Family Caregiver Food Safety Tips from Detective Foodsafe™

September is National Food Safety Education Month. We have an expert who will share how to keep family caregivers and your loved ones safe from food poisoning (and everyone who wants to avoid becoming the victim of food borne illness).

Detective Foodsafe™ explores the mysteries of food contamination and food handling mishaps that can happen when you least expect it. Her mission is to keep everyone safe from the dangers of foodborne illness.

Detective Foodsafe will help family caregivers not only ensure that seniors are eating right, but also avoid becoming victims of food poisoning (foodborne illness).

We are all concerned about eating foods that are healthy and provide nourishment for our bodies. As we age, we definitely want to eat foods that will keep us well and manage our chronic medical conditions.

Seniors are already at increased risk from contracting foodborne illness due to suppressed immune systems, medications and chronic diseases. How their food is handled can add to the danger.

Why Are Seniors at Risk?

It is important to understand the full effect of foodborne illness on our senior population so family caregivers know how vital it is to prevent it.

For younger adults, they may suffer a gastrointestinal illness (albeit a terrible experience), but for older adults, hospitalization and even death could be the outcome when they contract food poisoning. Seniors are more susceptible to complications resulting from foodborne illness.

When seniors eat foods that may contain harmful bacteria, it takes their gastrointestinal system longer to expel it. Excretion of food through the stomach and intestines takes longer as we age. This allows more time for harmful pathogens to infect seniors.

In addition to the timing of the GI tract, a seniors’ liver and kidneys may not be functioning as efficiently as in the past resulting in a reduced ability to clear the body of toxins which cause food poisoning.

Older adults’ bodies are more susceptible to the effects of microorganisms and have a more difficult time fighting illness. Because immune systems are also aging, they may be weakened therefore less able to mount a strong defense.

Seniors with multiple chronic diseases including diabetes, kidney and heart disease have more trouble responding to food pathogens.

Multiple medications, especially those designed to reduce stomach acid (which can reduce the amount of harmful bacteria in the GI tract), can make matters worse for seniors.

When seniors do contract foodborne illness, not only do they get sicker, they also take longer to recover than a younger person.

Even though food that is contaminated with harmful bacteria does not taste, smell or look different, seniors often have a decreased sense of taste and smell which can impact their ability to distinguish when a food may be spoiled and potentially unfit to eat.

Foods Seniors Should Avoid

“There are several foods that can make seniors ill and it is best to avoid them” says Detective Foodsafe.

Foods that are more prone to microorganism contamination are:

  • Sprouts
  • Unwashed raw fruits and vegetables
  • Soft cheese, made from unpasteurized milk like brie, Camembert, feta, queso fresco
  • Raw or unpasteurized milk and juice
  • Raw or under cooked meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs
  • Luncheon meat and deli salads
  • Unpasteurized pates and meat spreads

What Caregivers Can Do

Family caregivers can take action to prevent food poisoning occurring in their senior loved ones.

Detective Foodsafe recommends you do these things:

  1. Look in the kitchen pantry and refrigerator to see if there is any spoiled or expired food that needs to be tossed out every time you visit. Sometimes the print is too small for seniors to read and they don’t realize it is expired or that it is important to throw out foods that have passed the Use By date.
  2. Encourage frequent handwashing; launder kitchen cloths and towels in hot water regularly
  3. Monitor their ability to prepare foods safely. Can they wash all fruits and vegetables before eating or keep the equipment/surfaces disinfected? A functional decline in some seniors may mean that they aren’t physically able to handle food and meal preparation safely anymore.
  4. Purchase ergonomic kitchen gadgets that can make it easier to work in the kitchen to handle food safely. Vegetable brushes or knives that can be held onto with stiff fingers, foods within reach so that they aren’t left to spoil, magnifying glass to read labels for expiration dates and other products that might make working in the kitchen easier and safer.
  5. Encourage them to abandon lifelong habits of keeping butter and cheese (and other perishable foods) out on the counter.
  6. Be sure the microwave is working correctly heating thoroughly so that they can reheat leftovers and fully cook food to a safe internal temperature to kill bacteria. Do they have a food thermometer they can read easily to check for doneness? A digital thermometer may be easier to read than a dial version.
  7. Foods they bring home from restaurants in a doggy bag should be refrigerated promptly (within 2 hours) and heated thoroughly before eating.
  8. When using home delivered meals, be sure all food is stored promptly at the proper temperature so that it won’t reach the temperature danger zone where bacteria grows rapidly. Always reheat any delivered meals to 165 degrees F to be sure bacteria is destroyed.
  9. Check the functioning of the refrigerator and freezer to be sure they are chilling food to the proper temperature. Repair or replace any units that are not keeping food safe. Keep a thermometer inside both the refrigerator and freezer to be sure it is working properly.

