It’s Springtime! Time for Safety Tips for Seniors Playing in the Great Outdoors

Spring has sprung — finally! It is time to get outside and enjoy the fresh air, chirping birds and prolific flowers!

Our senior loved ones will surely be wanting to sit on the porch, take a walk, get busy in the garden, and more.

We know how good getting moving is for our health and wellness not to mention our mental outlook.

When our seniors start to get ready to enter the great outdoors, family caregivers have new things to worry about.

Will they be safe?

What happens if they fall?

How can I protect them while allowing them to enjoy being outside?

For every question there is an answer because you have gone over the scenarios in your mind and will be ready to put prevention actions into place or be ready quickly in case of emergency.

Getting Prepared for Seniors To Go Outside

Family caregivers have so many details to organize and things to occupy their minds every day and really don’t want to worry about more things. But when spring hits and our seniors start to venture into the great outdoors, we will have to plan for what could happen and how to prevent and treat what might occur.

Medications and the Sun

Problem: Sun — many medications that our senior loved ones could be prescribed have warnings to avoid the sun because they lead to increase sun sensitivity. Exposure to the sun when taking these medicines can result in skin problems such as hives, rash or extreme sunburn. Common drugs include antihistamines, antibiotics, NSAIDS, antidepressants, chemotherapy, heart disease medications and diuretics.

Prevention: Read the labels of all your senior’s prescriptions to be aware of any drugs that could cause photosensitivity. If your senior is taking one of these drugs, it is important to use sun protection, such as sunscreen, wide brim hat, long sleeves,  or sunglasses, and seek out shade when outside. Using sunscreen on all exposed skin when in the sunshine is more important to prevent sunburn.

Skin Irritation, Cuts or Scrapes

Problem: if your senior loved one is participating in activities once outdoors, such as gardening or yard maintenance, they could put themselves at risk for cuts and skin irritations.

Prevention: Remind them to wear their gloves when doing any outside work, use garden tools cautiously and restrict those that they are no longer able to operate safely, wear safety goggles and ear protection when equipment makes a loud noise, such as a lawnmower.

Heat

Problem: As the temperature rises, your senior loved one can become a victim of heat-related injury. Spending too long outside in the hot sun or not taking proper precautions to limit exposure can lead to illness.

Prevention: Be sure your senior is getting adequate water during the time they are out in the heat. Be sure they wear loose fitting clothing and a sun hat. Encourage them to seek shelter from the sun, sit under a shade tree or umbrella and come inside during the hottest portion of the day.

Sun Exposure

Problem: Too much time in the hot sun can lead to injury for our seniors.

Prevention: Wear sunglasses for eye protection, use appropriate sunscreen protection with SPF on exposed skin to prevent sunburn, stay hydrated. Lip balm and makeup with SPF would be helpful to use. Be aware of the time spent in the sun and limit exposure to early morning or late afternoon when the sun’s rays are not as damaging.

Unsafe Pathways

Problem: Going outside and enjoying walks in nature can put our senior loved ones at risk for injury from falling on uneven walkways.

Prevention: When walking in the yard or on the nature path, it is important to wear properly fitting shoes that can provide appropriate traction and protect them from injury. If necessary, use a walking stick to navigate the rocky road. If the path is too dangerous, find another nature view to enjoy the outdoors without injury.

Bugs

Problem: When we go into the habitat of bugs, we can often become victim of bites and stings. If your senior is allergic to bees or ant bites, taking precautions is vital.

Prevention: Remind your senior to wear long sleeve shirts and long pants to prevent bug bites, mosquitoes and spider bites. If potentially coming in contact with ticks, be sure your senior tucks their pants into their socks and their shirt is tucked into pant waist to avoid having ticks cling onto them. If they have them, encourage wearing rubber boots which can prevent bug bites. If needed, use insect spray to repel bugs or citronella in the yard to reduce the number of mosquitoes.

Replace light bulbs in porch lights with bug repelling bulbs. If bugs are particularly thick, encourage your senior to stay in the safety of the screened porch. If the infestation is too great, avoid the area. When working in the yard, be alert to signs of insects like bee hives or spider webs that could put your senior in harm’s way. Ant hills buried in leaves can quickly turn into multiple ant bites that are painful and potentially dangerous. If allergic, have the epipen (epinephrine auto-injector) handy if needed.

Tetanus

Problem: Tetanus lives in the dirt and can be a source of infection for seniors who are unprotected. Digging in the dirt using gardening tools which may cut fragile skin can open seniors to tetanus.

Prevention: If digging in the dirt is your senior’s favorite activity, be sure they are up to date on their tetanus booster shot. Discuss with your senior’s doctor when they are due for a booster to be sure they are covered.

Enjoying the Beauty of Nature

Everyone loves fresh air, sunshine, flowers, birds and even rain clouds! Being outside in nature makes our spirits sing.

Most of our seniors grew up outside. They played outside all day long and even worked outdoors, so for them being out of the house is in their blood. It may be hard to keep them from wandering outside – ready or not!

It is important for caregivers to be proactive, to be sure their seniors are protected. We don’t want them to get injured either by bugs, germs or falling while trying to commune with nature.

We do want them to enjoy the sensory experience that nature and being outdoors can provide them. If they are unable to work the garden or take a walk, you can bring that experience to them in the cover of a shaded porch. Bring them pots to plant and items from nature to touch and smell. It will not only stimulate their senses and their memories but will certainly bring a smile to their faces (and yours too!).

Make time to enjoy the magic of the outdoors with your senior loved ones!

Advance Directives: Healthcare Proxy Selection and Responsibilities

The National Healthcare Decision Day campaign and others encouraging us, including our senior loved ones, to make our decisions known has resulted in many of us executing these documents.

It is estimated there has been an increase of 25% in completion rates for advance directives.

We’re encouraged by that progress!

The more we learn about advance directives and become comfortable talking about them, the more likely it is that we will complete them.

It is important for us to put in writing what we envision to be our end of life and who we want to express our end of life wishes and advocate for us if we are unable to do so.

