Alzheimer’s & Dementia Impacts — Actions for Caregivers

Alzheimer’s and related dementias touch the lives of us all.

Most people are either personally caring for a loved one with dementia or know someone who is living with dementia or caring for a person with dementia (or have it themselves).

It has become rare to not be affected by dementia.

Unpaid family caregivers are on the front lines trying to navigate the maze of balancing caregiving and work/life, learning about the latest advances, and doing what they can to care for themselves.

New information, hopeful research discoveries, and tools for caregivers appear almost daily.

We want to update family caregivers and give you some actionable items to help you on your caregiving journey.

Latest Dementia Statistics

The recent Alzheimer’s Association 2018 Facts and Figures report details the latest information in dementia prevalence:

  • Every 65 seconds someone in the US is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease
  • 7 million people are currently affected in the US; of those 5.5 million are over 65
  • 1 in 10 people over 65 have Alzheimer’s (the greatest risk factor is age)
  • 2/3 of those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s are women
  • 1 in 3 people die from Alzheimer’s or related dementias annually
  • 20 years before symptoms appear the brain becomes damaged
  • Because Alzheimer’s dementia is underdiagnosed and underreported, a large portion of Americans with Alzheimer’s may not know they have it

You can see more in this video from the Alzheimer’s Association.

Effects on Caregivers of People with Dementia

Family caregivers providing unpaid care for their loved ones with dementia don’t regret their decision to care for family members in need. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean they are free from consequences of being a caregiver.

Here are some interesting tidbits about family caregivers and how dementia affects them:

  • 1 in 3 caregivers are over 65 themselves
  • Among primary caregivers of people with dementia, over half take care of their parents
  • It is estimated that 250,000 children and young adults between ages 8 and 18 provide help to someone with Alzheimer’s or related dementia
  • National surveys have found that approximately one quarter of dementia caregivers are “sandwich generation” caregivers, caring for their older loved ones while also caring for their children
  • More than 6 in 10 (63%) Alzheimer’s caregivers expect to continue having care responsibilities for the next 5 years
  • 3 primary reasons caregivers provide care to a person with Alzheimer’s
    • desire to keep a family member or friend at home (65% percent)
    • proximity to the person with dementia (48%)
    • caregiver’s perceived obligation as a spouse or partner (38%)
  • 59% of family caregivers rated the emotional stress of caregiving for someone with dementia as high or very high
  • 30% to 40 % of family caregivers of people with dementia suffer from depression
  • Many caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s or other dementias provide help alone
  • 74% of caregivers of people with dementia reported that they were “somewhat concerned” to “very concerned” about maintaining their own health
  • 6 in 10 caregivers of people with dementia were employed while giving care
  • Many caregivers of people with dementia: went in late or left their job early, went from full to part time or cut back hours, took leave of absence, or had to leave their job to be a caregiver
  • In 2016, dementia caregivers reported nearly twice the average out-of-pocket costs ($10,697) of non-dementia caregivers ($5,785)
  • The measure of burden of a disease indicates that Alzheimer’s is a very burdensome disease, not only to the patients but also to their families and informal caregivers; the sum of the number of years of life lost due to premature mortality and the number of years lived with disability, totaled across all those with the disease or injury

Impact of Alzheimer’s and Related Dementias

Alzheimer’s disease is a degenerative brain disease and the most common cause of dementia. The characteristic symptoms of dementia are difficulties with memory, language, problem-solving and other cognitive skills that affect a person’s ability to perform everyday activities. These difficulties occur because nerve cells (neurons) have been damaged or destroyed.

The progressive accumulation of the protein fragment beta-amyloid (plaques) in the brain and twisted strands of the protein tau (tangles) eventually damage the neurons.

Basic bodily functions controlled by the brain, such as walking and swallowing are involved when nerve cells in the brain are damaged. Difficulty remembering names, dates or events, counting money or balancing a checkbook, changes in mood, and depression are early symptoms.

People in the final stages of the disease are bed-bound and require around-the-clock care.

Alzheimer’s disease is ultimately fatal.

Actions That Improve Living with Dementia

Maintaining the highest quality of life as the disease progresses is the best treatment at this time until improved medication management or a cure is found.

Interventions can improve the health and well-being of dementia caregivers by relieving the negative aspects of caregiving as well.

