Healthy Hearing Can Help Keep Your Brain Fit

It is Better Hearing and Speech month, so we invited Annette Mazevski, Au.D., Ph.D., to author an article for Senior Care Corner®.  Annette is the Manager of Technology Assessment at Oticon, a hearing aid manufacturer. She has more than 15 years of experience as an audiologist and researcher, during which she has guided hearing aid wearers through the fitting process and conducted hearing health research.

 

Is your loved one having trouble hearing but reluctant to try hearing aids? They’re not alone. Among seniors with hearing loss, fewer than one in three has ever used them.

And that’s unfortunate.

Numerous studies have shown a correlation between untreated hearing loss in older adults and a greater risk of cognitive decline. When hearing is compromised, the brain has to work harder to process information and struggles to fill in unheard consonants and syllables. Conversation becomes more difficult, and your loved one may withdraw from the social connections that are so important to brain health.

This isolation and resulting loneliness can increase their risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

The good news is that a solution as simple as wearing hearing aids can significantly reduce the risk of cognitive decline associated with hearing loss. Importantly, hearing aids can restore the ability to communicate, so your loved one stays socially active and engages in other brain-stimulating activities.

When seniors actively wear hearing aids, they’re more likely to connect with others, one of the primary ways to stimulate the brain.

A Healthy Hearing Check

Annette Mazevski, AuD PhD

Is a hearing evaluation part of your loved ones’ regular health screenings? If they haven’t had their hearing checked, help them see that they’re missing an important component of everyday health. Talk with them about scheduling an appointment with a hearing care professional. A hearing evaluation conducted by qualified hearing care professional is painless and non-invasive.

During the appointment, the hearing specialist will not only verify if your loved one has hearing loss but also explain the kinds of difficulties they will experience with the severity of their hearing loss. The hearing specialist will then guide them as they choose a hearing solution that is specifically tailored to their hearing loss and preferences.

Your loved one may be surprised to find that today’s hearing aids offer a range of discreet styles and attractive benefits. The newest technology in hearing aids is designed to carefully process speech, so it is presented to the brain as clearly and accurately as possible – the way the brain is best able to understand it. Oticon hearing aids with BrainHearing technology support the hard work the brain does, enabling people to hear better, with less effort so they can participate more actively in life.

Your loved one can also choose from a variety of advanced hearing aid features and functionalities, such as the ability to connect to cell phones, stream music and integrate with smart home devices.

Support Your Loved One with Hearing Loss

As people grow older, the shift from hearing well to hearing difficulties can be so gradual, they may not realize how much they are missing. They may unconsciously adjust their everyday activities and social interactions to cope with hearing difficulties, gradually diminishing their ability to live their life to its fullest.

You can be a valuable ally in helping your loved one see the benefits of better hearing. Regular hearing healthcare and actively wearing hearing aids can help your loved one stay engaged in life and connected to the people and activities they love.

It will be a win-win for all of you!

Choosing Snacks Seniors Will Eat and That Meet Their Nutrition Needs

Family caregivers visiting their senior loved ones enjoy bringing them something to eat, not only to show their love but also to encourage them to eat.

Many seniors begin to have diminished appetites — whether from boredom, lack of activity, or changes in their sensation of taste — making all foods taste unfamiliar.

When they are left to eat the food someone else makes for them, whether a family or paid caregiver or in a facility, they tend to eat less and less.

It doesn’t matter if they are home getting delivered meals from an organization, living in a facility that supplies their meals in a congregate dining area, or in their room, or trying to prepare their own convenience items at home. They aren’t getting all the nutrition they need.

For many that is a real problem that can affect their nutritional health, physical health, and even their mood.

Caregivers can help fill the gap!

When Aging Changes Nutritional Needs

Seniors nutritional needs change as they age and caregivers can help them meet their needs with a few interventions.

While aging often means fewer calories may be needed, all the nutrients are still in demand by their bodies and some are more essential than ever for bone health, heart health and brain health.