Our healthcare proxy is an important person in this process.

A Pew Research Study found that only 29% of the population has completed advance directives, sometimes called DNRs, but 70% of older adults have done so. One study found that durable powers of attorney for healthcare were more often completed than living wills.

When we put our decisions or wishes into documents, we are expecting that our wishes will be carried out accordingly.

What happens if that is not the case because there was some kink in the works or a loophole that goes unfilled?

Who Should Be Your HealthCare Proxy?

Your senior loved one’s healthcare proxy or healthcare power of attorney is the person who will advocate for him when he is medically unable to advocate for himself.

When deciding on the best person to be your senior’s healthcare proxy, it is important to consider someone who is willing and able to direct the healthcare team to ensure that their directives are indeed carried out as they wish.

The person could be someone in your senior’s immediate family such as a spouse or child. In the absence of that person, you can empower anyone with this responsibility.

This person will speak for your senior when she cannot, therefore should be someone the senior trusts who knows their mindset about how care should be provided either in an emergency situation or at the end of life.

Advance Directives Legal Documents

When you or your senior create advance directives, including naming a healthcare proxy, it is important to fill out the appropriate document. Each state has a different form and requirements for these legal documents.

You and your senior can complete the forms together or seek help from an elder law attorney specializing in these forms in your state.

Your senior must be considered of sound mind when creating these directives. That is why we encourage them to complete legal documents while they are still clearly legally able to state their wishes and designate a power of attorney for their healthcare decisions.

Be aware that if your senior has not completed advance directives and therefore no one is legally able to advocate for their wishes, the state may step in and make decisions on their behalf that are not consistent with what they would want done.

The right to make decisions for your senior if no one was designated starts with spouse, child older than 18, parent, and sibling older than 18 according to the state’s default surrogate consent statutes.

Designated Next of Kin

If your senior loved one has not designated someone able to carry out their wishes as a healthcare proxy, only immediate family will be able to make decisions for them under the law in most states.

If your senior recognizes someone as the next of kin who is not an immediate family member and has not named them in a living will or other advance directive, that person likely won’t be able to legally direct care consistent with those wishes.

A new study found that one out of ten veterans surveyed picked someone other than family to be their next of kin.

The concern over this new trend is that it could delay medical treatment, leading to poor outcomes for some seniors.

If there is confusion about who can legally make the crucial decisions needed, it could easily delay care. Also, in the absence of a DNR order or other advance directives, a legal next of kin could be asked to make decisions for a person about whom they know little or with whom they have not even interacted for some time.

They may not be involved in or knowledgeable about which decisions the senior would desire.

Who were unrelated next of kin chosen to be healthcare powers of attorney? Many of those surveyed picked a close friend, an unmarried partner, an ex-spouse or a distant relative.

It seems to be a byproduct of a more mobile family dynamic, where we aren’t living in close proximity to our immediate family members.

This raises a question whether the statutes should be modified to take into consideration a more diverse ‘family’ situation. Before that happens, however, we all should be creating our own advance directives and naming the person we feel is the best fit so that a surrogate is not needed. This will reduce confusion about who should make decisions in an emergency and insure that only the person who knows your desires best to make decisions for you.

Decisions a Healthcare Proxy May Be Asked to Make

It might be of interest to those of us who may need to select a healthcare proxy to understand what they might be asked to do so that we can make an informed choice about who to pick.

In the event of a medical emergency, when your senior is unable to express his or her own wishes or decide for himself or herself what should occur, the designated healthcare power of attorney will decide some of the following medical or health related questions:

  • What treatment you should or should not receive including artificial nutrition or chemotherapy
  • Whether life support or heroic measures should be taken or stopped
  • When to give or not give pain medications
  • To which facility you will be transferred
  • Whether or not surgery or other procedures will be performed
  • Should you be resuscitated?
  • Authorize care by other physicians
  • Apply for Medicare or Medicaid or other insurance benefits on your behalf
  • Right to pursue legal action on your behalf regarding health decisions
  • Approve release of medical records
  • Inform family members of condition

That’s a lot of responsibility to place on a person, which is important to know when one’s proxy is being determined.

A healthcare power of attorney cannot make decisions about issues that are not health related.

A proxy should be aware of your senior’s wishes and medical intent so that they can act with full understanding about your wishes and the potential outcomes of the treatments recommended by the healthcare team. Should they be life sustaining at all costs or within reason based on quality of life concerns?

The healthcare proxy needs to have an honest, open discussion with your senior about these matters so that they can make the best decision when the time comes.

Review Advance Directives Periodically

Just because your senior is completing advance directives now doesn’t mean they can’t be changed later. In fact, it is a good idea to review advance directives from time to time to be sure they are still appropriate as written or if they should be updated due to different circumstances, such as divorce or death — or a change in desired wishes.

Perhaps your senior’s stated proxy is now unable to act on her behalf. Maybe the person chosen as the proxy has decided they no longer wish to be the proxy due to health issues, location or time considerations.

Keeping these documents up to date will be important when an emergency requires their use.

Whether your senior has made an advance directive or not, as long as she is able to speak for herself, she will be the one asked to make decisions.

A healthcare power of attorney will only be asked to step in for you when you are unable or incompetent to make your own healthcare decisions.

It is important to make these documents according to the laws in your senior’s state, pick the most worthy person, educate them about medical wishes, and let everyone know what you have decided.

Keeping the advance directives accessible and all the family informed will make it much easier for everyone involved, including the doctor and emergency personnel, so your senior’s wishes will be followed and they will receive the most appropriate medical care, consistent with their wishes.

Helping Your Senior Understand and Prepare for the Rising Cost of Aging

Let’s face it, getting older is expensive.

More and more of our senior loved ones – and even ourselves – are realizing that aging comes with costs, both expected and unexpected, for which we might not be financially prepared.

A recent report by Genworth Research found that 53% of us have not made any financial plans for our retirement and aging needs.

YIKES!

Four out of ten people surveyed expressed regret over the fact that they are not financially ready for retirement.

Is it too late? What can we do to move toward more financial security for our senior loved ones and ourselves?

