Sneezing Season

Tis the season for SNEEZING!  Many are already in the thick of it!  But allergies can be more than just a simple achooo!!!  Being attentive and proactive is key when it comes to seniors and allergies.  Check out this list from Christopher Randolph, MD, a member of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology’s Asthma & Allergic Diseases in the Elderly Committee be informed and ready to conquer allergy season.

  1. Randolph offers the following suggestions to help caregivers make allergy season more bearable for their loved ones:
  2. Look for the signs.Allergies don’t discriminate between the young and the old. Dr. Randolph says that people falsely assume the elderly do not get seasonal allergies when they are just as likely as anyone else to be affected when spring blooms begin to appear. In fact, adult-onset allergies are not unusual. Caregivers should be on the lookout for the traditional signs like sneezing, a runny nose, and itchy eyes so they can nip them in the bud.
  3. Inform their doctor. Randolph points out that it can be difficult for a physician to diagnose allergies in older individuals, especially when they’re focused on catching and managing larger health issues. Allergy symptoms can easily take a backseat to more weighty symptoms, like pain, depression, and changes in memory.
  4. Be aggressive.“Allergies have a larger impact on the lives and health of the elderly,” explains Dr. Randolph. It makes sense; allergy symptoms, such as a nasal congestion and an irritated throat can be extremely dangerous for seniors with pre-existing cardiovascular problems or lung disease. This is why Dr. Randolph feels that allergies in the elderly should be treated as rapidly and aggressively as possible.
  5. Avoid traditional antihistamines.Antihistamines, the class of drug most commonly prescribed to treat allergies, can be dangerous to seniors. Potential side effects from these medications, especially older varieties, include confusion, drowsiness, urine retention, dry mouth and eyes, and dizziness. In addition to these symptoms being irritating, they can contribute to dangerous falls and even urinary tract infections (UTIs). Furthermore, Dr. Randolph says that antihistamines can potentially cause changes in mood or behavior in the elderly and may lead to dangerous interactions with other commonly prescribed medications.
    Instead of reaching for an over-the-counter antihistamine, speak with your loved one’s doctor or pharmacist about alternative allergy treatments. They will likely recommend a nasal steroid or some form of topical medication.
  6. Try drug-free solutions.Seasonal allergies are triggered by increases of pollen and mold in the environment. Minimizing exposure to these allergens is an obvious way to avoid bothersome reactions. This is not always easy, but a few lifestyle changes can help.
    Getting outside to breathe in the fresh air, exercise and soak up a little sun is very important for seniors, but doing so during allergy season can leave them feeling worse afterward. Weather forecasts these days typically include a pollen count or allergy forecast. Use this to your advantage and try to avoid planning outdoor activities for when outdoor allergens are particularly high. If you and your loved one must go outside, remember to wear sunglasses to avoid eye irritation. As soon as you come home, make a point of washing your hands, showering and changing into fresh clothes to avoid introducing allergens into the house. If you and your loved one enjoy opening the windows for fresh air, try to do so only on low pollen days as well.
    Make sure that your air conditioning unit is serviced regularly and equipped with a High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter that can remove allergens from outside air to keep them from entering and circulating around the house. If your loved one also has indoor allergies to things like dust and pets, they may benefit from using an air purifier.

 

 

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Dealing With Diabetes

Both average life expectancy and the prevalence of diabetes are continuing to rise.

For seniors, type 2 diabetes is a growing problem, and a larger proportion of newly diagnosed diabetics are older in age. Treating and diagnosing diabetes amongst the elderly can be a challenge. Since April is National Defeat Diabetes Month, let’s look at how this impacts seniors specifically.

So, what are some differences in diagnosing diabetes among the elderly when compared to diabetes in the young?

1. Elderly people who are at risk of developing diabetes, or who have already developed the disease, may not exhibit the classic symptoms expected.

