Driving Healthy Consumer Choices – Tech & Healthcare Industry Roles

We usually know which of our choices are the healthier ones but how often are those the ones we select?

Be honest now!

Of course we want to be healthy but often our decisions belie that objective.  Somehow wellness is less motivating than the options we’re choosing.

Consumers’ failure to choose the healthy path is frustrating to those who are developing, producing and offering connected health devices and services that will contribute to better health — if we use them, of course.

Engaging consumers in their health was the topic on day 2 of the Connected Health Summit, providing a good complement to the technology discussion from day 1. We’ve had some time now to think about what we heard at the Summit, do some research on the technologies and look at how it all fits together.

We’re encouraged that the right questions are being asked — and good answers being found.

Consumer Perspectives on Health

It was refreshing to hear, particularly at a technology conference, speakers discuss understanding better what consumers want and how their health related decisions are made rather than just how to get them to purchase the devices developers and marketers decide to make.

It’s clearly a concern to many in digital health that consumers aren’t making greater use of the devices and services already available.

Notably, though, all the blame was not pointed at consumers, as failures of our current healthcare system to properly leverage available opportunities caught much of the blame. There was enough to go around, though.

These are, in my mind, three key questions when it comes to determining the success of connected health technology as a concept, so it was refreshing to hear so much discussion on these and similar topics.

  • With such widespread access to high speed internet, why have only a quarter of US households with broadband used online care communications? What does it take to connect care with the home?
  • Does the structure of our healthcare system fail to provide an incentive to providers to utilize technology to provide care for patients outside the office setting?
  • Consumers have been bombarded with information on healthy choices and lifestyle decisions but many choose to ignore that information at least some of the time. What must change in order to make the healthy choice the option of choice for consumers?

Sure, there are other questions that have to be answered, especially for specific segments of connected health, but these are worth discussing further because they reflect overriding barriers to the broad acceptance of an entire category of technology.

Not only are we looking to connected health to reinvent a healthcare industry in need of an overhaul but, more directly on target here at Senior Care Corner®, this technology is a necessary aspect of successful aging in place for a rapidly growing senior population in the US.

Bringing Healthcare Into the Home

There is clearly a gap to be bridged to bring healthcare into more homes. Part of it is, admittedly, that connected health is still very much in its infancy. Still, there is not much participation yet, even where there is availability today. The “why” of it has a number of answers but maybe two basic pieces.

On the healthcare side, we — especially our senior loved ones — tend to put a lot of our trust in our healthcare providers and look to them for direction. If our providers don’t express confidence in connected health technology by using it in our care and recommending we do so as well, many of us are likely to shy away ourselves.

The technology side is not unlike the care side in that we often look to trusted, or at least familiar, names for our lead. There has been some good connected health technology out there, especially for aging in place seniors, for a few years but much of it has been from entrepreneurial companies rather than the big names from whom we get a lot of our tech.

As discussed at the Connected Health Summit and elsewhere of late, the announced efforts by Apple, Samsung and Google are expected to make a real difference in the reach of connected health. These are the names from whom we get much of our mobile technology and associate with online activity, so it makes sense.

An example of this is Independa, one of the companies that has offered connected health technology for seniors. Their reach should be greatly extended now that they have a system that will work with LG smart TVs. We saw a demo of their system on the TV at the Connected Health Summit and are sure you will be hearing a lot more from them when they roll it out soon.

Healthcare Providers and Connected Health

We are limited in what we can accomplish with connected health as individuals unless we are connecting with our healthcare providers, especially our doctors, and they are participating as well. That makes sense because they are our experts, especially for older generations who haven’t grown up being able to research health topics online and connect on social media with others who share their health conditions.

Much is said by those who directly pay for much of our care, insurance companies and governments (think Medicare and Medicaid), that we should be taking steps to make that care more affordable, including utilizing technology in care. Connected health technology will be a big part of that, as it will allow doctors and other practitioners to provide care to more people in an environment where patients are most comfortable, their own homes.

So why don’t most reimbursement structures reflect that?

Doctors are still largely compensated based on the number of patients they treat in their offices, which doesn’t give them a real incentive to be innovative and utilize connected health systems and devices. If we want to encourage them to change the way they practice, the industry has to align the financial side of care to reward those who change.

No, it’s not simple when we’re talking about a huge system and billions of dollars. We need the hard moves to be made, though.

Making Healthy Choices

Much discussion at the Connected Health Summit, as well as elsewhere, has centered on how to get consumers to start making healthier choices. Much education has been done but it still seems easier, or at least more prevalent, to bypass what we know is best for us in favor of something else.

How do we make “healthy” more attractive than the alternatives being selected today? That’s a multi-trillion dollar question, given all the impacts of adopting healthier lifestyles.

Those marketing connected health technology realize it’s not a case of “if we build it they will come” and are struggling over how to get consumers to go beyond saying they want to be healthy to actually acting on the words.

Tying It All Together

We feel the key for making connected health technology work for us lies in adopting the right answer to all three questions. We need to combine:

  1. the right technologies from names with which we are familiar, at least until we are comfortable making connected health technologies part of our lives;
  2. a healthcare system that at least gets out of its own way, making it possible for healthcare providers to utilize technology in our care as part of their practices; and,
  3. making the healthier choice part of our everyday life because the results and technology appeal to us and we’re partnering with our healthcare providers on the journey.

When we put it that way, it doesn’t seem such a mountain to climb. As we hear and see more about the technologies that are coming and the attitude with which both the tech and healthcare industries appear to be approaching the issues, our optimism grows.

Stay tuned!

Caregiver to Caregiver Support – Get Help Then Give to Pay It Forward

Many caregivers find themselves in the role of their lifetime. They enjoy the sense of purpose and fulfillment that caring for a senior loved one gives them.

