Wellness Resolutions for 2015

New Year's resolution to exercise more.

Three great lifestyle choices for seniors and family caregivers

Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year to all our friends and families! This is a great time to take stock of our plans for 2015. Have you made your New Year’s resolutions yet? There is no shortage of research on aging and caregiving—findings that can provide motivation for making lifestyle choices to improve the health and well-being of elders and the loved ones who care for them. Here are three resolutions that might be on the list of seniors and family caregivers alike.

Resolution #1: Make time for exercise.

Research continues to confirm that physical activity is the top factor for healthy aging. A startling University of California San Diego study showed that spending most of the day sitting harms the heart—even for people who exercise regularly. Resolve to be more active, even in small ways. Exercise doesn’t have to be in one solid block; fifteen minutes here and there can be just as beneficial.

For seniors: Geriatrics researchers tell us that even frail seniors can benefit from increased activity. Talk to the healthcare provider about an exercise program that is appropriate for your health condition. Look into senior fitness classes, or perhaps a set of home exercises that includes aerobic, flexibility and strengthening activities.

For family caregivers:  Busy family caregivers find that exercise drops to the bottom of their to-do list—or off the list entirely. But these people who do so much for their loved ones should remember that inactivity raises the risk of heart disease, cancer and even Alzheimer’s disease. Exercise is a top way to overcome stress and improve overall health. If you are having trouble scheduling a workout, it might be time to ask other family members and friends to help.

Resolution #2: Spend more time with others.

We used to think of socializing as just a way to pass the time, but research over the past few years has overwhelmingly demonstrated that spending time with others protects the brain, heart, our emotional well-being, and even our immune system.

For seniors: Older adults can be at greater risk of isolation and loneliness. Leading expert Dr. John Cacioppo of the University of Chicago says, “Chronic loneliness belongs among other health risks, such as smoking, obesity or lack of exercise.” Sensory and mobility impairment, giving up the car keys and losing friends who have passed away or moved all make socializing more of a challenge—but it’s worth the effort to find opportunities to be around other people.

For caregivers:  Many caregivers, too, experience loneliness. Even as they are spending a lot of time in the company of their loved one, they miss socializing with friends. Their busy schedule, fatigue, and in some cases, fair-weather friends who stop calling, can leave them feeling isolated and depressed. This year, resolve to make a lunch date with old friends and, in addition, make some new friends. Have you tried a support group? Sharing your thoughts and suggestions with others is a great stress-buster and many long-lasting friendships have begun in this context. Social networking sites, such as Facebook, can also be a good way to stay in touch with old friends and meet new ones. These sites are not as good as “real life” friends, but for many, they offer company and stimulation.

Resolution #3:  Think about your alcohol use.

Do you sometimes have a bit too much champagne on New Year’s Eve and wake up on January 1 with a headache and other symptoms of a hangover? If so, you are not alone. If this was a one-time indulgence, remember to cut back on those toasts next year. But if you drink more than you should on a regular basis, consider that the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has named alcohol abuse by people over 65 as one of the fastest-growing health problems in the U.S.!

For seniors: While there may be some health benefits from consuming a small or moderate amount of alcohol, drinking too much negates those benefits and worsens many health conditions. It damages the liver and can lead to malnutrition and fall injuries. And when seniors mix alcohol with prescription drugs, the combination can be deadly. If you are worried about a loved one’s drinking, encourage him or her to talk to their healthcare provider about counseling or a support group that is geared toward the needs of older adults.

For caregivers:  Caring for a person with a substance abuse problem can quickly become your problem. But remember that you can’t force another person to deal with a drinking problem. Your loved one may be defensive or in denial and may try to conceal the problem. If the conversation isn’t going well, talk to a counselor or specialist. Join a support group for families of people with alcohol dependency. And take care of yourself. (Of course, if you are experiencing drinking problems of your own, now is a good time to get help.)

Source: Assisting Hands Home Care in association with IlluminAge. Copyright © IlluminAge, 2014

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Seniors Want to Age in Place – Are We Ready for the Challenge?


90 percent of older adults have expressed a preference for receiving care at home.


 

As we saw in the previous issue of Hand in Hand, U.S. Census figures show that fewer older adults are choosing to receive care in a nursing home. Yet the projections also shows major growth in the number of seniors who are living with chronic illness. It is clear that our population is aging, and providing quality care for our nation’s older adults is already beginning to challenge our healthcare resources.

