Celebrating the Memory of a Loved One While Coping and Healing Ourselves

It is a fact of life that those we love will pass away. Even when “expected,” it is an emotional struggle to cope with loss.

It’s the circle of life, and it moves us all,
through despair and hope,
through faith and love,
’till we find our place,
on the path unwinding.

That memorable quote from The Lion King reminds us that life is a circle whose course we are unable to alter. We will gain and lose loved ones over our lifetimes. We will cherish those who have gone before us and in that way we heal.

There are many ways that we can memorialize our loved ones besides the traditional ways with which you may already be familiar such as photos, urns or cemetery stones.

Say not in grief he is no more – but live in thankfulness that he was

Hebrew Proverb

Loving Memorials

These are some examples and thought starters, though memorializing can be as individual as the loved ones we’ve lost.

Remembrance garden

You may have already thought about planting a flower or setting up a special place in the yard in honor of a loved one especially one that loved being outdoors.

If you have space, you may want to create a living garden in memory of someone special. It could be a butterfly garden with special flowers and a butterfly house or a walking path through existing yard areas. You could plant a particular bed of living plants that your loved one favored such as azaleas or daisies.

There should be something added that reminds you of your loved one. This could be a plaque, a special bench, a handmade stepping stone, a flag or other ornament. A bird bath or seed feeder, hummingbird feeder or squirrel feeding station would draw in wildlife throughout the year making it a true living garden.

Quilt of many colors

Gather together some favorite materials, colors or patterns that remind you of your loved one or some scraps from their everyday clothes that have a strong meaning like an apron or plaid work shirt.

Quilt them into a throw blanket or a full size bed blanket using a basic pattern or a more creative one that exudes a memory of your loved one such as a wedding ring pattern or a log cabin block. There are directions online to make a quilt if you haven’t done this before and need some guidance.

This special quilt can be handed down to future generations to become a lasting memorial.

Donation in their name

You can have friends and family donate to a special cause in the name of your departed loved one.

Is there a particular charity that they were fond of or supported as a volunteer? Did they love the library or local school? Were they founders in their church?

Making a donation in their name carrying on their love for a particular organization will allow their memory to do good work!

Teddy Bear keepsake

There are organizations that will create a teddy bear using a favorite piece of material from your loved one. It can be any type of fabric that elicits a memory. The teddy bears outfit is made from the cloth or even the entire bear. They are called memory bears and are so precious!

Tree

Similar to a memory garden, you can plant a tree in honor of a special person, a memorial that will grow over time.

Many people will bury in the hole with the new tree some article that belonged to their loved one, such as a scarf or pipe, that holds memories of them. Usually something that has sentimental value to you and other family members and will constantly remind you of your loved ones’ presence.

The tree can have a memory plaque underneath, a small seat, a bird feeder or some favorite blooms that will serve as a further reminder of your loved one.

Art

Express your emotions through artwork. It could be drawing pictures, painting on canvas, creating sculpture, or make a memory box with photos/personal articles/mementos. Not only will you be left with a beautiful piece of art to display as a remembrance, but you will have released emotions and processed the passing of your loved one through creation of something beautiful!

Necklace/Jewelry with cremains

You may have seen these items often called cremation jewelry.

They can be pendants in any shape such as hearts, crosses, shells, modern shapes or gemstones. Ashes or even hair or flower petals can be added to the jewelry for a lasting memento.

Cremation ashes can also be added to artwork in a variety of scenes such as footprints, stepping stones, flowers or religious images. You send in to the company a small amount of cremation ashes in a special container. They create different items using the ashes in the glass forming process or contained inside like a locket.

Engraved jewelry

If your loved one is buried not cremated, you can have special jewelry with stones of significance such as all the children’s birthstones engraved with names, dates or special messages of meaning.

Decals on vehicles

Lately we see many people with specially made memory car window decals. These are affixed to a window on your vehicle with a special message of your choice. They are custom die cuts that stick to the window and are very reasonably priced. We have seen them with religious images, hand prints, crosses, dates, stars, flags, angels and really anything of significance to you and your family.

Coping and Healing

You can use these reminders to help you as you cope with your grief and give yourself time to heal. Everyone recovers in their own time and in their own way, though many of us can’t do it on our own. It is a process that everyone facing a loss will work through.

Yesterday is a memory, tomorrow is a mystery and today is a gift,
which is why it is called the present.
What the caterpillar perceives is the end;
to the butterfly is just the beginning.
Everything that has a beginning has an ending.

Buddhist Saying

We would love for you to share, if you feel comfortable doing so, how you remember your senior loved ones using the comment section below.

Strategies for Leading a Happier (and Healthier) Life as a Family Caregiver

Happiness brings with it positive health benefits, as we often read (and say here at Senior Care Corner).

But how can you be happy, or even stop to ask yourself if you are happy, when you have so much to do as a family caregiver?

It is hard for many who are caring full time for family members and those who are responsible for the health and safety of their loved ones from a distance.