Here are science-based steps and interventions family caregivers and seniors with dementia can take:

  1. Exercise – both aerobic exercise and a combination of aerobic and non-aerobic exercise had positive effects on cognitive function according to research
  2. Cognitive stimulation – activities such as object categorization activities to reality orientation exercises (chores, folding wash, puzzles, word games, naming objects, arts, cooking, etc.). No single type of cognitive stimulation was identified as being more effective than another. Benefits to cognitive function lasted up to 3 months after cognitive stimulation activities ended. It is interesting to note that cognitive stimulation did not impact mood, challenging behaviors or ability to perform activities of daily living.
  3. Active management of Alzheimer’s and other dementias can improve quality of life for affected individuals and their caregivers such as: appropriate use of available treatment options, management of coexisting medical conditions, participation in activities that are meaningful and bring purpose to one’s life, connect with others living with dementia, becoming educated about the disease and planning for the future.
  4. Respite – planned, temporary relief for the caregiver through the provision of substitute care; examples include adult day services and in-home or institutional respite for a certain number of weekly hours.
  5. Home care support – getting help with instrumental and personal activities of daily living such as housework, shopping, cooking, medication management, bathing, grooming, feeding, toileting and transferring.
  6. Managing behavioral symptoms including aggressive behavior, wandering, depressive mood, agitation, anxiety, repetitive activity and nighttime disturbances.
  7. Finding and using support services such as support groups and caregiving training.
  8. Addressing family issues related to caring for a relative with Alzheimer’s disease, including communication with other family members about care, decision-making and arrangements for respite for the main caregiver.

Caring for Loved Ones with Dementia

Caring for a person with dementia is a duty family caregivers don’t regret. It can be fulfilling, exhausting, frustrating, maddening, joyful and a challenge you will be glad you accepted.

It is true that there will be days that are difficult as well as the days you will treasure. Getting all the help you can and learning as much as possible will make your journey a bit easier.

Care for yourself too so you can continue to provide care for as long as the person with dementia needs you.

 

Honoring and Observing Memorial Day Traditions of Senior Loved Ones

Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of summer and the first three day weekend in months for many in the US.

But we know it’s more than that, don’t we?

We may pause to think about the men and women who paid the ultimate price in the protection of our freedom.

We may fly our flags and maybe go to a local ceremony.

Then we move on to our cookouts and other holiday weekend activities.

That’s not the Memorial Day of many of our senior loved ones – – not even close!

Meaning of Memorial Day for Many Seniors

For many seniors, Memorial Day is a very personal holiday. Some of them are veterans who remember, not just on this day but most others too, those whose lives they saw being taken around them on the field of battle. Many more lost family members or friends who were serving their country.

A half million of our oldest seniors were among the 16 million who served in our armed forces in World War II. These members of the “Greatest Generation” are joined by millions more seniors who served in the Korean and Vietnam wars.

More than 400,000 US service members lost their lives during WWII, as did thousands more who would be seniors today if they hadn’t been killed in Korea or Vietnam.

It is the memory of those men and women that makes Memorial Day so special to our senior loved ones and many younger Americans.

Seniors’ Memorial Day Traditions

There are a number of ways our seniors observe Memorial Day, with many traditions originating in childhood. Your senior loved ones may still participate in one or more of these.

  • Fly their flag. This is an every day tradition for many veterans and other seniors, though on Memorial Day they may lower the flag to half mast until noon.
  • Visit the grave site of veterans, especially those at one of the national or state cemeteries that are special resting places for those who served in our military.
  • Place a flag and/or flowers on the graves of family members or friends — sometimes also the graves of other veterans, so that all are remembered.
  • Attend a special Memorial Day service in memory of those who have given their lives in service to the US.
  • View, or even participate in, a local Memorial Day parade to honor the fallen.
  • Visit with veterans or the families of those who lost someone in the service.
  • Reminisce about those family members and friends they lost, telling stories and sharing pictures.

You may also find your senior loved ones observing Memorial Day on May 30 in addition to – or instead of – the Monday holiday. This was the traditional Memorial Day observance, before it was moved to create a long weekend.

Joining Seniors in Their Traditions

Family caregivers who join senior loved ones in their Memorial Day observances are demonstrating to the seniors just how important they and their feelings are to us.

Memorial Day can be a difficult and emotional time for many seniors, even if they don’t let it show. Having a family member on whom they can lean can help make the day easier and even create new memories for everyone involved.

Many seniors have difficulty getting out to participate in the traditions that are still important to them, which can make them feel even worse about the day, especially if they are alone with their thoughts all day.

Do you know how your senior traditionally observed Memorial Day? If you don’t, just ask them. The simple question can result in them sharing stories and other memories from earlier days, sometimes revealing things you might not have known about them.

Observances in Many Communities

Not sure what to do for and with your senior loved one on Memorial Day? Learn about the observances that are local and invite the senior to join you.

