Getting a Good Night’s Sleep – What it Can Mean to Your Elder Loved One

Sleep alludes many of as we age, seemingly more and more as the years pass.

We might tend to wake early or not sleep as deeply. Women who are experiencing extreme temperature changes chalk it up to the change and try to deal with it. Others just accept sleep deprivation as a normal part of aging.

Perhaps your aging loved one has even told you “I didn’t do anything today to tire me out, why should I sleep OK?” I have heard that from many older adults through the years.

The truth of the matter is we all need a good, deep sleep every night to stay healthy as we age. The amount and the quality of our sleep does matter, regardless of our age.

When we are sleep deprived our health suffers, including our mood, energy levels and now we are learning — our cognition.

Sleep Research

Sleep and the study of sleep has become very popular among leading researchers today. Putting more emphasis and observation into our sleep patterns has become important even among the technology industry, as we saw this winter at the International CES.

The digital health, wearable health and fitness sector of digital device development was abuzz about sleep patterns and the health benefits of getting a restful sleep. There are more and more products coming to the market that will track our sleep, tell us about our sleep quality and a host of other sensors that tell us how often we get up from bed too.

My personal wearable fitness band tracks my sleep pattern and many nights I find the results alarming. It helps me understand why some days I don’t feel quite right or my mind is not as clear as it should be when I can see on a chart in my smartphone that I did not have a restful sleep the night before or worse yet for many nights in a row. This is my actual reading and you can see on this night I was restless for 38 minutes and awake for 7! Not a very restorative evening for me.

sleep tracking from fitbit

Sleep deprivation has been shown to have negative health consequences in all of us but especially the aging population. Our cognition, depression, immune response and even the potential development of dementia is now being linked to poor sleep quality. Your mind and body continue to work as you sleep restoring and maintaining all the normal body functions.

Benefits of Sleep May Include our Aging Brain

Six to nine hours per night is the ideal amount of sleep for older adults in order to maintain the highest cognitive abilities, according to a recent study by the University of Oregon published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine recently.

  • Improving sleep quality and duration in older adults could help lower the risk of age-related cognitive decline.
  • A review of over 30,000 people in three countries found that people who sleep less than six hours and more than nine hours had significantly lower cognitive scores than the others.
  • Older adults who don’t get enough sleep have been shown to have brain imaging studies similar to those with Alzheimer’s according to one study.
  • Poor memory has also been linked to inadequate sleep which potentially can contribute to dementia.
  • Emotional well-being is improved with a good night’s sleep.
  • Concentration is also increased when our senior loved one’s have a better rest each day.
  • Sleep helps to repair damaged cells and tissue.
  • When older adults sleep well they have fewer falls, are less fatigued during the waking hours, have improved tolerance for pain, and use fewer over the counter or prescription sleep aids.
  • When you get enough sleep, your immune system has a chance to regain its strength so that it can fight infections such as cold and flu. When you sleep well, it has been shown that any vaccine you receive is working better to help make antibodies to bolster your immune system.

Improving Your Sleep

There are a number of steps that your loved one can take to help improve their sleep quality and quantity before they reach for sleep aides. Among the dangers associated with using sleep aides is the potential for disorienting older adults upon awakening, leading to an increased risk for falls, and also carry an increased risk of dementia.

  1. Get physical! Regular exercise and movement can cause endorphins to be released that boost your senior’s mood. Physical activity could also “wear you out” enough for a good rest.
  2. Watch caffeine intake, especially later in the day. Stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine can interfere with a restful sleep pattern. Don’t forget to avoid a large meal or spicy foods too close to you bedtime which could awaken them in the middle of the night or keep them from falling to sleep.
  3. Have medications reviewed by the doctor or pharmacist. Some medications could interfere with your senior’s restful sleep especially when combined with others or taken at the wrong time.
  4. Kick the pets out of the bedroom. Our seniors love their animals but fighting over the pillow or blanket in the middle of the night or listening to them snore will not help get a peaceful night sleep. Give the pet their own bed on the floor or even better in the next room.
  5. Create a sleep-happy bedroom using room darkening window treatments, aroma therapy, soothing sounds, eye masks. Invest in a new mattress if your senior’s has been used for many years and is showing its age. Avoid watching TV or eating in bed; keep the bed for sleeping.
  6. Relax before sleep time. Make it a point to read a book, quiet your mind and soothe yourself to be ready for sleep. Keep on a consistent sleep schedule every night too so that you get into a routine and the body can find its rhythm.
  7. Keep the air temperature comfortable all throughout the night. Being too hot or too cold will interrupt sleep.
  8. Try natural remedies, such as lavender in your pillow or melatonin. Get outside in the sunshine which will help regulate your senior’s own natural melatonin.
  9. Keep curtains and shades open in the home during the day to feel the effects of the sun.
  10. Avoid drinking fluids near bedtime (within one and a half to two hours before bedtime), as that could result in bladder instability which might awaken your loved one.

Sleep Needs & Habits Individual

Keep in mind that sleep habits and needs are very individual, so what works for one older adult might not be right for others.

Some seniors do well with a nap during the day to refresh themselves. If your senior takes a nap be sure it is for only 15-45 minutes not an all afternoon sleep.

Keep in mind that, for many, napping too long will make it more difficult to fall asleep at night. Be sure the nap is early in the afternoon not late in the day which could also keep them from being ready to sleep at night.

It is not just a passing fancy to do without sleep. It is important to get all the sleep our bodies need to be rejuvenated and face the coming day with energy for living.

Making the Most of Seniors’ Health Appointments – Family Caregiver Role

Family caregivers of seniors often become the healthcare “go between.” We go to doctor’s appointments, not only physically driving our senior loved ones but also being the driver of their medical care, going between them and their healthcare team.

Family caregivers may learn about loved ones’ best treatment options, give the medications, find the doctors, prepare the paperwork, oversee the insurance plans and even take vital signs. We might also set up, use and maintain home medical equipment. Family caregivers might also be found carrying the adaptive devices or durable medical equipment around including walkers, wheelchairs, canes and oxygen tanks.

