Advocate Protecting Seniors’ Rights – Long Term Care Ombudsman

Wouldn’t it be great to know that you and your senior loved one have an advocate, someone to whom you can turn to help resolve issues with your senior’s care?

If your senior is a resident of a senior living facility — nursing homes, assisted living facilities, board and care homes or adult residential care homes, you DO have an advocate, the Long Term Care Ombudsman!

An ombudsman is an advocate who serves to protect the civil and human rights of elderly and disabled residents living in long term care facilities. They play an important role in protecting your senior loved one.

The Long Term Care Ombudsman is trained to help solve problems and mediate solutions for your senior. They help investigate complaints and reach resolutions. Every family caregiver should be aware that their loved one in a facility is protected by an Ombusdman and know how to reach out to that important resource.

Ombudsman’s Role

An Ombudsman investigates complaints, represents the interests of residents and seeks resolution to the problems that resulted in the complaints. These are some of their duties:

  1. Educates residents, family members, facility staff, and even the community about residents’ rights, recognizing abuse and other topics for care of seniors
  2. Advocates for residents’ rights — protects the health, safety, welfare, human and civil right of long-term care residents
  3. Source of information and referral for long term care programs and services in the area
  4. Advocates on the local and state levels for improvements in regulations that would improve the care of our seniors
  5. Observes and identifies any gaps in services provided by facilities, government or community programs
  6. Assists residents who cannot adequately voice their concerns; works with legal authorities or family members on behalf of residents
  7. Responsible in many states for a Friendly Visitor Program; This program provides trained volunteers to long term care facilities to help residents learn their rights, resolve minor complaints, participate in resident or family council meetings on behalf of residents, and communicate concerns with administrators

Reach Out to Your Senior’s Ombudsman

Each state has a Long Term Care Ombudsman program established under the federal Older Americans Act; you can locate yours National Long-Term Care Ombudsman Resource Center.

Your advocate will keep your identity confidential if you desire, so you can contact them without fear of retribution against your senior loved one if you voice concern about their care.

An Ombudsman can be a great resource for information about the welfare of seniors, information concerning seniors such as Medicare benefits, advance directives, community services and other topics.

The services of an Ombudsman are free to the resident and family.

For Complaints Your Can’t Resolve on Your Own

Remember, no facility is going to be perfect every day. Generally, all (you may, unfortunately encounter an exception) strive to provide good care to the elders they serve. Even in the best, though, there may be issues that threaten the well-being of your senior loved one.

You should always keep open lines of communication with the nursing and administrative staff of the facility, discussing your concerns immediately to give them the opportunity to correct the situation.

If you feel you have a valid complaint that is getting no action from the facility staff, it is time to seek the help of your Ombudsman.

We encourage you to seek the help of your local Ombudsman if you feel it is needed. Even if you don’t need it, just knowing someone is in your senior’s corner and can intervene if needed can be a source of great peace of mind.

Have you or a loved one received the services of a Long Term Care Ombudsman? If so, we’d love to have you share it with us (without any personal or confidential information, of course) and let others benefit from your experience.

Life-Changing Nutrition for Seniors Doesn’t Have to Be Difficult to Help

Lifestyle modifications are things we learn sometimes must be made to age successfully.

Perhaps we want – or are told – to make a few changes after we get diagnosed with a new medical condition.

Perhaps we need to improve our mobility or balance by losing a few pounds and getting more physically active.

It might be we just don’t want to take the new medication the doctor thinks will help us so we opt instead to alter our eating habits.

No matter our age, most of us could benefit by changing some of our health choices. It is especially important for people as they age to eat right. It could be life changing for older adults when they don’t eat well and fail to include the nutrients necessary to stay strong and healthy.

Nutrition Impacts Seniors

Many senior adults change the way they eat over time. There are many reasons why changes occur some are physical, emotional and even environmental but all have negative health consequences.

  1. Seniors may not eat as much, they may get full faster or feel that since they aren’t as active they don’t require as much to eat. Unfortunately, the consequence of limiting the amount of food your senior chooses to eat is consuming inadequate nutrition. This can have a serious negative health impact on seniors.
  2. Chewing can become difficult as we age, when our teeth become worn down or our dentures don’t fit quite right. A consequence of chewing problems can be avoiding meats, harder foods and things that are stringy. Usually the first foods that are left off the menu are foods containing the best source of protein.
  3. Swallowing can also become hard for some seniors. They may cough, have a runny nose or even choke when they eat certain foods. This leads to poor intakes of fluids, restriction of dry foods like bread and can lead to only wanting liquids like soda or juice.
  4. It seems a natural progression when the kids leave home to cook less or just get by with something quick. As we get older, we may lose interest in cooking for ourselves and are satisfied with heating a can of soup. The overall amount of nutritious foods eaten can drop quickly.
  5. Some seniors may not feel that they have enough money in the budget to spend on healthy foods like fresh fruits and vegetables or protein foods. A great percentage do not seek assistance from programs such as SNAP that can supplement their food budget if they qualify. Many seniors feel a need to choose between food, medications and other bills when fixed incomes don’t cover all their expenses anymore.
  6. Some seniors may fatigue easily and can no longer cook a full meal, clean up or have the energy to even consume a full meal if one is provided. Some may not have the strength and balance to operate in the kitchen safely anymore. Some may also have a cognitive impairment that makes remembering the sequence of safe meal preparation an overwhelming task.

Not eating enough key nutrients can lead to problems for aging seniors such as dehydration, muscle loss known as sarcopenia, undesired weight loss, confusion, and falls.

Nutritional deficiencies can lead to risks for compromised immunity making seniors more vulnerable to opportunistic infections, GI disturbances, brittle bones when calcium and Vitamin D are inadequate, numbness or weakness when B12 is in short supply, anemia when iron or folate are lacking, and other physical signs when essential nutrients are not consumed.

