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.

 

 




When Assisted Living is Right for Your Senior – Choosing the Right Assisted Living Facility

Independent living in their own home is the preference stated by most seniors.

Is your senior loved one ready for more care than they can receive in their home? Despite our attempts to keep them at home as long as possible, at some point family caregivers may need to help find a new housing arrangement to meet the needs of their senior loved ones.

Assisted living is a solution that gives care in an apartment setting. The Assisted Living Federation of America defines an assisted living facility (ALF) as “a housing and health-care option that combines independence and personal care in a residential setting.”

Seniors remain independent but receive more support such as meals, medication administration, bathing, dressing, transportation, activities, and socialization.

There are approximately three quarters of a million older adults living in assisted living facilities, 40% of whom received three or more activities of daily of living assistance from the facility.

It is the fastest growing option for long-term care for independent seniors who still need some assistance or supervision.

Is assisted living on the list of options your senior would consider for their future?

Should it be?

Would an assisted living facility be the right next home for your senior?

If this becomes an option for your senior, what should you look for in a facility, what will meet your senior’s needs, how can they afford an ALF, and how can your senior and family select the best facility?

Assisted Living Facility Features

An assisted living facility provides care for seniors who need more help with dressing, grooming, taking medications, preparing meals, doing housework, and other activities but does not usually offer skilled nursing services or medical care that a long term care facility (nursing home) would provide.

When activities of daily living become more than a person can safely complete in their home, the next step is often a move to assisted living.

Here are some of the features you can expect to find in an assisted living facility:

  • Provide a long term living situation to meet the individual needs of each senior
  • Depending on what is needed, these facilities can provide assistance with activities of daily living such as medication dispensing, bathing, grooming, household chores; congregate meals; activities to relieve boredom; socialization with peers; spiritual events; transportation; physical activities and social engagement; housekeeping and laundry
  • Most provide health monitoring
  • Involve families in the care and progress of their senior loved ones
  • Improve the independence of seniors as they transition from the home setting with increased assistance to improve their function
  • Provide transportation to nearby shopping, health professionals and community entertainment
  • Some provide memory care services for those requiring more safe spaces, one-on-one care and assistance
  • Provide home-like setting with comfort and style maintaining privacy combined with a variety of amenities
  • 24 hour assistance provided, which may include security around the clock
  • Cost will vary depending on the services your senior requires; the more they need-the more it will cost

Assisted Living Facility Selection Considerations

There are many factors to consider when looking for the right assisted facility for your senior’s new home.

  1. Is it located close to family and friends so that they can visit regularly?
  2. What are the available desired amenities and features, such as beauty shop, meals that meet your senior’s needs, caring staff, comfortable apartments, pleasing atmosphere, welcoming staff, cleanliness, free of odors, well maintained grounds and common areas, and how emergencies are handled.
  3. Does the facility desire to maintain dignity and respect as well as the highest level of quality of life for your senior? Is your senior involved with the plan of care?
  4. Will your senior’s privacy be maintained?
  5. Do they offer choices to your senior, including meals, activities, and desired amenities to maintain their independence? Read the activity calendar and see if the social events are of interest. Are there appropriate spiritual events for your loved one or you?
  6. Is the facility and its location safe?
  7. Do you understand and agree with the fees charged and facility policies? Ask what is included in the basic rate and what services will be extra (and how much).
  8. Are you fully aware of what might constitute unplanned discharge from the facility? What functional or behavioral changes will result in a discharge?
  9. Can seniors bring their own furniture and mementos?
  10. Are pets allowed? If so, what are the limitations? What costs are associated with pets?
  11. Does the dining program adjust for medical needs? Are between-meal snacks offered? Can they eat when hungry or are there set meal times or choices of meal offerings?
  12. What do you foresee your senior’s needs will be in the future and can this facility meet those needs?
  13. Can your senior stay there if he/she becomes cognitively impaired? (Alzheimer’s disease or dementia)
  14. Check with the Better Business Bureau to see if any complaints have been made, as well as simply searching the web using the facility’s name.

You can’t assume each facility offers the services your senior needs or will need in the future.