Tracking all of the seniors’ health information and using the latest technology, including smartphone apps and other digital devices, to send up to the minute health information to the medical team is a role to which family members also contribute.

You may go to classes to learn more about how to help them manage their conditions and attend support groups to help the family deal with the changes aging brings.

Did you know that research shows that when people get involved with medical care, including involving family caregivers, they get better health results?

Process for Getting Better Results

In order to help caregivers be prepared to be a team player in the healthcare of their senior loved ones, we have gathered some steps you can do to be ready to see the doctor and get the most of your visits.

  • Whether you are going to a regular checkup or seeing a specialist, the first step is getting the appointment made. While you are on the phone making the appointment, it often helps to ask some questions.
    • What do you need to bring with you?
    • Where do you park?
    • Can you fill out paperwork online so that you can limit the amount of time your senior waits in the waiting room?
    • Does the doctor usually run on time or should you make the appointment for first thing in morning or right after lunch to keep the wait time for your senior to a minimum?
    • If you are getting a surgical consult, find out how often they perform this procedure and any outcomes to be aware of in the facility such as post-op infection rate.
    • Ask the cost of the visit, lab tests or procedures if your insurance doesn’t cover it or there is a copay so that you are informed.
  • Collate and copy any medical reports, data, paperwork, and documents that you might need when seeing the doctor or other healthcare professional. Have your copies ready to give to the doctor if needed. Do you have blood pressure readings, blood sugar logs, medical records, test results, x-ray reports, or other relevant medical information that the doctor needs to see to be fully informed about your senior loved one? It would be very helpful to the care of your senior loved one if the doctor can read any reports and base medical decisions on real data.
  • Make a copy of your senior’s advanced directive that your doctor can keep on file. DNR, living will, or a healthcare proxy would be important for your healthcare team to have on hand in order to be informed for the future.
  • If you don’t have this completed yet, make a list of all medications your senior loved one takes now, including the exact dosages, full medication names and the times that the medicines are taken. Include any allergies to medications or foods including what consequences of exposure are such as hives or headache. It would be helpful to have the name of your senior’s pharmacy and phone number on this list in case the medical office ever needs to call in a prescription. Don’t forget to include all over the counter medications your senior takes including sleep aids, vitamins and minerals, herbal supplements and any other products. This list should be kept up to date and a copy carried in your purse or wallet as well as in your seniors in case it should be needed in an emergency.
  • Bring a list of your senior’s medical history. Include surgeries, medical diagnoses, family history, recent hospitalizations, and a brief description of current symptoms. Also have ready the names and contact information of any other doctors currently treating your senior who may have vital information for this healthcare provider.
  • Make a list of any specific questions that you have as a caregiver. Are you afraid about your senior dosing their medications, future decline, what to expect, tests, or other medical questions? Now is the time to get answers and a list will help your remember what is on your mind. You may want to prioritize your list in case you run out of time so you get the burning issues addressed.
  • Plan what your senior should wear. Clothes should be easy to get on and off and comfortable for sitting for a while. Be sure they have a light jacket or sweater in case it is cold in the office.
  • Have a paper and pencil ready to take notes so you will be able to tell other family members or complete the treatment correctly. Ask for brochures or literature to help you learn more about the diagnosis, treatment, medications or exercises that will help your senior loved one.
  • Ask if there are other specialists or programs that would benefit your senior, such as an occupational therapist, speech therapist, diabetes educator, or dietitian. They may not offer one of those but they could give you valuable insight into another helpful strategy to help your senior stay well. The doctor may also be able to connect you with support groups or resources in your location which you were unaware.
  • Once you get back from the appointment, follow the professional’s advice and treatment plan. Record any side effects or benefits of the treatment plan so you can discuss amending the plan, if needed, with the doctor on the next visit. If something happens in the meantime, don’t be afraid to contact your health professional to give them an update and ask for advice.

This list of suggestions to help you get ready may seem overwhelming when looked at it as one piece. However, you probably already have many of these items done and ready to take with you to the doctor.

Remember, It’s Your Loved One’s Healthcare

If you don’t have some of them completed, it is a good time to do so because several of these should be accessible in case of an emergency. Medication lists and advance directives should always be up to date and ready to give to emergency personnel in case of an accident or illness.

Naturally, when you go to the doctor with your senior loved one, you want it to be a calm meeting where you can learn and your senior can get the medical care they need.

Remember that the healthcare professional you are seeing won’t have a lot of time to chat, so keep your comments and questions succinct. Ask what you need to know to care for your senior properly. Allow them to talk with your senior and hear the symptoms directly from them and not just you. This will help the doctor observe any changes in your senior loved one from visit to visit.

Seeking – and needing – medical care, especially when it is not a routine checkup, can be stressful for your senior loved one. Being prepared will help you and your senior benefit from the visit.

Don’t forget that as a caregiver you need to visit your own doctor, get your own medical issues treated and keep yourself in the best possible care so that you can continue to be a caregiver for as long as your senior loved one needs you!

Financial Aspects of Aging in Place: Helping Seniors Manage & More

Ugh…the thought of our senior loved ones not having enough money to cover their basic needs such as shelter, food and health is something we don’t even want to consider.

Far too many family caregivers have that worry regarding aging loved ones, however.

Our seniors wish to age in place and we are making that a reality. Unfortunately, that doesn’t come without a cost in dollars.

Keeping an aging home in livable condition or updating it through renovations or remodeling in order to accommodate aging in place can cost more than our seniors have set aside or have left anymore.

Retirement funds and pensions have taken a financial hit in the recent economy and may not have enough time to rebuild for many so that what they thought would carry them through is now lacking.

You, as a family caregiver, want to step in and help them carry their burden but don’t exactly know the best way to do it so that you still some money for your own retirement or aging process.

Economic Reality of Aging

According to various reports, more than half of all people over 65 feel pressed to pay for life essentials such as housing, transportation, food and healthcare needs.  More than half!

Many seniors have lived longer than they anticipated. The reality is that our life expectancy continues to rise in this country, due in large part to medical advances and living conditions. We are a pretty healthy society that has access to medical miracles which keep us alive much longer than prior generations. The current average life expectancy is 78.7 years in the United States as of 2012 (men 76 and women 81).

