Checkup Time: Get Seniors’ Cars Rolling Safely for Spring Driving

It’s time to get out from under winter’s grip and start thinking toward getting behind the wheel safely.

Family caregivers want to ensure their senior loved ones’ cars are in tiptop shape, since a properly maintained vehicle is key to hitting the road without the road hitting back.

It’s important for cars and drivers of all ages.

There are many people, including a number of seniors, who keep their cars garaged during brutal winters, when it is unsafe for them to drive on icy, snow covered roads when there is another alternative.

Call it preventive medicine for both cars and drivers.

Those garaged cars — not to mention many of those that wintered outdoors in the harsh weather — are now calling out for some attention to get them back working optimally.

More Seniors Driving

There are many seniors on the road, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. They report that in 2012 there were an estimated 23.1 million licensed seniors over 70 years.

The number of seniors driving is growing as the senior population grows, especially with the aging of baby boomers who have spent their lives behind the wheel.

They tell us older drivers drive less that their younger counterparts, which is no surprise as retirees aren’t commuting every day.

Older drivers also self-regulated their driving habits due to physical limitations, took fewer trips at shorter distances, avoided driving at night or on the highway and limited driving during inclement weather.

Even more good news about senior drivers is that they are much more likely to use their seat belts and more rarely drove under the influence of alcohol.

Seniors may also be more cautious behind the wheel, so family caregivers can often contribute most by helping keep their car working well to further improve their safety on the road.

Car Care Tips for Spring Checkups

Because cars could have been used sparingly and in harsh conditions over the winter months by our senior loved ones, there are a few maintenance items that should be done as part of a checkup now to get them up and running smoothly, efficiently and safely.

You could take your senior loved one’s car to a professional service technician/mechanic to do all the necessary check-ups and repairs but many family caregivers can do it themselves.

Here are some basic vehicle inspection items you should check-off in the check-up.

  1. Brakes including linings, brake drum and rotors
  2. Battery
  3. Fluid levels including transmission, oil, windshield wiper fluid, power steering fluid, coolant
  4. Tires – tread depth, tire pressure, wear pattern, bald spots
  5. Wheel alignment
  6. Belts and hoses – be sure there are no cracks, frayed or loose belts
  7. Headlights, taillights and turn signals functioning
  8. Check engine lights and dashboard indicators properly functioning
  9. Interior lights working
  10. Car wash and wax including under body if driven in winter elements and road chemicals
  11. Gas tank cap in place
  12. Is it up do date on regular scheduled factory recommended maintenance?
  13. Check air conditioning and heating especially defroster for better vision during foggy conditions
  14. If it has been awhile, you may want to have the car inspected via computerized analysis by a service professional or car manufacturer to spot potential problem areas before they result in damage

A well maintained car may mean a new car will not be needed to give everyone peace of mind the senior’s car will safely get them where they want to go.

New Car Technology

If your senior loved one decides (maybe with your urging) their automobile is beyond repair and a newer, more technologically advanced car is needed, there are some things to think about when selecting the right vehicle for them.

Cars have come a long way in the last few years, with many innovations that make them safer for seniors to drive safely as well as to ride as passengers.

  • Antilock braking system (ABS)
  • Automatic emergency braking system
  • Keyless ignition
  • Airbags in front and side
  • Back up camera
  • Hands free tail lift
  • GPS tracking
  • Alerts tired driver
  • Vehicle finder if car lost in parking lot
  • Assisted parking, parallel parking help
  • More comfortable seating that can be set for driver, see better out of windows and mirrors
  • Lane keeping assistance (stay in your own lane)
  • Blind spot detection
  • Rear end collision avoidance
  • OnStar help and other driver road assistance programs

There are innovations in the automobile industry available now compared to what the car your senior loved one might own now, with more upgrades coming soon.

Many New Car Benefits for Seniors

Newer cars can provide more comfort, as well as the ability to have better positioning for driving. The latest safety features can also protect them better if they get in an accident or even help them avoid an accident.

Newer vehicle also often times have better gas mileage, which can be easier on a senior’s budget. If their current car is an older model that presents a risk of breaking down when on the road, investing in a newer model will help provide a bit more peace of mind for family caregivers — and maybe the seniors themselves.

There are also some newer innovations that could be distracting for older drivers so be sure to investigate these and, if possible, consider deactivating some voice alerts that could distract or startle senior drivers, potentially putting them in harm’s way.

Perhaps it won’t be too long before a driverless car, one that is fully automated, can drive your senior anywhere he or she wants to go without needing to actually get behind the wheel. This exciting innovation could keep our seniors independent a little longer, since losing the ability to drive safely often results in failure to continue to age in place.

No matter who drives, it’s important to ensure the car that’s being driven is safe to be on the road.

Measuring Family Caregiver Strain – Knowing is Key to Burnout Prevention

Family caregivers do so much each and every day but are often left feeling they have not done enough.

There are so many needs that must be met, including their own.

As a family caregiver, how do you handle it all? Are you tired at the end of the day? Is your brain worn out? Is your body physically hurt and you are in pain?

Have you stopped during the day to eat, rest, do personal hygiene or care for your personal business?

Many family caregivers don’t get all that done, let along having a chance to read that new bestseller or see the latest movie at a theater!!

Caregivers know this about other caregivers – we don’t always take the time to care for ourselves and we can really impair our ability to continue being caregivers which is the one thing you want to be able to keep doing as long as you are needed. Am I right?

Caregiver Strain Index

Recently I came across this assessment from the Hartford Institute for Geriatric Nursing, New York University College of Nursing called the Modified Caregiver Strain Index (MCSI). It was updated in 2003 from a version called The Caregiver Strain Index of 1983.

It seems to hit all the buttons for caregivers and may help us to realize that we all have our tipping point and should be aware of how caregiving affects us physically and mentally so that we can recognize and plan for burnout.

