8 Weapons to Help Seniors Fight Flu This Season & Win

As we head deeper into the fall heading into what may prove to be a cold winter, our seniors as well as family caregivers will be more at risk for developing cold and flu symptoms.

Some of you may already have been hit by the cold and flu bug!

There are things we can all do – and, as family caregivers, encourage senior loved ones to do, to fight the flu.

Naturally, the most important thing we can do to reduce the likelihood of catching and suffering with the seasonal flu is to get our flu shots. Be sure your senior gets one even if you have to arrange transportation to and from a provider. Don’t overlook yourself!

It is very important that caregivers stay current with all vaccinations and preventive health screenings in order to be at our best to care for others. In addition, we don’t want to catch something and end up passing it along to those under our care!

Weapons in the Fight Against Flu

  1. The previously-mentioned flu shot.
  2. If friends or family want to visit but are sick, ask them to come when they are well. Sometimes people need to be reminded that they can spread their illness and are invited back when well.
  3. Ask that grandchildren, home caregivers and others in regular contact receive flu shots so they don’t make senior loved ones sick.
  4. Remind everyone to wash their hands frequently while visiting, including the senior (and you).
  5. Keep your senior loved one hydrated with plenty of water and other fluids throughout the day.
  6. Sleep well. If your senior is having trouble sleeping, try to determine the cause and correct it. Yes, we know that it might be especially tough for family caregivers to make enough time, but everyone needs a good rest to recover and refuel.
  7. Eat well, being sure to include good sources of vitamin C in your daily diet and other immune enhancing foods. More on flu fighting foods below.
  8. Stay physically active! Yes, we say that for a lot of things but it really does make a difference.

Flu Fighting Foods

There are some foods that can help you fight off flu and its effects.

  • Beans, especially black eyed peas and pinto beans, as well as peanuts and pumpkin seeds are good sources of zinc to help keep our immune systems at top performance.
  • Carrots are rich in beta-carotene to help prevent respiratory infections, as are dark green leafy vegetables, sweet potatoes and winter squash.
  • Yogurt has beneficial prebiotics to help strengthen our immune systems and keep bowels regulated.
  • Tomatoes are also a good source of vitamin C, which can boost our natural defenses against colds and flu. Include tomatoes, tomato juice, and tomato sauce in the menu.
  • Almonds as a snack are packed with vitamin E to help prevent viral infections. Good sources to add to recipes include almond butter, chopped almonds or almond oil.
  • Mushrooms are rich sources of selenium to help improve our immune systems to help fight viral infections.

It has been reported that only 61% of adults got their flu shots last year. At the same time, nine out of ten deaths and six out of ten hospital admissions in people over 65 were flu related.syringe2

Yes, getting a flu shot can make a real difference!

Flu shots are free to Medicare beneficiaries. Doctor’s offices, drug stores, urgent care centers, senior centers, health fairs and many other places are making flu shots available this season. The seasonal flu vaccine is in good supply.

For those over 65, there is a more potent version available to provide even better protection. While getting a flu shot, have senior loved ones get a pneumonia shot as well if they’re due!

The sooner you and your loved ones get a vaccine, the quicker you’ll be protected so don’t delay.

Win the fight against flu this season!

Cutting Your Salt Habit – A Family Caregiver Video Tip

Stroke hits every 40 seconds in the US, with 800,000 Americans each year suffering a stroke.

Strokes kill more than 125,000 Americans each year and leave many more with paralysis and lives that are changed forever.

High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is a significant contributor to stroke.

Sodium in our diets is a key contributor to hypertension.

Sounds like a good reason to cut our salt habit, doesn’t it? That’s especially true for our senior loved ones – and us if we’re over 50 – if we have already been diagnosed with high blood pressure.

Like many things that are good for us, it’s easier said than done!

We’ve prepared the Family Caregiver Video Tip below to educate you to better help senior loved ones cut salt from their lives.


Salt is Hidden in Many Foods

Limiting sodium in our daily diet to less than 2,300 mg is the target for most of us, but our older loved ones who have been told by their doctor they already have hypertension should be cutting it to 1,500 mg or less each day.

