Posts By: The Bristal

Understanding the Common Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease

Posted by: The Bristal

Alzheimer’s disease causes changes in the anatomy of the brain, which leads to declining mental functioning and memory loss. The range of symptoms, and the rate at which they progress, vary from person to person. Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of aging. In the early stage of Alzheimer’s, the patient or people around him or her may notice changes in cognition. Most people can do things to compensate for cognitive deficits in the early stages.

It’s always important to consult with a medical professional and receive a proper diagnosis when deficits in cognition are noted. Some types of dementia, such as those caused by drug interactions, depression or other reasons, can be treated, relieved or even reversed. While this, unfortunately, is not the case with Alzheimer’s, getting a diagnosis is crucial so that one can make a plan to get the right kind of care.

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s

Difficulty in remembering newly learned information is the most frequent early sign of Alzheimer’s. This is due to the changes in the brain that make it physically unable to form and retain new memories. As the disease progresses, more memories are lost. At this point, the person may only remember memories from the more distant past, but eventually, even childhood memories may be gone.

Apart from memory challenges, other symptoms may be present in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, including:

  • Communication difficulties, such as being unable to find words
  • Getting lost in familiar places
  • An increase in feelings of confusion, fear, anxiety or loneliness
  • Mood or personality changes
  • Lessened ability to concentrate
  • Poor judgment
  • Difficulty with planning and carrying through tasks in the proper sequence
  • Making mistakes in tasks you’ve always done effortlessly

As Alzheimer’s progresses, the symptoms increase in severity, and may include:

  • Disorientation, mood and behavior changes
  • Deepening confusion about events, time and place
  • Unfounded suspicions about family, friends and professional caregivers
  • More serious memory loss and behavior changes
  • Difficulty speaking, swallowing and walking

Behavioral Changes

The behaviors of people with Alzheimer’s can be emotionally challenging to experience, to witness, and to address. As the disease progresses, it’s crucial that loved ones offer understanding — as well as productive help — so that the deficits and emotional challenges of living with Alzheimer’s disease can best be handled. The main behavioral changes include:

  • Aggression, both verbal and physical, can be due to pain or fatigue, environment, medication side effects or communication problems. It’s important to always keep in mind the fact that the person with Alzheimer’s cannot help his or her behavior. It may arise from a particular frustration or have no apparent cause.
  • Agitation arises when people with Alzheimer’s are biologically experiencing a decreased ability to absorb new information and cope with their surroundings. It can also arise from certain medical conditions, fatigue, changes to the environment or personnel, or other factors giving rise to fear, anxiety or frustration.
  • Depression is common in the early and middle stages of Alzheimer’s disease as the individual is aware of diminishing mental functioning. Depression may be hard to diagnose because the symptoms may overlap with those of Alzheimer’s. These symptoms should not be ignored; a physician can diagnose and prescribe treatment that may help relieve them.
  • Confusion is a common symptom in Alzheimer’s, when a person with the disease may cease to recognize familiar people, surroundings or the passage of time, as well as the purpose of common household items, such as pens or spoons. Confusion can occur in varying degrees of severity and is especially common after a change in living situation or daily routine.
  • Hallucinations, in which a person perceives things that are not physically present, is a common symptom of Alzheimer’s disease, involving any or all of the senses of seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling and feeling. Hallucinations can be frightening to the person having them, though not always — sometimes they are a return to the past.
  • Sundowning occurs when a person with Alzheimer’s experiences problems with sleep and/or cognition. These problems may worsen at dusk and can persist all night. Some 20% of people with Alzheimer’s are estimated to suffer increased symptoms of confusion and agitation that begin late in the day, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Others may have restless nights of broken sleep.
  • Wandering affects 60% of people with dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Anyone with Alzheimer’s who can walk is susceptible to wandering and getting lost, due to the potential inability to remember his or her name, home address or the route to return home. Those who speak about wanting to go home even when at home, or who cannot locate the kitchen, bedroom or the bathroom within their own residence, are more likely to wander.

It’s important to learn as much as you can about Alzheimer’s disease, participate in making a comprehensive plan for your immediate future and take advantage of the assistance and coping support that may be available in your community. Early diagnosis and intervention methods are improving all the time.

Posted in: Alzheimer’s & Memory Care
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Tips on How Seniors Can Stay Fit This Summer

Posted by: The Bristal

While staying fit should be a prime objective for seniors all year round, there is no denying that warm weather allows for a range of outdoor activities that can make daily fitness more fun in the summer. Here are some of them:

Do aerobics in a pool. You don’t have to be an Olympic swimmer to get enormous benefits from exercising in a pool. In fact, you don’t have to swim at all. For example, the simple act of walking in waste-high water is a great muscle-toning exercise. Many gyms and community organizations offer water exercise classes for seniors.

Take early morning walks. A long walk before the temperature gets too high can be an invigorating way to start the day. Do it on your own if you prefer a contemplative experience, or arrange to do it with your spouse or friend. Walking improves circulation, strengthens bones and muscles, supports your joints and may even help avoid dementia, according to the Arthritis Foundation.

Tend a garden. It doesn’t sound strenuous, but gardening requires a lot of movement, and uses many different muscles. For seniors who have sufficient range of movement, it is an excellent way to retain strength and flexibility. Gardening also can be a highly social experience. Consult the 126-year-old National Garden Clubs for information about a club in your area.

Ride a bike. It’s said, one never forgets how to ride a bicycle, and that must be true, because according to the AARP, seniors comprise the fastest growing group of cyclists. Health benefits are one of the major reasons for this trend. If bike riding appeals to you, it’s best to stick to parks and streets that have designated bike lanes.

