Test Your Medication Safety IQ

Medications play a big role in managing health problems, and help us live longer. But medications can also be the cause of health problems, especially for seniors, who are more likely to take a number of prescription drugs. Take this short medications safety quiz to learn more. (Answers at bottom.)

True or False?

  1. Medications are helpful, so the more, the better!
  2. When I buy off-the-shelf drugs, I should check the packaging carefully.
  3. If I am taking prescription drugs, it’s still OK to take any over-the-counter medications I choose.
  4. I can ask my pharmacist for a regular cap rather than a childproof lid.
  5. Since herbal remedies are natural, they are all safe.
  6. Pain medications only mask pain, and cannot improve the condition that is causing the pain.
  7. I should check the label of prescriptions to be sure I have received the correct medication.
  8. Physical activity can decrease or even eliminate the need for many medications.
  9. My doctors all exchange notes to keep track of my prescriptions.
  10. If I am taking medication and start to feel better, I should stop taking my medication right away.

Answers to “Test Your Medications Safety IQ”:

  1. Medications are helpful, so the more, the better!
    FALSE—It’s important to take the exact dosage your doctor prescribes. If you have trouble remembering to take your medication, a container with compartments can help. Or keep track with a chart.
  2. When I buy off-the-shelf drugs, I should check the packaging carefully.
    TRUE—Most medicines today come in tamper-proof packaging, such as a sealed box and bottle. Examine the outside packaging before you make the purchase, and check the inside seal once you get the bottle home.
  3. If I am taking prescription drugs, it’s still OK to take any over-the counter medications I choose.
    FALSE—Drug interactions can take place even with nonprescription drugs. When you begin a new prescription, find out from your doctor or pharmacist what other medications should be avoided.
  4. I can ask my pharmacist for a regular cap rather than a childproof lid.
    TRUE—You don’t have to be a child to have trouble with those childproof lids! If arthritis or other conditions make it difficult to open safety lids, ask your pharmacist for a regular cap. You’ll have to request this each time you refill your prescription—and be sure to be doubly careful to keep all medications out of the reach of children.
  5. Since herbal remedies are natural, they are all safe.
    FALSE—Herbal medications may contain dangerous contaminants, and some can interfere with or cause bad interactions with prescription medications. Some herbal medications can be toxic in large doses. Always tell your healthcare provider about any herbal remedies you are taking.
  6. Pain medications only mask pain, and cannot improve the condition that is causing the pain.
    FALSE—Some pain relievers also reduce inflammation. And treating the pain of arthritis and some other health conditions can allow you to get the kind of exercise that actually improves the condition itself.
  7. I should check the label of prescriptions to be sure I have received the correct medication.
    TRUE—While pharmacy errors are rare, they do happen. As soon as you receive a prescription, read the label. If you have any questions about the correct drug and dosage, ask your pharmacist.
  8. Physical activity can decrease or even eliminate the need for many medications.
    TRUE—Diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, high cholesterol and other conditions often improve with increased exercise. Ask your healthcare provider about an exercise plan that’s best for you.
  9. 9. My doctors all exchange notes to keep track of my prescriptions.
    FALSE—If you are seeing two or more doctors at the same time, tell each about all the medications you are taking, to avoid overmedication and drug interactions.
  10. 10. If I am taking medication and start to feel better, I should stop taking the medication right away.
    FALSE—You should take your medication for the full length of the prescribed treatment. It is also very important to complete the whole cycle of antibiotics. Also, do not go off a long-term medication without checking with your doctor.

For More Information

The National Institute on Aging offers a free booklet, “Safe Use of Medicines” [add link to:  http://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/safe-use-medicines/questions-ask-about-your-medicines], which you can order or download online.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration offers information on medication safety for older adults.  [add link to: http://www.fda.gov/Drugs/ResourcesForYou/ucm163959.htm].

The U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) offers tips for using medicines safely. [add link to: http://www.ahrq.gov/patients-consumers/diagnosis-treatment/treatments/checkmeds/index.html]

The information in this article is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. Speak to your healthcare provider if you have questions about your prescription or over-the-counter medications.

