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World Heart Day: Promoting Healthy Heart Habits

World Heart Day, the largest global awareness campaign on heart disease, is today, September 29th. World Heart Day promotes a heart healthy environment in order to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), which is a major threat to seniors’ health. In fact, 84% of older adults aged 65 and older die from it. Here are some helpful tips to keep your heart healthy and your mind at ease!

Quit Smoking – This addicting habit has plenty of negative effects on the heart. For starters, tobacco constricts the blood vessels and causes poor circulation. This leads to numerous vascular diseases such as coronary heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States. Secondly, tobacco contains carbon monoxide, which reduces the amount of oxygen your blood can carry to your brain, lungs, and heart. Nicotine is a stimulant that increase your heart rate and blood pressure. Over time, these two things can create extreme wear and tear on your heart.

Get Exercise – Being physically inactive is a serious risk to your heart’s health. It’s important to get at least 30 minutes of exercise (if not more) each day to obtain a healthy heart. When it comes to exercise there are two types you should do regularly.

  1. Aerobic – Otherwise known as cardio workout, aerobic exercise is great for your heart. Walking, swimming, and biking fall under this category. Aerobic exercise improves the strength of your heart, making it more efficient at pumping blood to the rest of your body.
  2. Anaerobic – Otherwise, known as weight training, anaerobic exercise is a great way to improve muscle strength. This leads to healthier metabolism and a stronger immune system.

Eat Healthy - Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables is critically important as you age. The helpful nutrients from these foods, such as fiber and vitamin C, can help stave off the risk of high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease.

Drink Less Alcohol – Too much alcohol can increase the amount of fats in the blood stream. Too much fat in the blood stream adds to the risk of heart disease as well as several other defects to the body. Anything more than one or two drinks a day could increase the risk of alcoholism and poor heart health.

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Adopting a Yoga Practice

The month of September is dedicated to the physical, mental, and spiritual practice of yoga. There are plenty of benefits derived from yoga such as increased flexibility and reduced levels of stress. There are plenty of different types of yoga – some for advanced practitioners and others for beginners.

One of the best types of yoga for those who are just starting out is called Ansuara. It’s translation means, “following your heart” or “flowing with grace.” The idea is to flow at your own pace, which is great for any senior who is just starting out. In Ansuara yoga, older adults can stretch out stiff joints and get their blood flowing to all parts of their body. Check out some of the other benefits below!

No Strain. All Gain.
Exercise is an essential aspect of healthy aging, although cardio workouts and weight training can cause unwanted strain on the bodies of the elderly. By doing yoga, you’re using your own body weight in different poses, making it less likely to injure yourself.

Stretch and Flex
A lot of the poses performed in yoga not only strengthen muscles but stretch them out at as well. This creates a greater range of motion and ultimately increases flexibility. A nimble body reduces the chances of falling down.

Effective on Bone Health
Studies show that not only does yoga slow down the process of osteoporosis – the degeneration of bone mass and density, but it also reverses it. Seniors who performed yoga for up to 2 years did not lose any bone density, but in fact, gained some back.

Yoga is a fantastic workout that helps your muscles, bones, and mind. Encourage an elderly loved one to begin practicing yoga regularly!

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The Mindful Caregiver

Aging is a Family Affair

If you are reading this, you may be taking care of an elder family member or assume this role in the not too distant future. As a geriatric social worker, I like to tell my clients that “Aging is a family affair.” What do I mean by that? When elders become frail, many may not be able to care for themselves. At some point, family members may need to create a support network and perhaps become actively involved in the elder’s day to day care. Here are some statistics that support the notion that aging is truly a family affair:

  • People who live to be 65 tend to live another 20 years
  • The fastest growing population in our country is the 85 plus group
  • 80% of elders are cared for at home
  • The majority of caregivers are women
  • Caring for a frail elder averages between 6 to 10 years

Hopefully these statistics will encourage you to become proactive in care planning for your elder loved one. So when an elder becomes disabled or needs care, you will have done your homework on elder care options ahead of time. Planning ahead prevents you from having to make decisions in a crisis. Quick decisions can be costly — from a financial and personal care perspective. Making the best choice about where an elder should reside takes time and requires careful research. For example, many highly regarded assisted living and nursing homes have waiting lists.