Consider Tai Chi. The ancient Chinese practice of Tai Chi Chuan is an exercise that involves a series of relaxed and graceful movements that “have potential for a wide range of benefits” for seniors, according to Mount Sinai Hospital.  Those benefits include improved balance, coordination and flexibility, as well as reduced stress. Many non-profit organizations, including some “Ys”, offer Tai Chi classes for seniors. Classes often are conducted in parks in the early morning.

For some other ideas on how to stay socially active outdoors, visit https://thebristal.com/blog/staying-socially-active-part-2/.

Regardless of which summer fitness activities you choose, several basic precautions must be taken to ensure your safety:

  • Do not begin any activity without consulting with your doctor to be certain it is appropriate for your current state of health.
  • Avoid strenuous activities during mid-day; try to schedule them primarily in the morning before too much heat has built up.
  • Stay properly hydrated; take water with you and drink it even if you do not feel thirsty. Also important, avoid alcohol and caffeine, which act as diuretics and eliminate water from the body.
  • Put on loose fitting, comfortable clothing, and wear a hat if you will be directly exposed to the sun. Be sure to use a strong sunscreen on all exposed skin.

With these points in mind, take advantage of all the summer activities that make fitness fun!

Posted in: Lifestyle Blog
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When is the Right Time for a Memory Care Community & What to Consider?

Posted by: The Bristal

Alzheimer’s disease is the common form of dementia, whose effect is a progressive loss of cognitive abilities. Some families may choose to place their loved one with Alzheimer’s into a memory care community, a type of long-term care that is designed to meet the needs of a person with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. It provides around the clock care and assistance with the tasks of daily life, such as bathing, dressing, grooming, medications, etc. They also provide daily recreational programming and outings, all tailored to your loved one’s ability, so there is always something fun and social to do.

Memory care areas are typically situated within assisted living communities, but can also be standalone communities. Availability varies based on the area you live in and if there is space at the community. Because laws vary from state to state, it’s important to ask specific questions about what type of care is provided in a memory care community to ensure that the level of care is appropriate for your loved one.

When deciding whether it’s time for memory care, it can be helpful to consider these questions offered by the Alzheimer’s Association:

  • Is the person with dementia becoming unsafe in his/her current home?
  • Is the health of the person with dementia (or the health of the caregiver) at risk?
  • Do the person’s care needs extend beyond the caregiver’s emotional and/or physical abilities?
  • Would the structure and social interaction provided at a memory care facility benefit the person with dementia?

The difference between assisted living and memory care is that memory care communities have staff which are specially trained on caring for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Activities are planned with the population in mind, designed to support socialization and stimulate cognitive abilities. Additionally, memory care communities are secured to ensure consistent and familiar surroundings, and to prevent wandering – a major behavioral issue with people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

Costs depend on the level of care the individual needs, as well as the size of the room, whether it’s private or shared, plus the community’s geographical location.

In considering whether any particular assisted living or memory care area can meet the needs of an individual suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, there are three major considerations: how good is the quality of the care, how robust is the activity program and finally, how well-laid-out and maintained is the facility?

Here are some things to look out for when touring a prospective community:

  1. Is the facility responsive to family requests, and do they allow family members to visit at any time?
  2. Does the community resemble a home or nice hotel, light and airy? Are common areas actually used by residents?
  3. How does the staff interact with you and with the residents? Are they friendly? Do they seem to know the residents well?
  4. Is the calendar of activities varied and aimed at meeting the social, physical, emotional and spiritual needs of the residents? Is there arts programming? Are activities led by skilled activity coordinators?
  5. How is the care staff trained? An ongoing training program is important to ensure that staff is aware of current best practices for care.
  6. What are the rooms or apartments like? Is the dining area pleasant? Check out the bathrooms, as well as the room in which the person will live, in order to evaluate whether the privacy needs of the individual will be met.
  7. Is the building well-maintained, with rooms and furniture clean, odor-free, and in good repair?

When being given a tour, make notes regarding the above situations. This way, you can always refer back to them and refresh your memory when it comes time to make a decision. Ask questions and expect good answers in return.

Transitioning a loved one into any kind of assisted living or memory care situation can be stressful and emotional, but bear in mind that gathering good information in advance can relieve some of the worry and help maximize the chance of making the right decisions. Regardless of where the care takes place, it should be a priority that the person you care about receives the care that he or she really needs, in a safe and caring environment.

Posted in: Alzheimer’s & Memory Care
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How to Help an Aging Loved One During a Hospital Stay

Posted by: The Bristal

Hospital stays tend to be especially stressful for seniors, who must give up the familiar surroundings of home in exchange for the strange environment of a medical facility. However, there are many things that a senior’s spouse, children or other caregiver can do to reduce the stress and anxiety from an aging loved one’s experience in the hospital.

Here are some helpful tips: For starters, be aware that in recent years, geriatric specialists increasingly have called attention to the phenomenon known as hospital-acquired delirium, a temporary form of mental impairment that may affect seniors in a hospital setting, especially those in an intensive care unit. This condition, common even among patients who have not previously shown signs of dementia, can lead to complications, lengthen the hospital stay and result in problems even after the patient returns home. According to the Harvard Medical School, hospital-acquired delirium is “the most common complication of hospitalization among older people.”

To help prevent its onset or lessen its effects, experts recommend the following:

  • Take along to the hospital a few items that are familiar or even cherished by your loved one, such as family photos or a favorite article of clothing.
  • To the extent possible, familiarize your loved one with the immediate environment of his or her room and the hallway. This may help to remove some of the disorientation he or she may feel.
  • When visiting, talk about topics with which you and your loved one are mutually familiar, and which he or she enjoys. Stimulate the conversation with interesting news of family and friends. Take walks in the hallway together, if practical, after advising the nursing staff of your intentions.
  • Try to time your visits with the serving of meals. Having company during meals often stimulates the patient to be more enthusiastic about the food and to consume more. Bring a favorite food treat to supplement the meal, if doing so does not violate any dietary restrictions. Also, encourage your loved one to drink water and other fluids to guard against dehydration, which can contribute to delirium. If your loved one enjoys reading, make sure there is ample access to the types of reading material – books, e-books, magazines — he or she enjoys.