Family caregivers can be Detective Foodsafe germ fighters helping reduce the likelihood that their seniors will become victims of foodborne illness.

You can check out more Detective Foodsafe tips and resources here.

Seniorization of Your Home – Caregivers Make Home Safe for Aging

Our population is aging quickly!

According to The Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics, the older population in 2030 is projected to grow from 35 million to 74 million and represent 21% of the total U.S. population.

Today’s seniors are healthier than ever in our history. Aging, however, presents our robust seniors with challenges to remaining independent in their homes as they age. Home safety is a major concern for family caregivers.

Many people want to stay in their homes as long as possible as they age, whether for financial reasons or because they simply love their current home and neighborhood.

Going to live in any type of congregate living situation such as a retirement home, assisted living facility or nursing home is not a dream for most seniors. Most of the time, transitioning to a care facility occurs because seniors and their family caregivers are unable to overcome the physical or medical challenges of aging.

Until that time comes, remaining at home is the goal for most who are currently aging in place.

Staying Safe Aging in Place

Aging in place especially when the home is older can present safety concerns for seniors and their family caregivers.

Unfortunately, the same homes that seniors have enjoyed and in which they have found comfort for years may not be suited to the needs of a senior adult. These homes are not always maintained in the safest condition for those whose need to reach for objects or have diminished movement and balance from aging. Functional decline may require home modifications, whether small or large, to improve home safety for seniors once again.

Family caregivers need to intervene for their seniors to be sure that every part of their living situation is as safe as can be for them. Overcoming and adapting to changes brought on by aging can be done to make their home as safe and livable as possible.

But what can family caregivers do?

On what areas of the house should you focus and where do you start?

Starting now even before you see gaps that need filling will make your senior loved one’s aging in place journey more successful.

Home Seniorization Checklist

Senior Care Corner has created a checklist to help you “seniorize” your loved one’s home.

It will help you consider small and large changes in the home environment that can be done by you and/or home repair and renovation experts before the need for modifications becomes a crisis.

You can download this valuable tool here.

Being proactive to improve aspects of home safety is important for family caregivers to keep seniors safe and living in the home of their dreams as long as possible.

Choosing Urgent Care Or Emergency Room — Tips For Caregivers

Medical emergencies are not uncommon for our senior loved ones who are aging in place. Family caregivers are always at the ready to help their older adults navigate the options for emergency care and get the help they need quickly. Our guest contributor is Traci Blake a senior digital marketing consultant for MultiCare Retail Health based in Washington state. With more than 15 years of experience running digital marketing efforts for healthcare organizations, Traci would like to share her expert tips on how to select which facility can best meet your senior’s emergency medical needs for optimum results.

When you get into a pickle as a senior, it’s essential you get the proper healthcare you deserve. After all, it’s not uncommon for a small issue to get out of hand quickly. But if an accident or other medical concern occurs outside of your primary care provider’s normal hours, you might not know what to do.

