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Winter Top Tips: How to Keep Seniors Happy, Healthy and Warm

Winter Top Tips: How to Keep Seniors Happy, Healthy and WarmThe AgingCare.com forum is filled with people coming together to share valuable information. We’ve compiled experienced caregivers’ suggestions for keeping a loved one cozy, content and clean in spite of cold winter weather.

 Winter Skincare Tips

“Although many people use baby oil, it contains mineral oil and artificial fragrances. If your loved one has any chemical sensitivities (and a lot of older people do), it is best to stay away from any artificial fragrances, artificial ingredients and mineral oil. Try organic coconut oil for soothing and moisturizing dry skin. It is simple and very effective. I also recommend visiting a good health food store and asking about lotions that are all natural.” –oceansong

“My primary care physician (whom I hold in very high regard) recommends Eucerin lotion products. They are a little pricey, but they last forever. I think they also make a lotion specifically for diabetics.” –Miasmom1

“Many of us love the bath or shower to be very hot, especially when it is cold outside. However, high temperatures can be very drying for the skin. I know my hands also become super dry in colder weather. I tried just about everything, but my hands felt like I had a dozen paper cuts and I looked like I was attacked by my cats! Then I found O’Keefe’s Working Hands Hand Cream. It’s mainly advertised to men, but I tried it and so far, so good! It can be found in grocery stores and hardware stores.” –freqflyer

“My mom developed dry, irritated skin last winter, and I thought she was having an allergic reaction. When we went to the doctor, he called it ‘winter itch’ (a seasonal type of eczema). It was all over her body and, of course, she has opened some areas on her skin. We are using antibiotic ointment and heavy cream specially forumlated for eczema. This has helped a great deal in just a couple of days!” –Seastar

Staying Warm While Bathing in Winter

“Temperature! Turn up the central heat to keep the bathroom warm during bath time. Seniors are often cold, even when we are wearing short sleeves. If there is cold tile in the bathroom, cover it with a plush bath rug and make sure they don’t fall. If you have an overhead heater, turn that on, too. Wear light clothing so you do not get totally overheated while helping them!” –homeandhearth

“A radiant heater panel can be especially useful for bathrooms. During fall and winter, mine is plugged into a motion sensor timer that you set for automatic shut off. We have it set to go on when motion starts, and it goes off when no motion is detected for five minutes. It makes the bathroom warm (I go and trigger it before Mom goes into the bathroom for a shower), and there’s no risk of it tipping over because it’s anchored to the wall.” –glasshalffull

“I purchased a small fan heater for our bathroom. My loved one gets cold easily, especially since the water is not running on her constantly because she uses a shower seat while bathing.” –Anonymous6636

Ending the Thermostat Wars

“As people age, typically the circulation in their extremities (arms and legs) diminishes, causing them to feel cold. Any time you go to a senior living center, you’ll see older people dressed far more warmly than younger people because the seniors are chilly. They’ll even wear sweaters when it’s hot and humid outside. Low thyroid can be another cause of being cold, so be sure to get that checked. My mom’s thyroid quit working about two years ago. Once we got her on thyroid medications and got the dose regulated, she felt warmer and had more energy.” –blannie

“Last winter (out of desperation), my husband and I installed a programmable thermostat and we put it high enough that Mom can’t reach it to crank the heat up. It has worked so well without having to leave notes or try to remind her not to touch it.” –chrisblair63

“I use a Sunbeam heating pad on the back of my dad’s chair. I just saw that Sunbeam and Sure Fit offer heated slip covers, too. As for me, I have been spared by a tall Dyson fan. It makes very little noise and feels like the air it puts out is cooled even though it isn’t. I set it up pointed directly at my chair. It can also oscillate, but the stationary position is perfect since my dad does not feel it and I do. This setup has kept him warm and me cool—something that many caregivers struggle with.” –pipruby

“If you get an electric blanket, make sure it has a cutoff temperature. My mom hates my electric heating pad for her back because it will only keep a high temperature for so long and then it turns off as a safety feature. I told her it’s better than falling asleep on it and getting burned.” –timbuktu

“Beanbag/microwavable heat packs can be heated and strategically placed at the hip, stomach, back and feet. They also make a slipper version that has helped my mom with the Raynaud’s syndrome in her feet.” –glasshalffull

