Reduce the Risk of Falls

While many of us chuckled when we saw the famous “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” commercial, falling is certainly no laughing matter.  Every year, one-third of Americans over the age 65 fall.  Twenty to thirty percent of those who fall suffer injuries that reduce their mobility, such as a hip fracture.  50 percent of those who’ve suffered a hip fracture never return to their previous level of independence.

Most falls have multiple causes, and while anyone can fall accidentally at any age, our risk factors increase as we age.  While most accidents are not serious, falls are still the leading cause of injury and injury-related death among seniors.  Stay safe by following these five tips.

1.  Clean Up Your Environment

Your kitchen, living room, bedroom, bathroom, hallways and stairways may be littered with hazards; so to make them safer:

  • Move furniture, boxes, plants, cords, and decorative items away from entrances, stairways, and other high traffic areas.
  • Remove loose rugs, or secure them with slip-resistant backing.
  • Have broken or loose floorboards fixed immediately.
  • Clean up spills right away.
  • Store frequently used household items where you can easily reach them.
  • Use nonslip mats in your bathtub, and install a grab bar if you have difficulty getting in and out.

2.  Light up Your Home

Keeping your home brightly lit will help you avoid objects that might make you trip.  Always:

  • Have nightlights in your bathroom, bedroom, and hallways
  • Turn on the lights before going up or down stairs
  • Remove obstacles in front of lamps or light switches
  • Place lamps by your armchair, couch, and bed.
  • Keep a flashlight within easy reach for power shortages.

3.  See Your Doctor

Working together with your doctor will help identify situations where you may be at risk for falling.  Your doctor can take a comprehensive look at your medications to see if there are potential side effects or interactions that put you at risk.

Your doctor will ask if you’ve experienced any eye or ear problems, which can affect your balance. He will also want to know if you’ve had any dizziness or shortness of breath when walking.  Details like these can help your doctor develop specific fall-prevention strategies.

4.  Wear the Right Shoes

Wearing sensible shoes is a great way to prevent slips and spills. You will need to:

  • Have your feet measured each time you buy shoes.
  • Wear sturdy shoes with nonskid soles – but not extra-thick.
  • Give up all floppy slippers and shoes with high heels.
  • Always keep your laces tightly tied.

5.  Exercise

After discussing it with your doctor, begin a regular exercise program.  Walking, swimming, and other physical activity reduces your risk of falling by improving your strength, balance, flexibility, and coordination.

Multiple studies indicate that exercise, especially programs including balance training, reduce falls among the elderly.  If exercise is difficult for you, consider working with a physical therapist.  Simple movements will increase your strength and improve your balance.

If necessary, have your doctor refer you to an occupational therapist.  He can give you more suggestions on preventing falls and staying safe.

How to Transition into Assisted Living

Optician With Apprentice Repairing Glasses In Workshop

 

A big move is never easy, but for seniors who are making the change from living at home to an assisted living facility, the transition into assisted living can be very difficult.  The move itself may be stressful and overwhelming, and settling in can be just as challenging.  In order to make the transition as painless as possible, there are numerous steps you can take to help your loved one feel comfortable as they make the move into an assisted living facility.

Before the Big Move

Preparing your loved one well in advance is a key way to ensure an easier transition.  Give the senior materials about the facility so they will know what to expect.  Read the activities schedule and help him pick out one or two programs he is interested in participating in.  This will be a great way to meet new neighbors and make friends.

Take a tour of the facility before moving day, and meet the administrator or director.  Make sure the senior asks all the questions he has.  The scariest thing about making a move is uncertainty, so do everything you can to ensure your loved one feels well-informed.

