Caring for a Senior Adult – a Personal Story Shared by Millions

We will all face it at some point, if we don’t already — caregiving.

A family member, such as a grandparent, parent, aunt, uncle, in-law, or even a neighbor will need your help.

As the population ages, it’s likely we will become caregivers for an older adult who needs us, whether or not we are ready.

Illness, injury, dementia, surgery or other unforeseen occurrence may signal the need for us to take over caring for another person.

Make no mistake, caregiving is very rewarding but it can be a lot of responsibility.

Some caregivers may be nearby, far away, or even live with their senior loved one.

Even though family caregivers may provide care that is daily, occasional, or of either short or long duration, we share common concerns.

Growing Caregiver Numbers

The number of family caregivers of seniors is growing, as one might imagine, along with the increase in the senior population.

There have been many studies investigating not only prevalence statistics but also what services caregivers are providing to their senior family members.

Here are statistics from The National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) and the AARP Public Policy Institute in their Caregiving in the US Report 2015:

  • 43.5 million adults in the United States have provided unpaid care to an adult or a child in the prior 12 months
  • 34.2 million Americans have provided unpaid care to an adult age 50 or older in the prior 12 months
  • shockingly, 1.4 million children ages 8 to 18 provide care for an adult relative
  • a majority of caregivers are female (60%), but that still means there are a lot of males providing care
  • A majority of caregivers provide care for a relative (85%), with 49% caring for a parent or parent-in-law
  • One in 10 provides care for a spouse
  • Nearly 1 in 10 caregivers is 75 years of age or older
  • Family caregivers have been in their role for 4 years, with a quarter having provided care for 5 years or more
  • Half of those needing care live in their own homes
  • A quarter of those needing care have a memory problem
  • More than half of seniors receiving care have been hospitalized in the past 12 months
  • On average, caregivers spend 24.4 hours a week providing care to their senior loved one; nearly one-quarter provide 41 or more hours of care a week
  • Only 32% of caregivers report their senior loved one gets paid help from aides, housekeepers, or other people paid to help them
  • Sadly, 22% of caregivers felt their health had gotten worse as a result of caregiving
  • Just under half of caregivers report their senior has made plans for his or her future care

These numbers are pretty staggering when one considers that they are only increasing.

A new study just released from Caregiving.com found that 40% of caregivers spent on average $5,000 a year of their own money for items such as food, clothes, medical care and other costs for their senior loved ones.

Three fourths report their caregiving duties put a strain on their employment, including required work time adjustments and arriving late.

The Caregiver Action Network reports that the value of the services family caregivers provide for “free,” when caring for older adults, is estimated to be $375 billion a year.

Caregiving Duties

Every family’s situation will be unique, but caregivers of older adults are doing many of the same tasks.

The problem is not the task itself but the time it takes to complete, not one task but the multitude of tasks with which we are faced each day.

As our family members get older, they often need our help in little ways and more and more in big ways.

Our elders need help getting their medications together for the week, so they are taken as prescribed, doing the housework, paying the bills, preparing meals and going to doctor visits until eventually more care is required.

Sometimes the transition from needing a little help to being dependent on us comes slowly and other times it will come all too quickly.

Here are just a few things you may be doing now or will do in the future:

  • housework
  • grocery shopping
  • cooking
  • transportation
  • medical and other appointment management
  • insurance and document coordination
  • personal care: dressing, toileting, bathing, feeding
  • nursing duties like catheter care, IVs, ostomy care, or wound care
  • companionship
  • home maintenance
  • medication management
  • financial management
  • supervision
  • safety interventions
  • documenting end of life wishes
  • advocating
  • helping transfer from bed to chair to toilet to car and back again

Sometimes we can help and sometimes we need to find others to help us or even find placement to keep our family members safe.

Tips for Caring for Yourself

One of the most important things family caregivers need to remember is to care for yourself. You will be unable to help anyone if you don’t care for yourself!

It is not selfish to set aside time to care for your own needs.

The Caregiver Action Network offers these 10 tips for family caregivers to care for yourself:

  1. Seek support from other caregivers. You are not alone!
  2. Take care of your own health so that you can be strong enough to take care of your loved one.
  3. Accept offers of help and suggest specific things people can do to help you.
  4. Learn how to communicate effectively with doctors.
  5. Caregiving is hard work so take respite breaks often.
  6. Watch out for signs of depression and don’t delay getting professional help when you need it.
  7. Be open to new technologies that can help you care for your loved one.
  8. Organize medical information so it’s up to date and easy to find.
  9. Make sure legal documents are in order.
  10. Give yourself credit for doing the best you can in one of the toughest jobs there is!

