Have Great Posture as You Age

Have Great Posture as You Age

Having good posture minimizes stress on your back by keeping your muscles and bones in their natural positions as well as making your movements more fluid and efficient. Poor posture, on the other hand, can create a variety of health problems. It can impede breathing, blood circulation, digestion, organ functions and overall alertness. Slouching creates 10 to 15 times extra pressure on the spinal cord. It can generate neck pain, headaches and limited joint movement. Problems may even result in the legs and feet.

Here are 8 helpful tips to keep you standing tall at any age.

1. Open Up

Now that many of us spend our days hunched in front of a computer, “it’s very important for us to be able to stretch and open up and improve our range of motion,” says Jonathan F. Bean, MD, MS, MPH, an assistant professor in the department of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School in Boston.

2. Easy Exercises

To stay limber, try to get up for a couple minutes every half hour and stretch, walk, or stand. Try this exercise: Lie down on the floor and make slow “snow angels” with your arms for two or three minutes.

For an extra challenge, roll up a towel and put it on the floor underneath your spine. Many gyms have half foam rollers—a tube cut in half lengthwise—that you can use for even more of a stretch. Do these stretches slowly and stop if you feel anything more than mild discomfort or pain, says Dr. Bean.

3. Sit Straight

When you do have to work at a desk, “sitting up with good, tall posture and your shoulders dropped is a good habit to get into,” says Rebecca Seguin, PhD, an exercise physiologist and nutritionist in Seattle.  This can take some getting used to; exercise disciplines that focus on body awareness, such as Pilates and yoga, can help you to stay sitting straight, Seguin says. Make sure your workstation is set up to promote proper posture.

4. Strengthen Your Core

Pilates and yoga are great ways to build up the strength of your “core”—the muscles of your abdomen and pelvic area. These muscles form the foundation of good posture, and a strong core can have many other benefits, from improving your athletic performance to preventing urinary incontinence.

5. Support Your Spine

After menopause, women may have more weakening in the muscles around the spine than aging men do, Dr. Bean says. Exercises targeting the back extensors, neck flexors, pelvic muscles, and side muscles are crucial. Trainers at gyms can help; there are even special machines that target these muscles. Endurance in the spine and trunk muscle groups is important too, according to Dr. Bean; “that’s what allows us to stand up for long periods of time without our back hurting us.”

6. Lift Weights

The vertebral compression fractures that subtract from our height—and can lead to the “dowager’s hump” in the upper back that’s a hallmark of old age—are due to the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis. We can prevent these changes with weight-bearing exercises, like walking, stair climbing, and weightlifting. “People who walk regularly through their whole lives tend to have better bone density than sedentary people,” Seguin explains.

7. Vitamins and Minerals

A healthy diet is essential for providing strong bones and muscles that allow for ideal posture. In particular for bone health, getting the optimal daily dosage of Vitamin D and calcium is essential. The recommended dietary intake for vitamin D is 600 IU a day for women up to age 70 and 800 IU for women older than 70. For calcium, Women 19 to 50 years old should take 1,000 milligrams daily. Women over 50 should take 1,200 milligrams.

8. Consider Medication

Your doctor will be able to tell you whether you need a bone mineral density scan to detect osteopenia or osteoporosis.  Although Seguin says that activities like progressive resistance training can halt or reverse bone loss in some cases, medications may also help. These include bisphosphonates like Boniva, Reclast, and Fosamax. (Although safe, such drugs can increase the risk of rare fractures.) Hormone-based medications that can help build bone density include Evista (raloxifene), calcitonin, and parathyroid hormone.

First Aid Kit for Seniors Living at Home

First Aid Kit for Seniors Living at Home

First aid is an important consideration when caring for an elderly person at home. It is important to know that seniors are more vulnerable to accidents and injuries since they often lack strength, flexibility and can have brittle bones.  Also, their sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste may have declined, making them more vulnerable to accidents. It is very important that the elderly take care of their skin as well, because they are more susceptible to skin infections and disease due to natural changes in aging skin. These changes make the skin less elastic, thinner and dryer allowing more injures while also being slow to heal.

