For many older adults, use of a walker carries great stigma. It’s a symbol of disability and often of isolation. In actual fact, a walker can be the key to staying actively engaged with favorite activities.
The benefits of a walker
- It can bear up to 50% of a person’s weight. (A cane holds only 25%.)
- It supports good posture. A walker keeps a person upright by reinforcing both sides of the body. (A cane steadies only one side.)
- It is designed for people with moderate to severe balance problems or those with generalized weakness and arthritis. (A cane is best for only minor balance problems or injuries.)
- It may act as a chair when needed. Many walkers with wheels have a bench. Great for “standing” in line or when your loved one is suddenly tired or dizzy.
- It can be rather stylish, with modern accessories, such as a smartphone clamp, a coffee cup holder and a basket for carrying things.
- It stays where you put it! Canes seem to have a mind of their own, scooting out of reach when you least expect it.
If you have had the “walker talk” with no success, make an appointment with the doctor and directly ask, “What’s your experience with patients who fall? How careful should we be?”
Also get the doctor’s input about the type of walker that is best for your loved one. Perhaps he or she will do a mobility assessment. Or make a referral to a physical or occupational therapist to create a plan for safe walking.
Empathize with Dad’s frustration that his body has given out on him in this way. Remind him that with a walker, he can still get around on his own to do what he pleases. It’s often the most effective choice for maintaining independence.
Is mobility a struggle?
As the Orange County experts in family caregiving, we understand. At Senior Life Management we have helped many older adults come to terms with the need for a walker. You don’t have to do this alone. Give us a call at 949-716-1266.
If remaining independent is a goal for your older relative, bringing some balance to his or her life is essential—balance exercise, that is.
All it takes is short but consistent focus for Mom or Dad to significantly reduce the chance of a fall. In one study, two 15-minute sessions of balance exercises over a six-month period was enough to make a difference. That’s only 30 minutes a week. Depending on your situation, this may even be something you can do together.
- Routines are simple. Mom won’t be daunted by the balance activities recommended by the National Institute on Aging. Standing on one foot and heal-to-toe walking are easy to do at home.
- No muss, no fuss. No special clothing, no special gear, and not even much floor space is needed for balance activities. Dad can even hold on to a table or chair until he feels more stable.
It turns out the most effective exercise for preventing falls is tai chi. This gentle activity has been practiced in China for centuries. Tai-chi involves slow, graceful movements combined with controlled breathing and awareness of the body’s position.
Research has shown that people who practiced an hour of tai-chi three times a week for three months experienced a 43% reduction in falls. They also had a 50% reduction in injuries from a fall.
Tai chi is best done with a teacher and in a class. But if that’s not an option, there are DVDs that teach tai chi. The local library may even have some to lend out.
Get the doctor’s okay first
There are many reasons a person might have poor balance. Just to be safe, ask for a fall risk assessment before starting an exercise program. You want to be sure your loved one has all the bases covered.
Does your Mom or Dad need help with balance?
The exercises aren’t difficult, but they do take time. And it’s much easier to stick with them if they can be done with others. Let us help you explore the options. As the Orange County experts in aging well, we at Senior Life Management are quite adept at helping older adults become more physical and focus more positively on their bodies. Give us a call at 949-716-1266.
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t—you’re right.”
It turns out this truism applies to the ways we perceive the aging process itself. Research shows that older adults who view aging as a time of continued learning and development are physically more resilient. They seem to weather a setback and regain their mobility and independence more readily. They stay healthier and live longer than their peers who view aging primarily as a time of decline.
As a society we tend to hold aging in a negative light. But studies have found that advanced years do indeed bring many benefits. When compared to younger generations, for instance, older adults generally are more able to
- focus on the positives
- tune out the negatives
- relax and accept who they are
The wisdom of aging may be that older adults recognize life is too short to “sweat the small stuff.” And with accumulated years, they have developed more coping skills for life’s inevitable rough spots.
Get this self-fulfilling prophecy working in your loved one’s favor! Try asking some of these questions to help him or her identify the special strengths of aging:
- If you were suddenly 20 again, what skills or wisdom would you miss?