This assessment is a 13-question tool that measures strain related to the care we provide. It covers a wide range of subjects, including financial, physical, psychological, social, and personal concerns common to family caregivers. Each question is scored with 2 points for each ‘yes’, 1 point for each ‘sometimes’, and 0 for ‘no’ responses.

The higher your score, the higher the level of caregiver strain you are experiencing.

The index is self-performed; in other words, you can complete it yourself. Because the higher the score the more strain is felt, it is important that caregivers take action when they have a high score. Interventions should be put in place to ease the burden felt by caregivers who report high levels of strain. Some things to consider, according to the authors of the assessment, are family conflict, conflict between employment and caregiver, financial strain, cognitive status of the senior adult, caregiving training and caregiver social support.

Another variable to consider is whether the family caregiver also works outside the home or is also responsible for their own family. Being part of the sandwich generation – caring for children, aging family members, household, careers and yourself – can add high levels of strain and stress to even the strongest person.

Burnout Prevention is Important

There are many consequences to caregivers and our senior loved ones when caregiving becomes stressful or feels under constant strain.

  • Caregiver strain or burnout is one of the leading causes of our senior loved ones being admitted to long term care facilities. When we overwork and overstrain ourselves as caregivers, we can no longer provide the care at home that our seniors need to be safe and healthy. This failure to have a caregiver present who is capable of meeting their needs leads to their loss of independence and aging in place dreams. They would much rather you stop and take a break, get help and even have planned respite so that they can stay home with you as long as possible.
  • When caregivers don’t care for themselves properly it can lead to physical injuries and even disability for the caregiver. Being exhausted can result in safety risks to yourself and your senior.
  • It is important to get your own health check-ups, see the doctor when needed, get immunizations and learn safe techniques for caregiving in order to stay well.
  • A 2003 study on caregivers found that stress ‘really can kill you.’ It found that there was a significant deterioration in the health of caregivers when compared to non-caregivers but also found the caregivers had a 63% higher death rate than the control group. That is pretty amazing.
  • Emotional burdens can also plague caregivers who are doing too much and not seeing to their own health. Emotions such as resentment, anger, frustration and even embarrassment can impact our physical health too.
  • Depression is not uncommon for many family caregivers due to the isolation often coming along with caring for senior loved ones, especially those with mobility issues that keep them at home. It seems to be even greater in those who are caring for a person with dementia. Oftentimes caregivers are too busy to keep their friends close and interacting as they once did. There isn’t time to talk on the phone, go out for lunch or spend the day shopping with our best friends anymore therefore we tend to lose touch with ourselves which can lead to depression. Worrying about our senior loved one takes its toll on caregivers. It has been shown that depression does not always lift when the senior moves to a facility or even after their passing. Seeking coping strategies and treatment for caregiver depression is important as it can lead to other health compromises.
  • Caregivers with chronic stress may be at greater risk for cognitive decline including loss in short-term memory, attention and verbal IQ, according to a Psychology and Aging report.
  • Constantly feeling as though we are under stress can lead to immune system problems. Our body reacts to the increased stress we perceive and sends signals to our brains which then begin bodily changes such as increased heart rate and over activity of the immune response. These changes have long term effects for our health as busy caregivers. Impaired immune systems can mean that caregivers get more infections and are susceptible to other diseases. Being ill could mean your inability to care for your senior loved one over the long run.
  • Lack of health insurance coverage for caregivers can be a real problem to overcome in order to access the healthcare that is needed not only for prevention but for injury and managing chronic health conditions. Caregivers who have to leave their jobs to care for their senior loved ones find themselves without health insurance which keeps them from properly caring for themselves.

Family Caregiver Health Issues

According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, “evidence shows that most caregivers are ill-prepared for their role and provide care with little or no support yet more than one-third of caregivers continue to provide intense care to others while suffering from poor health themselves.”

There are things you can do to overcome some of these health consequences that begin with recognizing there could be or already may be burnout.

There is definitely stress associated with family caregiving.

You should start by taking time to care for yourself and your needs. Schedule time for it on your calendar if that’s what it takes.

Get help from others, seek out respite care and get support from in person or online groups. Cultivate a strong network who can support you physically with day to day tasks and emotionally with a shoulder to lean on and kind voice with which to regularly discuss your issues.

Take a class about caregiving and learn coping strategies and techniques that will help you be a more balanced caregiver providing safer care to your loved one.

You are worth the time and effort it takes to keep you healthy!

Complementary Health Approaches – Potential Benefits for Our Seniors?

The availability of complementary health care offerings across the country is expanding.

Growing numbers of people of all ages are seeking out alternate therapies to treat medical conditions, manage side effects of traditional therapies and relieve pain.

These approaches could be helpful for your senior loved one, too.

What is complementary health? They are practices, systems and products derived not from mainstream healthcare but usually from Eastern countries that have been in use for years.

Because there is currently very little research to prove whether these practices are safe — or even effective — for how they are used, the National Institute of Health has begun funding research, so we should be hearing even more about different strategies in the near future.

What Are Complementary Practices?

There are many non-traditional health approaches that are considered complementary, or alternative, that have been providing many with relief.

Here are some types:

Mind and body techniques

  1. Acupuncture – a practice that stimulates certain specific points of the body using needles applied through the skin.
  2. Massage therapy – involves manipulating the muscles and other soft tissues in the body.
  3. Meditation – a process that involves focusing attention, there are a variety of different kinds including mindfulness and transcendental.
  4. Movement therapies – process involving movement techniques, including forms such as Feldenkrais method, Alexander technique, Pilates, Rolfing Structural Integration, and Trager psycho-physical integration.
  5. Relaxation – a way to encourage the body’s natural response for relaxation, uses guided imagery, breathing exercises and muscle relaxation.
  6. Spinal manipulation – when trained professionals use their hands or a device to apply pressure or force to a joint such as in the spine or muscle.
  7. Yoga and tai chi – combination of movement, focus and breathing to manage symptoms.