Sometimes, however, we could all use a little help from our friends (or even strangers!).

You may feel that your caregiving responsibilities can be more than you can physically or emotionally handle on some days.

You wonder why the relationship with the person for whom you care has changed.

You are now their protector or fixer instead of partner.

Caregiving can also change your family dynamics. Challenges and support can turn frustrating when everyone doesn’t agree on a plan. How can you handle all these issues?

Support groups have been filling that gap for many people who are family caregivers. Usually the support group is structured, often follows a particular disease process such as breast cancer or Alzheimer’s disease, and meets in person or online.

Some states have programs in place that help family caregivers with services and other support, but that is typically not quite the same as talking with others who walk in your shoes every day. These people are invaluable to helping you understand and really feel that you are not alone. What you as a caregiver experience is felt by others too and they might have some ideas to make things a little bit better.

Family Caregiver Facts & Figures

To understand the incredible importance of support that is needed, let’s talk a little bit about family caregivers and some of the situations and concerns that arise.

  • There are an estimated 42 million Americans who currently care for older adults and that will continue to grow rapidly.
  • 58% of family caregivers have a job outside the home.
  • A new study reveals that 42% of adults report to being an unpaid caregiver for seniors in the past five years.
  • The same study reports that 46% of family caregivers estimate they have spent more than $5,000 a year on related expenses.
  • 55% of family caregivers have reported feeling overwhelmed.
  • 50% of family caregivers report being stressed.
  • Depression is common for family caregivers who are juggling daily tasks, jobs, families and senior loved ones’ needs.
  • Caregivers often show symptoms of burnout when overwhelmed including sleeplessness, anger, health problems, depression, tearfulness, exhaustion, loss of appetite, and irritability. They often put their own health last and don’t get the medical treatment and preventive medicine they need to stay healthy.

We talk a lot about numbers to show you’re not alone but it’s important to remember that each family caregiver is a unique individual.

Benefits of a Support Group

There are a variety of ways caregivers can benefit from support groups. These are some we suggest.

  1. Learn more about the disease process, current treatments, future innovations and strategies for caregiving from experts within the organization. This might help you deal with healthcare providers more confidently.
  2. Manage stress as a caregiver.
  3. Gives you a break from your duties, getting you away from your senior loved one even for 30-60 minutes can allow for a mental and emotional break.
  4. Get a physical rest break from caregiving. Attending a support group can give you a few moments to sit quietly without running off to do something that needs done.
  5. Learn from other people who know what you are going through and can empathize with you.
  6. Learn new skills to be a better caregiver. Many support groups include speakers and classes as part of the program that can teach you a new trick or two.
  7. Make lifelong friends.
  8. Give you an identity separate from “John’s wife” or “Jane’s daughter”. Losing your own identity when you are a long term caregiver is a real threat and one that is harder to overcome when the caregiving ends if it is not maintained along the way.
  9. Led by knowledgeable facilitators who understand the issues you face. Support groups sponsored by organizations such as the Alzheimer’s Association and also funded by your state’s Department of Aging or United Way are often led by their trained individuals.
  10. Many online support groups including forums, online support groups, secure chat rooms and twitter chats allow you the flexibility to connect from home. There are even support and counseling services available over the phone when you need help!
  11. Become an advocate for your senior loved one!
  12. Learn techniques to keep you safe! You might learn safe transfers, how to diffuse aggression, how to deal with difficult behaviors, how to prevent the spread of infection or how to prevent sundowning from your support group experts.

Supporting & Helping Other Caregivers

During and especially after we are fulfilling the role as caregiver to our senior loved ones is a great time to share you expertise, experiences and emotional support with others who are where you have been.

If you are experiencing an aftercare transition, you could reach out to others and provide them with respite care. You could offer to help with household tasks, grocery shopping, companionship or something with which you are skilled.

Become a friend to another person who is currently a caregiver. Support them emotionally. Take them to lunch if they can go. Remind them how well they are doing and what an important thing they are doing by being a caregiver. We all need a pat on the back from time to time.

Send letters of encouragement and friendship to others in your support group if visiting is too difficult for all involved. A rosy card and words of comfort will definitely be welcome.

Start a group in your area if there is not one local that could meet the needs of other caregivers. Encourage faith based communities to build outreach programs to meet the spiritual needs of caregivers.

Did you know there was a Caregiver’s Bill of Rights by Jo Horne that you can share with others? It is very inspirational and would be nice to give other caregivers when they need it most.

Say yes when another caregiver needs something. Help them build a network of caring people who can help in times of need.

Take a caregiver in your network a special meal or other food treats to help them maintain their strength for caregiving. You know only too well that caregivers often are the last ones to eat, may eat the leftovers or grab something quick that isn’t nutritionally adequate to keep them well.

Be a listener to another caregiver. You needed one and now you can be one.

Being a caregiver can be an isolating experience for any caregiver. There are things you can do to reduce your load and reach out to others. No one will understand what you are going through better than another caregiver!

When you have an opportunity to pay it forward to others, you will because you care!

Got a New Smartphone? Know a Senior Who Could Use Your Old One?

Smartphones have become an essential part of life for many of us, as we’ve come to rely on all they can do for us and live with all they do to us.

If anything, these devices will be playing even greater roles in our future, as they become control centers for our homes and – more importantly – our health.

Our smartphones may well hold the keys to being able to age in place in the home of our choice as long as possible, which many of our senior loved ones and us say is desired, as well as making us more effective in our role of family caregiver to our senior loved ones in their own homes, especially if we are long distance caregivers.

While a majority of adults in the US have and use smartphones, the number of seniors who do so is well under half – and even lower for older seniors. Not only are most seniors missing out on the benefits they can derive now but they’re at risk for not being ready for the even greater meaning those devices will have in their future.

