Hearing Aids Improve Quality of Life for Our Senior Loved Ones

Huh?

What’s that you say?

Getting older often means losing our senses – literally.

Both our vision and hearing begin to fail us impacting the quality of life of many of our senior loved ones.

Getting glasses to improve our vision, while not inexpensive, is pretty easy for many of us to buy. There are numerous vision centers and eye doctors of our choosing so that we can compare and get the most affordable options. Getting a pair of glasses while you wait or while you shop for groceries has become commonplace for older adults.

Being able to access corrective lenses so that, despite aging’s loss of vision, seniors can still perform their daily activities with optimal sight helps seniors maintain a routine life.

Unfortunately, finding a solution to hearing loss associated with aging is not as easy.

While neither are covered services under most insurance plans including Medicare, hearing aids are often financially out of the reach of many senior’s budget so are often an unobtainable advantage to achieve a better quality of life.

Family caregivers can help their senior loved ones overcome the barriers to better hearing to help their seniors remain engaged with the world around them.

Consequences of Untreated Hearing Loss for Seniors

It doesn’t seem like much of a burden to daily living to people who can hear, but loss of hearing has far reaching implications for our senior loved ones.

It is estimated that as many as 80% of adults with hearing loss and could benefit from hearing aids don’t own them. The numbers indicate the size of the problem is large since, while nearly 27 million Americans age 50 and older have hearing loss, only one in seven uses a hearing aid. Many seniors are going through life unable to fully engage.

Senior’s health is negatively impacted when their hearing is left untreated.

  • Anger, stress and loss of alertness are symptoms caused when hearing becomes impaired affecting daily activities. These conditions often progress into more serious outcomes such as concerns with physical safety when completing daily activities.
  • Isolation is a major risk for our senior loved ones who wait to get their hearing loss identified and amplified with the use of hearing aids. Seniors will withdraw from interactions because they can no longer participate in conversation, they can’t get into the discussion or hear the important information conveyed in social settings. Instead of admitting it and appearing helpless, they just stop socializing with others.
  • This isolation leads to depression for many older adults. Becoming sad and lonely – depression can lead to a variety of other issues including lack of self-care. This neglect can result in not only lack of socialization, but also a decrease in meal intake, unintentional weight loss, weakness and loss of independence.
  • Cognitive loss – research has shown that a mild hearing loss can double the risk of dementia, a moderate loss tripled risk and a severe hearing loss increased dementia risk by five times. Hearing loss can atrophy the brain.
  • Falls – when you walk, your ears pick up signals that help with balance. When you have hearing loss, you miss these diminished signals leading to falls.

New Hearing Aid Bill

Have you heard – no pun intended — that there was a bill passed into law in August of this year called the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Reauthorization Act of 2017?

This new law includes a provision for sales of hearing aids over the counter to adults with mild to moderate hearing loss. It will be fully in affect in the next two to three years to allow time for the FDA to establish safety, effectiveness and labeling standards.

Hopefully the new law will lower the cost of hearing aids to about $300 each.

Currently hearing aids cost anywhere from $900 to $3500 (or more) per ear. Not just the hearing aids but also the batteries and other supplies such as ear molds, new tubing, etc. are not covered by most insurance plans.

Tips for Purchasing Hearing Aids

Family caregivers can help their senior loved ones decide that testing is an important step toward wellness and then getting the amplification that is required to bring back as much hearing as possible.

Reconnecting your senior loved one to the world around him or her with the gift of hearing will improve your senior’s quality of life.

Advances in technology have reached hearing aids which are now more user friendly, effective and wearable.

There are many things to remember when helping seniors who have impaired hearing:

  1. If you think your senior is suffering from hearing loss, visit an audiologist who is trained to fully test your senior’s hearing health. There may be a reason for loss of hearing that can be fixed which doesn’t involve getting a hearing aid.
  2. Don’t settle for a cheap fix with low quality aids that won’t improve their hearing and could make things worse by amplifying all sounds making hearing conversation even more difficult.
  3. If the audiologist recommends a hearing aid, but your senior’s insurance won’t cover the cost and they can’t afford them, there are options that will make the aids easier to afford so seniors will actually buy them.

