Fitness Trackers and Health Wearables – Good Fit For Your Senior?

Does a senior you know and love use a fitness tracking device?

If not, do they want to try one or is someone urging them to adopt one to get valuable medical data?

Seniors are being spotted every day using one brand or another of wearable device. You can see them at the store, beauty salon or church sporting the devices.

Recently I spoke with a senior who just started wearing a fitness band as part of her doctor’s treatment plan. She told me how she was using it and learning about the app in a health class.

She wasn’t comfortable with the app or how to input or extract the information she knew it held. She described how her medical team was tracking her biometrics to help her improve her health and lifestyle.

What Fitness Trackers Can Track

Most fitness trackers will be able to monitor how active your senior is by counting their steps. Knowing this information will help decide if more activity is needed to meet recommended guidelines for movement.

They also can tell how well your senior is sleeping by tracking the amount of time they were sleeping, how many times they got up in the night or even the depth of sleep. Was their time in bed spent in restful sleep so that they can stay well and be active during the day?

Your senior can track what they are eating by inputting data. Entering what, how much and when will tell them if they met or exceeded their calorie goal for the day.

When your senior begins using a fitness tracker they will have to tell it how tall they are, how much they weigh, their age and gender, and some other personal data. This information is then used to establish goals for activity and calorie needs.

Some allow your senior to enter how much water they drink and if they met the target ounces by the end of the day.

There are personal body managers coming to market soon that will do more automatic calculations and won’t require so much data input. They are in development and need more time before they might be good for seniors.

What Seniors Can Do With the Data

One of the best aspects of getting your senior loved one to use a fitness wearable is the ability it provides to learn how well, or unwell, they are doing.

Some doctors are giving seniors a fitness wearable and tracking their results as part of the plan of care. It gives the doctor data and allows them to target interventions based on the data. Many are getting improved adherence to weight loss efforts, medication management and disease management.

What areas of their life could use improvement?

Once they begin making changes such as increasing activity, how well are they getting to their goals? Do they need more exercise, more water or better sleep?

What interventions are needed for them to achieve better results? Do they need a new mattress or a dance class?

Another great result of a fitness band is the motivation to be healthier. It makes the wearer competitive about doing better tomorrow or even better than someone else they know using one if they share results. This can become a game they enjoy that results in fitness!

Learning your senior’s health and fitness biometrics will allow you and them to continue to improve their lifestyle.

Most all fitness trackers have wireless apps that house the data dashboard. Your senior will need to have computer, tablet or smartphone access and be able to sync the device in order to obtain their biometric data. For some seniors, this could be a deal breaker without your help.

More Health Related Wearables

Many seniors aren’t looking for pedometers (step counter) but would prefer to have a heart rate monitor, blood pressure reading or blood sugar tester that they can wear to easily give them the health data they need.

This type of information would allow them to adjust medications, prevent hospitalizations and focus their treatment plans for improved health and disease management.

Those devices are also available.

There are all types of monitors in use today measuring a variety of medical data, including weight changes, cardiac activity, fall detection, medication reminders and oxygen levels.

The best part of some of these devices is that it can send this data right to the doctor so that the treatment plan can be updated in a timely way and hopefully prevent hospitalizations.

There are also wearables designed for seniors that will track them throughout the day. They will then alert caregivers when something is amiss or an established pattern is altered. It can tell when they aren’t doing something, like cooking dinner, as they normally do or if they are doing something repetitively.

One device works in concert with sensors in the home monitoring movement. This allows it to form patterns and then changes to the pattern become caregiver alerts.

Is It Pretty?

Seniors are concerned about the latest wave of wearables and many might be refusing them for fear of loss of privacy or even lack of security for their health data.

Many are also refusing to try them because they are not attractive. Devices need to have personality, color and above all be comfortable for our seniors to want to use them.

They also need to be able to get the data and make sense of it. They more than likely will need someone to guide them in translating the health data into an action plan. Family caregivers can help them do this in collaboration with their healthcare team.

The data is becoming more valuable to the safety and health of seniors and the peace of mind for caregivers. The devices are becoming more user friendly and functional as the technology is improved.

There will be many more senior-friendly wearables coming soon that can meet a need for your senior. We will keep you updated on what is coming and if it can help meet your senior’s needs.

These are another example of technology that will help our senior loved ones stay healthier, happier and safer living in the home of their choice.

Grieving Family Caregivers Benefit From Bereavement Services

Family caregivers who care lovingly for senior loved ones will eventually face their end of life.

They will enter into a period of grief which will take time to process and heal.

We will never forget those that we lose but instead remember their influences and impact on our own lives. Our senior loved ones have shaped us in one way or another.

As we cared for our loved ones, we had the opportunity to form an even stronger bond with them. Unfortunately this often makes their loss more difficult to accept.

One way our healing can be supported is through bereavement counseling.

What is Bereavement?

Bereavement is the term used to describe the period of grief and mourning after a death. A bereaved person has suffered a loss. The time following a loss when we are adjusting to our loss is referred to as bereavement. Grief describes the physical and emotional aspects of bereavement.

Many people experience their grief in different ways including mental, physical, emotional and even social with emotions that run the gamut of sadness, anger, despair and even guilt.

Grief can take on physical symptoms for many such as loss of appetite and difficulty sleeping.

Each person experiences grief and bereavement in a different way and in a different time.

Bereavement Steps Toward Healing

Even though each person takes their own time to cope with the loss of a loved one, the process of bereavement generally undergoes a progression of steps. Each person can go through the steps consecutively, experience more than one at a time or experience them in no particular order.

How we each handle our loss is going to be dependent on the circumstances around the loss. Was it expected, sudden, seen as a relief from suffering or as a result of violence?

