Easy Exercises for Arthritis Patients

According to a 2011 study of arthritis patients performed by the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, about 55 percent of women and 40 percent of men are inactive.  Very few of the men and women in the study came close to the recommended 30 minutes of exercise each day.  Whether the inactivity is due to arthritic pain or the fear of pain, avoiding exercise is actually counterproductive.  Regular exercise plays a vital role in managing arthritis symptoms and successfully coping with this painful condition.

Studies have shown that exercise helps arthritis sufferers enjoy a greater range of motion, improved balance, and reduced joint pain.  While almost everyone can safely perform the following exercises, it’s always recommended to get your doctor’s permission first.

Yoga

Not only is yoga enjoyable for arthritic seniors, it’s highly beneficial as well.  Studies have proven yoga to be a very effective treatment for arthritis symptoms.  Yoga increases muscle strength, improves flexibility, increases energy, enhances respiratory endurance, and improves balance – which reduces your risk of falls.  Yoga also gives you a mental boost, which is especially important for seniors who suffer from depression.

If you can’t seem to find a beginner’s yoga class near you, rent a video from your local library.  The instructions should be easy enough to follow on your own, and you can get a feel for whether or not yoga is for you.

Water Aerobics

Any form of aerobics is beneficial for overall health, but water aerobics is easier on the joints.  You’re not bearing your own weight, which will allow you to exercise longer with few (if any) side effects.  Swimming – even doing simple stretches – is also a good way to warm up your muscles and relieve arthritis pain.  Aqua therapy has long been used for treating arthritis patients, so visit a local YMCA or senior center to give it a try.

Strength-Training

Working with weights may not be for everyone, but it can definitely be effective for some.  It’s important to be familiar with which body parts are more vulnerable to flare-ups, so you can avoid overexerting those areas.  Resistance exercises build strong muscles, which are needed to support and protect joints affected by arthritis.  A strength-training study by Tufts University showed that strength-training decreased pain in osteoarthritis sufferers by 43 percent, improved physical performance, and decreased disability.  Similar positive effects have been seen in rheumatoid arthritis patients.

Even when you have a chronic pain condition like arthritis, you can successfully stay physically active.  The key is to find whatever works for you personally.  It may take time to find an effective workout, but keep trying until you do.

When Enough is Enough: Alzheimer’s Care Options

Alzheimer’s Care OptionsAccording to the Alzheimer’s Association, someone in American develops Alzheimer’s disease every 70 seconds.   Unfortunately, experts predict this number will continually increase.

In the early stages of Alzheimer’s, many seniors do well at home.  Almost ten million Americans are currently providing care to a loved one suffering from Alzheimer’s, despite the many challenges it presents.  Sadly, even the most loving and patient caregivers reach a point where they can longer meet the needs of the patient.  The very nature of the disease causes symptoms to worsen with time, eventually requiring more help than family members can give.

Below, we discussed a few different Alzheimer’s care options that can help you care for your aging loved one and give you some relief.

Extending In-Home Care

With the growing number of seniors suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia, more and more homecare agencies are offering care options specifically geared towards these types of individuals.

In-home caregivers can supplement the care you provide for your loved one, or they can take over completely.  Depending on your needs (and those of the Alzheimer’s patients), you can create a care plan that meets your specific requirements.  The caregiver you hire can help with basic daily tasks like housekeeping or shopping, or provide round-the-clock care that includes administering medication and assisting with grooming, bathing, and toileting.

Adult day care

Adult day care programs are also becoming more prominent.  These programs offer a variety of activities and socialization opportunities for the patient – while giving family caregivers a much-needed break.  Make sure the program you choose specializes in Alzheimer’s care.

If you are the primary caregiver for someone with Alzheimer’s and simply need a short break, you have the option of respite care.  This is short-term care where the patient moves into a facility on a temporary basis.  You’ll have the opportunity to take a vacation, or just relax at home with your family – whatever you need to recharge your batteries.

