Family Caregiver – Do You Fear Aging & What it Will Mean to Your Life?

Do you celebrate life no matter what age you are?

Do you feel the joy of living?

Do you worry about your own aging, especially since you are a caregiver of a loved one?

While seemingly always a popular topic, talk of aging seems more prevalent today.

It is interesting to note that 4.2 million tweets a year addressed aging.

In the media, the topic of health grew 48% in 2014 over 2013.

Get Old Study

I recently found a new study examining the attitude we all have toward aging and how it might influence the life we lead. They wanted to assess how aging was being discussed via Twitter.

Conducted online among over 2,000 adults over age 18 by Harris Poll on behalf of Pfizer’s Get Old Campaign, the goal was to determine if people of all ages should start thinking about how they want to age so that they can change their fears into action.

They found that 87% have at least one fear when they think about getting old:

  • Decline in physical ability (23%)
  • Memory loss (15%)
  • Having a chronic disease (12%)
  • Running out of money (12%)

Pfizer’s Get Old Campaign will use this information to create “new, engaging and shareable” information via social media, including Twitter. They plan to share quizzes, videos and educational content on a variety of topics to help us all take charge of our health, finances, and attitudes for more successful aging.

Health of Family Caregivers

Family caregivers often have a real interest in understanding how to improve their health so that they can enjoy their life while getting done all the things that need doing.

There are many ways caregivers’ health can be negatively affected by their role as a family caregiver.

Stress – there can be a strong emotional impact being a caregiver. Frustration, anger, guilt, denial, exhaustion, regret, and loneliness. 75% of caregivers who report stress from their role are women.

Physical – when you put your own health behind that of others, including those for whom you care, it will often end with a physical problem. Medically you can have a weakened immune system, poor wound healing, undesired weight changes (loss or gain), chronic disease, such as heart disease or diabetes, mental health issues, and more frequent illnesses. Lack of sleep plays a part in weakness and fatigue.

Personal Health – many caregivers, especially women, put off their own health checkups. They may not get the preventive care they need, fill their own prescriptions or have recommended health screenings that can diagnose problems before they become untreatable. Getting vaccines according to schedule is another thing that often takes a backseat when we care for our loved ones. Missing certain vaccines can lead to time spent fighting preventable illnesses when you will be unable to be a caregiver.

Poor Eating Habits – caregivers often feed others and neglect to take time to feed themselves. Grab and go because we have so many other things that need to be done is not often a healthy way to eat. Getting a variety of fresh foods, whole grains and lean proteins are usually in a convenient form and take time to prepare, time we might not to expend to care for ourselves. When we don’t eat adequately, it can lead to medical issues that could keep us from caregiving.

No Physical Activity – getting to the gym, taking a long walk, or doing yoga is something we could all do to meet the recommended level of physical activity that will help us age well, maintain our heart health and manage our weight. When we find other things that seem more important than caring for our own bodies and scheduling time to get active and stay healthy, it will eventually catch up with us.

What Can Caregivers Do to Put Their Health First?

There are ways that we can find time, make time and schedule time for ourselves as caregivers in order to prevent burnout and feel that we are able to age well ourselves.

We need to have a strong positive outlook on our own aging experience and take the initiative to meet our own health goals.

  1. Schedule time for exercise and physical activity.
  2. Accept help when offered, ask for help if it isn’t offered. Pay for help if you need it. Contact your family and friends for help doing tasks that anyone can do to free you up to do those things that only you can do – like care for yourself.
  3. Don’t try to do it all yourself.
  4. Seek out a support group that can help you understand your feelings about the disease process your loved one faces. Learn new strategies to help you manage your time and be the best caregiver you can be. Look for supportive and educational messages from the Old Age Campaign on Twitter and other social media platforms.
  5. Eat well and drink plenty of fluids.
  6. Get your medical checkups and preventive screenings. Seek out scheduled vaccines to stay well.
  7. Talk to a counselor if your mental health is compromised by your caregiving duties. Discuss your fears, frustrations, and loneliness so that you can work past it. Keep a journal to express your feelings so that you can move on.
  8. Find respite care if you need a break, whether it is for an afternoon, weekend or a week. There are options for this type of respite care and it could give you the chance to relax and care for your own needs that can allow you to continue to be a caregiver.

These are just a few suggestions for you to put your needs back in the forefront. You probably have heard the saying that is very appropriate here: put your own air mask on before anyone else’s.

You have to care for yourself to be a long term caregiver. Even if doing a great job of caregiving now, you may find your loved one needing your help for a longer term period.

It is very important for caregivers to have a positive attitude about their own aging, not be afraid of the future and set health goals to age well.

We wish you well in putting yourself at the front of the line!

Avoid Hospital Acquired Infection & Have a Safe Healthcare Experience

Hospital patient – a role we hope to avoid but it seems almost inevitable we’ll be one at least once over our lifetimes. It may be a simple procedure or a full blown trauma that sends us and the elders for whom we care to the hospital.

Hopefully it will be only a short stay and not for an extended period.

When we, or someone we love, are in the hospital, there are seemingly endless concerns we experience. We wonder if we are being treated accurately, quickly, safely and cleanly. We don’t want any of these things to lead to further illness, a longer hospital stay or a greater financial burden.

It’s ironic, but true, we are all worried about getting infections from the very place that is supposed to be making us better. Turns out our worry is too often well founded.

To protect ourselves – and especially our loved ones – there are steps we can take in an effort to prevent certain occurrences while in the hospital, including becoming a victim of hospital acquired infections (HAI).

Hospital Acquired Infections – What You Should Know

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found that, on any given day in the nation’s acute care hospitals, there is a likelihood that 1 in 25 hospital patients will acquire an infection. In 2011 there were approximately 722,000 hospital acquired infections or HAIs and 25,000 of those who contracted an infection went on to die during their hospital stay.

Being a safe patient is important in order to protect our health. Hospital acquired infections are largely preventable.