Eating Right for Seniors

Because many seniors experience an overall decline in physical activity, older adults require fewer calories per day. However, the amount of nutrients they need to stay healthy doesn’t change. Consequently, the nutritional content of the calories that are eaten become important.

Choosing foods wisely can help older adults achieve better nutrition.

  • Choose fruits and vegetables which are vital to your senior’s health. Eating at least five servings a day using a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables are recommended. They give your senior vitamins, minerals, fluids and fiber which are all essential for well being. The more colorful the foods you select, the richer in nutrients the foods will be.
  • Fiber rich foods should be eaten throughout the day. Whole grain foods and fresh fruits and vegetables contribute to your senior’s total fiber intake. Fiber keeps your senior regular and can reduce the risk of chronic diseases.
  • Drinking enough fluids each day is often difficult for older adults since they do not feel thirst as they once did, even though they may not be as well hydrated. Sometimes foods can contribute fluid to the diet, such as lettuce, fruits, vegetable juice and soups. Keep a glass of water near your senior so they don’t have to get up in search of a drink and they can sip on it throughout the day.
  • You may need to discuss with your senior’s doctor whether supplementation is needed. Eating foods rich in these nutrients is the best way to stay healthy but in case they can not eat enough for key nutrients, like Vitamin D and calcium, a vitamin or mineral supplements may be needed.
  • Urge your senior to visit the dentist. Let them get a thorough exam, have their dentures or natural teeth checked to be sure there is no mouth pain keeping them from eating right. If needed, reline dentures, use foam inserts or denture creams or even remake dentures so that they can eat their favorite foods again. The dentist can also identify if mouth sores need treatment since you won’t be able to see that and your senior may not be able to tell you where it hurts when they eat.
  • Look into getting meals delivered to the home, at least from time to time, if a meal preparation hurdle needs to be overcome.
  • Get your senior loved one an evaluation by a speech therapist if swallowing is a problem. This professional can help your senior with strategies for the proper meal and fluid consistency that will allow your senior to eat safely.
  • If weight control is an issue, regular physical activity of some sort is essential. Daily activity can make your senior feel better and improve their life. It is very important to get physically active even if weight is not a concern. Maintaining strength and balance through physical activity will help prevent sarcopenia, falls and could even increase their appetite.
  • Make the dining environment a happy place. Recommend or serve foods that don’t have overwhelming odors, avoid serving too much at one time and give a beverage after half of the meal is eaten. Reduce confusion by adding soothing music, pleasant smells, and avoiding pushing your senior to eat when they don’t want to. The table shouldn’t be a battleground but a place of encouragement and support.
  • Drinking alcohol in moderation and not using tobacco has been shown to help prevent chronic disease. Caution is needed, as the effectiveness of some medications can be reduced with alcohol. When an elder drinks too much it could take the place of eating healthy foods.
  • Storing and preparing foods safely can prevent food borne illness. Store leftovers quickly, heating foods thoroughly and keeping work areas clean can help. Don’t forget to check the pantry and refrigerator for foods that have passed their expiration dates, as seniors sometimes overlook or can’t read the fine print and may be eating spoiled food, resulting in illness.

There is no time better than now for your senior to make meal changes that could change their life for the better.

This doesn’t just apply to our senior loved ones, though. Family caregivers can often make some changes to stay as strong and healthy as possible to be there for our seniors and others for whom we care when we are needed.

Is it News or Real Life – Does Your Senior Loved One Confuse the Two?

Some seniors, especially those who have cognitive impairment, may be experiencing a bit more angst as the years go on.

Have you noticed that your senior loved one seems to get anxious – – maybe even a bit agitated at times?

Do they watch the evening news every night as a part of a lifelong habit? Have they added to that by checking out the news on the web?

In our family, everything stopped when the evening news came on after dinner and, even though we saw every minute at 6 pm, the adults watched every minute of it again at 11 pm. These habits live on for many.

Now, after the news the comments turn toward “why are so many people shooting each other, getting into horrific car accidents, or hurting children”?

Does your senior watch the news and then report having bad dreams at night?

Could this all be related?

Mental Affects of Bad News for Seniors

Seniors who watch the news reports of worldwide events and local tragedy could become anxious after viewing.

Anxiety can cause nervousness, fear, apprehension and worrying. These emotions could be manifested in challenging behaviors and symptoms. A challenging behavior is one that causes stress or distress to the person with the behavior or those around them.

If your senior loved one has cognitive impairment, they may believe these tragic events are occurring directly to them or those they love. It could be causing flashbacks to times in their lives when they might have been personally involved in upsetting or injurious events. Perhaps they served in a world war, were involved in a serious car accident or other life-altering situation.

Anxiety can be mild or severe, which can not just be disturbing but incapacitating for our seniors. When watching the evening news and seeing the effects of world conflicts seep into their memory will it lead to agitation?

This issue has been studied in children to the extent that media messages could impact behavior. Too much TV time or video game playing can impact mental and physical health in children. Is this also true for our senior loved one?

Tips for Caregivers to Observe, Respond and Impact Seniors Behavior

Caregivers are on the front line with senior’s who may have anxiety or exhibiting behaviors that could be related to things in their environment such as media. Here are a few tips to help you identify causes and create solutions to benefit your senior.

  1. Observe and assess behavior. Can you describe the behavior and what about it concerns you?
  2. Ask your senior questions like ‘how do you feel?’ “are you sad today?” when they are showing behaviors. Are they experiencing grief? Do they feel isolated during the day or feel lonely?
  3. Request your senior’s doctor do a thorough exam looking for signs of pain, illness, depression or even delirium whose symptoms could be triggered by media.
  4. If you notice environmental triggers such as news reports or media such as movies, TV programs or newspaper, decide how best to reduce access to these triggers for your senior.
  5. Investigate their concerns to be sure there are no real issues causing fear or anxiety which you may not be aware.
  6. Reassess if your changes have made a difference in your senior’s behavior and adjust your interventions if needed.