  1. Acceptance – we will come to terms with the fact that we indeed did lose a loved one, someone we cared about and for whom we cared over our lifetime. Even when we anticipate their passing, we are never fully prepared emotionally for their loss. We need time to grasp the fact that they won’t be there when we call, they won’t be sitting in their favorite chair or need you to cook their dinner. Acceptance is a necessary step to fully grieve.
  2. Experience the pain – you need to give yourself permission to feel the loss, grieve for your loved one. This pain could take many forms and your experience will be different than others. When you don’t allow yourself the physical and mental grief experience, it will be hard for you to process it fully and move on with your own life. Your emotions must be released, how you do that depends on you.
  3. Adjust to a life without your loved one – if you were the daily caregiver, your day to day life and tasks will change. How will you adapt to the change? You will need to fill your time with other activities. In the beginning it may be cleaning out their clothes or other possessions and eventually you will need to focus on new activities for yourself. Perhaps seeing friends, volunteering, learning something new or getting a job. Things that will fulfill you, filling the gap left behind by your loved one will help you heal.
  4. Transfer the energy of grieving into new things, your new life – you will never forget your loved one but each day will come and you will participate in new things. You will have found a way to cope with your emotions and have begun to live your life again. This is not a bad thing or one to avoid. Your loved one would want you to remember them but move on and live your life.

Bereavement Programs

It is important to seek help when you are having difficulty coping with your bereavement. If you are having difficulty after the death of a loved one, seek out the guidance and support of a bereavement counselor.

Bereavement counselling can help you find ways to cope with your loss and offer you support as you heal.

A bereavement counselor will help you express your emotions and acknowledge the loss of a loved one so that you can move forward toward acceptance.

It is important to realize that we don’t actually recover from a death because that person has changed us but instead heal.

We shouldn’t expect to be the same as we were before the death but instead changed from the experience. We don’t forget the person because we are healed but actually find ways to remember them and honor them as we continue with our lives healed from the pain of their loss.

Bereavement Counselors Can Help

A counselor can help you resolve any conflicts surrounding your loved one or their passing.

Some people may experience depression after losing someone they spent so much time caring for and it can be expressed in your actions, personal care and thoughts including suicidal ideations.

A bereavement counselor can help you deal with depression or thoughts of suicide following a loss.

Despite the time you might need to fully process your loved one’s loss, a counselor can help you heal and begin to function more normally, moving on with your life while preserving their memory.

Because there is no one cookie cutter way to mourn a loved one, how you handle your grieving process will be different than everyone else so a bereavement counselor working with you individually will help you on your personal healing journey.

End of Life Care and Bereavement

When your senior loved one has opted to participate in either palliative or hospice care at the end of life, or this is their wish that you have honored on their behalf, bereavement is part of the treatment plan for you and other family members.

Hospice programs generally provide bereavement counseling to help you locate resources and find your way to healing for approximately one year after your loved one’s death. Each hospice provider is different but all provide bereavement services.

Many people who are involved with hospice care agree that comfort care for the person at the end of life is not the only focus, but caring for the family in after care with bereavement is an important part of the program too.

Many people who face the loss of a loved one know that there are many people to support them through their bereavement and grieving process including family members, friends, clergy, hospice program personnel, grief counselors, healthcare professionals and many others.

There are many who will be in your corner supporting you as you heal.

“Only people who are capable of loving strongly can also suffer great sorrow, but this same necessity of loving serves to counteract their grief and heals them.”

― Leo Tolstoy

Choosing the Right Nursing Home – Family Caregiver Advocate on the Senior Care Corner® Show

Choosing the right nursing home to be the next home for a senior loved one is a stressful process for family caregivers.

Not only is the whole concept — that the senior’s needs are greater than can be met at home — often difficult for everyone to accept, but how does one decide which senior living facility will be best?

Making a plan and following the right process, both before and after a nursing home move, can help ensure the decision is the right one for the senior loved one and the rest of the family.

In this episode of the Senior Care Corner Show, we bring you insights and tips from an advocate who has helped many family caregivers through that process.

Interview with Family Caregiver Advocate

In the feature segment of this episode of the Senior Care Corner® Show, Kathy interviews Joanna Leefer, Senior Care Adviser and Advocate who authored Almost Like Home: A Family Guide to Navigating the Nursing Home Maze. 

Joanna Leefer Senior Care Advisor and AdvocateJoanna was motivated by her own experience as a family caregiver to become an advocate for others. She now helps family members navigate the maze of options to find the best care for senior loved ones in the right location for the senior and family.

In her conversation with Kathy, Joanna talks about steps family caregivers can take when it’s time to find a nursing home and considerations that can help ensure they choose the right one.

For those who want to reach out to Joanna for more information or to engage her services, we provide a link to her website below.

News Items

  • Americans Want Online Access To Doctors, Health Records: Survey
  • Muscle Strength Fades After Just 2 Weeks of Inactivity: Study

Links in this Episode

Help Us Help You

We hope you find this episode of the Senior Care Corner® Show to be informative and useful in your role as family caregiver.

We will be producing additional expert interviews for the show and would to know which topics you would find helpful in providing you the information you need.

Please leave us your thoughts in a comment to this article, an email from our Contact page or a message on our Facebook page.

Transcript so you can follow along or read at your convenience.

Insights of Seniors and Professionals on the United States of Aging

As our population ages, our communities are helping to provide services desired by seniors and family caregivers to improve their quality of life as they age.

In order to continue to improve programs and services and help caregivers meet the needs of seniors, we need to understand their viewpoints and what they feel is important for them to age successfully.

One way we can better understand aging issues and strive to improve our support of these issues is to ask them.

This is the fourth year that the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, The National Council on Aging and United Healthcare have collaborated to compile answers to several questions so that solutions can be created.

The study was compiled in early 2015 with 1,650 interviews of adults over 60 and professionals who work with them in roles such as the Area Agencies on Aging, physicians and pharmacists.

Aging Survey Results

Here are some of the questions and the results of those surveyed. How do you think you and your senior loved one would respond? Do you agree with these results?

How much do you agree with this statement? My Community offers older adults a good quality of life.

Older Adults       79%

Professionals      92%

When thinking about the next five to ten years, do you expect your overall quality of life to get much better, somewhat better, stay about the same, get somewhat worse or get much worse?

Much better/somewhat better

2015 = 16%

2014 = 28%

2013 = 21%

2012 = 30%

Compared to prior years, older adults are less likely to expect their quality of life to improve in the coming 5 to 10 years.

How prepared do you feel for the process of aging?