Why and What Do You Need To Save

Adults in the survey felt that they would need $1.7 million for retirement. Each person is different and will have different financial needs, but that is a pretty big number.

Unfortunately, many of us don’t take into consideration the amount of money we may need for long term health care. Perhaps we think that Medicare will meet our health needs; however, that does not cover all the costs of healthcare we will have.

What expenses should our senior loved ones anticipate as they age?

  • Housing – Very few of us own our homes outright anymore and the figures point to only 30% owning their homes free and clear. Many seniors have taken out home equity loans, reverse mortgages and second mortgages to help pay bills or other financial needs, including helping their children. These extra expenses will make it difficult in retirement when income is reduced or fixed.
  • Medical Expenses – This includes supplemental or long term care insurance payments, co-payments, out-of-pocket expenses, medications and equipment needs. Falling into the doughnut hole can cost a fair amount, though this is supposed to be better controlled under the Affordable Care Act. Dentures, hearing aids and eyeglasses typically aren’t covered by Medicare and will need to be planned into the budget so that they will be available to prevent isolation, malnutrition or depression (not being able to see or hear affects mood and inability to chew their food can lead to health decline).
  • Home Modifications – Changes to their home so that your senior can safely age in place are often not taken into consideration. There may be quick fixes that cost only a small amount of money or there may be large costs required, for wider doorways or ramp installations for example. What about the yearly property taxes on the home in which they wish to live for the years to come? Will they be covered?
  • In-home Medical Care – Many will need help if they want to stay at home when when functional status begins to decline. Getting help performing activities of daily living such as bathing should be planned because it may be more essential than you imagine. Custodial care is not covered under Medicare.
  • Assistance Around the House – There should also be a plan for funding people to help your senior with things like housework, laundry, cooking, delivered meals or other services that support their ability to live at home.
  • Entertainment – Expenses covered such as a movie ticket, getting a haircut or perm, having the newspaper delivered, or getting cable TV? Will they have spending money to buy gifts for grandkids or donate to the church?
  • Senior Living Facility – Financial preparations should be made, even though your senior may not plan – or want – to go there. Your senior may not have a choice if placement is needed. You may not be able to help them or provide twenty four hour care resulting in having to find them alternative living options such as assisted living.
  • Transportation – Costs such as a car, insurance, taxes and vehicle maintenance. Will a new car be needed in the years to come? How about the cost of gas? What if they get into an accident?
  • Home Maintenance – Expense such as home repair, roofing, heating, plumbing and yard work can add up if the home in which your senior lives is older and needs upgrades or repairs. If the heating or air conditioning unit needs to be replaced, will there be adequate funds for that? The mechanical systems of an older home are vulnerable for repair which could be a costly investment in the future.
  • Pre-arranged Burial Needs – While probably not the most enjoyable to consider, these should also be part of a financial plan for aging. No matter what your senior desires be done after they pass, such as where they will be interred and the cost of a funeral, should be planned now.
  • Regular Monthly Bills – This includes items such as utilities like electric, gas, propane, water, sewer, mobile service, and other monthly costs.

Everyone should make a list of the items they anticipate so covering them is part of the financial plan.

Tips for You and Your Senior to Get Retirement Ready

There are some plans that you and your senior can get together now to better prepare for retirement. Here are a few suggestions of things to do.

  1. Set a realistic goal for the amount of money your senior will need in retirement. There are calculators that can help you determine an amount. There is also a replacement formula that can help determine the amount of income needed when they no longer get a paycheck. Many like to use a rule of thumb, to secure 70% of your prior income level for costs of retirement, and then work backward to decide where they stand. It is realized today, though, that needs and calculations are more personal and may not fit a cookie cutter guide. To help them plan for the future, your senior can check their projected income from social security at their website, ssa.gov.
  2. Prepare a will and execute advance directives if your senior has not already done so. Both your senior and you should do this. Caregivers should be sure this is done in case they are unable to continue caregiving.
  3. Consider meeting with a financial planner or elder law attorney, who can give you guidance about retirement planning. They can help determine if enough is being done to prepare financially for retirement or if more financial arrangements are needed and help with plans for success. Perhaps setting up a trust would be beneficial for your senior.
  4. Make a budget now to be able to pay off outstanding bills and reduce spending so that more saving can occur. Help your senior get their finances in order before they bail out the kids or grandkids who, unlike your senior, have time to regain their losses.
  5. Consolidate any outstanding loans to reduce outstanding bills, such as second mortgages, etc. Will it help to pursue refinancing, reverse mortgage or other solutions? Can they pay off mortgage or home equity loans now, should they?
  6. Does your senior have a life insurance policy that can be leveraged?
  7. Is it too late for long term care insurance?
  8. Would it be financially productive to downsize the home now or move to a facility where care needs can best be met?
  9. Is your senior receiving all the benefits to which they are entitled? If not, it is time to pursue benefits via BenefitsCheckup.org.
  10. Roll all your seniors 401K accounts into one, don’t have accounts spread around potentially being forgotten or charged fees that can be avoided.

Depending on your senior’s financial situation, spending habits, and goals for retirement, these suggestions and more can help them be financially ready no matter what the future brings!

When you’ve helped them prepare, don’t forget to do the same for yourself!

8 Actions We Can Take to Better Protect Brain Health at All Ages

Keeping our brains sharp requires a bit of effort on our part. Effort with a payback!

Here at Senior Care Corner we often talk about brain health because it is such an important topic to our senior loved ones and thus to us as family caregivers.

It’s also one area where personal actions can impact the outcomes we and our seniors experience.

Unfortunately, knowing what you and your senior should be doing to keep your brains sharp and actually doing it are not the same thing.

It’s a lot (maybe too much) like losing weight — we know what it would take but don’t seem to get to it!

Exercising Positive Influence

Because our brain health is in our control, at least to some degree, we and our senior loved ones can continue to look for proven ways to not only understand how important our actions and lifestyle choices are to improving our health but also translating that knowledge into action.

As a result, we want to help you by providing tips, things you and your senior loved one can do every day to make a positive impact on your brain health.

