Gardening That’s Accessible, Convenient and Fun for Seniors (and Everyone)

The arrival of Spring means we get to see daffodils popping to meet the sunshine and crocuses sticking their little heads up to say hello!

Many seniors have shared their joy of gardening with their children and grandchildren over the years.

Having learned from our elders the joy of gardening and nurturing the earth, we carry on the love they’ve given us by planting and growing our own flowers, fruits, and vegetables.

It is now our turn as caregivers to share new, accessible gardens and the fulfillment of getting our hands dirty again with our senior loved ones as they age.

Seniors often find that the effects of aging on joints, muscles, and the freedom of movement have prohibited them from tending to their beloved gardens.

Family caregivers can help change that.

Making Senior Friendly Gardens Grow

Bringing the garden to a senior is a good way to get them involved in a meaningful activity, one through which many benefits can be gained.

Here are some ideas for you to create friendly garden spaces and some tools you and your senior will need to be safe and accessible.

  • Growing vertically – plants that we grow vertically are more easily accessible for those with mobility limitations. There are different kinds of commercially available products that can grow in hanging containers, upside down, trellises or using garden towers.
  • Growing in raised beds – an advantage is that they are easy to reach, even from a wheelchair or seated position, if balance or endurance is a problem. Garden boxes can be elevated on legs or built up beds lined with materials, such as railroad timbers, that allow space for a seat for gardeners to work and rest. Two to three feet in height is typically ideal for easiest accessibility.
  • Planting container gardens – if space or mobility is limited, use a container to grow specific items, such as flowers, herbs, or vegetables, from patios or porches for accessibility.
  • Plant in found items, such as a pallet – an old wooden pallet is transformed with herbs and flowers — even vegetables — interspersed between slats and stands on its side for easy reach. This video shows how to re-purpose a discarded pallet into a thriving garden.

  • Maintenance friendly commercially available planting soil – using this specially prepared soil will reduce the need for weeding, tilling hard soil and other labor intensive preparation. They also have the ability to hold and disperse water to the plant roots more effectively.
  • Self-watering containers – some garden containers that are commercially available have a capacity to self-water so if seniors are unable to water daily the plants will still continue to grow well. You can also fashion your own self-watering containers using reservoirs, drip hoses and garden hoses. You can find directions to make your own watering system on YouTube too.
  • If going outside is not an option, try using inside plant stands with fluorescent lighting. It will provide the same benefits of physical and mental activity in a more convenient form. You can purchase specially made indoor gardens that will provide light and growing trays.
  • Don’t forget adequate shade areas, garden hats with wide brims, garden gloves to protect sensitive skin, seating, convenient portable stools, knee pads, ergonomic garden tools, and easy-to-maneuver paths so that everyone can enjoy the activity.

Benefits of Gardening for Seniors

Gardening can bring multiple benefits beyond the food they can grow that will improve their quality of life.

  • Accessible and non-strenuous way to give seniors a way to share their gardening expertise, get some physical activity, spend some time outdoors, and have an improved quality of life. It is a great conversation starter and wonderful way to give seniors a way to engage with others in a meaningful way.
  • Growing a garden, whether big or small, will attract birds and butterflies to their home. They can spend time being an observer or even a participant with nature.
  • Having a new garden or being able to use their existing garden more efficiently and safely will add to their aging in place experience.
  • It can give them a purpose and feel part of the life around them, not just as an observer. It keeps them engaged!
  • Stimulate seniors’ brains by having them plan what plants they would like to grow, when to plant, when to weed, and when to harvest can keep their minds active as well as their bodies.
  • Growing some of their own fruits, vegetables, and herbs will improve their nutritional intake and encourage healthy eating.
  • Home gardens will allow them to mentor future generations. Multi-generational experiences improve the quality of life, not just for seniors but from all family members.
  • Sharing the harvest with family, friends, and neighbors will keep seniors connected with their ‘community.’

Aging shouldn’t be the reason your senior stops enjoying a lifelong activity – at least not without a fight. Helping to give your senior a way to continue to engage in gardening, either on a small or somewhat larger scale, can provide many benefits for the entire family.

We hope you are able to try some of these ideas and enjoy the harvest!

We would love to hear how you made it possible for your senior to get their hands dirty!

Give Grandma the Gift of (Safe) Social Media This Christmas

The signs are hard to miss, even though they are showing up even earlier this year: stores of all kinds displaying holiday decorations, holiday sales ads on TV, and Santa taking children’s wishes in many malls.