Recently I attended an educational session with an expert panel of scientists and physicians who presented the latest evidence about what it takes to live a healthy and happy life and the benefits of a happy life.

Benefits of Happiness on Our Health

Just what are the health benefits of happiness? Here are six that were identified.

  1. Longevity – we can often increase our life expectancy when we are healthy and happy
  2. Quality of Life – many of us agree that we want — and want for our loved ones — the best possible life in our years not just more years in our lives
  3. Reduced risk of Dementia – research is showing that the healthier our lifestyle, the better our chance of avoiding onset of dementia; one statement that I especially loved from this session was the need for us to “keep our minds jogging” to stay alert and healthy as we age
  4. Improved functional reserve – the more we stimulate our brains, the more opportunity our brains will create new pathways or connections, which can delay cognitive impairment
  5. Physical benefits from social engagement – our bodies will reward us with vitality the more we are keeping engaged
  6. Physical benefits from stress reduction – the happier we are, the happier we allow ourselves to be, the greater the likelihood of positive physical well-being

Actions That Lead a Happier & Healthier Life

Family caregivers can lead lives that are both happier and healthier by implementing these actions.

  • Eat right. Yeah, yeah, yeah, we hear it all the time. Research has been pointing more and more often to the benefits of following a Mediterranean style diet that is low in saturated fats, primarily consisting of vegetables and increasing the number of servings of fish a week. It’s not necessary to go that far, but consider making a few changes in meals each day to achieve a diet that will support a happy life.
  • Maintain a healthy weight and avoid obesity. It has been shown that obesity is a major risk for multiple chronic diseases that will interfere with leading a healthy or happy life in the coming years. Challenge yourself to lose weight if you need it, control portion sizes, use non-caloric beverages and choose more vegetables. There are many sources of meal plans that can help in the achievement of weight loss goals.
  • Enjoy more berries. A variety of berries in our meals will provide flavonoids that can help in staying healthy. Add blueberries and strawberries to cereal, snacks and meals. Eat a fruit salad with dinner. They are delicious, nutritious, refreshing and can bring a smile to the face!
  • Stop smoking. Enough said.
  • Get physically active. We have heard the adage “move it or lose it” and all know that staying active will help us be healthy physically and mentally, but we just can’t seem to get committed to this idea and get off the couch. You don’t have to work out frantically, which is especially true of seniors, but should at least try adding more movement to the day by walking or enjoying other activities that require getting off the couch! Consider inter-generational activities to keep active, such as playing games with grandkids or helping kids with activities that interest them. Multi-generational interactions provide many health benefits and lead to happiness.
  • Stay mentally engaged. Research among centenarians shows that learning a language, playing a musical instrument, volunteering, participating in the events of the community and networking with others will help keep your brain fit for healthy aging. Create a social safety network if you are the type of person who doesn’t want to be part of the crowd. You can be engaged when you have a network that checks in regularly and interacts with you in some manner. Learn something new, get involved in technology and jump into social networking sites.
  • Manage stress. Many people tend to internalize their daily stress, which can be harmful. For some, stress can be motivating and cause them to create a plan of action to defeat the stressors. Others however, turn their stress inward which, can be harmful. It isn’t the amount of stress but the way it’s handled that is important.

Reason to Get Up in the Morning

Caregivers need to stay energized and enjoy their days as much as possible to be the best caregivers they can be each day.

Remember, it’s not just your senior loved ones’ lives that are important and need care, but yours as well.

We encourage you to reflect upon the actions above for improving your health and happiness. Find some ways you can make a positive impact in your day to live a happier life!

Small changes in lifestyle choices can reap big rewards for you and your senior loved ones!

Additional Funding to Fight Alzheimer’s Helps Family Caregivers Too

Great news in the fight to cure Alzheimer’s disease — more help is in the works toward a cure & support for current patients!

The U.S. Congress recently passed a bill increasing funds for Alzheimer’s research by $122 million. This bill was signed into law by the President shortly thereafter.

This money will not only support research but also outreach efforts, caregiver support and education.

Because there are 44 million people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s dementia globally, 5 million of those here in the United States, the recent G8 Dementia Summit held in London stressed the importance of research into treatment and cure for this disease as a top priority throughout the world.

Did you realize that unpaid, family caregivers provided 17.5 billion hours of unpaid care in 2012?

Alzheimer’s Additional Funding Support Objectives

The increased funding will go to many areas that benefit current and future patients with Alzheimer’s as well as their family caregivers.

  • Research for therapies to treat Alzheimer’s sufferers
  • Research to find a cure
  • Research to prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s dementia
  • Education for healthcare professionals

Objectives for funding are important, but what really makes a difference is where the money goes.

Alzheimer’s Additional Funding Allocation

This is how the additional funding established by Congress will be allocated.

