America’s Health Rankings: Senior Report — How’s Your State Rank?

We have heard in the past that where we live can influence our health and the health of our senior loved ones. It is possible to track where you lived throughout your life and how it might have impacted your overall health.

Since 1990 a report has been produced by United Health Foundation called America’s Health Rankings. They investigate the health of the nation through analysis of a variety of featured health measures including diabetes, smoking, obesity, drinking, physical inactivity and education. The data is then separated by state so that you can get a snapshot of the strengths and weaknesses of your particular state.

This report goes one step further and examines specific areas of health concern for our seniors, including food insecurity, falls, flu vaccine, poverty as well as obesity and physical inactivity.

What IS Health, Really?

The World Health Organization defines health as physical, mental and social well-being, not just the absence of disease.

It is not just about a disease process but the holistic process of living that indicates if we are considered to be healthy or not. Are we socially engaged, mentally healthy or stimulated as well as physically healthy or free from disease?

Many areas in our control and out of our control affect our health.

  • Our environment can impact our health. How clean is the air we breathe, is it free from smog or industrial contaminants? Is our living space conducive to our health, do we have adequate resources nearby, is there wholesome food available, is there transportation to get us where we need to go, is there accessible healthcare, and is there a larger community for us to be socially engaged?
  • Our genetics, which is out of our control, can impact our health and well-being. You can’t pick your parents but they can pass down genes that will predispose you to chronic health conditions.
  • What is in our control however is our own behaviors. Do we eat foods that are healthy for our bodies, do we exercise regularly, do we engage with others socially, and do we practice safe habits such as safe driving, non-smoking and moderate drinking? Is our weight in the recommended normal range? Do we see the dentist and eye doctor regularly and do we get our recommended health screenings?

Senior Report Highlights

Improvements were seen from the last report with respect to issues of concern for seniors.

According to the report,

“We saw improvements in quality of nursing home care and end-of-life care. We also saw some gains in levels of activity among seniors and some reductions in avoidable hospitalizations. This news points to the idea that seniors are not only managing their health better, but they’re also engaging more with their health and health care, including planning for the future.”

Health status in the healthiest states showed highest dental visits, volunteerism, quality nursing home beds (4-5 star rating), marginal food insecurity, high prescription drug coverage, available home health workers, low hospitalization for hip fractures, low full mouth tooth extractions, low mental health days, and many able bodied seniors.

Health measures for seniors also included rate of chronic drinking, cognition, community support, depression, diabetes, falls, geriatrician shortfall, health screenings, hospice care, hospital deaths, flu vaccine, ICU usage, multiple chronic conditions, obesity, pain management, smoking, suicide, and underweight.

As you can see, it is a very thorough list of measurements for each state.

The top 5 healthiest states for seniors were:

  1. Minnesota
  2. Hawaii
  3. New Hampshire
  4. Vermont
  5. Massachusetts

The least healthy states for seniors (bottom 5):

  1. Mississippi
  2. Louisiana
  3. Kentucky
  4. Oklahoma
  5. Arkansas

Is the state in which you senior loved ones live among these?

Health Disparities

As we might already guess, there are health disparities between and within states. The report could help public health officials target health programs and messages to those populations that have the lowest health status. Health status in this report is defined as the percentage of the population in very good or excellent health.

It was found that those with a higher level of education, college graduates specifically, had a much greater health status than those individuals who only had a high school education and even greater than those who never graduated from high school.

Not surprising, those living in urban areas had a higher health status than those living in rural areas, where access to health care professionals and facilities is often unavailable.

Men and women overall had about the same level of health status at 39.3% and 40.4% respectively.

Income Levels Greatest Factor in Disparity

The greatest disparity in health status was seen among the various income levels, again not at all surprising. When you can pay for insurance and medical care, or someone pays for it on your behalf, it will show in your health status. Those earning $75,000 or more had a 62% health status compared to those earning $25,000 or less with a 26.4% health status.

Under-served, inaccessible and under-educated population groups are lagging behind in health and wellness and need programs designed to close these gaps in all states.

You and your senior loved ones can improve personal health outcomes by changing what is in your power to control. If you need help, reach out to agencies and organizations in your area.

If your senior qualifies, there are many programs that could assist with food insecurity and income disparity to help pay electric bills or subsidize housing costs. You can also advocate in your community for programs that will help not only your senior but others as well improve their own health not to mention the state statistics for the next report to come.

If you would like to read the full report and check out the initiatives of your state, you can find it here.

Spouses Who Are Caregivers – Identifying and Avoiding Stress

Family caregivers usually are fulfilled by their choice in life to provide much needed care for a loved one who needs that care.

Often we begin caring for our children and then seem to naturally progress to our parents, grandparents or in-laws who may have entered a phase where some level of care from others is required.

It may be something that begins in a small way, such as bringing them food now and then or helping with things around the house. It can quickly progress to more and more tasks and supervision, all the way up to hands on care.

Sometimes, despite all our care and best efforts, it becomes necessary to transition our loved ones in a facility where they can receive more skilled care than we can provide.