The latest report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) ranks life expectancy in the United States 26th of 36 member countries but we have the highest health expenditure of all the countries. This is seen as related to the fact that the US has the highest rate of obesity among the member countries (36.5% versus 22.8%).

The National Aging in Place Council research indicates that the cost to seniors of aging in place at the home of their choice (not in a facility) averages $23,000 each year.

Aging in place home modifications can run the gamut of cost, depending on what changes need to be made. The simplest basic modifications, such as adding grab bars or lighting, can be $300-3,000. Entry way changes, including a ramp, could cost $1,500-3,500 and up. Home renovations can run up to $70,000 or more depending on extent of needed modifications, such as elevators, room additions, kitchenettes, widening doorways or handicapped accessibility changes. A walk-in tub could cost as much as $10,000-20,000.

According to a Fidelity Investments study, 24% of children said they believe they will have to help their parents financially, while 97% of parents said they won’t need help. With that difference in perspective, discussing their financial plan could be tricky!

Strategies to Pay the Bills

One of the most important considerations when helping your senior loved ones with financial issues is to be sure that you continue to protect your own financial future. Your personal taxes and your senior’s taxes should be a consideration — actually minimizing them.

  • Tax exempt annual gift – You can set up a tax exempt gift to your parents. You can gift to an individual up to $14,000 a year (when in doubt, ask your tax expert). If you choose to do this to help them pay certain costs of living, be careful to check into the possibility that this gift could result in the loss of other benefits, including Medicaid.
  • Pay their bills – If you have adequate funds to pay the bills incurred by your seniors, you can pay for their medical bills in the hope of receiving reimbursement from their assets upon their death. Your siblings could also get together to assist as well.
  • Loan – You could make a loan to your family as long as you follow the IRS guidelines for appropriate interest rates. It is safest to document everything. It doesn’t have to look like a bank loan contract, but you may find dealing with an awkward situation early can avoid problems later.
  • Reverse mortgage – You could assist your senior loved one to determine whether a reverse mortgage would be appropriate for them. Do they have equity in their home to make this plausible? Be careful to understand all the rules and restrictions about this type of lending and be sure the family members are aware of the result, the potential loss of the home once your senior loved one no longer lives there unless the loan can be repaid. There are also upfront fees that may be higher than desired in your senior’s situation. While not for everyone, some seniors find this to be the right option for them.
  • Buy a home for your senior then charge them rent – If you can afford to buy a home suitable for your senior then charge them a rental fee, your senior could sell their own home and live on the money gained. This could save money on renovations or remodeling of an older home and give them a smaller home or condo that has universal design and better access to shopping. As landlord, you would receive tax gains for repairs and other costs of ownership.
  • If desired, your senior could move in with you. This would save them the cost of housing and might allow them to sell their current home and use the money for their personal expenses. Before taking this step, we suggest everyone honestly evaluate the pluses and minuses so you can prepare for what is ahead.
  • Search for benefits – Is your senior loved one getting all the benefits to which they are entitled? Are there untapped resources out there such as Veteran’s Aid or subsidized housing? Check out BenefitsCheckUp.org.

We recommend that you seek the advice of an elder law attorney or certified financial planner who is knowledgeable of the rules in your senior loved one’s state, as they do vary. It is important to be sure that all implications for present and future benefits are thoroughly considered.

Talking Money with Senior Loved Ones

We also suggest you take the often uncomfortable step of asking questions of your senior loved ones about their current financial status. Are they still capable of balancing their checkbook or handling their assets? Are they paying their current bills on time or running up fees for non-payment? Do they have a financial plan, pre-paid burial plan, life insurance or other assets that may be needed? Do they have a safety deposit box, IRA, pension, or other funds that you should know how to access?

Don’t just listen to their answers, though, because you may hear what they want you to hear rather than what they need you to hear. Pay attention to how they respond, their body language in addition to words, and watch for signs finances might not be as they indicate.

Talking about money is not easy for older adults (nor many younger ones, for that matter) so you probably will get further with a delicate approach. Having honest conversations about what funds are available, how to access the funds and who is in control of them if your senior is not competent are all questions you would want to have answers for before an emergency arises. Are you the designated financial power of attorney should something happen to them?

Helping with Money Management

If you think it would be in your senior loved ones best interest (and likely is), set up direct deposit of funds for them so that you know that money is deposited safely and not stolen from the mailbox. Then you can set up automatic bill paying from the bank and know that bills will be paid on time. Knowing the money coming in and going out will help you help them establish a budget.

Don’t forget that your senior loved one may still wish to have some control or input into their finances. Your role as caregiver is to lighten their burden if possible not to take over. If they need some help and eventually need you to take over completely, meet the current need.

It is their money and their life, after all. They earned the right to watch out for themselves if they are capable.

Even so, your assistance may be necessary for them to continue to live as they desire in the home of their choice, but you need to do it wisely and with your eyes wide open to all the consequences and impacts, not only for them but for you as well.

Quality of Life or Frailty – What’s Facing Our Seniors as Centenarians?

Centenarians comprise the fastest growing age group in the US.

Will your senior loved ones be joining their numbers one day? Will you?

Is that something you want?

Many of us wonder how someone can live to be 100 or even older and still be so healthy and sharp minded.

What have they had to eat or drink or not eat or not drink throughout their lifetime? Is it really in their genes or their lifestyle and environment?

Researchers ask this question every day in search of an anti-aging miracle.

We have, in a past article, asked ourselves if we in fact wish to live to be not just 100 but 120 years old.

Life of a Centenarian

Worldwide, the number of centenarians is expected to reach 3.2 million by 2050. According to a report from the U.S. Census Bureau, there were more than 53,000 people aged 100 or above in the United States in 2010.

A centenarian is, by definition, someone who lives to 100 years old but it’s greater meaning has become synonymous with longevity.

