Service Animals for Seniors

service dogs Most people are familiar with the concept of a service animal. You have probably seen dogs wearing brightly-colored vests, walking city streets with their owners. These animals are more than just pets. They provide a valuable service. They assist the deaf, blind, and other  people with various disabilities. Some of these animals are trained specifically to assist senior citizens. Aging individuals face unique challenges and service dogs can provide necessary assistance.

 

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) service animals are legally permitted to venture nearly anywhere in order to assist the owner. These highly skilled animals can perform numerous tasks, such as:

  • Turning light switches on and off
  • Recognizing and alerting owner of specific sounds (doorbell, telephone, knocking)
  • Pulling a wheelchair
  • Reminding the owner to take medications
  • Guiding the owner across streets safely
  • Triggering an emergency call

 

Service Animals for Dementia

Because dementia is technically considered a mental illness, it falls under the ADA. So,service animals for seniors with all types of dementia are permitted  to go most anywhere. These dogs provide their owners with comfort, security, and companionship.

Some common tasks these animals perform include:

  • Assist with mobility, particularly balance
  • Help owner stick to a familiar routine
  • Tactile and cognitive stimulation
  • Relieve symptoms of loneliness and depression
  • Alert others if the owner falls
  • Help prevent the owner from getting lost when venturing outside the home
  • Remind owner to take medications or perform other important tasks  

 

Benefits

Seniors with dementia benefit immensely from owning and working with service animals. Such dogs may improve communication skills, and encourage their owners to exercise. Many seniors who have previously been unresponsive to therapies tend to do very well with service animals. Some people are simply more willing to communicate and connect with their pets. It also provides an opportunity for social interaction with other pet owners. Beyond the obvious health and safety benefits, service dogs provide valuable emotional support as well. The bond between a service dog and its owner is essential for those with dementia.

Disabilities

Service animals assist people with diverse disabilities including:

  • Blindness/visual impairment
  • Deftness
  • Seizure disorders
  • Mobility impairments
  • Diabetes
  • Mental illness\emotional disorders

If you believe your loved one could benefit from owning a service dog, it’s certainly worth further research.   Most states offer free service animals to those who qualify. There is often a significant waiting period and a training program requirement for new pet owners. You may also choose to purchase a service animal from a professional trainer.  Buying a service animal from a private trainer can be costly, as it takes much time and effort to properly prepare one of these animals. If you are interested, below are a few resources to help you get started.

National Association of Service Dogs

National Service Animal Registry

US Service Animals

 

The Importance of Respite Care

 

Caring for aging loved ones is a noble endeavor, but it can come with tremendous challenges. Family caregivers can sometimes endure an enormous amount of physical, emotional, and financial strain. It’s difficult to provide optimal care for your loved one if you are unwell. This is where respite care enters the picture, offering caregivers a much-needed break.

 

What is respite care?

It is simply temporary care from someone other than the primary caregiver. It could be a professional, a friend, a relative, or even a volunteer. First, the primary caregiver must understand their own needs. How much time do you need away from your duties? How frequently do you need breaks? Then, you must determine the needs of the senior, and select a caregiver who can meet those needs adequately. For example, if you need three hours on Saturday to do some shopping and your loved one just needs some companionship during that time perhaps a teenage relative could fill that gap. Alternatively, if you need a three-day break, you may need to hire a professional who can handle more intense tasks.

Benefits of respite care

The positive results of respite care are not only useful for the caregiver, but also for the person receiving care. When the caregiver is well, her or she is able to provide the best care.

  • Relaxation – Dedicating a little time to yourself is calming and can improve your mood. Do not underestimate the power of relaxation.
  • Re-energize – A vehicle cannot run on an empty tank of gas. Similarly, the human body needs fuel and energy to function properly. You must feed the body, mind, and soul to rejuvenate.
  • Surroundings – It’s important to spend some quality time away from the care-giving environment to avoid burnout. Simply hanging out in a different space can be tremendously helpful.
  • Changing perspective – Stepping outside of your care-giving duties allows you to look at things from a fresh perspective. You can see the bigger picture and possibly find better solutions and new ways of handling things.
  • Maintaining identity – Your role as a caregiver is important, but it should not consume your identity. You are a complete person and getting frequent breaks helps you remember that you are more than a caregiver.
  • Socialize – Isolation can be a serious problem for caregivers. Allow time for social engagement and interaction. Do things that you enjoy with people you like.