Family caregivers can improve their own well-being but also help their seniors strengthen their brains when they incorporate some of the suggestions into the daily routine.

It is never too late — or too early — to train your brain and help it be healthy!

Tips to Train Your Brain

There is a great amount of research completed and in progress looking at ways to keep our brains healthy and prevent them from deteriorating. What they have found so far is that there are specific things you and your senior loved ones can do to make an impact on your brain health.

Some are easier than you might think and others are just plain fun!

(1) Music

There is so much research and subsequently programs utilizing music to stimulate cognition that it has been called medicine for your mind. Listening to music, or better yet playing a musical instrument, can stimulate your brain. Because your brain has to compute the notes coming one right after the other, there is an “exercise” process to enjoying music.

Researchers suggest not to get too comfortable with the music you love, but challenge your brain with new music and genres of music too. Your old favorites will help you reminisce bringing back memories you have connected with a particular tune.

(2) Engagement

You and your senior need to give your brain a workout and keep it active so that it can be at the top of its game. Many neurologists and researchers have begun to stress the fact that the best way to keep your brain strong is by challenging it every day.

It is great fun to be the best crossword puzzler in the country, but a new activity that challenges your brain through learning and firing up new circuits is better for your brain. Many recommend learning a foreign language, learning to play a musical instrument or learning a new skill.

Playing brain games will help but try different games to challenge your brain. Stay engaged every day to keep your brain strong. You could also participate in art and craft projects.

(3) Physical Fitness

Having a healthy fit body will give you and your senior a healthy brain too. Researchers found that 20 minutes of physical exercise can improve memory and brain function.

Aerobic exercise such as walking, jogging, bicycling, dancing, swimming, etc. increases the amount of oxygen and nourishing hormones circulating in your blood entering your brain that lead to improved brain health. It helps cell growth and nerve connections to strengthen your brain.

(4) Heart Health

Research has shown that living a heart healthy lifestyle will also help your brain, what is good for the heart is also good for the brain.

A heart healthy lifestyle includes physical activity, healthy diet, no smoking, managing blood pressure, and keeping a healthy weight. All these factors contribute to improved heart health and also brain health.

There has been shown to be reduced incidence of dementia, memory loss and cognitive problems when someone incorporates all aspects of a heart healthy lifestyle into their day.

(5) Immune system

Once thought to be insulated from the brain by the blood brain barrier, it now looks like the immune system not only heals the brain after injury but keeps it functioning properly. Researchers think that negative changes in immune function over time might contribute to changes in brain function as well, not for the better, since they are thought to be more closely linked than was previously supposed.

(6) Life Long Learning

There are centers in many communities devoted to helping seniors participate in lifelong learning. It could be something your senior loved one always wanted to learn, like crocheting, or it could be something new like navigating Facebook.

One such center is the Bernard Osher Foundation Lifelong Learning Institute for those over 50. They are located across the country, often affiliated with colleges and universities. They allow those 65 and over to audit free uncredited courses, which opens up a variety of new knowledge to seniors.

(7) Sleep

The more researchers learn, the more information they make available that stresses the importance to us and our seniors of a good night’s sleep.

It has been recommended that we all get at least 6-7 hours of sleep every night. Altered sleep can create memory loss. During sleep your brain works overtime to repair the events of the day.

(8) Socialization

You and your senior loved one both need friends and social interactions to keep dementia and other cognitive changes at bay. Although researchers are not yet clear what exactly takes place in the brain during socialization or when socialization ceases, they do know that being socially engaged is a key factor in preventing cognitive decline.

How can you and your senior stay engaged socially? Communicating with friends and family instead of isolating ourselves, attending church, talking on the phone or interacting online, attending community events, volunteering, going to the senior center, traveling, finding a book club and connecting every day.

Researchers state that it is not just the number of connections you make but the depth of the connection.

Overall Health Important Too

In addition to these lifestyle options, we also know the importance of eating right. You and your senior need to eat a healthy diet that is low in fat and rich in nutrients for our brains and the rest of our bodies. You and your senior also need to get enough water to drink each day to stay well hydrated. This will allow your cells to function at their peak.

You and your senior also should take steps to manage overall health. If parts of us are unwell, so will our brains be unwell. If you or your senior have problems with blood sugar control, you need to manage it and reduce your blood sugar levels to prevent damage to the blood vessels in your brain that can lead to a loss of cognition.

Another area that should garner some attention is our stress level. If you and your senior feel stressed, it will be better for your brains to deal with it so that the physical effects are not harming your brains. No one has no stress but some of us and our seniors feel a great deal of stress that is not good for us.

By focusing attention on what you and your senior choose to do every day – eating, drinking, moving and socializing, you both can help your brains stay strong together!

House Cleaning: Exercise Benefiting Seniors’ Physical and Mental Health

Those who’ve done housework know it can be strenuous and feel like a real workout. Now experts are saying it really is good exercise for our senior loved ones.

We always hear we have to get moving, we need to keep active and physical fitness is good for the body and the mind.

It really is true!

We need to get and keep moving, doing activities that we enjoy, so that we will stay motivated to keep on doing it.

That is true for our senior loved ones as well. No matter their age, staying physically active is the best medicine.

It doesn’t have to be running marathons, hiking the Appalachian Trail or any such strenuous activity. It could be as routine as doing the household chores every day!

Researchers Found House Cleaning Was Good Exercise

A study conducted by a researcher at the Chase Western Reserve University Nursing School found that household chores completed by seniors kept them up and moving.

In addition to the physical exercise attained through common household tasks, seniors found that completing these tasks every day gave them a sense of purpose and accomplishment, thus contributing to both physical and mental health.

Participants were aged 65 to 94 years and had at least one chronic disease, received Medicare/Medicaid, needed assistance with at least one activity of daily living and unable to manage medication dosing, transportation or finances.

According to the researcher “the study shows how important it is for sedentary older adults with disabilities and chronic illnesses to continue physical activities, such as doing reaching exercises while sitting, arm curls and standing up and sitting down in a chair.”