Yes, it’s time again to wrack our brains on that annual question: “what do we give our grandparents and parents for Christmas” this year?

We try so hard to come up with something that is both appreciated by them (yes, they say everything we give them is appreciated, but…) and useful to them — and usually end up feeling like we have fallen short.

Senior Care Corner® suggests giving the Gift of Social Media this year.

The Gift of Social Media for Grandma (or Grandpa, Mom, or Dad) is one of those rare gifts that truly keeps on giving year-round to both the recipients and givers of the gift.

We have seen recent studies indicating as many as half of seniors use social networking sites, the most with Facebook and YouTube, which still leaves a lot more candidates. Even among that half, though, it is likely many are worried about using social media due to security breaches, when safe practices can reassure them.

Why Social Media as a Gift?

As we have discussed in prior posts, there are many benefits to seniors of being active on social networks, whether Facebook (by far the most accessed), YouTube, Instagram, or one of many others.

  • Keeping families close, making it possible for many seniors to chat and keep up with their children, grandchildren, siblings, and extended family.
  • Photo and video sharing, with social networks making it quicker and easier than ever to share pictures and movies with loved ones and friends.
  • Community Belonging, giving seniors the ability to socialize and stay abreast of current events from the comfort of home.
  • Peace of Mind, keeping the growing number of seniors preferring or needing to live in their homes a convenient way to check-in regularly with loved ones and healthcare providers.
  • Coupons and other Discounts, linking seniors to the online offerings of retailers and service providers.
  • Brain and memory exercise, helping to keep seniors’ brains young.

Helping loved ones understand the benefits they can expect is likely to encourage the effort needed to create a social networking habit.

Social Media Safety is Crucial

Safe use of social media sites has always been important, but never more so than today, with all the stories we hear of breaches and the fear it has created in many users.

There are a number of keys to helping senior loved ones use social networking sites safely — and feel safe doing so.

  1. Establish safe passwords that can’t be guessed from information about your senior that is publicly available. You may suggest they give a couple of trusted individuals their password so it can be retrieved easily if forgotten. Help them change it periodically as well.
  2. Provide the social networking sites the minimum personal information needed in order to use the site. When the seemingly inevitable data breach occurs, the less information included the better.
  3. Limit access to posts appropriately. Utilize the social network’s settings to ensure information posted is only seen by desired audiences.
  4. Post with caution on the sites. Don’t include such things as personal information that may be used to steal an identity, private health information, provide financial data, or divulge when nobody is going to be home at your senior’s house.
  5. Click with caution, avoiding any links in social media posts (just as with email) that are not absolutely trusted and do not respond to requests for information unless certain they are from a trusted friend or family member. A bank, insurance company, or the IRS will not request private information through social media posts.

Remember, social media safety is not a “set it and forget it” act, but a continuing process. It must be practiced each day and even updated as social network settings change, which they seem to do all too frequently.

Giving the Gift of Social Media

Giving the Gift of Social Media is more than signing up your senior loved ones for Facebook or showing them how to access YouTube videos and can be part of a truly memorable family experience.

  • Arranging online access, where needed, often through cable TV or home phone companies or a cell phone provider.
  • Choosing the right device(s) for your loved one. Popular options include computers, tablets and smartphones. Some devices are targeted to seniors and their specific needs.
  • Setting up access to desired social networks. It might be beneficial to survey family members and check around with your senior’s outside interests to see which networks would be most valuable.
  • Establishing privacy settings and practices (very important!).
  • Communicating with loved ones on a regular basis to form and keep the habit, not to mention staying close to them.

The Gift of Social Media is truly a gift for the entire family.

We hope you’ll join us in promoting the Gift of Social Media and consider giving the gift to the senior loved ones in your life!

 

 




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.

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.

 




Digital Games Benefit Seniors — Family Caregiver Quick Tip

Many of us who are boomers grew up playing video games, starting with the first pong game as preteens. We then advanced to become pinball wizards and Pac-Man fiends in high school.

After we conquered the galaxy, we moved onto the worlds of Mario and Sonic (maybe even Pokemon?), often joining in with our own kids.

Usually our parents asked us why we were wasting our time sitting on the couch in front of our favorite games instead of going outside in the sunshine.

Today the game industry has made its way onto our mobile devices and into the mainstream — and seniors have come aboard with us. Digital games are affordable and entertaining!

Seniors have found out what we always knew — games are great fun as well as mentally stimulating.

Seniors have started their own crazes playing games. Gaming consoles have found their way into homes, senior centers, and even nursing homes across the country, where seniors are finding the benefits of playtime, while games on smartphones and tablets mean the fun goes wherever the seniors go.