Infections can begin when invasive medical devices or procedures are used, including catheters, IV’s, ventilators, or at surgery sites. There are numerous different types of bacteria and organisms that can be contracted in a healthcare setting including those that are antibiotic resistant.

The CDC has taken steps in monitoring and educating hospitals, clinics and other healthcare providers about the dangers of infection. They are also educating us as patients.

Being a Safe Patient

The CDC encourages us to be informed, empowered and prepared whenever we or one of our loved ones become a patient, regardless of the health setting.

These are the actions they suggest we do to help prevent becoming a statistic and potentially a fatality.

  1. Speak up. Ask questions of the doctor and all of the healthcare team. How long is the catheter needed, when will it come out, is it necessary, how do they protect surgical sites, how do they prepare you for surgery, and any other question you have throughout the process. There is a Speak Up Initiative that has been educating patients, empowering them to make their needs know and questioning healthcare providers to reduce medical errors.
  2. Keep hands clean. Be sure everyone who provides care to you washes their hands before all contact. If they don’t, ask them to before they lay their hands on you or any of your medical devices.
  3. Ask about antibiotics. Will they need to be used, are they being used, and will there be testing done to be sure the correct one is being used.
  4. Know the signs of an infection and alert the medical providers if you suspect you are developing an infection.
  5. Be alert for dangerous, deadly diarrhea. Let your doctor know if you have three or more diarrhea episodes in 24 hours, especially if you have been taking an antibiotic.
  6. Protect yourself by getting your recommended vaccines to prevent illness.

Protecting Loved Ones’ Health – Caregivers’ Strategies

There are more actions you can take, in addition to the guidelines above, to be sure that you and your older loved ones are protecting yourselves while a patient in the hospital or other healthcare settings, including at home.

  • Medication Safety – avoid adverse drug events. Keep a current list of your senior’s medications and update whenever changes are made. Follow the directions on the labels including all precautions, storage instructions, dosing instructions and expiration dates. Use over-the-counter medications sparingly and follow all manufacturer’s instructions. If you require blood tests while taking certain medications, get those tests done as scheduled. Keep all medications out of the reach of children and locked up if needed.
  • Hand Washing – learn how to correctly wash your hands and your senior loved one’s hands in order to be sure that you will be fighting the spread of germs and bacteria which could lead to illness. The steps are: wet hands, apply soap, rub hands at the palms and between fingers and at cuticles, rinse with water, dry hands with single use towel, and finally turn off faucet with paper towel. The entire process should take 40-60 seconds. Wash hands when soiled, before and after meal preparation, after toileting, after touching face or nose, after coughing or sneezing and other times as needed.
  • Needles – if your senior requires needles for medications or other reasons, be sure to dispose of the needles properly and safely in a sharps container. Dispose of the sharps container before it is 2/3 full. Handle the needles as instructed in order to prevent needle sticks. Store needles or lancets away from the reach of children.
  • Antibiotics – the use of antibiotics and antimicrobial solutions have changed our health and ability to fight infection. Unfortunately, they have been overused and misused by many, resulting in antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria and other microorganisms. It is often wise to wait for the doctor to prescribe an antibiotic, if they feel it is warranted, rather than ask for one. If prescribed an antibiotic, take it as directed for the full course of treatment. Be sure the antibiotic is useful against the infection for which it’s intended. Remember that antibiotics are only effective against bacterial infections, not viral such as the common cold, sore throat or runny nose.
  • Routine Check-ups – be sure that you and your senior loved one get your routine health exams, preventive screenings and all scheduled vaccines. Caregivers often neglect their own health as they care for others. When you become debilitated you will be at greater risk for opportunistic infections which could end up in hospitalization setting you up for a hospital acquired infection.

There are many other things we can do to stay healthy, including eating nourishing foods, being physically active, drinking adequate amounts of fluids, sleeping enough each night and reducing stress in our lives.

Healthy lifestyles can make a difference in how we weather the storm of illness or hospitalization.

Being an advocate for your own health – as well as that of your senior loved one – can go a long way toward a safe and infection-free healthcare experience.

Survey Says: Majority Feel Those 65 and Older Should be Called … Seniors

Seniors, elders, silvers . . . just what should we call adults who have reached or surpassed the age of 65 — or should we can them anything special at all?

That compelling question, along with some feedback we had received from members of the community, inspired us to put together a one-question survey a while back to find out what others think.

Our survey was what pollsters would call “unscientific,” meaning it was not set up to be statistically valid or a conclusive representation of what Americans, or even all members of the Senior Care Corner® readership, believe. What we have are the opinions of those who chose to share their thoughts with us, which is what we were seeking.

To those of you who took the time to respond, either to the survey itself or via social media (and there were many who chose the social media route), THANK YOU!

Behind the Survey

“Why a survey,” you may ask – and a number of you have asked. That’s fair since, after all, there are a lot of surveys conducted.

We’ve received a few comments about our use of “seniors” to refer to older adults, with indications there are other labels that are more appropriate, more respectful or just fit better. Sure, we can’t please everyone – and hope we don’t offend – but it just made sense to us to check and see if a lot of others share the sentiment we have heard.

The survey was a simple one, in which we asked “what word(s) should we use to refer to those who are 65 years old or older”? We listed several options with which we are familiar and provide the opportunity for respondents to add their own.

The survey was distributed with the article explaining it, which was promoted via Senior Care Corner, our Facebook page, our Google+ page, and in numerous tweets.

Survey Results

Okay, we pretty much gave away the results with the headline, didn’t we. As you will see in the chart below, which reflects responses through social media as well as the survey instrument, “seniors” was selected by more than half of the survey respondents, with “elder” picked by nearly half.

Please note that some took advantage of the opportunity to select more than one word, which is why the percentages add up to more than one hundred.