2. Age-related changes can mean that some symptoms will be masked, or harder to spot.

All diabetes complications can occur amongst older patients. Cognitive complications are more common amongst the elderly. Further problems may include pre-existing or co-existing health problems. Many elderly diabetic patients are pre-disposed to hypoglycemia. Understanding diabetes is an important step. Education, of both the patient and caregiver, can be important in recognizing warning signs before a crisis occurs.

According to the American Diabetes Association, “Diabetes is a common disease, yet every individual needs unique care. We encourage people with diabetes and their families to learn as much as possible about the latest medical therapies and approaches, as well as healthy lifestyle choices. Good communication with a team of experts can help you feel in control and respond to changing needs.” It is important to have regular checkups with your primary care physician and communicate any concerns. Dealing with diabetes will be so much easier when you have a team approach.

Epidemic Proportions

Recently I was helping a young lady prepare an answer for a pageant onstage question.  The question was, “What is a news story that you are following and what is your opinion on the matter?”  After digging into the headlines, I landed on a topic that for me hit a little close to home.  The topic…opioid addiction.  I have typed this out and backspaced and stared at the words more times than I care to admit.  Years ago, I went to great lengths to make sure that absolutely no one knew that opioid addiction was a subject I knew anything about.  But sadly, I know all too well.  Not on a personal level.   But I guess observing the effects of addiction ravage your father’s body and mind are a bit personal.  My Dad died in 2001 at the age of 56 years old.  Now that I am 42 years old…I realize just how young he was when we lost him.  His official cause of death was renal carcinoma (kidney cancer).  But I know that his life was cut short due in part to the large amount of prescription pain killers he took every day.  He was an addict and he knew it.  We all knew it and it wreaked havoc on our lives.  Opioid addiction is an epidemic that affects many different age groups and the elderly are not immune to this problem.

Agingcare.com reports that 40 percent of the prescription drugs sold in the United States are used by the elderly, often for problems such as chronic pain, insomnia, and anxiety. According to the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information, as many as 17 percent of adults age 60 and over abuse prescription drugs. Narcotic painkillers, sleeping pills, and tranquilizers are the most commonly abused medication types.  When drugs come from a doctor’s prescription pad, misuse is harder to identify. We assume that pharmaceutical drugs are only used for treating legitimate medical conditions, and this is typically how seniors begin using these drugs. Doctors often prescribe older patients medications to help them cope with age-related physical and mental changes, such as depression, limited or painful mobility, and shorter, more irregular sleep cycles. Over time, seniors may develop a tolerance to a drug, so achieving the same “coping” effect requires larger and/or more frequent doses. The result is an inadvertent addiction to a specific medication.

Questions to Ask if You Suspect Prescription Misuse or Abuse

  • How much are they taking? If Mom used to take one or two pills a day, but now she is taking four or six, that’s a red flag. Looking at the dosing instructions on the pill bottle or container can give you a clue whether they are abiding by the prescriber’s instructions.
  • Has their behavior or mood changed? Are they argumentative, sullen, withdrawn, secretive or anxious?
  • Are they giving excuses as to why they need their medication?
  • Do they ever express remorse or concern about taking their medicine?
  • Do they have a “purse supply” or “pocket supply” in case of an emergency?
  • Have they recently changed doctors or drug stores?
  • Have they received the same prescription from two or more physicians or pharmacists at approximately the same time?
  • Do they become annoyed or uncomfortable when others talk about their use of medications?
  • Do they ever sneak or hide their meds?

 

How to Help a Loved One Manage Their Prescriptions Responsibly

  • Stay as connected as you can and make sure you know what medications your loved one is taking and why.
  • Check that they are following the prescribed dosage(s).
  • Encourage them to use painkillers and sedatives only when necessary and to taper off as soon as they can.
  • Look for alternative treatments. If a senior has an ongoing problem with pain, for example, a pain management specialist may be able to suggest strategies for controlling it without drugs.
  • Remind them to always avoid alcohol when taking painkillers or sedatives.
  • Encourage them to bring all their medications to their doctor when they go for their annual checkups, so the physician has an up-to-date record of exactly what they are taking.

