Secure Seniors’ Connected Home Devices – Family Caregiver Quick Tip

Security weaknesses in web-connected home devices can leave our senior loved ones vulnerable to those who would do them harm.

Recent internet news makes that clear.

This vulnerability is only going to grow as technology provides more solutions to help older adults have healthy, safe, and comfortable lives in the homes of their choice.

As family caregivers, there are actions we can — and must — take to protect our seniors and help them protect themselves.

If we don’t, our senior loved ones will back away from connected devices and miss out on many benefits.

Digital Vulnerability

Recently hackers used millions of home devices in their web attacks.

The same vulnerability used in those attacks can also expose our seniors to harm in their own homes.

We hesitate to think about what that harm could entail, but much could happen as seniors (and all of us) rely more on our digital devices.

  • Healthcare devices modified to block reporting to healthcare providers or even report inaccurate data
  • Personal emergency response devices (PERS) reprogrammed to ignore calls for help or send false alarms
  • Power to critical home equipment turned off or the whole house darkened
  • Thermostat overridden to allow the home to reach dangerous temperatures during extreme weather

These just scratch the surface, but you get the idea.

Fortunately, protection is not difficult in most cases.

Protecting Seniors’ Connected Devices

There are some basic steps we can take to reduce vulnerability of our seniors devices to threats.

  • Read the label – Buy only connected devices that have security built-in, which is not always the case. Some manufacturers will rush products to the market without security, knowing most consumers don’t check.
  • Know which devices in the home are connected – You can’t protect what you don’t know is vulnerable. If you can’t know everything that’s connected, check the access list on the wifi router and track down each device.
  • Use strong password protection – Ensure each connected device has a strong and unique password then store those passwords in a secure app or somewhere out of reach of snooping eyes. Don’t keep default device usernames and passwords!
  • Keep devices up to date – Security updates for connected devices provide patches to vulnerabilities that have been identified and should be installed quickly. Many devices check automatically but for others you’ll need to check manufacturers’ sites regularly to ensure the device is current.
  • Ensure smartphone / tablet security – Many home devices can be controlled or accessed by you or your senior from mobile devices. Implement access security that is provided with the devices in case they are lost, stolen, or accessed when your senior isn’t looking. Activate settings to allow for remote locking and data wiping, along with automatic backups so important information and pictures can be recovered.

Additional Resources

Family caregivers who want their senior loved ones to stay safe while still using technology to gain all the benefits digital devices can give might find these articles informative. Knowledge is power against cyber-attacks!

Senior Nutrition – or Lack of It – and the Impact on their Lives and Health

In 2014 people over 65 numbered 46.2 million.

They represented 14.5% of the U.S. population, about one in every seven Americans.

In just 2008, one in eight people was classified as a senior and about 2.7 million Americans celebrated their 65th birthday.

It is projected by the year 2060 there will be 98 million seniors.

To help keep the growing number of seniors healthy and living the best quality of life possible, there is a great deal of research being done to learn more about the foods they eat and how they impact their health and disease prevention.

Knowing which foods can be beneficial to our seniors’ health is important for caregivers and seniors to make the best choices they can when selecting meals and snacks every day.

Popular Foods And Their Effect On Aging And Health

The media tells us daily about the latest food that should be eaten by our senior loved ones to prevent signs of aging and to feel younger.

However, experts agree that more research is needed to determine direct cause and effect with eating certain foods publicized to prevent chronic disease.

This is what we know now about improving our health by including specific foods in our seniors’ daily meals but all still need more investigation.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

The unsaturated fat found in some foods has been linked to lowering cholesterol, reducing heart arrhythmia, reducing inflammation in joints, and may reduce the risk of developing cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.

This fatty acid is thought to help joints and relieve pain from rheumatoid arthritis. It has been studied in the treatment of depression as well.

Antioxidants

Known as “free radical scavengers”, these substances seek out free radicals in our cells preventing and repairing cell damage. Antioxidants have also been thought to help the immune system.

Vitamin C and E in foods have an added benefit by keeping your skin healthy, firm by preserving collagen and thought to make you look younger.

Phytochemicals

Phytochemicals such as flavonoids, lucein, lycopene and lignins contain antioxidants which can also protect your body’s cells from free radical damage.

Phytochemicals are best ingested from natural foods instead of supplements. Polyphenols also contribute to healthy skin.

Blueberries

Blueberries and other brightly colored foods for best nutrition and antioxidants.

Blueberries may also improve your senior’s memory, balance and coordination.

