Benefits for Both When Seniors Engage with Younger Generations

As our world evolves and families live miles apart, it seems that young and old are not brought together as frequently as in prior generations.

Today’s millennials are vastly different than their grandparents. They are largely removed from institutions, according to a recent Pew Research report, including families.

In many cases, their parents both worked outside the home.

More millennials are college educated than their grandparents and 68% are not married compared to their grandparents at the same age.

In fact, the traditional family unit has changed, with single parent households, divorce, and co-habitation changing the face of the family.

In the 1970s, 40% of typical families had four children. Currently, families average two children and the number of one child families has doubled. In addition, parents are more likely to be older when they start having families.

How has this affected the grandparent-grandchild dynamic or old-young connectivity?

Grandparenting Now

In light of the changing family structure, how are grandparents changing?

Will the change in how grandparents connect with grandchildren impact how young and old interact?

Pew research says:

  1. 83% of seniors 65 and over have grandchildren. Because life expectancy has increased, seniors have the opportunity to be grandparents.
  2. Increasing numbers of grandparents are living with grandchildren. Greater numbers of those living together are ethnically diverse according to Pew. In fact, 5% of seniors are raising their grandchildren.
  3. 3 out of 4 grandparents said they help with child care occasionally.
  4. Older adults state a benefit of aging is getting time to spend with grandkids.

Connecting with Elders

Are we keeping the connections between young people and our older adults strong?

As more older adults age in place and live farther from their families, are we connecting young and old enough to benefit both generations?

Technology is bridging the generation gap and providing ways for older and younger people to stay in touch.

They are using smartphones, tablets, and the internet more often to make ‘face to face’ connections but still largely rely on simple phone calls.

Social media, email, and text messaging are ways seniors and young people are beginning to connect more often. Skype and FaceTime bring the virtual visit to life for seniors and grandchildren allowing them to communicate frequently, no matter the busy schedule or distance of today’s families.

According to a Pew study, in the US:

  • 1 in 5 grandparents communicate with their grandchildren daily
  • 41% are in touch weekly
  • 19% communicate with their grandchildren once a month
  • 19% communicate less often or never

Caregivers can help seniors stay engaged with the extended family especially the younger generation by enabling the use of technology innovations by providing, teaching, and encouraging their use.

New Ways to Bring Generations Together

In addition to our family connections, seniors without extended families – the so-called ‘elder orphans’ need our help to connect with the younger generation as well as all seniors living in long term care facilities.

The Eden Alternative, started in 1991 by Dr. Bill Thomas, brings home-like structure to elder facilities and creates person-centered interventions for seniors in long term care. One of their goals is to find ways to bring kids into nursing homes as they believe life revolves around continuing contact with plants, animals, and children.

The Pioneer Network, formed in 1997, has been working to change long term care of our senior adults by changing the culture of facilities to bring home and community to seniors instead of institutionalism.

Involving more aspects of the traditional home and less of sterile facilities includes bringing younger people to support older adults as part of the daily structure.

Seniors with University Students

A newer approach to bring young and old out of their silos to come together for mutually beneficial interactions is occurring in a Dutch nursing home who has started a program involving college students.

This program gives rent free living to university students in exchange for 30 hours a month of interaction with the seniors living in the home. Twenty-somethings living with eighty-somethings has led to some interesting results.

One of the requirements of this shared living arrangement is that the students become teachers to the elders about technology. They are teaching the seniors to use technology for email, social media, Skype and other applications that are beneficial to the seniors.

In addition to giving the seniors new skills, the students are preventing loneliness for seniors disconnected from the larger world.

By overcoming loneliness and isolation in institutionalized seniors, the hope is that becoming engaged not just with the students but the world through the use of technology can improve the quality of life, well-being and even life expectancy of these elders.

Linking Generations Through Literature

Another program designed to bring the generations together is the Care Homes Reading Project, which brings student volunteers together with institutionalized seniors over literature. Students read poetry, short stories and other forms of literature to seniors including those with dementia.

In those with dementia, they have found that the rhythm of the stories and poetry has evoked memories and sharing, not only with the students but also family members. Elders gain back their sense of self connecting their past with their present according to researchers.