- What has helped you through hard times in the past? Look for ways to emphasize these skills or resources.
- What people, activities, or situations tend to leave you feeling positive? Consider ways to emphasize these resources. For many older adults, family and social interactions bring the greatest joy.
- What is the ‘gift’ in your situation right now? With aging, we frequently come to realize that in every situation the good coexists with the bad. Even people with incurable diseases can usually identify something positive they have learned as a result of their condition.
Is the glass looking half empty?
Let our strengths-based approach give everyone a fresh perspective. As the Orange County experts in family caregiving, we at Senior Life Management can help with a realistic picture of the glass-half-full side of the equation. Give us a call at 949-716-1266.
When your schedule gets tight, is sleep one of the first things to go? According to the experts, that’s all too common. And it makes about as much sense as deciding to do without food, air, or water. Sleep is that essential.
Most adults need 6 to 8 hours of sleep per night.
Sleep promotes brain function and mood.
- Mental focus. Sleep helps keep us sharp. It supports concentration, problem solving, and productivity.
- Emotional stability. Sleep helps us cope with change and difficult circumstances. Too little sleep contributes to reactivity and/or depression.
- Prevention of memory loss. New studies indicate that the brain may use sleep as a time to clean out the harmful proteins that build up in persons with Alzheimer’s Disease.
Sleep is essential to physical health.
- Healing and repair. The tissues of the heart and blood vessels particularly need sleep time for repair. Getting too little sleep for too long doubles your risk for a heart attack or stroke.
- Maintaining normal weight. Lack of sleep changes the production of hormones that regulate hunger and blood sugar. This can lead to weight gain and/or diabetes.
- Fighting infection. Adequate sleep helps keep your immune system strong.
Tips to support good sleep:
- Exercise daily (but not right before bed), and get some sunlight each day.
- Maintain a steady sleep and wake schedule throughout the week, including weekends.
- One hour before bedtime, wind down with calm activities. Cut out bright lights, such as from a TV or computer screen.
- Avoid heavy eating, caffeine, and alcohol for several hours before bedtime.
- Make your bedroom a cool, quiet sanctuary for sleep, and use your bed only for sleep or sex.
- Use short daytime naps for a boost if necessary (maximum 30 minutes). Naps can otherwise interfere with nighttime sleep and do not provide the same type of healing rest.
Sleep is not a waste of time! Getting enough sleep not only feels good, it gives you the stamina and resilience you need to juggle all your responsibilities effectively.
Losing sleep over caregiving?
At Senior Life Management, we understand there are only so many hours in a day. It’s hard to get everything done so it’s tempting to stay up late or get up early. As the Orange County experts in family caregiving, we can help. Start the new year out protecting your health. Give us a call at 949-716-1266. You deserve a good night’s sleep!
The makers of smartwatches are now designing products for older adults. And they just may have come up with an acceptable alternative to the standard “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” pendant. Perhaps you’ve tried to get your loved one to wear a personal emergency response system (PERS) pendant—only to hear, “No. I don’t like it.” Many older adults consider the pendants ugly and stigmatizing.
The new smartwatches offer advantages:
- Unlike home-based emergency response systems, they work anywhere there is a cell signal.
- They are easy and natural to wear.
- GPS features enable using the watch as a locator device for persons with dementia.
- They can do dual duty as fitness trackers, measuring heart rate, number of steps, etc.
- They send and receive text messages. Some even handle phone calls.
- Apps are available for things like setting a timer for pill reminders, or scheduling appointments. Soon even EKGs for heart monitoring.
- They tell time!
On the downside:
- Will your loved one use all these features? Or will the apps just be confusing? The options are likely too much for those with memory problems.
- How useful is the watch in an emergency? Screens are small and several steps may be required. Practice may be necessary ahead of time.
- So far, the automatic fall detection apps still have a few bugs to work out.
- Not all smartwatches offer a companion service for 24/7 connection to a trained professional who can triage the need for help.
- Those with hearing loss may have difficulty hearing a respondent if the device isn’t held close to the ear.
- While smartwatches are definitely more stylish, they are still big. They seem to appeal more to men than to women.
