In our culture, getting your driver’s license at 16 is a rite of passage that most teens look forward to. It’s a symbol of independence and represents the freedom to go places and do things. It becomes a major key to social activities, shopping, and even getting a job. This is true throughout our entire adult lives and especially true for aging seniors. That’s why seniors are so reluctant to give up their car keys, even if they suspect they should.
Although there is no specific age at which seniors need to stop driving, statistics by the Hartford Insurance Corporation show that in seniors over the age of 75 there’s a much greater risk of being in a car accident with every mile driven. The risk is about the same as for new drivers between the ages of 16 and 24. This increase in accidents is due primarily to the aging drivers’ decrease in senses, multiple chronic health conditions, and increased medication consumption. There are warning signs to look for that will let you know your loved one needs to give up the keys or to at least decrease the amount of driving they do. It’s a good idea to take a ride with them and see for yourself how they’re doing. Do they drift into other lanes or straddle two lanes? Do they drive particularly slowly or unduly fast for the road conditions? Do they fail to use their turn signal or do they leave it on without changing lanes? Do they ignore or miss traffic signs or traffic signals? Do they make sudden lane changes? Does your senior get disoriented easily, even when in familiar places? Have there been any “warnings” by the police? Are there any unexplained dents or scrapes on the car?
If you see any of these warning signs, it’s time to have that dreaded conversation about giving up the keys or at the very least minimize the amount of driving your senior does. Until that time when your loved one gives up their keys there are things they can do to help minimize the risks. Encourage them to limit their driving time to the daytime and not during rush hours. Get them to drive only during good weather and optimal road conditions. Make the trips short and use the most direct but safe routes. Keep the radio turned off and minimize the number of passengers in order to reduce distractions. Basically, apply the same strategies with your senior driver that you would apply to a novice teenaged driver. It’s also a good idea to have the pharmacist review your senior’s medications to determine if they can affect their driving. Making these gradual changes may allow your senior to ease into giving up driving. Surrendering the car keys is a major life change. It makes good sense to reduce the risks well before a major crisis mandates an immediate change. Please share your thoughts and experiences below. Visit us at www.trilliumhomecare.com
According to the US Department of Labor, over half of America’s workforce is involved in some way with caring for an aging parent or relative. Up to eighty percent of this help is unpaid and according to AARP, the average caregiver provides personal care and does household maintenance chores for at least twelve hours per week. The road to becoming a caregiver for a loved one is often winding with a son or daughter occasionally “helping out”. Your parents slowly age and adaptations are made to accommodate gradual changes in their abilities. Perhaps you offer to help with their banking or write out the bills. If they need groceries you offer to drive them to the store or pick up a few things for them yourself. Maybe you go to the doctor with them to make sure they clearly understand what the doctor has to say. At this point, you don’t view yourself as a “caregiver”. You’re just being a helpful child.
As time goes by and your “helping out” becomes a necessity, it will dawn on you that you are in fact a caregiver. You realize one day that if you stop doing all those helpful things, your loved one won’t be able to function on their own. You now feel obligated to do all these things or to make arrangements so that they do get done. Your loved one’s daily functioning is now your personal responsibility. Welcome to the world of caregiving. You will soon realize what a demanding job this is particularly because you’ll also be juggling a job, family, and personal issues of your own. If your parent or loved one suffers a medical crisis, your level of providing care will rise dramatically. Although your desire may be to tackle this job totally on your own, doing that will surely result in stress, exhaustion, and even physical illness. No matter how much you love someone, where will you find all the hours in the day that you and your loved one need? Be careful not to allow yourself to reach the point of total exhaustion. If you use up all your time and energy to be a caregiver, you will no doubt be robbing you and your loved one of quality time that could otherwise be spent with each other. Be aware there will come a time when it makes sense to get some help. Be wary of taking on so much that you lose sight of your well meant goal of providing the best of care which your loved one both needs and deserves. The road to caregiving is long and full of potholes. Don’t let yourself get run over. Please share your thoughts and experiences below. Visit us at http://www.trilliumhomecare.com
According to the Census Bureau, there are over 43.1 million persons in the United States that are 65 years of age or older. The elderly population is expected to double to 80 million when all the “baby boomers” have reached their elderly years. Due to advances in medical science these baby boomers will be living longer and that translates into huge numbers of people living with chronic conditions like arthritis, diabetes, osteoporosis, or dementia. A large population of chronically ill older people means that more and more seniors will be dependant on others for help with their activities of daily living – in short, they’ll have a caregiver whether it’s a family member or a professional from an agency.
Caregivers are now and will increasingly in the future be an important component of doctor visits for the elderly. According to a study by Jennifer Wolff, PhD of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, doctor visits that include caregivers are an increasing trend that has important benefits. Her study showed that visits that included a caregiver lasted at least 20% longer and resulted in less social conversation between the doctor and the senior and more biomedical information being given to the patient. This is really important because a trip to the doctor is all about communication and the exchange of information. Doctors need information from patients to provide an accurate diagnosis and to provide treatment options. The patient needs to be able to clearly discuss and understand what’s going on. This is where the caregiver’s presence can be very valuable.
