When It Comes to the Health of Our Seniors, Prevention is Worth The Effort

Staying well as we age and helping our senior loved ones age successfully involves making improvements in lifestyles and modifying habits.

We know there are many things we can do to live healthier lives that we and our senior loved ones may not be doing right now, such as daily physical activity.

There are also new things we are learning about that can help us prevent the future diseases that could reduce quality of life for us and our seniors.

When we know what to change and the impacts of doing so, we may have the motivation needed to work on making those changes.

There is research being conducted every day and new findings published that can give us more insight into improving our health outcomes. We can also be part of that research when we take part in clinical trials that can make great strides in disease prevention with our help.

Prevention Research

Prevention research focuses on identifying and assessing risks and developing interventions for preventing or reducing high-risk behaviors.

Prevention research also includes research studies to develop and evaluate disease prevention, health promotion recommendations, and public health programs.

The NIH definition of prevention research includes the following categories of research:

  • Identification of modifiable risk and protective factors for diseases/disorders/injuries;
  • Studies on assessment of risk, including genetic susceptibility;
  • Development of methods for screening and identification for those at risk for onset or progression of asymptomatic diseases/disorders, or those at risk for adverse, high-risk behaviors/injuries;
  • Development and evaluation of interventions to promote health for groups of individuals without recognized signs or symptoms of a disease;
  • Putting effective prevention interventions into practice; and
  • Measuring the effects of preventive interventions.

New Research Shows Benefit of Disease Prevention

Here is a recent compilation of research studies showing the positive benefits behaviors can have on our health.

All of these things are actionable, meaning we can change for the better. The risk factors of many diseases are modifiable with some level of effort on our parts.

  1.  Seasonal flu vaccinations

The flu is often preventable when we all get flu shots. For seniors with weakened immune systems the flu can be deadly.

A recent research study showed that when we get our seasonal flu shot we are protected for six months. Getting our seniors their flu shots in the early fall will protect them through the peak of the flu season.

Last year’s flu season was a good indication of the beneficial effect that flu shots have on our immune systems, since the actual strains of flu were not included in the vaccine but most of us got a boost in immunity from the shot that helped our bodies weather the storm of illness.

It is important that family caregivers protect their senior loved ones by getting them vaccinated now, as well as getting their own vaccinations so they can remain healthy to care for them.

  1. Positive emotions and your health

An NIH funded study shows that having a positive outlook can improve health.

This study found you and your senior can improve health through your positive emotions, with a few adjustments, and by learning some new skills.

Because sometimes aging can bring on negative feelings of frustration, sadness and even depression, if we take steps to look on the sunny side we can reap rewards in our overall health.

We will still feel sad and even have negative emotions from time to time, which is only natural, but by adjusting our attitudes to be more positive we can fell better, not just mentally but physically as well.

By being more resilient and holding onto our positive emotions longer, researchers tell us that we will be able to enjoy those moments to a greater degree.

In this study researchers found that improving our mental outlook resulted in lower blood pressure, reduced risk for heart disease, healthier weights, better blood sugar levels, and longer life. Using brain imaging, they found that positivity triggered reward pathways in the brain while negative emotions trigger the fear pathway.

Yes, turning that frown upside down can have many benefits!

  1. Fall prevention

One in three Americans aged 65 and older falls each year, and falls are the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries in those over 65.

Recovery is often long and painful.

Most falls can be prevented. Fall prevention includes three key factors: balance training and physical activity; home modifications and safety; and medical management. All three areas need to be addressed in order to prevent most falls.

A recent study has found another factor that may benefit senior loved ones and prevent more falling. Researchers from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C. studied the effect of vitamin D supplementation in elders.

We know that ensuring adequate intakes of vitamin D can help keep bones and muscles strong but they found that those taking supplemental vitamin D had fewer falls.

They gave supplements to homebound seniors, who often have little sun exposure and inadequate nutritional intake. Those receiving the supplements had half as many falls as those getting the placebo.

While they did not establish direct cause and effect, it is interesting to learn that getting tested for adequate vitamin D levels and taking a supplement could improve strength, confidence and decrease falling for our senior loved ones especially since so many seniors have low serum vitamin D levels.

  1. Sleep, fatigue and cognition

We hear a lot about how long we should be sleeping.  Most health wearables monitor our sleep patterns to be sure we are sleeping long enough and if our sleep is restful so that our bodies can recover from the stress of the previous day.

When did sleep become so critical?

A recent study explains one reason why sleep quality is important for our aging seniors and ourselves.

Researchers from Uppsala University in Sweden found that memory loss and poor sleep quality are linked. They state that long term memory can be more easily accessed, especially during times of stress after a good night’s sleep but also that we form our long term memories during sleep.

It is during our sleep pattern that short term memories are moved into long term storage.

They found that inadequate sleep duration coupled with cognitive stress resulted in losing our memories.

Working on getting longer and more restful sleep is actionable as a memory loss prevention strategy.

We continue to add to our body of scientific knowledge with each new study that passes through clinical trials and is published.

Learning more but then actually doing something about the new information, changing some of our habits for the better, can improve our senior’s and our own well-being as we age.

No, we’re not saying it will be easy, but it could make a difference in our quality of life!

CES 2016 – What We Hope to Learn at the Global Stage for Innovation

A new year is just down the road and with it expectations of another bigger and better CES®, the annual showcase for innovators in technology fields and their innovations.

The trend in recent years at CES has been toward technologies — hardware, processes, applications, content, and more — designed to making our lives better.

We’re hoping for even more this time.

CES 2016® has us even more optimistic than ever we’ll see, hear and learn about products and services that will make the lives of seniors healthier, safer, and happier. Of course, that means we’re expecting our busiest CES week yet, even before we sit down to communicate it all to the family caregivers who are so deeply invested in the lives of their senior loved ones.

Not only will technology make seniors’ lives better but also those of family caregivers, whose efforts are made more effective and loads lightened by tech innovation.

Tech Industry Better Targeting Needs of Seniors

The tech industries have been teasing us for several years now, putting innovations on exhibit targeting the needs of seniors and talking about even more in the pipeline. Last year, though, we saw signs of breakthroughs in their thinking.

