Celebrating Older Americans Month 2019: Connect, Create, Contribute

Each year, more and more older adults are making a positive impact in and around their community. Usually this contribution involves the encouragement and even logistics of a family caregiver.

Many older Americans who are family caregivers are themselves contributing to their community simply by caring for their own senior loved ones.

In addition, they act as volunteers, employees, employers, educators, mentors, advocates, and more which offers insight and experience that benefit the entire community.

That’s why Older Americans Month (OAM) has been recognizing the contributions of this growing population for 56 years when President John F. Kennedy designated May Older Americans Month.

At that time, the President felt it was time to begin to take the needs of the growing older American population. The goal was to recognize their many contributions to our country especially in defending it.

From then until now, led by the Administration for Community Living (ACL) each May, OAM provides resources to help older Americans stay healthy and independent as a way to thank them for their gifts to society. They help communities support and celebrate their diversity.

Theme for OAM 2019

This year’s OAM theme, Connect, Create, Contribute, encourages older adults and their communities to:

  • Connect with friends, family, and local services and resources.
  • Create through activities that promote learning, health, and personal enrichment.
  • Contribute time, talent, and life experience to benefit others.

Family caregivers can celebrate OAM by promoting ways that community members of all ages can take part in helping older adults in their community as well as their own senior loved one thrive.

Things to Do In Your Community

There will be many events going on in your senior’s community that will help family caregivers connect, create and contribute.

Here are a few you may want to join:

  1. Participate in your local senior center activities by attending classes on crafts, cooking, lines dancing, yoga, or educational topic.
  2. Volunteer for an organization you support such as the library, animal shelter, school mentorship, litter cleanup or church group.
  3. Attend a health fair and take charge of your health.
  4. Share your skills with others in your community who may need help.
  5. Help a meal delivery program deliver meals to people in your local area.
  6. Join a fall prevention program to build your own strength and balance while meeting new people.
  7. Attend a Senior Day event in your city.
  8. Find a class on technology to help your senior learn about ways to use technology to benefit them as they age in place. Attend the class together.

We encourage you to:

Connect: Encourage older adults and other storytellers to share their experiences

Create: Inspire older adults to express themselves through art, dance, exercise, gardening or other personal enrichment activities.

Contribute: Connect older adults with resources and each other

Things to Do At Home

Family caregivers can take action with their senior loved ones to celebrate OAM with them and other family and friends.

Here are some fun things you can do together:

  • Have a family game night and play their favorites. Have lots of healthy snacks to keep the fun rolling!
  • Take a nature walk with the grandkids. Explore plants and animals in nature, go on a scavenger hunt, share a picnic and watch the birds fly together. Sharing this with kids will benefit all generations.
  • Look through family photo albums together and reminisce about family members who came before you. Discuss their jobs, their military service, where they lived and funny stories of shared hijinks! Maybe this could lead to a family reunion to meet new members and enjoy old members of the family.
  • Store the photos and memories for the future, journal the family stories and create a family tree.
  • Attend an event together. It could simply be the local Farmer’s Market or a fundraising event like a Fashion Show.

This is just a small start to all the places you could go and fun you can share with your senior loved one.

Time spent together is not only enriching for your relationship but also good for your senior’s health.

Physical activity and social engagement can make a positive impact on their quality of life.

These are all great reasons to find ways to celebrate OAM and your senior loved one today!

Additional Resources

Here are some additional articles that you might find helpful when deciding how to share time with our senior loved during OAM and every day.

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!

10 Cancer Prevention Tips Based on Trusted Research

We used to call it the “Big C.” The word cancer put fear into our hearts!

Cancer is a group of diseases, not one particular kind. It is characterized by the uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells in the body. This unchecked growth can lead to death. The treatment is directed at removing or stopping the spread of these malignant cells.

We know a lot more about cancer prevention and see cure as expected in most cases, though not nearly all.

The cause of cancer is not always known but the risk factors are more clear. Many are modifiable through lifestyle changes.

As of January 2016, there were 15.5 million people with a history of cancer and still alive (survivors). Cancer remains the second leading cause of death in the US after heart disease.

