BALANCING FEAR WITH KINDNESS

BALANCING FEAR WITH KINDNESSThere are many things to fear in our world today, the most recent being the outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus around the world.  But, recent events in my neighborhood completely unrelated to coronavirus reminded me how just easily our fears and biases can cause us to overlook concern for the welfare of others.

I live in a community that is known for kindness and a history of taking care on one another.  Unfortunately, a few criminal events rooted in domestic violence over the span of several months had our very close-knit neighborhood on edge (and the neighborhood Facebook page on fire).  Every “stranger” in the environment became a suspect with unusual sightings reported (and commented on) in great detail.

With this as background, it is no surprise that when doorbells rang unexpectedly at 1:30 in the morning, people responded with fear.  Most people admitted to not opening the door to a stranger in the middle of the night.  The few people who did open the door reported that a menacing-looking middle-aged man dressed all in black said he had lost his phone and asked to come in to use a phone.   He was turned away from multiple houses who reported a fear for the safety of their family.

As it turns out, the man ringing the doorbell was the mentally challenged father of a family who had just moved into the neighborhood.  He had left the house without his cell phone, had gotten lost, and he was himself panicked and afraid.  Gratefully, his daughter found him and was able to return him safely home – but not with the help of our usually kind and generous neighborhood.  Part of the reason people responded as they did was because this man did not “look like” the typical person in need.

I like to believe that had he been a young child or an obviously senile older adult that we would have been more responsive as a community. But, it WAS the middle of the night, and I have still instructed my teenage daughter to NEVER open the door in the middle of the night to a stranger no matter what the circumstance.  So, as a family, we have also discussed that we should have called the non-emergency number for our local sheriff’s department to request a welfare check on the stranger.

We immediately jumped to the fear-based conclusion that the stranger was up to no good when, actually, he was a fellow human in need.  We overlooked the fact that there are options available to safely balance the concern for our own welfare with the responsibility to extend kindness to a stranger.  It never occurred to us to request a welfare check in this kind of a situation, but I have been assured by several local law enforcement agencies that they would have viewed this as an appropriate use of services and would have been happy to come out to ensure the well-being of everyone in our neighborhood as well as the stranger in our midst.

So, whatever your position on the necessity to stock up on toilet paper and bottled water in the face of the current coronavirus pandemic, I hope we all remember to stock up on an extra supply of human kindness.  I have no idea what unexpected needs might present themselves in the coming days, but I plan to do what I can to help my friends, my neighbors and strangers as we navigate this uncharted territory together.  After all, I didn’t stock up on extra toilet paper, and now the store shelves are empty.  So, I hope that one of my neighbors will come to my rescue if we have a toilet paper emergency at my house.  Be safe and be kind!

Written by: Darra Wray

Darra Wray is a Care Consultant and Certified Senior Advisor with My Care Companions in Boise, Idaho, a company she founded to streamline and simplify the administrative side of care.  You can learn more about My Care Companions and the My Data Diary+ family information management software tool at www.mycarecompanions.com.

 

5 COMMON CAUSES OF BRAIN FOG

5 COMMON CAUSES OF BRAIN FOGYou need to stop by the grocery on the way home from work for two gotta-have items. One of the items is coffee, but you can’t think of the other one to save your life.

Every time you sit down to do that report for work, you can’t seem to focus and make any real progress.

Better wait to walk to the end of the driveway to get the mail because your neighbor, that you’ve only lived beside for five years, is in his yard, and you don’t remember his name.  You know you know it, but your brain can’t seem to reach it.

Sound familiar?
Even though you may feel like you’re losing your mind, it could just be a bit of brain fog. Thankfully, you can take steps to clear up the haze after you figure out what’s causing it.

What Is Brain Fog?
Brain fog is not a medically recognized term or diagnosable condition. It’s a common phrase used for a myriad of symptoms affecting your ability to think. Brain fog can include things like memory problems, lack of mental clarity, and an inability to focus, and put thoughts into words. Some people describe it as mental fatigue.

You know – the kind of mental exhaustion where you tell yourself if you can just make it to the weekend, you’ll get some rest. That should help. Next week will be easier. The problem is that when the weekend rolls around, there are a gazillion more things to do and stress about. So, you end up not getting the much-needed rest. Or if you do, it doesn’t seem to help the problem in the slightest.

That’s because to resolve brain fog, you have to figure out and address what’s causing it. 

On a cellular level, brain fog is believed to be associated with high levels inflammation and changes to three primary hormones: dopamine, serotonin, and cortisol. One theory behind the underlying reason for brain fog symptoms is that higher levels of inflammatory molecules, including adipocytokines and histamines, stimulate microglia activation.

Five Common Causes of Brain Fog
According to one study, the most commonly reported brain fog triggers were fatigue, lack of sleep, prolonged periods of standing, dehydration and feeling faint. Sometimes, a trigger can’t be avoided. However, if brain fog is an ongoing issue for you, taking a look at and adjusting your lifestyle habits might be warranted.  Let’s look at some common causes:

1. Stress
In the short-term, stress can make you irritable, anxious,  distracted and forgetful. Over time, elevated levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, can chip away at your physical, mental and emotional healthChronic stress actually damages your brain.  Stress shrinks dendrites, kills neurons, and prevents new cell growth in the hippocampus – essential to memory. While it’s doing all that, it causes your amygdala, the fear and emotional center of the brain, to increase size and activity. This makes it harder for your brain to learn new information and remember it.

2. Lack of sleep
Sleep deprivation can have serious short-term and long-term consequences for your overall and brain health. After just one night of skimping on sleep, the results can be seen in delayed reaction times, glucose levels, mood, headache, impaired memory, and hormone balances. Recent research shows that not getting enough sleep may even shrink your brain. You’ll want to aim for eight to nine hours of sleep per night. But don’t forget, quality matters too.

3. Diet
Diet can also play a role in brain fog. When it comes to your brain, you literally are what you eat. What goes into your mouth has everything to do with what goes on in your head. You have a “second brain,” the enteric nervous system, in your gut which communicates with the brain in your head.

To get the most brainpower out of your diet, you will want to include fatty fishes, foods with probiotics, whole grains, leafy greens and lots of lean protein. If you’re missing essential vitamins and minerals, your brain function will reflect it. For example, a vitamin B-12 deficiency can bring about brain fog.

Also, food allergies and sensitivities can make your thinking fuzzy. The most common culprits are:

  • Processed meat (sodium nitrates)
  • Dairy
  • MSG
  • Alcohol
  • Artificial sweeteners

Dehydration can also contribute to sluggish thinking.

4. Hormonal Changes
Hormonal changes can also trigger brain fog. The brain and entire body rely on a complex symphony of hormones that work to keep one another in check. So, when levels of one hormone fall too low or climb too high, your whole system, including brain function, can be thrown off.

For example, levels of the hormones progesterone and estrogen increase drastically during pregnancy. This change can affect memory and cause short-term cognitive impairment. Similarly, a drop in estrogen level during menopause can cause forgetfulness, poor concentration, and cloudy thinking.

5. Medications and Medical Conditions
Brain fog is a common side effect of many drugs. If you notice symptoms upon taking a medication, talk with your doctor. Lowering your dosage or switching to another drug may alleviate the problem. Brain fog is a well-known side effect of chemo and is referred to as chemo brain.

Medical conditions associated with inflammation, fatigue, or changes in blood glucose level can also be the cause of mental fatigue. For example, brain fog is a symptom of:

  • chronic fatigue syndrome
  • fibromyalgia
  • anemia
  • depression
  • diabetes
  • hypothyroidism
  • autoimmune diseases such as lupus, arthritis, and multiple sclerosis

Diagnosis and Treatment of Brain Fog
No matter what you think is causing your brain fog, it’d be a good idea to get checked out by your doctor. However, there isn’t one test specifically for the condition. When you get to your doctor’s appointment, you can expect to have a regular physical examination with some follow-up questions.

Your doctor may feel additional blood work is necessary to rule out the brain fog being a symptom of a more serious issue. Blood work can identify the basic health markers, glucose levels, nutritional deficiencies, organ function, hydration, and more.

Your doctor can then suggest possible solutions to implement based on the exam, questions, and tests. Treatments are different depending on the determined cause. Your physician may advise you to get more sleep, switch medications, start taking nutritional supplements, or something else. You may need to try out different treatments before you find one that works for you.

Conclusion
Brain fog is an annoying symptom that can arise for a wide variety of reasons. It may feel like you’re going to be stuck in that sleepy mindset forever, but there are plenty of ways to wake your brain up. Try out different treatments until you find one that works. Then, make adjustments as necessary to prevent the condition from returning. One day, you’ll clear away the fog, and the sun will shine again!