Community Care for Alzheimer’s Patients

As Alzheimer’s progresses, the physical and emotional demands on the family caregiver can eventually become overwhelming.  Although every situation is different, when the health of the patient or caregiver becomes compromised, it’s time to make a change.  However, just because you may need to move your loved one into a professional care facility, it does not mean that you have failed in any way.  You are simply ensuring that your loved one is getting the absolute best care.

Choosing between an assisted living facility and nursing home can be a difficult decision.  You need to weigh in the patient’s health, circumstances, and stage of his disease.  Wherever you decide to place your loved one, be sure you’ve determined the staff is adequately trained in caring for Alzheimer’s patients.

Coping with a loved one who has Alzheimer’s is incredibly challenging.  Take time for yourself and get plenty of rest in order to avoid burnout.  When it comes time to move the patient into a community setting, trust that you are making the right choice – despite what your loved one might say.  Remember that it is the disease causing them to act out or accuse you, and that the person they used to be would certainly understand and support your decision.

When Both Parents Have Dementia: How to Cope

DementiaIt’s certainly bad enough when one parent suffers from dementia; it’s almost unbearable when both have this debilitating disease.  Sometimes called the “double-parent dementia dilemma,” having two parents with dementia is actually more common than you may think.

“I’ve seen a number of adult children that have not one but two parents with dementia,” says Dr. Daniel I. Kaufer, neurologist and director of the memory disorder program at the University of North Carolina.  “It’s like the perfect storm of dementia care.”  Kaufer anticipates cases like this will only increase.  “With the sheer numbers of people who are going to develop dementia,” he explains, “it’s going to happen more and more.”

If you’ve found yourself in the middle of a “double-parent dementia dilemma,” you likely feel completely overwhelmed – even hopeless.  The thing you should remember, however, is that you are not alone.  It’s highly recommended that you join an online support group for children of parents with dementia.  Not only will you feel less isolated, you will receive practical suggestions and advice that will aid you in your caregiving journey.

Here are three other tips to help you cope:

1. Reach out for help.  This is especially important if you are the primary caregiver for your parents.  No one can handle the responsibilities of dementia or Alzheimer’s care completely on their own.  Creating a team of caregivers lightens your load and provides better quality care for your parents.  Ask trusted friends and family members if they can pitch in, and create a schedule.

2. Consider caregiving servicesThere is no shame in hiring a professional caregiver to lessen the burden you carry.  The same can be said for placing your parents in a specialized care facility.  As the symptoms of dementia increase and worsen it will become much more difficult for you to stay emotionally strong.  Your parents may lash out at you, blame you, or berate you.  Keeping them calm and controlled may no longer be a job you can manage.  Professional caregivers have the training to properly care for dementia patients, and you should feel no guilt as you take advantage of their experience

3. Care for yourself.  No doubt you’ve put yourself on the back burner as you’ve spent the majority of your time caring for your parents, but this cannot continue.  Caring for yourself is extremely vital – both for your health and your future.  Statistics vary, but experts estimate approximately 30 percent of caregivers die before those they are caring for.  Whether these caregivers have developed cancer, committed suicide, or had heart problems – many (if not most) causes can be traced back to the stress of caregiving.  Make sure you get proper rest, exercise regularly, and eat a balanced diet.

Caring for parents with dementia will likely be the most challenging experience of your life, but if you follow these suggestions, you can – and will – successfully cope.

The Challenges of Family Caregiving

“It’s exhausting,” admits Ellen Alexander, the primary caregiver for her elderly father.  “Sometimes I’m so tired I feel like I’m losing my sanity.”

Ellen is certainly not alone.  More than 44 million Americans currently provide care to one or more family members.  And with Baby Boomers turning 65 at a rate of 10,000 per day, the numbers of family caregivers is certain to increase.  Thanks to medical advancements, people are living longer.  Although this is good news, it does come at a price.  Today’s caregivers face more challenges for longer periods of time than ever before.