Were there any surprises to us in the results? Yes. We thought the term “silver” would be more popular, but maybe that was just because advertisers seem to be using that term. Clearly it was not among the favorites of those who responded to our survey.

older adult name survey chart

Beyond One-Word Answers

We treasure the feedback of those who put time and effort into going beyond the survey to send us their thoughts and would like to share some of them in abbreviated and sometimes paraphrased version here.

Alive, and pleased to be here!

Silvers, because the term silver indicates strength and value in the community, something (or someone) that is solid (more than one response along these lines).

It is difficult finding terms that are acceptable today, but it is individual respect and kindness which is most important.

Hard to determine names for groups that may face ridicule for who they are. Our country does not respect elders in the same way as do other nations.

Call us elders, grandparents, great grandparents.

I vote for silver-haired mavens.

Thank you to all those who sent us comments. It would take too long an article to print them all but we read and valued each.

Survey by NPR

We learned of another poll along the same lines by National Public Radio (NPR) while we were contemplating the whole question of whether there is a “best” thing to call aging Americans. Since more data is often better, we want to share what they found.

The three top results in the NPR poll of its listeners were the same as in ours, though in a different order and with none favored by a majority of their respondents.

  1. Older Adults
  2. Elders
  3. Seniors

About 2 in 5 named “older adults,” about which NPR said there was not real enthusiasm, with both “elders” and “seniors” named by 1 in 3.

We found most interesting the other side of the NPR poll, which sought feedback on the most disliked terms for those who are older. They said there was much more enthusiasm in this part of the voting.

Not surprisingly, “elderly” was viewed negatively. While close to elder, it is often seen as denoting someone who is frail and even sick. We have encountered that reaction as well.

Some terms that sound positive in nature and are often used with that intent were seen as negative by a majority of the respondents. This includes labels such as “positive aging,” “successful aging,” and “golden years.”

Multiple Categories Needed?

The desire to group large numbers of people under a single label defined by age miscasts many, as Millennials, Gen-X’ers, Baby Boomers, etc are not homogeneous groups. Used in context, though, they can help convey information about a large group in many fewer words than a long explanation, as we hope the use of “senior” in Senior Care Corner® accomplishes.

Where other age-based names cover enough years to define a generation, any term applied to all those who are 65 or older tries to blanket more than 40 years of Americans, including those with different needs and wants. This might be, at least in part, because marketers have not focused a lot of attention on older adults in the past so many of those preparing statistics have lumped all seniors into one age category — if they included them at all.

Fortunately, that is changing.

As seniors continue to become a larger percentage of the American population and gain recognition as people who may have willingness and ability to spend money, business will begin to focus more on elders as a target market. As they do, they will quickly recognize – as some have already – that older adults don’t comprise just one market segment but many, with varied needs, desires, and purchasing habits. At that point we will probably see additional names widely used for adults who are older.

What names should be used then? That’s a discussion (or multiple discussions) for another day!

As a closing thought . . . no matter what name we use to refer to groups of people, we need to keep in mind that it’s individuals who will hear and react to these names, individuals who deserve our respect!

Technology Advances in Medical Care Benefiting Seniors & Caregivers

Healthcare needs of our aging population will continue to grow; fortunately, technology continues to advance and play an ever growing role in meeting those needs.

Senior Care Corner believes technology has the power to help our older adults and caregivers be healthier, safer and age in place independently for as long as possible.

More new and ever-better medical and home monitoring devices are coming to the market and being approved regularly, carrying with them the promise of connecting us and our seniors’ healthcare providers.

Managing seniors’ health will not only keep them healthier longer and independent in order to remain at home longer but also help to keep their healthcare costs in check and perhaps even prevent traumatic events.

Companies large and small are working to make home monitoring using medical devices more usable across different platforms and devices. We can use smartphones, tablets, and computers simultaneously and link these with the medical devices. These devices and advances will further link the information and data that is obtained with both family caregivers and the healthcare providers who can treat our seniors not only at home but swiftly as well to avoid further decline or hospitalization.

We hope to see more change coming soon that will allow us as caregivers and consumers to get more use out of telemedicine that can link us with our healthcare providers for improved healthcare. These are some of the latest uses of home monitoring medical devices that can benefit our senior loved ones.

TeleCare Using a Phone Call to Deliver Care

A group of participants suffering from chronic musculoskeletal pain were randomly selected to receive a phone call or more traditional physician care.

After one year of monitoring, 30% of the telecare group reported improvement in pain using a pain score, compared to 25% in the doctor treated group. Only 19% of the telecare group reported worsening of pain compared to 36% of the physician treated group.

The telecare group also reported higher satisfaction, 77% compared to 52% of the physician treated group.

Researchers in this study feel that more research needs to be conducted regarding other ways to incorporate telecare into the treatment of pain in other ways that will be sustainable and cost effective.

Home Blood Pressure Monitoring Saving Money

The American Heart Association has recommended home testing of blood pressure for some time. Many seniors currently test their own blood pressure using pressure monitoring kits and record the results to show their doctors.

Researchers feel that self-monitoring not only helps the person manage their health and blood pressure, the readings help the doctor direct their care and also save healthcare cost for insurers, including Medicare.

The study found net savings with home blood pressure monitoring ranged from $33 to $166 per person in the first year, and $415 to $1,364 over 10 years. Home blood pressure monitoring is something that can be done regularly, whether daily, weekly or on another schedule.

With more than 76 million adults in the US diagnosed with hypertension or high blood pressure, the savings could be great.

Home Based Technology Options

Many home care companies have begun offering in-home medical and safety monitoring, connecting our senior loved ones to personnel who can keep them healthy and safe.

One company is providing personal emergency response monitors (PERS) that can call when needed. The device sends an alert to emergency personnel and first responders when an emergency occurs, such as a fall. This type of device allows many seniors to stay home alone longer with access to help when needed coming quickly.

Others medical devices provided by the in-home care company that are connected with nurses include vital sign monitoring – blood pressure, weight, blood oxygen saturation, pulse and blood sugar monitoring.