Contributing Author: Kayla Matthews writes about wellness, productivity and stress in the modern world for websites like Make Use Of, BioMed Central, and The Huffington Post. To read more posts from Kayla, subscribe to her blog, Productivity Theory.

Source: The Best Brain Possible with Debbie Hampton, Author | Writer | Online Marketer, at: CLICK HERE.

Debbie Hampton recovered from a suicide attempt and resulting brain injury to become an inspirational and educational writer. She is the author of Beat Depression And Anxiety By Changing Your Brain and a memoir, Sex, Suicide, and Serotonin, being re-released next month. Debbie writes for The Huffington Post, MindBodyGreen, and more. On her website, The Best Brain Possible, she shares information and inspiration on how to better your brain and life.

 

Getting the Care You Need via Telemedicine

Getting the Care You Need via TelemedicineKeeping on top of your healthcare needs is now more important than ever, but due to the COVID-19 virus, you may be asked by your healthcare system or local physician’s office to avoid in-person visits. Avoiding in-person visits helps control the spread of the disease and ensures that the most critically ill receive frontline care. But just because you may not be able to see your healthcare provider in person does not mean that you should not seek out medical care.

Telemedicine is a new reality for all of us. To make it easier to connect with your healthcare team, the federal government has temporarily expanded telemedicine services for Medicare beneficiaries to cover virtual visits. Virtual visits currently include various modes of interaction with your healthcare team including video chats, phone calls, and e-mail.

We’ve put together four key tips to help make your telemedicine visit as beneficial as possible:

1. Prepare for the Visit

  • Write down a list of your symptoms and concerns; be specific.
  • Practice what you want to say. That way, you won’t leave anything out.
  • Write down a list of all medications (prescription and non-prescription).
  • Check your technology. (If you do not have a computer, tablet, or smart phone, ask a family member for help.)

2. Find a Quiet Space

  • Turn off background noise such as TVs, radios, and smart speakers.
  • Ask others in your home to keep the noise level down.
  • Allow yourself 10-15 minutes before the video/phone call to collect your thoughts.
  • For privacy, consider using headphones during the call.

3. Tell Your Doctor Everything

  • Summarize your condition, list all symptoms, and explain your concerns.
  • Share any changes in your medical history and any major life changes.
  • Provide any vital signs that you can such as blood pressure, pulse, and temperature.

4. Agree on a Treatment Plan

  • After your doctor tells you something, repeat it back in your own words.
  • Take notes and ask questions such as: What are the risks/benefits of treatment? Are there other ways to treat this? Will insurance pay? Will I need medication?
  • Agree on the treatment plan and any additional tests/medications.
  • Ask your doctor for resources and about follow-up visits.

As with any physician visit, it’s ideal if you can have a friend or family member by your side. That person can be responsible for taking notes so that you can focus fully on your conversation with your doctor.

Important: As of March 30, the federal government is including e-visits (an e-mail exchange via a secure online patient portal) and telephone calls as part of telemedicine. Read more from CMS.

Source: National Coundil on Aging

Senior Fall Prevention

Older Americans Act Reauthorization

Falls among seniors are incredibly common, and can cause serious injuries. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), some 2.5 million adults aged 65 and older in the United States are treated for fall injuries every year. Each year, three million older adults go to the ER for injuries due to falls.

And in a2015 Caring.com survey of 2,000 adults, the more than 500 respondents with a parent or grandparent living alone or with a spouse said they were concerned for those aging relatives’ safety.

Senior Fall Prevention

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Falls can have serious consequences for the elderly. They can cause injuries such as broken wrists, arms, ankles, or hips, and are a leading cause of head trauma. At least 300,000 older adults go to the hospital each year for hip fractures – most of which are due to falling, according to the CDC, and the majority of which will not health well if at all. In 2015, falls cost more than $50 billion, most of which is paid out through Medicare and Medicaid.

Even if your aging parent falls with no injury, they (and you) may become more afraid of falls – which can lead to a decrease in necessary activities such as walking, exercising, and going out with friends and family. This decrease in activity can actually lead to muscle weakness – and increase fall risk.

To help you protect your elderly loved ones from these effects, we’ve put together a helpful guide to help you understand how and why older adults fall, how to prevent falls and what to do after a fall.

  • Causes of Falls Among Elderly Adults
  • Common Consequences of Falls
  • Lifestyle Changes That Can Help Prevent Falls
  • Home Safety Measures for Fall Prevention
  • Medical Alert Systems and How They Can Help After a Fall
  • What to Do in the Event of a Fall

Causes of Falls Among Elderly Adults

Risk factors for falling include:

  • Weakness, especially in the lower body
  • Loss of bone mass that can weaken bones
  • A lack of vitamin D
  • Challenges walking and balancing
  • Using medications that affect balance or may cause dizziness
  • Difficulty seeing clearly
  • Difficulty seeing at night
  • Painful feet or shoes
  • Neuropathy in the feet
  • Blood pressure dropping as an older adult moves from sitting to standing
  • Dementia
  • Hazards around the home, including broken steps, broken or missing handrails, lack of lighting, and tripping hazards
  • Alcohol consumption

Many people have a combination of these risk factors which can lead to falling.

Common Consequences of Falls

When older adults fall, they and their loved ones may be surprised by the severity of the consequences. Falls that once might only have left a bruise and wounded pride can lead to serious injury, fractured or broken bones, or brain injury in your aging loved one. Consequences of falling include:

  • Scrapes, sores, and other wounds
  • Fractured bones
  • Broken bones
  • Head injury
  • Fear of future falls

Unfortunately, injury from a fall can lead to a cascade of events which reduce an older adults independence. The majority of hip fractures in older adults do not heal, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, and can lead to a move to a residential facility. Prevention of falls, and thorough care after a fall, can help aging loved ones maintain their independence longer.

Fear of a fall can lead to a separate set of challenges. Once your aging parent becomes afraid of a fall, she may avoid many situations that seem dangerous. She may cut back on exercise, socializing, or leaving the house. Although these actions may seem like the safest choices, they can make your loved one weaker so that a fall becomes even more dangerous.

Lifestyle Changes That Can Help Prevent Falls

While the risk of suffering a fall increases with age, that doesn’t mean it’s unavoidable. In fact, there are a number of lifestyle changes older adults can make to lower the risk of a potentially life-altering spill.

Senior Fall Prevention

1. Staying Physically Active

Your aging loved one should be engaged in regular, daily exercise that is appropriate for their physical condition. Exercise helps to build muscle strength and can improve flexibility. Aim for a mix of aerobic activity, such as walking, and weight-bearing activities, to keep muscles conditioned. Learn more about chair-based activities, water-based activities, and group fitness activities that not only strengthen the body but keep individuals socially connected.

2. Maintaining a Healthy Weight

Many older adults find their appetite decreasing, and they become underweight. Losing too much weight puts their bones at risk.

3. Quitting Smoking

Smoking cigarettes is correlated with losing bone mass more rapidly. Encourage your aging parent to protect their bones strong by giving up cigarettes.

4. Eating for Healthy Bones

Make sure your loved one is eating a healthy, varied diet and getting plenty of vitamin D and calcium. Talk to his doctor about whether he needs supplements to bolster bone health.

5. Staying Hydrated

Dehydration can make older adults weak and dizzy. Provide plenty of fluids in beverages, soups, fruits, and treats such as popsicles.

6. Limiting Alcohol

As people age, alcohol can have an even greater impact on blood alcohol levels than in the past. Research shows that the more alcohol older adults drink, the greater their risk for hip fractures. Drink minimally if at all, and make sure your aging parent is in a safe situation where she will not be at risk for falling.

7. Getting Enough Sleep

Your aging relative’s sleep needs change with age, but sleep deprivation always increases risk of falling. If your loved one is having difficulty getting the sleep he needs, talk to your doctor.  

Home Safety Measures for Fall Prevention

Despite their concerns, more than half of respondents to Caring.com’s 2015 Fall Prevention Survey said that their senior loved ones living alone lack a number of basic in-home safety items. Features such as raised toilet seats, entrance ramps and shower grab bars can help prevent unintentional falls, while emergency response systems make it easier for seniors to call for much-needed help in the event of a fall.

Senior Fall Prevention

Source: Caring.com Senior Fall Prevention study, 2015

1. Understand what you’re dealing with

Identify, with a doctor’s help, which risk factors for falls your loved one has, besides dementia (which is itself considered a risk factor). The list varies by individual, but for many people with dementia these include such common problems as poor eyesight, poor balance, arthritis, and generalized frailty. People with dementia may also have a shuffling gait, muscle weakness due to past stroke, or neurological problems.