Your staff at Senior Care Corner® has a solution we think you’ll find interesting.

Are You Upgrading to the New iPhone 6 or Other Smartphone?

Are you among the millions who’ve gotten an iPhone 6 or 6+, or maybe still waiting for one to ship? Maybe you recently upgraded to one of the new Android or other smartphones available.

What are you doing with your old smartphone?

Sure, you can sell the old one for money or credit toward the new device or, like many of us, simply toss the now unneeded device into a drawer, but we have another idea for you.

Do you have a senior loved one or friend who you feel could benefit from using a smartphone but isn’t yet?

Maybe the device that is obsolete for you would be a great entry smartphone for them – and at a low cost too!

Most Seniors Yet to Adopt Smartphones

These are some of the reasons we’ve heard for the lower participation rate among older adults.

  • All I do is talk on the phone and don’t need a smartphone with a big screen to do that.
  • They’re too expensive for something I might not use much anyway.
  • I just don’t know what I would do with one if I had it so how could I be missing out on something?
  • I talked to a friend who said his smartphone was so complicated to learn he tossed in a drawer and hasn’t seen it since.
  • Smartphones are too expensive already but then they hit you every month for big data charges.
  • I’m too old for something like that.

Those reasons just scratch the surface, but you get the idea and may have heard a few reasons, or at least rationalizations, yourself.

Don’t just brush aside their objections to getting a phone – even (or maybe especially) if you pay for it but file away, maybe even writing down, the issues that give them concern. At a minimum, you likely have a list of items that have to be addressed before they’ll give a smartphone a try.

Maybe your senior loved one has a reason that can’t be overcome. If so, it may be better, not to mention less frustrating, for you to recognize that before needlessly frustrating the both of you.

You might find, though, they are willing to give a smartphone a try if you use you older (“old” only in technology years) device to help them overcome the barriers they’ve built.

Addressing Seniors’ Smartphone Reasoning

Handing off the smartphone you no longer plan to use to your senior loved one may, along with the right words, help them overcome the reasons that have kept them from wanting one of their own.

Reason Not Using a Smartphone

But With Your Old Phone…

All I do is talk on the phone

Until they try a phone that gives them more capability, can they really know what they’re missing by not having one?

Too expensive

You’ve already paid for the smartphone you no longer plan to use so there’s no cost to them or you.

I don’t know what I would do with one if I had it

Here’s a great opportunity to try one and find out without having to pay for it or having a salesperson hanging over their shoulder in the store.

Too complicated for me to use

This is where you come in, along with your smartphone. You’ve already used it for a while so are an expert, right! In addition, you can set it up so it’s ready for the way THEY will use it (see below).

Expensive cell phone plans

Do they have WiFi at home, or do you? You can let them try the smartphone for a while without even using a data plan and while continuing to use their own phone for calls if they want. In addition,do a little research and show them some of the new, lower cost plans, including those that give a big monthly bring-your-own-device discount toward the access charge. You might even investigate putting them on your own plan if you have a family plan, which may reduce their cost significantly.

I’m too old for a smartphone

See if you can find a family member, friend or neighbor who is their own age or even older and swears by their smartphone. There are growing numbers of seniors of all ages who do so.

That might take a little more homework on your part and a little bit of effort. They’re worth that and more, right.

Don’t stop, though, when your senior loved one has convinced her/himself that their prior reasons have been addressed and they should try your smartphone. The objective isn’t, after all, to get them to try the device but to get benefits and enjoyment from using it so they adopt it as their own.

Smartphone Prep for Your Senior Loved One

Once you’ve gotten your senior loved one to give your old smartphone a try – and maybe even as part of showing them the value of doing so – a key to successful adoption is seeing how valuable it can be to their daily lives.

Here are some steps that could help your old device pass its test with flying colors. I’ve written device-specific steps around the iPhone and iOS but they be readily adaptable to other systems.

  • Reset the smartphone to eliminate all of your apps, documents and pictures so that the device is truly theirs and doesn’t feel like it’s just borrowed. Hopefully you’ve got everything you need on your iPhone 6 already.
  • Set up an iTunes account for your senior loved one to give them access to the App Store and iTunes on the smartphone. You might want to prime it by getting an iTunes gift card so they have ready value for an app that catches their eye or some favorite music or movies.
  • Install and setup some apps you think they’ll find valuable on the device, which may Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Kindle, Weather and others. Extra steps, such as setting up their Facebook and other IDs in the apps, will make the startup easier for them. As a bonus, you might add locations for distant family members to the weather app you choose so they can always see what’s happening.
  • If you know it, set up their email account in the Mail app. Enter their key contacts as well if they are not imported with the email. In addition to family and friends, you might want to add other important phone numbers, such as their doctors and pharmacy.
  • Set up an app on their home screen that they can use for directions and pre-program addresses for family, friends, doctors’ offices — and home. They might be surprised just how handy that is for them.

There is more you can and may want to do, but you get the idea. Remember, though, that more is not always better. Focus on the apps you feel will be most beneficial as they get started with the smartphone, keeping in mind they may find, as many of us have found, that having too many apps installed can make it frustrating to quickly find and use the ones we want.

Once you set up the smartphone, spend some time to help them get comfortable with their new device — with them at the controls.

You just might find your senior loved one will soon realize why your smartphone has become so important to you – – and that you’ve given new life to your old device by adding to their life.

Active Aging Week – Promote Senior Health & Let the Adventure Begin!

We have been advocates for some time about the need to stay physically active as we age. We feel strongly that it will benefit both family caregivers and seniors to be active each day in activities that you enjoy.