This Census information comes as little surprise to the 65 million Americans who are already serving as family caregivers for older loved ones who need help managing health conditions and the activities of daily living. Many of these caregivers are members of the baby boom generation, who are reaching the age when they themselves might be expected to need care! From the local to the federal level, government agencies, too, are taking notice of the financial impact resulting from this population shift. The discussion about how to best (and most cost-effectively) care for our seniors is taking center stage.

The Census study showed that 90 percent of seniors would wish to receive care in their own homes. Is this realistic? Can they be safe and well-cared for even if they are living with age-related illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, or memory loss? Several demographic changes in our society make this more of a challenge than it was in the past:

  • A University of Michigan study showed that almost 40% of chronically ill older adults in the U.S. live alone, and the majority of those who are married have spouses who are themselves facing health challenges.
  • Our lower birthrate equals fewer adult children to help out as parents’ care needs increase.
  • Adult children are more likely to live at a distance, having moved to find employment.
  • A higher divorce rate means more seniors live alone, and family caregivers’ financial and time resources are stretched when parents live in different households, or even in different parts of the country.

The cost of institutional care continues to grow. For some seniors with medically complex health challenges, nursing homes and other residential health facilities may be the best choice. But for many other seniors, home care is the most desirable and cost-effective arrangement.

Dr. Soeren Mattke of the RAND Corporation noted, “The aging of the world’s population and the fact that more diseases are treatable will create serious financial and manpower challenges for the world’s healthcare systems.” He added, “Moving more healthcare into the home setting where patients or family members can manage care could be one important solution to these challenges.”

A wide variety of care services can be provided right in a patient’s home:

Skilled healthcare services can be provided at home and are cost-effective. Visiting nurses and rehabilitation professionals provide skilled medical services in the home. Registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs) perform hands-on procedures such as wound care and IV therapy. Rehabilitation professionals include physical, occupational and speech/language therapists.

Non-medical home care provides companionship and homemaking services that support the senior’s independence, at a much lower cost than nursing care. Caregivers provide supervision, assistance with dressing, grooming and other personal care, laundry and housekeeping, meal preparation, transportation, socialization, and respite for family caregivers.

Dementia support is also available. Even when adult children live close to home, dementia complicates the caregiving dynamic. Trained in-home caregivers who understand the challenges of Alzheimer’s disease and similar conditions can help patients remain at home longer, even as the need for assistance and supervision grows.

“The growing number of older adults with chronic illnesses poses a serious challenge to the U.S. healthcare system,” says Dr. Steven H. Landers of the Cleveland Clinic. “But this challenge is also an opportunity. We may be able to improve the care of these vulnerable patients—and control costs—by taking their primary care to their own homes.”

Source: Assisting Hands Home Care in association with IlluminAge. Copyright © IlluminAge, 2014

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June is Men’s Health Month

June is Men’s Health Month, and leading up to Father’s Day we celebrate Men’s Health Week (which is June 9 – 15 this year). This is a special awareness period first recognized by Congress in 1994 and celebrated around the world. The goal is to educate men, boys, and their families and friends about preventable health problems and to encourage them to be more actively involved in their own health care. In this issue of the Assisting Hands “Hand in Hand” newsletter, we’d like to share information about men’s health, and also about the special challenges faced by male caregivers—a rapidly growing segment of our nation’s caregiving population.

 

Medical exam

 

This Father’s Day, remind Dad to take care of his health!

Father’s Day is a great day to celebrate fathers! It’s also a great day to take stock of men’s health and well-being, to help Dad enjoy many more Father’s Days.

Men lead women in 14 of the top 15 causes of death in the United States. More than half of premature deaths in men are preventable. But many men are unaware that simple screening tests can dramatically improve their health. Here is a checklist from University of Maryland Medical Center experts:

Heart Health. Cardiovascular disease kills almost 400,000 men each year. Risk factors for diseases of the heart and blood vessels, such as high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol, can begin in the thirties.

Unfortunately, many men do not pay attention to the heart and may feel invulnerable to heart disease.

Recommended screenings: (1) Blood pressure. Normal blood pressure in adults is below 120/80. High blood pressure is 140/90 or higher. One out of every four men has high blood pressure, but many men are unaware that they have it. High blood pressure is sometimes called the “silent killer,” because it usually has no noticeable symptoms until other serious problems occur. Blood pressure should be checked at least every two years, starting at age 18, or more frequently if it is at or above 140/90 or if you have other risk factors. Ask your doctor. (2) Cholesterol. Your total cholesterol number should be below 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) and your good cholesterol (HDL) should be 40 mg/dL or higher. A lipid panel test (a simple blood test that measures blood fats such as cholesterol or triglyceride) is recommended for all men age 35 and up, and much earlier if heart disease runs in the family.