2. Minimize or avoid medications that have been linked to increased falls

Review a complete medication list with the doctor, and ask which ones might cause increased confusion or worse balance in a person with dementia. Medications to especially look out for include drugs from a class known as anticholinergics, which includes drugs for overactive bladder, itching/allergy, vertigo, nausea and certain drugs for nerve pain or depression.

Diphenhydramine, or Benadryl, is a commonly used anticholinergic that’s often included in over-the-counter sleep aids and PM-version painkillers. People with dementia are also more likely to fall when taking sedatives, tranquilizers, and antipsychotics. Finally, blood pressure medicines can sometimes work too well and cause blood pressure to fall when a person stands.

3. Ask the doctor about leg strength, gait, and balance evaluations

These tests help determine physical risk factors. A doctor (or a physical therapist, to whom you may be referred for testing) will watch whether your loved one uses both hands to rise from a chair, for example, which indicates muscle weakness.

4. Ask about vitamin D supplementation

Many (but not all) older adults are deficient in vitamin D. Studies have found that treating vitamin D deficiency does reduce the chance of future falls. The doctor can help identify the right supplemental dose

5. Ask about osteoporosis

Senior Fall Prevention

Whether or not they also have dementia, adults with osteoporosis are more likely to suffer injuries if they do fall. Note: Both older men and older women can suffer from porous bone. But since osteoporosis is more common in women, all women over age 65 should be screened at least once.

6. Consider asking for a referral to a physical therapist or occupational therapist

These experts can work with your loved one to develop exercises that shore up weak spots. They can also evaluate the use of a cane or walker to see if the device (as currently being used) is more help or hindrance. Because forgetting to use devices is a common problem with dementia, a therapist may suggest ways to get around this.

7. Make sure your loved one has an annual eye exam

Low vision is a huge risk factor for falls, and many vision problems come on gradually but steadily. Some, like cataracts, are easily treatable. Also be cautious with bifocal glasses; although they’re convenient, one study found increased falls when people wore bifocals compared to monofocals, possibly because bifocals can make it harder to gauge depth and steps properly.

8. Keep up with foot care

Trimmed nails help people walk more comfortably and therefore properly, yet this is an often-overlooked aspect of eldercare. A podiatrist can also check out other foot-pain issues that may be affecting gait and balance.

9. Get a home-safety assessment

Social workers and geriatric care managers routinely perform these. An expert comes to the person’s home and targets danger spots (including fall risks) and suggests easy improvements. This assessment can focus specifically on the needs of someone with dementia.

10. Consider exercise classes

If your loved one is capable, consider an exercise class to improve strength and balance, such as tai chi or yoga for seniors. Even people with dementia can benefit. Bonus: It might be something you can do together, getting you out of the house.

11. Make sure slippers and shoes are safe and stable

Discourage walking around in stocking feet, loose slippers, or flimsy open-heel styles. Overlooked footwear dangers include new shoes with smooth, unscuffed soles and walking shoes with heavy treads that “catch” on carpets.

12. Remove tripping hazards around where the person walks

Scatter rugs are a top tripper, for example. In the bathroom, you can lay a towel or rug in front of the tub or shower when the person is exiting, if the floor is cold; then pick it up right away.

Also tame unruly extension cords. Better than taping them to the floor is to remove them altogether. Remove piles of old newspapers and magazines and other clutter.

13. Maintain good household lighting

Poor vision is a leading fall-maker. Watch for darkened hallways and stairs that might need more light. Replace burned-out bulbs.

Don’t forget night lighting. Keep the night path to the bathroom lit. Consider using holiday lights, spaced nightlights, motion-detector lights, or simply leaving the hall or bathroom light on.

14. Install grab bars in showers, bathtubs, and near toilets

These allow your loved one to catch him or herself in a fall. Regular towel bars are insufficient; they can be pulled off the wall if grabbed during a fall, often worsening the accident.

15. Brainstorm ways to limit the potential hazard of pets that cause falls

For example, you might consider whether a pet could be limited to one area of the house, or let it wander freely only under supervision. Beware of chew toys and bones that get scattered on the floor, too. Children’s toys can be another hazard.

Medical Alert Systems and How They Can Help After a Fall

Senior Fall Prevention

Your aging parent has a number of options for medical ID and medical alert systems that could facilitate them getting help quickly after a fall. At the most basic level, an older adult may want to wear medical ID jewelry that provides first responders and others information about their medical condition, in the event of an emergency or loss of consciousness in public.

A smartphone is an option in a pinch, however your aging parent might not have their smartphone with them when they fall or a fall might either break the phone or cause your loved one to be unable to use the phone. So you may want to consider other options that can either sense a fall or be as easy to use as pressing a button in the event of a fall.

If you are concerned about falls, your family may want to move to more advanced monitoring systems. You have a number of options in this category, and you will have to answer a number of questions in order to find the best possible system for your family:

  • What is your budget? Each service offered by a medical alert system may have an added monthly fee.
  • Do you want home monitoring or mobile monitoring, or both? If your aging parent needs a device to carry with them while they are out and about, that will be additional to home monitoring. However, an older adult who is homebound might not need a portable option.
  • Do you need a system that works well for the hearing impaired? If your loved one has hearing impairments, make sure the system you need works well for those who do not hear well.
  • Do you want 24-hour monitoring? This is particularly useful if you are concerned that your loved one may fall at night and will need an immediate response. Unmonitored systems are set up so that when your loved one signals that they need assistance, select friends and family will be called automatically to come to their aid.
  • Do you want a fall-detection option? Medical alert systems may not automatically include fall sensing equipment. You might have to ask for – and pay for – this added option.

Comparison shop to find the option that suits your aging loved one best. If possible, involve them so that they can let you know what device they will be most comfortable using.

To help you in your search, visit our comprehensive guide to the Best Medical Alert Systems for Seniors.

If your aging loved one lives independently, you also may want to check in with them daily – or ask friends, neighbors, postal workers, health aides, members of their faith community, or others who are in their neighborhood frequently to check on them regularly. If your loved one lives in a residential facility, talk to the facility managers about how they find out about falls that happen in their residents’ personal living areas.

3 Crucial Steps to Take After a Fall

Senior Fall Prevention

Your decision about what to do after an elderly loved one experiences a fall will depend on the situation. First, encourage your loved one not to try to get up immediately after a fall. It’s best to try to sit up slowly and possibly crawl to either a chair to pull themselves up, or to a phone to call for help.

1. Call 9-1-1

Certain signs indicate a medical emergency that requires immediate attention. Call 911 if:

  • The person is unconscious.
  • The person is having difficulty regaining consciousness.
  • There’s an obvious fracture.
  • The person is in a lot of pain.
  • Something about the nature of the fall warrants concern about spine or neck injury (for example, falling down the stairs or an inability to move).
  • You notice signs of an acute medical problem that could have caused the fall, including chest pain, shortness of breath, or signs of stroke.

2. Visit the Doctor the Day of the Fall

Some falls don’t warrant an ambulance but require medical care because they may lead to complications if not treated.

Get same-day medical treatment from your doctor or a walk-in clinic if:

  • The person has hit his or her head. Older adults are at higher risk for bleeding between the brain and the skull after a head trauma. A CT scan of the head is therefore wise after any head injury. This is critical and requires immediate medical attention if there’s also a worsening headache, nausea, vomiting, or a change in mental status or neurological abilities.
  • There’s been a cut that might require stitches or additional attention. A more minor abrasion can be treated the same way you’d treat one in a child: Wash it, apply antibiotic ointment, and cover the wound.
  • The person reports significant pain in any bones or joints, which could be signs of fracture or bleeding in a joint.
  • The person is no longer able to walk (but could before the fall).
  • The person has less mental or physical function than before the fall (for example, is more confused than usual or has a reduced range of motion).

3. Get a Medical Evaluation

You will likely need a medical evaluation after a fall. If a person is hurt in a fall, the first medical evaluation will probably focus on assessing the injury. Make sure a prompt follow-up appointment is scheduled to further evaluate the possible causes for the fall and to talk about how to prevent future falls.

Here’s what a thorough medical evaluation will likely cover. If the doctor overlooks certain points, don’t be shy about asking why. You can expect:

  • An assessment for underlying illnesses
  • A blood pressure/pulse reading when standing and sitting
  • Bloodwork
  • Review of medications
  • Gait and balance assessments
  • Physical exam to look for underlying heart or neurological condition
  • Vision exam
  • Foot exam
  • Home safety assessment

These evaluations may lead to some solutions that can help prevent future falls. For example, treating illness, giving supplements to address a nutritional deficiency, or adjusting medication can help your aging parent be steadier on their feet.

Some of these evaluations may require visiting more than one medical professional, such as an eye doctor or a podiatrist, or inviting a physical therapist into your home to help make your surroundings safer.