Planning for the Cost of Assisted Living

The cost of assisted living is usually paid by the elder or their family caregivers, but some long term care insurance policies will pay a portion of the cost. Sometimes financial assistance is available from the facility or, if your senior qualifies, Medicaid can help, though the facilities that accept Medicaid are limited.

You can expect to pay less for an assisted living facility than a nursing home, but it is still likely to be expensive.

You typically get what you pay for, so a cheaper fee may mean fewer services or even care below your standards.

In 2018, Genworth Financial completed a survey of the cost of assisted living and found that the fees have spiked up 6.7%. The cost has risen largely due to a national staffing shortage (which is likely only to become worse).

The average cost is now $4,000/month for a one-bedroom unit which is $48,000 per year. The costs vary slightly across the country, with a daily rate averaging $132.

Federal and state government programs generally do not cover the cost of assisted living. Therefore, sound financial planning is key. At the current time, only half of adults have a financial plan in place.

Caregivers may end up paying out of their own pockets (often out of their own retirement savings) to pay for the care of older adults who did not plan for the cost of long term support services (LTSS).

When seniors wait longer to enter an assisted living facility, they often have greater needs, which translate into a higher cost for that care. Therefore, be aware of the additional costs for care your senior may have when comparing different facilities.

Seniors who have dementia may be living longer with care needs. This should also be considered when financial planning is done as well as deciding on placement options.

Seniors Like the Change – Really!

We speak with many seniors who are very happy and enjoying themselves in assisted living facilities.

They are relieved of the burden of maintaining their home, cooking their own meals, or feeling lonely.

There are fun activities and new people to spend time with every day.

Although it is true that many of our seniors wish to age in place, there are also many who are struggling living alone and need more assistance to stay safely independent.

Whether you call it an assisted living facility, continuing care retirement facility, retirement home, residential care facility, congregate living facility, personal care home, or community residence, you may find that your senior will be happy to have made a change.

Careful investigation of facilities near you, visiting each center and speaking with staff and residents, and including your senior in the decision will make it a smoother transition for the entire family.

Assisted living facilities can offer you and your loved ones a safe, caring, friendly environment full of fun activities.

These facilities can bridge the gap between independent and dependent living situations when staying in the home is no longer the best option.

We wish you and your senior well as you plan home transitions!

 

 




What’s Next After Aging in Place and How to Transition – Family Caregiver Quick Tip

Yes, our senior loved ones – like us — want to live at home as they age.

Sometimes that home may be a new location or the home in which they have lived most of their adult lives.

Comfort with our belongings, familiarity with the community, closeness of family or friends, access to trusted healthcare providers, or an aversion to change are some of the many reasons seniors and family caregivers prefer to stay ‘at home.’

The reality for some older adults is that home, or at least their preferred home, may not be the best choice as their aging needs change. Their independence may be threatened by health, mobility, cognition, finances, or lack of caregiving support.

In fact, about two-thirds of people over 65 need some type of long term care health services as they age.

What comes next?

How can family caregivers help their senior loved ones transition to the next chapter in their lives?

When Independence Is No Longer Possible

No one wants to leave their home, but sometimes the safety and well-being of our senior loved ones means this is the best choice for them.

Family caregivers have not failed if a transition becomes necessary but instead are being proactive.

A crisis is not the time to be making decisions of this importance. Planning and preparation can help ease the impact and ensure ours seniors’ wants and needs are met in their new ‘home.’

Here are some considerations if you are facing this transition decision:

  1. The variety of options available to your senior, such as in-home care, senior living community, assisted living center, long term care facility, continuing care retirement community, independent living, memory care center, or adult group home/personal care home can be complex. Each has benefits and drawbacks and may or may not be a good fit for your senior.
  2. What financial arrangements are needed for the option which meets your senior’s needs? Are there funds available to finance their choice? Is there a home that can be sold to help pay for the next place, pension income, personal savings, long term care insurance, or Veterans Aid that can be used to pay? Most of these options are private pay and not funded by Medicare. Each setting has a different pay structure and you may find some are not affordable for your senior unless adequate funds have been set aside for care.
  3. When deciding on the next phase of living, include your senior loved one in the decision-making process as much as possible.
  4. Visit locations, investigate staffing, check the menu and activities calendar, and any other amenities that are important for your senior and the rest of the family. Does the location feel comfortable and welcoming? Is it clean, are the residents well kept, is safety a priority, will transportation be available, who manages medications, can you bring a pet, is a beauty shop on premises, who pays for phone and cable, is broadband available for technology, is smoking allowed (especially if your senior doesn’t want it), and can you have visitors, including overnight guests?
  5. What are their rules? Is there a complaint process? Is there a bill of rights posted? What happens if your senior doesn’t continue to qualify due to decline, what is the process for moving to the next level, is eviction possible?

You can compare different facilities in your area using www.medicare.gov and select the type and quality of the facility you desire. This could help narrow down the list before you make your visits.

The National Center for Assisted Living has a Checklist for Consumers and Prospective Residents that is very detailed. It can help family caregivers determine which questions to ask in any facility type you are considering and how to evaluate the options.

Planning ahead to leave a beloved home when independence is no longer possible and reacting before a crisis occurs will help make an often difficult and stressful transition smoother for seniors and their family caregivers.

 




Signs Your Senior’s Dream Life No Longer Works – Family Caregiver Tip

Family caregivers make promises they will care for senior loved ones at home.

Caregivers know they want to age in place and live the rest of their years in the home of their dreams.

Sometimes this desire or dream turns into an unachievable reality, as their personal health needs and safety become more than family caregivers can provide.

Caregivers want what is best for their senior loved ones and sometimes this may mean not following their wishes to stay at home.

How will you know when this line is crossed and seniors shouldn’t be living alone anymore?

Signs A Change Should Come

There are clues family caregivers can observe in their senior loved one that will indicate there may need to be a change for their well-being.

Here are a few signs that should point you to investigate further:

  1. Poor hygiene, lack of showering, wearing same clothes for days
  2. Spoiled food in refrigerator and pantry
  3. Missing appointments
  4. Unpaid bills, inability to balance their checkbook
  5. Clutter in house that makes it unsafe
  6. Balance difficulty; increasing falls
  7. Weight loss
  8. Mood changes
  9. Medication administration problems; missing doses; taking wrong amount or at the wrong time
  10. Driving problems; tickets, accidents, car damage

Exhibiting these signs does not automatically mean it is time to load up the car and move to a senior living facility. There are often options for interventions family caregivers can put into practice to allow them to stay home a little longer.

Home care, sitters, companions, and technology are strategies that can be employed in the home to meet their needs for health and safety.

But planning for the next step should begin in order to be ready should it be best for your senior.

  • Where would they want to go?
  • Is there a facility near family?
  • Have you begun visiting any locations?
  • Is there money budgeted or benefits available to pay the fees?

Planning is important and these warning signs should yield further action for the future.

Additional Resources

Knowing if and when it is time to transition your senior loved one, whether in the home or in a facility, is one of many concerns for family caregivers.

Here are more informational articles that you might find helpful on your caregiving journey.




Benefits for Both When Seniors Engage with Younger Generations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grandparenting Now

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

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

Pew research says:

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

Connecting with Elders

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

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

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

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

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

According to a Pew study, in the US:

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

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

New Ways to Bring Generations Together

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

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

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

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

Seniors with University Students

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

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

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

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

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

Linking Generations Through Literature

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

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

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

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

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

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

Engaging Produces Benefits for All

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

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

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

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

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


Holiday Gift Ideas for Seniors to Make It Healthful, Useful and Memorable

Our senior loved ones living in assisted living or other congregate living locations look forward to the holidays and visits with family members near and far.

Family caregivers love visiting them and want to shower them with goodies, often including food treats.

Unfortunately, too many or the wrong kind of treats could turn out to be unhealthy.

Caregivers, especially those who come from a distance, want to help nourish their seniors.

We want to help them bring only food goodies that are safe and healthy for their senior loved ones.

Bringing Safe Food To Their Home

Because many of our senior loved ones live in an assisted living or nursing care home, caregivers feel a strong desire to bring them home baked or cooked treats for the holidays.

