Supporting Seniors Near and Far

The actions we take to support and to care for our aging loved ones do not need to wait until they become seniors. In close-knit families that regularly gather and who celebrate together birthdays, holidays and other significant events, their elders’ presence is likely expected. Great care is taken to include and to accommodate those whose step may have grown a little unsteady but who still maintain the respect and affection of their younger relatives.

dinner My family is one such family. The most senior relative has always been given due respect and recognition. Our sense of duty has motivated us to be helpful and considerate while remembering that the underlying love for one another is what makes us a family.

It is this sense of belonging to one another and this connection that I believe have made it second-nature to look out for and to look after each other. For as long as I can remember, we have visited relatives who lived far away or who could not travel as a result of poor health. We set aside a special chair if that was where a particular family member was most comfortable. We made sure favorite treats were offered, or time was spent listening to stories or learning a craft from our elders whenever we gathered. We invested a bit of ourselves in the life of our loved ones and took in what they had to offer. We all gained from the exchange.

As time takes away abilities, our logical response continues to be to accommodate, to offer help, to be considerate and to show unconditional love. We may need to slow down our pace a little or perhaps shorten the length of our outings, but the nurturing and support had already been in practice long before they were needed.

Much can be done by families to support their seniors. But why wait?

We can support family members and friends at any age. When they do become seniors, what we do then will be a continuation of what we have already been doing: letting them know they are loved and respected.

bubbles Here are some things we can do with our seniors, near and far:
  • Visit, call or write
  • Use technology to stay in touch – across town or across the globe: Skype, FaceTime, email, creating online or paper lettrs (
  • Do community service projects together
  • Do crafts or arts
  • Go sightseeing or take a day to explore nearby towns
  • Pack a picnic, visit a farm, go antique shopping or bargain-hunting
  • Go to a concert – classical, pop, whatever makes our heart sing
  • Attend a dance hall and get on the dance floor
  • Plant a garden – flowers, vegetables or fruit
  • Play games: cards, board, puzzle, trivia, Wii, or video games
  • See a movie or a show, or have a movie night at home
  • Take a computer class or lessons on a topic of interest
  • Play a favorite sport or attend a game
  • Learn a language or how to play an instrument
  • Join a local choir

About the author

Lynn Greenblatt is a family caregiver and the founder of - an online directory of links to caregiving information, resources & support that can help caregivers to more efficiently & effectively manage their tasks. She also encourages family caregivers to take good care of themselve

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The Caregiver’s Guide to Communicating with an Autistic Senior

Humans are gifted to possess five senses – sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell. Each one helps us to communicate with one another, savor our surroundings and enjoy some of the most basic parts of life. The same five senses, however, are affected and altered by the presence of autism. For that reason, it’s vital for caregivers to understand the most productive means and methods of communicating with an autistic senior.

Communication Issues

Just because a senior has autism does not mean she loses the basic five senses. However, the difference lies in the way a senior expresses herself.  Although seniors with autism can absorb and process each of the five senses, they have problems expressing things through language. That, in a nutshell, is the major barrier senior caregivers must overcome when communicating with an autistic adult.

To effectively communicate with a senior who has autism, it’s important to understand how each of the five senses are intimately affected by the disorder.


Autistic seniors experience hypersensitivity to lights. In addition, certain colors or color patterns can cause a heightened sensitivity. In a home setting, caregivers must pay attention to things like bright and flashing television screens, computers, tablets and smartphones. These can cause eye stress and, in extreme situations, seizures. Pay close attention to body language, as this is how autistic seniors will let caregivers know if lights or patterns become stressors.


Sound is extremely powerful for autistic seniors. Even the slightest ambient noise can elicit a meltdown. Sounds seem to be amplified and, when exposed to a particular offensive noise, provoke negative reactions.  Autistic seniors can’t tune out noises like other people do; they hear and feel each and every sound. Caregivers should be on the lookout for signs like covering of the ears or escalating anxiety.