Indoor and Outdoor Safety Tips

“My dad has two walkers. There is one that he leaves in the garage after going all over the yard and through the snow/dirt. Mom won’t let him in the house with it unless he cleans it off, so Dad just bought another walker for indoor use only.” –freqflyer

“Your loved one’s favorite holiday decoration may be a fifty-year-old menorah or Nativity scene with incandescent bulbs. On all décor, check thoroughly for dried and cracking wires and loose connections on the plug. It may have been perfectly safe for many years, but old wiring causes many fires this time of year.” –pamstegma

“A word of caution: canes are terrible on ice. If your loved one needs someone or something to help them walk, it is better that they stay indoors until the weather improves. If they need to get out and about, have someone meet them at home to help them on snowy, icy walkways.” –freqflyer

“I worry when my mother-in-law runs the temperature up higher in her home due to her tendency to get dehydrated. Each and every time she has been hospitalized, it has been because of dehydration. It is common knowledge that it is easier for seniors to get dehydrated when it is hot outside, but it is also a serious issue during winter, especially for those who have trouble getting enough liquids. Help them hydrate any way you can!” –oldcodger2

Source: AgingCare.com

Repetition and Alzheimer’s

Repetition and Alzheimer'sA person with Alzheimer’s may do or say something over and over — like repeating a word, question or activity — or undo something that has just been finished. In most cases, he or she is probably looking for comfort, security and familiarity.

Causes

The main cause of behavioral symptoms in Alzheimer’s and other progressive dementias is the deterioration of brain cells which causes a decline in the individual’s ability to make sense of the world. In the case of repetition, the person may not remember that she or he has just asked a question or completed a task.

Environmental influences also can cause symptoms or make them worse. People with dementia who ask questions repeatedly may be trying to express a specific concern, ask for help, or cope with frustration, anxiety or insecurity.

Because people with Alzheimer’s gradually lose the ability to communicate, it’s important to regularly monitor their comfort and anticipate their needs.

How to respond

  • Look for a reason behind the repetition.
    Does the repetition occur around certain people or surroundings, or at a certain time of day? Is the person trying to communicate something?
  • Focus on the emotion, not the behavior.
    Rather than reacting to what the person is doing, think about how he or she is feeling.
  • Turn the action or behavior into an activity.
    If the person is rubbing his or her hand across the table, provide a cloth and ask for help with dusting.
  • Stay calm, and be patient.
    Reassure the person with a calm voice and gentle touch. Don’t argue or try to use logic; Alzheimer’s affects memory, and the person may not remember he/she asked the question already.
  • Provide an answer.
    Give the person the answer that he or she is looking for, even if you have to repeat it several times. If the person with dementia is still able to read and comprehend, it may help to write it down and post it in a prominent location.
  • Engage the person in an activity.
    The individual may simply be bored and need something to do. Provide structure and engage the person in a pleasant activity.
  • Use memory aids.
    If the person asks the same questions over and over again, offer reminders by using notes, clocks, calendars or photographs, if these items are still meaningful.
  • Accept the behavior, and work with it.
    If it isn’t harmful, don’t worry about it. Find ways to work with it.
  • Share your experience with others.
    Join ALZConnected, our online support community and message boards, and share what response strategies have worked for you and get more ideas from other caregivers.

Source: Alz.org

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

Hallucinations, Delusions and Paranoia Related to Dementia

Hallucinations, Delusions and Paranoia Related to DementiaHallucinations, Delusions and Paranoia Related to Dementia

According to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, the major psychiatric symptoms of middle stage Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia include hallucinations, delusions and paranoia. About 40 percent of dementia patients experience delusions, while hallucinations occur in about 25 percent of cases. When a senior is experiencing hallucinations and delusions, their caregiver often wants to help them understand that these beliefs and experiences are not real.

 “It is not helpful to argue or rationally explain why something happened,” says Lisa P. Gwyther, associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University and director of the Duke Aging Center Family Support Program. “It just frustrates the person. They somehow know that you are not taking their thoughts and feelings seriously.”

While reinforcing reality seems like the logical and kind thing to do, this natural instinct can be wrong. Family caregivers can ensure they’re prepared to handle these challenging behaviors by learning the differences between them and proper coping techniques for each one.