Household cleaning chores were shown to provide great opportunity to be active physically and mentally.

Physical Activity Comes In Many Forms

This study underscores the fact that physical activity in any form can bring our senior loved ones great benefits both physically and emotionally.

Having a sense of purpose when getting active just adds to the bounty for seniors and really all of us.

Here are some ideas for our seniors to be physically active while feeling a sense of accomplishment.

Gardening

I love both my flower and vegetable garden. It can be physically strenuous to keep it looking the way I want it to with each new season, but the work brings rewards in its beauty or food for the table. Your senior can do weeding, raking leaves, pruning, planting or planning the garden.

Shopping for new flowers in the spring and harvesting the vegetables from the garden in the summer bring a huge sense of pride and joy! If your senior doesn’t have a yard anymore, they can still plant a window garden with fresh herbs or a patio garden with containers of any plants they choose.

Walking in other people’s gardens or taking a trip to the botanical garden near you is another great way to get physically active while connecting to the earth. Another great activity is to go berry picking or apple picking at a local grower.

Your senior will surely enjoy the exercise, fruits of their labors but also reminiscing about their experience with picking or growing fruits, canning jelly or eating grandma’s canned fruits.

Washing the car

If your senior still has a car or using your car, get them washing it — at least where not limited by water restrictions.

Dragging in the hose, soaping up the vehicle, rinsing off the suds, scrubbing the tires and cleaning the windows inside and out is a great way to accomplish a task, having some fun and getting physical.

Let them do it with the grandkids and the fun will definitely grow! They could do that every week, at least in the warmth of the spring and summer days.

Vacuuming and sweeping 

Doing the vacuuming at least every week is a good way to work both the upper and lower body muscles while seniors clean the house. They could sweep the front and back porch and even the driveway or sidewalk to get outside and get busy.

If they have a dog, encourage them to vacuum more often, even if it is not needed, just to stay active.

Wash and wax the floor

The same idea as vacuuming, washing the kitchen and bathroom floors and even waxing any hardwood floors is a wonderful way to expend some calories and strengthen muscles.

Wash windows

We know that our windows get dusty, smudged with fingerprints or oily from cooking and need to get them cleaned so that we can keep our clear view of the world.

Washing the inside of the windows that are within reach once a month (certainly as long as it is safe for your senior to do) is a satisfying activity that can work muscles.

Walk the dog

Easy to do and fun because your senior can interact with the neighbors on their walk.

It doesn’t have to be long but just enough to get moving every day weather permitting. Even twice a day would be healthy for both the dog and your senior.

Laundry

Collecting dirty clothes, changing sheets, and carrying wet towels to the washer and dryer is physical work with a payday.

If your senior still enjoys hanging laundry on a line in the sun to dry, they will get even more of a workout. Folding laundry and putting it all away when it is done keeps the physical activity going until the job is done.

Serving a meal

Planning, shopping, storing, washing, chopping, cooking, serving, eating and cleaning it all up once your senior is done whether it is for one or several people involves a lot of energy expenditure. Getting a meal on the table involves a great deal of physical energy.

Remember walking and standing is involved in this activity too as well as carrying, bending, and lifting.

Necessary Precautions for Seniors

It goes without saying – but we will say it anyway – only allow your senior loved one to do the activity that is safe for them and that they have the ability to complete without injury.

Any of the above household chores can be modified according to the abilities of your senior. They can be seated while cooking, use the table for folding laundry, carry small loads of laundry, and take their time to complete the activity.

Helping others complete these tasks doesn’t take away from the achievement for your senior loved one.

Physical movement is important to stay healthy, maintain balance to prevent falls, and gain a sense of purpose in life but it needs to be done safely.

Staying active throughout life, not stopping just because we are aging, is definitely a choice we make. If we don’t stay active and keep our bodies and minds strong, we will lose the ability to be mobile, independent and live life fully no matter our age or chronic condition.

I have the choice of being constantly active and happy

or introspectively passive and sad.

~~Sylvia Plath

An Evil Twin Can Mean Identity Theft When Connecting to Public WiFi

Our portable connected devices – that’s our smartphones, tablets and laptops – let us stay connected to our world virtually any where we go.

Of course, when we’re away from the comforts and speed of our home broadband connections, or maybe don’t have one, we have to find another connection that will link us to the web.

I have come to prefer using my cellular data connection for web access, often creating a “personal hotspot” with my smartphone or tablet, but realize many rely on public WiFi.

You can walk into any coffee shop, fast food outlet or even automobile service shop and see signs indicating how to connect to their WiFi and often several patrons taking them up on the invitation.

Hey, the convenience can’t be beat. Unfortunately, it also makes it convenient for hackers to trick you into giving them access to some of your most sensitive information.

Senior Care Corner® has long been encouraging family caregivers to help senior loved ones get active online for the benefits the web has to offer. With that comes a responsibility to help seniors feel safe and secure in doing so or they may turn their backs on technology that can add much to their lives.

Free Public WiFi Can Be Expensive

It wasn’t long ago that a dining or retail establishment or even an airport or hotel offering free Wifi stood out. Now it’s the ones who don’t offer WiFi or, seemingly worse, charge for the service, that stand out.

Yes, we have come to view the convenience of being able to connect to the web whenever and wherever we want as a necessity — not unlike being able to flip a light switch and see the room light up.

Not having to pay for WiFi doesn’t necessarily mean it’s totally free to us, though.

We’ve long been told of the dangers associated with connecting to unsecured public WiFi signals, that we should assume someone is “listening” and avoid entering passwords or other sensitive information.

Criminals have found another way to reach into our devices at those free WiFi locations, unfortunately.

Now we can’t — or at least shouldn’t — assume we are actually logging into the the WiFi service our host is making available for our use.

TV Depiction of Twins That Are Truly Evil

As a fan of the original CSI series on TV and a lover of technology, I was guaranteed to watch CSI: Cyber when the series debuted not long ago. While both entertaining and thought-provoking, the series can really get into the head of those – such as some of our senior loved ones – who are already worried about the dangers associated with using technology and venturing onto the web.

