What to Do with Dusty Tech Gadgets After We Move on to New Devices

Have you noticed we have an ever-growing collection of technology gadgets we no longer use?

We may have some old flip phones that our new smartphones have made obsolete, for example.

Not to mention some not-so-old smartphones our new smartphones made obsolete.

Perhaps we have an original tablet, an e-reader, a desktop computer and maybe a few old TV sets. All things that were great when we got them but have been made obsolete by newer, faster, more functional models.

If you are like us, you have a drawer, closet, shelf or corner of the basement (maybe all three) that is loaded with these once state of the art devices which now only collect dust to the point of bunnies appearing out of nowhere.

This abundance of unwanted technology devices has a name – E-waste — and is a growing concern across the US.

Dealing With E-Waste

You may wonder what to do with your collection of old computers, digital gadgets and unwanted mobile technology but really weren’t sure how to approach it.

It’s important, before you begin, to take security precautions to clear any personal information from your devices. Now you are ready to find a new home for your dusty treasures.

  1. If you can, the first thing of course would be to find a way to reuse them, with potential benefits to your senior loved ones needs in mind. These old devices might be a good way to get them introduced to the technology. They will learn that they don’t break a computer by pushing the wrong button or lose all their photos when they hit enter. They can gain confidence in their skills. Also, some of our old phones that just make calls could be useful for some seniors who aren’t ready for a smartphone yet but want to be connected with wireless calling.
  2. Perhaps giving a young child one of your first tablets to play games on would be a good use for technology to save a few dollars or just make it useful again. We hesitate to pay full price for a tablet that will certainly be dropped, spilled on or left somewhere just to play games but an old one from which we have removed our personal information would be fun for the kids or grandkids.
  3. Many devices should not be thrown into landfills because they may contain hazardous materials that could be harmful to the environment. Most devices contain batteries or other substances that need to be handled safely. Be sure yours are safe to dispose of if you decide just to chuck them all!
  4. Some gadgets could be sold for others to re-purpose so that you could make a few bucks while you get to clean off the shelf. Don’t expect to become rich doing this because the resale value is very low on old technology. Some businesses may like to buy some tech gadgets just to use for parts to repair other gadgets. Again, be sure to remove all your personal information from devices first.
  5. There may be an organization near you that could benefit from a donation of some of your old technology. I heard that the photography club at my local high school wanted donations for the program. I gave them an old camera with all the zoom lenses that we used to love back in the 1990’s before our smartphones took all the photos we could use. They were so happy to get it to help kids learn about lighting and settings that will give them true hands on knowledge they could only previously read about. You never know what you have that might help others. You can also earn a tax deduction with your donation. Large national charities, such as Goodwill and the Salvation Army, accept donations of office equipment for use in their programs retraining workers.
  6. If you are in the market for a new device, there are some companies that offer buyback programs where you can turn in an old device for a discounted price or accept trade-ins as part of a promotion.
  7. Recycle your idle devices in the same way you recycle newspaper. There are e-recycling companies called E-Stewards that will reuse parts of these devices for recycling including the glass, metal and plastic components for use in other products. You might be able to recycle them at your local Staples store if they are participating in the electronics recycling program. Best Buy often allows you to drop off larger electronics items like TVs for recycling in their stores. You local community might also have a recycling program.

Consumer Electronic Devices Stats of Interest

The Consumer Electronics Association estimates there were over 169 million smartphones and almost 80 million tablets shipped in 2014.

That’s a lot of mobile devices in the hands of consumers that will be added to the shelf in the near future, not to mention the older devices many of those replaced!

Can you see the pile of idle devices — let’s call it what it is, E-waste — growing quickly as gently and often briefly used devices are replaced with the latest greatest innovations?

Did you realize that many users carry two, if not more, devices? Or that most keep their devices when they upgrade? Only 11% of us report that we are using pre-owned devices.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that there is 50 million tons of E-waste produced each year! They credit digital TV conversion in 2009 with the idling of 26.9 million TVs. Here’s some more interesting information from the EPA:

“Experts estimate that recycling 1 million cell phones can recover about 24 kg (50 lb) of gold, 250 kg (550 lb) of silver, 9 kg (20 lb) of palladium, and more than 9,000 kg (20,000 lb) of copper.”

A survey of 1,200 mobile users over the age of 18 was conducted by Compass Intelligence in 2014 to learn about E-waste and what consumers are doing with their old technology devices.

Here are a couple of highlights from their report.

  • 63% said they has used a payback program or recycled a device in the past.
  • In the last few years, rates of recycling of mobile devices has steadily increased with the current rate estimated at 22-25%.

We want our seniors to enter the digital age and reap all the benefits of being technologically connected, so we encourage family caregivers to think how their idle devices could benefit senior loved ones. If your devices are not suitable for them perhaps your family members, friends or even grandchildren have idle devices that would provide a great digital connection for your senior loved one!

Nursing Home: Knowing When They Need It and Choosing the Right One

There comes a point in time for many family caregivers when we have to start thinking about finding a nursing home with and for our senior loved ones.

A nursing home is probably not your first choice, but if you have been providing care for years and find they currently need more care than you can provide, now that need may be a reality.

Nursing homes, compared to assisted living facilities, provide 24 hour care by professionals who are trained to deliver that care.