 Understanding the Differences

Hallucinations, delusions and paranoia are symptoms of disease and not a normal part of aging. While they may seem similar, they are actually very different.

Hallucinations are false sensory experiences that can be visual, auditory and/or tactile. These perceptions cannot be corrected by telling a patient that they’re not real. Examples include a dementia patient hearing music when none is playing or seeing bugs on a surface where there aren’t any.

Delusions are fixed false beliefs that are not supported by reality. They are often caused by a faulty memory. Examples include accusing caregivers of theft and infidelity.

Paranoia is centered around suspiciousness. Elderly individuals often project hostility and frustration onto caregivers through paranoid behaviors.

Coping with Hallucinations

When it comes to handling a senior’s hallucinations, Dr. Marion Somers, author of “Elder Care Made Easier: Doctor Marion’s 10 Steps to Help You Care for an Aging Loved One,” suggests joining them in their version of reality. Ask them about what they are experiencing as if it is real so that you can more effectively defuse the situation. Refrain from trying to explain that what they are seeing or hearing is all in their head. “Otherwise, you’re going to aggravate them, and you don’t want to increase the level of agitation,” says Dr. Somers.

Reassure them by validating their feelings. Say something like, “I see that you’re upset. I would be upset if I saw those things, too.” Tell them that they are safe with you and you will do whatever you can to help them feel secure.

A comforting touch, such as gently patting their back, may help the person turn their attention to you and reduce the hallucination, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. You also can suggest that they move to a different room or take a walk to get away from whatever may have triggered the experience.

Realize that some hallucinations, such as seeing children or hearing music, can be comforting. If the individual is reassured by a hallucination, caregivers don’t need to do anything to stop it, Gwyther says. “You only need to respond to things that are scary or disruptive or keep the person from getting adequate care,” she says.

In addition to dementia, poor eyesight, hearing loss, certain medications, and physical problems like dehydration and urinary tract infections (UTIs) can contribute to hallucinations. If all other factors are ruled out and a loved one’s hallucinations are disturbing and persistent, then antipsychotic medication may be prescribed to reduce them. However, Gwyther says these medications can present a risk for dementia patients. She recommends first changing the way you communicate during these episodes and changing the activity and environment to remove or reduce triggers.

The Alzheimer’s Association offers these tips to change the environment:

  • See if any lighting or lack of lighting casts shadows, distortions or reflections on walls, floors and even furniture that could contribute to visual hallucinations.
  • Listen for any sounds, such as TV or air conditioning noise, which could be misinterpreted.
  • Remove or cover mirrors if they could cause someone to think they are seeing a stranger.

Dealing with Delusions

Delusions among dementia patients typically result from their cognitive impairment. They occur when a senior tries to make sense of a situation, but their confusion and memory problems make it impossible. “They end up filling a hole in a faulty memory with a delusion that makes sense to them,” Gwyther says. For example, if a loved one cannot find their purse, they may decide that it is missing because someone stole it.

Delusions can be frightening for the person living with dementia, but they can also be very hurtful for caregivers when they are the accused. Recognize that the elderly individual is living in a world that doesn’t make sense to them and is likely scared. Do not take any accusations personally or respond with logical explanations. Instead, reassure the person and avoid asking questions that may cause more confusion. If they are looking for an item, tell them you will help them find it. In cases where a loved one regularly misplaces an item and becomes agitated over the loss, the Alzheimer’s Association recommends purchasing a duplicate of the item to quickly resolve the issue until the original is found.

Distraction is another strategy that dementia caregivers use in response to delusional thinking, but it may not work for every patient or every delusion. If a loved one is experiencing a mild delusion, offering a favorite snack or activity or asking them to tell you about an important experience in their life may be sufficient to redirect their attention. In cases where the person is very upset, reassurance may be the only viable option. Again, it is crucial to avoid rationalizing the situation and stress your commitment to their security and happiness.

Responding to Paranoia

Paranoia is less common than delusions and hallucinations but can still be very troubling. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, when paranoia occurs, caregivers can assess the problem by considering these questions:

  • What happened right before the person became suspicious?
  • Has something like this happened before?
  • Was it in the same room or at the same time of day?
  • Can this trigger be removed or altered to avoid eliciting suspicion?