Garlic

Garlic is touted to have anti-inflammatory and pro-immunity effects and may prevent cancer and heart disease.

Eating a clove of garlic each week may lower cholesterol and thin blood naturally to prevent disease.

Garlic has antioxidant, antifungal, and tumor suppression properties according to researchers. It may help by reducing the amount of fat plaques depositing in the blood vessels (300 mg of garlic powder a day).

Ginger

Some believe ginger helps prevent or reduce nausea, gastric disorders and diarrhea. It has also been used to treat arthritis pain, joint stiffness and muscle pain due to anti-inflammatory and antioxidants properties.

Ginger contains as many as 50 antioxidant compounds.

Water

Drinking adequate amounts of water is very beneficial to your body function and skin.

Drink 6-8 glasses a day to stay well hydrated.

Anti-inflammatory Foods

There are specific foods that are related to reducing the consequence of our bodies’ immune response specifically inflammation. Chronic diseases are linked to inflammation in our cells.

Sources of the Foods Seniors Need

To get enough of the nutrients that will help the body fight aging, many seniors (and other adults) look to supplements to meet the needs for these beneficial compounds.

However, the foods we eat are better sources of helpful nutrients. It doesn’t take much of a specific food added to meals each day to gain their benefits.

Here are the foods your senior can begin adding to their diet to be sure they are getting the necessary nutrients (these are not a complete list but the main sources are listed).

Omega 3 fatty acids

EPA and DHA are found in fatty fish such as salmon, anchovies, herring, mackerel, sardines, and tuna and should be included at least 2 times a week.

ALA is found in plant sources such as nuts and seeds.

Antioxidants

Vitamin A, C, E, and selenium containing foods contain natural antioxidants.

Vitamin E: vegetables, vegetable oils like wheat germ oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil and seeds, corn, soy, peanut butter and some sorts of meat.

Vitamin C: citrus, red and green peppers, broccoli, strawberries and tomatoes.

Vitamin A: colorful produce like carrots, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, mangos and papaya.

Phytochemicals

Food sources include: flavonoids-soy, red wine, pomegranate, and cranberries; lucein-dark green leafy vegetables; and lignins-flaxseed, oatmeal and barley.

Lycopene: a bright red carotene and carotenoid pigment found in tomatoes and other red fruits and vegetables such as red carrots, watermelons, pink grapefruit and papayas (but not strawberries or cherries).

Polyphenols: fruits and plant-derived beverages such as fruit juices, tea, coffee, and red wine; vegetables, cereals, chocolate and dry legumes are also sources.

Blueberries

Fresh or frozen varieties have anthocyanins (antioxidants).

Garlic

Fresh cloves or powdered forms

Ginger

Caution should be exercised if your senior is taking anticoagulants!

Fresh root, tincture/oil or dried powder added to foods; foods such as ginger snaps, or gingerbread; or as a beverage in ginger tea or ale.

Water

Not just in the form of a glass of water but foods that contain water such as soup, gelatin, fresh fruits and vegetables can also give our bodies some additional fluid.

Anti-inflammatory foods

Tomatoes, olive oil, fatty fish, nuts, leafy green vegetables, berries (strawberries, blueberries), cherries.

Food to Defy Aging or Make Aging Healthier?

Are there really age defying foods or should we focus on eating a little of everything in its freshest form to maximize all the nutritional benefits innately in the food?

Do we really need to pop supplements by the handful to age gracefully or is our wallet the only thing affected?

More research would be of value to prove that the foods we read about in the media really can slow aging or prevent disease. However, many of the foods listed above are easy to add to our diets and eat regularly if we make a plan.

It isn’t too late for our seniors to adopt new eating habits to help them manage chronic disease, reduce pain and inflammation and feel better every day.

 

Electronic Medical Record: Is Your Senior Using It – Do You Know How?

Control of our medical data and having it accessible when we need it are important concerns for seniors and their family caregivers.

Is your senior loved one in control of theirs?

Or at least it should be a concern.

How about you with your own data?

Patient portals are underused by seniors for a number of reasons. Many seniors can’t access them, don’t know how to access them, or aren’t aware of the importance of having their health records.

Do you know that people who are using Medicare have access to a place to download their health records?

Blue Button

Originating in the Veteran’s Administration, the blue button is a place for seniors to store their health data in a way that is portable and accessible to them so it is where they need it anytime. Your data can be downloaded to your smartphone, computer or thumb drive.