The evidence that we should put into practice the latest recommendations has been called by experts and researchers to be “compelling.” That is a pretty serious word in the scientific community and not used lightly.

The American Cancer Society estimates that at least 42% of newly diagnosed cancers are preventable with lifestyle behavior change.

Some of these recommendations we have heard for many years over and over again. But, when will we take heed and begin to actually make the necessary changes for our overall health and in particular, to prevent cancer?

Hopefully now!

These are admittedly simple steps that we can all begin taking toward health.

Family caregivers can encourage and intervene to help their senior loved ones adopt some of these guidelines for a healthier lifestyle. You are never too old for health!

Latest Cancer Research

Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Cancer: A Global Perspective report produced by the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) and the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) is described as the most comprehensive scientific report to date.

Here are their key findings:

  1. Being overweight or obese is a cause of 12 cancers. There appears to be an overwhelming link between body fat and cancer.
  2. Drinking alcohol is a cause of six cancers, even one glass of alcohol a day can increase your risk of getting some cancers.
  3. Physical activity can help protect you from 3 cancers and also helps you manage your weight. Activity can give powerful protection against cancer development.
  4. Healthy eating can reduce cancer risk as well as aiding weight management.
  5. Lifestyle factors can also impact survival rates after a cancer diagnosis including the effect of the cancer treatment.

Caregivers’ Tips for Cancer Prevention

Here are the latest guidelines for prevention backed by scientific evidence that we can all follow – caregivers and seniors.

AICR/WCRF Cancer Prevention Recommendations:

  1. Maintain a healthy weight – stay within the healthy range and preferably at the lower end of the Body Mass Index (BMI) chart range and avoid weight gain in adult life. Body fat triggers hormones that can produce cancer growth.
  2. Become and stay physically active – walk more, sit less every day. Exercise of 150 minutes of moderate activity a week can help keep hormone levels in check. Sitting for extended periods can increase cancer risk so get up every hour for a walk.
  3. Eat a diet rich in whole grains, vegetables, fruits and beans – plant foods rich in fiber and nutrients reduce the risk of cancer. Plant foods also contain phytochemicals which protect cells from damage.
  4. Limit fast foods and other processed foods which are high in fat, starches or sugars – also helps manage weight.
  5. Limit red and processed meat – eat only moderate amounts of red meat, pork and lamb and limit processed meat. More than 12-18 ounces of red meat (considered a moderate amount) shows convincing evidence of increasing colorectal cancer risk.
  6. Limit sugar sweetened drinks – choose water or unsweetened drinks. Helps with weight management.
  7. Limit alcohol consumption – despite potential protective effect against heart disease, evidence is clear that alcohol in any form is linked to cancer.
  8. Do not use supplements for cancer prevention – a healthy diet and other lifestyle factors are more beneficial. Some high dose supplements can increase risk for cancer.
  9. Breastfeed your baby if you can – evidence that breastfeeding can protect mother against breast cancer.
  10. After a cancer diagnosis and treatment: follow these recommendations.

Fighting to Prevent Cancer

Prevention is the first step to fight cancer. These lifestyle changes are imperative for our health.

Avoiding smoking and time in the sun unprotected are also ways you can reduce your risk of cancer.

It is also vital to participate in early screening tests to detect cancer and get treatment for a cure.

We can’t prevent all cancers, but given the devastating effect they can have, both on those afflicted and their loved ones, we should do all we can for prevention and early screening to get treatment to be survivors.

Convenient Exercise for Family Caregivers While Multitasking in the Living Room

Exercise, get active, and keep moving!

That is what we all hear constantly, especially family caregivers who need to care for themselves.

Most will answer “who has time to ‘get physical’ during the hectic day of caring for a senior loved one, other family members, and a job?”

We all know that experts recommend 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity physical activity to help us all stay healthy or manage chronic disease. Caregivers can break this time up into shorter bursts and still gain benefits.

Physical activity that yields health benefits is described as movement by skeletal muscles that results in energy expenditure. Exercise is a structured type of physical activity that improves or maintains our physical fitness.