Natural Products

  1. Herbs, botanicals including vitamins, minerals, and items such as glucosamine and are sold as supplements.
  2. Probiotics – natural food products or supplements that replace intestinal flora for gastrointestinal health.

Other Complementary approaches

  1. Traditional Chinese Medicine – holistic approach which uses many forms of complementary styles, including botanicals, acupuncture, tai chi, dietary changes, body movement to achieve healing and focus.
  2. Ayurvedic Medicine –  first practiced in India; it includes lifestyle changes, diet, herbal compounds, and exercise.
  3. Homeopathy – developed in Germany; uses minimum doses of substances from plants, minerals or animals in forms such as ointments, gels, drops, creams and tablets often used under the tongue. Not considered effective and often opposed to concepts we know of chemistry.
  4. Naturopathy – combination of traditional medicine and idea that nature can be healing. Uses least possible intervention or forces. Includes supplements, herbs, manipulation, exercise, massage, and lifestyle change.

Use with Caution & Precautions

Complementary practices are used at the same time traditional medicine is used, while alternative approaches replace standard healthcare. It is important to understand the difference, especially remembering little is actually known about their safety when replacing other therapies.

If you are taking complementary approaches with prescribed drug therapy, you should check with your doctor to be sure there are no potential drug-drug or food-drug interactions that could be harmful. Many supplements can cause prescription drugs to be ineffective or even unsafe in certain combinations.

Depending on the mineral and vitamin preparations your senior may be taking, using additional fortified foods or single large doses of other supplements could lead to excessive amounts which could be dangerous. Be aware of how much could be too much.

Because dietary supplements are not regulated by the government in the way food and medicine is, you may not be getting what you think you are getting. The ingredients could be something other than what you were expecting, too much or too little of a harmful substance or none of what the label says is inside.

Buyers Be Aware

Be wary when buying these products over the internet from unknown distributers. Products have been tainted and that is only determined once someone is made ill because these products are unregulated. Some Ayurvedic Medicine products have been found to contain poisonous metals considered dangerous for human consumption.

Don’t automatically accept advertised claims, especially for dietary supplements, because again there is no scientific proof of cures or even effectiveness at this point. Also, “natural” has no universally defined meaning and doesn’t necessarily mean the product is safe.

When seeking a complementary provider, look for someone who has been specifically trained and works with many people so that safety practices and positive outcomes can be validated.

Ask Questions Before Using

Before trying any complementary approach, it is a sound idea to learn all you can about the treatments. Are they safe? Will they be effective? Is there any research about the therapy you are considering? Will they cause harm? Should they be a substitute for traditional medicine? Can I talk to my doctor about my options?

As with any treatment, pill or product that makes a claim, search for the source. Is the person or company seeking to sell something without validated claims? Is the information they are using to support their claims out of date or scientific?

Many people will use therapies such as dietary supplements, spinal manipulation, yoga, massage or one of the other complementary approaches. Your senior may already be using one or more of these approaches right now.

Using complementary treatments without following their healthcare team’s prescribed plan could be dangerous for your senior.

Urge senior loved ones to seek relief in partnership with their medical team — not in spite of them.

Evening Snacks for Seniors – Good for Them or Something to Avoid

Evening snacking — is it a good routine for seniors or one they would be better off breaking?

Many of our senior loved ones like to snack in the evening while watching TV or just because they have a craving for something.

Maybe they snack because they are bored or it is just a long standing habit which may not be healthy for them.

Some of our seniors think that eating before bed will help them sleep better, deeper or longer. Or just the opposite, some people feel that eating after dinner will keep them up because it could cause heartburn or reflux while they lay flat in bed.

Still others worry that eating before bed is contributing to weight gain that could negatively impact their health.

What does the research tell us?

Is there a better snack choice for our senior loved ones, foods they should avoid after dinner, or will the timing or amount eaten make a difference? Let’s see.

Foods that Can Help Seniors Sleep

Our grandmothers (and our senior loved ones grandmothers too) knew there were foods that were important to help with whatever ailed us including helping us sleep. Here are a few to try if sleep is a problem in your household.

  • Warm milk – this age old remedy has a basis in science. When milk is warmed it releases tryptophan that helps soothe us to sleep.
  • Chamomile tea – this herb contains flavonoids, tea varieties like lavender and lemon balm can also help sleep; no caffeine in this tea to disturb your sleep either. There is some school of thought that a hot beverage before bed without caffeine can raise your body temperature to make you sleepy.
  • Turkey and fish – more sources of the amino acid tryptophan that soothes us to sleep by stimulating serotonin (remember Thanksgiving?). Fruits such as bananas, nuts, low fat cheese, seeds and eggs contain tryptophan too.
  • Almonds and other nuts including peanut butter – nuts have magnesium which acts as a muscle relaxant and protein that help with serotonin for better sleep.
  • Melatonin containing foods such as cherries – melatonin naturally promotes sleep.

Foods to Avoid Before Bedtime

There are some foods that can contribute to sleepless nights due to gastric reflux (heartburn), wakefulness and slow stomach emptying. Here are some foods and drinks to consider avoiding:

  1. Caffeine containing beverages or foods such as chocolate – they can overstimulate your central nervous system, resulting in trouble with sleep.
  2. Spicy foods – foods that increase stomach acid that then backs up into the esophagus and results in heartburn or reflux symptoms. These can include salsa, pizza, tomato containing products, chili, foods with chili pepper or whole peppers, and ethnic foods. Some people have specific foods that trigger reflux symptoms that might be different than these such as acidic citrus juice or fruits.
  3. High fat foods – whether eaten as a bedtime snack or a meal nearer to bedtime, higher fat content that is harder to digest can sit in the stomach and cause sleep problems.
  4. Overindulging – no matter what your senior decides to eat before bed or later in the day, if it is too much and the stomach is overfull at bedtime, this can lead to poor sleep. Large meals inhibit sleep.
  5. Too much to drink – drinking large quantities of fluids near bedtime will lead to nocturia, meaning frequent overnight bathroom trips which definitely inhibit sleep.