Even if they live in their own home, sometimes food treats are dangerous and treats may replace eating the healthy food they need.

There are several reasons why food treats could be dangerous for our seniors. You can still give them a loving gift and keep them healthy.

Here are some tips to help you give the give of love this season if giving food:

  1. Always practice safe food handling when bringing homemade food gifts to any older adult. Seniors are more vulnerable to food poisoning and may become very ill when foods are handled improperly. Keep the food at the proper temperature from your kitchen to their table. Reheat any foods not at the proper temperature before they taste. Always pack cold foods in ice and refrigerate promptly.
  2. Bring small sweet treats, not a whole bag which could be eaten in one sitting. Small treat bags are ideal for their favorite sweets, just enough for one or two servings. Encourage them to share with others too so that they don’t over consume candy that their visitors are apt to bring.
  3. Avoid high fat, high salt treats, as these could disrupt their disease management, especially heart failure, high blood pressure, and edema.
  4. Be aware of any foods not allowed on their treatment plan, foods that could interfere with medications or other treatments.
  5. Find foods that offer nourishment as well as a treat, such as trail mix, granola bars, or fresh fruit.
  6. If you choose to bring a holiday meal, let the kitchen staff know so they don’t send them a meal at that time too.

It is a good idea to discuss your ideas for a food treat with your loved one’s nurse to be sure there are no conflicts with their medical care.

Non-Food Gifts for Seniors

Find other non-food treats that they will love throughout the year and think of you when you aren’t there, such as:

  • family photos in pretty frames
  • an insulated water mug or coffee cup
  • clothing protector
  • magnifying glass
  • pen and paper for notes and doodling
  • nail care goodies
  • foot spa
  • music player and their favorite music, perhaps with headset so they don’t disturb others
  • large print books
  • crossword puzzles
  • word search books
  • adult coloring book and colored pencils
  • sweater, lap blanket or shawl
  • handmade cards
  • monthly gifts that include their favorite things

The Gift of Time

Remember, the greatest gift you can give a senior living in a facility is the gift of your time!

Family caregivers want to visit as often as possible but that isn’t always possible.

Caregivers can’t always spend time each day visiting their senior loved one in a facility but we can connect in other ways that will bring joy.

Technology can help nearby and long distance family members ‘be there’ virtually.

You can FaceTime using your iOS smartphone or tablets (both you and they need to have one) and feel like you are in the room with your senior and them with you. They can see grandkids and great-grandkids doing all sorts of things virtually like reading a story, playing a game or singing together.

Caregivers can also use Skype and video chat via a computer or tablet when your senior is free.

These tech options will require some setup and training to be sure seniors feel comfortable with the technology.

However, staff at care facilities can also help them talk with you using either of these methods if you ask.

Low-Tech Works Too!

Family caregivers can also start a family tradition of writing weekly letters throughout the year not just at the holidays to your senior so that they can get letters from home.

Create a schedule and be sure everyone sticks to it!

A card, handwritten note, photos, or small care package that they can look forward to each week when the mail comes will brighten their year.

They will enjoy every minute spent with you and those they treasure!

So will you!

When Our Seniors Say “Take Me Home” But We Can’t – or Can We?

Have you heard “let’s go home” “take me home” or “is it time to go home”?

What will you do when your senior loved one asks you to take him/her home but you know you can’t do it?

What can we do besides suffer heartache listening to them cry “take me home” and “when can I go home”?

Many of our aging parents who are in need of more care or supervision than we can provide find themselves in a facility that is not their home and frequently pull at our heartstrings to go home.

For many, there will be no option. They will need the care and supervision that comes from professionals in a facility.

But for others, thorough planning and access to services may make it possible for them to stay at home or go back home for a bit longer.

May.

Aging In Place Dreams

Depending on the extent of the needs that they have to be met, with some time spent planning and access to community services, we might be able to facilitate our seniors return to their home.

Getting a year or two at home instead of in a facility is a gift for many seniors.

They may eventually need to be in a facility, but putting that off as long as possible could be good for them.