What it Means to Be a Family Caregiver

Being a family caregiver may be a labor of love, but it is labor nonetheless.  It takes time, patience, energy, and resources – often more than one caregiver is able to give.

“It’s extremely difficult,” Pam Plencer says regarding her experiences with caregiving.  “In addition to being a caregiver, I’m grieving for the mother and friend I had.”  Sadly, Pam is watching her mother deteriorate form dementia.  Unfortunately, her struggle is all too common.

According to a study published in the American Journal of Health, family caregivers, who provide care 36 hours or more weekly, have a much higher rate of depression and anxiety than non-caregivers.  Caregivers also experience:

  • Extreme stress
  • Exhaustion
  • Increased risk of heart disease
  • Poor health
  • Social withdrawal
  • Poor secular performance
  • Strained marriages

According to a study by Gallup-Healthways, the average caregiver is a 49-year old woman who still has at least one child at home and works secularly – all while providing care to an elderly loved one for at least 20 hours a week.

Bonnie Heath, the primary caregiver for her mother-in-law, relates that she was never at home for her family.  She also gained 50 pounds, lost many of her friends, and struggled through a shaky marriage.  Her example is far from rare.  Millions of women (and men) are trying to juggle their children, secular work, and aging parents.

According to a MetLife Juggling Act Study, Balancing Caregiving with Work and the Costs of Caregiving, the majority of caregivers underestimate the time they will spend providing care.  While most believe they will be a caregiver for two years or less, the average length of time spent as a family caregiver is eight years.

With all the anxieties and challenges a caregiver faces, it’s important to recognize the signs of burnout.  Similar to Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, the symptoms of burnout can begin surfacing months after a traumatic episode.  It may begin slowly, building up over time until it’s too late to stop it.  Burn out can be extremely detrimental to your health and family life, so be sure to check out our recent post on reducing stress and avoiding burnout.

Taking Advantage of Respite Care

Caring for an elderly or disabled family member is not easy – in fact, it may be one of the most difficult things you’ll ever do.  Caregiving is emotionally and physically demanding, and despite what you may believe, no one can do it alone.

Getting help or taking an occasional break is essential to maintaining your personal health and well-being.  Respite care can provide the break you need, relieving stress, restoring energy, and giving you the strength you need to continue caregiving.

What is Respite Care?

Respite care is the provision of temporary, short-term relief for those who are caring for a family member who might otherwise require permanent placement in a care facility outside the home.  This type of care was created to allow family caregivers time away from administering care – time they can spend on themselves for a change.

The goal of respite care is to help caregivers lower stress levels and regain balance in their personal lives.  Sharing the responsibilities of caregiving will allow you to get some much-needed rest, preventing exhaustion and burnout.  Research has also shown that respite care reduces the likelihood of elder abuse and neglect, reduces divorce rates, and delays out-of-home placement for the elderly.

Types of Respite Care

There are a few different models for providing respite care, so take a look at each one and decide which is best for you.

In-Home Respite Care

In-home services can be provided by a volunteer or paid professional occasionally or on a regular basis.  You have the option of arranging care directly with the caregiver, or you can go through an agency.  In-home respite care is popular because it allows the elderly person to remain in their own home, in familiar surroundings and no stressful changes.

The caregiver will learn the senior’s routine, where medications are stored, and what will be expected of them.  Personal caregivers differ from skilled health care workers, so you will need to determine exactly what kind of care your loved one requires.

Depending on where you live, Medicaid or Medicare may help cover costs.  Check with your state’s Administration on Aging website for details.

Out-of-Home Respite Care

Out-of-home respite care gives you the opportunity to leave your family member at a specialized facility, such as a nursing home, assisted living facility, or hospital – depending on the level of care needed.  Keep in mind you may require special transportation for the elderly person and/or their medical equipment.  Contact your local ambulatory services to find out the cost.

