June is Men’s Health Month!

June is Men’s Health Month!

If you are feeling worn down as a caregiver for an aging loved one, you are not alone. You may feel isolated, at times, desperately needing the support of others and seeking guidance as to how to make your life a little easier.  One thing is for sure, all across the country many of us are struggling to care for our loved ones. It’s likely that each one of us will be caring for a loved one in the future. And caregiving is not a short-term commitment.

Being a caregiver takes a toll. This is evidenced both emotional and physically. Unfortunately, our own bodies do not stop needing care while we provide care for others. Many of us are also providing for our own families, still maintaining a day job as well as needing to care for ourselves.  Coping as a caregiver means being able to discern not only your loved ones’ needs but knowing the importance of caring for yourself.

There are some basic “caring” support measures that we must offer ourselves. Remember, you are a very important person, and you need and deserve proper care.

  • Exercise Daily: Whatever our caregiving schedule, we can only take care of others if we take care of yourselves. Walk, run, stretch, lift weights, dance, and do whatever you do, but do some physical exercise 30-60 minutes four to six times a week. If you only have ten minutes a day to exercise, this better than no time at all. A walk around the corner is a great way to clear your mind. Exercise truly does relieve stress, increases your energy level and protect your health. Strength training two times a week will help keep your bones strong and your muscles firm. This is important if you are caring for someone else. Every morning, think through your day and try to anticipate little pockets of time you can devote to exercise. Take whatever measures you must to make it happen…do as if your life depends on it!
  • Accept Your Own Limits: As a loving caregiver, we want to be able to say; “I can do it all”, but we need to accept, that we also must care for ourselves.  We must proactively ask for help and support from outside. Taking good care of yourself and your loved one involves recruiting additional help at times.  Even if you feel you do not need extra help now, you will need assistance in the future. Everyone needs a break and time to enjoy their own life. It’s so much better to have peace of mind that the world will go on without you when you need or want time away. Talk to your doctor, a senior care professional, a pastor or others that you trust about your situation. Respite care is an excellent resource for giving you “time off” from caregiving to take care of yourself.   Plan ahead by making a list of people you can recruit to help you. Having options will help you manage the extra demands of your time and give you a sense of control.
  • Relax: Daily relaxation is vital to our own health. Deep breathing, meditation, praying, or doing whatever helps you to reduce stress. If possible, take time at the beginning and the end of the day to practice these techniques and any other available moments you can.
  • Talk: Everyone needs to share their own caregiving challenges and successes. It is always reassuring to know that you are not the only one having certain struggles. Find people you can trust and share your heart with them. Join a support group for caregivers. Just know that you are not alone and hearing another person’s story can be a great comfort. You may help someone else as you share your thoughts and feelings as well.
  • Schedule Time for Yourself: You may not remember the last time you left your responsibilities and just took time for yourself. Caregivers typically feel very guilty taking time away from their loved one. Taking time to do something that is not work-related will actually make you a better caregiver. Read a few pages from a book, window shop, take a nap or go to the beach. It is not just okay, it’s vital for your wellbeing.
  • Get Enough Rest: If you are lacking on your sleep, your body will soon let you know. Without proper sleep you’re putting your own health at risk. Try to get at least eight hours of rest each night. If you are required to be up at night with your loved one, take naps the following day when your loved one is sleeping.
  • Eat a Balanced Diet: If you are preparing meals for your loved one, this should be a good way to manage eating healthy for yourself. Just as you want your loved one to eat well, your nutrition is vital to your health.  Keep veggies and fruit available for snacks, eat whole grains, avoid high fat and carbohydrates, increase your water intake to six to eight glasses a day and avoid concentrated sweets and too much caffeine.
  • Get Organized & Simplify: Being a caregiver, a parent, a grandparent, a worker outside the home, etc. brings many demands of your time. Control those demands by recruiting your own family to help with chores at home.  Stay organized daily with whatever method works for you. Simplify by saying no to activities that may not fit the current demands of your time.

Caring for a loved one is a tough job. At times it’s frustrating, overwhelming and exhausting. It’s also one of the most rewarding jobs you will ever do. But, as a caregiver, you know your loved one is reliant on you and wants you to be healthy and happy. We all perform better physically and mentally when we are taking care of ourselves. So make sure you’re not forgetting to make yourself a priority.

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.

Arthritis: Symptoms and Care

Arthritis: Symptoms and Care

Arthritis is one of the most common diseases in the US. Millions of adults and half of all people age 65 and older are troubled by this disease.

Arthritis is best known as a condition of painful, stiff joints. In fact, there are a variety of symptoms. Most arthritis is chronic, with symptoms lasting years. Arthritis can attack joints in almost any part of the body. The primary forms of arthritis cause changes you can see and feel such as pain, swelling, warmth and redness in your joints.