The sense of touch is compromised due to the presence of autism. Many autistic seniors have altered signals that pulse through their nerves, often causing pain or a negative reaction when touched. In severe cases, even clothing can rub the skin and cause pain. Caregivers and loved ones who understand the way autism affects touch will improve communication.

Taste and Smell

The sensations of taste and smell are amplified by the presence of autism. Things that taste mildly bitter or sour to you will taste extremely bitter or sour to an autistic senior. When something tastes or smells bad to these seniors, the reactions are extreme. Understanding how taste and smell affects a senior with autism will help caregivers understand how to better communicate with them.

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Secrets of Managing Parkinson’s Disease: 3 Medications Commonly Prescribed to Seniors

Parkinson’s disease in seniors is both progressive and irreversible. However, that doesn’t mean caregivers and loved ones are without treatment resources and therapies. In fact, there are several different medications that can help to treat and control the symptoms and side effects of this debilitating disease.

Medications Making a Difference

Many years ago, there were very few medications available that truly helped to improve the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Thanks to the rapid advancement of pharmacology, seniors have quite a few medications to choose from these days. As a matter of fact, these medications are so effective, surgical intervention is only a viable option after each medication has been tried, adjusted and given an adequate amount of time to work.

One thing senior caregivers should keep in mind, however, is that there are limits to the total effectiveness of Parkinson’s medications. Signs and symptoms of the disease will likely remain, although certainly not as prominent or disabling. Scientists continue to look for better and more aggressive ways to treat this disease. With that in mind, let’s take a look at three types of popular and reliable Parkinson’s medications.

Dopamine Boosters

The first, and most regularly used, group of Parkinson’s medications is levodopa, also known as L-dopa. This drug helps to increase the level of dopamine in the brain. Levodopa is a chemical found naturally in both plants and animals. Nerve cells in the body rely on levodopa to make dopamine. Supplying the body with extra levodopa helps to naturally replenish a senior’s rapidly dwindling supply of dopamine.

Levodopa is most effective during the early stages of the disease. Seniors taking this drug could see a notable reduction in the number and severity of tremors, along with muscle rigidity. The drug does not help treat problems with balance or non-motor symptoms. If taken early enough, levodopa can help seniors to live a relatively normal and productive life.

Direct Dopamine Agonists

Direct dopamine agonist medications are able to take on the role of natural dopamine in the brain. They can be used in both the early and late stages of Parkinson’s disease, especially if a senior needs a longer acting dopamine effect. The drawback is that these medications can cause confusion in seniors.

Inhibitor Medications

Seniors with Parkinson’s often benefit from the prolonged presence of dopamine. Doctors often prescribe MAO-B inhibitors or COMT inhibitors for this purpose, as both medications work to slow the breakdown of dopamine in the brain, thereby reducing the signs and symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

MAO-B inhibitors are drugs that slow down the enzyme monoamine oxidase B, or MAO-B, which breaks down dopamine in the brain. MAO-B inhibitors cause dopamine to build up in surviving nerve cells, thereby reducing symptoms of Parkinson’s.

One MAO-B inhibitor, rasagiline, may be used alone or in combination with other medication to treat Parkinson’s disease symptoms.


COMT, which stands for catechol-O-methyltransferase, is another enzyme that helps to break down dopamine. COMT inhibitors prolong the effects of levodopa by preventing the breakdown of dopamine. They can decrease the duration of “off” periods, and they usually make it possible to reduce the person’s dose of levodopa.

Other Drugs

  • Amantadine is an old antiviral drug that can help reduce symptoms of Parkinson’s and dyskinesias caused by levodopa. It is often used alone in the early stages of the disease, and again in later stages to treat dyskinesias.
  • Anticholinergics decrease the activity of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine and help to reduce tremors and muscle rigidity.
When recommending a course of treatment, a doctor will tailor therapy to the person’s particular condition. Since no two people react the same way to a given drug, it may take time and patience to get the dose just right. Even then, symptoms may not go away completely.

