According to the Geriatric Mental Health Foundation, more than 6 million Americans older than 65 experience feelings of persistent sadness, hopelessness and lack of energy. Two million of these seniors have been diagnosed with a severe depressive illness.
Depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, resulting from illness, from a loss or accumulated losses, from chronic pain, from the side-effects of medication and other causes. You might be surprised to know that retirement can be the trigger event for depression. Even though most of us look forward to having our days to ourselves, with more time to do the things we want to do, retirement may create a “vocation gap” that leaves some retirees without a feeling of purpose and a place in the world. Retirement may also mean the loss of an important social context.
It’s important to seek treatment for depression. Treatment might include medications and therapy. But often, lifestyle changes provide a powerful mood boost. These include everything from exercise to volunteering to watching humorous TV programs. And over the past few years, several studies have shown that internet use can be an effective tool for reducing feelings of boredom and isolation.
This was confirmed recently when a team of researchers headed by Shelia R. Cotton, Ph.D., from Michigan State University examined results from the large Health and Retirement Study, an ongoing survey that provides data on more than 22,000 older Americans. As reported by the Gerontological Society of America, the team asked study subjects: “Do you regularly use the World Wide Web, or the internet, for sending and receiving email or for any other purpose?”
The results showed that the internet users had a 33 percent reduction in the probability of depression. Said the study authors, “This provides some evidence that the mechanism linking internet use to depression is the remediation of social isolation and loneliness. Encouraging older adults to use the internet may help decrease isolation, loneliness, and depression.”
Online socialization is a great way to supplement and increase “real life” friendships. Surfing the web provides mental stimulation and helps seniors feel informed and connected. Something as small as watching a few cat videos—and sharing them on Facebook—can raise the spirits. And today, many young people who were raised with the internet are providing their older relatives with a little intergenerational tech support. If you or an older loved one is experiencing depression and isolation, check out the resources in your community to help seniors learn to use computers and connect with others online.
Read more about the study here.
Copyright © IlluminAge AgeWise, 2014; with excerpts from news release from the Gerontological Society of America.
During the holidays, most of us make every effort to spend time with the people we love. We cook, clean the house and wrap presents. We brave busy airports to join family who live out of town for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa—whatever celebrations that are meaningful to us. And if we have a friend or loved one who lives in a nursing home or other care community, many of us make time for a special visit if the person’s health does not permit them to leave the facility.
Nursing homes do their best to make the holiday season joyous and meaningful for residents. The facility will most likely have a special meal planned and a full schedule of carolers, volunteer visits and other entertainment. But nothing beats a personal visit from someone special to us. Visits from family and friends provide an opportunity to stay in touch, to express emotions, to share experiences, and to simply enjoy time together. Above all, visits help reassure the person you are visiting that he or she is still an important family member or friend. So be sure to make a holiday visit part of your plans.
Here are some tips for having a more meaningful visit, both during the holidays and year-round.
Before Your Visit
Should you plan ahead for visits, or just drop in? Surprises are fun, but keep in mind that your loved one would probably prefer knowing ahead of time when to expect you. That way they can look forward to the visit. And they can be rested and ready, with no other scheduled activities or therapy to conflict with the visit.
A little preparation goes a long way. For example, think for a moment about your loved one’s needs and interests. What would they appreciate most in a visit? Would they enjoy:
- having someone to talk with?
- discussing what’s happening in the family, community, or world?
- being asked for an opinion or advice?
- listening to music?
- having a story or the newspaper read aloud?
- sharing an activity or meal?
- keeping up past relationships?
- being touched or hugged?
During Your Visit
During your visit, one quality will stand above all the rest—the quality of being completely focused on your visit and the person you are visiting.
Chances are that your visit is one stop in a busy day. It is easy to be distracted by where you were last, or what you’ll be doing next. Without really thinking about it, you might express to the person you’re visiting just how busy you are. This may make them feel like you aren’t fully present during your visit.
Staying focused and attentive shows that you value your visits—that you enjoy them as much as the person you are visiting does. It shows that your visit isn’t simply an obligation.
And when it comes to being focused and attentive, remember that your body language often speaks louder than words. So set aside as much time as you can comfortably afford, then relax and give your time and attention at a calm and caring pace.
This is the time of year that most of us like to give gifts. Remember, though, that space is usually limited in a nursing facility, so the best rule of thumb is to keep gifts small, simple, and personal. Here are some suggestions:
- a card with a meaningful message—this can be one you purchase or make yourself
- flowers or a plant
- books, either hard copy or electronic
- lotions or other toiletries
- personal care items (such as soap or lotion)
- a handmade quilt
- comfortable, adaptive clothing that is machine washable (talk to staff about labeling clothes)
- non-perishable food items (but check with staff first)
Talk to staff ahead of time if you have questions about gifts you would like to bring.