Shared Caregiving Mission

Many family caregivers continue to love their seniors and remember how they used to be before their abilities declined — their joy of living and lifelong service to others. Your main goal is their comfort and safety.

If you are not now going through it right now, you very likely will eventually.

Words of wisdom to you: remember how much you love them; what they meant to you throughout your life; what they gave to you in your youth; the values that they instilled in you; and the years of joy they gave to everyone.

These memories will sustain you through the toughest days.

Find a moment in each day to appreciate even the smallest thing.

Your life will be richer for the gift of comfort you give.

Because Everyone is Affected – Talking to Kids About Alzheimer’s

During World Alzheimer’s Month, as we spread awareness and information about Alzheimer’s and other related dementias, it is a good time to ponder how we are discussing dementia with our younger generation.

Are we talking with them about it?

How are we?

What do they want — and need — to know?

How can we improve the interactions between children of all ages and those with dementia?

Stigma of the Diagnosis

Stigma is real and can lead to isolation and reduced quality of life for those with dementia.

Many people continue to believe Alzheimer’s and dementia are a part of aging, but that is not the case. Just getting older doesn’t cause Alzheimer’s.

People diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and their families often feel that, due to a true lack of understanding and awareness of the cause and course of the disease, there is mistreatment in the community of those with the disease.

Stigma can lead to a fear of seeking medical care and even a diagnosis. Some don’t want their family members to know in case they will treat their senior loved one differently.

What They Don’t Know CAN Hurt Them

Not getting diagnosed early makes planning for the future a bit more cumbersome and harder to benefit from potential treatment to slow the damage caused by protein buildup in the brain.

When seniors wait to get evaluated and treatment begun, more damage to brain cells can occur which won’t be able to be overcome as it might if treated earlier.

Not informing the family can also mean that loved ones are not able to participate as fully as they would want in caregiving.

Those who hide their secret from the family are also leaving out the children. This doesn’t give them a chance at understanding the disease or how it is impacting their loved one.

Who knows, one of these bright young minds touched by dementia in their lives may be spurred into finding a cure!

Involving Kids

Children, especially younger ones, may not understand about the disease and its effects without being included.

Naturally, the discussion needs to be age appropriate and explained in a way that they can understand.

Family caregivers need to let them know what to expect when they visit their senior loved one.

Family caregivers should explain how to respond to repetitive questions.

It is vital to let them know that their grandparents or other family members still love them as they did before but may not be able to express it anymore.

Specific behaviors such as wandering, labile emotions, confusion, anger or other changes will be difficult for children to understand unless you help them through it.

Family members, especially the parents, should expect their child to experience emotions such as sadness, grief, guilt, resentment, worry, confusion and embarrassment. Parents may need to help them find ways to cope with these new emotions.

Prepare for Children’s Reactions

They may wonder if something similar will happen to their own parents, family members or themselves. They need reassurance that any anger or misbehavior in their loved ones is not directed at them or something that they caused to happen.

Children may think that they themselves have misbehaved or irritated their loved ones to make them act as they do and should be made aware it is the disease causing certain behaviors and not anything they have done.

They may feel a bit jealous of the additional time family caregivers spend away from the family unit. They may not be getting as much attention as they were in the past and may feel a bit ignored.

Parents of children whose family is facing dementia need to keep communication open and free-flowing. You will need to be honest and explain as much as possible to help them understand and process the new situation.

Helping Children Cope

Family caregivers and parents of children affected by dementia should be given opportunities to express their emotions and ask questions about what they are observing.

They can feel tension in the family and should be told as much about the situation as possible to help them cope.

Equipping children to understand, empathize and handle all the changes happening to the people that they love will help the entire family avoid treating senior loved ones with dementia differently.

If they have questions about the disease or the behaviors they see in your senior loved one, give them the place to ask about their concerns. Answer them as honestly as possible.

Give your children support and provide them with comfort when things aren’t the same as they were before.

Create ways for them to reminisce and remember their older loved ones. Create photo albums with old photos either on paper or digitally.

Involve the Kids

Encourage them to find ways to make memories with their senior while they can.

Get them a journal where they can express their thoughts in a private place only they will see. This will help them work through their thoughts and emotions.

Help them to learn as much about the disease and its progression as they can understand so that they will be ready for the next step.

Find ways to make the time they spend with the person with dementia as enjoyable as possible. Plan activities that they will both enjoy doing together.

Get them involved in community events to help with fundraising or get support so that they can feel like they are making a difference in this disease.

