Walkable Cities Mean Safety and Socialization for Aging in Place

Aging in place, which is valued by most seniors, can be ideal where shopping and services needed by older adults are within a reasonable walk of their homes.

While some older adults choose to live in planned senior communities, which are designed to meet their needs, others want the option to find their needs met in a more diverse and traditional community.

We recently spent some time in Savannah Georgia, exploring the city on foot. As much as I loved the feel of the city, the beautiful live oak trees with Spanish moss hanging regally and the ease of finding my way around the grid pattern, what struck me the most was how great it would be to live in place like this where everything you need is within a few blocks and was easy to access.

The streets, sidewalks, crosswalks and park areas were all well maintained and lit up. The signs were clear and made it easy to find the location I desired.

Wouldn’t it be great if everywhere we lived was like that? More importantly, wouldn’t it be fabulous if aging in place seniors could have that safety and convenience too?

City Planning

So many cities, large or small, have been built to accommodate our love of the road and our automobiles. Too few have no sidewalks or central amenities that can benefit our senior loved ones as they age.

Public transportation is missing in most big cities as well and if it is available it is located in the city center with few feeder lines out to the suburbs where they are needed to transport people without safe transportation options.

Hopefully that is beginning to change and cities are thinking to the future to retrofit places for our seniors to live and meet their needs locally.

Walkable Cities

Enter the concept of walkable cities. It is not a new idea but one that seems to be sparking the interest of cities across the country for not only retirees or boomers but also Millennials who seem to prefer this notion as well. Let’s get real, how can they continue to text on phones and other mobile devices and connect with their technology while commuting one hour a day to work behind the wheel?

The US Department of Transportation and Safety defines a walkable community to be “one where it is easy and safe to walk to goods and services (i.e., grocery stores, post offices, health clinics, etc.). Walkable communities encourage pedestrian activity, expand transportation options, and have safe and inviting streets that serve people with different ranges of mobility.”

What is contained in a walkable city for seniors?

  • Affordable, accessible housing
  • Plenty of public spaces for gathering and socialization
  • Buildings that are close to the street for best access, with parking lots in back
  • Seniors can walk to businesses, work, or church ideally the majority of destinations are within one half mile from their home
  • Adequate number of businesses to meet needs of seniors and amenities to encourage activity such as stores, grocery, restaurants, drugstore, library, post office, healthcare, culture, church, transit, parks
  • Streets include pedestrian paths, bike paths for walkers safety and transit systems
  • Sidewalks have plenty of space to maneuver, especially for disabled; paths are well maintained and free from cracks, roots, and plant intrusions; receptacles present to keep litter at bay; well lighted 24 hours a day; follow universal design so people of all abilities can safely access
  • Signage in place for clarity, cross walks were identifiable and synced with traffic signals
  • Drivers are aware of walkers and courteous; police enforce and patrol for safety; speed limit on streets is low
  • Pathways are free of obstructions such as utility poles and sign posts
  • Places for rest including benches and shaded areas are available

Benefits of a Walkable City

A city or community that is truly a walkable city, and not just a city with sidewalks, will have many benefits that are not just for the seniors who inhabit the town but also for the other residents and the city structure itself.

These are just some of the benefits that a city that is ‘walkable’ will give to all.

  1. It has been proposed that a well-designed and maintained walkable city will increase the value of surrounding properties and thereby tax bases for local cities who adopt this concept.
  2. Having areas that include small parks, benches and gathering spots for neighbors will encourage a sense of community and belonging that can improve the quality of life of seniors and all residents. Socialization and pride in the area will pay off dividends in more ways than one.
  3. Multi-generational activities will benefit kids, adults and seniors as we learn from and socialize with each other.
  4. More sidewalks and areas for pedestrians can also parlay into more bike lanes that are attractive to other citizens.
  5. When a city is walkable it should have well lit sidewalks to prevent accidents, falls and mishaps of all kinds. A great outcome of that is decreased crime as there are fewer dark places to hide.
  6. People who have areas that are pleasant and easy to walk around in safely are healthier. Physical activity is a goal for us all especially our seniors. They can’t do this when there is no safe place to walk. Encouraging health among it citizens has advantages to the healthcare system as well.
  7. Fewer cars on the road when people can walk to their destination can lead to an improvement in air quality.

Theory of Walkability

According to Jeff Speck, author of Walkable City-

“The General Theory of Walkability explains how, to be favored, a walk has to satisfy four main conditions: it must be useful, safe, comfortable, and interesting. Each of these qualities is essential and none alone is sufficient.

  • Useful means that most aspects of daily life are located close at hand and organized in a way that walking serves them well.
  • Safe means that the street has been designed to give pedestrians a fighting chance against being hit by automobiles; they must not only be safe but feel safe, which is even tougher to satisfy.
  • Comfortable means that buildings and landscape shape urban streets into ‘outdoor living rooms,’ in contrast to wide-open spaces, which usually fail to attract pedestrians.
  • Interesting means that sidewalks are lined by unique buildings with friendly faces and that signs of humanity abound.”

We hope to see more development and advances of walkable cities in the near future. The cost to upgrade the infrastructure for many cities would be worth the investment. However, that means that seniors will be willing to relocate from the suburbs or rural cities to a new location that could potentially help them age in place more successfully.

Change can be hard but in this case it might just be worth the effort for many of us.

Seniors Might Really Want Tech Gifts – They Just Don’t Realize It Yet

Holiday season is a wonderful time — once we finally decide just what gift we’re going to give our senior loved ones, that is.

Yes, the elders on our gift list are often the hardest to check off.

Choosing the right gift, or at least avoiding the wrong one, can cause us to wrack our brains until our heads ache and wander aimlessly through the mall or web.

It’s not as if they give some idea of what to get; more likely they tell us to save our money instead of buying a gift.

