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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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    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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    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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    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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    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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    5 Gift Ideas for Seniors on Father’s Day

    Just because a man has gotten older, doesn’t mean he has forgotten how rewarding it is to be a dad. Father’s Day is right around the corner and choosing a way to honor your father, grandpa, or another older man doesn’t have to be complicated or trickyl. Here are some great gift ideas to show him how much you care!

    Gifts for his hobby

    Maybe your senior liked gardening but he can’t get out in the dirt anymore. An indoor herb garden may be just the thing. If he likes playing games, a new set of dominos might be in order. If he enjoyed fishing, consider taking him for a day trip. Anything he likes to do can be adapted to his abilities, providing him some new enjoyment or excitement.

    Gifts for a reader

    Reading is a favorite pastime for many seniors. Some prefer hardbound books and you can get him the latest read from his favorite author. A subscription to a magazine is also a great option. Some magazine publications are available in large print edition such as Reader’s Digest. Your reader might enjoy a gift card to Barnes and Noble or Amazon so that he or she can pick out their own books. An e-reader is a great choice for those who are electronically inclined!

    Entertainment

    For those seniors who are still able to get out and about, tickets to a museum, sports game, or show is a great idea. Music also makes a fantastic gift, especially since it provides many health benefits for seniors. Consider helping your senior loved one download music from iTunes or set up a Spotify account for them. You can purchase CDs, records, or an mp3 player.

    Hire some assistance

    A gift certificate for an in-home service such as maids.com is can be a good idea for those who could benefit from a helping hand. An errand running service can help seniors tackle their everyday tasks with ease. Additionally, an at-home caregiver can be invaluable asset for your family as they can help your senior with a wide array of tasks and responsibilities.

    Wearables and edibles

    Cozy items like slippers, sweaters, or a lap blanket are wonderful items for seniors. Even when it’s not winter, many seniors get cold inside of the house. For foodies, there are tons of companies that offer gift baskets or specialty items for any food choice. From chocolates and coffee baskets to fruit to more savory sausage and cheese baskets.

    Father’s Day is something to be remembered and celebrated. Even if your loved one isn’t your dad or grandfather, he will enjoy being remembered. Now is the time to make lasting memories with your senior loved ones!

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    The Benefits of Exercise for Aging

    Many seniors may think that because they haven’t exercised in a long time, they don’t need to. We know that exercise is good for the body, but the truth is that it is good for the soul too. Here are some reasons why exercise should be a part of your senior’s life and yours!

    Good for your body

    Exercise is beneficial for a number of body systems. Exercise improves the cardiovascular system by increasing the heart and breathing rate. This provides health benefits not only your lungs and heart but also to other body systems which get more oxygen and nutrients from the extra blood flow.

    Exercise can help prevent disease or delay its progression. Studies have shown that physical activity and regular exercise can help prevent obesity which can have positive effects for conditions like diabetes, arthritis, and high blood pressure. Weight bearing exercise can also help maintain muscle strength which increases mobility and prevents weakness.

    Good for your mind

    Exercise can actually help keep your brain healthy and alert. The positive benefits of increased blood flow and oxygen give the brain extra nutrients to maintain those neurons which help us think. The adrenaline produced by exercise can help to “wake” the brain up, making us more alert. People who exercise are also more likely to be sociable, which increases our interest in new things. This helps keep our brain “plastic” and “elastic,” and let us learn and remember new things.

    Good for your soul

    Exercise can alleviate mental fatigue and even depression. Depression is quite common amongst the elderly due to loss of a loved one, changes in living arrangements, and physical decline, however exercise can help prevent or lessen symptoms. Exercise produces endorphins which make us feel happy! Additionally, the increased blood flow to our brains causes the mood centers to be more energized.

    Since exercise can help build up physical stamina, we feel less fatigued, making us more able to participate in those healthy activities. In addition, dealing with some of our health concerns through exercise leads to a healthier, happier self.

    Many seniors haven’t exercised in a long time and should start off slow. A simple walk around the block or even to the mailbox might be a good start. The main thing is to do a little, then a little more as stamina increases. With regular exercise, it won’t be long until benefits start showing.