The seniors seem to get energized by the youthful spirit of the students which spills over into other aspects of their day to day life in the home.

The goal is to improve quality of life of the seniors through communication. It isn’t just about reading but also the chatting and connections that are built between the student volunteers and the seniors.

A shared love of literature, differing viewpoints about the stories and even learning about the seniors’ life experiences, bridges the disconnect of generations according to the students involved.

An added benefit to the home is time spent with the students relieves the staff to handle other care needs.

Engaging Produces Benefits for All

Programs such as this one build not only the well-being of the elders and the students but also the larger community. Learning from each other and becoming one through shared interests is building a stronger community for the long-term.

Connecting young people and seniors doesn’t just benefit the senior, whether it is through programs such as this live-in arrangement but also connecting through nursing home programs, child care arrangements, and other means of increased communication, also benefits the younger persons.

This sets up a lifelong interest in helping others as well as an understanding, rather than fear, of aging and older adults.

Intergenerational connection, whether organized or organic, is vital to both young and old.

Hopefully we can reduce isolation and loneliness, bring understanding, break stereotypes and foster respect when we facilitate the engagement between young people and seniors.


Prevent Wandering by Seniors with Dementia – Family Caregiver Tip

Family caregivers, especially of seniors with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, worry that when they try to rest or complete a task their loved one will wander off.

Senior loved ones who have dementia are likely to wander as the disease progresses.

In fact, three out of five people with dementia will wander. That’s an estimated 3 million people each year.

Many of our seniors who wander don’t get very far and their movement is not reported to anyone in authority.

When wandering becomes severe and authorities are needed to locate a missing senior, the statistics are frightening.

If found within twelve hours, 93% will survive, meaning 7% will not survive the ordeal. The longer they are missing the greater the chance of harm.

Tips to Reduce the Likelihood of Wandering

Keeping senior loved ones with dementia from wandering and possibly getting lost is important for the caregiver.

The Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center offers these tips to reduce wandering. The first four are intended to help you get your senior loved one home safely if they should wander despite your best efforts.

  1. Be sure your senior loved one carries ID or wears a medical bracelet for identification in case they do wander so that they will be returned promptly, since they may not be able to tell their address or contact information.
  2. Let your neighbors know that your senior may wander and enlist them to alert you if they see your senior outdoors unattended.
  3. Mark their clothing with their name and contact info.
  4. Keep a recent photo and even an unwashed article of clothing that could be used in a search if needed.
  5. Keep your door locked and even install a deadbolt lock high enough to prevent your senior from unlocking it. A new keypad that operates via smartphone app can keep the door locked and safe by preventing the senior from opening. A keypad lock will also prevent seniors from unlocking the door.
  6. Install a safety cover on door knob that turns but doesn’t open door.
  7. Install an audio alert on door that will make a noise when opened and alert you.
  8. Hide the door from view using murals, paint, pictures, curtains or something else that will camouflage the door.
  9. Install a fence with a locked gate.
  10. Don’t leave the person with dementia unattended.

Additional Resources

Here are more articles that will help caregivers of people with dementia keep their senior loved ones safe.


Positive and Achievable Resolutions for Family Caregivers to Last the Year

Many people made New Year’s resolutions in the hopes that some part of their life or health would be the focus of personal improvement.

Family caregivers also make resolutions but those, like many aspects of our lives, may have a different focus.

As caregivers of senior loved ones, often our resolutions incorporate in some way the needs of those for whom we care.

A frequent caregiver resolution is to manage time better to be able to care for your senior loved one in the best, most effective way possible.

Another resolution would be to learn more about their disease so you can provide more specific care.

A good resolution for caregivers is to find time for yourself and to remember that self-care is important every day.

Usually caregivers forget the New Year’s promises they made even before the end of January drew near either because they are too busy or feel that their resolution was actually unachievable.

Achievable Resolutions to Last All Year Long

Instead of making setting broad objectives that will only make caregivers feel guilty for not achieving them, you can think of ways to tackle each new day in the most positive way to improve the lives of your senior loved one but also your own.

Here are some alternative ways which focus on the positive that caregivers can find helpful instead of the current unmet resolutions.