A greater percentage of older adults think that they are prepared for aging compared to the professionals/influencers, 86% versus 77%.

Older adults report anticipating needing more assistance with maintaining their home, home care or long term care and managing health and wellness. Professionals/influencers believe that they will need assistance with transportation, finances and then home care and health management.

(Older adult) Please tell me how satisfied you are today in each category. 

(Professional/influencer) How satisfied are you with how your community is meeting each of these needs for older adults?

There is a big gap in the overall satisfaction of specific items between older adults and professionals who work with this population. Those reporting very satisfied in each group for several factors are as follows:

Older adults’ satisfaction levels: 

Relationships with family/friends  95%

Housing situations                          95%

Physical health                              40%

Financial situations                        41%

Professionals/influencers satisfaction levels:

Relationships with family/friends  39%

Housing situations                         18%

Physical health                              21%

Financial situations                        11%

What are your five biggest concerns about aging?

There is also a dichotomy of concerns facing aging seniors between older adults and professionals who care for them.

The top five concerns for older adults are:

  1. Maintaining physical health
  2. Losing your memory
  3. Maintaining your mental health
  4. Managing chronic health conditions
  5. Living independently

The top five concerns for professionals/influencers:

  1. Protecting yourself from financial scams, financial fraud, and financial abuse
  2. Having access to affordable housing
  3. Losing your memory
  4. Living independently
  5. Getting to the pharmacy, shopping for groceries or running other errands

It is interesting to think that the concerns of professionals are primarily about things that can be fixed such as arranging home delivered meals, getting transportation, delivering medications, and helping to secure finances. While the seniors are more concerned about things that are much more difficult to easily resolve such as staying physically and mentally healthy.

Both groups are concerned about being able to live independently and loss of memory. When asked specifically what worries you about not being able to live independently, seniors responded that becoming a burden, not being able to drive, not being mobile, not being able to speak for yourself or make your own rules were major concerns.

One area where professionals are far more concerned than older adults is the likelihood of isolation – 27% vs. 8%.

How positive or optimistic would you consider yourself in general?

Both groups reported a high level of optimism about aging – 94% and 85%.

This is a good sign as we have learned from centenarians having a positive attitude has helped them all face life’s struggles and allowed them to successfully age.

Seniors and professionals/influencers state that support from family and community helps them stay positive. They also feel that when they are healthy, they are more positive.

What are some things you worry about now that you didn’t worry about when you were younger?

Heading the list of worries for older adults were:

  • Slipping or falling
  • Having enough money
  • Decreased vision
  • Lifting heavy objects
  • Managing chronic health issues
  • Remembering important things
  • Spending time with loved ones
  • Driving safely

Which of the following do you feel are the best ways to stay mentally sharp as you age?

Older Adults:

  • Positive attitude
  • Exercise regularly
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Read books
  • Stimulate brain with activities

Professionals/Influencers:

  • Exercise regularly
  • Maintain active social life
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Stimulate brain with activities
  • Read books

It is interesting to see how these two groups differ. What is important for each group depends on your perspective — whether you are the one involved with mental acuity or having research point you in a particular direction about which is best.

When asked if they are involved in learning a new skill to help them stay mentally sharp, seniors report that only 53% participate in any new activities.

Do you expect your health care costs to increase significantly, increase somewhat, stay about the same, decrease somewhat or decrease significantly in the next 5-10 years?

Both groups feel that their healthcare costs will increase with results similar to those in 2014.

How they will actually pay for this care yields different results. The older adults feel that they will be prepared to meet the cost of healthcare 81% compared to only 36% of the professionals/influencers.

Older adults surveyed report that they don’t need to see a doctor more than every few months and 74% feel they have good or excellent health currently.

Both groups feel that understanding their health benefits is a big obstacle to accessing healthcare but professionals/influencers report this problem at much greater rates than seniors (two to three times higher).

What are the keys to maintaining good health as you age?

Seniors report eating a healthy diet, maintaining a positive attitude, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and taking your medications as prescribed are the top five ways to stay healthy. Surprisingly, 2/3 of those surveyed reported exercising at least once a week and 1/3 said they exercised every day.

Professionals/influencers report eating a healthy diet, seeing your doctor regularly, exercising regularly, taking your medications as prescribed and getting support from family and friends as the top five ways to stay healthy.

How concerned are you that your savings and income will be sufficient to last the rest of your life?

Both groups are somewhat or very concerned. A higher cost of living and unexpected medical expenses are major concerns.

Professionals/influencers would like them to seek advice from financial experts and family members.

More than ¾ of the adults say they handle their own finances (77%). Only 3% of these seniors report seeking the advice of a financial planner.

Seniors feel that using senior discounts, sticking to a budget, saving, limiting leisure expenses and investing will help them manage their finances. Professionals/influencers believe that saving, working beyond retirement age, sticking to a budget, reducing housing costs and receiving financial support from other sources will help seniors manage their finances.

What do you think is the biggest age-related challenge communities will face in the next 5-10 years?

Professionals/influencers reply that lack of funding for services to support older adults is an overwhelming challenge. Seniors would like to see expansions in their community of organizations to help advocate for benefits. Both feel that improved transportation/public transportation is one of the most important things for aging. Seniors are in general satisfied with their community with the exception of public transportation. Professionals/influencer feel that lack of transportation is the greatest barrier to successful aging in place.

You can access the full United States of Aging Survey here.

Shaping Care by Family Caregivers

The survey highlights the fact that family and family caregivers provide the most important support system for aging seniors.

Older adults surveyed singled out young people as being less supportive of older adults than their generation was of their elders. They feel young people care more about themselves than others.

With the help of this report, family caregivers can help make plans for the future to help their seniors overcome some of these expressed barriers to aging in place.

As a nation, we can also urge for the creation and improvement of the necessary programs and infrastructure to assist our senior loved ones in maintaining their quality of life as they age.

This information is a good starting point for us all. Let’s build on the data to make a difference!

Fitness Activities to Help Seniors Achieve Successful Aging in Place

We often discuss how vital it is to be (or become) physically active, no matter one’s age, to achieve healthy aging.