It may be difficult to find respite care. However, if you tap into all your resources, you will likely find assistance. If you do not have friends or relatives to help, check with local organizations. Many communities have volunteer respite programs. The ARCH National Respite Network is a great online source for more information.

 

Preparing Seniors for Hazardous Winter Weather

 With winter in full swing, many areas throughout the country are experiencing dangerous weather conditions. Senior citizens are particularly vulnerable during these situations, as caregivers or emergency call responders may be unable to travel and reach the individual in need. There are some things you can do to help your aged loved one prepare for hazardous winter weather.

Cold Temperatures

Freezing temperatures can be quite dangerous for seniors. If a person’s body temperature falls too low, he or she may suffer from hypothermia or frostbite. These conditions can be fatal. In fact, people over age 65 account for approximately half of the annual deaths caused by hypothermia. The most obvious way to prepare for cold weather is to dress in warm layers. Ask your loved one to stay indoors whenever possible and wear a hat, gloves, and scarf when venturing outside. Warm socks and appropriate footwear are also essential. Indoor temperatures should be kept at a comfortable level. Additionally, it is advised to store extra blankets in case of emergency.

Power Outage

It’s important to prepare for a power outage: not only for cold-weather circumstances, but for any emergency or natural disaster. Ensure that your loved one has easy access to flashlights, batteries, a battery-powered radio, a first-aid kit, some bottled water and nonperishable food items. Most experts agree that about three days worth of supplies are sufficient to get through a minor incident. If a power outage occurs during freezing temperatures, and your older loved ones have no access to heat, it’s crucial that they dress warm indoors and move around frequently to raise core body temperature.

Isolation

Seniors often become isolated during the winter months because travel is more difficult. Loneliness may lead to depression, so it’s important to initiate frequent contact with the older people in your life. A brief, daily phone call may be enough to keep a person’s spirits up. You can also ask friends or neighbors to stop in and check on your loved one. Frequent contact is the key.

Carbon Monoxide

The use of a fireplace, gas or propane heater, or lantern can create dangerous carbon monoxide. It is crucial that you have properly working carbon monoxide detectors in the home if your loved one is heating with these methods. Overexposure to this particular gas can cause serious illness or even death.

Ice

Slipping on ice is dangerous for anyone, but seniors are especially prone to injury and complications from a serious fall. To help avoid accidents, ask your loved one to stay indoors until roads and sidewalks are clear. If they must go outdoors, shoes with excellent traction are necessary. Furthermore, remove shoes immediately upon returning indoors because ice and snow that have attached to the shoes will melt, creating slippery indoor conditions. Additionally, replace worn cane tips to help provide safer mobility. Emergency call alert systems are helpful for seniors who live alone.

If your loved one is in a senior living community, check with the community to determine what precautions they take to protect their residents. Confirm they have working Fall detection systems. Ask about how they ensure floors are kept dry, and what procedures are in place to ensure residents, particularly those with dementia, do not wander outside unmonitored.

Winter weather hazards should not be taken lightly. Following these simple precautions can prevent a catastrophe for your aging loved ones. Take the time to ensure that the seniors in your life are prepared for the winter season.

 

How Men and Women Age Differently

 It’s no surprise that men and women age differently. Not only do our physical bodies handle the aging process in varying ways, but our coping abilities are also starkly contrasted. Extensive research in this area shows exactly how men and women age differently.

  • Longevity – It’s a well-known statistic that women have a longer lifespan than men. In general, females live approximately five to six years more than males, as stated in this 2014 report by the World Health Organization.There are numerous theories as to why this is the case. Scientists have not yet pinpointed exact causes, although they have speculated stress and lifestyle as leading factors.
  • Happiness – Women are reportedly more content during their senior years. This is attributed to women having better communication skills and more empathy, and likely more intimate/personal relationships. Men are more likely to become lonely and depressed as they age because they have fewer emotional coping skills.
  • Weight gain – Both sexes begin to gain weight after the age of 30. Men typically stop gaining in their mid-50’s while women continue to put on weight until about age 65.
  • Skin – Men lose less collagen and have thicker skin, therefore showing fewer signs of aging.
  • Hair loss – Both men and women experience hair loss during the aging process. However, men are much more susceptible to pattern baldness.
  • Disease – Certain diseases affect men or women more prevalently. For example, men are more likely to have Parkinson’s disease while women are more prone to suffer from Alzheimer’s.

