both, though, so you might find the right gift for your senior loved one in this area.

Maybe you’re still stumped about what you give your senior loved ones this year, but we hope we put you on track with some ideas. If nothing else, we got you thinking about it with enough lead time to come up with something good!

Many thanks to the research folks at CEA. We look forward to next year’s report — and of course the 2014 CES before that!

It’s Always a Good Time to Prevent Falls and Help Seniors Stay Safe

We’re experiencing one of the wettest summers in many, many years in our community. As I went slip sliding down the garden path, I was reminded of the importance of keeping our seniors’ home free from hazards that can lead to a fall — with potentially disastrous results.

Let’s face it, most homes have numerous points that can be hazards or become a danger for any of us over time if not kept in good repair. That’s especially true for senior loved ones who might not be as steady as in their younger years.

We know many seniors want to stay in their homes to age in place as long as possible. In order to achieve that, family caregivers should try to keep the home of their senior loved ones free of hazards and in good repair.

Indoor Home Tips

Many seniors’ homes have areas indoors where changes could be made to improve the level of safety and reduce the risk of falls. Here are some to consider.

  • Keep all areas free from clutter that could cause a trip and fall, including throw rugs, newspapers, electrical cords, pet toys or bowls and any other loose object innocently left on the floor for pick up later and then forgotten.
  • Carefully place furniture pieces in the room to prevent having to take the ‘long way’ around to find a comfortable seat. Keeping furniture an adequate distance apart to allow free movement and room to maneuver a cane, walker or even a wheelchair will be helpful now and in the future.
  • Secure any loose flooring, keeping all walking surfaces in good repair, so no nails are popping out, no floorboards are loose and all carpeting is free from bumpy spots to trip up seniors. If floors are slick or shiny, apply a nonskid surface to lessen likelihood of slipping.
  • Be sure there are handrails on both sides of stairways, well lit hallways and stairs, and that all stairs are free from any objects. Be sure carpet is not too worn that it becomes slippery on the treads of stairs.
  • In the bathroom:
    • Check the condition of nonskid mats or stickers (or if some need to be installed).
    • Determine if grab bars are still steady or  if some need to be installed.
    • Look over the plumbing to find any sources of leaks that could result in a wet floor and thus a fall.
    • Check any shower equipment, such as a shower bench, to be sure it is still in good working order and won’t result in a fall.
  • Medical equipment does wear out so should be examined regularly to see if it’s in need of repair.

Outside Home Tips

For seniors who like to spend time out in the yard, take a look at areas where they may go and the hazards they may encounter.

  • Especially in wet weather but all year round, be sure that front porch, stairs and all entry points are free from trip hazards such as rocks, fallen branches, moss, penetrating nails or loose boards. If you have harsh winters, it is time to do a good evaluation of any winter damage to porches, steps and thresholds to be sure they are all secure and in good repair. Are the railings and handrails still sturdy?
  • Are sidewalks clear from broken cement, root penetration from nearby trees or shifting cracks? Are sidewalks covered in mold or slime that could lead to a slip and fall? If so, it is time for a good pressure wash on all walking surfaces. Getting the mail from the mailbox or the newspaper from the lawn should not be a dangerous adventure.
  • Are all tree limbs and shrubs pruned to prevent having to duck under or around limbs to have a clear path? It may be time to do some pruning to prevent accidents.
  • Do you have a garden path or makeshift walkway to flowers or plants that is still covered with a bed of leaves that are now wet and slimy that could lead to falls?
  • Is the garage or carport access blocked with items left there during the winter that now need some attention? It is time to clear out boxes or items that haven’t been returned to their usual storage places so that walking to the car, water heater or garden tools is not a hazard.
  • Are the hoses accessible in case your senior decides to water something? Are the gutters clean or a source of leaking water creating puddles in dangerous places?
  • Is the lighting on the porch or in the backyard adequate to illuminate all walking areas and are the light bulbs in good working order? It may be time to check out and change any missing source of light.
  • Is access to garbage receptical free and clear so that when your senior takes out the garbage they can carry a bag or box out to the trash can and get back inside safely?

An ounce of prevention (or elbow grease) in home repair is worth a pound of cure — especially when that could be fractures and hospital visits!

If you can’t do some of the work you identify as needed, there are many home repair professionals and handyman services you can use which could be a great benefit for long distance caregivers. This is not a good place to let things slide and hope for the best!