There are many services available now that were only a dream in years past that might make staying at home awhile longer doable.

Naturally we want all our seniors to be safe while they are home so their safety is the first concern. If they can’t be safe at home, then a facility is the best place for them.

Options to Remain At Home

There are more and more options that caregivers have to give their seniors a hand to meet their needs, keep them safe and give them comfort.

Paid Caregivers

Once upon a time, hiring a housekeeper was the best aging seniors could do to get more help at home when some things became too difficult.

Now family caregivers can hire trained paid caregivers to supervise the safety of our seniors.

These caregivers can stay around the clock to supervise and keep seniors safe.

They can watch your loved one day and night.

They are trained to look after personal needs and medical care.

They can also cook, clean and provide transportation to appointments.

One of their most important duties can be to provide companionship to your senior when you can’t fill that need.

Technology

There are also great advances in technology resources that can help keep seniors safe at home, with much more to come.

There are devices to remind senior loved ones to take their medications at the right time and in the right dose.

There are sensors and monitors that can watch seniors’ every move in the house and pattern their movement to alert caregivers when a problem might be brewing.

Devices can even let you know if the stove is on at their house.

There are also devices that can call emergency personnel if needed. Personal Emergency Response Systems (PERS) have been around for a long time (remember “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up”?). They have come a long way in the past few years.

PERS now have longer ranges, can monitor movement patterns, use bluetooth to be with seniors when they aren’t at home and alert caregivers via smartphone apps when things are going wrong. Not to mention that these devices are much more invisible, stylish and acceptable to seniors to wear so they will actually use them.

Door alarms, bed alarms, internet connections to facilitate socialization, smart home features such as doorbell alerts so you know who is there before the door is opened, and many other smartphone apps that can fill gaps for caregivers are available to support caregivers and seniors who age in place.

Day Programs

Senior centers and day programs are available now in most every community.

These centers provide socialization, new experiences, hot meals, and resources during the day.

Some will even help with transportation if your senior needs that.

Community-based agencies and meal programs can be a great help to keep our seniors in their home as long as possible.

If financial resources are limited, arranging senior day care instead of paid caregivers during the day could be a good option, saving the paid caregiver for evening and overnight.

Financial Considerations

Some might think that the cost of around the clock care or community living can be out of their budget. There may be ways to supplement the cost of some of this home care.

If your senior has a long term care insurance policy, it might help offset the cost of these services that are crucial to keeping your senior safe at home.

Family members can band together, pool resources and come to an agreement on what is best for your seniors, including their wishes as much as possible.

Perhaps family or friends can volunteer to sit some of the time to reduce the time needed for paid caregivers, pitching in to do some of the chores so seniors budgets don’t take a hit for things such as yard work, home maintenance, meals, household chores or car upkeep.

There may also be respite programs that can supplement caregiver needs available through your department of aging services or disease-specific organization.

When “When Can I Go Home?” Has an Answer

Living in an institution does not have to be the “path of least resistance” for many families.

The Older Americans Act of 2006 has promoted the de-institutionalization of seniors and made grants to agencies for senior community services to support families.

Family caregivers who wish to help senior loved ones age in place safely also need help and support therefore building a network to help you help them achieve their dream will be important for you.

We all can take advantage of the great services available to our elders to grant their wishes as long as possible.

Let us know what steps you have taken to keep your seniors wherever they want to be.




Election Time – Does Your Senior Need Help Casting Their Ballot?

Our seniors have been called the Greatest Generation.

They take pride in their country and have asked what they can do for it, not what it will do for them since the 1960s.

They have lived their adult lives volunteering in their communities to make the lives of others a little bit better.

They have participated in the process of local, state and federal elections by casting their ballot and letting their voice be heard for many years.

The statistics are telling: approximately 70% of people over 65 vote in presidential elections, compared to 45% of the voting age population overall.

Do they now need their family caregivers’ help to make their voice heard at the ballot box?

Right To Vote

No matter where your senior loved one calls home, they have a right to vote.