We hope these might help you assist a senior loved one dealing with a situation that might be disrupting their lives.

Strategies You Can Employ

Once you have determined if your senior is having anxiety or if there may be an untreated physical cause, here are some coping strategies for you to use to reduce your senior’s feeling of anxiety to reduce behaviors.

  • Listen to what your senior is saying. Are they repeating what they heard on the news or in a TV program? Are they remembering what happened to them in the past? Are they reliving an event but feeling that it is occurring to them now?
  • Reassure them that they are safe and their loved ones are also safe.
  • Set up a face to face visit with a loved one that is concerning them whether it is in person or via technology on FaceTime or Skype to show them that everyone is safe and allay their fears.
  • Remain calm when dealing with your senior, your mood can rub off on your senior.
  • Treat their pain if that is a trigger for their behavior using both non-pharmacological ways and medications. For instance, soothing music, warm bath, scented lavender in the home, massage and caffeine free beverages could help.
  • Check their medication list and administration to be sure there are no interactions or adverse effects that could be resulting in behaviors.
  • Reduce the environmental stress in the home, such as loud music, distractions to daily tasks, adequate lighting, managing daily schedule, providing adequate rest periods and controlling number of visitors. They could be getting overstimulated by the environment leading to behavior. Try to avoid overstimulation leading to fatigue.
  • Provide regular exercise and opportunities for physical activity that will tire them out to rest peacefully as well as maintaining their physical and emotional well-being.
  • Improve their sleep habits so they sleep through the night to get fully rested. Stay active during the day, limit daytime napping and prepare the bedroom for sleeping.
  • Keep your senior loved one engaged in a variety of enjoyable activities during the day that might also reduce their screen time. Provide tasks, hobbies, socialization occasions, and meaningful activities that allow them to feel fulfilled.
  • Have their vision and hearing checked to be sure they are able to be present in their environment and not limited by sensory impairments. This could cause further fear and anxiety.
  • If there are actual family issues, help them cope with the concerns, talk it over with them, help them offer solutions.
  • Keep a behavior log if needed to determine root cause of behavior which includes date/time of event, specific behaviors you observed, environment at time of behavior (who is present, what were they doing beforehand, weather, etc), your response to your senior (and others around) and interventions employed. After you intervene, what was your senior’s reaction to the strategies you employed? This can be used to create or alter your interventions and create a dialogue with family or healthcare team moving forward.

No one wants to think watching the evening news is making grandma angry enough to strike out at someone or leading to sleepless nights, but there may be some connection with triggering events.

We hope you find some coping mechanisms or ideas to make your senior’s living environment conducive to peace and happiness.

Seniors Behind the Wheel – When Safety Impacts Independence

Is my senior loved one safe behind the wheel?

This is a question many caregivers are asking themselves right now, as will many more in the future.

Our senior loved ones understandably want to maintain their independence to come and go wherever and whenever they please without depending on some other means of transportation or being stuck at home.

Their car is a lifeline to the world and they don’t want to lose it.

But should they? Are they still able to safely drive — react to the others on the road, physically handle the steering or foot pedals, be able to see adequately in a variety of conditions or remember where they are going or how to get home?

Senior Driver Statistics

According to the Federal Highway Administration, there were approximately 23.1 million licensed drivers 70 and over in 2012, which is about 79% of those over 70 and about 11% of all drivers.

“An Institute survey of 2,500 drivers 65 and older found that drivers with reported impairments in memory, vision, mobility and/or medical conditions such as arthritis or diabetes were more likely than other drivers to self-limit their driving by making fewer trips, traveling shorter distances, or avoiding night driving, driving on interstates or driving in ice or snow.”

Recent crash statistics including fatalities from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety show that rates involving seniors reached a peak in the 1990s and have been declining since then. Perhaps seniors are being more cautious as well as cars becoming more technologically advanced for safety especially for our seniors.

Auto Safety Advances and New Technology

There have been numerous technological advances in the auto industry that can help actually prevent accidents rather than help mitigate their affects once they happen. Some have been specifically designed for seniors, with designers using aging suits to replicate impairments common to aging.

These are manufacturers’ improvements that benefit us all, not just seniors.

  1. Anti-lock brakes
  2. Emergency response systems in the vehicle to get help if needed
  3. Smart headlights that adjust themselves to the oncoming traffic and improve night vision by reducing glare; they can also direct the beam of line around a curve to light the direction of travel
  4. Air bags, not just for the driver but passengers to protect torso and head as well as side airbags; seat belts with pre-tensioners or fitted/adapted for older adults stature and weight
  5. Self-parking cars
  6. Electronic stability control, a technology intended to increase a vehicle’s stability bringing it back into its own lane
  7. Rear view back up assistance, lane departure warning , blind spot mitigation and pedestrian alerts
  8. Alerts for accident avoidance, distracted/drowsy driver; controls that are voice activated by the driver
  9. Coming in the future: autonomous braking, cars talking to each other and even autonomous driving that are promised to substantially reduce accidents for everyone

There is a growing amount of study into the effects of alerts and devices within the vehicle that many older adults find distracting and potentially cause accidents. These distractions include a phone ringing in the car and even music playing. 13% of older drivers report this as a concern, 24% feel driving at night is a safety hazard and 12% don’t like changing lanes.

The flip side of those numbers are the results that 86% of drivers over 50 think new technology will help them drive more safely longer and 65% feel more confident if they have the latest technology in their vehicles.

AAA Study of Senior Drivers

The American Automobile Association (AAA) is investing in a study to be conducted by Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, which will look at driving behavior and health factors affecting older adults.

The study will focus on the impact of medications on driving safety as well as new vehicle technology that offers promise of helping senior drivers.