You can practice these things everyday all year long to make your senior’s and your own life more fulfilling.

Be A

(1) Listener

Be an engaged listener, attend to what your senior is telling you, and listen to what they are not saying.

They need your help and don’t know how to ask.

They need your affection and don’t know how to express their emotions.

They need your approval that what they desire is ok with you.

They need you to remind them about their special memories.

They don’t want to disappoint you or anger you.

They depend on you to make it right; however, we have trouble knowing what is right because we are so caught up in the day to day activities of living to pause long enough to receive the important messages.

(2) Fixer

As caregivers our primary role is often a “fixer”.

We replace the blown out light bulb in the hall.

We write the checks for overdue bills.

We fill the unfilled prescriptions.

We throw out the spoiled milk.

We fix the creaky front step.

We put in grab bars in the tub.

We fill out advance directives.

We visit our seniors in a facility when we don’t always have time.

We do the wash and the shopping

We make a million and one decisions.

Sometimes being a fixer can put stress on caregivers. Don’t forget to add your name to the fixer list!

Take a hot bath, read a good book, get some help from others completing chores and other tasks that can make your day lighter to keep you healthy enough to fix more things.

(3) Seizer

SEIZE THE DAY!

Revel in the moment. Don’t regret the time or event that has passed or the lost opportunity.

Live everyday with your precious loved one enjoying each moment whether good or bad as it comes along.

(4) Sharer

Share your smile, your time, your feelings, your memories, your tears, your laughter, your joy, and your love with your senior each time you are together.

(5) Thanker

Yes, that means just how it sounds.

Thank your senior for what they have given you.

Thank the helper who provides your senior with a service, no matter how small.

Thank the neighbor who keeps watch for you when you are not there.

Thank your family for pitching in.

Thank the medical team for listening to your concerns and guiding the care of your senior.

Thank yourself (just in case no else does).

Resolve to Be!

Every day you make a difference for your senior loved one.

You don’t have to wait until a new year rolls by to look for ways to make a change.

Resolve to BE!

We welcome your personal stories!


Overcoming the Winter Blues That Can Strike Seniors and Caregivers

As the winter months progress and the sun doesn’t shine as much, many seniors can fall victim to the winter blues.

Yes, it can happen to family caregivers as well.

It can be driven in part by a lack of sunlight and fueled by those times during the recently-ended holidays spent thinking of loved ones no longer here — a recipe for the blues for both seniors and caregivers.

Caregivers should be on the lookout for signs that the blues have come calling in their senior (or themselves) so that the blues can be sent on their way before they become an unstoppable force.

A gray day with clouds and fog can sometimes create a situation in which seniors can’t find the sunny side in themselves.

As many as 15% of the population can feel sad in the winter and 5% can have a severe reaction and health consequences.

Being SAD

Winter blues that follow a specific set of guidelines is referred to as SAD – seasonal affective disorder.

Symptoms include increased fatigue, sleeping more, eating more foods that aren’t healthy, and weight gain. More serious is a disinterest in life and a feeling of despair.

Memory and concentration can also be affected which makes some of our seniors’ previous symptoms even worse.

Depression often follows.

Help for the Winter Blues

People who experience blues in the winter can try using a light box or a dawn simulator to give their body clocks a sense that the sun is shining on them.

Sometimes antidepressants (properly prescribed, of course) are useful to improve symptoms of the blues. If the blues are brought on by the seasons and not by your senior’s situation — that is recent loss, change in functional status or lack of fulfillment or purpose — the antidepressant can also be used seasonally and not year-round.

Seniors should also have a set sleep schedule avoiding the desire to sleep late or go to bed early, which can also hinder their circadian rhythms.

Getting physical during the day and staying active can help. Physical activity helps to release natural endorphins that can fight feelings of sadness.

Depression in Seniors

Growing older does not mean one has to grow sadder. However, seniors are at a greater risk of becoming depressed, especially when they have one or more chronic medical conditions.

Depression is not a symptom of aging and should be recognized and treated in our senior adults.

Depression is more severe than the blues and is treatable.