Medications for Non-Motor Symptoms

Doctors may prescribe a variety of medications to treat the non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, such as depression and anxiety. Hallucinations, delusions, and other psychotic symptoms may be caused by some drugs prescribed for Parkinson’s. Therefore, reducing or stopping those medications may reduce these symptoms of psychosis. Various treatment options, including medications, also are available to treat orthostatic hypotension, the sudden drop in blood pressure that occurs upon standing. [Image Credit:]

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Autism in Maturity: An Honest Look at Aging and Autism

The first generation of children diagnosed with autism is now moving into old age. As such, they find themselves facing a unique set of hurdles. It’s hard enough to successfully adapt when aging in place, but the challenges among seniors with autism can make for an extremely difficult task.

Autistic seniors have difficulty recognizing non-verbal cues and communicating effectively. They are also subject to normal age-related mental, social and physical changes. Despite the mounting dangers, experts have failed to focus on the impact among seniors with learning disabilities and autism. Very little research is available to guide physicians or medical experts when treating autistic seniors, recognizing their changing needs or coming up with adequate plans of care. In essence, researchers and policymakers have opted to turn a blind eye to the devastation caused by autism among older adults.

Surprisingly, there are no reliable figures to illustrate just how many seniors currently suffer with autism. The number of United States citizens over the age of 65 and diagnosed with a learning disability is expected to double in the next 15 to 20 years. Without a radical shift in the way autistic seniors are viewed and the number of scientific studies conducted, older adults and their caregivers will likely find themselves searching for help, but coming up empty handed.

Rather than wait around for the catastrophe to happen, the National Autism Society decided to get proactive. They launched a research project known as Autism in Maturity and a commission that is solely dedicated to autism and ageing. Their goal is to guide and support older adults with autism while providing assistance and education to their senior caregivers and loved ones. To ensure autistic seniors and their caregivers receive the appropriate level of care and specialized services, the Autism in Maturity project hopes to:

• Establish a core group of issues that identify the key problems and most pressing needs of autistic seniors
• Provide a reliable source of information and resources for older adults with autism, their caregivers and family members
• Serve as an advocate and voice for seniors suffering with autism
• Educate the general public about the process of aging with autism
• Constantly identify and implement services that meet the needs of autistic older adults

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Caregiving is a Calling by Kathy Czarniak

Taking care of others starts early for me as my mother is chronically ill as I grow up. My time is spent playing with paper dolls and my memory card game on the floor next to her bed. I am the one who is available to get food, water and the medicine that she needs while my father is working and my sisters are at school.

My first job is babysitting for the five children next door. This teaches me lessons in first-aid and developing nerves of steel as the typical childhood accidents take place while I am in charge.

It never feels like it is an option or a choice to become a caregiver. It is just what I do, it is who I am. Caregiving is a thread woven within every fiber of my being and it feels as natural as breathing.

I don’t know why I always run in without ever contemplating my options. Why is it that when looking around the room I can sense those who are hurting or lonely? Sickness or the darkness of grief to me is not a reason to run, rather a reason to enter into the sacredness of helping someone.

Strangers entrusting me with their physical, emotional and spiritual care at a time in their lives when they are struggling and feeling vulnerable, reminds me that caregiving is a “calling.”

Either as a nurse or in my personal life, I take on the world and jump in with two feet to help others, often times finding myself overextended.

Years later, the price I pay for that decision is burnout. Evidence shows in head and neck aches, exhaustion and the frustration that no one else is there to relieve me.

I am forced to step back because I can’t keep this up. I now have to think about the ways in which I need to take care of myself so there is something left to give others. My body is ageing and the chronic stress of being everything to everyone is taking a toll.

So, what can I do?

Reintroduce JOY into my life, using simple, inexpensive ways to take care of ME.

• I begin and end the day in prayer – letting go and letting God.
• Practicing yoga even if that means twenty minutes a few times a week.
• Getting outside everyday even if it’s just to walk the dog.
• I notice the beauty in everyday things, the sunset, and the clouds, the animals that run in my yard, the flowers and trees.
• Listening to my favorite songs and dancing.
• Making time for conversations with friends, spontaneous outings.
• Lighting candles and dimming the lights.
• Sipping a cup of “joy” in the form of a hot chai latte.
• Finding ways to laugh.
• Planning time away from all types of media.