Facilities are as different as the people who own, operate and work there. It is important to do your homework when looking at facility placement for your senior. But what should you consider?

When is Nursing Home Care Needed?

It can be a real struggle for caregivers to finally decide that it is time for their loved ones to make the move to a facility, which they may have promised to never do, and they may fear making the wrong decision.

Today’s nursing home is not the place of our grandparents — for the better. Most are homelike and have staff that are loving and caring toward the people for whom they care daily.

Your senior loved one will likely display some signs that will alert you to begin thinking about a change.

  • Frequent falls, which could result in life changing injury
  • Inability to live at home safely alone, either with paid caregivers or you to help
  • Display aggressive behavior that could harm someone
  • Refusal to accept care
  • You have injured yourself caring for them
  • They are wandering and may get lost leaving the home alone
  • You are financially unable to continue to provide in-home care or meet their needs, you may need to return to work

The best plan is to begin looking for a care facility before you need it because you may not have time to get the information you need to make the best decision once your senior loved one is in a crisis situation. Many facilities have waiting lists, which may mean you will not have access to your first choice. Put your senior’s name on a few waiting lists just to be assured of a bed.

If your senior requires a memory care unit, it might be more difficult to find a place, since there are fewer available beds for this type of care and the number of people needing it is rising.

Information to Help You Decide

There are several ways for you to gather information about the facilities you are considering for your senior loved one. There are government documents to review, facilities to visit and networking with those living there already.

You should try to do all these things.

  1. Ask your senior’s doctor for recommendations.
  2. Visit several facilities in person. Visit more than once going at different times of the day and maybe once on the weekend to get a realistic look at the facility. There are no reports or testimonials that can replace the feeling you get when you talk to the personnel and walk the halls yourself.
  3. Talk to people you know in the area with family members in a facility. They can help you learn more about a particular facility in a way you can’t find in a written report.
  4. Check out the facilities business philosophy. Some long term care facilities are owned by corporations. You can investigate the corporation as well by reviewing their philosophy and see how they perform across the chain. You may even want to check the Better Business Bureau in your area to see if any complaints have been filed.
  5. Find out if it is licensed and thereby held to standards.
  6. Review the latest inspection survey. This will tell you what was deficient on the last state survey conducted by the government. In most long term care facilities, Medicare and Medicare pay at least some of the bills so they inspect at least yearly to be sure that the claims are validated and our seniors are cared for properly. The report should be available to you on your visit as it is required to be posted or in the lobby for anyone to read.
  7. Check out the quality report at Nursing Home Compare, which is provided by Medicare.gov and compares facilities’ quality using a five star rating system.

What To Ask and Things To Review On Your Visit

When you visit a facility, there are many important questions to ask and things to see.

First on the agenda is talk to the staff — administrator, a nurse, an aid, a housekeeper, a kitchen worker or an activity assistant. They will each give you a different perspective about the facility. Front line staff, not just executives, will have good details to share.

If you can speak with a family member of one of the current residents you may gain insights nobody on staff can provide.

Things to review/determine on your visit:

  • Has the staff been there for a period of time for stability and dedication?
  • Check out the menu to see if your senior will enjoy the meals and if substitutions are available for menu items they may not like.
  • Read the activity calendar to see if your senior will engage with others and not be bored. Are there faith services for your senior if that is important to them?
  • Is there an unpleasant odor, does the facility appear clean and are the rooms comfortable?
  • Can residents bring items from home? Can they smoke? Can they have a pet or get a pet visit?
  • Discuss the financial arrangements. What isn’t covered, such as laundry, beauty shop, phone, cable, transportation? Do they accept Medicaid?
  • Do the residents look clean, well-kept and happy?
  • Is the facility close so that family and friends can visit frequently?

Nursing Home Compare 3.0

The federal government compares nursing home facilities using several different criteria to come up with a one to five star rating. The higher the number of stars, supposedly the better the facility.

Unfortunately, as those in the industry will tell you, the numbers aren’t always an accurate indication of quality.

Apparently the government agrees, as they have recently decided to change the way the stars are earned. Facilities receive points for good inspection surveys and self-reported data, among other things.

The government now will add other metrics to their scoring, including the use of psychotropic drugs. Many fear that the number of falls data is skewed when facilities overmedicate residents. Facilities that limit drug use could be penalized by a lower rating due to increased falls when they are not using chemical restraints such as these drugs.

The evaluation process will also use a different algorithm for calculating staffing levels than was used in the past. The changes are expected to raise the bar on performance so that stars must be earned, leading to improved care for residents.

People Make the Difference

Yes, the quality of nursing homes’ physical facilities is important, but the quality of care your senior loved one receives is most likely to be determined by the people providing that care.

I have worked in nursing homes for over twenty years (I started very young). I came to love those for whom I cared as if they were my own grandparents. When they passed on, I missed them and the family members who had became my friends.

I worked with many dedicated individuals whose goal was to make the final years of our seniors the highest quality possible. We went above and beyond to keep the facility clean, friendly and homelike.

I don’t think the facilities in which I worked were unusual, rather they were representative of the state of the industry today. Naturally there are going to be some that cut corners and don’t have as caring a staff as possible, but those are exceptions.

When you have visited and completed your investigation, rest assured your senior will be given the care they need.