All too often health consumers go to a multitude of different health practitioners. This is especially true of seniors who are managing multiple conditions.

Seniors often have a primary doctor, a cardiologist, a dermatologist, a dentist, a podiatrist, an endocrinologist, a clinic, an imaging center, an infusion center, a pharmacy and more.

This means that their health information is typically stored in multiple locations that aren’t communicating with each other.

blue-button-emrThe Blue Button, better than your patient portal because it can store all your health records from various healthcare settings, holds a 3-year medical history of medication lists, encounters, tests and provider information.

The Blue Button is managed by Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), part of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Anyone who is a veteran, member of the military, uses Medicare or your personal health plan or provider participates can utilize this technology.

Using this electronic platform gives your senior access to their claims and personal health information that is maintained by your doctors, hospitals, health plans, and others.

There is no cost to use the Blue Button as long as your provider participates.

Everyone has a right to their health records and your medical provider must provide you with access to a system. It may be a patient portal or a Blue Button.

Using some form of technology to gain control over your own health data is an important step for seniors to take and caregivers to assist in securing.

iBlueButton

The app that puts your health information on a secure platform that can be taken in your hand on your smartphone or tablet is called the iBlueButton by Humetrix.

It was originally launched as a companion to the Blue Button initiative but is now the leading mobile health platform.

The data is stored securely and can be used to share information with healthcare providers and members of the healthcare team as you decide needs your information.

The information in your app can be from Medicare, VA, Tricare and some state Medicaid plans or health records from your doctor or healthcare facility.

It can contain your medication list, medical history, and contact information for caregivers and healthcare professionals.

It may reduce overuse of medical testing or imaging that could cost your senior money because they have the ability to share their record with doctors who might not have access to results and order new tests.

It features a summary record that puts everything at your fingertips. You can mark some things as private so they won’t be shared with others.

Having control over your medical records either through your patient portal, the Blue Button or an app like the iBlueButton, gives you the opportunity to spot errors to be corrected and finally have your personal information in your own hands.

But this is also a two-way street since your doctor can share with you as well. They can add patient instructions, images, and videos for you to store in your own record.

Patient Portal

The federal government has mandated that healthcare systems provide customers with a secure way to access their medical records.

A patient portal is defined as:

“a secure online website that gives patients convenient 24-hour access to personal health information from anywhere with an Internet connection. Using a secure username and password, patients can view health information such as: Recent doctor visits. Discharge summaries. Medications.”

Many seniors and family caregivers are already accessing a patient portal through their local healthcare agency. It requires a one-time startup, computer/internet access and the system to upload your information.

Patient portals can allow you to view your test results, doctor notes and medication list. Some systems also allow you to request prescription refills, schedule appointments, check insurance claims, make payments, view education flyers, and email the healthcare team.

Important But Still Room for Improvement

One of the main complaints about these healthcare driven portals to the electronic medical record is that they are not inclusive or portable.

They don’t talk with anyone outside their own system which can be difficult for consumers who have multiple healthcare providers and testing sites.

Seniors who live with different family members during the year may have trouble accessing all their records from other locations because there is no interoperability.

Even seniors who live in one place but go to different health providers, or those within different healthcare systems, within their own community can’t get their data to be shared.

Having one place that is a hub for all our health information that can be shared when we choose to share it and with whom we desire to know our health history, especially in an emergency situation, is essential to our well-being.

Cost containment is a small factor compared to the ability to improve our senior’s well-being and medical care.

Modifying a Home to Age In Place – Family Caregiver Quick Tip

Your senior wishes to live at home as long as possible but the home where they live may not be well suited to the needs of an older adult.

There are modifications that can be done to make their home as safe as possible for aging in place safely and comfortably.

Home modifications can be very expensive so our senior loved ones may put off upgrading their homes until it is too late.

There is a bill in Congress trying to get some attention to help caregivers and seniors afford home improvements that will help them stay home longer. It’s called The Senior Accessible Housing Act, HR 5254.

This bill would work to update the Internal Revenue Code to give credits to seniors who improve their homes to allow for independence and safety as they age in place.

It would try to incentivize seniors to improve their homes and stay out of care facilities as long as possible by providing a $30,000 credit over their lifetime.

It would include a list of possible home improvements, such as non-slip flooring and wider doorways.

What Family Caregivers Can Do

There are five specific areas in the home that have been found by universal design experts to make a great impact on the accessibility of aging in place homes.

Seniors who accomplish these upgrades are said to be able to remain at home more safely.