Copyright © AgeWise, 2014


New Technologies for Safer Senior Living

New Technologies for Safer Senior Living

With the aging of the baby boomers, developments in technology are expanding rapidly. Here are just a few examples of computer-driven senior support offerings on the horizon. Some are still on the drawing board, while others are being tested and used today.

Technology to keep seniors safe at home

At a recent convention of the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging, one of the most popular exhibits was the model “Idea House.” This display demonstrated some of the many ways technology can support aging in place, including systems that monitor the well-being of elders in innovative ways.

Today, many seniors take advantage of home security systems, personal emergency response systems, or wander guards for those with Alzheimer’s disease. But this is only the beginning! Some of the other developments we can look forward to as we age in place include:

Enhanced home safety monitoring. The “smart home” will turn lights on as we approach, remind us if we leave the stove on, even alert us when the mail or newspaper arrives. Whole-home emergency response systems will utilize sensors in carpets, walls, clothing and slippers to detect falls, and even to track our activities for patterns that would indicate a change of health condition.

Interactive telehealth “robots” will remind us to take medications and to perform home health tests (such as blood pressure or glucose level), and will then automatically transmit the results to our healthcare provider. Telehealth promises to allow seniors to stay in their home longer, and will cut down on the number of routine medical appointments.

Dementia support technology. Today’s tracking systems prevent people with Alzheimer’s and related conditions from getting lost, while providing peace of mind for family caregivers. These will become more sophisticated, as will simple handheld devices and smart phones that offer memory prompts and reminders. Research continues on memory-care computer programs that support brain health.

Do these developments represent a “Big Brother”-type intrusion on the privacy of seniors? Most who use them say no. They report that these technologies allow for greater freedom and independence. Research confirms that self-esteem is supported when reminders come from a computer…instead of from an anxious family caregiver!

Online health records

Online health records promise to streamline healthcare and allow patients more control over their own care. Older adults especially stand to benefit by a centralization of their records, as they are most likely to be dealing with multiple conditions, doctors and medications. Equally important, new security technologies are addressing the important issue of privacy.

Senior fitness innovations

Walk into a senior living community today and you are likely to see an exuberant group of residents gathered around the facility Wii, playing 18 holes of golf or bowling strikes and spares. Few game developers anticipated how quickly older adults would embrace these motion sensing video games! Do “virtual” sports games really give older adults a good workout? The American Heart Association says yes, demonstrating that many active video games provide benefits equal to moderate intensity exercise. Another study suggested that active games such as “Dance Dance Revolution” can help reduce fall risk. Game developers who formerly focused on teens are now working on more devices targeting the over-65 user.

“Senior-friendly” gadgets

Many devices designed to “make life easier” for people actually have the opposite impact on older adults! A confusing, complicated menu of features and choices makes for a daunting experience, especially when there are mysterious settings to inadvertently toggle. Fortunately, more companies are studying the needs of seniors and developing models tailored for users with low vision, decreased manual dexterity, memory loss—or just a disinclination to be continually learning “what’s new.” For example, mobile phones are available with larger buttons, high-contrast numbers, amplifiable volume—even a dial tone. Computers and software with simplified interfaces are available. Intuitive remote controls make home electronics more accessible. Developers are wising up that although technology can play a critical role in quality of life for older adults, technology can also be intimidating.

Of course, these emerging trends can’t take the place of the human touch when it comes to caring for seniors. But with the aging of the baby boom, with more and more older adults preferring to age in place, with the increased pressure on family caregivers, and the pressing need to control healthcare costs, new technical developments will continue to provide cost-effective supplemental support.

Read More

Technology and eldercare expert Lori Orlov’s Aging in Place Technology Watch blog is a great resource for keeping up with the latest news in “silver tech.”

Copyright © AgeWise, 2013

Dictionary of Eldercare Terminology: 95-Year-Old Attorney Releases Updated Edition of His Classic Compendium

Anyone in the field of aging knows that it has its own unique language.