- These devices need to be regularly charged.
Meeting resistance to a PERS device?
Many family members find their loved one simply won’t wear the device. A smartwatch may be the solution, but they aren’t for everyone. As the Orange County experts in family caregiving, we at Senior Life Management can help you determine the best ways to protect your relative in the case of a fall. Give us a call at 949-716-1266.
Each of us has strengths . . . and, well, areas that could use improvement.
As a family caregiver, you may often feel inadequate. Or guilty. Or think that you aren’t doing enough.
Such negative self-assessments are common.
A more balanced assessment would acknowledge that you also have qualities that shine.
Most of us believe that to be better people, we need to focus on our trouble spots. Over the next months, we will be drawing on the science of positive psychology, which shows that cultivating what works is just as productive as scrutinizing the things that aren’t working well. For example, each of us has characteristic “signature strengths.” Wisdom may be one of yours.
Wisdom and knowledge
Are you the type of person others turn to when they need advice? If so, you probably have the strength of wisdom and knowledge:
- Curiosity and a love of learning
- Willingness to look at all sides
- Ability to change your mind
- A tendency to take time to reflect, look inward
- An understanding of social dynamics
Wisdom is more than being smart. It’s a special kind of intelligence that blends the heart and the brain. The more life experiences you have had—including losses—the more opportunities you have had to develop a wider perspective. The wise individual is able to listen to the heart but not be overcome by emotional extremes.
Using both sides of the brain. Wisdom is commonly associated with age. Brain studies reveal that older adults use both sides of their brain—the analytical side plus the more intuitive side—more equally than do younger adults. As one scientist put it, “they are in all-wheel drive.”
Cultivate your wisdom. Learning from the habits of wise individuals can help you foster this strength. Explore something unfamiliar. Try a new perspective. Pause and reflect. Strive to interpret the actions of others with kindness and compassion.
Has your mother fallen recently? She’s not alone! One out of four older adults 65 and over experiences a fall each year. That makes falls the leading cause of injury for older adults.
Falls are serious business. A few statistics: In the U.S. an older adult dies once every 20 minutes as a result of a fall. Disabilities from a fall include injuries that can be life changing: a traumatic brain injury or broken hip. Especially for seniors, falls pose a danger to an independent lifestyle. They often usher in a permanent need for daily assistance.
Who is at risk for falling? Has Mom or Dad fallen twice in the past year? Have you noticed balance or gait problems? Has there recently been a severe fall? These are signs of “high risk.” Other signs involve poor vision, or taking medicines that list dizziness as a side effect.
A fall risk assessment
To be safe, ask your relative’s doctor to do a fall risk assessment. This includes a review of
- underlying medical conditions. Many chronic diseases affect and the ability to get around.
- the home environment. The doctor can write an order for an occupational therapist or other trained professional to do a home assessment. They can identify simple ways to remove hazards and make the home safer.
- medication use. Some types of drugs, or daily use of four or more prescription drugs, increase the risk for falling.
A recent review of numerous studies show that some strategies are better than others. The most effective measures for preventing a fall include:
- Exercise, especially activities that promote balance.
- Getting regular eye exams and following through with corrective procedures.
- Removing hazards around the house.
- Wearing sturdy shoes and slippers. A firm sole is better than a soft cushy one because it’s easier to feel the ground below.
Are you worried about a fall? As the Orange County expert in family caregiving, we at Senior Life Management understand the difficulty of your situation. You can’t be pushy about changes. And at the same time, the consequences can be pretty serious. Put our experience to work for you. Give us a call at 949-716-1266.
It’s not easy to lose abilities and admit you need help. The reluctant elder in your life is more likely to ease into acceptance if you provide good listening, compassion, and a commitment to working together. In this third installment of our series, we look at elders’ concerns around privacy and pride.
Privacy. Having someone underfoot can feel intrusive, especially if your relative is used to living alone. Perhaps he or she fears being judged, or that word of unhealthy food choices or alcohol use may get back to the family. Maybe your relative tends toward hoarding and is embarrassed. Or has worries about safety with a stranger or the risk of theft. All of these are reasonable concerns for any adult who values their independence. You can address privacy concerns by
- starting with part-time help;
- hiring a friend;
- working with an agency that does background checks and drug testing.