A caregiver can help the senior with every aspect of the visit beginning with getting ready for the visit by gathering all the necessary medical history information and making a list of current medications and by preparing a list of symptoms for the doctor along with any questions the senior may have. During the visit, the caregiver can make notes for the senior and can remind them of any symptoms they may have forgotten and can relate to the doctor any changes in the senior’s general health and abilities. In effect, the caregiver is a second set of eyes and ears and can request further clarification about the diagnosis, treatment options, and what can be expected down the line. After the visit, a caregiver can support the senior’s compliance with the doctor’s instructions by encouraging them to follow the prescribed course of treatment along with taking their medications as prescribed and by helping them further understand the doctor’s instructions if necessary. This in turn can help reduce possible hospital readmissions.
According to the study by Dr. Wolff, seniors and loved ones who have been accompanied by a caregiver to a doctor ended up being more satisfied with their overall care and were shown to be more likely to remember important information after their visit to the doctor. Please share your thoughts and experiences below and visit us at http://www.trilliumhomecare.com
It’s been slow coming but summer has finally arrived. It won’t be long before we start hearing TV and radio announcements about municipal “cooling centers” being opened. These announcements point to the importance of staying hydrated, particularly in the summer. This is especially critical for the elderly and the frail. Dehydration can quickly lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke for this group. Older people are at a greater risk of dehydration for several reasons. While a younger person’s body naturally cools itself through the production of perspiration, this mechanism may not work as well in a senior due to natural aging changes and the assortment of medications they may be taking for a variety of chronic conditions. These medications include antihistamines, antidepressants, motion sickness medication, anti asthma drugs, diuretics which are often prescribed for hypertension, and some heart medications. In addition, as we get older our kidneys are less efficient at conserving water and unlike camels, we can’t store it. By the time your aging loved one’s body sends them the “I’m thirsty” signal, they may be well on the way to being dehydrated. Seniors who have dementia may simply forget to drink and those who suffer from neurological disorders may have difficulty swallowing. Those who are frail need assistance to drink. Any combination of these factors can lead to dehydration.
According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control), there are signs of dehydration to look for: dizziness, confusion, constipation, increased fatigue, increased body temperature, dry mouth, reduced sweating, sunken eyes, and low blood pressure. As a caregiver, taking extra measures to keep your loved one hydrated requires vigilance but in this case, an ounce of prevention is definitely worth a pound of cure. Be sure to offer fluids on a regular basis, at least every couple of hours. Although plain, clear water is the best choice, any liquid is better than none so offer your loved one their preferred beverage frequently. Be sure to serve beverages with meals and encourage more than a sip of water to wash down medications. Try serving foods that are naturally “wet” such as soups, yogurt, ice cream, and smoothies. Encourage your loved one to drink small quantities frequently rather than a lot at one time. A frail senior needs at least 6 cups of fluids per day but consult their doctor if they take diuretics, have kidney disease, or have congestive heart failure. How do you make sure your senior gets enough fluids? Please share your thoughts and experiences below. Visit us at http://www.trilliumhomecare.com
When you are younger and in need of medication for an illness or injury, things are pretty simple. You go to the doctor, get a diagnosis, fill your prescription, and a few days later you’re feeling better. If you get a headache or pull a muscle at the gym, you pick up some over-the-counter analgesics and in a bit you’re back to your busy life good as new. It never occurs to you to monitor what you’re taking because you’re not taking a lot of medications with a lot of frequency. That changes as you reach your senior years. As you get older, it’s typical to be dealing with more than one chronic condition resulting in taking multiple medications which are very often prescribed in multiple doses. In fact, the average older person takes at least four prescription medications and at least two over-the-counter drugs on a regular basis. Seniors over 65 are responsible for the purchase of 30% of all prescription drugs and over 40% of all over-the-counter drugs. You can see where this is going. As you get older or someone you care for enters their senior years, it becomes increasingly important to manage medications.