The light seems to have been switched on in many that “seniors” are not a single homogeneous market segment, but people with a range of ages, interests, needs and purchasing ability.

Make that a large, rapidly growing number of people.

Technology innovators and marketers also seem to be realizing family caregivers are recommenders and even purchasers of tech products and services for their senior loved ones.

What’s changed? Sure, listening and observing the marketplace is part of it, but we think there’s more. While the innovators were long seen as too young to identify with the needs of older adults, many are now seeing those needs in their parents and grandparents.

Growing numbers in tech are now family caregivers of senior loved ones and seeing the needs firsthand. That’s not new, though, as many products and services Senior Care Corner® has encountered over time have been the result of needs identified and met by family caregivers.

A CES for Seniors and Family Caregivers

Yes, we’ve been hearing good things to share with family caregivers in the last few year, but are now looking for more specifics to make this a CES for seniors and their family caregivers.

For us to feel there is real advancement in meeting the needs of older adults and the family members caring for them, we would like to see one or more of these at CES 2016:

  1. Solutions targeting the needs of the growing population of seniors who require memory care and whose family caregivers are working to enable them to live at home as long as possible;
  2. Suites of technology solutions packaged with the needs of aging in place seniors in mind;
  3. Plans and even demonstrated progress toward the linking of seniors and their healthcare providers electronically, enabling them to receives care from their own doctors at home;
  4. Packages of home healthcare digital devices and applications for aging in place seniors; and,
  5. Advances in automotive safety technology to make it safer for those seniors who wish to drive longer to do so.

Each of these items is explained and discussed further below.

Sure, there are other things we hope to see and hear at CES, but these are within reach of the technology industries based on what has been done already.

Memory Care Technology Solutions

Alzheimer’s and other dementias are already impacting many older adults and the numbers are expected to only grow with the aging of our population. Providing care for these seniors is one of the great challenges we face as family caregivers and society in general.

A growing majority of seniors express a desire to live at home rather than in a senior living facility and family caregivers strive to make that possible.

The need of senior loved ones for memory care adds to the challenge these family caregivers face, but does not diminish their desire to honor the wishes of their aging loved ones.

This situation is tailor made for technology solutions, including market size that should be large enough to profitably target this need while being able to keep prices reasonable for already-stretched family caregivers (at least until third party reimbursement is a reality).

Aging in Place Technology Suites

We have been impressed the last couple of years with the array of smarthome technologies on display at CES and available in stores. At the same time, there is so much it can be overwhelming, even to those who consider themselves to be tech-savvy, and difficult to sort through to identify solutions to specific needs.

There is a real opportunity for firms or alliances of firms to make themselves appealing to seniors and family caregivers by packaging suites of solutions that meet specific needs of those independently aging in place.

Compatibility among the myriad of smarthome tech products has long been an issue, one that solutions from alliances like Zigbee and Z-Wave, as well as Apple’s HomeKit, attempt to address. What is needed goes beyond saying “these products work together” though.

Many family caregivers who want to equip the homes of senior loved ones with the technology they need desire do-it-yourself solutions or are forced there by economics. It would be great to see a list of solutions to meet specific aging in place problems along with directions to make the solutions reality — not just today but over time as maintenance is needed and expansion is desired to meet changing needs of aging loved ones.

Home Healthcare from Seniors’ Own Providers

For some time now we have been hearing promises and seeing demonstrations of technology and systems that are touted as enabling seniors (and all of us) to interact with and receive care from their healthcare providers without having to go to their offices. This will enable many seniors to live independently longer and in better health than is possible today.

Of course, this has to be offered by their providers for our senior loved ones to achieve the benefits.

Positive change in the healthcare industry typically happens at an agonizingly slow pace, but most people have seen no signs this is a change in works. Sure, there are a number of factors in this including security, privacy and billing concerns, but just too many benefits for quality and cost of service for our senior loved ones to let it go without pressing for implementation.

It will likely take the combined efforts of tech companies, healthcare provider groups and third party reimbursement providers to make remote care in the home a reality. Hopefully we will soon see innovations that will bring these groups together.

In the meantime, it would be great to see a plan from the tech side to make that happen.

Home Healthcare Digital Device & App Packages

Sure, another healthcare “hope” but then access to healthcare is important to seniors and the more care they can receive in the home, the longer they can independently age in place. That makes this another priority of family caregivers as well.

We saw many digital home health devices at CES 2015, which make us optimistic we’re seeking something achievable for the upcoming CES.

While there were many digital devices and accompanying applications already, we saw few packages that offered each of the devices a senior or family caregiver may want and most we did see were available only outside the U.S.

Why is a full-range package important? Just as with smarthome devices — even more so here — the ability to utilize compatible devices with a common mobile app interface makes it easier to use home health technology and more likely it will be used by our senior loved ones.

Hopefully we can mark this one “done” at CES 2016!

Automotive Safety Technology

Autonomous, or self-driving, vehicles will be huge for our senior loved ones, enabling them to maintain independence without having to worry about getting behind the wheel or rely on someone else to take them where they need to go.

But self-driving vehicles are years away from being an option for us.

In the meantime, there is much the automotive industry can do and in many cases is doing to make driving safer for drivers of all ages, especially those whose reflexes, anticipation or depth perception might have lost a bit over time.

This is another area where we have seen significant advancements in the last couple of years and hope to see even more, not just on the CES exhibit floor but in vehicles we can purchase at local dealers.

CES 2016 Updates from Senior Care Corner

Rely on Senior Care Corner® for CES® 2016 coverage of the topics relevant to family caregivers and the seniors whose lives caregivers are working to make healthier, safer and happier.

Our coverage starts now, with reporting of the lead-up to CES and on the scene — and behind the scenes — coverage for family caregivers, by family caregivers. We’ll strip away the marketing hype to inform you about what we see, hear and learn about the innovations and announcements.

Visit us regularly at SeniorCareCorner.com for our coverage. To ensure you don’t miss anything, like our Facebook page or, even better, follow @SrCareCorner and me, @BarryBirkett, on Twitter.

We’ll let you know if CES lives up to or — hopefully — exceeds our hopes and point you in the direction of valuable technology solutions.

Dementia Caregiving – Making Family Outings Work for Everyone

A dementia diagnosis unfortunately still holds a stigma for many family caregivers. They don’t want people to know about the dementia in their family or worry about what others might think if they were aware.