Pride. “Do you think I need a babysitter?!” Our culture values self-reliance. Anything that implies a need for help suggests weakness or incompetence. When you approach your relative,
- shift from “we think you need help” to “we want to help you stay in charge of your life.” As noted in Part 1 of this series, working with your relative toward a common goal is a welcome and respectful approach;
- clarify what type of care is needed. For instance, a nurse to dress a wound is different from someone who cooks and cleans;
- start with a short-term arrangement, framed as “while you recover” or “just to see how it goes.” Then consider a more permanent arrangement;
- talk about getting help as a way to liberate your loved one’s energy to do other activities he or she really enjoys;
- emphasize your relative’s other abilities. If Mom can no longer do housekeeping, make sure to praise her often about her cooking talents.
Please Note: Senior Life Management does not specifically endorse the activities of these organizations, but offers their information as a sample of the kinds of materials and services that are available.
It’s a common refrain and the bane of many family members: Your loved one is having trouble, yet he or she refuses outside help. This can put your relative at risk. But if the worst happens and things go south, it also ends up making more work for you. Doubly frustrating when you know it could have been prevented.
Rather than battling head on for acceptance, you might try a softer approach:
Build empathy. Ask your loved one what their concerns are. Just listen and try to identify the hot-button issue underneath the reaction:
- Is it an issue of cost? – He or she may not know about Medicare coverage or the actual cost of the service. Your loved one may also underestimate his or her financial resources.
- Is it an issue of control? – Fear that this is the beginning of the end in terms of living independently.
- Is it an issue of privacy? – “My home is my refuge from others.” Or concern about being judged for lifestyle choices.
- Is it an issue of pride? – “I don’t need a babysitter!”
- Is it lack of knowledge (or denial) about their health? – Some people minimize the toll an operation or disease is likely to take.
- Is it an issue of feeling loved? – “My family will take care of me.”
Validate feelings. All of these are valid reactions and worthy of exploration. You might start with, “I hadn’t thought of it that way. I see why you’re concerned….”
Explore thoroughly. Before problem solving, ask more questions. “Tell me more about that. It’s important that I understand.” The more your relative feels “heard” and the more you genuinely comprehend his or her issues, the easier it will be to work together to find a viable solution.
In subsequent articles, we’ll talk about ways to address these concerns with dignity and respect.
Thinking of a family vacation?
At Senior Life Management we have observed that a special family trip builds priceless memories. Don’t let a disability quash the thought! As the Orange County experts in family caregiving, we can help you identify needed support services and find an outing that matches well with your loved one’s abilities. Give us a call at 949-716-1266.
To find the accessibility of national parks service, go to the National Park Service website. Select a park of interest. Under the “Plan Your Visit” menu, go to the page for Accessibility.
Sleep has been under-rated. There is no doubt that miracles occur daily in hospitals. But in the race to vanquish disease, simple things like sleep can get short shrift.
Choosing Wisely, a white paper by the American Academy of Nursing, has listed several common hospital practices that unintentionally get in the way of a solid recovery. Spending too much time in bed—not walking early and often—is one concern. Another problem is interrupted sleep.
Promote a full night’s sleep
Sleep is one of the body’s most healing activities. It has a cyclic pattern that needs to be respected. When your relative is hospitalized, do what you can to advocate for:
- Medicines being given during waking hours. (If needed three times a day, suggest 10:00 p.m., 6:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.)
- Lights out, monitors silent, and doors closed to your relative’s room at night.
- No middle of the night blood draws. Ask that these occur when your loved one is awake in the morning.
- Vitals checked just before bed and then in the morning. Have blood pressure, pulse, temperature, pain, and respirations been fairly steady? If so, do they really need to be taken at 1:00 a.m. and 4:00 a.m.?
- Effective and long-lasting pain management applied in the evening. This way pain will not cause your loved one to wake up in the night.