Does grandpa really want one more tie or grandma yet another set of earrings? Will they really enjoy that “(you name it) of the Month Club”? Maybe we would be better off saving that money.

Wouldn’t it be nice to give something from which they’ll really get benefit, something they need — even if they don’t know they need it?

Technology Gifts Can be Useful & Used

Even as seniors’ adoption of smartphones, tablets, e-readers and other technology continues to grow, we still hear a lot of family caregivers and other loved ones saying their older loved ones wouldn’t just wouldn’t use such technology — that they feel it’s the domain of younger generations.

That might be true for some, but how many family members would have said the same thing about some of the millions of seniors who now can’t live without their tech gadgets?

After all, as the late Steve Jobs famously said, “a lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

Let’s be clear, we’re not saying to give senior loved ones technology gifts to give them something different, though. It’s about finding a gift they’ll enjoy and that will provide them benefits.

At Senior Care Corner® we are all about helping family caregivers make the lives of their senior loved ones safer, healthier and happier. Technology gifts can do all of those — and today’s technology offers just a hint of what tech will offer seniors in the years to come.

Choosing Tech Gifts for Senior Loved Ones

So you’ve decided to try and find the right technology gift for elder parents or grandparents. That just narrows down your universe of options because, after all, you can just go to the store and say “I want to buy technology” without being more specific.

We have a few thought starters for you.

Smartphones

Smartphones might be considered a gateway technology for many, including seniors. It’s easy to start with the basic phone functionality — some still use smartphones to make calls, after all — and ease into apps and the whole world they have to offer.

Beyond what can be done on them today, smartphones will serve key functions for seniors in the future, providing benefits in healthcare and safety. There are many tech innovations on the way (some available now) that will use the smartphone as a data communications link with healthcare providers, family members and others.

Having and using a smartphone now will help build readiness for the even greater functionality they’ll offer later.

Which smartphone should you get your senior loved one? After all, there are many options. The right one is really an individual decision, thinking about the right size for the person who’ll use it. The choice of operating system, such as iOS (Apple) or Android, might come down to what you or your loved ones’ friends use and will be able to explain as questions arise.

Tablets

While they may look just like big smartphones, tablets are much more, of course. Some provide all the computing power most people, not just seniors, will ever need.

Many people talk about getting e-readers for senior loved ones who enjoy a lifelong love of reading. Doing so might be shortsighted in many cases, though, because tablets provide the e-reader functions and so much more, often in packages just as easy to hold, read and carry as limited function readers.

Tablets, with Wi-Fi and even cellular communications capabilities in common with smartphones, are also likely to provide the same health and safety functionality as the smaller devices, giving them a role in aging that is healthy and safe.

Fitness Trackers

“Fitness trackers,” you might be saying, “but our senior loved ones aren’t athletes and don’t really exercise much.” That’s just the point, though.

We know from personal experience that wearing a fitness tracker can make one more aware of how much — or how little — exercise they’re really getting. We talk a lot about the importance of exercise in physical and mental health as we age. Fitness trackers provide meaningful feedback to help senior loved ones become — and stay — more active.

A wearable fitness tracker also provides benefits as a gateway to future technology. Most trackers provide their data feedback through apps in the user’s smartphone or tablet, providing experience with what will be a key communications link in the future.

Fitness trackers also build comfort with wearable technology (again, based on experience), which will grow in prominence in the coming years and promise many benefits for seniors, especially those who choose to age in place on their own.

Other Technology Options

Those are but a few of the available technology options that might be considered as gifts for senior loved ones. You might also think about these.

  • Gaming consoles, which can provide a lot of fun for family members of all ages but also encourage physical and mental exercise for seniors.
  • Laptop or even desktop computers (yes, they still make those), which may be a better way to access the Web than smartphones or tablets for many seniors.
  • Smart televisions, TVs that connect to the Web and provide access to applications such as YouTube and Facebook in addition to multiple entertainment options.

You just don’t know which technology gift will open the eyes of your senior loved one to a whole world of benefit and make them realize they really wanted, maybe even needed, what the tech world has to offer them.

Is There Technology That Shouldn’t be a Gift?

There are an abundance of technology options that would be fine gifts for senior loved ones but are there options that maybe wouldn’t be the greatest gifts?

The quick answer is no, but . . .

There are many wonderful tech devices that provide benefits for older adults (and others) but just provide benefits and might not provide entertainment or fun. Think of the way many kids feel to find socks under the tree.

What tech devices might fall into this category?

  • Blood pressure monitors
  • Personal Emergency Response Systems (PERS)
  • Prescription medication organizers
  • Home monitoring systems

You get the idea. Some great technology, needed by many but not what most would consider “fun.”

Then again, a lot of kids liked getting socks and similar gifts. Many seniors will likewise appreciate and even enjoy gifts they really need but are “just” functional.

Make “How To” Part of Your Tech Gift

When giving senior loved ones a technology gift, especially something they don’t yet realize they need and will love, the gift can’t end with the wrapped package. We have to be ready, willing and able to help them understand how to make use of it.

Whether the gift is a smartphone, tablet, fitness tracker, blood pressure monitor or medication organizer, the intent is for our senior loved ones to make use of the gift and not just put it in a drawer or closet.

If the senior isn’t familiar with the device or just isn’t tech savvy — which is understandable, since many seniors grew up in a world without personal technology — taking the time to help them set up and learn to use their gift can help ensure the gift is used after you leave.

After all, isn’t getting our senior loved ones something they will enjoy using and which will make their lives better the reason for turning to the technology gift?

Happy shopping and giving!

When Independent Living Becomes Loneliness – Helping Seniors Cope

Many of us try to spend as much time as we can with our senior loved ones who are aging in place in their own homes.

We try to do our best to support them with whatever they may need.