Getting to the gym three times a week to exercise seems to be an insurmountable challenge for many family caregivers, so they just give up and give in. Physical fitness and healthy movement aren’t part of many family caregivers’ routine anymore, which can negatively impact the health of caregivers.

Wouldn’t you love the opportunity to get much needed physical activity in the comfort of your own home and at a convenient time for you and your caregiving schedule?

Even better, what if that activity could be accomplished without taking time away from your other activities?

Exercise Solution for Caregivers

Recently we learned about a product that we thought could help bring physical health and activity back into the lives of many family caregivers.

[DISCLOSURE: We were provided a Desk Bike V9 by Flexispot with a request to provide our review of their product. There was no additional compensation. This article reflects our impressions of the Desk Bike in our words, without prior review or approval by Flexispot. The product link below was provided by them.]

Family caregivers are busy — but we don’t have to tell you that!

Caregivers schedule appointments, keep up with finances and insurance information, keep extended family members informed about what is going on with senior loved ones, use social media to support their journey, manage remote apps from connected devices, and often work either away from or in the home.

Being able to combine these tasks with getting much needed physical exercise would seem to be a no-brainer for many family caregivers. No longer would we have to put our physical health on the back burner due to time.

But is that possible?

Can you be active while you do normally sedentary things like supervise your senior loved one, watch TV together or answer your emails?

The answer is yes and that is exactly what we found!

How about a stationery bicycle with a workspace for a computer, beverage, snacks, book, or craft project? A Flexispot Desk Bike V9 combines the benefits of a stationary bike with a standing desk and is designed with ample room to get things done.

Work meets workout. Multitasking has never been this easy. Balance work and wellness, anytime and anywhere” according to its creators.

Intriguing! So much so it was honored at the 2018 CES with an Innovation Award.

We were truly intrigued when offered the chance to try one out and also asked a few seniors to give it a whirl too to see what they thought about it and if they would use it.

Our Evaluation of the Flexispot Desk Bike V9

We found the Desk Bike V9 to be easy and enjoyable to use right away but wanted to see if that was due to its novelty and went away with time. After weeks in our living room, it has not! There is every indication it has a permanent place there.

Our evaluation and observations below are based on our use of the Desk Bike V9 as well as that by other

Highlights of the Desk Bike V9

There were many positive attributes of the Flexispot, based on our observations and feedback from testers.

  • Riders found that the desk height was very comfortable, even for a short person. It was easy to adjust between riders of different sizes, too.
  • If you want to use the desk without riding, it is also easy to use from a standing position without having to readjust everything. This made it easy to keep a laptop on the desk and use it for quick tasks without moving it around or having to ride the bike.
  • One of the most important considerations for many people who use a stationary bicycle is the feeling of the seat. Can you sit for extended periods of time without becoming sore? Our riders found the seat to be comfortable for long periods of time, such as during the time it took to watch a movie. They advertise the most comfortable seat on the market and we found no reason to dispute that.
  • The bike was easy to assemble and easy to move around in the home as needed on the wheels provided. Even though it was on wheels, it never felt as though it was going to move, either while riding or while getting on and off.
  • Our bike was placed in the family room in order to be able to watch the TV while biking and working. If visitors came over, it would be easy to quickly move out of the room or just out of the way.
  • It will definitely help get 10,000 steps a day. A daily reset of the instrument panel made it straightforward to know how much I have done. We could ride 10 to 20 minutes at a time and by the end of the day it truly adds up.
  • The more you use it, the higher the resistance you can achieve to maximize your tracking daily goals for miles, time, or even a calorie burn simple to achieve.
  • The resistance feature goes from 0 to 8. The more resistance you use, the more calories you burn and muscle you build to achieve your goals. The knob control moved easily between skill level of different riders.

This bike gives you many useful features such as:

  1. Desktop that holds laptop, cup, TV remote and smartphone all at one time (PHOTO)
  2. Resistance control from 0 to 8 giving you the option of increasing workout potential
  3. Adjustable desk height that slides forward and backward easily
  4. Adjustable seat
  5. Comfortable seat
  6. Exercise time tracking
  7. Speed you exercised
  8. Distance traveled per session
  9. Calories burned each session
  10. Cup holder
  11. Pedal covers for barefoot riding

Riders found that they could get the physical benefits of exercise while using the Flexispot as any other stationery bike, that is increased heart rate and muscle strengthening over time. The longer they rode, steadily increasing resistance and time spent each session yielded notable physical benefits. They also spent time with senior loved ones and other family members as well as completing tasks on the desktop.