Ending Your Visit
Ending a visit is sometimes difficult. Many residents and guests find that using the last few minutes to plan the next visit, or to talk about upcoming activities or events at the facility, is a useful way to ease the transition and lessen the awkwardness of parting from a loved one. Staff can give you additional suggestions if saying goodbye is a problem.
Dealing With a Difficult Situation
As residents and family members deal with prolonged illness or disability and the need for long-term care, this may raise some powerful emotions in both the resident and family members. A recent event or long-standing unresolved issue may trigger feelings of anger, frustration, sadness, fear, or loneliness—both in you and in the person you are visiting. In addition, the effects of medications, fatigue, and physical or mental challenges may cause expressions of resentment and other difficult behaviors from your loved one.
The important point is to understand and accept that some visits may be emotionally trying. That doesn’t mean that your visit was not meaningful or useful, nor does it mean that you should not visit again, or as often as you might otherwise. But if you are having trouble dealing with strong emotions or difficult behavior, be sure to get help. The facility’s social worker can help you understand what is going on, and can make practical suggestions, such as when the best time to visit would be, how long to stay, and so on. Additional resources, such as a support group, might also be available.
Checking in With Staff
As part of your visit, it is often a good idea to check in with staff. Your support and personal involvement will always be appreciated. And your knowledge of the person you are visiting helps the care team understand the resident’s unique needs and feelings.
Ten Ideas For Your Next Visit
- Participate together in a scheduled holiday activity or day trip.
- Spend time reading out loud or listening to music.
- Work on a family photo album.
- Give a manicure or help with hair care.
- Share a meal together in the dining room or resident’s room.
- Help with organizing personal items or cleaning out a closet.
- Go for a stroll outdoors if the weather permits, or sit outside and talk if there is a patio or courtyard.
- Bring a younger family member or a pet (but check first with staff).
- Celebrate birthdays or other special occasions (check on the availability of a room large enough for a family gathering).
- Bring an old friend who probably wouldn’t otherwise be able to visit.
Copyright © IlluminAge AgeWise, 2014
As we enter the season of thanksgiving (including The Day itself), we are told repeatedly to count our blessings and practice gratitude. Many of us stop to consider all we have to be thankful for only for a moment on the fourth Thursday of November. But does the act of giving thanks provide benefits beyond a momentary acknowledgement of the good in our lives? Can a daily practice of gratitude actually improve our health?
Many experts think so. One of the main scientists exploring the phenomenon of giving thanks is Robert Emmons, who has studied the topic extensively. His book, Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, chronicles the studies he’s done that have convinced him that gratitude “is literally one of the few things that can measurably change people’s lives.”
Emmons is far from alone in his enthusiasm for gratitude. Dr. Lawrence Rosen, an integrative pediatrician and founder of the Whole Child Center, is also an advocate. According to Rosen, there are at least five benefits of gratitude that have scientific studies to back them up.
- Gratitude reduces depression.
- Gratitude engenders a feeling of peace.
- Gratitude aids in restful sleep.
- Gratitude improves heart health.
- Gratitude strengthens memory.
So, how does one practice the art of gratitude?
One of the practices that Mr. Emmons extols is the gratitude journal. Oprah Winfrey has been talking about her personal experiences with a gratitude journal for years. The goal here is to set aside some time every day and write down several things you’re grateful for. According to Emmons, the act of writing “allows you to see the meaning of events going on around you and create meaning in your own life.”
Here are some other tips to keep you on the road of practicing gratitude:
Create visual cues
The toils of daily life can make us quickly forget all we have to be grateful for. So, remind yourself every day with visual reminders. This could be a photograph, a physical token of a feel-good moment (such as a souvenir from a wonderful vacation), or even just a Post-It note listing something for which you’re grateful.
Surround yourself with people who practice gratitude on a daily basis. Hearing someone share what they’re thankful for (especially if they’re facing a challenge) will remind you of all the blessings in your own life.
Give freely of yourself
Be conscious of the “emotional wake” you leave in the word. Smile at strangers and notice their reaction. Being conscious of how your actions affect others will naturally lead to others being grateful for you, which is the one of the greatest gifts of all.
Gratitude is like any other discipline – it takes practice! It starts with being awake and aware of the world around you and the beauty that is available for all us to share.