Therefore, we are happy to support the International Council on Active Aging’s (ICAA) celebration of Active Aging Week this week. The theme for this year is “Let the Adventure Begin.” By participating in Active Aging Week activities in our communities, or just in our own households, the ICAA wants to help seniors reignite their enjoyment of previous adventures or find new adventures with families and friends.

The purpose of this annual health promotion is to encourage all people, especially elders, to participate in a healthy and active lifestyle for an improved quality of life. We have seen the benefits, read the research and heard the health messages that show us all that staying active can help in many areas of our lives.

Physical activity keeps our bodies strong, stimulate our minds, maintain our balance, control our weight, help manage our chronic diseases, reduce social isolation leading to depression and even prevent falls.

All that and a chance to have some fun, too!

Active Aging Week Highlights

You and your senior may be able to find some special events being held in your communities as organizations across the country participate or sponsor an adventure!

Here are a few examples of senior events that you and your loved one can join.

  • “All this week at the Fort Wayne Community Center, the Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Department is offering free activities for people age 50 and over.”
  • Across the country Silver Sneaker programs will be hosting events too.
  • In Sunnyvale, California they will host a kick off walk, pickle ball and series of lectures for successful aging.
  • Senior centers are presenting healthy eating classes with seniors some featuring healthy snacks and eating on the go.
  • Yoga classes, walks and special exercises to improve balance will be held at senior centers this week (and every week!).

If you don’t have a senior center nearby or having trouble finding a designated activity in your community, you can always plan your own. There are a variety of activities that you, your senior loved one and family members can do together to create your own adventures.

  • Take a nature walk. Look for birds or natural tidbits for crafts such as fallen pine cones or fall leaves.
  • Look through your family photo album and reminisce about adventures your senior took as a child or young adult. Have them describe their feelings, the way the food tasted or smelled or funny things their relatives did to make them laugh.
  • Read a book together. Have your senior read aloud to the grandchildren. Have the grandkids act out a book creating a ‘family theater night’.
  • Listen to favorite music from your senior’s era. Have them tell stories about playing in the school band or singing in a choir. Sing together or play instruments again.
  • Create a scavenger hunt for adults and children whether in the house, in the yard or at a local park. Look for items that are funny, colorful, and bring back memories.
  • Use Skype or FaceTime to talk to far away family and see the great-grand kids again!
  • Have fun in the kitchen making cookies, decorating a cake, or making a special meal then sharing it!

These are some fun family time ideas that you can do or you can create your own adventures!

National Fall Prevention Awareness Day in Aging Week

On Tuesday of Active Aging Week, we’re highlighting the potential for falls and injuries that can occur when seniors don’t remain active. Here are some shocking statistics that may help spur us into action to keep our seniors active to maintain strength, balance and prevent falls.

  • Every 29 minutes an older adult dies from a fall
  • Strength and balance training programs can reduce falls by 40%
  • Half of those 65+ who have fallen will fall again within next 12 months
  • About 1,800 falls in older adults result in death
  • One fourth of older people who have a hip fracture from a fall die within six months of the injury
  • 9,500 deaths in older adults each year are correlated with a fall

Because it’s such an important aspect of preventing falls, we put together this video to demonstrate some simple exercises to help build balance.

 

If your senior stays active, maintains strong muscles, eats a well-balanced diet, participates in balance exercises regularly and improves their overall mobility, it will help them maintain a higher quality of life and remain independent longer.

Isn’t that what we all want for ourselves and loved ones?

Adventures to Stay Active All Year Not Just One Week

There are a variety of physical activities in which seniors can participate that will not only improve their physical function but also increase their socialization and improve their mood! Who wouldn’t love to do some of these fun things instead of sitting home every day?

  1. Water aerobics
  2. Tai Chi
  3. Yoga
  4. Dancing
  5. Balance exercises
  6. Bowling
  7. Golf
  8. Exergames
  9. Gardening
  10. Walk the dog

Regardless of the level of function you senior has, you can get them moving at something. There are wheelchair exercises, fitness clubs designed with seniors in mind, and exercises for seniors who use adaptive equipment like canes.

They can stay active mentally as well, with a variety of brain stimulating endeavors. Introduce them to some new technology, have them send some emails, play a video game or do a crossword puzzle using a tablet. Keep their e-reader or tablet full with interesting titles to keep their minds active.

Be sure they are not isolating themselves throughout the week while you are at work. Enroll them in a senior activity center or Silver Sneaker program near you.

The benefits to their quality of life, their enjoyment, and their functional status will be tremendous!

Try starting every day with “Let the Adventure Begin!”

Talking Senior Hunger with the National Council on Aging on the Senior Care Corner Show

4.8 million senior adults in the US face food insecurity. Is it possible your senior loved ones are included in that number without you realizing it?

How would you know? If they are, what could you do to help them?

Senior hunger is an issue of emphasis for us at Senior Care Corner® because it impacts the ability of seniors to enjoy their elder years in good health.

We’re highlighting Hunger Action Month by informing family caregivers, helping them identify and overcome food insecurity in your own senior loved ones – – or helping you prevent it from becoming an issue – – and turned to the National Council on Aging’s (NCOA) information and resources.

Senior Hunger Discussion with NCOA

The feature segment of this Senior Care Corner Show is a conversation we had with Lura Barber, who is the Senior Program Manager of Hunger Initiatives at NCOA. We found our discussion with Lura to be very informative and think you will as well.

It’s disheartening to hear that 1 in 6 seniors struggles with hunger so we were pleased to hear of the effort NCOA is making to inform seniors and caregivers about the resources available to address the problem and how easy they are making it to apply.

Lura told us NCOA is using Hunger Action Month to emphasize the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. SNAP, today’s version of what we used to know as Food Stamps, is a program to help seniors and others who can’t afford the food they need.

