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Warning Signs of Pneumonia

PneumoniaWarning Signs of Pneumonia is a common lung infection that can cause coughing, chest pain, and difficulty breathing. It can also be deadly. Each year, approximately 50,000 Americans die of pneumonia, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Of course, pneumonia isn’t always deadly. ‘Walking pneumonia,’ for instance, is a form of the disease that’s so mild, it barely interferes with your usual activity. For most people, prompt diagnosis and treatment are key to minimizing the negative effects of this lung infection; the sooner you seek medical attention for pneumonia symptoms, the sooner you’ll feel better. Watch for these five symptoms and signs of pneumonia.

1. Cough with phlegm

Anything that irritates the lungs—smoke, infection, even chemical exposure—can cause a cough. Coughs also are a cardinal symptom of the common cold, which typically doesn’t require medical treatment. So how do you know if a cough is a symptom of a potentially serious medical condition, such as pneumonia? Pay attention to the cough over time.

A cough that gets worse, instead of better, over time can be a sign of pneumonia; anyone who feels sicker rather than better after a few days of a cold or the flu should seek medical evaluation. It’s also a good idea to see a healthcare provider if you start coughing up mucus or phlegm, particularly if the mucus is thick, green or yellow.

2. High fever

If you have persistent fever of 102 degrees Fahrenheit or greater, seek medical attention, especially if you also have a cough. Fever and chills are common symptoms of pneumonia. A really high fever—about 104 or 105 degrees F—may be a symptom of bacterial pneumonia. (Generally, the fevers that occur with viral pneumonia are not as severe.)

If you are caring for an elderly family member or friend, also be alert for a lower-than-normal body temperature. People who are older than age 65 or have weak immune systems sometimes run low temperatures when they have pneumonia.

3. Chest pain

If your chest hurts when you take a deep breath or cough, you might have pneumonia. Some people describe pneumonia-related chest pain as “sharp” or “stabbing.” The pain may get worse with activity. You may also feel fatigued and short of breath with even minimal activity, such as climbing a few stairs or getting dressed. That’s because pneumonia makes it hard for oxygen to move efficiently through your lungs and to the rest of your body.

4. Confusion

Anything that causes sudden confusion or a change in mental alertness is a cause for concern. In people older than 65, new-onset confusion can be a sign of pneumonia (or another infection). That’s because pneumonia reduces lung’s ability to efficiently exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide, so people  with pneumonia tend to breathe less deeply. Both of these factors reduce the amount of fresh oxygen to the brain. If you or a loved one experiences confusion or difficulty breathing, seek medical attention immediately. If you’re caring for someone who develops confusion but doesn’t appear to have any other symptoms, check their temperature and then call their healthcare provider to report your observations and findings. A full medical evaluation may be necessary.

5. Feeling worse, not better

Usually, people get incrementally better over the course of a cold or other respiratory infection. If you suddenly feel worse again after a period of improvement, it’s likely you have a secondary infection—an infection on top of your initial infection. (When your body is busy fighting one set of germs, it’s easier for another germ to settle in and multiply.) Anybody who feels worse rather than better after a few days of respiratory symptoms should see a healthcare provider.

How to prevent pneumonia

Frequent handwashing, adequate nutrition, and plenty of sleep can help you avoid and resist the germs that cause pneumonia. People who are at high risk for serious complications from pneumonia should consider getting the pneumonia vaccine. The CDC recommends the pneumonia vaccine for:

  • All children younger than 2 years
  • All adults ages 65 and older
  • Adults ages 19 through 64 who smoke cigarettes
  • People ages 2 through 64 with certain medical conditions

You can further decrease your risk of pneumonia by getting an annual flu vaccination. It’s not unusual for people to develop bacterial pneumonia after influenza. If you avoid the flu, you minimize your chances of getting pneumonia.

Pneumonia symptoms in adults can be mild or severe. Walking pneumonia symptoms are typically mild, while more serious cases of pneumonia are characterized by high fevers, chest pain with breathing, shortness of breath, and a persistent cough. Always seek medical attention whenever you notice one or more of the warning signs of pneumonia. It will help you avoid even more serious complications, such as respiratory failure.