For that reason, family caregivers may begin to shy away from their usual events, social circles and time spent out in the community — things they enjoy in life.

Many seniors are being diagnosed earlier in the disease progression, when they can offer their opinions and desires about how they would like their life to take its future course.

These seniors want to know about their diagnosis and have opinions regarding how they want to interact with their community, how active they want to be, and what things they look forward to engaging in while they can and even after their memories begin to fade.

They are sharing these decisions with family caregivers.

Seniors with dementia are deciding if keeping the secret and not participating in life is what they want to do for themselves and their family caregivers.

There are ways family caregivers can continue to enjoy their lives as we live and care for a person with dementia. We should continue to be active participants in the larger community, not only to stimulate our senior with dementia but also to give them opportunities for physical activity and socialization.

Besides, we all just want to have fun living life to its fullest as long as we possibly can and know our loved ones are doing so as well!

Strategies for Smooth Family Outings

There are things we can do to make our outings go smoothly when they include a senior loved one with dementia. If they are smooth, we may decide that we can take our senior loved one out more often, which benefits everyone!

We can do a bit of planning before the activity, because how we prepare ourselves and our senior with dementia can make the day easier.

Here are some strategies you can use when you take your senior out for the day (or longer!).

  • Ask them where they might enjoy visiting and, if they can’t think of a place, suggest one or use pictures to trigger a memory of past enjoyment
  • Take small steps if you are unsure how they will react, such as planning a brief outing and building up to more lengthy trips
  • Activities – bring something to keep them busy for a few minutes, distract or calm them
  • Don’t forget snacks and drinks, maybe even a meal, especially a good meal if what is served is not acceptable and you plan to be out longer than a few hours
  • Pack medication that might be needed while out so no doses are missed or forgotten
  • Bring a sweater or jacket to help them stay warm; an umbrella or sunscreen to handle weather
  • Lap blankets can make a real difference
  • A book or puzzle can help pass the time if you will be waiting
  • Pen and paper for notes or just doodling provide a ready-made activity
  • Don’t forget a camera (or smartphone) to capture the memories for everyone
  • Carry emergency phone numbers in case of emergency (if not already stored in smartphone)
  • Bring along extra clothes, including undergarments, socks and a pair of shoes in case of accidents of any kind
  • Ensure the senior carries a phone or other GPS locator if there is any chance of wandering; SatNav technology uses Google map to locate missing person now being trialed in UK
  • Medical alert bracelets can be valuable, as it contains their personal information including health record and contact info via a personal ID number on the bracelet
  • Have your senior loved one carry an ID in their pocket with your contact info and their address in case they get lost
  • Plan to get in and out of store quickly and don’t dawdle if time is of the essence
  • Know where you are going and learn the ins and outs of the location so you can navigate more easily and be aware of excessive noise or too many stairs, which might make that location a less than optimal choice
  • Frequent stops for the restroom should be planned, determine where they are ahead of time
  • Pick the time wisely, which time of the day works best for your senior – morning, afternoon, early evening
  • Help them feel safe in any new surrounding; picking familiar locations work best
  • Avoid going alone, bring a family member or friend for support, hand holding and extra eyes
  • Clear the way, prepare for your outings with the staff and people you come in contact with so next trip is better; make the effort to increase awareness of communicating with person with dementia to help next time
  • When visiting a business, talk to them as you arrive and ask for a quiet table or to serve you with more speed (it may take telling them your are traveling with someone who has dementia); perhaps a sensory garden or memory café would be a good option
  • Constantly give verbal cues and reassurances to keep seniors calm
  • If agitation or distress occur, be ready with your exit strategy to return home where senior feels safer
  • Relax and have a good time!

Dementia Friendly Communities

More and more cities and businesses are requiring personnel to be trained to work with people with dementia.

Dementia-friendly communities are those that allow a person with dementia to participate fully and gain a meaningful experience.

Unfortunately, many caregivers and people with dementia do not feel supported and accepted within their communities. This confidence in their community decreases as dementia progresses.

35% of people with dementia go out once a week or less and 10% report they go out less than once a month. Hopefully we can turn that around.

So what does it take for our communities to become more dementia-friendly?

10 Features of a Dementia Friendly Community

There are things our cities can do to include people with dementia and their caregivers in the life of the community. By incorporating these features into the city — its infrastructure, businesses and mindfulness of the people, they will make it easier for someone with dementia and their caregiver to feel valued and included.

There are many examples of dementia-friendly communities in the US and the UK and many more are taking action to become more inclusive.

In order to be considered a dementia-friendly area, these 10 keys points must be met:

  1. People with dementia are involved, community should know the needs and desires of its citizens
  2. Increase awareness of dementia among the members of the community to reduce stigma
  3. Activities should be inclusive
  4. Acknowledge contributions of those with dementia in the community
  5. Healthcare system works toward early diagnosis and person-centered care
  6. Emotional support and services that engage everyone
  7. Support those with dementia in every home setting whether own home or care homes
  8. Available and reliable transportation
  9. Physical environment is easily navigated without barriers
  10. Businesses are respectful, recognize person with dementia and are trained to help appropriately

No one wants to feel like a burden. A person with dementia does not want to burden their family members. Family members don’t want to burden their friends. Neither want to feel like a burden to their communities.

The reality is that gaining knowledge, empathy and respect for those caring for and diagnosed with dementia can improve all our lives!

Important Cholesterol Education for Healthy Aging by Those of Any Age

One way to practice healthy aging is to understand how our meals affect our health.

Eating a variety of healthy foods and avoiding foods that aren’t as healthy for us will help us all, including our senior loved ones, age more successfully.

This month, as we celebrate Healthy Aging Month, we mark Cholesterol Education Month.

Because many people are not aware of their cholesterol levels, there are no symptoms that tell us “hey, your cholesterol is too high,” it is a good time to remind everyone to learn a little bit more about our heart health as we age and what we can do to improve our health through our diets.

More than 71 million of us have high blood cholesterol, which puts us at great risk for heart disease, heart attack and stroke. We can lower our risk by doing what is necessary to lower our blood cholesterol levels.

Only 1/3 of those with high blood cholesterol actually have it under control.