  • $100 million increase to the National Institute on Aging for Alzheimer’s research, which will be added to the National Institutes of Health funding to now total $484 million.
  • $3.3 million to help support Alzheimer’s caregivers
  • $4 million to train healthcare professionals
  • $10.5 million to expand home and community based caregiver services
  • $4.2 million for outreach activities to raise awareness
  • The National Institute of Health BRAIN initiative will continue to receive $30 million for brain research that impacts more diseases in addition to Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s Funding: Meaning for Caregivers

As caregivers we look for opportunities to improve the quality of life for our senior loved ones and hopefully ourselves to continue to be caregivers as long as our help is needed. Here are some tips to help ease your journey. Hopefully this increased funding will trickle down to help you as a caregiver.

Find respite for yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, reach out to others — don’t wait for them to offer. People will be willing to help when asked but don’t really know how to offer or what they can do to fill a gap for you. Be ready with tasks that others can easily do for you. These can be small things like take out the garbage or big things like stay for a weekend so you can visit someone and truly rest. These helpers could be family members, friends, church groups or organizations that provide much needed help.

Seek out financial assistance. You may be entitled to benefits of which you are not taking advantage. Veteran’s benefits, insurance benefits, or local aging organizations may be able to offer you resources you could use. This could include senior center trips, transportation to events including doctor appointments, meals, financial help with medications, or possibly community in-home caregivers.

Participate in support groups. Attend local support group meetings. They often provide respite care for you to attend the meeting. Go online and participate in twitter chats with other people in your shoes. Join an online caregiver group or chat room. There are many family caregivers out there who can give you emotional support, knowledge of the disease process, tips for coping with the changes, and eventually a place for you to help others with your new knowledge and tips.

Learn about the disease and how to handle situations and decisions. The internet has a vast amount of information (beware of the misinformation!) about the disease, the stages, what to expect, treatment options, financial information, legal information and any number of other tidbits that can help you be a better caregiver. Don’t forget to check with your attorney, doctor or other professional if you have a specific question about your situation before you act on something you read online. Take advantage of caregiver training sessions either locally or online to learn new things. Check out books in the library or book store that can help you manage your journey.

Find out if in-home care will work for you. If you senior loved one qualifies or can afford paid caregivers (or if you can) for even some time during the week, it can help to make your day go more smoothly and take less of a long term physical toll on you.

Learn about placement options. Do this well ahead of when you might need a facility. An accident or change in condition could happen anytime and you need to be ready to make tough decisions when the time comes. Learning about which facility would meet your needs nearby, getting on a waiting list and arranging any details will help tremendously when the time is right.

Talk about end of life wishes and get them documented. This is another area that needs to be addressed well ahead of the time that decisions need to be made. Execute a living will, advance directives or other necessary documents and be sure all the family members know the details in case of an emergency.

We strongly believe that you are a precious resource as a family caregiver. You need support and assistance to continue to do the vital work you do every day.

We hope that you will get help. It sounds like getting help is just another job you have to accomplish in an already too busy day, but a few minutes here and there will make a difference in the long run for you and your loved one.

We are hoping that the increased federal funding, being designated not only for research for a cure but also care for current patients, will help family caregivers of those with Alzheimer’s.

4 Dangerous “Good Old Days” Habits to Break & New Bad Tech Habits

Ah, the Good Old Days…how often have we heard that from our senior loved ones, often followed by something they enjoyed then but can’t do now.

Unfortunately, there really are many everyday activities from past years that aren’t safe today, habits that could lead to financial or physical harm to seniors if continued…

…and many of our senior loved ones are continuing as if they’re still in those good old days.

“Good Old Days” Habits to Abandon

These are four everyday activities many of our senior loved ones – and maybe even some of us – took for granted as being safe but really aren’t.

  1. Leaving outgoing mail with checks or other personal information in the mailbox with the flag up, waiting to be picked up by the carrier.
  2. Leaving the door unlocked to be hospitable to any neighbors who came by for a visit.
  3. Answering the phone whenever it rings rather than screening callers.
  4. Leaving a spare house key under the door mat or elsewhere nearby where anyone needing to get into the house could find it.

Let’s take a quick look at each of those and why they can be harmful.

Leaving Outgoing Mail in Box

In years past one could drive down the street in most any residential community and pass a row of mailboxes with red flags up, signaling the carrier there was mail to be picked up. There are many people who continue that practice today, often putting bill payments and other sensitive information out overnight to be picked up the next day.

Criminals know that and see the red flag as a signal indicating potential treasure, ready to be plundered under cover of darkness when the streets are quiet.

It is for this reason the Postal Service recommends putting all outgoing mail in the slot of a designated post office mailbox or hand it directly to the carrier.

Leaving the Front Door Unlocked

This one is easy to understand, both why people traditionally have felt safe leaving the door unlocked and why it can be dangerous today. Sure, the welcome neighbors or visiting family members can freely walk in to visit.

Trouble is, so can someone who means harm. Someone bold enough to walk in an unlocked door knowing someone is home may not hesitate to do harm if the resident interrupt the intruder in their intended activities.

The answer to this is keeping the door locked, though a change in such a basic habit might best be accompanied by leaving a key with a neighbor or having another means to get in the house when our senior loved one seemingly inevitably goes outside one time without the key.