Seek out these options: ask audiologist if any local organizations can assist with price, contact Audient who provides hearing care for low-income people through a network of hearing-care providers at 1-866-956-5400, buy the aids online and pay your audiologist to program them correctly, save for them by setting aside money to purchase in the near future if not today, seek out financial aid or loan, contact Lions Club for help, or call Starkey Hear Now program at 1-800-328-8602 for help with a purchase.

  1. Encourage your senior to use hearing aids regularly, even when at home, so that they will reap the rewards.
  2. Take good care of hearing aids, keep them clean, store them safely, and don’t lose them (not that anyone tries). They are too costly to need repair and replacement frequently.
  3. Get insurance for them if you think your senior loved one may misplace them or unintentionally wear them in the shower (if not waterproof). It will likely be less expensive than replacement.
  4. New technology allows hearing aids to be wirelessly connected to smartphones, MP3 players, TVs, etc. for an increased level of connectivity. Some can even be recharged in a base similar to a smartphone which eliminates the need for tiny, expensive batteries.

“Aging is out of your control. How you handle it, though, is in your hands.” — Diane von Furstenberg

 


Herbal Supplements for Seniors: Use Caution – Family Caregiver Quick Tip

Hoping to feel better, look younger, and prevent disease are reasons many of us, including our senior loved ones, take over-the-counter supplements.

Almost one in five adults use herbal supplements. Herbals can be dried, chopped, powdered, capsuled or liquid too and some are used as a lotion applied to the skin.

Nutritional supplements are sold to the tune of billions of dollars each year. In fact, Americans spent $21 billion on vitamins and herbal supplements in 2015.

Herbal supplements are products made from botanicals or plants that are touted to make us healthier. But are they safe — or effective?

Are Herbal Supplements Helping?

Seniors who may not be eating as well as they should or who don’t think they can afford the healthiest foods in the grocery store are often looking for something to give them the nutrients missing in their diet.

They look right to the shelf in the grocery or drug store that promises wellness in pretty colored bottles.

But will these bottles give them the wellness they seek at a cost they are willing to pay while requiring little effort outside of swallowing?

Experts agree that safety of herbal supplements is difficult to measure because they are not produced consistently, they use different parts of the plant, often more than one part in each pill, and contain different species of plants in each type of product.

Supplements are considered foods and not regulated as medications.

The real problem is the lack of oversight in the supplement industry. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) relies on manufacturers following safety guidelines and identifying the ingredients in their products. However when investigated, researchers find that they don’t always contain what they say they do.

Supplement manufacturers are not required to prove that their ingredients are effective and their claims are accurate. Most experts believe there is no way to really know what consumers are purchasing. Nearly 80% of herbals contained none of the product on the label or were contaminated with other plant material.

Tips for Family Caregivers

It is important to understand not only the lack of efficacy but also the potential for harm for senior loved ones who are already taking multiple prescribed medications if they choose to take herbal supplements.

Here are some tips to help family caregivers protect their seniors:

  1. Wait until the doctor recommends a nutritional supplement or at a minimum tell the doctor exactly which over-the-counter herbal supplements your senior is taking to be sure they aren’t interfering with (or replacing) prescription medications.
  2. More is not better in many cases. Don’t take excess quantities thinking that they will work better because this could be very dangerous. Follow label directions for dosages.
  3. Investigate the manufacturer of the supplement. Be sure the herbal supplement taken is unadulterated, free from contaminants that could be harmful, or if they even contain what they say they do so your senior isn’t throwing away their money (or their health). Use extreme caution when buying anything online.
  4. Be aware of any side effects if your senior takes herbal supplements. Reduce or eliminate these herbals if symptoms appear.
  5. Look out for possible allergic reactions especially to any added ingredients not listed on the label.

Eating a well-balanced and varied diet can keep your senior loved one healthy without spending money on botanicals that may not be needed and more importantly, may be dangerous.

Additional Resources

Helping seniors eat right so that they won’t need to pay for supplements is the healthy choice. Here are some additional articles to help family caregivers overcome the obstacles seniors may face in getting adequate nutrition from their foods.