Here are some things that happen which can change what and how much your senior loved one eats:

  1. As they age, chronic diseases can impact their health and how and what they eat. They may be restricting their food intake based on what they have been told years ago about a particular disease, such as heart disease or diabetes, to the point that they are limiting the nutrients they include — many are over-restricting what they eat.
  2. Difficulty with their teeth and gums can affect what food choices they make. Meats are usually the first foods to go when chewing becomes a problem. Whether it is because of poor dentition, poorly fitting dentures, gum disease, mouth sores, dry mouth or missing teeth or due to cognitive loss, chewing nutrient rich foods can be difficult.
  3. Medications can result in increased nutritional needs or a change in eating. Some medications can inhibit their appetite or increase their appetite to the point of poor food choices out of convenience and speed. Some medications cause dry mouth. Some can cause whole groups of foods, such as leafy green vegetables, from being cut out of the diet.
  4. Intake of the nutrients of concern as people age are often under consumed (or poorly absorbed) including calcium, B vitamins, and protein.
  5. Aging skin is not as productive at producing Vitamin D to help keep bones strong. Added to a decrease in dairy intake, for those worried about lactose intolerance, a weakening of bones that lead to fractures can occur.
  6. Decreased ability to absorb specific nutrients like B12 due to gastric acid secretion and the effects of drugs, such as antacids and proton pump inhibitors (PPI), used to control stomach acid.
  7. Excessive alcohol intake can cause nutrients that are eaten not to be absorbed properly or the person to eat less, putting them at risk for malnutrition.
  8. Finances can also change what your senior feels comfortable buying when they grocery shop. Cheaper, less nutritious, foods may become staples instead of often more expensive fresh foods.
  9. Functional status can impact what seniors eat as they are less able to shop, prepare and even eat the meals they need for health. Fatigue can limit their ability to cook for themselves. Grief or depression can also impact their desire to make their own meals or eat alone.
  10. Lack of desire for the meals served in the facility or by home delivery. Some seniors are often uninterested in the foods they are given or just want to choose their meals. When this is not the case, they often refuse to eat. Many seniors just want foods they remember or grew up eating which may not be what’s on the menu where they live. They may even have lost some of their sense of taste or smell, which could make meals less than satisfying. Some may want to cook their own food as they once did.

Snacks for Seniors

Family caregivers can supplement the meals their senior’s choose to eat with nutrient dense snacks.

It is important to remember that some snacks should be tailored to their individual needs if they have a medical condition such as diabetes or trouble chewing, so be aware of any chronic condition they may have.

Snacks that are high in salt, sugar, fat or excess calories without nutrition should be avoided.

Here are some examples of nutritious snacks your senior may like:

  • Greek yogurt with fruit
  • Cheese and crackers
  • Sandwiches made with deli meat like chicken breast or salads like chicken salad
  • Granola bars especially softer varieties such as Nutrigrain or KIND nut butter bars or breakfast bars
  • Fruit or fruit/vegetable juice blend beverages
  • Nuts or trail mix
  • Vegetables (parboil the veggies if they have trouble chewing raw) and dip
  • Smoothie or milkshake with fruit/vegetables
  • Pudding or gelatin snack cups
  • Fruit cups packed in their own juice
  • String cheese sticks
  • Raisins, yogurt covered raisins, craisins, dates, or figs
  • Real fruit snacks
  • Peanut butter and crackers
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Stewed prunes, dried fruit such as apricots
  • Fig newtons
  • Hummus and pita
  • Homemade leftover dinner (small portion)
  • Custard
  • Ice cream or fruit juice bar
  • Cottage cheese and fruit
  • Sunflower or pumpkin seeds
  • Wheat or fruit muffins
  • Glass of chocolate milk or buttermilk
  • Oatmeal cookies
  • Bowl of cereal or oatmeal with berries
  • Avocado on toast
  • Pate on crackers
  • Nutritional supplement including fortified fruit juice or clear supplement for a change

If you are bringing snacks to a facility, check ahead to be sure any perishable food can have refrigeration if they don’t eat it quickly.

Tips for Improved Nutrition In a Care Facility

When your senior loved one is living in a care facility and you are worried they may not be eating enough of the most nutritious foods, bringing some of these snacks with you whenever you visit will greatly increase their intake.

  1. The foods that are perishable should be eaten while you are there and disposed of by you to prevent food poisoning. Be sure the snacks you bring are healthy and will not spoil if left on the counter or bedside table until your next visit.
  2. Sit with your senior while they snack. Many seniors don’t eat as much because they are often eating by themselves and need someone with whom to socialize while they eat.
  3. Take the opportunity to observe them eating. Are they having a problem with the teeth or swallowing that might need an evaluation? Is the food consistency still appropriate or would soft, even chopped food be better tolerated?
  4. Are they drinking enough fluids? Offer them a beverage or simply a glass of water while you visit.
  5. Do they need a multivitamin or supplement to help them get all the nutrition they need or perhaps a short term appetite stimulant to get them back on the right track?
  6. It might be a good time to discuss their medical diet with the staff. Determine if it is still needed so that you can advocate for your senior to reducing their restrictive diet which might be inhibiting a good appetite. You can also discuss with the healthcare team if a possible drug review is appropriate to see if there are any changes that can be made to improve their appetite, eating or reduce any food-drug interactions.
  7. If your senior is not eating the facility food, perhaps it is time to talk with the staff to see what can be done to offer alternates at meals or find ways to increase the seasoning in the food to make it more palatable. Maybe the food isn’t as hot as they prefer and a change in meal time or location (in main dining room versus their room) would help. Perhaps they would eat better if their food could be prepared for them to pick up instead of using a utensil, this is known as finger foods.