Answering the Phone Whenever It Rings

In years past the only way to know who was calling was to actually answer the phone. Even then it meant sometimes answering the phone to someone whose call was not welcome. Today it can mean worse.

Answering the phone to unknown callers today can be much like opening the front door for someone wanting to go in and steal the valuables., but it doesn’t have to be that way.

We realize many seniors don’t like to screen calls with caller ID or use answering machines but we need to encourage them to do so. With many phone systems it’s also possible to program in numbers associated with those from whom calls are welcome so loved ones don’t have to worry who will be on the other end.

Leaving a Spare Key “Hidden” Outside the House

How many movies or TV shows have we seen in which someone who clearly isn’t wanted in a home is able to gain access using a key hidden under the welcome mat, a rock near the door or even on the door frame itself?

Fortunately most of us realize that isn’t the most wise of practices but some have not given it up. We can’t let our senior loved ones be among those.

If an extra key is needed outside the home “just in case”, it is recommended to be left with a neighbor. An alternative is a smartphone controlled electronic lock that can be opened remotely if a loved one forgets the code.

Equally Dangerous Habits in Today’s Tech World

Each of those habits from the Good Old Days has, unfortunately, a counterpart from today’s tech world that can be hazardous if not avoided by our senior loved ones — or even us.

OLD Leaving outgoing mail in the mailbox –> NEW Posting on social networks without proper privacy settings

OLD Leaving the front door unlocked –> NEW Using public WiFi to access websites with financial or other personal information

OLD Answering the phone whenever it rings –> NEW Opening email attachments from unknown senders

OLD Leaving a house key under the mat –> NEW Using online passwords that are easy for someone to guess

The parallels between the old and new can be striking.

Dangerous Tech Habits Match Old Days Habits

See what you think…

  • Seniors, or any of us, posting on Facebook or other social network without proper privacy settings in place might as well be posting our information on the mailbox for anyone to go by and pick up anytime — and they will.
  • Using public WiFi hotspots with laptops, tablets or smartphones to unsecurely access banking or other financial or personal data on the web is similar to leaving the door unlocked to others with malicious intent also using the same WiFi signal. As with the unlocked door at home, nobody may “walk in” and steal your information most times you use the hotspot, but it only takes one criminal on one visit to create havoc.
  • Opening email attachments from unknown senders can expose all the data on your senior loved one’s computer to a hacker reaching in to grab it, much the same as the unknown caller may be a scam artist “reaching” through the phone to grab their money or personal information.
  • Using common passwords or those easy for a hacker to guess is essentially leaving the key to your financial sites under the door mat. You aren’t leaving the door, or website, wide open for them to access but you aren’t making it very difficult for them to open the door, either.

We find these parallels to be very eye-opening, reminding us that the more things change the more they stay the same.

We hope you’ll use them to open the eyes of senior loved ones and encourage them to change those habits that can expose them to physical or financial harm, whether they brought the habits with them from the good old days or picked them up more recently.

Social Networking Sites & Seniors: Connections and Benefits Growing

The fastest growing segment of social networking on the internet is senior adults.

Hard to believe you say? Really?

It’s easier, of course, for small participation levels to grow faster than for those that are larger already.

We believe the statistics released recently from the Pew Research Center as we talk with so many boomers and caregivers every day who tell us how they use technology and social media to connect with people across the globe not just family and friends.

Seniors Connecting via Social Media & Staying There

Members of our community tell us about how their senior loved ones are connecting, ask questions about how to help them stay safe while connecting and what other opportunities for online benefit are available.

We talk daily with other caregivers offering support, advice and tips through social media in a variety of platforms or programs such as Facebook, Twitter and Google + but there are other sites as well and means of connecting.

According to data from the Pew Research Center, of all adults going online, 72% are networking using social media sites. That is almost three quarters of users! And that number continues to grow.

By way of comparison, in 2005 only 8% of adults going online were using social media networking sites. It seems at that time it was the realm of younger people.

Yes, Facebook is popular but it is more than that. The number of adults using Twitter has doubled in the past few years.

We knew that young adults were early adopters of social media networking sites and that trend continues as older adults join the party! Six out of ten internet users ages 50-64 are joining the party and 43% of those over 65 are joining. Their numbers continue to lag behind the younger set but they are catching up fast!

While the largest users of Twitter are still younger adults, 18% of seniors are Tweeting. We have seen that for ourselves. Do you tweet? We do and you can tweet with us using @SrCareCorner.

What the Social Networking Trend Means for Seniors

We are excited about the growth in seniors connecting via social media because of what it can mean to their lives and to us as their family caregivers. He is just some of how it can make a difference to them.