Companies are also providing sensor systems that will provide information about our senior loved ones and their well-being while aging in place. The sensors track not only in home movement but also sleep patterns. By trending these patterns, changes in health can be identified and treatment provided.

For instance, if the senior gets up many more times at night for bathroom trips, there may be a urinary tract infection that could become septic if untreated. This potential is sent to through the proper channels including healthcare providers and family members who are able to monitor the data electronically being alerted as needed.

These types of medical interventions would not be possible in such a prompt manner without the assistance of telehealth devices. They can can often help avoid emergency visits to the doctor or hospital.

One company teamed with the Kansas Department of Aging and the University of Kansas Medical Center for a three year pilot project. The results of using telehealth with these elders supports more use of technology. The pilot patients averaged 3.2 chronic disease states, “final data demonstrated reductions of 38 percent in hospitalizations, 67 percent in emergency room visits and 20 percent in nursing home admissions. Participants admitted to a nursing home had stays that were 58 percent shorter than the Medicaid average.”

Medical Knowledge From the Internet

Another fabulous way to use technology for the benefit of our seniors’ medical status is to gain knowledge by using the World Wide Web. Caregivers access innumerable websites to learn more about disease processes, treatment options, medications and their safe use, support from other caregivers and prevention strategies.

There is a great deal of information on the internet that can help us manage chronic disease, be a better patient, talk with the healthcare team, advocate for our health and wellness and perform day to day caregiving duties.

There are some warnings that we should all heed when considering changing our treatment plan based on the information we read. It is important to be able to judge which information is valuable and credible and which is potentially harmful to our seniors’ health. The information should be from a trusted source.

The American Academy of Family Physicians offers these guidelines:

  • Medical information should be from a medical professional. Be sure the information includes the original source so that you can tell if is accurate and credible.
  • If you are depending on data to decide on a course of action be sure that the statistics included on the website are from reliable sources.
  • Make sure the information is factual, versus opinion-based. This can be difficult. One way to verify it is to validate it with other sites. If it is the only opinion on the topic it will be hard to depend on its veracity. If the research was validated by another source, it could be considered more trustworthy.
  • The information should be recent, preferably from within the last year. Older data may be obsolete.
  • Look for information that does not have a conflict of interest or ulterior motive such as selling you a book or other product. Sites run by government, university or nonprofit organizations tend to be reliable because they are not funded by companies.

As more technology emerges that is beneficial to our senior loved ones, it will help make life better for the senior receiving care and make family caregivers’ roles easier to manage — or least that is the hope!

We will continue to update you on new developments as we learn of them. Do you have any experience or questions about technology that you have used or wish to use in the home of your senior loved one? Please contact us so we can share and benefit all!

Tool Kit by CDC’s Injury Center Helps Seniors Stay STEADI & Avoid Falls

It is always a good time for a reminder to all of us who are caregivers of older adults about the potential for falls in our senior adults.

We need to do what we can to help them avoid potentially life altering falls.

Did you know one out of three people over 65 will fall this year? Two million will be treated in emergency rooms for fall injuries each year.

Why is that such a cause for concern? Falls in older adults can be life changing events, including lack of mobility, disability and failure to age in place in the home of their dreams. It can also lead to death.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Injury Center answered the call to help reduce the number of falls by creating a tool kit that will help health care providers intervene with their aging patients.

This particular tool kit will give doctors and other care providers some fall prevention resources to use with those patients most at risk for falls or who have already been experiencing falls.

STEADI – Stopping Elderly Accidents, Deaths & Injuries

The STEADI tool kit is free from the CDC and contains many useful, downloadable tools that can help identify those older adults at risk and provides conversation starters for the practitioner so that they can more effectively broach the subject with elders and caregivers.

It also includes educational handouts for the patient and caregiver to prevent falls and validated gait and balance assessment tests (with instructional video) to track mobility, balance and endurance in the elder.

The tools don’t end there. There are referral forms that can be used to connect caregivers and seniors with specialists in mobility and gait disorders, chair exercises instruction guide, prevention tips, home safety checklist and recommended lists of community programs poised to help seniors prevent falls.

Health Care Providers Screen for Falls

Using the CDC tool kit will make the task of spotting potential fall risk in older patients much easier for practitioners. Here are some of the things your senior’s doctor will probably be doing during the routine office visit to assess fall risk. If they don’t, you can ask for them to if you are concerned about falls with injuries for your senior loved one.

  • Obtain a fall history asking specific questions about prior falls in past year, fear of falls or feelings of unsteadiness. Do you need to hold the furniture to steady yourself? Do you need to hurry to the bathroom?
  • Administer gait, strength and balance tests including timed Up & Go test, 30 second chair standing test and 4 stage balance test. This will let the doctor observe for himself gait, postural stability, sway and stride length. Refer to physical therapy if needed or if assistive device needed.
  • Assess muscle tone, feet and footwear. Refer to podiatrist if needed.
  • Screen for depression and cognitive impairment.
  • Check both supine and standing blood pressure.
  • Reduce doses of psychoactive medications and stop if no longer needed.
  • Recommend Vitamin D supplement.
  • Give brief eye test, refer to eye doctor if needed.
  • Discuss home environment and give safety checklist to reduce fall hazards.
  • Provide community recommendations for senior services and fall prevention programs.
  • Educate your senior and you about what causes falls and the steps needed to prevent them.

Fall Prevention Tips

There are many things that you and your aging loved one can do to help prevent falls. You have probably already done many things to reduce hazards in your loved ones home but here are a few you may not have tried yet.

Let’s start by looking at some activities your senior can do to reduce falls.