Unfortunately, many seniors are not diagnosed appropriately to get the treatment they need to improve and are often misdiagnosed. Some healthcare providers accept their signs of depression as a natural reaction to the senior’s life as they age so don’t pursue treatment protocols that can help.

Sometimes our senior loved ones don’t share all their symptoms with their doctors or their caregivers, again assuming it is part of growing older.

A senior who is experiencing depression may have symptoms that last weeks at a time or longer.

They will also show these symptoms that caregivers can be observant for:

  • Hopelessness
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Disinterest
  • Overeating or loss of appetite
  • Thoughts or attempts at suicide
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Physical complaints
  • Fatigue

Get Moving!

Seniors and the rest of us who may begin feeling blue in the gray winter days can work to improve their outlook by getting moving.

For many of our seniors, it is still cold where they live so getting outdoors to get moving is not going to be the healthiest solution. That means it will be important to get creative when we get physical.

There are many things seniors can do to start moving without going outside, such as going to the nearest mall and walking the halls while you do a little window shopping. Mall walking is great because the climate is controlled and the floor is free from obstacles that could lead to falls.

If your senior doesn’t have a mall close by, you can always do laps in the grocery store or big box store nearby.

Seniors can also turn the living room into a dance studio and play some of their favorite music while they dance. Dancing is a great way to get physical that is enjoyable and doesn’t feel like work.

It is a good time to turn off the TV and find something to do to keep moving. It could be housework, organizing a closet or de-cluttering the basement.

Another fun activity that seniors can enjoy in the house is exergaming. Playing video games that keep them moving like golf or tennis or dance party or any other one that they like.

Seniors can also keep their mind busy and active with a variety of simple pleasures like reading, doing crosswords or puzzles, talking with friends, and other brain stimulating pursuits.

Fun Times Lead to Smiles

There are a variety of other activities that senior loved ones and family caregivers can do to break the winter doldrums that can lead to depression.

Get a massage, take a class, try a new food or recipe, start yoga or tai chi, keep a journal of your current thoughts or prior experiences, or learn to crochet.

Consider something out of your senior’s usual routine.

Maybe finding a way to give back to others through volunteerism in a task that your senior cares about such as an animal shelter, the library or a school will help fight the blues. If they can achieve it, helping others can give meaning to their days and reduce their winter blues.

Avoiding the tendency to be isolated alone in their homes with few visitors will help them fight the blues.

As we muddle through the winter months and look forward to the brightness of spring, it is important for family caregivers and their senior loved ones to fight the blues brought on by gray days and changes in their lives.

Finding ways to bring joy into even the grayest day will help seniors and caregivers.

Don’t assume your senior’s sadness is a fact of aging and get them the help that is needed to ensure they keep smiling towards the sunny days to come.


Saving Precious Time in the Kitchen – Family Caregiver Quick Tip

We all wish we had more hours in the day to get everything accomplished that we have on our to-do lists.

That’s especially true for family caregivers trying to balance caring for senior loved ones and their own families, many while employed full time!

Finding shortcuts to doing everyday chores can help give caregivers back the gift of time.

Caregiver Kitchen Timesavers

Making meals and snacks without spending all day in the kitchen can help family caregivers do more important tasks to care for their senior loved ones and their own family members too.

Hopefully finding a few timesaving ideas will help family caregivers spend a little more time caring for themselves too!

This is the first place that we skimp when time is lacking and it is the first place we should be investing time so that caregivers can continue to care for others.

Choose MyPlate has come up with some timesavers that will help caregivers reduce stress in the kitchen. Click on the links to view a few videos demonstrating the tips.

  1. Organize your kitchen. Keep frequently-used items, such as cooking oils/sprays, spatulas, cutting boards, and spices, within easy reach. This will keep you from having to search for them later.
  2. Clear the clutter. Before you start cooking, clear off your counters. This allows more room for prep space.
  3. Chop extra. When chopping up veggies for a meal, chop more than you need. Take the extra, place it in a reusable container and freeze. Then next time you need it, you can skip a step.
  4. Have everything in place. Grab all ingredients needed for your meal – vegetables chopped, spices measured, and meats thawed. It will be easier to spot missing items and avoid skipping steps.
  5. Double your recipe. For your next casserole or stew, try doubling the recipe and freezing the extra. You’ll save time and make cooking next week’s dinner a snap!
  6. Clean as you go. Fill up the sink with soapy water and wash the dishes as you cook. It’ll make clean up go much smoother!
  7. Save some for later. Freeze leftover soups, sauces, or gravies in small reusable containers.