Our senior loved ones can improve functional status, reduce the risk of falls with injury, and increase the level of their socialization when they participate in physical activity with others, whether it’s done with a friend or as part of a formal program.

Physical activity is so important to our seniors’ health it was included as a key pillar at the White House Conference on Aging and the month of September has been designated Go4Life month, promoting the physical activity theme:  Be Active Every Day!

The National Institute of Aging, a government agency that conducts research on aging and shares that information with the public to improve our health, has a program that all family caregivers could benefit from to help our senior loved ones get more active – Go4Life!

Exercise Recommendations

Health experts agree that seniors can gain health benefits by becoming and staying physically active. Even someone with heart disease or other chronic medical conditions can improve their health outcomes with physical activity.

To gain health benefits, older adults are encouraged to exercise at least 150 minutes each week using moderate intensity aerobic activity AND muscle strengthening activities on two or more days a week involving all muscle groups.

A senior could choose to do 75 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic activity a week AND muscle strengthening activities on two or more days a week using all major muscle groups.

Most experts agree that 10 minutes of activity at a time to reach your goal spread throughout the day and week is fine. It is not necessary to do it all at one time to gain benefits.

It is important to remember that the more exercise your senior does, within reason of course, the greater the health benefits. A senior could increase the time or intensity of the workouts to get an added benefit.

Aerobic Activities

Many people are currently walking, whether when they go to the mall or walk in the neighborhood. Getting a cardiac, and therefore health, benefit comes when we can get our heart rate up. Unfortunately, a leisurely stroll isn’t the same as an aerobic exercise.

An aerobic activity should leave your senior breathing harder and heart beating faster for ten minutes. If your activity is moderate, you can talk but not sing a song and during vigorous activity you can only say a few words before catching your breath.

Activities include:

  • Walking briskly
  • Mowing the lawn
  • Riding a bike
  • Dancing
  • Swimming
  • Playing tennis
  • Hiking
  • Jumping rope
  • Sports
  • Water aerobics

Go4Life

Have you heard of this program? It is a campaign from the National Institute on Aging at the National Institutes of Health promoting physical activity for seniors.

They provide a wealth of materials, tips and sample exercises to help all seniors make physical activity a part of their everyday lives in order to manage or prevent chronic medical conditions.

Their information is based on the latest science so your senior will be able to trust that the information is valid and safe to use.

Based on research, we know there are health benefits associated with being more physically active. We know benefits can be realized by people at any age and physical ability.

Exercising should be based on your ability – – not your age!

Exercises for All Needs

People with mobility impairments, arthritis or chronic medical conditions, such as heart disease, will gain improved health using the information at Go4Life.

The sample exercises are all modifiable for those with mobility issues and can be done from a seated position if needed. Exercise can help seniors with mobility and improved transfers as well as reducing the likelihood of falling when their muscles are strong and their balance is improved.

There are tips for exercising indoors when the weather is too hot, cold or wet outside. There are also take along exercises if you are going on vacation. If your senior becomes ill and has to stop exercising, there is a plan to help them get back on track when they are able.

You and your senior should check out the campaign at Go4Life, where you can get all the information at no cost, including a virtual health coach who will send tips, exercise alerts and motivation to stay active. There are also tracking tools that will show your senior how well they are improving and a DVD that you can get for free that includes exercises.

Each part of the Get Ready, Get Set, Go! program includes a different part of the journey such as goal setting, nutrition information, staying safe tips, exercises, and downloadable tools.

There are four components that should all be included in your senior’s plan – endurance, strength, balance and flexibility. Strength activities help to prevent falls and flexibility activities help to make completing the activities of daily living easier.

These activities should become a part of your senior’s daily routine.

Good News for Older Women

Family caregivers and the older women for whom they care will appreciate this latest study.

Researchers in Canada found that post-menopausal women who participate in five hours per week of exercise that increases their heart rate, moderate-to-vigorous aerobic exercise, lost a significantly higher amount of body fat compared to those women who exercised less. These women lost belly fat and decreased their waist circumference as well as waist-to-hip ratio.

The women in the study did any type of aerobic exercise they wished as long as their heart rate was within 65% to 75% of their heart rate reserve for a minimum of half of their workout. The heart rate reserve is the difference between a resting and maximum heart rate.

Some aerobic exercises used included walking, bicycling, elliptical trainer or running.

These researchers stated that exercising for the minimum 150 minutes will yield health benefits but exercising 300 minutes will give you a much greater benefit. They warn to be sure to exercise according to your abilities to prevent injuries.

What We Can Do

We know it is so important to healthy aging to adopt some form of daily physical activity. The more our seniors do, the better improvement they will have in their health.

Family caregivers can support and encourage seniors participation in some type of activity they enjoy. You may need to set it up, transport them to a class or location, or join in to be sure they are safe when participating.

The entire family can get involved by enjoying intergenerational activities. Find ways to be active together, not only to get moving but also socialize and make memories!

Turning the Tables for a Caregiving Conversation – Kathy is Interviewed

Reaching out to family caregivers to help them provide the best care possible for senior loved ones is our passion and the mission of Senior Care Corner®, but you know that.

When Kathy was approached by Prime for an interview, she saw it as a wonderful opportunity to reach even more caregivers.

This interview was originally published on the Prime Blog.

You’re a Registered Dietitian—no small undertaking. What inspired you to commit to this path?

As a young girl I would go to the nursing home with my grandmother who volunteered there from time to time. It inspired me to help people and my love of science drew me to nutrition. Being a registered dietitian is a mix of science, education, and helping other people be healthy at any stage of life.

Wow, that’s a longstanding appreciation. You’ve also worked with caregivers directly for over 25 years. Was it a conscious decision then to work with caregivers as a dietitian or did it just happen naturally?

As a registered dietitian, I gravitated toward long term care facilities while I lived in South Florida. I have worked with geriatrics for more than half of my career and found that helping seniors have an improved quality of life became a passion. There are so many things a dietitian can do to help people age well!

In addition to my work in the field of geriatrics, I became a family caregiver for someone with Alzheimer’s at the same time I was working full-time and raising two children. Seeing what was happening to our loved one with dementia, how it affected others in the family who were caring and how little practical information there was at that time inspired my husband and I to create Senior Care Corner.