Likewise, bringing in a home care agency involves researching the various agencies, assessing the services provided, and asking key questions about how they train and supervise their professionals. In addition, it can take some time to interview and match the best caregiver to your loved one. By planning ahead, you can determine the costs, learn what’s involved in the process of securing care, and maximize your choices and options. And a by- product of this is that your stress can be reduced if you encounter a crisis.

Knowing your options ahead of time can also help you have a more productive care conversation with your elder family member. A care conversation encompasses talking with your elder family member about the things that will need to be in place if and when the elder becomes frail and can’t make care decisions for him/herself.

Here are some tips on how to begin this difficult conversation.

  • First, make sure you choose the ‘best person’ to begin these care conversations. It might not be you but instead, a grandchild, good friend or Clergy.
  • Next, validate how well the elder has managed his affairs. Let him know you respect his independence. Reinforce that you want him to make his own decisions, which is why you are having this conversation.
  • Start with the least threatening issue. For example, that might be asking him to provide a list of his financial accounts, his financial and tax advisors, or checking to see he has an up-to date will.
  • Then later you can begin to tackle the more sensitive issues around care. Realize that these care conversations may need to occur in small chunks and not all at once, so as to not overwhelm the elder.

There are three critical topics that need to be part of the care conversations. First is money, and how will she pay for her care. Be aware that Medicare does not pay for home care or assisted living care. Medicare will pay for short-term skilled care in the nursing home, but not long-term care. The second is location, or where care will be provided. Can your elder family member safely remain at home or would she be more safe and comfortable in an assisted living community? Third, are the appropriate legal provisions in place? This includes Powers of Attorney for Health Care and Finances, Wills and Trusts.

I hope this blog article inspires you to consider planning ahead and having care conversations BEFORE a crisis ensues, doing so can bring forth more positive options.

Nancy Kriseman is the author of The Mindful Caregiver: Finding Ease in the Caregiving Journey and a licensed clinical social worker who specializes in working with older people and their families. This column is about helping families make the best decisions possible and be proactive when supporting and caring for elder family members. To contact Nancy, you can visit her website at, follow her on twitter @GeriatricMSW or visit her Facebook pages.

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Preventing Traumatic Brain Injuries

For all caregivers, their primary concern is the health of the person they’re overseeing. Whether that be a relative, a family friend, or an employer – their health is the highest concern. That’s why it’s important to be vigil for traumatic brain injuries in the month of Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness.

As stated in previous posts, a traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a blow or jolt to the head or a penetrating head injury that disrupts the function of the brain. However, the purpose of this post is not for you to become acquainted with what a TBI is but how to prevent them.

Fall Prevention
The leading cause of all TBI’s are slips and falls, especially in people over the age of 65. Here are some great tips at reducing that risk.

  • Add a regular exercise routine to the seniors’ daily schedule. Exercise helps increase muscle strength and bone strength. This will increase your senior’s balance which will reduce their risk of falling.
  • If possible, reduce the consumption of psychotropic drugs in your senior’s medication schedule. Often, seniors are unable to cut back on their medication, however, according to a study titled, “Psychotropic medicine withdrawal and a home-based exercise program to prevent falls: a randomized controlled trial,” the reduction of psychotropic drugs decreased the risk of falling by 66%.
  • Consider cataract surgery if need be. A cataract is the unnatural clouding of your normally clear lens within your eyes. This condition results in poor vision, which leads to poor balance. Surgery for it is a simple procedure that takes place on an outpatient basis, which means you don’t have to stay in the hospital after the surgery. It’s a great beneficial procedure for seniors with poor vision.

There are other aspects that lead to TBI’s in seniors. However, when it comes to terms of slipping and falling, there are ways to avoid certain scenarios. Consider using these 3 preventable measures when caring for an elderly loved one!

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Tokens of Love: Heartfelt Gifts Ease Senior Loneliness and Isolation

More than 40% of adults over 60 feel lonely on a regular basis, and the cost of senior isolation is high: chronic loneliness among older adults is a predictor of functional decline and even death. Unfortunately, in our modern times seniors and their families often live far apart. How do we stay close to older loved ones when we can’t see them every day?