Poor nutrition can lead to functional decline, increased falls, loss of muscle, weakened bones and a reduced quality of life for our seniors.

It couldn’t hurt to include bringing healthy snacks every visit to encourage your senior’s appetite and can potentially improve their well-being.

 

 




Eating Well While Growing Older – Family Caregiver Quick Tip

As we age, many older adults tend to change the way they eat. This change may be intentional for many and while for others it is done unknowingly.

Many will eat less thinking their bodies don’t need as much food because they aren’t as physically active as they once were.

This way of thinking may be true for overall number of calories but not for nutritional content.

Some older adults experience more trouble with chewing and swallowing foods when they eat, taste foods differently, don’t feel like preparing meals for one, feel lonesome during meal times, fear ‘healthier’ foods are too expensive, or overly restrict what they eat because they are trying to control a chronic disease.

One or all of these reasons may be influencing what your senior loved one is eating (or not eating) and impacting not only their health but, also unknowingly, their quality of life.

Caregivers can help by identifying potential gaps in their senior loved ones’ nutrition and then filling those gaps for their health.

Aging and Impaired Nutrition

A large percentage of older adults (those over 65) have multiple chronic diseases that can affect their nutritional status. According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA), 80% of seniors have at least one chronic disease and 77% have two or more.

A poor diet while aging can lead to frailty which results in becoming nutritionally compromised, making it harder for older adults to fight sickness or stress. Reduced muscle mass leading to impaired functional status and even malnutrition (undernutrition) can also occur.

A loss of muscle mass and strength can lead to falls. A senior falls every 11 seconds. Unfortunately, falls are the leading cause of fractures, head trauma, hospitalization and injury deaths for older adults, per the NCOA.

Cognitive impairment can worsen nutritional health because unintentional weight loss is common in those with dementia. Lower food intake, increased physical movement (pacing, etc.), reduced resting energy expenditure (metabolism), or a combination contribute to weight loss and impaired nutrition.

Getting enough healthy food, especially foods that include protein and essential nutrients, such as calcium and B vitamins, can make independence harder to maintain as our senior loved ones age.

Caregivers Can Help

Older adults may need help staying healthy, especially when their appetites begin to wane.

Family caregivers can help older adults stay on track, eat nutrient dense foods, shop for healthy foods on a budget, and facilitate putting meals on the table when they can’t always do it for themselves.

Here are ways family caregivers can help seniors eating well everyday from the National Institute of Aging and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (association of Registered Dietitians). Get them to…

  1. Eat a variety of foods from all food groups, don’t skip important foods
  2. Choose fruits and vegetables at each meal. Use fresh, frozen, or canned to stay in budget and make preparation as easy as possible.
  3. Eat a rainbow of foods to get the maximum amounts of essential vitamins and minerals.
  4. Include whole grains, protein, and dairy foods at each meal.
  5. Drink plenty of fluids, including water. As we age, our sense of thirst diminishes so we need to drink often. Avoid sugar sweetened beverages.
  6. Invite friends and families to share a meal to reduce loneliness and boredom. Most seniors will eat more when they have someone join them.
  7. Flavor food with herbs and spices instead of salt. The tastier a food is, the more they may eat.
  8. If dental problems are keeping your senior from eating a variety of foods, it is time for a dental checkup.
  9. If they aren’t eating enough, talk with the doctor about starting a nutritional/vitamin/mineral supplement.

Additional Resources

Caregivers can get creative when helping seniors eat a more nutritious diet.

Here are more ways you can help your senior avoid malnutrition that could keep them from aging in place successfully.

 

 




Robotic Assistants for Dementia Family Caregivers — Here Now!

There have been many technological innovations that help family caregivers as they care for older adults.

Do we always love — or even use — them when we get them? Nope!

When it comes to older adults, the population is quickly becoming larger than the number of those available to care for them. Many family caregivers can’t stop working, for financial reasons, to become full-time caregivers, have other immediate family needs raising their children, or live at a great distance away all, any of which may prevent them from being full-time caregivers.

What about the number of seniors who have no family members, never had children, or have outlived their family members? What can they do to get their aging needs met?