It is recommended that adults get their blood cholesterol checked every 5 years. Has your senior had their levels checked lately? Do you know their numbers or your own?

We should have a blood cholesterol level of 200 mg/dL or less. Good cholesterol or HDL should be 60 mg/dL or better (the higher number, the more protective for our heart). Bad cholesterol or LDL should be 100 mg/dL or lower. High LDL contributes to the risk of heart disease and stroke while high HDL protects the heart.

Fat and Cholesterol Controversy

There have been many conflicting reports regarding whether or not we should be paying any attention to cholesterol or even if we should try to avoid it in our diets.

Certainly the experts agree we all need to choose healthier fats in our diets to avoid buildup in our arteries of the plaque that leads to heart disease.

The more we learn about our brain health, cognition and dementia, the more we discover that what is good for the heart is good for the brain. Therefore, cutting down on our overall fat intake, choosing unsaturated fats, avoiding Trans fat and substituting unsaturated fats for the saturated fats in our senior’s diet now will help both the heart and the brain.

Fats – the Good, the Better and the Ones to Avoid

We hear a lot about fats in the media, including which are good or bad. Our overall intake of fat is important and we should all be trying to lower that amount at the same time substituting unsaturated fats for saturated ones.

Fat comes along with higher calories so if you are trying to lose weight, lowering your fat intake will help.

Cholesterol isn’t itself a fat but a fat-like substance. Excess cholesterol in your blood increases your risk of heart disease. Your body makes its own cholesterol so dietary sources of cholesterol are not essential.

The American Heart Association recommends no more than 5-6% of our total calories come from saturated fat and Dietary Guidelines recommend less than 10% of total calories from saturated fat.

Trans fats are definitely on the “avoid” list! These are fats derived from the hydrogenation process when making a liquid fat into a solid fat. It has been found in margarine, baked goods and snack foods. Because it raises our cholesterol and readily forms plaque in our arteries, there has been concern about the use of this food ingredient and it has been removed from many products already after the Food and Drug Administration removed trans fat from the Generally Recognized as Safe list earlier this year. Manufacturers have three years to remove it from the food supply. Continue to read the nutrition facts label looking for 0 trans fat and no hydrogenated oils in the ingredients.

Saturated fats are those that come from animal sources and are usually solid at room temperature, such as butter, animal fat, poultry skin, full fat cheese, fat in dairy products, tropical oils, baked goods, fried foods and lard. They raise your total blood cholesterol and LDL.

Unsaturated fats are considered to be healthy fats and are usually liquid at room temperature. We do need to include fat in our diet for normal function and to provide essential nutrients, such as fat soluble vitamins and essential fatty acids. The Dietary Guidelines recommendations are 20-35% of total calories come from all fats.

Monounsaturated – found in a variety of foods, including canola, olive, peanut and safflower oils and avocado, nuts, seeds and olives.

Polyunsaturated – found in primarily plant based foods nuts, seeds, oils such as soybean, corn, and cottonseed; omega 3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat that is beneficial to heart health found in fatty fish, nuts and seeds such as walnuts, almonds, flaxseed and sunflower.

Tips for Lowering Blood Cholesterol

There are things that your senior can do to impact their cholesterol level for healthy aging and some that they can’t affect such as age and heredity. Family caregivers can encourage and facilitate these changes in their senior loved ones for improved heart health and also brain health.

  1. Diet

Reducing the overall amount of fat in your senior’s diet focusing on eliminating trans fat, reducing saturated fat and replacing it with unsaturated fat in addition to lowering high cholesterol food choices will help reduce all blood lipid levels to prevent heart disease. Eating more plant based foods help to lower overall fats in the diet.

  1. Weight

Maintaining weight in a normal range can help manage cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease. It will be easier for your senior to be more physically active when they are not overweight too.

  1. Physical activity

Being physically active will help your senior to not only manage their weight but also exercise their heart through cardiovascular fitness. Regular physical activity can help lower cholesterol levels. The goal for seniors is 150 minutes of activity per week but 30 minutes a day would be most beneficial.

  1. Medications if needed

If your senior’s doctor believes that a medication is necessary to help lower cholesterol, it is important to follow the instructions and be aware of potential side effects. Using medication along with other changes will help your senior use the lowest medication dosage possible.

Know the Numbers

In order for our senior loved ones to be healthy and manage their blood lipid levels, the first step is to know the numbers.

Getting screened and talking to your senior’s healthcare team about which interventions would be most beneficial to them is key to healthy aging.

Once your senior knows their blood cholesterol levels, they will be better prepared to make the necessary lifestyle changes that will improve their health and well-being.

They will need your help to become heart healthy, maybe you can do it together!

First Day of Fall Reminds Us to Practice Fall Prevention for Seniors!

Most falls are preventable – plain and simple. They are not a part of healthy aging and we shouldn’t anticipate that they are inevitable.

Despite the fact that there are many strategies that senior adults can employ to prevent falls, older adults visit their local emergency rooms for treatment of a fall related injury every 13 seconds!

In 2013 some 25,000 seniors died from unintentional fall injuries. An older adult dies from a fall every 20 minutes!

95% of hip fractures are caused by falls. It has been found that 1/4 of seniors who fracture a hip from a fall will die within six months of the injury.

Falls also cause the majority of all traumatic brain injuries for seniors.

What many caregivers don’t realize is that our senior loved ones are fearful of falling, which causes them to limit their activity. The downside to that is losing muscle strength, which in turn leads to falls. It can be a vicious cycle leading to immobility and lack of independence.

Falling, even the fear of falling, can result in a facility placement and the loss of the dream for aging in place.

Did we say that most falls are preventable?

Steps to Prevent Falls

By doing a few simple things that will make our seniors healthier, they will be preventing falls.

It may not be possible to completely prevent falls, but we should expect to reduce the number and severity of falls by accomplishing these strategies.

These things need to become a regular part of your senior loved one’s routine not a once in a blue moon occurrence.