Learning to Adjust

When an elderly person moves into an assisted living facility, the unfamiliarity can seem rather intimidating.  There is a totally new environment, new schedules to get used to, and new people all around.  According to Peter Hendrickson, executive director of an assisted living facility in Florida, the adjustment period for a senior can take between 30 to 90 days.  To help your loved one cope, here are a few tips:

  • Encourage an open mind.  The more adaptable the senior, the easier the transitional period will be.
  • Allow the senior to work through her complicated emotions, but don’t enable negative behaviors such as overeating, social withdrawal, or other harmful habits.
  • Insist (kindly) that the senior socialize with her new neighbors.  Making friends is the best way to turn her new house into a home.
  • Even if there is something about the facility you don’t care for, resist the urge to share.  Be as positive as possible and it will rub off on your loved one.
  • Bring in a variety of personal items.  The more familiar things the elderly one has around her, the better she will feel about her surroundings.

Advice for Family Members

Whatever your feelings are regarding your loved one’s move to assisted living – whether you were in favor of the idea or not – keep in mind that it’s the senior’s feelings that are paramount.  Be as helpful as you can, even if you were against the idea of moving.  Offer to help with sorting, packing, moving, and unpacking.  Be careful not to treat your loved one differently.  Only his address has changed – not his personality or relationship with you.

Everyone copes with moving differently.  Patience, understanding, and support are essential qualities you will need to help your loved one experience a smooth transition into assisted living.

Is a Retirement Community Right for You?

Mullti-ethnic senior group of people

 

With all the senior living options available, it can be difficult to narrow down which is the best fit for you personally.  If you are considering a retirement community, it’s good to know the pros and cons before you make the big move.

Some may have the tendency to think retirement communities are simply for elderly ones who have no other place to go, but this could not be less true.  While the lifestyle may not be for everyone, it has many positive features that make it a popular choice for many seniors.

Retirement Community Defined

Retirement communities, sometimes called active adult communities, are pretty self-explanatory; they are communities of retired seniors who have come together to share a common living experience.  A retirement community generally consists of individual houses or apartments, clubhouse, swimming pool, medical facility, tennis courts, and a common area.

Retirement communities should not be confused with “retirement homes,” an older term used to describe nursing home facilities.

Pros and Cons of Living in a Retirement Community

Living in a retirement community is a special experience.  You are living among other seniors who have also retired, and likely have interests similar to yours.  You will be living in a place where you are not expected to work or earn a salary, and are free from many of the stresses of the “real world.”  You now have the freedom to pursue your passions and goals with others who are of the same mind-set.  Most seniors find the warmth and security of their community very comforting.

Other benefits of living in a retirement community are:

  • End of home maintenance such as fixing leaky faucets or shoveling snow.
  • Wide variety of recreational activities and games.
  • On-site fitness centers.
  • Convenient transportation.
  • Access to medical services such as nurses and prescription medication delivery.
  • Convenient dining plans.
  • Lower tax rates.

As mentioned, retirement communities are not for everyone.  The downsides of living in such a community may include:

  • Cost.  Many communities charge an initial fee that might be the equivalent of the price you got for your house, plus there will be on-going charges as long as you live there.
  • Regulations and restrictions regarding your house or apartment.
  • Lack of variety in the age group of your neighbors.
  • Restrictions on how many times family members can visit.

Choosing to live in a retirement community is a personal decision, so don’t let others try and influence you.  Once you’ve weighed the pros and cons you will be able to make a well-informed decision that suits you best.

Making Your Home Arthritis-Friendly

Coping With Arthritis

 

Arthritis is the most common disease in individuals aged 65 and older, with half of the United State’s senior population suffering from some form of the condition.  Arthritis, a degenerative disease of the joints, is not actually one disease but a group of more than 100 different conditions that cause swelling, pain, and interference with normal movement.

Most (if not all) arthritic seniors have the desire to “age-in-place” at home, but some question their decision when arthritis symptoms start to worsen.  Even simple tasks become a challenge – often causing frustration, depression, and pain.  Fortunately, there are a variety of ways seniors can make their homes more “arthritis-friendly.”