They may not want to burden you by asking you to join them or take them but really appreciate your offer.

Are you a long distance family caregiver, living far from your senior? They might be truly touched if you participate in one of the observances in your local community and share your experience and pictures with them.

If practical, include younger members of the family in the observances as well. Your senior loved one will appreciate the opportunity to share with grandchildren or great grandchildren and the young ones will learn something about their elder family members. They might also learn a little about the history of the nation as they watch a parade or learn about a war with their beloved seniors.

Remember, fallen service members gave their lives for us and our younger family members as well, even if they didn’t know us!

You don’t have to cancel the cookouts or family outings, just don’t forget to remember the real meaning of Memorial Day.

Local Hands-On Technology Resources — Family Caregiver Quick Tip

As family caregivers, we may feel strongly certain technology is just what our senior loved ones need to make their homes safer or healthier places for them to live — or maybe simply more enjoyable — but realize that will happen only if the technology is used.

How often do we give our loved ones yet another gift like a sweater or coffee mug only to have it set aside in a drawer, we suspect, only to have it pulled out when we visit?

We don’t want the same to happen when we give them a technology gift that could make a real difference in their lives. How do we avoid that?

Of course, it may not be a gift, since family caregivers are often the purchasers of technology for their senior loved ones.

If only there was a way we could introduce seniors to technology and let them spend a little hands-on time before a purchase decision was made. Trying before buying can give us confidence what we buy will provide benefits.

Sure, we can do that in some retail stores, but being surrounded by shoppers and “helpful” sales reps is not the best environment for testing.

That’s why we were thrilled to learn about local senior technology centers, which are in many communities, and invited to tour the Cobb County Assistive Technology Lab in Marietta, Georgia.

Assistive Technology Lab

We met Felicia Alingu, Outcomes Program Specialist with Cobb Senior Services, at Aging in America and were very impressed to hear about their Assistive Technology Lab (AT Lab). When she invited us to tour the facility, we jumped at the chance.

The Cobb AT Lab has several rooms, each with tech devices designed for a specific area of the house, including the family room, kitchen, and bathroom. We captured some if it in the pictures below.

 

In the AT Lab, seniors and caregivers can browse the different devices and learn how they work. They have created a nice atmosphere to experience how the tech works and how it might fit into the visitors’ homes — a great opportunity to try before you buy!

Not only were we impressed by the lab itself, but also learning from Felicia of the outreach, classes, and other activities available to seniors. While we are discussing the Assistive Technology Lab as an example of facilities around the nation, we plan to interview Felicia about their work for an upcoming edition of the Senior Care Corner® podcast.

Is There Something Similar Near Your Senior?

Yes, we realize most of you reading this don’t live in Cobb County, Georgia. With a little research, though, we found similar opportunities in communities across the US. Check with local senior agencies to learn if there is one nearby your senior and check it out yourself.

While you are in touch with a local senior organization, you might want to find out what other programs and benefits are available to your senior loved one. You just might find something they could use or an activity they would enjoy but is completely unknown to them.

Supporting Local Tech Demo Facilities

After seeing what the Cobb AT Lab is doing and what it can mean to seniors and family caregivers, we want make a pitch to those in a position to support them. Given the limited funding available to most community organizations and the cost of assistive and smart home technology, keeping facilities like the AT Lab up to date and relevant for seniors is difficult.

If you are with a tech company or retailer, we hope you see this as the opportunity it is to familiarize a new market segment with technology and what it can mean to their lives. Supporting the mission of these facilities with donations of money or products can — in addition to making a positive difference in communities — provide benefits through the education of a new group of consumers.

Please help them in their mission to help seniors and family caregivers!

 




 

What’s the Best Pet for a Senior Loved One with Dementia?

Companionship in the form of a four-legged friend can be a real lifeline for people who are aging, especially when dementia is present.

Throughout history, animals’ primary function has been utilitarian. They helped plow fields or transport passengers. Today domesticated animals have a strong connection for humans.

Pets bring friendship to seniors and their family caregivers at a time when a little extra love is sorely needed.

With so many older adults affected by Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia — 5.7 million people, in fact, according to the latest data from the Alzheimer’s Association — the numbers of family caregivers and those with dementia who could benefit from pets is growing and will continue to rise.

Family caregivers can improve not only the quality of life for their senior with dementia but also their own caregiving experience when a home becomes pet-friendly!

Benefits of Pets

Both the person with dementia and their family caregivers know all too well the effect the disease progression has on their mood. Having a loving pet may put a positive spin on a person’s mood.