What do you get if you celebrate your 100th birthday? In America, you should expect to get a card of congratulations from the President. In England, you will get a greeting from the Queen. If you live in America and someone informs them, you will also get a mention on the NBC Today Show.

It is highly likely that if you make it to your 100th birthday your parents also lived long lives, as it is considered a genetic trait, though no exact cause has yet to be discovered.

Researchers looked for the reasons certain people are the beneficiaries of such longevity and several ideas for successful aging emerged, including good nutrition incorporating  vitamins A and E (antioxidants), education, non-smoker, physically active, and community or spiritual involvement.

When asked, centenarians add these reasons for their long lives: doing things for others, volunteering, remaining debt free, doing what you love and finding joy in life, laughing often, having lots of friends, getting used to losing it’s a part of life, not staying mad, sleeping, and going with the flow.

That sounds like good advice for all of us, no matter our age!

Frailty May Be Centenarians Demise

New research from London examined a group of approximately 36,000 people, 87% of whom were female, with a mean age of 101 at their death.

In England, those studied were very unlikely to die at home (only 10%) and most were likely to die in a nursing home (61%).

Pneumonia was actually the leading cause of death in this population. Chronic disease among centenarians is not often a cause of death, even though heart disease and cancer were present (9% and 4.5% respectively).

Frailty or functional decline seemed to contribute to the incidence of pneumonia in this age group.

Researchers stressed the importance of initiating more programs to support centenarians’ ability to remain at home and provide them the support they need to stay functional as long as possible.

Frailty Prevention – Can it Be Accomplished at 100?

What exactly is frailty and how do we spot it? Actually frailty is not a medical diagnosis but more a confluence of medical symptoms seen as aging consequences by some. But in actuality, frailty is not a symptom of aging and not all seniors become frail. Chronic disease can complicate functional status leading to frailty.

Geriatricians specializing in aging health have defined it as a person who has three out of five of the following factors.

  1. Unintentional weight loss of greater than 10 pounds in one year
  2. General feeling of exhaustion
  3. Weakness measured by grip strength
  4. Slow walking speed
  5. Low levels of physical activity

They feel that having three of these factors was a good indicator of overall decline in health and could result in death within five years. For aging seniors and especially centenarians, this decline in health includes increased falling, decreased mobility, disability leading to hospitalization and death. Depression, loss of muscle mass, poor nutrition and loss of balance all play a role in frailty.

You can see how a steady decline in health factors can set a 100 year old person up for pneumonia that could be life threatening.

Some aspects of frailty certainly can’t be reversed such as your senior’s age. However, several of these factors can be prevented, improved or even postponed for some time.

  • Encourage and support your senior’s good intake. Eating and drinking well including adequate protein sources to maintain their muscle mass will help keep them strong. Start with good meals but between meal nutritional supplements can be added to help them consume adequate calories and nutrition. If your senior is having difficulty eating enough, you may want to discuss with your doctor a potential short term appetite stimulant. Make every bite count with nutritious foods that are nutrient dense limiting empty calorie foods.
  • Stay physically active, especially participating in balance exercises and strength training endeavors such as yoga and Tai Chi. This is important for maintaining a steady gait and preventing falls. Resistance exercises three times a week will be helpful for aging seniors.
  • Stay engaged. Continue to seek the company of others, get out in the community, have conversations with people, and stimulate your brain. This also includes getting active in new technology such as social media which will allow your seniors to converse with the wider world.
  • Get regular checkups and health prevention screenings. Ask the doctor for interventions to limit your senior’s pain. Arthritis and other sources of pain can lead to immobility and a functional decline. Treating and overcoming pain will help keep your senior mobile. There are many ways to treat pain both non-pharmaceutically and pharmaceutically.
  • Get your senior evaluated using the Geriatric Depression scale to find out if they are having feelings of depression, which could lead to isolation. Depression is becoming all too common in seniors and is treatable.
  • Have your senior get her/himself checked for vascular disease. Heart disease and blocked arteries can lead to frailty and immobility. There may be non-invasive treatments or other medical options to reduce the effects of heart disease as your senior ages.
  • Have your senior’s doctor review the list of medications. Are they all still needed and are they possibly contributing to some of the frailty? Can they be reduced or eliminated?

Family Caregivers Have a Role

As a family caregiver, we want our senior loved ones to be healthy and active for years to come. You can help them by encouraging them to make some small changes and keeping them engaged.

Staying connected to family and friends, spending time in meaningful activities and facing medical challenges head on will help them keep quality of life in their years.

Whether our senior loved ones live to be 100 or not, we want them to be as healthy and functional as possible with the highest quality of life achievable to enjoy every moment for as long as we can!

Smoking Habit Still Got Your Senior Loved Ones? It’s Not Too Late to Quit!

Smoking is bad for our health, as all of us have likely heard many times.

We know that smoking can lead to many forms of cancer, including lung and other cancers.

It increases our risk for heart disease and stroke, high blood pressure, wrinkles, bone disease, cataracts, macular degeneration, diabetes and erectile dysfunction.

Yes, we know it’s bad for us, but still…did you know smoking is still responsible for a half million preventable deaths a year in the United States?

Preventable Premature Deaths

Despite what we know to be negative health consequences, more than 4 million (10%) adults over 65 continue to smoke.

Do our seniors think that it is too late to change their stripes or that it wouldn’t matter if they stopped or not at this point?

A recent study validates the fact that quitting at any age will drastically reduce the risks of potential health complications, including death from smoking.

As we often say at Senior Care Corner, it is never too late to adopt new behaviors, including tobacco cessation!

Yes, in this case quitters DO win.

Kicking the Habit

Your senior loved one probably knows that smoking is harmful to their health and may have tried to quit in the past but found it to be a struggle to overcome. Nicotine addiction can be a beast to battle.

Kicking the habit of smoking cigarettes, cigars and smokeless tobacco is very hard. No one will deny it! It is much more difficult in a lifelong smoker, like our senior loved ones who feel the tobacco is a part of them.

Smoking is present in every part of a smoker’s day and can be thought of as a best friend and companion and not an addiction. Your senior will feel symptoms of withdrawal when they start the cessation program. It is something you should be ready for and aware of as an outcome, a worthwhile outcome.