Benefits of Digital Games for Seniors

There are many ways seniors can benefit from the use of digital games on their mobile devices. These are just a few.

  • Building and maintaining relationships — and creating memories — with family members of all ages, especially younger generations. Many digital games provide opportunities to connect and play with those at a distance.
  • Research links game playing with improved cognitive skills and memory as the brain is challenged, especially with the more complex games (crossword, jigsaw puzzles, Sudoku, memory).
  • Increasing opportunities for socialization as they play games with friends, neighbors, and even those at a distance on the web.
  • Building familiarity and comfort with the mobile devices and digital technologies that can mean so much more than game playing to seniors, especially those living independently.

In other words, there are many reasons to encourage and help our senior loved ones to play games on their mobile devices.

Tips for Choosing Digital Games with Seniors

As with mobile devices themselves and other technology, the approach we take with games and our senior loved ones is important if we want them to have fun and realize the other benefits games can provide.

  • Start with games in the online stores (App Store, Google Play, etc) the senior already enjoys playing solo through traditional means, such as solitaire, mahjong or casino favorites, such as slots or blackjack. This can build familiarity with playing on a touch screen, including the gestures needed to play the game, without the senior having to demonstrate to others.
  • Suggest games your senior loved one already plays with others as board games — such as backgammon, cribbage, or even monopoly — or card games — such as hearts, gin rummy, or poker — so they can play (and socialize) with friends and neighbors.
  • Demonstrate, if the senior is not already familiar, how to navigate through the app marketplace on their mobile device, find games they might enjoy (or other apps they might find useful), and load the app on their device.
  • Verify the apps chosen don’t come with a fee that must be paid later or limited capabilities that may frustrate users just as they start to enjoy the games.
  • Ensure, by reading the app descriptions and reviews (both in the app marketplace and online), chosen apps will not collect and use personal data on your senior that you and they are not comfortable being used. Explain the importance of this to your senior loved one and show them how to do the same themselves with apps they may want to try in the future.
  • Play the chosen game(s) with them a while so they learn what needs to be done and has the opportunity to ask questions while you are with them. You might just find yourself having fun and creating new memories with your senior loved one!

One of the most important things to keep in mind is that there is no one approach that is best for all seniors. Like you, your senior loved one is a unique individual. Helping them realize the benefits of digital games — and technology in general — means taking the approach that is right for them (and you).

 




MIND Eating for Brain Health – Family Caregiver Quick Tip

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

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

Will it prevent cognitive loss?

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

MIND Eating

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

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

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

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

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

Tips to Follow the MIND Way of Eating

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

Here are some tips to making meal changes:

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

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

Additional Resources

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

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

Don’t Let Superfood Hype Fool You – Family Caregiver Quick Tip

Many family caregivers look for a magic bullet to alter the behavior or change the course of a chronic medical condition of their senior loved ones.

Some caregivers hang their hopes on what are known as superfoods.

Is this a good thing? Can eating specific foods really change anything today or tomorrow to make your caregiving journey easier?

That is highly doubtful, based on the science, but many still hold out hope.

It seems each month we hear about another great superfood promising longevity or freedom from what ails us.

Have you heard the latest? Can you even find it? Would your senior even eat it?

Should they?

Latest Superfood Claims

Non-science media sources often share their superfood claims with consumers in the hopes of increasing readership, whether or not the effectiveness of those superfoods has been validated.

Here are some of the latest claims about which you may have read.

  1. Black currants – will taking supplemental forms of this antioxidant containing fruit make a medical difference? Can adding a few black currants to your recipes help? How much antioxidant will you really get eating a few? We have heard for some time that the deeper the color of our produce, the more nutritionally rich the food is. It’s true black currants are deep purple and full of nutrients, but so are grapes and other items that might be easier to eat regularly. Keeping berries and other antioxidant rich foods in the diet is fairly straightforward for most caregivers, but it could be any variety your senior enjoys, not just black currants.
  2. Watermelon seeds – which must be sprouted, shelled and dried for best benefit. Would your senior eat this or can you find them? Most of us grew up being told not to eat watermelon seeds for fear a vine would grow in our belly. Seriously though, this wouldn’t be most seniors’ first choice as a snack. These seeds purportedly have nutrients, including protein similar to nuts.
  3. Mushrooms – edible mushrooms may have compounds that reduce inflammation that could lead to neurological changes. Eating “plenty” of mushrooms could be considered a functional food but how much is plenty?
  4. Beetroot juice, turmeric, ginkgo and green tea – all have some property being reported to fight disease and reduce the risk of dementia but more research is needed to determine how much, how often, what type and if there is any identifiable benefit. If your senior likes these foods, enjoy!