I felt I had walked in those shoes, had expertise in the field and was a strong advocate for caregivers which all propelled me to share the lessons I learned. Not knowing where to turn for credible, useful information was frustrating.

You started Senior Care Corner in 2006. That’s a year before the iPhone came out! How did Senior Care Corner get started?

My husband and I began Senior Care Corner to help others who were caring for aging adults. I had experience in the field, knew tricks of the trade for caregivers and he has extensive knowledge with technology. By starting our website, we thought it would give us a great platform to share information that could be helpful to other people caring for family members.

Do you think there are specific, unique caregiving problems dietitians face or notice that others don’t?

I think that as a dietitian, especially working with seniors, I see how vital it is to stay healthy throughout your lifetime. While you can make small changes in the face of chronic disease to manage it and improve your health, it is best to avoid disease by staying healthy. Eating well and being physically active starting as a child is so important.

In the face of so much data of what a healthy lifestyle entails, we don’t seem to always adopt the healthiest lifestyle and that will make a difference as we age as I have witnessed in older adults. One example is caring for your teeth. Losing your teeth has a strong impact on health and nutrition as you age! Eating fresh healthy foods, keeping your bones strong plus caring for your teeth will help you as you age but we don’t always consider this until it is too late.

You’ve worked with seniors in their homes, nursing homes, assisted living, rehab, and hospital settings. Are any better or worse?

I think each facility has strengths and weaknesses depending on the needs of the senior.

I have seen a great improvement in the stereotypical nursing home since the late 1980s when I began working in them in South Florida. Nursing homes are by and large places that are striving to be person centered and home like and many succeed at that goal.

When seniors need a short stay to recover from surgery or illness, rehab facilities provide a great service getting seniors back home.

Hospitals are essential for acute illnesses and treating seniors and sending them onto the next phase of recovery. Most people don’t linger in hospitals as they once did.

I think assisted living facilities for those that can afford them fill a great need for seniors who are no longer able to live independently. They provide wonderful socialization opportunities for seniors too.

Home care is also a great option for seniors who need more help to stay at home.

How seniors plan to live out their golden years will take careful financial planning in order to choose from available options. Unfortunately, many seniors have limited choices due to affordability since Medicare does not cover most of these options. Family caregivers are encouraged to thoroughly check out every facility to be sure it is the best fit for their senior.

Another option that is too often overlooked is palliative care and hospice which helps families and older adults find peace and comfort at the end of life. I strongly support this choice.

Do you think there’s a perfect caregiving environment?

I do think there is a perfect caregiving environment for each senior. It will be different for each person and no one facility pleases everyone even home. It won’t be easy to find and definitely takes work to make it perfect.

A perfect environment needs to be safe, nurturing and one that fits the needs of the senior not just the family. Our seniors should have a voice in where that environment is and how they will live in their golden years.

This is why end of life directives are so important so that everyone knows exactly how the senior wants to live in the final years or days.

By CFAH’s last estimate, there are 60+ million unpaid caregivers in the U.S. You’ve helped many of them. What is the biggest similarity you see in caregivers across their age, location, gender, etc. groups? Biggest difference?

I believe family caregivers all have a common goal — the health and well-being of their loved one. They are advocating for them, providing personal care and improving their quality of life every day. They show deep love and respect for their loved ones.

The difference in family caregivers can sometimes be seen in cultural norms, how and where they want to provide care, or how they handle everyday challenges of caregiving. It is interesting to see the family dynamics in caregiving situations. Some families pull together and others pull apart. For many it has to do with lifelong habits, disagreements, or perceived hurts.

Communication is key for family caregivers and open dialogue for the best interest of senior adults.

How do you find caregiving for seniors changes as they get older?

For many caregivers, especially those who are caring for someone with dementia, the time involved can be great, greater than imagined. As the senior gets older and the disease progresses, the demands of caregiving increase. For many caregivers who are themselves aged, this can be a burden leading to facility placement.

As seniors get older and their functional status continues to decline, caregiving needs increase greatly. It becomes harder to care for someone as they get older in every respect.

Do you provide care for any seniors currently?

I continue to be a family caregiver and see my involvement increasing in the next five years as my family ages.

I am also active in Alzheimer’s support in my community and as a fundraiser in my state. I am currently involved in creating a “day out” program for caregivers of people with dementia which is a new, innovative program not currently available in the county or region where I live. It will provide weekly planned respite for caregivers.

A “day out” is a wonderful idea! Speaking of helping other groups, how would you educate young people on caring for family members?

I think that younger people are excellent caregivers especially for grandparents and I know many now care for parents. Young caregivers learn a great deal about themselves and build strong relationships with those for whom they care during caregiving.

My concern is that younger people don’t forego education or their own socialization while they are caregiving. Many lose their peer group support and own identity while they spend so much time caregiving. Hopefully an adult closeby will prevent this on their behalf.

What about your own younger self? What’s the biggest thing you know about caregiving now you would share with yourself 20 years ago?

As I always say, I would remind myself ‘you are where you are supposed to be doing what you are supposed to do!”.

Helping others is part of my DNA. I would tell myself to trust my instincts and know I am doing the right thing. I would also say enjoy the moments of happiness for they are fleeting, be present in the moment instead of thinking three steps ahead (one of my challenges!).

Current Caregiving Strategy:

Staying connected with carees and family members.

Letting everyone know what is happening is key and not everyone is capable of using tech to stay connected.

Best Caregiving Tip:

Care for yourself, if you are not healthy you can’t help anyone else.

Worst Caregiving Move Ever:

I don’t think in terms of worst ever. If something didn’t go as anticipated, I believe it is an opportunity to learn and change the approach. I research, investigate, and learn about things to a great degree before I act so my choices are usually made from an informed viewpoint.

Caregiving-wise, I need help with:

Health insurance and healthcare professionals who aren’t all on the same page. We are wasting time and money without cause because someone is not doing something correctly and won’t take ownership of an error.

Do you think our own habits affect our caregiving?

Definitely. Many habits can make caregiving more difficult. Habits are hard to overcome.