If you suspect your loved one may be misusing or abusing their medications, consult with their prescribing physician to devise a solution. It may be useful to inquire about psychological tests to check for mood or behavior disorders and research treatment facilities that specialize in programs specifically for seniors. Many insurance plans cover stays at in-patient addiction centers.  It is difficult to face these problems, but the repercussions of sticking your head in the sand is worse for them and you.  Addiction is not something that happens only to the addict.  It affects the entire family.  Don’t just try to sweep problems under the carpet.

Need help???  Get help!!

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA’s) (National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357),(also known as the Treatment Referral Routing Service) is a confidential, free, 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year, information service, in English and Spanish, for individuals and family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders. This service provides referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations. Callers can also order free publications and other information.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tick, Tock…Time to Move that Clock!

Spring forward sounds so chipper.  My last blog detailed the fact that I don’t sleep very well. I’m not so sure how much “pep in my step” I will have when we lose that hour of sleep this coming weekend either.  But it’s not just the grogginess that comes with the time change.  According to statistics, due to the loss of sleep and increased stress from exhaustion, automobile accidents and heart attacks increase dramatically. Scientists have found that on the Monday after Daylight Savings Time begins heart attack rates increase by an astonishing 24 percent.  But take heart! These practical tips can help avoid knocking your natural circadian rhythm completely out of whack.

Tips for adjusting to daylight saving time from agingcare.com

  • Get some sun: Exposure to natural sunlight helps regulate your body’s natural rhythms. Depending on where you live, the weather may be too cold to spend too much time outside, but you can at least pull up the shade and sit in front of the window for a few minutes.
  • Work up a sweat: Engaging in some form of cardiovascular exercise (walking, jogging, biking, swimming) in the late afternoon or early evening may help you fall asleep easier.
  • Develop an appetite for good sleep: Eating and drinking can actually disrupt your sleep. Plan to finish meals and snacks 2 to 3 hours before bedtime because digestion wakes up your body. Alcohol and caffeine are also “sleep interrupters” when consumed before bed. Limit caffeine to the morning and finish your alcohol consumption by early evening. Smoking before bed can also stimulate your body and make it hard to sleep.

It’s important to keep in mind that seniors may need more time to adjust to the transition. What is a minor annoyance for most adults could present a significant obstacle in the routine of older adults, particularly those living with dementia or other cognitive impairments.  Be sure to check on these individuals and make sure that they are getting adequate sleep and seek medical advice if you notice a problem.  Take small steps to prepare for the change for you and your loved ones and enjoy the longer hours of daylight and the warmer days.

 

 

Goodnight, Sleep Tight

I admit it.  I don’t get enough sleep.  Sadly, most people do not.  Sleep is as necessary to our bodies as food and water.  With new devices and monitors that track sleep patterns you can even determine the amount of time you are in deep sleep.  But just keeping tabs on your sleep may not be enough to get you on track for catching up your shut eye deficiency.  Not getting adequate rest can be very serious.  It can be especially serious for seniors who are already a risk for falls and balance issues.  Lack of sleep just increases the opportunity for accidents.   So, what can you do to get a good night’s sleep?

WebMD offers these tips to Sleep Tight:

Stick to a regular bedtime. Go to sleep and get up at the same time each day, even on weekends. Your body will get used to the routine.

Avoid afternoon naps. If you sleep during the day, you’re more likely to stay awake at night.

Drink less fluids at night. Trips to the bathroom break up your sleep.

There are many suggestions and “schools of thought” as to how much sleep is needed.  Most experts still agree that somewhere between 7-8 hours a night is recommended.  But don’t forget to factor in those NAPS!!  Now while a nap sounds heavenly to me.  It can create confusion or longer stretches of night time rest.  I had a resident tell me that he just couldn’t sleep like he used to do.  Upon further discussion, I realized that he had not accounted for his hour and a half morning nap and two hour after lunch nap.  He hadn’t added these napping hours to his sleep bank!  It made more sense that with getting shut eye during the day and his decreased physical activity during the day as to why he wasn’t sleeping for long stretches in the evenings like he had previously.  But by simply getting more exercise and changing his nap schedule his resting at night was improved.