A recent episode highlighted some of the worst that using public WiFi has to offer, including the potential to log into an “Evil Twin” signal that, in the show at least, could result in enough mischief to get someone wrongly accused of murder.

When I see a show like that, I wonder if many viewers see the technology stunts as possible or more of something out of science fiction.

How many seniors who are new to technology (or not even using it) see shows like that as validating their hesitation about getting involved with tech at all?

I hope family caregivers are there to set them straight!

Getting Sucked in By an Evil Twin

free coffee shop wifiHave you looked for WiFi signals at a favorite eatery or elsewhere and found the establishment’s name plus a number of other signals, some as strong as or stronger than that of the establishment? Some of those might be the WiFi hotspots of neighboring businesses but others are likely the personal hotspots of individuals’ devices.

What’s a personal hotspot? That’s what it’s called when you set up your smartphone or tablet (with cellular data) to allow other devices to access the web using your mobile device’s cellular data signal — and data plan.

It is with personal hotspots that criminals can lure us into trouble. How? When a mobile devices is activated as a personal hotspot, one can designate the name and password used to access the signal. Someone trying to draw in users for nefarious purposes might use the same name as the hotspot for the establishment.

A criminal seeking to mislead WiFi users by masquerading as the establishment’s signal — an evil twin — might locate their device close to targeted users, making the signal stronger for those users than the legitimate WiFi signal.

It’s only natural to expect two signals with the establishment’s name are both there for customers — and just as natural to attach to the stronger signal. That’s the hook the criminal uses.

If you attach to a personal hotspot for your web access, that access is going through the phone or tablet that is the source of the hotspot, meaning all of your web activity goes through that device. It’s not difficult to imagine the potential damage a criminal could do if they get to see our account IDs, passwords, etc., is it?

Protection from Evil Twins

The steps we can take for protection from evil twins — or, more accurately, from the criminals using them — are the same safe surfing advice we hear all the time.

When using public WiFi…

  • Always look for “https” in the address line of a website being visited
  • Don’t access financial, healthcare or other sensitive accounts
  • Avoid entering a password for any account
  • Don’t send an email or make a post to a social network that you wouldn’t want to see shared with the public
  • Resist the urge to open email attachments or click links in emails that you are not 100% certain are what you think they are
  • Use a virtual private network (VPN) to access your workplace network, if it has one
  • “Forget” a public WiFi network when you are through using it by going into your settings so your device doesn’t automatically connect next time you are in range

Remember, it’s not enough to check the name of the WiFi signal, as it may lead to connecting with an evil twin using the same name.

Avoiding Evil Twins and Their Problems

The only 100% safe way to avoid public WiFi problems, including evil twins, is to avoid connecting to it at all.

I realize that’s easier said than done and, for some at least, not possible.

For those who can do it, using cellular data to access the web lets you avoid evil twins altogether and makes using the web away from home more straightforward for those who aren’t the most tech savvy, which may include your senior loved ones.

Data usage can be kept to a minimum by saving the download or streaming of video and other large files for later and keeping video calls, such as those using FaceTime and Skype, short.

Laptops or tablets without cellular modems and data plans can connect using your, or a friend’s, smartphone or tablet with the personal hotspot activated.

This is a safe use of a personal hotspot, as long as you ensure the personal hotspot’s password is strong to avoid that being hacked, too.

Remember, we need to help our senior loved ones, especially those new to mobile technology, feel safe and confident using their devices. There are many life and health benefits they will get from mobile, now and even more so in the future, but only if they use it.

Geriatric Care Manager – Benefits Expertise for Your Senior and You

Have you heard of geriatric care managers?

Do you know what one could do for you and your senior loved one?

Would it be great to have an expert in your corner?

Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed when caring for your senior loved one and wish that you had another set of eyes or hands?

Do you need help managing your senior’s health, getting them needed resources or help them age successfully? Does your family need more education in order to agree on a course of action to meet your senior’s needs?

What family caregiver wouldn’t welcome a bit of help in those areas?

A geriatric care manager may be in your future!

What is a Geriatric Care Manager?

Geriatric Care Managers (GCM) are coordinators, advocates and cheerleaders for the health of your senior loved one in collaboration with family caregivers. They are specialists who help with a senior’s overall health and well-being.

A GCM is a trained professional who is certified by the National Association of Professional GCM (NAPGCM) to help your senior maintain their highest level of functioning and independence.

They are advisors, coaches, and supporters but are not doctors. They don’t diagnose medical conditions but rather help you help your senior manage their treatment plans and access needed resources.

A GCM can help answer your questions and guide you in finding the answers that will meet your senior’s needs. Their guidance is directed toward the senior and helping you navigate healthcare and resources so that you can make an informed decision.

If you are a family caregiver who works outside the home, having a geriatric care manager to help will reduce your stress and focus your efforts by guiding you on a path that can reduce wasted time and effort when seeking solutions.

According to the NAPGCM, a care manager can assist with these various needs:

  1. Housing selection and options
  2. Medical management and adherence to treatment plans
  3. Attending doctor appointments, facilitating communication
  4. Home care
  5. Finances
  6. Social activities
  7. Safety and security
  8. Communicating with family, caregivers and healthcare team members
  9. Legal issues
  10. Connecting to resources such as federal programs or entitlements

A geriatric care manager works together with the family caregivers and senior to establish a care plan and strategies to achieve it as well as updating it as situations warrant.

How Do You Select a Geriatric Care Manager?

Finding a care manager that fits with your family unit is important. A person that connects well with you and your senior, is understanding to your needs and willing to go to bat for you is the one you want.

