Posts

“Is This My Medication?”

Medications help millions of seniors control health conditions that threaten their lives and their quality of life. But managing medications can be a challenge. It’s important to take them as recommended, and to be alert for side effects.  Doctors report that in some cases, seniors stop taking their medications. Sometimes the warnings on prescription drugs can be frightening! Or seniors might wonder if they are experiencing side effects. Money or transportation challenges sometimes keep them from getting recommended refills.

A new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine sheds light on another surprising reason older adults might discontinue a medication: When a refilled prescription looks different than before, patients may be confused and stop taking the drug. Yet it’s not uncommon for a pill to look different, according to the American College of Physicians. Says study author Dr. Aaron Kesselheim of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, “The FDA does not require consistent pill appearance among interchangeable generic drugs, and the shape and color of patients’ pills may vary based on the particular supply at the patient’s pharmacy.”

Dr. Kesselheim and his team studied the records of 11,000 heart patients to see if they had taken their medications as directed. They found patients whose medications had changed in color were 34 percent more likely to stop taking the drug—and a change in shape raised the odds by 66 percent!

Dr. Kesselheim concluded, “Medications are essential to the treatment of cardiovascular disease and our study found that pill appearance plays an important role in ensuring patients are taking the generic medications that they need.”

He urges physicians and pharmacists to be aware of changes in a patient’s particular medication, and to reassure patients that the particular generic they receive may look different from a previous refill.

If you or an older loved one are concerned about the change of appearance of a drug you take, check with your doctor or pharmacist right away rather than discontinuing the drug or skipping even a single dose.

Source: AgeWise reporting on study from the Annals of Internal Medicine; news releases from the American College of Physicians; Brigham and Women’s Hospital

April Is Stress Awareness Month

April Is Stress Awareness Month

The Federal Occupational Health website offers advice to “take time to unwind.”

Stress happens. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, at times it’s unbearable. That’s why taking time for yourself is a necessity.

Stress does not merely afflict your mind; it can also affect you on a cellular level. In fact, long-term stress can lead to a wide range of illnesses—from headaches to stomach disorders to depression—and can even increase the risk of serious conditions like stroke and heart disease. Understanding the mind/stress/health connection can help you better manage stress and improve your health and well-being.

The Fight or Flight Response

The stress response is a survival mechanism that’s “hard wired” into our nervous systems. This automatic response is necessary for mobilizing quick reflexes when there is imminent danger, such as swerving to avoid a car crash.

When you perceive a threat, stress hormones rush into your bloodstream—increasing heart rate, blood pressure, and glucose levels. Other hormones also suppress functions like digestion and the immune system, which is one of the reasons why chronic stress can leave you more vulnerable to illness.

Danger triggers the stress response. But, unfortunately, so can work conflicts, worry over debt, bad memories, or anxiety. Although one bad day won’t compromise your health, weeks or months of stress can dampen your immune response and raise your risk for disease.

Combat Your Stress

If you suffer from chronic stress and can’t influence or change the situation, then you’ll need to change your approach. Be willing to be flexible. Remember, you have the ability to choose your response to stressors, and you may have to try various options.

  • Recognize when you don’t have control, and let it go.
  • Don’t get anxious about situations that you cannot change.
  • Take control of your own reactions, and focus on what makes you feel calm and in control. This may take some practice, but it pays off in peace of mind.
  • Develop a vision for healthy living, wellness, and personal/professional growth and set realistic goals to help you realize your vision.

Relax and Recharge

Be sure to make time for fun and relaxation so you’ll be better able to handle life’s stressors. Carve some time out of your day—even if only 10 to 15 minutes—to take care of yourself. Also, remember that exercise is an excellent stress reliever.

Everyone has different ways they like to relax and unwind. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Take a walk
  • Read a book
  • Go for a run
  • Have a cup of tea
  • Play a sport
  • Spend time with a friend or loved one
  • Meditate
  • Do yoga

While you can’t avoid stress, you can minimize it by changing how you choose to respond to it. The ultimate reward for your efforts is a healthy, balanced life, with time for work, relationships, relaxation, and fun.

For more ideas, visit the Manage Stress tutorial http://www.healthfinder.gov/HealthTopics/Category/health-conditions-and-diseases/heart-health/manage-stress on the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services website.

Source: U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Federal Occupational Health (www.foh.hhs.gov), adapted by IlluminAge AgeWise.

The 100+ Population is Expected to Soar

Will you live to be 100 years old? A study from Kings College London predicts a steady increase in the number of us who will achieve that advanced age. In 2011, there were approximately 300,000 centenarians worldwide. The Kings College researcher project that there will be three million people 100 or older by the year 2050—and by the end of this century, there could be 17 million!