If you are having trouble sleeping, be sure to talk to your doctor.  March is National Sleep Awareness Month and a good time to evaluate your sleep and its relationship to your overall health.

elderly sleep

Challenges and Choices

As I have watched the latest rollout of promos for the Winter Olympic, a common theme is challenges.  It made me think about the challenges in the daily lives of our many residents.  Just as an athlete must push against all odds to achieve Olympic status, a senior must face challenges on a daily basis to overcome their own adversity.  According to the Cleveland Clinic, “Life expectancy is increasing for Americans. The fastest-growing segment of the population is the 85-and-older age group. Despite advances in health care, however, many elderly people have chronic, incurable progressive diseases and need assistance with the activities of daily living. The greatest challenge facing us as we age is the prevention of physical disability and the extension of “active life expectancy.” Fortunately, recent studies suggest that healthy (“successful”) aging is achievable, with sound planning for old age.”

SO SOUND PLANNING….LIKE WHAT???

It’s no secret that the biggest factor in overcoming the challenges that come with the aging processes includes maintaining a healthy lifestyle.  But even though:

eating right, exercising, watching your weight, avoiding tobacco products and limiting alcohol intake and seeing your doctor regularly seems like…gosh..shouldn’t that be enough??  It just isn’t.

Planning for success in aging must include stimulation of our social being as well financial planning, research and making your wishes known.  We can’t be certain of what MIGHT happen.  But if you address the issues early on, it can make the later much easier for you and your children.  Over the years I have comforted many an adult child of an elderly person, who was tasked with making difficult choices for their parent.  Choices that could have been decided and discussed.  Are the conversations difficult?  EXTREMELY.  No doubt, this conversation will not be comfortable.  But making sure your wishes and decisions are respected as best as possible will make those moments somewhat easier for your children to know they are honoring your choices

 

Rising to the Challenge of Successful Aging

Here is a list from the Cleveland Clinic to help you plan for the unknown challenges to come. 

Keep Yourself Stimulated:

Enjoy hobbies and interests with passion, particularly social activities, such as dancing.

Strengthen family relationships.

Engage in adult educational activities to challenge your mind.

Identify any physical limitations, such as difficulty walking or problems with balance. Actively start a discussion about these limitations and use medical resources to overcome them. Use nearby resources such as community support and local senior centers.

Be smart with financial planning:

Plan in advance for retirement.

Carefully manage investments and assets.

Assure adequate insurance coverage.

Decide on your future living arrangements.  (See reference at the end of the article.)

Work to Maintain Dignity and Good Health in Old Age:

Choose a doctor knowledgeable in the medical care of older adults.

Communicate your goals of care to your family and physician.

Check about long-term care insurance.

Express your advance directives in writing.

 

It is wise to look ahead into an assisted living community.  We would love to have you tour one of our communities today.  Visit www.greatoaksmanagement.com today to research one that is just right for you and your plan!

 

Happy Hearts

My mother always said that before you can love anyone else, you must love yourself and take care of yourself.  One of the best ways to love yourself…is to take care of yourself.  That can be hard to do if you are always trying to take care of everyone else.  February is American Heart Health Month, which makes it a perfect time for us to hard look at our heart health.  Seniors are at a particular risk when it comes to heart issues.  A staggering 84 percent of seniors over the age of 65 die from heart disease.  Here are the warning signs and steps to take towards better heart health according to everdayhealth.com.