Don’t put a child in a position of responsibility, such as “supervision,” without an adult present. They can help care for the person with dementia but shouldn’t be a primary caregiver, as this could lead to problems for all involved.

Things to Help Them Learn

Everyone in the family is affected when someone has dementia, including the children.

There are many different types of resources that you can make available to your children and teens to help them learn more about the person with dementia, the disease itself and how they can help.

There are numerous informational, and even humorous, books for different age groups that help to describe how their loved ones with dementia are changing. These books will help them realize that they aren’t alone in the way their lives are changing.

There are also books to help parents navigate the journey of dementia and explain it to their children.

Perhaps reading some blog articles that will provide more information about whatever topic your family is currently dealing with as dementia progresses will be helpful.

There are organizations to which you can reach out about the disease and support groups to help the family cope and learn.

You can find online virtual tours that you can all participate in that will take you through what it is like to have dementia that may make it easier for kids and teens to understand. Technology like this may help everyone in the family.

Dementia caregiving can last a long time, so being sure everyone in the family is aware and understanding of the disease will help you all manage the journey for the best quality of life for your senior loved one.

What to Do for Prevention This Flu Season – Family Caregiver Quick Tip

Flu seasons can be variable, as measured by the experts.

One year flu is very mild and few people seem to be affected, while in other years many of us get a bad case of the flu and may wind up in the hospital.

This can be extremely dangerous for our senior loved ones.

Because it is hard to predict how — and who — the flu season will strike, many family caregivers don’t prepare as they should to keep their seniors and themselves flu-free.

What You Should Know and Do this Flu Season

It is that time of year again when we all need to get our flu shot, especially our senior loved ones, who are more vulnerable to contracting the flu.

It’s estimated that 90% of seasonal flu-related deaths and more than 60% of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations in the United States each year occur in people 65 years and older.

Because they are more susceptible due to weakened immune systems and devastating complications may result, we have some tips for action from the CDC:

  1. Get a flu shot! Encourage your senior and all who come in contact with them, including home caregivers and family members, get one too.
  2. Take precautions to prevent the spread of illness: covering your mouth during a cough, washing your hands frequently, and avoiding people and places that might expose your senior to illness.
  3. If you think you or your senior are developing flu symptoms, contact the doctor quickly for treatment – the earlier the better.

The flu can make chronic health problems worse, especially in older adults, so locate a provider near your senior to get a flu shot today. In addition to the doctor’s office, many pharmacies, health fairs and clinics are giving flu shots.

By the way, Medicare covers immunizations as a preventive care benefit.

It could take two weeks after the shot to have full immunity so experts agree that the time is now before the main flu season hits!

Additional Resources

Preventing illness with timely vaccinations and health checkups is one way to help our senior loved ones stay as healthy as possible.

Getting a flu shot is just one prevention step.

Here are some articles to give you more information on steps for you both to stay healthy!

Seniorization of Computers and Our Perception of Seniors Who Use Them – or Would if Given a Chance

The everyday use of computers by people who came of age before the personal computer was common or even invented is something many people thought would likely never happen.

Does that mean seniors don’t use computers?

Of course not.

In fact, we have seen many computers in the homes, including nursing homes, of seniors when there are no members of younger generations around — with very good reason.

It’s not just computers but, increasingly, tablets and smartphones with screens that transport the senior around the globe or down the street!

Grandchildren living near and far who won’t pick up the phone to call senior family members (okay, maybe children too) often will much more readily open up their tablet or smartphone and knock out a quick email or text message.

Devices are for All Ages

People of all ages are increasingly using computing technology to keep in touch with the rest of the world, to keep up with the news of the day, and to shop without having to trek down to the mall or big box store.

More than 75% of those 55 and older have internet in their homes, according to the Consumer Technology Association in its 18th Annual Consumer Technology Ownership and Market Potential Study. A recent survey by Pew Research reported that more than half of seniors (65+) either have broadband internet in their home or use a cellular data connection.

Seniors and tablet manufacturers have both benefited from the timing of seniors’ growing use of the web, as tablets are the internet device of choice for many seniors. We have seen studies showing tablet ownership as high as three-fourths of all seniors on the web.

Seniorization of Digital Devices

So what’s this about the “seniorization” of digital devices?

It’s not about the devices themselves, but about people. Yes, more older adults are using computers, tablets and smartphones in many aspects of their lives, but it’s not just about that.

The seniorization of digital is as much about the realization of those in younger generations and the developers/marketers of tech products and services that seniors are using the devices — that they want to use them and enjoy doing so.

Seniors are using computing devices to connect with family and friends, stream media, find information – including medical knowledge, medication management, coupons, jokes, and brain games – as well as a many more purposes.