What happens if they’ve lost their spouse and are now alone in that beloved home – – and you can’t be with them every day to ease their loneliness?

What if you lived at a long distance and couldn’t get there more than twice a year, if that?

What if these seniors who now find themselves alone never had (or have lost) children and therefore may be devoid of family caregivers who can give them the emotional support they need?

What if?

Senior Loneliness

The Administration on Aging reports there were almost 11.3 million seniors who lived alone in 2010. The number of those over age 75 who lived alone was greater still and of those adults 100 and older a third lived alone. Imagine that!

We are pretty sure that those numbers will be higher if counted today.

We know that our seniors want to stay in their homes as long as possible. Unfortunately for some, however, they stay in their homes longer than might be safe or healthy for them.

Being alone has negative consequences for many seniors.

Loneliness can result in depression and isolation which has been shown to lead to physical problems, loss of mobility and thus independence.

Being alone can ultimately lead to having to move to a senior living facility.

Fears of Seniors Who Live Alone

Seniors who are alone due to a loss of spouse, partner, close friend or nearby caregiver often report that one of their fears is that they will lose their independence. Unfortunately, this is a real possibility for some seniors.

Even though seniors living alone have friends they see from time to time, church to attend weekly with friends there, people they can call upon if they get lonely, like long distance caregivers, tasks to complete (like housework or gardening) that provide a temporary diversion, and even loving pets to care for daily, they continue to report that they feel alone.

Some who continue to grieve for their lost loved one may face depression in addition to loneliness.

Many say that it takes time to begin to remember the good times more than the bad times. Things are a little easier when they can get to that point.

Then come the holidays – –  when memories of family time, shared memories and a renewal of grief enter the minds of our senior loved ones.

Seniors can get companionship from a pet or even a talking book but they probably still prefer to be among friends or family. They may feel lonely even when not alone because they are missing the way things used to be.

Family caregivers can often feel sad that they can’t be with their senior loved one as often as they might be needed to help overcome their loneliness.

Sometimes we just can’t do it all – – or fill all the holes in their lives.

Helping Them Deal with Loneliness

There are some things that we can do with and for our senior loved ones to help them stay engaged and relieve their loneliness. Some are easy and some take more of a commitment but they are all doable for many.

  1. Sign them up to join the senior center or a class, such as yoga or Tai Chi. Silver Sneakers is a group that meets throughout the country that provides seniors with a safe way to be physically and socially active. Let them pick what they would like to do. Maybe they would like to take a class at the local school to learn more about the computer, how to take photos or make a quilt. Help them find a book club or other club that sparks their interest like a garden club, bridge club or church group.
  2. Set up visits with family, friends and other organizations so that they have regular visitors. Be the coordinator so that people visit without overlap.
  3. Register them for Meals on Wheels, an organization that provides not only meals but a person who will come and check in with them on a routine basis.
  4. Enlist your friends and family to send a card, letter, or whatever communication they enjoy to your senior. Make a yearly calendar and give everyone their assigned dates. We did this with our grandfather after our grandmother passed. He received well wishes, funny notes and other goodies regularly from all around the country. He always had something to look forward to when he took the stroll to get his mail. Be sure everyone follows through as assigned.
  5. Help your senior loved one schedule their week: Sunday – church; Monday – grocery shopping and errands; Tuesday – library; Wednesday – visit friends or volunteer; and so forth. Each day of the week will hold something special for them, keep them engaged with the community, and give them a reason to get going each morning. It’s valuable to have something to which they can look forward on a daily basis – – and no excuses for isolating themselves when others are depending on them.
  6. Do they need a pet or a plant that requires their loving care? Even a fish or a bird can keep them mentally engaged with something that needs them but doesn’t require too much care. A window garden with some fun plants that can liven up the view or plants with an aroma like sage or lavender to provide some familiar scents.
  7. Connect them with technology so they can contact people they know via Facebook, send and receive texts and emails, learn something new and join chats for support. Be sure they have security measures in place and understand safety when giving out personal information, we all need a reminder about that!
  8. If they don’t have transportation, help them find ways to get around, such as public transit or senior services. Churches can connect members with rides to weekly services for seniors. When they have a way to get there they can attend church, go to events, get to the park and even volunteer for an organization that they feel espouses their beliefs. Getting out will help them stay mentally engaged and give them a sense of purpose.

These are just a few ideas to help you keep your senior from isolating in loneliness. Remember that sorrow can be consuming and, especially for our senior  loved ones, can lead to negative medical consequences.

Just a few fun ideas and a consistent approach can keep sadness from becoming overwhelming.

If you don’t have a senior nearby, reach out to other aging seniors and neighbors who are alone in your area not just during the holidays but all year long. Assist them with small comforts. You can’t be with them every day or take away all their sorrow – – but you can help.

Wandering Away by Seniors Can Be Deadly – Take Action for Prevention

Do you worry that your senior loved one will wander away from home one day — or worse, night — and not be able to find the way home?

You are not alone. Family caregivers, especially those with seniors diagnosed with dementia, often worry that it could happen.

Our imaginations run wild with the dangers seniors would face away from our protection.

It has been estimated that as many as 60 to 70% of people diagnosed with dementia will wander at least once. Unfortunately, some may wander more than once.

Statistics on Wandering Seniors Alarming

One statistic estimates there are as many as 125,000 episodes of wandering in people with dementia each year, many of which are not being reported.

Luckily, most seniors don’t wander far before they are detected. Most of the time they are brought back by someone but often don’t get themselves back home.

They won’t admit to strangers they are lost or ask for directions back to a known place. They will continue on a path to nowhere.

According to the National Crime Information Center, wanderers who are not found within 24 hours can lead to significant injury or worse. One estimate is that of those not found within 24 hours, only 20% survive.

That means 4 out of 5 not found within 24 hours aren’t found alive!