In general, to help minimize stress, do all you can to keep your loved one stimulated and mentally connected to his or her home life, family and friends while he or she is in the hospital.

Other ways to help your loved one during a hospital stay include:

  • Bring a complete and accurate list of your loved one’s medications and dosing schedule and provide it to the nursing station. Make sure the nurses and hospital staff physician are aware of any problems your loved one may have with taking medications.
  • Keep in mind that certain medications, including sedatives, sometimes can precipitate delirium. If you suspect that your loved one may be receiving too much sedation, do not hesitate to raise the issue with hospital staff.
  • Bring a small amount of cash, no more than a few dollars to cover incidentals. Discourage your loved one from bringing jewelry and other valuables.
  • Make sure to stay abreast of the hospital’s plans for your loved one’s discharge, especially if he or she will need a rehabilitation facility before returning home. Decisions about when to discharge a patient are heavily influenced by Medicare reimbursement rules. Research rehab centers as early as possible, preferably before your loved one enters the hospital.

Finally, be aware that most hospitals have social workers on staff who can provide counselling, help resolve issues and assist in finding sources of supplementary services in the community. Get to know the social worker assigned to your loved one as soon as you can. It can be a big step toward alleviating your anxieties, as well as those of your loved one.

Posted in: Caregiving & Family
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Ways to Boost Your Energy as a Caregiver

Posted by: The Bristal

The physical demands of taking care of a loved one can make the caregiver feel drained of energy at times. The caregiver may even be making the problem worse by practicing eating and lifestyle habits that contribute to the energy drain, or by overlooking opportunities to become more energetic. If you are a caregiver who feels in need of an energy boost, consider the following suggestions:

Eat the proper foods. It is hard to overstate the importance of proper food choices on boosting and maintaining energy levels. For example, while sugary snacks often are intuitive choices for a quick energy boost, and may also offer the prospect of a little “reward” for the difficult tasks a caregiver faces, in fact, they do more harm than good. That is because your energy level can plunge once your body uses up the sugar, making you feel even more tired. Moreover, such foods contribute to unhealthy weight gain. The alternative is to snack on fruits and nuts, which provide a steadier energy boost derived from highly beneficial nutrition. Similarly, at regular meal times, give preference to nutritionally well balanced meals and try to avoid processed foods that remove fiber and usually contain too much salt.

Do NOT skip breakfast. This is the meal that sets the day’s energy supply in motion. As for mealtimes in general, avoid heavy amounts of food, which require a lot of energy from your body to digest and can leave you sluggish. Eat light meals, spaced about four hours apart, up to four meals a day if that works for you.

Avoid excessive caffeine. It’s tempting to rely on a second or third cup of caffeinated coffee for an energy boost, but that boost is likely to be offset by caffeine’s damaging effect on sleep. In addition, the caffeine can have unwanted side effects, advises the Mayo Clinic. Those potential effects include nervousness and irritability, in addition to insomnia, all of which are factors that a caregiver emphatically wants to avoid. Consume caffeine in modest amounts, and never close to bedtime.

Make good use of water. Drink several glasses of water each day to stay properly hydrated because even mild dehydration can make you feel rundown. Moreover, splashing cool water on your face is an easy way to reinvigorate yourself when energy starts to lag. Going a step further, as the AARP points out, taking a cold shower during the day is an even more powerful remedy, provided your loved one can be unattended or there is a stand-in caregiver available for the time it takes to do so.

Get exercise and fresh air. Exercise is widely recognized by medical authorities to reduce feelings of fatigue and boost energy levels. One study, for example, from the University of Georgia, found that moderate exercise reduced levels of fatigue by 65 percent and increased energy levels by 20 percent. Of course, it can be difficult for a caregiver to work regular exercise into a daily routine, but try to take a walk each day. The fresh air also will help counter the sometimes draining effects of being indoors all day. If you cannot always get away for a brisk walk, take your loved one for a more casual one, if possible.

Get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation is one of the most prevalent and difficult problems that caregivers face, and it is a major contributing factor to feeling rundown and lacking energy. In a recent post, this blog offers a number of suggestions on ways to get the sleep you need to protect your own health while being the best possible caregiver to your loved one. Consider making those suggestions part of an overall program to boost your energy level.

Posted in: Caregiving & Family
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Tips for Caregivers of People with Alzheimer’s Disease

Posted by: The Bristal

Tips for Caregivers of People with Alzheimer’s Disease

Dementia, a decline in mental ability that can interfere with daily life, has more than 100 forms, but Alzheimer’s disease is by far its most common one. For those caring for people with Alzheimer’s, the symptoms of the disease can sometimes be hard to cope with. The more you know about the behaviors of people with Alzheimer’s, the easier it is to be an effective and affectionate caregiver.

Alzheimer’s causes changes in the anatomy of the brain. The range of symptoms, and the rate at which they progress, vary from person to person. Therefore, it’s always important to consult with a medical professional.

One of the first changes to manifest itself is difficulty with communication. Suddenly, the afflicted person finds it hard to identify the right words and recall names, or he/she may get lost in familiar places, forget information soon after reading or hearing it, or lose or misplace things. These changes can bring about confusion, fear, anxiety, loneliness and frustration. As the disease progresses, it’s crucial that caregivers fully understand these symptoms.