Some people don’t want to give up control or aren’t satisfied with the way others do some task and that will put caregivers in a situation of refusing help leading to burnout.

If you like order this could be a problem when the house is turned upside down with caregiving chaos. If you aren’t organized, this could be problematic too.

What care coordination tools do you currently use?

  • I like Evernote for storing documents since it crosses all devices.
  • I use Informant for calendar and alert options. I put everything in there to remind me such as time to change a/c filters, time to pay taxes, mail documents, get oil changed, and anything else that has a time frame not just appointments. You can set forever so I will never miss a birthday, I enter 2 weeks ahead to buy card/gift, 1 week ahead to mail in time, etc.
  • I have tested several caregiving apps but give up using them since it takes so long to get each one full of info to be useful. Data entry is cumbersome and time consuming when benefits are minimal.

What are the problems in your care coordination tools?

Would love one place for everything instead of many apps.

How would your ideal care coordination tool work?

It would be portable so I had it where and when I needed it, cross all platforms and devices, easy to use!! even for fingers that don’t move well, interoperable (talk and work together), easy to access info I need quickly, connect with healthcare providers, connect with wearables, connect with EHR, not cost me a fortune to obtain or use each month, etc..

Is that too much to ask for?

What more do you want to know about the health of your careees?

If they are staying active when I am not with them.

If they are having trouble with prescriptions, insurance, healthcare providers.

What help do they need that I can provide?

How often do you want to know about the health of your careees?

Daily

How do you prioritize your own health — physical, mental, emotional — when caring for someone else?

It is very important to care for yourself first. You need all your strength – physical, mental and emotional to care for others for the long term.

I eat right (naturally as a dietitian) enjoying fresh foods and cooking from scratch and I stay physically active every day doing something.

I also try to stay engaged with my friends, stay up to date on new information in my field and the field of aging to stimulate my brain, and spend time with family who bring me unending joy!

In Case You Missed It – Quick But Important Tidbits and Reminders

Family caregivers have so many things on their minds.

That’s especially true for those who are part of the sandwich generation and care not only for senior loved ones but their children — and sometimes spouses too!

Every day we hear more things that we should be noting on behalf of the seniors in our lives.

Sometimes it seems important information is zipping by us at the speed of light when we are focused on something else important.

Because some of these latest tidbits could be important to you and your senior loved one, we thought we would bring some of them together in one place to give you a recap.

Here goes…

Pacemaker Wearers Beware

A new study warns us about how and where we should be using our technology for our personal health. Researchers from the European Society of Cardiology just released their findings, which suggest that there may be interference of your cardiac device if you put it too close to your smartphone.

Specifically implanted devices, such as pacemakers and defibrillators, should be kept a safe distance from smartphones to avoid signaling interference with the medical devices.

They aren’t suggesting that seniors and others with implanted cardiac devices stop using smartphone technology but instead are encouraging us to be cautious when putting our phones over the medical devices, especially in a chest pocket.

Most of us don’t stop to think that this could be a problem, but we have seen many people who drop their phones into their shirt or jacket pocket without a thought.

Researchers also encourage us to use our phones on the ear opposite of the medical device. While the harm appears to be low, causing the cardiac device to stop working even for a brief period could result in fainting. The cardiac device could also interpret the interference as life-threatening and produce a painful shock.

It doesn’t seem to be worth the risk when we can store the phone elsewhere.

The Food and Drug Administration currently recommends that cellphones be kept five to seven inches away from any implanted cardiac device.

It seems that high electric fields of any kind, including high-voltage power lines (not those entering your home) overhead and in substations, could interfere with the proper functioning of implanted cardiac devices too.

Experts report that it is safe to walk under power lines but not stay under them for prolonged periods.

Identity Theft Reminders

We know that our identity is at risk from criminals who want what we have. There are many security precautions we can all take, including family caregivers of seniors who help them stay protected.

We know about not giving out personal information over the phone or online, ignoring pfishing emails looking for us to divulge personal data and the phone call from another country trying to get bail money for our ‘grandkids’.

There are, however, more things for which we should be on the lookout that we might not realize could put us at risk.

  • When we are shopping at any store, grocery or retail, beware of the clerk asking for your zip code when you pay by credit card. They ask this information only for their marketing purposes and you can refuse to provide it because it isn’t needed to process your charge. Your number could be used by scammers, who know the zip code is needed at untended credit card terminals, such as at gasoline pumps. This protects the merchant from someone other than the cardholder using the pump — unless, of course, a thief with your card also has your zip code.
  • Don’t post personal information, such as your zip code or other identifiers that could be stolen, on social media platforms such as Facebook. You should not make your personal passwords names or locations that a scammer can get off your Facebook page, like your dog’s name or street address.
  • Joining birthday clubs for some businesses may not be a good idea because scammers could get that information and pair it up with other data they obtained about you to steal your identity. A free ice cream cone on your birthday, not matter how good it tastes, is not worth the risk.
  • Don’t carry important documents such as your social security card, passport or your checkbook. If they are lost or stolen they can be used as a key to unlock your financial kingdom!

Apps For Seniors and Caregivers

There are many apps coming to market and some of them are useful, but naturally not all. How do you decide which app would be helpful or just time consuming to use?

It is important to be clear in defining your need. Do you need something to help remind your senior to take medications or do you want to know if they took them at all?

There are smartphone or tablet apps for all your specific needs. Here are a few you might find helpful:

  1. Red Panic Button – it costs a marginal amount of money but it could help in an emergency. It will show up as a big red button that, when pushed, will send a text message and email alert with GPS coordinates to preset contacts and medical personnel. It acts like a “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up button’ on your senior’s smartphone.
  2. Skype – this has been around for a while but it is still worthwhile, especially for seniors who have long distance family members around the globe. It is free to use and allows your senior to have a face to face video call with anyone via the internet. You can set up the group feature and talk with more than one person at a time.
  3. Pillboxie – this app, designed by a registered nurse, offers a reminder to your senior about when the next medication dosage is scheduled. It is relatively inexpensive and doesn’t require a network connection. The pills are listed by actual color and shape as well as name.
  4. Yesterday USA – Old Time Radio – this app is free and it gives your senior access to old time radio shows from decades past (1920s, 1930s, 1940s and 1050s).
  5. Kindle – one of our favorites! Download books that can be read in whatever size font your senior desires. Your senior can get the latest book title, get a loan from the library, share your own book purchases or just select free books from the Kindle store.
  6. Find My iPhone – a free app that helps you find a lost device. If your senior can’t quickly locate the missing device, it allows you to lock important data using another device to protect your senior’s personal information.