Your role as family caregiver will not end, but transition, as you will continue to be involved and be an advocate for their health, safety and happiness.

Helping Seniors Sleep Better and Cope With Rest-Stealing Bad Dreams

“To sleep, perchance to dream” is a Shakespeare quote of which I remind myself when I am really tired.

The unfortunate truth is, when I am most tired, the dreams become weird imaginings that tend to wake me from a sound sleep, putting me right back in a sleep deprived state.

Does that happen to you?

A dream is an experience our minds have of images, sounds and sensations. A beautiful dream of warm breezes, sandy beaches and the scent of fragrant flowers rarely seem to come to me when I am really tired.

And when are family caregivers not really tired?

Are Dreams the Culprit?

I had a weird dream the other night that left me sleepless. In the light of day it made me think of my senior loved one with dementia.

Does your senior wake in the middle of the night seemingly lost, shaken, scared and hard to calm? Are they searching for something, somewhere or someone? Do they urgently say they have someplace to be, a train to catch, a suitcase to pack?

I wonder if they didn’t have a dream of some sort when they wake in a frenzy. I hesitate to say nightmare since it isn’t the scary movie, gruesome thriller that we think of when we say nightmares.

Often our dreams are less about ghosts and goblins and more about what we feel could really happen like getting lost, missing an appointment or not being able to find a familiar loved one.

Coping with Bad Dreams

If your senior awakens in the night from a dream (or nightmare), they may be confused, disoriented and aggressive. Our first reaction should be comfort for them. Trying to orient them to a safe place in their mind so that they can settle back to sleep and get the rest they need should be the primary goal.

This isn’t the time to question them about what they dreamed or scold them for waking up the household. They likely will not remember their dream state or be able to express their fears.

Some experts believe that when we relive our dreams the next day by expressing them can lead to negative effects on our mood. It makes sense that a bad experience can make us feel bad.

Because we want our seniors to have good, happy days, it would be better to not push them to talk about the dreams they may be having.

These two quotes help to sum it up.

“Dreams feel real while we’re in them. It’s only when we wake up that we realize something was actually strange.” – Inception

“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.” ― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Helping Seniors Sleep Better

Many seniors seem to have disturbed sleep as they age but sleep is just as important for older people as it is for younger people.

Seniors may not be sleeping through the night, they may not sleep deeply enough while they are asleep for it to be restorative and they may not sleep for long enough periods of times. Being sleep deprived can increase cognition problems.

Here are some tips for caregivers to help their seniors get a better night sleep.

  • Control nap times during the day so that they are tired when they go to bed.
  • Limit caffeine-containing beverages taken after noontime and be sure they don’t drink too much of any liquid close to their bedtime. Having to use the bathroom in the middle of the night can often lead to the inability to fall back to sleep.
  • Check their medication list with the doctor or pharmacist to see if there may be one drug or an interaction between drugs that is causing them to have sleep trouble.
  • Perhaps your senior has restless leg syndrome, which can interrupt their sleep patterns.
  • Depression can also lead to poor sleeping habits and even insomnia.
  • Set up a sleep routine, perhaps including a warm bath or quiet time, to allow your senior to relax for sleep.
  • Keep your senior physically active throughout the day to tire them out.
  • Be sure their sleep environment is conducive for sleep. This includes providing a comfortable bed and pillow, control of light in their room especially in early morning, adding pleasing scents like lavender and maintaining a proper room temperature.
  • Melatonin may help with sleep but caution with sleeping aids due to increased risks of falls in elders.

Dreams can be powerful for us and even more so for our senior loved ones. Those who have dementia may have trouble distinguishing between a dream and reality.

Dreams can affect our senior’s mood and therefore have a negative influence on our day together. Taking some steps to ease their sleep will make us all live happier.

Lost Memories – Can They be Restored in Those with Dementia?

Most of us know someone with dementia. If you don’t now, it’s likely you will shortly, since a new person is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease every 67 seconds.

Family caregivers of people with dementia are on the front lines, watching memories fade from their loved ones. We know how quickly names, places, dates and events are forgotten.

The hardest of all may be when your loved one can’t remember your name or who you are to them.

We can take solace in our own memories and the certainty of their love for us expressed through the years of our lives together and the small things they did to show us their love.

What if we could help them get those memories back?

Latest Research in Dementia

A recent study out of the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) may have discovered a breakthrough in our current knowledge about storing and retrieving our memories.

Scientists have held the belief for many years that our memories are stored in our neural synapses, the connections between brain cells. These UCLA researchers may have found that memories are stored elsewhere. That could be good news, since synapses are destroyed by Alzheimer’s disease.

These researchers feel that these brain connections can be restored and, if these synapses can be restored, memory will be revived.

They feel that memories are not lost, just inaccessible. If seniors with dementia can regain the function of long term memory synapses, they feel that memories can be restored.

This is the case for early stages of Alzheimer’s, when neurons are still alive. Once the neurons die, as is the case of advanced Alzheimer’s, memories are not expected to be recoverable.

Caregivers Can Capture Memories

Because this research is in its infancy and may not bear fruit when we need it, family caregivers will have to find other ways to bridge the gaps in our senior loved one’s memories in other ways.