Diabetes. This chronic disease can be life threatening if it is not controlled. Complications include: heart disease and stroke, blindness or vision problems, nerve damage, kidney damage, gum disease, sleep apnea and depression. Risk factors include: obesity, a family history of diabetes, high blood pressure, abnormal blood fat levels, and an inactive lifestyle.

Recommended screenings: According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, men age 45 or over, especially those who are overweight, should be screened for diabetes. Testing is also strongly recommended in men younger than 45 who are overweight with one or more risk factors. If results are normal, testing is recommended every three years.

Prostate Health. Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in American men, behind lung cancer. The best way for a man to protect himself is to catch prostate problems early, when chances of successful treatment are better.

Recommended screenings: Two prostate screening tests are advised: a physical exam, and a blood test, called a prostate specific antigen test. Dr. Michael J. Naslund of the University of Maryland School of Medicine recommended that men begin the physical exam and the PSA test at age 50. Two groups at higher risk for prostate cancer—men with a family history of the cancer and African-American men—should begin the screening when they are 40.

Colorectal (Colon) Cancer. Colorectal cancer is the third most common type of non-skin cancer in men, after prostate cancer and lung cancer. Healthcare providers suggest one or more tests for colorectal cancer screening. These include a colonoscopy, which is used to visually examine the lining of the large intestine. Other screening methods include virtual colonoscopy, flexible sigmoidoscopy, and double contrast barium.

Recommended screenings: The American Cancer Society recommends that beginning at age 50, men at average risk for developing colorectal cancer receive a colonoscopy every 10 years; or a flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years; or a virtual colonoscopy every five years. Men with a family history of colorectal cancer or precancerous polyps or a personal history of chronic inflammatory bowel disease should begin screening earlier.

Skin Cancer. Skin cancer is the most common of all cancers. According to the American Cancer Society, men are more likely to develop skin cancers than women. One form of skin cancer, called melanoma, causes about 73 percent of skin cancer deaths.

Recommended screenings: A monthly mole self-exam should be performed by men in all age groups. In addition, starting at age 20, a doctor should do a mole exam every three years. For men 40 and older, a doctor should do a mole exam every year.

Additional Screenings

The University of Maryland team also reminded men to speak with their healthcare provider about the right schedule for dental exams, vision and hearing care screenings and immunizations.

Source: University of Maryland Medical Center.

Learn More

Visit the Men’s Health Network website to find out more about Men’s Health Month, including a free brochure with recommendations for both Dad and Mom, and a poster alerting senior men to scams that might take advantage of their health concerns.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers some great ideas to share with Dad and the other men in your life. You can also send Dad a Men’s Health e-Card.

Source, “Assisting Hands Home Care”

Family Caregivers May Neglect Their Own Physical Activity Routine

Woman in thoughts seated next to a washing machine

 

Family caregivers are busy people! Many are providing many hours of care per week for their loved one, while juggling a full work schedule, other family responsibilities, even caring for children of their own. It’s easy to see why exercise falls to the bottom of their “to do” list. But recent studies show that providing care for an elderly or disabled loved one can take a toll on caregiver health, putting them at higher risk of heart disease, stroke, depression, diabetes—even Alzheimer’s disease. Each of these conditions is directly impacted by the negative effects of inactivity.

According to the American Medical Association, physical activity reduces the risk and slows the progression of a wide range of diseases, including:

  • Arthritis
  • Osteoporosis
  • Heart disease
  • Lung disease
  • Cancer
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Depression

The impact of exercise on brain health is equally impressive. A study from the Radiological Society of North America reports that a regular walking program slows cognitive decline. Families should take note as well: University of Wisconsin professor J. Carson Smith says, “If you are at higher genetic risk for Alzheimer’s disease, the benefits of exercise to your brain function might be even greater.”

Family caregivers should remember that caring for their own health is a vital part of providing care for their loved one. Take advantage of support resources in your community, both formal and informal. Respite time away from caregiving duties allows family to “recharge their batteries”—and that includes exercise.

Source: Assisting Hands Home Care in association with IlluminAge. Copyright © IlluminAge, 2014.