  1. Begin an exercise program that improves balance and leg strength.
    1. Chair exercises
    2. Tai chi
    3. Walking
    4. Swimming
    5. Yoga
    6. Weight bearing exercises
  2. Have your senior’s medication list reviewed by the doctor or pharmacist to be sure there are no medications that are contributing to falls or dizziness.
  3. Get your senior’s vision checked and use corrective lenses if needed. There may be other eye treatments that would improve your senior’s vision which will reduce their chance of falling.
  4. Attend a fall prevention program in the community.
  5. Take a balance class.
  6. If the doctor agrees, get physical therapy for strength and balance training.
  7. Use an assistive device as directed. Use your cane or walker when you are supposed to not just when you are away from home.
  8. Eat a healthy diet with enough water to stay adequately hydrated.
  9. Always wear proper fitting shoes in and out of the house. Visit a podiatrist if nails need cutting, foot pain is present or other foot problems require assistance.
  10. Take Vitamin D supplements as prescribed by your doctor.

Check for Fall Hazards in the Home

Things to do in the home if they aren’t already in place:

  • Install grab bars in the bathroom at the shower, tub and sink.
  • Install enough lighting in key areas to prevent dark areas and be sure the ones already installed are functioning properly. Add switches if needed for best access.
  • Keep floors dry and non-slippery. Remove trip hazards like throw rugs, clutter and electric cords.
  • Install hand rails at any steps especially going in and out of the house, garage or basement. Be sure stairways have handrails on both sides.
  • Keep things used daily in easy reach.
  • Be sure there is a cordless or cellular phone accessible –or use a monitoring device that will alert help if you fall.
  • Never use a ladder alone; ask someone for help.
  • Clear furniture out of walking paths.
  • Make an unobstructed path that is easy to maneuver from the bed to the bathroom.
  • Keep emergency numbers and medical documents including medication list and advance directives on the refrigerator in case of emergencies.

Fall hazards are present in every home. Often they are easy to overlook until an accident occurs.

Most of the time, fixing hazards doesn’t take much time, effort or money.

Don’t let fear of falling or fall hazards cause your senior loved one to stop being active or isolate themselves.

Falls are preventable with a little bit of observation and planning. The cost of renovations or DIY projects are minimal compared to the healthcare cost of injuries.

Is there something that you have done to keep your senior loved one safe at home?

Attitude Matters: How Optimism Can Add to the Life of Elder Loved Ones

Can our attitude impact the way we age?

More to the point, can our attitude affect our lifestyle which will determine how well we age?

The 2014 United States of Aging Survey recently found that Americans 60 and older report they are more motivated than in the past two years to improve their health by exercising regularly and setting health goals.

What is leading to this change in health behavior? Does it point to an increase in optimism?

In short, yes, attitude matters!

Annual Aging Survey Results

The United States of Aging Survey is conducted annually by the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, National Council on Aging, United Healthcare and USA TODAY. The report surveyed 1,000 adults 60 and older and a comparison group of 1,027, ages 18-59 for a total of 3,279 people via telephone. The data was then weighted to US Census Bureau demographic statistics based on age, gender, marital status and race.

This aging survey was the third consecutive study completed, therefore the data and results can be compared to prior years to perhaps find deeper insights. The survey covered a wide range of questions related to health, finances and community support. It reveals how seniors are planning for the future as well as how communities can better assist successful aging among their older citizens.

According to the survey, more seniors are making health goals a priority. Here are other results.

  1. 37% report they are exercising daily, compared to 26% last year
  2. 53% set health goals, compared to 47% last year
  3. Top three health goals were eating healthier (37 percent), losing weight (30 percent) and being more physically active (24 percent)
  4. 4 out of 10 seniors report that they are the driving force behind lifestyle changes, 26% say their spouse is the motivator and 15% report that their children are influencers
  5. 69% of those surveyed reported it was easy to pay their monthly bills
  6. 49% expressed concern that they may not have enough money (savings and earnings) to last their remaining lifetime, which is lower than the prior year by 4%
  7. Seniors felt that these were the primary reasons for optimism: faith or spirituality (25%), loving family (15%), and keeping a positive attitude (14%); also important were having a happy marriage or relationship, taking care of their health, and staying mentally and physically active; these areas all ranked higher than financial security
  8. 54% of seniors felt that their communities were supporting the senior population but only 48% of younger seniors (60-64) felt that was the case
  9. Seniors voiced their community needs as home maintenance, transportation, and long term care but feel these are not currently being fulfilled by their community
  10. 3 out of 4, or 77%, desire to stay in their current homes the remainder of their lives so may need home maintenance assistance
  11. Top three areas of concern for these seniors were inability to care for themselves, losing their memory and being a burden but feel prepared for changes in their health as they age
  12. 58% report that they have discussed end of life care with their loved ones, 53% report executing advance directives, and 50% have shared these with their loved ones; however, 1 out of 10 in the study do not want to plan for end of life care

Conclusions Drawn from the Survey Results

According to the survey, seniors who exercise regularly indicate that their lives were better than those who do not exercise. Those seniors who set health goals are more likely to feel that they can have a better quality of life due to improving their health.

Another conclusion of the survey is that seniors, those over 60 in this case, are taking charge of how they age and choosing to take steps to make healthy aging a reality. Living independently is a common goal and one that needs specific action steps to achieve.

Seniors interviewed report that financial confidence is increasing this year but they feel their personal happiness will be found elsewhere.

The researchers state that this was the first year since the survey’s inception that seniors felt that their life was better than normal in the past year, as opposed to worse than normal.

Optimism which lead to positive changes in actions such as physical activity or improved nutrition can result in more successful aging.

Setting Health Goals with Your Senior Loved One

Feeling prepared for the future and taking positive steps to improve health and mental well-being by those over 60 can have lasting effects on the quality of their lives as they age.

Communities can help support aging and provide necessary resources to help all our seniors meet their health goals.

Caregivers can also facilitate healthy changes in senior loved ones.