Medicare Open Enrollment – Why Seniors & Caregivers Should Care

Every year at this time – October 15 through December 7 — is the open enrollment period for Medicare.

It is the time when millions of seniors have the opportunity to check out their healthcare coverage to ensure they are getting the most effective insurance for their particular situation.

Many wonder why they need to be concerned. They say, “I am covered already.”

Some seniors don’t realize that they can make changes that could benefit them.

Medicare is more complex than many family caregivers might guess, thus they are leaving it to their seniors without realizing the challenges they face.

Medicare Coverage Options

There are many healthcare options for your senior to consider during this time of open enrollment, some of which may have changed from last year. During the rest of the year, seniors can’t make changes without a good reason.

It is important to understand that, every year, out-of-pocket expenses charged under your senior’s current plan could increase.

Checking to see if the current plan is the most cost effective for not only monthly payments but coverage, caps, and out-of-pocket expenses.

Can your senior still use their current medical team? Is this team still in network? How about the hospital or preventive services testing centers?

Now is the time to compare Medicare Advantage plans and Part D prescription drug plans to determine if there is a need to switch to the one that is a better fit for your senior’s current medical situation. A change in their health status can mean a change in insurance coverage is needed.

Exploring all the options could save hundreds of dollars a year if your senior loved one is not on the right plan now.

Part D Prescription Plans

Part D plans cover the cost of prescription drugs and are administered by insurance companies approved by Medicare.

These plans change from year to year. Which drugs, which dosage, which pharmacy can be used, and the copay costs are different from one Part D plan to another so it is important to compare based on your senior’s current (and potential) medication list.

Another thing to investigate is whether your senior’s prescription drug regimen has changed in the past year.

Are they getting the best price for their current medications? If a drug that was added is not in their current Part D plan, it is a good time to see if another plan will provide more inclusive coverage.

Are their vaccinations covered fully including shingles and pneumonia immunizations? Is it time for a vaccine like shingles? If so, ask if and at what cost these are covered in the current or other plans.

Tools for Seniors and Family Caregivers

To help you learn more about your senior’s current plan and what other options are available, your senior will be getting a notice called the Annual Notice of Change/Evidence of Coverage. This information will help determine if there will be any changes or increases in their coverage and out-of-pocket expenses under their current plan in the upcoming year.

This detailed information should alert you and your senior to do some comparison shopping properly armed with what their current plan will entail. It may be that your senior loved one’s current plan may still be the best option, but you won’t know until you learn more.

Your senior will also receive the Medicare & You Handbook which will inform both of you about what Medicare will cover and not cover in the upcoming year.

Will Medicare cover medical equipment, preventive testing, home care, or hospital stays among other things? Things may be different than they have been in the past so this is important to review before healthcare is needed and the coverage is not available or too costly for their fixed income.

The gap between their expected need and their actual coverage may signal a need for a supplemental insurance plan to help offset possible costs.

Is your senior’s plan rated highly? Has it received a five or three or lower star rating? A five star rating is considered the highest quality plan and three stars are poor quality. If your senior’s plan is ranked in the low range, it is a good idea to investigate a better option before open enrollment closes.

Advice and More Information

If you and your senior loved one have specific questions about Medicare, you can get free advice from a Medicare adviser here.

You can search for a personalized plan using the Medicare Find a Plan site.  You will be asked some info about your senior and their location which will help find info for different plans. Be careful not to judge plans solely on monthly premiums because a lower premium could mean less coverage and higher out-of-pocket expenses when healthcare is sought.

All of these tools will help family caregivers become better informed so that they can guide senior loved ones to be sure they are getting all the healthcare coverage they require without breaking the bank.

A little planning time now before open enrollment ends will help you both be better able to weather potential health care storms in the coming year.

MIND Eating for Brain Health – Family Caregiver Quick Tip

Eating right can have an impact on our physical health and help us all to manage our weight.

Can changing the way we and our senior loved ones eat really improve our brain health?

Will it prevent cognitive loss?

One eating plan has been shown to help our brains stay healthy – the MIND diet.