There are resources available to help your senior stop smoking.

  • One such set of resources was produced by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Their web based resources include tools that help support your senior in a way that works best for them.
  • Free hotlines for quitting that offer counseling and support such as the National Cancer Institute’s Smoking Quitline at (877) 44U-QUIT or (877) 448-7848 between 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time. You can also call your state’s quitline. Call (800) QUIT-NOW or (800) 784-8669 to be connected with free resources about quitting and counseling information in your state.
  • Some states also provide free nicotine replacement therapy available to those seeking smoking cessation. Contact your state quitline for more information.
  • Apps to aid tobacco cessation. There are smartphone and tablet apps that are available to help your senior break the habit. They send alerts, support and information about quitting that act as motivators. There are several free apps such as Quit It, Smoke Free, Butt Out, My Last Cigarette and others. These apps will tell you how long since your last cigarette, the money saved without smoking, the amount of tar you didn’t puff, the latest health benefit you achieved by not smoking and other items. You can choose one that you enter personal information such as cravings and a way to talk with others who are quitting too. If your senior is comfortable with the smartphone or tablet and tech savvy, this option may be very appealing and effective.

Benefits of Smoking Cessation

Seniors know that there are a multitude of benefits that they can achieve when they are finally able to overcome the smoking habit or nicotine addiction.

It takes only 20 minutes of tobacco cessation to see health benefits. In 20 minutes, your senior’s heart rate drops. So many great things can happen once the habit is kicked.

  1. Gain a ‘second income’ with all the money your senior will now save on tobacco products on which he or she currently spends.
  2. Fresh smelling breath! Gone will be the smoker’s mouth with the foul smell that their grandchildren shy away from. They will become even more kissable! Your senior will also have whiter teeth and fewer dental problems.
  3. More visitors! People who avoid the home where your senior lives because it smells like an ashtray and the grandchildren can’t tolerate the smoke will now be able to breathe freely and come more often to visit and socialize.
  4. Fewer coughing episodes. Gone will be the smoker’s hack that your senior has accepted as part of their life. Once they are smoke free, the episodes of coughing will be diminished. In just one to nine months after quitting, you will experience fewer episodes of coughing and less shortness of breath. Maybe the gravelly voice will also get clearer as you stop smoking longer.
  5. More years to their life. Smoking cessation can add years to the life in a way that has quality – adding life to those years.
  6. Diminished wrinkles. Your senior may not get rid of the wrinkles they already have, but they could diminish the look of their wrinkles and maybe stop making more!
  7. Reduce the risk of cataract, cancer, heart disease, COPD, and bronchitis! That could mean fewer trips to the doctor, emergency room and hospital! In just one year after quitting, the risk of heart disease is cut to half that of a smoker.
  8. Better night’s sleep for a more energy filled day. When they sleep better and are more rested, they can accomplish more of the things that are of interest them. Feeling tired and weak all the time as a smoker is no fun but quitting will bring energy back to their life.
  9. A few extra pounds. Sometimes smokers experience a slight weight gain when they begin a program to kick their habit. This is natural but, with a little forethought and physical activity, your senior doesn’t have to put on the pounds (unless he or she needs to then it is an added benefit!). Think of the weight as the price of health. The benefits of non-smoking outweigh any added pounds on the scale.
  10. Make those around your senior loved one healthier! Breathing in second hand smoke can be detrimental to caregivers, children or grandchildren, especially if they have asthma, allergies or breathing difficulties themselves. Clean fresh air in the home is a big benefit for all!

Make Non-Smoking a New Habit

Two out of three smokers say they want to quit and half tried to quit last year. Maybe your senior loved one was among them.

For whatever reason that they were not successful, it is a good time to try to break the habit again.

Research shows that it can take several attempts to break a lifelong habit.

Don’t let your senior think that he failed before, he was just practicing for the final performance!

With great resources such as those listed above, now may be the one try that works!

Good luck!

Dehydration Hits with Summer Heat! Help Seniors Get Enough Water!

Sitting out on the porch watching the world around them is something many of our senior loved ones enjoy ones the weather starts to warm up.

They could be looking at the birds, stray dogs or cats, cars driving by, neighbors’ activity, keeping an eye out for the mail delivery or simply reading the latest book or newspaper. Delight is found in passing the time this way, as they have done for years and as their parents or grandparents did.

We need to be vigilant of a danger that relaxing in the heat of summer — even doing nothing more than sitting on the porch — can pose for our aging loved ones.

Summertime is a good time to talk about the potential for dehydration in our senior loved ones.

Because more than half of our bodies are made up of water, it is vital that we provide an ongoing source of liquid so that our organs and cells have what they need to function properly and keep us healthy.

Signs of Dehydration

Our senior loved ones do not always hear their body telling them it is time to drink. They often don’t feel thirst. There are signs that we can observe in our senior loved ones that can alert us to the need for more water.

  • Dry mouth or lips
  • Headache
  • Flushed face or skin
  • Fatigue
  • Increase in body temperature, heart rate and breathing
  • Dizziness
  • Dark urine
  • Confusion
  • It has been suggested that short term dehydration can cause pain

Keep in mind those signs mean your senior loved one has been without water for too long already, so don’t delay in getting them a drink!

Why We Need Enough Water

Water helps our bodies function properly so that we have the energy that we need to stay active and be healthy.

Water helps to control our body temperature and blood pressure, carries oxygen and wastes, lubricates our joints and makes our membranes moist, including our eyes and mouth. We need water to make saliva.

We need to be aware of the amount of water our seniors drink each day and make them think about it. Many don’t want to drink for fear of needing to go to the bathroom too often or simply just don’t like to drink plain water. When they want a drink it might not be in reach and they don’t feel able to go to the kitchen or bathroom for a gulp.

Everybody needs a certain amount of water. Research has not been able to pinpoint exactly how much water each person should drink each day but here is a clever rule of thumb. For every 20 pounds of body weight, drink one cup of water (8 oz.). A 120 pound person should drink 6 glasses of water a day.