  • Visit the doctor or other healthcare professional to fully understand your seniors current health status. Where are they medically, what are their challenges and what plans or treatments are needed to improve or manage their current health? It is hard to make an action plan when you don’t know what problems need to be addressed.
  • Once you have an idea of the health problems and have a priority list of which to tackle first, it is time to learn more about it. Does your senior need to attend a class for diabetes self-management, get a blood pressure cuff for home use, or join a gym?
  • When you have been armed with the knowledge you need to create a plan, get to it! Get out paper and pencil or turn on the computer and jot down the goals. Getting it documented will make it real and something that is compelling to accomplish and not just “I will do it tomorrow” but really never get around to doing anything. Make columns for (1) goal, (2) how it is to be measured, such as weight or blood sugar, (3) time frame (4) how it will be accomplished, and (5) who will help. Include any special things needed to accomplish it, such as a walking buddy or cooking class. Be sure there is room on the chart to track progress and check in often to be sure progress is made toward the goals.
  • Brainstorm with your senior about how they would like to achieve the goals. Do they want to walk every day or would they rather swim or dance? Who will transport them to activities if they can’t get there themselves? Do they want to do a supermarket tour to learn how to select healthy foods from the grocery shelves? Do they want to try a new treatment or medication or stop something they do now?
  • Encourage them to stay on track. Are they doing what their action plan says? Do they need help updating it or finding ways around new obstacles? Do they need different motivation or inspiration?
  • Follow-up with the doctor or other healthcare team members to track progress and see results. Are their blood sugars in better control, has their balance improved, or can they reduce medication dosage since they are controlling their blood pressure better?
  • When goals are met it will be time to tackle some new goals. There will always be something to work toward or something new will happen that requires a strategy.

Avoid regrets of health not preserved, money not saved (or spent), families not loved, independence not maintained or a life not lived. Working slowly to meet important life goals will benefit your senior loved one and you, as their family caregiver, as the years go by.

States’ Support – or Lack Thereof – for Family Caregivers – Study Results

There are 42 million family caregivers in the US alone – and it can be a 24/7 job.

Family caregivers are generally unpaid and, as the population continues to age, there will be fewer of them available to provide much needed care. More than 90% of older adults living in the community receive care from unpaid family caregivers primarily from wives and adult daughters.

Two thirds of those at home receive all their care from unpaid family caregivers!

The next big wave of older adults who will need care begin turning 80 in only twelve years. They will need help to continue to remain independent and their caregivers will need all the support and assistance we can provide.

Because much of the support will come at the state level, where you and your aging family live could make a big difference in the programs, policies and infrastructure in place to help you provide the best care while caring for yourself.

Latest Data

There is a new report, Raising Expectations, 2014: A State Scorecard on Long-Term Services and Supports for Older Adults, People with Physical Disabilities, and Family Caregivers, produced by the AARP Policy Institute, that provides a state level performance score for five areas or key dimensions. The five areas are

  • affordability and access
  • choice of setting and provider
  • quality of life and quality of care
  • support for family caregiver
  • effective transitions.

Because this is the second edition of this report (the first one was published in 2011) its findings can be compared to prior results measuring the same data. The authors tell us that there is some improvement in the scores, especially in those states that have enacted specific public policy directed at improvement, such as a Medicaid safety net and support for caregivers.

Unfortunately, they feel that the progress is slow and will need to accelerate at a greater speed to meet the needs of this burgeoning population.

As we will see as we review the findings, some states have a distance to travel. If you want to see your particular state’s results, check out the scorecard here.

Support for Family Caregivers

Focusing specifically on how states are supporting caregivers, we find some states scored highest for a variety of factors. Of the highest ranking states overall, there are some but not all who also rank highest for caregiver support. They include Minnesota, Washington, Alaska, Hawaii, Vermont and the District of Columbia.

Other states that also performed well in terms of caregiver support, but who were not at the top of the overall rankings, include Illinois, South Dakota, New York, Texas, Georgia, Louisiana, Rhode Island, Arkansas, Nevada, and Oklahoma.

Some states with the lowest scores might surprise you, including Florida, Utah, and Massachusetts.

The report states that a fear for family caregivers of older adults who don’t have adequate support in their states, safety nets, financial assets to cover their own care, or long term care insurance will be the inability to pay for necessary services. Caregivers will then deplete their own savings and financial resources in order to meet the needs of the loved ones in their care, thereby endangering their own well-being.

Home care allows for a more affordable, and desirable, care for most families, but the report states that “at an average of 84% of median income, the typical older family cannot sustain these costs for long periods.” Unfortunately, as we are witnessing, an 80 year old in a good state of health has the potential to become a centenarian. Will we have the funds to support twenty more years of home care?

When families exhaust their personal assets, the care of our older adults will fall to the Medicaid system. Long term care insurance is costly and out of the reach of many aging adults. The number who actually have these policies is dwindling to 10% of those over 50. Medicaid therefore becomes most people’s safety net.

Finance is one major concern, along with the health of family caregivers. If they can’t pay for assistance, they could damage their own health and ability to serve as a caregiver, leaving many older adults with few options.

State Specifics

Here are some particular findings that can impact family caregivers:

  • Some states, such as Florida, do not allow registered nurses to delegate health maintenance tasks to direct care workers which could lessen the burden on family caregivers. These tasks include taking medications, giving tube feedings or giving an enema most of which become routine for caregivers and can be taught by nurses. Allowing direct care workers to do what caregivers are already doing could relieve family caregivers from these jobs to do other more important items.
  • Some states including, Tennessee, Utah, Georgia and South Dakota, do not allow those receiving Medicaid to receive care in the home. States who do allow in-home care funded by Medicaid include Alaska, Minnesota and New Mexico. Providing in-home care for older adults receiving Medicaid would greatly help family caregivers who are now paying for these services and possibly putting their own future needs in danger.
  • Some states are attempting to transition older adults who have spent more than three months in a nursing home back to home. The ones doing the best (15% of people) were Utah, Arizona and Oregon and those doing the worst (5%) were New Hampshire, South Dakota, North Dakota and Iowa. We want to be at home where quality of life is improved and it is less costly for everyone – states, older adults and caregivers.
  • Because staying at home is universal, the shift to providing support services at home and the community becomes critical. However, even the top five states overall only allocated about 62% of their long term care dollars for older adults which was four times what the bottom five states did at almost 17%. The average across the nation is only 39%. Some states with poor infrastructure in place to provide older adults with the needed services find that there is no choice but to leave home to enter a center because family caregivers can’t provide care without support and are left with no choice.
  • In many states, the person requiring care cannot direct their own care or hire the caregiver of their choice. Making our own choices about what works best for us is fundamental.
  • More states are creating policy that supports caregivers, such as extending the reach of the Family and Medical Leave Act, mandatory paid sick day provisions, and prevention of discrimination against working caregivers. These policies will be critical to prevent burnout of working family caregivers which are expected to be the norm in the future. Caregivers will need support to maintain their own health and financial future.

