Elderly woman drinking water

The Relationship between Diet and Aging

We have always heard, “We are what we eat.” While that may not be exactly true, when and what you eat can have a big impact on your physical health. Recent research has found that intermittent fasting can reduce risk factors for disease and can slow the aging process.

A study, published in the science journal, Cell Metabolism, has shown that people who practiced an intermittent fasting diet reduced their risk factors for cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and aging.

The diet is practiced for five days, once a month. It “mimics” fasting and has been shown to be safe. Study results were positive enough that the University of Southern California has proposed a larger study, to be evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.

The “Fasting Mimicking Diet” required that a “normal” diet, good and bad, be practiced for 25 days. Then for one day, dieters would eat only 1,090 calories with specific nutrients including 10 percent protein, 56 percent fat and 34 percent carbohydrates. For the remaining four days of the “fasting” portion, the dieters ate only 725 calories comprised of 9 percent protein, 44 percent fat and 47 percent carbohydrates.

For reference, the average adult is recommended to consume between 1500 and 2000 calories but the research showed that body systems were “rebooted” to clear out damaged cells and regenerate new ones. This rejuvenates and reprograms the body to slow the aging and “oxidative” processes which are thought to be responsible for a number of diseases. Researchers believe that true “fasting” – the avoidance of food altogether – may be dangerous for some people but the low calorie diet, for just a few days can reduce belly fat and increase the number of cells that are regenerated.

Strict fasting is difficult or impossible for most people to do but this diet is easier, for a short period of time and can have a tremendous number of positive health effects. Some research has indicated that chemotherapy may be more effective in the treatment of cancer if done during a brief period of fasting.

Researchers believe that the diet can be safely done once every three to six months but warn that no one should attempt this or any other type of diet without discussing it with a physician, particularly diabetics who cannot change calorie intake without medication adjustments.

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Man having a nap in the garden

5 Ways to Sleep Better as you Age

Insomnia is a common complaint in the elder years. In fact, 44 percent of older Americans surveyed reported that they had some sort of difficulty with sleep at least a few nights a week. It’s also a common misbelief that as we age, we need less sleep and sleep disturbances may be disregarded by caretakers and even medical professionals.

As people age, they have a harder time falling and staying asleep but research demonstrates that our sleep needs actually remain the same throughout adulthood. So, no matter what you or others believe, elders do need as much sleep as younger adults but they are often not getting it. In some cases, underlying medical conditions may be partly to blame such as:

  • A need to urinate
  • Snoring
  • Sleep apnea
  • Restless leg syndrome (RLS)
  • Periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD)
  • Congestive-obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

  • These medical conditions may contribute to sleep deprivation but they can also can also cause medical issues of their own. Some of these medical complications may include:

  • Increased risk of obesity
  • Increased risk of cardiac death
  • Decreased decision making ability
  • Decreased attention span

  • Sleep apnea has been shown to cause some of these effects – even if elders are spending the right number of hours in bed – as the brain and other tissues aren’t getting enough oxygen and the sleep cycle is disrupted. But in addition, sleep deprivation may also increase the processes of aging, hastening changes that may have happened over a longer period of time.

    If a senior has underlying medical conditions, they should be appropriately treated by a medical professional. This may alleviate some of the sleep deprivation but lifestyle changes may also help. Most of these changes are applicable to younger people as well.

    Practice good sleep “hygiene”

    This means that your sleep schedule should be organized. That is repeated the same way every day. The elder should go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning. This helps set the circadian rhythm.

    Avoid late night activity

    Anything that activates the brain late at night – exercise, social activities, caffeine, and late meals – can keep the brain from “shutting off” when it should.

    Avoid the light at night

    Seniors should avoid going into bright light in the evenings and should sleep in a darkened room. It’s also a good idea to turn off electronic devices at night and eliminate the bright lighting from the screen.

    Bedrooms are for sleeping

    Bedrooms should be used for sleeping. Avoid watching television or reading in bed and do not treat it as a multi-purpose room. Your brain knows that when you go to bed, you should sleep. If you perform other activities, the brain’s messages can get confused.

    Sleep in a cool environment

    Just like the room is supposed to be dark, it should also be cool. People who sleep in hot rooms may not sleep as well as the body knows it should be cooler at night. Think of a “mini” hibernation. It shouldn’t be so cold that you freeze but it should be cool enough for a light blanket.