Adult day care centers are also available for respite care, however, they only operate during daytime hours.  Adult day care centers provide nutritious meals and snacks, social activities and games, and may include transportation.

Respite care is often a process that requires some fine-tuning.  If your first attempt is unsuccessful (for you or your care recipient), don’t give up.  Using respite care will support and strengthen your ability to continue to take care of your loved one – and yourself.

Reverse Mortgages: Pros and Cons

Reverse mortgage Given the inconsistent information presented by the media, it’s understandable why many seniors have difficulty deciding whether or not a reverse mortgage is a good idea.  Since 1960, when reverse mortgages, first hit the scene, the general public has been hesitant to believe the hype.  Despite their somewhat shady reputation, reverse mortgages continue to gain popularity.  However, before you make a final decision, it’s always good to consider the pros and cons.

Pros of Reverse Mortgages

Obviously reverse mortgages would not be climbing the popularity charts if they didn’t have any benefits.  The advantages of a reverse mortgage include:

  • It allows you to stay in your home with no monthly mortgage payment
  • No repayment required as long as you live in the home and abide by all loan terms
  • Allows you to use your equity, however you choose: pay off debts, make home repairs, take a vacation, etc.
  • Features interest rates comparable (or lower) to traditional and home equity mortgage rates
  • Has no prepayment penalty
  • Does not subject you to additional income tax
  • Enables you to supplement a fixed income for covering daily expenses
  • Protects you from excessive “junk” fees due to heavy government regulations
  • Allows you to finance your up-front fees so they are not paid out-of-pocket

Cons of Reverse Mortgages

As with anything that affects your bank account, it’s always wise to take a look at the disadvantages of the issue as well.  Such negatives are:

  • You may have higher up-front fees than other types of financing
  • Might prevent you from having equity to liquidate for future needs
  • Could reduce the amount of equity left to your children or grandchildren
  • May become due (and payable in full) if certain loan terms are violated
  • Could impact need-based government assistance such as Medicaid
  • Does not allow interest accrued to be deducted on taxes until the loan becomes due
  • Implications if funds are withdrawn and not spent in one month

Making the Right Decision

Understanding how reverse mortgages work is crucial to know if your circumstances warrant such a loan.  You will need to decide if a reverse mortgage is worth your time, effort, and most importantly – your money.

If you aren’t as proficient in doing research as you’d like, there are classes available that can help.  Finding the best research on the pros and cons of reverse mortgages is definitely the ideal way to make an informed decision.  Check out this online tutorial for tips on how to become an excellent researcher.

It’s also highly recommended to speak with a reverse mortgage lender when you are considering what to do with the equity in your home.  You may also want to check out this article on credit.com for more details on reverse mortgages.

Age Discrimination – Have You Been a Victim?

age discriminationResearch on Aging recently released a study reporting that 63 percent of older ones have experienced discrimination, with the most commonly cited cause of mistreatment being their age.  Not only is this statistic startling enough, the sadness really lies in the resulting effects.  Over a two-year period, everyday discrimination is associated with higher rates of depression and poorer self-rated health.

Dr. Ye Luo, Clemson University sociologist and lead author of the study explains how detrimental everyday discrimination can be.  “Awful things happen and it’s a big shock, but people have ways to resist that damage.  With maturity, people learn coping skills.”  Which is true – humans have a natural ability to cope with certain life stressors.  Discrimination, however, is different.  “It may be more difficult to avoid or adapt to,” Dr. Luo suggests, adding, “It takes a toll you may not even realize.”

Thanks to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, there are a number of protections in the workplace that prohibit age discrimination.  Congress outlawed discrimination by employers against employees or applicants over the age of 40 with the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967.  As the Baby Boomer generation reached middle age, our nation’s laws regarding the treatment of older ones took on even greater importance.  Between 1970 and 1991, the number of workers over the age of 40 went from 39,689,000 to 53,940,000 – encouraging several amendments to the Age Discrimination Act.