Positive Changes

The report does highlight states that are improving, albeit at a slow rate.

More than half of states have improved their Medicaid safety net for lower income people with disabilities, allowing them to receive care before they exhaust their own and family caregivers’ funds.

Infrastructure improvements in all states have been impacted by Aging and Disability Resource Centers that help all older adults access the services they need.

Future improvements that all states, including the top performers, must strive to achieve include growing the availability of trained health providers who can meet the needs of the older adults where they live, building support systems that allow aging in place including transitioning out of care homes, and building the effectiveness of Medicaid programs as a safety net.

Family caregiver training is needed so that unpaid caregivers can perform health monitoring and health care tasks safely without injuring themselves or their the loved one for whom they care.

The Good News

Senior Care Corner is happy to find a silver lining in this report. The good news is that, among family caregivers from this report, more than half reported themselves without much worry or stress, with enough time, and being well-rested.

We are including this graph to show state by state how family caregivers responded. The report tabulated data from the Gallup Healthways Well-Being Index which surveys 1,000 caregiving adults each day.

Because many caregivers report having difficulty with feelings that their responsibilities weigh them down, interrupting their sleep, creating stress (it was reported that 55% of caregivers feel stressed), and failure to care for themselves, it becomes very important to ensure support is available for all family caregivers.

What support do you need to be a family caregiver that you would like your state to provide?

Facing Our Future: Facial Scanning Technology & Clues to Longevity

It’s undeniable, we are all aging, each day and every minute. There is, after all, no stopping the steady march of time.

We can all admit — or choose to ignore — that we look older now than we did when we were teenagers or even thirty something.

Little did we know, however, that our face possibly is sending out clues to how long we might live!

How is this possible? Technology of course!

We recently learned of researchers who believe our faces are a window into our overall health.

Let’s see what that means and what they’re up to now.

Technology is Reading our Faces

Facial recognition technology isn’t just looking for criminals anymore on an episode of NCIS, CSI or (name your dramatic show or movie). Don’t get us wrong — it’s wonderful that technology is capable of taking a child’s face and aging it to see how that long ago missing child will now look as an adult in the hope of reuniting a family.

It’s even better that the technology of reading faces is becoming much more and could impact how we manage our health.

Scientists have begun working on a computer system that can analyze the changes seen in our faces brought on by aging and interpreting how that might affect our longevity.

It seems that how we look, the wrinkles we knew were there and the skin sags we dread may tell us how long we will live too. Do we want to know?

Who’s Interested in this Data?

You may wonder why anyone would be interested in looking at our faces and guessing how long we will live. This look could, however, tell us things we didn’t realize.

Insurance underwriters are very interested in the validity of this facial recognition advancement. They would love to look at our age spots, wrinkles and saggy skin in a scientific way if it will give them a hint at how long a life we will be expected to live.

Researchers say that some people grow older faster than others and still others tend to ease into age more slowly when looking at the signs on their faces. It seems that their children also follow suit with aging as their ancestors did.

Because this particular research is still in the very early stages, there is not yet conclusive information about the accuracy we can expect from the predictions. We need more longitudinal information and they are collecting that from us and, especially, centenarians.

Facial Scanning – How it’s Done

Facial recognition will be done by scanning a photograph of a face into a computer. An algorithm will then will look for specific determinants of aging, including race, gender, education, smoking history, and more.

The computer will scan our cheek, eye, brow, forehead, nose, mouth and jowl looking for lines, dark spots, drooping and other signs of aging. It will then compare our faces to others to forecast our health in comparison with like individuals already in the facial database arriving at a perceived age. The database is called Face My Age and it is accepting photos without smiles or makeup if you would like to contribute.

The insurance companies are indeed very interested in seeing this research come to fruition. They can see a great deal of potential to use the information to help them set premiums based on how healthfully we are aging. One can only imagine that they will be able to hypothesize how much healthcare we may need in the future or how long (how many premiums will be paid) someone will live before the life insurance is paid out.

Even more importantly for most of us, there are others waiting to use this information for our benefit, including health advocates, financial institutions and other scientists. We can benefit too!

How We Can Benefit from Our Facial Revelations

We can also benefit when we are armed with this type of information, especially if the science proves to be a valid indicator.

If we know that our skin is showing signs of aging quickly and not necessarily healthfully, we can get a move on to make some changes in our lifestyle that may help our longevity. We will want to be healthy enough to enjoy all the years in our life so may benefit from changes.

Some changes we may want to make:

  1. Find ways to control our stress
  2. Eat right (or better anyway) – consume sources of antioxidants
  3. Get some activity – 15 – 30 minutes a day would help
  4. Stop smoking
  5. Sleep – try for 7 – 8 hours a night
  6. Get a hobby – become socially and mentally engaged in something you enjoy

There are many different organizations, in the US and worldwide, studying aging and longevity. The social and economic implications an aging population can have on society can be overwhelming if we are not prepared. It is a very real possibility that living to be 100 could be the norm and it will be very important that our quality of life matches our years.