MIND Eating

A combination of both the Mediterranean diet and the DASH eating plan has been developed into the MIND diet (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay).

It purportedly keeps our brains sharp, even the brains of our senior loved ones.

Both the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet help improve cardiovascular health through lowering intake of saturated fats and including more fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, and lean protein in the form of fish and plant based foods. The DASH diet specifically helps with lowering blood pressure.

What the researchers are learning is that what is good for the heart is good for the brain, so consequently the MIND diet is capable of improving our brain health.

Research shows that those following the MIND diet closely cut the risk of cognitive loss by 50% and kept the brain 7.5 years younger while those who followed it half of the time reduced their risk of cognitive loss by 35%.

Tips to Follow the MIND Way of Eating

Changing our diets and helping our senior loved ones change theirs to follow the MIND diet principles will help their heart, brain and overall health.

Here are some tips to making meal changes:

  1. Eat more fish (omega-3 fatty acid rich types with fins, such as salmon, anchovies, or sardines) at least once a week and poultry (not fried) twice a week.
  2. Add anthocyanin-rich berries, such as blueberries, at least twice a week.
  3. Include vegetables daily, eating dark green leafy choices (kale, arugula, spinach, collards) at least six servings per week.
  4. Eat nuts five or more times a week (in correct portion sizes).
  5. Include beans at least four times a week.
  6. Eat whole grains.
  7. Your primary oil should be olive oil.
  8. Drink one glass of wine a day.
  9. Avoid red meat, butter, cheese, sweets/pastries, and fast food.

If you would like to try new recipes that incorporate these principles, check out MIND Diet Meals from author and dietitian Maggie Moon.

Additional Resources

Protecting our brains and changing as many lifestyle factors as we can to strengthen our brains against cognitive decline is a goal for which family caregivers and senior loved ones can strive.

Here are some articles that might help you reach your goals:

Innovations in Aging in Place Tech for Seniors & Their Family Caregivers

As the number of older Americans increases in what has been called the “silver tsunami” and the number of people who are caring for them decreases, the role of technology to help fill the void is anticipated to grow.

By 2020, baby boomers will all be seniors, as part of the estimated 20% of the US population will be over 65.

Technology continues to improve how we all, especially senior loved ones, can interact in our environment. Technology, despite the obvious limitations of cost, accessibility, user knowledge, and security, can help seniors live independently more safely with an improved quality of life.

Advancing Technology Solutions

There are a number of technology areas that will provide needed solutions to enable our senior loved ones to age in place with health, safety, and comfort.

These are a few areas about which we think family caregivers may want to learn more.

Robotics

Robotics is one area where our senior loved ones will see benefit of technology.

Robots, telepresence devices, robotic pets, and virtual social companions are already available and used by older adults across the world because they bring companionship in the absence of another person. The number and capabilities of these robots will continue to expand.

Let’s all remember that caregiving robots are not intended to replace the human touch. For many older adults, including elder orphans, having this technology available will help to keep them company, link them to caregivers, and assist them with some of the tasks of everyday life.

Artificial intelligence will allow caregiving robots to react to the senior for whom they care — not just stand by idly waiting for a command. It will be able to answer questions, motivate seniors to do daily tasks, and be social to help aging in place seniors.

Robots don’t get frustrated with repeated questions and they don’t have expectations of their seniors, which may make daily life easier for older adults.

Personal assistant devices that are voice controlled like Amazon Echo, Google Home, and Apple’s Siri will increasingly use artificial intelligence to do many things in the home such as turn on music, TV, manage smart home devices, get the news and weather report, control temperature, purchase products online, and many other tasks.

Autonomous (Driverless) Cars

The ability to get around by car is important for seniors, not just for their independence but also to get to doctors’ appointments and more, but for many the ability to drive is limited due to declining ability.

Artificial intelligence advancements are working to bring autonomous driving experiences to us all. Benefits of transportation without the pitfalls of accessing public systems or relying on others will help aging in place seniors continue to live independently.

Getting to doctor’s appointments, getting to the pharmacy when needed, buying and carrying groceries home, visiting friends, attending faith services and socializing in the community gives seniors a quality of life that will enable them to age in place longer.