Yes, digital has become as much a part of the lives of many seniors as it has for their children and grandchildren.

But Not Digital Natives

While many older adults are making digital communication and computing technology integral parts of their lives, they are not “digital natives” like many of those who are younger.

Our senior loved ones weren’t born in a time when toddlers Facetime on an iPad or text messaging was a primary form of communication, so they may need some help in adapting.

But do they need any adaptations to make the computer easier to use?

Certainly the same computer can be used by those of all ages, can’t it?

Yes, but … it is important to take into account how aging affects their ability to easily use technology, such as their eyes that might not be as sharp as they were at one time and their fingers that aren’t quite as nimble.

If the tech devices they choose to use are made easier through adaptations then even more will use them to gain benefits for themselves and their families. An example of this is the grandPad, which was the subject of a recent Senior Care Corner Show.

10 Tips to Help Seniors Use Computers Effectively

How can their computers and other tech devices be “seniorized” for easier access?

(1) Adjustable Zoom Screen Views

When it comes to viewing what is on the screen of the computer, ensure a senior’s device makes it easy to zoom the view out and enlarge the print, if needed, so that users of all acuity levels can take in the content.

(2) User-friendly Keyboards

Don’t overlook the importance of having a keyboard that meet the needs of the senior using it.

Keyboards often have characters that are small or otherwise difficult to read and keys that are too small or too close together to be adequate for use by many senior fingers.

The solution to this need not be the purchase of a new computer, but the purchase of a new keyboard designed with these limitations in mind. Chester Creek, for example, offers several large print keyboards. These keyboard and other similar products on the market have keys that are spaced further apart than on a standard keyboard and certainly more so than the keys on a laptop or netbook keyboard. This feature and larger key labels in black on a white background are adaptations that might make is easier for your senior friend or loved one to use the computer.

Even devices that have built-in keyboards, including notebook computers and tablets (which have on-screen keyboards) can be adapted to use an external, user-friendly keyboard. If you’re getting a keyboard for use with a tablet, look for one that can be connected by bluetooth.

One warning, though:  giving one of these keyboards to a senior may mean more emails to which you must respond!

(3) Ergonomics

Posture is important when using the computer. Are they using the right chair or the right lighting? Can they sit with their back and hips at a 90 degree angle? Are their feet on the floor? Is the computer screen at the right distance for proper viewing?

Sitting at the computer with the correct posture can reduce pain and strain when connecting.

Consider, too, any specific limitations that may prevent a senior user from working effectively with the computing device.

(4) Vision

If your senior has (or could use, but isn’t) corrective lenses to see clearly and will be spending a fair amount of time reading things on the computer screen, they may want to invest in an eyeglass prescription that takes into account computer depth. Of course, that applies to those of all ages.

Your senior may also want to adjust the screen resolution and contrast settings so that icons and words are easier to read. Did you know that each browser has a magnifier that can be used in addition to adjusted size settings to magnify something on the web that is too small for aging eyes to read?

(5) Voice activation

If your senior finds it difficult to type, will voice activated commands and typing help them to send emails or other computing functions?

Tablets have those functions built in, as do many computers. Check before buying if that function is needed, though, as built-in functions are typically easier overall to use than those added later via apps or installed programs.

(6) On-screen Keyboards

Seniors who might have trouble making their fingers dance over the keyboard or use a mouse, even if adapted, may prefer a touch screen computer or tablet that requires a tap on app icons to navigate the web.

(7) The Right Mouse Device

If your senior’s computer uses a mouse to move the cursor on the screen, consider if a wireless mouse would be beneficial, as it reduces the possibility of getting caught in wires. Keep in mind that being wireless also increases the possibility of the mouse being misplaced.

Some seniors (and other users) find difficult the motions needed to navigate a mouse. As with the keyboard, they may find a touch screen beneficial. They might also prefer to use a trackball, which is a stationary mouse-like device that uses a ball manipulated with the fingers to move the cursor.

(8) Accessibility Can Empower

Microsoft has an accessibility page discussing technology features that are intended to enable all to use a computer effectively, regardless of ability. Check it out if you think your senior might benefit.

(9) Good50 Search Engine for Seniors

Many seniors are hesitant to use a computer for fear of the dangers on the web, including phishing and malware. You can set up their web browser for safety and usability or set their default search engine to Good50 or something similar.

Good50 is a search site developed by two young social entrepreneurs who wanted to create a safe, user-friendly and more readable search site. It is powered by Google and automatically activates SafeSearch. It is eye-friendly and uses a larger font size for easier reading.