There are questions you can ask to help you find the right supporter including these:

  • Is there an area of specialty that the geriatric care manager works? Some specialize in specific areas which may or may not meet your needs. Ask if this person works specifically with dementia patients, disabilities, just legal concerns or some other area depending on which area you need.
  • What is their background? Are they a nurse, social worker, mental health therapist, attorneys or some other health professional? This might help you decide if their background meshes with your needs.
  • Do they charge initial consultation fees and what are their fees for each meeting?
  • Ask if they are a certified member (not an associate) of the NAPGCM or if they are licensed in their profession. Will they share their credentials and associations?
  • What hours and days are they available? Are those convenient to you? What if your senior has an emergency during off hours?
  • How best do they communicate – telephone, text messaging, email or do you have to leave voice mails and wait for a response?
  • Do they have references, especially other family members, you can contact?
  • Are there other members who work with the care manager as part of the team? What are their roles?

Asset for Long Distance Caregivers

Family caregivers providing care for senior loved one from long distance can really benefit from having someone nearby their senior loved one.

The geriatric care manager can visit the home or facility and check things out for you. They can hire local people to perform services such as home maintenance or other home care providers for you. They will know who in the community is trustworthy.

In short, a geriatric care manager can be a godsend for the long distance caregiver.

If you want some help locating a aging services in your area through, check out Eldercare Locator.

Realizing that you can’t always do everything yourself, you don’t always know the best place to get help, what help is available, or how to get the respite family caregivers desperately need is an important part of being a successful (and healthy) caregiver.

A geriatric care manager could help you meet not just your senior loved one’s needs but also your own!

Diagnosis Dementia – Should Seniors and Family Caregivers be Told?

A new report by the Alzheimer’s Association has brought some sobering statistics to light.

Statistics that should prompt discussions among seniors, their families — and maybe their doctors.

What would you want for your loved one, family member or yourself if there was medical information to share?

Should the fact that there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease right now mean that it isn’t important to know the diagnosis?

Would you want the doctor to try to protect your senior loved one by not telling them the truth of their diagnosis or tell them details in an unclear way so that they don’t understand the impact of the diagnosis?

Is it acceptable for the healthcare team to make that decision? Do we have a right to know?

Should the doctor be mandated to tell everyone the truth of their diagnosis? What is their ethical or even moral obligation to a patient?

What if your senior was told but couldn’t recall ever being told?

Facts and Figures Report for 2015

There is a new section in the Facts and Figures Report for Alzheimer’s 2015, Disclosing a Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease, that contains an historical look at telling patients the truth about medical diagnosis as well as specifics about the dementia diagnosis.

The very first line in this section states fewer than 50% of those with Alzheimer’s disease were told their diagnosis. This is based on the Alzheimer’s Association’s commissioned study using Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey (MCBS) information from Medicare claims made for those with a diagnosis of dementia.

A question on the claim survey “Has a doctor ever told you that you have Alzheimer’s disease?” was tabulated. It showed that only 45% diagnosed with Alzheimer’s answered that they had been told their diagnosis and even fewer (27%) with other causes of dementia.

When doctors were polled, many reported that they would disclose the diagnosis of dementia to the caregiver (healthcare proxy) not the person themselves. This could be related to the stage at which the disease is diagnosed.

Most organizations dealing with brain health agree that the person involved should be told the diagnosis in a manner that is clear to ensure understanding. The only exception is if the person has already expressed wishes not to be told.

If the person is in later stages, a cognitively intact caregiver should be told so that safety precautions and appropriate care of the person newly diagnosed with dementia can be initiated.

Disclosure of a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias is actually a goal of Healthy People 2020 because being informed is so important.

Another finding in this report was the disclosure was often based on independence versus disability. If the person diagnosed had a disability, they were more likely to have a disclosure of their diagnosis by the doctor. The more impairments in activities of daily living, the greater the percentage of disclosure to the person was made.

This is in contrast to the thinking that the more severe stage of dementia and the potential for loss of memory of the disclosure is the reason doctors don’t disclose or that patients fail to recall the disclosure. The findings show that the more impaired a person, the more likely they will get a full disclosure.

Non-Disclosure Consequences

With a truth telling approach, the thinking is that there is more harm than good that comes when the diagnosis is not fully disclosed.

In the past the fear of losing hope was one reason to withhold a diagnosis but now we realize we are capable of coping.

  • If someone is not told their diagnosis, they would be unable to seek other medical opinions.
  • A person with dementia would not be unable to make necessary plans for their future, including end of life decisions, while still capable of relating them.
  • At times it could be difficult for a physician to properly assess the ability of someone with later stage dementia to understand their diagnosis because for some people with dementia their ability to understand a diagnosis could change as their cognition can change rapidly from hour to hour and day to day.
  • Sometimes it is the caregiver who doesn’t want their loved one to be told about their diagnosis, even if they would themselves want to know if the tables were turned and they were diagnosed. This could lead to a lack of trust between the healthcare team and the family members.
  • It has been found that many patients and their caregivers do not recall the details of a diagnosis, which only underscores the need for clarity in information disclosure and repetition by the healthcare team so that appropriate follow-up care and decision making can be done by the person with dementia and their caregivers.
  • Some people and their caregivers deny the disease diagnosis and use their denial as a coping mechanism which could interfere with getting treatment and strategies initiated or making plans for the future while the person with dementia is still competent to do so.

Reasons for Non-Disclosure of a Dementia Diagnosis

There is no way to accurately pinpoint the number of people who are not told due to memory issues or lack of understanding the information provided to them. However, it is clear too many are not getting the diagnosis they should by the healthcare team.

Reasons why some healthcare providers don’t disclose the diagnosis:

  1. Some report the uncertainty whether patients are truly suffering from dementia or some other cause for their symptoms. Determining the diagnosis can be complex for some doctors.
  2. If a person is sent to a specialist to diagnosis their symptoms, communication back to the primary provider could lead to a lack of disclosure.
  3. Some doctors report a lack of time to not just fully disclose the diagnosis but to describe the disease progression and treatment plan and, as a result, they don’t even initiate the discussion.
  4. Doctors sometimes feel that there are insufficient support resources to offer after a diagnosis, including geriatric care providers and community resources. This is thought to keep them from giving information, since they don’t feel they have much to offer in dealing with the information.
  5. Some doctors feel ill trained to disclose the diagnosis and are unsure if they are providing information in a way that is clear, so have called for more education and training.
  6. It has also been reported that health care providers fear the reaction of the person being told they have dementia.
  7. Sometimes the patients themselves wish not to be told or the caregivers wish the patient not be told. The doctor has to navigate what he or she feels is the best course and will hold the wishes of the person first.
  8. 25% of doctors state that the lack of treatment was a reason they chose not to disclose a diagnosis.
  9. The stigma of the diagnosis especially in certain cultures holds some back from disclosure. Some healthcare providers try to shield their patient from stigma by not telling them they have dementia.