I believe very strongly in the power of thoughtful gifts to ease senior isolation. Gifts are a great way to show love when you’re not able to visit. Don’t know what to get? Here are a few gift guidelines:

  • Keep it simple: Most people over 60 have all the “stuff” they need. Rather than sending large or expensive items, send a few smaller gifts. Things that they can use such as snacks, stationery, and personal care items are always appreciated.
  • Make it pretty: Nicely wrapped presents, no matter what they are, really show that you care.
  • Make it personal: The best part of the gift is the thought behind it. That warm feeling of being loved lasts much longer than the present itself. Personal touches like photos and a note add a great deal to the gift experience.

My own grandparents live thousands of miles away. The best part about sending them gifts is always the phone call that comes when the package arrives, when I can hear the joy in their voices. These experiences inspired me to create a service that helps other people stay close to their older loved ones.

My company Gramsly makes care packages for seniors, and we customize each one based on the intended recipient. I love learning about my customer’s loved ones and and choosing the perfect gifts for them. Every box tells a unique story that I feel privileged to share. One person sent a Gramsly box to celebrate a 99th birthday. Another client sent a box to her grandmother who was unable to attend her upcoming wedding. Gramsly boxes are also sent as “get well” gifts or holiday presents. In all cases, the senior recipients are overjoyed that someone thought enough of them to send a present. Most importantly, the gift giving invariably leads to a heartfelt conversation between the giver and the recipient, bringing them closer together.

Every day Gramsly helps families stay connected. If you’d like to send a gift to someone special, please visit our website for more information.

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World Alzheimer’s Day: Stand Up and be Counted

September hosts a month-long celebration to boost Alzheimer’s awareness, with September 21 marking the 20th anniversary of World Alzheimer’s Day. Currently, over 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s dementia. Even more daunting is the fact that one American is diagnosed with this deadly disease every 67 seconds. If scientists could successfully develop an Alzheimer’s antidote, over 500 million lives would be spared around the world each year.

For caregivers who are unfamiliar with Alzheimer’s and its subsequent disease process, it’s best to turn to the Alzheimer’s Association for help. According to this authority, Alzheimer’s is “a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior.” The association goes on to say that Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia and makes up four of every five dementia cases. As if that weren’t enough, it is estimated that as many as 16 million Americans will have the disease in 2050.

Good Things Come from World Alzheimer’s Day
Every year on September 21, people around the world take part in Alzheimer’s Day activities. Some events collect money for research; others lobby for Medicare reform. In celebration of World Alzheimer’s Day 2010, a group of researchers bicycled cross-country in the Alzheimer’s Breakthrough Ride. Their mission was to collect petition signatures that would essentially force elected officials to make Alzheimer’s disease a national priority. Riders crossed the finish line on World Alzheimer’s day and promptly delivered the list of signatures to Congress’ front door. Talk about sending a message!

What’s Your Alzheimer’s IQ?
Alzheimer’s dementia is an overwhelming and all-too-common problem among seniors. For a bulk of independent older adults, in-home care duties often fall to a family member. More and more adult children are being charged with the duty of caring for an ailing parent, making them more susceptible to stress and isolation.

Though we don’t yet know how to prevent Alzheimer’s or have a cure looming in the near future, seniors and their caregivers can participate in a number of pro-active techniques that are thought to ward off the disease.

Let’s take a look at some activity suggestions that are known to help seniors remain physically and mentally healthy:
  • Eat berries: Thanks to the anthocyanosides contained within berries, seniors can help to safeguard their memory recall skills. Anthocyanosides are famous for their ability to mend or fight off memory impairment.
  • Make time for brain exercise: When seniors participate in activities that are mentally stimulating or challenging, it’s the equivalent of a brain workout. The focus and concentration required to complete tasks like jig saw puzzles serve as a way to preserve – and perhaps even improve – mental acuity.