 

Paying for Home Improvements

Selection of tools  house

If you are concerned that paying for senior safety improvements is beyond your means, remember that help is available through…

Community Assistance Programs—Most communities and all states have programs to assist older persons with home maintenance, seasonal weatherization, and needed repairs. Some programs are free of charge, except for the cost of materials, while others charge on a sliding scale, ability-to-pay basis.

Home Repair Loans—Government housing agencies and nonprofit organizations offer loans for home repairs and accessibility renovations, such as ramps, grab bars, and accessible kitchen and bathroom fixtures. Loans may be interest-free, or at below-market interest. Contact your local Senior Information and Referral or Area Agency on Aging to learn about eligibility requirements and a list of sources available in your area.

Reverse Mortgages—A reverse mortgage is a loan against a senior’s house that allows them to convert part of their equity into cash. The loan is paid back when the homeowner sells the house, passes away, or moves out permanently. Reverse mortgages are another area where you need to have your guard up. Be sure to work with a reputable lender, consult with your financial advisor, and do your homework before making any commitments or signing any documents.

Source: Assisting Hands Home Care in association with IlluminAge. Copyright © IlluminAge, 2014.

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When a Senior Loved One Hoards

 

Garage Storage

 

Do you own your possessions, or do your possessions own you? As we grow older, many of us must make decisions about what to do with a lifetime of belongings. In more extreme cases, families find themselves dealing with hoarding, a disorder which becomes more common as people grow older.

Collecting or Hoarding? What’s the Difference?

Hoarding has been a popular subject in reality programs recently, and we often read news items about a senior who is endangered by a home filled with unsanitary clutter. Collecting things is a human trait, and while there is an old saying that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, accumulating items can sometimes grow out of hand. “Hoarding” is the excessive amassing of possessions, including those with no use or value, in a person’s home, office, or even their car.

Almost all of us have a pile of unread magazines stored somewhere … old clothes in the closet that we think we might wear again someday … a spot in our house where mail and other items tend to accumulate for future sorting that doesn’t happen as quickly as we intend. Perhaps we have a collection of shells, frog figurines or decorative paperweights. According to the International Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) Foundation, “Simply collecting or owning lots of things does not qualify as hoarding.” The association points out, “Collectors typically keep their possessions well-organized, and each item differs from others. An important purpose of collecting is to display these items to others who appreciate them.” But hoarding goes beyond collecting. Signs of hoarding include:

  • Bringing more and more items home, even when there is no space
  • Saving junk mail, package materials and obsolete, useless items
  • Compulsive shopping, sometimes purchasing several of the same item
  • Items unopened in their original packaging
  • Difficulty choosing which items to keep and which to discard
  • Lack of organization that makes it impossible to reach or locate items a person really needs.

The home may be so full of possessions that the person is unable to reach the bedroom, kitchen or bathroom. The home becomes dangerous and unsanitary, and the person may be unable to bathe, perform other personal care tasks, or prepare nutritious meals. Relationships suffer when the person is embarrassed to have visitors, or has conflict with friends and family about the condition of their home. This can lead to further social isolation, and a cycle where the person perceives possessions as “friends” that provide comfort and security. Extreme hoarding may even lead to eviction and homelessness.

Why Do People Hoard?

Psychologists don’t completely understand the origins of hoarding. Some experts classify it as a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Others believe it is a separate condition. Stress, anxiety, depression and dementia can all be involved. Hoarding is more common in older adults. It also seems to run in families.

Treatment for this condition can be challenging. People who are struggling with hoarding can seldom get the impulse under control without help. Yet intervention is difficult, especially when the person doesn’t see the squalor as a problem. Family and friends often want to help, but their tidying is likely to be perceived as interference. Social service agencies may step in; many communities today have interagency “hoarding task forces.” Mental health professionals and support groups help people understand the problem and underlying causes. “Organization coaches” and specialized cleaning services can assist in dealing with extremely cluttered home conditions.

Though it may seem like an uphill battle where removing one item causes two more to appear in its place, the final rewards can be great. People who successfully gain the upper hand over their proliferating possessions are not only much safer in their homes, but also feel a greater sense of control over their lives.

For More Information

The International OCD Foundation’s Virtual Hoarding Center offers information for people who hoard and their families; includes a treatment provider database

Children of Hoarders is a non-profit organization to increase awareness and understanding for those dealing with this problem.  

In the Next Issue of Hand in Hand: Cleaning up clutter is an important home safety issue for older adults when excess possessions in the home cause unsanitary conditions and the risk of falling. This is just one step in making the home safer for older adults. In the April 2014 issue of Hand in Hand, find suggestions about home modifications that can make your loved one’s home safer, including a handy checklist to use during a home inspection.