Family caregivers can help senior loved ones get these tasks accomplished:

  1. no-step entries, especially at front door
  2. single-floor living, with bedroom, bathroom, living room, kitchen, and utilities all on one floor, with no steps to navigate
  3. switches and outlets accessible at any height, which means many will need to be lowered for the possibility of wheelchair accessibility
  4. extra-wide hallways and doors to accommodate walkers and wheelchairs
  5. lever-style door and faucet handles

Some of these can be done by family caregivers or local handy persons, but others may need professional home improvement specialists.

Unfortunately, it is estimated that only 57% of existing homes have more than one of those features, so it looks like many seniors may need help to live independently in the future.

You can advocate for The Accessible Housing Act’s passage by contacting your Members of Congress today and voicing your support!

Additional Resources

There are many small and big things that caregivers can do to make the home environment safe for independent living.

Here are a few other resources that you might find helpful as you improve their home.

When Our Seniors Say “Take Me Home” But We Can’t – or Can We?

Have you heard “let’s go home” “take me home” or “is it time to go home”?

What will you do when your senior loved one asks you to take him/her home but you know you can’t do it?

What can we do besides suffer heartache listening to them cry “take me home” and “when can I go home”?

Many of our aging parents who are in need of more care or supervision than we can provide find themselves in a facility that is not their home and frequently pull at our heartstrings to go home.

For many, there will be no option. They will need the care and supervision that comes from professionals in a facility.

But for others, thorough planning and access to services may make it possible for them to stay at home or go back home for a bit longer.

May.

Aging In Place Dreams

Depending on the extent of the needs that they have to be met, with some time spent planning and access to community services, we might be able to facilitate our seniors return to their home.

Getting a year or two at home instead of in a facility is a gift for many seniors.

They may eventually need to be in a facility, but putting that off as long as possible could be good for them.

There are many services available now that were only a dream in years past that might make staying at home awhile longer doable.

Naturally we want all our seniors to be safe while they are home so their safety is the first concern. If they can’t be safe at home, then a facility is the best place for them.

Options to Remain At Home

There are more and more options that caregivers have to give their seniors a hand to meet their needs, keep them safe and give them comfort.

Paid Caregivers

Once upon a time, hiring a housekeeper was the best aging seniors could do to get more help at home when some things became too difficult.

Now family caregivers can hire trained paid caregivers to supervise the safety of our seniors.

These caregivers can stay around the clock to supervise and keep seniors safe.

They can watch your loved one day and night.

They are trained to look after personal needs and medical care.

They can also cook, clean and provide transportation to appointments.

One of their most important duties can be to provide companionship to your senior when you can’t fill that need.

Technology

There are also great advances in technology resources that can help keep seniors safe at home, with much more to come.

There are devices to remind senior loved ones to take their medications at the right time and in the right dose.

There are sensors and monitors that can watch seniors’ every move in the house and pattern their movement to alert caregivers when a problem might be brewing.

Devices can even let you know if the stove is on at their house.

There are also devices that can call emergency personnel if needed. Personal Emergency Response Systems (PERS) have been around for a long time (remember “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up”?). They have come a long way in the past few years.

PERS now have longer ranges, can monitor movement patterns, use bluetooth to be with seniors when they aren’t at home and alert caregivers via smartphone apps when things are going wrong. Not to mention that these devices are much more invisible, stylish and acceptable to seniors to wear so they will actually use them.

Door alarms, bed alarms, internet connections to facilitate socialization, smart home features such as doorbell alerts so you know who is there before the door is opened, and many other smartphone apps that can fill gaps for caregivers are available to support caregivers and seniors who age in place.

Day Programs

Senior centers and day programs are available now in most every community.

These centers provide socialization, new experiences, hot meals, and resources during the day.

Some will even help with transportation if your senior needs that.

Community-based agencies and meal programs can be a great help to keep our seniors in their home as long as possible.

If financial resources are limited, arranging senior day care instead of paid caregivers during the day could be a good option, saving the paid caregiver for evening and overnight.

Financial Considerations

Some might think that the cost of around the clock care or community living can be out of their budget. There may be ways to supplement the cost of some of this home care.

If your senior has a long term care insurance policy, it might help offset the cost of these services that are crucial to keeping your senior safe at home.

Family members can band together, pool resources and come to an agreement on what is best for your seniors, including their wishes as much as possible.

Perhaps family or friends can volunteer to sit some of the time to reduce the time needed for paid caregivers, pitching in to do some of the chores so seniors budgets don’t take a hit for things such as yard work, home maintenance, meals, household chores or car upkeep.