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According to hearing loss researcher Richard Salvi, Ph.D., “Baby boomers now have reached an age where hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing in the ear) become major health problems. Many have already lost much of their hearing and developed tinnitus due to years of listening to loud rock music.”
Salvi explains, “Hearing aids, not yet considered a fashion statement, will become a necessary part of the boomers’ dress code as the prevalence of age-related hearing loss begins to accelerate beyond age 65. While hearing aid technology and miniaturization have steadily advanced, restoring the hearing of our youth remains a formidable challenge.”
Salvi, Professor of Communicative Disorders, Otolaryngology and Neurology, is Director of the Center for Hearing and Deafness at the University at Buffalo in New York. He says, “Hearing healthcare costs are skyrocketing due to noise exposure and aging.” Salvi has also studied hearing loss in combat veterans. He says, “The Veterans Administration ranks hearing loss as one of its top five major disabilities. In 2010, the VA paid out more than $1 billion for tinnitus disability claims alone.”
And this trend also appears in the general population, where, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, 18 percent of baby boomers are already dealing with some degree of hearing loss from continued exposure to loud noise and age-related changes in the ear. The figure is expected to double during the next decade, though some experts point out that in certain ways, the boomer generation is better off than their elders when it comes to hearing, having benefited from tighter regulations on workplace noise and better treatment for childhood ear infections.
It’s important to seek treatment for hearing loss. “Severe to profound hearing loss and tinnitus associated with aging and noise exposure are not just hearing problems; they can lead to social isolation, anxiety and depression, contributing to an overall decline in one’s general health,” Salvi says.
Source: AgeWise reporting on research from the University at Buffalo Center for Hearing and Deafness
As millions of Americans travel this month for Thanksgiving, many adult children will spend time with their aging parents and loved ones. A record number of these older Americans are living alone. A government report found that 11.3 million older Americans—some 30 percent of those over 65 and older fully half of women age 75 or older—now live by themselves.
For many families, the holidays are the one time of the year they can physically “check in” on older loved ones. So it is an important chance to look for signs that older loved ones—especially those who live alone—may need additional help or attention. To assist families, the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers (NAPGCM), whose members are trained experts working day to day with seniors, are providing key questions to ask and warning signs to look for during holiday visits. The experts at NAPGCM suggest you look for these seven potential warning signs that could mean that loved ones need medical attention or more assistance to continue living independently:
- Changes in Physical Appearance: Do you notice either significant weight loss or weight gain? Do you notice any bumps or bruises that may indicate they have had falls?
- Loss of Mobility: Are they experiencing any increased difficulty in walking or getting in and out of chairs/sofas? Do they appear less steady on their feet?
- Decline in Home Cleanliness and Repair: Does their home look clean and well maintained or is it in need of cleaning and/or repairs? Is trash and/or clutter accumulating? Does it smell of urine or feces?
- Reduced Ability to Prepare Healthy Meals: Do you notice a change in the kinds of foods they have (no more fresh fruits/vegetables, more frozen meals and canned goods)? Are their appliances, such as the stove, microwave and refrigerator, in working order? Is there adequate food? Any spoiled food present?
- Changes in Mood, Memory or Behavior: Do you notice your loved one constantly repeating things? Are you noticing increased confusion? Are you hearing from their friends that something has changed in their mood or behavior? Are they having difficulty carrying on an extended conversation? Are they showing irritability or apathy? Are they reporting more difficulty sleeping?
- Changes in Routine: Do you notice stacks of unopened mail? Are bills not getting paid? Are medications being taken? Are prescriptions not being refilled? Are medical appointments being missed or follow-ups not being made? Have they cut back on outside/social activities?
- Decline in Personal Hygiene: Are you noticing your loved one is unkempt, not dressing during the day like they used to, not showering, or wearing dirty clothing.
“We want to help people know how to spot warning signs so they can make sure their loved ones are getting the help they need,” said Jullie Gray, President of the NAPGCM. “The holidays are often the best and sometimes the only time of year that family are able to check in in-person on aging parents who live alone.”
These are just a few warning signs that an older adult may need medical attention or other assistance. If one or more of these warning signs are detected, it might be time to bring in a professional to help.
Geriatric care managers (GCMs) are an important resource to older adults and families who need assistance. GCMs’ expertise and day-to-day experience in the community can guide older adults and their families with choices. Beginning with an in-depth assessment, a care plan is created by the GCM and family. Together, they arrive at the best possible options. It is difficult for many adult children to navigate through the myriad of options, especially when they are at a distance, working, and/or raising their own children. A listing of Geriatric Care Managers can be found atwww.caremanager.org.