Proceed With Caution

It is important for family caregivers to be able to distinguish what is helpful health advice from what is just hype.

Experts found that, between 2011 and 2015, there was a 202% increase in the number of new food and drink products launched containing the terms “superfood,” “superfruit,” or “supergrain.”

If the food is something your senior loved one enjoys eating, can be easily incorporated into their meals, and won’t break the bank, certainly add away.

Be sure it won’t interfere with any medication they currently take or potentially cause GI upset for them. If you’re not sure, ask their doctor.

Be cautious if the superfood is not well accepted and might cause your senior to refuse a meal, as avoiding it might be the best course of action.

It isn’t super if the food isn’t consumed in the quantity that might actually create a positive physical impact.

Additional Resources

Here are a few other articles that you might find helpful to get your senior loved one the nutrition they need for health.

 




Aging is not a Slippery Slope But a Stage of Life to be Lived to Its Fullest

Most of us realize that we are heading down a one-way path known as aging but it need not be a slippery slope.

We have watched others, including our own parents or grandparents, who have aged well and some who have not entered their golden years in very good shape.

We may wonder what is typical and to be expected for us and our loved ones.

What can we do to age well ourselves and help our own loved ones be healthy?

Are there small things we can do for ourselves as well as help those about whom we care to be as healthy as possible as we age?

We want to age successfully with the highest possible quality of life!

We Define Optimal Aging for Ourselves

We all, caregivers and senior loved ones, don’t just want to age but really age well.

We want to do what we want when we want to do it.

We want to live independently as long as possible.

We want to care for ourselves instead of being dependent on others for care as we age.

Optimal aging is our senior’s loved one’s goal as defined in this way:

“the capacity to function across many domains—physical, functional, cognitive, emotional, social, and spiritual – to one’s satisfaction and in spite of one’s medical conditions.”

Ways to Age Successfully

Experts agree that, to age successfully, caregivers and seniors need to focus on these three areas — low probability of disease and disease-related disability, high cognitive and physical functional capacity, and active engagement with life.

There are a number of changes we can begin making today to be more healthy and successful as we age.

It is never too late to start making lifestyle changes for health so caregivers should be considering what is needed and encouraging their senior loved ones to do the same!

Here are a few things that have been shown to improve our health and be more successful as we age:

  1. Get active! Physical activity is a necessary part of health at any age. You are never too old to start moving and is even more important for physical, emotional, and brain health as our seniors get older. Exercise has beneficial effects on muscles, heart, lungs, blood pressure, and bone loss. It doesn’t have to hurt, be boring or cost money to get moving. Find something you love and get active.
  2. Protect your heart! Because heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women, we should reduce our risks by not smoking, eating right, reducing your stress (or your response to your stress), and staying physically active. Knowing your numbers and keeping your blood pressure in control will help you protect your heart.
  3. Cancer prevention! Aging does not mean an automatic cancer diagnosis, though it is the second leading cause of death in older people.  If you or your loved ones are diagnosed with cancer, even many older people can beat it if found early and treated. Eating healthy is a key component to cancer prevention and should not be overlooked.
  4. Keep clear eyes! More than half of those over 80 years old have cataracts or a clouding of the eye’s lens. It can be corrected with implantation of artificial lenses. It is very important to get a dilated eye exam every year to find any problems early and correct them.
  5. Avoid sadness! Depression in our later years is serious and can lead to trouble sleeping or eating, which will negatively impact our health. Any concern should be expressed to your senior’s doctor as it is easily treated once the cause is uncovered. Depression is sometimes caused by medicine or stress as well as life changes.
  6. Get enough sleep! Sleeping patterns change as we age but being unable to sleep is not a normal part of aging. There are many non-pharmacological interventions we can do to help our seniors get a better, more restful night’s sleep and we should put time into this improvement for their health.
  7. Keep your brain strong! Memory loss, especially short term memory, is a concern for most people. Dementia is a permanent change in the brain leading to impairment. Sometimes confusion and forgetfulness can be temporary and caused by a variety of factors including injury, fever, medicine, and poor eating or drinking. Several of these medical conditions, when identified and treated, can lead to improvement in memory.
  8. Reduce unnecessary medications! Multiple medication use by people over 65 years is common, with 80% taking more than one medicine due to chronic medical issues. Take each according to the directions and keep a current list handy so your doctor can be sure it is still appropriate.
  9. Active and safe sex life! Aging does not mean an end to your sexual activity. Most older people have an active sex life. Sometimes a slowed response may be present and is normal. If you or your senior has a concern, talk to your doctor to be sure there is no underlying medical problem.
  10. Maintain a healthy weight! Weight gain in older adults occurs as physical activity decreases. It is important to eat a variety of foods but in the absence of exercise, fewer calories are needed to avoid weight gain.
  11. Treat incontinence! Incontinence is a symptom of another problem, such as infection or injury, and not a symptom of aging. There are things your senior and their doctor can do to reduce incontinence, including things like specific exercises to strengthen weak muscles or reviewing your medication list.
  12. Stimulate your brain! You can still learn at any age. Keeping the mind active will improve your ability to age healthfully. Seniors who are fully engaged in learning new skills, staying socially active and being mentally stimulated can prevent cognitive changes that reduce their quality of life.