Luckily, you typically have two choices: an urgent care center or the emergency room. While these terms are often used interchangeably, there are key differences that separate these healthcare facilities from each other. How to choose between the two often relies on the level of care they provide and the type of medical concern you’re experiencing. These factors often dictate which location you should visit.

A recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claims that only 40% of seniors say they’re health is in very good or excellent condition. Regardless, a sudden spill or trip can be serious enough to put anyone in a hospital bed.

As a senior, it’s vital you get the care you deserve. Here’s how to identify which location is right for whatever medical malady might come your way.

When You Should Go to the Emergency Room

You should visit the emergency room if you’re experiencing a life-threatening issue or an issue you deem life-threatening. When it comes to your health, it’s better to err on the side of caution. If you’re concerned an illness or accident necessitates emergency care, you should always go to the emergency room.

The staff at your local emergency room are adept at treating a range of serious issues, whether you’re a baby or a senior. This includes anything from a serious fall to a sudden heart attack. The staff here are board-certified professionals who use the most up-to-date pieces of technology and medical equipment to treat you for 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Common conditions that are treated by emergency rooms include:

  • Head injuries, including concussions and other forms of trauma
  • Automobile accidents
  • Chest pains and difficulty breathing
  • Symptoms of a heart attack
  • Serious falls that have caused multiple injuries
  • Severe allergic reactions
  • Strokes or stroke symptoms
  • Severe or excessive bleeding
  • Loss of vision or loss of consciousness

The CDC also notes that up to 136.9 million people visited an emergency just last year. However, only 9% of these patients were actually admitted to the hospital. This just goes to show that the vast majority of these emergency room visits can also be treated elsewhere. This is when you should visit an urgent care clinic.

When You Should Visit an Urgent Care Facility

An urgent care center should be visited when you aren’t experiencing a life-threatening issue, but you are unable to visit your primary doctor. This could be because your doctor isn’t open, or you simply need timely care that your doctor can’t provide on short notice. Because urgent care centers typically have shorter wait times, this makes them a popular option for urgent health care needs.

Urgent care centers generally treat minor injuries and illnesses. For example, you wouldn’t go to the ER if you had symptoms of strep, but you might visit your local urgent care. As such, these locations are not often open all day and all night, but they usually keep extended hours during the day. Here are some of the most common reasons seniors might visit an urgent care clinic:

  • Minor fractures, strains, sprains, or pains
  • Small burns, cuts, or bruises
  • Cold and flu symptoms, including nausea, fever, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Any minor issue that might require a lab test or X-ray
  • Seasonal allergy issues

As you grow older, you may find that it’s difficult to maintain your health in the way that you’re used to. While a slip in your 30s might not have spurred a second thought, something seemingly as innocuous is certainly liable to cause more trouble in your 70s. You want to make sure that in case something like this does cause trouble, you’re prepared to enlist the proper care.

If you’re struggling to identify which healthcare location you should visit, this guide will help you get the medical service you need when you need it most.

As with any medical condition, consult with your healthcare team to discuss what is best for your senior loved one so that you are prepared in the case of an emergency.

Additional Resources

For many family caregivers of seniors, a trip to a medical facility or even a doctor appointment can be upsetting. You may enjoy these articles to help you prepare to spend time in the Emergency Room or Urgent Care Center and possibly prevent emergencies in the home.

 

Healthy Hearing Can Help Keep Your Brain Fit

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

 

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

And that’s unfortunate.

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

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

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

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

A Healthy Hearing Check

Annette Mazevski, AuD PhD

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

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

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

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

Support Your Loved One with Hearing Loss

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

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

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

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!

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.

 

 




Seniors with Hearing Loss are Now a Tech Industry Focus

Did you see that comedy sketch / movie scene / television episode making fun of the senior with hearing loss?

It’s really no laughing matter!

According to the National Institutes of Health, one in three older adults between 65 and 74 years old have hearing loss and nearly half of those who are 75 or older have difficulty hearing.