Research has shown that pets in the home can reduce our stress levels physically through oxytocin and endorphin changes. Reducing stress can parlay into lower blood pressure and heart rate too.

Naturally, this is true as long as the pet behaves well and their care isn’t in itself a stressor.

Some older adults suffer from depression and now more family caregivers do as well. Not surprisingly, pets have been shown to help reduce the presence of depression.

Receiving unconditional love and acceptance as well as a daily social interaction can help the symptoms of depression.

Pet Companionship Beneficial

Dementia can be socially isolating when withdrawing from social situations and favorite community activities becomes more frequent. Pets can reduce loneliness, one will give and get unconditional love and companionship.

Purposefulness comes when a pet requires someone to care for them each day. It could be a reason for your senior to get up in the morning and face each new day. A dog or cat needs to be fed and watered, walked outside, and provided a playmate with whom they can interact. Giving someone a reason for being can not be overrated when it may seem to them as though there is no other reason to go on.

Pets don’t judge. They don’t care when a question is asked ten times an hour. They don’t become frustrated when a person with dementia doesn’t act as they once did.

On the other hand, pets do encourage our senior loved ones to be active physically and to engage mentally. Their presence can lead to reminiscing about pets from the past or pals from childhood. Pets love hugs and laps and getting kisses from affectionate seniors.

Pets have been known to turn seniors’ frowns upside down!

One study found that having a pet present can lead to increased meal consumption in a person with dementia with a waning appetite. Improved mood can lead to a better appetite.

Which Type of Pets Are Best?

What type of pet is best for a senior with dementia?

Having just any pet may not be the answer family caregivers seek. A pet that is more trouble than benefit, is aggressive, or requires a lot of care such as grooming or medical attention will not be a welcome addition.

It will be important to consider any pet’s behavior and personality before you add him to the household.

Will the pet jump up or bark incessantly at every squeak or outside noise? Will a small dog be underfoot causing a tripping hazard?

Will the attention-seeking pet exacerbate anxiety in a person with dementia or is the pet capable of lowering anxiety in the house?

The pet can be a dog, cat, fish, or bird. Any type of pet might be enjoyed, not just the four-legged kind. Actually, consider how much care your senior with dementia can handle and how much you will have to do when selecting a pet.

Conversations with a Pet Expert : Senior Care Corner Radio Show includes many tips from an expert to help you determine what type of pet will suit your family.

Specially Trained Dogs

Dogs in particular can be trained as companion pets and certified as service dogs for people with dementia.

Many trained pets are used to provide comfort to people with dementia basically primarily as companions.

Service dogs can be specifically trained to retrieve items, remind seniors to take their medications, warn them as alarms are sounding in the home, remind them to eat, wake them at certain times of day, or guide them home when walking. Carrying a service dog ID and registration card will be helpful.

Many family caregivers ask how to get one of these dogs for their senior loved one. The answers vary by situation, as it depends on where you live and how much time you have to invest in the process. There is no one national organization that certifies service pets for people with dementia in the US. It seems it is most likely an individual site or training center will best be able to provide training and a credential for your pet.

Learning More

There are some groups that you can check into to learn more about pets as companions or trained service pets. Here are a few to start:

  • Pets for the Elderly (charity that financially helps seniors get pets for companionship, doesn’t train dogs)
  • Power Paws (breeds and trains dogs, located in Arizona)  are a few to check out.

You can train your own pet by bringing them to a trainer or site near you for training and certification. Search for a professional group that trains dogs in your area to help train your pet or one where you can select a pet that is already trained. You will likely have to be involved in some training yourself to acclimate the pet to your family’s living environment.

There are therapy dogs that are trained to visit facilities in order to provide pet companionship and love. They are trained in obedience, not to startle others or get startled by groups, and to not jump on elders. These pets usually visit at regular intervals and can brighten a senior’s day but don’t live with them or live in the facility.

There is also a program in the UK that trains special dogs called dementia dogs. The dogs are trained to interact with people with dementia. They can distract them when getting agitated, remind them to take their pills and generally help keep the person with dementia calm and occupied.

Is A Virtual Pet for You?

 

In this age of technology, interacting with a pet can be virtual. There are many forms of technology devices that family caregivers can adopt to help keep seniors with dementia engaged.

There are the ‘robotic’ pets such as Joy For All (affiliate link) cats and now dogs manufactured by Hasbro. They are battery operated and lifelike. They respond to your senior’s petting, make appropriate sounds such as purring when petted, and move similarly to a live pet. The best part is they don’t need feeding or vet appointments.

Another robotic pet option is Paro from Japan. It provides companionship with the need for care. We anticipate more of these tech pets to come in the future.