What are the five most important lessons I have learned about caregiving?

• I cannot take the pain and anxiety away from the experience of another’s life.
• Doing my best at any given time is all that I can hope to accomplish.
• Guilt wastes time and energy killing your spirit, so silence negative thoughts.
• I do not have to be a one woman show; there are others that can help. Teaming up distributes the stress as well as the caregiving.
• Sometimes we caregivers enable those we care for – I now ask myself, what is mine to do?

I would love to hear from you as to the ways in which you are learning how to care for yourself as you care for others. What are the lessons that you have learned from being a caregiver?

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Kathy Czarniak is a widow, caregiver, and blogger who operates the website

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Senior Caregiver Alert: Understanding the Essentials of Asperger’s Syndrome

Several forms of autism have been identified over the last decade. One form that is of particular interest to seniors is Asperger’s Syndrome. While the cause of autism is still a mystery, experts in the field tend to agree that genetics plays a large role in the disorder. Additionally, Asperger’s is four times more common in males.

While signs and symptoms may show throughout a lifetime, Asperger’s syndrome is normally diagnosed in late adulthood. The condition often causes many children to be bullied in school or teased by classmates for exhibiting such unusual behaviors. The problem is that a good number of mentally healthy children experience the same issues, leaving parents unable to recognize the presence of Asperger’s syndrome.

Asperger’s vs Autism

When comparing the symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome to the symptoms of autism, caregivers will notice both similarities and differences. For example, the similarities include an inability to relate to others, an obsessive focus when performing tasks and a lack of problem solving skills. In contrast to seniors with autism, Asperger’s syndrome allows for a bit more socialization and does not cause an additional delay in cognitive development.

Communication and Social Behaviors

Asperger’s causes most seniors to encounter difficulty when attempting to socialize and communicate with others. For example, when speaking with an Asperger’s senior, you’ll likely notice that he or she tries to control the conversation. These seniors are unable to recognize that others in the group would like to get a word in.

Additionally, seniors do not consider the group may be uninterested in the topic of conversation. Seniors suffering from Asperger’s syndrome also possess an inability to communicate with emotion or to pick up natural and non-verbal cues. Caregivers may notice a senior loved one consistently speaks using a flat, droll and monotone voice. It often sounds like someone reading from a dull script, emitting no signs of emotion or passion.

Obsessive Rituals

A senior with Asperger’s syndrome can often be seen partaking in routines and focusing on one small task. For example, if your senior loved one is interested in painting, he or she might spend days on end using red paint to draw circles. They show no interest in using an alternate paint color or drawing a different shape. This narrow focus can easily prevent seniors from learning skills or discovering new horizons.

While there is no cure for Asperger’s syndrome, caregivers and seniors will be happy to learn there is hope. By participating in cognitive behavioral therapy, focused speech therapy and professional counseling sessions can each help to alleviate many of Asperger’s more troubling symptoms.

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Senior Caregivers: Tackling 2 Common Issues with Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease causes a host of problems for older adults, but some of the most commonly reported issues relate directly to muscles. From tremors to the constant feelings of exhaustion, caregivers must be aware of the specific dangers this disease presents. Here’s a look at two common Parkinson’s complications and tips for dealing with them.

Issue #1: How to help your loved one with stiff limbs caused by Parkinson’s

One of the most widely reported issues seniors face with this disease is stiff limbs. Seeing both a physical and occupational therapist will play a large part in battling this unwelcome side effect. The physical therapist will prescribe a number of exercises to be performed on a daily basis. With more and more time, these exercises will help to reduce the muscle stiffness and rigidity. An occupational therapist, on the other hand, works to teach the senior smart ways that make normal activities easier. For example, seniors will learn different or slightly altered ways of holding a fork or lifting a cup to the mouth.