There may also be respite programs that can supplement caregiver needs available through your department of aging services or disease-specific organization.

When “When Can I Go Home?” Has an Answer

Living in an institution does not have to be the “path of least resistance” for many families.

The Older Americans Act of 2006 has promoted the de-institutionalization of seniors and made grants to agencies for senior community services to support families.

Family caregivers who wish to help senior loved ones age in place safely also need help and support therefore building a network to help you help them achieve their dream will be important for you.

We all can take advantage of the great services available to our elders to grant their wishes as long as possible.

Let us know what steps you have taken to keep your seniors wherever they want to be.




Election Time – Does Your Senior Need Help Casting Their Ballot?

Our seniors have been called the Greatest Generation.

They take pride in their country and have asked what they can do for it, not what it will do for them since the 1960s.

They have lived their adult lives volunteering in their communities to make the lives of others a little bit better.

They have participated in the process of local, state and federal elections by casting their ballot and letting their voice be heard for many years.

The statistics are telling: approximately 70% of people over 65 vote in presidential elections, compared to 45% of the voting age population overall.

Do they now need their family caregivers’ help to make their voice heard at the ballot box?

Right To Vote

No matter where your senior loved one calls home, they have a right to vote.

If they live in a nursing home or other facility and are unable to get to their polling place, they can vote in absentia via absentee ballot.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures:

  • 32 states have statutes that address voting by residents of long term care or other nursing facilities.
  • Mobile polling, also known as supervised absentee voting, is the most common form of assistance, permitted by statute in 23 states.
  • 18 states have laws specifying who can assist long term care residents to vote. Most commonly, assistance can come from an agent of the voters choosing.
  • New Mexico permits a resident of a nursing facility to request an absentee ballot after the close of the application period for absentee ballots, and this may be delivered by a representative of the voter’s choosing.
  • Michigan requires posters to be hung in residential care facilities that explain that ballot coaching (coercing a voter) is illegal, and California makes it a crime to coerce a voter while providing assistance.
  • Only a judge can deem whether your senior loved one is incompetent to vote, not the nursing home staff or family members.

Obstacles to Overcome

Seniors can face many barriers to casting their ballots in any election. Family caregivers can help them overcome some of these obstacles with a few interventions.

  1. Facilitate transportation to the polling site. If you are unable to drive them, arrange for transportation through taxi cab, senior transportation, Uber or Lyft or the facility van. Perhaps one of their friends in the area who may be going to the same polling center can give them a ride on election day.
  2. Vision impairments can inhibit seniors from voting. You can get a sample ballot and review it with them prior to the election. Discuss without coercion who they wish to vote for and help them when the time comes. Staff at the election office can also assist at the booth.
  3. In the past, paper ballots could be cumbersome for seniors but new technology and tactile voting may make voting a bit easier for some seniors with dexterity issues.
  4. Accessibility at some voting centers may be a problem for some seniors despite the fact that laws are in place to allow easy access. You may want to check out their polling place to be sure a wheelchair or other mobility device is accessible, parking is available and there are no physical obstructions to their entering the polling place.
  5. Access to a ballot if they live in a nursing facility. Apply for an absentee ballot or advocate for them with the facility staff to give them mandated access.
  6. Remembering to update their voter registration information to comply with deadlines. Helping seniors remember when to vote and how to complete the ballot may be necessary.
  7. Photo ID is required to vote in many states and many seniors who no longer drive may not have this available. Caregivers should check with their senior’s state election office to see what documentation is required and what can be used to help senior’s vote.
  8. If your senior is not currently registered, they will need your help to register for the next election. It may take up to 30 days to become registered.

Residents’ Rights Month

In October we celebrate Residents’ Rights Month. The topic this year in light of the Presidential election in November is “My Vote Matters”.

The goal is to encourage facilities across the country to help residents’ vote and participate in the political process.

Voting is a fundamental right in our country which includes our aging seniors.

Absentee Voting

Many seniors find absentee voting the easiest way to make their vote count.

Seniors in facilities will need the assistance of staff or family members to request absentee ballots in time for the Presidential election.

In some states it may not be too late to accomplish this. In other states, they may have to wait for the next election, but should get prepared to vote now as it could take time to process their requests.

Every state has different guidelines and deadlines that need to be followed in order to obtain and return ballots.

If your senior decides to vote using an absentee ballot, they will need to apply for it and be sure that they return it in a timely manner.