Where will these oldest seniors spend their final years, and what services will they need? Dr. Catherine Evans, Clinical Lecturer in Palliative Care at the Cicely Saunders Institute, King’s College London said: “Centenarians have outlived death from chronic illness, but they are a group living with increasing frailty and vulnerability to pneumonia and other poor health outcomes. We need to plan for health care services that meet the ‘hidden needs’ of this group, who may decline rapidly if they succumb to an infection or pneumonia. We need to boost high quality care home capacity and responsive primary and community health services to enable people to remain in a comfortable, familiar environment in their last months of life.”

The researchers call for appropriate care at the end of life for these frail elders, to reduce hospital admissions and to support quality of life.

Source: AgeWise reporting on study from Kings College London; you can read more about the study here: http://www.plosmedicine.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pmed.1001653

Thunderstorms & Lightning

All thunderstorms are dangerous. Every thunderstorm produces lightning. While lightning fatalities have decreased over the past 30 years, lightning continues to be one of the top three storm-related killers in the United States. On average in the U.S., lightning kills 51 people and injures hundreds more. Although most lightning victims survive, people struck by lightning often report a variety of long-term, debilitating symptoms.

Do you know what to do before, during and after a thunderstorm?  Learn more – http://www.ready.gov/thunderstorms-lightning

How Are Today’s Seniors Adapting to Disability?

Only about a third of Americans ages 65 and older are fully able to take care of themselves and go about their daily lives completely independently, according to a recent study published online in the American Journal of Public Health.

Understanding that there are different ways older adults adapt to disability is a big step in developing public health policies that maximize the quality of life for all older Americans, said the study’s lead author, Vicki Freedman, a research professor at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research.

Freedman and colleagues analyzed data on a nationally representative sample of 8,077 older men and women, part of the National Health and Aging Trends Study. The National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health, funded the research.

Among the findings:

  • About a quarter succeed in accomplishing what they need to do on their own by using walkers or other assistive devices. Another 18 percent say they have trouble even when using these devices.
  • Six percent cope by reducing their activities—bathing or going outside less often, for example.
  • Twenty-one percent manage by receiving help from others.

The study is the first to provide national estimates of ways the Medicare-age population adapts to limitations in daily life.

“Nearly 80 percent of all older adults find ways to manage on their own without assistance from others,” Freedman said. “The group using devices on their own without difficulty is especially interesting. They seem to be able to participate in activities they enjoy and report well-being as high as those who are fully able to care for themselves.”

The researchers asked about seven activities of daily living: going outside, getting around inside, getting out of bed, eating, getting cleaned up, using the bathroom and dressing.

During face-to-face interviews, study participants were first asked whether they used devices or environmental modifications including canes, walkers, wheelchairs, scooters, grab bars, and bath/shower seats and whether they received help from another person during the previous month.

Then they were asked whether they experienced any difficulty doing any of the activities even when they used modifications, and about whether they had changed how often they performed any basic activities over the last year.

According to Freedman, the proportion of older adults able to function independently varies greatly by activity and by age. For example, 90 percent of older adults are fully able to eat by themselves, while only 54 percent are fully able to bathe by themselves. About 45 percent of those ages 65 to 69 are fully able to carry out all activities independently, compared with only 4 percent of those ages 90 and older.

Women are more likely than men to do things on their own by using devices to assist them (26 percent compared to 23 percent). But African Americans and Hispanics are much less likely than whites and Asians to do so. Older adults with low incomes are also less likely to successfully accommodate declines in their functional abilities.

“Two groups that we identified may be especially important targets for public health intervention,” Freedman said. “These are the seven million older adults who have difficulty carrying out activities alone with whatever accommodations they have already made, and the additional 2.1 million who have reduced their activity levels but do not experience or acknowledge that they are having difficulty.”

Source: University of Michigan Institute for Social Research (http://home.isr.umich.edu)

The Wired (Older) Generation: Seniors Online

The Wired (Older) Generation: Seniors Online

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

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

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

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

Are Online Connections the Same?

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

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

Email

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

Blogging

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

Social networking websites

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

Online communities and chat rooms

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

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

How Much Do You Know About Seniors and Nutrition?

March is National Nutrition Month! This is a great time to pay attention to the foods that we choose. While the basic guidelines for a healthy diet are pretty much the same for people of every age, older adults have special needs and concerns. Nutrition affects the all-around health of seniors, is a factor in a senior’s ability to properly absorb medications, and can have an impact on various health conditions that are common as we get older. If a senior loved one’s nutrition habits aren’t supporting good health, it might be time to sit down over a good meal and bring up the topic. And if you’ve never given much thought to nutrition, now might be the time to take a look at your own dietary choices!