  • Using social media allows seniors to connect whenever they wish with family and friends, whether nearby or across the globe. Our family has been using Facebook to communicate with family in Korea and we have been facilitating the seniors in the family to network on Facebook. They are enjoying the ability to connect without worrying about the cost of long distance phone bills as they would have had to do in years past.
  • Getting discounts and coupons from local merchants. When we help seniors ‘like’ businesses on social network sites they become eligible for discounts, learn of sales and get invited to events they would never know about. This helps those living on a budget enjoy their favorite restaurants and shopping.
  • Sharing pictures and home videos with family. After the birth of our first grandchild, who lives a whole state away from us, we get a picture a day via the web as well as videos of her shenanigans and milestones, something we can share with the whole family via social media. We also get to visit via FaceTime and talk to her directly whenever she is in the mood to share. Again, in the past this would have meant long distance phone calls, missing out on first steps and seeing the grandkids grow up without being part of the action.
  • It can provide peace of mind for long distance family caregivers who can also use Skype or FaceTime to see for themselves how their senior loved ones are really doing — going beyond the “fine” they might otherwise get on the phone or in notes. They can see if they are caring for themselves, if their mental abilities continue to allow aging in place or if the environment looks safe by checking in face to face. They can hear the sound of their voice and see the expression in their eyes as they talk. It can allow for quicker action if things aren’t as they should be before tragedy occurs and you get a call from the Emergency Room.
  • Increases socialization for our seniors, who can engage and connect with others and reduce the likelihood of isolation and depression. Boredom can put them at risk for unsafe choices that can lead to injury, but keeping their minds sharp and attentive through social networking will help to reduce boredom.
  • Current research is showing many physical and cognitive benefits, not only from internet usage but social networking for our seniors. We learn more all the time about the positive health benefits staying engaged gives to our seniors.

Get Senior Loved Ones Connected

Connecting via social media and the internet has become easier with a bit of set up. You can help your senior join the party by helping them get connected – which can mean hardware (computer, tablet, smartphone) and the actual link to the web – showing them how to participate safely and helping them with security issues so you can rest assured they will share safely.

Social networking will provide a common activity for you, your senior loved one and the whole family family. It can connect them with their community, church friends and support systems. They can learn about health information and maybe even view the latest You Tube viral video just for fun!

We would love to hear how your senior connects through social media! Please share with us and our community, like our Facebook page and tweet with us! We can’t wait to connect with you and your seniors!

Understanding Delirium & the Effects it Can Have on Senior Loved Ones

Dementia is a condition of impaired cognition that happens over time, the changes from which are seen in a progressive decline. Delirium may include the same behaviors that people with dementia exhibit but generally with a more rapid onset.

Some of your senior loved ones may have been diagnosed during a hospital stay with delirium and it remained to discharge and into the rehabilitation facility.

This is scary for many family caregivers and other loved ones because of the dangerous effect it can have on your loved one.

According to the Delirium Society, more than 7 million patients each year arrive with delirium to the hospital and nearly half of those continue to experience delirium at discharge. It has been estimated that delirium is the most common complication of hospitalized seniors.

Delirium Explained

Delirium is also known as acute confusional state and is a reversible disorder of cognitive function. Many patients are not accurately diagnosed with delirium due to the lack of a quick means to assess their symptoms.

Delirium is essentially a thinking and attention deficit disorder and is commonly found in older people.

It is estimated that delirium affects 7% to 10% of older patients in the emergency department and up to 56% of hospitalized patients; the occurrence may be that high in long term senior care and rehabilitation settings as well. It affects half of seniors after hip fracture surgery and vascular surgery.

Unfortunately, it has also been associated with mortality rates of 10% to 26%, according to some studies.

Symptoms of Delirium Your Senior May Exhibit

These are some of the symptoms of delirium.

  • At times, seniors may look depressed.
  • People with delirium are often considered to be restless and agitated.
  • The person cannot hold a conversation even when asked about old memories.
  • They may be easily distracted into rapid changes of idea and theme.
  • Someone with delirium has difficulty listening.
  • They are unable to give their own personal history.
  • Disorientation and poor sleep pattern can signal delirium.
  • Hallucinations may be present.

Simply having these symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean they have delirium but that their physician should be consulted.

Common Risk Factors For Delirium

These are some of the common risk factors associated with delirium.

  • aging
  • dementia, cognitive impairment
  • ill-health
  • institutional care
  • sleep deprivation
  • sensory impairment
  • poor hydration/nutritional status
  • immobility
  • large number of medications
  • drug and alcohol use/misuse or withdrawal
  • pain
  • infection

Delirium Treatment

Being appropriately diagnosed and getting the correct treatment will improve health outcomes for your senior. When medications and other treatments are given to stop observed behaviors without properly understanding the underlying cause, it can mask the real problem of delirium, delay correct treatment and lead to poorer outcomes.

*receive adequate hydration and nutrition

*receive appropriate oxygenation

*treat any source of pain

*treat possible infection

*treat with medication sparingly

*keep active by walking or mobilization to avoid muscle loss and weakness

*orient to a normal night and day sleep schedule to ensure adequate sleep

*keep mind active

*do NOT restrain the person as this can worsen the problem

Delirium and dementia may co-exist. They are different, however, and delirium usually has a cause that can be resolved so that the rapid changes will not lead to further health decline and hospitalization.