Aging in place is a goal for most of us and our senior loved ones and we as caregivers try to do everything we can possibly do to help them make this dream a reality. We will help them create the right living environment with simple modifications and big renovations or even finding a more appropriate home in which to age in place.

Caregivers’ Challenges

Unfortunately, every day is not always the best day. There will be harder days than others, crises that arise along the way including injury and hospitalization. Let’s not forget the occasional (or all too frequent) disagreement about even the littlest thing that soon gets smoothed over when we remember why we are all together.

Caregiver burnout is a reality that we all face. Getting an extra hand, recognizing that we can’t do it all by ourselves day in and day out, can help. Finding respite when you can and an outlet for your feelings will help you be a caregiver longer and better.

I recently came across an interesting poll that found caregiver stress has increased from an interesting source.

Caregivers Who Are Spouses

The Associated Press – NORC Center for Public Affairs Research recently published the results of a recent poll that asked approximately 1400 family caregivers questions resulting in some surprising answers.

They found that most Americans are counting on their families to provide care for them as they age, as they have been doing themselves for other relatives or friends. Unfortunately, not many of us are planning well for our own long term care. We can readily tell you where and how we want our funeral to happen and probably have already made plans and payments for that but we can’t tell you about our goals for day to day care before that happens.

We can’t talk about what kind of a facility we might consider, where we would want to get help, what our care wishes would be, and more importantly have probably not executed any advance directives stipulating our wishes.

This poll found that eight out of ten people found caregiving to be a positive experience but one that is also extremely difficult.

The most stress is being reported by spouses who are now caregivers — not children providing care to parents or grandparents as might be thought. Spouses did promise to care for each other in sickness and in health but find this promise to be stressful to deliver.

Struggling Spouses

Spouses express the struggle that they experience when their relationship changes from companion to caregiver. They deal with not only stress but anger and frustration. It can be hard when hands-on care over grooming, feeding, wound care and other duties are taken on that were once done by nurses now are their responsibility.

While some spousal caregivers report that their marriage is strengthened by their caregiving commitment, which is a welcome outcome in the face of other stressors, spouses were more likely to report that caregiving weakened their relationship with their partner and placed an added burden on their finances.

It is reported that only about 30 percent of those over 40 who may be likely to care for a loved one in the next five years feel prepared to do so. Spouses tend to be older caregivers than those caring for parents and that could make the caregiving more physically challenging as well. The average age of a spousal caregiver is 67, compared to 58 for those caring for parents.

How to Identify and Overcome Caregiver Stress

If you begin to recognize signs that you are having what could be an overwhelming amount of stress that could be harming your health or ability to care for your spouse then it is time to take action.

  • Recognize signs of stress – being tired all the time, having difficulty sleeping, feeling unappreciated with no one to talk to or care about you, feeling depressed or hopeless, not ever feeling like there is a good day, feeling like your own life is not worth living, being ill yourself, crying often or you begin isolating yourself from others.
  • Begin taking time for yourself – sometimes you need to call someone to give you an hour, an afternoon, a day or a weekend off. There are people you can call, such as family members, volunteers from faith based organizations, organizations, home health agencies or friends. Just being alone, taking a breather, shopping, lunch with a friend, sleeping late or seeing a movie can mean a lot to your personal and emotional well-being.
  • Get a medical checkup – schedule a doctor visit for yourself. Get your preventive health checkup or immunizations to help keep you well. You can’t help others if you are not well.
  • Talk to someone – go to a support group locally or online, talk with a member of the clergy, find a friend, or keep a journal so that you can express your feelings and allow yourself to move on past those feelings.

Being a caregiver whether to your spouse, mother, aunt or grandfather not to mention caring for your own children and household will always cause moments of stress. Remember the importance of what you do every day. You are right where you are supposed to be!

Being able to recognize, though, that burnout might be lurking but you can overcome it in order to be the best caregiver possible is the first step in staying well. One smile is all the thanks you need to provide the love and care your spouse or family member needs.

Multiple Chronic Diseases in Seniors: Impacts and Tips to Avert Them

Multiple chronic conditions are increasingly becoming a top health challenge for our senior loved ones. As the population ages and we live longer, we are more likely to be diagnosed with a chronic disease, if not multiple diseases.

Because the treatment for all chronic diseases in the US (perhaps not as quickly globally) has improved so much in the past 20 years, we are managing these diseases better and living with them.

We have advances in medications, surgical procedures, genetic testing and technology that is giving us back hope to maintain our quality of life in the face of chronic disease.

But how do we handle multiple chronic diseases that can interact and join together to fight against us?

Multiple Chronic Conditions: An Update

There was a recent report that provided us some sobering statistics that we thought you might also find interesting.

A chronic disease refers to a medical diagnosis that lasts for more than three months. Common chronic diseases include arthritis, asthma, cancer, COPD, diabetes and AIDS.

This study included these plus hypertension, coronary heart disease, stroke, hepatitis, and/or failing kidneys.