To help your loved one with communication difficulties, set the stage for success by removing barriers to understanding. This means:

  • Minimizing distractions, such as music or other conversations
  • Using facial expressions and gestures
  • Using short simple sentences
  • Repeating words when this is needed (remember to use a positive, patient tone)

Simplify the daily environment by:

  • Installing way finding arrows to the bathroom and/or pictures on doors to visually indicate their functions
  • Using the same walking route over and over (whether indoors or outside)
  • Creating visual and auditory cues to avoid confusion

Aids to judgment and the performance of daily tasks can include:

  • Simplifying instructions and breaking down tasks into smaller steps
  • Using calendars, check lists and other organizational aids
  • Providing verbal cues and gentle reminders
  • Promoting and encouraging independence, cueing your loved one when needed

People living with dementia can be unsure of themselves. Provide words of praise throughout the day. These affirming words let them know they’re on the right track.

The physical and emotional toll of living with dementia are challenging to people with Alzheimer’s, and also to their loved ones and caregivers. Frustration, fear, and anxiety can lead to loneliness and the inability to express physical or emotional needs. Verbal or physical resistance, aggression and agitation may result when there are misunderstandings.

 

If your loved one shows aggression, recognize what triggered the event and remove that barrier from the environment while avoiding a disagreement or argument with your loved one. If agitation arises, set a routine repeated every day with cues. For example, playing the same calming music prior to going to bed at night will allow your loved one to associate that tune with the bedtime ritual.

 

To help minimize the potential symptom of depression, promote activities that include independence and purpose. For example, setting the table may not be possible, but wiping the table down may be a doable routine task.

 

For hallucinations, check your loved one’s surroundings to see if anything triggered it; for example, a shadow or sound. At times, if you ask your loved one to describe the visual hallucination, it may disappear as a different part of the brain is utilized to “see” the scene.

 

To help avoid wandering, caregivers should provide a daily routine of activities to keep their loved one engaged, avoid busy places, place locks and keys out of the line of sight, and ensure that all basic needs are met in a timely fashion. Have a plan of action for wandering incidents: it should include a list of people to call for help. You might also ask neighbors and friends to be on alert in case they see your loved one out alone. Also, make sure your loved one wears ID jewelry.

 

It’s important to learn as much as you can about Alzheimer’s disease in order to create a comprehensive plan for giving care and support to the person with the disease. It’s also vital in terms of your own well-being. Fortunately, many communities have support groups or offer assistance to caregivers. These and other locally available resources can provide great support, relief and strength for the caregiver.

 

Posted in: Alzheimer’s & Memory Care
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You Are Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s: What to Do Next

Posted by: The Bristal

You’ve just been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or, perhaps, someone close to you has been diagnosed, and you’re wondering what to do next. First, you should know that you’re not alone. In the U.S., more than 5 million people are living with Alzheimer’s. Also, there are various ways you can continue to experience a good quality of life with Alzheimer’s, by informing yourself and making some basic changes to day-to-day living.

The benefits of learning about Alzheimer’s

Getting educated about Alzheimer’s is the key first step. It’s important to know the types of signs and symptoms you may experience, and how you or your loved one can cope with them. While you may be experiencing negative emotions about your diagnosis, educating yourself can help you deal with them. Understanding the disease may help you connect to your emotions and identity as well as imparting confidence for decision-making about living and planning for your future. It may not be easy at times, so you should go at your own pace, and share your thoughts and feelings with people close to you.

Here are some ways that learning about Alzheimer’s can help you cope with your diagnosis:

  • Become empowered to focus on your priorities in life, and take action to bring some of your goals to fruition
  • Take an active role in your legal, financial and long-term care plans
  • Inform your friends, family and professional circles about your diagnosis, and guide them to inform themselves about Alzheimer’s so as to reduce the stigma
  • Talk with your doctor about current treatments and medications
  • Learn coping strategies for the symptoms you may experience
  • Actively help manage your disease in collaboration with your caregivers

Make a coping strategy

Sometimes people with early-stage Alzheimer’s are reluctant to ask for help, but it’s important to set up strategies for meeting the potential challenges ahead.  Acceptance of the diagnosis and the changes that are happening to you is key. By doing so, you’ll be more likely to remain active and engaged, be able to maximize your independence, and have a sense of control over your life. Bear in mind that not every strategy works for each individual, so allow yourself to be flexible:

  • Make a list of tasks that have become harder to do, then focus on developing ways to accomplish them, such as setting reminders
  • Prioritize tasks and seek help with the ones that are too much to do alone
  • Strategize to simplify — for example, cook with a crockpot or focus on one-skillet meals with limited ingredients

Each day is a new opportunity to cope better. Develop a daily routine, with realistic goals. Remind yourself that you have more than one opportunity to meet a challenge. Acknowledge what triggers can cause stress, and call on your strengths, be they friends, family, pets, spirituality and your own grit — to meet potential difficulties head on.

Taking care of yourself

Eating healthy foods and exercising regularly are just as important now as they were before you received your Alzheimer’s diagnosis.

Another key element of taking care of yourself should include attending to your emotional wellbeing. Some of the emotional upset you may feel is caused by the changes the disease makes to the brain, while others can arise from your frustration with daily changes or problems with friends and loved ones who may also be having difficulty adjusting emotionally to what is happening to you.

There’s no wrong way to feel. Let yourself experience your emotions and try not to judge whether they’re “good” or “bad,” or let other people judge them. Seek help from trusted friends and advisors, and consider joining a support group as early as possible in order to surround yourself with people who are on a similar journey. Having a social network that includes others in the early stage of Alzheimer’s can be a help, too. The Alzheimer’s Association offers some resources.

The more active you become in advocating for yourself, the better. It’s important to learn as much as you can about Alzheimer’s disease, make a comprehensive plan, and take early and ample advantage of the various kinds of help and coping support available in your community.