Understanding all the shifting terms, however, can be a challenge.

Walter Feldesman, a prominent New York attorney for more than 65 years, recognized this need in 1997, when he published the first edition of his Dictionary of Eldercare Terminology .

It remains the first and only dictionary defining eldercare words and terms.

At 95, Feldesman recently released the third edition of the dictionary and is making it available online through the website of the National Council on Aging (NCOA).

“Walter is an incredible example of someone who continues to contribute to society well past the traditional retirement age,” says NCOA President Jim Firman. “That’s why we gave him the first NCOA Exemplar of Vital Aging Award in 2009. Now, we’re proud to offer his newly updated dictionary as a great online resource for anyone interested in aging.”

Feldesman entered the world of elder law informally in 1990 when his bedridden mother-in-law asked him who was paying for all of her care. He did not have an answer—so he started researching.

The result was a comprehensive dictionary that includes overviews of major eldercare fields, including home care, long-term care insurance, Medicaid, Medicare, Medicare supplemental insurance, and Social Security. The new, third edition includes a wide mix of gerontological terms, as well as financial, estate planning, and legal terms related to eldercare.

The first two editions were quoted, cited, and accredited by many sources, including Medicare’s consumer handbook Medicare and You and the official Medicare website, www.medicare.gov.

Feldesman has served on numerous boards, including NCOA’s Leadership Council. He enjoyed a long and distinguished career as a corporate attorney, director of public companies, hospital and college trustee, philanthropist, and author.

Source: The National Council on Aging (www.ncoa.org), a nonprofit service and advocacy organization headquartered in Washington, DC. NCOA works with thousands of organizations across the country to help seniors find jobs and benefits, improve their health, live independently, and remain active in their communities.

Does Delayed Retirement Keep Younger Workers Underemployed?

Americans are retiring later. Studies show that the average planned retirement age has risen to a record age 67—and in reality, many seniors are working well beyond that age. They put off retirement for economic reasons, and also cite the desire to remain active and engaged. More and more seniors say that their work is an important part of their life and they enjoy it.

Often as not, articles about this trend include quotes from younger workers who speak in a resentful tone, claiming that late-retiring baby boomers will mean fewer job opportunities for younger workers. Some pundits say that older workers are “crowding out” the Gen X and Millennial workers from the labor market. But are these claims true?

A recent study from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College suggests the idea of a generation war in the workplace is a misconception. Examining data from 1977 – 2011, the economists demonstrated that in fact, older workers’ employment has no negative impact on the hourly wages or annual income of younger people. The study authors said, “This horse has been beaten to death. The evidence suggests that greater employment of older persons leads to better outcomes for the young—reduced unemployment, and a higher wage.”

You can read the full study on the Center for Retirement Research Center Boston College website . The Pew Charitable Trust also offers a discussion of the findings.

Copyright © IlluminAge AgeWise, 2013

Safe Social Networking for Seniors

Safe Social Networking for Seniors

Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites, once the domain of young people, are increasingly popular with older adults. They are using social networking sites to stay connected with family and friends, and to make new friends. University of Alabama Birmingham researchers showed that going online diminishes depression. And a recent University of Arizona study even demonstrated cognitive benefits from this form of brain exercise.

The news isn’t all good. Facebook has received much negative attention because of the phenomenon of online bullying—and indeed, Yale School of Public Health researchers recently cautioned that older adults are not immune. Negative comments about seniors are common, posted by trolls or just by thoughtless younger people. Chief researcher Becca Levy, Ph.D., suggests that while Facebook forbids hate speech directed at racial and other groups, perhaps ageist comments should be added to that list! Says Levy, “Facebook has the potential to create new connections between the generations. Instead, it may have created new obstacles.”