  1. Become physically active – remember that even taking a nice walk once in a while provides real benefits.
  2. Participate in strength training activities that will build muscle and strengthen bone
  3. Improve balance through specific balance activities; there are balance programs that can be found through the Area Agency on Aging
  4. Get your hearing and vision checked regularly to avoid tripping over things you can no longer see as well
  5. Improve your environment by trip proofing your home. Be sure there is no clutter, loose flooring, throw rugs, electric cords, small pets, or other sources of trips. Install adequate lighting to see clearly even during the day. Install grab bars and hand rails in key areas to support walking and transferring. For more, check out our Home Seniorization Checklist.
  6. Eat a healthy diet with adequate amounts of calcium, vitamin D and protein.
  7. Have your medications reviewed for any that might be leading to falls as some drugs have side effects that increase your senior’s risk for falling
  8. Check your bone density to ensure your bones are as strong as they should be and start treatment to build bone as prescribed by your doctor
  9. Ask your doctor to complete a falls risk assessment on your senior loved one and connect you with pertinent resources to reduce your senior’s risk for falls such as therapy, exercise programs or other programs.
  10. Manage your chronic disease conditions that could lead to lack of mobility, dizziness or inactivity.
  11. Wear proper footwear at home and away from home in addition to using prescribed and fitted mobility aides such as canes and walkers.

For more, we thought you might find this video from the National Council on Aging to be helpful.

Are These Barriers to Physical Activity?

Oftentimes people who are not exercising as they know they should tell us that there are good reasons (not excuses) that they are not participating in more physical activities. There are valid reasons for not doing so.

Barriers are obstacles that have not yet been overcome. We can overcome most of the obstacles that keep our senior loved ones from participating in physical activity.

Reasons many seniors don’t get physical:

  • No safe place to walk whether from fear of crime or unsafe walking paths
  • Weather – too hot, cold, rainy, snowy, icy, humid
  • Can’t afford a gym membership
  • Don’t want to go alone
  • Can’t access transportation
  • Don’t know enough about where to go or what to do
  • Lack of clean restrooms when bladder or bowel issues strike
  • Fear of injury

There are activities and programs that can help overcome these barriers.

  • Mall walking – it is temperature controlled, others are around, the walkways are safe, there are people there to monitor and support your activities, little or no cost, and there are clean accessible bathrooms. Many malls have walking clubs that meet on a regular basis.
  • Senior center – wide range of programs offered, friendship from peers, group leader trained in safety, climate controlled, transportation often available and little or no cost.
  • Neighborhood or government sponsored classes – many locations have classes or groups for seniors, including tai chi, dancing, Silver Sneakers, water aerobics, walking trails and other activities. These are little to no cost and supervised by personnel.
  • In-home activities – videos/DVDs that can offer wheelchair exercises, yoga or dancing to the music. Weight training using small weights or other objects found in the home. Play exercise video games such as Wii Golf or Tennis.
  • Local health fairs – no cost to the participant events sponsored by hospital systems or other agencies. They screen for falls, balance, blood pressure, vision, and teach nutrition, medication management as well as offering massages.

The goal of fall prevention strategies is to reduce the modifiable risk factors and strengthen senior loved ones’ bones and muscles so that if there is a fall it is more likely the damage will be minimal.

Fall prevention programs will result in not only reducing the number of falls but also improving fitness, social engagement and overall health. Being actively involved on a daily basis will also help our seniors’ mental outcome, reduce isolation and depression.

The bottom line becomes increased quality of life for our senior loved ones.

Isn’t that what we want for them?

Disasters Can Strike Anytime – Ensure Senior Loved Ones are Prepared

Is your senior love one prepared for disaster?

Reminders are very helpful, especially for family caregivers who have so many responsibilities — not only for the well-being of their senior loved one but for themselves and their own families.

National Preparedness Month is 30 days of reminders.

It is that time again to be reminded about getting ready for emergencies. There are many things that we can do to prepare our senior loved ones for a variety of emergencies and give you peace of mind they are ready to weather any storm.

Disasters can strike without warning so it is imperative we help prepare our seniors ahead of time. Getting supplies in their home is just one small piece of the puzzle to help them be prepared.

Let’s all get some good reminders about what we should do now to prepare seniors for emergencies.

Planning

Have you thought about what might happen to your senior loved one in the case of emergency?

In the part of the country where they live, what is the most likely to occur – flood, tornado, earthquake, hurricane, power outages, mudslide, or forest fire? Each disaster requires a different approach to preparedness.

Each state and municipality has an emergency management office that could assist you to learn more about the particular issues that might need to be addressed in the area where your senior lives. Contact them for more guidance if needed.

Depending on the particular type of catastrophe that could present itself, will your senior need to evacuate or can they seek safety in their home to ride out the storm?

Will they require emergency power for medical equipment during and after an emergency?

Do they have adequate supplies of food, water and medications to see them through 3-7 days of the storm’s aftermath or potentially longer?

Can they complete preparations in their home to see them through a storm, such as storm windows or clearing the outside of potential debris such as garbage cans or lawn furniture, or will they need assistance from family or paid handymen?

Before and After an Emergency

What can you do now to help them prepare and what needs to be put into action weeks or days ahead of a storm and most importantly, what will need to be done immediately after an emergency?

If you are a long distance caregiver, is your network in place and ready to react on your part in the event of an emergency?

Are their important documents stored in a safe and waterproof place such as advance directives, insurance policies, bank records and IDs? Can copies be kept in an alternate location?

Are their government benefits sent electronically in case the mail is disrupted? If not, set that up now so that they don’t get short of cash waiting for the mail to arrive.

Keep some cash on hand in case of an emergency in case the bank is unable to open or the ATM without power or empty!

Communication

How is your family unit structured to communicate before, during and after an emergency – – or is it?

Is adequate technology available to communicate with your senior loved one, especially if you are at a distance, to check on their status and safety? Do they have a smartphone that is data-ready to communicate via Skype or Facetime if needed?

Does the family have a contact person designated who can be the spokesperson to let everyone know what is happening and provide updates and instructions?

If needed, does your senior have a way to provide medical information to healthcare personnel? Is their information stored in a smartphone app or do they have some means to show a temporary record including medications and health history?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a form that you can complete called “Keep It With You” that they can have ready.

Supplies

Do your senior loved ones have enough medications on hand so that they don’t run out of necessary prescription or over-the-counter medications that might be needed for longer than a few days?

Do they have a first aid kit that is up to date and equipped for multiple emergencies?