Be sure they follow the instructions carefully as some states require a signature on the envelope and other directions.

The Federal Voting Assistance Program can give your more information about this process.

If caregivers would like to help their seniors participate in voting, the US Vote Foundation can help you either register your senior or request an absentee ballot.

Their website offers guidance on voting requirements by state as well as voting methods, options and important dates. There is a tab that details every state’s deadlines that could be helpful.

Even if your senior loved one doesn’t qualify to vote on the November ballot, getting them poised to participate in the political process next time and feel as though their voice still counts, will give them a sense of purpose and importance they will appreciate.

Inappropriate Drugs May Harm Your Senior — Family Caregiver Quick Tip

Many seniors take more than one medication each day, often taking multiple prescription medications.

On top of that, they may use even more over the counter remedies to give them relief.

Are some of these medications really good for them?

Can some be dangerous?

To help keep our seniors safe from the medications that they may be prescribed, there is guidance for physicians established – called the Beers Criteria – which lists medications that may be inappropriate for older adults or have limited effectiveness.

This evidenced-based list was updated in October 2015, following a review of current research, and is published by the American Geriatrics Society.

There are potentially 40 problematic medications or classes of medications organized across the five lists that comprise the Beers Criteria.

Inappropriate Medications

It is important for seniors and their family caregivers to discuss potentially inappropriate medications with their doctor before stopping any prescription drugs.

Seniors may experience serious side effects from some of these potentially harmful drugs. In fact, 1 in 6 seniors has side effects caused by their medications.

Some of the drugs on the list should be avoided or dosed specifically to decrease the likelihood of injury.

There may be alternative treatments or non-prescription interventions that can help your senior.

The expert panel co-chair, Donna Fick, states:

The AGS Beers Criteria offer guidance to clinicians and the public for talking about medications with risks that may outweigh benefits. It’s important to remember that many of these medications are considered potentially inappropriate only in certain circumstances and for certain people. Tools like the AGS Beers Criteria can do much to support medication use that is safe, effective, and responsive to each person’s health needs.”

Some of their recommendations include:

  • Avoid 13 known combination drugs that may cause a drug-drug interaction
  • Avoid as many as 20 drugs if your senior has kidney impairment
  • Use of some drugs can lead to increased falls, fractures, urinary tract infections, and medication toxicity
  • Caution with proton pump inhibitors prescribed for acid reflux as they can lead to bone loss and falls with fractures
  • Avoid antipsychotics for behavioral issues

You can review the entire Beers Criteria list of medications.

Additional Resources

Because our senior loved ones take many medications and there are a variety of things to consider when taking multiple medications, here are more resources for you to learn more about safe medication management.

Eating Healthier – Best Time to Start is Now for Seniors & Caregivers

We’re told every day by the media that we need to buy and use certain foods and products to help prevent heart disease.

The messages are everywhere we turn.

A new superfood, a new supplement, an exercise bike, or “there’s an app for that”!

It can be confusing.

Perhaps your senior’s doctor has told them that they need to eat something different to help improve their heart function and prevent heart attack and strokes.

About half of all American adults have one or more preventable, diet-related chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and overweight and obesity.

We’ll cut through the confusion and misinformation to help family caregivers guide their senior loved ones to better health through diet.

Science Based Guidelines

The National Dietary Guidelines are produced every five years to focus research into guidelines for health prevention and reduce the risk of development of chronic diseases for Americans. Their recommendations are based on the latest scientific research.

The report is reviewed by the Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS). In fact, the Dietary Guidelines report is required under the 1990 National Nutrition Monitoring and Related Research Act, which states that HHS and the USDA must jointly publish a report every five years containing nutritional and dietary information and guidelines for the general public.

The latest report, for 2015-2020, highlights how Americans — especially seniors who wish to age well — are not eating enough fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in our overall diets and instead are overindulging on sodium, sugars, and solid fats.

It addresses the epidemic of obesity and the need for all Americans to get physically active.

Healthy Eating Habits

The 2015-2020 guidelines also offer guidance on how to change our eating habits to include more good fats and avoid harmful fats to reduce the risk of developing heart disease.

Seniors continue to be encouraged to focus on saturated fats and cholesterol. Unfortunately, though, over the last twenty years few positive changes have been seen in the way we all eat.

Too few of us have taken the recommendations to the table and changed our lifestyles.

As we age, it becomes even more important to make lifestyle changes to be as healthy as possible.

Dealing with chronic and often debilitating diseases could help make aging in place more successful or more difficult if changes are ignored.