This is a prime reason that technology to fill the gaps of caregiving is here to stay and will only continue to increase in breath and scope of devices and innovations.

Non-traditional solutions need to be embraced by caregivers and older adults, as well as made useable and practical by tech companies.

Many seniors have been slow to adopt new technology and many caregivers have stalled getting technology in place because they feel overwhelmed and undereducated about what is best for their senior loved one. Both of those must be overcome for caregivers and seniors to get the benefits of technology.

Smart home technology, voice activated assistants, and remote medical monitoring are all at the forefront in technology becoming part of daily life for our seniors.

Are we giving due consideration to robotics and the promise of great things to help manage chronic disease, reduce loneliness and improve the well-being of people living with dementia?

Dementia Decline Impacted by Robot Interaction

A new project has been focused on the effects that robots can have on the decline associated with dementia’s progress.

Advanced Brain Monitoring Inc (ABM) has introduced a robot companion that will interact with a person with dementia to determine if it can mitigate cognitive decline. ABM has received a grant from the National Institute on Aging at the NIH to carry out this study using socially assistive robot interventions. You can read more about it in this article.

Caregivers have been searching for strategies to meet the needs of their older loved ones and keep them mentally stimulated and engaged.

ABM used a socially assistive robot named Mabu from Catalia Health to interact with people with dementia in their own homes. The ABM team states, “We foresee the potential for the robot intervention to be used alone or in combination with other treatments for dementia.”

Mabu will ask questions, get answers, and give reminders as desired. It can be voice activated or directed using a touchscreen tablet. Daily conversations of only a few minutes at a time are individualized to the person and their needs. Although not mobile, the head and eyes move to interact with the person and follows their face to engage.

Change in Chronic Disease Needs Technology Solutions

Seniors today typically suffer from chronic diseases instead of an acute medical diagnosis that ends in their quick demise, as it did in the last century. The struggle then becomes managing chronic disease (and often more than one at a time) for optimal aging and independence that will allow aging in place.

Unfortunately, with the growth in the older population combined with the decline in number of people who can be caregivers to this population of elders, family caregivers will need to depend more on innovative technology to face health and aging challenges.

Success of technology to improve the life of our older adults will require engagement with this technology. That will mean, in a sense, having a relationship with our tech devices and staying engaged over time without abandoning it.

Clearly, if our seniors stop using a device, there is no benefit.

What if there was a technology that was engaging, effective, and acted as a companion that would become meaningful enough to achieve results of engagement that leads to true disease management and medication administration?

Technology such as this could keep a senior connected over a long period of time instead of being discarded. One that becomes almost a buddy.

Cost Versus Benefit of Technology Interventions

Many seniors who have begun needing additional care, but want to remain at home, need a helping hand.

Particularly for those older adults who live alone, a companion robot that interacts on a daily (even more than once a day) basis and is there to confirm they are following their treatment plan is very important to not only their medical status and quality of life, but also for the senior’s mental health to reduce loneliness.

Loneliness, which affects as many as one third of our seniors, has been shown to be a predictor of poor health.

The cost of most of this new technology rivals that of once a week in-home care. While the cost of care will likely rise over time due to supply and demand impacts, the cost of technology typically declines.

UBTECH Lynx (at Amazon)

Cost reductions in avoiding a medical crisis or hospitalization, home safety interventions, proper medication management, reduction in depression and loneliness, and the time given back to family caregivers far outweigh over the long-term other costs of facility or even routine home care.

Digital companions who interact with seniors and the healthcare team can help avoid health crises that lead to hospitalizations. It can also reduce the number of in-home visits needed when chronic diseases are monitored more closely and routinely using digital companions. Non-adherence to the treatment plan is a real barrier to health for many seniors.

Robots on the market and coming to market soon are not intended to take the place of in-home caregivers but to supplement the care they provide based on each senior’s situation.

It is important to note that many of these social robotic companions do not store health data. Any information relayed to a healthcare provider is encrypted, HIPPA compliant and secure.

Technology to Defeat Dementia

Robotics are being used with people with dementia in order to get their attention, engage them with companionship and stimulate them.

There are several of these robots either on the market in specific sectors or available to the consumer including MABU, ElliQ, CareCoach GeriJoy, Buddy, Paro the seal, and Hasbro’s Joy for All pets.

Robotic pets cost in the $100 range and are easily accessible. One of these would be a great gift for many seniors!

The sad truth is the level of frustration and anger family caregivers have when caring for elders in the advanced stages of dementia who ask repetitive questions and need constant redirection at tasks. It is human nature to react when someone asks 15 times in a row what time it is.