If they live in a nursing home or other facility and are unable to get to their polling place, they can vote in absentia via absentee ballot.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures:

  • 32 states have statutes that address voting by residents of long term care or other nursing facilities.
  • Mobile polling, also known as supervised absentee voting, is the most common form of assistance, permitted by statute in 23 states.
  • 18 states have laws specifying who can assist long term care residents to vote. Most commonly, assistance can come from an agent of the voters choosing.
  • New Mexico permits a resident of a nursing facility to request an absentee ballot after the close of the application period for absentee ballots, and this may be delivered by a representative of the voter’s choosing.
  • Michigan requires posters to be hung in residential care facilities that explain that ballot coaching (coercing a voter) is illegal, and California makes it a crime to coerce a voter while providing assistance.
  • Only a judge can deem whether your senior loved one is incompetent to vote, not the nursing home staff or family members.

Obstacles to Overcome

Seniors can face many barriers to casting their ballots in any election. Family caregivers can help them overcome some of these obstacles with a few interventions.

  1. Facilitate transportation to the polling site. If you are unable to drive them, arrange for transportation through taxi cab, senior transportation, Uber or Lyft or the facility van. Perhaps one of their friends in the area who may be going to the same polling center can give them a ride on election day.
  2. Vision impairments can inhibit seniors from voting. You can get a sample ballot and review it with them prior to the election. Discuss without coercion who they wish to vote for and help them when the time comes. Staff at the election office can also assist at the booth.
  3. In the past, paper ballots could be cumbersome for seniors but new technology and tactile voting may make voting a bit easier for some seniors with dexterity issues.
  4. Accessibility at some voting centers may be a problem for some seniors despite the fact that laws are in place to allow easy access. You may want to check out their polling place to be sure a wheelchair or other mobility device is accessible, parking is available and there are no physical obstructions to their entering the polling place.
  5. Access to a ballot if they live in a nursing facility. Apply for an absentee ballot or advocate for them with the facility staff to give them mandated access.
  6. Remembering to update their voter registration information to comply with deadlines. Helping seniors remember when to vote and how to complete the ballot may be necessary.
  7. Photo ID is required to vote in many states and many seniors who no longer drive may not have this available. Caregivers should check with their senior’s state election office to see what documentation is required and what can be used to help senior’s vote.
  8. If your senior is not currently registered, they will need your help to register for the next election. It may take up to 30 days to become registered.

Residents’ Rights Month

In October we celebrate Residents’ Rights Month. The topic this year in light of the Presidential election in November is “My Vote Matters”.

The goal is to encourage facilities across the country to help residents’ vote and participate in the political process.

Voting is a fundamental right in our country which includes our aging seniors.

Absentee Voting

Many seniors find absentee voting the easiest way to make their vote count.

Seniors in facilities will need the assistance of staff or family members to request absentee ballots in time for the Presidential election.

In some states it may not be too late to accomplish this. In other states, they may have to wait for the next election, but should get prepared to vote now as it could take time to process their requests.

Every state has different guidelines and deadlines that need to be followed in order to obtain and return ballots.

If your senior decides to vote using an absentee ballot, they will need to apply for it and be sure that they return it in a timely manner.

Be sure they follow the instructions carefully as some states require a signature on the envelope and other directions.

The Federal Voting Assistance Program can give your more information about this process.

If caregivers would like to help their seniors participate in voting, the US Vote Foundation can help you either register your senior or request an absentee ballot.

Their website offers guidance on voting requirements by state as well as voting methods, options and important dates. There is a tab that details every state’s deadlines that could be helpful.

Even if your senior loved one doesn’t qualify to vote on the November ballot, getting them poised to participate in the political process next time and feel as though their voice still counts, will give them a sense of purpose and importance they will appreciate.

Care Solutions for Our Senior Loved Ones – Some Especially for Veterans

Despite their hopes, intentions, and family caregivers’ efforts, many seniors will, at some point, no longer be able to age in place.

For some, the home in which they’ve dreamed of living out their lives will no longer be a safe environment.

Others will experience health complications that require more medical management than occasional trips to the doctor can resolve.

There will be seniors who have mobility issues or a history of falling that leave them weak or otherwise unable to complete daily activities of living, including cooking their meals.