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With a New App, You Can Always Have Your Wishes Known

If you’re one of my patients, or the family of one of my patients, I’ve already nagged you about this: Make out an advance healthcare directive: Figure out whom you would want to make your health and legal decisions if you become unable to do so. Think about what you want to have done if you are critically ill: Do you want everything done to prolong life? Or, are there certain procedures you’d like to avoid, such as a tube to help you breathe with a respirator?

The answers to these questions are different for everyone. There are lots of resources on-line to help you through the process: here, here, here, here, and here.

As a culture, we are not very good at talking about endings. So only a small percentage of people actually prepare these forms, but they’re essential if you want to avoid treatments that are more aggressive than you would want, or if you want to keep an unscrupulous nephew, or whoever, from taking over your affairs and your medical decision-making power. Please, please, please, make your wishes known before it’s too late. Or make sure that your loved ones do.

But here’s the other thing you need to know: If you go to all the trouble to prepare advance directives, they won’t be followed if loved ones don’t know where they are, or if they’re locked in a safe deposit box or some other secret spot. If the EMTs show up at your doorstep, and you’re unconscious or unable to communicate, they can’t follow a “Do Not Resuscitate” (DNR) order, if they don’t actually see a signed, witnessed copy of that document.

So what to do? Luckily, we live in the digital age. The American Bar Association has developed a free, smartphone app called “My Health Care Wishes.” The app will store all your advance directives on your phone. And most of us have a phone around pretty much all that time, so mischief managed. If your elder doesn’t have a smartphone, the documents can be stored on a family member or caregiver’s phone. The app works on both Apple and Android phones.

You can also store healthcare directives digitally in other ways: For $45 a year, Docubank will make your directives available with a phone call. MyDirectives makes available a Universal Advance Digital Directive (uADD)™ for free, from a web-based database. It makes money by charging healthcare providers to access the database.

At the very least, you can post on the refrigerator along with emergency contact information, current medications and illnesses to help the EMT’s if they are called in an emergency. Emergency personnel are trained to look at the refrigerator for such information in homes.

Be sure to have a conversation with your family, friends and especially your ‘agent’ -the person who will be making decisions for you. Be sure they know not only what your wishes are, but where you keep your important papers, as well as have access to your computer and phone passwords.

So the directive templates are out there. There are ways to make them easily available when a problem comes up. You don’t have any more excuses to avoid completing a directive.

Just do it. Please. You and your family will not be sorry.

Elizabeth Landsverk, MD Specialist in Geriatrics

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Spreading Ovarian Cancer Awareness Among Seniors

The whole month of September is dedicated to recognizing a specific type of cancer: ovarian cancer. Recognized as Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month in the U.S., females of all ages can benefit from a healthy dose of education and ovarian mindfulness.

Ovarian cancer is one of the most deadly of all women’s cancers. According to official statistics, an estimated 22,880 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer this year. In 2012 alone, almost 15,550 women died from this form of female cancer. Tragically, a bulk of these women could have been saved. If detected in the earliest stages of the disease, the five-year survival rate for ovarian cancer is well over 93 percent.

The Value of Medical Intervention
Signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer are often blown off or downplayed, as many of them can also indicate the presence of similar diseases or conditions. For this reason, thousands of women don’t visit a doctor or specialist until the cancer has begun to spread throughout the body. Symptoms of ovarian cancer include:
  • Bloating
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Difficulty eating
  • Feeling full quickly
  • Urinary urgency or frequency

Giving Seniors a Helping Hand
Knowledge is power and this is certainly true of ovarian cancer. The National Ovarian Cancer Coalition has been providing education and support for women with ovarian cancer and their families since 1995. Senior caregivers should support and encourage their older loved ones to have regular check-ups with their primary doctor, along with ensuring she receives any other recommended tests for the disease.

Myths about Ovarian Cancer
As with most medical conditions, ovarian cancer has developed its own set of myths and tall-tales. Here’s a look at three debunked ovarian cancer myths that can help to keep female seniors healthy for years to come.

The Pap Screen Tests for Ovarian Cancer
On the contrary, Pap screens are used to detect the presence of cervical cancer. There is not yet a screening test for early detection of ovarian cancer.