Medical Errors: Too Common & Deadly But Participation in Care Can Help

We all have encountered the medical profession in one way or another. We have taken our children to the doctor, gotten immunizations, visited the emergency room, gotten an x-ray, had an annual checkup, gone to the pharmacy for prescription medications, stayed in a hospital room or given birth. Whew!

Most of us have also accompanied other family members as they were in the hot seat under medical care.

Luckily most of us have not experienced medical errors. Thank goodness! Not all of us, though.

There are steps we can take to reduce our reliance on luck while reducing the risk of our loved ones falling victim to an error.

Medical Errors Resulting in Harm

Medical errors are one of the top causes of death and injury, according the the Academy of Family Physicians — and they’re only one of many organizations saying so.

A study in the New England Journal of Medicine in November 2010 revealed that 25% of all hospital admissions resulted in medical harm to the patient.

According to the American Association for Justice, the number of people who die from medical negligence each year in the US is in the 100,000 range. The Institute of Medicine confirms this number and states that the financial cost of this negligence is $29 billion per year — in addition to the human cost. It is estimated that if medical negligence was classified as a disease, it would be the sixth leading cause of death each year.

One in seven Medicare patients experience a medical error!

Reducing the Chances of an Error

Medical errors can happen in any medical setting and include medication errors, wrong surgery site, leaving something in a patient after surgery, diagnosis errors, medical equipment failure, communication failures or problems with lab reports or interpretations.

There are some steps we can take to reduce the chance that loved ones — or we — are affected by a medical error.

  1. Be involved in medical care. The more involved you are, communicating with each member of the team, asking questions and clarifying each procedure, the better the chances of an uneventful procedure.
  2. Make everyone aware of the medications currently being taken, including dosages and times. Don’t forget the over the counter medications and supplements.
  3. Let everyone know about an allergy to a drug, food or substance such as latex. Be aware of the reaction when exposed to an allergen.
  4. Give the doctor and healthcare team access to full medical records and health information.
  5. When taking prescription drugs, be sure the pharmacist can read the doctor’s handwriting. Don’t go home with prescriptions unless you know how and when to take them and ask any questions you may have about new medications. Be sure you understand the timing, does every four hours mean while awake or should you wake up in the middle of the night?
  6. Do research on any health facility or hospital before have surgery to be sure it’s the best choice for the specific needs.
  7. Ask every member of the healthcare team to wash their hands before they perform any care.
  8. Clearly understand all discharge instructions before leaving the hospital or doctor’s office. It’s often helpful to have a second set of ears to hear the treatment plan to avoid confusion or oversight.
  9. If having tests, x-rays or blood work, be sure to get a full report of the findings. Don’t assume that not hearing anything means there is nothing to know.
  10. Learn about the side effects of medications and any safety precautions to take during use.

Being an active participant in our care and that of loved ones can help improve health and safety when receiving medical care in many ways, including reducing the risk of errors.

Family caregivers can often be a big help to senior loved ones by stepping into the role of advocate and helper when it comes to the medical care.

Senior Nutrition Advice for Family Caregivers From Our Senior Care Dietitian

Nutrition is one of the keys to good health at all ages. We hear that all the time but not always clear signals about what proper nutrition entails. Eating right is especially important for seniors, whose changing health and needs make it particularly important to eat the right foods in the right amounts each day.

We receive a number of questions about proper nutrition for senior loved ones from family caregivers who visit Senior Care Corner. While several of our posts address the dietary issues of older adults, we decided to address some of the questions directly by bringing in an expert.

We didn’t have to look far, as Kathy is a Licensed and Registered Dietitian (RD, LD) who has been working with seniors and their families in a number of settings for years and provides nutrition information on her own site, Nutrition for the Health of It. For the feature segment of this episode of the Senior Care Corner Show, we “invited” the Senior Care Dietitian for a conversation to answer some of the questions we’ve received.

Senior Nutrition Questions for the Senior Care Dietitian

  • Does healthy eating mean something different for seniors than for the rest of the family?
  • What do you tell family caregivers who are trying to get senior loved ones to eat better only to have them say something like “I’ve been eating this food for 70 years and I’m still alive so why change now”?
  • How would a family caregiver know if a senior loved one is supposed to be on a special diet so they know how to focus on the right foods and to avoid foods the senior shouldn’t be eating?
  • For family members whose older loved one is moving into a nursing home, is there anything they should say or ask to be sure the senior gets the right foods for their needs?
  • There are many seniors aging in place in their own homes who suddenly find themselves in the situation where the spouse or partner who did all the cooking is gone and they’re left to fend for themselves.  Do you have any suggestions for family caregivers who want to get the seniors who haven’t done much cooking started preparing their own meals?