The Study Says…

A recent study from researchers at San Diego State University and published in Science found that avoiding bedtime snacks could protect the aging heart.

These researchers tested fruit flies in the lab and were able to prevent heart problems as a result of aging and a poor diet. Fruit flies are traditionally used to simulate effects found in humans. When we eat late, it often leads to being overweight plus getting diabetes and metabolic syndrome as a consequence of the weight gain.

The fruit flies given the same food in the same amount by the end of the day were divided into two groups who could eat for 24 hours or 12 hours. Those in the 12 hour group, even though they ate the same amount, did not gain as much weight and slept better. The quality of the food was no different just when they ate.

Another recent study out of the University of California at Los Angeles examined how eating bedtime snacks impacted the brain’s learning and memory cycle when the circadian rhythm is disturbed.

Researchers found that when they fed mice ‘late night’ bedtime snacks it disrupted their entire systems. They feel that memory function of the brain is affected by food, and late eating produces an internal misalignment in the body. This misalignment resulted in changes in memory and leaning abilities.

Better Sleep = Better Health

Researchers will continue to look at why and how our senior’s sleep patterns are disturbed because increasing evidence is pointing to the importance of a stable sleep pattern to our overall health at all ages.

We can take steps to improve our senior loved ones’ health by helping them avoid snacking after dinner, reducing the fluids they drink before bedtime or, if they decide they really must snack, help them eat some different foods that could actually help them fall asleep.

Maybe we’ll have to cut those same things out of our own routines to make it easier for them, which might just benefit us as well.

Getting a good night’s sleep will improve not only our senior’s health but their quality of life too.

They will have a better day when they sleep better, and so will you!

From Technology Averse to Mobile Mavens – Seniors are A-Changin’

“A cordless telephone — I don’t need that. The phone on the wall in the kitchen works perfectly well.”

Sound familiar? If so, you aren’t alone.

It wasn’t that long ago many of us had to urge our senior loved ones to use a cordless phone they could carry around the house in case of an emergency and just to make it easier for them to talk with family and friend.

Of course, there were also many family caregivers who assumed the seniors in the family wouldn’t use technology, only to have them demonstrate otherwise when given a chance.

Lately we’ve found ourselves urging them to adopt smartphones — often with a lot more success. We know how many fun, useful and even vital things that they could do with a smartphone.

Not to mention how important they will be to their ability to live independently in the future.

It seems that times they are a-changin’ and so are our senior loved ones.

Accenture Study

Seniors over 65 in a dozen countries participated in a survey about mobile devices conducted by Accenture. Over 10,000 seniors were included.

This group of seniors wants to use technology – well, 67% of them said they do. When one considers that there are 3.9 million Americans who are 65 this year, the numbers could be staggering for tech adoption.

What do they want? They want more than what they think is currently available, surprisingly enough.

  • 2 out of 3 of the participants want to be able to access care from home using mobile technology.
  • They are willing to use wearables for tracking health data, such as heart rate and blood pressure.
  • Self-care tools to manage their health needs from a distance are sought by seniors, who would like to have virtual physician consultations.
  • The ability to access their health data, including lab results (57%), according to the study, which also learned about one quarter currently access their electronic health records.
  • 3 in 5 want to be part of a community of peers who get and give advice online, especially when reacting to a physician’s new recommendations.

This survey found that the primary reason (62%) driving seniors to adopt mobile technology is to satisfy their healthcare information desire.

The Accenture report also found that seniors who were the most interested using mobile technology were more proactive about managing their health and taking charge of their wellness.

In general, seniors are also beginning to do more with technology including communicating, online banking, and being entertained. They also are shopping online more and more after realizing security has improved. A recent Pew Research study found that 59% of those over 65 were active internet users during 2012-2013.

Newest Mobile Healthcare Solutions for Seniors

There are more and more innovations being created, some are still in the development phase and others are looking for funding to bring their products to market or get them cleared by the Food and Drug Administration.

Here are a few types (without names since they aren’t all ready for purchase) your senior loved one might find helpful:

  1. Wearable devices worn as you would a watch that will monitor the movement of your senior. It formulates their usual pattern of activities of daily living and alerts caregivers when the pattern is broken. Designs of these types of devices are becoming more fashion friendly which may take some of the stigma out of wearing them. This kind of device benefits the family caregiver as well, by giving them peace of mind.
  2. There have been and continues to be a plethora of home monitoring devices but the trend is to combine several functions into one mobile system that is accessed through an app. Some can even be purchased and installed as a DIY.
  3. Smartphones will be used to “gain insight into a patient’s gait, motor impairment, fitness, speech and memory” according to the latest update from Apple using a variety of data sources including a smartphone’s GPS, microphone, accelerometer and gyroscope.
  4. Future devices will be able to take blood sugar readings and measure asthma inhaler use.
  5. Diabetes management app that encourages blood sugar testing, formulates patterns of values, gives coaching in diet and weight management. Using these types of apps has shown a drop in A1C levels which is promising for healthy outcomes.
  6. Medication reminders can be sent using smartphone apps. If your senior loved one fails to take a prescribed drug, it will send an alert so that intervention can be done by a caregiver. There are pill bottles that will alert an app that it hasn’t been used timely. You can connect with your pharmacy and have prescription drugs refilled so they are ready and waiting for pickup.
  7. Weight management apps can provide help with calorie intakes, portion control, monitoring of intake and weight, recipes, grocery lists and motivation.
  8. Symptom checkers, doctor locators and even face-to-face visits from a doctor who can offer treatment via online, virtual visits are available as smartphone apps.
  9. There are apps that can inspect the skin for melanoma, identify a prescription drug by visualizing it, and even help your senior stop smoking.
  10. There are apps or programs accessible via smartphones that can safely store your advance directives, medication list, health records, and contact list. You can receive appointment reminders either from an app specially designed for that purpose or even a calendar app.
  11. Accessing websites via smartphone can provide information about a symptom, a disease or a drug at the touch of a button.
  12. Using smartphones or tablets to communicate with health professionals and caregivers. Talk via email, text message, Skype or FaceTime to get timely information and interventions to improve health outcomes.