Naturally, the more active one is or time spent sweating (as in the summer sun), the more water replacement that is required.

Since too many senior adults are not able to use, don’t feel they can afford to use, or for some other reason are not using their air conditioners during the heat of the summer, they may need more water to replace what their body is using to regulate its own temperature.

Tips to Add Water to Your Day

Since drinking water is not always exciting to many people, there are other ways we can get the fluid that we need each day. Water should be the first choice and included in your senior loved one’s routine but here are some suggestions to get water in other ways.

  • Drink a glass of water every time you use the bathroom
  • Drink a glass of water when you take your medications
  • Keep a water bottle or glass handy, perhaps near your favorite chair or porch rocker
  • If you work outside or take a walk in the heat, drink some water upon your return
  • Eat fresh fruits that are water-containing such as watermelon, grapes, peaches and other melons
  • Add a popsicle to the afternoon porch party
  • Add lemon, lime, cucumber, orange wedges and other flavorings to your water glass to jazz it up and relieve boredom
  • Drink tonic or seltzer water to get a fizz
  • Drink a glass of juice or a juice spritzer
  • Add a glass of milk to a meal
  • Start off the meal with a bowl of soup
  • Use gelatin or yogurt as your dessert
  • Use tea or decaf coffee as a meal beverage
  • Include vegetables such as tomatoes, celery, cucumbers, lettuce and squash in your summer meals

Water Adds Up Across the Day

If you add up a day’s fluid intake like this, your senior loved one should have no problem getting the fluid needed each day.

3 meals = 3 glasses of water

1 medication time = 1 glass of water

2 fresh fruits = 1 glass of water

1 between meal glass of water = 1 glass of water

Bathroom breaks = 1 glass of water

Soup, popsicle, yogurt, vegetables = 1 glass of water

This does take thought and commitment for some seniors who are not in the habit of getting enough fluids. It bears saying again: once your senior feels thirst or exhibits the signs above they are already dehydrated.

Because being dehydrated can lead to falls and increasing confusion, as well as poor kidney function, kidney stones, and constipation, we need to help our senior loved ones stay ahead of this problem by including several sources and strategies to get enough fluid every day.

Summertime, with the heat and humidity that drains our water reserves, can add extra stress to our senior’s health. Getting enough fluid for some seniors is really a year round battle.

As family caregivers, we can help them develop habits that will keep them refreshed now in the summer sunshine but also all year long!

Tablets: Valuable Tools for Senior Dads; Teaching Their Use is a Valuable Gift

Tablet computers and smartphones continue to grow in popularity with older adults as they see benefits having access to their email, the web, texting and other applications without being tied to a computer – – or even to their home.

Many seniors are finding out, along with many of those who are younger, they really don’t need a traditional computer with all the functionality that many tablets provide.

Those who used PCs in the office (and maybe at home) during their working days are finding out many tablets had more capabilities than those computers from their past and probably much lower prices.

Combine the benefits of senior loved ones using tablets with that lower price, not to mention the low cost of adding them to most cellular data plans, and it’s easy to see why many children and grandchildren gave a technology gift for Father’s Day. Are you among them?

Learning to Use Tablets Safely

It’s not just owning a tablet that’s important, though. Just as knowing how to use the tools in the workshop is key to achieving the benefits they have to offer, knowing how to use a tablet is important as well.

Yes, this applies to Moms and Grandmothers too, but this was written around the time of Father’s Day.

Safety in their use is important for tablets along with other power tools. Just as learning safety is the first step we’re taught when using a power tool, it should come first when using that new tablet for the first time. Yes, it’s hard to be patient when that new “toy” is screaming out to be put to use, but a few minutes up front can save pain and heartache later. Sure, that tablet is unlikely to cost a few fingers, but identity theft can result in its own kind of pain.

Here are some steps to consider when helping that senior father or grandfather approach the use of their new tablet safely.

  • Consider how passwords and access codes will be remembered or stored. While there are apps that help with that, many senior loved ones prefer to write them down. Yes, we often hear that shouldn’t be done, but it’s best to use a method that will actually be adopted by the technology user. Whatever method is chosen, help them organize the storage and consider if a backup – maybe a photocopy held by a loved one – will be useful.
  • Upon starting up the tablet for the first time, set up an access code or password for the device itself. It won’t keep out the most sophisticated data thieves but it should keep most prying eyes from seeing sensitive or private information.
  • Install an app that will help your senior loved one identify or even disable the tablet if it’s stolen or gets into the wrong hands after being misplaced. We hope the “Find My iPhone” and “Android Device Manager” (depending on the device) apps are never needed, but they are invaluable when they are needed.
  • When online passwords are not already in place for the financial, streaming music/video, reading and other apps that will make their tablet a valuable tool, help them set up passwords that won’t be easily cracked by an online hacker or tablet snooper. Don’t forget to input them in the the senior’s reminder system as well.

Many will find these safety lessons cause them to pause and reflect, remembering the times the roles were reversed. It might even make for a touching conversation with that dad or grandfather with whom you are working.

Setting Up the Tablet Toolbox

Once the safety lesson and implementation are complete, you can turn to the fun part of using that new toy/tool, getting into the apps themselves and putting them to use in doing what they can do to make us more efficient and effective at many of the tasks we perform – – and, yes, make our lives more enjoyable.

When helping someone pick out the apps for a tablet, you might want to suggest they think about those they will really use, at least until they are comfortable using the device. Many of us have experienced the clutter of a screen with pages of apps we never use, not to mention confusion when searching for the apps we want to use amidst those we added because we “might us them someday.”

Here are some suggested considerations when helping pick out the initial set of apps to be installed.