Hopefully this recap will give you some useful information that will help you help your senior loved one be safe using technology.

We believe using technology is so vital in this day and age that getting our seniors connected to it will keep them happy, social, safe and secure!

Talking Senior Care: Insights from the White House Conference on Aging

Did you have a chance to catch the 2015 White House Conference on Aging?

I’m glad I had the opportunity, though it was via live streaming rather than in person.

Some family caregivers attended virtually, including in organized listening groups, but we know many of you did not have a chance to do so and want to update you on the event.

This conference was greatly anticipated, as it comes only once every decade and opens dialogue about policies and programs which provide much needed assistance to all our senor loved ones and eventually for us as well.

While it won’t have a big immediate impact on the lives of our senior loved ones, it shines a light on programs and may set the stage for future action.

All Encompassing Topics

The topic areas for this conference were all encompassing, including elder abuse, technology and the future of aging, financial security, and intergenerational connections.

Panelists took a few questions from the live audience as well as the virtual audience, since for the first time in history many viewers streamed the conference live via the internet and participated in the social media conversation.

Naturally the comments by panels of experts were not limited to just those topics, as we heard about nutrition, seniors in the workforce, paid caregivers, and diversity.

We heard announcements about new programs as well as the many accomplishments made by current programs in addition to learning about the anniversaries of the government programs that benefit our seniors.

Did you know Medicare, Medicaid and the Older Americans Act all turn 50 this year and Social Security turns 80?!

President Barack Obama delivered his remarks in a keynote address and shared his vision of aging for the future. The Surgeon General was also on hand to talk about how activities, especially intergenerational ones, can impact healthy aging.

Let’s recap the key points from the 2015 conference.

New Program Announcements

Government officials and industry experts were on hand as panelists or speakers to address the latest new programs, initiatives and services that will be coming soon to help improve the quality of life for seniors.

Here are highlights:

  • Soon to be piloted in 20 areas is a new program that will allow seniors to ‘pay’ for Meals on Wheels or programs that deliver food to homebound seniors using SNAP benefits. The farmer’s markets across the country continue to accept the SNAP benefit.
  • The President announced his office will be taking steps to ensure that all Americans have the tools they need to prepare financially for the future because many Americans are unprepared for retirement. Social Security benefits should be one piece of the retirement plan with other sources of income to fully meet aging needs. It begins with retirement advisers helping people first and not themselves according to the President.
  • The President has proposed that access be made available to workplace-based retirement savings for 30 million Americans by requiring employers not currently offering a retirement plan to automatically enroll their workers in an IRA. This has not been passed by Congress but states are moving forward with this initiative.
  • The government launched Aging.gov to help families, caregivers and seniors find a one-stop place to gain information about federal programs, local services and community resources as well as Social Security and Medicaid.
  • New nursing home regulations to improve the quality of life of many seniors were proposed to provide some needed reform in caring for elders who are residents of long term care facilities.
  • The Department of Justice will support funds to be used by crime victims including elder abuse. The President also announced that there will be training for judges about elder abuse so that is can be better prosecuted. They will also train state and local prosecutors and law enforcement officers.
  • The Dementia Friendly America Initiative plans to expand to 15 more pilot sites across the country to help cities become dementia friendly cities. They increase dementia awareness and support people with dementia and their families.
  • Technology leaders are challenging manufacturers to create user-friendly technology for older adults that will improve their lives and those of family caregivers.
  • Uber has announced a new program that will partner with senior community centers to provide free transportation to support independence.
  • Walgreens is stepping up digital technologies to connect individuals with telehealth services and providers to allow 24/7 access to doctors.
  • Peapod will enable web access to all individuals including those with disabilities who are unable to shop at traditional stores to purchase food via the web.
  • Honor, a tech company, will offer $1 million in free home care across 10 cities in the US to ensure care goes to deserving older Americans.
  • The YMCA has challenged its national associations to host intergenerational physical activity events to increase physical activity for all ages. Another way that we will see more emphasis on physical activity for seniors is through the National Institutes of Health program Go4Life campaign for older adults.
  • The Health and Human Services department is offering education for health professionals to improve the statistics of falls in the senior population. It has also offered $35 million to improve geriatric care education for health care workers to meet the needs of the aging population.
  • Numerous flyers, tip sheets and handbooks are forthcoming from both the public and private sectors to educate and support seniors and caregivers.

Key “Soundbites”

Moderator David Hyde Pierce, who is an ardent Alzheimer’s disease advocate, stated “to age is to live and to care is to be human.”

President Obama stated his belief that “one of the best measures of a country is how it treats its older citizens.” He also said, “I’m going to keep fighting to make family leave and workplace flexibility available to every American, no matter where they work.” “It’s the right thing to do.”

Secretary Tom Vilsack of the US Department of Agriculture shared that “only 45% of seniors eligible for SNAP participate in SNAP,” the supplemental nutrition assistance program (formerly food stamps).

Ai-Jen Poo of Caring Across Generations, which advocates for home care workers and family caregivers, stated that we have to “shift our culture to see caregivers as a huge part of the solution for quality of life” for seniors. Ms. Poo also pointed out that “we need to acknowledge the diversity of our aging population” and family caregivers – we are different in ages, abilities, cultures, or LGBT and we therefore will need individual solutions. There shouldn’t be a one size fits all approach.

A member of the live audience who was commenting on paid family leave coined a new phrase when she said we need paid family leave ‘from twinkle to wrinkle”. Many advocate a similar family leave plan for caring for older adults that we now have for those caring for babies.