Additional Resources

Here are a few more stories that can help caregivers find the gift of time and gain work-life balance.


Preparing to Face Storm Dangers – Act Now to Help Seniors Stay Safe

As family caregivers, we worry each day about the safety of our seniors, whether they live next door, in our homes, or far away.

Caregivers worry whether senior loved ones are safe in their homes, if they are taking their medicine correctly, if they are eating, or if they are safe driving — among a multitude of other concerns.

That’s a lot of worry!

Sometimes it seems, for family caregivers at least, it is as much “senior worrying” as it is “senior caring” that we do.

A major worry caregivers nearby and at long distance have is how their seniors will handle a harmful storm from Mother Nature.

It could be a thunderstorm that knocks out their power or a hurricane that can cause havoc that lasts for many days or weeks.

How will they deal with the ordeal?

Will they be displaced from their home?

How well prepared is your senior to face the challenge of a “weather event”?

What can family caregivers do now to improve their weathering the next storm?

Weathering the Storm

There are things that family caregivers can do right now and things that they should be keeping abreast of throughout the year to keep aging in place seniors safe in any storm.

Planning ahead is key and updating that plan as time goes by to be sure it remains doable for your senior.

Staying Prepared Now

Tips to be prepared to weather any storm to be done now:

  • Keep emergency supplies on hand.  Here is a list of supplies that should be in your senior’s home. It is a good idea to have two different kits ready — one for the home and one if a shelter is needed.
  • Prepare a safety plan that includes an evacuation strategy. Where will they go and how will they get there? How will they be transported? Is there a safe shelter nearby?
  • Keep emergency food and water on hand, along with a manual can opener in case the power goes out.
  • Keep a list of medications and doses, insurance card, and other ID handy and up to date. This should also be in the emergency kit.
  • Have a phone list of family names and addresses in case someone else is needed to assist them in contacting you. The list should also include their own street address in case they can’t remember it under stress.
  • Have a plan to secure outside objects, such as patio furniture, garbage cans or decorations, that can be picked up by strong winds and cause damage.
  • Determine in advance who will check up on your long distance loved ones after the storm to be sure they are safe and their home is habitable if you are not nearby.

Staying Prepared Throughout the Year

Readiness is not just for storm seasons, but for whatever might happen, anytime during the year. Taking these steps will help.

  • Let local authorities know about your senior and their needs in the case of a storm or other emergency.
  • Establish a plan for clearing walkways if covered in snow, ice or debris to prevent injury from falls? Is there someone to call to do the job for them before they slip and fall or can you arrange for this person to check routinely without being called?
  • Create a list — and keep it updated — with contact information for police, home repair companies, newspaper delivery, utilities (gas, electric, oil, phone, cable) and the local post office in case you need to contact them from a distance. Post this list where all can see such as on the fridge and send to all involved family members to help when needed.
  • Keep important documents, such as insurance papers and banking information, secure and readily accessible when needed after the storm. Be sure everyone involved knows where the important documents are being safely stored.
  • Talk about what to expect in a weather event with your senior and other family. Discuss plans with your senior regularly so they remember what will happen, who will need to be called and where they should go.
  • Keep the exterior of the home maintained to avoid damage to people or nearby structures during a storm.
  • What technology can be used to contact your senior, keep the family members informed, and alert authorities of special needs?
  • Install the free FEMA app on your smartphone to get real time alerts of impending storms or other emergencies that could affect your senior (and you).

Having a plan in place and supplies at the ready will help you and your senior handle the storm that is bound to arrive — whether or not you are ready.

Do you have any suggestions to add to the list on things that would be helpful for others to be better prepared?  We would love to hear them.


Advances in Healthcare for Older Adults – 15 Years of Progress

Health is key to our ability to achieve successful aging.