Forgetting familiar faces, names of things, where they left an object or even how to care for their own needs including eating, grooming or toileting, is not uncommon as dementia progresses.

Here are a few ideas for you to prepare for memory loss and hopefully ease the sense of loss you all feel when memories fade.

  1. Seize the day! Talk with your senior loved one about their life, their favorite places, family vacations, members of the family tree, jobs they had, and other experiences. It doesn’t matter how big or small the detail might be. Record these conversations in a variety of ways including journals, photo albums with citations, video that can be played on tablets or audio recordings of their voice relating the stories.
  2. Take photos with people in their life. Enter them into a special photo album with little stories about what makes each person special that you can read together later. This album could be digital too either for computer, tablet or photo frames. Don’t forget a video would be wonderful too!
  3. Go to their favorite places. Go with family or friends to places with special meaning, whether that is the neighborhood park or the Statue of Liberty. Take pictures, get souvenirs and record stories to share at a point later in time when reminiscing is required.
  4. Make a memory box. The box doesn’t have to take the shape of a box but can be anything to house this special collection. It could be a box, a basket, an old piece of luggage or a dresser drawer. Inside this memory repository should be things that your senior loved one treasured. Pick things that are tactile and might elicit a memory when felt and manipulated. Some things to include may be a special piece of clothing, a tool, a ball, sea shells, pins, jewelry, or items from nature. The objects should have a story of significance that you can relate when you go through the box later together.
  5. Collect their favorite music. Perhaps they have albums or other music media that they have loved throughout their life. Talk with them about what genres they most enjoy, what memories are attached to the music, if they like to dance or sing along, and what other music was their favorite that they may not already own. Did they go to concerts or play an instrument? Once you have learned about their tastes, begin creating playlists that can be played on an MP3 player or tablet later when music will soothe and comfort them. Learning their favorites will mean a lot later.
  6. Use art to bring out memories. If your senior loved one is already having trouble communicating, you can use arts and crafts to bring forth memories.
  7. Life activities. Learning about the things your senior loved one enjoyed doing throughout their life including hobbies or jobs will start this project. Gather some things that pertain to each type of activity. One example is gardening. Collect garden gloves, a hand shovel, seed packet, small container and dirt. When you both need something to relieve boredom, get this box out and work on it together. Play in the dirt, talk about their garden, discuss their favorite plants, and plant your own seeds. Watering and watching it grow will lend itself to even more reminiscing moments. Other ideas for activity boxes include tool boxes with little projects, sorting activities with nuts, bolts, buttons or beads, or small fabrics or clothes to fold. Whatever would appeal to your senior keeping in mind their functioning level and safety depending on their cognition.
  8. Create a sensory garden. If you have enough outside space or if you use some inside space on a smaller scale, bring together things that have familiar scents or feels that could stimulate memories. Perhaps it is a lavender plant, a moss covered rock, water fountain, burnt wood or lemon sage that your senior can explore. Talk about what they feel or smell and how it makes them feel. Can they relate any tales about the smell of lemon and drinking lemonade? Use the senses to open a memory dialogue.

You can help your senior bring forth some fading memories using some of these techniques. You can share stories and will actually be making new memories when you use some of these memory reminders you have made.

Sharing their memories, collecting them when they are still able to be captured and using them yourself once they are gone will be invaluable to you and worth the effort it takes to create these projects.

Seniors and Diabetes: Latest Info and Actions for Family Caregivers

Many of our senior loved ones have diabetes — 25.9%, or 11.8 million seniors over 65 are affected, according to the American Diabetes Association. That includes both cases that have been diagnosed and those that are undiagnosed.

A diabetes diagnosis means our blood glucose (sugar) level is too high. The higher the level, the greater the risk for complications.

It is also estimated that 50% of seniors have pre-diabetes which is a higher than normal level of blood sugar not yet diabetic. This is the point where prevention strategies can be effective if you are aware of the diagnosis.

Diabetes Care Challenging

Caring for person with diabetes can be complicated and challenging for family caregivers.

There are many complications from diabetes that family caregivers are struggling to prevent including heart disease, blindness, kidney disease, gum disease, nerve damage, amputations and heart attack or stroke. As a result we work very hard to manage the symptoms in our senior loved ones, follow a diabetic meal plan and help them get plenty of exercise.

Unfortunately, diabetes continues to be the 7th leading cause of death in the US as of 2010, with the diagnosis of diabetes taking an estimated 4-11 years off the life expectancy for our senior loved ones.

Because dealing with diabetes can become more difficult as your senior loved one ages, it is important to understand the risks of uncontrolled diabetes and the ways you can help manage it to help keep them healthy.

Latest Challenges for Seniors with Diabetes

There continues to be more information about diabetes coming out of the research lab every day. The more we learn, the better able we are to treat it and even prevent it from occurring.

Here are some of the more recent issues associated with diabetes in our senior loved ones. Clinical trials are underway in which you and your senior can participate.

Hearing Loss

A recent study found that hearing loss affects people with diabetes at a twofold rate compared to those without diabetes. Also, hearing loss occurs in those with pre-diabetes (which is a total of 86 million adults) at a 30% greater rate than those whose blood sugar is normal.

At this time, we really don’t know how diabetes is related to hearing loss but researchers speculate that high blood glucose levels associated with diabetes cause damage to the small blood vessels in the inner ear, similar to the way in which diabetes can damage the eyes, nerves and the kidneys.