Warning Signs

The warning signs of heart disease often don’t appear until you’re having a heart attack. Symptoms of an emergency or impending heart attack may include:

  • Feeling faint
  • Weakness or a sensation of light-headedness
  • Having a hard time catching your breath
  • Feeling nauseous or vomiting
  • Feeling very full or having indigestion
  • Pain in the chest or an uncomfortable pressure in the chest
  • Unusual pains in the back, shoulders, or neck
  • Sweating
  • An irregular heartbeat

Steps to Take

You can keep your heart healthy no matter how old you are, but it does take effort — possibly even changes in your everyday habits, such as eating a heart-healthy diet and increasing your activity level. Here’s how to get started:

  • Get enough exercise This means at least 30 minutes of exercise almost every day of the week.
  • Quit smoking  If you do smoke, it’s not worth the risk.
  • Eat a heart-healthy diet  Load up on fresh fruits and vegetables while limiting saturated fats, salt, and foods containing cholesterol, like fatty meats.
  • Watch your numbers  Get regular check-ups to monitor health conditions that affect the heart, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes, and make sure they’re under control with medication.
  • Reduce your alcohol intake  Excess alcohol consumption can worsen health conditions that contribute to heart disease, like blood pressure, arrhythmias, and high cholesterol levels.
  • Minimize stress in your life  Stress can compound many heart disease risks that seniors already face, steering you toward an unhealthy lifestyle. Find healthy outlets to relieve stress and lower your heart disease risk.
  • Watch your weight  Too many pounds can add up to increased heart disease risk. To help prevent heart disease, maintain a healthy body weight for your size.

You can also find more heart health information on the website millionhearts.hhs.gov. They even have a heart age calculator that can be a real eye opener.  There is no better time than right now to focus on your heart health.  If you have concerns talk to your doctor.  Take time to take care of you.

 

Understanding SADness

Depression is a condition that affects many people of all ages around the world.  Over the years, I have experienced within our community just how difficult and debilitating it can be for some of our elderly in the winter months. Winter SADness…or Seasonal Affect Disorder is not just a bad or sad mood.  It is a real health issue and as with any type of depression, it is important to be aware and seek medical intervention when necessary.  The National Institute of Mental Health gives this explanation and as well as symptoms and treatments:

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is not considered as a separate disorder. It is a type of depression displaying a recurring seasonal pattern. To be diagnosed with SAD, people must meet full criteria for major depression coinciding with specific seasons (appearing in the winter or summer months) for at least 2 years. Seasonal depressions must be much more frequent than any non-seasonal depressions.

Symptoms of the Winter Pattern of SAD include:

  • Having low energy
  • Hypersomnia
  • Overeating
  • Weight gain
  • Craving for carbohydrates
  • Social withdrawal (feel like “hibernating”)

Treatments and Therapies:

There are four major types of treatment for SAD:

  • Medication
  • Light therapy
  • Psychotherapy
  • Vitamin D

These treatments may be used alone or in combination.  Along with the difficulties that a chronic illness can bring, seniors are also likely to experiences losses in the social networks, which can contribute to the formation of clinical depression.  Not everyone who experiences Seasonal Affect Disorder is clinically depressed, but SAD can increase the effects of those who do live with chronic depression. Families and caregivers should be on the lookout for indicators of SAD in their older loved ones during the winter months.

It is important to talk with your loved ones if you have concerns about their mental health and seek medical attention when necessary.  Be supportive, be loving and help them remain calm as they cope.

hold hands

Recognizing Red Flags

Without fail, following a holiday season, assisted living communities will see an increase in calls and inquiries from concerned family members looking for help.  What happens that makes this such a pivotal time?  Well like most of us, we live in a fast-paced world.  We don’t see each other as often as we would like.  Getting together, taking time to travel and perhaps having your senior loved one out of the comfort of their own home to celebrate a holiday creates obstacles.  During these visits, we might discover that simple tasks become difficult.  Things that we thought were okay, truly are not.  It may be time to consider the fact that Mom or Dad being at home alone just isn’t the best scenario anymore.