In addition to these professional therapies, it’s important to realize that caregivers can also help at home. Doing some kind of daily aerobic exercise can help to loosen muscles and decrease stiffness. Going for a brisk walk each morning or perhaps engaging in resistance training exercises will increase a senior’s ability to function on multiple levels. It’s also a great way to lift the mood!

Another tip for caregivers is to try reducing the senior’s caffeine intake. The reason for this is because the caffeine found in sodas, coffee and tea can actually add to the body tremors associated with Parkinson’s.

Issue #2: How to address swallowing problems caused by Parkinson’s

Due to the facial muscles that are affected by Parkinson’s disease, seniors often experience problems with swallowing. In fact, choking is a real hazard with this particular disease and caregivers must remain alert when mealtime arrives.

If you’re concerned about swallowing problems, it may be a good idea to plan meals that are more appropriate. Here are a few meal tips for your senior:

• When it comes to drinks, the thicker, the better. Thicker consistencies promote swallowing, so you may want to serve milkshakes or juices that have thickener added to them.
• Moist foods that also have a soft consistency are best for seniors with Parkinson’s.
• Avoid foods that are known for creating crumbs, like crackers. These items are notorious for getting stuck in the throat.

You’ll also want to encourage your senior to chew his or her food thoroughly, then swallow. If food gets lodged in the throat, sweep the mouth or perform the Heimlich maneuver, then call 911.

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New Study Indicates Autism is Dreadfully Under-diagnosed in Seniors

When you think of autism, do you automatically think of young school children? That seems to be the consensus around the world, but, according to one study conducted in England, seniors are actually under-diagnosed when it comes to autism.

Seniors with autism are not receiving the care and help they truly need because the disease is only seen as a “young person’s disease.” This is what the research indicates, according to the National Autistic Society. In fact, less than half of the medical community in England even has a diagnostic pathway established for treating adults with autism.

The group conducted interviews, focus groups and surveys with older autistic adults and their family members. What they found was a group of seniors who had nowhere to turn for help with their disease and families who were left to figure things out for themselves. There’s little to no research available when it comes to older adults and autism, as it’s always been viewed a disorder that afflicts middle-school children.

The lack of knowledge doesn’t stop there; clinicians in England that work with older adults don’t even really understand the disease and how it affects their patients. For example, most medical professionals don’t have a clue as to how common health issues like dementia might affect adults with autism. In fact, medical professionals who specialize in senior care “often have a poor understanding of the disability” as a whole.

According to the National Autistic Society (NAS), things need to change and change quickly. Their first order is to make sure that funding is available for research into autism and aging.

Mark Lever, chief executive of the NAS, said: “Huge strides have been taken in changing attitudes towards autism. But there is still a tendency to think of autism as a condition that just affects children, when there are older people with autism in all our communities who need our support and care.

“Too many older adults with autism are missing out on diagnosis entirely and too many are still waiting for their needs to be assessed.  And all too often, it’s unclear what support will be available for them as they get older. This must change.”

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The Way You Breathe Really Does Affect Your Everyday Life by Kelly Sheets

Learning how to breath deeply in a healthy way through a breathing or meditation practice can:
  • Help manage pain
  • Reduce loneliness, anxiety and stress
  • Improve respiratory efficiency
  • Strengthen immune response
  • Enhance peace, joy and engagement in life
  • Increases mental and physical alertness.
  • Reduces and releases muscular tension
  Remember that old song “The hip bone is connected to the thigh bone…?” Well, it’s true that everything is connected. The systems of the body are not separate. The health of our breath affects every system of the body in some way.

  The way you breathe also affects the patterns of your thoughts. If you are breathing shallowly and rapidly your mind will follow. Shallow breathing triggers your sympathetic response system (your fight or flight system). For example, imagine someone approaching from behind at night. You jump, lift our shoulder up, and take a quick shallow inhale of breath. This is fear, and it triggers a fear response. The body triggers that system any time you are breathing shallowly, because it thinks you are in a stressful situation or might need to react quickly. In addition, the mind starts racing looking for threats and possible solutions.