Posted in: Alzheimer’s & Memory Care
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How the Tablet May Be Useful for Seniors

Posted by: The Bristal

Today’s technology makes it easier than ever to get access to everything the Internet has to offer, from news, videos and music, to e-books, streaming movies and TV shows and video calls to friends and family. For seniors, whether they are familiar with using a computer or new to it, the tablet version of a computer is often a great choice for online activity. Tablets are designed for ease of use and visibility.

Some benefits of a tablet for seniors include:

  • Portability and light weight. Tablets are easy to use on your lap, on a table, even in bed and can easily be taken on outings and trips, and used outdoors. The display is designed for readability, and allows for zooming in or enlarging to make the viewing more comfortable.
  • Versatility. The online or mobile software programs or applications (apps) that can run on a tablet allow the user to read newspapers and magazines, watch video clips and streaming video, take and share photographs, make video calls (often at no cost), write and send emails, play games, read e-books, hear audiobooks and surf the web. The tablet can be customized with just a few simple apps for entertainment and keeping in touch, or expanded with lots of options for more advanced and curious users.
  • Ease of use. While there may be a learning curve with any new device, especially for people who are not tech-savvy, most tablets are designed with usability in mind, and may be less daunting than desktop or laptop computers. Instead of a keyboard and mouse, the tablet is operated by touching the screen with the fingers (or with an optional stylus that may help people with larger fingers or other difficulties). Screens on tablets are vivid, and most tablets come with options for enhancing the visual and audio output as needed. By tapping on icons and links onscreen, the user can navigate from, for instance, one news article to another, or select certain songs to listen to.
  • Wide range of offerings. Apps allow users to access thousands of electronic books, play music of just about every type you can think of, listen to recorded books, from the classics to latest bestsellers, and more. This is because the tablet is connected to the internet, via Wi-Fi (wireless internet). In this way, the tablet can be “on the internet” in the same way that a mobile or wireless phone handset gets a signal without being plugged into anything.
  • Exercise for the mind. With a tablet, seniors can play brain exercise games that some claim could play a role in keeping brains sharper.
  • Friends and family connection. With a tablet, seniors can make video calls to others who have tablets or smart phones, and also make free or inexpensive internet phone calls to phone numbers in the US and abroad, making it easier to stay in touch with distant family members, grandchildren and friends. Video calls use the built-in camera in the tablet, so that the callers can both see and hear each other. In this way, a video call is the next best thing to a face-to-face visit, especially when grandkids are on the other end.
  • Social media. Tablets provide quick access to all of the social media platforms, including Facebook, letting seniors participate, and follow the online sharing of family and friend networks. Reading and writing email and text messages is another great benefit of the tablet. For those who have difficulty using the touch keyboard, most tablets can be connected to optional keyboards that allow for normal typing, whether someone is posting an update on Facebook or for longer-form writing, such as memoirs.

There are many different tablets available, to suit many budgets. A good way to choose one is to do some online research beforehand, then visit a store that offers different options and try them out. Seniors should also consider selecting a tablet similar to those used by friends or family who will be able to help them as they learn the ins and outs of tablet use.

Posted in: Lifestyle Blog
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Ways Seniors Can Make a Difference

Posted by: The Bristal

Seniors with abundant free time often find it to be a mixed blessing. Retirement, for example, may be accompanied by a shift in self-identity and leave the retiree at a loss over what to do with all that time. As the Harvard Medical School health blog has observed, retirement ranks among life’s most stressful events.

However, research indicates that staying active and volunteering your time, energy and knowledge to your local community, or to society at large, is an effective way for seniors to retain a sense of purpose and satisfaction, while deriving physical and mental benefits as well. The National Institutes of Health lists a longer life span, less susceptibility to depression, and even improved cognitive abilities among the potential rewards.

Among the best ways to make a difference is by mentoring. Seniors with a successful career in entrepreneurship, for example, may be good candidates for coaching young men and women in starting or growing a business. The U.S. Small Business Administration and many university business schools are examples of institutions in need of qualified mentors. Mentoring children is another option.

Besides mentoring, there are countless ways for seniors to volunteer on behalf of deserving causes. Schools, libraries, community theaters, arts groups, museums, hospitals and houses of worship all rely in part on the services of volunteers. So do public interest groups, such as The League of Women Voters. You may have specialized skills and knowledge to offer; for example, museums greatly appreciate art and history lovers who can serve as well-informed docents. Or you may simply possess the ability to contribute basic organizational and efficiency skills, which always are in demand by local organizations.

Not to be overlooked in the realm of volunteer options are the needs of fellow seniors in your community. Many older citizens with disabilities are in need of assistance with routine chores, such as food shopping, trips to a doctor, bill paying (actually writing and mailing checks) and maybe even dog walking or other pet needs. Check for community organizations at the county or city level that focus on seniors and can use your help.

Still another important form of volunteerism is fundraising for charitable entities. Some seniors are motivated to this activity because of some personal or family history with a particular illness, or perhaps because they know someone who was sadly affected by a preventable event, such as drunk driving.

Thousands of charitable organizations solicit funds today. However, before lending your valuable efforts to a cause, be sure the organization (not the cause, but the organization itself) is a bona fide charity that spends most of the money it raises on services, rather than on executive salaries and fundraising. If you have any doubts, you can consult an independent watchdog to be certain. There are plenty of resources out there.

Helping others and making a difference is a great way for seniors to help themselves, as well. It can help keep you mentally sharp and actively involved in your community, and help to foster a feeling of purpose knowing that your lifetime experiences and skills are being put to good use.

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How Caregivers Can Get Better Sleep

Posted by: The Bristal

Providing care for a loved one can be stressful, and frequently results in sleep deprivation for the caregiver. This can endanger the caregiver’s health and possibly impair the level of care that he or she provides. Therefore, it is extremely important to take steps that can help the caregiver get better sleep.