Try your hand at this trivia quiz to see how much you know about the nutritional concerns of older adults.

1. The average person gains 10 to 20 pounds from age 45 to 65. This is…

A.    Normal and desirable. We need body fat to keep us warm.
B.    To be avoided. A person’s recommended weight remains the same throughout adulthood.
C.    Unusual. Few people gain weight as they grow older.
D.    Caused only by growing older, and not by inactivity or overeating.

Answer: B. Avoiding excess weight gain as we grow older helps us remain active and independent.  While recent studies suggest that a few extra pounds won’t hurt us, maintaining a healthy weight is important for preventing or managing conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and arthritis.

2. Being significantly underweight…

A.    Is a “red flag” for possible health problems.
B.    Is great—the thinner the better!
C.    Can lead to fatigue, mental confusion and depression.
D.    A and C

Answer: D. Recent studies confirm that a slight weight “reserve” is beneficial for elders. When we lose too much weight, we are at greater risk for osteoporosis and other health problems. Report unexplained weight loss to the healthcare provider right away.

3. Poor diet in older adults can lead to…

A.    Osteoporosis
B.    Mental confusion
C.    Increased risk of falls
D.    All of the above

Answer: D. During our senior years, it’s as important as ever to consume the nutrients our bodies need for good health. Sometimes without anyone noticing right away, seniors can be caught up in a cycle of poor nutrition and health problems. It’s important to address the problems that lead to appetite loss.

4. Loss of appetite can be caused by…

A.    Depression and loneliness
B.    Medications
C.    Tooth or denture problems
D.    All of the above

Answer: D. Mood disorders, some medications taken for conditions such as heart disease and pain control, and tooth problems or poorly fitted dentures are all common causes of appetite loss in seniors. The first step is to address these problems. The healthcare provider may also recommend nutritional supplements if weight loss continues to be a problem.

5. If a person has Parkinson’s, had a stroke, arthritis or another condition that makes eating difficult, he or she…

A.    Will never be able to relearn independent eating.
B.    Should not rely on adaptive devices like long-handled spoons.
C.    Can get help from a rehabilitation therapist.
D.    Should be discouraged from trying to feed him- or herself.

Answer: C. Physical limitations are another major cause of poor nutrition. If eating is difficult or discouraging, an occupational therapist can offer innovative ways to eat as independently as possible. Speech-language therapists provide help for swallowing disorders.

6. People with heart disease should limit the intake of…

A.    Cholesterol and saturated fat
B.    Fish
C.    Whole grains
D.    Nuts

Answer: A. Limiting cholesterol intake is important for preventing and managing heart disease. High fat and cholesterol diets are also linked with increased risk of stroke, cancer and other disorders. Choices B, C and D on the list are all foods that promote heart health.

7. Which of these foods does not contain cholesterol?

A.    Avocado
B.    Beef
C.    Cheese
D.    Eggs

Answer: A. Avocadoes, while higher in calories than most fruits and vegetables, contain a healthy type of fat. Cholesterol is only found in meat and dairy products.

8. Which statement about vitamins and supplements is true?

A. It is possible to take a harmful overdose of supplements.
B.  All seniors can get the nutrients they need from food alone.
C. Supplements are regulated by the FDA.
D. The recommended daily amount of vitamins and minerals is the same for people of every age.

Answer: A. While eating well is the best path to good nutrition, vitamins and other supplements may be recommended for older adults. But be sure to follow the doctor’s advice on which and how much to take. The bodies of older adults process toxic substances less efficiently, and it is possible to take a harmful amount of substances such as vitamins A and D, calcium and iron.

9. Older adults are the age group most likely to…

A.    Get all the nutrients they need from food sources alone.
B.    Be targeted by sellers of fraudulent nutritional products and supplements.
C.    Be skeptical about supplements sold as “anti-aging” products.
D.    Research the value of supplements before purchasing them.

Answer: B. Seniors are often targeted by unscrupulous companies who sell useless and possibly dangerous vitamins or food supplements. These companies make attractive but impossible claims about “miracle anti-aging” products, and their numbers are growing every year. If your loved one is purchasing these products, encourage him or her to discuss this with the healthcare provider.

10. Seniors on a limited income may skimp on nutritious foods. Help may be available through…

a. Meals on Wheels
b. Congregate eating centers, like Senior Hot Lunch
c. Food stamps
d. All of the above

Answer: D. Senior nutrition programs are available in most communities. Hot meals or frozen meals can be delivered right to a senior’s home; others prefer to go to a dining center, where they can enjoy socialization along with their meal. Your local Senior Information agency will have more information about these programs.


For More Information

The USDA offers a wide variety of information and resources to help seniors meet the nutritional challenges of later life.

Copyright © IlluminAge AgeWise, 2013