The Alzheimer’s Association has placed that number nearer to half, which is still too many. Let’s hope it is lowering as we become aware and take action.

The good news is 94% of Alzheimer’s wanderers are found within 1.5 miles of where they were last seen.

Why Do Senior Loved Ones Wander?

There is a reason your senior loved one leaves home or a facility. Trying to understand what might trigger them will make it easier to prevent.

There are a variety of reasons stemming from mental confusion but also physical or environmental causes.

Why might seniors wander from home?

  • Looking for someone or someplace
  • Feel that they need to be somewhere else, unable to express where that might be but have a strong compulsion to get there
  • Feeling that they aren’t in the home in their memory and have to get there
  • Bored or frustrated
  • Hungry
  • Lonely
  • Pain
  • Special date or anniversary
  • Loss of loved one
  • Change in environment, low lighting, noise
  • Change in medication
  • Dehydration
  • Restlessness
  • Impaired hearing or vision

Reduce Wandering with These Tips

When you understand some of the causes especially particular to your senior loved one, you can begin to be proactive about preventing wandering. Altering their environment and anticipating their needs will help reduce the likelihood of them eloping. Here are a few suggestions for things you can do to help the situation.

  1. Keep their surroundings homelike, add family pictures and familiar objects. Offer frequent snacks especially at times they may be likely to wander. Be alert of changes in the environment or well-being of your senior for anything that could trigger an episode. Offer fluids regularly, treat pain and get regular health checkups. Keep your senior busy with meaningful activities so that they don’t become bored and look for something more interesting to do like wander. Encourage shorter daytime naps so they will sleep soundly at night.
  2. Alert neighbors to join the team to keep your senior loved one safe. If they see your senior outside, they could alert you or try to corral your senior back into the safety of home if appropriate. The first action should be to contact you and then authorities. They should be aware that redirecting seniors at some times to change course can lead to aggressive behavior. If your senior shows this behavior, neighbors should just watch where your senior travels and not try to get them back home. This could help avoid any physical harm to either of them. Perhaps you can guide others in how to talk with them to diffuse the situation if they appear agitated. It is all in the approach but people who are trying to help may not be aware of the need to talk calmly and what to say to avoid escalation of behaviors.
  3. Since seniors often wander and become ‘lost’ while on an outing, all areas will be unfamiliar and they will not be able to negotiate themselves to a place that feels safe and comfortable such as a mall or public area like a park or zoo.
  4. A real danger is water. People with dementia who are in unfamiliar surroundings often walk in a straight line until they reach an obstacle. This could mean that with decreased visual acuity or depth perception, they will walk right into a pond, lake, river or other water source and have drowned as a result.
  5. Be ready to tell officials about their clothing, things that might frighten them such as dogs, men in uniform or trucks for instance and have a photo ready to share. The more information you have to help direct a search as quickly as possible, the more effective the search will be. Keep identification on them, in a pocket or engraved bracelet with their name and address in case they become lost someone can help.
  6. If your senior loved one begins talking about their childhood home, they may be at greater risk of wandering and it is time to put precautions into place.
  7. Use sensor mats at exit points, add secure door locks at a height that is hard for seniors to reach, add a lock that you can check from your smartphone to be sure it is engaged when needed, disguise exit doors with creative designs such as bookcase wallpaper or towel racks.
  8. Use GPS tracking devices such as bracelets, special shoes or other items but be careful not to think that is the answer, other interventions should be done to prevent wandering since GPS only helps once someone has eloped. These trackers only work where there is cell phone coverage too.
  9. If your senior suffers from sundowning, they will be more likely to wander in the evening. You should take necessary precautions to prevent them from leaving the home.
  10. If your senior is at risk, they will need supervision at all times to keep them safe whether family, paid or volunteer.
  11. Keep seniors active during the day so they will be tired for bed, give them plenty of opportunity to walk each day including outside walks.
  12. Use a bracelet or ankle band that can help locate your senior loved one if they are missing. This could be especially valuable if they have wandered more than once and are crafty about circumventing your efforts to keep them safe.
  13. Contact your local authorities proactively. Let them know that your senior is at danger of wandering. Many community police forces have a form that you can fill out that gives them specifics about our senior including any disabilities. There is also a program called Nationwide Silver Alert Adoption which puts out an alert to help locate seniors. You can register your senior who might be at risk for wandering so that their information is in the system if needed and help can proceed more quickly. This is not available in every state so contact your local authorities to see if you have a program in your state.
  14. Be realistic if you can’t keep them safe at home that it could be time for a memory care unit that is equipped to prevent elopement.

A wandering senior can be scary for everyone and their safety is a key concern. Taking precautions before an episode occurs is the wisest action to prevent tragedy.

Clinical Trials Provide Seniors (and Us) Opportunities to Help Cure Disease

Clinical trials can be very important in curing disease and finding ways to help prevent a host of ailments.

Have you or your senior loved one ever considered becoming part of a clinical trial?

Researchers across the globe receive funding through a variety of sources, including government endowments or federal agencies, foundations, pharmaceutical companies, organizations and universities, in order to answer the most perplexing questions about health and disease that the world’s population faces.

One such funding source is the National Institute on Aging (NIA), which will seek ways to improve cognition, decision making, mobility and independence of older people in the near future.

Another area of study will be conducted by Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore Johns Hopkins Roybal Center. They will review the informal support resources of vulnerable older adults focusing on the transition of health care services from traditional institutions like nursing homes to home- and community-based models. Their research will include key family members and caregivers.

Family caregivers and their senior loved ones play a vital role in the clinical trial effort, whether they are healthy individuals or suffering from a chronic illness.

What is a Clinical Trial?

Research done with human subjects is called a clinical trial. It can be the fastest way to develop new treatments that can improve our health. They are also used to compare a new treatment to a currently available one to see which is more effective.