  • 24.3% US adults had 1 chronic condition
  • 13.8% US adults had 2 conditions
  • 11.7% US adults had 3 or more conditions
  • Of US adults with at least 1 chronic condition, more than half (approximately 60 million) had multiple chronic conditions
  • Half (49.8%, 117 million) of US adults had at least 1 of 10 selected chronic conditions.
  • Women were more likely than men to have exactly 2 conditions or 3 or more conditions.
  • The percentage of adults with multiple chronic conditions (both 2 and ≥3) increased with age.
  • 6 out of 10 deaths worldwide are due to chronic diseases.

The adults studied were those living in the community not in institutions or long term care, congregate living facilities. When taking those people into consideration, the numbers grow higher.

Addressing Multiple Chronic Conditions

Healthcare agencies in the US have been focusing their program initiatives, funding and research to address multiple chronic diseases.

Armed with even more data about the widespread prevalence and growing numbers of people diagnosed with multiple chronic diseases, the goals will be to strengthen the public healthcare system, find ways to improve self-care for people with these chronic diseases and helping the healthcare professionals with tools and training to make a more meaningful impact on managing their patients chronic diseases.

A Newly Defined Chronic Disease

Recently the AACE/ACE Consensus Conference of Obesity: Building an Evidence Base for Comprehensive Action met and presented their key findings about the epidemic of obesity in our nation.

They have built a framework for action that includes clinical research, better understanding of reimbursement, prevention and self-management, nutrition education, and public awareness emphasizing health literacy. They recognize obesity as another chronic disease and we should all think of it as such in order to create treatment plans and action steps to improve health.

They state that obesity is “the most under-reimbursed major disease in the US.”

What Can Caregivers Do?

It is likely we are not going to be able to fully prevent every potential chronic disease in the seniors we love. However, we can help them make healthy lifestyle choices every day to help reduce the possibility of a diagnosis or to delay a diagnosis as long as possible.

We know that making positive choices about our health takes effort and knowledge. It also takes fighting temptation especially regarding the food we eat. It also takes motivation to get up and keep moving instead of succumbing to a sedentary pattern.

According to the World Health Organization, which is fighting the chronic disease battle on a global scale, it is possible to reduce the number of people suffering with chronic diseases. It states that countries that have begun to make an impact have “done so by implementing comprehensive, integrated approaches that encompass both prevention and control, cut across common underlying risks and bring together different chronic diseases under one unifying strategy.”

The WHO feels we have the appropriate scientific knowledge to prevent and control chronic diseases now – and the solutions are cost-effective and inexpensive to implement.

They suggest:

  • Smoking cessation efforts including a tax on tobacco products to fund support services aimed at education,
  • Diet improvement – eating an unhealthy diet increases the risk for development of numerous chronic diseases. Reducing the foods you eat that are high in fats and sugars is fundamental to healthier eating. Reduce your senior’s intake of salt including that found in processed, prepared foods. Read the food labels to pick the food lower in sodium.
  • Becoming more physically active! Since over one billion people in the world are obese or overweight, getting physically active to control your weight will help reduce your risk of many chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. Find an activity your senior enjoys and make sure that access is available in order to participate whether that includes transportation, a buddy or a pair of new sneakers.

Managing Chronic Disease Diagnoses

Once you have reduced your risk factors, it is important to manage any current diagnoses your senior may have. Managing a chronic disease can best be done through knowledge.

Learning about what your treatment plan includes not just medication but self-management approaches. Are they taking their blood pressure, blood sugar, daily weights, exercising enough, getting enough fluids, getting social and interacting with others, stimulating their brain, getting all recommended prevention tests or immunizations and washing their hands often?

If the risk factors were eliminated, at least 80% of all premature heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes would be prevented. Over 40% of cancer would be prevented.

More and more people are dying too early and suffering too long from chronic disease. We know what to do to prevent most of it and so we must act now.

Talk to your healthcare team if you need specific directions. It may not be the easy way but it is the healthy way!

Traumatic Brain Injury in Seniors on the Rise – But We Can Slow It Down

Emergency rooms across the country have reported an alarming rise in the number of traumatic brain injuries treated in recent years, according to a new report.

We are hearing more and more about concussions changing the lives of those participating in team sports but the numbers reported in this prevalence study showed that the largest gains were seen in children under three and adults over sixty.

Our senior loved ones are suffering from more traumatic brain injuries than ever before and seeking treatment in the emergency room. Over 950 hospitals across the country saw 2.5 million ER visits for this reason in 2010.

Most injuries were reported as minor, treatment was rendered and the patient sent home but some were more serious.

Traumatic Brain Injury

What exactly qualifies as a traumatic brain injury, often called TBI by healthcare professionals?

This type of injury occurs when a blow, bump, jolt or other trauma results in damage to the brain. The worst traumatic brain injuries can lead to permanent brain damage.

TBI symptoms such as headache, neck pain, nausea, dizziness or loss of balance, fatigue, convulsions, inability to awaken, slurred speech or vision, changes in sleep, mood changes including irritability, increased confusion, and weakness in extremities may not appear for days or even weeks after the actual injury. When these symptoms begin to worsen, it is time to get medical attention.