  1. Add lights and de-clutter.  This goes for all seniors, not just those suffering from arthritis.  Installing additional lights makes it easier for seniors to see, while eliminating unnecessary clutter clears walk-ways and prevents painful falls.
  2. Replace doorknobs with levers.  Doorknobs can be painfully difficult for arthritic seniors to turn, so switching to levers can make a considerable difference.
  3. Install grab bars and hand rails.  If arthritis symptoms make it difficult for you to navigate through your home, installing grab bars and hand rails will help significantly.  They can be placed along hallways, in bathrooms – virtually anywhere you need assistance walking or rising from a seated position.  Thanks to the popularity of such hardware, you can likely find just the right color and style to match your home.
  4. Purchase a shower seat.  Sitting while showering reduces stress on your joints and makes the entire experience less tiring.  If stepping into a bathtub is hard on your knees, consider installing a walk-in tub and shower.
  5. Minimize steps.  Arthritic knees and ankles can make walking up and down stairs incredibly painful.  Many seniors who live at home eventually have to move into a single-story dwelling as a result.  Another way to eliminate stair steps is by installing an indoor chair lift and outdoor ramps.  These assistive devices can be pricey but most seniors agree they are well-worth the investment.
  6. Remodel your kitchen.  If your budget allows for renovations, the kitchen is the best place to do so.  Most work in the kitchen is done with your hands – which is also where arthritis may plague you the most.  Cabinet and drawer handles should be replaced with D-shaped handles which are easier to grasp.  Buying a refrigerator with side-by-side doors reduces the need for bending and twisting, while lowering cabinet shelves decreases strain from reaching.

These are just a few of the ways you can make your home more arthritis-friendly.  Check with your doctor, arthritis-support group, or local senior center for more suggestions.

5 Signs a Senior Needs More Help at Home

young woman helping senior lady with the housework

It’s our natural tendency as humans to avoid asking for help.  This is especially true for most seniors, who fear that reaching out for help will lead others to conclude he is unable to care for himself and should be placed in a care facility.  It’s also difficult for older ones to ask for help because they’ve spent most of their lives caring for not only themselves, but spouses and children as well.  Since it is unlikely to be solicited, it is vitally important that adult children watch for signs that their aging parents need help.  Here are a few common signs that indicate when a senior needs more help at home.

1.  The house is unkempt.  When you visit your parent’s home, do you notice more than the usual amount of dust and disarray?  Are dishes constantly piled up in the sink?  Of course, every home has a little dirt and disorganization once in a while, but if you notice a steady decline in housekeeping quality, it could mean the senior is having difficulty keeping up with such duties.

2.  Bills are going unpaid.  When seniors struggle to keep their finances in order, it may be time for others to step in.  If mail is unopened or the checkbook isn’t properly balanced, your loved one may feel that taking care of the finances is too overwhelming.  It’s important that you offer assistance before the senior incurs late fees or has the electricity turned off.

3.  The senior is losing weight.  Unexplained weight loss may be a result of the elderly person failing to make healthy, nutritious meals for himself on a regular basis.  Take a look in the senior’s refrigerator.  If you notice insufficient supplies of food (or spoiled and outdated food), grocery shopping may be the problem, or it may mean the senior has a lack of self-interest or is suffering from depression.

4.  Reduced self-care efforts.  We all have “off” days where we don’t feel like doing our hair, showering, or even getting out of our pajamas.  However, if you notice that your parent is consistently ignoring personal hygiene, there could be a problem.  Seniors who avoid bathing or brushing their teeth may be depressed or even could be developing dementia, so it’s critical to seek medical help right away.

5.  Senior has unexplained bruises.  Signs of injury – such as bruises, cuts or scrapes – could be evidence of falls.  Some seniors try to keep such injuries a secret, fearing that their family will rush to the conclusion that he needs to be in a nursing home.  He may also be embarrassed, or even have forgotten falling in the first place.  Be diligent about checking after your loved one.  Seniors who have fallen in the past are at greater risk for falling again, which can result in serious injuries.