Clinical trials investigate theories for prevention, diagnosis, treatments or cures for diseases. They can also study quality of life outcomes for people who suffer from chronic diseases.

There are two kinds of clinical trials, interventional and observational. An interventional clinical trial uses experimental therapies in a controlled environment. They could involve a medical device, medication, diet, procedure or a behavior change. Safety and effectiveness are studied through specific measurements such as vital signs.

An observational trial monitors a large number of individuals over a period of time and studies the effects of treatments over time.

Clinical trials have established rules and are monitored by committees that oversee the study for safety and compliance with procedure. All aspects have to be approved and monitored.

Each trial has its own criteria regarding who can participate, how long it will be performed, and where it will be carried out (facility, home, lab, doctor’s office, etc.).

Clinical Trial Phases

Phases of a trial are determined by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It has set up five phases or categories detailing the characteristics of the particular study.

  1. Phase 0 – this has very little human interactions, it is the exploratory stage.
  2. Phase 1 – this stage usually involves healthy individuals, often times a small group of 20-80 people, looking at a new drug or treatment including any adverse side effects or dosage ranges, it often involves studying how the drug works, how it is absorbed by the body and how it is excreted.
  3. Phase 2 – at this point, a drug is given to a larger group of participants (100-300) with data gathering conducted to compare participants’ reactions who receive different treatments. It often involves a drug and a placebo for comparison. The effectiveness and safety of a drug or treatment is a focus of this phase.
  4. Phase 3 – at this point the drug from phase 2 would be studied in different dosages and its effects compared among the many participants (1,000-3,000). It could also involve combining the original drug with other medications to test how it will interact and be effective in the presence of other drugs.
  5. Phase 4 – these studies are conducted after the FDA has approved the drug for use and it is marketed to the public. It is designed to continue to monitor the drug’s effectiveness, any side effects and points about its optimal use such as time of day taken and restrictions.

Should You or a Senior Loved One Join a Clinical Trial?

Each clinical study will have selective criteria about who is eligible. Some want healthy people, some want women only or men only, some want a person with a specific disease or who is taking a particular medication, and some depend on geography or age.

If you are interested in joining a study about which you’ve heard, it’s a good idea to contact them and see if you qualify. Once you are accepted they will explain the benefits and risks, which serves to educate you so that you can provide informed consent.

You should feel fully informed and comfortable with the trial before you begin including potential side effects, procedures to be performed, length of study, and what you are expected to do throughout the course of the study.

Some studies may not accept you or your loved one but you can participate by using the device or experimental medication through an Expanded Access Program.

One reason for joining a study is to be an active participant in health care, yours and that of others. If there is a specific disease for which you would like to be included, you would be given access to potential beneficial treatments before they are available to the public.

Be aware there may be unpleasant side effects or the treatment may have no effect at all. Participants are typically free to leave a clinical trial at any point if desired by just letting the researchers know of your decision.

CureClick Ambassadors

Because we desire to further clinical research into prevention, treatment and cures for many chronic diseases which affect our seniors including Alzheimer’s and other dementias — and because we want to make readers aware of clinical trial opportunities — we have become CureClick Ambassadors. In order to do this, we have participated in training and agreed to provide only links to available research studies and have no influence over who is accepted or denied clinical trial participation.

What this means is that we are now part of a community of those trained to share information and resources regarding various clinical trials. We will only share with our family caregiver community those trials that we feel are pertinent to aging issues, such as dementia.

If our information sharing results in acceptance of someone into a trial, we will be given a small “reward” or stipend for connecting them with a study, which will help support Senior Care Corner.

Wouldn’t it be exciting to know that participating in a clinical trial not only improved the health of your senior loved one (or yourself) but also changed the face of a disease like Alzheimer’s?

Is Aging Really Bad for Our Brains? How Can We Keep Them Sharp?

Does aging damage our brains?

Many of us, including family caregivers in the throes of caring for aging loved ones, hold a belief that the natural consequence of aging is a decline in our mental function.

After all, don’t our brains age the way our bodies do? Our face gets wrinkly, why not our brains?

It is hard to argue that age and loss in brain function don’t go hand in hand when the belief has been ingrained in us that memory loss and brain loss are directly related to our age.

Aging brains do exhibit a shrinkage, or atrophy when measured under scans. But, it seems that our brains may not be declining as we might think.

Cognitive Neuroscience Discoveries

A type of psychology that measures brain activity as it relates to human thought is called cognitive neuroscience. Its focus is how our brains shape our behavior, including asking questions to form memories and which areas of the brain control this.

Recent discoveries by cognitive neuroscientists indicate our brains may not be declining the way we think they are. It appears our brains are malleable, flexible enough to tell other parts of the brain to pick up the slack if needed.

Aging brains can, when necessary, reorganize themselves and change for the better.

Using MRI studies, it can be seen that various regions of the brain are being used during different tasks. The imaging can measure the blood flow to these areas of the brain while it is in action. Compared to younger people, older adults use both sides of the brain as well as anterior portions to complete a task, while younger people use only one lobe or posterior areas.

Scientists also found that new neurons or brain cells can be produced throughout our lifespan not just when we are young.

It is interesting to note that new learning endeavors were found to stimulate the survival of these new neurons.

There are therapies underway now to stimulate or suppress our neurons externally using transcranial magnetic stimulation. This is done by attaching electrodes to the scalp or using a handheld device over the head. It is non-invasive. This has hopes of being a way to study the brain further to understand how it works, especially in aging.

Can Aging Brains Benefit with Workouts?

If, indeed, we have learned that our brains are capable of remodeling to complete a task and we can improve the growth of neurons, will working out our brains using specific processes improve the functioning of our brains as we age?

Here are just some of the things we can do to help senior loved ones sharpen their brains.