Some experts warn consumers that some smartphone apps that offer medical advice may be suspect and not peer-reviewed for accuracy and therefore unsafe if not verified by your doctor or replace current medical treatment.

Estimates of 100,000 health-related smartphone apps are helping consumers, especially seniors, manage their own health. Hopefully this will lead to improved health, quality of life, longer independence for aging in place, fewer ER visits and hospital stays and lower healthcare costs.

That seems to be well worth the time it may take family caregivers to get technology into the hands of seniors and help them use it securely and confidently.

Know How to Prevent Poisoning at Home and What to Do if it Happens

Poisoning is a serious public health problem but one that is preventable.

National Poison Prevention week, established by Congress in 1961, is this week.

We take time now to learn a little more about accidental poisoning risks for our senior loved ones and other family members because it is a serious public health problem.

The third week in March is set aside to increase awareness since the National Poison Control Center handles more than 2 million poisoning exposures a year!

In fact, there are 700,000 drug-related poisonings, resulting in emergency room visits a year. 35,000 people will die from poisonings.

Common sources of exposure include painkillers, sedatives, hypnotics, antipsychotics, household cleaning products, foreign objects, cosmetics and personal care products.

Many things can become poisons if used the wrong way, in the wrong amount or by the wrong person according to the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).

Poison Control Information for You Family’s Safety

Here are some strategies for keeping your senior loved ones and other family members safe from poisoning.

  • Whenever you suspect there is a possible ingestion of a harmful substance, contact the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222. You might want to program this into your smartphone or landline for quick access. This helpline is available 7 days a week, 24 hours a day.
  • This number should be displayed in your home, either on the refrigerator or next to the telephone, so that it can be accessed immediately. Time matters when poisoning occurs. Don’t wait for symptoms to appear if you feel there was dangerous ingestion of a chemical.
  • Stay calm, as not every intake is life threatening and it will help everyone if nobody panics.
  • If someone gets a chemical in their eyes, rinse with running water for 15-20 minutes while someone else contacts the helpline.
  • Be ready to tell the expert the information from the bottle, age and weight of the injured person, a brief medical history, how long since ingestion, symptoms and distance to nearest hospital.
  • Keep an updated medication list for your senior loved one handy in case of emergency. If you suspect too much medication or the wrong medication, it is a good idea to contact Poison Control for advice.

Prevention Steps for Your Home This Spring

We need to continually examine our homes for any potential sources of poisoning for seniors and other family members, including visiting grandchildren. Here are some suggestions you can do now to prepare for spring.

  1. Check the household cleaning chemicals to be sure they are in the original containers clearly labeled with the name of the product. Never store chemicals in a food container.
  2. Be sure all cleaning and other chemicals are stored away from food storage and preparation areas. Keep colorful cleaning products such as laundry and dish detergent packets out of the reach of children or cognitively impaired adults.
  3. Never mix household chemicals and detergents. When disposing of chemicals, be sure to follow the directions on the label.
  4. When using household chemicals and cleaners, keep the area well ventilated and don’t spray in the direction of people or pets.
  5. Take precautions – including gloves, protective clothing and eye protection – when using chemicals such as oven cleaners, rust remover, bug repellent or drain cleaners. Be careful to stay clear of splashes.  Chemicals can burn the skin when not handled properly.
  6. Keep cleaners and chemicals, including pesticides and bug killer, out of the reach of children and those with cognitive impairments.
  7. When disposing of containers such as those holding antifreeze, rinse with water to prevent accidental contact.
  8. Store flammable chemicals away from heat source.
  9. Use a digital thermometer instead of a glass mercury one to prevent exposure if broken. If a glass mercury thermometer is broken and you have a mercury spill, contact poison control to get guidance on disposing it because mercury is considered hazardous waste.
  10. Store all medications out of the reach of children, use original containers and protective lids. Review your medication list periodically with your primary doctor to prevent unknowingly ingesting duplicate doses of the same medications. Ensure loved ones take only those prescriptions meant for them and don’t share theirs with others. If needed, lock up medications for safety.

Poison Help

Poison Help is a program that is funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration, or HRSA, to help educate us and prevent poisoning. Their goal is to teach us how to respond if we are faced with a poisoning emergency.

To learn more or become involved in helping others, you can check out Poison Help online for resources. They have resources and information that can benefit you and your community.

While you can’t prevent every possible emergency situation that might arise, you can take every precaution to eliminate sources of poisoning for those who enter your home — and know what to do if you suspect someone has been poisoned.

Taking a few steps now can help you avoid trouble. This week is a good reminder to get busy poison-proofing your home!

Caregiving Routines: Successful Care and Caregiver Happiness

Many family caregivers and others who have more to do than time to complete what’s needed find themselves following a strict routine — or trying to follow one.

Monday is laundry, Tuesday is errand day around town like banking or mail, Wednesday is grocery shopping on discount day, Thursday is doctor and other appointment day, and on and on.

Most days we use this routine and scheduling plan we are able to accomplish what we set out to do. Unfortunately, some days chaos happens and if feels like we aren’t able to get anything done.

Does that sound familiar?

It feels like our list of to-dos gets longer and longer each week and the daily routine gets excruciatingly boring!

Benefits of Routines

Despite the potential for boredom and the frustration when our best laid plans get waylaid by something unforeseen, having a routine does benefit family caregivers and those for whom they care.

