Keeping Active and Avoiding Isolation

Choosing to age at home is a common and achievable option for many seniors. Unfortunately, a common thread for older adults living alone is isolation. Feelings of isolation can lead to a decline in health which is linked to a shorter life expectancy. Seniors and their families can help prevent social withdrawal by keeping an active social calendar.

Social activities can be as simple as a casual lunch with a friend or a structured environment such as a community class, either as a student or a teacher. Volunteering gives seniors the opportunity to be around others and to promote healthy feelings for participating and giving back to their communities. Websites such as volunteermatch.org offer opportunities for single events and longer commitments.

Regular workouts (with doctor’s approval) can help keep both the body and mind healthy. Exercise causes a physical reaction in the body that can help to fight depression and feelings of isolation. Dancing, yoga and simple stretching exercises can be weaved into daily routines to help provide variety and consistency. Enrolling in a swimming or water aerobics class allows a senior with limited mobility the chance to exercise without fear of injury.

Transportation is a key factor for many seniors who no longer drive or have mobility issues. Alternatives can include rides from family members and friends, caregiver services, as well as a public transportation system. Many areas offer discounted rides or senior specific transportation.
While at home, seniors can catch up with long distance family members and friends through social media, keep up on current events through digital newspapers and magazines and improve cognitive skills through online games. Local colleges, community centers and even some computer stores offer classes to teach the basics of connecting online.

Knowing the triggers and signs of isolation, creating a routine of regular activity and having a good support system can help a senior continue to age at home in a healthy environment.

Siblings and the Care of an Aging Parent

As young children, we rarely imagine our parents growing older. They are viewed as the impenetrable line of defense who cater unconditionally to our every physical and emotional need. As we grow older, we realize parents are not a constant and they will age and often require the assistance of their adult children because of fragility and sickness.

The degree of care an aging parent requires depends specifically on their medical condition. Some aging parents only require minimal supervision while others need more direct and focused care. When the ability to handle activities of daily living are compromised by aging or disease, the adult children have a decision to make. The prospect of placing a loved one in a nursing home can be undesirable, especially if the assistance can be administered at home, where most seniors desire to age.

In many cases, not all siblings are equally involved in the decision making or the care. Geography and economics can both factor into the situation. Some children may live too far away while others are already managing a household of their own.

When a sibling assumes the responsibility of care for an aging parent in their home, it is not always a team effort. When all siblings agree on what’s best for Mom or Dad, the process can be a smooth one. When there is disagreement among siblings, good intentions can sour. When siblings choose to disagree on care options, turning to an elder mediator for conflict resolution may be advantageous.

Involvement from a non-biased third party, such as an elder care mediator, can help settle disputes, provide a plan to move forward and avoid future conflicts in the continuing care of a parent.

Even with a plan in place, caring for an aging parent can be both physically and emotionally demanding. Those who are providing care should seek support from their siblings as well as outside resources, such as online and local communities. The importance of caregivers to take care of themselves cannot be emphasized enough.

Regardless of the role other siblings may be playing, it is wise to keep them in the loop with regular updates and health reports on their parent’s status.

Open communication and a team effort between siblings is a great start towards achieving the goal of quality care for aging family members.

The Importance of Exercise

Growing older doesn’t mean that you must grow weaker. You can improve your posture, reduce the need for a cane, increase you endurance and feel more vital and alive than you ever imagined.
You may think you need to go to the gym or get into physical therapy to improve your body, but with some careful planning and some basic awareness of physical mechanics, you can improve your body yourself. Before starting any exercise, planning a visit with the doctor is important to establish a safe and healthy routine. Once any areas of concern are addressed, you can develop a plan.

Four areas to concentrate on include strength, balance, flexibility, and endurance.

Strength: Free weights and resistance exercises will strengthen muscles and increase bone density, which will reduce injuries. Using small hand weights and resistance bands while seated in a sturdy chair is a good start to strength training. As you strength improves, you can gradually increase the level of difficulty or amount of weight or resistance you apply to your workouts.
Weight bearing exercise that involve the legs and feet will improve balance and posture while improving lower body strength. Walking is the least expensive and easiest way to work out without a gym.