Great Technology, but Cautioned Warranted

Protections are needed if facial scanning possibilities pan out. There could be potential for abuse of this information, such as employers who won’t hire or promote someone based on the information from a facial scan or discriminate in some way based on the data. Insurance companies could also use it to keep people from getting insured or even give them a reason to charge higher premiums.

It is important to remember there is a long way to go before this information is viable and working through the many variables, such as race, obesity or thinness, chronic disease, medications, and a myriad of other factors that could change a person’s appearance will likely take many years.

Hopefully what this endeavor using technology should alert us to is the need to stay on course with all the healthy lifestyle changes we know we should make but maybe haven’t quite started to do yet.

You can impact how well you age and even your longevity with a few changes, it’s not too late yet!

Seniors & the Web: Growing Numbers Online & Many Reasons for More

More seniors getting onto the web and surfing the net than ever before. There are so many ways for them to be connected with others they know or just haven’t met yet.

Our seniors are finding out using the web isn’t as hard as they once believed it to be —  and it can be fun too!

We wanted to share with you some benefits that social media and other electronic platforms can have for our senior loved ones in the hopes that you will continue to encourage them to become active with technology.

You can help get them started then interact with them too so they can be part of the connected life and not miss a thing!

Facebook & Older Adults

Over time Facebook has lost its luster for the younger generation in favor of other social media platforms but people over 55 are growing in their use of Facebook, up 35% in the past year according to a Pew Research study.

Seniors are finding many benefits to Facebook that they may not have realized in the past. With more and more seniors adopting technology in general and smartphones with apps for anything, they may be feeling more comfortable with social media.

Yes, seniors have been migrating over to Facebook and learning how to use it to their advantage.

What are they doing on Facebook?

Connecting with Others

It may have been family members and friends in the beginning but has quickly spread to people with similar interests, ideas, support groups and the love of a funny joke.

Perhaps they are talking to people who love the old shows like Mayberry RFD or I Love Lucy and are talking about that. Maybe they are keeping in touch with family members across the globe as our family does.

They can chat directly, use messages for more private information and even use it to email back and forth. As we know, it is a great way to see photos of anyone and even photos of us when we were young when we ‘throw back’. Those old memories are always good for a chuckle!

They are also trying to learn how to snap a photo on their phone and get it up to Facebook for their friends and family to see.

Making Video Calls

Did you know that you can partner up with Skype through Facebook and make video calls? This is especially great for people who live a long distance away and haven’t been able to meet in person for some time.

Calling long distance from a landline is pricey for many seniors and they don’t want to use their cell phone minutes either.

Facebook photos and videos are a great way to watch the grandkids (or great grandkids) grow too!

Supporting Causes

Many older adults also use Facebook to support one or more causes in which they believe strongly, such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, which both have a strong Facebook presence. They can learn more, talk with others who share their beliefs, and participate in the community no matter what the cause.

My local history organization has a strong Facebook following in the community and frequently asks for items on their wish list that we can all support for their various projects and classes.

Things such as toilet paper rolls or old shoeboxes are things seniors can donate and feel a part of the greater community. It doesn’t have to be monetary support to allow our seniors to contribute to their favorite cause. They may also find volunteer opportunities to keep their minds and bodies engaged in the community and not just from behind the computer screen.

Staying Current

Keeping up with the latest news whether globally or locally is a good use of Facebook for seniors. They can read news up to the minute.

If they are interested they can also keep in step with the latest entertainment news, trends, and fads.

Recipes & Coupons

Getting recipes and coupons for their favorite products can easily be done using Facebook. Most large food manufacturers have strong Facebook pages that are active with daily food tips, recipes and product coupons.

Our seniors may not be cooking as much but just reading about food and getting a freebie every now and then can be fun. Don’t forget a chance to win a prize! Often times there are sweepstakes to enter and prizes to be won just for participating.

Educating Themselves

Learn something new on Facebook. Many seniors love to read and consider themselves lifelong learners as we all should.

There are many opportunities to learn a new skill, take a class, participate in a webinar or town hall meeting, take a survey, learn a language, trace their roots or many other ways to stimulate their brains on Facebook.

Medical Connections

Seniors are beginning to use smartphone apps to manage their chronic diseases. Caregivers, too, are tracking vital signs and sending the data directly to doctors. This is a great way for older adults to get medical oversight without the trip to the office. When seniors are more remote from the medical team, connecting through the web can keep them out of the hospital.

Another way our seniors can use the web to connect with their medical team is via email. A recent study from Catalyst Healthcare Research reports that 93% of those surveyed will select a doctor who will communicate with them via email. Of those, 25% said they would pay $25 for the ability to talk with the doctor via email if they could.

Many of us, especially caregivers who have limited time to chase healthcare professionals down in an endless array of phone messages, would love the opportunity to communicate in one place at one time and get a response. Being able to make appointments online would be another great benefit for seniors and caregivers too.

There is still some controversy about whether doctors should communicate via email, since they can’t physically evaluate the person, but for instances where a quick question could make the difference in the care and treatment of our seniors, it could be a valuable tool.

For instance, the senior did not remember how often to take the over the counter pill recommended and there are not directions to follow from the office visits so emails the doctor this question. He gets a response within 24 hours with directions for taking the over the counter medication correctly and avoids problems. Email combined with Skype or remote vital sign monitoring can make a world of difference to older adults who have transportation limitations whether physically or because of the distance.

Online Security an Issue

Another stumbling block with email communication is security. As with any platform or device that utilizes the web, security is an issue. We have to take all the necessary precautions on our end as well as the healthcare provider on their end. If we all understand our responsibility for privacy and share only the essential details, this shouldn’t stop us from gaining the benefits from technology.

There are also text messages and alerts that can be sent to our senior’s smartphone that will remind them when to take a medication or test their blood sugar. This automatic reminder will help keep them on track and healthy. Hopefully this will help them avoid administering important medications incorrectly and keep them out of the hospital too!

These are just a few examples of how the web can positively affect the lives of our seniors (and their caregivers). How do you interact using technology to benefit your senior loved one?