Source: Healthgrades. by Jennifer L.W. Fink, RN, BSN

Too Much Sitting Could Raise Brain Risks

Too Much Sitting Could Raise Brain RisksMONDAY, April 16, 2018 (HealthDay News) — There’s been lots of research into how too many hours lounging on chairs and sofas can harm the heart. Now, researchers say all that sitting might be bad for your brain, too.

A new study found that too much time spent sitting was correlated with an unhealthy “thinning” of tissue in a key brain area tied to memory.

And it appears that the link isn’t simply due to the fact that folks who sit for hours each day aren’t exercising — there was something about the act of sitting itself that seemed to be key, the researchers said.

“We found that sedentary behavior, but not [levels of] physical activity, was associated with less thickness of the medial temporal lobe,” a brain region that’s crucial to the formation of new memories, explained a team led by Prabha Siddarth.

Siddarth is a biostatistician at the University of California, Los Angeles’ Semel Institute of Neuroscience and Human Behavior.

One brain specialist called the research early, but “intriguing.”

While the study can’t prove that sitting helped cause the brain tissue thinning, the research “bears further exploration,” said Dr. Marc Gordon, chair of neurology at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, N.Y.

In the study, Siddarth’s group asked 35 people, aged 45 to 75, about their physical activity levels and the average amount of time they spent sitting each day during the previous week. Each participant also underwent a scan of their medial temporal lobe.

Study participants who spent a lot of time sitting were more likely to have thinning of this brain region, the investigators found. And that included even those people who had relatively high levels of physical activity when they weren’t sitting.

As Gordon noted, however, “not all sitting behavior is necessarily equal, and what people are doing while they are seated may have different effects [on brain health].”

Siddarth’s team explained that “it is possible that there may be two distinct groups: mentally active sitting and mentally inactive sitting. In mentally active sitting, individuals may be attending to cognitive demanding tasks such as crossword puzzles, documentation, writing, or computer games. In mentally inactive sitting, individuals may be engaging in less demanding, passive tasks such as watching television or movies.”

The study authors also noted that a thinning of the medial temporal lobe is suspected of being a forerunner of mental decline and dementia in middle-aged and older adults.

So, it’s plausible that reducing the amount of time spent sitting could be a way to improve brain health in people at risk for Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia, the researchers suggested.

And not only the brain might be helped: Prior research has shown that too much sitting increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes and premature death, the study authors noted.

Siddarth’s team said it wants to conduct a long-term study to determine if too much sitting actually helps cause a thinning of the medial temporal lobe.

The findings were reported April 12 in the journal PLOS One.

Source: HealthDay

Skin Care Tips for Seniors

Skin Care Tips for Seniors

Our skin is often the first place we notice signs of aging. Beyond just wrinkles and age spots, our skin is a reflector of our overall health, and yet it is often overlooked.  

Did you know… 

The skin is the largest organ in the body. It has a very important job — protecting our internal organs and systems from bacteria and other foreign matter that can make us sick or otherwise damage us. 

As we age, however, our skin also begins to change. It loses elasticity, becomes thinner and drier, begins to sag, and takes longer to heal. Damage to the skin that occurred in our youth can also start to appear in the form of age spots and dry patches. Medications, diet and exercise can also impact your skin, which is why it is important to check it regularly for changes. 

Among the changes that require attention is the appearance of moles and skin tags, as they can indicate more serious conditions, including diabetes, kidney disease, and several forms of cancer. (link to: https://www.cancer.gov/types/skin) 

 Good Skin Care Is a Must 

  • Drink plenty of water! The human body is 70 percent water. Staying hydrated is essential to overall health as well as keeping your skin soft and supple. Dry skin can create itchy patches, redness and, if you scratch them, sores that can take time to heal and allow bacteria to enter the body. 
  • Eat your veggies! A well-rounded diet that includes lots of vegetables is a must. Beyond our overall health, vegetables contain the ingredients essential for healthy skin. 
  • Moisturize! Use a good body lotion daily in order toto keep skin supple and smooth. Moisturizing also helps with itching and reduces self-imposed scratch marks. Other ways to keep your skin moist is to take fewer baths. Use warm, not hot, water. And, if dry air in your room is a problem, try a humidifier to add a little moisture. 
  • Use Sunscreen! Everyone today knows the dangers of too much sun. While we need sunlight to provide the vitamin D that we absorb through our skin, too much sun is responsible for age spots and several types of cancers. 