If someone is experiencing paranoia, it is important to discuss their medications (prescription and over the counter drugs as well as vitamins) with their doctor. “Sometimes medications interact with one another or the dosages are too large,” notes Somers. “That can bring on paranoia, but a doctor can address problems and adjust the senior’s regimen to minimize issues.”

Recognizing the causes for all three behaviors and understanding what a loved one goes through while enduring hallucinations, delusions and paranoia can help you both keep calm and find solutions.

Source: AgingCare.com

Your Complete Guide to Medicare Open Enrollment

Your Complete Guide to Medicare Open EnrollmentWhat is Open Enrollment?

The Medicare Open Enrollment Period is an annual period of time (October 15 through December 7) when current Medicare users can choose to re-evaluatepart of their Medicare coverage (their Medicare Advantage and/or Part D plan) and compare it against all the other plans on the market. After re-evaluating, if you find a plan that is a better fit for your needs, you can then switch to, drop or add a Medicare Advantage or Part D plan. Medicare Advantage is also known as a “Part C” plan.

You cannot use Open Enrollment to enroll in Part A and/or Part B for the first time. For more information on all of the parts of Medicare, and when you can enroll in them, visit our Medicare coverage map.

Still confused about Open Enrollment? Try taking our Medicare Questionnaire assessment, which can connect you to free professional advice about Medicare from a licensed benefits advisor (who abides by our Standards of Excellence).

What you can do during the Open Enrollment Period (OEP):

  • Anyone who has (or is signing up for) Medicare Parts A or B can join or drop a Part D prescription drug plan.
  • Anyone with Original Medicare (Parts A & B) can switch to a Medicare Advantage plan.
  • Anyone with Medicare Advantage can drop it and switch back to just Original Medicare (Parts A & B).
  • Anyone with Medicare Advantage can switch to a new Medicare Advantage plan.
  • Anyone with a Part D prescription drug plan can switch to a new Part D prescription drug plan.

When is Open Enrollment?

Open Enrollment is from October 15th through December 7th every year. If you use the Open Enrollment period to choose a new Medicare Advantage or Part D plan, that new coverage will begin on January 1.

Worried about forgetting when Open Enrollment starts and ends? You can sign up for reminders here, or just add your email into the “Get Reminded” box on this page.

Why should I consider re-evaluating my current Medicare coverage during Open Enrollment?

Unfortunately, choosing health insurance is no longer a one-time decision for most Medicare beneficiaries. Each year, insurance companies can make changes to Medicare plans that can impact how much you pay out-of-pocket—like the monthly premiums, deductibles, drug costs, and provider or pharmacy “networks.” A network is a list of doctors, hospitals, or pharmacies that negotiate prices with insurance companies. They can also make changes to your plan’s “formulary” (list of covered drugs). Given these yearly changes, it is a good idea to re-evaluate your current Medicare plan each year to make sure it still meets your needs. Below are some additional benefits of re-evaluating your coverage during Open Enrollment:

  1. You can switch to better prescription drug coverage. Using Open Enrollment to switch your drug coverage—or add drug coverage for the first time—can make crucial medications that you need less expensive. It can also ensure that your drug plan still covers the drugs you need (as your prescriptions may not be included on your plan’s formulary for next year).
  2. You can save money and keep your doctor in-networkSwitching your Medicare Advantage or Part D plan can potentially save you hundreds of dollars a year—especially if your current plan’s out-of-pocket costs will increase next year. Research shows that the average consumer can save $300 or more annually if they review their Part D coverage. One way to lower your medical costs is to check that your current doctors, hospital, and pharmacy are “in-network” with whatever Medicare Advantage or Part D plan you choose. If your insurance company has changed your plan’s provider or pharmacy network for next year (and your doctor or other resources will no longer be included), you can use Open Enrollment to switch to a plan that will include your current doctors, hospital and/or pharmacy in-network, thereby lowering your medical costs.
  3. You can find a higher quality plan. Finally, check the quality of your plan using the Medicare 5-star ratings system. Plans with a 5-star rating are considered high quality and those with fewer than 3 stars are considered poor quality. If your current plan is ranked as less than a 3, consider using Open Enrollment to switch to a higher rated plan.

Next Steps: How do I re-evaluate my current Medicare coverage during Open Enrollment?