If your senior loved one has a fall or accident, it is important to be on the lookout for these symptoms, since many times there won’t be an apparent injury. If they are taking a blood thinner, it is recommended that your senior seek immediate medical treatment from the doctor or ER whether you see any symptoms or not.

After your senior receives treatment following a TBI, he or she will recover at their own pace and every person is different. Healing fully can take some time depending on their prior medical health. It will be very important to get plenty of rest to help the brain recover.

Preventing Traumatic Brain Injury

It is a fact that the primary reason seniors suffer a traumatic brain injury is from a fall. That means a key way to prevent brain damage from a TBI is to do everything you can to prevent the fall from occurring.

  • Encourage your senior to increase their strength and balance. The best way to do this is to remain physically active everyday. There are a number of activities that can help improve balance including yoga, dancing, tai chi, strength training, yard work, balance exercises, and other physical movement. The key to gaining strength is consistent participation. Your senior can’t be active once in awhile to get stronger but needs to do something daily.
  • Make their surroundings as safe as possible. Install grab bars in the shower, near the toilet and at the sink, wherever they may be prone to slipping on water. Remove all throw rugs. Nail down any loose floor boards, thresholds or stair treads. Have sturdy handrails on every stairway inside and out. Install adequate lighting in any dark place and be sure it is functional. Keep their living area free from clutter. Keep the things they need or use frequently in easy reach. Store things within reach so there will be no need to stand on a chair for the canned food. Inspect their shoes and be sure they are not worn out. The soles should be non-slip and intact. They should have good support and fit correctly. Check out any slippers they wear too. Discourage them from wearing only socks. Throw away any inappropriate shoes so they can’t use them inadvertently.
  • Get your senior loved one a vision checkup to be sure they are seeing everything in their path. If they need a new prescription, now is the time to fill it. Also, be sure that they are wearing their glasses as prescribed. They can’t see clearly if their glasses aren’t clean so it would be a good idea to check that when you can.
  • Ask the pharmacist or doctor to do a medication review to be sure there aren’t any drug interactions that could lead to light headedness, dizziness or confusion – – any of which might lead to a fall.
  • Be sure your senior loved one is drinking enough water. If they get dehydrated, it could lead to symptoms such as dizziness and fatigue that may result in a fall.

Assess Seniors’ Homes for Fallproofing

As your senior lives in the home of their choice longer and may be living in a home that they have lived in for some time, it becomes even more important to maintain the home well to prevent falls.

It might be a good idea to have an occupational therapist complete an evaluation of the home to find ways to cope with the environment, suggest remodeling strategies or provide adaptive devices that could help keep your senior from falling. Many older homes were not built with an aging senior in mind and could use some renovations to allow seniors to age in place as desired.

Don’t stop with assessment, though. Make family plans to implement the remodeling strategies you can handle and arrange for a contractor or local handy person to take care of the rest.

We hope your senior never falls, but preventing what could be inevitable is time we know you don’t mind spending.

Changing Perception of Seniors by Future Caregivers – Power of a Picture

Let’s face it, we are all aging. Many of us are caring for aging family members as well, loved ones who appear to age in front of our eyes. We know their worth to us — priceless.

Americans have not always looked upon aging as they do today. Older people were not the ideal. Wrinkles were something many paid to have removed, along with sagging skin. Men “aged well” while women just aged.

As a society, we tend to set age limits on when someone should “move on”, receive the golden watch and enjoy an alternate life and hobbies — whether or not the individuals are ready to make that change.

The sight of an older person using a walker or wheelchair was enough to make many cringe.

Many of our former beliefs about aging adults, their worth and wisdom have been changing. Some societies have always honored their elders so this is not a new philosophy to them.

Aging Perceptions Subject of New Research

Recently we came across a new grant study that will explore perceptions about aging individuals using participants who are medical and nursing students.

Photographs that portray realistic images of older people, from healthy men and women to a dependent person about to be hoisted onto a bed, were used by researchers to explore stereotypes and ageist perceptions.

Viewing the variety of images shown will spur discussion about feelings and breakdown barriers for people to care for our aging population. The hope it that it will also help to develop tools for future use with students to help them understand how to best interact with aging patients and improve the seniors’ level of care.

Science of Forming Perceptions

The visual process in human beings is part of our central nervous system. When an image is presented to us, our eyes see the image and pass the information on through the visual cortex which processes the image sending its message to the brain.

According to a recent study, our eyes, really our brains, can process one visual image every thirteen milliseconds. That’s right, milliseconds. Previously it was thought we took 100 milliseconds to process. The eye works to get an image to the brain rapidly so it can determine what to look at next. Interesting huh?

However, the basic biology of actually seeing an image and the perception we form of the image are unconnected. How does our mind form our perceptions of what we see? Because our perception is unrelated from the actual vision, we need to understand that our perceptions are formed and influenced by our experiences, values, morals and ethics.

Our perceptions are as unique as each individual and are a result of our environment. Stereotypes are learned and formed by the individual.