    Changing and maintaining good, regular sleep practice may not solve all of a senior’s insomnia but basic lifestyle changes can have a positive impact. If there are medical conditions, seek help.

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    american flag

    Caring for Veterans on the Fourth of July

    The Fourth of July celebrates our nation’s independence is special to most Americans but to a veteran, it can be a particularly meaningful holiday. Veterans gave a significant part of their lives to ensure the freedom of our country and may feel especially reflective or even sentimental on this holiday.

    While many Americans are celebrating the day with fireworks and a barbeque, the veteran may be remembering his time in combat and friends who were lost. For some veterans, this may even bring past trauma to the front of the mind. For those who came home from combat as “shell-shocked,” or as we know today with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the sounds of fireworks may trigger flashbacks.

    Veterans may not wish to discuss their feelings about their time in combat. They should not be pushed to do so but allowing an environment where a discussion would be “safe,” he may open up. Other veterans are anxious to talk about past experiences and should be given an opportunity to share his experience.

    Each veteran is a unique person and what is enjoyable to one may produce a great deal of anxiety for another. He should be given the choice of his activities for the day.

    Here are some ways that he may prefer to spend the day:

    Celebrate with family! Depending on the particular activities, he may enjoy that picnic or barbeque. He may want to spend time with grandchildren in a fun environment. If he chooses not to however, don’t press.

    Hang out with other veterans. Maybe a trip to the VFW post may be in order. He is sure to find others in his same mindset and many VFW posts host a Fourth of July meal or benefit. Attend a parade. If the town he lives in is hosting a Fourth of July Parade, the veteran may enjoy watching. He may even wish to wear some of his uniform or exhibit some other outward sign of his participation. If he is well enough, many parades have a section just for veterans to march in the parade.

    Watch a movie. If old movies are a hit with him, he may wish to watch an old film. Pop some popcorn and enjoy the movie in peace. Whether it is a combat movie or just something else, a movie can be a great afternoon activity.

    Watch fireworks on the TV. While some may not be up for going to the fireworks celebration but watching the Boston Pops fireworks show, the New York City show, or other large national displays may not trigger any latent memories and can be enjoyable.

    As the Fourth of July approaches, listen to what your senior veteran says. Ask him what he would like to do on that day and be understanding of any unusual emotions that may come.

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    Senior woman

    The One Alzheimer’s Care Tip that will Change your Life

    Don’t try to fix them
    When caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia, caregivers instinctively try to bring them back into reality by remind them of the truth or asking them to remember things. What most caregivers don’t know is that this approach often causes anger or agitation.Your intentions are good. You think you can help your older adult get back to normal if you remind them about things or explain what’s real. But the reality is, getting back to normal just isn’t going to happen no matter how hard you try.

    Having Alzheimer’s or dementia is a scary and confusing experience for your older adult. Using logic and reason to explain why you’re right and they’re wrong will only cause them to get more confused, agitated, defensive, and act out with difficult behavior.

    Tips on how to respond
    So, how can you help prevent your older adult from getting more upset or behaving in difficult ways? Here are some tips we learned from an expert Alzheimer’s support group leader.

  • Respond with logic and reason
  • Pay strict attention to their words – they may not actually mean what they say
  • Keep trying to convince them to see or do things your way
  • Say “Don’t you remember?”
  • Say “No, you’re wrong.”
  • Say “Don’t do that.”
  • Tell them that people they’re talking about or waiting to see are already deceased

  • DO:
  • Respond to the emotion or intention behind the words
  • Distract them with an activity they enjoy
  • Redirect the conversation to a pleasant, positive, or neutral topic
  • Use therapeutic fibbing – agree with things that aren’t true or bend the truth in harmless ways if it calms the situation
  • Without words, find ways to assure them that they’re safe and cared for – hugs or gentle touching often works well

  • Don’t be discouraged if your attempts to soothe or redirect don’t work every time! This is a skill that improves with practice. In time, you’ll figure out what works best for your senior.

    Why this approach works better
    When you pay attention to the situation and emotions rather than the words, it helps you uncover your senior’s true needs. Instead of arguing, shift the mood to something more calm and positive. You’ll thank yourself when you don’t have to get into the same screaming match for the 38th time.

    This post was submitted as a guest blog.

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    Helper Serving Senior Woman With Meal In Care Home

    Elder Orphans: Finding a Family in Old Age

    As people age, they begin to lose people in their lives. Children move away, parents pass away, and spouses may be gone due to divorce or death. This leaves the elder an “orphan.” With no children, parents or spouses to tend to, the elder finds him or herself alone.