  • When we have an established daily routine, seniors who have dementia can have better quality of life. Those seniors gain comfort in knowing that brushing teeth comes after eating breakfast and taking a nap comes after lunch and watching a favorite show comes when the room gets dark. They anticipate the next step instead of getting blindsided and anxious when something out of the ordinary occurs. A routine for them is pleasing and never boring!
  • For people with dementia, a routine can reduce their confusion and ultimately negative behavior. Agitation can come from chaos or breakdown in their routine!
  • Having a routine helps your brain focus on the job at hand and relieves you of the need to constantly make another decision. Having to stop often to decide to wash dishes, get dressed, or take a walk can waste time, energy and get in the way of actually doing!
  • When you have a routine that you and your senior loved one both know, the number of distractions will diminish. Everyone knows the expectation for the day. Not only will it make it easier to maintain your focus on the needs of the day but it can keep you motivated to check off those items that are already done. A schedule can keep you on task and the satisfaction of crossing through task after task is extremely fulfilling.
  • Having a routine and sticking to it as much as possible will bring your relief at the end of the day and a strong sense of accomplishment. Getting the lion’s share of the daily activities done each day will (hopefully) help you sleep better at night. You know you did your best and met deadlines and can now rest up for the next day!
  • A well balanced, full routine will keep us from being bored. If you make a good plan of action for the day ahead or the week ahead, you can be sure that you will keep a continuous flow of activity so that boredom doesn’t have a chance to enter the picture. Boredom can lead to many unpleasant things including agitation, depression and isolation.
  • A schedule or routine can help you feel relaxed, you know what you are facing and that you can do it! It also allows you to feel grateful that all the tasks that you are responsible for providing as a caregiver can be done with a plan and you are able to accomplish them.
  • A plan for the day and week will also help you realize where you need help. Caregivers can’t do everything by themselves and need help from their networks often more than they seek it! When you look at your plan, you can see the gaps where another set of hands will be needed or where respite for you to meet your personal needs is necessary. Reaching out for help when you need it and can see it coming so that it is arranged appropriately will help you be a better caregiver!
  • A routine especially for people with dementia can help them feel safe. They understand that they will be cared for and loved and their needs will be met because they have a routine. It can help overcome the fear of the unknown for those with dementia.
  • Inevitably something will happen that is not on the schedule. It happens. However, when you have a routine that you consistently stick to, being flexible is easier because you have confidence that tomorrow is another day and you can get tasks done making the best use of your time prioritizing needs. You’ve done it before and know you can again because you plan well.

Will a Routine Kill Spontaneity?

Having a routine you use to manage your life as a caregiver has many benefits to both you and the person for whom you care.

Does that mean you can never veer from it? Absolutely not, nor should it. We have to be flexible to follow a bluebird while out for a walk or stop for an ice cream cone on the way home from the doctor.

It’s important to enjoy life’s special moments and share them with our loved ones.

Your routine is your road map to your day but should not be written in stone. We need to be able to adjust the plan when things happen that open the door for change. We will have unique opportunities that we shouldn’t pass up, such as an unplanned visitor, an emergency or a great idea!

Making our routine for the day or week should include fun time, rest time, and self-care. Caregivers don’t always take the time in each day or even by the end of the week for themselves and their own well-being.

Don’t Forget Caregiver Time in the Routine!

Caregivers need to eat, sleep and relax too. While we plan a nap for our senior loved ones, what will we plan for ourselves during that time to care for ourselves?

We need time to maintain our own identity by visiting with friends, getting our hair cut, or participating in an activity that we enjoy outside the house.

Being connected with our network and getting the help we need to have time for a break whether for an hour, a day, a weekend or longer is important for caregivers.

We have to take care of our own health so that we can continue to care for others who need us. Getting fatigued, ill or burned out won’t help our senior loved ones in the long run so putting your own needs into your daily routine will be worth it to everyone!

Brain Awareness Week – What We Can Do to Treat Our Brains Better

This week marks a special time for those of us interested in our brain health. It is Brain Awareness Week (BAW) across the world, when we take time to increase our awareness of the progress and benefits of brain research, along with things we can do for our brains.

This year is special as the Dana Foundation celebrates the 20th Anniversary of BAW outreach events.

There continue to be many advances in our knowledge about how our brains function and what makes them cease functioning the way we would like.

We hope these new discoveries will help us treat and even cure common neuro-degenerative diseases such as dementia as well as take the necessary steps to keep our brains healthy throughout our lifetimes.

There is a lot we can do for our own brains in the meantime to make them as healthy and sharp as possible.

About Our Brains

Our brains are the powerhouses of our body even though the brain is only about 2% of our body mass.

The brain controls the functions we need to survive including breathing, eating, digesting, heart beating, speech, thought and reasoning, emotions, our senses and physical movement. It requires a constant flow of oxygen to survive. The brain uses 20% of both the oxygen we breathe and the blood flow in our bodies.

Our brain is protected by our skull so that it can withstand wear and tear. The brain itself doesn’t feel pain but sends pain signals to other parts of our bodies.

The brain’s structure is complex. Each different function occurs in different locations in our brains – brain stem, cerebrum, cerebellum and limbic system.

When there is a trauma to a particular location in the brain, those systems are directly affected. For example, if damage occurs to the brain stem perhaps from stroke, swallowing, blood pressure, involuntary movements and heart rate are affected. If damage occurs in the cerebellum, balance and movement will be negatively affected.

Many things can damage our brain function, such as stroke, head injury, aneurysm, falls, neurological diseases, external trauma like car crash or gunshot, and other degenerative changes.

Activities for Brain Awareness Week

During this week there will be many events happening in your locale that you and your senior loved one might want to check out.