There are virtual pets that can be engaged on a tablet such as GeriJoy from care.coach. Your senior can talk to this virtual pet because it gives real conversation through their own avatar with human caregivers from afar in control of the service. This caregiver can adapt to the senior prompting the conversation too.

Perfect Petz (affiliate link) are another battery powered option that requires no care other than petting and brushing as desired. It is a lifelike pet of your choosing (cat or dog). It appears to breathe, can be hugged, and has its own bed to sit with your senior.

There is no doubt that pets can add much to the household of a family challenged by dementia. Luckily there are many options that can meet your needs.

Animals are such agreeable friends – they ask no questions; they pass no criticisms. ~ George Elliott

 




Deprescribing Unneeded or Potentially Harmful Medications – Family Caregiver Quick Tip

Family caregivers know all too well about seniors and polypharmacy.

Polypharmacy refers to regularly taking five or more prescribed medications, which may lead to the use of unnecessary medications and possibly ineffective or harmful medications.

Two-thirds of older adults take medications regularly. 36% of older adults take 5 or more prescription medications and 67% of older adults use more than five prescription drugs, over-the-counter (OTC) medications, and supplements daily.

Many of the medications seniors are prescribed and are taking may at some point be inappropriate for them, according to the Beers Criteria for potentially inappropriate medication use in older adults, and can lead to harmful side effects and adverse drug events.

Unfortunately, one-third of all hospital admissions for older adults are due to adverse drug events.

Tips to Reduce Adverse Drug Events

Family caregivers can help keep their senior loved ones safe with a few of these tips.

  1. Keep an updated list of prescription medications and OTC medicines/supplements, including their full names, dosages, times taken and prescribing doctor if your senior has many physicians.
  2. Have a medication review completed at least annually by your senior’s healthcare provider and/or pharmacist to determine if there are inappropriate medications, unnecessary medications, or overlap. This will require full disclosure of what OTC and supplemental pills are being taken.
  3. Check out Deprescribing.org, whose mission is to help seniors and medical practitioners back off medications when doses are too high or stop medications that are no longer needed. It is important to decrease or stop prescription medications only with the knowledge of a physician because ill effects can occur when medications are reduced properly. They have information about your senior’s medications and information to help them make decisions with you and your senior about medication usage.
  4. Be ready to talk to the doctor or other medical provider about your senior’s medication. Use these 5 questions to be prepared.
  5. Use Medstopper to learn more about your senior’s medications and to determine if your senior loved one is taking a medication that may be inappropriate or to get information about how to decrease the medication safely. Do not stop any medication without  first discussing it with your senior’s doctor.
  6. Be observant of any side effects, new symptoms, or decline in function in your senior, especially when new medications are taken.
  7. Ask the doctor if there are combination pills that could mean taking one pill instead of two to reduce the potential for incorrect administration or medication errors.

The key to staying safe with multiple medications is to know what your senior is taking and regularly discussing their medication list (including all OTC and supplements) with the doctor to be sure they are all necessary and appropriate. Open communication between caregivers, seniors and their healthcare team will benefit your senior loved one.

Being your senior’s advocate could prevent tragedy from polypharmacy.

 




Celebrating Mothers With Gratitude and Love

Mother’s Day is a special day of celebration, recognition, and remembrance for the women who shaped our generations and us as individuals.

Family caregivers show Mom how important she is to them every day, with Mother’s Day still being a special time to thank her for all she has done.

We celebrate the women who spent their days caring for their children and their households, often receiving very little recognition, praise, or thanks.

Moms, after all, are paid in the currency of hugs and in the pride they gain watching their children grow and develop through their own lives.

Motherhood is the most fundamental labor of love.

Caring About — and for — Our Mothers

For many mothers, it is also time to care for their own mothers and grandmothers, stepping forward to be caregivers of those women who gave so much to us, often as we still are caring for our own children and households.

Being a caregiver to your mother or grandmother (or someone who you call mom) is not a burden but a joy, even though at times it exhausts you physically, emotionally, and financially.

It can often add stress to your days but, in the long run, you will be forever thankful that you answered the call.

There are many women and men who have taken on the role of family caregiver to aging mothers and who stop to take time out today to celebrate the gifts they were given.

Let us join together and show our love and respect for our mothers.