When it comes time to talk to your loved one about her situation at home, be kind and patient.  If you begin the conversation with your parent by insisting she needs more help because she’s incapable, the discussion will not end well.  It’s a good idea to ask a geriatric care manager or social worker for advice before you bring up the idea of extra help with your loved one.  The more information you have and the way you present the information will ensure a much better outcome.

Caregiving: The Importance of Emotional Support

Providing care for elderly

 

Outside the word of paid work, individuals most prone to burnout are caregivers.  The physical and emotional demands of caregiving can be overwhelming – especially if you feel as if you have little or no support.

Providing care to a loved one is a heavy responsibility – but one that most shoulder without complaint.  However, just because a caregiver does not give voice to his or her stress or concerns, that does not mean those worries aren’t there.  Without adequate support – particularly emotional support – burnout becomes a very real danger.

The Stress of Caregiving

Caregiving involves an incredible amount of stressors that can affect a person physically, mentally, financially, and emotionally.  Unlike a paid job, though, caregivers often receive little recognition for their efforts.  Combined with the stress of everyday life and the caregiver’s personal challenges, frustration and feelings of hopelessness can quickly cartwheel out of control.

In his book “On Caregiving,” psychiatrist and medical anthropologist Arthur Kleinman reports that “Because caregiving is so tiring, and emotionally draining, effective caregiving requires that caregivers themselves receive practical and emotional support.”  In other words, a caregiver who suffers from burnout due to lack of emotional support will be of little use to himself or the person he cares for.

According to a study by UCLA, caregivers experience significant emotional strain.  Among the individuals who participated in the study, researchers found higher levels of serious psychological distress and negative health behaviors compared with the general population of non-caregivers.

Geoffrey Hoffman, the brief’s lead author, stated, “Caregivers need help, especially as baby boomers age and place even greater strains on their and their families’ abilities to cope.”  Without this help, stress and burnout will only intensify.

Emotional Support a Necessity for Family Caregivers

Experts agree that one of the number one ways caregivers can avoid burnout is by taking good care of themselves.  Not only will your body benefit, taking a rest will make you a better caregiver as well.

To find this nurturing time for yourself, you need to reach out for help.  When your options seem limited, look into:

  • Community caregiving services
  • Adult day care
  • Community transportation services
  • Home-delivered meals
  • Support for veterans
  • Fraternal organizations such as the Elks, Eagles, or Moose lodges

Not only will these services provide much-needed physical support, they may be sources of emotional support as well.  Getting in touch with others who may be facing situations similar to yours is a great way to start a network of support.  You may also want to join a caregiving support group.  Benefits are numerous, including:

  • A community of understanding and empathy
  • Regular association with individuals who face similar problems
  • Easy access to ideas and suggestions that may be practical to your situation
  • The feeling that you are no longer alone

To find a local support group, check the yellow pages, ask your doctor, or call a local organization that deals with the health problem your loved one faces.  If all else fails, visit the internet to find a support group online.

6 Ways to Feel Young Again – Part Two

feeling young againIf you’re one of the millions who wish they could rewind time and feel young again, don’t despair.  While there is no miracle cure that will actually transport you back to your youthful vigor, there are many steps you can take to feel better and have more energy.  In our last post, we discussed the importance of getting adequate sleep, maintaining a regular exercise program, and keeping romance alive in your relationship.  For three more easy ways to feel young again, read on.