Because hearing loss in older adults can lead to isolation, loneliness, and depression, solutions are important to the well-being of our senior loved ones, especially those who want to age in place.

Unfortunately, fear of being seen as one of those humorous “old people” — and even seen as having diminished mental capabilities — make many seniors hesitant to admit their hearing issues.

Of course, a fear of having to spend thousands on traditional hearing aids feeds the denial of many.

There must be solutions acceptable to more seniors, right?

New Tech Hearing Solutions

We have long been interested in solutions for those with hearing loss after seeing up close what loss of that sense can mean to individuals’ lives.

Fortunately the tech industry, as we saw all over CES 2019, is finally recognizing hearing loss as a problem they can address creatively – – and, for many seniors, at a lower cost.

There is even a buzzword for it – – “hearables.”

Traditional Hearing Aids

Yes, the traditional hearing aid companies were there, with continued advancements in their products. Digital technology has enabled hearing aids to do so much more in providing clarity and bringing returning hearing to those with severe and profound losses.

In addition to high prices (Medicare does not cover them, though some supplemental plans may), the requirement to purchase most hearing aids through hearing specialists rather than online holds some back from buying them. While the arguments for professional assistance with these complicated devices make sense, this process also is seen as keeping the cost of hearing aids high.

Those who checked out hearing aids before and decided they weren’t right for them might want to take another look. New aids have better sound quality and some are nearly invisible, addressing two of the concerns we have heard most.

Earbud Functionality for Hearing Loss

What we found most interesting were the innovation approaches of several developers of ear buds, those headphone replacements that go right into the ear of users, not unlike traditional hearing aids.

Those developers were touting the ability of their devices to enhance sound for those with hearing loss, often through a companion smartphone app (yet another way smartphones are making themselves essential to seniors’ lives).

Not lost on us is the irony that devices seen as causing hearing loss in many can be used to overcome that loss.

We love the idea seniors — or those of any age with hearing loss — can overcome their loss with devices that have become almost ubiquitous instead of needing a hearing solution they may see as coming with a stigma attached (we hate acknowledging a stigma, which we see as wrong and narrow minded, but we have been told by many they don’t want to be seen wearing hearing aids for that reason).

This is an area we want to investigate further and hope to test some devices and report further to you on their effectiveness. They seem like a solution that will find appeal with many and will hopefully provide real benefits.

Cochlear Implants

Cochlear implants have long been a solution for those of all ages with moderate to profound hearing loss who are not getting sufficient benefit from hearing aids.

Have you heard of them before? Rather than amplify sound, as hearing aids do, cochlear implants replace the function of the damaged parts of the inner ear and send sound signals to the brain.

Advances in digital technology have also done much for cochlear implants, providing gains in functionality while also improving the visual aspects of the devices.

We have followed these devices for many years and think they are worth considering for those who can’t get the quality of sound they want from other devices.

Excited About the Future of Hearing Tech

We are excited to see so much attention given to solutions for hearing loss by the technology industry. Older adults and those who care for and about them will benefit.

Sure, it’s easy to say the tech industry is finally recognizing the exploding market size and buying power wielded by older adults. That’s what it takes to get the investment that leads to innovation and products to solve problems.

We look forward to seeing, at CES 2020, the solutions another year innovation in hearables brings to older adults with hearing loss.

Aging in Place Technology Roundup 2019 — Background for Family Caregivers

We believe technology advances are the most important innovations for our future lives and continue to provide information on tech so family caregivers are in the best position to help senior loved ones utilize that tech for healthier, safer, and happier lives.

We have been telling you a lot about what we saw and heard at CES® 2019 on current innovations and those in the pipeline. Today, though, we want to step back and provide some background.

We also want to ask you to help us help you with our technology coverage and hope you’ll take our two-minute survey to help shape our directions with regard to tech and innovation overall.

For family caregivers and older adults, the goal now for technology is to improve the aging experience. It isn’t enough to make a call on a cell phone or play cards on the computer.