The reasons for sleep deprivation are numerous, and may include factors such as anxiety about what lies ahead for your loved one, worry about financial strains, feelings of guilt or inadequacy in dealing with your loved one’s condition, and, of course, the sheer strain of dealing with day-to-day physical demands of providing care. Not to be ignored, as well, is the possibility that the caregiver’s sleep is being affected by a sleep disorder of his or her own.

For example, the National Institutes of Health says a common and often undiagnosed nighttime problem among adults is obstructive sleep apnea, a condition that causes shallow or interrupted breathing, interfering with restful sleep and endangering health in several ways. Therefore, caregivers experiencing poor sleep should consider consulting their doctor to rule out this and other treatable sleep problems as the first step toward getting better sleep.

Next, the caregiver’s attention should turn to the quality of his or her sleeping surroundings. As the AARP points out, it is important to create a nighttime environment that is “for sleeping, not caregiving.” Sleep in a room separate from your loved one, unless it’s absolutely necessary to be in the same room. Keep your room dark and comfortable, and free from your loved one’s medicines, medication schedules, lab reports and anything else related to caregiving that might activate nighttime anxiety.

AARP also suggests setting aside what it calls an “anxious hour,” preferably early in the evening, which can be devoted to caregiving issues that are of concern to you and need your attention. The idea is to do your worrying “at more convenient times” than when trying to get to sleep.

Here are additional suggestions for getting better sleep:

  • Regulate exposure to light. To reinforce your body’s circadian rhythm, make sure you are exposed to an abundance of natural daylight while limiting your exposure to light from TV and computer screens as bedtime approaches. Light from electronic devices can reduce the production of melatonin, inhibiting sleepiness.
  • Consider meditation and other relaxation techniques. For example, deep breathing, also known as diaphragmatic breathing, is widely recognized as an effective way to relieve stress. Harvard Medical School explains here why deep breathing works and how to do it properly.
  • Avoid heavy meals and caffeine close to bedtime. A full stomach when you retire for the night often inhibits sleep. Caffeine, of course, acts as a stimulant. Choose decaffeinated tea, coffee or soft drinks later in the evening.
  • Get regular exercise. Caregiving, of course, usually requires plenty of activity, but your sleeping is likely to benefit from a more formal physical regimen, even if it is simply a daily brisk 15-minute walk. If possible, try to establish a fairly regular time of day for this purpose. Do not exercise close to bedtime.
  • Take advantage of your loved-one’s naps. A good way to supplement nighttime sleep is to take a nap in the daytime when your loved one is sleeping.
  • Look into respite care. A few hours of “off-time” several days a week can be of great help in relieving the stress of caregiving, allowing you to refresh yourself with a movie, a trip to a museum or an opportunity to take care of matters unrelated to your loved one. This can be very helpful in reestablishing a good nighttime sleep pattern. Many agencies, both paid and volunteer, provide such services. Alternatively, you might be able to call upon one or more family members or trusted friends for periodic relief.

And finally, make full use of caregiver support groups. Many people are feeling the same sleep-inhibiting anxieties and stresses that affect you, under largely the same circumstances. It truly does help to share your experiences and ways of coping with others who fully understand what you are going through.

Posted in: Caregiving & Family, Senior Care
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Knowing the Alzheimer’s Signs Unrelated to Memory Loss

Posted by: The Bristal

Those with Alzheimer’s disease know that the well-recognized sign is memory loss. However, it is not the only sign of the disease. There are non-memory-related Alzheimer’s signs; they can present themselves early and if attended to, can lead to a diagnosis.

  • Apathy. Often unrecognized, apathy is perhaps the most common behavioral change in a person with Alzheimer’s disease. Apathy presents as a decline in the person’s daily functioning and ability to think, along with an increased reliance on family or friends for care. It is associated with changes in the tissue of the brain. It can be mistaken for depression because of some similar symptoms, but it is important for a physician to make a distinction, because apathy and depression each can be treated with unique interventions.
  • Changes in personal hygiene. People with Alzheimer’s may display changes in their normal level of personal hygiene, wearing dirty clothes, resisting bathing, etc.
    • Problems with dressing can be caused by confusion about too many choices, or decreased ability to tell colors apart, lack of coordination or memory about how to get dressed, depression or apathy and embarrassment about the difficulty. By reducing the number of choices, arranging clothes in the sequence they should be put on, and substituting easier fastenings, such as Velcro closings, larger zippers and easy to pull-on items for those with more complicated buttons, can make dressing easier to handle.
    • In the case of washing or bathing, the cause may be fear about slipping and falling, phobias around water, and apathy, among others. To encourage bathing, equipping the bath area with grab bars and non-skid strips, soap on a rope and options to shower standing or sitting can be helpful.
    • Failure to groom can also have various causes, from arthritis to memory loss to apathy and embarrassment. Clearing the bathroom of nonessential items and laying out the tools, such as a brush and comb, razor, toothbrush and paste, in sequence, is useful. If the tools are difficult to grip and use, look for specially designed grooming products for people with arthritis or strength limitation.
  • Anxiety and depression are recognized behavioral symptoms of Alzheimer’s, along with sleep problems, agitation and aggression, all associated with the changes in the brain caused by the disease. Treating these symptoms can make living with Alzheimer’s a little more comfortable for the patient and caregiver.
    • Anxiety, which may manifest as agitation, is the result of the biological experience of the loss, which is profound, of the ability to deal with new information and situations, such as changes in the environment, travel and moving to a different location. As such, it is a direct result of Alzheimer’s.
    • Depression is common in the early and middle stages of Alzheimer’s disease as the individual is aware of diminishing mental functioning. Depression may be hard to diagnose because the symptoms can overlap with those of Alzheimer’s. It should not be ignored; a physician can diagnose and prescribe treatment that can help relieve the symptoms. Regular exercise, an increase in pleasurable activities and support group meetings can be helpful.
  • Vision changes. The changes that Alzheimer’s disease makes in the brain can cause vision problems to develop, including loss of acuity, color vision and changes to the field of vision. These effects can make it more difficult to read, identify objects and comprehend spaces. Changes in vision by themselves do not make for a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, but this sign is often experienced by people who are experiencing the other early signs of the disease.