 What to Put in Your First Aid Kit

It is important to keep a well-stocked first aid kit on hand. You can purchase a kit or create one of your own. You can create one using a portable file box that can be found at any office supply store or large discount store. Be sure to keep your first aid kit someplace where it can be located quickly and be sure to give it a regular check up by replacing expired items and updating informational lists.

Creating a list of insurance information, medical contacts, and medications could prove to be a very helpful addition to your first aid kit. We often have trouble trying to remember things in the event of an emergency, which is why adding procedures for specific conditions would also be a great asset to your first aid kit.

In being prepared for emergencies let’s take a look at what a first aid kit should have in it:

  • Thermometer
  • Antiseptic solution or wipes, such as hydrogen peroxide, povidone-iodine or chlorhexidine
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Calamine lotion for stings or poison ivy
  • Hydrocortisone cream or ointment
  • Cotton balls and swabs
  • Band-Aids in assorted sizes including knee and elbow sizes
  • Latex gloves (these should be worn any time you may be at risk of contact with blood or body fluid of any type)
  • Triangular bandages for wrapping injuries and making arm slings
  • Thermal patches
  • Instant cold pack
  • Gauze, tape, and Ace bandages
  • Hand sanitizer or soap
  • Tweezers, scissors, safety pins and needle
  • Eye goggles and sterile eyewash such as a saline solution
  • Pain and fever medicines, such as aspirin, acetaminophen or ibuprofen
  • Decongestants to treat nasal congestion
  • Anti-nausea medicine to treat motion sickness and other types of nausea
  • Anti-diarrhea medicine
  • Antacid to treat upset stomach
  • Laxative to treat constipation
  • First aid manual
  • The senior’s medication list with dosage and times taken
  • Phone numbers for emergency contact, doctors, pharmacy, and insurance information.
  • If needed: blood pressure monitor, oximeter, blood sugar meter and/or AED (Automated External Defibrillator)
  • Medical forms such as living will, DNR, or advance directives

When traveling, take the kit with you. You may want to add a blanket, flashlight with extra batteries, medical consent forms, and a medical history form. For specific medical conditions be sure to include any necessary equipment and instructional information. If you elect to keep a separate travel first aid kit, be sure to copy and include all medical information.

Purchasing a First Aid Kit

The American Red Cross and many drugstores sell first aid kits with many of these items. Remember, for the kit to be useful, you need to know how to use it. You may want to take a Red Cross first aid course or at least purchase a first aid manual to learn first aid basics.

Hospitalizing a Loved One with Dementia

Hospitalizing a Loved One with Dementia

Be aware of the following common pitfalls during hospitalization, so you can take steps to prevent them:

  1. Delirium. Delirium is a state of acute mental confusion. People with dementia develop delirium at much higher rates than typical hospital patients. It’s often missed by hospital staff, however, because they don’t know what’s normal for that person. There are many possible causes of delirium. In a hospital setting, common triggers are a hospital-acquired infection or complications from surgery. Many hospital techniques meant to manage a confused patient may worsen confusion, including the use of restraints, tranquilizers, and sleep aids.

What you can do: Know the signs of delirium, and make sure the hospital staff is aware of a sudden change in mental status as soon as possible. Make sure that pain is being adequately treated. Pain can trigger delirium. Work to keep your loved one oriented and calm. Gently orient your loved one with reminders: “Here we are, still in the hospital for that operation, Dad.” “You’re in a hospital bed to have your heart checked.” A familiar blanket or favorite picture from home and a cheerful plant can also be calming.

  1. Accidental falls. Someone with dementia may already be unsteady due to coordination problems. Disorientation can also cause the person to forget where he or she is and get out of bed the wrong way or bump into unfamiliar furniture or walls on the way to the bathroom and take a tumble.

What you can do: Have someone by the person’s side as much as possible so that they can be there to assist when he or she moves about. Issue reminders every time the person gets up: “Here, let me help you because you have those stitches on your side.” Bring hospital slippers that fit securely on the feet, rather than easy-on (and, unfortunately, easy-off) scuffs that can contribute to tripping.