As Kathy explained in the video tip, step one in cutting the salt habit is getting rid of the salt shaker, not just from the dinner table but from the kitchen completely. It may take some time but, maybe with some help from the spice rack, it’s just a matter of sticking to it long enough to form the habit.

The other steps take a little more effort. Here are a few of them.

  • Check food labels for the listed sodium content, focusing on those that contain less than 5% of our daily sodium intake; shoot for no more than 700 to 800 mg per meal.
  • Use fresh or frozen vegetables without sauce rather than the canned or processed versions, which have salt added unless specifically labeled no salt added.
  • Limit consumption of foods that are salted and cured, such as hot dogs, bacon, ham and luncheon meats.
  • Avoid foods that are sold in brine (which is a fancy name for salt water), such as pickles and sauerkraut.
  • Check out some new flavors and seasonings in the spice aisle of the grocery store to enhance foods without adding salt (check labels to ensure you’re not getting something with salt added, though).

Another tip from Kathy…check out our recent post on the DASH diet. No, that’s not just another fancy diet, but stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. Sounds right on target, doesn’t it.

By taking steps to help our senior loved ones avoid hypertension and fight off stroke, we can help make their lives better!

Winning the Battle Against Hypertension: DASH Lifestyle

Many of our senior loved ones are faced with multiple chronic disease processes. Managing these conditions can be overwhelming to many seniors and failure to do so can negatively impact their quality of life.

How can they follow the doctor’s or dietitian’s diet on a budget?

Why can’t they eat all the foods they love?

Don’t they know I can’t breathe well so can’t move much?

You may have heard these or similar comments from your senior loved ones, as I have in my professional practice. Unfortunately there is no magic bullet or a way to make a positive change without some effort.

DASH Lifestyle Impacts

One way to manage chronic disease and improve the quality of life for our senior loved ones – how they feel and the energy they have to do what they want during the day, even if that is as simply as getting out of bed and getting dressed – is for them to adopt the lifestyle of the DASH program.

Because what you eat and your physical activity level affect your blood pressure, be it by causing hypertension, managing hypertension or preventing high blood pressure, it is important to be aware of the benefits of the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) eating plan.

Studies have shown that lowering your intake of salt combined with other dietary and activity changes can lower blood pressure. Another aspect of the DASH program is maintaining a healthy weight through activity, portion control and meal choices.

According to the American Heart Association, high blood pressure affects more than 65 million — or 1 in 3 — American adults. High blood pressure is common among older Americans — individuals with normal blood pressure at age 55 have a 90 percent lifetime risk for developing high blood pressure.

American Heart Association Recommendations

  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Be moderately physically active on most days of the week.
  • Follow a healthy eating plan, which includes foods lower in sodium.
  • If you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation.
  • If you have high blood pressure and are prescribed medication, take it as directed

DASH Diet Plan

The principles of this eating plan include: foods that are low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and total fat and fruits, vegetables, fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products, low sodium choices and whole grains. The sodium content daily should be 2,300 mg with a goal of 1,500 if you have hypertension.

Food groups in the meal plan are as follows for a total of 1,600/2,000 calories per day:

  • Grains                               6/6-8 servings per day with most from whole grains
  • Fruits                                3-4/4-5 per day
  • Vegetables                        4/4-5 per day
  • Milk                                   2-3/2-3 low fat milk or milk products per day
  • Lean Protein, Fish              3-6/6 ounces or less per day
  • Nuts, Seeds, Legumes        3/4-5 per week
  • Fats, Oils                            2/2-3 servings per day
  • Sweets and Added Sugars  0/Less than 5 per week

Tips for Lower Sodium

Reducing sodium in our diet takes a number of steps, as it is found in many places.

  1. Don’t use the salt shaker; try other salt free seasonings and blends to spice up the flavor.
  2. Buy fresh, low sodium/no salt added canned or frozen without sauce vegetables.
  3. Read the nutrition labels and choose those products with less than 5% Daily Value for sodium PER SERVING. 20% or more is considered high and should be avoided.
  4. Don’t add salt to the water when cooking pasta, rice or potatoes.
  5. Limit intake of salted and cured foods such as bacon, lunchmeat, hot dogs and foods made with brine such as pickles, olives, and sauerkraut.
  6. Limit processed foods with a high sodium content such as convenience items, flavored rice/pasta mixes, soups, and other prepared items.
  7. Limit high sodium condiments.
  8. Choose fresh snack foods instead of salty ones.

