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Apologizing After Caregiver Stress Causes a Blowup

Caregiving is a stressful job even during the best of times. The sheer amount of responsibility is enough to make the most stoic person falter, but there are also a number of diverse personalities at play. Your care recipient may be grouchy or demanding or your spouse may resent the time you devote to caregiving instead of your relationship. Then there are the people who look on from the outside and offer everything from heartfelt support to scathing criticism.

In such a high-pressure environment, a meltdown is likely to happen from time to time, especially for those who are not getting enough respite and are prone to stuffing their feelings. Onlookers who are clueless about the realities of caregiving often add to the stress by offering “advice,” which usually sounds more disapproving than helpful. You can only hide your irritation, bite back a sarcastic response, and let the comments or actions pass so many times. Patience eventually wears thin.

The same applies to your care receiver and immediate family members. All it takes is a particular comment, behavior, accident or demand made on the wrong day to elicit a snide remark or full on outburst. If the other person’s remark or suggestion was innocuous or came from a genuinely good place, we usually recognize that our overreaction was unwarranted almost instantly. That’s when the shame begins to creep in. The guilt is especially poignant when we lash out at our care recipient over something that is out of their control. It is mortifying, but it is an occurrence that’s more common than most caregivers would like to admit.

Often this sudden burst of anger is entirely misdirected. Our spouse, child, friend or care recipient may wind up becoming a target when our hurt really stems from the overwhelming stress of our caregiving situation, how unappreciated we feel and/or how little support we get from other family members and friends. But recognizing our error isn’t enough. Once uttered, our words can’t be taken back. There’s only one way to patch things up: extending a sincere apology.

Ensuring an Apology Is Heartfelt

Apologizing sounds simple enough, but it is a difficult task for many people. Asking forgiveness takes introspection and humility—attributes that may be hard to exercise while in a state of exhaustion and distress. You know your nasty mood isn’t the other person’s fault, but all you can do is muster a lame excuse for your behavior.

Be aware that an excuse is not an apology, but it may have to suffice for the time being. You can hope that the person you snapped at is understanding enough to let it go at that, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that your behavior didn’t affect them. In the meantime, allow yourself some space to cool down and collect your thoughts.

To offer a sincere apology, you must first understand what prompted your anger and why you took your frustration out on this person. One reason why we often direct our irritation and resentment at those closest to us is that we feel safest with them. We believe that these people—family members and dear friends—won’t abandon us because deep down we care about each other. We don’t treat these people poorly on purpose, just as they do not set out to provoke us intentionally. Yet, if we don’t find a healthy outlet for our growing exasperation, then it is bound to fester and rear its ugly head again and again. Left unchecked, these emotions can seriously damage a caregiver’s mental health and have a negative effect on their most important relationships.

Once you’ve pinpointed the true reason(s) behind your behavior, you may be able to offer a sincere apology. While an incident like this isn’t pleasant for anyone involved, hopefully it will help you realize that your stress levels are getting too high and it is time to find resources like respite care and personal hobbies to help you regain some balance in your life. Ultimately, this is beneficial for you, your care recipient and others closest to you.

Sometimes a Caregiver’s Anger Is Justified

What if you snap at someone who you believe is in the wrong? For example, you unload on your sibling, who is always quick to criticize how you care for your parents but never offers to lend a hand. Wouldn’t you feel justified in your behavior?

Losing your cool with this person is a little closer to a healthy response. At least you’ve selected the correct target for your anger. However, unless you are willing to throw away your relationship with your sibling, you are still in a position where an apology is warranted. It’s also important to remember that, “I said/did this because you said/did that,” does not count as an apology.

Again, it is usually helpful to take some time to cool off after the initial incident. Once you have calmed down, you can let your sibling know that you’ve been upset for some time over the way they’ve presented their criticism and that you finally lost control of your emotions. If nothing else, it’s best to say you’re sorry for the way you responded and that you recognize such a response isn’t healthy. But, you should also try to take the opportunity to mention that there are underlying issues you need to discuss so you can have better interactions and a healthier relationship moving forward. In this scenario, you aren’t apologizing for standing up for yourself. You are apologizing for attacking them rather than handling the situation in a reasonable, adult manner.