3 out of 5 seniors who are eligible for assistance under SNAP are not benefiting from the program for a number of reasons. As family caregivers, we can help our senior loved ones overcome whatever barriers may be keeping them from this nutritional assistance. You might find an infographic from NCOA, busting myths seniors have about SNAP, to be helpful in discussions with loved ones so we have included it at the bottom of this article.

Is Your Senior Loved One Fighting Hunger?

If your own senior loved one was part of the hunger statistics you would know, right? Or would you?

Many seniors — far too many — are struggling with decisions like “do I eat or buy the prescriptions the doctor told me I need” and may be doing so right in front of family members without anyone realizing it.

How many older adults don’t admit they need help out of a desire to be self-sufficient or because they put the needs of others before their own? Sound like anyone you know?

With so many family caregivers providing that care from a distance, an elder loved one’s food insecurity may stay under the radar, with the signs of hunger being missed.

Lura discussed with us some tips for family caregivers in identifying food insecurity in senior loved ones, since knowing there is a problem is the first step in addressing it.

News Items in This Episode

  • Top Retirement Financial Concern: Healthcare Bills
  • Anxiety Medications May be Tied to Alzheimer’s Risk
  • Ford Car Designers Wear “Age Suits” to Design for Older Drivers
  • Potassium-rich Foods Cut Stroke, Death Risks Among Older Women

Also in this episode you’ll hear Kathy’s quick tip on helping seniors with Alzheimer’s eat more, a challenge faced by many family caregivers.

Links Mentioned in this Episode

We hope you find this important episode of the Senior Care Corner Show to be informative and even eye-opening in helping senior loved ones live their elder years in health, safety and comfort.

Click to view larger version on NCOA site

Making Family Caregiving Work – A Sibling Tale of Understanding

All of us who have siblings, no matter if it is one or a dozen, know what it is like to wonder how people who were raised under one roof can be so very different.

Family caregivers also experience amazement at how siblings can be so different in their ability and desire to be caregivers to family members, especially parents. Shouldn’t we all love and honor them the same?

Siblings grow up together, had pretty much the same childhood experiences, had the same rules, went to the same schools and churches, went on family vacations together and were supposed to be learning to share the load helping each other as we grew.

Same Family but Different Caregiving

What could possibly explain how we are all handling caregiving so differently?

Many family caregivers think “where did it go wrong”? You might wonder why they don’t seem to care as much as you do; why they won’t pitch in and help out; why they won’t make a decision; or, maybe most of all, why you simply don’t communicate better than you do.

It can be hard for a family caregiver, especially one who has spent a lot of time caring for aging loved ones, to understand why a sibling would make a decision that is SO different from what those aging loved ones would have wanted.

It may be a good idea to learn more about the sibling connection so that we can perhaps understand and accept their point of view. We are all different even when we come from under one roof.

Growing Up in a Family

I know when I was growing up one of four children, I wished I was an only child at times. Let’s be honest, who didn’t? One of my best friends from my early childhood was one of twelve kids. She had grown siblings who were in college and one even had their own children before she was ten years old. She was an aunt to kids almost her own age.

Certainly we would expect that her life was markedly different than her older siblings. They would most definitely think and act differently as they were raised almost in what could be considered a different family altogether because of the age gap.

As a child, “only children” seemed lucky to me. They had their own room while I slept on a bunk bed in a room with two more girls. The four kids shared a hall bathroom and I had one dresser drawer to call my own. That lucky only child had her own room, own closet and own bathroom. Surely at times that only child may have been lonely with no one at hand to play a game with and those were the times I was glad I had a sister.

Families, Like People Are All Different

Every family is different from the family down the street. But it is true that within each family we are all different in many ways too. Some families get along very well, others fight continuously. As children become adults, some families still live together while others need to be miles apart. Some siblings speak to each other daily, some won’t speak for months or even years.

Some families are fractured by life events that at times they don’t even realize. Some hold grudges, some just don’t feel the reward in being in close contact. If you don’t feel part of something, loved or appreciated, why bother with keeping in touch?

Families are also dynamic and the way it is today could all be different tomorrow. Families may be close for many years, drift apart only to come together again at a later date, especially when confronted with a traumatic event requiring caregiving. Some families, on the other hand, can’t seem to gel and tragedy only seems to split them deeper apart.

Realizing that being a part of a family can be important to some people even when they are not in close contact or just don’t seem to be able to make the family unit a priority in their life. Understanding and forgiving this type of dynamic will make your life as a caregiver less stressful.

What is true for your childhood experience may be drastically different for an older or younger sibling who dealt with different family situations. You may not realize what an older brother went through after the parents divorced or what the youngest child put up with when they were alone with the parents as the last child left at home. Their life experiences are very different and can impact the adults they become. We don’t always see it in those terms and may misjudge siblings unfairly.

Siblings Under the Microscope

Research has shown some interesting facts about the life and behaviors of siblings. Siblings share parents, environment and genes but certainly not personalities. In terms of personalities, siblings have been described by researchers as strangers. In fact, in terms of personality, we are similar to our siblings only about 20% of the time according to researcher Robert Plomin.

Let’s look at what the research tells us so we can better understand how we are alike and yet different. Our differences growing up and our personalities drive our behavior as adults.

One theory that children from the same family end up being such different individuals is competition. One child has to be superior as one fights for attention and love from the parents. Who will win is evolutionary. When this competition becomes apparent, other children instead of competing head to head, become divergent and look for other ways to excel. This could explain why siblings have different careers, preferences and goals which shape the way they look at the world.