Robot companions, however, don’t react with judgment or frustration and are able to maintain a constant tone of voice. This interaction may help avoid conflict which could escalate behaviors in the person with dementia. A robotic companion can relieve a daily caregiver when seniors need constant conversation.

Robotics Doesn’t Replace but Enhance Caregiving

Many caregivers will balk at the thought of machines taking over the caregiving role and replacing the human touch.

This has never been the intention.

Everyone we have seen and heard in the field of robotic research and those implementing digital companions with seniors agree that a human caregiver is essential. Robots are to be used to enhance the experience of aging and augment the capabilities of busy caregivers not replace it.

You are the most important caregiver for your senior loved one, but you need help.

Socially assistive companion robots could help you improve the quality of life for your senior while helping you be able to continue to be a strong caregiver!

 

Improving Health Through Participation in Clinical Trials

How many people do you know who have participated in a clinical trial?

A clinical trial or research study involves human volunteers (also called participants) and is intended to add to medical knowledge. There are two main types of clinical studies: clinical trials and observational studies.

Family caregivers may not realize that clinical trials/studies not only help their own older adults learn more about their disease process but can help others when science is advanced toward improved treatments and even cures.

People who may qualify to enter clinical trials don’t have to be at the end of their life, grasping for a miracle.

Clinical trial research can help learn more about diseases affecting older loved ones, including dementia, Parkinson’s, pain, migraines, eczema, rheumatoid arthritis, and Crohn’s disease, to name only a few studies currently ongoing.

With so many opportunities available, what keeps many of us from joining the fight to help those suffering from chronic diseases or at risk in the future?

Barriers To Clinical Trial Participation

Speaking to caregivers and those who could benefit from research studies, it becomes clear there is not only misinformation about research studies but also fear of participating that keeps many from becoming a part of a study.

  • Awareness of what to expect, time involvement in both duration of the study and travel, potential risks and benefits, how your data is protected, and lack of learning about how you have impacted change are often cited as reasons that keep people from joining.
  • There may also be a lingering belief that trials are only for those with end-stage medical diagnosis, such as terminal cancer. This is no longer the case, as science yearns to discover the cause of disease, how to prevent illness, how to best treat specific diagnosis, how family members of someone with a chronic disease such as dementia may progress themselves, best courses of action to adjust pharmaceutical interventions, or test non-pharmacological means such as lifestyle changes, formulating vaccines for prevention, or cures to stop debilitating diseases in their tracks.
  • Technology and global scientific collaboration have done much to advance scientific knowledge of disease and treatment. But are they effectively communicating with potential participants?
  • Frustration with clinical trials for those who have once participated because they never heard from researchers again once their piece of the process was completed may keep others away from joining too. Perhaps someone you know never heard if the medication or treatment worked or will be used to treat others. Most people want to know the outcome, but researchers often don’t share the data or results with participants once the trial is closed.
  • Oftentimes, reading research trial information about eligibility requirements and actual involvement in the trial (what it hopes to accomplish and how it will be achieved) can be confusing and difficult for most people to understand, which keeps them from moving forward to join.

These factors can become obstacles that people, especially family caregivers, don’t have time or energy to try to overcome, especially because long-term benefit of doing so is hard to assess.

Fortunately, there are ways to learn more about clinical trials and their benefits that don’t require us to be scientists to understand.

Plain-Language Summaries Improve Understanding and Transparency

Medical jargon and scientific terms can be difficult to the point of being unreadable for many people, limiting their enrollment in research studies or even impacting their effective participation once enrolled.

There is a movement to make information sharing about clinical research trials accessible to every person and it is called plain-language summaries (PLS). These summaries are written so that the pages of scientific terminology in a research study are condensed into a short form that is easier to understand.

PLS provide the lay public with information about clinical research in language that is easy to understand and are required by law in the European Union (EU), although not currently in the United States.

In the EU, plain-language summaries must be provided for one year after the close of the trial. They are required to be provided in all languages of the countries in the union, as are the materials provided at the start of the study, with inclusion of an English version for all.

In the US, it is up to trial sponsors to provide plain-language summaries, and many are now making this information available to increase participation so that the study can yield meaningful results. But not all researchers do so, which means helpful (and hopeful) clinical trials are still not accessible by some due to the inability to be aware of and comfortable about the particular study.

Some truly beneficial studies may even be hard to find, as the use of jargon instead of everyday speech impedes their discovery.

Plain-Language Summaries Encourage Participation

Many people are disappointed when they are not fully informed or able to understand the results of the trial they helped or to be provided any information once the study closes. However, PLS can offer understandable results after the close of a study, which most participants appreciate.