Some of these changes in food and activity may seem too difficult especially in the beginning. Stick with it and your taste buds will adapt to lower sodium foods. If your senior is overweight, even a 5% weight loss can help with chronic medical conditions.

Blood pressure can be unhealthy even if it stays only slightly above the normal level of less than 120/80 mmHg. The higher our blood pressure, the greater the health risk.

Let’s all try some of these meal changes and get moving for a better life in our years!

More information and meal planning guides from the National Institutes of Health, Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI).

Seniors Financing Healthcare With Instant Credit Many Can’t Afford

Many family caregivers rest easy under the impression their senior loved ones are insulated from high medical expenses because they’re covered by Medicare or a health plan that is part of their retirement benefits.

Reality may not match that impression – and for some may result in a rude awakening.

Big bills for healthcare services not covered by Medicare or insurance are driving many seniors to expensive credit with monthly charges that some find budget staggering.

Where do they get that credit?

It might just be through, or feel like it’s through, their healthcare provider.

Healthcare Credit Via the Doctor

Hearing aids, dental care and a number of costly medical procedures aren’t covered, or are only partially covered, by the health insurance coverage carried by seniors. When that happens, an increasing number of care providers have at the ready an offer of loans or credit cards that cover the cost of their care.

These financial offerings often carry a teaser rate as low as zero percent for some period but after that can carry interest rates over 20 percent – for starters. Most have provisions, often easily triggered, that can push the rate over 30 percent.

A needed set of hearing aids that makes a senior’s life more enjoyable or a dental procedure that eliminates pain and allows normal eating can take a major bite out of their monthly income for years. For many it’s a bite out of income that wasn’t there to take.

Turning Healthcare into an Impulse Borrow

Why would seniors take on a new debt they can’t possibly pay without giving up something else they need? When faced with a needed procedure or hearing aids that return normal life, it can be easy to jump when a trusted provider offers a way to swing the cost.

But why not call a family member or go home and find another way to pay? Maybe try to find another alternative to the unaffordable procedure or purchase? We can think of a couple of reasons and there are likely more.

  • Embarrassment at the thought of admitting they need help paying
  • Refusal to be a “burden” on family members
  • Desire to get everything done now and not seeing any other option that made it possible

Sounds like healthcare providers and finance companies are teaming up to create a new class of impulse buy, doesn’t it? Unlike buying from a new car dealer or furniture store, two types of retailers who have famously turned instant credit into instant profit, many healthcare purchases aren’t transactions from which the “buyer” may feel able to walk away.

Why Would a Doctor Offer Credit?

First, we want to make clear that many doctors choose not to offer this sort of credit to patients for a number of reasons. Many doctors who do truly see it as a real service to patients, allowing them to get the care they need but would otherwise not receive.

We have seen no indication that offering credit is illegal, though some doctors feel the practice is inconsistent with the traditional doctor-patient relationship.

Is there a financial incentive for doctors? There may be some who get financial benefits from the lender but for most it sounds like the only economic gain is the ability to collect for services that may otherwise not be performed or billed and not paid.

Seniors Burdened by Healthcare Debt

We’re not saying providers offering financing are doing something that’s automatically wrong and, after all, our senior loved ones are getting care they (hopefully) need. So why do we see this as an important topic for family caregivers?

Seniors taking on these loans and credit cards may be giving up other purchases they shouldn’t in order to get the bills paid – or missing payments they can’t afford to make only to see the terms ratchet up and the financing become even more unaffordable.

They may need loved ones’ help to simply make ends meet.

What can we as family caregivers do to keep this from happening? There’s no single right answer for everyone, but these are some steps to consider:

  • Attend healthcare appointments with our senior loved ones which, as we frequently discuss, can have health and care benefits beyond the financial.
  • Check with healthcare providers before appointments to see if they offer lending programs, then review and share information about those programs with seniors before they go to their appointment. This puts them in a better position to make decisions.
  • Investigate ahead of time other options for paying for needed care or getting a lower price elsewhere.