Do they have enough potable water for themselves, anyone in the house and their pets for an extended period in case of emergency? It is recommended that there be 1 gallon of water a day for each person and pet in the household.

Do they have a means to get emergency weather information if the power goes out and ample batteries to power it?

How can they call for help if needed? Where is the phone number kept and who should they call first?

Do they have adequate clothing or blankets to see them through the emergency?

Is everything they might need in one place so that they don’t have to scramble to locate flashlights, batteries, radio and all their other supplies? Can these be put in one closet or shelf for easy access?

If they are going to a shelter to weather the storm, do they know what they can and can’t take with them and how they will get there? If their medications require refrigeration, can the shelter provide this or do they need to keep them cold in a cooler with ice?

Is the car sufficiently gassed up in case they are unable to get gas after a storm and need to find safety in another location? During storm season it is a good idea to always keep the car fully fueled.

Home Prep

Is there a fire extinguisher in the home? Are smoke alarms in proper working order?

Is there bleach available in case the water needs to be sanitized before drinking?

When diluted nine parts water to one part bleach, bleach can be used as a disinfectant. Or in an emergency, you can use it to treat water by using 16 drops of regular household liquid bleach per gallon of water. Do not use scented, color safe or bleaches with added cleaners.

Do they have activities to relieve boredom after the storm while waiting for power to be restored, such as board games, cards, books, etc.?

Is a tarp part of your prep kit in case there is a breach in the roof that requires repair?

Is there a home tool box available to perform minor repairs and shut off for water or gas?

Are there items around the outside of the house that need to be stored or removed to a different location in the face of bad weather so as not to be blown around creating damage? Can your senior move these themselves or do they need assistance securing their property?

Community Resources

It is important that family caregivers know what resources are available in their senior loved one’s community.

Is there an evacuation shelter nearby?

Can you list your senior with the local first responders to check in for their safety such as police, fire department, and local utility provider? If they are dependent on power for medical devices, it is good to let their utility know they have a need.

Is there a specific radio station that can provide important safety information that they should be tuned to such as boil water notices or evacuation instructions?

The better prepared your senior is to weather any disaster, the more likely they will recover quickly from any disaster.

Measures can be taken and updated each year to be sure they are as safe and prepared to handle emergencies as possible.

Discuss preparations with them regularly so that they know who to call, what to do and where all their resources are located. Decide if they will stay or go and how they will get to an evacuation shelter.

We can’t prevent disaster from striking but we can be prepared to cope with it as effectively and safely as possible!

7 Tips for Making a Difference in Seniors’ Health and Quality of Life

Every year in September we celebrate the well-being of older adults and encourage them to take steps to live healthier, more active lives.

The goal of the celebration is to provide information to improve the lives of seniors in the areas of physical health, mental health, socialization and financial well-being.

The bottom line message is that it is never too late to implement changes that can make a big difference in your senior loved one’s health and quality of life.

Making changes can be difficult because it could require breaking lifelong habits, but taking personal responsibility for their own well-being will give your senior a feeling of empowerment.

What can you do to encourage your senior to live life to the fullest?

We have 7 valuable tips to empower your senior to change for the better!

1. Stay Active

This is such an important lifestyle habit that we can’t say it enough. It is time to find an activity that your senior enjoys, if not more than one, and help them start getting active.

Exercising strengthens muscles, improves balance, gets the heart pumping, improves cognition, and can even add years to your senior’s life by slowing the aging process.

Schedule the time each day when activity becomes a priority. It can be something easy like a walk or something to which you travel, such as an exercise class, dance, resistance training or sports.

Plan to participate in a tai chi class, yoga, swimming or mall walking club.

Would they like to use a gaming station, such as a Wii, that has an exergame such as Dance Party, bowling, tennis or golf that will get them off the couch and participating?

Exercising or getting moving is easier if they have a buddy, but it doesn’t have to be you. Maybe a neighbor, friend, family member or group at the senior center. There are special programs geared to seniors, such as Silver Sneakers, that combine physical activity with socialization that could really meet your senior’s needs.

It is recommended seniors perform at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week, at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or a combination of these two approaches.

It doesn’t have to be done all at one time or one day, spread it out over the week in a variety of activities of at least ten minutes to add in fun and social engagement opportunities.

2. Well Balanced Eating

Seniors need to adjust the amount of calories they need each day based on whether they wish to maintain, lose or gain weight, but their nutrient requirements continue. Cutting out food types or amounts can lead to nutritional deficiencies if a variety of nutrients are not included in the day’s meals.

Choosing nutrient dense foods that pack a punch should be the goal for all seniors. Including lean protein sources at each meal will help protect muscle from wasting and which can lead to weakness and falls.

Fresh fruits and vegetables especially in deep colors; whole grain bread and cereals; healthy fats; as well as nuts, seeds and beans should be on their plates.

Drinking adequate water for hydration, limiting sugar sweetened beverages and empty calorie foods will get them on the road to good nutrition and wellness.

3. Get & Stay Connected

The benefits of social interactions are well documented. In addition to stimulating seniors’ brains, social engagement can ward off feelings of loneliness, isolation and depression.

Seniors need to connect to lifelong friends and make new friends by participating in community events, calling them regularly on the phone and having meetings or sharing meals on a routine basis.

We can connect them to family and friends, both near and far, through the use of technology. Have they gotten connected with Facebook, Skype or FaceTime? They will love it and you can help them utilize technology and prevent isolation.

Seniors can also find opportunities to use their knowledge and skills to help others through volunteerism. They could help in a library, hospital, church or animal shelter. They can do things that match their abilities, there is always something that needs doing.

4. Sleep Like a Baby

One way to be successful and age well is to get enough sleep each night.

Sleeping at night in a restful manner is important and there are ways to improve their sleep pattern.

How long do they sleep at night? Do they wake for the bathroom? Do they eat or drink too close to bedtime? Is their mattress ready for an upgrade? Is their room comfortable, quiet, soothing, or distracting for sleep? Are they taking long naps or napping too close to bedtime?

What changes can you facilitate that will improve their sleep at night?

5. Review Medications

Many seniors take a multitude of prescription and over the counter medications. It is very important to get regular checkups of the medication list from their pharmacist or doctor to be sure there are no duplicates, interactions or problematic side effects that could impact your senior’s well-being.