You can help prevent delirium in your senior by helping them to stay adequately hydrated, be sure they wear their glasses and hearing aids, manage their sleep pattern being sure they have adequate light during the day and sleep thoroughly at night, avoid constipation, and keep their minds active with conversation and engagement.

If you have any questions about your senior, we encourage you to discuss you concerns with your senior’s doctor to be sure everything that can be is being done.

Do you have a story to share about delirium? We would love for you to share your experience to help others better understand and cope when they encounter it in their own loved ones.

 

CES Wrap for Senior Living: Wearables, Smart Homes, Driverless Cars & Robots

Robots to assist seniors aging in place at home and family members providing senior care? We’re not talking The Jetsons but real life.

Not today, maybe — but science fiction is becoming current reality every day. Robots will be ready to help seniors in their homes (and the rest of us too) in the not-too-distant future.

It’s not just robots, either.

In fact, the most important advances for seniors may come from continued advances in wearable health devices, the long awaited blossoming of smart homes — or maybe another area altogether.

CES 2014 Meanings for Seniors

Based on the crowds drooling over the latest 100+ inch ultra HD TV for your living room or cutting edge digital technology for the car would be considered by many as the star of the 2014 International CES.

That’s not how we saw it, though.

For us at Senior Care Corner, the highlight of CES was the enhancement of senior care and living, aging in place in particular, that innovations in technology will mean for seniors in the years to come.

Then again, we tend to view most things through the eyes of the family caregivers for whom we write, evaluating what we encounter based on what it means to healthy, safe and enjoyable living for senior loved ones.

CES 2014 had many things we saw as cause for excitement, with three areas in particular standing out as being very meaningful to seniors and family caregivers. They aren’t being designed specifically to meet the needs of seniors, but don’t need to be in order to provide benefits.

  • Wearable health and fitness devices
  • Smart home systems
  • Self-driving cars
  • Consumer robotics

Let’s dig a bit into each of those.

Wearable Health & Fitness Devices Mean Independence

We’ve written quite a bit of late at Senior Care Corner about wearable health and fitness devices and what they mean to seniors. CES reinforced our thinking and more.

Sure, today’s wearables are primarily purchased and used by those who are physically active — and those who are trying to become more active. Yes, that includes some seniors and there are benefits to our older loved ones, but the real benefits of today’s wearables is what they mean about the devices to come.

Company executives, innovators and other experts throughout the CES conference sessions talked about the wearables of the future. There will be devices of interest to all ages, including those that track health indicators and other important measures for seniors who desire to age in place and remain independent in their own homes as long as possible.

So how do devices that track and report on seniors contribute to their independence? These devices will enable many seniors to stay at home who might otherwise need to move into senior care facilities or live with family members because of individual health or care needs.

Wearables will keep seniors effectively closer to their healthcare team and family caregivers by digitally linking observations and vital sign measurements that might otherwise require close personal care. The digital links will lead to more enjoyable and safer lives for many aging adults, letting them live longer on their own terms.

Smart Home Systems

Technology has been promising for several years that we will eventually be able to connect the appliances, lighting, entertainment and other devices in our homes to give us more convenient control and greater enjoyment. So far that’s a promise unfulfilled for those who either don’t have a great deal of disposable income or aren’t hands-on techies, but the fulfillment seems closer with each year’s advances.

What does a connected home mean for a senior loved one who isn’t into the latest tech gadgetry? Plenty. We’re talking about a home that meets seniors’ needs more conveniently, safely and securely by giving them greater control with a digital reach via their smartphones, tablets or a dashboard on their TV screen.

That’s a connected home, though. A better home, but we have still more advances ahead to make them “smart.”

We realize many seniors – and those younger – won’t get a lot of benefit from connected systems they have to actively operate from a smartphone. What does offer the promise of real benefit is a home that is truly smart enough to anticipate the needs of it’s residents without the need for operating apps.

So a home that’s truly smart sounds farfetched to you? Not to several of those who spoke in CES conference sessions and many in audiences throughout the conference. In fact, it sounds like such smart controls aren’t far off.

Consumer Robotics

Robots in the home during our lifetimes? Yeah, sure.

That’s what I would have said before sitting in on a few CES robotics sessions and talking to folks on the show floor, all of which left me optimistic (thought not totally convinced) many current seniors will have the opportunity to experience assistance from a robot helper in their home.

Think about what robotic assistance could mean. Seniors with reduced mobility, for example, might be able live on their own longer if they choose, with help to accomplish the day’s tasks.

Oh, the possibilities!

Self-driving Cars

Yes, you read that correctly. There was a good deal of discussion at CES about cars that would safely and economically transport us where we need to go without the need for a human driver. These autonomous vehicles are still a bit away according to Ford Motor Company’s Gary Strumolo but will come ultimately. Think about how safe our roads would become if we didn’t have to be worried about distracted, inexperienced or just plain dangerous drivers.