Mother’s Day Facts

  1. Mother’s is celebrated in nations around the globe and is the third most popular special day worldwide
  2. In 1914 Congress designated the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day in the US
  3. There are more than 85 million mothers in the US, according to Census statistics
  4. According to Pew Research, in 2016 mothers spent much more time in paid work than 50 years ago (average of 25 hours weekly vs. 9) while still spending more time caring for their children (14 hours weekly now vs. 9 fifty years ago)
  5. The number one choice for flowers for mom is a mixed bouquet, roses are fourth on the list but the special flower for Mother’s Day is a carnation
  6. Mother’s Day is one of the biggest retail holidays, with the National Retail Federation projected over $23 billion to be spend on Mom, with the biggest amounts spend on jewelry, special outings such as dinner, flowers, cards, and more

Inspirational Quotes and Poem

“It is not until you become a mother that your judgment
slowly turns to compassion and understanding.”- Erma Bombeck

 “The watchful mother tarries nigh, though sleep has closed her infant’s eyes.” – John Keble

Mothers Are The Gardeners by Nicholas Gordon
Mothers are the gardeners
Of wind-blown wild flowers.
They water them with happy tears,
Happy with them many years,
Even as the hours
Ring with sweet, sad melodies
Sighing through their bowers.

We hope you all have a special day with your mothers in person, from a distance – – or in your memories of them.

Thank you Mom!

Boosting Memory for Seniors & Caregivers – Family Caregiver Quick Tip

We have all walked up to someone familiar and been unable to remember their name.

We have walked into the other room for something and could not recall what it was we wanted once we got there.

Who hasn’t misplaced their car keys and taken so long to find them, we were late for an appointment?

These are not uncommon situations and are not cause for concern for most people.

However, that doesn’t keep family caregivers from worrying about their senior loved ones — or themselves — whenever these ‘memory lapses’ occur.

Is it Alzheimer’s disease?

Probably not, because dementia is not a normal part of aging, but these occasional memory lapses are.

Our brains do change over time, blood flow to our brains diminishes, and some forgetfulness is expected.

However, researchers believe that our brains are capable of regrowing cells and learning new things.

That doesn’t stop us from fearing losing our memory. But it is important to know that there are things we can do at any age or stage in life to help preserve our memory and strengthen our brain.

Strategies for Boosting Memory

Seniors and their caregivers can do a few simple things to help prevent memory loss so that our brains live as long as our bodies.

HealthyAging.org offers these strategies to help improve your memory:

  • See your healthcare professional regularly to help manage chronic medical conditions; uncontrolled health conditions inhibit memory.
  • Exercise at least 30 minutes three times a week to increase blood flow to the brain.
  • Getting enough sleep to help you concentrate, 7-8 hours a night.
  • Eating a balanced, good diet, especially fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, is essential.
  • Practice stress reduction techniques like yoga, meditation, and prayer.
  • Keep hydrated with 6-8 glasses of water a day and limit alcohol.
  • Avoid multi-tasking, which can decrease recall later; it can overload memory circuits making is harder to process information.

The American Psychological Association offers these ‘memory aides’ to help us all gain confidence in our memory:

  • Keep to-do lists! Put them where you will see them often and mark off items as you complete them.
  • Establish a routine. Follow your routine each day.
  • Don’t rush. Give yourself plenty of time to memorize a name or idea or to recall something known to you.
  • Everything in its place. Keep your possessions in their place, put things where you will use them such as hanging your keys near the door.
  • Keep a calendar. Whether it is electronic or on paper, record important dates and other information, including reminders, and check it frequently.

If Concerned, See Your Healthcare Provider

Memory lapses don’t affect your daily activities as dementia would. They are frustrating and inconvenient for sure.

However, when forgetfulness leads to difficulty completing everyday tasks like driving, handling money, operating household items like a stove or washing machine, or remembering the names of your loves ones, it is time to seek help from your healthcare provider because these memory aides or prevention strategies won’t bring back your abilities to carry out daily living activities.

Preparing yourself everyday to keep your brain strong, will allow you and your senior to face the future armed for success.

 




Hospital ERs Changing to Provide More Senior-Friendly Care

How many family caregivers have visited an emergency room (ER) or emergency department (ED) in the past year with our senior loved ones?

No matter how many of you raised your hands it’s too many — and, worse, too much pain for too many older loved ones.

We dread it and what it means, but there are times when it simply can’t be avoided.

Family caregivers of seniors visit the ER pretty frequently, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics, which tracks this data. As a matter of fact, during 2012–2013, there were an estimated 5.2 million ED visits per yeaer for injury and 15.5 million ED visits for illness among adults aged 65 and over.

The number certainly has increased and will continue to increase since that data was collected due to the increasing senior population.

Emergency Room Frustrations

There are many frustrations for family caregivers who sit in the waiting room for extended periods with seniors who may not understand why they are even there, not to mention the pain they may be experiencing that brought them there in the first place.