Some of these events may include:

  • exhibitions about the brain perhaps in the library or university center;
  • lectures on brain-related topics perhaps through the local hospital, wellness clinic or senior center;
  • social media campaigns for BAW using Facebook or twitter chats as well as blogs about brain health;
  • classroom workshops;
  • cooking classes with healthy foods;
  • exercise groups that get you moving for brain health; and,
  • brain stimulating activities like music, chess tournament, spelling bee or game time.

Check out your community calendar or the activities section of your local paper to find out what’s happening in your area.

Current Brain Research and Advances in Knowledge

There are very many research studies occurring right now in the field of neuroscience. As we uncover the secrets to how our brains work and what makes them stop working is of interest especially as the population of the world is aging. Our brains can be susceptible to age-related changes and buildup of proteins that can weaken our brains. Researchers are on the lookout for how protein buildup forms, accumulates and how we can prevent it from occurring in the first place.

One theory is that apolipoprotein-E (apo-E) is responsible for taking away the amyloid protein plaques formed in the brain. If this is the process, then how can this molecule be stimulated to work harder to remove plaque? In 2012, a study of the apo-E-boosting drug bexarotene showed a strong ability to remove amyloid beta from the brains of mice that overproduce the protein and it will be tested in humans to determine its effectiveness for reducing protein plaques. The hope is that this brain clearing drug could have the same mild effect in healthy older adults keeping their brains clear as statins now keep their arteries clear.

Another area of research is looking at biomarkers. These are compounds in our blood or spinal cord fluid that can show disease activity earlier than in the past using other means. Neuro-degenerative diseases start killing neurons long before symptoms appear. Researchers such as the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative and the NIH-funded Parkinson’s Disease Biomarker Program are working toward finding an answer. Being able to confidently test biomarkers will help with clinical testing of new drugs to tell if they are impacting change.

Research also is happening in the field of preventive health. What can we do to prevent damage to our brains from occurring in the first place? Research into the effects of three key areas continues to produce evidence.

Staying physically active helps the brain by improving blood flow and neuron function; staying mentally stimulated and engaged increases the formation of new neuron connections and building a cognitive reserve to replace lost function; and maintaining a good blood flow by achieving heart health can reduce stress on our brains.

Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN Initiative) is a part of the National Institute of Health. They “aim to develop and apply cutting-edge technologies to create a dynamic picture of the brain in action, providing the critical knowledge base for researchers seeking new ways to treat, cure, and even prevent brain disorders.”

The research the BRAIN initiative will fund is designed to map the activities of the brain, how each neuron works and learning about the brain’s functioning on a cellular level in order to share this information with researchers investigating diseases including Alzheimer’s. Hopefully it will lead to further breakthroughs.

Are There Brain Boosting Foods?

We hear all the time about eating this or that to improve how efficiently our brains function or to prevent them from declining. The reality is that little research has proven a direct cause and effect with a particular food and brain health.

Because our brain health is estimated to be 70% dictated by factors we control, including environmental and physical, improved lifestyle choices can help the brain and the body systems that sustain the brain such as circulation.

It is important to know that the more physically healthy we are overall, the better choices we make every day in the foods we eat, the more time we spend being mentally and socially engaged and the motivation we have to be physically active daily will all contribute to our brain health.

Even though there is no direct evidence linking any foods with prevention of dementia, we can improve our eating habits to improve our overall health thereby positively impacting our brain health. Include the following foods for improved brain health:

  1. Food sources of vitamin E such as vegetable oil, seeds, avocado, nuts, and whole grains
  2. Sources of antioxidants help protect brain neurons, including vitamin A, C,D, E, K found in brightly colored fruits and vegetables such as blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and acai berries as well as other produce. Pomegranates and its juice are also good sources of antioxidants.
  3. Fish containing omega-3 fatty acid including salmon, tuna and mackerel
  4. Foods such as dark green leafy vegetables like kale, spinach and greens containing folate and vitamin E. It is believed that folate can help break down homocysteine which is an amino acid that has been shown to damage nerve cells in the brain.
  5. Beans and all  legumes can help stabilize our blood sugar, which is showing promise for not only providing energy for the brain but also for reducing the risk of circulatory system damage when blood sugar is in control.
  6. Caffeine can stimulate mental acuity when taken in the form of coffee, tea and dark chocolate. Coffee and dark chocolate consumed in moderation (more is not better) also contain antioxidants.

In addition to these foods, we shouldn’t overlook the importance of drinking enough water. When our brain gets dehydrated, it’s function is impaired and it actually can shrink. Short term memory and decision making can be impaired when our bodies and brains are dehydrated.

Challenging Our Brains

Our brains like to be challenged, stimulated and exercised. We often hear our brain is like a muscle, needing a regular workout to be in the best shape.

If you would like to try some brain stimulating exercises that are friendly for all ages, you might want to try these puzzles from the Dana Foundation.

It is our challenge as family caregivers to provide opportunities to keep our senior loved one’s brains and bodies active every day!

5 Technology Solutions Offering Seniors a Promise of Better Living

Our senior loved ones are beginning to use technology more and more — and seeing benefits from doing so.

It has taken awhile for some of them to begin to see the advantages to using some of the latest technology but they are getting there, often with the help and urging of family caregivers.

According to the latest statistics from the Pew Research Center, six in ten seniors currently go online. That is 59% online, of which 47% have high speed broadband connections in their homes.

Pew found that many seniors don’t use technology because of physical challenges that keep them from adopting, such as vision impairment or disabilities. They also feel that being disconnected doesn’t mean they are missing anything. Most seniors fear learning how to use the latest devices and feel they will need help to get comfortable and helpers to keep them using it.

The good news is that of those seniors who have connected, using technology has become a standard part of their life. They report using technology on a daily basis.

79% of those users feel that anyone who is not connected is at a real disadvantage because of the information they are missing. 94% of daily users feel that the internet is much easier to use and find the information that they seek than in the past.

Once seniors become technology fans, they are hooked for life. How do we get more of them connected with the latest technology to gain the benefits?