While the thought of seniors encountering the occasional ageist comment is distressing, larger dangers may loom. You have probably heard of the Grandma Scam, where a senior receives a phone call purporting to be from a young relative who is in jail or in some other trouble, and asks that money be wired to help out. Once the money is sent, the impostor is never heard from again, and the grandparent discovers that their real grandchild is just fine. This old scam is still going strong, with many victims out thousands of dollars every year—and the crooks have now taken their act onto Facebook.

With all the publicity about keeping children safe online, it’s easy to forget that people of any age can fall prey to hackers, identity theft and fraud—and seniors who are just starting out may be less aware about the pitfalls of online social networking. So if your parent or other senior friend is new to online communication, it’s a good idea to have a conversation about security. When it comes to online safety, knowledge is power. Here are 10 key points to share with senior loved ones:

  1. Get to know the privacy settings of social networking sites where you participate. You can choose who can and can’t see your information.
  2. Don’t post information or photos that you wouldn’t want shared with the world. Even if you intend for only a select group to see a post, someone in your network might pass something along that you would rather keep private.
  3. On Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites, don’t indiscriminately “friend” anyone who asks. Verify the identity of people who want to see your information, or request to join an online community where you discuss personal matters.
  4. If you are in doubt that an e-mail or post is really from a person you know, pick up the phone and verify it. Hackers can set up a fake account or even take over the account of someone you know. And it is very easy to create a false “persona” online. Be cautious about giving out personal information or meeting in person with an acquaintance from a chat room or online community.
  5. If you receive an email or post from a friend that seems to be selling something or just doesn’t sound right, don’t feel hesitant to ask them about it; your friend’s account may have been hacked without them realizing it.
  6. Never respond to a request for money from someone claiming to be a friend or a stranger in need. Scammers can pretend to be someone you know, or may create a false identity to appeal to your sympathy.
  7. In email, online community and social networking sites, be cautious clicking on links, even from friends. If you click on a link that asks you to download a “viewer” or other software, don’t!
  8. Use a hard-to-hack password for Facebook, Twitter, email and other accounts. Don’t select your birthday, your pet’s name, or anything else that could be easily guessed. Include a combination of numbers, letters and special characters.
  9. The creators of viruses and other malware (malicious software) are constantly refining their attacks, so be sure to install anti-virus software and keep it up-to-date.
  10. Learn about some of the most common scams you might encounter. See the website at the end of this article for some good resources.

Having the talk about safe social networking

Many older adults hesitate to go online because they feel apprehensive about hackers, scammers and identity theft. How can family talk to senior loved ones about the subject without scaring them away from these new socialization tools? Remember: the goal is to empower older adults, not to scare them offline. Here are some ideas for having a productive conversation:

  • Talk about “we” rather than “you.” Anyone can fall prey to online con artists. Open the discussion with, “Here are some things I’ve learned to keep myself safe that I’d like to share with you.”
  • Remind your loved one that the same cautions he or she practices in everyday life will also be useful online. Do a bit of role playing: “What would you do if someone asked you for money? What if they told you that you’d won a contest and only needed to send a ‘fee’ to collect?”
  • Establish a no-judgment zone. Reassure your loved one that if something seems suspicious or just doesn’t feel right, it’s fine to give you a call for advice, without embarrassment.
  • Think intergenerational! Many families report that grandkids and grandparents bond over tech support, and this can include computer security. Grandparents benefit from the knowledge and experience of the younger generation, and grandkids can feel good about helping their senior loved ones.
  • Encourage your loved one to share what he or she has learned with other seniors in the community. Many older adults have volunteered with AARP and other groups to spread the word and keep the online world safe for the millions of seniors who are enjoying friendship and healthier aging in this new way.

For more information, visit On Guard Online (www.onguardonline.gov), a consumer information website jointly sponsored by the Federal Trade Commission, Homeland Security, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Internal Revenue Service and a number of other government agencies.

Copyright © AgeWise, 2013

The Wired (Older) Generation: Seniors Online

The Wired (Older) Generation: Seniors Online

If you think Facebook, chat rooms, Skype and blogging are only for young people, think again! Today, seniors are the fastest growing group to use social networking and other internet tools for expanding social connections and keeping up with family and friends.