Read: How to Handle Criticism While Caregiving

Grudges Only Harm Those Who Carry Them

Life gives us only so many choices. We can continue to hold grudges that we feel are warranted. We can stay mad. But think about it: Who are we really hurting by doing this? Carrying around resentment and anger takes energy and eats away at the soul.

I’m not saying that caregivers should say they are wrong when they’re not. I’m simply suggesting that apologizing and handling these situations calmly and maturely can’t hurt. If the person you snapped at is reasonable, they may offer an apology of their own and you both can learn something about each other that will strengthen your relationship. Even if nothing productive comes of such actions, at least you will feel better for having been the bigger person and trying to clear the air.

Naturally, there are some personalities that simply never mix well. It may amount to a mutual dislike or a long and varied history of personal “wrongs” against one another. In these situations, it’s best to be cordial and avoid interactions if possible. These serious issues are different than an isolated case of yelling at a care recipient or blowing up in a situation that should have been handled with a civilized discussion. An apology is rarely sufficient to turn such animosity around. This is especially true in abusive and unhealthy situations.

Minimize Caregiver Stress

Don’t be too hard on yourself if you blow up from time to time; It’s natural to an extent. But do look for reasons why you acted in a way that you now regret and learn how to offer a sincere apology. The ability to realize and admit fault is an invaluable trait and one of the many tools you’ll need while balancing elder care with other relationships.

If stress, depression or anxiety are the cause of your behavior, or these mood swings become more pronounced and frequent, then it’s time to seek out help. Attending a caregiver support group and/or seeking professional counseling can be extremely beneficial. If there are no family members who can or will help to provide financial or hands-on care, then in-home care, adult day care or assisted living may be necessary.

It is one thing to snap at a good friend or even a “deserving” sibling on occasion, but it is quite another if you are letting stress turn you into a bitter mutation of your former self. Resentment and excessive pressure can quickly develop into caregiver burnout, which is detrimental to your physical and mental health and that of the person you are caring for.

Source: AgingCare.com by Carol Bradley Bursack

Early Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Is Crucial for Effective Planning and Treatment

November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month—an important opportunity to shed light on a condition that is often misperceived as untreatable. Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, but dementia from Alzheimer’s continues to be underdiagnosed and underreported. In fact, according to a U.S. survey conducted by the Alzheimer’s Association, almost half of patients with AD are already in the moderate to severe stages by the time they are diagnosed. This lack of attention to the early stages of Alzheimer’s is unfortunate, because there are things we can do to help those who are starting to experience memory loss and support the people who are caring for them. Although a cure does not yet exist, available treatment options can help to slow down the progression of symptoms, especially if diagnosed early.

Caring for Someone with Alzheimer’s Disease

AD poses real challenges not only for the people diagnosed with the disease but also for the 15 million Americans who assume caregiving responsibilities. The multitude of obligations can have a huge impact on caregivers, with one out of every two of them developing major depression. The economic burden of providing care is huge as well. In 2016, the annual cost of care was $230 billion in the U.S. alone.

Many of my patients and their caregivers are hoping and waiting for a cure to become available. Even though there are novel drugs and other interventions in various phases of research and development, patients’ mental states continue to deteriorate with each passing day as their families wait for a disease-modifying treatment. The road to development and approval of a new drug is long and rigorous, and only a small percentage of medicines ever make it to market. This is time that Alzheimer’s patients simply cannot afford to waste.