Seniors are particularly vulnerable to problems with medications for a variety of reasons. The more medications are taken, the greater the odds are that they may have an interaction that could be dangerous if not unpleasant. It’s not uncommon for a senior to simply stop taking a medication because of its side effects. Between 40% and 75% of seniors stop taking their medications at the right dosage and the right schedule. This issue is compounded by the fact that older adults are more sensitive to drugs because of their now slower metabolisms and organ functions, thus keeping drugs in their system for longer periods of time. Physical problems such as poor vision or a weak grip due to arthritis can result in dosing errors. Cognitive and memory issues can prevent the older adult from following the doctor’s orders and since so many seniors live alone there’s no one to assist them with nor monitor their use of drugs. Simply forgetting is a major reason medication doses are skipped by the elderly. With an increased number of chronic conditions the typical older adult sees a number of different physicians — the endocrinologist for their thyroid, the cardiologist for their heart problems, and so on. Multiple doctors equal multiple medications that can conflict with each other. You can see why studies have shown that any combination of these factors causes 30% of hospital admissions of older adults. It’s apparent that being able to manage an older adult’s medications is critical to their well being and even their ability to remain independently in their own home. Next time we’ll talk about which medications to be especially cautious about and what action you can take to help keep your senior safe with their medication. Visit us at www.trilliumhomecare.com
According to the study “A Review of Social Isolation” by Nicholas R. Nicholson, which was published in The Journal of Primary Prevention, over 40% of Seniors who live at home are living in isolation. This is an alarming statistic in light of the fact that there is an increasing trend for seniors to “age in place” and the senior population in the over 65 age group is predicted to more than double in the next 25 years. The alarming part is that social isolation is a major health problem in older adults and is expected to dramatically increase in the near future. Studies have proven that this isolation and resulting lack of social activities can be directly linked to an increase in cognitive decline. In addition, by not belonging to a social network seniors don’t benefit from the positive encouragement of their friends to comply with healthy practices such as not smoking or staying active. Another health risk of isolation is depression which can worsen many conditions that seniors suffer from such as chronic pain, diabetes, heart disease and dementia.
Isolation can happen for a variety of reasons—some by choice and some as a result of unexpected events. The death of a spouse often leaves the mate feeling alone and so sad that they can’t bear to keep up their old friendships with others. It’s also not uncommon for children to live a long distance away leaving get-togethers something that happens during the holidays or vacations. Getting older with now impaired vision or hearing can prevent a senior from driving and thus limit opportunities to get out. Problems with urinary incontinence may make it seem inconvenient to go anywhere and sleeping issues at night may make daytime drowsiness a deterrent from outside activities. If there are any safety issues with crime in the neighborhood, the senior may be reluctant to leave their home.
If you know or care for a senior living alone, there are things you can do to help prevent their isolation from the community. Encourage them to stay connected whether by phone or email or Skype. Make sure to regularly schedule and keep doctor and optometrist appointments so that vision or health problems are dealt with and won’t keep the senior house bound. Encourage involvement with others, whether it’s the local senior center or church group. If transportation is a problem, check into public transportation or community based volunteer drivers.If your senior is capable of and interested in caring for a pet it can give them a sense of purpose. It’s amazing how many people you meet just out walking the dog! You may also consider hiring a companion from a home care agency to assist with transportation and running errands or simply to provide some social contact and interaction. Small changes add up and make a big difference. Social isolation doesn’t happen overnight and can’t be remedied overnight. Do you have any tips on how to keep your loved one involved in life? Share below and visit us at www.trilliumhomecare.com
When we’re young we often burn the candle at both ends when it comes to our sleep habits. We stay up late watching TV, socializing with friends, or doing schoolwork and then get up the next morning and go to work or school. Weekends are “catch-up time” with some power sleeping —-or not. Somehow we survive these erratic sleep habits. That all changes as you get into your senior years and sleep becomes much more important. It allows your body to restore its energy levels and it refreshes the immune system so it can help prevent disease as we age. In addition, sleep improves concentration and memory function. As you get older your sleep changes and you can’t bounce back from lack of sleep as you once did. Your body produces less melatonin so you wake up more often at night. In addition, an aging internal clock makes you wake up earlier in the morning while making you sleepier earlier in the evening. You generally need more time to fall asleep and any noises you hear at night may awaken you more readily than when you were younger. The problem is that as you age you still need seven to nine hours of sleep at night, just as you did in your early adult life. According to the National Sleep Foundation, almost half of older adults experience insomnia at least a few nights per week. In the over 65 age group, 13% of men and 36% of women need more than a half hour to fall asleep.
As you get older, there are a lot of factors that can directly affect your sleep. Most seniors are dealing with multiple health issues such as arthritis, heartburn, lung disease, or heart problems and the pain and discomfort they result in can keep you awake at night. These health issues are usually accompanied by a litany of medications and they too can affect the quality of sleep. These medications include anti-depressants, diuretics, decongestants, and high blood pressure medications. Psychological issues like depression and neurological illnesses like dementia are an additional source of sleep problems.
There are steps you can take to ensure a good night’s sleep. Many of them are simple lifestyle changes such as avoiding caffeine and alcohol at least 6 hours before bedtime and not eating heavy meals late in the day. Sticking to a regular schedule for going to bed and getting up in the morning (even on weekends) gets your body into a regular routine. Getting regular exercise reduces stress and according to the Feinberg School of Medicine results in dramatic improvement in the quality of sleep. Limit the amount of liquids you consume for a couple of hours before you go to bed. Getting up to go to the bathroom is the major cause of waking at night for seniors. If you make these changes yet are unsuccessful in getting a good night’s sleep, it’s time to talk to your family doctor. Do you have any good sleep tips to share? Visit us at www.trilliumhomecare.com