  1. Take a B12 supplement.  If you’re a fan of Dr. Oz, you’ve probably heard him talk about the benefits of vitamin B12.  Often called the “energy pill,” B12 has been the go-to supplement for those looking to increase energy levels.  Vitamin B12 is needed to convert carbohydrates into glucose in the body – resulting in energy production and decreased fatigue. Since our bodies don’t always absorb B12 from the proteins we eat (especially as we get older), experts recommend taking a B12 supplement.
  2. Stay socially active.  Spending time with family and friends becomes even more important as we age.  Keeping an active social calendar wards off loneliness which can easily lead to depression.  Don’t limit yourself when it comes to social engagements.  Variety, after all, is the spice of life.  If you’ve gotten into a rut of Friday-night poker games that just isn’t doing it for you anymore, invite your buddies to spend the evening at a comedy club.  Remember, laughter is the best medicine.
  3. Travel.  Taking vacations to see the world benefits you in a multitude of ways.  First of all, it gives you something to focus on and look forward to – rather than thinking about your advancing age.  Travel also satisfies our mind’s natural curiosity about the world, which goes a long way in keeping us young at heart.

In addition to these 6 tips, you might also want to try:

• Volunteering at a local charity
• Starting a crafts project
• Trying a new hobby
• Spending more time with grandchildren
• Getting a pet

Whether you are 60, 70, or 80 (or bless you, even older!) you can still be young at heart.  No matter what works for you – or what doesn’t – the key is to never stop trying.

Did you miss Part One? Click here

6 Ways to Feel Young Again – Part One

feel young againMost of us aren’t too fond of the aging process.  We’re more tired and have less “oopmph” when it comes to doing things we used to enjoy.  We won’t even get into the numerous aches and pains we experience.  And while we probably don’t all want to be 17 again (maybe for a day?), the majority of seniors agree it would be nice to feel young again.  But how?

“It’s totally possible to rediscover that zest and optimism you felt when you were younger,” promises Caroline Adams Miller, author of Creating Your Best Life. “In fact, recapturing those qualities is essential to leading a healthier, happier life in the long run.”  Okay, so we know that it’s possible – and it’s good for us – but how do we attain that elusive “young” feeling?

  1. Get enough sleep.  Be determined to get enough sleep.  Don’t leave it up to chance or it won’t happen.  Make yourself go to bed and get up at the same time every day.  This will set your body’s sleep schedule so it knows when it’s time to snooze and when it’s time to rise.  “The only time your body can truly restore itself is when you’re asleep,” explains Henry Lodge, MD, co-author of Younger Next Year for Women. “It helps build a more vibrant body and brain.”  Experts promise that after six weeks of a healthy sleep pattern, you will feel a marked difference in your daily life.
  2. Maintain a regular exercise routine.  Sure, you’ve heard this one before – but that’s because it’s so important!  Developing (and keeping up with) a steady workout program keeps you young and healthy in a way few other things can.  Your mood will be better, your sleep will be deeper, and your physical health will improve.  It doesn’t mean you have to hit the gym for an hour a day – just 30 minutes of physical activity three to four days a week will do the trick.  Hate workouts?  Dance instead.
  3. Keep romance aliveNothing keeps us feeling younger than being in love.  Remember those stolen kisses and whispered promises of your youth?  Regain that feeling by spicing up your marriage (or current relationship).  Institute a date night once a week.  Take your partner to a fancy hotel.  Bring her flowers “just because.”  Surprise him with his favorite dinner by candlelight.  Do whatever it takes to bring romance back into your life and you’ll swear you’re 21 again.

It’s not impossible to recapture the feelings from your youth; all it takes is a little time and effort.  The rewards will make it well worth it.  Be sure to check out 6 Ways to Feel Young Again – Part 2 for more great ideas.

Overnight Program Developed for Dementia Patients

For dementia patients and their caregivers, nighttime can be a nightmare.  Seniors that suffer from dementia and Alzheimer’s often have trouble settling down at night and get little rest.  Many dementia patients experience confusion and fear as daylight turns into dusk – a syndrome called “sundowning.”  In an effort to relieve family caregivers who are commonly awakened in the middle of the night, an overnight program was developed at the Hebrew Home in New York.  The program, a rare sort of “night camp” for dementia patients, is designed to provide care and activity for seniors who are up and about when most of us are asleep.