Seniors may be lonely and in need of others with whom to socialize. Without some friendship or activity they may become isolated and depressed.

There are many reasons that living home alone is no longer possible.

What are the options then?

Options for Health and Safety

Seniors who can no longer live alone without some help have several options.

They can transition to another level of care, beginning with paid in-home care. There are home caregivers, trained medical personnel, people who can buy their groceries and cook for them, home delivered meal services, and even companions who can live in to supervise their safety.

While they continue to live at home, seniors can opt to participate in senior day programs, which can help them socialize, get a good meal and get help accessing necessary community based resources.

There are also facilities that might be appropriate depending on financial resources such as assisted living facilities or group homes.

Many seniors who can no longer care for themselves have no other option but to enter a long term care nursing facility. This type of care will provide them around-the-clock care by trained personnel, including meals, activities and safety.

If your senior is becoming medically compromised, you may want to discuss palliative or even hospice care with the doctor to see if there might be in home care or in-patient resources that will help them.

Are there other options?

Options for Military Veterans

Veterans now have another option to entering a facility.

The US Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Foster Home Care Program is providing homes to veterans in many cities around the country.

Private homes with trained caregivers are giving veterans a home away from home.

Caring for them in a community based environment where they can continue to connect with their churches, friends, shopping and other activities that they enjoy may keep them out of a facility.

There are usually a few others in the home and this home care program is an alternative to larger institutions allowing senior veterans to feel like they are at home but still receive the care they need.

The home caregivers provide 24 hour service and personal care to the aging veteran, helping them with activities of daily living including bathing and other needs.

This medical foster home is designed to provide lifelong care and stability for veterans.

The caregivers are required to meet criteria for caring for the veterans such as first aid and CPR certification, background checks and home inspections of the caregiving environment.

The caregivers are reimbursed for their services from the veteran’s pension or other funds ranging from $1200-$2500/month depending on the level of services required such as living costs or necessary medical attention.

VA Programs

The VA is responsible for oversight and inspection of these programs.

A VA social worker can help with eligibility requirements and placements if your veteran is interested in this type of program.

The veteran continues to receive in home based primary care services.

The VA has a Decision Making worksheet that you can help your senior loved one use in determining  the level of help they may need and which placement is best for them.

This community medical option is providing safe housing for veterans at a lower cost than traditional long term care placement.

Medical foster care may be a good option you or your loved one has searched for to meet their needs and their desires to stay in a home setting.

Can Technology Fill Some Gaps?

Technology innovations may help some seniors stay home a little longer.

Family caregivers and seniors should discuss if some of these solutions will be able to help them stay independent and safe at home.

Here are some suggestions for technology that could help:

  1. Smartphones – where help, communication and information is at the touch of a button
  2. Telehealth – virtual doctor visits that can help them stay healthier and manage their chronic diseases more effectively
  3. Tablets – connecting to family, emergency personnel and friends for socialization using broadband connections; using the internet to learn about treatment, medications, and get suppport from their peers
  4. Medication management – pill dispensers and reminders that improve their ability to take their medications safely
  5. PERS – personal emergency response systems that will call for help when they need it have come a long way, they look better and now use bluetooth to connect so that they can go outside the home and still be protected
  6. Medical and home devices that link to caregivers – there are a variety of medical monitoring devices that will send alerts to caregivers when trouble is brewing such as connected blood pressure monitors, systems that monitor movement patterns and when the pattern is not kept, blood sugar monitors, fall mats, programmable thermostats, garage and door locks that you can operate remotely and even see who is at the door, as well as a multitude of other items with more on the horizon
  7. Home safety – fall detectors, automatic stove shut off, motion sensing lights

These examples are only scratching the surface of technologies that will support seniors who desire to continue living independently.

As with other areas of our lives, some of the most valuable innovations will be things we don’t yet realize we need but will wonder how we ever got along before they arrived.

As much as most seniors of today and tomorrow look forward to living independent aging years, some help may be necessary to live in their chosen home.

With a little help and some new options to consider, our seniors may be able to stay safe, healthy, and comfortable in that home longer.