Dietary Guidelines Recommendations

Because as many as half of Americans have at least one chronic disease that would be benefited by dietary changes, learning from the Dietary Guidelines and making some changes would help our senior loved ones and us be healthier.

Key recommendations to come from the 2015-2020 report include:

  1. Follow a healthy eating pattern across the lifespan. All food and beverage choices matter. Choose a healthy eating pattern at an appropriate calorie level to help achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, support nutrient adequacy, and reduce the risk of chronic disease.
  2. Focus on variety, nutrient density, and amount. To meet nutrient needs within calorie limits, choose a variety of nutrient-dense foods across and within all food groups in recommended amounts.
  3. Limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats; reduce sodium intake. Adopt an eating pattern low in added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium. Cut back on foods and beverages higher in these components to amounts that fit within healthy eating patterns.
  4. Shift to healthier food and beverage choices. Choose nutrient-dense foods and beverages across and within all food groups in place of less healthy choices. Consider cultural and personal preferences to make these shifts easier to accomplish and maintain.
  5. Support healthy eating patterns for all. Everyone has a role in helping to create and support healthy eating patterns in multiple settings nationwide, from home to school to work to communities.

Some of the health messages that still remain true are:

  • reduce saturated fat intake to less than 7% of our total calories for the day
  • incorporate more unsaturated fat sources from plant foods
  • eliminate trans fat
  • limit cholesterol intake to 300 mg/day for prevention of heart disease and 200 mg/day for those with known risk of diabetes

The biggest change coming from this report is that we shouldn’t focus on one food as good or bad, but instead, look to your overall food intake pattern.

We need to take every opportunity to make the best food choice possible every time we eat a meal or drink a beverage.

We Can Do It!

Caregivers should help seniors (and themselves) take a good hard look at what they are eating.

Is every bite counting or are we just grabbing what is easy with little regard to nutrition?

When you start thinking about the everyday food choices, it gets a little easier to find foods that fit into a healthy eating pattern.

  • Think about not just what you eat but also what you drink to make healthy choices
  • Include more plant based foods, such as fruits and vegetables
  • Use lean meats and remove skin from poultry
  • Eat fish twice a week
  • Use a soft spread from a tub instead of in a stick or solid form
  • Limit frying foods and bake, broil or grill instead
  • Select low fat dairy products: milk, yogurt, cheese, etc.
  • Limit the amount of egg yolks and cream based sauces we eat
  • Read food labels to see where the fat and sodium is hiding
  • Eat well across your lifespan — it’s never too late to start eating better!

We all love our favorite foods, but sometimes a simple change in what we choose to eat can mean a big change in our health. You might want to check out some Recipe Renovations® from Nutrition for the Health of It.

Other Report Recommendations

Naturally eating right is a big component to good health but we also know that regular physical activity is a huge piece of the health puzzle too.

They recommend seniors (and all of us) get the recommended amount of physical activity per week by finding an activity your senior enjoys!

This report addresses the fact that diet and exercise in combination are essential to wellness and successful aging.

This is not just for our senior loved ones, though, as it’s important to maintain a healthy diet no matter your age.

Not only will that help our seniors maintain good health but also manage and prevent chronic diseases.

Caregivers Need First Aid Knowledge BEFORE an Emergency Happens

Emergencies that can require caregivers to administer medical help to a senior loved one can happen to anyone, at any time of the day or night.

Are family caregivers ready to minister to senior’s health needs? Are you?

Of course, if it is something traumatic, the first course of action is to call 911.

If it is not life threatening or while awaiting first responders, caregivers need to know what to do.

Medical Treatment for Seniors

Basic medical care techniques are skills most family caregivers should have in case of emergency.

It is a great idea for family caregivers to take a few classes in first aid, including CPR, Heimlich maneuver, and emergency first aid.

These techniques can be life saving for your senior loved one.

There are many organizations that provide these helpful classes across the country, such as the Red Cross, American Heart Association, and local healthcare systems.

If you can’t locate a class near you, there are online training courses you can take from home.

There are some events that are more likely to occur in seniors such as these:

Falls

Seniors are at risk for falling, especially if they have trouble with balance, loss of muscle mass or multiple chronic health conditions.

It is important to prevent falls whenever possible, but they can still occur.

If your senior falls, don’t try to get them up without checking them out first. They could be injured and getting them up too quickly could make the injury worse.

Here is a video helping your senior get up more safely after a fall. If they appear to be injured with a broken bone, stroke or head injury, call 911 and keep them still until help arrives.