Gender Differences in Senior Care

Because of the longevity gap, assisted-living communities have seven female residents to every one male. Skilled nursing facilities have rates hovering closer to 10 to 1. You might think that men would like these odds. However, a lot of men feel that senior living communities are too feminine. This can create challenges when attempting to select the best community for your loved one. Senior men have different needs than women, and it’s important to find a community that has plenty to offer male residents.

Men have a significantly more difficult time coping with the aging process. Many men based their self-worth on their societal or professional role in life. Once they are no longer working, they may begin to feel useless. Without essential social interaction, they can become lonely and depressed. Here are some things you can do to help the older men in your life:

  • Give them “jobs” and responsibilities. This gives them a sense of value.
  • Allow them to teach younger people some useful skills. Intergenerational activities are highly beneficial to seniors and youngsters. This helps the older person feel important and useful.
  • Recognize the person’s history and identity.

Males tend to value independence and leadership. Anything you can do to reinforce these feelings will be immensely helpful to aging men. Take these factors into consideration when approaching delicate topics with the senior men in your life.

Aging is inevitable for both men and women. Although we experience the process differently, we are in many ways the same. All senior citizens need to feel valued and deserve the best care we can provide for them. Understanding the similarities and differences that men and women experience as they get older helps us provide optimal care.

 

Tips for Helping Seniors Cope with the Holidays

Tips for Helping Seniors Cope with the HolidaysThe holiday season is a time of joy and celebration for many people. However, it’s a time of despair for others. This is particularly true for seniors, who may have experienced significant losses throughout their lives. Sadness is compounded when a person is dealing with loneliness, mobility restrictions, or health problems. Aged individuals often struggle the most during the holidays. There are several things you can do to help seniors get through this difficult time.

  • Shop: If possible, take your loved one out to the stores to enjoy a day of shopping. To avoid crowds, go early in the day on a weekday. Allow plenty of time for frequent breaks and maybe stop for lunch or coffee. It’s important to keep things lighthearted and simple. Try not to let him or her get exhausted or overwhelmed. This should be an enjoyable, memorable experience for both of you. If the person is unable to go shopping due to mobility or health issues, consider an online shopping adventure. You could make this a really fun experience by bringing a laptop, decorations, music, and snacks. Spend some quality time with him, and give him the opportunity to select gifts for grandchildren, etc.
  • Task assistance: Help your loved one with holiday-related tasks around the house that she may be unable to perform alone. This might include hanging decorations, gift wrapping, or baking those special cookies that she always makes for the holidays. It could be a wonderful opportunity for older grandchildren to get involved and spend some quality time with grandparents.
  • Social activities: If your loved one enjoys community or religious activities, make sure he has adequate transportation to participate in these events.
  • Inclusion: Be sure to include your loved one in your holiday experience. Even if the person has mobility restrictions, she can still help with planning or simple craft projects. Involvement is the key here. She needs to feel that she is a part of the celebration.
  • Listen: This time of year may bring up feelings of grief, and it’s important to allow people to talk through their feelings. You don’t need to offer solutions or advice, simply listen and allow him to express his feelings openly and honestly. Reminisce with him, pull out some old photos if you like, and just allow him to sit in his memories and grief.
  • Avoid exhaustion: Everyone is so busy during the holidays. It’s easy to get overwhelmed. Make sure your loved one has enough downtime to avoid exhaustion. Frequent naps and rest are helpful to keep seniors healthy and active during these hectic times.

Older individuals are more likely to experience the “holiday blues.” Pay close attention to your aging loved ones to ensure they don’t slip into depression. Make sure the seniors in your life feel included and understand how important they are during the holiday season.   

 

Understanding and Preventing Frailty in Aging Adults

Frailty in Aging AdultsFrailty is a common issue for senior citizens. It is not, however, an inevitable part of aging. Frailty is a syndrome caused by numerous mental and physical factors. Frail people are more likely to become disabled and spend time in the hospital. They tend to get infections more easily because their immune systems are not functioning properly. People who smoke, suffer from depression, have serious medical problems, or are underweight are prone to frailty. While there is no cure for this complex condition, frailty syndrome in older adults can be prevented and treated.