According to a 2017 Perception and Insight Study by The Center for Information & Study on Clinical Research Participation (CISCRP), ninety-one percent of study participants indicated that wanting to learn the results of the study is very important. Unfortunately, only about half of participants are told the results once they are done.

A PLS will contain information for potential participants or their family caregivers in digestible chunks, in an easy-to-understand format. Everyday language, instead of medical or scientific terminology, is used. There are also often images to help explain or illustrate information for better understanding.

If more trials had PLS, it is very likely that more caregivers and seniors would feel comfortable and in control of their decision about entering a trial, as well as sharing their experiences with others to encourage them to do the same.

Having information that reduces fear and increases awareness will hopefully increase the participation rate, yielding benefits that can be achieved when clinical trials get the amount and diversity of participants that are needed to successfully run a research study.

Questions to Answer Before Joining

If you or someone you know is interested in joining a clinical trial, here are some questions from CureClick (adapted from resources provided by ClinicalTrials.gov, a service of the National Institutes of Health) you may find helpful to aid in your understanding of the program and the importance of your participation.

  • What is being studied?
  • Why do researchers believe the intervention being tested might be effective?
  • Why might it not be effective? Has it been tested before?
  • What are the possible interventions that I might receive during the trial?
  • How will it be determined which interventions I receive (for example, by random selection)?
  • Who will know which intervention I receive during the trial? Will I know? Will members of the
    research team know?
  • How do the possible risks, side effects, and benefits of this trial compare with those of my current treatment?
  • What will I have to do?
  • What tests and procedures are involved?
  • How often will I have to visit the hospital or clinic?
  • Will hospitalization be required?
  • How long will the study last?
  • Who will pay for my participation?
  • Will I be reimbursed for other expenses?
  • What type of long‐term follow‐up care is part of this trial?
  • If I benefit from the intervention, will I be allowed to continue receiving it after the trial ends?
  • Will results of the study be provided to me?
  • Who will oversee my medical care while I am in the trial?

There are many diseases that family caregivers and seniors would like to see an end to in their lifetimes.

Through participation in clinical trials that advance science to find effective prevention, treatments, and cures, we all benefit.

Insights on Service Dogs for Seniors on The Senior Care Corner® Podcast

Dogs are beloved pets to millions of families throughout the US, each day earning their “best friend” title.

Growing numbers of those dogs are being given “jobs” in addition to their traditional role.

In many seniors’ homes, specially-trained dogs are being asked to perform a variety of tasks including such things as fetching needed items from the bedroom or kitchen, providing alerts, and helping ensure seniors are able to find their way home.

Those are, of course, in addition to being trusted companions.

These “service dogs” are being increasingly sought by family caregivers who want to address specific concerns with aging in place senior loved ones.

Senior Care Corner® has been receiving a lot of inquiries about service dogs from seniors and family caregivers so decided to reach out for some expert insights to share with you.

Click on the ▷ below to play the podcast (note: you can continue reading while you listen if you want)

[powerpress]

Expert Insights from the American Kennel Club

Based on our research, we knew the American Kennel Club (AKC) had the expertise needed to educate us on service dogs and arranged a conversation with Mary Burch, PhD., who is Director of the AKC’s Family Dog Division.

Mary Burch, PhD. with Wyn

In our conversation with Mary, which we recorded for this podcast, she answered the questions we have received from many of you about service dogs, including these.

  • What are the different types of service dogs?
  • What benefits service dogs provide to older adults, especially those living independently?
  • Can existing pets be trained as service dogs?
  • Are some breeds more suited to service?
  • How can seniors and family caregivers choose the right dog?
  • What questions should be answered when determining how (and if) to meet a senior’s needs with a service dog?
  • Are there certification standards for service dogs or trainers?

… and more.

Mary was very generous with her time and did a great job of answering everything we threw at her, for which we are appreciative!

Still, we realize we could only scratch the surface in a conversation like this. In addition, the answer to many questions are specific to the situation of each senior and family. Mary provided us the links below for additional research and guidance.

Mary’s Suggested Links for More Information

 

We hope you enjoy this episode of the Senior Care Corner Podcast and find it as informative as we did.

This episode was designed based on your requests. Please let us know of other topics you would like us to cover or questions for which an expert answer would be helpful.

 

 




Alzheimer’s Disease Update for Family Caregivers on World Alzheimer’s Day

Every September 21 for the past 7 years we have marked World Alzheimer’s Day.

The campaign hopes to further raise awareness of a disease that has affected millions worldwide and impacted families who face the daily challenges it causes.

Alzheimer’s is one type of dementia, but the most common. Dementia, a neurodegenerative disease, impairs cognitive function, ultimately impacting functional abilities.