The bike while in motion was quiet and did not disturb others in the room watching TV or doing other activities in the family room alongside the bike rider.

Concerns Noted in Using the Desk Bike V9

While it had many more positives than negatives according to our riders, there were a few things to note.

  • It is important to get all the benefits the bike can provide by paying attention to both whatever is being done on the desktop or the TV and the functioning of the bike as you pedal. Riders sometimes forgot and stopped pedaling. It seems when doing something mindless like watching TV, it was not as difficult to remember to keep the pedaling pace up. However, when a rider’s attention was riveted on the computer or other task, it was more difficult to lose track of their feet! That really isn’t a function of the bike as much as it is the rider.
  • While assembly was straighforward and quick, the bike itself was very heavy and will require at least two people to get it out of the box and put together, simply due to its weight. Once assembled, the wheels allow it to be rolled wherever it needs to go easily by one person. Negotiating stairs with it would be another thing altogether.
  • You must be careful to adjust the desk to a level that allows you to maintain good posture, which may mean readjusting each time there is a change of rider. Before we learned this, some riders were slouching over the desk which could, over time, result in back soreness and a quicker fatigue factor. Proper positioning of the desk and seat height is important for each individual rider.
  • Like any physical activity, riding this bike and getting the greatest benefit will require you to build your stamina. Doing exercise time in short amounts building up the total time spent and gradually increasing the resistance will allow the rider to gain momentum without stressing joints and muscles.
  • While riders of all ages found the bike comfortable once appropriate seat and desk adjustments were made, shorter riders may find it beneficial to use a step up to the seat when mounting the bike.

Recommendation

We like the Flexispot Desk Bike V9 and recommend family caregivers consider it for their own homes and the homes of senior loved ones for whom they care.

Family caregivers who find their own health being shortchanged with all the demands on their time may find real benefit in the ability it gives them to combine work or entertainment with exercise from the comfort of their own living room!

We recommend the bike because caring for yourself and staying healthy should be a priority for family caregivers.

As with any physical activity, always consult your physician before beginning any exercise program. Consult with your healthcare professional to design an individual exercise prescription. If you experience any pain or difficulty with physical activity, stop and consult your healthcare provider.

Happy exercise/work/entertainment multitasking!

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.

Celebrating Seniors’ Independence & Helping Them Maintain It

Independence is a goal held dear by many seniors and their loved ones, not just on the 4th of July but year-round.

Families celebrate Independence Day in the US with picnics, parades, baseball games, concerts, and fireworks!

While the nation celebrates Independence Day, many family caregivers continue to provide daily care for their senior loved ones.

We hope to spend time with extended family, reminiscing about the fun times the family shared on past July 4 holidays.

It is also a good time for caregivers and other family members to think about what types of things we can do to help senior loved ones maintain their own independence in the years to come.

Aging with Independence

Successful aging is often expressed in terms of a person’s functional independence.

Functional independence is the level at which we can be mobile and perform our own activities of daily living (ADL). Someone who is successfully aging will have a minimal decline in physical function.

A person who is aging successfully will be actively engaged in life, have a high level of cognitive function, and have avoided chronic disease or risk factors for disease. Also, if there is an impairment the person has made the most of their limitations through adaptation.

Many believe our measurement of aging is a matter of perception. When asked about successful aging, 50% of adults say they are aging successfully when in fact only 19% of them were doing so, as determined by clinicians.

Both self and clinical assessment are important.

There is a tool that can be used to measure the level of functional independence your senior now has and help you decide what care may be needed to keep them independent. The Functional Independence Measure (FIM) scale assesses physical and cognitive status. The Functional Assessment Measure (FAM) adds twelve items to the FIM, including community integration, emotional status, attention, orientation, and reading/writing skills.