We will follow this study and report back when they have some results and insights.

Helping Seniors Be Safer Drivers

There are things caregivers can do and encourage their seniors to do to help them be safer on the road and independent longer. These are applicable to those of any age as well.

  • Attend a safe driving course, such as those sponsored by AARP and other organizations. This course is valuable as a refresher on rules of the road and offers strategies to compensate for age related changes to help seniors drive as long as safely possible. Most insurance companies offer seniors a discount for taking a safe driving course too!
  • Check with the doctor or pharmacist to see if any of your senior’s medications may be causing drowsiness or impaired vision that could impact their driving safety. Look for alternatives or ways to prevent dangerous interactions.
  • Encourage routine eye exams every year. If prescribed corrective lenses, be sure your senior is wearing the latest prescription every time they get behind the wheel.
  • Remind seniors to drive in appropriate conditions and avoid unsafe road conditions. Use well lit streets and roads with adequate signage and traffic lights.
  • If your senior is weak or has trouble with mobility, encourage them to participate in muscle strengthening activities that will help them handle the wheel better.
  • Encourage them to be cautious on the road, leave enough distance between cars, use signal indicators and know where they are headed to avoid quick lane changes.
  • Avoid distractions when driving such as loud music, GPS talking, eating or passengers who distract your attention. Turn off the cellphone.
  • Be sure your senior is getting enough sleep, being drowsy when driving is not a good mix just as driving and drinking is not a safe choice.
  • Keep the car properly maintained. Keep it in good running condition being sure lights work and all the systems are a go. Check the steering wheel settings and mirrors to be sure they are in the right position for safe driving as posture and vision change.
  • If modifications are needed, seek the advice of an occupational therapist or driving rehabilitation specialist. They can guide you on devices or positioning that could make operating the vehicle safer.

When Safety is a Real Concern

If you are concerned that your senior is having difficulty driving, ride along with them to a local store and observe their reactions and ability. If you don’t feel comfortable, they may not be safe. However, there may be interventions that will improve their safety. If not, it might be time to discuss giving up the car and this will be hard for everyone.

If you get to the point of discussing giving up the keys, be prepared to give specific examples of how they are unsafe. Remind them of the advantages of not driving, such as money savings in insurance and gas, communicate in a united front with immediate family members in agreement. Be sure to facilitate other transportation options, such as family drivers, public transportation or car services.

Be as understanding and supportive as possible for their feelings and emotions, as they lose their independence when driving is no longer possible. Some seniors may refuse your intervention. If they are unsafe on the road, you might want to consider taking further action, such as disabling the car, talking to the doctor or contacting the Department of Motor Vehicles for assistance. Some caregivers have ‘lost’ the car keys until other professionals can intervene on their behalf.

If they are safe and capable when driving, seniors should be able to drive as long as they can. The use of age alone as a determinant of when driving is no longer recommended would be wrong, as the ability to drive safely depends on individual abilities. As we age our abilities diminish, but at different rates for each of us.

There are many resources available to help you talk with your senior, find training and interventions, assess their abilities and for them to assess themselves. Here is a self rating tool from AAA that may help them see for themselves they need help or even that it’s time to stop driving.

What have you done to help your seniors that might help others?

Diagnosis Prostate Cancer – Insights and Tips for Family Caregivers

Men and their family members fear it, with good reason. Prostate cancer is the leading cause of cancer in men after skin cancer.

In fact, more than 2 million men are survivors of prostate cancer.

The American Cancer Society projects that in 2015 there will be 220,800 new cases of prostate cancer and 27,540 deaths from prostate cancer.

One in seven men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point in life so there is cause to learn more about the disease, its risk factors and potential ways to prevent becoming a statistic.

The average age for prostate cancer diagnosis is 66 and it is rare in men under 40.

There is some good news, though. Despite the fear, prostate cancer is treatable and the majority of men diagnosed with this cancer do not die from it.

Can Prostate Cancer Be Prevented?

The exact cause of this cancer is unknown; therefore, a way to prevent it from occurring isn’t known either.

There are risk factors for developing prostate cancer that continue to be studied by researchers. They include:

  • Age
  • Environment
  • Smoking
  • Race
  • Family history

Your senior loved one can work to change some lifestyle factors that may be linked to lowering the possibility of developing prostate cancer including:

  • Diet – eating a wide variety of colorful fruits and vegetables each day, at least 2½ cups a day
  • Physical activity – get more exercise or at least move around more
  • Weight – achieve a healthy weight

Many men take supplements and herbal remedies in the hopes of preventing prostate cancer but at this time there is no scientific proof that they have any effect in prevention.

Screening for prostate cancer is a topic that should be discussed with your senior’s doctor. Together you can decide if screening is appropriate and helpful for your particular situation.

New Study Brings Hope in Prostate Cancer Treatment

If your senior has been diagnosed with prostate cancer, he likely underwent treatment for the cancer. The usual treatment depends on the stage of the cancer found (from stage I to IV) and other factors, including your senior’s age and other medical conditions present.

Treatment can include, depending on the stage, surveillance of PSA levels, prostatectomy, radiation, hormone therapy and other symptom-relieving measures.

Often only one treatment modality is given at a time. However a recent study presented to the American Society of Clinical Oncology found that when testosterone suppressing medications (hormones) are given in combination with chemotherapy agents, the survival rate for metastatic prostate cancer is greatly improved.

Some scientists have called this combined treatment modality a ‘game changer’. It was reported that the survival statistics “is an almost unprecedented improvement in median survival.”

As with other disease processes, researchers work diligently to find not only the best treatments, prevention options, causes and but even cures. Clinical trials have become vital to determining how a disease occurs, what needs to occur to correct the condition, what medications are most effective and if a cure is viable.

If your senior has the opportunity to join a clinical trial, you might want to encourage them to do so.