Skin Cuts/Tears

Seniors skin becomes more fragile with age and loss of collagen. It becomes thinner and more vulnerable to tearing.

If a cut is superficial, cleaning and applying antibiotic ointment may be all that is needed; a bandage can help keep it clean but sometimes air drying is effective.

If a cut is deeper, stop the bleeding and assess to see if it will need more medical attention.

Some cuts bleed more than others, depending on their location and can be frightening. Also be aware that seniors who take a blood thinner may bleed more, take longer to cease bleeding and may need medical advice or a checkup to see if their medication levels are appropriate.

Choking

Older adults can experience difficulty swallowing and may have choking episodes, especially on certain foods such as hard meats, gummy foods, and stringy vegetables.

Coughing occurs often but choking is serious and needs immediate medical attention, especially if the airway is blocked.

If your senior grabs their throat, has trouble speaking, is unable to breathe and turns blue, or can only nod their head, first call 911 and then perform the Heimlich maneuver if you are trained.

Poisoning

Seniors can have trouble with their medications and take them incorrectly, causing poisoning. They can also unknowingly ingest something toxic.

It is a good idea to remove any dangerous chemicals from their reach and put the poison control number on the refrigerator in case it is needed quickly.

If you suspect they may have been poisoned, call poison control to get instructions before doing anything, including making your senior vomit.

Managing Medications

Medication nonadherence will result in medical problems for senior loved ones.

In fact, not taking medications correctly results in 125,000 deaths and 11% of hospitalizations annually.

Seniors may have difficulty with medication management for a variety of reasons such as:

  • Simply not remembering to take medications as prescribed at the correct time or as directed
  • Skipping doses because they feel better
  • May not be filling the prescriptions: 20-30% of prescriptions are never filled
  • May stop taking prescriptions due to side effects or thinking that they aren’t needed; 50% of people stop their medications or treatments as directed
  • Fear of side effects
  • Cost of medications, co-pay
  • Inability to secure transportation to pick up drugs at pharmacy
  • Running out before they have another doctor visit to update prescription
  • Having to split medications for correct dosage
  • Lack of understanding about consequences of nonadherence or benefits of medications
  • Food and/or drug interactions interfering with efficacy of medications

Proper medication management of prescriptions to treat hypertension will lead to 45% better blood pressure control.

However, in 2014, 26.3% (4.9 million) of Medicare Part D beneficiaries using blood pressure medication were nonadherent to their regimen.

Taking medications properly, including all over the counter medicines and supplements, will help your senior manage their chronic diseases and avoid potential health emergencies.

Supplies to Keep on Hand

Most of our senior’s homes have many supplies on hand from years of needing ‘cures’ but they may not have everything that you need in an emergency.

It is a good idea to take an inventory in their bathroom and fill any gaps with new supplies.

It will be very important to take the time to read the labels and expiration dates on all their products to be sure they are not too old to be used — and possibly even harmful if used. Discard any expired products and replace with newer items.

This is a good time to organize all the health products so that they are easy to find when needed.

  1. Keep an updated medication list including generic names, dosages, time of day, precautions and pharmacy contact number; emergency contact information is also helpful
  2. First aid kit – don’t forget to keep it up to date and change out any expired products
  3. Wound care products including bandages of all sizes, hydrogen peroxide, cotton balls, antibiotic cream, gauze, tape
  4. Ace bandage
  5. Antacids for heartburn
  6. Thermometer
  7. Pain reliever
  8. Constipation relief, diarrhea relief
  9. Ice packs
  10. Heating pad that is new, replace any older model which could have faulty heating controls or wiring
  11. Antibacterial hand cleaner
  12. Non-latex gloves
  13. Cortisone cream for itching
  14. Hemorrhoid cream and/or wipes, witch hazel
  15. Moisturizing lotion that is nourishing to protect dry, cracking skin
  16. Flashlight and batteries
  17. Sunscreen and after sun lotion
  18. Tweezers and scissors
  19. Eyewash, eye drops
  20. Know where to find advance directives, insurance cards and other documents if need to go to hospital

Caring Means Being Prepared

This may seem like an overwhelming amount of information needed to be prepared for an emergency but most common and on hand already.

It is important to gather all the supplies needed and have them on hand as you won’t be able to run to the store to get necessary items in the midst of the emergency.

Readiness won’t just happen but a few small steps toward preparedness will be well worth it if an emergency does arise for your senior loved one.