A diagnosis will spur family members to start a conversation about planning for the future—a difficult, yet necessary discussion that they may have shied away from without a clear understanding of their loved one’s health. Timing is crucial because this planning phase must be done while the patient is still capable of sharing their wishes and competent to execute all the necessary legal documents, such as medical and financial powers of attorney, a will, advance health care directives, trusts, etc. These preparations enable the family to understand their loved one’s preferences for long-term and end-of-life care and give them the legal authority to see them through once their loved one has lost the ability to handle their own affairs.

The Treatment Journey

While there are no treatments available that can prevent, cure or change the underlying progression of Alzheimer’s disease, there are medications that can help minimize symptoms for a while. Once again, early diagnosis is key since each prescription is approved for different stages of the disease. These medicines can help people living with AD maintain their cognitive abilities and continue functioning at higher levels longer.

In addition to pharmaceutical treatments, there are also lifestyle choices that can help lower the risk of developing the disease and stabilize the symptoms of AD for those who already have it. These activities include regular physical exercise, stress management, proper diet, and prompt treatment of medical conditions like hypertension and high cholesterol. These lifestyle modifications can have a huge impact on a person’s brain health.

If you are concerned about a loved one’s memory, encourage them to go see a doctor. The good news might be that there is nothing to worry about, but if a problem is detected, ask about available treatment options. Early diagnosis and proactive treatment could help some of the 5.5 million Americans who are currently living with Alzheimer’s disease and their loved ones.

Source: AgingCare.com

Ask your doctor the right questions about your Alzheimer’s diagnosis

Just Diagnosed

Receiving a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is never easy — it’s life changing. It is normal to experience a range of emotions. Acknowledging your feelings can be an empowering first step in coping with the challenges ahead.

Emotions you may have

You noticed symptoms. You made a doctor’s appointment. You took tests. And you felt a roller coaster of emotions — fear, hope, despair, denial. Then you received a diagnosis. You may have felt numb, unsure of how to respond or where to turn.

You also may be grieving over the present losses you are experiencing, or the expectation of future changes as the disease progresses. It can be helpful to identify and understand some of the emotions you may experience after receiving your diagnosis.

These emotions may include:

  • Anger. Your life is taking a different course than the one you and your family had planned. You cannot control the course of the disease.
  • Relief. The changes you were experiencing were cause for concern. A diagnosis validated these concerns by assigning a name to your symptoms.
  • Denial. The diagnosis seems impossible to believe. You may feel overwhelmed by how your life will change as a result of Alzheimer’s.
  • Depression. You may feel sad or hopeless about the way your life is changing.
  • Resentment. You may be asking yourself what you did to deserve your diagnosis or why this is happening to you and not someone else.
  • Fear. You may be fearful of the future and how your family will be affected.
  • Isolation. You may feel as if no one understands what you’re going through or lose interest in maintaining relationships with others.
  • Sense of loss. It may be difficult to accept changes in your abilities.

If these feelings linger week after week, you may be dealing with depression or anxiety. Feeling depressed or anxious about your diagnosis is common, but both can be successfully treated.

Taking care of your emotional needs

Coming to terms with your diagnosis and the emotions you are feeling will help you accept your diagnosis, move forward, and discover new ways to live a positive and fulfilling life.

You are the only person who can change how you feel about your diagnosis. So it’s important to find healthy ways to deal with your emotions. This can be difficult at the beginning. But once you make the commitment to take care of your emotional needs, you may find that you can rise to the challenge and face your diagnosis. This is a new phase of your life, and you can choose to experience it with sense of connection to your emotional health.