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common type of arthritis in older people. OA starts when cartilage, the tissue that pads bones in the joint, begins to wear away. You are most likely to have OA in your hands, neck, lower back, or the large weight-bearing joints of your body, such as knees and hips. OA symptoms can range from stiffness and mild intermittent pain with activities like walking, bending, or stooping to severe joint pain that persists even when you are at rest. In time OA can cause disability if your back, knees, or hips are affected. OA is primarily an age-related condition and may be hereditary. OA in the knees may be aggravated by weight. Injuries or overuse may cause OA in joints such as knees, hips, or hands.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease. In RA, your body attacks the lining of a joint just as it would if it were trying to protect you from injury or disease. For example, if you had a splinter in your finger, the finger would become inflamed-painful, red, and swollen. RA leads to inflammation in your joints and can attack almost any joint in the body. This inflammation causes pain, swelling, and stiffness that lasts for hours. This can happen in many different joints at the same time. People of any age can develop RA, and it is more common in women.

Arthritis Treatment

Each kind of arthritis is handled a little differently, but there are some common treatment choices. Rest, exercise, eating a healthy, well-balanced diet, and learning the right way to use and protect your joints are key to living with any kind of arthritis. The right shoes and a cane can help with pain in the feet, knees, and hips when walking.

There are medications that can help with pain and swelling. Acetaminophen can safely ease arthritis pain. Some NSAIDs (nonsteroidalanti-inflammatorydrugs), like ibuprofen and naproxen, are effective for inflammation paid, however there are side effects to be aware of, such as stomach bleeding and they may raise blood pressure. You should read the warnings on the package that comes with the drug. Talk to your doctor about if and how you should use acetaminophen or NSAIDs for your arthritis pain.

Osteoarthritis

Medicines can help you control OA pain. Rest and exercise will make it easier for you to move your joints. Keeping your weight down is a good idea. If pain from OA is very bad, your doctor may provide a corticosteroids shot in the joint. When effective, relief can last for up to a month, but there are long-term health concerns with continued use of steroids. Some people have surgery to repair or replace damaged joints.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

With treatment, the pain and swelling from RA will get better, and joint damage might slow down or stop. In addition to pain and anti-inflammatory medicines, your doctor might suggest anti-rheumatic drugs, called DMARDs (disease-modifyingantirheumatic drugs). These can slow damage from the disease. Another type of drug, biologic response modifiers, blocks the damage done by the immune system. They sometimes help people with mild-to-moderate RA when other treatments have not worked.

Exercise Can Help

Along with taking the right medications and properly resting your joints, exercise is a good way to stay fit, keep muscles strong, and control arthritis symptoms. Daily exercise, such as walking or swimming, helps keep joints moving, decreases pain, and makes muscles around the joints stronger.

Range-of-motion Exercises: Dancing and yoga both relieve stiffness, keep you flexible, and help you keep moving your joints.

Strengthening Exercises: Weight training will keep or build muscle strength. Strong muscles support and protect your joints.

Aerobic and Endurance Exercises: Bicycle riding and running or brisk walking make your heart and arteries healthier, help prevent weight gain, and improve the overall working of your body. Aerobic exercise also may decrease swelling in some joints.

Alternative Treatments

A helpful short-term treatment is the application of heat, such as applying a heated compress, soaking in a warm bath, or swimming in a heated pool. Massage devices in conjunction with heat have been reported to provide temporary relief for OA pain.

Recent studies suggest that Chinese acupuncture may ease OA pain for some people. Research now shows that the dietary supplements glucosamine and chondroitin may help lessen your OA pain. These are both considered “alternative” therapies.

Summer Activities for Seniors & Caregivers

Summer Activities for Seniors & Caregivers

Enjoying the warm summer temperatures doesn’t have to be a distant memory for elders and caregivers. Finding an interesting activity that is suitable for a senior’s abilities may take some creativity and planning, but it is well worth switching up the routine and getting out of the house.

The Benefits of Getting Outside

A main advantage of heading outdoors, even for a short period of time, is being able to soak up some sunlight. Sun exposure generates vitamin D, which is necessary for a healthy brain, bones and muscles. Getting out also enables elders to socialize with new people and be stimulated by new experiences and environments.

Ideas for Outdoor Activities

When selecting activities to do with your loved one, focus on hobbies and interests that they used to enjoy. What is something they always wanted to try? Don’t be afraid to ask what they miss doing or what they’d like to revisit. Have a couple of suggestions prepared to choose from and head outside to enjoy the day together.

Catch a sporting event. Attending a grandchild’s soccer game or a professional baseball game can be an action-packed way for your loved one to reconnect with a favorite pastime.