    All exercise programs should begin with a consultation with a healthcare practitioner. He or she may have suggestions, advice or necessary limitations to discuss. Just do as much as you can, when you can.

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    Tips for Traveling with a Senior this Summer

    Summer is a great time for people of any age and summer often means travel. Just because you are caring for a senior doesn’t mean that you both have to stay put. There are lots of opportunities for travel from short to long trips but you need to be prepared. Here are some tips to make traveling with a senior a bit easier.

    Consult with the health care practitioner

    Your senior is likely under the regular care of a physician. The doctor should be consulted about your travel plans before you make them. He or she may have some tips or suggested limitations that you need to follow. In addition, he or she may have some advice for how to handle any medical issues that may come up.

    Make special arrangements ahead of time

    Many travel organizations and hotels can accommodate senior travel needs but it is best to plan ahead. If your elder is in a wheelchair, be sure to notify the airline, train service or bus line or of any boarding assistance that is needed. In many cases, a travel agent can handle this for you but you will have to deal with some things on your own. Remember that TSA regulations may require shoe removal and will inspect carry on bags so check for the current requirements. You will also need to be prepared to explain any metal or other surgical implants that the senior may have. This may take additional time as a special security scan may be required.

    Be ready with travel documentation

    It isn’t enough to rely on the senior to make sure he or she has required identification and travel documents. As you will be the one tackling any issues, make sure that government picture ID’s are current, passports and visas are in order, travel tickets are available, and your itinerary is at hand. All of the necessary documents should likely be carried by you, with the exception of picture, passport and any visas which are best kept on your senior’s person. Consider a neck pouch which can be comfortably worn under the shirt, making it secure and difficult to pickpocket.

    Make sure he or she has a secure way to contact you. Consider getting a temporary cell phone or prepaid phone cards. Make sure he or she knows your phone number, that of at least one other person and that numbers are programmed into a cell phone.

    Pack essential items lightly

    You will need to carry on certain essentials. You will need medication for at least the duration of the trip and several days after in the case of lost luggage. Some light entertainment, a sweater, snacks, and a travel pillow might be useful but limit what you take on the transportation to what you can carry and manage. Traveling with a senior can be fun and rewarding if you are prepared!

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    3 Ways to Prevent Caregiver Stress

    To be a caregiver, you have to have “care to give.” This means you need to take care of yourself because even though one of your main jobs is to “remain calm” but this can be hard. Here are some tips about how you can distress and avoid burnout.

    Stay connected to your own life

    Though you are an integral part of your senior’s life, you have friends of your own. This can be participating in social activities or engaging in a favorite pastime with others. Make sure you stay in touch with your friends and family members separate from your charge. Your work life or the time you spend caring for him or her should not be “all” of your life.

    Ask for help

    Though you may want to, you can’t do everything. No one can so don’t be afraid to ask for help. This may mean help from family members to share the burden but it may also mean that you need professional help. For health concerns, you should consult a health professional but other needs may also involve outside help. Your charge may benefit from community resources, visitors or even activities at a senior center. He or she may need encouragement to do things on their own. Whatever the case, ask for help if you are feeling overburdened.

    Set aside time each day

    Set aside half an hour for yourself each day. This should be spent in activities that you enjoy – whether it is knitting, playing with your dog, or exercising. You may want to do this with others but time alone will often help you reflect or just simply enjoy yourself without concern.

    Practice acceptance

    Focus on what you can control! Break tasks into small goals so that you can see progress, even if it is small. Choose how you wish to react to stressful situations so that you can stay in a calm state of mind.

    Stay on top of your own health

    You spend a lot of time worrying about your elder’s health, so much that you may neglect your own. Make sure you visit your doctor, take your medicine as prescribed, and get your immunizations on a routine basis. It doesn’t hurt to eat healthy and exercise too – if you get sick, you can’t be the caregiver.

    Caregivers are so accustomed to caring for others, that sometimes it becomes easy to neglect themselves! Remember that even you, the caregiver, is not exempt from being cared for and it’s important to recognize your own limitations. Staying healthy and happy is key!

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