How will technology improve quality of life, independence and safety for our senior loved ones?

That is the measuring stick family caregivers are now using when considering adding technology to their senior’s life.

We have come a long way with what is possible and available that can fill gaps and help caregivers meet the needs of their loved ones but there is still more coming that many will find priceless.

Here are some of the latest trends we found that might help family caregivers and older adults learn more about what is possible for them to live their best lives.

Trends and Updates in Technology Useful for Seniors

Innovations in technology are coming at a fast and furious pace. That means family caregivers can find it difficult to keep on top of what devices and gadgets can help them.

It is up to you and your family to decide what problem needs a solution, how to pay for it (some LTC policies may help with the cost) and how best to put it into daily practice. But all that will be worth it with some of these tech solutions.

Here are some you may or may not have heard about yet.

Robotics

Caregivers know companionship and fighting loneliness can be a constant battle. You can’t be there 24/7 to interact or entertain seniors. Robotics may help provide company at the same time they fill a need such as safety or connectivity to you and the rest of their friends and family.

One such companion robot that is coming is called MiRo. It is a social robot, hybrid animal shaped companion robot which operates as a reactive pet. It has 3D eyesight, is both light and touch sensitive, has echo location, stereo hearing packaged in a distinct personality. It will interact easily with your senior. The MiRo Project is from Consequential Robotics.

We thought this short video would provide some valuable insight.

Other companion robots are also available, such as Hector who works with smart home technology to facilitate aging in place independence for seniors.

There are telepresence devices that act as iPhones or tablets on a moving figure such as Buddy, Lynx, PAL, Ohmni Labs or Beam to name just a few of the robots that are out there right now.

Game Playing

How many times have you seen an older adult sitting with their tablet in their lap playing a game? Maybe solitaire, crosswords, puzzles, or Tetris? Perhaps some of the newer games that their grandchildren have downloaded for them like World of Warcraft are their new favorites. How about words with friends playing against and with family members and friends to see who can get the word faster?

We often hear people say playing games is a real time waster and drain on productive time which is often true.

However, research from Simon Fraser University in the Connect Play project shows that digital games bring health benefits to our senior loved ones. Sounds like it is time to play! Study participants played online Scrabble, mahjong, chess, and solitaire.

Apparently needing to play with strategy can improve cognition. Games like Angry Bird can improve their functional status and reaction time in addition to cognition.

Social engagement and cognitive stimulation are improved with gaming. Researchers point out that it is important to not only slow down mental decline with age but also improve social connectedness.

They found that playing games using technology can fight loneliness, isolation and depression that often accompany aging in place older adults even while playing alone since only 30% report playing with others.

Researcher Andrew Sixsmith, who is Professor of Gerontology and Scientific Director of Age-Well, states that devices and games need to be easier to use and more accessible to people.