Harry Leider of Walgreens reported that the average older adult goes to the pharmacy and gets prescriptions filled twenty times in one year, which is more often than they visit their primary physician. The pharmacist is a key member of the healthcare team that is poised to help the family caregiver and may also be able to spot elder abuse in frequent customers.

Don’t Wait 10 More Years

The one day conference was the culmination of regional forum meetings held across the country as well as input from many stakeholders including seniors and caregivers.

There have been webinars and events that have sought input from a variety of sources in order to get to the meat of the matter about what really needs improvement and what seniors need for healthy aging.

Senior Care Corner applauds this effort but hopes that the dialogue which is now open will continue to move us all forward and not wait until the next White House Conference on aging in 2025. Much has been done to shine a light on what essential services are desired and what the private sector can do to support aging in America.

We need to ride the tide and keep improving all aspects of aging that began at this conference to truly be a country proud of the result when it is measured by its concern for its older citizens.

Controlling Pain: Cautions for Over the Counter and Prescription Relief

Pain is something most of us have experienced much more than we would like, whether from an accident, injury, surgery, overuse strain, headaches, or chronic pain condition.

Our senior loved ones report pain frequently and many have daily pain from arthritic joints.

What can we do to control our pain and not let it control us?

Most of our senior loved ones (and ourselves) will visit our doctors to get a prescription drug that will hopefully control their pain. Many will take over-the-counter pain relief medications hoping to ease the pain.

What we may not realize is that several medications we use for other reasons already contain pain relief combinations. When we take an additional pill, it could inadvertently be too much for our bodies and have harmful consequences.

NSAID Warning Level Increased

This week the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) heightened its warning about the negative effects of the pain reliever NSAIDs.

The non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as Aleve, naproxen, Motrin, Advil and ibuprofen-containing products, have a new, stronger warning label cautioning us to be aware these could increase our risk for stroke and heart attack leading to death.

The FDA warns — but we already know, right — to read all ingredient labels, especially for over-the-counter remedies and multi-symptom products, because they could provide extra NSAIDs that could interact with other medications and prescription pain relievers.

What Seniors Can Do — and We Can Help

The FDA recommends that seniors continue to take any prescribed pain relief but beware of additional sources of NSAIDs that could put them over the safe dosage amount. They say that we should not take more than one NSAID product at a time, prescription or over-the-counter.

The FDA believes that risk for heart attack and stroke can happen as soon as one week on NSAIDs. The FDA wants to stress that ‘everyone’ is at risk even those without cardiac disease.

  • If your senior loved one already has cardiac disease or has had a heart attack or bypass surgery, they are at the greatest risk and should be extremely cautious about taking excess NSAIDs. These seniors are at risk of another heart attack or dying of heart attack-related causes.
  • Be sure to read the list of active ingredients in the Drug Facts label on all medications and over-the-counter pills that your senior love one takes. Find a multi-symptom medication that does not contain NSAIDs if they are already taking pain relievers.
  • Doctors warn that seniors should take the lowest possible dose of NSAIDs for the shortest amount of time for relief. If pain persists, talk to your senior’s doctor about other possible interventions.
  • As with any medication, use it only as directed and don’t share prescription medications.
  • If your senior loved one already takes a low dose aspirin to prevent heart attack or stroke, be aware that NSAIDs can interfere with that protective effect. Avoid this interaction and speak to your doctor about alternatives.
  • All family caregivers should learn the warning signs of stroke and take immediate action by calling 9-1-1 if you suspect your senior loved one might be having a stroke. Acting fast can prevent brain injury during a stroke.
  • If your senior experiences pain requiring them to take NSAIDs for relief, they should make improvements in the lifestyle that will reduce their risk of heart attack and stroke such as smoking cessation, managing blood pressure, eating a heart healthy diet and staying physically active.

Alternative or Non-Pharmacological Pain Relief

There are non-pharmacological options for pain relief especially when it is chronic in nature.

If your senior loved one can try some of these other interventions with your help and support, they might be able to eliminate or reduce their current drug regimen.

Here are a few options to help control pain:

  1. Avoid movements or activities that increase pain.
  2. Participate in physical or occupational therapy that can strengthen your senior’s muscles or give them strategies to accommodate activities to reduce pain.
  3. Massage treatments
  4. Stress reduction, relaxation techniques and guided imagery
  5. Ice and heat packs
  6. Aromatherapy
  7. Biofeedback or electrical stimulation (TENS)
  8. Bed rest during exacerbation episodes
  9. Anti-inflammatory diet
  10. Physical activity and exercise
  11. Socialization, family visits, laughing
  12. Music and art therapy
  13. Complementary approaches including acupuncture, chiropractic, hypnosis, reflexology
  14. Hot bath and cup of herb tea

Anything that your senior finds relaxing and distracting can help relieve pain.

Consequences of Pain

Pain can lead to many negative consequences for our senior loved ones. It often seems that they are unable to fully express the level of pain they are feeling, the location of their pain and that they even are having pain.

Many seniors suffer in silence from lack of pain control or inadequate/ineffective treatment of their pain.

Some seniors themselves or their primary care physicians are fearful of giving pain medications for fear of the long term effects of opioids. This can leave the senior in pain every day.

It has been estimated that 25-50% of elders who live at home have pain that is uncontrolled.

When seniors are in pain activities of daily living and mobility are at risk. Pain can lead to isolation and depression and is a consequence of chronic pain in our seniors. Having pain can interfere with restful sleep.

The quality of life for our senior loved ones can be impacted by pain. For some seniors, living at home alone can be impossible when their pain interferes with their ability to care for themselves.

Pain Reliever Side Effects

Some seniors are prescribed pain relief in prescription form but this can put them at risk for interacting with other prescription drugs, causing constipation, and increases the risk of adverse drug reactions.

Seniors have an increased number of falls when taking these medications.

Some pain medications, including NSAIDs, can lead to gastrointestinal bleeding as well as the risks described above.

Improving seniors’ quality of life by controlling their pain is important. At the same time, family caregivers can advocate for their seniors by trying some non-pharmacological interventions to prevent potential problems with multiple medications such as NSAIDs.

As family caregivers, we can help them manage the pain, cope with it through accommodations and help them live their life fully.