Benefits from Knowing Diagnosis

Despite the fact that many are not getting full disclosure from their healthcare providers or are choosing not to get the information, there are real benefits to knowing as early as possible that you have dementia.

You and your senior loved one can seek treatment, clinical trials, information, strategies for coping with the disease, complete legal documents, make financial plans and make the most of the time together when capable of making lasting memories for the family.

Knowing the diagnosis allows family caregivers to provide care in a way that will make life as pleasant as possible for their senior loved ones.

One person with dementia said:

“People can overprotect you,

which robs you of your independence much quicker.”

Text Messaging – New Way To “Visit” the Doctor and Improve Healthcare

Technology has had a real impact thus far on healthcare and will continue to eventually make great improvement in the services our senior loved ones receive.

Leading, hopefully, to better senior health.

We are able to use technology to see their – and our – medical reports, store health history and be more closely involved in their medical data than ever before.

One recent research study by Accenture stated that even more of us want to connect with our healthcare team via the latest technology, including virtual office visits, email connectivity and remote vital sign monitoring.

Accenture reports that 46% of seniors over 65 want to access their health records via a mobile app, 42% would like to see their doctor virtually, 68% want to refill prescriptions electronically and 14% would like to schedule appointments electronically.

In a conclusion that may surprise many family caregivers, current and future seniors are willing to wear medical devices that capture a variety of health information and are looking for even more updated devices to “sense” our every move so that we can stay in control of our health.

What if our senior loved ones and their healthcare teams could connect in a more timely manner using smartphones?

Text Messaging in Healthcare

Mobile text messaging has been finding many healthcare applications lately, applications designed to improve our health and help us change our behaviors to achieve health.

The overall goal of using mobile health especially for those that are harder to reach in person is to improve our outcomes and success when making changes to improve our health.

Areas where text messaging between healthcare providers and consumers like your senior loved one are being used currently:

  • diabetes self-management
  • weight loss
  • physical activity
  • smoking cessation
  • medication adherence for antiretroviral therapy and other medications

Benefits of Healthcare Texting for Seniors

Seniors (and us too) who use text messaging to make changes that benefit their health can gain many benefits and this has been shown with research.

More studies on the efficacy of mobile health will be forthcoming as the health industry looks for solutions to prevent chronic disease as we age and increase the ability to reach all consumers using technology.

  1. It has been shown that those who use mobile health are more compliant with their treatment plan.
  2. We take our blood sugar more regularly and are able to report the results in real time so that medication regimens can be adjusted and hospitalizations decreased.
  3. Tighter blood sugar control results in improved Hemoglobin A1C levels.
  4. Medication management can reduce medication (skipping or dosing) errors.
  5. Attendance to scheduled appointments, classes, support groups and procedures can be improved with text reminders.
  6. Improved immunization compliance via alerts and scheduling.
  7. Smoking cessation reminders, tips and alerts improves success and accountability.
  8. Emergency preparedness messages for those who are vulnerable providing information about shelters, evacuations, and transportation before an event and help after an event.
  9. Reporting vital signs and real time health information to and from the medical team.
  10. Lab test information can be reported without delay.
  11. Reminders and encouragement using information sent based on individual needs to get physically active, manage diet prescriptions, control portion sizes, limit salt intake or other treatment/lifestyle change needs.

One definite benefit of texting is that is can be a two way communication between parties that can provide information, answers, and solutions in a timely way that can prevent a health crisis for many seniors.

Because it can be interactive, seniors can learn by using quizzes, puzzles and games that keep them involved in improving their own health behaviors.

Requirements for Mobile Health

Seniors who wish to be included in the wave of those who are accessing healthcare providers through the use of text messaging need to get ready.

  • The first thing they need is to have smartphones, a tech tool that can bring many other benefits. Sounds like that would be evident but the recent research by Pew Institute, seniors have been slow to adopt the use of smartphones. They estimate that 23% do not use cell phones and only 27% actually own a smartphone. More affluent and higher educated seniors are the earliest adopters of technology. However, two in five seniors report that they have a physical or medical condition that keeps them from using the internet or tech device.
  • Seniors have to understand the benefits that can be attained when they connect with technology. Pew reports that 35% of non-internet using seniors feel that they are not missing anything.
  • Many seniors feel uncomfortable with technology and report that they need help to use devices, including smartphones, and only 18% reported being comfortable with smartphones and 77% stated they needed others to walk them through using devices.
  • Some seniors may need help more than once as they could forget the directions or don’t use a smartphone often enough for it to become ingrained. Once seniors become true users, 71% go online every day. Getting setup and comfortable with the technology devices that could help them make significant health improvements has been shown to have lasting effects.
  • To use with a healthcare provider, systems will need to be HIPPA compliant and secure. When specific medical data is transmitted, the provider will need to have a secure system.
  • Our seniors may need education and improved health literacy to understand some of the information being shared, as there are practical limitations when sending text messages. When alerts and information are shared, information may be shortened in such a way that our seniors may not readily understand its meaning.

Many More Tech Benefits for Seniors’ Health Coming

Technology continues to advance and the applications for our seniors’ health (and ours as well) will only continue to emerge and grow.

It is our role as a caregiver to seek out those advances that will benefit our senior the most and encourage our healthcare providers to adopt these programs.

Many providers and insurance organizations such as Medicare and others have begun to see the value in using technology to prevent and manage chronic diseases.

Helping our seniors be poised to take advantage of these innovations will help them and you in the coming years.

We would love to hear your experiences with technology and how it helps your senior interact with their healthcare team and improve their treatment and lifestyle behaviors for better health.