  1. Undertreated pain. Although families often worry about their loved ones being overtreated with pain medication in the hospital, the opposite is more likely to be true in older adults with dementia. This is because it can be hard to gauge pain levels in someone who’s confused or can’t communicate well. Many people worry that by asking for relief, their loved one could become addicted to painkillers; this is almost never true for people with no history of substance abuse.

What you can do: Stay close to your loved one during the hospitalization so that you can monitor for symptoms of pain, including moaning during sleep, frowning or other expressions of discomfort, wincing when moving a certain way, favoring certain positions, or complaining of pain (even if it’s later forgotten by the person). Report pain to hospital staff on your loved one’s behalf. You know what’s normal for your loved one better than anyone else, and what looks like discomfort.

  1. Overused urinary catheters. Bladder catheters are often needed at the start of a hospitalization to drain the bladder, but they’re often left in for longer than is necessary. This raises the risk of infection. Because the catheter is attached to a drainage bag, having one reduces the patient’s mobility, which can make hospitalization less comfortable and can slow recovery. Someone with dementia may forget the catheter is in place, adding to confusion and discomfort.

What you can do: Ask the doctor and nursing staff every day if the catheter is still needed. For men who need a urinary catheter, ask if a condom catheter can be used. They also may reduce the chance of bladder infections, provided the patient doesn’t pick at the catheter too much.

  1. Constipation. Constipation can develop in the hospital for several reasons. It’s a side effect of many painkilling medications, which may be given during hospitalization. Also, the person’s normal routines for eating and drinking, moving around, and yes, voiding, are all thrown off during a hospital stay.

What you can do: Let the nurses and doctors know if your loved one isn’t having a bowel movement at least every other day, or if you see any other signs of constipation, such as abdominal pain, nausea, bloating, cramping, or a loss of appetite, along with poor stool production. Know that there is a range of safe laxative options for treating constipation.

Second of an 8-part series by Leslie Kernisan, M.D. and Paula Spencer Scott, Caring.com.

Tips for Organizing Health Information

Tips for Organizing Health Information

A trip to the emergency room made me realize why caregivers are advised to organize heath information. When Mom broke her hip, I called an ambulance. When it arrived, I confidently recited Mom’s Medicare number. When asked what medications she took, I pulled out our basket of pill bottles. At the hospital, the questions got more complicated. Still, I knew enough to fill out the forms.
However, while I did not know it then, I would be joining Mom in the hospital the next day with an emergency of my own that kept me in the hospital for six weeks. As we both recovered, I looked for the best way to store her health information. I especially wanted an easy way to share it with others in case I am not around.

I now have a folder for paperwork that is portable and easy to maintain. It isn’t just for emergencies. We take it to every doctor visit. Now anyone who has the folder can see when Mom had her last flu shot, what medications she takes and that she had a malignant mole removed in 1981. We can all see when all medical appointments are scheduled. Even my brother, who lives at a distance, could answer medical questions if he had to take Mom to the doctor while visiting.

Information to collect

You probably have most of this information readily available. If not, begin with what you have and add information as you can. Useful information to collect includes: A medical history; health insurance and Medicare cards; a list of medications including dosages, frequency, date started and reason; a list of emergency contacts, relationship, addresses and all phone numbers; any special logs such as blood pressure readings, blood sugar levels or symptoms; a copy of a health care proxy, advanced directives or living will; and a power-of-attorney, if one is used.

What should you keep in a medical history?

Names of all physicians; known allergies or reactions to medications; all medications, including over-the-counter medicines, vitamins and herbs; health conditions and date of diagnosis; dates of most recent exams, tests and immunizations; dates and reasons for hospitalizations; dates and details of surgeries; dates and length of major illnesses; history of smoking and use of alcohol; location of living will or medical directives; history of exposure to dangerous conditions or hazards; family history including illnesses or conditions of parents and siblings; cause of death of parents and siblings and their age at death.

Recording and storing the information

While the primary copy of the health information is more practical to keep in physical form due to various cards, forms and original documents that are part of the medical record, it is highly recommended that at least the medical history also be recorded digitally so that a “backup” copy is available in case of emergencies, disasters, or as the need arises to provide other family members or doctors with the information if needed remotely.