Both of these measures are completed by a healthcare professional. These tools could help family caregivers understand where there may be gaps in functional status and plan a course of action for improving our senior loved ones’ independence.

Mobility is Key to Senior Independence

Mobility is a major factor in being independent. Their ability to age in place will depend on how well seniors can move their bodies, whether it is for walking, standing up, reaching, turning over in bed, or climbing stairs.

This physical motion is essential for independence in activities of daily living such as dressing, eating, and toileting.

Walking involves many physical abilities, including muscle strength, sensory function such as vision, cognition, and motor control. How capable seniors are when walking is predictive of their future independence.

Seniors who walk at speeds faster than 1.0 meter/second have greater independence when performing activities of daily living. They have reduced hospitalizations as well. In contrast, walking speeds of less than 0.6 meters/second are associated with dependence for ADLs and more hospitalizations for seniors.

Being mobile means that your senior can leave their home and participate in activities in the community without help. Without mobility, their independence is threatened.

Social Engagement and Independence

Successfully aging seniors are able to maintain their social engagement within the family and among their communities. Those who are no longer able or desirous of being socially active will have more difficulty maintaining their independence as they age.

Even when a senior is physically well, able to be mobile, and perform their own ADLs, they may still have difficulty with socialization and independence due to one or more factors limiting their engagement.

Perhaps a physically functional senior has no access to transportation or finances that would allow socialization and community engagement. Maybe their community is unsafe for them to walk alone due to either predators or infrastructure, such as poorly maintained sidewalks, no nearby retail outlets, or unsafe traffic patterns that put pedestrians at risk.

Another scenario limiting seniors is one of a spousal caregiver who can’t leave his or her loved one alone at home, leading to isolation.

Being homebound due to external environmental factors can lead to isolated seniors who are now unable to be functionally independent. This, in turn, could lead to a decline in functional status and a loss of independence.

Prevent and Cope with Loss of Independence

Aging is bound to catch up to every one of us. Hopefully it takes a long time to negatively affect us and our senior loved ones. Maintaining physical abilities and independence is a goal most seniors strive to achieve and family caregivers can encourage and support.

Here are some things we can encourage and help senior loved ones to do in order to manage their own aging .

  1. Stay physically active — every day! It will be necessary to keep moving and strengthening muscles to prevent functional decline, loss of mobility, falls and possible loss of independence. Help your senior loved one find activities they enjoy and get them going! Walk, dance, golf, garden, swim, play active video games, or just move doing something fun each day.
  2. Engage socially — Participate in events and activities outside of the home. Go shopping, go to a movie, go to church, go to a festival, go to a class, volunteer in the community, talk with family members, enter a support group, and take every opportunity to be social. Find a buddy and do things together.
  3. Observe what they can and can’t do — Take a close look at what your senior is and isn’t capable of doing. Is it something your senior can improve or do they need to find an accommodation to continued independence? Focus on the positive and maintain all aspects of good health.
  4. Learn to accept help — If a senior’s family members want to help, if you can afford home care, or if you qualify for community benefits, say yes and schedule the help. Knowing support is needed and accepting the additional help will prolong the time your senior can remain independent. But, your senior should be encouraged to do everything they can to help her or himself. Doing for them things they can do themselves puts their independence at risk.
  5. Join the digital world — If your senior wants to be independent, some technology innovations can help them stay at home. There are medical monitors that will help them stay well and out of the hospital. There are tech solutions that will help them stay safe at home. There are internet connections and social media platforms that, when used with computers or mobile devices, will help them stay socially engaged. There are cognitive games that will help keep their minds sharp so that they can function optimally as they age. Using a smartphone or tablet with a variety of apps will give them opportunities for learning something new, engaging with others, keeping their brain sharp, and preventing isolation and depression.
  6. Make home improvements — Make modifications, including small and big renovations, to their living space that will help your senior be safe but also live independently. Install cabinets that can pull down for ease in reaching their contents. Install adequate lighting to prevent trips and falls. Make access into and around the house easier with wider doorways, fewer steps, handrails and safe flooring. Add internet access so that all the latest technology gadgets can be connected. If retrofitting is too costly or not practical, your senior may need to consider a new location that will provide them with universal design that allows them to live independently now and in the future.
  7. Manage finances — Senior loved ones have hopefully planned for their future and have funds available to meet their basic needs. Family caregivers may need to assist them with staying on a budget, getting access to all the benefits for which they are entitled, and putting practices into place that will reduce their susceptibility to financial scams so their money remains secure.