Source: Caring.com

Comprehensive Room-by-Room Home Safety Guide for Older Adults

If you are like many Americans in your generation, you would prefer to live independently in your own residence rather than in an assisted care facility. A growing number of older adults are choosing to age in place, and many adult children are moving aging parents into their home. If you’re considering in-home care as an option, you may need to make some modifications to you or your loved one’s home to make it as safe as possible.

The AARP reports 1 in 4 adults over age 65 take a fall annually, but you can lessen the chances of a fall with some simple adaptations. Many of them can be done in a single day. If you’re an older adult living independently or you are caring for an aging loved one, here are some safety tips to make the home as safe as possible.

Living room

Home Safety Guide for Older Adults

The living room is a great place for the elderly to entertain family and friends. It’s also a great place for them to finally enjoy the rest and relaxation they’ve been working towards their whole lives. But, it can also be a place full of little hazards for an older adult. Read through our tips below to see how you can help make sure your loved one’s living room is properly equipped for them to enjoy in their golden years.

Couches and chairs

Seating should be the appropriate height for older adults. That means that their feet should be able to touch the floor when sitting on the edge and that their hips don’t start too far below their knees, as this can make getting up difficult.

  • Adjust the legs of the chairs and couches to get the proper height or add cushions to help elevate the seat surfaces.
  • All couches and chairs should be stable and not sway or wobble.
  • Make sure that seating is not too low, too soft, or too deep. If you have to rock back and forth to gain momentum to get into a standing position, the chair or couch doesn’t offer enough support. This can present a hazard in terms of hip fractures.
  • Use seating with high arms for assistance in pulling yourself to a standing position.
  • Lightweight furniture is easier to maneuver, which is especially important for dining or activity chairs that need to be moved away from a table in order to sit down.
  • The front of the arm should be flat and able to be grasped easily when sitting or standing. An older person needs to be able to steady themselves as they stand in order to prevent a fall.

Lighting

Home Safety Guide for Older Adults

As we age, weakening eye muscles and a decreased pupil size mean we need more light to see as well as we did before. Lighting in the living room should be bright without being harsh. This will keep visibility high while you or your loved one goes about their daily activities.

  • Install lighting with remotes for older adults who have mobility issuesso they don’t have to reach light switches.
  • If visibility is low in the living room, add track lighting where necessary. This can help increase the illumination in the room to the levels needed for persons over age 65.
  • Different areas of the home require different types of lighting. Hallways, closets, and stairwells should have bright lights. Inadequate lighting in these areas could be associated with a fall.
  • Extra lamps, especially models that turn on and off with a touch, make it more convenient to make the room brighter as evening falls. They increase ambient light levels or better visibility throughout the room and are easily portable.
  • Light quality is as important as increased light levels. Good lighting should decrease shadows, reflections, and glare. Older adults are more sensitive to glare, so while lighting should be plentiful it should also be shielded.
  • Repaint walls a lighter color. A matte finish will reduce glare, and paint with a higher Light Reflective Value will increase ambient light levels in the room. Your eyesight may require two to six times more light than it did when you were younger.

Windows and temperature

Windows should be well insulated to keep heat out in the summer and keep heat in the winter. Extreme temperatures can make anyone sick, but older adults lose body heat faster than when we are young. Being in a very cold house can lead to hypothermia, and a chill can become dangerous before you are even aware of what is happening.  

  • Check that all window seals are tight and not letting any air escape. This ensures you aren’t losing heat through the windows, which could put you at risk for hypothermia.
  • Use heat-control window film or install double-pane windows that are better insulated. This can prevent the house from becoming too cold, and your body temperature from falling below 95 degrees, the point where health problems may occur.
  • Add curtains and shades to any large windows to help control lighting and temperature in the living room.
  • For safety, keep your windows locked at all times. This can help protect older people from abuse.
  • Set your heat to at least 68 to 70 degrees. Older people may be tempted to save on electric bills by turning down the heat, especially as inflation means retirement savings need to stretch further.
  • To save on heating bills, placed a rolled towel in front of doors to keep out drafts and close off rooms you aren’t using.
  • Avoid space heaters, which are fire hazards and can cause carbon monoxide poisoning. This is true for adults of any age, but carbon monoxide is a deadly gas you cannot see or smell, so it is especially important if you live alone.

Flooring and walkways

There are many great non-slip flooring options that are easily installed that can reduce the risk of a fall if your older adult has slick wood or tile flooring. If an older person falls, they have a decreased chance of a fast recovery. It’s important for an older adult to have flooring that is safe to walk on, and easy to maintain.

  • Keep all walkways free of obstruction and remove any clutter around the living room that could be a trip hazard.
  • Remove rugs that slip easily or curl up at the edges as this is also a major trip and fall hazard.
  • Add a hail railing for greater stability while walking.
  • Use carpet staples to secure the carpet, non-slip rug liners and double-sided rug tape to keep rugs in place. Carpet that is torn and lifted up in areas can cause a tripping hazard. Likewise, rugs that slide easily or curl up at the corners are also a major tripping hazard.
  • Replace rugs and carpet with soft wood or wood-like flooring. This can make getting around easier and safer. 
  • Always wear proper fitting shoes with low heels.
  • Apply non-slip wax to hard floors. Linoleum floors offer some cushioning in case of a fall and are anti-microbial, which could benefit older adults with weak immune systems. Non-slip vinyl floors don’t require wax and provide added stability for those wearing rubber-soled shoes.
  • Avoid tile and natural stone. A surface as hard as tile or stone could lead to a broken pelvis or hip, which could be life-threatening.

Bedroom

Home Safety Guide for Older Adults

A bedroom is a place of rest, peace and quiet, security and safety. But, given that it is often dark and used when an elderly person is tired and not in the sharpest mindset, it’s imperative that the bedroom is designed for comfort and ease-of-use. Here is a list of items and actions to help you ensure your elderly loved one’s bedroom is safe.

Closets and other storage

Home Safety Guide for Older Adults

Items stacked high in closets, bulky furniture taking up too much space, and clothing cluttering the bedroom are all causes for concern. After many years of life, it’s natural to have accumulated belongings.

Sentimental items and piles of paperwork, such as tax returns and newspaper clippings, can make it hard to find the things we use every day. Clearing out large items makes for better walkways and easier access to necessary things like clothing. The first step to resolving a clutter issue is to simply get rid of things. Don’t try to tackle too much at one time. Three hours is a good time limit to give yourself. This allows you to refocus and feel positive when you return to the task.

  • Prepare three boxes labeled 1) keep, 2) toss, or 3) sell/donate. This makes the task of sorting easier, and allows you to stop at any point you begin to feel tired.
  • When you finish for the day, put away your keep items and put your toss items into the garbage.
  • Be realistic about your storage space. If you’ve downsized in your later years, the possessions that moved from your previous home may need to be downsized as well.
  • If the items have sentimental value, think about getting a storage unit to store them in. Items we love may define us as individuals or remind us of the loved ones we have lost. You should decide which items are most important and keep the items that you love.
  • Use small, lightweight storage containers and install shelving to help you or your loved one get organized.
  • Consult your attorney or accountant to see which financial papers you should keep, and which you can toss. In this age of digital files, keeping 30 years of paperwork isn’t necessary.

Lighting

Home Safety Guide for Older Adults

Lighting in the bedroom is important for any time of day. Lighting throughout the house, but especially in the bedroom, should be easily accessible.

  • Lighting with remotes ensure you or your elderly loved one doesn’t have to get up and search for the switch in the dark.
  • Nightlights and low wattage string lighting can stay on at all times for those late night trips to the kitchen or bathroom.
  • Run string lighting along baseboards to light the floor to and from the bathroom or kitchen. These are paths we all frequent regularly, and often at night. String lighting will improve visibility for nighttime trips to the bathroom or to get a glass of water.
  • Check batteries and bulbs regularly to make sure everything is still working.
  • Check the wattage of your light fixtures before increasing the wattage. You never want to exceed the maximum wattage of a lamp or light fixture. If you need to increase ambient light for better visibility, add track lighting or another lamp.

Bed height and railings

Getting in and out of bed gets tougher as we age, but there are simple fixes in bed height that can make this process much easier. When sitting on the edge of the bed, your knees should be parallel or below your hips. Likewise, your feet should always be able to touch the floor when sitting on the edge of the bed.

  • Many bed frames allow for height adjustments, preventing difficulty getting out of bed. A frame that is the wrong height could cause you to use rocking momentum to rise, which can increase the risk of a hip fracture and/or fall.
  • Change the size of the box spring or mattress to get the best height.
  • Bed rails prevent falls in the middle of the night and offer extra support when getting in and out of bed.
  • Consider purchasing an adjustable bed rail with LED nightlights to make it easier for an older adult to get in and out of bed when it’s still dark and visibility is low.
  • Make sure that the bed rail can be operated correctly by whoever is using them, especially if the person is going to be at home alone.
  • Check the weight limit on the bed rail to make sure that it is appropriate for you or your loved one to use.