Interested in re-evaluating and/or switching your current Medicare coverage? We recommend one of the three options below:

  1. Take our quick Medicare Questionnaire. It can connect you to free professional counseling from a licensed benefits advisor at Aon Retiree Health Exchange (our trusted partner who abides by the NCOA Standards of Excellence).
  2. Use the plan finder tool on Medicare.gov. This is the official U.S. government site for Medicare.
  3. Contact your local SHIP (State Health Insurance Assistance Program). SHIPs provide federally-funded Medicare counseling through a trained staff member or volunteer.

When you have chosen a plan that’s best for your situation, you’ll need to provide your Medicare number and the date your Part A and/or Part B coverage started. This information is on your Medicare card. In general, you need to be careful about when you give out your personal Medicare information (see “5 Steps for Avoiding Medicare Scams“), but this is a situation when licensed advisors in a trusted setting can help you make a beneficial change.

Questions about Medicare?

Get answers now

Source: My Medicare Matters/National Council on Aging

4 Tricks for a Happy Halloween with an Elderly Loved One

Halloween is a holiday that people of all ages look forward to each year. Costumes, candy, haunted houses and festive parties set this occasion apart from all the others, but how do you help an elder celebrate All Hallows’ Eve in a safe, fun and healthy way? Use these tricks and treats to include your loved ones in the festivities this Halloween.

  1. Choose healthy treats to haunt your home and candy bowl. Whether you plan to hand out candy to trick-or-treaters, have a small get together or simply spend a low-key evening at home with your loved one, make sure you have healthy treats on hand. Help yourselves avoid binging on fattening and sugary candies by having better options available at home and for children who are trick-or-treating.
    As a special treat, you and your elder can indulge in a few pieces of dark chocolate, which is lower in sugar and fat than milk varieties and even packs some immune-boosting antioxidants. A celebratory dessert made with natural and/or sugar free ice cream is another special treat that will delight your loved one. Provide healthy topping options like nuts, berries and other kinds of fruit, and oats or granola that they can choose from to make their own tasty creation. This will boost their intake of nutrients like potassium, vitamin C, dietary fiber, and protein.
    There are countless healthy options for snacks and desserts available. However, keep in mind that some elders may have difficulty eating certain foods. A loved one who has trouble chewing and/or swallowing may fare better with a healthy smoothie or bowl of pudding instead of a hard granola bar or dense fruit like apples.
  2. Plan your “paranormal” activities appropriately. Your loved one may enjoy the excitement of handing out goodies to trick-or-treaters and seeing neighborhood children in their costumes. This is a fun and easy way for elders to interact with other generations and feel that they are a part of the celebration without even leaving their front porch or driveway. Encouraging them to participate is a great way to improve their mood and get them into the spirit of Halloween.
    However, some elders may not interact well with children or be able to handle the hubbub of trick-or-treating. In this case, post an easily visible note in your driveway or on your front door that says, “Sorry, no more candy,” or “No trick-or-treaters, please.” This can be especially important for loved ones who have dementia and may be agitated or confused by repeated knocking or ringing of the doorbell.
    Most trick-or-treaters make their rounds at dusk or just after dark, which may coincide with the onset of Sundowner’s syndrome. For an individual with Alzheimer’s or dementia, confusion and agitation can be heightened at this time of day. Excessive noise, the coming and going of strangers, and costumes can be extremely disorienting and even frightening. Making treats together, watching a not-too-scary movie, or engaging in simple holiday crafts can be great low-key distractions. If you both choose to participate in Halloween festivities, be sure that you remain attentive and aware of your loved one’s mood and comfort level throughout the evening.
  3. Keep seasonal décor spooky but safe. Houses can be decorated to celebrate the height of the fall season with pumpkins, wreaths of fall foliage and cinnamon brooms, or they can be made into sinister dwellings full of cobwebs, spooky figurines, bats and spiders. Regardless of how you wish to decorate, make sure that none of these items present a tripping or fire hazard. One of the best ways to do this is to place larger decorations outside on the lawn, and keep indoor embellishments to small accents.
    Décor may be out of the question for a loved one who has dementia, especially if they are prone to hallucinations, delusions or paranoia. Decorative touches that we think are tame may be extremely unsettling or bothersome for an elder with cognitive impairment. Their brain processes sensory stimulation in ways that can be scary or overwhelming. You know your loved one best, so decorate in a safe and considerate way.
  4. Make costumes creative and comfortable. For some, the ability to dress up is the best part of celebrating Halloween. If your loved one wants and is able to, assist them in making a costume, and let them show it off to trick-or-treaters on Halloween night.
    Keep in mind that complicated or elaborate outfits may make it difficult to walk and/or make trips to the restroom. Simpler costumes will keep your loved one comfortable and make your caregiving duties much easier so you both can enjoy the festivities.
 Holidays like Halloween can be enjoyed by people of all ages. Help your loved one celebrate in a fun and healthy way, and remember that there’s nothing wrong with a little bit of indulgence and kookiness every so often!
Source: AgingCare.com