Be Vigilant 

Skin checks are not often standard in wellness checks at the family doctor. In addition to annual visits to the dermatologist, With months in between visits, however, it is good practice to do a skin check every month or two.  

Even if your loved ones are in an assisted living or other facility, it is a good practice check their skin periodically. The aides that dress or bathe them may not notice or be as adequately trained to spot changes in skin health other than skin breakdown that may indicate a serious health issue.  

Catching problems early is the best prevention.  

The National Institutes of Health has provided  this handy guide for what to look for. 

Check Moles, Birthmarks, or Other Parts of the Skin for the “ABCDE’s” 

A = Asymmetry (one half of the growth looks different from the other half) 

B = Borders that are irregular 

C = Color changes or more than one color 

D = Diameter greater than the size of a pencil eraser 

E = Evolving; this means the growth changes in size, shape, symptoms (itching, tenderness), surface (especially bleeding), or shades of color 

See your doctor right away if you have any of these signs to make sure it is not skin cancer. 

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

Baby Boomers Are at High Risk for Hepatitis C

Baby Boomers Are at High Risk for Hepatitis COver the past several years, there has been a lot of interest in hepatitis C (HCV)—television commercials about new HCV drugs, increased media coverage on drug prices and even discussion among presidential candidates.For a disease called the “silent epidemic,” that’s a fair share of attention.

In a lot of ways, though, it remains silent: Most people, especially baby boomers, who are at risk of having hepatitis C, don’t know it and don’t get tested for it. Most people who have HCV don’t know it because it usually doesn’t have noticeable symptoms for years. Many people don’t want to know about it because of stigma or fear.

Caregivers and professionals play an important role in educating baby boomers about hepatitis C and their risk of having the virus. Everyone can do a better job of ensuring baby boomers are educated on and tested for HCV.

What Is Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is a disease of the liver caused by a virus primarily transmitted by contact with infected blood. It’s relatively common—3.5 to 5 million people in the United States live with it. There is no vaccine for HCV, but it can be treated and cured. The trick is finding out you have it. Hepatitis C is not routinely tested for and there are often no symptoms for decades (hence the “silent” in silent epidemic).

When there are symptoms, initially they are often mild—fatigue, joint aches or mood changes—and mirror other conditions, so people often ignore or work through them. If hepatitis C is left untreated, it may lead to scarring of the liver, a condition called cirrhosis. Cirrhosis can lead to liver cancer, liver failure and death. These outcomes can be avoided when hepatitis C is detected early and treated.

Testing for Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C can be diagnosed with a simple blood test. If that test is negative, and there are no ongoing risks for infection, then no further testing is needed. If the first test is positive, then a second confirmatory test is needed. People often assume their medical provider will order an HCV test as part of routine blood work, but it must be specifically ordered.

Individuals born between 1945 and 1965 account for 75 percent of those living with HCV. The reasons for this are many and varied, but many people were exposed by medical procedures, long-term hemodialysis or blood transfusions prior to July 1992, before we even knew HCV existed and developed the knowledge to prevent it.

See a complete list of who should be tested here.

Why Baby Boomers Should Be Tested

Many baby boomers think they don’t need to be tested for HCV because they don’t have any symptoms of the disease or believe they aren’t at risk. Because HCV is usually asymptomatic, and because baby boomers often don’t have a clear identifiable risk for HCV, yet make up the vast majority of people living with it, it is recommended that all baby boomers get tested for HCV once in their life. While this should happen automatically and with no questions asked, it is still a relatively new recommendation and many medical providers aren’t testing baby boomers for HCV. Anyone born between 1945 and 1965 should ask his or her medical provider if he or she has been tested, and if the answer is no, a test should be ordered. The same goes for the aging adults you work with. Let them know about hepatitis C and tell them they should get tested.

Treating and Curing Hepatitis C

Anyone who tests positive for HCV can begin treatment immediately. Treatments typically include taking pills for 8 to 12 weeks (Some people may need as long as 24 weeks) with mild and manageable side effects. With treatment, 95 percent to 99 percent of people end up cured. Once cured, most people report improved liver health and a reversal of liver disease.

Hepatitis C can feel scary, but it doesn’t have to be. All baby boomers, including baby boomers working in aging services, and their clients, should be tested. The message is simple: baby boomers are at risk—get tested, get cured.