Bathroom

Home Safety Guide for Older Adults

The bathroom is full of hard, slippery surfaces which makes it a common place for falls and injuries at any age, but especially for the elderly. Read through our tips below to see how you can secure a bathroom and prevent any mishaps for your elderly loved one.

Mats and shower controls

The shower might be the most dangerous place in the house for an older adult since it’s so easy to slip and fall, and a fall can be so dangerous given a shower’s hard surface. It may also be hard to be heard over the shower or to reach a phone to call for help. You may want to remove locks on bathroom doors so that if someone does need to assist, they are able to get inside without delay.

  • A rubber mat or non-stick decals should be among the first things installed in an older adult’s bathroom. They are cheap and easy to put in and make a huge difference in the traction at the bottom of a tub, preventing a fall.
  • A handheld showerhead on a sliding rail allows for individual adjustment, making it easier to shower while seated.
  • You’ll want to pair this with an ADA-compliant grab bar for safety, as a handheld showerhead is too flimsy to grab onto during a fall.
  • The thermostat for the shower water should be set no higher than 120 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent scalding. Age-related sensory loss, thinner skin, and decreased mobility could lead to burns if the water temperature is set too high.
  • Sink, tub, and shower anti-scalding devices recognize when the water is too hot and stop the flow. If an individual has compromised health or is undergoing chemotherapy, the increased bacterial growth from a lower water temperature may not be suitable. In these cases, an anti-scalding device can protect against burns. They are relatively inexpensive and easy to install. They are best used when a caregiver is present, since the water may need to be manually remixed to the proper temperature.
  • Hot and cold shower levers should be easily identifiable for the older adult using them, especially since visibility may be lower in the shower without visual aids such as glasses.  

Grab bars and seating

room by room senior guide sink

If the towel racks in your elderly loved one’s bathroom are loose, that is a clear sign they’re using them for support. Towel racks are not designed to act as grab bars and can easily be pulled out of a wall, causing a fall. Instead, install grab bars in and around the shower, near the toilet and anywhere else they may need support.

There are a few seating options to consider for the bathrooms of an elderly loved one. Each option helps older adults who struggle with getting up and down from different heights. Adding a seat to the shower helps older adults who have a hard time standing for long periods of time. It also gives them a stable place to rest while showering.

  • A vertical bar should be installed at the tub edge. If you are having a hard time getting in and out of your tub, a grab bar can make it easier.
  • An angled bar should be installed on the long back wall of the tub.These bars give you something sturdy to grasp in case of a fall.
  • The best location for the bars depends on who will be using them, so discuss placement with your loved one before installing them.
  • Grab bars don’t have to make your home look institutional. “Designer grab bars” are both sturdy and stylish. Some even serve double duty as towel racks and toilet paper holders.
  • Shower transfer benches allow you to sit and slide into and out of the shower easily. This can help if you are having a harder time getting in and out of the shower due to decreased flexibility.
  • Raised toilet seats decrease the distance an older adult has to sit when using the toilet. Most raised toilet seats will fit directly onto the bowl, making installation easy.

Medication

Keeping an older adult’s medication organized and easily within reach is incredibly important. Install a medicine cabinet that can be reached easily and consider keeping medications in a daily pill organizer.

  • If the bathroom becomes cramped with medications, it may be best to move medications to the kitchen where it’s easy to remember to take them with meals.
  • Make and maintain a medicine list that includes all the medications you or your loved one takes (including OTCs or herbal supplements), the name of the healthcare provider who prescribed them, and how often and at what dosage you should take them.
  • Check expiration dates, and discard expired medications safely.
  • Keep all medications in the bottle or box they came in so instructions are close at hand.
  • Store medications safely out of reach of pets and visiting grandchildren.

Kitchen

room by room senior guide kitchen

The kitchen is a central place in any home and a room in which family members spend plenty of time. Be sure it’s well-equipped for your elderly loved one with the below tips.

Storage

A kitchen should be rearranged as needed to make daily use items accessible so that you have easy access to cookware and canned goods. This puts less strain on your back and knees. Having everything is at hand and conveniently located makes it easier to make healthy meals without extra work. It also prevents you from buying things you already own.

  • Be aware of any items that are too high or too heavy for an older adult to reach.
  • Move pots, pans and any other kitchenware to the lowest shelves possible.
  • Pull-down shelves are great for storing items in hard to reach areas.
  • Consider storing heavy items like mixers, cast iron skillets, dutch ovens, and food processors on the counter and not below waist level, as lifting heavy items from low surfaces can cause injury.
  • Spice racks and lazy susans are great space-saving options for decluttering spice and condiment cabinets.
  • Store cleaning products and hazardous items separately from food.

Old food

room by room guide old food

It’s common for an older adult’s appetite to dwindle. If the older adult in your life is experiencing a loss of appetite, exercise and staying hydrated can help boost hunger. While boosting their appetite should be the ultimate goal, a loss of appetite can lead to old food accumulating in pantries and the fridge. Ingesting expired food can make anyone sick, but adults over 65 are even more susceptible to food poisoning.

  • Double-check expiration dates on all canned and fresh food items.
  • Instead of relying on a sight or smell test before eating, always use a food thermometer to check the doneness of meat, poultry and egg dishes.
  • Label leftovers with a date and throw away items that are more than a day or two old. Don’t rely on your memory.
  • If you need glasses, be sure to wear them when handling food.
  • Making simple dishes allows you to save your energy for cleanup. Rather than spending time on extensive prep work such as chopping vegetables, buy pre-chopped frozen vegetables.
  • Refrigerate leftovers immediately and use a food thermometer when reheating, to ensure they’ve reached the proper temperature. Everyone should follow this rule, but chronic conditions such as arthritis or cardiovascular disease may weaken the immune system.
  • Set up a support system of friends and family to help with meals and cleanup. This can help keep your nutritional needs met and your kitchen sanitary when your energy is low.

Emergencies and fire safety

As we grow older, decreased mobility and hearing loss can make it hard to respond quickly to an emergency. Fires are a serious risk for older adults, but they can mostly be prevented by taking a few extra steps.

  • A list of emergency contact numbers should be placed on the front of the fridge, along with any other important contact information an older adult may need.
  • If your loved one has a smartphone, label any emergency contacts with the abbreviation ICE (in case of emergency). If someone finds your loved one they can check who best to contact first. This is a good tip for anyone at any age.
  • A working fire extinguisher should be placed in an easy-to-reach spot in case of emergency.
  • If you have multiple floors, you should keep a fire extinguisher on every floor.
  • Move flammable items like curtains and paper towels as far away from the range/stove as possible.
  • An automatic shut-off range means you never have to worry about your loved one leaving the oven or stovetop on again.
  • Install smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, and test them regularly.
  • Kick the smoking habit, or help your loved one to cut out cigarettes. Smoking is the top cause of fires for older adults.

Outside/garden

room by room guide outside garden

Spending time working in the garden and enjoying the outdoors is a great way for older adults to stay active. But, it’s no secret that yards and gardens require lots of upkeep and can pose a risk of falls and other injuries. Take a look at our tips below to help keep your older adult’s outdoor space safe.

Snow removal and other maintenance

Older adults should get help removing snow and ice from their sidewalks and driveways. The best option would be to hire a year-round yard maintenance crew that will mow the yard in the warmer months and shovel snow in the colder months.

  • Install snow melting mats along walkways to help keep the snow down if hiring a maintenance team is not an option.
  • Be on the lookout for slip-and-fall hazards such as leaves, fallen branches, the garden hose and especially ice. Make sure walkways are clear of bikes, lawn ornaments and grandchildren’s outdoor toys.
  • If your loved one still wishes to maintain their own yard, encourage them to always do yard work with a friend and make sure they work within their limits.
  • You should always stay hydrated and stay away from caffeine and nicotine while doing yard work, as these can stress an older person’s heart when working hard.
  • Be realistic about what you are able to do, and seek assistance for the remainder.
  • Take a few minutes to stretch and warm up your muscles before engaging your muscles. Try to switch up tasks every half-hour so you avoid repetitive-use injury.
  • As for any adult, you should always lift properly. Bend at the knees and not the back. Use a wheelbarrow or cart to transport anything heavy so that you avoid straining your back.
  • Wear gloves and protect your body with lightweight long-sleeve shirts and pants. Physical (zinc- or titanium-based) sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat may help prevent melanoma and skin damage on thinner skin.