Balance: Balance issues cause the most home injuries among the elderly. You can improve your balance by strengthening your trunk or core muscles. Try doing squats, lunges, step-ups, standing rows and shoulder presses with dumbbells in each hand.

Flexibility: As you age your joints, ligaments, and muscles tend to stiffen more often. You can increase your flexibility right at home in your dining room chair. Simply sit tall in the chair with your feet flat on the floor and your arms at your sides. Now raise both arms in from of your body, thumbs aligned. Gradually lift your arms over your head and hold the position for 5 seconds and then lower your arms, and then repeat 10 more times.

Endurance: Walking, swimming and biking are all great and inexpensive ways to get healthier at home. Along with your doctor’s methods to measure your progress you can also test yourself at home. On the first day of your exercise plan walk for a set amount of time without stopping. Record your results, whether by distance, steps taken, or heart and respiration rate. One month later, repeat the test and record your results. You should note significant improvement no matter which measurement you use.

A Partnership in Caregiving

For centuries, society expected children to personally care for their parents as they aged. During past eras, it usually wasn’t difficult to meet these expectations as family members tended to live close to one another even as young adults transitioned into the work world.

Today our society is more mobile. These days it is just as common for children to move across the country to take a job or move with his or her family for employment reasons as it is for the children to continue to live in the same vicinity as their parents during their senior years. With jobs and other responsibilities, even those who live close by may have a difficult time helping to manage the care of their older loved ones. So the burden on someone who lives far away is often substantially multiplied. In each case, what steps can be taken to help the children know that their older family member is cared for?

Estimates by the National Institute on Aging reveal that about 7 million elderly Americans have long-distance caregivers. The most difficult challenge in this situation is the lack of ability to observe the older person on a daily basis. This leaves the long-distance caregiver at a disadvantage, being unable to observe day-to-day changes in the loved one’s demeanor and mental and physical functioning. While the lack of knowledge of medical issues is certainly a concern, the failure to observe it may also difficult to observe vulnerabilities in the aging person’s judgment, leaving him or her open to those who prey on the elderly for financial reasons.

Rarely is the long-distance caregiver in a position to leave his or her job and move closer to the aging family member. Even though there are employment benefits that may allow an employee to take some time off as leave to be a caregiver, that time is limited. So the best scenario is for the long-distance caregiver to have someone on site to observe and report to the caregiver.

If some leave time is available, or even if it requires taking vacation time, the long-distance caregiver should spend some time in the home of the loved one to assess the day-to-day needs that should be addressed. The next step would be to interview local caregivers who will be responsible for that day-to-day care. Since the caregiver hired to be on-site must be trustworthy, going through an agency that specializes in these services may be best. Agencies will generally be bonded to protect you and your loved one from any wrongdoing on the part of a caretaker. In addition, should the original caretaker have to leave that position or even be away for a period due to illness or other reasons, the agency will have your loved one’s records and be able to send a suitable replacement with knowledge of the specific needs.

While the on-site caregiver will provide the day-to-day care such as dietary needs, medication monitoring, housekeeping, transportation, shopping and personal care or hygiene as needed, the long-distance family member will still oversee family matters such as coordinating medical care, managing financial and legal matters, and provide the love and care that only a family member can. Working together as partners provides a secure environment for your loved one to age at home, and peace of mind for you and your family.

Holiday CareGift Ideas

Some thoughtful and practical gifts for an elderly family member or friend.

1. An Organized Gift
Perhaps your father would enjoy a little organization. He’s had several years to collect a significant amount of papers, knick-knacks, prescriptions, and other items.
You could offer your organizational skills by going through important things such as documents or prescriptions. It’s also a great opportunity to discover issues that need to be addressed, such as wills, bank accounts, and even any health changes. For example, when going through his prescriptions, you might notice she is not taking them properly.

2. A Custom “Maid” Gift
Offer a weekly or bi-weekly cleaning for your mother. It may be difficult for her to see the dust and dirt like she did at one time. You could either hire out this service, or do it yourself. This not only provides a cleaner dwelling for her, but a little company at the same time.

3. A Little Pampering
Consider taking your elderly neighbor for a pedicure, manicure, massage, or a hair appointment. This pampering will feel wonderful, and may even be necessary. As people age, their nails tend to harden, especially with various health conditions. So, providing a pedicure service when they can no longer do it themselves is a great gift.