When working through your feelings, try a combination of approaches. The following tips may be helpful:

    • Write down your thoughts and feelings about your diagnosis in a journal.
    • You may find your friends and family struggling with your diagnosis and their feelings. Learn more about how you can help family and friends.
    • Share your feelings with close family and friends. Speak open and honestly about your feelings.
    • Surround yourself with a good support system that includes individuals who are also living in the early stage of the disease and understand what you’re going through. Join our ALZConnected message boards or learn more about support programs.
    • Join an early-stage support group. It can provide you with a safe and supportive environment of peers. To find a support group in your area, check with your local Alzheimer’s Association chapter.
    • Talk to your doctor if you or others are concerned about your emotional well-being. Your doctor can determine the most appropriate treatment plan to address your concerns.
    • Seek help from a counselor or clergy member. He or she can help you to see things in a new way and help you understand more fully what you are feeling.
    • If you are feeling misunderstood or stereotyped because of your diagnosis, learn what you can do to overcome stigma.
    • Stay engaged. Continue to do the activities you enjoy for as long as you are able.
    • Take the time you need to feel sad, mourn and grieve.
    • No two people deal with their diagnosis in exactly the same way. There is no right approach. Some days may be more difficult than others, but don’t be discouraged. Learn coping tips to help you manage challenges.

You are not alone

A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease can leave you feeling disconnected, isolated or abandoned from others. You may feel unsure of where to turn and that no one can possibly understand what you’re going through. People living with early-stage Alzheimer’s have stated that one of the most important lessons they learned early on in their diagnosis is this: they could not just wait for others to help them – they had to go out and help themselves to the best of their ability.

Whenever facing difficult times, having a good support network you can turn to for advice and encouragement may help you feel socially connected and give you a sense of belonging and purpose. Make sure your network includes other people who are living in the early stage of the disease. Connecting with others like you may help put your own experiences living with the disease in perspective, and provide you with the support and encouragement necessary to move beyond your diagnosis.

Questions for your doctor

After receiving your diagnosis, it’s normal to leave your doctor’s office unsure of what questions to ask. You just received life-changing news, and you need time to absorb this information and understand what it means for you and your family.

Your doctor is an important member of your care team. Use the opportunity to ask your doctor questions about your diagnosis, all the available options, and the benefits and risks of each choice you make.

You may be asking: “How do I know what to ask my doctor?”

Members of our Alzheimer’s Association National Early-Stage Advisory Group have shared their own experiences and questions they wish they had asked their doctors. You may find this information helpful as you develop your own list of questions.

Download these questions and others as a PDF

Example questions:

The diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease

  1. What test(s) or tools did you use to determine my diagnosis?
  2. What are you measuring with the tests you performed?

Alzheimer’s disease

  1. How will the disease progress?
  2. What can I expect in the future?

Treatments

  1. What treatment options are available?
  2. Which symptoms are being targeting by each medication?

Clinical trials

  1. What clinical trials are available?
  2. Where can I find published information about clinical treatment studies?

Care team

  1. How familiar are you with Alzheimer’s disease? Will you be managing my care going forward?
  2. If I need to be hospitalized, will you be able to provide care in this setting?

Care and support

  1. What resources are available to help me learn more about my diagnosis? My family?
  2. What support services are available to help me live well with the disease, for as long as possible?

Source: alz.org

10 Tips for Family Caregivers

10 Tips for Family Caregivers

  1. Seek support from other caregivers. You are not alone!
  2. Take care of your own health so that you can be strong enough to take care of your loved one.
  3. Accept offers of help and suggest specific things people can do to help you.
  4. Learn how to communicate effectively with doctors.
  5. Caregiving is hard work so take respite breaks often.
  6. Watch out for signs of depression and don’t delay getting professional help when you need it.
  7. Be open to new technologies that can help you care for your loved one.
  8. Organize medical information so it’s up to date and easy to find.
  9. Make sure legal documents are in order.
  10. Give yourself credit for doing the best you can in one of the toughest jobs there is!

Source: Caregiver Action Network

Being a Healthy Caregiver

Caregiver

As a caregiver, you may find yourself with so many responsibilities that you neglect taking good care of yourself. But the best thing you can do for the person you are caring for is stay physically and emotionally strong. Here’s how:

See the doctor

Be sure to visit your physician regularly (at least annually), and listen to what your body is telling you. Any exhaustion, stress, sleeplessness, or changes in appetite or behavior should be taken seriously. Ignoring these symptoms can cause your physical and mental health to decline.