What is frailty syndrome?

It is generally measured by the following symptoms:

  •         Muscle weakness
  •         Fatigue and exhaustion
  •         Weight loss
  •         Slow movement, especially walking
  •         Low activity

Sarcopenia – This is an underlying biological factor of frailty and is characterized by a loss of muscle mass. It is different than muscle atrophy because it replaces muscle with fat and fibroids. Individuals experiencing sarcopenia have decreased muscle strength and general muscle weakness.

Osteoporosis – This condition most often affects older women. It is indicated by low bone density, and those afflicted with this condition are more likely to experience bone fractures and breaks. It can have a significant negative impact on a person’s quality of life and longevity.

Prevention

Fitness

Physical activity is crucial to help avoid frailty. Just a little exercise each day can make a significant difference. Physical activities should be structured according to the individual’s abilities. Walking, for example, is a wonderful way to improve balance, muscle mass, and heart health. Resistance exercises are great for increasing muscle mass as well. If the person is able, he or she should use weights or bands for this endeavor.

Cognitive wellness

It is also important to keep the mind active. There are numerous ways to exercise the brain. Crossword puzzles and games are a popular choice among aging people. Reading and socializing can also help flex “brain muscles.”

Mental illness

It is vital to recognize and treat any psychological conditions, such as depression. These disorders can heavily influence the progression of frailty. When properly maintained and treated, mental illness will have less of a negative impact on a person’s physical health.

Nutrition

It’s no surprise that nutrition is an important factor in maintaining muscle mass. Protein is especially influential for muscle health. The best approach is to have a well-balanced diet, including plenty of fruits, vegetables, fiber, and protein. Additionally, seniors should consume plenty of water, particularly if they live in warm climates.

Frailty is a serious issue for aging adults. It can cause a person’s health to decline dramatically. So, it is essential that efforts are made to prevent and treat it. Unfortunately, there is no single, perfect solution. Rather, a holistic approach is needed to ensure aged individuals have optimal overall wellness, which can help prevent and treat this syndrome.

 

What Is a CCRC, and How Do I Select the Right One?

memory-care A continuing care retirement community (CCRC) is an ideal senior-living option for those planning to “age in place.” A typical CCRC offers several housing choices, as part of a continuum of care. These generally include independent living, assisted living,Skilled nursing (also known as nursing homes),and, sometimes, memory-care units. They can be the most expensive accommodations for aging adults, but they can be worth the cost. Residents have the flexibility to expand and change services as needed, without having to move to a new community. Care is individualized, and therefore it is more precise.

CCRC Services

Most community operators encourage residents to socialize, offering numerous education and entertainment programs. Other basic services may include the following:

  • health care services
  • meal preparation
  • personal care and hygiene
  • housekeeping
  • transportation
  • emergency assistance

3 Common CCRC Contract Types

  1. Extensive – Also called life contracts, extensive contracts are the most expensive because they include health care services and assisted living with no additional fees.
  2. Modified contract – A modified contract is similar to an extensive contract, except health care services are limited. If a resident needs additional services, he or she is charged a separate fee.
  3. Fee per service – This contract is less expensive initially. However, residents are charged for services on an as-needed basis.

Selecting the Right Community

It’s important to note the financial health of any prospective CCRC. These communities are very costly to maintain and tend to cut resident services when they are struggling financially. You want to ensure that this is not going to be a problem for your loved one in the future. An easy way to determine if a community is financially stable is to check residency rates. Such rates should be at or near capacity to maintain financial wellness.

Do some research online as well. Medicare.gov can provide ratings for skilled nursing facilities, as do individual state’s long term care ombudsmen. And there are a number of resources available to help you through the evaluation process.

Compare the costs to the cost for maintaining your loved one in their current home. Costs like transportation, companion care, housekeeping, transportation, meals, and medication assistance when added to mortgage or rent costs can end up being the same or more as a CCRC, so don’t automatically assume a CCRC is out of their budget range. Also consider if the community has an “entrance fee,” a one-time up-front payment and whether that is partially refundable. And don’t be afraid to ask what the annual increase is so that can be factored into your loved one’s budget.