3. A Timeless Gift
It’s not surprising that the elderly are often lonely. Many times a spouse has already passed, as well as a number of friends. Not to mention, you have your own busy life to live. But, while making the time takes some effort, creativity, and consistency…it also makes a wonderful gift.
Keep in mind though, the elderly will appreciate just 30 minutes of your time, but they typically won’t ask for it. So, organize a calendar with scheduled visits and outings, which will give them something to look forward to each week or month. Coordinate this with others, rather than everyone visiting on the same day. Here are a few simple things that could bring great joy to their day:
• Breakfast
• Afternoon Coffee
• Grocery Shopping
• Movies
It doesn’t have to be an elaborate plan…just a little time, spread out over the holiday period to diminish the lonely times that many face.

Respite Care

Caring for an elderly family member can be emotionally difficult over time as they become more frail. If loved one has high blood pressure, or another common condition associated with aging, they probably take an assortment of prescribed medications and/or over-the-counter agents.

Cognitive impairments can make it difficult for seniors to keep track of which medication to take each day or whether the pill has already been taken and they may not fully understand the potential drug interactions or symptoms of an allergic reaction. Some conditions have dosages of medications prescribed in tandem with a restricted diet. Other medications are taken only as needed. You (and your other family members) may be experiencing stress at the thought of your elderly parent forgetting to take their medication or overdosing by accidentally taking too many pills. Anxiety and guilt may plague you as you attempt to keep your elderly parent in their home or independent living situation—with an eye on their daily medication intake.

There are times when you really need respite care, and just need a non-family caregiver to remind your elderly family member to take their medication and help them with activities of daily living such as dressing and bathing (or simply provide companionship). To maintain your elderly family member’s independence in their own apartment or house, housecleaning, a ride to an appointment, or grocery-shopping may be needed. Even for those seniors in assisted living settings, the personal assistance may be limited to only a few days per week for a short daily time period. Hired caregivers such as home health aides can work in conjunction with family caregivers to offer temporary or long-term assistance and can provide services that a family caregiver may be uncomfortable providing or may not be able to provide.

As a family caregiver, you need to allot time for your own care, including a break from caregiving, to be at your best in life. Your elderly family member is dependent on you, so your physical and emotional health are important and expanding the support network for your elderly loved one will help you to maintain your well-being.

Preparing for the Future

Aging can be a source of stress for many families. A daughter may be uncomfortable in the reversed role of “mothering her mother”. A father who is used to being the caretaker of his family may find it difficult to reach out and ask for help when activities of daily living become challenging for him.

Early discussions between adult children and their parents is the best way to prepare for the future and to help avoid conflict when decisions need to be made. A good first step is to discuss what the parents’ wishes are and what actions need to be taken to honor those wishes.

Many seniors desire to age at home rather than move into a family member’s home, an assisted living facility or a nursing home. If the assistance and/or care required for a senior to remain at home can be accommodated by a caregiver , it can allow a person to age at home for as long as they want, while receiving all the care and attention they need to maintain a higher quality of life.

Oftentimes, the adult children offer to provide the care for their aging parents. While a natural response, it can also be a very stressful situation, especially if they are unprepared for the challenges that come along with caregiving. There are a number of resources and support groups available for the family caregiver.

Professional home care comes at a much more affordable cost than the monthly rates of assisted living facilities and nursing homes. Typically, home care service can be acquired for as little as a few hours a week up to 24/7 care. The services can start out as a supplement (or respite) to a family caregiver and increase as additional help is needed.

Whether the decision to use a family caregiver, a professional service, or both, early discussions and preparation for the future can help provide a comfortable living environment for seniors and peace of mind for the family members.

Managing and Monitoring Medication for Seniors Living at Home

As seniors age, managing medications can become more difficult, which could lead to increased health problems.  Some of the challenges seniors face when it comes to properly taking their prescribed medications include:

  1. Multiple medications treating different conditions
  2. Forgetfulness and confusion
  3. Lack of mobility
  4. Different dose schedules
  5. Difficulty opening the bottle
  6. Difficulty seeing the small print on the bottle
  7. Medications in different locations (some need refrigeration).