When blood sugar is consistently elevated, damage is occurring to the walls of blood vessels.

Dementia

Research has shown a link between dementia and diabetes. When the blood sugar is low (hypoglycemia), seniors are at a greater risk for development of cognitive impairment. The risk of developing dementia has been estimated to be twice as great in those with hypoglycemia.

In addition, those already diagnosed with diabetes and dementia are at a greater risk to have low blood sugar.

It appears that a vicious cycle of low blood sugar damaging the brain and dementia impairing the ability to manage the symptoms of diabetes occurs thereby resulting in more frequent low blood sugar episodes. It is hard to break this cycle.

Some researchers feel that low blood sugar levels can damage nerves triggering impairments in the thinking process. This entire scenario can be made worse by aging when the body has more difficulty processing the medications given to manage blood sugar.

Hypoglycemia

A recent concern in seniors with diabetes is the rate of hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, events and the fear that many seniors may be ‘overtreated’ for diabetes.

Doctors are trying to manage blood sugar more tightly, achieving a hemoglobin A1C level of less than 7.0%, which could lead to problems including abnormal heart rhythms, dizziness or even loss of consciousness. Some recent research has pointed to the fact that tight control using insulin or sulfonylureas did not benefit older adults but were more likely to lead to low blood sugar. They may receive better results using newer medicines. All agree, a program individualized to each senior is the best.

Because seniors are often in a more frail health condition and their bodies don’t always process the medications effectively, combined with an inadequate diet, they are at greater risk to having low blood sugar instead of high blood sugar (hyperglycemia).

Another study suggests that preventing hypoglycemia can have greater benefits for older adults including enhanced quality of life, improved confidence and thereby better compliance to their treatment plan. This study also suggests that age itself can increase the risk of hypoglycemia since older adults often have impaired kidney function and multiple medications for other diseases.

Aging

Aging factors not only can contribute to hypoglycemia, but also make it more difficult to diagnose diabetes to begin with, according to the American Diabetes Association. Older adults don’t always show the usual signs of diabetes such as glusouria (glucose in the urine) or polydipsia (excessive thirst) since thirst is already diminished resulting in dehydration.

Many older adults show diabetes onset with symptoms of confusion or incontinence.

What Can You and Your Senior Do?

Yes, caring for a senior loved one with diabetes can be challenging but there are steps we can take to help them manage their condition.

  1. Get your senior (and yourself) tested annually and know if either of you have pre-diabetes or diabetes. Medicare covers the cost of annual testing for seniors at risk.
  2. Learn as much as you can about the disease so that you can manage the symptoms and spot impending trouble. Be aware of the signs of both hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia and what to do to treat each condition as swift action is needed.
  3. Take steps to help them achieve a healthy weight including losing weight. Obesity is a major risk for diabetes development and weight loss can improve blood sugar control.
  4. Increase physical activity, get them moving every day in some form of exercise that your senior loved one enjoys.
  5. Manage your senior’s diet by serving well balanced meals that are low in fat and calories limiting sweets. Get an individualized meal plan from a registered dietitian in the diabetes program recommended by your doctor and follow the advice.
  6. If your senior is diagnosed with diabetes, attend diabetes education classes, which are covered under Medicare, together. Learn about blood glucose monitoring and how to correctly administer medications watching for signs of adverse reactions.
  7. Follow your senior’s healthcare team’s treatment plan by testing your senior’s blood sugar as recommended and taking medications as prescribed.
  8. Practice a heart healthy lifestyle by eating less fat, monitoring your senior’s blood pressure and limiting their salt intake. Keep your senior’s cholesterol levels in check too.
  9. Quit smoking, because smoking can increase the chances of developing complications from diabetes.
  10. If you or your senior loved one would like to learn from and share with others, attend a support group in your area. You can locate one by calling 1-800-Diabetes.

Diabetes can be controlled – often even prevented – with healthy lifestyle choices. Know the facts and get checked to be sure you and your senior are aware of your risks.

Staying in control of diabetes will lead to more life in your senior’s years!

Measles Outbreak: Should Seniors and Family Caregivers Be Worried?

The recent outbreak of measles has sparked debate about immunizations for children, leaving family caregivers to wonder how it will affect their senior loved ones (and themselves).

Did you know that older adults got the measles at Disneyland? As of this writing, 121 people were affected in that outbreak, including people up to age 70.

Most of us remember being lined up at school for a nurse to give everyone a shot in the arm. I know I do, although I couldn’t tell you what I was given at the time! I am sure our parents gave their permission before it was done but didn’t want to spoil the surprise.

There was a school mandate in 1978 requiring kids be fully vaccinated before they could attend, which resulted in measles being declared by officials to be eradicated in 2000. But it has returned and needs to be fought once again.

In light of the recent outbreak, family caregivers of older adults should be aware of the discussion and following the latest news and research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regarding vaccines for seniors.

As we age, we can lose the original protection of vaccines to create disease-battling antibodies and “memory cells” that attack infections. Therefore even if once vaccinated, seniors could be at risk from the measles.

Why is Preventing Measles So Important?

It is important for seniors to do all they can to protect themselves from measles because becoming a victim of some ‘childhood’ diseases, or even seasonal flu, pneumonia or shingles, can be life threatening.