Another theory of sibling differences is that parents, although they try to treat all kids the same, don’t actually treat children the same by virtue of timing. When years separate siblings, life events are different. Jobs, money earned, location, divorce, death and reaction to the needs of the children cause parents to bestow attention on siblings in a different way. Essentially, different age siblings while living in the same family, grow up in ‘different homes’.

Overcoming Caregiving Challenges With Siblings

For most family caregivers who have siblings, one is usually in charge of the caregiving role. There is often a primary sibling who is doing the lion’s share of the caring. This doesn’t always seem fair to the one who is the primary person, but it often happens that way. It can lead to anger, hurt and frustration.

Some children who are not active caregivers can come up with a variety of reasons (you might say excuses) for why they aren’t helping with the duties. They may be long distance, raising their own family, busy with work pressures, having financial difficulties, say they don’t have time, say they can’t handle seeing the loved one “like that,” aren’t physically able, and some may be waiting to be asked.

It is hard to accept these reasons since it makes you wonder – do I have time, money, less family pressures, more physical ability or enjoy seeing family members being vulnerable? Naturally you don’t but you are somehow more equipped to do the caregiving out of bravery, emotions, or training. That doesn’t make your siblings any less loving toward the family.

What you can do is understand this and capitalize on their strengths.

  • Does a brother do better with computers or numbers? Ask them to handle the insurance, accounting, finances and computer set up for family communications.
  • Does one sister enjoy cooking? Ask her to keep the pantry stocked and freezer full of microwave meals for the senior loved one.
  • Does a young adult grandchild have time after school to transport older loved ones or sit as a companion/supervisor while you run errands?
  • Does one sibling have money to pay for caregivers if he or she doesn’t want to do it themselves?

Make it Work

Find ways to involve your siblings that are not out of their comfort zone to provide a respite for you. You can still be the primary caregiver getting the support you need from siblings in a way that works for everyone.

Use the understanding and emotions you are bottling up inside to make lists, ask for help and keep yourself healthy mentally and physically when dealing with your siblings. They may not come around to your way of thinking, but they may give you something you need in other ways.

If they don’t, stop fighting a losing battle and move on. They may surprise you with re-entering the picture when it can be their own idea in their own time. We have to put ourselves in others’ shoes before we can appreciate the path they have endured – including our own siblings!

Robot Caregivers: Assistance on the Way for Seniors & Family Caregivers

When we dream of the future, does an image of the Jetsons come into your mind?

Back in the 1960s we thought we would be driving cars in the air and have our meals magically appear from the wall.

We all thought we would get a robot maid like Rosie too!

That future – well maybe not quite that extreme – may actually be closer than we think, as robot caregivers come marching over the horizon toward the homes of our elder loved ones.

As attractive as that sounds, there are several questions to be resolved. Will robotic caregivers be a good thing? Will they fill a gap for caregivers and senior loved ones? Oh, and who will pay for them?

What Can Robots Do For Our Seniors?

If you saw the movie Robot and Frank, you know that the robot was trained by Frank to help him do things others would not, including robbing a bank. We don’t want robots to help seniors commit a crime but there are many ways robots have been designed to help seniors. They may be especially helpful for those seniors with dementia.

Let’s see what robot caregivers can do. Some of these are in limited application or even beta right now, but there are realistic expectations they could soon be doing all of them for our senior loved ones before long.

  • Robotic caregivers can answer those with dementia with the same tone of voice without frustration no matter how many times a day they are asked “what time is it.” They won’t show their frustration by yelling in answer or become abusive. Robots have unending patience.
  • Caregiving robots will be there every day, twenty four hours a day. They will not call in sick, be late or just decide not to come today. They can be there when family caregivers are at work or live at a long distance.
  • Robotic caregivers can lift a senior into and out of bed, up from a chair or into the car in a safe way and their backs won’t give out so that they can no longer lift anymore.
  • It is anticipated caregiving robots will be designed to perform tasks, such as assistance with toileting or personal care, that may be uncomfortably personal for seniors when delivered by a close family member or paid caregiver who is a stranger.
  • A robotic caregiver can give gentle reminders about doctor or beauty shop appointments, medication dispensing and can encourage social engagement, healthy eating and physical activity. It can then report to the family caregiver about the progress and compliance with the schedule.
  • Robot caregivers equipped with tablets can monitor health data and vital signs like blood pressure and can complete a virtual doctor appointment and family visits via Skype or Facetime.
  • There are robotic caregivers that can also converse and sing with seniors with dementia who may or may not realize that this is not a real person. All they know is they are enjoying attention and interaction and are getting brain stimulation!
  • Robot caregivers can listen to even the wildest story or one that is nonsensical without dampening the spirits of the person with dementia.
  • Not surprisingly, caregiving robots don’t require sleep themselves so can watch seniors while they sleep and be ready for midnight bathroom trips or do the chores while seniors sleep freeing their day for real one on one supervision.
  • There are robotic caregivers that can read the morning newspaper out loud or your senior’s favorite book when they can no longer read the print.
  • Caregivers that are robots, just as those who are people, can exterminate boredom, loneliness and isolation in our senior loved ones.

The bottom line is that robotic caregivers are likely, before long, to make aging in place a reality for seniors who just need a little more assistance for their safety but don’t have a family caregiver who can be with them all the time.

Future of Seniors & Caregiving Robots

Here is a great video “Changing Batteries” that shows the bond between senior and robot caregiver. It illustrates some of the many activities and services that a robot caregiver can provide. Beware, the ending is very touching!

The reality is that prototypes for robot caregivers are in development, some in advanced testing. Some robot caregivers are already in use in other countries, including Japan where Paro, who looks like a baby seal, and Mobiserv are in place with aging seniors to help keep them safe because there is a work force shortage to care for seniors.

In Sweden a robot called GiraffPlus has been developed.

In America, robot caregivers are also in development but we seem to be slower getting an outcome.