Motion detectors and fencing

room by room guide garden

For loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease or other conditions that make them prone to wandering, there are a few tips you can implement to help reduce their chances of getting lost. A GPS tracker can be a lifesaver, and those designed for older adults have functions that include emergency buttons and health metrics. They can give you peace of mind, knowing that you can locate a loved one should they become lost.

  • The most effective thing you can do is install a fence in the front and back yard.
  • Add obvious indicators around entrances like large flower pots and easily recognizable yard art to help remind them of where they are and where they need to go.
  • Modern GPS trackers are discrete, able to be worn as a necklace or watch or carried in the bottom of a bag.
  • Motion detector lights and solar lighting to illuminate walkways and entrances at night are a great option for anybody, but especially seniors.
  • Motion detector lights can also serve as a deterrent to intruders who may try to steal from or harm your older loved one.

Doorbell

room by room guide doorbell

Any home is improved by a good doorbell. There are a few doorbell options that can be helpful for older adults. Doorbell technology with louder sounds and more convenience mean the difference between missing or receiving an important visitor or package.

  • Install a particularly loud chiming doorbell to help alert an older adult with decreased hearing that someone is at their door.
  • Most doorbells have volume adjustments, so you may just need to adjust the one already in place to a louder setting.
  • Install a doorbell that flashes a strobe light inside. A flashing light that goes off when the doorbell rings can alert older adults hard of hearing that someone is at the door.
  • A doorbell with an intercom system lets you know who is ringing before you answer.
  • Smart video doorbells allow you to view and speak to your visitors without getting up and view a video clip when motion is detected.

With some small measures, you can adapt your or your loved one’s home to make it safer and easier to navigate. By making simple modifications such as adding grab rails, more light, and eliminating clutter, you or your loved one can live comfortably in the home for years to come. Once you’ve created a safe space at home, you’ll also want to consider vehicle safety, whether you are driving your loved one on errands or they are still driving themselves.

The best vehicles for older drivers are the ones that have above average visibility, a high number of safety features, and easy-to-use control panels. You’ll also want to make sure you have excellent coverage in car insurance, as should drivers of all ages.

Source: The Zebra

Create Your All-Star Care Team in 5 Steps

In this country, there is a growing problem regarding a lack of supportive resources for family caregivers. There are government programs, charities and nonprofits that might be able to help intermittently, but what caregivers often need most is sound advice, regular respite and an extra set of hands.

Friends may scatter when one begins caring for a spouse or parent, and not everyone has siblings or other family members they can depend on to share the load. It is crucial for each caregiver to take inventory of their personal supports in order to utilize their help as efficiently as possible. A carefully selected care team is a necessary complement to a loved one’s plan of care. Use these five steps to build your team.

Step 1: Draft a List of Prospective Team Members

Write down the name of each family member, friend or neighbor that you interact with on a regular basis. Forego any initial judgements or doubts about their usefulness in your care plan. You want to avoid limiting any potential sources of assistance from the very beginning, so just let the ideas flow.

Step 2: Assess Each Individual’s Strengths

Now is the time to assess the strong suit of each person on your list. Is your best friend financially savvy? Can your cousin listen to you vent without interrupting or casting judgement? Does your neighbor offer to keep an eye on Mom when she’s tinkering outside in the garden? Each of these people has specific talents or capabilities that can help you execute your care plan, and most have something to contribute, whether big or small. However, be sure to factor in each person’s attitude before asking them to join your team. Your sister may have plenty of free time to drive Dad to and from doctor’s appointments, but if she brings negativity or criticism to your regular routine, then the drawbacks may outweigh the benefits of her involvement.

Step 3: Create Your All-Star Care Team

Revise your remaining list to create a foolproof roster of people who will assist you with hands-on care and day-to-day tasks. Do not include anyone who may make your duties more difficult. This is your go-to tool for getting outside help, whether it is planned well in advance or needed at the last minute. Include each person’s contact information and, if possible, an outline of their weekly schedule. This will help you quickly reference when a team member is available to pitch in.

Step 4: Assign Roles for Each Member

Once you have narrowed down your list to reliable, positive individuals, identify specific tasks in your care plan that would be a good fit for each one. Friends and family often wish they could help, but they are usually unsure of what would be useful to contribute. Individuals who have never walked in a caregiver’s shoes tend to have a difficult time understanding all of the responsibilities that are involved.

It is best for caregivers to be very specific about the kinds of assistance they would appreciate. For example, if your son lives nearby, ask if he can tend to yardwork or any home maintenance projects once or twice a month. If you struggle to prepare dinner on Wednesdays (your busiest day of the week), see if Mom’s friend from church can pick her up for a weekly dinner date. The goal of creating this team is to be able to meet your loved one’s needs (as well as your own) without every single responsibility falling solely on your shoulders. A care plan that lacks meaningful support and respite time is not viable over the long term.

Step 5: Add Some Pros to Your Team

Relatives and friends aren’t the only ones to recruit for your care team. You may feel most comfortable with these people helping out because you know them personally, but remember that not everyone has the personality, time or resources to be even a part-time caregiver. Fortunately, there are a number of professionals who can facilitate the technical aspects of providing care. A financial planner can assist with complicated fiscal decisions, an elder law attorney can ensure that you and your loved one are legally prepared for the future, and a geriatric care manager can coordinate the care your loved one deserves. A social worker or advisor at your local Area Agency on Aging (AAA) can help you find and apply for federal, state and local resources that can assist you in your caregiving duties.

Any remaining gaps in your care plan can be filled by paid caregivers and other services. For example, in-home care and adult day care services can provide supervision and stimulation for your loved one when you need to run errands, attend your own doctor’s appointments, enjoy some respite time or go to work. If housekeeping rarely fits into your daily or weekly routine, then hire a cleaning service or arrange to have these tasks added to your home care professional’s responsibilities. Healthy meal delivery, pre-sorted prescription medications, and transportation services are some other options that can simplify your schedule and reduce your workload.

A comprehensive team assists with daily duties and can provide valuable back-up care in instances when the primary caregiver cannot see to their responsibilities. The more support a caregiver has, the less likely they are to experience burnout and the more sustainable the care plan will be.

Who Should Join Your Care Team?

  • Family and Friends
    • Siblings
    • Significant Other
    • Adult Children
    • Close Friends
    • Neighbors
    • Members of Local Community or Religious Groups
    • Grandchildren
  • Professionals
    • Physicians (Primary Care and Specialists)
    • Elder Law Attorneys
    • Geriatric Care Managers
    • Social Workers
    • Financial Advisors
    • Pharmacists
    • Home Care Agencies and Professional Caregivers
    • Adult Day Care Centers
    • Charities, Organizations and Support Programs
    • VA, Medicare and/or Medicaid Advisor(s)

See also: Care Plan 101: Set Yourself Up for Success As a Caregiver

Source: AgingCare by Ashley Huntsberry-Lett

Forming Your “Circle of Help”

Forming Your “Circle of Help”

Never go it alone. The best way to stand up to Alzheimer’s is to gang up on it.

The best way to defeat Alzheimer’s is to come together and gang up on the disease. If you or your spouse have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, please know that you are not alone. Right now, thousands of Alzheimer’s researchers, doctors, nurses, caregivers, support groups, and long-term care facilities are fighting for you on many fronts.

One of the most important fronts, of course, is the home front. My new book, Mike & Me, is one of several new books to chronicle the changing face of home care among Alzheimer’s couples and caregivers. Together, we are learning how the astonishing power of love, patience, compassion, and stay-at-home care can be mobilized by virtually every couple to help Alzheimer’s patients defy the old statistics and live a longer, fuller life.

My Husband and I Made A Deal

Early in my husband Mike’s 10-year journey with Alzheimer’s, we made a mutual commitment: As long as it was safe for him and me, Mike and I would live together in our home and make the Alzheimer’s journey together. Our goal was to keep Mike’s life as normal as possible for as long as possible, and that would entail staying in our home and community. It turned out that keeping that commitment to Mike was only possible because of a circle of friends and family who gradually formed around us and helped us every step of the way.

Looking back, I now realize that one of the most important things Alzheimer’s couples must learn in the early going is to simply reach out for help from friends and family. That probably sounds too obvious to mention, but you would be surprised to learn how many Alzheimer’s couples try, initially, to go it alone in their care. My husband Mike and I were one of those couples in the beginning. You see, we weren’t accustomed to asking people for help or bothering others with our difficulties. In the past, whenever a problem arose, Mike and I had always turned to each other for help, and, at first, that’s how we tried to deal with Alzheimer’s too.

Forming Your Circle of Help 

So why do I tell you these things? I tell you because I want you to believe that your “circle of help” – your friends, family, neighbors, and community – is waiting for you, too, if you will only let yourself reach out.