There are a lot of hurdles to be overcome by this innovation before it gets on the road but think about the benefits for seniors. Getting to the doctor’s office, shopping or anywhere else without relying on someone else for transportation reopens – or retains – a world of independence.

For family members, think what it would mean to know senior loved ones are able to travel as they wish without worrying about them behind the wheel because their eyesight or reaction times aren’t what they were in younger years. Currently we have innovations such as rear camera back up help with ultrasonic senors, improved safety in airbags to mitigate the effect of accidents and easier to open back gates with just a foot movement to open or close the hatch. More innovations and autonomous vehicles are on the horizon.

Preparing for Tomorrow’s Technology

Technology promises much that will improve the lives of seniors in the years to come, but are they – or even we as family caregivers – ready for it? Those from generations that didn’t grow up with technology focused living might not be quick to welcome wearable devices, homes that do things for them and robots around the house.

How do we prepare them for technology and the benefits it will offer?

One suggestion was offered at CES by Nolan Bushnell, the founder of Atari (yes, that Atari), Chuck E. Cheese and a number of other companies. Bushnell, who is a senior himself, suggests we all read three science fiction books each year and get our children to do the same. I would extend that to our senior loved ones as well.

Why science fiction? SciFi expands our minds and will make us more accepting of the innovations to come, some of which may only exist in today’s fiction and the mind of an innovator who’ll make it happen.

Another way to prepare seniors for the technology of tomorrow is to help them get comfortable, and see the benefits associated with, the technologies of today. If they aren’t using a smartphone, tablet, video game, smart TV or other device, help them get started.

We really think your senior loved ones – and you – will be glad you took the time to get them started.

I wonder what new and exciting things we’ll encounter at CES 2015!

Weathering the Storm When the Power Goes Out – Helping Seniors Prepare

Brrrrrrrr pretty much summarizes things for many Americans.

This winter’s weather has proven to be difficult for many across the country, adults and seniors alike.

The storms, including the recent polar vortex, have dumped snow, rain, ice and freezing temperatures onto us and our seniors making their life hard and putting many at real risk — even taking the lives of some.

We have all seen the news reports that some have been stranded in their cars, slipped on the ice fracturing bones and even having fatal heart attacks when shoveling the snow.

Seniors Especially at Risk

Seniors who are living alone or caring for a spouse who needs assistance are at special danger during winter storms and power outages, making it vital to have back up plans in place when power outages hit.

We heard heart- (and mind-) wrenching stories from our own town of seniors who live alone and suffered through a twenty two hour power outage during the recent cold snap. Several seniors were left in the cold and dark without power for that prolonged period.

Fortunately the power outage was not longer, as many older women couldn’t get the garage door open to drive to a shelter, many didn’t know where to go if they could get out due to lack of communication channels, and some depended on a wood fireplace to make heat throughout the night.

Too many were simply unprepared for a power outage that lasted that long.

What Goes Wrong When the Power Fails

Electricity is something we have come to take for granted, assuming a light will go on when we flip the switch, for example. So much can go wrong for us when it isn’t there. Here are just some of them.

  1. No lights, leaving us stumbling in the dark and worse
  2. No electric heat, circulating fans or space heaters, which can be deadly in the cold
  3. No phone if it comes from your cable provider and no phone charger for your cell phone
  4. No television or cable to get emergency information or to help stave off loneliness
  5. No internet, except via cellular devices (which you may be unable to charge)
  6. Refrigerator and freezer not powered, leaving food to spoil
  7. No oven, microwave or stove top to prepare food
  8. Garage door opener not powered, leaving the car stranded inside (or outside) unless the manual override is known
  9. Electronic personal monitoring systems (PERS) or alert devices not powered or rechargeable
  10. Medical devices not powered unless they have emergency backup
  11. No electric appliances, including can openers

Those are just direct impacts. Many people die or are injured overcoming a lack of power, such as by fires sparked by candles used to break the darkness.

Preparations to Better Handle Emergencies

We can’t guarantee power will stay on 100% of the time for senior loved ones, but we can help them prepare for those times it goes out.

  • Keep emergency supplies on hand such as flashlights, battery powered radio, manual can opener, blanket, first aid supplies, medications.
  • Have a plan for joining an emergency shelter so that heat and food can be provided, become familiar with which church or organization will be open as an emergency shelter and where it is located.
  • Keep a cell phone available with emergency phone contact numbers to contact for help. This may be a pre-paid phone that is available for emergency use that is kept fully charged
  • Keep cell phones charged to help get through the time that power is off
  • Keep water and non-perishable foods available throughout the winter.
  • Refresh emergency supplies, including batteries and foods, several times a year so they are always ready for use.
  • Learn how to open the garage door when the button doesn’t work.
  • Don’t open the refrigerator or freezer during an outage unless needed, then open and close them quickly. Keep the temperature as low as possible to protect perishable food items. If the power is out longer than 24 hours there may be spoiled foods that need to be discarded. If power is out for prolonged periods, some items may be maintained in a cooler with ice.