Experts on aging have long known that isolation and loneliness are dangerous for older adults. Staying socially connected improves physical and emotional well-being, increases mental alertness, and encourages a more active lifestyle. New research studies confirm these benefits and more, pinpointing the mechanisms behind the protective properties of human interaction that promote heart health, lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, improve symptoms of depression and minimize the effects of stress.

Yet as we grow older, many of us tend to withdraw from the social events and activities we once enjoyed. Failing health and decreased energy make it harder to get out of the house. Hearing impairment can cause communication frustration and a sense of isolation. The loss of a spouse, children moving away, and retirement from work can all lead to the breakdown of long-time social connections. Can online connections help fill the gap?

Research is underway to find out how effectively online connections meet the social needs of our later years. The study results are largely positive. And one thing is already known: more and more seniors themselves value these new technologies, as evidenced by the numbers using them. An AARP study found that seniors and baby boomers are increasingly social on the Web, joining online communities in increasing numbers, the majority logging on every day. The majority of seniors say that the internet is important in maintaining social relationships.

Are Online Connections the Same?

Online connections can’t take the place of in-person visits, or a hug, or meaningful time spent in the presence of others. Yet more and more studies suggest it can be a beneficial supplement to more traditional human interaction. Online social contact can build continuity in relationships, allowing for daily interaction that was not available to seniors in previous times, when letters or long distance phone calls provided the only connection with far away loved ones. The convenience of email, social networking sites and webcam connections can help take the edge off loneliness. Online communications also have been shown to provide cognitive benefits of intellectual stimulation. These technologies can be a lifeline for those with health problems that keep them confined to home.

Here are some of the ways seniors are staying connected online:


Email remains the most popular online activity for all seniors; according to the Pew report, 86 percent of older internet users communicate in that way. A survey by Evercare showed that even centenarians are using email to exchange messages and photos. There may be a steep learning curve for older adults who aren’t computer-savvy, but “senior-friendly” software and classes are available to help. In many families, members of the younger generation enjoy displaying their skills by providing tech support for grandparents.


More and more seniors are reading the blogs of companies, pundits, healthcare organizations and ordinary people who report on their own lives or a particular topic. Some blogs are like diaries; some are professional; some are more like support groups. Many seniors are creating their own blogs, and older adults are becoming ever more active in the “blogosphere,” posting comments on the blogs of companies, individuals, news media sites and political groups.

Social networking websites

The Pew Research Center recently reported that 34% of people over 65 now use social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Many seniors keep in touch with family, neighborhood and interest groups using these free services, and make new online friends as well. They connect with the millions of businesses, government and senior service agencies and senior living communities that now use social networking sites as an important part of their communications strategy. With hundreds of millions of users worldwide, social networking sites offer a window on the world combined with opportunities for interaction.

Online communities and chat rooms

Online communities are groups of people who exchange messages on websites that offer “forums” or “bulletin boards.” Online communities (also known as “virtual communities”) allow seniors to connect with others who have a shared membership or interest, such as a hobby, favorite TV program, health condition or class reunion group. Longtime friendships have developed over the decades that these communities have existed. Some online communities also offer chat rooms, where participants can have online conversations in real time. AARP and other senior organizations sponsor online communities especially for older adults.
Internet voice and video communication

Seniors are using Skype and other such online services to read a bedtime story to grandchildren, attend a virtual senior center event, and even talk to their healthcare provider. Now that this technology has been with us for a while, studies are confirming that long-distance family connections are enhanced and sustained by frequent virtual contact. Families also report that the connection helps nurture relationships between the generations.

Four Myths About Seniors and Computers

Four Myths About Seniors and Computers

Today, most of us take our computers for granted—in the workplace, in our homes, at the doctor’s office, and right at our side no matter where we go. But as soon as computers began to appear in the workplaces and homes of Americans, researchers expressed concerns about the “digital divide”—the line between those with computer skills and access, and those without. Florida State University researcher Neil Charness pointed out, “The technology gap is a problem because technology, particularly computer and internet technology, is becoming ubiquitous, and full participation in society becomes more difficult for those without such access.”
The divide today is drawn along economic and educational lines—but also, it seems, along age lines, with seniors slower to adopt digital technology and embrace computer use.