The latest measles outbreak is global and half of those who contract the disease worldwide are dying from it.

The measles virus has been called the most infectious, contagious disease in man because it is a highly contagious respiratory virus. It begins with a high fever and gives the person a runny nose, cough, sore throat and in a few days the telltale rash appears. The virus is actually contagious four days before the rash appears.

It is estimated that three out of ten people getting the measles will get a complication such as pneumonia. Complications are much more likely in older adults.

According to health experts, if your senior had the measles he should be immune from contracting it again. If your senior was vaccinated as a child and only received one shot, she may need a booster. If they’re older than 52, chances are good they’ve been exposed to the measles and may have had it as a child.

If you’re not sure, your doctor can perform a simple blood test to determine immunity.

CDC Recommendations Concerning Measles

The CDC has guidelines about what and when our seniors (and ourselves) should be immunized for a variety of illnesses. It is important to keep up with our scheduled immunizations as adults, especially if you are a caregiver.

Seniors are at risk for serious complications from preventable illness and most insurance providers cover vaccines so there is little reason to avoid your doctor-recommended vaccines.

According to the CDC, people born in the US before 1957 were exposed to measles epidemics and have likely (95-98%) developed an immunity to the disease. However, individuals who received an inactivated measles vaccine in the 1960s, were born outside of the US, have no record of vaccination or were never vaccinated when they were a child are recommended to speak to their doctor about options including testing and getting immunized.

Medicare beneficiaries are usually covered for vaccinations recommended by your doctor. If you had only one shot (two doses are now recommended), you may need a booster.

What Should a Family Caregiver Do?

There is no reason for panic about the measles, but it is a important to learn all you can about prevention and what steps you can take to keep your senior loved one healthy.

  1. Which vaccines are needed and should you test for measles immunity are good questions to add to the list for your senior’s doctor when you visit next. Discussing the recommended vaccines that might be due is always important.
  2. You may want to take a little time and search through the old health records for your senior adults to see if you can find an immunization record for the usual childhood diseases.  You may find some mention in a baby book if you have one which was often a place to record this type of information.
  3. If they don’t have any records, start an immunization record for them now. Document when they have had a pneumonia vaccine or shingles vaccine and make note of when future vaccinations are needed.
  4. Have they had a tetanus booster in the last 10 years? Have you? This is another preventive health step we often overlook but is on the recommended list.
  5. Schedule all preventive testing for your senior loved one and yourself. Tests and procedures such as mammograms, prostate checks, colonoscopy, annual physical, dilated eye exam, blood pressure test, bone density testing, hearing exam, and baseline cognitive screening are all important screening tests that can keep both you and your senior well.
  6. Preventing illness in your senior and yourself includes how you care for yourselves on a day to day basis. Good hand washing practices, eating well, getting enough sleep, drinking enough fluids, staying active physically and mentally and reducing your stress will help you and your senior live healthfully.

We always want to protect our family members, especially vulnerable senior loved ones. Being sure everyone is vaccinated according to the recommended schedule, knowing their health history, talking to the doctor about what options are best and living a healthy lifestyle will benefit everyone.

National Donor Day: Sharing the Gift of Life Through Organ Donation

We treasure the gift of life but the concept of donating our organs at the end of life makes many of us — and our senior loved ones — uneasy.

Many lives depend on that gift.

Did you know that there are more than 124,000 people in the U.S. in need of an organ, tissue or eye donation who are on a waiting list for a life saving donation?

Or that every 10 minutes another person is added to the national waiting list for organ donation?

Or even that 18 people each day die while waiting for a transplant that never arrives, with thousands dying before an organ becomes available?

Each day, an average of 79 people DO receive organ transplants. 

Did you realize that people of any age can be organ donors? There is no age limit on becoming an organ donor. Each person who donates can save as many as 8 lives.

Already, 100 million of the 320 million US citizens have registered. Is your senior loved one part of that number? Are you?

National Organ Donor Day

Clearly there is a need in the US for more heroes who sign up to be an organ donor, choosing to help others beat death.

Valentine’s Day is designated as Organ Donor Day to encourage us give a gift from the heart. It is also known as Donor Day and includes those who donate blood, platelets and bone marrow to those in need.

It recognizes those who have donated and encourages us to donate too!

Becoming an organ donor is a personal decision and one that takes some careful thought and learning to make.

It is the ultimate gift a person can give.

It’s also a decision that may be tough for family caregivers to shoulder if your senior’s wishes aren’t clear so encourage yours for make their donor election formal. Maybe you can do the same along side them.

Discuss Donation in Advance

As we and our senior loved ones age, facing our future and our choices for the end of our life are often difficult to do. It is even harder to talk about out loud with family members but it is a conversation worth having.

Not only will we learn what the wishes of our senior loved ones are but how their life can mean something crucial to the lives of others they don’t even know.

In the event that this is a conversation that didn’t take place before the end of life, many family members don’t feel they can opt to donate their senior loved one’s organs when asked to consent. It may not just be that you are afraid that your senior would not be in agreement, but the conversation never occurred resulting in what could be a missed opportunity to share the gift of life.

If your senior is one that has had led a nurturing and giving life, this may be a wish he or she would want to continue in a lifelong spirit of giving.