When healthcare providers are treating care as a consumer good to be financed, we and our senior loved ones should become educated consumers, just as we would with other purchases.

Buyer be aware!

Family Caregivers Find Role Rewarding – Potentially Life Extending As Well

Emergency calls to serve as family caregivers go out to many after sudden events, such as after a fall or a death in the family. Sometimes we can see it coming as our loved ones age and know we will soon be up to the plate. Still, it seems to catch us off guard when it happens.

Caregiving for senior loved ones can be a tiring, frustrating, exhausting and guilt-ridden experience — yes, at times that’s all true.

When one is caring for someone with dementia, the caregiving experience is very different than when providing care for someone who needs short term assistance, such as post-surgery. Dementia care can be long and filled with unappreciated moments leading to caregiver burnout especially when we are doing it alone.

Fortunately, those times of feeling overwhelmed and at our wit’s end are not the norm for most caregivers.

A recent study found that a majority of caregivers not only feel fulfilled by caregiving for loved ones but also live longer than their counterparts who are not caregivers.

Caregiver Study Details

Over 3,500 caregivers were studied by the Center on Aging and Health at Johns Hopkins University, representing a wide range of caregiver types. The caregivers had an average age of 64 years and were primarily females.

Of those studied, 17% reported high levels of strain due to caregiving.

Over a six year period, these family caregivers were 18% less likely to die than the non-caregiving participants.

Why caregivers were more likely to remain healthy was not a subject of this study, but experts in aging feel that caregiving for family members is primarily a rewarding experiencing. Giving back care to parents and grandparents for all that they gave to family was a source of happiness.

It is also thought that having the opportunity to care for family members allows a healing of wounds that may have formed over the years.

Those who don’t have dementia but suffer from a short term illness, such as stroke recovery or surgery, are likely better able to thank the family caregiver and show their gratitude, which can also be a source of healing and its own reward.

Tips to Avoid Caregiver Burnout

It is not always possible to avoid stress so we need to learn strategies on how best to cope with the natural stress we have.

  1. Identify stressors and try to reduce them if possible.
  2. Maintain a healthy positive attitude; believe that you can do whatever you set your mind to accomplish, especially when you believe it to be the right thing to do.
  3. Be alert to physical changes in yourself that could signal too much stress and then make changes.
  4. Find ways to take a little time for yourself and relax. A ten minute nap, a soothing bath or hot shower, reading a chapter a day in your favorite book or stopping for a refreshing beverage in your busy day.
  5. Eat a well-balanced, nutritious diet to keep yourself fueled for the day’s activities.
  6. Don’t overlook your own health; get your annual check-ups and preventive health screenings as well as your immunizations.
  7. Get enough sleep each night and daily rest breaks.
  8. If you smoke – quit; if you drink – do so in moderation.
  9. Set goals for yourself that are realistic and achievable, don’t overwhelm yourself with seeking perfection.
  10. Delegate tasks to others as much as you can, reach out for help and accept help when offered. Realize you can’t (and you don’t have to) do it all! Set up a network of family, friends and aging services that can help you when you are in need. Don’t be afraid to ask!
  11. Accept what you can’t control but change what is in your control to change!
  12. Give yourself a break! Pat yourself on the back! Rest assured that you are where you are supposed to be!

The researchers’ state: “Public policy and discourse should recognize that providing care to a family member with a chronic illness or disability is not associated with increased risk of death in most cases, but may instead be associated with modest survival benefits for the caregivers.”

Thank you! We wish you health and happiness in your caregiver’s journey!

Holiday Family Meeting and Senior Gift Tips – Senior Care Corner Show

Holiday family gatherings, in addition to fun, socializing and maybe a bit of stress with loved ones who don’t often get together also provide an opportunity for family members to meet and discuss topics best addressed together.

Planning for these meetings is one subject in the feature segment of this episode of the Senior Care Corner Show.