(10) Broadband Internet Access

Last — but far from least — on our list of tips is ensuring senior loved ones have access to reliable, easy-to-use broadband internet.

Think about all the things our seniors may want to do online, including making video calls with family, sharing pictures and videos, streaming entertainment, and many other applications that either require or work much better with the speeds broadband offers.

We can do everything else to get them on online but if all they can access is the slow lane and they find it difficult to get there, as can happen with dial-up access, they may get frustrated and quit before they understand the potential benefits the web offers.

Help Senior Loved Ones Benefit

Some of these ways to seniorize computing for your senior loved one are fairly simple. Others may require purchasing a somewhat different device.

Some may require a little set up on your part or someone in the family who is tech savvy like a grandchild to get them started.

It helps to seniorize ourselves, understanding that seniors are able to use computing devices and the web, though may need a little help, and many will want to do so when introduced to the digital world.

We are sure most of you will find that encouraging and facilitating your senior to get connected and reap the benefits of technology are worth a little troubleshooting and time investment on your part.

We’re also confident the devices and services available in the marketplace will consider even more the needs of older adults as the tech industry becomes more seniorized as well.

We would love to hear your senior’s computing experiences, wants or questions!

Cancer Moonshot Initiative Offers Hope for Seniors and Caregivers

During the State of the Union address on January 12, 2016, President Obama announced the Cancer Moonshot, a program aimed at accelerating cancer research.

Curing cancer is an objective truly worthy of a moonshot type effort!

He tasked Vice President Biden with heading up this new national effort.

The ultimate goal is to double the rate of progress — to make a decade’s worth of advances in cancer prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care in five years—to end cancer as we know it.

Vice President Biden hopes to get more therapy to more patients, prevent cancer and detect it at an earlier stage.

The goals of this effort cannot be achieved by one person, one organization, or one discipline.

Major Effort Needed

Solving the complexities of cancer will require the formation of new alliances to defy the bounds of innovation and accelerate the prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and — ultimately — a cure.

It’s going to require millions of Americans speaking up and contributing what they’re able.

The collaboration hopes to bring together more than just science and technology but also include social science and big data, utilizing both the private and public sectors.

The Vice President is asking for the public to share their Cancer Moonshot ideas to help further the cause. Because collaboration is important, they have set up a citizen suggestion box where you can add your bright ideas.

A Blue Ribbon Panel established a working group to steer the effort toward its goals which includes experts in cancer research, patient advocates and private-sector leaders.

Blue Ribbon Panel Report Highlights

This expert panel worked quickly to provide what they believe to be 10 transformative research recommendations.

  1. Establish a network for direct patient involvement – engage cancer patients by bringing them into a network, allowing them to get a genetic profile that will then help them ‘pre-register’ for appropriate clinical trials benefitting them and the research and contributing their data to the knowledge pool.
  2. Create a clinical trial network specific to immunotherapy – using the person’s own immune system to fight their cancer. The hope is that, through studying what works, a vaccine to prevent the cancer will be forthcoming.
  3. Develop ways to overcome resistance to therapy – drug resistance is one cause of cancer deaths. Treatments which work in the beginning often lose their curative abilities over time. Learning more about drug resistance will help overcome this problem.
  4. Build a national cancer data ecosystem – bringing together all the currently proprietary research data together to allow everyone to access it to work together to increase the pace of a cure.
  5. Intensify research on the major drivers of childhood cancers – researchers know that rogue proteins, known as fusion oncoproteins, are major drivers of pediatric cancer. Understanding more about their function can accelerate new therapies targeting these cancer-causing proteins.
  6. Minimize cancer treatment’s debilitating side effects – side effects of cancer treatments can be excruciating and can result in long-term health problems, especially for children. Research is needed to help manage symptoms and side effects in order to allow people to stay on their drug regimens and improve their quality of life.
  7. Expand use of proven prevention and early detection strategies – prevention and risk-reduction are proven strategies and need to be boosted, especially in medically underserved populations, thereby reducing cancer health disparities. People deemed high risk due to genetics should have increased screening and prevention efforts.
  8. Mine past data to predict future outcomes – using data and tissue samples available in biobanks could yield information about what therapy was more or less effective and who might benefit from standard care or experimental treatment.
  9. Develop a 3D cancer atlas – creating a web based catalog of genetic lesions and cellular interactions in tumor and other cells in the tumor microenvironment to map the evolution of tumors from development into metastisis. This will help develop predictive models of tumor progression helping guide treatment.
  10. Develop new cancer technologies – new tools and technologies showing promise, such as implantable microdosing devices and advanced imaging, to help deliver more effective therapy.