It is irreversible, incurable, and has no effective treatment. Researchers believe the root of the disease is a combination of genetic, lifestyle, and environmental factors.

Hallmarks of the disease include:

  • Memory loss
  • Language difficulty
  • Poor executive (brain) function
  • Behavioral symptoms including delusions, agitation and depression
  • Decline in functional status – inability to complete self-care and activities of daily living such as eating, toileting and grooming

Eventually the person afflicted with dementia will lose the ability to remain independent and care for themselves. Therefore, caregivers will be a necessity.

Partners in Alzheimer’s Care

While it is vitally important that family caregivers provide much needed care to persons with dementia, the research and health communities must also partner together to ensure that people with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers are supported.

Here are a few ways that partners are joining the fight:

  1. Healthy Brain Initiative — a multifaceted approach to cognitive health. Their Road Map prepares all communities to act quickly and strategically by stimulating changes in policies, systems, and environment. They have a Complete Care Plan that can be used to help caregivers.
  2. National Institute on Aging Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias Education and Referral Center (ADEAR) — Created by Congress in 1990 to “compile, archive, and disseminate information concerning Alzheimer’s disease” for health professionals, people with AD and their families, and the public.
  3. Alzheimer’s Association — their stated mission is to eliminate Alzheimer’s disease through the advancement of research; to provide and enhance care and support for all affected; and, to reduce the risk of dementia through the promotion of brain health.
  4. Alzheimer’s Foundation of America — provides education and support to individuals and family caregivers living with Alzheimer’s disease; funds research
  5. Research — around the globe researchers are studying the cause, potential treatments, and prevention strategies for dementia. It is largely funded via public sources, but many private foundations, such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and individual donors are adding to the funds being used to learn more. Sharing data will help advance our knowledge. Participating in clinical trials will also help researchers learn more hopefully for effective treatments and an eventual cure.

There are of course, many agencies, organizations and universities that are active in not just researching the disease, but supporting caregivers with education, training and resources. They are too numerous to mention but their work is heralded.

Hopefully, caregivers are participating in education and benefiting from support services in their local communities.

Learning more about dementia, understanding its trajectory and receiving emotional support from others will help caregivers on their journey.

 




,

Playing Games Together for Fun and Mental Exercise

Who doesn’t love to play a game?

It has been shown that people who experience memory loss can stimulate and engage their brain by playing games.

The games can be many, varied, and either high tech or low tech. As long as the senior enjoys playing them and is fully engaged, game playing will stimulate their brains health through participation.

Playing different types of games that require different skills will mean that the game should change with each stage of dementia. As the disease progresses, the game should as well so that they are able to participate without frustration. Becoming frustrated or angry about following rules or remembering strategy isn’t healthy, helpful, or fun.

Games that you play with your senior with dementia should be failure free. You don’t have to play by the rules or play a full game at one time. No one has to win or lose. It should just be fun. Perhaps they can choose from a few games you have on hand.

Benefits of Game Playing

Seniors and their family caregivers can all find benefits in a simple (or even more complex) game.

Playing games shouldn’t just be for kids. In fact, 25% of video gamers are over 50 years old.

There are physical, cognitive and emotional benefits that can be elicited through game playing.

  • Game playing stimulates cognition in people with memory loss, helps to stimulate memories, and builds processing skills. Recognizing numbers, shapes, or colors is stimulating for our brains.
  • Being physical, even when sitting in a chair to play games such as Wii bowling, ball games, or throwing darts, is good for aging bodies.
  • Playing together with people in the family, friends, peers, or kids increases socialization. This can limit loneliness and push depression away.
  • Connecting with others can give a senior purpose, especially if it is scheduled regularly.
  • Laughing, a really good belly laugh, makes the brain, body, and soul feel good.
  • Remembering playing specific games when they were younger or feeling like a winner when a game challenge is overcome is joyous. It can increase the mood and prevent depression and isolation.
  • One research study found that playing brain stimulating games may reduce the number of amyloid plaques in the brain.
  • Hand-eye coordination is improved when rolling dice and moving playing pieces across a game board
  • Video exergames like Wii Fit were shown to improve balance

Types of Games for Memory and Enjoyment

Whatever game you and, especially, your senior loved one enjoy playing and are capable of doing without frustration is the one you should play. Perhaps there are several that you can rotate through to use different memory skills.