But does all age discrimination occur in the workplace?  Hardly.  Seniors can experience discrimination in numerous other ways – even on a daily basis.  Similar to discrimination that is based on gender, race, sexual orientation or appearance, age discrimination can happen anywhere at any time.  It’s interesting to note that the discrimination effect on seniors was stronger for everyday slights than for more dramatic events like being denied a job or promotion.

And the scope of discrimination may be even more widespread than we think, as some seniors are unlikely to report their experiences.  Like elder abuse, some older ones are embarrassed or hesitant to admit that they’ve been discriminated against.  Whether they don’t want to be perceived as a nuisance, or fear potential repercussions, many seniors opt for staying silent – which may affect their physical and mental health.

The study conducted by Research on Aging reported that two years after perceiving high levels of discrimination, seniors were experiencing significant levels of depression and lower self-rated health.  If such instances were still bothering those who have shared their stories, imagine how the “silent seniors” must be feeling.

With another year of data to study, Dr. Luo and her team now hope to gain even more insight into the growing problem of age discrimination – and learn how to fight it.

APA Study Finds Family Caregivers are Overwhelmed by the Responsibilities of Care

According to The American Psychological Association, 55 percent of family caregivers admit to being overwhelmed by the care they provide.  In its most recent report, Stress in America, Our Health at Risk, APA researchers paint a distressing picture of the effect stress has on the health of family caregivers.

The Stress in America survey showed that while many Americans experience stress on a regular basis, caregivers are more likely to report stress and experience it at higher levels.  On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is little to no stress and 10 is a great deal of stress, the mean level of stress reported by caregivers was 6.5 – compared to 5.2 by the general public.

The Stress study also revealed:

  • Caregivers are less likely to practice healthy behaviors to manage stress
  • Caregivers are 82 percent more likely to have a chronic illness than the general public
  • 34 percent of caregivers rate their health as fair or poor
  • Caregivers are twice as likely to report smoking as a way of managing stress
  • Only 42 percent of caregivers claim they get adequate sleep

Understanding Caregiver Stress

If you are among the 65 million Americans that provide care to a family member or friend, you are familiar with the challenges of caregiving.  But not everyone understands the impact that caregiving has on a person.

Caregivers are often so focused on their loved ones that they don’t realize their own health and well-being are suffering.  This can often lead to unhealthy behaviors and burnout.  Too much stress can eventually result in heart disease and other serious health conditions.

A recent UCLA study found that caregivers experience high levels of psychological distress – such as anxiety and depression.  One third of caregivers report that their emotions interfere with household chores and social lives.  25 percent of middle-aged caregivers binge drink, and 30 percent have become obese.  Such unhealthy behaviors contribute to stress – never alleviating it.

Caregivers that find themselves overwhelmed with the responsibilities of care need to work hard to find healthy outlets for the stress they experience.  It’s also vitally important to have an adequate support system and arrange for regular back-up care.  Joining an online support group for family caregivers is also an excellent way to learn valuable tips on coping with the challenges of care.

Family Meetings – How Siblings Can Avoid Arguments

When one or more family members provide care to a loved one, family meetings become an important part of caregiving.  Communication does not always come easily – especially for siblings who may struggle with childhood rivalries or other unresolved issues.

Family Dynamics

Research shows that the majority of caregiving is done by one family member.  It’s rare to find a family where caregiving responsibilities are shared equally.  Issues such as secular work, young children, and distance can make it difficult for some siblings to share in caregiving duties.

Studies reveal that daughters typically do 70 to 80 percent of the hands-on work, while sons are more likely to help with money.  However your family divides the work, the truth is that caregiving goes much more smoothly when responsibilities are shared.  In an effort to enlist more help and support from other family members, call a family meeting when it’s convenient for everyone to attend.