    These elder orphans can be vulnerable and lonely, sometimes succumbing to depression and even increasing the risk of death. The answer to that loneliness may be in finding new people to connect with – a “chosen” family. Elders can get as much joy, comfort, and friendship from a chosen family as they did from their relatives.

    Establishing new relationships is critical for the elder orphan. They can’t change the past and they may have little control over how much time relatives spend with them. Developing new friendships is vital and one place to look is to the immediate caregiver.

    Caregivers of seniors have a integral part of the elder’s life. Attending to daily issues including medical and personal care may be a big part of the job, but companionship is just as valuable. The caregiver is privy to the most intimate concerns and establishing a true friendship can increase the elder’s sense of trust.

    Studies have shown that most people are happier and healthier when they have relationships with others but elders may have difficulty finding and making new friends. The caregiver should be the first person that they can turn to. This means the caregiver must be willing to be a friend.

    This can be difficult and stressful and caregivers can relieve part of the burden by encouraging other activities as well, such as:

  • Interaction at a senior center
  • Art and craft classes
  • Visits to the park
  • Reading time at the library
  • Taking care of animals at home, a shelter – or even participating in a pet-therapy program
  • Getting to know the neighbors
  • Attending church activities

  • While the senior may be resistant, a little encouragement may be all that is needed. The elder may need a little “push” but with some positivity and enthusiasm, the caregiver may be able to “care” for the senior better by giving him something to “care” about. Growing older can be a scary proposition but doing so with friends can make it easier and more fun.

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    Providing care for elderly

    A Caregiver’s Guide to Staying Organized

    Being a caregiver can be stressful and one of the ways that you can minimize stress is by staying organized. You have lots of information to keep track of, so it’s important to stay on top of everything! Here are some key areas that caregivers should focus on: Health Information Most seniors are seeing multiple doctors and taking multiple medications. Add in information about health insurance and medical care plans and you can easily have a big mess. All of your senior’s medical information should be kept in one place. This should include:
    • Physician names and numbers
    • Medical diagnoses
    • Medication list and instructions
    • Pharmacy and other health provider names and numbers
    • Insurance information
    • Living Will and Medical Power of Attorney
    Many people are converting to “digital” records, but for ease of communication, it may be best to have paper copies easily available. Medications In addition to the list that you keep with the other health information, you should keep a list of medications and other treatments in an easily accessible place. Your senior may have difficulty sorting out all of the medications that he must take at various times of the day. Some seniors benefit from a multi-compartment pill box in which a week’s worth of medication can be counted out by day of the week and time of day. Other seniors need more assistance and should have pills set out on a daily basis. No matter what method is chosen, it is vital that the medication list with instructions be located with the medication box and that labeled prescription bottles are kept in a secure but accessible location in case of emergency. Finances Finances for a senior are often a touchy subject. A family may not want a non-family caregiver to have access to finances and some family members may wish to limit access to everyone. Whatever arrangement the senior can come to, financial and legal records should be kept together in a secure area in the same way that health information is. Information about the senior may include:
    • Birth Certificate
    • Mortgage or real estate documentation
    • Bills and account records
    • Bank statements
    • Passwords for any online accounts
    • Financial investment information
    • Financial Power of Attorney
    • Will
    • Additional copies of Medical Power of Attorney and Living Will
    Again, many people are opting for digital records, but paper copies should be maintained as well. If you can ensure that the “big” items are taken care of and organized, it may help you manage the day-to-day activities so that when an emergency or other need arises, you won’t have to scramble or rely on your senior loved one to find the information.

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    Elderly woman drinking water

    Helping Seniors Stay Hydrated in the Heat of Summer

    Even though many of us tend to think of summer starting in the late spring, the official start of summer just occurred on June 21st. The weather is much warmer, even blazing hot in some locations. While it is good to be outside and get some exposure to sunlight and fresh air, overheating is a possibility and with that can come dehydration.

    Dehydration is a medical concern, particularly for seniors. Here are some reasons why we need to be so attentive:

  • Seniors are more likely to have medical conditions that increase the chance of dehydration. These include diabetes, digestive issues, and infections. Water may be lost through the kidneys, through diarrhea or through fever and lack of water consumption because the senior doesn’t “feel good.”

  • Most of the elderly population is required to take multiple medications. Some of these medications such as diuretics for high blood pressure, heart disease or kidney disease will increase urine production. If enough water is not consumed the elder may become dehydrated.