You should always keep an up to date medication list handy, perhaps using an app or computer program such as Evernote, so that it is easily updated and portable if the need to access it quickly arises.

6. Give Their Money a Makeover

Being financially well is important for seniors as they age so that they can not only maintain a desired standard of living but also meet their needs as they age in place.

The cost of healthcare continues to climb. Out of pocket expenses can be crippling for seniors on fixed incomes. In-home care can mean the difference between staying home or going to a facility but it can be costly for seniors.

Planning ahead, budgeting current assets and preventing becoming victims of financial abuse or fraud will be key to seniors’ successful aging in place.

It is a good idea to get expert advice to help plan their finances and review their investments to ensure they are serving them well.

7. Put Health First

Healthy aging can be accomplished when your senior loved one remains as healthy as possible. This involves getting regular medical checkups, completing all preventive health tests such as prostate screening and mammograms, getting all scheduled vaccines including seasonal flu shots, having annual dilated eye exams, going to the dentist, taking medications as prescribed, using sunscreen and stopping smoking.

Your senior needs to be empowered with the knowledge that they are taking all the necessary steps to stay well. Once they have been diagnosed with a chronic disease, they should be in control of it and manage it appropriately.

Spreading the Healthy Aging Message

In addition to creating information for family caregivers of seniors that will help inform and inspire them to make positive changes that will lead to improved quality of life for everyone, I also enjoy the opportunities that I have to share experiences and knowledge face to face.

To celebrate healthy aging month, I have the pleasure to be a part of a senior outreach program in my community. Speaking to the group of senior adults who are trying hard to remain independent, socially active and learn ways to improve their health is a joy for me.

This group of seniors faces the same struggles as many of the senior adults for whom you care. They are trying to learn ways to stay physically active, keep their independence and prevent immobility of the body and mind. They face many challenges but are active participants in their own wellness.

I love interacting with people who put their health first! We can all do the same and be included in the club of seniors who are doing what it takes for healthy aging!

Osteoporosis – Don’t Let it Make Your Senior Too Brittle to Enjoy Life

There are so many things to be fearful of in life like spiders, severe weather and big, snarling dogs with big teeth!

Independent living in their home environment and the possibility of breaking a bone in that home environment are among the greatest joys and biggest fears for many aging in place seniors.

Family caregivers share those fears, too.

It can be especially fearful for seniors who have brittle bones, when the simple act of repositioning in bed or a chair, or just standing up, can result in a bone break. It can lead to a withdrawal of normal activities, isolation and depression too.

That broken bone can cost them the ability to live independently and their cherished home environment.

As we get older, our bones can become more fragile. Fearing a fall can also seem to lead to a fall because our senior loved ones begin moving in unsafe ways to avoid falls.

It can also cause them to give up some of the activities they love.

Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is diagnosed when bones become weak and brittle to the point that fractures occur with a minimum amount of stress, such as when one is coughing.

This bone loss is usually the result of hormone changes, endocrine disorders or long-term steroid therapy that reduce the bone density. It can also happen as a result of an inadequate amount of available vitamin D and calcium to build and maintain strong bones.

Some 54 million people have osteoporosis which includes both women and men. One in four women over 65 have osteoporosis. It is estimated that one in two women and one in four men over 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis. That is a huge number and therefore a condition we need to take seriously and learn more about!

In addition to fractures, it is often accompanied by pain, a loss of height and changes in the skeleton such as curvature of the spine.

We can improve our bone density through proper diet, exercise especially weight bearing activities, and bone strengthening medications.

Tai Chi Improves Balance and Fall Prevention

If your senior loved one is at risk for osteoporosis or diagnosed with brittle bones already, you should be doing all you can to help them prevent falls in their home and while they are out.

One good way to prevent falls is to improve balance and muscle strength. A recent two year pilot program studied by researchers in Maine found that tai chi could help prevent falls.

Tai chi is an effective physical activity that helps counter act the effects of aging and chronic disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It has been shown to improve posture, balance, and motor control for those with Parkinson’s disease as well.

Those participating in the tai chi program as part of the Maine Agency on Aging had 20% fewer falls, as well as a 20% reduction in anxiety surrounding falls, when participating twice a week. They also found there are benefits in relief from pain and improved mobility not to mention a heightened sense of calmness.

Vitamin D Supplements Impact Falling

Another study recently published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society showed that older adults who were homebound and taking a vitamin D supplement had increased muscle strength.

Fall prevention in this population was very important to maintain independence but also prevent fractures that could end their aging in place dream and potentially even their lives.

Common denominators for homebound seniors are their lack of exposure to sunshine as well as a poor diet. Therefore, homebound seniors served by the Meals on Wheels program were given vitamin D supplements when their meals arrived. One group received a placebo. More than half of these seniors had insufficient vitamin D levels at the outset but showed an improved level to optimal levels after supplementation compared to the placebo group. These seniors reduced falls during this study period by half.

While a direct cause and effect between vitamin D levels being normal and reduced falls as a result of this study were not reported, more research will be conducted to further prove the benefits of vitamin D intake and falling in a larger trial group.

Taking a supplement of vitamin D, getting more sun exposure and including more sources of vitamin D in their diet can help seniors improve bone health to hopefully reduce falls with fractures.

Strategies to Improve Bone Strength

There are a few things we can all, including our senior loved ones, do to build bone density as we age.

  1. Get a bone density test so that your senior will know if more interventions are needed to prevent fractures.
  2. Add sources of calcium and vitamin D in your senior’s daily diet including these:

Milk

Yogurt

Cheese

Salmon

Dark green leafy vegetables

Sardines

Eggs (with yolk)

Calcium fortified foods such as juice, oatmeal and cereal

Tuna

Olive oil

Nuts and seeds especially walnuts and flaxseed oil (omega 3 especially for men increase markers for bone health)

Soy foods

Beans

  1. Limit your salt intake because excess sodium in the diet can result in losing calcium in your urine.
  2. Ask your doctor about vitamin/mineral supplements if you are worried about bones.
  3. Get out in the sunshine at least ten minutes a day.
  4. Do weight bearing activities like weight lifting, resistance training, yoga, tennis and dancing.
  5. Adjust your senior’s environment to eliminate fall hazards and help prevent falling, reducing the possibility of fractures.