Older adults can be overstimulated by the hustle and bustle of a busy ER leading to increased confusion and even delirium.

Family caregivers are worried about their loved ones but also the jobs or the kids left behind to wait in the ER with grandma. We fear for the consequences of this injury or illness, worry about the next fall or medical crisis or how this might change our senior’s life and living arrangements.

Creature comforts are a concern as well for family caregivers and our seniors. It may be too cold or too hot in the waiting room, the noise level can be unnerving, seniors may be missing scheduled medication doses while they wait, they may be hungry or thirsty, they may have trouble using the restroom or are bored even though we try to keep them entertained.

All these scenarios are a recipe for disaster.

Specially Equipped Senior Emergency Rooms

There is a trend crossing the nation in the healthcare system, moving toward better meeting the needs of our senior loved ones, and is a change that is overdue.

Senior-friendly ERs are specially equipped to meet the needs and wants of seniors and their family caregivers.

A few modifications to be found there include:

  1. Specially trained personnel, including geriatricians (doctors who specialize in senior medical care) who understand the special needs of older adults, including dementia care
  2. Trained individuals who can counsel caregivers and our seniors about advance directives
  3. Slip resistant floors with low glare surfaces and improved traction
  4. More comfortable mattresses that are thicker to protect fragile skin
  5. More lighting in walkways and landscape to prevent falls in those with diminished vision
  6. Handrails and grab bars in more places, including rooms and hallways
  7. Larger clocks
  8. Bigger TV screens, often with closed captions on
  9. Blankets that have been warmed in warmers to comfort vulnerable seniors
  10. Call bell alerts for staff that are easier for less mobile or arthritic hands to push
  11. More calming décor colors including walls and furniture instead of institutional hues
  12. Acoustics to reduce excessive noise
  13. If wait time is expected to be long, they move the senior to a quiet room to reduce distractions that could lead to delirium
  14. Reduced number of transitions from ER to discharge, including fewer room changes that lead to confusion
  15. Thorough and frequent medication review to limit drug errors, interactions and severe medication side effects or adverse reactions
  16. Natural light to reduce confusion and delirium
  17. Chairs that are easier to transfer into and out of by seniors
  18. Equipment available to meet needs, such as bedside commodes
  19. Extra seating for family members
  20. Wipe off boards with information and reminders
  21. Sensitivity training for all staff for better communication and coping skills
  22. Discharge planning assistance with clear instructions and appointment scheduling

If your hometown ER is not specifically designed for senior care, advocate for the adoption of age friendly strategies for the seniors in your community.

Other Special Services in the Senior-Friendly ER

In addition to the actual facilities and staff, there are also positive differences in an ER that is specially designed for seniors.

Many healthcare systems have created ERs that go a step beyond when providing emergent care to people over 65. Services include staff trained to complete individual assessments on the elder in addition to addressing the reason that brings them for emergency care.

  • Depression scale is performed to determine if there may be problems affecting overall health and care.
  • Assessments of the elders functional status are performed in order to determine if there are further safety measures or equipment interventions that would benefit seniors when they return home to keep them safe.
  • Medication lists are reviewed and chronic disease management protocols are reviewed to be sure treatment plans are being followed correctly for health and safety as well.
  • Trained personnel ask questions about current living situations, support systems in the home, and listen to the stories told by the elders in their own words. This takes some listening skills and problem solving experience to be sure all needs are being met. If not, the unmet needs are addressed prior to discharge.
  • In addition to the other assessments, a cognitive screening is performed to determine if deficits are apparent that might require further intervention from medical professionals in follow-up.

Caring for the Whole Senior

Senior-friendly ERs don’t want to simply treat the illness or injury, prescribe more medications and send the elder home. They want to be sure that the senior is safe at home, managing their health and will be able to live their lives to the fullest.

Care managers can help fill any deficits by scheduling after-care appointments to further investigate unmet needs. They also follow-up the next day to be sure all instructions are understood and no other problems arise.

Healthcare providers in specially designed Senior-friendly ERs look at the whole person and take time to listen. Many seniors are vulnerable and require an extra level of attention to stay safe and well.

It has been shown that this type of intervention does not lengthen the amount of time spent in the ER because the care is coordinated. Partnering with the Emergency Medical Service (EMS) personnel helps with performing some of the assessments. EMS can look at the home environment, including food in the refrigerator or other areas of concern, while they are performing their in-home assessment prior to transport. This includes seniors who live in facilities other than home.