Family Caregiver Nutrition Question

We talk a lot at Senior Care Corner about the need for family caregivers to care for their own needs to maintain their own health and be in a position to give their best to loved ones, so we added a question focused on caregiver needs.

There are many caregivers, such as those caring for both their parents and children, who find themselves rushing around all day and constantly drinking coffee or soft drinks to keep going. Are there other things they should be drinking, maybe to exchange or at least some of the coffee cups and cans of soda?

You’ll hear answers to all these questions in this Senior Care Corner Show.

News Items in This Episode

  • Irregular Heartbeat in Old Age Leads to Memory and Thinking Decline
  • For Your Fridge: Do Not Resuscitate Order
  • Alzheimer’s and Low Blood Sugar in Diabetes May Trigger a Vicious Cycle
  • Brainpower in the Very Old May be Improving

Our Quick Tip in this episode addresses keeping seniors safe from scams showing up at their homes, including the mailbox, front door and telephone.

Link Mentioned in This Episode

We hope you enjoy this episode of the Senior Care Corner Show and find it informative. Please keep the suggestions – and especially caregiver questions – coming!

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

Hearing Loss Isolating Your Senior? How Family Caregivers Can Help

Find yourself repeating things over and over to your senior loved one before they hear what you have to say?

Is the volume of the television in their home so loud you can hear it when you drive up?

Does your senior give you an answer for a question you did not ask?

Maybe the natural hearing loss of aging is progressing more rapidly than you realize and it is time to help your senior loved one take action.

Why Take Action Against Hearing Loss

Many of our senior loved ones experience hearing loss as they age. That is not uncommon. What can be a concern for us is when the hearing loss interferes with daily life.

The senior may be unable to keep up with the conversation so will just stop trying. When this causes seniors to stop being part of the life around them, stop going out with friends, stop attending events or the local senior center or refuse to use the telephone, it is time to take action.

The consequence of hearing loss can be tragic for seniors.  Social isolation can lead to decline in both mental and physical function. Not only can your senior begin withdrawing from life, they are at greater risk of hospitalization, illness, depression and even injury, according to a new study.

Researchers stressed that due to the increasing numbers of senior’s who are experiencing hearing loss resulting in one of these conditions, family caregivers are urged to not chalk it up to aging but treat it as a disease that requires interventions.

Researchers state that hearing loss affects as many as 27 million Americans over age 50, including two-thirds of men and women aged 70 years.

Those are startling numbers, but if it’s our senior loved one then even 1 is a lot!

Obstacles to Intervention

Many seniors don’t want their hearing loss to be identified because they don’t want hearing aids. They don’t want to wear them, as some feel that they are signs of old age and they are convinced they will not help.

Another obstacle to getting hearing aids for seniors, especially those on fixed incomes, is the cost.

  • Hearing aides are not covered by Medicare. The cost of aides and the batteries to operate them are out-of-pocket expenses that many seniors simply don’t feel they can afford.
  • A hearing exam by a hearing specialist is also not covered unless it is related to an injury or trauma.
  • In some states, Medicaid will cover exams and hearing aides but this varies significantly, so you will need to check out what your state offers.
  • If your senior is a veteran and the hearing loss is related to their military service, the hearing aides will likely be covered.
  • Most private insurance carriers do not cover hearing aids or exams either, except in three states where it is required to provide coverage for adults.

What Can You Do?

There are several ways to deal with loved ones’ hearing loss as they age. Will one or more of these help your loved one?

  1. Amplified telephones
  2. Face your senior when you are talking with them
  3. Personal listening systems – audio loop or personal amplifier
  4. Turn off TV or radio when not needed to reduce distractions and background noise to your conversations
  5. TV listening systems
  6. Have family and friends speak louder but not shout
  7. Amplified cell phones
  8. Hearing aids or cochlear implant
  9. Speech and lip reading
  10. Explain to your senior they should watch for visual cues like facial expression and body language

We can help our senior loved ones hear what they are missing, get the help they need and take small steps to stay part of their environment — engaged with those around them. These actions will go a long way to help them stay healthy and happy as long as possible.