What are some of the BIG things to keep an eye on?  Let’s call these the BIG 3 RED FLAGS.

Red Flag Number One

Physical Changes:  The first things that come to mind here are weight and balance.  Has your loved one had a significant change?  Don’t miss the obvious signs.  Watch for changes in sleeping patterns too.  I also remind adult children to be sure and go with their parent to a doctor visit when they can.  Be sure the physician is aware of your concerns.  Role reversal is SO DIFFICULT!  But remember you can help be an advocate for the physical well-being of your loved one.

Red Flag Number Two

Mental Health:  This can be related to the sleep factor.  Too much or too little will obviously affect mental health.  But ask yourself and your loved one…how much interaction do they have with others?  Have there been changes in hygiene?  Is the home that was once spotless now in complete disarray?  If there is an obvious change in things that were once important or if they seem like they are disinterested in social activity, don’t just chalk it up to the aging process.  This may be a sign of a physical issue or they just may need more socialization.  Again, talk with them and their primary care physician to decide what will be the best intervention.

Red Flag Number Three

Medications:  Have you ever visited someone and they literally have medication all over the place?  It is a scary thing for someone to think that their loved one is unsure or unsafe when it comes to medications.  You want to be sure that the right medications are taken by the right person, the right route at the right time and the right dosage.  If you question this even for a minute, you don’t need to turn a blind eye.

It is not going to be easy.  As I said above ROLE REVERSAL is not for the faint of heart.  The hardest part may be just starting the conversation.  But it is a conversation that you don’t want to put off until “something happens”.  Here is an extremely useful tool that you can download now or check out on our website that will help open the conversation.  The “How Do I Know When It’s Time” checklist is a wonderful resource to help shed light on the option of Assisted Living.  Check it out today at http://www.gardensofeufaula.com/docs/Resources/HowWillIKnowWhenIamReadyHandout.pdf

The holidays are a great time to visit our communities.  For information on how to set up a tour at one of our Great Oaks Management properties call us today at 1-888-258-8082.

hold ornament

 

 

 

Grateful Gatherings

As we prepare to give thanks and gather around the table…I remember.  I remember that it was just last Thanksgiving that we experienced a “first” in our community. It was the first time that all 16 of our residents were out with family at the EXACT same time.  It was a strange feeling for the folks that were working that day.  I remember them calling to tell me about it.  Oh, there is always plenty to be done and the staff was happy for the residents to be spending quality time with family and loved ones.  It was just a new first for our community.  What about you?  Is this the first year that you will be planning Thanksgiving after having moved a loved one into an assisted living? Are you concerned with all the preparation and worried about the visit?  Here are a few tips to help you stress less and enjoy Thanksgiving with your elderly loved ones.

Schedules and Timing

As much as you don’t want to plan out every little detail, you do want to give it some thought. Remember that if they are residing in an assisted living they may now be accustomed to a more structured routine.  You will want to check with the staff regarding medications and proper protocol.  You want to be sure to keep everything on track.

Food and Options

Our residents live very active and independent lifestyles.  They enjoy making their own choices and directing their care.  But it is important to consider their dietary needs.  Be mindful of food options.  Remember if Mom doesn’t need the extra salt or Dad needs alternative dessert options.

Time Away

One of the most common comments I hear from families is that they are shocked when not long after eating ….the elderly loved one is ready to go back to their community (new home).  Now naturally this makes an administrator very happy that a resident has come to feel comfortable in their community.  But don’t let it make you feel down.  Remember they have gotten on their own time schedule.  They are enjoying your company, but like many people after a gathering may need some rest.

As with all time together…just enjoy.  Make it special but don’t put too much pressure on your family member or yourself (for that matter) to meet unrealistic expectations.  Incorporate them into the conversation.  Maybe call ahead of time and get their special recipe for a favorite dish.  Spend time talking, relating and making treasured memories.  Savor these moments together and you ALL will come away from the gathering feeling grateful.

elderly african american man enjoying coffee with his granddaughter