How are we doing today, a quarter century after the first personal computers arrived on the scene? Let’s take a look at the ways computers are revolutionizing the way we age in America, beginning by examining four common myths about senior adults and computers:

Myth #1: Computers are only for younger people

First of all, let’s dispense with the notion that computers are a new invention, developed by young people. The reality is, computer technology has developed over the course of years, and there are plenty of elders who were computer-literate when computers were a lot less “user friendly” than they are now.

On the other hand, if you are old enough to have taken a typing class in high school, you are probably aware that those of us who encountered computers later in life didn’t benefit from early exposure to such skills as software features and keyboarding. So, for many seniors, there is a steeper learning curve.

It is true that at present seniors lag behind other age groups in adoption of computer technology. But seniors are catching up. In 2010, the Pew Foundation reported that only 42% of people 65 and over used the internet; that number grew to 53% in only two years. Computer use is growing fastest in the over-65 population. And as the baby boomers age, the digital divide between younger and older Americans will continue to close. Seniors are using e-mail, going on Facebook, sending out Twitter tweets, playing games and surfing the web in rapidly increasing numbers.

Myth #2: Computers are too complicated for seniors

There is an element of truth to this commonly held belief. Constant upgrades, ever more complex programs and the lighting speed evolution of technology are a challenge for anyone—and when you add some of the physical and cognitive changes of aging, developing computer literacy can seem daunting. Many family caregivers today report that tech support is one of their major eldercare responsibilities!

But, as we saw above, plenty of seniors have eagerly and easily entered the computer age. And new senior-friendly technologies are encouraging the trend. Computer manufacturers, software developers and e-commerce companies realize that with the aging of America, it’s good business practice to offer simpler user interfaces, website features for people with visual and cognitive impairment, and adaptive hardware such as arthritis-compatible mice and keyboards with larger letters. Seniors are adapting to computers…but computers are adapting to seniors, as well.

Myth #3: Computer use doesn’t have much impact on healthy aging

On the contrary! Not only do computers help seniors stay in touch with the world today, but seniors also stand to benefit by the advantages of new technologies. E-commerce, online banking and finding information online are convenient for everyone—and all the more so for people with mobility challenges. The internet can also be a great source of information about “real world” activities and events, providing incentive to remain active in the community. Indeed, surfing the web provides a powerful mood boost: a recent Phoenix Center study demonstrated that internet use by the elderly reduced depression by 20%!

Computer use also promotes brain health, combining reading and interactivity in a powerful way. You have probably heard of “brain exercise” computer programs and games—but did you know that going online also gives our memory a good workout? A 2009 study by UCLA researchers showed that while seniors perform simple web searches, blood flow is increased to areas of the brain that are vital for cognitive health. Researcher Teena D. Moody explains, “Searching online may be a simple form of brain exercise that might be employed to enhance cognition in older adults.”

And what about gaming? A waste of time for couch potatoes? Another recent study shows that seniors who play strategy videogames, such as Rise of Nations or Halo, experienced improved cognitive skills. Active video games, such as the Wii system, have also been found to give a good workout.

Myth #4: Online social networking is only for young people

Facebook, Twitter, email, chat rooms, online communities…older adults are going online for socialization in increasing numbers. Social networking is bringing seniors closer to friends and loved ones, and helping them make contact with new friends around the world. Connecting with friends and family in this way helps seniors avoid isolation and loneliness.  [Note to AgeWise subscribers: during April, content about seniors and social networking will be available, if you would like to include an invite at the end of this article.]

Learn More

Microsoft offers information on computer accessibility for older adults and people with disabilities. See Guide for Individuals with Age-related Impairments  to learn more about making your PC easier to see, hear and use.

Copyright © IlluminAge AgeWise, 2013