Oral Contraceptives Cause Ovarian Cancer
This myth is dead wrong; oral contraceptives create a 40 to 50 percent decrease in the risk of ovarian cancer.

It’s All Genetics
Genetic or hereditary causes of ovarian cancer only make up a mere 5 to 10 percent of the cases diagnosed each year.

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Prostate Cancer Screenings: Helpful or Harmful?

Older males tend to shy away from the topic of prostate cancer, but – as one of the most important and prominent modern health topics among male community – the discussion is necessary. Screening for prostate cancer is a highly contested procedure. That’s because screening for the disease using the PSA (Prostate-Specific Antigen) test may or may not be a good idea. So, what should seniors and their caregivers understand about the PSA screening process and, and more importantly, should seniors get screened for prostate cancer?

The Debate
Common sense would tell you that early screening for a disease raises the patient’s chances of stopping it before it grows to an untreatable scale. Unfortunately prostate cancer screenings just aren’t that simple and many medical experts offer polar opposite opinions as to whether or not prostate cancer screening is appropriate for all men.

Among the medical experts who promote PSA screenings, previously conducted research indicates that locating and treating prostate cancer in its earliest stages saves lives. By tackling the disease early and aggressively, men theoretically enjoy a longer and healthier lifestyle. Pro-screeners suggest men with a life expectancy of 10 years and over are screened.

Some people believe the PSA test does more harm than good, citing the lack of evidence to support the procedure’s life-saving capabilities. Most prostate cancers are extremely slow-growing, never affecting a man’s health. In fact, many men die with prostate cancer that has never affected them. Because the test can’t differentiate between harmful cancers and those that will never affect the person, many men who get the test are treated for cancer unnecessarily. Another concern is that the treatment may have very serious side effects, such as impotence and incontinence.

The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), an organization that makes recommendations for doctors based on reviews of all the available evidence, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) do not recommend that men of all ages get a PSA screening test for prostate cancer.

The Decision
Deciding whether or not a senior should be screened for prostate cancer is a choice that should be made under the guidance of a medical professional. Though the PSA test is a point of contention, medical experts do agree that men currently experiencing symptoms of prostate cancer – such as difficulty urinating or blood in the urine – should be tested for prostate cancer as soon as possible.

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Healthy Aging Month: 5 Tips for Living a Longer and Healthier Life

Healthy Aging Month is a month-long time of recognition, ultimately designed to focus attention on the positive aspects of growing older. The mission is to encourage the development of local Healthy Aging events, promoting the concept that – no matter your age – it’s important to take personal responsibility for one’s overall health. That “health” includes physically, socially, mentally or financially.

As of 2014, Healthy Aging Month has been recognized for a period of twenty years. Developers work to provide practical tips and present alternative therapies for improving physical, mental, social and financial well-being. With the upcoming boom of older adults ages 65 and up, soaking up all the knowledge available will likely lead to longer and healthier lives.

Expert Tips on Healthy Aging

Get Serious About Health
For seniors managing chronic conditions or medical issues, don’t be afraid to ask questions. That’s what medical professionals are there for. Ask the doctor for tips on healthy aging and then create a plan to see those ideas come to fruition.

Don’t Take a Seat
When people exercise, blood flow increases across the lining of your blood vessels. New research shows that, when blood flows faster over the blood vessel lining, it releases naturally-occurring chemicals in the brain. Often called the “feel good” chemical, endorphins are released during exercise, giving seniors a welcome burst of energy.

Think About It
To ward off an urge to overeat, just imagine eating that sweet treat. Research shows the “mental dessert” will satisfy seniors and lead to a smaller food intake.

Know Your Own Meds
Seniors are often diagnosed with chronic conditions that require daily medication administration. With so many pill bottles lying around, making time to clean out the medicine cabinet is necessary. Toss out any medication that is out of date, made from potentially hazardous ingredients or used for a condition that’s long healed.

Get into Oils
Known as the “young oils,” eating more fish oil, flax oil, olive oil and nut oil have been linked to living a longer and healthier life. On the flip side, seniors should avoid eating “old” oils. Those include partially hydrogenated, corn, cottonseed, palm kernel, safflower, sunflower and soybean oils.

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