“It’s a party,” says one particpant, an 81-year-old woman who participates every night for a structured series of singalongs, crafts and therapy sessions that lasts until dawn.  The activities are meant to fill the long hours of the night for seniors suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia who live at home, as well as provide respite for the family caregivers.

“Without this program, my father would be lost, and I would be crazy,” remarks Robert Garcia, whose 82-year-old father, Felix, is in the program at the Hebrew Home at Riverdale called ElderServe at Night. “He doesn’t sleep. At night he’s wide awake, and he needs activity.”

Garcia, who lives with his wife and three children, said that before the ElderServe program his father would wake up loudly in the middle of the night and keep everyone else from sleeping.  Now his family enjoys peace and quiet throughout the entire night.

Dr. Robert Abrams, a geriatric psychiatrist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital explains that sleep disturbances are common for dementia patients, and an overnight program such as Hebrew Home’s ElderServe is preferable to forcing such patients to try and sleep.

Most patients’ care is covered by Medicaid, which includes transportation to and from the Hebrew Home.  Patients are given the choice of cooking classes, dance lessons, board games, or other engaging activities.  Resting rooms are provided for those who need some time alone, but it’s more common for patients to take brief naps in their chairs.

Programs like this are not offered everywhere, and they can be pricey.  But as more families learn of the benefits and advantages, more “night camps” are sure to be developed.

Best Cities for Retirement

senior couple in city park

In a recent post we discussed how you can plan for a successful retirement.  Now that you’ve got a detailed list of goals and a retirement date in mind, you may be considering moving.  Before you pack your bags and put your home up for sale, check out a few of these popular retirement cities.

Flagstaff, Arizona

“There is a lot of sunshine and no extremes in temperature,” says Karen Haskins, a 71 year old retiree who moved to Flagstaff in 2007.  Haskins highlights one of the main reasons retirees flock to Flagstaff: pleasant year-round weather.  Flagstaff’s high altitude and low humidity makes for a winning combination weather-wise.  The sun shines in Flagstaff an average of 78 percent throughout the year, but unlike other sunny climates, the temperature only rises above 90 degrees an average of 3 days per year.  Although it does snow in the winter, it quickly melts in the sun.  If you’re tired of shoveling but aren’t too keen on the tropical heat of Florida, Flagstaff may be the perfect place for you.

Durham, North Carolina

For seniors who are looking to experience a variety of culture in their golden years, Durham fits the bill.  North Carolina as a whole is filled with museums, diverse art and cultural hot spots, wineries, theaters and playhouses, performing arts facilities, and fun festivals.  Durham features affordable housing and safe neighborhoods.  Similar to Arizona, temps rarely hit the extremes.  The mild climate gives you an opportunity to enjoy the lush landscapes and take advantage of all the outdoor recreation North Carolina has to offer.

Bellingham, Washington

In addition to the fact that Washington does not have income tax, this prime spot of the Pacific Northwest has a lot more going for it.  Bellingham is a small city (approximately 70,000) nestled between the Puget Sound and Cascade Mountains.  Although Washington is frequently cloudy, the temperatures are mild.  The coldest average temp for January is 32 degrees – a major draw for many seniors who are used to temps well below zero.  Bellingham features a flourishing arts scene, fresh farmers markets, and fun recreational opportunities.

Hanover, New Hampshire

I’m a huge fan of New England, and New Hampshire is definitely one of my favorites.  Residents of New Hampshire have got it all – culture, spectacular scenery, charming villages, fresh seafood, and beautiful beaches.  Outdoor enthusiasts can swim in the summer and ski in the winter.  Although the prices of homes in Hanover can be a bit steep, there is no sales tax and the state does not tax retirement plan withdrawals.

Many personal factors come into play when deciding where to retire.  One person’s paradise may be another person’s nightmare, so picking the best cities for retirement really depends on what you prefer.  Do plenty of research before you make your decision, and don’t let anyone influence you – except your spouse perhaps.