Doctors are working with people diagnosed not only with prostate cancer but other cancers and disease processes like Alzheimer’s to get them connected to the latest clinical trials. Through the trial, a person diagnosed with prostate cancer has access to a potential life changing medication or treatment. Their medical data and response to treatments help others as well as themselves.

Tips for Caregivers When Caring for Someone with Cancer

If your senior loved one is diagnosed with prostate cancer or other cancer, there are things that you can do to help them. Here are a few suggestions that might help you cope with a cancer diagnosis as a caregiver.

  1. Learn as much as you can about the disease and the treatments prescribed. You and your senior loved one will have to make decisions about treatment options and being fully informed will make the decisions easier. The American Cancer Society has a great amount of resources available.
  2. You may need to perform more hands-on care when giving treatment than you are used to as a caregiver. Be sure you understand the details and ask questions of your healthcare team so that the treatment is provided appropriately for best recovery.
  3. Emotional responses to a diagnosis of cancer will vary from person to person as well as caregivers. You and your senior may feel sad, depressed, angry, fearful or anxious. Talking about your feelings with your senior or another trusted person will help you deal with your feelings. Sometimes behavior may change in your senior loved one as a result of these emotions. Coping with their mood or behavior changes, understanding the root cause and helping them overcome their fears is an important part of cancer caregiving. You both may choose to attend a support group to talk over your feelings with others in your shoes. You could both find benefits to these groups whether in person, via social media or online chat groups.
  4. Drugs prescribed for cancer therapy often have side effects. Some treatments also have serious side effects. Be aware of what could happen, how to relieve the side effects and what foods could help soothe their symptoms. Talk with your doctor or pharmacist whenever a new drug is added to get the information you need.
  5. Sleep disruption can be a problem for your senior and ultimately you too. There are things you both can do to help prepare for sleep, make the most of your hours of sleep and make the sleeping environment more conducive to sleep, as we discussed in this article.
  6. Eating can sometimes be affected in a person with cancer, especially with some treatment options. Depending on your senior, they may need softer foods that are easier to chew, smaller meals given more frequently, room temperature food, less odorous foods, fewer spicy foods or a supplement/meal replacement to get enough nutrition to fight the disease. It is not uncommon for some to become dehydrated and fluids should be offered frequently throughout the day. Keep the dining environment relaxing, sit with your loved one and don’t force them to eat if they don’t feel like it but try again later.
  7. A lack of energy is often a result of cancer and its treatment. This fatigue can affect their ability to care for themselves and do activities of daily living such as grooming. It can also lead to falling. Besides making the home free of fall hazards such as loose throw rugs, electric cords and inappropriate foot wear, planning activities to prevent over tiring your senior loved one can help to prevent falling. Plan the day so the activities are evenly spread out, don’t try to do too much at one time. Put the things they need within their reach and have a bit more help available to reduce tasks they have to do during the time they are fatigued.
  8. Join a clinical trial. Research can help stop cancer and you can help further research when you join a clinical trial. Clinical trials can assess if new medications will help prevent the spread or slow your cancer from spreading to other parts of your body.

As a caregiver, it is helpful to keep your network strong to help you deal with the stresses of both your loved one’s diagnosis and the care you are providing.

You may need more help while your senior undergoes treatment or to help cope with the effects of the diagnosis and treatment. You need extra support too and your network of family, friends and helpers will be there to support you when you need it the most.

Social Media Use by Seniors Growing – But Much Opportunity Remains

Despite what you might see on TV commercials, growing numbers of seniors know what it means to post something on their wall or unfriend someone.

Yes, grandma is using Facebook (grandpa too), just as we thought would happen when advocating that family caregivers urge senior loved ones to get on the Web – even if they have to give them the means to do so.

In fact, more than half of all online seniors say they use Facebook, with lesser numbers indicating they use LinkedIn, Pinterest, Twitter and Instagram.

While seniors still lag other age groups in their social media use, they are closing the gap quickly.

There is still more gap to close, though. With 4 in 10 seniors not yet active online it means only about one third of all seniors are using Facebook.

Facebook isn’t the only – or even the biggest – reason we’re in favor of getting seniors active online, but there are real benefits for many seniors on using the social networking site.

Latest Pew Research Data

Senior Care Corner® often consults and shares data from the Pew Research Center because we find their reports to be very credible and informative. The latest of those, “Social Media Update 2014,” is the primary source of the statistics discussed in this article.

Pew, in their survey conducted in September 2014, found the participation of seniors on each of the major social networking sites was growing, though continuing to lag the overall US population.

Note these statistics are percentages of online adults. The growth in numbers of seniors using social media is even greater than these numbers indicate because the share of seniors active online is increasing as well.

  • Senior Facebook use increased from 45% in 2013 to 56% in 2014 while use by adults overall remained constant at 71%.
  • Twitter use by seniors doubled from 5% to 10% in 2014, while the overall use increased from 18% to 23%.
  • Seniors seem to be just discovering Instagram, with use growing from 1% in 2013 to 6% in 2014. At the same time, use by adults overall increased by more than 50%, up to 26% in 2014.
  • Pinterest use by seniors almost doubled in 2014, up to 17%, while overall use of the social network was 28% in 2014,  up a third over 2013.
  • 21% of seniors reported using LinkedIn in 2014, up from 13%, while use by adults overall grew from 22% to 28%.

These are not the only social networking sites, of course, but are generally seen as the predominant general-use sites.

Senior Web Activity Goes Well Beyond Social Networks

The data from Pew reinforces what we have been hearing from family caregivers and seniors about online usage.

We find it gratifying to be told by family caregivers they followed our advice despite doubts their senior loved ones would use the web, only to see the seniors not just accept but enjoy being online.

Time and again we hear of grandparents connecting more frequently with grandchildren of all ages, with both looking forward to the next opportunity to Facetime or Skype, viewing the next family YouTube video or seeing the next school masterpiece in a Facebook picture.