Improving the health and quality of life for the world’s seniors is a pursuit of scientists across the globe.

One organization has been bringing advances in medical care and research to the attention of the medical profession for many years – The American Geriatrics Society.

They recently compiled a list of the most important medical advances, which have resulted in improved care for older adults, over the last fifteen years.

Let’s look at the most impactful breakthroughs for our senior loved ones.

Advancements That Improve Health for Seniors

Researchers are in search of not only cures for major diseases for the world’s population but also for prevention strategies we can all use to improve our health.

Caregivers also seek answers to improving the health and quality of life for their loved ones. It is not just a goal to live a long life but to live a healthy life that makes seniors happy being able to remain independent and active as they live out their years.

This is a compilation of the latest research that has given caregivers and seniors, as well as the medical community, practical ways to improve health in aging.

Montreal Cognitive Assessment

Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA) is a screening test to detect mild cognitive impairment (MCI). The MoCA is a bedside measure that performs well in discriminating MCI from normal cognition as an initial test.

Because MCI is more common in older adults than dementia, the MoCA can determine the level of cognitive function without the need for more involved neurological testing. The MoCA is more sensitive than other screening tests.

Beers Criteria

Determining if there are medications that can be inappropriate and potentially harmful for seniors has been achieved using a comprehensive review examining drug-related outcomes affecting older adults, known as the Beers Criteria.

As medications change, so does the need to update the Beers Criteria, which was done recently to determine which drugs should be avoided altogether, are inappropriate for or to be avoided in certain diseases, or classes of drugs to be used with caution for older adults.

The Beers Criteria is the most widely used clinical tool for the medical care of seniors.

Transitional Care Model for Heart Failure to Prevent Hospital Readmissions

Many seniors face the diagnosis of heart failure and often have difficulty keeping the disease under control, resulting in multiple hospital admissions.

What health experts agree on is that proper daily care can prevent heart failure from becoming critical in our senior loved ones.

A model of care to help educate seniors and caregivers about how best to improve their health at home, as well as connecting with them to monitor their health and prevent conditions requiring hospitalizations, was created by Dr. Mary Naylor. It is now being used by healthcare systems across the country.

Cognitive Training for Seniors

Training seniors for improved cognition, or to delay cognitive impairments, can help improve every day function.

Cognitive training, which includes memory, speed of processing, and reasoning, as well as the speed in these processes was noted to continue to show a gain in those trained as many as 10 years later. The participants, who were an average age of 82, showed improvements in maintenance of cognition and self-reported activities of daily living.

This study led to increased means of providing cognitive training for elders and the commercialization of programs to improve functioning for seniors.

Fall Prevention

The risk of falling and especially succumbing to an injury from a fall which could devastate future independence for our seniors is becoming a great concern for caregivers.

In response to this growing crisis, the American Geriatrics Society, British Geriatrics Society and the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons has created a guide for clinicians to help prevent falls in our senior loved ones. This includes recommendations for assessing seniors who have fallen, evidence-based review of interventions, and research in the future.

Hospital Elder Life Program

Preventing delirium in hospitalized older adults which can impact aging in place has a new model of care called the Hospital Elder Life Program (HELP).

The program aims to decrease the rate of cognitive and functional decline in seniors during the course of their hospital stay by preventing delirium. It incorporates sitters, fall prevention, decreased hospital length of stay, institutionalization and readmission need.

Sarcopenia in Aging

We know that, for many of our seniors as they age, protein intake declines with an overall decrease in the nutritional adequacy of their food consumption, resulting in muscle loss. This muscle loss is known as sarcopenia.

Sarcopenia is possibly reversible with appropriate interventions.

The prevalence of sarcopenia was studied, as well as the impact this has on the functional status and potential disability in older adults. They found sarcopenia led to two times greater functional impairment for men and three times greater for women.

Improving Health of Our Seniors

It is of vital importance for us all to work collaboratively to improve the health of our senior loved ones.

Learning as much as we can about the lifestyle factors and environmental causes of chronic diseases and functional or cognitive losses as they age will help us create interventions for prevention and treatment.