These recommendations give us a vision for the future to help us meet the goals of the Cancer Moonshot when implemented.

Vice President Biden Says

“This is our moonshot. I know that we can help solidify a genuine global commitment to end cancer as we know it today—and inspire a new generation of scientists to pursue new discoveries and the bounds of human endeavor.”

Cancer Advocate Says

Emily Walsh the Community Outreach Director for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance tells us

“The Moonshot initiative opens the door for progress to be made not only for more well known types of cancer, but also for rare cancers that affect much smaller percentages of the population. Mesothelioma, sarcoma, and leukemia are just a few that stand to gain various forms of funding through the Moonshot. Patients of these types of cancer will have more information collected from many different facets to be able to learn about their cancers and their options. They will have greater access to better and more varied types of treatments, including immunotherapy.

Cancer Moonshot Summit

On June 29 people around the globe attended the Cancer Moonshot Summit, including Senior Care Corner. The forum included 250 regional summits as well as virtual streaming.

The summit hosted by Vice President Biden who spoke from experience when he said “days matter, minutes matter.

Regional summits gave stakeholders, individuals and communities, a means to voice their opinions about what should be a priority in cancer treatment.

The amount of enthusiasm and unprecedented optimism over the process was evident throughout the Summit.

Already there have been advances by just opening the doors to collaboration among researchers across the globe.

We will keep you informed on the progress of the Cancer Moonshot initiative as we learn more.

It’s about us not giving up hope and having the urgency of now.” ~~ Vice President Biden

Helping Seniors Care for Treasured Pets – Family Caregiver Quick Tip

Pets are beloved as members of our families and can be even more important to seniors living on their own.

We all want to care for our pets so they stay healthy throughout the years especially as seniors and their pets age!

When our senior loved ones need some help from us with their daily tasks, they may need our help in caring for their pets as well.

But what does that mean?

We know we have to walk the dog, get their shots, and feed them healthy food to keep them active as they age.

But are we remembering to keep their mouths and teeth clean to prevent problems and pain for our pets?

Studies tell us that 80% of pet owners do not perform mouth and teeth care on their pets. As a result, by their third birthday, most dogs have oral disease.

This can lead to physical illness in your senior’s pet just as it would in us.

Dental Care Tips for Pets

We can keep our senior’s pets healthy with good mouth care.

  1. If your senior’s dog has bad breath, it might be a sign of trouble. Dogs have a distinct breath odor, but when it gets really bad it could be periodontal disease. If your senior’s pet has severe mouth odor, it is time to get them checked by your vet.
  2. Give your senior’s pet regular professional cleanings and mouth evaluations.
  3. Brush a pet’s teeth regularly with dog toothpaste, not human toothpaste which can irritate their stomach. Use a soft bristle toothbrush that is pet friendly.
  4. If they are hesitant to allow brushing, use dental spray or additives in their water bowl to prevent decay and help keep teeth clean.
  5. Give your senior’s pet dental chews or chew toys to help clear off plaque and have fun doing it!

The more often you brush your pets’ teeth, the easier it will be to perform this daily cleaning. They may even enjoy it!

Additional Resources

Pets are an important part of the family and great companions for our senior loved ones. Here are more articles that can give you tips for caring for them and keeping them a part of your senior’s life.

Evidence Based Aging Programs Shown to Provide Positive Results

Everywhere we turn there are tips and ideas purported to help Americans age gracefully.

Many times we question (or should) the wisdom in the advice we read and hear.

Much of the information is harmless, some simply inaccurate, oftentimes sensational enough to sell a product. Some of it, unfortunately, is dangerous if followed.

But what really do we know about aging and things our seniors and us can do to make this experience more successful?

Everyday seems to bring a new strategy, pill or product to help us do just that.

How Does Your Senior Define Aging?

Everyone seems to conjure up images of someone who is aging or aged in a different way.

We probably no longer automatically picture an aging senior as a person lying in a nursing home bed or rocking on the front porch.

We know that aging today is totally different than it was at any time in the past.

We are healthier, more active, and retiring later than ever before.

Seniors love to travel, use technology, and keep learning new things.

The golden years are no longer synonymous with fading into the sunset — unless that’s what a senior chooses.

80 is the new 60 and centenarians are not uncommon!

What can we do to prevent dementia and other diseases related to aging from happening to us and spoiling our image of what our future will be?

Prevention Clinic at Cornell Medical Center

Dementia may be one of the most feared diseases associated with aging because the older we get the more likely we may be to be diagnosed with dementia. Our risk increases greatly with our age.