Picking the right gifts for senior loved ones has long been a dilemma for many family members. Today, though, technology presents many options from which to choose. How to decide which tech device is right for your senior and which we think might be even better options next year are also discussed in our feature segment of this episode.

Family Meetings During Holiday Gatherings

Families get together over the holidays to see each other, share old memories and make new ones. While not part of the fun we associate with family and the holidays, this is often the best time for serious family discussions. In this Senior Care Corner Show we talk about these potential topics for family meetings:

  • Future senior care options and decisions for senior loved ones who are nearing a time when they are no longer able to live independently.
  • Whether the senior’s home is adequate to support the needs of one who is aging and what steps may be needed if it is not.
  • End of life decisions for the senior family member including, if appropriate, DNR orders and other instructions.
  • Care needs of the family members who may be ignoring those needs in their role as caregiver of the senior loved one and often their own children.

We hope our discussion will help family caregivers understand the need for that meeting and provide some tips for planning, preparing for and conducting the meeting.

Gift Planning for Senior Loved Ones

Choosing the right gift for a senior loved one is a long time dilemma that technology has made easier. Not only are there a lot of tech options available now, we expect many more choices in the next year or two – devices that are easier to use, work together better and cost less than today.

The right gift choice for many family members right now may focus on e-readers, tablets and smartphones, which a recent Pew Research Center report says are each currently owned by less than one in five seniors.

It’s easy to get bogged down in deciding which one and do nothing, though, especially with newer and presumably better versions of each coming out regularly. That can go on with no end, though, so we offer some suggested considerations when buying a tablet or smartphone for a senior loved one. These are some that may be overlooked for the more technical considerations.

  • A device sized so it’s not too small to be usable for your senior but not so big they can’t easily hold it in their hands.
  • The right device will let them use the apps in which they have an interest, including any recommended by a healthcare provider or about which their friends have been commenting favorably.
  • Operating system might not be the first thing that comes to mind, but the right device for your senior likely uses the same operating system (Apple, Android or Windows) that you or another loved one uses.  That let’s them turn to someone they trust for help when running into an issue or wanting to learn more about their device.

News Items in this Episode

  • Many Americans Worry About the Cost of Long Term Care
  • Healthy Eating Benefits Heart Patients, Study Finds
  • US FDA Issues Final Rule on Mobile Medical Apps
  • Three Tips for Healthy Aging from the 2013 National Senior Games Silver Medalists

We hope you enjoy and find use all of this plus Kathy’s Quick Tip on fighting inflammation with food in this episode of the Senior Care Corner Show.

We’d love to hear from you – please leave us your thoughts, comments and suggestions in the comment section or send us an email through our Contact page.

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

Data Breaches & Our Seniors – Actions When Their Data Is Exposed

Hundreds of millions of records with personal information were impacted by the thousands of data breaches in the US in the last several years. And those are just the breaches that have been reported.

How do they happen? Many are the result of much publicized hacking attacks against the computer systems of stores, banks, even state tax records. If personal information is stored in a computer system, somebody will go after it. Other records are exposed through lost or stolen laptops containing data files, too few of which have encrypted data.

But the “how” and the apologies that come after a breach mean little as we worry that our data might be in the hands of criminals.

Chances are unfortunately high that the records of our senior loved ones have been exposed as part of one or even more of those breaches. Hopefully nothing has happened – identity theft, credit card charges, etc – as a result. Still, it pays to be ready just in case.

Being on the Lookout for Misuse of Personal Data

Do the seniors in your family know how to be on the lookout for signs personal data has been used by others or what to do if notified their data has been part of a breach? Do you?

Far too many of us have received a notice saying our data may have been compromised as part of data breach. That doesn’t mean it has been used in any way, just that someone may or may not have it.

From there we’re on our own to find it. How do we do that?

  • Examine every bank statement for withdrawals that don’t look right.
  • Review each and every charge on credit card statements for any that might have been made by someone else.
  • If possible, don’t wait for monthly statements but review financial accounts frequently using online access or the mobile apps provided by the banks and card issuers.
  • Check credit reports at each of the three major bureaus regularly for any sign of new accounts or other activity that should not be there. There are many services that charge for this but there is a free site run by the bureaus at AnnualCreditReport.com.