Fish for fun. You can cast a rod from a dock, pier, or other location, even if someone has mobility problems or uses a wheelchair. Check your state’s or province’s tourism websites to see if they provide listings of accessible fishing locations.

Be a tourist. If you live in a city, take an open-air bus or trolley tour to see the local sights. Another option could be a boat tour, depending on what type of equipment an elder needs to take with them. A Sunday drive around town can also allow a senior to check out happenings in the community that interest them. This could be a neighborhood rummage sale, farmers market, community event or even just blooming flowers and trees.

Take a dip. If a senior is willing and able, spending some time in a pool is an excellent way for them to incorporate some physical activity into their routine that seems more like relaxing than a workout.

Stroll around. If a walk is possible, start slow and work up to longer outings. Either keep the first few walks short or bring along a walker or wheelchair in case your loved one gets tired and needs to rest along the way or requires help getting back.

Be an animal lover. This could be as simple as encouraging a loved one to sit outside and enjoy the sights and sounds or could mean an outing to the zoo or local dog park. There are plenty of options for seniors who enjoy animals to get outside and either interact with or observe nature.

Picnic outdoors. Picnics are another flexible activity that you can plan at a park, in your own backyard, or on the surrounding grounds of a long-term care facility. At the park, seniors can watch children run around and enjoy the buzz of outdoor activity. Make sure to locate an area with comfortable seating and plenty of shade in advance or remember to bring your own.

Go out for a treat. Most seniors have a favorite place to eat that picks their spirits right up. Instead of limiting this indulgence to special occasions or the post-doctor’s appointment routine, make an outing out of it “just because.” This could consist of a coffee and pastry from a favorite breakfast spot, or a lunch special from the diner around the corner. If the weather is nice, enjoy your goodies at a patio table.

Older bodies don’t adjust to temperature changes or perceive thirst as well as younger ones. With each of these activities, be sure to watch your loved one for signs of fatigue, thirst, sunburn, and overheating that could signal it’s time to leave, perhaps with a promise to return at another time.

How to Cultivate New Friends As You Age

How to Cultivate New Friends As You Age

As baby boomers age, more and more folks will reach their 80s, 90s—and beyond. They will not only lose friends but face the daunting task of making new friends at an advanced age.

Even in your 90s, the notion of being a sole survivor can seem surprising. Perhaps that’s why 91-year-old Lucille Simmons of Lakeland, Fla., halts, midsentence, as she traces the multiple losses of friends and family members. She has not only lost her two closest friends, but a granddaughter, a daughter and her husband of 68 years. “There’s only one living sibling—and I’m having dinner with him tonight,” said Simmons.

Five years ago, Simmons left her native Hamilton, Ohio, to move in with her son and his wife. She had to learn how to make friends all over again. Simmons takes classes and plays games at her community. She also putters around her community on a golf cart (which she won in a raffle) inviting folks to ride along with her. She spends quality time with relatives (whom she regards as friends) and non-family friends.

Friendship in old age plays a critical role in health and well-being, according to recent findings from the Stanford Center on Longevity’s Sightlines Project. Socially isolated individuals face health risks comparable to those of smokers, and their mortality risk is twice that of obese individuals, the study notes.

Baby boomers are more disengaged with their neighbors and even their loved ones than any other generation, said Dr. Laura Carstensen, who is director of the Stanford Center on Longevity and herself a boomer, in her 60s. “If we’re disengaged, it’s going to be harder to make new friends,” she said. Carstensen said that going back to school can be one of the most successful ways for an older person to make a new friend.

Genuine friendships at any age typically require repeated contact, said Dr. Andrea Bonior, author of “The Friendship Fix: The Complete Guide to Choosing, Losing and Keeping Up with Your Friends.” She advises older folks to join group exercise classes or knitting or book clubs.

She also suggests that seniors get involved in “altruistic behavior” like volunteering in a soup kitchen or an animal shelter or tutoring English as a second language.

“Friendships don’t happen in a vacuum,” she said. “You don’t meet someone at Starbucks and suddenly become best friends.”

Perhaps few understand the need for friendship in older years better than Carstensen, who, besides directing the Stanford Center on Longevity, is author of “A Long Bright Future: Happiness, Health and Financial Security in an Age of Increased Longevity.”

Carstensen said that going back to school can be one of the most successful ways for an older person to make a new friend.

Bonior recommends that seniors embrace social media. These social media connections can help older people strike up new friendships with nieces, nephews and even grandchildren, said Alan Wolfelt, an author, educator and founder of the Center for Loss and Life Transition.

“It’s important to create support systems that don’t isolate you with your own generation.”

Many older folks count their children as their best friends — and Carstensen said this can be a big positive on several levels.

“I don’t think it matters who your friends are,” she said. “It’s the quality of the relationship that matters most.”

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.