Little-Known Winter Dangers For Elders

FallsLittle-Known Winter Dangers For Elders, and hypothermia are likely to top the list of caregiver concerns during the icy winter months. But, elderly loved ones are also at risk for some lesser known, but still impactful, hazards brought on by frigid weather.

 Seasonal affective disorder and vitamin D deficiency can be hazardous to a senior’s health. The good new is, they are both easily treatable if identified and dealt with properly.

Winter SADness

Feeling a bit glum may seem like an ordinary reaction to the fading glow of the holidays. But, when that feeling of sadness persists for more than a week or two, it might not be just the lack of festive lights and carols getting your elderly loved one down.

Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known by the acronym, SAD, is a form of depression that cycles with the seasons. It can occur during any time of the year, but it typically hits most people in the winter.

As the weather gradually gets colder and the days shorter, people affected by the winter-induced form of SAD will generally begin to feel the symptoms of depression, including; a loss of energy, an increased appetite and an enhanced feeling of lethargy and tiredness.

According to the National Institutes of Health, SAD is more likely to strike women and people who live in northern areas where the sun is not as strong or constant.

The main difference between SAD and general depression is that SAD only strikes during certain times of the year. The hormonal changes that lead to depressive symptoms in people with SAD are usually caused by a decline in the amount of daylight during the winter and fall.

These effects can be compounded if a person primarily stays indoors and doesn’t have the opportunity to venture out into the sun often.

Turning their Frown Upside Down

Like other forms of depression, SAD can be treated with antidepressant medications, which are most effective if started prior to the onset of symptoms each year.

Another form of treatment designed to alleviate the symptoms of SAD is light therapy.

Light therapy utilizes a piece of equipment called a ‘light box’—essentially a fluorescent lamp that gives off light similar to natural sunlight.

A good quality light box generally costs about $200 and most come with a filter that blocks UV rays so that the light does not to damage a person’s eyes or skin.

Research has shown that, when used properly, a light box can help decrease the amount of melatonin (a hormone that causes drowsiness and lethargy) circulating in a person’s body, and regulate the neurotransmitters serotonin and epinephrine. Having an imbalance of these chemicals can heighten the symptoms of depression.

If your loved one is diagnosed with SAD, their doctor may instruct them to sit in front of the box for 30 to 45 minutes a day, usually in the morning, in order to make up for the lack of sunlight most people experience during the winter.

Though it is not always the go-to treatment for SAD, some studies have shown that light therapy has the potential to be as effective as antidepressant medication when it comes to treating the disorder.

Of course, a more natural alternative to light therapy is daily exposure to sunlight. If time and weather conditions permit, it would be helpful for a person with SAD to go outside for a few minutes during daylight hours.

Vitamin D Deficiency

Vitamin D is a vital nutrient that has been linked to bone health, cancer prevention, incontinence prevention, and diabetes prevention. A person can obtain vitamin D by eating certain foods (Salmon, beef, egg yolks, fortified cereals and juices), brief sun exposure, and by taking dietary supplements.

While frigid weather is likely to have little effect on that availability of the right foods and supplements, the sun is weaker and out for shorter periods of time in the winter, making it difficult for people to get enough exposure to produce vitamin D.

Lacking vitamin D is bad for a person’s health at any age, but can be particularly dangerous for the elderly. Older people who don’t get enough vitamin D have an increased risk for developing osteoporosis—a dangerous decrease in bone density that can contribute to broken bones.

Unfortunately for seniors, the National Institutes for Health has identified elderly people as an at-risk group for vitamin D deficiency.