Knowing the Facts & Figures Can Help

Not knowing all the facts about organ donation can also hold back family members from making this decision when the end is near for our aging seniors.

In the event of an end of life experience, the timing may not be right to make this type of decision when there are many other priorities and emotions that take precedence at this time leaving valuable, life saving organs unused. Therefore, a conversation now is the best idea if you feel that they would want to share this precious gift or to simply learn about options.

Families who already know the wishes of their seniors are seven times more likely to pursue organ donation.

Even if your senior has designated on their driver’s license that they wished to donate their organs, the next of kin will still be asked to give consent for harvesting of organs when the time comes. You will need to know their wishes to make the choice yourself and feel confident that this is their wish. You will only know this through conversation now.

Organ Donation Facts

According to Donate Life, “90% of Americans say they support donation, but only 30% know the essential steps to take to be a donor.” You can turn a time of loss into a time of hope for others. Here’s a video that might help answer some questions you and your loved one have about organ donation.

There is more information and a link for you to become an organ donor if you wish at organdonor.gov. Organ donation is regulated and operated by the national registry UNOS, a private non-profit organization contracted by the federal government with strict controls in place.

  • Anyone at any age can donate organs. Despite having a chronic disease, the medical team will make a determination if there are viable organs or tissue that can be given or if the medical diagnosis does not allow donation.
  • Most organs are donated after death but many come from living donors.
  • Sometimes an organ can be used successfully even when the blood or tissue type don’t match.
  • You can save up to eight lives with your organs. Last year, organ donors made about 29,000 transplants possible. In 2013, more than 47,000 cornea transplants were done.
  • You can designate yourself an organ donor by registering with your state organ donor registry, every state has a registry. You can access your state’s registry here. You can also sign up when you renew your driver’s license.
  • Most major religions consider organ donation a final gift of love.
  • There is no cost to the organ donor or the family for donating an organ.

Talk to your senior loved one today and discuss their thoughts and wishes about organ donation. Get the facts and you’ll be ready when the time comes.

Donate Life and Share the Gift of Life!

Recipe for Caregiver Success from the Senior Care Corner­® Kitchen

Family caregivers have the privilege to provide love and attention to their senior loved ones.

Often this comes at a time of great need and we fill an essential role for our seniors.

We can get so busy doing things to improve the quality of life for our other family members, especially if we are caring for senior loved ones and our own children, that we too often set aside thoughts of doing for ourselves.

Our happiness is rooted in our families and the importance they have in our lives on a daily basis. However, that doesn’t mean that we ignore our own well-being to do for them.

Caring for Others & Ourselves

Tension is often high for family caregivers while struggling to meet competing demands from all directions. Too often there is a sense of “I should be doing more,” even when there isn’t another minute or ounce of energy with which to do more for loved ones.

That can’t go on long term.

It is vital that we find peace for ourselves so that we can give our best to those for whom we care and still remain healthy for years to come.

Finding joy in the small things — such as eating well, being active, taking time away to recharge our batteries, finding ways to cope with life’s challenges, de-stressing and then coming back to share the memories with those we love — will help us continue to be a healthy caregiver now and in the future!

After all, if we are not able to care for our loved ones who will?

Recipe for Caregiver Success

To help you find and utilize the ingredients that make for a healthy and successful caregiver, we have developed this “recipe” upon which you can build based on your own needs.

We hope you enjoy this recipe for Health, Wellness and Longevity and will cook up this casserole everyday!

Senior Care Corner® Recipe for Success

Health, Wellness and Longevity Casserole

Gather all ingredients around you and treasure.

Ingredients:

A bucketful of smiles

Miles of walking

A rainbow of vegetables

A million deep breaths

20-30 grams fiber

8 glasses of water

1500-2000 mgs of sodium

2 servings of fish a week

A possee of friends

A roomful of family

5 servings a day of fruit

A cupful of positive attitude

Less than 200 mg Cholesterol

Less than 7% Saturated Fat

150 minutes of moderate physical activity

Less than 2 sugar sweetened beverages

Moderate alcohol

Caution!

Do not add trans fat, negative attitude, smoking or laziness to this recipe

or it is at risk of failing.

Mix all ingredients well and consume daily for best results.

Share with others!

Healthcare Data Analysis to Improve the Cost and Quality of Our Care

Editor’s note: Connected health devices, both in the home and at healthcare facilities, will generate an enormous amount of data to add to that already being created regarding patients and conditions.
To help you – and us – understand how health data will be used and what it can mean to the health and care of our senior loved ones, we asked our in-house data scientist, Matthew Birkett, to write some articles for us over time. This is his first.
You can learn more about Matthew at his own site, A World of Data.

As a family caregiver, you likely realize healthcare is continually changing right in front of your eyes. You have probably seen firsthand that physician’s offices, hospitals, emergency rooms and urgent care offices – not to mention pharmacies – are having overwhelming numbers of patients, with numbers that continue to rise.

Doctors, healthcare workers, and perhaps, the administration at many hospitals are wondering what the future holds for them in terms of staffing, reimbursement and meeting everyone’s needs safely without mishap.

Because my interests are data driven, this situation gives raises questions for me about healthcare, questions that are likely shared by healthcare leaders and data experts. In order to learn from the data generated by the millions of healthcare encounters, we need to know what questions to ask to begin conducting helpful data analysis.