Would a picture, even seeing numerous images over time, change our perception of the image? Maybe not on its own. However, as they will do in this study with healthcare students, discussing the images and what they represent can allow the individual in the group to form new perceptions or alter their current perspective and stereotypes. Stereotypes are usually long held and require new information to be updated. Interacting more with seniors and seeing firsthand their abilities even in the face of illness will also help mold new perceptions.

Personal Experience

I have been passionate about caring for older adults for most of my career. I have been a personal and professional caregiver for seniors. I love interacting with them, hearing their life stories, talking about the way things were “back then”, learning about their families and origins, where they traveled and lived, and doing everything in my power to make their days more comfortable and healthy.

While I was in college, I had the opportunity to work in a variety of facilities with my peers as part of my training. I was the rare bird who enjoyed the seniors with whom I was able to work. I loved being with them and getting to know them. However, my peers who were primarily young women, wanted nothing to do with older patients. They were scared to be in a nursing home or even a rehabilitation center. One student even fainted on the unit.

Treating someone with stroke or head and neck cancer was apparently mentally painful for most of the other students. Many could not bear to see an older person in a wheelchair, for it reminded them of their own grandparents. At the time and especially today, I just never understood that way of thinking. They didn’t scare me but really inspired me!

I am proud of my wrinkles and gray hair, for I know it is outward evidence of the experiences I have had in my life. I love to travel, learn, read, and interact with others gaining new insights. I don’t exactly know how I would have achieved what I have thus far without embracing seniors along the way.

I am thrilled to learn that we, as a society, are realizing that our young people may need help to see older adults more clearly as competent, wise, and worthy people in need of respect.

Have you faced stereotypes from healthcare personnel when interacting with them on behalf of your senior loved one or seen them experience that themselves? Feel free to share your story, we would love to learn as it is by learning that we grow.

Today’s Cars Can Enable Many Seniors to Drive Safely Longer Than Older Cars

Remember when TV was only black and white? When you had to get up to change the channel?

How about when the computer was a huge piece of equipment that had to sit on a desk and took forever to connect to the world wide web – and forever to do anything when you connected?

Did you ever have to use a rotary phone that hung on the wall in the kitchen – and pay for long distance calls?

There have been many advances in technology in just a very short number of years. Our phones can go in our pockets and “call” the internet without the help of the huge device on our desk and our TV sets now occupy every room in our home and take up the entire wall. The only worry now about the TV is who has the remote and if the couch cushions ate it.

Our automobiles have come a long way too — but many of our senior loved ones have not kept up.

Seniors and Their Cars

Many of our senior loved ones may remember a time when owning a new car was a great luxury that not everyone was fortunate to do.

The car was made to last and take us far and wide. There were no cup holders or even seat belts! We stuffed as many people into them as we could without giving it a second thought.

Cars ran long distances before they were traded in for a newer model. Cars were treasured and everyone did their own repairs including oil changes. My mother never had to fill her own gas tank up either, there was always a helpful young man at the service station who did that for her.

Our aging seniors who continue to be able to be functional enough to continue driving safely may be considering if the car they currently own, perhaps it is one that they have owned for a multitude of years, should be upgraded with some new innovations to help them drive longer and safer.

Innovations in the Car Industry

The auto makers appear to realize that innovations in technology can have meaningful consequences for a nation of aging men and women. The population growth in the senior sector begs for innovations targeted to the needs of older drivers and those manufacturers who ignore those needs could find themselves hurting in the future.

Actually, car manufacturers report that sales to buyers over 55 years have shown tremendous growth in the past five years and are now considered a critical segment for sales.

The latest advances that could make it worthwhile for your senior loved one to update their vehicle are growing in numbers. Car buyers are as varied as are the cars they want to purchase. There is no one type of car that seniors are buying today, just as is the case for younger buyers.

These are some of the more appealing features in current cars that older vehicles might not have.

  • Touch screen navigation GPS
  • Hands free phone system
  • Improved fuel economy
  • Environmental advances – electric or hybrid
  • Higher sitting profile above the other vehicles on the road
  • Easy open back gate
  • Backup camera and alert
  • Programmable seats with memory
  • Lumbar support in seats
  • Smaller cars compared to older models
  • Parking assistance
  • Greater cargo storage
  • Satellite radio
  • Emergency response, automatic response system
  • Cup holders
  • Smartphone chargers
  • High intensity headlights
  • Free regular maintenance as part of warranty program
  • Roadside assistance plans
  • Air bags for passenger and driver as well as some side air bags
  • Anti-lock Brakes
  • Grab bars to ease transfers in and out
  • Self-driving in the future!

Top 10 Car Models with Seniors

The auto manufacturers have tracked which particular cars are most appealing to our senior loved ones (all those over 55 really) from January to November 2013.

Here are their Top 10:

  1. Ford F-series Pickup Truck
  2. Honda CRV
  3. Toyota Camry
  4. Honda Accord
  5. Chevrolet Silverado
  6. Ford Escape
  7. Honda Civic
  8. Chevrolet Equinox
  9. Toyota RAV4
  10. Nissan Altima

Some people in the senior sector are beginning to look at cars more as an expression of their personality and not just a means of transport. More older adults than ever are looking for color choices and seating options.