We can all practice a healthy lifestyle to make the best of our golden years and age in place as long as possible and you can help your parents.

Remember, less than 4% of people over the age of 65 live in nursing homes. You and your family can be part of the 96% instead of the 4%!

Brain Games – Are They the Answer to Helping Seniors Fight Dementia?

Brain games can help our senior loved ones win the battle against dementia, right?

Or can they?

Recent reports are mixed on whether brain games are effective at stimulating our brains and keeping dementia at bay.

That’s not what we want to hear, either for loved ones or ourselves.

Family caregivers are counting on keeping our brains sharp as long as possible, both for our own health and so we can provide our seniors the care they need.

So many of us are starting to use brain games, which are popping up everywhere. While there are free apps and online games, many programs are costly.

The real question is will their use give us a false sense of security or keep us from doing other more helpful things to preserve our brain function and overall health?

Neuroscientists Against Hype

Neuroscientists have been calling into question the ‘scientific findings’ that propose that brain games can improve memory, processing speed, and problem solving and even as they are touted to prevent Alzheimer’s disease since 2008.

They believe that the science blurs the differentiation between improvement in skills, such as memory on a task, and overall cognitive ability.

Some argue that it is acceptable to use brain games for fun but there may be other more effective ways to keep the brain sharp, such as exercising. Spending time seated completing brain games may not be as stimulating for overall cognition as physical activity.

Gains found in gaming, they feel, may be fleeting compared to lifestyle activities like spending time with family or playing an instrument.

The scientists feel that standard video games may be as effective as those specifically marketed as brain fitness games.

These findings were disputed by other scientists who feel that scientific evidence does support the use of brain games to improve memory.

Psychological Science in the Public Interest

A study recently published in the Journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest found through a review of 130 scientific studies that data hasn’t supported the claims that brain fitness games improved cognitive abilities.

This group investigated the discrepancy between the two neuroscience factions at odds about the effectiveness of brain games.

This review found that improvements were made in a specific task given to subjects. However, they did not find evidence of overall improvements in memory or thinking.

They do hold out hope if the brain games are used for a longer period of time or more intensely so that cognitive improvements can be measured. Mental effort is required for positive changes.

Fighting Alzheimer’s-Caused Brain Decline

Lifelong learning has been shown to improve cognitive functioning and that is often encouraged by experts.

Taking classes, learning a new skill, study a foreign language, playing an instrument and other mentally stimulating activities may outpace brain games in preventing cognitive decline.

There is some concern that brain game players expect to see an improvement and therefore they see one – the placebo effect.

Scientists do agree that the science of studying what will prevent dementia and improve our overall brain health and processing is moving in the right direction so that better data can be found to dispel these rumors while guiding us to make the most of our brain health activities.

All agree that participating in mental, physical and social activity likely plays a role in keeping our brains sharp.

Lifelong mental stimulation and keeping the brain as active as possible seems to improve essential neural connections.

Keeping Brains Sharp

The Alzheimer’s Association offers this advice for all of us to keep our brains sharp:

  • Stay curious and involved — commit to lifelong learning
  • Read, write, work crossword or other puzzles
  • Attend lectures and plays
  • Enroll in courses at your local adult education center, community college or other community group
  • Play games
  • Garden
  • Try memory exercises

Caregivers and seniors can help prevent decline in our brain fitness by making healthy lifestyle choices every day, including eating right, exercising, socializing, and trying new things.

Doing these things not only helps your brain but your whole body and may prevent other chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes.

It’s a Win-Win!