Here are a few examples of games that seniors will love:

Card games – more difficult skill level such as Bridge, Gin Rummy, Cribbage, or Hearts all the way to less complicated games like Uno, Old Maid, Solitaire, Go Fish, or Crazy Eights can be fun and stimulating depending on the skill level of all the involved participants; you may find that large print cards work better for your senior loved one

Board games – more difficult games of strategy for those in the early stages of dementia include Chess, Clue, Backgammon, Scrabble, Risk, Mah Jong, Yahtzee, or Trivial Pursuit; less difficult games for later stages and skill include Checkers, Candy Land, Trouble, Connect Four, Don’t Wake Daddy, or Kerplunk

Memory games – games where you must match pairs of like cards in any form or style, shape buddies, or word games such as Name 5, crosswords, Suduko, word search, jumble, PicLink, I Spy

Video or Computer Games – Smart Brain, Brain Age, Words with Friends, Sea Quest, Candy Crush, Tetris, Wordscapes, WordSearch, Magic Puzzle

Building games – Lincoln Logs, Jenga, Blocks, Block Buddies, Legos, Qwirkle, Jigsaw Puzzles, simple nuts/bolts or folding laundry, playdough, manipulatives like Tangram and Tangle games

Fun games – Bingo, Dominoes, Charades, Pictionary

Creative activities – arts and crafts, painting with acrylics or watercolors, finger painting, coloring with pencils or markers, free drawing, knitting, crocheting, ceramics

Sensory stimulation – touching objects, odor recognition, listening to and identifying sounds, Name that Tune

Movement games – exergames using video platform like dance party or Wii sports, darts, badminton, bowling, skee ball, ring toss, horseshoes, parachute, volleyball, bean bag toss, blowing bubbles, musical chairs, Bocce

Exercise – Tai Chi, yoga, calisthenics, jogging, walking, swimming, hiking, golfing, tennis, gardening, table tennis

Technology and Games

Low tech game activities will give all the benefits as described, but so will games that use available technology.

Family caregivers can set their senior loved one up with a tablet or smartphone to play some of these games. There are numerous apps that are free to play games such as puzzle building, crosswords, sequencing, cards, etc. Playing games on apps is a great way to entertain while you stimulate memory as well as pass the time.

Video game systems can be set up to play against others of your choice, such grandchildren who live in another location, state or even country! Playing against someone known to them from the comfort of their own living room could be the motivator needed to stay engaged.

Connecting on a tablet or smartphone to play games such as Words with Friends with family members is another way to encourage and motivate participation. Challenge them!

You can also play games with a senior on Facetime or Skype. Connecting on the tablet or computer with a grandchild and playing their favorite board game is entertaining for all. Either the child or the senior can have the actual game and move the pieces.

Remember, the purpose of the game is engagement and brain stimulation, not who wins or if the rules are being followed to the letter.

Improving quality of life for the person with dementia is the WIN — one that comes with bonuses for all who play!

 

If you want some game and activity ideas, you might want to check out that section of The Shop at Senior Care Corner.

Words of Comfort for Family Caregivers of Loved Ones with Dementia

For many family caregivers of seniors with dementia, progressing with the disease through the years can bring change and sadness.

It is also common for caregivers to subject themselves to a lot of self-questioning, of which these are a few:

Where is the person you once knew?

Are you doing all that you can, all that they desire you to do?

Where do they go in their mind during their silence?

Are they remembering the good times in their life?

Is their life filled with contentment?

No one can really answer these questions for family caregivers especially as the disease of dementia progresses to its final stages.

You have been caring for them and their degenerative disease of memory loss for many years and wonder why them?

A Poem for Dementia Caregivers

We found this poem and felt it might help caregivers of seniors with dementia remember that their loved one is still with them.

They are still in need of your love, caring, and devotion even — or maybe especially — when they can’t ask for it or thank you.

We hope you find inspiration and peace in these words…

 

10 Requests from an Alzheimer’s Patient

Please be patient with me.
I am the helpless victim of a brain disease.

Talk to me.
Even though I cannot always answer.

Be kind to me.
Each day of my life is a desperate struggle.

Consider my feelings.
They are still very much alive within me.

Treat me with dignity and respect.
As I would have gladly treated you.

Remember my past.
For I was once a healthy vibrant person.

Remember my present.
For I am still living.

Remember my future.
Though it may seem bleak to you.

Pray for me.
For I am a person who lingers in the mists of time and eternity.

Love me.
And the gifts of love you give will be a blessing forever…..

~Anonymous

Importance of Dementia Caregivers

Everyday you are special to the person with dementia for and about whom you care.

You are making a difference in their life, even if they can’t express it.

Remember always that you are where you need to be at a time most necessary to them.

You will never regret what you do today for your senior loved one with dementia.

Thank you for your perseverance and dedication!