These signs should be followed up with a doctor’s visit, whether you or your loved one has already been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or not. Each symptom can be treated and at least somewhat relieved or made more comfortable. It is also important for your physician and a caregiver to be aware of all of the signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s in order to provide the best care.

Posted in: Alzheimer’s & Memory Care
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Ways Seniors Can Reduce the Risk of a Stroke

Posted by: The Bristal

 

The risk of having a stroke increases significantly with age. However, there is a lot that seniors can do to help reduce their risk on an individual basis. In fact, says the National Stroke Association, studies show that 80% of strokes can be prevented. Here are some practical steps seniors can take to lessen their chances of experiencing a stroke.

  • Don’t smoke. Smoking is the number one risk factor for strokes, according to the Harvard Health Publications/Harvard Medical School. Most strokes are caused by blood clots, and smoking increases the risk of blood clots in several ways, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains. Among other things, smoking causes your blood to become stickier, promotes the buildup of plaque in your arteries and reduces the level of HDL (good cholesterol) in your blood, which is needed to offset LDL, the harmful form of cholesterol. Even worse, smoking intensifies most of the other stroke risk factors.
  • Minimize your exposure to second-hand smoke. Inhaling second-hand smoke also poses a significant danger, the CDC points out, estimating that it increases the risk of stroke by 20 to 30 percent.
  • Exercise more. This doesn’t necessarily mean joining a gym or jogging every morning. It does mean walking instead of driving whenever possible, and finding activities that you enjoy that keep you off the couch and away from the TV screen. If you have a disability that tends to inhibit physical activity, discuss with your doctor or a physical therapist the types of activities that will safely help you be less sedentary.
  • Make your diet healthier. Eliminate foods that are high in saturated fats, sugar and salt. Instead emphasize vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy, fish, poultry, whole grains, seeds and beans. Unless you are allergic to nuts, include them in your meals because they are rich in beneficial unsaturated fats. Of special importance is to keep your diet low in salt because an abundance of salt can exacerbate high blood pressure, which is a high-risk factor for stroke.
  • Avoid excessive alcohol consumption. Although studies have shown that light or moderate drinking can have beneficial effects on the heart, there is strong evidence that heavy drinking is a potent risk factor for stroke. Data published by the National Institutes of Health, for example, show that excessive alcohol consumption not only can stimulate blood clots, but also may lead to a stroke by causing blood vessels in the brain to hemorrhage.

Although lifestyle changes such as those discussed above can help reduce your risk of a stroke, many seniors have underlying medical conditions that increase their susceptibility to a stroke. These conditions include diabetes, high blood pressure and hardening of the arteries. For these individuals, it’s even more important to know the lifestyle choices associated with a higher risk of having a stroke, and address them as best you can.

Always remember that the majority of strokes can be avoided by making healthy changes to your everyday habits. Make it a top priority; it is hard to imagine a more worthwhile endeavor.

Posted in: Lifestyle Blog
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Tips to Help Seniors Drive Safely

Posted by: The Bristal

In terms of their behavior behind the wheel, seniors tend to be among the safest drivers. As a whole, they observe speed limits, always wear seatbelts and rarely drink or text and drive. Equally important, they have the invaluable benefit of decades of driving experience on the road.

The AAA says “driving safely is a complex and often demanding task, even for an experienced senior driver, but driving challenges do arise.” Many older adults are perfectly capable of driving safely, yet physical and mental changes that often come with aging can affect how well older adults drive. Seniors are prone to such risk factors as declining eyesight, hearing loss, slower reaction times, mental confusion and the potential unwelcome side effects of various medications.

To minimize the risk, it is vitally important for seniors to confront the normal impairments that typically accompany older age. Here are some tips to consider to help seniors drive safely:

  • Consult with Eye Doctor. As we age, it becomes progressively harder to clearly see things from the driver’s seat, such as street and traffic signs. Eye diseases like glaucoma and cataracts can also present challenges while driving. If you are 65 or older, it is important to see your eye doctor at least every one to two years for a check-up. Make sure your eyeglasses or contact lens prescription is up-to-date and always wear them when driving. Reduce or stop driving at night if you have trouble seeing in the dark, and try to avoid driving during sunrise and sunset, when sun glare can interfere with your line of sight.
  • Get Hearing Checked. While driving, you may find it difficult to hear horns, sirens or noises from your car and other vehicles. It is critical to hear these types of sounds because they often serve as warnings for drivers to take a certain necessary action. After the age of 50, have your hearing checked every year. Discuss any hearing concerns with your doctor; you may be in need of a hearing aid. Try to keep the inside of your car as quiet as possible by keeping the radio off, limiting conversation with others in the car and avoiding cell phone usage.
  • Manage Slower Reaction Time. As we age, we may not be able to react as quickly as we used to because of slower reflexes, weak muscles or arthritis, for example. To deal with this challenge, it is important to leave a generous amount of space between you and the car in front of you, and to increase that space as you increase your speed. When you need to stop your car, hit the brakes early. If you feel particularly concerned, you can choose to avoid high traffic areas or times of day when possible, and if you must drive on a highway, you can choose to stay in the right lane. You may also want to take a defensive driving course to brush up on your skills.
  • Know Medication Side Effects. Certain medications have side effects that can affect one’s driving. If you feel lightheaded or drowsy, do not drive. Read medicine labels carefully and look for any specific warnings. Consult with your doctor about how your medicine may affect your driving.