Older adults are also increasingly connecting with each other and the world around them through the web, not only learning about but participating in what is happening in their communities. As we frequently discuss at Senior Care Corner, keeping seniors’ minds engaged is good for both their physical and mental health, especially for those who are living independently.

Many Seniors Yet to Enjoy Web’s Benefits

Our excitement over the growth in seniors’ use of the web and social media can’t be allowed to let us overlook the 2 in 5 older adults who aren’t included in those statistics and have yet to share in the benefits.

We – family caregivers and members of the community – have more work to do in demonstrating the benefit of being online to seniors of all ages, whether they are aging in place in their own homes, living with family members or calling a senior living facility their home.

Remember, too, there are many seniors for whom the internet is beyond reach because they can’t – or don’t realize they can – afford either the devices or access to all the web has to offer.

While even broadband internet is free or very inexpensive in a growing number of communities and tablets computers have become a commodity, without help they can still be beyond the reach of the many seniors who are choosing between eating and getting their medication.

Virtually all seniors in the US have the web and its benefits within reach if they have the desire and financial ability to use it. Let’s keep the statistics growing until they have the opportunity to realize those benefits.

Will Supplements Prevent Cognitive Impairment or Reverse Dementia?

I speak with many people who are family caregivers of those with dementia about a wide range of topics.

I have been a family caregiver to someone with Alzheimer’s myself as well as cared for countless other family members and patients over my long healthcare career.

Because I am also a dietitian, I talk with people about nutrition and dementia (as well as all other disease processes) regularly. One of the questions I have been asked a lot about lately is what supplements will prevent dementia from developing especially if there is a family history of cognitive impairment.

Many people want to prevent the debilitating loss of cognition that they see happening in their loved ones.

As a dietitian, science is key and I fall back on the science of nutrition to be able to provide a thoughtful answer that gives us all guidance and hope for the present and future based on research.

Medicine should, at worst, do no harm.

Supplements – What Are They?

We hear frequently in the media and from our doctors, as well as our friends who are offering us advice, about whether to take the next new, “miracle” supplement. One that is sure to cure this or that or change your life!

But will it be safe, not to mention effective?

What exactly is a ‘supplement’?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the government agency responsible for the safety of the nation through the regulation of our food supply, medical devices and drugs, defines a supplement as “a product intended for ingestion that contains a ‘dietary ingredient’ intended to add further nutritional value to (supplement) the diet.”

Supplements are regulated separately than foods under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA).

FDA and Supplements

The FDA encourages companies not to sell adulterated or misbranded products calling them supplements and indicating they are meeting standards as part of the DSHEA. They will take action if they find a supplement does not comply.

No approval from the FDA is required before supplements are marketed and a manufacturer does not have to provide the FDA with evidence to substantiate the supplement’s safety or effectiveness. The label is required to state that it is a supplement, the name of the product, name/location of manufacturer, list of ingredients and contents of product. It must also contain a Supplement Facts panel similar to our food products.

There is no set value on the amount of the nutrient contained in the product or what constitutes a serving size. FDA does not routinely test supplements for safety and instead focuses their resources on products reported to have caused an illness or injury. Manufacturers are allowed to make health claims but they are responsible for their accuracy with oversight by the FDA and Federal Trade Commission for their advertising practices.

The FDA encourages us to be good consumers when it comes to supplements, including knowing the manufacturer and understanding if claims are true. Buyer beware, in other words.

Supplements can interact with medications so be sure to inform your doctor if you or your senior loved one begin taking any supplements or herbal products.

Disease Fighting Supplement Claims

These are some of the more common supplements and their claims.

  • Phosphatidylserine – a fat that forms the membranes around nerve cells. The theory is that this compound will protect nerve cells in the brain from degenerating. Research into this compound was stopped in the 1990s as it is derived from the brain cells of cows and mad cow disease was a safety concern. It is currently being manufactured from soy but plant sources are reported to not be as beneficial as bovine sources and it is not recommended for use until more research can be done on cow sources and people.
  • Vitamins – B6, B12, Folic acid may reduce homocysteine levels but only folic acid showed slight effectiveness in the studies.  Vitamin E is an antioxidant but has shown no effectiveness to reduce dementia.
  • CoEnzyme Q10 – antioxidant occurring naturally in our bodies used in the cells. At this time there have been no research studies to show any effectiveness in Alzheimer’s disease. A synthetic version of this supplement was tested and showed no benefit to dementia. There is no known safe amount for CoEnzyme Q10 so caution should be taken if ingesting it.
  • Gingko Biloba – antioxidant and anti-amyloid properties; the claim that it improved cognitive functioning was not substantiated in both a large NIH 2008 study (Ginkgo Evaluation of Memory GEM) and a 2009 follow-up study. It was found that it was ineffective in reducing the development of dementia.
  • Curcumin (Turmeric) – antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties; ongoing research into the possibility that it will reduce the buildup of beta-amyloid plaques.
  • Omega 3 Fatty Acids (DHA) in fish oil or fatty fish – anti-inflammatory properties, a controlled trial in 2008 found no effect on cognitive skills compared with a placebo. Some reference a study that reportedly says DHA will reduce the incidence but cited one study from 1996 on how fatty acids might improve the quality of life of those with dementia. Be careful what you believe and learn where the “research” comes from, when it was done and what was actually studied before you trust the claims. The FDA recommends taking no more than a combined total of 3 grams of DHA a day, with no more than 2 grams from supplements but the Alzheimer’s Association does not recommend use of supplements as there is insufficient evidence at this time.
  • Resveratrol (grape seed extract) – antioxidant properties, may reduce beta-amyloid but none has yet to be tested in humans.
  • Huperzine A from Chinese club moss may be a natural cholinesterase inhibitor and antioxidant. Currently being studied with no results. The Alzheimer’s disease Cooperative Study trial showed no greater benefit received in dementia than the placebo.
  • Axona (caprylic acid/MCT or fat) – it is touted to provide energy in another form to the brain when it can no longer process glucose. The manufacturer did not complete Phase III drug trials but instead markets it as a medical food not a supplement. It currently has no research evidence to prove its effectiveness.
  • Coconut oil – less expensive form of Axona but there has been at this time no clinical studies to show a connection with Alzheimer’s disease and coconut oil.