Celebrating our nation’s independence reminds us to celebrate the independence of our senior loved ones too — and help them plan to stay independent!

As George Burns put so well,

“You can’t help getting older, but you don’t have to get old.”

 




 

May is Older Americans Month — Engage at Every Age!

May is the month that we celebrate aging!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Age Your Way

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

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

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

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

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

It’s All in the Approach We Take

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

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

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

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

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

Eat Your Way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Family Caregivers Can Help

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

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

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

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

Family caregivers can help seniors stay engaged as they age.

Engage in life for a better quality of life!

Happy Older Americans Month!

 




Life Expectancy Drops as a Result of Pain Killers — For Seniors Too!

It has become expected that Americans will live a long life.

Becoming a centenarian isn’t as unusual as it once was. In fact, it is expected that there are over 70,000 people in the US that are 100 years old or more!

While the number of those living to 100 is still low, this number has been on the rise since 2000.

Adults are taking better care of themselves by improving their health habits such as smoking cessation, getting and staying more active and eating better.

Why then is the overall life expectancy rate dropping?

Life Expectancy News

In 1900 you were considered lucky to live to be 50 years old.

In 2015 that number has increased dramatically. The average life expectancy then was 78.8 years. Our life expectancy has actually increased by about three months a year during the 20th century – until now.

It is interesting – perhaps not surprising – that if you live in Hawaii, your life expectancy is 80 years which is the longest of all states. The shortest life expectancy is found in people living in Washington, DC at 72 years.

Americans’ life expectancy has been on the increase since 1970 but we have seen a change in these numbers recently. Average life expectancy is now 78.6 years. Many experts are linking this change to the opioid crisis.

Opioid Crisis Overdosing Deaths

The news is full of the tales of the current crisis involving pain killing opioids, especially fentanyl and heroin.

In 2016, drug overdoses became the number one killer of people under 50.

Recently, the National Center for Health Statistics for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Dangers released their report that the average life expectancy has actually dropped to 78.6 years showing the second straight drop in two years.

In 2016, they found that more than 63,000 people died of causes linked to drug use, which is contributing to a drop in our average life expectancy. While the numbers are largely people between the age of 25-44, older adults are also falling victim to drug overdoses.

It is true that older adults still die more often from chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer, but there are many elderly who rely on pain killers to relieve their chronic pain. In fact, drug use rose in all age groups, not just among the young.

It’s alarming to learn that the rate of hepatitis C is also on the rise related to the increasing frequency of drug injections of heroin.

Risks of Opioids in Our Senior Loved Ones

Seniors are at greater risk from opioids themselves than from an opioid addiction, which could cause accidental deaths.

More often seniors will fall victim to other health risks when taking opioids including

  • breathing complications
  • confusion
  • drug interaction problems
  • increased risk of falls

The benefits from taking opioid pain relievers for our senior loved ones may outweigh the risks, however.

Benefits of Opioid Use for Senior Loved Ones

More than half of our seniors have chronic pain that worsens as they age.

As a result, many rely on prescription pain relievers to allow them to be independent and complete their daily tasks.

Many couldn’t continue to age in place without the help of their pain medication which improves their physical function.

However, older adults aren’t immune to abuse of opioids or combining this with alcohol abuse.

Tips to Reduce Pain Without Drugs

Family caregivers can help their senior loved ones reduce and potentially avoid substance abuse issues from taking opioids to help with pain relief by using some of these other options.