Perhaps like you, my challenge in the beginning was to simply open up to the idea of accepting help from others. But once I opened up, I quickly learned two things.

First, I was surprised at how many people were more than willing to help Mike and me. And second, I didn’t have to accept everyone’s help; I could still be selective about who I would let into our circle.

As time went on, I eventually built a small team of people – kindred spirits – who were helping me care for Mike. I like to think of them not just as a team, but as a “circle” of thoughtful people who surrounded us and helped care for our physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. It felt like such a natural process. One by one, along came certain friends and neighbors who thoughtfully recognized that we had a need of one kind or another and offered to help, each in his or her own way.

You may not know it yet, but you, too, have a circle of support quietly waiting for you. Watch for it, welcome it, be thankful for it. Yes, it’s a little scary at first to allow people in when you feel most vulnerable. But if you do plan to stay in your home together, rather than go to a care facility, then you too will have to turn to a circle of caring people who can help you.

Source: UsAgainstAlzheimer’s by Rosalys Peel

7 Common Flu Myths Debunked

Myths about the flu are everywhere. Is what you hear true, or is there too much misinformation floating around? Debunk the seven most common myths about influenza.7 Common Flu Myths Debunked

Myth #1: Getting Vaccinated Can Give You the Flu

According to the National Foundation for Infectious Disease, there is no way that the vaccine can make you sick. Vaccines only contain a weakened or inactivated form of the virus, which cannot infect you. The truth is that people often mistake the side effects of the vaccine for the illness itself. Side effects of inoculation may feel like mild symptoms of the flu, but soreness around the injection site is typically the only symptom people experience. Keep in mind that flu season (which generally lasts from October to March) coincides with a time of year when bugs causing colds and other respiratory illnesses are in the air. It is possible to get the vaccine and then get sick with a completely unrelated cold virus within a few days.

Myth #2: There Is No Treatment for the Flu

There are three FDA-approved antiviral drugs that are highly effective against the flu. Tamiflu (oseltamivir) is available in pill and liquid form, Relenza (zanamivir) comes in powder form, which is inhaled, and Rapivab (peramivir) is administered intravenously. While these antiviral medications do not cure the viral infection, they can minimize symptoms, reduce the amount of time you are sick by one or two days and make you less contagious to others. Furthermore, treatment can prevent complications of the flu, like pneumonia, which can be especially dangerous for older individuals. It’s best to take these drugs within 48 hours of getting sick, so do not hesitate to make a doctor’s appointment if you or a loved one have symptoms of the flu.

Myth #3: Antibiotics Can Fight the Flu

Antibiotics only fight bacterial infections. Since influenza is a virus, antibiotics have no effect. Furthermore, overuse and misuse of antibiotics can result in reduced effectiveness against the bacteria they are actually intended to kill and even “superbugs” that are entirely resistant to these treatments.

Myth #4: You Can’t Get the Flu More Than Once During Flu Season

You can certainly contract the flu more than once a year, because there are many different strains of the influenza virus. There are two main types of flu, Type A and Type B, and there are also different subtypes of each. It is possible that you could get infected with one strain and then another during a given season, especially if you have a compromised immune system.

Myth #5: If You’re Young and Healthy, You Don’t Need to Get the Vaccine

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that everyone over 6 months of age get vaccinated each season. Healthy adults are just as susceptible to the virus as other demographics. If you are caring for an aging loved one, simply getting them vaccinated only provides some protection. You and other family members should also get the vaccine to avoid endangering their health.

Myth #6: Cold Weather Causes the Flu

The influenza virus is spread year-round. Contrary to popular belief, going outside during winter without a hat on does not directly increase your risk of getting sick. Influenza peaks in fall and winter for a few different reasons. Scientists speculate that the flu virus thrives in cooler, low-humidity environments. Of course, during the colder months, people tend to spend more time cooped up indoors, making it easier for the virus to spread from person to person. Furthermore, less time spent outside means that most people experience drops in vitamin D during winter that can weaken the immune system. All of these factors contribute to the timing of flu season, which is the same throughout the whole country, even in warmer states like Florida.

Myth #7: If You Haven’t Gotten a Flu Shot by November, It’s Too Late

Flu season often peaks between December and February, but the timing can vary. Some years heightened flu activity has lasted until May. No matter how late it is, if you have not been vaccinated yet, go get it done. You could spare yourself and your family a great deal of misery.

The Facts: How to Avoid Spreading the Flu

Influenza spreads from person to person, often through the air, and you can pass on the infection even before you begin feeling symptoms. An infected individual is also contagious for several days after the onset of symptoms. Infection can stem from a contagious person near you coughing, sneezing or talking, or even from touching a surface that the virus is on, like a telephone or doorknob.

To avoid contracting and spreading the virus, use the following tips:

  • Clean your hands regularly with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. This is especially important after you touch a sick person, common surfaces, used tissues or laundry.
  • Individuals with the flu should cover their mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing and sneezing to avoid spreading the virus to others.
  • Immediately throw away tissues and other disposable items used by an infected person.
  • Once diagnosed, talk to a healthcare provider about taking antiviral medication to prevent the virus from spreading to other family members, coworkers or friends.
  • Keep surfaces like bedside tables, bathroom surfaces, doorknobs and children’s toys clean by regularly wiping them down with a household disinfectant.
  • Do not share eating utensils, dishes or cups with a sick person. These items do not need to be cleaned separately, but they should not be shared without washing thoroughly first.
  • Wash linens (such as bed sheets and towels) by using household laundry soap and tumble dry on a hot setting. Use a basket to transport laundry prior to washing to prevent contaminating yourself.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth to minimize the likelihood of contracting the flu and other viral infections.

Source AgingCare  Marlo Sollitto

FEED YOUR BRAIN: TIPS FOR BETTER BRAIN HEALTH

FEED YOUR BRAIN: TIPS FOR BETTER BRAIN HEALTH

Spend some time with the 50-plus age group and it becomes clear that memory and brain function are hot topics.

With many baby boomers encountering changes in their  brain function—causing concern, and, let’s face it, amusement, at times— it is not surprising that boomers are looking for ways to hold on to their memory and increase cognitive ability.

Being vital until the end of life is something that everyone wishes for but not all of us are lucky enough to experience. According to the Alzheimer’s Association (alz.org), 44 percent of Americans between the ages of 75 and 84 have dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, and by age 85 that number goes up to 50 percent. Those numbers are driving a whole new market of brain-enhancing health products, from supplements to video games, all aiming to increase cognitive ability. But will this do us any good? Are there proactive steps we can take to stop the deterioration of the brain as we age?

According to mounting evidence in the field of neuroscience, the answer appears to be yes. Research is revealing that the aging brain actually has more capacity to change and adapt than was previously thought. According to Sandra Bond Chapman, PhD, founder and chief director at the Center for Brain Health in Dallas, Texas, it appears that the brain continues to develop neural pathways to adapt to new experiences, learn new information, and create new memories.(1) In fact, studies show that the brain can actually get smarter as we age: the more new learning experiences we have, the more neural pathways we create, which means we can actually stockpile a larger network of neurons that can markedly slow down the process of cognitive decline. The more we develop in the brain now, the fewer years of decline we experience down the road.

Research conducted by the Center for Brain Health shows that older brains can be more receptive to pattern recognition, judgment, and accumulation of knowledge and experience, giving those over 50 an advantage over younger brains if—and that is a big if—the physical structure of the brain is not in decline.(2) Physical decline of the brain, meaning the actual shrinkage and deterioration that begins in our forties, corresponds with cognitive decline. All of this is to say that brain health needs to be a priority for those heading into their forties and fifties to reap the most significant rewards.

The goal is to decrease stress on the brain, which breaks down brain function, and to build new neural pathways through mental stimulation. The good news is that building better brain health in your everyday life is easier than you might think.

  • Reduce multitasking to help preserve brain function. Practice focusing on the most important thing at the moment instead of trying to cover everything all at once. This higher level of thinking actually means less dementia as we age.
  • The brain does not like routine so avoid robotic, automated behavior and take initiative to learn new behaviors. Simple things like changing your morning routine or learning to eat with your left hand will stimulate the brain.
  • Repetitive mental stimulation such as learning a new language or a new word every day, can improve performance of other tasks. Just think: improving your bridge game may actually improve your ability to drive a car.
  • While “brain games,” video games, and subscription websites are flooding the market, there is no evidence that these things are more effective than learning new skills on your own. The key concept is new: branch out into new languages, sports, and other novel skills to stimulate to the brain.

All the information we are learning about how significant a role basic life functions—the way you eat, sleep, and move—play in maintaining brain health and preventing chronic health conditions like diabetes and heart disease emphasizes the value of living a healthy lifestyle.