Supplement Safety Recommendations

Because there is currently no magic pill that will stop dementia from occurring or reverse it in someone who is already diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or another dementia, we need to make the necessary lifestyle changes that will help to provide us with a strong health foundation.

At this point, there is no evidence that any supplement will prevent or reduce dementia symptoms. There are many studies underway investigating dietary treatments for cognitive impairment that may yield hope for many in the future.

Some may make claims that one of the items above or something else will cure dementia or keep you from developing it, but there is no research to support that claim. You can choose to buy the product or not but beware that it could be harmful. Fully investigate the manufacturing process and dosage of what you choose to try so you are aware of what you might be ingesting. Without government regulation, this may be difficult.

According to the Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the evidence indicates that oxidation and inflammation contributes to dementia. They also point out that supplementing with sources of antioxidants has yet to be proven helpful and may be harmful.

What Can We Do Today

There are actions we can take to have a positive influence on our health.

  1. Get more physically active and participate in some activity every day.
  2. Eat fresh foods especially fruits and vegetables that are good sources of antioxidants. Eating a rainbow of colorful foods will help you achieve this goal.
  3. Stop smoking.
  4. Lower your fat intake and plan heart healthy meals. What’s good for the heart is good for the brain.
  5. Choose foods containing omega 3 fatty acids such as fatty fish (salmon, mackerel and tuna) and eat fish three times a week.
  6. Eat foods which are naturally good sources of folic acid to reduce homocysteine levels including dark green leafy vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, grains, fortified grains. Good sources are found in these foods: avocado, liver, asparagus, spinach and brussel sprouts.
  7. Prevent and control other medical conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.

Until more research with valid scientific outcomes are available, experts agree that you get your nutrients in the foods you eat instead of synthetic sources such as supplements, which may give you more trouble than solutions.

Stress Reduction Through Better Organization for Family Caregivers

Organization — or, more accurately, lack of it — is one of the biggest struggles I hear from many of the family caregivers with whom I connect.

Inadequate time management, unending paperwork shuffle, and scheduling nightmares, seemingly always when most inconvenient, add stress to the lives of family caregivers.

Caregivers are often the only ones who keep track of insurance papers, medical records, bills, medication lists and a variety of appointments including doctors, blood work and haircuts!

How can we be better organized to help reduce our daily stress?

Will technology help us to gain control over the overwhelming mountain of tasks, to do lists and papers?

One of the biggest hurdles to staying organized is that fact that our information mountains are growing everyday, not only for our senior loved ones but ourselves too!

Organizing Your Senior’s Day

Day to day activities often seem to take too much time to accomplish. Doesn’t it sometimes feel like your day starts, you accomplish a few things and suddenly it’s dinner time already?

If we get a little better organized, we can get our day running more smoothly.

  • Set up medication boxes for the week with all the pills for the day separated so that there is no fumbling with bottles and remembering what to take when.
  • Plan meals for the week ahead. Prepare some of the meals on the weekend when there may be family visiting freeing up your time for other duties like cooking. Cutting fruits and vegetables ahead of time, washing produce or cooking extra portions to use in recipes later in the week will help make the mealtime. Who likes trying to decide on meals an hour before dinner? If you plan meals with the sale flyers it can help your budget too.
  • Set out your senior loved one’s clothes the night before to make the morning routine easier. Keep the bathroom supplies at the ready too to avoid confusion or arguments. Get a coffee pot that starts on a timer so the coffee is ready when you are.
  • Keep your personal network at the ready. If something unexpected should happen, you will have people to call to come to your aid with companionship, respite or delivery of much needed supplies. Having someone to talk to when you need it will help you face the day and de-stress.

High & Low Tech Solutions for De-Stressing

Because there is so much paperwork finding its way into our homes and onto our cupboards and desks, we need to find ways to determine which need to be saved, what can be tossed and how best to keep it from unbalancing our lives.

Different people like different kinds of systems to stay organized so what works for one person might not work for another. Try out a few things that can work for both you and others in your life. Here are several suggestions that can make your life easier and reduce your stress.