If you are caring for someone in the late-stages of Alzheimer’s, talk to your health care provider about the seasonal flu shot. Being vaccinated protects both you and the person you are caring for.

Get moving

No doubt you know that exercise is an important part of staying healthy — it can help relieve stress, prevent disease and make you feel good. But finding the time to exercise is another story.

Use these tips:

  • Take friends and family members up on their offers to help.
    You can get in a good workout in a short amount of time — even a 30 minute break. Use our Care Team Calendar to help coordinate a schedule where you have breaks to exercise and take care of your health.
  • Start small.
    While it is recommended that you get 30 minutes of physical activity at least five days a week, even 10 minutes a day can help. Fit in what you can, and work toward a goal.
  • Exercise at home.
    When the person with dementia naps, pull out a yoga mat and stretch, set up a stationary bike, or try exercise tapes.
  • Find something you love.
    If you enjoy the activity, it will be easier to make it a habit.

There also are many ways you can be active with the person with dementia. Here are a few ideas:

  • Take a walk together outside to enjoy the fresh air
  • Go to the mall and take a stroll indoors
  • Do seated exercises at home
  • Dance together to favorite music
  • Garden or do other routine activities that you both enjoy

Eat well

Heart-healthy eating patterns, such as the Mediterranean diet, are good for overall health and may help protect the brain. A Mediterranean diet includes relatively little red meat and emphasizes whole grains, fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, olive oil and other healthy fats. Try new recipes and involve the person with dementia.

Need ideas on how to go healthy?
Try these resources:

Five tips to help you cope

  • Manage your level of stress.
    Consider how stress affects your body (stomach aches, high blood pressure) — and your emotions (overeating, irritability). Find ways to relax.
  • Be realistic.
    The care you give does make a difference, but many behaviors can’t be controlled. Grieve the losses, focus on positive times as they arise, and enjoy good memories.
  • Give yourself credit, not guilt.
    It’s normal to lose patience or feel like your care may fall short sometimes. You’re doing the best you can. For support and encouragement, join ALZConnected, our online caregiver community.
  • Take a break.
    It’s normal to need a break from caregiving duties. No one can do it all by themselves. Look into respite care to allow time to take care of yourself.
  • Accept changes.
    Eventually your loved one will need more intensive kinds of care. Research care options now so you are ready for the changes as they occur.

 

Source: Alz.org

How Giving Thanks Can Improve Your Health

As we enter the season of thanksgiving (including The Day itself), we are told repeatedly to count our blessings and practice gratitude. Many of us stop to consider all we have to be thankful for only for a moment on the fourth Thursday of November. But does the act of giving thanks provide benefits beyond a momentary acknowledgement of the good in our lives? Can a daily practice of gratitude actually improve our health?

Many experts think so. One of the main scientists exploring the phenomenon of giving thanks is Robert Emmons, who has studied the topic extensively. His book, Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, chronicles the studies he’s done that have convinced him that gratitude “is literally one of the few things that can measurably change people’s lives.”

Emmons is far from alone in his enthusiasm for gratitude. Dr. Lawrence Rosen, an integrative pediatrician and founder of the Whole Child Center, is also an advocate. According to Rosen, there are at least five benefits of gratitude that have scientific studies to back them up.

  • Gratitude reduces depression.
  • Gratitude engenders a feeling of peace.
  • Gratitude aids in restful sleep.
  • Gratitude improves heart health.
  • Gratitude strengthens memory.

So, how does one practice the art of gratitude?

One of the practices that Mr. Emmons extols is the gratitude journal. Oprah Winfrey has been talking about her personal experiences with a gratitude journal for years. The goal here is to set aside some time every day and write down several things you’re grateful for. According to Emmons, the act of writing “allows you to see the meaning of events going on around you and create meaning in your own life.”