  1. Learn a new skill. Choose something your senior has never done before such as quilting, playing a musical instrument or creating digital photos. Try learning a new language.
  2. Be physically active. Being active helps not just your body but your brain too!
  3. Socialize! Enjoy other people’s company. Don’t let your senior stay isolated. Let them converse, be engaged and reminisce with others to keep their brain stimulated.
  4. Exercise the brain. It doesn’t matter what your senior does to challenge their brain, but activities that test the brain everyday will help. It could be simple things, like combing their hair or brushing their teeth with their non-dominant hand, doing crosswords, doing brainteasers and math problems; anything that will give the brain a workout. It is most effective when the task is new and different.
  5. Get enough sleep! The brain needs a good rest just like the body. Allow it to restore itself while sleeping.
  6. Meditate. It is thought that relaxation as with meditation can help the brain.
  7. Get creative, express yourself. Using a variety of art means, such as painting, drawing, singing, playing music or other arts, can help sharpen a senior’s brain.
  8. Stop smoking.
  9. Eat well. Have your senior include a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, lean protein and whole grains in their diet. Limiting fat intake that clog arteries to the heart and the brain will also help.

Brain Training Wearable

There are new and innovative products coming to the health wearable technology market. These products will help us connect to our brains in the same way that neuroscientists were in the above reviewed studies.

One such product is called Muse. It is a self-described brain sensing headband that connects wirelessly to your smartphone. It is designed to help you calm your mind in a few minutes. Once your mind is calm, it is easier for you to focus. The manufacturers say that you can perceive more, learn more, and accomplish more when your mind is focused.

muse brain chartHow does it do this? You put on the headband that contains sensors. The sensors measure your brain’s activity in the same way a heart monitor would. You then track your brain activity and learn ways that you can improve its function. The wearable device allows you to track your brain activity moment to moment. By focusing and thereby relaxing your mind, it is predicted that you will reduce stress and gain benefits.

I was able to try the Muse out a few times myself (we purchased one) and found it to be an interesting concept but one that may be difficult for some to benefit from unless highly motivated. It requires you to get very still and contemplative to focus on a task. Wearing the headband was pretty straightforward and after a little while I didn’t even notice it anymore.

brain calm neutral activeI have had experience with guided imagery so was able to settle in and concentrate at the task at hand. Some people who have trouble sitting still may not find it very helpful. Using the smartphone app, you are told in a calm voice what to do. After a few minutes you are given data about how well you were able to attend to the task and become calm.

With practice, I feel that I could improve my results. How this will actually relate to health benefits will remain to be seen.

Will it Help Seniors?

This doesn’t seem like something seniors with dementia could do very well so should be thought to be more for prevention of cognitive impairment rather than help to calm seniors with dementia.

This product and others that will certainly come next to stimulate our brains will need more study to determine if they will help protect our brain function as we age.

We expect more research studies that can tell us how our brains are aging and what lifestyle factors impact our brain function. Some of these changes are pretty simple to adopt and worthy of trying.

Some of the new technological devices are interesting to try and provide hope for what could happen in the future. We will bring you more of these as we find them.

An aging brain is not to be feared but seems as though our seniors and us too will need to nurture it to keep it as healthy as can be in the future!

Coming Technology Innovations and Current Tips to Help Avoid Senior Falls

Falls are dangerous and scary for our senior loved ones.

As family caregivers we want to do anything we can to prevent falls because we know that the consequences can be severe.

One in three seniors will fall this year. Many of those won’t be serious but too many will be life-changing.

Falls are the leading cause of injury and even death for our elders. Did you know that in 2012 there were 2.4 million nonfatal falls in seniors over 65 treated in the emergency departments and of those that came to the ER, 722,000 ended up hospitalized?

Senior Injuries from Falls

Injuries from falls include some as minor as lacerations and bruises all the way to more severe injuries, such as hip fractures and head trauma.  Fractures of all kinds happen following a fall including hips, pelvis, spine, ankles, arms and hands.

A not uncommon result in falls with injury is loss of independence, which often requires a move to a long term care facility. Those over 75 are 4-5 times more likely to require care in a facility following a fall.

In 2011, almost 23,000 seniors died from a fall.

A side effect of falls for many senior loved ones is a fear of falling that will limit their functional mobility. They begin fearing falling so stop moving. A decline in mobility can also lead to loss of the ability to age in place.

What can family caregivers do to help prevent falls? There are many strategies to help prevent falls, including making home modifications and improving seniors’ strength, but there are also new products being tested and hopefully coming to market that will help our seniors stay safe at home.

Balance Training with Shoe Insoles

Recently we learned about some new findings published in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation about the ability of vibrating insoles to reduce falls for seniors. According to researchers “stimulation applied to the soles of the feet improved balance by reducing postural sway and gait variability.”

They used foam insoles with embedded actuators, which generated a mechanical stimulation. These vibratory stimulations applied to the soles of the feet were able to work despite the loss of sensation that can be common in elderly people. Often this loss of sensation in the feet can trigger a fall due to impaired balance and gait disturbance.

The device is placed in the shoe at the arch with a rechargeable battery enclosed in the tongue of the shoe.

After using the device, senior participants were given several tests to measure their functional mobility including a Get Up and Go test.

The results of the study were promising, with improvements shown, but more testing and design modifications are being done by the researchers.

Using Accelerometer and Gyroscope Technology To Prevent Falls

Technology that allows your smartphone or tablet to change the screen orientation from portrait to landscape when you turn it and other actions, such as airbag deployment, can be used to help prevent falls in seniors.

A team of engineers at Texas Tech has created a small sensor device that can be clipped onto a waistband and work in unison with pressure sensitive insoles to track gait, tilt and swerve. The information obtained is then sent wirelessly for analysis.