Because Alzheimer’s Disease doesn’t just affect the person who has been diagnosed but, indeed, the entire family, protecting those at risk for dementia due to genetics is getting some help.

The Prevention Clinic (Weill Cornell Memory Disorders Program at New York-Presbyterian / Weill Cornell Medical Center founded by Dr. Richard Isaacson) helps people with high familial risk get programs for prevention. Dr. Isaacson has many family members with dementia and understands the risks.

The clinic strives to help people determined to be at genetic risk reduce their levels of brain plaques using the latest treatments, cutting-edge prevention strategies and comprehensive education for the entire family. They focus on diet and lifestyle changes especially nutrition as well as strategies such as playing music to delay cognitive decline despite the identified risks.

Prevention will be the key, as onset of dementia occurs 20-30 years before symptoms are observable.

Even this program agrees that there is no 100% way to prevent or treat Alzheimer’s disease at this time. Their goal is to implement strategies that can reduce or delay the onset of dementia.

Evidenced-based Research from the CDC

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) review of evidenced based research has resulted in a list of programs that could help your senior and all of us improve our aging health and wellness outcomes.

What is an evidenced-based program? One that has been based on scientific evidence and demonstrated to improve the health of older adults.

Physical Activity

Enhance Fitness is exercises for seniors – strength training, aerobics, balance and stretching three times a week for one hour with a certified fitness instructor.

Results include increased physical and social functioning as well as decreased pain and depression in the seniors who attend.

Relieve Arthritis Pain

Arthritis Foundation Exercise program specially designed for seniors with arthritis (formerly called PACE).

This programs combines range of motion activities designed to improve flexibility and muscle strength.

Fall Prevention

A Matter of Balance combines cognitive retraining and skills training to change the behavior of those seniors who limit their personal activity due to their fear of falling and is provided by trained professionals from a variety of healthcare settings and facilities following the Facilitators Manual.

The National Council on Aging and the Administration on Aging are developing a “lay leader” program for use in the future in each state.

Depression Management

Healthy IDEAS is a depression self-management program designed to detect and reduce the severity of depressive symptoms in older adults with chronic conditions and functional limitations.

It includes screening and assessment, education, referral to appropriate health professionals, and behavioral activation.

Chronic Disease Management

Chronic Disease Self-Management Program (Better Choices, Better Health® Workshop) People with different chronic health problems attend the workshop together. Workshops are facilitated by two trained leaders, one or both of whom are non-health professionals with chronic diseases themselves.

The best part is the results. Participants showed significant improvements in exercise, cognitive symptom management, communication with physicians, self-reported general health, health distress, fatigue, disability, and social/role activities limitations. They also spent fewer days in the hospital.

Balance and Fitness

Stay Active and Independent for Life (SAIL) is a strength, balance and fitness program for adults 65 and older. Performing exercises that improve strength, balance and fitness helps seniors stay active and reduce their chance of falling.

SAIL is offered 3 times a week in a one hour class. SAIL exercises can be done standing or sitting. The primary target is community-dwelling older adults (65+) with a history of falls.

Nutrition and Well-Being

The Congregate Nutrition Services section of the Older Americans Act authorizes meals and nutrition services in group (congregate) settings to keep older adults healthy and prevent the need for more costly medical interventions.

In addition to serving healthy meals, the program offers social engagement, information on healthy aging and meaningful volunteer roles, all of which contribute to an older individual’s overall health and well-being.

Walking

Walk With Ease (WWE) is a six-week program developed to encourage people with arthritis and other chronic diseases to get started walking and to stay motivated. This program can either be held in a group setting or can be self-directed.

Check with your state’s Office on Aging.

Find a Program Near You

We all want our loved ones to stay safe, healthy and happy as they age.

It is helpful to know that there are programs out there in our communities that have been proven to achieve results for their health.

If these programs are not currently available where you live, contact your local Administration on Aging.

Family Caregiving Without Regret and Helping Seniors Avoid “What If”

Family caregivers of seniors may not always get to fulfill the dreams or plans they had before tasks of providing care filled their days.

Living life to the fullest, so that you can say there were no regrets when someone is no longer with you or you become physically unable to fulfill your dreams, is something we all need to consider, especially family caregivers.

Many times our dreams get interrupted when older loved ones’ needs begin to take precedence over our desires.

Have you seen your family recently, especially extended family who live at a distance?

Have you visited the one place you have always wanted to go, such as the Grand Canyon or the Eiffel Tower?

Have you experienced something you have yearned to do such as bungee jumping or swimming with dolphins?

Along the same lines, have your senior loved ones completed the things in their lives that they wanted to do?