Here are some other tips to keep you on the road of practicing gratitude:

Create visual cues

The toils of daily life can make us quickly forget all we have to be grateful for. So, remind yourself every day with visual reminders. This could be a photograph, a physical token of a feel-good moment (such as a souvenir from a wonderful vacation), or even just a Post-It note listing something for which you’re grateful.

Get support

Surround yourself with people who practice gratitude on a daily basis. Hearing someone share what they’re thankful for (especially if they’re facing a challenge) will remind you of all the blessings in your own life.

Give freely of yourself

Be conscious of the “emotional wake” you leave in the word. Smile at strangers and notice their reaction. Being conscious of how your actions affect others will naturally lead to others being grateful for you, which is the one of the greatest gifts of all.

Gratitude is like any other discipline – it takes practice! It starts with being awake and aware of the world around you and the beauty that is available for all us to share.

 

How Much Do You Know About Heart Health?

The American Heart Association recently reported that the death rate from cardiovascular disease has fallen more than 30 percent over the last decade, due to better treatment for heart attack, congestive heart failure and other heart disease. But this care comes at a cost: expenditures for the care for heart disease rose to more than $315 billion during the same decade. And heart disease continues to be the number one killer in the U.S. Every 39 seconds, someone dies of cardiovascular disease.

Education is the first step to lowering the risk of heart disease. Start by taking this short quiz to see how much you know about taking care of your heart. (Answers appear below.)

True or False?

  1. The heart is a muscle.
  2. Many diseases and conditions can contribute to the risk of heart disease.
  3. A heart attack always begins with sharp chest pain.
  4. The best thing to do if you experience heart attack symptoms is to call 911 right away.
  5. Women need to worry more about breast cancer than about heart disease.
  6. Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for your heart.
  7. If you have a family history of heart disease, you have exactly the same risk yourself.
  8. High blood cholesterol is one of the top risk factors for heart attack.
  9. As we grow older, it’s best to rest as much as possible.
  10. Even a person who has suffered a heart attack should exercise.
  11. It’s possible to eat a “heart smart” diet even if you dine out often.
  12. Emotional stress and anxiety can worsen a heart condition.

Answers to “Test Your Heart Health IQ”:

  1. The heart is a muscle.
    TRUE—The heart is the hardest working muscle in the body, pumping enough blood in your lifetime to fill a supertanker!
  2. Many diseases and conditions can contribute to the risk of heart disease.
    TRUE—A number of conditionsincluding hypertension (high blood pressure), high cholesterol and diabetes increase the risk of heart disease.
  3. A heart attack always begins with sharp chest pain.
    FALSE—A heart attack can begin slowly, with subtle signals. Symptoms can include:
    •    a feeling of pressure or discomfort in the chest
    •    discomfort in the arms, neck, back, jaw or stomach
    •    shortness of breath
    •    nausea, dizziness, sweating for no reason
    •    fatigue and lack of energy
  4. The best thing to do if you experience heart attack symptoms is to call 911 right away.
    TRUE—“Better safe than sorry” is very true when it comes to heart attack. Excellent treatments are now available, and the sooner treatment begins, the better the chance of saving the patient’s life and preventing disability. If you experience chest pain, especially if associated with any other of the signs listed above, call 911 right away. Acting quickly can save your life.
  5. Women need to worry more about breast cancer than about heart disease.
    FALSE—Women are far more likely to die of cardiovascular disease than from breast cancer. It is a myth that heart disease is primarily a men’s health problem. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women—and more women than men die within one year of a heart attack.
  6. Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for your heart.
    TRUE—Smoking is one of the top risk factors for heart disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cigarette smokers are up to four times more likely to develop heart disease. And even if you don’t smoke, exposure to secondhand smoke may raise your risk by up to 30%.
  7. If you have a family history of heart disease, you have exactly the same risk yourself.
    FALSE—Although your risk increases if a family member was diagnosed with heart disease, it’s not all in the genes! A healthy lifestyle can cut your risk. Obesity and inactivity are greater risk factors than genetic inheritance for most people. Here are the steps to take to lower the risk:
    •    If you smoke, quit.
    •    Take steps to lower blood pressure and cholesterol level.
    •    Increase physical activity.
    •    Maintain a healthy weight.
    •    If you are diabetic, follow your care plan.
  8. High blood cholesterol is one of the top risk factors for heart attack.
    TRUE—Lowering your cholesterol level through diet and lifestyle changes (and in some cases, medication) can cut your risk.
  9. As we grow older, it’s best to rest as much as possible.
    FALSE—The older you are, the more important regular physical exercise is to your well-being. Inactivity can lead to a downward spiral of decline. Ask your healthcare provider about an exercise program that’s right for you.
  10. Even a person who has suffered a heart attack should exercise.
    TRUE—For most patients, preventing another heart attack will include a cardiac rehabilitation program. Be sure you discuss your workout regimen with your healthcare provider and follow his or her instructions.
  11. It’s possible to eat a “heart smart” diet even if you dine out often.
    TRUE—Most menus feature at least a few low-fat, low-cholesterol, low-sodium items. Avoid fried foods, instead selecting baked or broiled. (If you aren’t sure how a dish is prepared, ask your server.) Skip dessert, and order your salad with low-fat dressing served on the side.
  12. Emotional stress and anxiety can worsen a heart condition.
    TRUE—Stressful emotions can raise your blood pressure, causing your heart to work harder. Lifestyle changes and relaxation techniques help lessen the effects of stress.