Source: Assisting Hands Home Care in association with IlluminAge. Copyright © IlluminAge, 2014

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When a Loved One Is Living with Chronic Illness, Home Care Can Help

Young nurse and female senior in nursing home

 

Carl worries about his mother, 82, who was recently diagnosed with congestive heart failure. Mom’s condition is complicated by diabetes and osteoporosis. She doesn’t always remember which medications to take, or when to take them. And she says it’s more trouble than it’s worth to prepare a nutritious meal. Mom just doesn’t seem to be taking care of herself these days.

Richard, 64, has early-stage Alzheimer’s disease. His wife Sharon, 55, wants to enable him to stay home as long as possible, but lately he has been calling her at the office multiple times a day. And last week she came home to find two stove burners on and the refrigerator left open. Her employers are sympathetic, but the phone calls are disruptive to all…and Sharon knows her distraction is obvious. “If only I didn’t have to worry about Richard while I’m at the office,” she thinks.

When a loved one has a chronic illness, living independently can be a challenge. Many seniors are dealing with health conditions such as:

  • Diabetes
  • Congestive heart failure or other heart condition
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disuse (COPD) or other lung disease
  • Stroke
  • Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia
  • Visual impairment
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Arthritis
  • Osteoporosis
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Hypertension.

In some cases, when a person’s condition is medically complex, moving to a nursing home or other care facility is the best choice. But most people who are facing health challenges would rather stay in the familiar comfort of their own home. If your loved one is in this situation, home care can help.

Of course, the first step is to ensure that your loved one’s medical needs are met, and that he or she complies with the healthcare provider’s instructions. You might be surprised to learn how many services can be provided right in the home. Depending on a patient’s care needs, registered nurses, nursing aides and home health aides can provide specialized medical services in the home. Home medical equipment and home modifications adapt the home to accommodate health needs. A personal alarm system and other technologies add an extra measure of security.

Less costly in-home companion care also helps many seniors stay at home. These older adults may not need intensive, technical health services, but are still challenged because the activities of daily living have become too difficult.  Some of these tasks may have even been declared off limits by the healthcare provider. Patients may now need help with personal care, making meals, keeping up with the house and yard, getting to doctor’s appointments, or remembering to take medications. They may be coping with pain, mobility limitation, incontinence, fatigue or memory problems—and above all, they may feel lonely and isolated while home alone.

Family members and friends often try to provide the support their loved one needs. But many are juggling caregiving with jobs, children and other responsibilities. Caregiver stress sets in as family find their time resources stretched to the limit—and no matter how much they do, they still worry about whether their loved one is safe and well cared for. In addition, many family caregivers today are at the age when they may have care needs of their own!

Home Care Can Help

Home care can be the perfect solution when you can’t always be there to help your loved one. You can arrange for a qualified home caregiver to come every day of the week, or occasionally as needed. Your home care worker can:

  • Help with housekeeping, laundry and other household chores
  • Assist with personal care, such as bathing, grooming, dressing and going to the toilet
  • Prepare meals, including special diets
  • Transport client to the market, doctor’s appointments, and other trips into the community
  • Provide medication reminders
  • Provide companionship and a sense of security
  • Ensure peace of mind for family caregivers
  • Enable the senior to feel a sense of greater dignity.

For seniors, personal well-being is tied to remaining active, engaged, and as independent as possible. When the home caregiver takes over those tasks that are “just too much,” this allows loved ones to spend their energy on things they truly enjoy—playing a game, going for a walk, a attending social events…the kinds of activities that promote an enhanced quality of life.

A professional home caregiver can be a vital part of the care team…the “missing link” to help the senior, family and the health care team best manage health challenges.

Carl came to visit Mom on Sunday. He found a vase of fresh-cut flowers on the table. Mom’s dress was ironed and her hair styled just the way she likes it. And the refrigerator was full of nutritious snacks, just as the doctor recommended. Mom enthusiastically described the activities she and Joy, the new home caregiver, had done during the week. Carl sighed with relief to see Mom so well cared for.

Sharon’s two-hour presentation to clients at the meeting this morning went great! Afterwards, she realized that she had been totally focused on the proposal—secure in the knowledge that Richard was safe and supervised by the trained caregiver the agency provided.

Source: Assisting Hands Home Care in association with IlluminAge. Copyright © IlluminAge, 2014

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