Evaluation Tips

If possible, spend a few days in a community observing and assessing it. Some important factors to consider include the following:

  • The property – Is the facility properly maintained? Check the interior and exterior of the community. Does it feel like home, or does it seem institutional? It should be comfortable and homey so your loved one is at ease.
  • The residents – Speak with the residents. Inquire about their experiences in the community. Are they happy with the services? Do they have issues or complaints? Do they feel as though it is a good value? Most importantly, are these residents the type of people whom you want as friends and neighbors?
  • The staff – Speak with the staff to determine if they are friendly and genuinely caring. Ask to see licenses and credentials. Look at recent inspection reports. Make sure to inquire about any complaint investigations.

Finding the right community for your loved one is crucial to his or her happiness and well-being. Take your time with this endeavor. Above all, trust your instincts. If something feels “wrong” with a community, simply scratch it off your list and move on.

CCRCs offer wonderful senior-living solutions. As always, due diligence is the key to selecting the right services for your aging loved ones.

How to Cope with Aging Parents and Sibling Conflicts

Caring for aged loved ones frequently creates stress and conflict for family members, especially among siblings. It’s difficult for families to provide quality care when they are busy arguing. So, it is in the best interest of our aging relatives that we understand why these disputes occur and how we can solve them.

Areas of Conflict

Imbalance

The most common reason for fighting between siblings is a perceived imbalance of responsibility. If one sibling feels as if she is doing all the work, a grudge builds quickly. Or, if a sibling believes he is providing most of the financial assistance; he may think that he is being treated unfairly. Most often, the adult child living closest to the aged relative, is the person who provides the majority of the hands-on care. She is the one driving mom to doctor appointments and doing the grocery shopping. Anytime a particular sibling feels that they have been delegated more than a fair share of work, resentment, anger, and frustration eventually come to the surface.

 

Finances

Disagreements about money typically involve an aging parent’s assets. Siblings may argue about how to pay for care and how to handle funds. Some adult children adamantly protect assets because they hope to inherit the parent’s estate. However, it is often necessary to liquidate resources in order to help pay for care. Furthermore, some adult children believe they are entitled to a larger share of the future estate because of the disproportionate amount of care they currently provide the parent. Families regularly begin fighting over the estate years before the aged person passes away.

Solutions

  • Communication – As with any conflict in life, communication is the key. Siblings and family members must speak honestly and openly about their feelings and the issues. In order for this to work, people must put their egos aside and focus on the well being of the senior in question.
  • Professional advisors – A great way for families to step aside and view the bigger picture is to hire a trained mediator. This could be a senior care advisor, family therapist, or even a qualified religious counselor. A neutral third-party can generally calm the waters and bring a fresh perspective to the situation.
  • Personal responsibility – Understand and accept your role in the quarrel. Do your best to put aside negative emotions and blaming others. Simply do what is best for the aging individual and let the rest go. You will have plenty of time later to deal with hurt feelings, now is the time to take care of your loved one. .
  • Planning – Determine in advance which sibling will handle each responsibility. Set up regular meetings or conference calls to discuss current status and changes.  This ensures that everyone is on the same page and provides an opportunity for open discussion.  Siblings may want to switch responsibilities as circumstances change.These meetings might take place twice a year, quarterly, or even monthly, depending on the situation.

Family conflicts are difficult, requiring tremendous patience and understanding to overcome. However, it is necessary to resolve these issues in order to provide the best care for your aging relatives.

 

Alzheimer’s vs Dementia – Understanding the Difference

Alzheimer-vs-dementiaPeople often use the terms Alzheimer’s and dementia interchangeably. While they are similar, there are some essential differences. If your loved one is dealing with one of these issues, it’s beneficial to comprehend how they differ. Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia. A person can have dementia without having Alzheimer’s. However, Alzheimer’s is responsible for 50%-70% of all dementia, which is likely why people use these terms synonymously. It’s vital to know the cause of a person’s dementia to provide proper treatment and care. Some dementia cases are entirely treatable and can be resolved quickly.