Source: ASA – American Society on Aging

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

Satisfy a Senior’s Sweet Tooth in a Healthy Way

Satisfy a Senior’s Sweet Tooth in a Healthy WayAlthough providing an elder with a balanced, nourishing diet is not too difficult, getting your loved one to actually eat the healthy foods you serve can be a real challenge. As people age, their appetites often diminish. Problems with teeth or swallowing, medications, pain, and the inability to taste and enjoy certain flavors are only a few of the many causes of eating problems in the elderly.

Understandably, caregivers who strive to provide good nutrition to their loved ones can become frustrated when the only foods their elders want are sugary and low in key nutrients. However, it’s important to remember that seniors have different dietary requirements than younger individuals. Fortunately, there are ways to strike a healthy and delicious compromise.
 Aging Loved Ones Have Different Nutritional Requirements

Most sweets are high in calories and fat. While this combination is generally discouraged, it may be okay for a senior, since fat reserves in the body tend to shrink as we age. When it comes to your loved one’s diet, share your concerns with their doctor and ask for some guidance. If the doctor doesn’t see their sweet tooth as a serious issue (it would be for a diabetic), then let them eat what they like. Don’t expect to put a lot of weight on a frail elder. You can try to improve their nutrition, but that may be the best you can realistically do.

The Reasons Behind a Senior’s Sweet Tooth

While a diet high in sugary foods may not necessarily be detrimental to their health, it can indicate other underlying issues that can be remedied. For example, if your elder has problems chewing, swallowing or digesting foods, it’s natural for them to choose a soft sweet, such as a cupcake, over tougher, more nutritious foods, like meat. Ill-fitting dentures and tooth pain are both common reasons for dietary changes in seniors. Make an appointment with the dentist to rule out oral health issues as a contributing factor. For problems with swallowing (called dysphagia) and digestion, see their doctor. These complications can be caused by a host of health conditions, such as advancing dementia or constipation.

Hiding Nutritious Ingredients in Food

Regardless of the reasons why they gravitate toward sweets, convincing a loved one to consume healthy foods can be challenging. It’s often best to start by introducing nutritious ingredients into their diet gradually. Keep in mind that it’s okay to be sneaky when it comes to nutrition. There are cookbooks on the market that can teach you how to “hide” healthy ingredients in meals, including desserts. Examples include creamy banana ice cream, black bean brownies and chocolate chip sweet potato cookies. Make a list of foods that your elder has enjoyed throughout their life and do some research on how you can adapt the recipes to make them healthier.

For a picky eater who loves sweets, smoothies are the perfect vehicles for hidden nutrition. A healthy smoothie can include far more than fruit, and it doesn’t require a formal recipe. Homemade smoothies can be full of nutrients, taste like a delicious dessert and deliver much-needed calories. They can also be adjusted to appeal to a senior’s sweet tooth (see this recipe for a senior-friendly Shamrock Shake) and meet specific dietary restrictions.

Begin by using mostly fruit for flavoring. Strawberries, blueberries, pineapple and mango are popular, and a banana can provide some much-needed potassium and a creamy texture. Try hiding a tablespoon of flax seeds, a spoonful of nut butter or a dollop of Greek yogurt in your next creation for added protein and healthy fat. Liquid multivitamins and protein powders can be included for an extra boost of nutrients. Leafy greens like kale and spinach are easy to hide in a smoothie as well, but they can be bitter. Be sure to balance these ingredients out with a sweeter fruit blend or a drizzle of honey. You can adjust the smoothie’s thickness by adding ice cubes, water, milk or orange juice. There are many smoothie books on the market and recipes available on the Internet that can provide inspiration.

Let Them Indulge

Unless their physician has banned a particular food because of diabetes or another disease, it’s perfectly fine to allow your loved one to enjoy desserts often. Even though you’re trying to improve their nutrition, you want to offer enjoyment as well as calories. Our loved ones have likely suffered many losses as they’ve gotten older. Letting them indulge in the foods they love can help improve their quality of life.

If I make it to 80, I hope that I can have the foods I like, even if they aren’t “good for me.” In my opinion, unless the food is a direct health threat, our elders have earned the right to eat what they enjoy.

Source: AgingCare.com

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