Robots to Fill Caregiver Shortage?

There is a coming need for robot caregivers as the work force decreases and the number of family caregivers who can devote themselves to daily care falls short of meeting the needs of a rapidly aging population.

The question is not if robot caregivers will be a reality, but when.

The biggest question in our minds is not whether we will see robotic caregivers in our lifetimes but how theirs costs will be covered. The cost is currently prohibitive but. as with most technology, the cost should fall dramatically.

We realize robots won’t replace family caregivers and have not heard anyone suggest they will — or that they should. Their best utilization will be to augment the care provided by family members, doing things that may be difficult physically or emotionally for caregivers. If they do nothing more than give caregivers some much needed respite they will be providing real benefits.

I think we will all be interested in the future of robot caregivers whether we agree or disagree that they are necessary. As the technology continues to expand, perhaps they will not be just another future Jetsons dream, but become an affordable reality for the benefit of the aging population.

What are your thoughts about robot caregivers? Do you think there are applications for seniors for safe aging in place? Would you want one to supplement your own caregiving responsibilities if it was affordable?

Oh — we aren’t talking about flying cars like the one Mr. J flew around. Well, not yet at least!

Where There’s a Will There’s a Way & That Way is the One We Designate

Where there’s a will there’s a way is something we’ve all heard, but this time we’re looking at it differently and referring to a last will and testament.

We all should be thinking about executing a will if we haven’t created one yet, but it’s especially true for our seniors and us as their family caregivers. It is important for them to leave directions for their loved ones, friends and family members who meant so much during their lifetimes.

It is a good idea to let it be known in writing in your senior’s own words who and where he or she would like their possessions and assets to be handed down. Does sister get the good china and brother get the car in the garage? Who will receive the cash in the bank? Who gets the house and all its contents? Who will take over the care for their beloved pet?

Making your senior’s wishes known with regards to their personal possessions will be a great gift to everyone when the time comes and it is needed.

Having everything in writing can also prevent family squabbles about your senior’s belongings. It often happens that at the peak of grief, everyone wants a piece of the senior ‘to remember them by’. Having specific directions can avoid the arguing and hurt feelings.

Having a proper will also leaves loved ones with the knowledge they have followed the wishes of the loved one who has passed.

Unfortunately, an estimated half of all adults do not have a will in place.

Last Will and Testament

Not exactly sure what a will would cover so that you can guide your senior into executing this valuable document?

A will is written in such a way to direct exactly who gets what in terms of possessions and assets. There is an executor that is named by the person making the will. The executor is a trusted individual, it doesn’t have to be a family member, who ensures that whatever is written in the will actually happens according to the wishes of the person.

A will can also outline what intentions the senior has regarding donating money or possessions to their favorite charity.

A will can detail who and how a person might want the care of another person, such as a dependent spouse or disabled child, to be performed.

It can establish trusts for specific members of the family. It can also detail who the person does not want to give anything to after their passing.

Having a will in place will make the process go more smoothly and perhaps even more quickly when the desires of the person are clear and the taxes or other fees are defined.

Dying Without a Valid Will in Place

There are many consequences of not having made a will. These are just a few to consider.

  • Naturally, not having a will in place when the time comes that it is needed can lead to family disharmony. When no one really knows who gets what, when some want more than others think they deserve, when some take without asking or when treasured objects can’t be shared, families can get into arguments that can lead to legal action and even a lifelong fracture between the family members.
  • When there is no will, called an intestate estate, probate action will take longer and an outsider who did not even know your senior loved one may end up making decisions regarding their possessions.
  • There may be instances when taxes and legal proceedings eat away at whatever is left. The government may be obliged to step in to protect their own interests. Probate court will take over whatever payments or expenses your senior leaves behind and then divides up the remainder of the estate. There is a specific family tree that the probate court will follow to hand out the assets whether this is what the senior wanted or not.
  • If the probate court can’t find family members, the entire estate may pass into the hands of the state or local government with no family getting the assets. An intestate estate typically incurs heavy taxes.
  • If there is no executor named or the one named is unable to carry out the duties required, the probate court is forced to name one, possibly somebody who never knew your senior or their wishes.

Making a Last Will and Testament

So your senior loved one has decided that the time is right to make a will and maybe you will make your own will too. Actually every person of legal age should create a will in the case of emergency.

Here are some tips for you to get going.

One key for family caregivers — it is vital for you to make your own will as a caregiver with your expressed wishes known about what you intend to happen to your senior loved one if you are no longer able to be the caregiver. You can spell out where the senior will live, who will pay for their needs and how you expect them to be taken care of to avoid future issues or neglect of the standard of care you have established.

  1. We are not lawyers and are not giving legal advice, so if you have questions or are uncertain about the right steps, we suggest that you seek the advice and counsel of an elder law attorney who can guide both your senior loved one and you as the caregiver. This certified professional can also help them explore all their options and counsel them on having the most effective family discussions so that everyone is aware of the plan your senior has put in place. This might avoid future conflagrations when everyone is fully informed. You can create a will that is not too complex online but be careful that you are extremely clear on what is desired before you begin.
  2. Your senior loved one should be of sound mind in order to execute a legal will so don’t delay. The senior should be following their own wishes and not another person who might be creating pressure or a state of duress for the senior.
  3. Your senior’s will should be signed and witnessed by usually two but may be more appropriate persons, depending on the laws in your state and these laws do differ from one state to another. Be aware that, in some states, if the witness also is listed in the will it can cause them to be disallowed from inheriting.
  4. If you want to learn more about restrictions in your state and more about wills in general, you can visit the American Bar Association website.
  5. Wills can be revoked, either partially or fully, and rewritten. Be sure that the correct copy is available to the probate court when needed. Be sure that the partially revoked section makes it clear that the rest should still be considered in effect and not canceling out the entire will.
  6. When properly executed, a will is one of the most iron clad contracts in existence. Therefore, be sure it is done correctly and fully explains the wishes of your senior loved one (or yourself). No one wants the pet or the mail carrier to get everything — and for intended loved ones to get nothing — because something wasn’t done correctly.
  7. Instructions for funeral services or burial specifics can be included in your senior’s will but should also be kept separately so that they can be found and followed when they are needed and not locked in the safe at the attorney’s office on a long weekend.
  8. Changes should be made to a will whenever there are events that warrant it, such as death of a beneficiary or executor. If the senior or you become widowed, married or divorced, the will should be updated. If a major change in your senior’s assets occurs or there may be a tax benefit to do so it would also be a good time to change the will. If your senior simply decides to change the way property is divided, disinheriting someone or to give to a charity, he can change the will at any time. A will can be changed with a revocation and a new will or by adding a codicil to an existing will.