Technology for Seniors

There are more and more devices and apps available that will provide meaningful data and assistance in addition to answering their needs for accessible medical information and freedom from boredom.

Here are our top 5 picks to get started with technology:

1. Smartphones

New devices keep coming to market, each bringing advantages to our senior loved ones (and family caregivers).

The latest iPhone, 6 Plus with a larger screen, is getting attention from older adults who are ready to upgrade to these innovations. The screen measures 5.5 inches compared to 4.7 inches and that small difference actually makes a huge difference for seniors.

Many people find the larger screen easier to manipulate with fingers that are either larger or when mobility problems make dexterity hard such as arthritis. At the same time, the devices are lighter and easier to handle than tablets.

Seniors report they are easier to read than other smartphones were in the past. Most really enjoy seeing their photos on the larger screen too. When they increase the size of the font to read a book on their iPhone, they get more bang with the larger screen without having to cut off half the page.

Many state they are happy that iPhone came out with the larger screen since they already own an iPhone and did not want to learn a new device from a different manufacturer or platform just to take advantage of the benefits the larger screen has to offer.

A recent survey by Accenture reports that more than half of smartphone buyers will purchase one with a larger screen this year.

Smartphones with the ability to store information, point you in the right direction, alert you when trouble is happening or if the front door is breached and keep your senior entertained when they are bored or lonely can be invaluable helpers too.

2. Tablets

Tablets are great for older adults. They are easy to see for those with impaired vision, the fonts can be adjusted, they have touchscreens which are simple to use and lightweight compared to a laptop.

Tablets are starting to replace eReaders because they provide more benefits than just reading a book. Because they can be connected to the internet, they can replace laptop computers. In addition, your senior can use a tablet for email, Facebook, YouTube and Skype calling. They can still get all the books they can read, adjust the font size and download books quickly on a tablet so they won’t lose the benefit of an eReader but gain those provided by the tablet.

Many seniors are connecting, not just with social media on their tablet but also games. Participating in brain fitness games are fun and engaging to keep older adults mentally stimulated.

Seniors can also use programs such as Evernote that cross all platforms to keep their medical records, advance directives, medication lists and contact information handy. They can set up spreadsheets for a variety of functions including blood pressure readings and financial information.

They can connect with iTunes, Spotify, iHeart Radio or Pandora and listen to music wherever they are. You can both set up playlists or stations that have their favorite music and even create playlists with specific needs like getting calm or dancing.

One of the best features of a tablet is its portability. Music, photos — even streaming their favorite TV programs or movies — can be done on their tablet.

Most apps they can use on their iPhone can be downloaded on their iPad. There are of course many manufacturers of tablets that could be useful for seniors including the latest android version RealPad.

One great app is the Weather Channel. They can get up to the minute weather information for their location and every family member near or far too. They will get weather alerts when threatening weather is on its way too.

3. Joint Replacement, Transplants and Getting Active

Surgeons are happily using the latest technology to replace joints with computer assisted “space age” materials. They are replacing shoulders, knees, hips, elbows, and wrists. Once thought to last about fifteen years, the newer joints have a thirty year lifespan. The surgery itself allows for tissue sparing unlike previously as the operation is less invasive and usually doesn’t cut muscle. Recovery time is shortened due to surgical advances during replacement.

New joints allow seniors to stay active and live their lives fully without pain or limited mobility. Fewer limitations are placed on those with new joints. Playing sports and staying active are encouraged, not frowned upon, these days.

Cataract surgery advances make the surgery faster, only fifteen to thirty minutes with a speedy recovery. Stitches are rarely needed when an oscillating ultrasonic probe is placed in the incision to break up the cloudy lens and clean the eye for the new implant. Some incisions are made with lasers too.

The more we learn about prevention and the importance of staying healthy for the long haul, the more we all know that being physically active is vital. Getting exercise, going to the gym, and eating healthfully has become important for all of us as we age and should be for seniors for the highest quality of life possible. Many gyms are senior friendly, tailoring their machines and classes for lower impact, strength training and wheelchair accessibility so that older adults can participate without fear of injury. When we have joints that work, there is no excuse for not being physically active to benefit the body and the mind!

4. Health Apps

There are many apps that can be downloaded onto a smartphone or tablet (or both) that can help our senior loved ones connect their healthcare team with you as caregiver.

There are medication reminders so prescriptions will be taken on time and not forgotten. There are blood pressure monitors that can plug into the smartphone or dock it and transmit the information right to the doctor or family member so quick action can be taken if needed.

There are symptom checker apps that allow you to get advice if a problem occurs, guide you in medical emergencies and decide when it is time to call the doctor.

Apps can also track their medical information and health data, organize their appointment schedules, connect with caregivers and hold their advance directives. You can also set up remote monitoring using apps that can establish patterns and alert caregivers when the pattern is broken in addition to sensing danger.

There are assistive helpers available in app forms for reading when the light is low or magnify when the print is too small. There are phone finders to alert you if you lose your phone or tablet. There are also GPS apps and maps to help orient themselves if they lose their way.

5. Hearing Aids

Can you hear me now? Unfortunately many seniors have to answer no.

We expect to see an increase in hearing loss as we age due to environmental factors such as loud noise over our lifetimes from working or listening to music especially using ear buds. To meet this demand the hearing aid industry has exploded in the last several years with more manufacturers making more different types of digital hearing aids.

Happily, the technology improvements in hearing aids are finally coming. Hearing aids are being made so that noise levels, including bothersome and often confusing background noise, can be dampened. The newer technology has reduced the microphone feedback that was often annoying and also cut out the higher intensity sounds wearers found unacceptable. This is all done with a computer chip in the aid that determines whether the sound is noise or speech.

Getting started with new technology will need guidance from you about which products will be most beneficial for your senior loved one. But they will also need your help to show them how to use it, setting it up and creating secure connections to keep them from being victims.

They will wonder what they did before they got connected!