  • For the primary copy, use a pocket folder or small three-ring binder that will hold several pages. We purchased a multi-page presentation folder with clear pockets from an office supply store.
  • Use a bold color for the cover, such as red or yellow, so that it is easy to distinguish from other papers. Label the front clearly: EMERGENCY MEDICAL INFORMATION.
  • Keep the folder in a handy location, such as a desk drawer near the entry. Make sure every potential caregiver knows where it is kept.
  • Use top loading, clear sheet protectors to hold papers. These make it easy to remove papers for photocopying or for handing to a healthcare worker.
  • Pick up a business card from each healthcare provider you see. Cards usually contain the name, specialty, address, phone and fax number. There are vinyl business card holders available at office supply stores that are the most practical way to store business cards.
  • Each time you have an appointment, take the reminder card or jot the appointment details on a 3X5 card. Slip these cards into a page protector just as you did the business cards to keep a record of the visit.
  • When you add any information to a document, put the date at the top of the page to show how current the data is.

With a Medical History in hand,  I will never again have to phone a doctor’s office to relay information I didn’t have with me at the appointment, and I’m confident that if I’m not around, someone else can tell the emergency room doctors what they need to know about my loved one.

by Kathy Porter

Some Ways “Wearables” are Helping Seniors

Some Ways “Wearables” are Helping Seniors

Most of us think of wearables in terms of smartwatches and fitness trackers, gadgets that can help us be fitter and more efficient. But for some people, they’re far more important than that—these wearables are the difference between dependency and freedom. Wearables for seniors are fast becoming an essential way to keep them safe and healthy. There is some impressive technologically available—or on the horizon—to improve the lives of those later in life, and they are easy enough for even the most averse of technophobes to use safely and happily.

1. Keeping them safe
One of the best-known uses for wearables for seniors safely connects them to relatives or emergency services in the event of an accident, even if they’re unable to call for help themselves. UnaliWear’s KanegaWatch can detect falls and long periods of non-movement and raise the alarm. Working through voice control, the watch notices if the wearer has been immobile for a while and asks if they’re OK. If there’s no response, the device can contact designated people or the emergency services. It also records some location information so it can guide the wearer home if they get lost. The wearable even offers medication reminders at appropriate times, reading out dosage instructions if the user asks for them. Similarly, the CarePredict wearable monitors sleep, personal care and daily patterns, alerting caregivers if something seems out of the ordinary: If the wearer used the bathroom more than usual last night, for instance, or got up later than they normally do. Lively’s Safety Watch system goes a step further, using a home hub connected to a series of sensors around the home to check that medication’s been taken, meals haven’t been missed and the user is moving around as normal.

2. Keeping them nearby
To monitor seniors with conditions like dementia, a critical need can now be met through technology. The upcoming Proximity Button, invented by the daughter of a dementia caregiver, is designed to be an effective and affordable way to keep loved ones safe without intrusive tracking. Connecting to the caregiver’s phone with Bluetooth, the button simply sends an alert when the patient goes out of bounds. The Proximity Button will begin crowdfunding this summer through Indiegogo.

3. Saving them from falls
One of the biggest concerns for older people is the risk of falls. One of the more radical ways tech firms are addressing this is by developing wearable airbags that automatically deploy when a fall is detected. Products by companies like ActiveProtective and the Wolk Company are worn as belts, making them less intrusive and noticeable. Packed inside the ActiveProtective belt is a folded airbag, a fall-detection system and a gas inflation mechanism to quickly open the airbag when the wearer is falling.

4. Giving them freedom
Some of the health problems that can affect older people aren’t so easy to talk about. The Japanese manufacturer Triple W opens their Dfree website with the memorable words: “Two years ago I got sudden diarrhea and pooped my pants on the street.” While most of us would never speak of this again, in this case it led to the development of a device that claims to predict bowel movements, allowing users to plan ahead and get to a bathroom in time. Using an ultrasound wearable belted around your stomach, Dfree sends a notification to the accompanying app on your phone to let you know how much time you have. This could avoid the kind of incident that decimates older people’s confidence and makes them less willing to leave the house.

This is just a sampling of the variety of tech solutions for senior care that are now coming available—and we should expect more innovations in the years to come.