  • As we age, our bodies change. We become less sensitive to hormones such as “anti-diuretic hormone” which helps to reduce the loss of water through the urine. If ADH is not working, the urine may be dilute and result in dehydration.

  • Seniors may experience a decline in “thirst response” which means that their bodies do not tell them when dehydration is a possibility. In addition, many elders do not pay as much attention to what they eat or drink as younger people do, living on the “tea and toast” diet. They have grown up in a time where the amount of fluid one consumed was not a known issue.

  • Elders may also resist fluid consumption to reduce the need to urinate, particularly if mobility or incontinence is an issue.

  • Dehydration has symptoms but some of these signs may be confused with similar conditions the senior has such as:

  • Confusion
  • Weakness and dizziness
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Irritability
  • Dry skin

  • It is important to recognize the difference in confusion or irritability caused by dementia and sudden changes caused by dehydration. Dry skin in dehydration indicates that the elder has “stopped” sweating as their body does not have enough water to try and cool itself.

    Dizziness, weakness, and rapid heartbeat can indicate that the dehydration is severe enough to decrease the blood pressure. Early recognition may allow you to help the senior recover quickly by drinking an adequate amount of fluid. The senior should be moved into a cool area, in the shade. If symptoms are severe, medical help will be needed.

    The best way to treat dehydration is to prevent it. As the senior may be unaware of the risk, unaware of the symptoms and resistant to the need to hydrate, it is your job as a caregiver to encourage compliance and notice any changes. Prevention is much easier and much healthier than post-dehydration treatment.

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    5 Ways to Help Seniors Age Gracefully

    Getting older can be a struggle for many seniors but it is important to remember that aging doesn’t mean it is the end. Some seniors may experience physical decline but many can retain a good deal of physical ability and self-reliance with some encouragement. Here are a few ways that caregivers can help seniors age “gracefully.”

    Encourage self-care

    Many seniors become fearful and withdrawn because they are concerned that they will not be able to take care of themselves. This can lead to a sense of helplessness and resignation. Allowing oneself to resign to frailty and loneliness can contribute to depression. It can become a self-fulfilling cycle of “I can’t do it so I won’t try.” As a caregiver, encourage your senior to do as much as they can for themselves. This may require adjustments with mobility aids and other occupational assistance but retaining independence as much as possible can help him maintain physical and mental health.

    Encourage self-awareness

    Everyone has made mistakes, and most everyone has regrets. The key to happiness may be in learning to live in the present. There is no joy if one is allowed to dwell in the past and ruminate over mistakes that have been made. Help your senior realize that mistakes can be made but he still has time to learn from those mistakes. He can repair relationships, learn new skills, and take joy in small pleasures – by living for today.

    Encourage boundaries

    As seniors age, they often find that family members and others become intrusive or even overbearing. Family members and loved ones may be concerned and begin to feel that everything in the senior’s life is “their business.” This can lead to resentment and anger. It may also contribute to learned helplessness. Though the senior may need assistance with some activities, she should be encouraged to set boundaries with loved ones and others and maintain independence wherever she can.

    Encourage forgiveness

    Just as the senior has made mistakes, so have others. One of the scariest things may be a sense of abandonment that the senior feels. Encourage your senior to reconcile with those loved ones, even if they have done things in the past that hurt or angered the elder. This does not mean allowing the loved one to take advantage or cause pain again and some situations cannot be changed. The senior, however, will benefit from an attitude of “forgive not forget” and the idea that forgiving someone can free him or her from resentment. We can forgive others to help ourselves.

    Encourage personal freedom

    Senior should be encouraged to count the achievements and the blessings. Not everyone has the chance to look back on a life. The senior should be encouraged to be proud of who he or she is! Self acceptance is the key to feeling free and comfortable in your own skin. Deliberate living and personal freedom have helped these people beat “the odds” and remain active, intelligent and alive for longer than many thought possible.

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    Happy family having a picnic

    6 Outdoor Activities for Seniors

    We can’t be outside all year, but when the warm weather comes, we should take advantage of it!

    One major advantage of spending time outdoors is Vitamin D. Unlike other vitamins, Vitamin D can be produced within our bodies. The catch: it requires sunlight. Vitamin D is beneficial for the brain, bones, muscles, and many other parts of the body. It can improve mental function and may even help to prevent cancer.

    Additionally, being outside may provide many social benefits. Interaction with other adults, children and even animals can provide excitement and fun, which can translate to enhanced mental health and decreased chance of depression.