A routine pattern is first established and then an alert is sent when a break in the normal pattern occurs. The idea is that this information can be used to alter behaviors to prevent falls by detecting a pattern that could lead to a fall even days in advance.

In the words of these researchers, “we are humbled as we move slowly and methodically toward creating something useful.”

Students Invent Smart Brace

Graduate engineering students collaborating with mechanical engineering and orthopedic surgery professor Thomas Andriachhi participated in the 2005 Stanford’s Biodesign Innovation Program. They developed a “smart” ankle brace for elders in order to correct imbalances and prevent falls.

The brace they designed has a smart chip that continuously monitors the roll of the ankle. If a roll is detected, the device provides a correctional vibration alerting the senior to change position or shift balance to avoid a fall.

This sounds like it could be a valuable device, but the group has been looking for funding and continued research to make it viable.

New ideas are often slow to fruition, but we applaud great young minds trying to solve problems that will help seniors stay safe and hope to see news of this device in the future.

Prevention Devices Available Today

Those research innovations are great ideas and could prove to reduce falls and injuries in our seniors in the future, but when they will be fully tested and manufactured is unknown.

Here are some devices that are currently available that could help your senior loved one.

  • Fall pads, magnetic monitors and sensor pads; these are devices that can detect movement such as getting up from bed or chair; they also detect when a person steps onto a pad on the floor such as near a door or at the bedside; they all sound alarms that will notify family caregivers of movement that could lead to a fall so that intervention can occur
  • Motion sensors can be placed in key areas of the home to alert the caregiver to movement and patterns that may be unusual
  • Medical devices such as canes, walkers and shower chairs
  • Home aids such as grab bars, nonslip mats in shower, and nonskid stair treads
  • Correctly fitting footwear with proper soles to prevent slipping

There are more ways you can prevent falls in seniors that, several of which we have included in our Home Seniorization Checklist for family caregivers which you can learn about and download here.

Taking appropriate precautions to prevent falls, using the latest technology and keeping abreast of exciting innovations that could help us prevent falls in our senior loved ones will certainly improve the likelihood that they can age in place in comfort and safety.

Prepare Now to be Ready When Emergencies Hit Senior Loved Ones

Many family caregivers unfortunately know the names and faces of the people in the emergency room of the local hospital pretty well. Maybe too well.

Why might this be? Because they are visiting the emergency rooms (ER or ED) and hospital wings with their senior loved ones much more frequently than they want.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2009–2010, “a total of 19.6 million emergency department (ED) visits in the United States were made by persons aged 65 and over. The visit rate for this age group was 511 per 1,000 persons” and “29% of ED visits by persons aged 65 and over were related to injury, and the percentage was higher among those aged 85”.

Emergency care due to falls is on the rise too.

Since we spend so much time sitting in healthcare facilities and going at a moment’s notice, we need to be ready when it happens and have the things we need all together for easy pickup.

Emergency ‘Go’ Bags

You may have seen on some popular TV shows law enforcement agents keeping “go bags” at the ready so they can travel on short notice. The same concept applies here.

Putting as many supplies in a bag that will be your go bag when an emergency arises makes great sense and you will be happy you did it, especially if your senior loved one is a frequent flyer to the hospital.

Many experts have contributed ideas to this go bag, to which we have added our own ideas and what we have found useful in the past with our own loved ones. Here is a list of the essentials you may need.

  1. Important documents! Keep copies of medication lists that include allergies, medication generic names and dosages as well as times when they usually take them. Phone/email contacts for health providers and family members so you can contact everybody you need. Include advance directive copies, such as a living will or DNR orders your senior has executed. Your senior’s Medicaid and other insurance cards. Many of these forms can be downloaded and kept in your smartphones using a variety of apps or programs such as Evernote.
  2. Smartphone or tablet plus chargers to keep them running for as long as you might need.
  3. Toiletries such as toothbrush/paste, makeup, deodorant, wet wipes, and tissues as well as any other personal care item you need.
  4. Keep snacks such as granola bars or nuts in case you can’t leave the bedside to get to a vending machine or you can’t find healthy things you want to eat there.
  5. Coins and single dollar bills to feed a parking meter or vending machine.
  6. Sweater or light jacket for you and them plus some pajamas and warm socks for them.
  7. I had some teabags for me and my loved one since neither of us drink coffee. I could get hot water but sometimes not a tea bag.
  8. Small pillow or neck rest.
  9. Notepad and pencil to jot down directions or keep a list of questions for health care team.
  10. Medical history list for your loved one, including surgery or procedures performed and any immunizations received.
  11. Book or e-reader that will help you pass the time. Crossword puzzle book or other items that make the time go by. “Entertainment” for you to pass the time and keep your mind from imagining the worst. Don’t forget a headset or headphones so you can listen without disturbing others.
  12. If you need medications for the duration, be ready to grab those too. Care for yourself as you care for them.
  13. Memento of meaning to your senior loved one that might help calm them, such as stuffed animal or picture of loved one.

Hospitalization Tips for Comfort & Peace

There are also some great tips for when your senior loved ones end up in the hospital for an unplanned trip or a scheduled procedure, no matter how long they may be staying.

  • Never let your car be very low on fuel or blocked in driveway – you may need it to move fast on a moment’s notice.
  • If your senior loved one goes to the emergency room without you, be sure to go by their home or send someone else there to get items they may need during their stay, such as their eyeglasses, dentures or personal items, including a robe and one change of clothes for their return home. I can’t tell you how many seniors go by ambulance to the hospital in the middle of the night without dentures or glasses and have a hard time during their hospital stay eating or reading consent papers. A bathrobe will be handy in the hospital for allowing them to maintain some dignity if they are asked to walk in the hallways or getting to and from the bathroom.
  • Brings some favorite foods from home, even if you have to call on others to cook them, to help spur your senior loved one’s appetite.
  • Don’t let your senior see your emotions. If you are scared, they will be too. Keep your emotions and fears in check while you provide them with uplifting messages of concern.
  • Answer their questions honestly about their diagnosis, treatment options and prognosis and be sure they are involved in the decisions that are made. Really listen to what their choices are for care and follow their lead.
  • Support the people caring for your senior loved one. Tell them thank you for their service, their jobs are not always easy.