  When you breathe deeply and fully, your mind calms, and your thoughts are clearer. When you breathe deeply, the body triggers its parasympathetic system, which then releases calming chemicals into your body. A common example would be when you get angry and someone suggests you “count to ten”. The idea is to breathe deeply and slowly while counting to ten in order to trigger the chemical system in the body that will calm the body and angry thoughts. You can feel the calming affects as you slow down and deepen your breath.

  If you can be more aware of the depth of your breath, you can be more in control of your state of mind, which in turn, will affect the body. The benefit of being aware of what’s happening in your body and what’s happening with your breath is that you have more perceived control. By this I mean that when you feel something happening in your body you can pay attention to your breath, change its rhythm and then watch how it affects your body.

  Practicing deep breathing with your loved ones and those you may be working with will help to create new patterns of healthy breathing that will affect your overall wellbeing and theirs.

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Kelly Sheets is the founder of Kelly is a consultant who focuses on staff development for seniors care organizations. Her other passion is teaching yoga to seniors which led to her publishing her book How To Lead Meditation Groups For Seniors. She feels that everyone should have an understanding of how to breath in a healthy way. To read more about healthy breathing and how to help others to breathe well, you can find her book at or on Amazon. 

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Hero Dogs: Companion Animals Making Life Safer for Seniors

The benefits of owning a pet are well documented, especially the benefits among independent seniors. For example, there are thousands of documented cases showing pets can play a huge role in lifting the fog of depression. Additionally, pets provide a vital source of companionship, show an unending amount of unconditional love and encourage many independent seniors to engage in daily exercise. With their special abilities, animals can help seniors live a more productive and fulfilled life. While each and every pet is a hero to his or her owner, a group of specially trained dogs goes above and beyond in order to help seniors. These dogs are known as “companion animals” and each performs a unique job. Taking note of the astounding bond between dogs and their people, The American Humane Association decided it was time to recognize these hard working companion animals. In 2010, the Hero Dog Awards were created as a way to celebrate the dogs who literally spend their lives helping humans. From detecting cancer cells within the body to serving as the eyes and ears of a senior, these dogs are truly extraordinary. Let’s take a look at two Hero Dogs who helped to improve the lives of older adults.


Jingles is actually part of a duo, working alongside a second service dog, Mazy, to improve the life of their owner Karen Ann. Jingles is half Labrador Retriever and half Golden Retriever, making her senses highly accurate and her focus unbreakable. She’s a guide dog and serves as Karen Ann’s eyes, helping her navigate safely around the city or outside the home. Mazy, on the other hand, is a diabetic alert dog who amazingly alerts Karen Ann when her glucose levels are getting too high or low. Though Jingles was initially trained to work on her companion’s left side, she had to undergo a new training regimen to work with Karen Ann, as Mazy was already working on the left side. With Jingles to her right and Mazy to her left, Karen Ann’s companion animals see to it that her days are spent safely and in diabetic health. Jingles has given her owner a new found sense of independence and dignity, putting her at the top of the Hero Dog list in 2013.


Though Lola spent the first years of her life enduring abuse and neglect, she didn’t let a tragic past dampen her spirit. After being rescued and trained to help the hearing impaired, Lola was united with her owner, Charlene. As an older adult who is also deaf, Charlene struggled with isolation and depression for many years. When Lola came into her life, things immediately changed. Thanks to her Hero Dog, Charlene discovered a new desire to experience the world. Lola is, quite literally, Charlene’s ears, alerting her to things like the alarm clock, phone calls, a knock at the door or even the microwave timer. Today, you can find this amazing duo visiting area nursing homes and hospitals, bringing cheer to other seniors and spreading the word about companion animals. No matter what job pets perform, whether it’s guiding a vision impaired senior or greeting an owner each day with a wagging tail, animals bring a unique sense of joy and companionship to humans. If your senior loved one is suffering from depression or isolation, adopting a pet could make all the difference in the world.