Laundry List of Current and Future Tech Solutions

  1. Transportation needs met with ride sharing even when seniors don’t or won’t use an app. GoGoGrandparent.com is a service to call a ride using any phone – no smartphone or app needed.
  2. Personal Emergency Response Systems (PERS) has been around for many years but now it are more user friendly and the devices are attractive. Many are invisible to others, as they look like jewelry which reduces their stigma so that seniors will actually use them. Broadband connectivity has also allowed these devices to be used out in the community not just at home which is a great benefit!
  3. Internet of Things, where an ever-increasing variety of devices are connected and work together to make function in a way to make a home’s residents healthier, safer, and more comfortable, as well as communicate with caregivers remotely. Now the devices talk to each other better too!
  4. Apple Watch, which can track health (even taking an EKG), monitor falls, send emails, and make calls!
  5. Voice controlled devices — a growing multitude of devices can be controlled by voice with Alexa or Google — can help seniors get information, music, control home devices, and get emergency help without needing to push buttons.
  6. Medication reminders and pill dispensers help ensure medicine is taken in the proper amounts at the doctor-directed times.
  7. AbleData is a site maintained for the Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute on Disability, Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR) to help learn more about specific products; “database for unbiased, comprehensive information on products, solutions and resources to improve productivity and ease life’s tasks.”
  8. Pathway lighting with remote or motion activated light sensors adds safety around the home.
  9. Dragon voice activated device control program to help type or fill out forms or do email online. Can use with iPhone, iPad or iPod touch for text messages, emails or note files. There is also a version to help control the home PC.
  10. Siri or other voice activated assistants on smartphones or tablets can help with starting apps and getting things done without needing hands-on control.
  11. Technology enhanced rehabilitation programs to improve hand=eye coordination.
  12. Vital sign monitoring devices, such as smart scales, glucose sensors, blood pressure monitor, etc., that link to healthcare professionals and caregivers.
  13. iPad loaded to give medication reminders by audio or face to face check ins with providers.
  14. Home sensors that pattern behavior and monitor connected devices, like medication boxes reporting abnormal activity to caregiver remotely.
  15. Smart clothing that monitors health and sends alerts to caregivers if any changes occur.
  16. Virtual pets, such as GeriJoy and Joy For All pets, in a tablet or robotic form that provide companionship and socialization.
  17. Autonomous vehicles, which will one day help seniors and others get where they need to go without having to drive or rely on others.

Creating Senior Technology They Need and Want

Seniors are the fastest growing group of new computer users right now, as it did take them a bit longer to adopt technology compared to younger adults. But boy are they catching up fast!

One survey found that 71% of caregivers are interested in technology to support their caregiving tasks but only 7% are currently using available technology.

Most caregivers responded that they don’t know what is best for them because there are many options. Increasing knowledge and awareness of the products on the market and how it can improve caregiving.

They might use individual solutions but really want a platform to encompass more devices. They also want peace of mind, they want to be able to check in to see if seniors are safe and don’t yet trust that the current devices are worth the expense.

But have we asked the senior what they want in order to make the effort to use technology?

The Aging 2.0 tech conference entitled “Seniors Shaping Technology: Your Opinion Matters” was a giant leap forward for those in the field of aging who promote connectivity and the latest tech innovations for older adults.

The time has finally come when seniors can have a voice in influencing tech devices and what will actually come to market to fill a need for older adults. In an expo format, each product was reviewed by the seniors for usability, desirability or not interested.

Do they have enough knowledge to even know if they would benefit before they reviewed each item? That is a question that will be answered in the future as more seniors adopt technology and give feedback on their experiences.

There is no question that technology is here to stay and it can help family caregivers improve the quality of life of their senior loved ones. Now is the time to learn more about what is available and how it can help your family.

We will continue to bring you more information and keep on top of the trends in technology helpful for seniors and family caregivers.

Before you go, we really hope you’ll take a couple minutes to complete our survey and help tailor our future technology coverage here at Senior Care Corner®. Thank you for helping us help you!

Family Caregiver Technology Survey — Please Help Us Help You

Supporting family caregivers in your efforts to make better the lives of senior loved ones is the mission of Senior Care Corner®.

One aspect of our work is keeping you informed regarding technology that can, either directly or indirectly, help make seniors’ lives healthier, safer, more comfortable – – or just plain fun.

Through our ongoing coverage of all things technology, including CES® the annual technology innovation showcase, we work to keep you informed regarding tech that is currently available and innovations still in the pipeline.

We have learned over time that the Senior Care Corner audience has a wide range of knowledge, interests, and experience when it comes to technology and thus a variety of needs.

We have developed this short survey to help us better understand your needs and tailor our reporting to better meet those needs. Your response, which should take just a couple of minutes, will be used by us to design our future technology coverage and deliver information to you.

We appreciate your assistance and hope you will pass this along to others as well!

Simply click on your answers below. Please scroll through each of the questions and click “Done” after the last question to submit your responses.

Thank you for your help!

 

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