Life Interrupted

We learn in the blink of the eye that a life can change, whether it is your senior loved one or you as family caregiver.

We can lose a beloved member of the family too soon.

We can experience a trauma, such as a motor vehicle accident, that can forever change our lives.

Our senior loved one can fall and get an injury that limits their mobility and changes the way they wish to age in place.

This action could change our lives as family caregivers too!

For Our Seniors

If you are a family caregiver and want to help your senior live with no regrets, the time is now to discuss with them what they have a yearning to do.

  • Will they want to have a family reunion before they can no longer travel?
  • Do they want to host the next big holiday dinner using their fine china serving their favorite holiday foods?
  • Do they want to visit someplace special like Alaska?

You will only know what they desire if you talk it over. You will probably have to ask them specific questions to get the answers you need.

Once you have answers to the questions, is there some way that you can be the organizer of their dreams to make them become reality?

Can you contact all the distant family, make the plans to get everyone together, and help host an event?

Sure, it could be a bit of effort, which is probably why your senior desires it to occur now. It probably has been awhile since a get together has occurred, just because no one really wanted to do it before due to the time involvement making it happen.

However, if your senior or another family member should pass unexpectedly, you will all be eternally grateful that someone took the initiative to reach out and make the arrangements to bring everyone together one last time.

The memories made during this final event will be held dear for years to come.

Act Against Regret

Too often we regret we didn’t take enough photos, visit with each other often enough, call to say hello, or talk to our senior loved ones about their life stories.

Wouldn’t you love to know what your senior was like growing up, what their first job was like, or how far they had to walk to get to school in the worst weather?

Recording their life stories using video and audio is a gift that will keep on giving once they are no longer with you.

Unfortunately, most of us don’t think about actually taking the time to do this until it is too late — thus regret!

Many of us have regret over things such as “I wish I didn’t say that” or “I wish I didn’t order that meal” or “I wish I bought that souvenir before I left that city.” Those are simple things that make little impact in our lives.

Have an Impact Now, Not Regret Later

But some things make a bigger impact like not having a chance to say goodbye or getting the opportunity to see someone one more time or making a memory of someone you love.

Thinking ahead to a time when your loved one will no longer be with you may be sad or perhaps make you feel like you are asking for trouble, but living without regrets means you will forge ahead and satisfy some of these dreams for the future.

We are not always guaranteed a tomorrow so we must seize the day!

What can you do to live without regret and help your senior fulfill their dreams?

Protecting Fragile Senior Skin — Family Caregiver Quick Tip

Summer sun is beginning the annual process of yielding to winter cold and wind.

As fast as the cold winds blow, we often find our senior’s aging skin drying out if action isn’t taken to protect it.

It isn’t just the cold outside air that can cause problems for our seniors’ skin, but the air inside their homes.

Dry, warm air affects their skin, making it drier and more fragile leading to cracking, bleeding and pain.

How can we help them deal with it?

Nourishing the Skin

Nourishing the skin is important and the moisturizer you pick should be one that contains appropriate ingredients to help repair damaged skin.

Various lotions your senior may be using will provide moisture, others will provide nutrients to help repair fragile skin, and some are made to reduce lines and wrinkles.

It is important to understand the difference between hydration and moisture and then use the correct product for senior skin.

Dehydrated skin needs to have moisture and dry skin needs oils.

One example of a cream we have tried with good results nourishing skin is Phytoplex Nourishing Skin Cream. It restores the skin’s natural moisture balance, has barrier properties without mineral oil or other petrochemicals, is breathable and absorbs readily into the skin. (Note: we received a sample to try, with no compensation; the product opinion is wholly our own)

Skin moisturizers and creams that have vitamins and minerals and essential oils can help soothe and nourish the skin. Humectants will draw water from the air into the skin. A barrier that blocks further moisture loss may be helpful to your senior.

Tips for Healthy Aging Skin

Here are some tips to keep skin healthy in the winter months:

  1. If your senior’s home air feels dry, try using a humidifier to keep the moisture level constant.
  2. Don’t use hot water on face and feet, as it tends to sap the natural moisture from one’s skin.
  3. Apply lotion and moisturizers to areas such as face, hands and feet frequently, especially after washing and while skin is still damp, for best absorption.
  4. Pat, don’t rub, the skin when washing, drying or applying creams
  5. Drink plenty of water, even when your senior doesn’t feel thirsty. Don’t wait for lips to get dry.

Additional Resources

Feeling comfortable in your own skin and staying healthy in the coming months is important for older adults like your senior loved one.

Here are some additional resources to help you help them keep their skin healthy.