  • Resist the temptation to install an email alternative from the app that comes installed on the device. Sure, it might come in handy at some point but the native app is often easiest to set up and provides functionality that is sufficient for many users. Remember, they can always change later if their needs aren’t being met, but walking should come before running.
  • Suggest an e-reader app as one of the first to be added, since those apps help many people first see benefits in using a tablet and carrying it with them when they travel from home. You might consider setting up an account with the online bookstore and purchase one of two of their favorite books for them or download a free one to get them started.
  • When considering the apps to install for their banking, mortgage, retirement, brokerage or other financial accounts, suggest your senior loved one first consider which they might use regularly on their tablet. Staying current on accounts, such as monitoring activity on checking and credit card accounts, is one of the great conveniences many find in tablets. If they don’t think they’ll use the table to access an account, suggest they leave that app off to reduce the chances of mischief should their tablet fall into criminal hands.
  • If your senior loved one uses social media accounts to connect with family and stay up to date with their community, suggest they install the apps for those accounts on the tablet. Keep in mind that some of those apps function differently from the website versions with which your senior may be more familiar so you might want to walk through the app to reduce the chance of frustration.
  • Set up and conduct test video calls with Skype and, if their tablet is an iPad, Facetime. They are likely to experience a lot of joy having conversations with even their youngest family members and friends in this way so you’re doing them a real favor by getting them started.
  • Consider adding a game or two that dad / granddad might find enjoyable, since that is another way the tablet may become an indispensable part of their lives. If they don’t play any of them now, they may have heard friends or family members discussing a game and found it interesting enough to try themselves.

There are many more steps you can take in helping make that tablet a valuable tool for your senior loved one and we we’d love to hear your ideas. Please leave us a comment below or on our Facebook page.

A Tablet Adventure

If you’ve had a tablet for a while, you know what we have discussed is just a small part of making the most of the device as a tool. We didn’t intend this to be exhaustive, but a way for a family caregiver to help that senior father or grandfather get started with their new tablet.

Once you help get them started, though, you’ve put your senior loved one on the path to an adventure. There are so many ways that tablet can help make life more enjoyable, more organized, more connected, and a lot of other “mores” that will make them wonder how they managed to live so long without a tablet computer.

Won’t it feel good to know you played a role in that adventure?

Father’s Day & Every Day – We Remember Grandfather with Love

We loved our grandfather and have so many fond memories of him and his influence on us all.

He has passed on but is remembered fondly at many times of the year and in many situations, but especially so on Father’s Day.

During our young adult years with our growing family, we lived quite a distance away from our grandfather and grandmother, but we visited them as often as we could.

We actually visited them more than our own parents because they had such a great impact on our lives – – and also because we felt like we had a positive impact on theirs.

We really appreciated their wisdom and experience and valued what they brought to our family.

We especially enjoyed hearing our grandfather’s stories, reminiscing about his life, and answering his many, many questions. He loved showing our kids new things and ‘the way things used to be’. He had gadgets and gizmos a plenty!

Our First Encounter with Alzheimer’s Disease

Our grandfather always had a question to ask and then another one after that. He showed genuine interest in what was going on in our lives.

As he grew older, though, many days those questions were often along these lines:

  • How old are you?
  • What time is it?
  • What grade are you in?
  • What time is it?
  • How long did it take to get here?
  • What time is it?

As you may have guessed, our grandfather had Alzheimer’s Disease and eventually couldn’t remember the answers to the questions he asked – or even that he had asked them – only a few minutes earlier.

He was like so many others who are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia.

It was heartbreaking for us to see him change over time, knowing how much he enjoyed engaging with the world around him and keeping up with what was happening.

Our Memories of Time with Grandfather

He was a dedicated family man who worked hard all his life and retired from working after spending his entire career at one company.

Grandfather was unable in his day to go to college and regretted that circumstance.  He valued education greatly and consequently created a foundation to help young people further their education.

He was very supportive, inquisitive and nurturing.  He always wanted to share his joy and passion about the favorite things he treasured with others such as gardening, animals, reading, walking and sports.

His love of gardening is with us still, though only he had the energy (even late in life) for the large size that he tended each year.

The only program he wanted to watch on TV was the news report on PBS. Well, that and Lawrence Welk.  He had little patience for any other TV programs unless there was a good hockey game on that afternoon.

He influenced our children as they grew up and they got to know him better.  They were prepared for his many questions and got a kick out of his zest for life. They loved filling up the birdbath and chasing the neighborhood cat.  They joined him on his long walks in the afternoon to “stretch their legs.”

A Time of Remembrance

Father’s Day is celebrated by families across the country. We have picnics, play ball, go to a game, or just hangout. We buy gifts and surprise dad with a special tie or handmade card.

Father’s Day began as a way to honor dads as we were already honoring moms. Many dads were veterans who came back from the war to provide for their families.

It wasn’t until 1966, when President Lyndon Johnson proclaimed the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day, and 1972, when President Richard Nixon signed it into law, that the country began to celebrate Dad.

In 2008 it was estimated that there were 70.1 million dads across the country. I wonder if they all got ties last year? In 2013 it was estimated that there were 2 million single dads, 17% of parents.

Gifts for Dads & Granddads

Dads and Granddads deserve to be thanked with a good gift just like moms and grandmothers! Here are some gifts you might consider giving or express joy at receiving!

  • Tie (OK if you gotta – but remember that many men today seldom wear ties)
  • Sporting equipment – balls, fishing pole, golf clubs, football, tennis racquet, exercise gear, camping gear (think about what he will use)
  • Technology gadgets, smartphones and tablets (if he doesn’t use them already, maybe he will benefit, especially if accompanied by a lesson from an enthusiastic grandchild)
  • BBQ tools
  • Game day tickets (we loved to go to baseball games with our grandfather)
  • Hand made card made with love 
  • Cologne (does he wear any?)
  • Shirt for work or game day (or maybe a special t-shirt that’s a reminder of a shared memory)
  • Tools
  • Books and music (does he have an e-reader already?)
  • Dinner out
  • Rose is the official flower for Father’s Day. Wearing a red rose signifies a living father, while white one represents deceased father.

Our grandfather is gone but far from forgotten, especially as we celebrate Father’s Day. Father’s Day is a day of remembrance, memory making and being grateful for the dad (or granddad) in your life whether past or present.

Blessed indeed is the man who hears many gentle voices call him father!
– Lydia M. Child

We wish all fathers a wonderful day of relaxation, family time and asking as many questions as you want!