There are many other important documents that your senior and you should be sure have created and filed appropriately including advanced directives, trusts and powers of attorney.

The sooner this is done, the more peace of mind the entire family will have and future problems can be avoided.

Ensure things go the way they’re intended by documenting them in a will!

Personal Health Data Dashboard – Set Up Your Senior’s Patient Portal

We’re being inundated with electronic information these days. We have many devices, our smartphones, tablets, computers and wearable devices, that connect us with the wider world.

You may use your smartphone to help you be a more effective caregiver. Many of us do so, perhaps without even realizing it.

Smartphones can be one of a caregiver’s most valuable tools, useful for tasks from calling our senior loved one’s healthcare professional to schedule an appointment, getting a prescription refilled or asking questions about their health.

Those healthcare professionals’ information is loaded into your smartphone and contact numbers are there with a push of your finger.

Perhaps you have alerts set up through a multitude of in-home monitoring devices that tell you if your senior loved ones have taken their medication, made a cup of coffee or opened the front door. Maybe you can see their thermostat readings on your phone.

You may get vital sign readings every morning with the latest blood pressure, weight, blood sugar, or pulse ox data.

Perhaps you surf the internet on one of your devices to get medical information about medications, symptoms, or to find a healthcare professional.

In one way or another, we are all connecting to benefit the health and safety of our senior loved ones. There is one more important way you can be in control of your senior’s health electronically — patient portals.

Personal Health Records

Did you realize that we all have access online to our health information and medical records? We can also access our senior’s health information on their behalf.

Healthcare reform under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has mandated that patients have access electronically to their health records (EHR). Providing access to health data through a patient portal is part of what is known as “meaningful use” under the ACA. There are requirements under this program that dictate that your senior’s data is available in a timely manner – four days for an office visit and 36 hours for inpatient care.

Lab data, x-ray reports, physician evaluations and hospital treatments will be accessible via your senior’s patient portal (and your own too of course). The portal can be used for appointments and registration processes.

Have you used your senior’s patient portal yet or even your own?

Patient Portal Defined

What is a patient portal, you ask?

HealthIT.gov defines the patient portal in this way:

A patient portal is a secure online website that gives patients convenient 24-hour access to personal health information from anywhere with an Internet connection. Using a secure username and password, patients can view health information…

A portal is a way to consolidate your senior’s health information for quick access by healthcare providers. It brings all your senior’s health information to one location instead of being scattered across many institutions or offices. The health data can be viewed in your city, state, or even another country.

Because they have the ability to see a medication list, allergy history, surgical history, immunization record, latest blood work or other tests, all health care providers can be better prepared to make decisions for future treatment with more knowledge than ever before. They won’t have to duplicate services to reach a diagnosis. This is especially important for your senior loved one during an emergency.

As a family caregiver, you can also have access to their information. A patient portal can also facilitate communication between you, your senior and the healthcare provider. It will help family caregivers help their senior loved ones by being informed and in charge of their medical care and well-being.

Different electronic systems provide different types of options in addition to the health data. Your senior’s patient portal may give the family caregiver email access to the doctor, a way to check for results, the ability to update contact information and even refill prescriptions.

Some EHR patient portals have a place where you can make a list of questions for the doctor and even look up health information via the internet.

You can save time using your senior’s patient portal by downloading and then filling in forms before you enter the doctor’s waiting room.

You can even pay any outstanding bills via your senior’s patient portal. I know you love that, right?

Getting Started with a Patient Portal

Your senior’s healthcare provider will give you instructions to set up your senior’s account. You will need to give them a contact email address.

Once your senior’s visit or admission is completed, there will be an email at the address you provided that will give you a link to access the patient portal.

Follow the link provided. Once you click through the link, you will be prompted to set up your account for your senior. You will be asked to verify your senior’s information. Then you will create a password and fill in all security questions. Once you are set up, you can read further to learn how to make the best use of your senior’s patient portal.

Naturally, if your senior is able to do this himself, he would be the one to do it. However, you can do it together so that you can both have access and know the appropriate passwords and security questions in case you need it in the future.

Once it is set up, you can view it whenever the information is needed.

Personal Experience with the Patient Portal

I recently had the ability to access my own patient portal. I have been fortunate to be healthy so don’t really have a lot of reason to see my health history.

Just a few weeks ago, however, I had my annual physical and blood work. I knew about the patient portal but never had it set up. This was finally my opportunity.

I found it very easy to start up and was amazed at how quickly all the blood work was available. It had an explanation about what it meant too!

I am looking forward to the opportunity to further explore all the information and possibilities that are available to me in my patient portal.

Have you accessed yours or your senior’s yet? What interesting things have you learned or been able to do using your patient portal? We would love to hear about your experiences with the patient portal.