However, with support and a system in place, the challenges that come along with medications can be overcome. Trova’s personal care assistants possess the training to maintain medication routines for your family members. Your loved one can live without the burden of trying to remember when to take medications.  Here are some suggestions to managing medications:

  1. Caregiver reminders
  2. Create a visible chart of reminders
  3. Keep all medications in one location
  4. Use a pill sorting and dispensing device
  5. Use technology (software) for reminders
  6. Stick with one pharmacy for all medications
  7. Hire a trusted home care service provider

Whether you rely on caregiver reminders or a dispenser like the Phillips Medication Dispenser, putting a medication management system in place will help ensure the safety of your loved one and provide peace of mind for you.

Hanging Up the Keys

There’s often a natural role reversal that occurs between adult children and their parents.  In the beginning, it may include gentle recommendations on the activities of daily living to helping out with financial decisions.  As the years progress, these situations become more frequent and can turn to difficult discussions about the change in lifestyle.  One of the tougher tasks includes the conversation about an aging parent’s ability to continue to drive.

It’s important to note that the issue is less about a person’s age than it is the diminished physical and mental capacities that come along with aging.  Multiple medications, impaired vision, decreased hearing and slower reflexes can all contribute to increased risks for seniors on the road.

Observing your parent’s driving skills from the passenger seat, monitoring the car for any dings and dents, and scheduling time with your parent’s physician to discuss your concerns are good starting points.

When you are ready to have the conversation, it’s important to remember to stress the safety factors for your parent and others on the road, keep the tone firm but respectful, and be ready for objections.  The idea of no longer driving is a sensitive issue and can be considered a loss of independence.  Provide a list of alternatives, such as a schedule of availability for rides from family members and friends, local senior services and public transportation.   You could also talk about the financial benefits to giving up the car in respect to payments, repairs and insurance bills that will no longer need to be paid.

The best scenario is to bring up the matter with your parent early on before any of the signs begin to appear.  Agree on the terms beforehand to help make an easier transition for your parent and to provide peace of mind for everyone involved.

Fall Prevention

Did you know that falling is the number one cause of injury among seniors who are 65 and older? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each year 1 in 3 senior adults suffers an injury due to a fall. While some may recover and continue living an active or independent lifestyle, many seniors end up in the hospital or transition into a nursing home because of serious injuries. In the most severe cases, like a broken hip or leg, a senior may develop complications that result in death.

Even if the fall is not life threatening, it can be costly. The CDC reported that in 2012, the total cost of injuries and injury-related complications in seniors was approximately $30 billion. What is most frustrating about these types of incidences and injuries is that they typically can be prevented.

What are the most common types of falls?

While a senior can slip, trip or fall in almost any place or situation, there are some areas where special care can be taken to provide a safer environment for your loved one. For example, a set of stairs to a second floor or basement could be hazardous, but so could that step leading into the garage, or one down into the utility room? What might be a quick entry point into a different room of the house to most could be a hazard to a not-so-nimble senior.

Also, front porches and outdoor steps are dangerous areas where falls often occur. In the winter, icy conditions can make those hazards even more of a concern. In addition to steps and stairs, any slippery surface around the home can be a fall hazard. Bathtub falls are among the most common causes of accidents at home for seniors. Aside from getting in and out of the tub, walking along smooth surfaces in stockings or socks and tripping hazards, such as cords and furniture legs, also present increased fall risks.

What steps should be taken to make a home fall-proof?

Fall prevention should not be taken lightly, since it could mean the difference between life and death. The focus should not be on simply eliminating the hazards but creating a safe environment in and outside of the home.

First, install handrails along any stairs or steps, including the areas where only one step exists. Handrails may need to be installed on both sides, such as areas leading into the garage or utility room. Remember that your senior may need to go both up and down the step. The bathroom is an area that should be closely observed for the installation of support rails. Install handrails and guards in and around the tub and toilet. Next, focus on the floor. If there are any slippery areas, provide rugs that are firmly secured to the floor and make sure that your loved one wears rubber-gripped slippers for traction. Provide clear walkways from room to room, keeping all cords secured carefully along the baseboards.

Slip and fall accidents can be prevented through careful observation and action.  Sometimes the most obvious things can contribute to a hazardous situation.  When in doubt, take action to ensure safety for your loved one.