  1. Toss some of your mail, don’t save it all. If it has personal information on it you should shred it before you throw it away. A cross cut shredder is a good investment to keep you and your senior loved one’s identity safer when paperwork is thrown away.
  2. Convert as many bills as possible to online payment, going paperless for routine bills like water or mortgage so that paper statements don’t arrive every month with no place to go or just to collect dust. We recommend adding some payments to a credit card that gives you rewards – ensuring you pay it off each month – instead of just getting it taken directly from your bank account without your payment working for you. You can still review the statement online to be sure the charges are appropriate.
  3. Set up a paper filing system in a secure area of the home. Color coding file folders is helpful for different items such as credit cards, health insurance, utility bills and taxes. Setting aside fifteen minutes a week to file any papers that you need to keep will prevent them from piling up. Tossing all the records, flyers and information from places you go into a box hoping to save time will only cause chaos when you can’t find the one document you need in a hurry. A small file cabinet in a closet to hold the important papers is another good investment to save your time, energy and stress level.
  4. Transfer important documents into digital files like your medical records, lab results, vaccination record, insurance explanation of benefits or other paperwork you want to keep. Papers can be scanned into your computer and stored in a program such as Evernote which can be viewed on any of your mobile devices for quick retrieval. Once saved in the cloud or on an external hard drive instead of your hard drive in your laptop computer, you will have the added peace of mind that they won’t be lost if the computer crashes.
  5. Use an organizing app to coordinate medical appointments and other bits of information that might be handy in the future. Many come with advisors, personal health assistants or health experts that can be accessed around the clock within the health app to answer your questions, educate you about diseases or medications and remind you of upcoming appointments. There are many of these kinds of apps you might want to investigate but there are a few in particular that you might like such as Unfrazzle, Better by Mayo Clinic, or Mobicare. Your local drugstore app can help you with filling prescriptions, keeping medication records and reminding you when a new prescription is filled or needs filling. Many of these apps are free and will help over time. These apps can be time intensive in the beginning to customize to your life and your senior’s needs but that time investment will pay off in future organization.
  6. Set your smartphone to send you alerts when appointments are made or to do list items are coming due. You can set multiple alerts for each item on your calendar. It can remind you in plenty of time to cancel, change or get ready for every appointment when alerts are scheduled at intervals such as one week, two days or one hour ahead of time. Calendar alerts are also great ways to remember even small items like time to change the smoke alarm batteries, have the heating unit serviced or change the air filters in the air conditioner. Not to mention, you will never forget another birthday if you set annual reminders one week ahead for every important birthday, just enough time to get and mail a fun card to show you care.
  7. Use a notebook (electronic is best) to keep all the sticky notes and jotted paper napkins in one place. When you have little pieces of paper all over the house they could be lost or overlooked, something is sure to fall through the cracks. When life gets busy and we get tired, we may forget to look at the sticky notes or remember the bits of information you stored in your head for later. Keeping all the tidbits in a central place is a better solution for staying organized. Even better yet is using the smartphone you don’t leave home without for storing notes and tidbits. iOS phones have an icon for note taking that is a great place to jot down tidbits or putting them directly in the task list of the calendar app will help you stay organized.
  8. Adopt ways you can easily share this mountain of data with others including siblings and other family members. If you store information in a calendar app, you can sync it with others through Google email addresses that allow you to both see the appointments, reminders and to do lists. If you use Google documents, they can be shared with others too. Setting up a secure website allows you to share photos and scanned pdf documents with only those you wish to see them. Medical devices that collect health data like vital signs and home monitoring systems can be shared to caregiver smartphones when more than one caregiver needs the information.

Staying organized, managing your time wisely and being prepared for whatever life brings will help caregivers be productive and happy! We would love to hear how you stay organized!

Future Key to Successful Aging in Place: Robots in Each Senior’s Home

“A robot in every home” seemed a rather far-fetched idea to most people when Bill Gates wrote an article of that name published by Scientific American in 2006.

While it may seem just as remote a possibility to you today, we see it as something likely to happen in the lifetime of many baby boomers.

The idea of a robot for functions throughout the home, as depicted in the image above from an informative presentation at CES 2015 by Alison Sander of Boston Consulting Group, seems less far-fetched all the time.

Now, we’re not necessarily talking about robots with all the functionality of Rosie, who took care of George and his family in The Jetsons (that’s a boomer reference, for those not familiar).

Many would count the millions of Roomba vacuum cleaner robots as part of that goal. While they are technically robots, we seem them as just the start of something much bigger.

Robots Available Now & Adding Capability

The optimism we’ve held for the future of robotics and what it can mean for aging in place seniors was reaffirmed and even heightened with what we saw and heard at the 2015 International CES.

home robot1In fact, there are already robots (telepresence) that can help seniors live independently even longer in the home of their choice. Their functionality is not what will be available in the future – a future that is likely not too far off.

One that impressed us is the Beam+, which lets distant family caregivers come about as close as possible to being with their senior loved ones. We see that providing benefits to many families.

The $2,000 price tag for the initial Beam+ will be out of reach for most, at least until you compare it to the cost of in-home caregivers some might avoid – or the peace of mind it can provide to families uncomfortable with strangers in the home of their loved ones. It is certainly less costly than facility placement and loss of their beloved home.

Potential Benefit to Seniors of Robots Limitless

One thing we’ve learned about technology is that it often goes far beyond the bounds of what we think it’s capable of doing.

How many of us would have imagined ten years ago the functionality we would get from our smartphones today?

Going back to the aforementioned Rosie, it is not unreasonable to think robots will be able to perform housekeeping tasks for seniors since we saw one at CES 2015 actually washing windows.

Think of what that can mean to family caregivers, who could spend more time in activities with their senior loved ones – and maybe even in looking after their own needs.

Yes, really.

One of the reasons we are so positive robotics will have a real impact on aging in place is that the developers of robots and their investors believe it. The needs of seniors are not an afterthought in robotics development but actually front and center in their thinking.

Shorter Development Times Than We Might Think

One of the more impressive things we heard about robotics at CES 2015 is just how quickly advances in technology are possible. While it’s not in consumer robotics, an example presented in one of the conference sessions showed just how quickly innovation can be achieved.

retail robotOSHbot is an autonomous service robot being introduced by Lowes Innovation Labs through a partnership with Fellow Robots. It is designed to help customers find what they are seeking within a store and link them with experts should they be unsure just what they need.

As impressive as we found OSHbot, we were amazed to learn that the time from initial conceptualization to readiness for store service was a mere ten months.

Yes, we see real benefits for seniors from in-home robots within the lifetime of most boomers – and don’t think we are being overly optimistic in doing so.

More on Robotics to Come at Senior Care Corner

Senior Care Corner has been following robotics advances for family caregivers for a few years now, but until now the possibilities have seemed to be further in the future.

Our optimism about the robotics field in general and especially the focus we see on designing devices that support aging in place seniors seem to justify bringing you more frequent updates, which we plan to do.

Just think about the possibilities of a robot in every senior’s home and what it can mean to their lives as well as the lives of family caregivers. We are and that’s why we are so excited about robotics.