Source: The National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers (NAPGCM) is the professional organization for Geriatric Care Managers, professionals who have extensive training and experience working with older people, people with disabilities and families who need assistance with caregiving issues. For more information or to access a nationwide directory of professional geriatric care managers, please visit www.caremanager.org.
This year’s theme is “Be Smart About Your Heart: Control the ABCs of Diabetes”
November is National Diabetes Month. If you have diabetes, the National Diabetes Education Program (NDEP) wants you to Be Smart About Your Heart by managing the ABCs of Diabetes.
More than 29 million Americans have diabetes, and it is estimated that one in every four people with diabetes does not even know they have the disease. If left undiagnosed or untreated, diabetes can lead to serious health problems, including heart attack and stroke.
The National Diabetes Education Program (NDEP) wants people with diabetes to know that heart disease can be a serious health problem for people with diabetes. The good news is that people with diabetes can lower their chances of having diabetes-related heart problems by managing their Diabetes ABCs:
- A is for the A1C test (A-one-C). This is a blood test that measures your average blood sugar (glucose) level over the past three months.
- B is for blood pressure.
- C is for cholesterol.
- S is for stopping smoking.
If you have diabetes, talk to your doctor about your A1C, blood pressure, and cholesterol numbers. Your ABC goals will depend on how long you have had diabetes, and other health problems. If you smoke, ask for help or call 1-800-QUITNOW.
NDEP offers many resources to help people with diabetes take important steps to stay healthy and prevent diabetes-related heart problems:
Taking Care of Your Diabetes Means Taking Care of Your Heart: This tip sheet explains the link between diabetes and heart disease. It encourages people with diabetes to work with their health care team to set targets and manage their blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol.
You Are the Heart of Your Family…Take Care of It. (Usted es el corazón de la familia…cuide su corazón) Tip Sheet: This bilingual tip sheet (in Spanish and English) explains the link between diabetes and heart disease and encourages patients to work with their health care team to manage their blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol.
Diabetes and Your Heart Infographic (English and Spanish): This illustrate chart explains the ABCS of diabetes and how diabetes affects the heart. You can also share this infographic on Facebook and Twitter, or embed it on your blog or website.
4 Steps to Manage Your Diabetes for Life: This booklet provides four steps to help people with diabetes understand, monitor, and manage their diabetes to help them stay healthy.
For more information, please visit www.YourDiabetesInfo.org/DiabetesMonth2014 to learn more!
Source: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ National Diabetes Education Program (NDEP) is jointly sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) with the support of more than 200 partner organizations.
When we were kids, our mothers usually made sure we had all the shots we needed to stay healthy. But did you know that grown-ups also need to keep their immunizations up to date? As a reminder, this month’s puzzle contains 20 words all having to do with vaccines. Can you find them all? Click here to download and print the puzzle.
Need a little help? Click here for the solution.
Remember—you might only need a few immunizations, or more, depending on your health condition, lifestyle, occupation, travel plans and age. Talk to your healthcare provider about which vaccines you need. Visit www.vaccines.gov to find the recommendations for seniors.
Seniors are at the highest risk for complications of the flu. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers information about seniors and the flu shot, which includes and update about the new higher dose shot for people older than 65.
Copyright © IlluminAge AgeWise, 2014
When a loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, you need to start getting their health, legal, and financial affairs in order. You want to plan for the future, if possible, with help from your loved one while they can still make decisions. You need to review all of their health, legal, and financial information to make sure it reflects their wishes. Here is a planning checklist from the National Institute on Aging’s Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral Center:
Update health care, legal, and financial information
- A Durable Power of Attorney for Finances gives someone called a trustee the power to make legal and financial decisions for the person with Alzheimer’s.
- A Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care gives someone called a proxy the power to make health care decisions for the person with Alzheimer’s.
- A Living Will states the person’s wishes for health care at the end of life.
- A Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) Form tells health care staff how the person wants end-of-life health care managed.
- A Will tells how the person wants his or her property and money to be divided among those left behind.
- A Living Trust tells the trustee how to distribute a person’s property and money.
Check for money problems
People with Alzheimer’s disease often have problems managing their money. As the disease progresses, they may try to hide financial problems to protect their independence. Or, they may not realize that they are losing the ability to handle money matters. Someone should check each month to see how your loved one is doing. This person might be a family member or the trustee.
Protect your loved one from fraud
Scams can take many forms, such as identity theft; get-rich-quick offers; phony offers of prizes or home or auto repairs; insurance scams or outright threats. Here are some signs that a loved one with Alzheimer’s is not managing money well or has become a victim of a scam:
- Your loved one seems afraid or worried when he or she talks about money.