Without taking steps to improve their health, we will put more burden on caregivers. Our seniors will lose the ability to age in place due to the amount of care required to overcome many of the health issues our seniors face as they age.

Our goal should be to make it possible for all our senior loved ones to experience the highest quality of life and live their years in the home of their choice.

We can’t change the fact that our seniors will age or that their bodies will also change, but we can take strides through knowledge and commitment to prevention activities to help them age successfully.

Senior Care Corner will continue to keep abreast of the research that is ongoing to help overcome age-related diseases and disorders that affect our loved ones health outcomes and support caregivers who make every effort to help seniors age well!


Microwave Oven Safety for Seniors – Family Caregiver Quick Tip

Many seniors who are aging in place prepare some of their meals and snacks in the convenience of their microwave ovens.

It requires little preparation and one touch operation.

But how safe is the food they prepare in a microwave — and how safe are our senior loved ones when they use theirs?

Because there is real danger when microwave ovens are in use, the Food and Drug Administration regulates them to help keep us all safe.

There are specific safety guidelines that manufacturers must meet to protect our health.

Microwave Injuries

When used correctly and kept in good working condition, microwave ovens are generally safe.

However, there are injuries that frequently occur and can happen to our seniors putting them at risk.

Some common injuries include:

  • Burns from hot containers or eating hot foods
  • Scalding from super-heated water
  • Exploding foods
  • Microwave radiation if there is leakage
  • Newer pacemakers no longer get interference from microwaves as many believe but check with your senior’s doctor to see if their device could be affected

Safety Tips

The Food and Drug Administration offers these safety tips to help keep our seniors safe during meal preparation:

  1. Follow manufacturer’s instructions for use. Read the owner’s manual to ensure you are operating safely, including never running a microwave when empty, never using one if the fan or turntable go on when the door is opened, and following recommendations for cooking times.
  2. Use only microwave safe containers. Don’t use metal or aluminum foil or any containers that will melt during cooking.
  3. Avoid super-heated water. This is water that reaches a temperature higher than boiling temperature. Adding ingredients such as instant coffee or sugar to the water prior to heating will help reduce this danger.
  4. Check oven for leakage or damage. Check the hinges and latches to be sure they operate correctly. Stop using microwave ovens whose doors don’t close tightly or are bent or warped.
  5. Don’t use if microwave operates while the door is open. The radiation exposure is greater when this is the case therefore the FDA warns to stop using immediately if this occurs.

When your senior’s microwave oven is working properly and the door closes fully, it is safe to operate.

If used properly, a microwave can be a great convenience, making it easier for our senior loved ones to maintain a nutritious diet.

Remind them to not overcook foods as some could start a fire when overheated.

Additional Resources

Here are a few more kitchen and home safety tips to help you keep your senior safe at home.


Strengthening Senior Bones to Protect Against Life-Altering Fractures

Our seniors’ bones can begin to lose minerals as they age, causing weakness and even fractures.

This is especially true in women after menopause.

One indication of bone loss can be a decrease in height as we age due to bone weakening and compression.

We might have laughed when we were kids about grandma getting shorter, but it might really be the case.

Osteoporosis is a disease of the bones and affects about one in five women over 50.

Approximately half of these women suffer fractures in the hip, spine, wrist, or other bones.

Unfortunately, osteoporosis happens over the course of years and typically is not diagnosed until after a fracture occurs.

Both men and women can develop osteoporosis, so male senior loved ones shouldn’t ignore their bone health.

Your senior can make adjustments in lifestyle behaviors to strengthen bones and to slow the bone loss of aging as well as preventing fractures starting today.

Latest Bone Health Research

There has been a lot of research into our bone health, but are there any new findings or recommendations for our bone health as a result of this research?

Low Vitamin D leads to low calcium absorption, but our bodies can adapt by producing more parathyroid hormone (PTH) and subsequently absorbing more of our ingested calcium. However, when our bodies are forced to compensate for deficiencies, it can be harmful on other body organ systems.

Calcium recommendations continue to be a concern because it is thought that the average person does not consume the recommended amount through their diet.

Three cups of milk or other dairy servings a day are recommended but most of us only take less than one. The amount of calcium seniors need is 1200-1800 mg/d. For this reason, many experts agree that calcium supplementation may be needed.