What is dementia?
Dementia is an umbrella term describing a set of symptoms, rather than a specific disease. It is estimated that there are 80 to 90 various causes of dementia. It is a neurological issue affecting cognition. Symptoms include:
• Memory loss
• Decreased ability to concentrate
• Difficulty communicating
• Inability to plan
• Deterioration of abstract thinking

Irreversible causes of dementia
As stated above, there are many causes of dementia. However, there are a few conditions that are primarily responsible for causing it. These are irreversible, meaning they cannot be cured. These conditions create permanent and sometimes degenerative brain damage.
Irreversible causes:
• Alzheimer’s disease
• Parkinson’s disease
• Huntington’s disease
• Brain injury
• Stroke
• Alcoholism

Reversible causes:
Some dementia can be corrected. The primary causes of this type of dementia include:
• Malnutrition
• Adverse reaction to medication
• Acute infections
• Dehydration

What is Alzheimer’s disease
Shockingly, some researchers estimate that every four seconds someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. It is the most common cause of dementia. 40 million people worldwide are affected by this disabling disease. There is currently no cure, but scientists, doctors, and researchers continue to search for answers. They have had some success in slowing the progression of the disease. For all of the time, effort, and funding put into studying Alzheimer’s, there is still a great deal we do not understand about it.
Some common symptoms:
• Difficulty sleeping
• Disturbed memory
• Drastic mood changes
• Increasing confusion

Diagnosis
Early diagnosis is vital because treatments may be able to slow the disease. If you suspect your loved one has Alzheimer’s, have them tested immediately. Diagnosis is made through advanced imaging technologies. Basically, doctors take pictures of the brain to decide if a person has Alzheimer’s. It is a very noninvasive and effective way to test for this disease. Spinal fluid analysis is another method of testing, although it is more invasive and involves a lumbar puncture.

There is no shortage of information available about dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. If your loved one has been diagnosed with either of these conditions, take the time to educate yourself so you can help in providing the absolute best solutions. Many families struggle to deal with these disorders. It can be very stressful and devastating for everyone involved. Luckily, there are numerous support systems in place to help families get through it. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your community for assistance. You may find comfort and knowledge in support groups, religious organizations, and wellness education programs.

Resources:

Alzheimer’s Association

Dementia Society of America

Parkinson’s disease foundation

 

 

 

 

Tips for Depressed Seniors

Tips for Depressed Seniors Depression is a common problem for the elderly. However, it should not be accepted as a normal or necessary part of aging. Treatment is available for this condition. If you believe your elderly loved one is suffering from depression, seek help immediately. Below are some tips to assist you.

 

Recognizing Depression

The first step is to observe your loved one and determine if she is, in fact, suffering from depression. A few of the more obvious signs include:

Increased or decreased appetite

Lack of energy

Loss of interest in activities

Increased sleep

The important thing to look for is a change in behavior. For example, if your mother went to church every sunday for the past five years but no longer attends because she prefers to sleep, this is a red flag.

Tips for Fighting Depression

Socialize

It is crucial for elderly people to have a social network. Creating new friendships and fostering existing relationships has an enormous impact on increasing overall happiness and wellness. There are numerous ways seniors can make new friends. Some of these include attending church, joining a book club, taking a class, or just spending time in a local coffee shop.

Restrict Alcohol and Drugs

It is estimated that at least 17% of seniors have a substance abuse problem. They often try to self medicate with drugs and alcohol to suppress pain from physical ailments or to escape anxiety and depression. However, drugs and alcohol exacerbate depression in the long-term. It is also very dangerous to mix alcohol with various medications and since most elderly people take numerous medications, this can be lethal.

Improve Sleep

Sleep deprivation is a significant contributing factor to depression. Seniors often experience interrupted sleep cycles, which puts them at risk for depression. Treat insomnia to avoid this. Read our article on seniors and sleep for more information.

Grief versus Depression

Most elderly people have experienced the loss of friends and loved ones. It is useful to understand the difference between grief and depression. Grief typically resolves itself over time while depression requires proactive methods for improvement. Grief comes in bursts of intense emotion and depression is a persistent long-term condition. Grief can lead to depression, so if your loved one seems to linger in grief for too long, it may be a sign that they are slipping into a state of depression.

Depression is a serious issue for people of all ages. It is particularly dangerous for elderly people since they are already at risk for so many other issues. If you suspect your loved one is depressed, please seek assistance immediately.