Older people are less efficient at using sunlight to produce vitamin D, and are more likely to be housebound and unable to be exposed to enough sunlight to be beneficial. Also, certain medications taken by older people, such as the anti-inflammatory, prednisone, can inhibit their natural ability to produce and metabolize vitamin D.

Fortify Your Senior Against a D Deficit

Combating vitamin D deficiency in the elderly can be tricky.

Experts are loath to prescribe extra time in the sun to a group of people more prone to developing skin cancer and it can be tricky to determine how much supplementation to suggest.

Making sure a senior is eating foods fortified with vitamin D is the safest way to help reduce or prevent a deficit. Certain varieties of milk, yogurt and juice all contain extra doses of the vitamin, but not so much as to pose a hazard to an elderly person’s health.

If you are considering supplementation or extra time in the sun for your elderly loved one, consult with their doctor to come up with a proper plan of attack.

Source: AgingCare.com

Create Your All-Star Care Team in 5 Steps

Create Your All-Star Care Team in 5 StepsIn 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)

Source: AgingCare.com

Helping Mom and Dad Make the Decision to Relocate in Older Age

Helping Mom and Dad Make the Decision to Relocate in Older AgeAt age 90, Marta’s mother still lived in the two-story farmhouse where she had raised five children. The white clapboard structure held a wealth of memories beyond measure, not to mention an attic’s worth of personal possessions, pictures and mementos of birthdays and Christmases gone by.

But Marta worried her mother could fall while walking to the barn and lay injured, undiscovered for days. The idea haunted her.

Finally the anxiety propelled Marta into sitting down with her mother to discuss the situation. “Mom, I worry about you. Maybe you should think about selling the house and moving into a smaller place closer to us.”

Like many older adults, Marta’s mother bristled at the idea of surrendering her independence and refused to budge.

What can you do when you feel your parents are jeopardizing their well-being by staying put at home? Or what about the opposite scenario,

when they announce they’re going to downsize to a retirement community that’s far too expensive for them to afford? How can you help aging family members make sensible decisions about these matters?

Try these suggestions for four common scenarios.

1. Refusing to leave the family home.

Many older adults have a vision of living at home forever. This might be because the idea of downsizing feels overwhelming or because they believe you will take care of them, bring them hot meals, drive them to appointments and so on. Or maybe it’s too painful for them to think about selling or giving away precious possessions.

To help guide the decision-making process in this situation, first try to determine the reason why your parents refuse to consider downsizing. Then address the underlying reasons, either by creating a plan to help them dispose of their possessions without guilt or to shed some light on the reality of how their future will actually look if they continue living in the family home.

For instance, gently articulate your own boundaries by saying something like, “Just to be clear, if you stay here at home, I want you to understand that I will only be able to check in on you each Saturday. I’m not always going to be able to take time off work to drive you to doctor appointments and things, so this is something you should take into consideration.”

2. Proposing to move to a place that is too expensive.

Whether we like to believe it or not, most of us are subject to peer pressure. And if your parents’ friends all start downsizing to pricey assisted living or retirement communities, your own parents may start to decide they want to do that, too.

But if you know they will not be able to afford such a lifestyle—now or in the future—you can point out the financial reality of the situation. Try painting a picture for them, so they can easily relate. For instance, you might say, “That sounds like such a nice place to retire to! Have you considered, though, that, with a monthly rental fee of X and your budget of Y, if your health needs change you could be faced with a choice between paying your rent or buying prescriptions? Maybe it’s something to consider.”

3. Announcing their intention to move in with a family member.

Many parents take for granted that they will simply move in with one of the kids when they can no longer take care of themselves. However, you should use caution before agreeing to such a decision. It could come with many benefits for both you and your parents, but it’s important to seriously consider the cons as well. Adding people to your household can upset the social balance and cause marital strife, as well as creating a possible financial burden.

One alternative is to suggest that you sit down together and make a list of the possible living options available to your parents, no matter how far-fetched they may seem. Jot down:

Move in with daughter/son

  • Assisted living
  • Retirement community
  • Long-term care facility
  • Stay in home with caregiving assistance

Don’t exclude any possibility during this brainstorming session. Then ask your parents to explore each of these options (including a tour, when possible) with you before making up their mind about what to do.