  1. Non-opioid pain relievers, including NSAIDs like aspirin, ibuprofen, acetaminophen and naproxen
  2. Steroids can relieve pain from inflammation
  3. Exercise – muscle strengthening, core building
  4. Physical therapy
  5. Yoga
  6. Acupuncture
  7. Anti-inflammatory diet
  8. Biofeedback
  9. Chiropractic care and treatment
  10. Relaxation training and meditation
  11. Warmth and/or ice to affected area
  12. Warm bath — soothing/relaxing or water therapy
  13. Weight loss to relieve stress on joints
  14. Talk to doctor about the latest alternate therapies for particular conditions

Our seniors have a right to lead an independent life if that is their choice, free of pain without the pitfall of becoming a victim to pain killer abuse.

Trying alternative ways to treat chronic pain instead of relying on another pill may not be easy for some seniors but could be worth the effort.

 




8 Actions to Reduce Dementia Risk – Family Caregiver Quick Tip

Everyone, whether they are currently caring for someone with dementia or concerned that they are at risk of developing it themselves, is seeking a magic bullet to stop it in its tracks.

The unfortunate reality is that there is currently no cure and little in the way of treatment. In addition, little is known to prevent dementia.

But, the good news is that there is a great deal of research hoping to provide viable treatment, a cure, and even prevention!

Is prevention in the cards for you now?

Let’s check out the latest news about dementia.

Lifestyle Factors Impacting Dementia

A new report presented recently at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) states that there are nine lifestyle factors that can impact our risk for developing dementia. These nine factors reportedly are responsible for 35% of dementias.

This report, published in The Lancet, was a meta-analysis review of literature in the field of dementia.

The nine factors are:

  1. Failure to complete secondary education in early life
  2. Hypertension
  3. Obesity
  4. Hearing loss in midlife – doubled the risk of developing dementia 9 to 17 years later
  5. Smoking
  6. Depression
  7. Physical inactivity
  8. Social isolation
  9. Diabetes in later life

The researchers want us all to know — “our results show it is never too early or never too late to make lifestyle changes that will make a difference.”

How can family caregivers act to lessen the risks of these factors, not just for themselves, but also their senior loved ones?

Actions on Dementia Risk Factors

Experts encourage us to do something to lower our risks. We can all take action to improve some of these factors to become healthier and try to prevent the development of cognitive impairment.

  1. Get treatment for hypertension. Get your blood pressure checked to determine your numbers then do everything in your treatment plan such as medications, monitoring, dietary changes, and exercise to lower your blood pressure to the normal range.
  2. Participate in regular physical activity! Get moving, find an activity you enjoy, find a buddy to do it with you, and stay active every day.
  3. Evaluate and treat hearing loss as soon as possible. Find a hearing aid that works for you and wear it. This will help you and your senior loved one stay socially engaged. Many with hearing loss isolate themselves leading to cognitive loss.
  4. Engage with others! Continue to participate with others either in person or via technology. Socialization is essential for cognitive health. Join a group, attend community events, talk with someone on the phone or via technology, attend faith services, get a pet (real or virtual), dine with others, and find ways to interact with multi-generations. There may be obstacles that need to be overcome to achieve these goals such as transportation, incontinence, technology, accessibility, or hearing, but once identified can be surmounted.
  5. Stop smoking! There are many forms of smoking cessation aids to reduce the struggle, such as medications, apps, and support.
  6. Recognize and treat depression. Don’t be afraid to admit you have a problem because that will become an obstacle to treatment. Family caregivers are at increased risk for depression, so don’t ignore the symptoms.
  7. Manage your blood sugar. Often going hand in hand with obesity, diabetes is a disease that continues to increase. Many people don’t know that they have abnormal blood sugar yet the damage is occurring. Elevated blood sugar, especially for long periods of time, impacts heart and brain health. Learn your numbers and begin a treatment plan to control those numbers.
  8. Manage your weight. If you or your senior loved one are overweight or obese, work on a healthy eating plan that will facilitate your weight management. If you need help, seek out a Registered Dietitian, who is the nutrition expert and can help you find ways to achieve your health goals.

Experts also believe that managing stress, eating a heart healthy diet and learning new things will also help lower your risk of developing dementia as you age.

Additional Resources

Dementia affects millions in the US and around the globe. Preventing dementia is our common goal so family caregivers can continue to be supportive caregivers.

Here are some additional articles that can help caregivers learn more about the disease.