Seniors on the Move – Helping with Evaluation & Relocation of Their Home

Relocation – moving to a new home – is the course chosen by many seniors who are seeking the best situation in which to age in place.

Perhaps your senior’s house is too big, too small, too isolated, too far from family members or too old and costly to update. Maybe they just want to live in a new geographic location.

The best option for them to meet their aging in place needs may be that they will benefit from a move to a new location, different neighborhood, a development such as a NORC or a new state closer to family!

You might have to help with the decision making or at the very least information gathering about what options are going to best meet their needs.

You might also be the one to do the heavy lifting, packing and toting!

What to Look For In a New Living Arrangement

There are a wide variety of communities that can accommodate a senior who wishes to age in place and housing options that have universal designs to make them aging in place appropriate.

Here are a few things to consider when helping senior loved ones decide if their current home is right and  then if they decide to look for a more suitable place to call home.

  • Accessibility in the home and the community – will the home be safe and usable as your senior loved one continues to age? Are the halls and doorways wide enough for a wheelchair? Are there steps to living spaces? Is it in good repair free from loose floorboards and other trip hazards? Can it be upgraded or renovated to achieve universal design? Is the community suitable for older adults? Is it designed with seniors in mind? Will their needs be able to be met in this neighborhood?
  • Affordability – Can they afford the mortgage, homeowner’s fees, taxes and other costs associated with their current home? If they don’t currently pay fees, keep those in mind for evaluation of potential new homes. Is it in a golf community that served them well after retirement but now is money paid out with no return as they can no longer golf? Can they afford the costs of renovations if they are required for safe aging in place?
  • Transportation – Is there public transportation available in the town or neighborhood when they can no longer drive? Are there car services or senior transportation that they can hire if they no longer are safe behind the wheel? Are there family or friends who can drive them around nearby in this home?
  • Healthcare – Are there healthcare organizations, doctors, professionals, pharmacies, outpatient services and emergency rooms within close contact for their health and wellness needs? How far they are from the nearest emergency room is important if they have a fall, heart attack or stroke.
  • Peers – Do they have people their age and with similar interests near them? Is there a church where they can socialize, a senior center or a dance club within close proximity so they can interact and stay stimulated?
  • Volunteerism and Social Engagement – Is the community able to support them if they choose to volunteer or remain socially engaged? One of the keys to successful aging is remaining mentally and physically engaged and should be considered.
  • Family proximity – Are there any family members within easy reach if trouble occurs or just to visit? It is nice if there is someone who can check in on senior loved ones (even if it is not a family member) to be sure they are OK.

Helping Senior Loved Ones Move

Many of our senior loved ones who have decided to move to a new location will have to downsize their stuff. Makes sense right? Years of accumulation need to be moved! Oh no!

There may be a lifetime of not just memories but memorabilia, boxes of stuff that haven’t been opened in twenty years, old clothes, lawn equipment, appliances, years of documents dating back to the dawn of time (their time, at least) and stuff on top of stuff that they ‘may need someday’ like plastic bags, pieces of tinfoil, twist ties, old paint, caulk, wood scraps, nails, magazines, and pencils. You know – you’ve opened the junk drawer in the kitchen and looked into the garage, basement or attic. It’s there alright!

Beware! Anything they don’t want to donate, sell or discard, will be packed up and carried to another basement or garage!

When you move the furniture out you will find more lost treasures hiding in the recesses of the cushions, corners and undersides (and maybe some cobwebs and spider eggs!).

How do I know this? I just moved my own parents across the country! Thirty five years of accumulated stuff (some junk, some not) fills a moving truck very fast!

It is best to avoid the urge to take some of the stuff to your own house where you will store it in your basement and garage never to be used again. Be careful when you decide what to keep and what to donate too. Be sure you keep your senior loved ones in the conversation, don’t throw things out without their input. This will only lead to major problems down the road when what you thought was useless is priceless to them.

Discuss the potential use of certain items, the sentimental value, the place it will take up (or have no place) in a new location and their willingness to donate for others to use. If there is no place to store it or place an item, your loved ones may be more willing to let it go than if they think it will fit somewhere. Try to convince them to keep only the basics in terms of furniture, clothing, household goods they are capable of using in the short term and any valuable pieces with true meaning. Take care of those items and donate or sell the others.

Plan & Implement Downsizing in Advance

seniors on the move to a new homeKeep in mind that many years of storage and house stuffing will take time to downsize. It will be difficult to discuss all these items and get the job done in one week. As soon as they begin considering a move to another place, it is time to start this process. Slow de-cluttering will be easier than trying to do the whole house one week before the house is sold!

Remain flexible and sensitive in your approach; these items are personal to your senior loved one. Remember that how you say things and what you say, your body language and mannerisms can wound them. They don’t think their musty old couch with the coffee stains should be given away, to them it is as beautiful as the day they brought it home.

Enlist as many family members or friends in the packing, loading and unloading tasks. Your senior loved one is probably beyond being able to help a great deal more than supervising the job. You may also want to consider a moving company if the cost is not too prohibitive as this will make things easier for everyone.

Good Time for Other Discussions

If time permits, take the opportunity to discuss with your senior loved ones a variety of things. One thing to talk about is family history. Who owned that piece of furniture or picture, where did they get it, how did it change hands, who is in the photo and all other relevant items about their life and growing up years that you may not know.

Another topic to discuss is what happens next? Do they have any thoughts about where they want to go if this house isn’t the last stop? What if they need more care and a facility is necessary? Do they have advance directives executed and do all the family members know of their wishes?

Use each thing that happens as a way to open the door of discussion about things that they might not want to talk about when you visit but will now discuss as part of a new transition.

Another bit of information you can learn at this transition time is their financial status. Is there a power of attorney for finances? Do you know where their accounts are kept and how to access them if needed? No one likes to talk about money, but it is good to know a little about where to start when financial help is necessary.

This can be a time of renewal, joy, excitement or grief. How you handle it and ease your senior loved one through this daunting process will help get the job done easier. Relax and take a deep breath when it is all over.

Do you have any tips to share about your moving experience? We would love to hear them!