There are now more safety features and technology updates available to our senior loved ones that can help them remain safe drivers and hold onto their independence even longer.

Help Seniors Decide to Upgrade

It would be a shame if having a few new features that could make a difference in whether our seniors can drive more safely and comfortably were not available to them because they don’t want to trade up. It could be that they are used to their old car, like that it is paid off or simply don’t feel they can justify spending the money that it takes to buy a new car.

As family caregivers, we can make our seniors more aware of the possibilities that a newer car can give them in terms of their independence. If they realized the impact of new technology on their future driving status, they might give it serious consideration.

Of course, it wouldn’t hurt if you agreed to help them learn about all the new systems in their new car. It took them awhile to get used to their new phone and even their remote control, so this new car could take some time to adopt as well.

Has your senior loved one recently purchased a new vehicle? What were the features that they found important or that they didn’t want to use? Were they looking for a particular type of vehicle or color? We would love to hear about their choices and process for picking the perfect car for them.

Emergency Preparedness for Aging in Place Seniors with Chronic Disease

Storms, wildfires, earthquakes, hazardous chemical spills and more can force us to take action quickly.

Tough for everyone, sure, but a potential life-threatening hardship for many of our senior loved ones.

It’s not uncommon for seniors to have chronic and debilitating diseases that could make it difficult for them during an emergency.

Many older adults have special medical needs or disabilities that will make it hard for them to care for themselves during and after an emergency, especially if they are forced to evacuate.

Admit it, as a family caregiver you worry about those situations, don’t you!

There are resources available and preparation planning that can be done to ensure that they are able to manage their chronic disease in the face of emergency. You can help them be successful with a bit of planning.

In addition to making a kit to have ready, you and your senior should discuss the plan so you both know what to do if disaster strikes. Will they need to go to a shelter due to their location? If so, who will transport them there? How will they contact loved ones to let them know if they are safe? Do local authorities know that they will need more assistance?

Emergency Kit for Senior Loved Ones

Seniors need to be ready for an emergency with a pre-prepared kit that will meet their specific needs. Prepare suitable supplies in case your senior is at home following an emergency and also a separate kit in case they must head to a shelter, as both are valuable investments of time and energy. Your senior may want to place essential items in a duffel bag or small suitcase with wheels for ease of use. Keep your senior’s kit up to date replacing items as needed every six months.

The basic kit should include:

  • Your important paperwork including medication list, allergy list, contact numbers and insurance information
  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • First aid supplies, including bandages and pain/fever reducer
  • Medications, including refill information and pharmacy contact number, medical supplies
  • Potable water for at least three days for each person and pet, one gallon per person
  • Medical devices and batteries
  • Cell phone car charger in case of power failure
  • Non-perishable food for minimum of three days and manual can opener, pet food for pet two
  • Battery radio and NOAA Weather radio with extra batteries
  • Basic tool kit with wrench or pliers to shut off utilities
  • Extra glasses, hearing aid with extra batteries
  • Some cash in case a purchase is required
  • Blanket
  • One full change of clothes and shoes

You can also buy pre-packaged preparedness kits and personalize them with your senior loved one’s clothing and other essentials.

Diabetes Emergency Plan

Before disaster strikes it is recommended that anyone who is diagnosed with diabetes have a preparedness plan in place so that they can continue to manage their diabetes with adequate supplies at the ready.

The experts recommend the creation of a special emergency kit separate from the first aid and emergency supplies you should also have on hand. You diabetes kits should be waterproof and insulated.

Contents of a diabetes kit should be:

  • The diabetic’s medical information, including type of diabetes, allergies, list of medications with the pharmacy contact information, and healthcare provider information
  • Thirty day supply of prescription medication, whether administered by mouth or injection
  • Laboratory results, including A1C if available
  • Blood glucose testing supplies, including meter, strips, extra batteries
  • Cooler with several refreezable gel packs
  • Empty plastic container for used syringes, needles, lancets
  • Glucose tablets or other hypoglycemic reaction supplies
  • Two day supply of non-perishable foods
  • Three day supply of water
  • Note taking supplies (pen, pencil, notebook) to record test results, symptoms
  • First aid supplies such as cotton swabs, alcohol, topical antibiotic cream, bandages

We can’t predict where storms will strike this year or their severity. What we do know is that the next storm will come. Power outages and decreased accessibility to essential services are a likely outcome, no matter in what part of the nation your senior resides.

Having basic supplies and a plan for dealing with the next emergency will help your senior weather the storm and get the help they need afterward.

Have you collected items for your kit yet? If your senior has a kit, has it been updated lately with fresh food, water and batteries?

We hope your senior loved one is not affected by an emergency but confident they can face one with peace of mind, knowing you have helped them prepare.

Here’s to Our Bones & Their Health: National Osteoporosis Month

Why should we think about our bones? After all, what makes them so important?

Well, they do hold us up, after all!

It seems learning about problems with bone health is gaining in popularity, especially in our aging loved ones. So much so that May has been designated Osteoporosis Month in order to spread the word about prevention of bone loss and ways to decrease our risk factors of osteoporosis.