4. When cognitive impairment leads to unrealistic decision-making.

One difficult scenario many family caregivers find themselves in is when an older relative is experiencing mild to moderate cognitive impairment that renders them unable to make a realistic decision about their future living arrangement, even though they maintain enough function to live independently for the time being. How can you influence them to take a sensible course for downsizing and relocating?

In this case, you might consider engaging the services of a Geriatric Care Manager, at least temporarily. These individuals assess the living situation of an older adult and make recommendations for how to proceed in the future. Often, when the suggestions come from an expert (who also happens to be a neutral third party), an older family member will feel more open to them.

Rule of thumb: Try three times, three different ways

Marta wisely tried several different angles to engage her mother in a conversation about relocating. Over coffee, she casually took note of the dirty dishes piling up and the dust collecting on some knickknacks and offered to help with the housecleaning. Her mother declined. A second time, Marta expressed her fear that her mother might fall and be injured. Again, her mother took no notice. On a third occasion, Marta brought up the idea of her mother getting a medical alert bracelet. Her mother responded by stalking off to the garden.

After the third attempt, Marta backed off from the subject temporarily. Then, one day when Marta visited, she flipped a light switch and nothing happened. Thinking the bulb had burned out, she screwed in a new one, but still nothing.

Investigating further, Marta discovered her mother had forgotten to pay the electric bill for more than a month, and her service had been disconnected. Marta’s mother sheepishly admitted the lapse and declared maybe it was time to sell up and move into assisted living.

In a best-case scenario, it wouldn’t take a small catastrophe like this to prompt an older loved one to realize he or she needs to make a change in living situation. But even if this turns out to be the catalyst that finally moves things forward, know that your efforts to have these discussions and present options will pay dividends in the end.

Source: Caregiverstress.com

Pill-Swallowing Methods for Simplifying Medication Administration

About 40 percent of American adults have trouble swallowing pills, according to a Harris Interactive poll. Commonly cited issues include gagging, a lingering aftertaste from an incomplete swallow, and having a pill become lodged in the throat. These problems can be even more prevalent in seniors with conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, and stroke, all of which can affect the ability to swallow.

A group of researchers from the University of Heidelberg has unlocked the secret to taking oral medications, even for those with dysphagia (difficulty swallowing). Scientists tested two techniques for taking pills on more than 150 men and women. Some of the participants had preexisting problems with swallowing and some did not.

“Both techniques were remarkably effective in participants with and without reported difficulties swallowing pills and should be recommended regularly,” study authors say.

Tips for Swallowing Pills

According to the researchers, different techniques work best for different pills.

The Pop-Bottle Method for Tablets

  1. Take a plastic water bottle that is flexible enough to squeeze in when you drink from it and fill it with water.
  2. Place the tablet on your tongue and close your lips tightly around the mouth of the bottle.
  3. Drink from the bottle by pursing your lips and sucking in water. Keep the mouth of the bottle entirely covered by your lips and refrain from allowing air to get into it. You should see the bottle begin to bend inward as you drink.
  4. Immediately swallow the pill along with the water.

Why it works: Sucking on a water bottle helps engage your swallowing reflex, enabling you to overcome the gag reflex that kicks in when trying to down a large tablet.

The Lean-Forward Method for Capsules

  1. Fill a glass, cup or bottle with water.
  2. Place the capsule on your tongue.
  3. Take a medium drink of water, but refrain from swallowing.
  4. Close your mouth and tilt your chin down towards your chest.
  5. Keeping your chin and head down, swallow both the water and the capsule.

Why it works: Most capsules float on water, making them difficult to swallow in the traditional way with your head in a neutral position or leaned backwards. Tilting your head forward while you have water in your mouth just before you swallow helps position the floating capsule at the back of your mouth so it slides more easily down your throat.

Still Have Trouble Swallowing Pills?

Nearly 97 percent of people who tried the lean-forward technique for capsules said the strategy was helpful, while 88 percent of people who used the pop-bottle technique with tablets said the same. These two methods were highly effective for many people, but there is no one-size-fits-all approach to making medications easier to take, especially for older adults with swallowing issues.

Some pills can be cut into smaller, more manageable pieces or crushed and added to food or drinks. Others can even be prescribed in a liquid form that eliminates the problem altogether. Doctors and pharmacists are key sources of information about medications. Always consult one of these professionals before trying anything new with a prescription or over-the-counter medicine.

Source: AgingCare.com