Once we determine which questions to ask and what answers are most helpful, we can begin to create solutions to the difficulties faced by providers and patients in the future.

Healthcare Industry Statistics of Interest

The Health Care Cost Institute prepared the 2013 Health Care Cost and Utilization Report, which was presented October 2014. The Institute tracks healthcare spending and utilization of adults privately insured in the US.

They found:

  • spending per privately insured person grew 3.9% in 2013 because falling utilization offset rising prices, that is fewer hospitalizations but at higher average prices
  • healthcare spending averaged $4,864 per enrollee in 2013, up $183 from the year before
  • consumers spent an average of $800 per person out-of-pocket which was a 4% increase over 2012
  • out-of-pocket spending for young women ages 19-25 remained the same
  • use of brand prescription drugs, inpatient admissions, and outpatient services declined in 2013. Average prices increased for all three categories at higher rates than in 2012
  • antidepressants dominated generic prescription drug use and were more than 10% of all generic drugs used in 2013

They collated data from several billion insurance claims (with identities removed) and the prices paid for each claim.

The Healthcare Imperative: Lowering Costs and Improving Outcomes found that of the trillions spent on healthcare in the US, there were many billions wasted on healthcare in the form of unnecessary services ($210 billion), fraud ($75 billion), excessive administrative costs ($190 billion), inefficiently delivered services ($130 billion), prices that are too high ($105 billion), and missed prevention opportunities ($55 billion).

They estimate that we can save $463 billion in the next 10 years by preventing avoidable hospital admissions, streamlining services, preventing fraud and abuse, decreasing costs of episodes of care, improved hospital efficiency, preventing medical errors and improved targeting of costly services.

What Patients Want to Know

Many patients hope for improvements in the way their healthcare is delivered and also in the direct cost of that healthcare. They may want to be sure their physician and healthcare team are providing the safest and most up-to-date care that will fix their medical problems quickly and help them be healthier.

They probably also hope that research will cure what ails them including major diseases like diabetes, dementia and cancer.

Here are some examples of questions that many people ask about their healthcare that could be answered using data.

  1. “How do I make sure I’m spending money effectively or is there another healthcare process or model that would be more cost effective?”
  2. “Is this the best facility and staff where I will be treated correctly and safely?”
  3. “Is it possible to know in advance what treatment or procedure will work best?”

The first question is very important because trillions of dollars are spent in the US on healthcare every year, which puts a great burden on the government, businesses, and the patients themselves.

The unfortunate part is that billions were spent on treatments that did not improve health conditions — and some that actually worsened the condition.

Lack of Information Driving Additional Testing

According to information from Aetna, a healthcare provider with a stake in the subject, studies indicate that people are spending more on additional testing and being over-treated, which did not result in an improvement to their health.

What they found is that if patients’ doctors do not know the full medical history or genetics of their patients, they may not know what would be the best and most effective treatment. The less information doctors have about the patients, the more testing they may order to learn more. This process causes inefficiency and higher cost for the whole healthcare system.

These issues are a call to action to bring improvements in effectiveness to the current healthcare system and make it more sustainable for the economy overall.

As a person who works as a database developer, I believe that one solution to resolving the issues we are facing concerning the healthcare system is improved usage of the data that is being generated.

Utilizing Data That Already Exists

Over recent decades, information such as clinical studies, insurance data, and hospital records were collected and kept confidentially in data files. Therefore, the industry is filled and in truth, overwhelmed by a variety of data including biological (DNA) and clinical data (think of drug trials where many people with a variety of genetics volunteered to provide the data).

This wealth of data can be used to help solve some of our medical mysteries and improve the delivery of healthcare and improve outcomes.

Fortunately, we have witnessed an advancement in technologies which allow us to work with massive data sets consisting of electronic health records and medical claims. We are also able to combine the data collected with clinical trials and direct observations by practicing physicians to understand the effectiveness of a treatment.

Now we can begin to answer the questions mentioned earlier.

Data’s Benefits to Our Healthcare

Analysis of available data is already providing valuable answers, such as how effective a specific drug or treatment is against diseases. For example, in the past doctors prescribed a certain drug as a treatment for a diagnosis, such as breast cancer, based on results from clinical trial studies, believing they would successfully improve the condition. The trial showed an effectiveness of 60% in the general population.

The doctor then prescribes the new drug even though he maybe unsure if it would work as expected for a specific patient. What if this patient is allergic to this drug but it is the only one available for the particular diagnosis? Not only could the patient suffer further harm, but the doctor could be held liable if the patient’s condition takes a turn for the worse instead of delivering on the promised benefits.

The results of data could provide more information to help the doctor determine if the drug would be most effective for each patient based on the specific individual characteristics rather than relying just on the results from the study group as a whole.

Using data to answer these questions will result in better health outcomes while saving costs associated with healthcare delivery. With newly developed methods to use the warehouse of data we are collecting, we can help recipients of healthcare by ensuring providers use the right drugs and the most appropriate treatments while avoiding the cost and lost time of overlapping services.

I believe analysis of data already available will help us choose the safest and most appropriate doctors and hospitals for our needs and help those healthcare providers utilize the most efficient processes.