6 Tips for Brain Health
Here are six lifestyle factors that can have an impact on brain health.

  1. Diet. Many foods have been linked to brain health, and new information about the role of diet continues to emerge. Some of what research is revealing includes the benefit of the anti-inflammatory properties of a plant-based Mediterranean diet, which includes healthy fats such as olive oil and high-fiber grains, in preventing cognitive decline;(3) the impact of vitamin E, found in nuts and seeds, on the development of dementia; and the importance of decreasing the consumption of refined sugar and eating a limited amount of high fiber carbohydrates because research shows that dementia and Alzheimer’s may be due to “diabetes of the brain,” meaning insulin resistance in the brain that may cause loss of brain cells.(4,5,6)
  2. Weight control. An increasing body of evidence shows that being overweight in midlife increases risk factors for lower and faster decline in cognitive ability.(7) Weight control aids in blood pressure control, which affects brain function. Slow, steady weight loss that is sustainable has great benefit to brain health.
  3. Sleep. The brain actually does a lot of smart things while you sleep, so getting adequate sleep (seven to nine hours for the majority of us) can boost learning, attention, and memory. While sleeping, your brain practices new skills, sorts out memories for the future, and problem-solves, which is one of the reasons why “sleeping on it” often brings answers to problems.
  4. Exercise. Cardiovascular exercise is vital to brain health; it increases blood flow, delivering more nutrients to the brain. Most important, it increases brain derived neurotropic factor (BDNF), a protein that aids in the survival of brain cells. Any exercise helps, but the real benefit shows up when one is active at least three hours per week.
  5. Stress management. Stress and anxiety are associated with memory disorders. Stress can interfere with the function of neurotransmitters in the brain and create toxins that cause cell damage and shrinkage of the brain. Meditation, prayer, and other relaxation techniques along with more-intense therapies may be necessary to control stress. Downtime and relaxation improve higher level thinking and brain health.
  6. Supplements. Dietary supplements that have flooded the market have not been proven effective in slowing cognitive decline. It is not about one nutrient but the diet as a whole. An aspirin per day and however, has been shown to be effective due to its anti-inflammatory properties. Statin medication that is prescribed to prevent heart disease has been shown to provide the same benefit, and there is increasing evidence that a multivitamin a day keeps the brain in tip-top shape.(8,9,10)

That’s right—supplementing with a daily multivitamin can improve cognitive function, according to a series of studies published by researchers from the United Kingdom.

Several teams of British neuroscientists studied the effects of multivitamin supplementation on mood and cognitive functioning among adults and children. In each study, healthy men, women, and children took the daily supplements for four to twelve weeks and then were tested for attention span, memory, accuracy, multi-tasking and other cognitive functions. The researchers also assessed participants’ mood and stress levels.

The results of the studies indicated that multivitamins improved cognitive function—even after only a few weeks of supplementation. In fact, men who took high doses of vitamin B-complex supplements showed improvements of cognitive function and also reported less mental fatigue and higher energy levels. Women also benefited from the daily supplements, as evidenced by an improvement in the ability to multi-task. Children between the ages of 8 and 14 performed well on attention-based tasks.

A multivitamin isn’t a magic bullet and certainly cannot serve as a substitute for a healthy diet—but it can be one component of a healthy lifestyle. It’s one of those things that falls into the category of “can’t hurt, might help.” So, if you needed another reason to add a multivitamin to your daily health regimen, add cognitive function to the list. If you want to give your brain a boost, start by swallowing your vitamins.

Source: Age Gracefully America  Charles H. Weaver, MD

What a doctor wishes patients knew about the end

As a hospice and palliative medicine physician, my job is to help reduce suffering. At the end of life, that job becomes especially intense when time is short, when machines and data seem to be taking over, and so many intense emotions surround a body that is trying to die.

BJ Miller

BJ Miller

But here in that narrow trench, both providers and patients do have power to shape their experience together, especially if they take the time to have a few crucial conversations. In the spirit of palliation, here are a few things, as a physician, I wish I could share more often with patients and their caregivers.

You don’t need to be dying to receive palliative care

In hospitals, it is still common for palliative care clinicians to be pulled aside by a well-meaning though misinformed nurse or doctor who says, “This poor family is miserable, but they’re not ready for palliative care yet.” They imply that either the patient is not dying, or the patient does not realize that he or she is dying. But what this statement does is to conflate hospice or end-of-life care with palliative care. Palliative care is an approach, framed within the context of serious illness, where easing suffering is the goal. So, you just need to be sick and suffering to qualify for palliative care, not necessarily dying any time soon. Don’t be afraid to say you want it.

Don’t wait for your doctor to bring up hospice

What a doctor wishes patients knew about the end

Doctors tend to wait too long to acknowledge when death is close. And as research has made clear, the closer we feel to the patient, the more wildly we overestimate their prognosis.
The median length of stay in hospice care in the United States is 24 days.
As a rule, this is too short. So here’s an inside tip for patients and loved ones starting to wonder about hospice. In an effort to get primary physicians to think sooner about recommending hospice, researchers came up with the “surprise question.” As in: “Doctor, would you be surprised if your patient died within a year?” If the answer is no, then that doctor should start considering a referral to hospice. But there is nothing stopping you from asking the surprise question yourself. If you live with advancing chronic illness and are thinking about how you want your life to go, you might turn the table and ask: “Hey doc, would you be surprised if I died in the next year?” This is a good and bold way to open an honest dialogue with your doctor and get the sort of support you need.
The healthcare system is wired to extend physical life, without much regard to the psychological, spiritual, or financial costs. With advances in technology, we are able to prop up a body practically indefinitely. And it’s well known that doctors tend to presume you want aggressive care, even when care geared toward your comfort may be more in line with your wishes. Unless you say otherwise, the doctor’s presumption rules the day. This means that at some point you may need to say “no” to that next treatment. So be sure to look up now and again and check that the care you’re getting is the care that suits you.

It’s OK to laugh

Deaths from dementia have more than doubled in US, report says
In my book, “A Beginner’s Guide to the End: Practical Advice for Living Life and Facing Death,” someone tells of their stepfather wearing a shirt that read, “I’m so old I can’t find my own nuts,” with a doodle of a squirrel on it. His dying wish was to make his daughter laugh, and it helped both of them immensely. To honor him, she buried him in that shirt, sealing his personality in death as it had been in life. Illness isolates people, not just physically. When we get sick, people around us start censoring themselves. The solemnity is supposed to be a form of kindness, perhaps, but it can feel more like yet another loss, almost a premature death. As patients and caregivers know, illness and its indignities offer plenty of rich material for humor. The joke is only on us if we don’t find some way to laugh back.

Those guardrails on the hospital bed go down

Dr. Marianne Matzo is a PhD nurse who researches sexuality at the end of life. She told me a story about a patient who died in his hospital bed while he and his wife were in the middle of oral sex. Dr. Matzo tells this story as a triumph rather than a tragedy: The couple had found a way to maintain intimacy until his last breath. We are still living when we are dying. When those guardrails go down, it is possible to cuddle or caress one another. Those moments are about feeling connected, sexually or otherwise, and finding ways to be in that body while you have it. They are about reminding yourself and each other that you are still here, both of you, able to love and be loved. This is how healing works, and it is very much possible to be healed — to be whole — even as your body falls apart.

To the caregivers: Don’t be afraid to leave the room

In their final days and hours, dying people are usually in and out of consciousness; even when awake, they are often delirious. That means your loved one might say or do things that are completely out of character. Behavior ranges from sweet to insufferable. I met an elderly woman at a conference once who nervously relayed the story of her husband hurling strange and vulgar accusations before losing consciousness for good. Now there was trauma on top of sorrow. I wish someone had told her earlier about the very normal condition of deathbed delirium.
I also wish that caregivers knew it was OK to leave their loved one’s bedside. How many times will they have spent hours gathered in the room, not eating or sleeping for days, barely blinking, not wanting to miss that last breath, only to have the person die just when they nod off or use the bathroom?
As any hospice worker can tell you, this is also a well-known phenomenon. It’s almost as if the presence of others — especially deeply loved ones — gets in the way of the dying person’s final step. That big moment may need to happen alone. What dying people seem to need at the very end is to know that the people they love are going to be OK; that life will go on and that you — the person they care for — will be able to take care of yourself. So, the kindest thing you can do is to demonstrate that care by leaving the room when you need to. Just be sure to give a kiss and know that it may have to be the last.
Source: CNN BJ Miller, M.D.
BJ Miller, M.D. is a hospice & palliative medicine physician who sees patients and families at the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center. Miller’s career has been dedicated to moving healthcare towards a human centered approach and he advocates for this on a policy as well as personal level. He is the co- author of “A Beginner’s Guide to the End: Practical Advice for Living Life and Facing Death.”
The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.