Of course there are reasons a patient may need midnight attention. Maybe the situation is unstable. The illness not yet under control. Perhaps a test is needed to determine the goals of care. Or to make immediate treatment decisions. But if things are generally stable, it’s perfectly appropriate to ask, “What are the real risks of no interruptions between 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m.? Can it wait?” Healing may be a higher priority.
Is advocacy not your thing?
At Senior Life Management, we know how hard it can be to navigate the medical system. Hospital staff mean well, but they are short on time and have many patients to care for. As the Orange County experts in family caregiving, we can advocate for your loved one and help be sure that he or she is supported for genuine healing. Give us a call at 949-716-1266. You don’t have to do this alone!
Get Your medicare card here.
Beginning this month, Medicare started sending out new cards to all its members. The mailings will take place in waves. The person you care for may not receive theirs until later in the year. You don’t need to do anything. The new card will arrive automatically. (The only exception to this is people who are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan. Those cards will remain the same, so no mailing expected.)
Medicare benefits have NOT changed! The program your loved one is enrolled in stays the same. Just the card is changing.
Why change the card? Primarily, it’s for security reasons. When Medicare first started, it made sense to use Social Security numbers as the identifying number for beneficiaries. That was before the age of identity theft.
The Medicare Beneficiary Identifier (MBI). Medicare is giving everyone new numbers. There will be no rhyme or reason or hidden meaning to the combination of letters and numbers assigned. Nothing to reveal information about the cardholder.
Destroy the old card securely. Shredding or burning the card is best. It does have your relative’s Social Security number. You don’t want that getting into the wrong hands!
Watch out for scammers. Sadly, there are always those who prey on elders during a change like this. Be aware that Medicare will telephone only if the beneficiary has phoned in and left a message requesting a call back. The insurance company for Part D (drugs) or Medicare Supplemental Insurance (Medigap) may call. But they will not ask for the Medicare Beneficiary Identifier. They will already know it. If someone calls and requests verification of the number, hang up immediately. Then call Medicare at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227).
You can sign up for notifications about the new card at medicare.gov/newcard/.
Confused about Medicare?
We can help. At Senior Life Management we understand that the health care system can be very intimidating. As the Orange County expert in family caregiving, we’ve got your back. Give us a call at 949-716-1266.
If the person you care for has a lung condition, there may be times when breathing is a challenge. Start by noticing patterns: is there a time of day, type of activity, or emotional state that triggers the difficulty? Is the person sitting, lying, or standing? Consider these options:
- Remove dust and replace furnace filters frequently.
- Eliminate or reduce strong odors. Bleach, paint, perfume. They all exude chemical particles that can irritate the lungs.
- Raise the head of the bed. Lying flat makes it harder for some people to breathe.
- Institute a No Smoking policy. No secondhand smoke in the house. And, of course, the patient should not smoke.
- Find a better position. Sometimes it helps to sit up straight or brace elbows on a solid surface, such as the arms of a chair or a table.
- Turn on a fan or open a window.
- Add moisture. Consider a humidifier.
- Pace yourself. Plan the day so there are few activities, and time to rest in between. Even something as mundane as a shower counts as an activity. Anything that is tiring.
- Guided imagery or deep-breathing exercises. These strategies can calm the anxiety that comes with not enough oxygen.
- Slow, focused breathing. Breathing slowly through pursed lips helps some. Counting to extend an exhale helps others.
Talk with the doctor
If these strategies don’t ease the difficulty, talk to the doctor. There are medications that can open the airways. There are also specific breathing exercises. Does your loved one like to sing? Believe it or not, joining a singing group might help. Or ask the doctor if there’s a “Second Wind” or “Better Breathers Club.” These support groups help people get appropriate exercise and provide opportunities to share tips about living with breathing limitations.
Want help managing symptoms?
At Senior Life Management we can help you get the right mix of medicines, therapy, and changes in the home so that breathing becomes much easier. As the Orange County experts in aging well, we know the local resources and can come to the home and help you identify unnecessary lung irritants. If breathing is a problem, give us a call at 949-716-1266. There are ways to ease “air hunger” and the anxiety that comes with it.