Preserving the Peace

Watching parents get older and deal with illness or disability is very difficult for children.  Siblings will go through a wide range of emotions during this time, and each one may handle their feelings differently.  Have compassion for them during family meetings.  It doesn’t mean you need to excuse negative behavior, but it can help you understand the fear and pain that is causing your siblings to react as they are.

In addition to compassion and understanding, the other essential quality you need is respect.  If everyone respects each other – their opinions, feelings, and concerns – the family meeting will be a success.

Let go of petty childhood rivalries and any other issues that cause conflict.  These meetings are to discuss your parents and what is best for them.  Sarcastic or snide remarks will only lead to stress and aggravation.

If you are not the primary caregiver, resist any urge to criticize.  If you haven’t been there full-time, you don’t know the entire situation.  Second-guessing the primary caregiver immediately puts her on the defensive and will likely start an argument.

Tips for Successful Family Meetings

Family caregiving can bring out the best in siblings – and the worst.  To avoid arguments, consider how you speak, and how you listen.  You should also:

  • Accept your siblings as they are.  Have realistic expectations and remember that no one is perfect.
  • Be specific when asking for help.  Do you need physical labor or are you really just looking for emotional support?
  • Avoid placing blame or laying guilt trips on your siblings.
  • Be mindful of your tone of voice when speaking to your siblings.  Do you sound angry, condescending, or exasperated?
  • Recognize that your siblings have their own lives and families.  Are you aware of any personal problems they may be facing?
  • Keep your parents’ best interests at the forefront of each conversation.

If sibling arguments erupt during family meetings, you’re not alone.  Countless families are struggling to find the balance between their own lives and caring for aging parents.  Going from child to adult to caregiver is not an easy transition and it can be difficult to adjust.  If you feel your family is at the breaking point, it’s time to call in professional help.  A geriatric care manager or counselor can give practical suggestions on how you can cope, and what options are open to you for additional assistance.

Collaborative Care for a Family Member with Alzheimer’s

Caring for an Alzheimer’s patient is not a one-person job.  Just as it takes “a village to raise a child,” it takes a committed team of physicians, health care workers, caregivers, and family members to provide quality care to a senior suffering from Alzheimer’s.

Putting together a care team is not only best for the patient; it benefits the caregiver as well.  According to a recent study, Alzheimer’s patients who were treated with a “guided team approach” had fewer behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia.  The caregivers had greatly reduced levels of stress and depression – common traits among Alzheimer’s caretakers.

Dr. Gary J. Kennedy, director of geriatric psychiatry at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City explains how a collaborative approach is already used to treat diseases such as diabetes and congestive heart failure.  “It really is quite effective and the collaborative care model is what I would argue is the future of chronic-care management.”

What does the collaborative care approach involve?  And how do you coordinate such care?

“The most important thing is that there is an outstanding, close relationship with the primary care physician,” says Allen Levey, M.D., professor at Emory University School of Medicine and director of the Emory Center for Neurodegenerative Disease and Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Atlanta.  Levey adds, “This is a chronic disease for which the care needs to be closely coordinated by a personal doctor.”

Keeping in close contact with the primary physician – the quarterback – is only the beginning.  You still need a team.  While the primary physician should be qualified to treat Alzheimer’s patients, specialists will also be required on occasion.  Such specialists may include:

• Psychiatrist and/or psychologist
• Neurologist
• Social worker
• Geriatricial
• Neuropsychologist

In-home nurse or caregiver

If you are the patient’s primary caregiver, it’s important that you provide all specialists and health workers with pertinent information.  This includes:

• Patient’s past and current medical history
• Current list of medications and supplements
• Detailed description of the patient’s symptoms and behaviors
• Areas of concern
• Contact numbers for you, other family members, and the primary physician

The role of family caregiver can easily become overwhelming.  In addition to meeting the physical needs of the patient, the caregiver must also face the unique emotional challenges Alzheimer’s brings.  With a coordinated care team, you will cope much more successfully.