You will never be fully prepared for emergencies especially when it is your loved one and emotions come into play. But having some essential items ready and waiting for you for when they are needed, will make it just a bit easier to help senior loved ones and you be face the challenges.

We would love to hear what items you would put in your Go bag so we can add it to our list!

Keeping Immune System Happy Also Improves Brain Health and Cognition

One of our last great frontiers of knowledge, the human brain, is being explored like never before.

Research into the brain is leading to many insights into how our brains work, what can damage them, what leads to cognitive function decline including Alzhiemer’s and other dementias and how to prevent damage to our vital brain cells.

This trend in research is not slowing down, thank goodness for us all and especially our senior loved ones, who are aging quickly and leading us to become family caregivers perhaps sooner than we expected or planned.

We try to bring you new information and strategies to stay healthy for your senior loved ones and you too. We have recently heard of another new study that may be shining a light on an area yet studied that can impact all of our health.

Recent Brain Research

A new study published in the Journal of Science is exploring how our brains age. This area of science still offers more questions than answers. Scientists Professor Michal Schwartz and Dr. Ido Amit have been working to uncover the mystery.

They believe that they have found a connection that shows how “cognitive decline over the years may be connected not only to one’s chronological age but also to one’s immunological age – that is, changes in immune function over time might contribute to changes in brain function.”

Remembering our basic anatomy and science classes (you do, right?), we will recall that there is a blood-brain barrier that protects our brains from damage by certain by-products and cells produced by our own bodies, including what we thought were blood-borne immune cells. The researchers found evidence of a ‘signature’ that might be the connection between cognition and aging. They hope that their new data will help to produce new treatments to slow or even reverse cognitive loss in older people.

Researchers found that our immune systems play an important role both in healing the brain after injury and in maintaining the brain’s normal functioning.

Immune and brain interactions thought to be barred from the brain are actually able to cross the barrier in all four ventricles. This connection seems to stimulate the generation of new brain cells. A protein interferon beta was found to have a negative effect on the brain as it fights viral infection. When this protein was blocked, cognitive function was restored.

Good Health Extends to Our Brains

It seems that by staying healthy we can improve our immunity and thereby help our brains stay healthy too. The more we learn, the more we are reminded that our brains do not exist in isolation, separate from our bodies.

The healthier we are, the healthier our brains will be.

When we have a gradual deterioration of our immune system it is called immunosenescence. It is a natural process of aging and is measured by how well we respond to infections and overall health as well as our ability to develop immunity through vaccinations.

Our aging immune systems are victims of oxidative damage and shortened telomeres which we are learning more and more through Alzheimer’s research can lead to dementia.

How Do We Affect our Immunosenescence?

We can improve our immunity doing a variety of things. Many of these things we may already be aware of but perhaps not incorporating into our daily routines for our senior loved ones and ourselves.

They are not detrimental so certainly could be tried in order to remain as strong as possible physically and mentally as we age.

  1. Washing hands often can reduce the spread of germs and keep our seniors healthy.
  2. Getting vaccinated. There are vaccinations that can help prevent your senior from becoming ill including seasonal flu, pneumonia and shingles. Prevention is the first step in staying well. We discussed vaccinations for seniors in this article.
  3. Eating well. Be sure that your senior continues to eat a variety of healthy foods and is not limiting themself to just a few favorites that they eat day in and day out. Reducing the convenience items, which may have reduced nutritional content, and providing fresher, more nutrient dense foods will help them boost their immune systems. Being underweight can also have a negative impact on immunity so be sure your senior is getting enough calories every day to maintain a healthy weight and prevent opportunistic infections.
  4. Including antioxidant sources in your senior’s daily diet. Be sure they are including foods rich in vitamins and minerals including vitamins E, A, C, D and zinc and selenium. There are many foods that contain antioxidants, including berries (red and blue varieties), grapes, beans, nuts including pecans, walnuts and Brazil nuts, white and sweet potatoes, apples, green and black tea, and dark green leafy vegetables.
  5. Sleeping. Getting enough sleep at night is important for our seniors and caregivers too. Sleep should be not only long enough but also uninterrupted to gain maximum advantage. Avoid frequent awakening throughout the night, such as bathroom visits or noise distractions, can help. You can read more discussion of sleep, including tips for better sleep, in this article.
  6. Responding to stress. How well does your senior handle stress? Are they constantly irritated by even the simplest things such as what time the newspaper arrives or if the neighbor’s cat is on the porch? Helping them deal with their emotions and cope with stress will reduce the harmful affect this can have on their immune system.
  7. Being physically active. There really is no two ways about it, we have to get our seniors — and even ourselves — moving every day. A peaceful walk, chores, or other physical activities that they will enjoy and will keep their bodies in motion will have a positive immune enhancing effect too.
  8. Melatonin supplement or in foods has been shown to help moderate the inflammatory process that leads to weakened immune systems. More studies are underway to show if there are positive effects of supplementing with Melatonin in aging adults. At this time, geriatricians have been recommending Melatonin as a more effective sleep aid that have fewer side effects for seniors than prescription drugs and getting better results.
  9. Stopping smoking.
  10. Talking to your senior’s doctor before trying any ‘immune boosting’ miracle aides. They could be harmful to both health and bank account.

These are interventions that we should be doing for our seniors and ourselves as family caregivers. Learning that it could help our brains is a well-earned bonus for staying healthy all year long!