Some research has indicated that excess calcium can lead to cardiac issues but this was not proven.

There is also some question about the effect of a high protein intake on losing calcium from the bones through excretion as the body attempts to balance its pH which is elevated with a high protein diet.

osteoporosis in senior bonesAlthough research is still not conclusive, the experts agree that we should not lower our protein intake below the recommended level but instead avoid excess protein.

One study has shown that the probability of hip fractures is reduced in seniors over 65 who have calcium (500 mg) and vitamin D (700 IU) supplementation.

Studies show that, when bones are remodeled often, the result is bones that are more fragile. Adequate intakes of calcium and vitamin D reduce the frequency of remodeling, especially in post-menopausal women.

As soon as you begin taking in adequate nutrition, bone improvement results.

Nutrition for Bone Building

It is important to get adequate amounts of both calcium and vitamin D to maintain strong bones.

Think of your diet as preventive maintenance for our bones.

Calcium helps to maintain our bone mass while vitamin D helps your body absorb the calcium.

When you get enough of these nutrients, it will help prevent diseases such as osteoporosis.

How do you get enough and how much is enough are common questions for caregivers.

The recommendations vary but the Institute of Medicine say that seniors 51-71 get 1,000-1,200 mg of calcium and 600 IU of vitamin D (no more than 4,000 IU).

When a senior is vitamin D deficient, a supplement is usually required.

Ways to get more bone building nutrition in your senior’s diet:

  • Consume adequate servings of calcium containing foods (dairy is the best source of calcium and other nutrients such as magnesium, potassium, protein)
  • Use fortified foods such as orange juice, milk and breakfast cereals that are enhanced with calcium and vitamin D
  • Be sure your calcium supplement also contains vitamin D
  • If you avoid milk due to lactose intolerance, be sure to eat other non-dairy sources of calcium, such as dark green leafy vegetables, broccoli, edamame, figs, canned salmon, sardines, oranges, tofu, and almonds
  • Vitamin D can be obtained best from the sun but also from fatty fish, vitamin D fortified foods such as cereal, juice and milk, egg yolks and beef liver

Bone Strengthening Tips

Here are some ways our seniors can improve their bone strength.

  1. Regular exercise – participate in different activities that include: weight bearing activities such as walking and dancing; resistance activities such as stretching and free weights; and balance activities such as yoga and tai chi
  2. Ask their doctor about bone strengthening medicines and take as directed
  3. Include sources of calcium and vitamin D in their diet to help bones absorb needed minerals. High calcium foods to eat are cheese, low fat milk, ice cream, yogurt, leafy green vegetables, salmon, dark molasses, and sardines with bones
  4. Take a supplement of calcium and vitamin D if the doctor recommends, but split it up throughout the day for better absorption; also take with meals
  5. Check with the doctor or pharmacist to see if any of their medications are interfering with calcium or vitamin D absorption
  6. Spend 15 minutes a day in the sunlight without sunscreen.
  7. Avoid things that will decrease bone mass, such as smoking, heavy alcohol intake, and some medications.

Bone Warnings

If your senior is at risk for fractures due to nutritional deficiencies or a medical diagnosis, there are some precautions of which they should be aware to stay safe.

  1. Do not participate in activities that could increase their likelihood of falling or other particular exercises that are high impact
  2. Keep clutter down in the house and repair any trip hazards to prevent falls
  3. Be careful in the bathroom and install grab bars for added safety
  4. Quit smoking
  5. Wear shoes that fit well and are in good condition, preferably without laces that might trip up your senior when untied

Effects of a Mediterranean Diet

A new study indicates that a diet rich in olive oil, known as the Mediterranean Diet, may help strengthen bones.

Researchers found that swapping other fats and oils with olive oil may actually build bones as we age.

The Mediterranean Diet has been studied closely due to its health benefits.

This diet contains fruit, vegetables, fish, nuts, whole grains and healthy fats like olive oil and is low in red meat and dairy products.

Adopting even some of these tips for lifestyle changes can help your senior loved ones prevent bone loss and hopefully keep them fracture free.