Knowing When to Get Help

Knowing When to Get Help

For most of us independence and privacy is an important condition for a comfortable life. We each have our habits and methods of doing things, and life has a rhythm that just “fits” our personalities. But as people age and physical changes occur, we may find ourselves or loved ones dealing with those changes ineffectively. Sooner or later the question starts ringing in our heads, “When should I look for help?”

But then we think, “Oh, I don’t need help. I don’t want to be a burden to anyone.” Or, “I can’t tell Mom what to do – she’d never listen to me, anyway.”  Or, “Dad would never accept help, he’s too proud.” Or, “It’s not time yet, let’s wait.”  And so we wait and do what we can ourselves, all the while still wondering, “When should I look for help?”

The good news is we don’t have to guess. There are some common indicators that help us tell when it’s time to get some help. We don’t have to wait for a crisis situation to throw everyone into a panic. If fact, the goal should be to avoid the crisis, for everyone’s benefit.

Here are some indicators to consider…

  1. Physical Condition: Have you or your loved one been diagnosed with a medical condition that affects their daily living? For example, dressing, grooming, shaving, toileting, eating.
  2. Personal Care: Are baths/showers being taken regularly? Is there any body odor? Are teeth and hair brushed and washed regularly? Are incontinence products worn if necessary and changed regularly and correctly?
  3. Driving: Has driving become difficult, uncertain or scary? Have reflexes and decision making slowed? Have new dings, dents or scratches appeared on vehicles?
  4. Nutrition: Is your or your loved one’s weight stable? Are you/they eating regularly and nutritiously? Is the refrigerator properly stocked with a variety of foods? Does all the food have current expiration dates? Is there spoiled food in the refrigerator or on the counters?
  5. Household Tasks: Are household chores being done regularly? For example, dusting, laundry, vacuuming.  Are bed linens changed regularly? Have household chores become frustrating, physically demanding, or time consuming?
  6. Socialization: Do you or your loved one have moods of loneliness, despair, depression, frustration, irritability, or anxiety? Is there fear or insecurity about going out of the house?
  7. Mental Health: Are there memory lapses?  Is there difficulty finding the right words? Is there inconsistency between words and action? Is anxiety or moodiness evident?
  8. Medication: Are medications being taken regularly and on time? Are medications being refilled on schedule? Does the senior understand what the medications are being taken for?
  9. Finances, Mail, Paperwork: Is the senior having difficulty managing their checkbook, finances, bills and personal affairs? Are there past due notices arriving? Is mail piling up? Is there a reasonable amount of cash on hand? Are important documents or similar items like purses, wallets and keys being misplaced frequently or for long periods of time? Are they appearing in unusual places?
  10. Safety, Security and Sanitation: Are appliances being left on such as the stove or coffee pot? Does the senior fall asleep with cigarettes burning? Is the house allowed to get too hot or too cold? Is the house always unlocked? Has the senior fallen in the past 6 months? Have there been multiple falls? Is there clutter on the floor? Is trash piling up in or around the house? Are toilets functioning properly? Is pet debris evident?

Family members often see the changes in the way a senior moves, acts, thinks, and responds to situations around them but dismiss them until one of two things happen. Either the family begins to spend so much time helping the senior themselves that they have little time for their own responsibilities or the senior experiences a physical or medical crisis. Both of these result in undue stress for the family and the senior. If you have a concern with even one set of indicators, it’s time to acknowledge it, learn more about what is causing it and what options are available to overcome it. Speak openly, calmly, and honestly about the issue and the type of assistance needed to overcome it. Frequently, simple changes can make a big improvement. We encourage you to be proactive and avoid a crisis situation that throws everyone into an emotional reaction. Calm, rational transitions are easier on everyone than stressful ones.

Finally, keep your efforts as informal as possible. Rather than going through the house like an inspector with a checklist, make your observations through normal, casual interaction. Make a mental note when you see things that are of concern. Keep conversation non-threatening and cooperative. Make every effort to respect the senior’s wishes while assisting with their needs.

When the time comes that you believe your loved one needs some help at home, contact Hallmark Homecare  to request a free, no-obligation phone consultation with one of our veteran Care Coordinators. We can provide you with information and assistance in determining the best care for your situation.