The National Osteoporosis Foundation is trying to get the word out to all of us. They encourage all of us to think about our own bone health and talk with our family members about family bone history.

Osteoporosis can impact everyone.

Osteoporosis causes our bones to become weak and brittle, they can fracture more easily with little impact. Sometimes the simple act of coughing or bending over can cause a bone fracture when a person has osteoporosis.

Because our bones never stop changing, they lose and rebuild new tissue all the time, osteoporosis can happen when our new bone growth doesn’t keep up with our bone loss. There are generally no symptoms until the damage is done once bone pain and fractures occur. Losing height, becoming stooped or spine pain can be signs that osteoporosis is underway.

Osteoporosis Impact

In the U.S today, about 10 million people have osteoporosis and another 34 million have low bone density, placing them at increased risk for osteoporosis and broken bones.

A woman’s risk of breaking a hip is equal to her combined risk for breast, uterine and ovarian cancer.

One in four men are at risk of suffering a broken bone due to osteoporosis and men older than 50 are more likely to break a bone due to osteoporosis than be diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Despite these statistics, only a small percentage of people — men, women, or their children — talk about bone health or the potential for developing osteoporosis. Even fewer have ever discussed it with a healthcare professional.

Basics of Bone Health

There are things we can do to reduce the risk associated with the development of osteoporosis or low bone density. Here are some suggestions from the National Osteoporosis Foundation.

  • Get all the calcium and vitamin D your body requires each day. You can increase your dairy intake with low fat milk, cheese, yogurt, and dark green leafy vegetables or fish with bones like sardines. There are calcium fortified foods, such as orange juice and cereal, that will help also.

Children (4-18): 1,000-1,300 mg Ca, 600 IU Vit D

Women Under 50: 1000 mg Ca, 400-800 IU Vit D

Post Menopause: 1,200 mg Ca, 800-1,000 IU Vit D

Men: 1,000-1,200 mg Ca, 400-1,000 IU Vit D

  • Be sure to include weight-bearing activities in your exercise plan. Weight-bearing activities include weight lifting and resistance bands. Also add in muscle strengthening and balance exercises to help prevent falls. Yoga, tai chi, dancing and walking will help.
  • Stop smoking. Smoking can lead to bone loss (yet another reason to quit or, even better, never start).
  • Limit alcohol intake, since it seems to interfere with absorption of calcium.
  • Eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables each day, include a rainbow and fill half your plate with them at each meal.
  • Discuss with your healthcare provider your personal risk for bone loss and osteoporosis. Are there any specific tests or treatments that will help you identify, prevent or treat bone loss? Do you need a bone density test?
  • Talk to members of your family about family history of osteoporosis or low bone density. Does it tend to run in your family?
  • As your children grow, you can help them grow strong and dense bones that will lower their risk for later bone loss. Eating a healthy, nutritious diet and being physically active throughout their childhood will help.

Osteoporosis Risk Factors

Some of us may be at greater risk than others for developing weak bones. There are some things we should be doing if we fit in these categories to help our bones stay strong. However, some risk factors we can’t change so we definitely need to be aware of our bone health as we age.

  • Being a female (though 20% men will develop bone loss as well)
  • Family history of osteoporosis
  • Age – the older you get, the greater the risk
  • Low body weight and those with petite body frames
  • Low estrogen levels, infrequent periods, menopause, ovary removal
  • Not eating well, having poor nutritional health
  • Physical inactivity
  • Smoking and drinking
  • Overactive thyroid
  • Gastric bypass or intestinal surgery causing a lack of absorption of key nutrients
  • Long-term use of corticosteroid medications

If your senior loved one has already been diagnosed with osteoporosis, help in continuing the treatment as prescribed by the doctor, which may include calcium and vitamin D supplements, getting out in the sunshine, being more physically active, and taking medication to strengthen bones – – and help them take precautions to avoid falls.

Let’s help spread the word of the importance of keeping our bones strong, not just as we age but all throughout our lives!

Tell us what things you like to do to preserve your senior loved ones’ bone strength?

Therapy Gardens Can Help Seniors Stay Younger Physically & Mentally

Seniors working in their garden

Aging bodies often struggle with even basic movement as an everyday fact of life.

Add a debilitating stroke or chronic disease to the wear and tear our bones and supporting tissues have taken over the years and we can easily see why getting around isn’t as easy as it used to be — and why many of our senior loved ones require assistance.

We know the statistics on senior falls are staggering – 1 out of 3 older adults falls, resulting in injury and frequently disability. Falls are also the leading cause of death among older adults.

Addressing the factors that lead to falls and trying to prevent them is rapidly moving front and center as a healthcare initiative.

Early prevention and physical activity can help to prevent, or at least delay, the decline in functional status observed as a result of chronic diseases. The current estimate is that less than 20% of our nation’s seniors get enough physical activity and even fewer participate in strength training activities that could prevent falls.

Therapy Gardens Improve Functional Health of Seniors

We recently heard about an idea which could help many seniors overcome declines that will keep them from aging in place. This new approach will hopefully catch on and be instituted in other areas across the United States to help more seniors.