This article is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. Speak to your healthcare provider if you have questions about heart health or heart disease.

Source: IlluminAge AgeWise, 2015

 

Could Having a Sense of Purpose Lengthen Our Lives?

Over the last few years, aging experts have been looking at the role played by a sense of purpose—the feeling that our lives have meaning, and that we have a place in the world, that we make a difference. A number of studies have found that having a sense of purpose motivates us to take care of ourselves, reduces stress, and lowers the risk of a host of ailments that become more common as we age.

In November 2014, an article appearing in The Lancet suggested that having a sense of purpose can even add years to our lives. As reported by University College London (UCL), seniors who experienced a certain type of well-being were 30 percent less likely to die over the course of a study that was conducted by researchers from UCL, Princeton University and Stony Brook University. The researchers explained that “eudemonic well-being” is the positive feeling we get when we feel that what we do is worthwhile and that we have a purpose in life.

Explained study leader Professor Andrew Steptoe, Director of the UCL Institute of Epidemiology, “We cannot be sure that higher well-being necessarily causes lower risk of death, since the relationship may not be causal. But the findings raise the intriguing possibility that increasing well-being could help to improve physical health. There are several biological mechanisms that may link well-being to improved health, for example through hormonal changes or reduced blood pressure. Further research is now needed to see if such changes might contribute to the links between well-being and life expectancy in older people.”

The study appeared in the Nov. 6, 2014 issue of The Lancet. [optional link: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2813%2961489-0/fulltext]

Source: AgeWise reporting on news release from University College London.

 