    Some seniors may feel limited by the activities they “can’t do” or things they “used to do.” Caregivers may be concerned about logistical issues such as bathroom access, wheelchair support, and easy fatigue. Seniors can be helped ahead of time with physician advice to aid the elder in building muscle support so that he can get out and enjoy time with others. Caregivers can prepare ahead to manage some of those challenges and ensure that access to facilities is available.

    Here are some outdoor activities that seniors can do, while enjoying the warm weather and fresh air.

    Attend a sporting event: From a professional game to a child’s soccer or baseball game, outdoor sporting activities are great for senior sports-enthusiasts and are not often all-day activities which allows the senior to participate for a short period of time.

    Fishing from a pier: For seniors who like to fish, a rod can be cast from a pier, a dock or a bridge where allowed. The senior can fish as long as he wants and the activity can be done from a wheelchair as needed.

    Take a tour: A bus tour is a good option for those who live in a city or a boat tour if you live in the right area. Some areas operate short train trips which can also be fun. Make sure that you know how long the tour will take before you go and whether there will be time allowed for restroom breaks and such.

    Go for a swim It may be just a dip in the pool or a full-out swim with exercise, but most everyone enjoys a little water fun.

    Plant some flowers: You don’t need a big garden to enjoy the outdoors. Some porch flowers, window boxes, or planter vegetables can provide a reason to get outside. It also helps lift the spirits to watch things grow and you may have pretty flowers or even vegetables as a side benefit.

    Have an outdoor picnic: This is especially enjoyable for family gatherings. It can be arranged at holidays or just over a weekend and it doesn’t have to be big, just a meal outside in the summer air.

    Caregivers should ensure that seniors avoid sunburn, do not get overheated and remain hydrated. Heatstroke or dehydration can be a major health threat so make sure the senior does not spend a great deal of time in direct sun, wears loose and comfortable clothing and drinks plenty of water. If the senior exhibits any signs of dehydration or overheating such as red skin that has stopped sweating, confusion or fatigue, seek medical attention.

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    Healthy active senior woman swimming in the pool

    6 Health Benefits of Swimming for Seniors

    Let’s face it: swimming is fun! Each year as summer begins, millions of people flock to the beaches, to the lakes and to the swimming pool.

    For families, water provides recreation and family fun. For seniors, it can provide health benefits, and is a way for seniors to enjoy the company of family, enticing even the busiest grandkid to come over for a swim.

    Get familiar with some of the many health benefits that swimming offers seniors:

    Exercise with less pain

    Exercising while in water provides buoyancy that supports the joints and can reduce pain. Swimming, water jogging, and water aerobics allow seniors to exercise without the jarring movements that can occur during other types of exercise.

    Increase muscle strength

    Exercise in the water offers natural resistance. Similar to the effects one may get with weight training, water exercises are a strength training activity. The good news is that the faster you go, the more the water resists and builds up the muscle strength so the senior can control how much work he or she can do.

    Increase flexibility

    Due to the buoyant support of the water, movements are smooth and easy on the hips, arms, neck, and legs. This can help increase a senior’s flexibility which can help to reduce back pain, enhance muscle coordination, decrease soreness, and improve posture. Maintaining flexibility can help to prevent injury.

    Reduce risk of osteoporosis

    One of the problems that seniors, particularly women, have to deal with is loss of bone density and strength. Experts have proven that weight bearing exercise can help to maintain bone strength. Exercise using water as the resistance can do the same and seniors who swim and perform water exercise can reduce the progression and help to prevent osteoporosis.

    Improve the heart

    Swimming when used as exercise is an aerobic activity. This means that swimming, just like running or aerobics can increase the heart rate which over time, encourages the heart to become stronger and more efficient at pumping blood throughout your body. Routine exercise can help to reduce the risk of high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease and may help with weight loss if it is needed.

    Improve mental status

    Some of the exercise benefits from swimming and water exercise can improve brain function and cognition, with better blood flow and increased oxygenation. More importantly though, swimming is often a social activity, in which one can have fun with others, which can stave off depression and loneliness. Swimming is also a good activity for seniors and youngsters to perform together and finally, swimming is just plain fun which can keep the senior “young at heart.”

    Certainly, water safety should be practiced. Seniors who are unable to swim without aid should not be allowed to swim alone and most people should practice the buddy system, always swimming with a buddy – even if they are great swimmers.

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