Telemedicine

Aging in place seniors, especially in rural communities, often have trouble getting to the physician for regular checkups and especially emergent conditions due to transportation issues. They may also be too fragile or the dementia too advanced to sit in waiting rooms for extended periods so avoid seeking medical care.

Telemedicine can give senior loved ones access to healthcare services from the comfort of their own home when it becomes harder to get to the doctor.

Not only are doctors, healthcare systems, and the VA performing visits virtually, they are also monitoring vital statistics and making treatment changes to improve the health of seniors. They can update prescriptions and order medications from the pharmacy electronically.

House calls through virtual platforms are growing, which is helping not only aging in place seniors but those who must travel long distances to find a healthcare provider.

Access to high speed, secured broadband networks will be key to participating in telehealth applications. Electronic health records through patient portals which keep track of medical history, medications, vaccinations and tests also require high speed broadband access.

Daily Living Hacks

Seniors who are aging in place and their family caregivers are identifying gaps in functional abilities versus needs.

These gaps are quickly being filled with technology solutions, although perhaps not as quickly — and sometimes at as low a cost — as some might like.

Technology is helping with device solutions that can aid when mobility and functional ability decline, which is inevitable for our senior loved ones. While family caregivers are working to prevent decline, aging is a natural process and physical changes will occur with age.

Advances in daily home technology means that devices are beginning to be truly connected. There are home systems that can connect devices providing increased benefits.

Here are some current technology solutions for common aging concerns:

  • Falls – Fall sensors, in-home and wearable monitors, alerts for caregivers, and — in the future — embedded footwear that alerts if the normal gait pattern is disrupted. Many of these sensors and wearables connect to a response system for emergency help when needed. Fall prevention help is coming in the form of a monitor that adds training on how to fall without injury.
  • Medication Management – Pill minders, automated dosing systems, smartphone apps to alert if and when medications are taken, reminders that alert when it is time to take a medication. The FDA has recently approved embedded sensors in the actual medications that will confirm that the pill was actually swallowed!
  • Depression – Virtual companions, Skype and Facetime, virtual reality, video/music streaming, email, Facebook/photo sharing, and other ways to keep seniors fulfilled and engaged can reduce loneliness and depression.
  • Dementia / Cognitive Loss – Apps and websites for brain games and socialization opportunities. One example is Skyping into a local senior day program to socialize with peers from home.
  • Chronic Disease Monitors – Vital sign measurements informing healthcare providers and alerting caregivers.
  • Pain Management – Non-pharmacological pain control devices that send signals to the sensory nerves along the surface of the skin or spinal cord stimulation reducing pain signals; radiofrequency therapy.
  • Safety – Automatic shut-off devices for stoves and other dangerous appliances, locks or doorbell security to prevent unwanted intruders from gaining entry, home monitoring and lifestyle patterning to alert caregivers of impending trouble, CO2 and radon monitoring, programmable and sensing thermostats, and many more home safety devices and apps available.
  • Personal Safety (PERS) – More and advanced personal emergency response systems that can follow seniors as they venture out of the home and away from the ‘home base’ unit using GPS monitoring at greater ranges. PERS are also increasing their capabilities to include more services which helps expand the operability and benefits.

Wearable technology has found its way into many of these categories including fall detection, wandering, chronic disease monitoring, and physical health.

Healthcare providers warn that consumers need to ensure their health apps, medical devices, and wearables are medically approved and proven to provide accurate results. They are finding some digital products sold directly to consumers are not accurate or reliable.

Family caregivers may want to discuss products of interest with their healthcare provider to determine which will work within their systems.

Family Caregiver Technology Concerns

There remain concerns that may be preventing caregivers from connecting their senior loved ones to beneficial technology.

We believe that the more you know, the more you will find that these concerns can be overcome and workarounds found to bring the technology into everyday use.

Manufacturers have addressed many caregivers’ concerns and are meeting the challenge in creating devices that truly serve aging adults.

  • Affordability
  • User experience
  • Interoperability
  • Data Security
  • Accessibilty

Technology can benefit seniors and give family caregivers peace of mind that they are as safe as possible living independently.