Those tips are good for all of us, not just seniors. These preparations are especially helpful when we have senior loved ones living on their own, especially if they have special medical needs.

  • Have a plan for someone to check on at-risk loved ones when the power is out and establish a way to communicate established when phone, email or other internet options such as Skype are not available
  • Learn about critical medical devices that are power and their battery backup. Know how it functions and keep the battery charged in the event the power goes out. Let the electric company and local emergency officials know there is a medical device that requires power so that they can keep it on their priority list for service resumption or alternative action
  • Be aware of potential risk if a PERS device is not receiving power; will the system send alerts if power is not available so that alternate means of supervision for safety can be implemented?

As caregivers, we try so hard to account for every possible situation when it comes to day to day care. When something out of the ordinary strikes, such as the extreme cold a polar vortex brings, we can end up being blindsided.

Our local seniors’ reaction to the recent power outage reminded us we should assume it won’t happen to us or our own senior loved ones.  We should all have emergency preparations in place and up to date with each season.

We hope these tips will help you help your senior loved ones weather the next storm and be prepared for anything that comes their way throughout the coming year.

Natural Burial – An Option for Those Concerned with Environmental Impacts

The end of our life is not a topic about which we want to think. We can sometimes feel that thinking about it might actually jinx it into coming sooner — even though we know that’s not really true.

There is a circle of life that will be fulfilled when the time is right, one of which we are not in control. Many feel that end-of-life rituals, including burial, are meant to honor the person who died while being an important part of the healing process for those left behind.

Making plans for our own burial that ensure the principles we hold dear will be honored will help our loved ones through what will definitely be a difficult time.

Recently we heard about a new movement that we would like to share with you, as it is an interesting option for burial and pre-need preparations. One that is growing quickly in parts of the world, including the United States. Some might think this topic morbid or one that should not be discussed, but we feel that the more information we can gather to help us make decisions to meet our seniors’ needs all the better.

Natural Burial Option

A natural burial is one that allows for circumstances that will not interfere with decomposition of the body but instead encourages the body to recycle naturally following internment. It is an alternative to other contemporary Western burial methods, where practices do not encourage natural decomposition and earth friendly preparations.

This movement began in the United Kingdom (UK) in 1993 but is spreading with the limited amount of cemetery land available and the desire for sustainability and environmentally safe practices. In the UK there are over 300 natural burial grounds dedicated to this type of internment.

In the United States, South Carolina opened the first green cemetery in 1998 but they have now spread across the nation. In the US, the Green Burial Council (GBC) is an independent, nonprofit organization to encourage sustainability in the interment industry and to use burial as a means of ecological restoration and landscape conservation.

Natural Caskets Materials

In Western cultures, the deceased person is buried in a variety of caskets (also called coffins) materials which do not allow for natural decomposition and are not biodegradable. In 2006, 80–85% of the caskets sold for burial in North America were of stamped steel. Solid wood and particle board coffins with hardwood veneers accounted for 10–15% of sales. Fiberglass and alternative materials such as woven fiber make up the rest. Many coffins also use exotic or endangered woods because they resist decay. Caskets also use metal or plastic hardware and handles, glues and also resins that can be harmful to the soil over time.

Because these manufactured caskets are not easily biodegradable, they will interfere with natural decomposition of the body and can actually release toxins into the soil.

A casket used in a natural burial would be made from cardboard — yes we said cardboard — or wicker, though some may use only a cotton shroud.  In the Jewish religion, these practices have been used throughout history.

Other Considerations in a Natural Burial

There are important considerations in natural burial besides the choice of casket material.

  • Refrain from use of vaults or mausoleums that would keep the body away from the soil and thereby interfere with natural decomposition. The goal is to have the body touch the soil.
  • Refrain from tombstones or grave markers but, instead, have a living memorial to the deceased by using a shrub, flower, tree, rock, wildflowers or plant as a marker.
  • A cemetery would use non-toxic pesticides or fertilizer for land management.
  • Non-toxic, natural embalming methods would be used in place of formaldehyde. Also, the body could be preserved for viewing using a mechanical refrigeration system or dry ice instead of embalming fluids and may also use essential oils topically or via injection.
  • Urns can be used if the container is biodegradable, such as sea grass.
  • Costs substantially lower than the typical burial. A green burial costs $800-3,500 and a standard Western burial currently runs from $7,000-10,000.

Here’s something that surprised us about current practices — you could drive about 4,800 miles on the energy used to cremate one person.

Books on Natural Burial

Here are a few books on natural burial if you want to learn more about the concept behind it and what is involved.

Personal Preferences & Decisions

It is a personal decision how we and our senior loved ones foresee our own burial and funeral. Be sure to learn the preferences of loved ones and state your own. Even better, put them all in writing so they are clear to all.

Traditions about the service, the visitation and the graveside may dictate how your senior loved one wishes their own burial to proceed when the time comes. This information is intended to offer an alternative to the traditional burial that may align with religious, social or environmental beliefs.