Senior-friendly ERs should also ask about how the family caregiver is coping. If the caregiver is nearing burnout, the senior will not be safe to return home. It is important that healthcare providers identify areas that can support caregivers keep the senior safe and healthy at home to avoid crises that lead to ER visits.

We hope to see more emergency rooms become senior-friendly to better serve the needs of our senior loved ones!

May is Older Americans Month — Engage at Every Age!

May is the month that we celebrate aging!

Well, Senior Care Corner® celebrates aging year-round, but May is when the Administration on Aging leads a formal celebration each year.

The theme for this year’s celebration, the 55th annual celebration, is Engage at Every Age!

This year’s theme emphasizes that you are never too old (or young) to take part in activities that can enrich your physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

It also celebrates the many ways in which older adults make a difference in our communities.

It is never to early – or too late — to get involved physically and socially to gain benefits.

Family caregivers know well the importance of staying active in all ways, especially physically and emotionally, with age and encourage their senior loved ones to stay engaged in their communities.

Age Your Way

If you have ever tried to get someone else to do something you want them to do but they do not, you will know how truly difficult that can be.

No one wants to listen to others, eat what they are told, or go to bed when they are told.

Most of us, including our senior loved ones, want to make our own decisions and do things in our own time. We may not object to what we are told, but aren’t ready to do it when asked.

It’s not unlike telling your young child to clean their room right now. Ok, they know they should pick things up off the floor and put the toys away, but they are doing something else and will do it later, in their own time. Seniors (and all of us) are no different.

Telling an older adult to become more active is another suggestion that won’t go over well, even though we all know by now how important physical activity is to our overall health and well-being.

It’s All in the Approach We Take

But what if family caregivers ask them what they enjoy and facilitate them in becoming active doing what they will love?

Instead of saying let’s go for a walk, find a park and take a nature walk with older adults who love the outdoors and bird watching. Bring a picnic basket with a healthy snack you can enjoy together.

Maybe your senior loved one likes music and dancing, maybe they would love to swim again, perhaps throwing a ball out in the yard or playing with the grandkids will finally get them off the couch.

Often incorporating some of their favorite things, perhaps things they have long forgotten they enjoyed, will make it easier to engage them in an activity to benefit their health.

Staying active can prevent depression and loneliness, improve memory and cognition, offer ways to socialize, and improve longevity through health.

Eat Your Way

Another way that seniors can age well is to eat a healthy diet.

Unfortunately, many seniors are not eating as well as they should to help them be healthy as they age.

Keeping their muscles strong, preventing falls, maintaining bone strength, managing chronic disease, and achieving a healthy weight are health goals that can be achieved with good eating.

Eating well isn’t glamorous and, for many older adults, it can be hard to achieve.

Perhaps they don’t believe they can afford healthy eating. Some seniors may have physical problems that interfere with shopping and cooking healthy. They may have functional limitations, tire easily, or vision problems that make it hard to prepare their meals. Maybe they don’t enjoy eating alone.

When convenience and low cost become the standard, nutrition suffers because these easy to prepare foods are generally lower in nutritional content. Cheaper foods are usually calorie dense rather than nutrient dense. This can mean seniors miss essential nutrition to help them age well. Eating nutrient dense foods should be the goal.

But again, who wants to be told what to eat when they think they are getting by alright at least in their own minds.

How Family Caregivers Can Help

There are many ways in which family caregivers can help and support senior loved ones in eating their way. Here are some things we hope will trigger ideas that can help your seniors.

  • Identifying problems with meal preparation that can be solved with modifications such as special tools and utensils, a chair in the kitchen to take a break, food and equipment in reach
  • Bringing meals to them to reduce their need to prepare their own, take them out to their favorite restaurant regularly or connect them with local meal delivery service
  • Planning to eat some meals with them or encourage family and friends to share meals so that you can reduce their loneliness and reduced intake that eating alone can cause.
  • Shopping with them to show them how they can buy healthy foods on their budget and skip the cheaper and nutritionally lacking foods, check their pantry to be sure healthy foods are available
  • Setting up food ordering online so that they don’t have to go to the grocery store
  • Checking their mouth and teeth to be sure no problems exist that could be keeping them from eating well

Naturally, all these options should engage your senior. Ask them what they like to eat. Let them pick the foods you buy online. Take the opportunity to guide their choices.

Seniors should have the opportunity to make their own decisions, not just with their day-to-day activities but also what they eat. But, a family caregiver’s influence is strong, so you can guide them to a healthier lifestyle.

Family caregivers can help seniors stay engaged as they age.

Engage in life for a better quality of life!

Happy Older Americans Month!