Often a company hit by a data breach will arrange for credit monitoring services for customers whose data was impacted. Consider utilizing that service if provided but be careful not to unintentionally purchase other services.

Credit Freezes

One other step to consider taking is placing a credit freeze, also called a security freeze, at each of the credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. A freeze effectively locks the account so that when someone applies for credit the bureau doesn’t provide any report back.

In many states it is free to place a freeze, in others it is free if you’ve been notified of a breach or at a nominal charge other times.

While many place a freeze after their data has been compromised, this can be considered as a preventive step.

Credit freezes might not seem appealing to everyone, especially those who plan to take out loans or other types of credit in the near future, but can work for most and may be ideal for seniors who have no expected need for credit. All the bureaus make freezes easy to place and easy to lift temporarily if needed for a loan.

For a relatively small amount of inconvenience, we can gain some peace of mind in the battle against identity theft for our senior loved ones and ourselves.

We have one suggestion for those who senior loved ones lock their credit files with a freeze. Upon doing so, the credit bureaus each provide a special code that is needed to remove the freeze, either temporarily or permanently. Given the importance of that code, it makes sense to offer to keep a copy for senior loved ones so that at least one of you have it when needed.

Replacement Credit Cards

If our credit cards are lost or stolen, we know to notify the issuers to have them canceled. Did you know issuers many cancel cards on their own if part of a data breach? When they are notified by a merchant or other entity that your card number may have been part of a data breach, the issuer will typically send you a card with a new number.

Be sure to activate replacement credit cards right away and destroy the old card.

For many, though, getting a new credit card number means actions are needed beyond activation. If a card has been submitted for automatic payment of a bill, such as phone, cable, newspaper or one of many others, the new card number will need to be provided to avoid missed payments.

Hopefully you know which payments are involved so you don’t find out when the company calls to say their payment submission with the old card was refused.

Could Senior Loved Ones Use Some Help?

Does all this sound like too much complication — too many things that can go wrong through no fault of our own? No argument here. It has become a fact of the times, unfortunately, so extra effort may be needed to try and avoid much more effort – and often cost – that may result from identity theft or misuse of credit cards and financial accounts.

This may be a topic to raise with senior loved ones from time to time so they are on the lookout for a data breach letter and not just toss it out as junk mail. If they do get one, you might want to suggest the steps needed in response or even work through the process with them.

We don’t ask for the data breaches and can’t stop them – – but it’s in our interest and that of our family members that we take the steps needed to avoid the harm that may result.

When Seniors’ Travel Goes Wrong – Preventive Steps for Peace of Mind

Traveling the world is a favorite activity of many seniors, maybe even your own loved ones.

Just as you worry about their health and safety when they are in their own homes, you worry about them when they are traveling across continents — maybe even more because they’re so far away!

There are just so many things that can go wrong.

We know when our own aging parents are traveling in another country we worry about what will happen to them. They are slowing down both mentally and physically but they don’t let that stop them from visiting places they have always dreamed of going like sailing on every major river in the world! By the way, they have accomplished this feat!

When they get the itch and start planning their trip, we start to worry a little until eventually the worry grows as the departure date nears.

When Travels Go Wrong

Many things can happen to upset the best laid plans of our senior loved ones’ trip.

  1. Lose their luggage, including their money, passport or especially prescription drugs. They could have help with this from the airlines or other transportation means but they could also leave a bag somewhere and walk off without it!
  2. Break their glasses, rendering them helpless. This could happen here at home too but getting a prescription then getting it made quickly would be next to impossible to do abroad.
  3. Get pockets picked, mugged or assaulted. Again this could happen stateside but no family will be nearby to help them and they may be in a location where there is no one that speaks English to assist them.
  4. Get sick, fall and break a bone or suffer some medical trauma – such as a stroke or heart attack. Again, there is no one they know where they can turn for help, no one nearby and potentially no one to speak the language to get or give details. Where is the hospital, how do you call 911 in a foreign country and how can you pay for care?
  5. Do they carry their advance directives and, even if so, do other countries honor them?
  6. Get hit by a car crossing a street and end up in literally a world of hurt.
  7. Worst of all imaginable situations, die!