Home Care Supports Seniors Who Want to Age in Place

The U.S. Census Bureau reported last year that the percentage of seniors who are living in a nursing home dropped by 20 percent over the last decade. Are seniors just healthier today? The truth is, older adults today need as much care as did previous generations, but more of them are receiving it in assisted living communities, adult day centers and, in growing numbers, in their own homes.
This information comes as little surprise to the 65 million Americans who are already serving as family caregivers for older loved ones who need help managing health conditions and the activities of daily living. Many of these caregivers are members of the baby boom generation, who are reaching the age when they themselves might be expected to need care! From the local to the federal level, government agencies, too, are taking notice of the financial impact resulting from this population shift. The discussion about how to best and most cost-effectively care for our seniors is taking center stage.
The Census study showed that 90 percent of seniors would wish to receive care in their own homes. Is this realistic? Can they be safe and well-cared for even if they are living with age-related illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, or memory loss? Several demographic changes in our society make this more of a challenge than it was in the past:
• A University of Michigan study showed that almost 40 percent of chronically ill older adults in the U.S. live alone, and the majority of those who are married have spouses who are themselves facing health challenges.
• Our lower birthrate equals fewer adult children to help out as parents’ care needs increase.
• Adult children are more likely to live at a distance, having moved to find employment.
• A higher divorce rate means more seniors live alone, and family caregivers’ financial and time resources are stretched when parents live in different households, or even in different parts of the country.
The cost of institutional care continues to grow. For some seniors with medically complex health challenges, nursing homes and other residential health facilities are the best choice. But for many other seniors, home care is a desirable and cost-effective arrangement.
Dr. Soeren Mattke of the RAND Corporation noted, “The aging of the world’s population and the fact that more diseases are treatable will create serious financial and manpower challenges for the world’s healthcare systems.” He added, “Moving more healthcare into the home setting where patients or family members can manage care could be one important solution to these challenges.”
A wide variety of care services can be provided right in a patient’s home:
Skilled healthcare services can be provided at home and are cost-effective. Visiting nurses and rehabilitation professionals provide skilled medical services in the home. Registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs) perform hands-on procedures such as wound care and IV therapy. Rehabilitation professionals include physical, occupational and speech/language therapists.
Nonmedical home care provides companionship and homemaking services that support the senior’s independence, at a much lower cost than nursing care. Caregivers provide supervision, assistance with dressing grooming and other personal care, laundry and housekeeping, meal preparation, transportation, socialization, and respite for family caregivers.
Dementia support is also available. Even when adult children live close to home, dementia complicates the caregiving dynamic. Trained in-home caregivers who understand the challenges of Alzheimer’s disease and similar conditions can help patients remain home longer, even as the need for assistance and supervision grows.
Many experts believe that bringing more care into seniors’ own homes will allow them to take better charge of their own care—and will save seniors and the healthcare system money.
Source: IlluminAge AgeWise, 2015

Healthy Lifestyle Choices to Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease

Most of us know that we can take “heart smart” steps to promote cardiac wellness. But sometimes, even the researchers are amazed at what a difference these lifestyle choices can make.

The American College of Cardiology recently reported on a new study, this one on a group of over 20,000 healthy Swedish men aged 45–79. The researchers from Karolinska Instituet in Stockholm, Sweden studied the men for 11 years, questioning them regularly about their diet, exercise and other wellness factors.

Said study author Agneta Akesson, Ph.D., “It is not surprising that healthy lifestyle choices would lead to a reduction in heart attacks. What is surprising is how drastically the risk dropped due to these factors.”

The researchers found that each healthy lifestyle factor decreased the risk of coronary heart disease. The healthy choices include:

  • A healthy diet including fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, reduced-fat dairy products, whole grains and fish
  • Not smoking
  • Walking or cycling at least 40 minutes per day
  • Amount of belly fat under 95 centimeters (37.5 inches)
  • Moderating alcohol consumption

According to the study authors, these preventive choices also help patients avoid the potential side effects of heart medications and, as a side benefit, save patients and the healthcare system money.

Akesson and her team report that, at present, less than 2 percent of the American population follow all these recommendations.

February’s American Heart Month is a great time to make some heart-smart resolutions for ourselves, and to promote heart health for everyone. This is not just an issue for seniors. Says Akesson, “It is important to note that these lifestyle behaviors are modifiable, and changing from high-risk to low-risk behaviors can have great impact on cardiovascular health. However, the best thing one can do is to adapt healthy lifestyle choices early in life.”

Learn More

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers resources and information for American Heart Month.  http://www.cdc.gov/features/heartmonth

Source: IlluminAge AgeWise reporting on information from the American College of Cardiology. Read the entire study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology  http://content.onlinejacc.org/article.aspx?articleID=1909605