As we age, decreasing bone health should not be considered to be inevitable. It also shouldn’t keep your senior from enjoying their life or fearing frequent, debilitating fractures, especially when we can change the course of this disease.

If we help our senior loved ones take action that can prevent bone loss and keep their muscles strong, they can stay resilient and independent to have optimal quality of life.

Technology Assisted Living Cities – Good Aging in Place Candidates

Aging in place is a goal for more than 90% of us and our senior loved ones. Most of us will be able to realize our dreams. Unfortunately some will not.

How can we improve the likelihood our senior loved ones (and us) will be counted among those who are able to stay in the homes of their choice as they age?

Family caregivers can be sure that the home is made ready for aging in place with modifications that make it easier for a senior to complete activities of daily living as their mobility and capabilities began to decline.

Technology can also be used to bridge the gap between functional ability and safety as our seniors age in place.

Did you know there are cities that are considered technology assisted for aging?

There are such cities and we read the report detailing what qualifies a city and how we can be sure our seniors are connected to improve their aging in place.

Here’s what we found.

Strategies For Aging in Place

There are many pieces to the aging in place puzzle that must be ready for our senior loved ones to be independent, healthy, safe, and happy at home.

Here are a few conditions that family caregivers need to put in position, as applicable, for seniors to live at home.

  • Assistance with personal care such as toileting, bathing and grooming
  • Provision of nutritious foods – shopping, preparing, eating and food safety
  • Medication management – seniors need to take their prescription and over the counter medications as ordered, timely and in the correct dosage without missing a dose
  • Transportation – access to transportation either their own vehicle, public transportation, family and friends or paid transportation so that they can meet their needs for healthcare, shopping and socialization
  • In-home medical care – seniors may need help at home, including personal medical or nursing care, companionship, housekeeping and even 24 hour supervision
  • Home modification and maintenance – making the home livable as our seniors age and keeping it in good repair to be safe and reduce the potential for falls
  • Financial planning – there needs to be money set aside for aging or a financial plan in place to ensure needs are in line with the available income

Technology for Aging in Place

There are many technology applications that can help caregivers get the resources that their senior loved ones need while they remain at home.

  1. Transportation – there are always taxicabs or city buses but there are also car services, such as Uber, that anyone can call to get a ride to the store, doctor or church. Smartphone apps can be used for transportation services including bus schedules.
  2. Online services – a variety of services for homeowners are easy to find online through websites. You can connect with a handyman for remodeling, yard work, painting or fixes using sites such as Porch, Home Advisor, or Angie’s List. You can find home care workers who can clean your house such as Merry Maids. Another service many seniors might need is dog walking through Rover.
  3. Food – there are home meal and food deliveries that can be scheduled through the Area Agency on Aging in your area or through internet companies such as Pea Pod, Instacart, Schwan’s, HelloFresh or Blue Apron.
  4. Paid Caregiving – many home care companies can be accessed using the internet. Services can be arranged for housework like laundry, personal care, meal preparation, activities of daily living and nursing services as well as companionship or supervision.

Cities That Encompass Technology Assisted Living

Can your senior get access to any or all of these four areas through the use of technology where they live?

Is there at least one or two of these technology assisted living providers available to them or all of the above?

If your senior’s home city is served by all of these types of businesses that can be reached via the internet, it is an indicator that their city can be called a “technology assisted” city.

According to a report by Redfin, cities which contain all four of these services by four particular companies (Uber, Porch, Instacart and CareLinx) were identified and designated technology assisted.

Cities that included these services as well as a having the cost of housing plus expenses be cheaper than living in an assisted living facility made the top ten.

Here are the top 10 technology assisted cities according to Redfin:

  1. Washington, DC
  2. Philadelphia, PA
  3. Chicago, IL
  4. Austin, TX
  5. Houston, TX
  6. Boston, MA
  7. Miami, FL
  8. Denver, CO
  9. Atlanta, GA
  10. Portland, OR

Similarities of the Top Ten Cities

Cities that are age-friendly share characteristics that make aging in place easier for seniors.

These top 10 cities have good public transportation services, amenities for socialization, are walkable, healthcare access, technology based services, public parks, and tax incentives in housing.

Many of these locations have temperate weather conditions that lend themselves to year round living which would be a bonus for many seniors.

Having family nearby would be the greatest asset to living in a tech friendly city.

Technology Connections in Cities That Didn’t Make the List

If your senior lives in a city that didn’t make the top ten, how can you connect them to some of these services and other technology that can make their aging in place experience more beneficial?

There might be an app for that!

There are numerous apps for smarthphones that can be used as resources for the needs of senior loved ones. Here are a few suggestions but they are limitless and can be region specific so check out what is nearest to your senior.

  • You can use online directories, locator maps and the yellow pages online to find goods and services that your senior may need. You can find a handyman, lawn service, restaurant meals delivery, house cleaner or even in-home pet care by using apps and the yellow pages online.
  • Virtual companions can help isolated seniors feel as though they are connecting with someone. These can be accessed through tablets and the internet.
  • Apps to find a handyman, read a review, schedule a visit and then rate their service can be helpful for seniors including Handy.
  • Apps to find meal delivery in your location include GrubHub and others. Search your location for services that include restaurants near you because many national chains including fast food (not just pizza anymore) will deliver their food when you order on their mobile app. There are also sites that make their own food and sell it through the app such as Sprig.
  • Uber is the most well-known app that can get you transportation but there are others, including Whisk for New York City Taxis. Local car services have begun creating their own apps to compete with Uber so look for one in your senior’s location if they need a ride.
  • Many home care companies have apps that will help you connect with them to schedule service and get reviews. We hear a lot about Care.com but other companies also have apps including one near your senior such as Visiting Nurse Association (VNA) and Interim among others.
  • You can connect with the doctor, too, on a variety of apps, including HealthTap, iTriage (self-help) or Doctor on Demand.
  • There are even apps that help you search for apps you might want on both iOS and Android. They include Appsfire, Chomp and Appolicious.

As with anything related to technology, the more you know about the more you will use and benefit. Because technology and startup companies are ever changing, it is a good idea to keep up to date with the latest technology.

We will continue to help you do just that!