A therapy garden installed at Windsor Healthcare Communities Merwick home in Plainsboro, NJ recently won a national healthcare landscape architecture award for innovation. This garden was designed to help seniors recover from illness or surgery with the goal of returning home.

Senior gardening is something we’ve discussed in the past for the many benefits it can provide and this example drives home that point.

Features of the Therapy Garden

The therapy garden brings together many different elements into one courtyard, which is why it has been awarded for its innovation. It is at this time the only known therapy garden on the east coast, according to the report. Due to its achievement, two more are being built on two of the companies’ other sites.

Some elements of therapy gardens include these.

  • A large assortment of walking surfaces challenges the seniors to walk without falling and learning to pick up their feet basically re-learning how to walk for many. The idea is that when we walk, we encounter a multitude of surfaces that we must negotiate safely and this gives the seniors practice time in a controlled setting. The surfaces include gravel, bricks, asphalt, mulch, sand and even a boardwalk.
  • Therapy car to the courtyard offers the ability to practice transferring into and out of a vehicle without incident.
  • Steps in and out of a gazebo in the garden is a chance to master steps without tripping. They even provide practice maneuvering the steps when carrying bags simulating a grocery or shopping bag. Even carrying mail up stairs can be tricky to not only get good footing but also grabbing a handrail.
  • A window is set up that allows seniors to practice opening and closing while leaning over a counter. Keeping balance and a steady gait during this procedure is harder than you might think.
  • Fine motor skills are practiced at garden stations in the garden. Picking weeds, planting seeds, scooping dirt and watering from containers are fun activities with a purpose.
  • In the therapy garden is even a putting green that builds muscle and requires the senior to manage the turf too!
  • The therapy garden was built to allow socialization for the seniors rebuilding skills as well as the nursing home population who enjoy the flowers, shrubs and shade trees too.

Benefits of Gardens for Seniors

The time has come, some may say is overdue, when nursing homes have outside spaces that are safe and peaceful for the residents who live there. Aging seniors, especially those in a senior living facility, often spend their remaining years inside the four walls of the facility. Many don’t travel outside into the community often, if at all, and some don’t even go outside to enjoy the sunshine and fresh air.

The reality is that many nursing homes either have no outdoor space that is accessible to the seniors who reside in the facility or don’t have ample staff to take seniors out and stay with them while they do enjoy the outdoors.

Gardening has beneficial effects for our seniors as does getting out into the fresh air. Gardening spaces can be modified so that those in wheelchairs find them accessible to lend a hand in the work.

  • Growing vegetables or fruits can be productive, not only as a source of nourishment but also providing a sense of accomplishment and purpose for seniors. That is especially true when they get to eat the fruits (and vegetables) of their labors.
  • Gardening, especially when it was something that the seniors did when they were younger, can give them an opportunity to share their knowledge and expertise. It can stimulate their thinking and memory skills as they pass their talents on to someone else.
  • Provides physical activity and beneficial exercise. It can help improve mobility, balance and flexibility.
  • Sitting and enjoying the garden, whether they ever lift a hand to help, can be a calming experience for many. Those with dementia can obtain a level of relaxation listening to the birds and enjoying the sun on their face. Gardening can be a stress reliever.
  • A study in Norway showed that participating in a garden on a consistent basis can reduce depression.
  • It can provide an avenue for socialization. Seniors can share stories with one another about their life experience with gardening, travel and the shared love of the outdoors with others in their congregate community. Socialization equals stimulation which is a positive health benefit.
  • A garden is a wonderful activity that multiple generations can share. Kids, adults and seniors can work together toward a common goal not to mention just enjoy being together.
  • “Wander” or “memory” gardens for those with Alzheimer’s disease or other cognitive problems allow them to walk through without getting lost. This has been found to be therapeutic for those with dementia.

Precautions for Gardening with Seniors

Because aging can increase the likelihood for certain specific issues, it is important to remember a few precautions before we take seniors out to the garden.

  • Use sunscreen to protect their fragile skin (that holds true for family caregivers who join them, too).
  • Wear sunglasses and wide brim hats to keep sun off faces, eyes and ears.
  • Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated in the heat of the sun.
  • Be aware of medication that can increase sun sensitivity. If your senior is taking a medication that may be photosensitive, keep them covered or in the shade or slathered with sunscreen. When in doubt, ask their doctor or pharmacist.
  • Raise the gardening beds so that they can easily reach the plants to help out.
  • Maintain garden paths for use of wheelchairs or to prevent falling over obstacles while strolling.
  • Have a fence or gate so that you can prevent any wandering if you have seniors who might walk off if unattended.

A therapy garden and even a memory garden are fabulous ideas and great additions to facilities that house our seniors.

As they age in place, encouraging senior loved ones to stay active and spend time outdoors will help keep them fit physically and mentally. Seniors who are not at home deserve the same opportunity to partake in the outdoors on a regular basis, not just once a year.

We applaud those facilities that are installing gardens in their locations. Does your senior have a garden to enjoy?