- Money is missing from your loved one’s bank account.
- Signatures on checks or other papers don’t look like your loved one’s signature.
- Bills are not being paid, and your loved one doesn’t know why.
- Your loved one’s will has been changed without his or her permission.
- Your loved one’s home is sold, and he or she did not agree to sell it.
- Things that belong to your loved one are missing from the home.
- Your loved one has signed legal papers (such as a will, a power of attorney, or a joint deed to a house) without knowing what the papers mean.
Reporting problems: If you think your loved one may be a victim of a scam, contact your local police department. You also can contact your state consumer protection office or Area Agency on Aging office. For help finding these offices, contact Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116 or www.eldercare.gov. For a list of state consumer protection offices, see www.usa.gov/directory/stateconsumer/index.shtml. You can also look in the telephone book for a listing in the blue/Government pages.
Who would take care of your loved one with Alzheimer’s disease if something happened to you?
It is important to have a plan in case of your own illness, disability, or death.
- Consult a lawyer about setting up a living trust, durable power of attorney for health care and finances, and other estate planning tools.
- Consult with family and close friends to decide who would take responsibility for your loved one. You also may want to seek information about your local public guardian’s office, mental health conservator’s office, adult protective services, or other case management services. These organizations may have programs that could assist your loved one in your absence.
- Maintain a notebook for the responsible person who would assume caregiving. Such a notebook should contain the following information:
- emergency phone numbers
- current problem behaviors and possible solutions
- ways to calm the person with Alzheimer’s
- assistance needed with toileting, feeding, or grooming
- favorite activities or food
- Preview long-term care facilities in your community and select a few as possibilities. Share this information with the responsible person. If your loved one is no longer able to live at home, the responsible person will be better able to carry out your wishes for long-term care.
Contact the Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center at 1-800-438-4380 or www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers for more information on planning for health, legal, and financial matters.
Source: National Institute on Aging, adapted by AgeWise, 2014.
There’s a common assumption that when a loved one needs care, family members who do not work outside the home will be first to step up and provide support. Of course, in reality this is not the case. Many other factors come into play as a family’s caregiving arrangement takes shape.
In a series of studies over the past year, the United Hospital Fund and the AARP have been looking at the facts about family caregiving in the U.S. One thing they’ve discovered is that family caregivers today are performing more and more medical and nursing tasks for their elderly relatives. Family members are providing medication management, performing wound care, monitoring their loved ones’ health conditions and operating specialized medical equipment. The researchers also looked at the level of care and number of care hours provided by family members who were also employed outside the home, compared with those who were not. Said Susan Reinhard of the AARP Public Policy Institute, “We expected that caregivers who didn’t have to manage the demands of a job would have more time to take on these challenging tasks—tasks that would make a nursing student tremble—but our data shows that there’s little difference between the two groups.”
Though working caregivers were only one percentage point less likely to be providing this kind of care (45 percent of them, versus 46 percent of non-working caregivers), the percentages diverged dramatically in another category. Said Carol Levine of the United Hospital Fund, “Where we did find a difference was in the stress associated with juggling the demands of caregiving with other responsibilities.” Levine reports that while 49 percent of family caregivers who are not employed report feeling stressed, fully 61 percent of the working caregivers reported such stress.
This study is yet another reminder of how important it is for our nation to support family caregivers, whose unpaid work is worth billions of dollars each year, and many of whom are also productive members of the workforce.
Read the entire study on the United Hospital Fund website.
Source: AgeWise reporting on research from the United Hospital Fund and AARP.
Is it safe to sleep with your baby in your own bed? This is one of the questions that parents are mostly asking when taking care of their babies. While a few studies showed that sleeping with your babies with you in the bed can be hazardous, other has also claimed the opposite. So which one should you go for?
As the studies showed, bed-sharing with infants will increase the mother and child bonding correlated with breastfeeding. The baby will also feel safe and secured when you share your bed with them.
However, some studies also showed that this may cause suffocation. It is because most of the recent news about baby care is about death of some infants in which their mothers accidentally suffocated them while they are sleeping in one bed like rolling over the baby in her sleep that caused the baby to suffocate. This accidental instance is called Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). In this case, SIDS will be prevented by placing the babies in a safer place like cribs.
Moreover, this may serve as a challenge for parents where their babies are concerned. It is still up to the parents if they want to share their beds with their babies. There is no “golden rule”. Furthermore, it is also advisable that safety measures must be provided like pillows should be away from the infants to avoid suffocation.
To know more about the risk and benefits of bed-sharing with infants, read more here.