Planning Ahead for Problems

  • Carry important papers, prescription drugs (and paper prescriptions), and extra glasses in a separate bag from you luggage and keep that with your person at all times.
  • Stay alert to suspicious situations, such as dark streets, stay in a group or travel only where you know where you are going.
  • Avoid getting lost to reduce the odds of becoming vulnerable prey to shady characters. Learn enough of the native language before leaving to know how to ask for emergency help. As an alternative, there are a number of smartphone apps that will translate spoken words into the local language.
  • Learn about what to do in case of emergency, such as how to contact police or ambulances before they travel. Travel when well.
  • Get travelers insurance so they can cancel a trip if need be without undue financial penalty instead of going when they probably should haven’t gone so as not to ‘lose the cost of the fare’.
  • Stay safe; remember all the safety precautions that are important at home are still important when they are away from home.
  • Don’t cross before looking both ways! Learn the rules of the road so they will be prepared, such as on which side the cars drive, for safety’s sake.

There is another safety precaution – literally insurance – that we think could be a great idea for traveling seniors, whether they are in good health or experiencing some effects of aging that may predispose them for more problems, and give family caregivers a bit more peace of mind.

Medical Peace of Mind for Travel

What happens when your senior loved one becomes seriously ill or injured in a foreign country? Do you know how they would get care – and then pay for it afterward? There is a type of insurance program that answers those questions.

Medical travel insurance is offered by many companies, which means there are options so make sure you are getting coverage that does what you want. The ones we think are best provide for medical transport anywhere in the world when your senior is away from home, especially when they are overseas. If they become injured or hospitalized when traveling, they provide them transport to the senior’s home country and to the hospital of their choice.

Considering that the cost of medical transport typically averages at $25,000 domestically and $100,000 internationally, the fee for a service like this would be considered minimal if you – or especially a loved one – needed it. These plans provide medical transport whether your senior is traveling on business or for enjoyment. It will, in the event that this is needed, transport mortal remains. You must enroll prior to travel and you can arrange a membership for an individual or family.

We wish that our family knew about this program and were members before one of our senior loved ones ended up in an airport hospital unable to travel (or even allowed to get on the plane) as well as the companion while in a European country recently. This travel medical insurance may have allowed more speedy transfer back home to a medical facility and doctor of our choice instead of being at the mercy of an airport staff and local rules.

You can find these insurance offerings through your travel agent, insurance agent and through membership organizations such as AARP.

We encourage you to review these important tips with your seniors before they travel so they have more preparation in the event of emergency and may be able to navigate their way home safely.

Digital Technology to Help Family Caregivers Improve Senior Care

Technology has become invaluable when caring for senior adults – and we have barely scratched the surface on its potential.

Local and long distance family caregivers can now be a bigger part of the daily lives of their senior loved ones by following a wide range of activities, not only health and safety related but also socialization activities.

Early adopters have found many devices useful and others not living up to their expectations, but those are the risks and benefits of trying something first. It is important to learn what we can about each device so that we can gain maximum benefits for our senior loved ones.

We hope you find the following information interesting and useful!

Mobile Health Devices

Wearable sensors that provide health information, wireless monitoring devices and apps all have the potential to improve the health of our senior loved ones by helping the patient, healthcare team and family caregivers all gain more control over chronic health conditions such as diabetes and heart failure while also reducing the cost of that healthcare delivery. They provide valuable information to family caregivers remotely so that they can monitor the safety and well-being of senior loved ones on a day to day, hour to hour and minute to minute basis.

Changing health behaviors is a goal of many of these devices, as the information they provide can guide our seniors’ lifestyle choices such as diet, medications, home safety and exercise to needed improvements based on the data these devices provide. Being connected to healthcare professionals can get our seniors the medical care they need in real time as it can be noted when health markers become unbalanced, usually before a crisis occurs.

Many of these devices also provide health coaching and information to understand the changes occurring and how to make changes to improve outcomes. The data can also be used during doctor visits to help guide the treatment plan such as changes in medications or other interventions.