There are also practical alternatives to driving that you may want to consider. They include public transportation, which typically offers reduced prices for older adults; ride sharing with family members, friends and neighbors; medical facility shuttle service for doctor’s appointments; taxi or private driver service; walking or bicycling; and motorized wheelchair usage.

You can help protect yourself and the lives of others on the road by taking these proactive steps. When behind the wheel, it is important to always keep safety top-of-mind.

Posted in: Lifestyle Blog
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Ways Seniors Can Manage Hearing Loss

Posted by: The Bristal

As we age, it’s normal to experience some loss of hearing. The National Institutes of Health reports that one in three seniors between the ages of 65 and 74 have hearing loss of various degrees. Over the age of 75, the number rises to nearly one out of two.

Hearing loss can sometimes lead to embarrassment in social situations. However, of far greater importance, are the dangers it may pose. Diminished ability to hear can prevent or delay an individual from hearing warnings or alarms and responding to emergencies. It also may interfere with understanding instructions, including those given by your doctor or pharmacist.

Fortunately, there are ways to reduce the effects of hearing loss, including many that do not involve the use of hearing aids or other devices. Here are some easy-to-follow suggestions:

  • Consult an ear, nose and throat specialist. The doctor will take steps to determine the degree of hearing loss and make sure that it is not caused by a medical problem that needs attention. Also, bear in mind that hearing loss is sometimes caused or made worse by a build-up of ear wax, which the doctor can easily remove with a simple procedure.
  • Be aware that certain types of drugs you may be taking sometimes help accelerate hearing loss. According to the AARP, those drugs include some classes of antibiotics, anti-depressants, diuretics and even some over-the-counter pain relievers. Consult your doctor(s) about the possibility of substituting other drugs if your hearing is affected.
  • Avoid or minimize exposure to loud noises, such as very loud music, the sounds of power tools, and the screeching of subway cars. The Mayo Clinic says chronic exposure to loud noise is a significant contributing factor to hearing loss. This is true for people of all ages, but can be especially important to seniors whose hearing capacity may already be diminished. If such exposure cannot be avoided, wear ear plugs or noise-protection ear muffs, advises the American Academy of Otolaryngology. If using ear plugs, be sure they are clean and fit tightly. Although these devices may further reduce hearing ability slightly while worn, the protection is more important, says the Academy.
  • When driving, avoid activities that may interfere with your ability to hear sirens, horns or other warning sounds. Keep the radio at a soft level or turn it off, and don’t allow the conversation of passengers to be distracting.
  • It can be helpful to let your friends and loved ones know that you sometimes have a little difficulty in hearing them. Ask them to face you as much as possible when speaking and to form their words clearly. Explain that it’s not necessary to shout – only to speak distinctly.
  • Consider speech reading: Although it’s not something everyone can easily master, speech reading (more commonly known as lip reading) is a recommended coping tool by both the National Institutes of Health and the Hearing Loss Association of America. To explore whether this tactic may be suitable for you, visit www.lipreading.org.

Of course, some seniors experience hearing loss to a degree that requires a hearing aid or other device to ensure a safe and fulfilling life. For those individuals, you can find information on sophisticated solutions in this blog post.

Posted in: Lifestyle Blog
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Ways to Help Seniors Prevent Future Back Pain

Posted by: The Bristal

By some estimates, up to 50 percent of seniors suffer from chronic back pain. In fact, back pain is the “most prevalent health condition in older adults that leads to functional limitations and disability,” according to a study published in the Journal of Pain Research. Although many medical factors may contribute to the prevalence of painful back conditions, an individual can take steps to help avoid pain in the future. Here are some tips to consider:

  • Good posture is very important. Good posture, even while seated, is all but indispensable to preventing (or alleviating) back pain. The basic idea is to keep your spine in a “neutral” position when standing. That means you should not slouch, but neither should you try to assume the rigid posture of a Marine standing at attention. Rather, let your spine form a very gentle S curve, a position that reduces the stress on back muscles. When seated, keep your feet flat on the floor and avoid crossing your legs. You may also want to consider getting a chair designed specifically to keep your back straight. A lumbar pillow to maintain the normal curve of the spine may also be useful.
  • How you sleep matters, too. Many sleep experts say sleeping on one’s back is the best position to assume for the spine, with the pillow slightly raising your neck to support the spine’s natural shape. Those who prefer sleeping on one side should consider placing a separate pillow between the knees to help support the lower back. When you are ready to get out of bed, avoid lifting your body forward using your back. Instead, roll on your side and use your arm to help prop your body up.
  • Do not lift with your back. This is extremely important when lifting objects of any size or weight from the floor or from any low position; use the muscles in your legs, not your back. That means, bend at the knees, not at the waist. If you have knee problems that might prevent this maneuver, ask someone to help you. Use discretion about attempting to lift any heavy package; know your own limits. Be careful also about wearing back-packs containing heavy materials.
  • Losing weight might help. If you are carrying extra pounds, they might be putting stress on your back and contribute to pain. Eat a healthy diet filled with fruits and vegetables and reduce the intake of sugar and processed foods.
  • Don’t Smoke. Smoking appears to be a risk factor for back pain for a variety of reasons. The Mayo Clinic says smoking can interfere with the delivery of essential nutrients to the discs of the spine. In addition, a study conducted at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, found that smoking affects two interconnected regions of the brain in a way that makes a person more vulnerable to back pain. Furthermore, some pain specialists point out that smoking can worsen certain conditions common to seniors that make back pain more likely, including osteoporosis and hardening of the arteries. It all adds up to one more good reason to avvoid smoking.

Given the prevalence of back pain among seniors, and the negative impact it can have on quality of life, the subject of avoiding or minimizing back pain deserves more attention. Use these tips as a guideline to proactively take steps to make sure the spine and back muscles remain as healthy as possible as we age.

Posted in: Senior Care
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