Little Data Feeding Health Big Data

The data that comes from these tech devices will be increasing in the coming years and how we use and secure the information is currently an area of focus not only for the industry and health professionals but agencies such as the National Institutes of Health. Here are some examples of the wireless mobile health products that may help our seniors:

  1. Medication management – medication dispensers with audible reminders of times to take pills and reports for caregivers to check up on whether their loved ones are following the plan. Automatic dispensers that fill daily containers with the correct number and type of pills to be taken at specific times are available. This can be locked if not taken correctly to prevent double dosing.
  2. Diabetes tracking – wireless blood sugar monitors that send real time results to the healthcare provider so that instructions can be given such as medication adjustments, diet changes and other treatments to prevent medical emergencies. Family caregivers can receive notifications when blood sugar readings are in the danger zone.
  3. Smoking cessation – apps provide a messaging guide through the process of behavior change to quit smoking. Other devices track days of cessation, and money saved by eliminating smoking. Some apps actually provide hypnosis training to reduce behaviors of smoking.
  4. Blood pressure monitoring – blood pressure monitors take readings at specific intervals. The information can be sent directly to physicians and caregivers so that the readings are are tracked and interventions can happen quickly if needed.  There are also apps that can monitor blood pressure before and after physical activity.
  5. Asthma control – monitoring, treating and tracking of lung disease by recording peak flow thereby adjusting medications based on symptoms. Other devices measure pollutants and track via GPS data atmospheric changes that can affect symptoms.
  6. Depression management – monitor stressors, symptoms of anxiety, depression scale testing, feelings log, mood assessments, guided activities that allow seniors to improve health. All the information collected using these tools can be electronically shared with caregivers and the healthcare team. There are electronic counseling sessions available for those who can’t or choose not to visit a therapist.
  7. Weight control and fitness – by far the largest segment of electronic devices fall into this category due to the number of individuals seeking assistance not just seniors. These devices have important applications to senior health too! Devices can:
    1. track weight change, which is important for heart failure patients by connecting home scale to the physician;
    2. provide tips for managing meal intake and portion control;
    3. offer guidance and training for exercise routines replacing a gym or personal trainer;
    4. serve as calculators that provide data for calorie needs, body mass index, body and visceral fat measurements and other physical measurements;
    5. supply restaurant information to help in making healthy food choices; body sensors that track daily activity; and
    6. assist seniors with specially-designed apps to manage their weight and health providing coaching to make sense of the data and tips to make changes.
  8. Emergency preparedness and disaster assistance – plans to connect with authorities in the event of a weather related emergency or man-made disaster, emergency checklists, shelter locations, evacuation routes, contact information for authorities, first aid information, and information tailored for seniors at home.
  9. Fall prevention and monitoring – fall prevention monitors, personal security devices, and emergency aid assistance devices all can be monitored through a phone line via wrist watches and data sent wirelessly to family caregivers or emergency personnel.  Some fall detection devices can be worn on the body or clipped on the belt like a pager and signal when a fall occurs without needing the person to push a button for help. There are also apps that help prevent falls such as those that provide training exercises for seniors to improve balance and strength to help prevent falling.
  10. Home safety monitoring – motion sensors can track movements of seniors in their homes for caregivers. Has mom been in the kitchen today to eat?  Is dad going out the front door in the middle of the night? Is the stove turned on and not turned off? Did mom go into the bathroom for a bath and not come out in a reasonable amount of time? Automatic shut off devices for appliances such as the stove ensure seniors are safe. Heat sensors can be installed to detect unattended heat sources with a circuit breaker connected for automatic shutoff.

The list of digital gadgets is growing.  The primary obstacle for many family caregivers, especially as the cost comes down, will be acceptance on the part of their seniors. Making it easy, interesting and even fun – enter the “gamification” we expect to see in many apps for seniors – will be a key to compliance with these ‘space age’ gadgets.

Helping your senior understand the important role they play in keeping them safe as they age in place will likely be a challenge.  Keeping the lines of communication open with your senior, especially when you are far away, will help keep you connected.

Check back with us at Senior Care Corner regularly and we will keep you connected to the latest information on the tech we can use to make our senior loved ones’ lives better.