Caregivers Can Help Seniors with Healthy Aging

September is Healthy Aging Month and while good senior home caregivers take care of important elderly care needs, great senior home caregivers can help their elderly clients or family members live a richer and more healthy life as they age. Healthy aging not only helps the individual, but helps the economy by reducing the burden on the health care system. Here are some tips for healthy aging:

  • Stay active. Try to get some sort of physical exercise (with a doctor’s permission) every day. If you’re not used to physical activity, start slow. Walking is a wonderful way to exercise. Find an activity to enjoy. Perhaps take up a long-neglected hobby.
  • Eat well. Load up on high-fiber fruits, vegetables and whole grains. As much as possible, stay away from processed foods. Remember to stay hydrated.
  • Keep your mind sharp. Board games and puzzles can help keep your brain as active as your body. Take on a new subject, like learning a new language or acquiring computer skills. Take a class. New social connections can also help strengthen the brain.

For a more comprehensive look at healthy aging, read Living Long & Well in the 21st Century, Strategic Directions for Research on Aging, released by the National Institute on Aging.

Find great home caregivers to help with the process of healthy aging in place through a quality senior home care agency.

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Rise of the Planet of the Apes Film Spotlights Alzheimer's Disease

Rise of the Planet of the Apes has critics divided in their reviews. For me, more honestly disturbing than the images of an ape overthrow is the movie’s depiction of the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease.

John Lithgow gives a moving performance as genetic scientist Will Rodman’s afflicted father. James Franco is at his most real when interacting with Lithgow—portraying a son’s desperate attempts to return his father to the man he once was, and the painful realization that he cannot. Says Franco of his character, “His father Charles is suffering from dementia so he moves into his father’s house, which was once Will’s childhood home, to take care of him. Being a caregiver is a role Will has never had to perform before.” The film truthfully conveys the immense frustration experienced by both patient and caregiver.

Of course, the movie also gives us villainous Gen-Sys, a large pharmaceutical corporation that’s more interested in turning profit than developing a cure.

Perhaps the proactive movement toward Alzheimer’s and dementia prevention is prescient. While researchers continue to “race toward the cure” (with better results than the movie’s, one hopes,) there is a growing focus on risk reduction and brain protection.

Guest blogger and Geriatric Care Manager Charlotte Bishop neatly summarizes University of California, San Francisco’s report on possible Alzheimer’s reduction in her latest blog Preventing Alzheimer’s Disease?  Proponents say that by leading a brain-healthy lifestyle, you may even be able to prevent the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.

I hope this movie helps bring Alzheimer’s and dementia into the popular discussion. Charlton Heston, star of the first Planet of the Apes movie, himself suffered symptoms of the disease. And although Lithgow’s depiction is heart-rending, it cannot truly impart the relentless daily battle faced by those affected.

Caregiverlist has partnered with Terra Nova Films to provide training videos to support caring for seniors with memory loss, including Alzheimer's Disease.

Until a real cure is found, prevention and successful caregiving are the most effective tools we can use.

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Alzheimer's Caregivers: Update on Early Diagnosis

Alzheimer's disease research has moved forward with the coordination of multiple organizations and companies to share research data.  The Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative was developed about 10 years ago between two longtime friends. One worked for the National Institute on Aging and the other for a pharmaceutical company.

Bringing together the many different researchers and companies has resulted in identifying biomarkers to diagnose the early stages of the disease, with the hope of developing ways to prevent or treat Alzheimer's disease.

Caregivers for seniors with memory loss can keep up on the latest findings and learn about clinical drug studies which might be appropriate.

Senior Caregiver Training Videos

Caring for seniors involves many skills.  As a senior deals with age-related illnesses and the aging process, their daily needs can change from one day to the next.  Successful senior caregivers must be able to provide compassion and understanding while assisting with physical and emotional care needs.  Seniors with memory loss can present unique care challenges - just eating a meal or taking a pill can take hours instead of minutes on some days.

Caregiverlist provides caregiver training videos to assist you with providing senior care.  How do you assist someone recovering from a stroke?  How do you interact with a senior with Alzheimer's Disease?  Our senior care training videos are divided into short segments focusing on various aspects of senior care.

Caregiverlist's caregiver training videos will help you better understand how to provide senior care for your senior clients and loved ones if you are a professional or family caregiver.

You may also read our senior care briefs and find certified nursing aide training programs in your area and apply for a senior caregiving job.

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The Cost of Caregiving for Alzheimer's Disease in Dollars and Health

Many caregivers feel overwhelmed when a patient or loved one develops Alzheimer’s Disease, the most common form of dementia.  More than 5 million Americans currently suffer from the disease, a number that’s estimated to grow substantially during the next couple decades as our senior population increases with the aging of the Baby Boomer generation. 

By 2030, more than 7 million people ages 65 and older will have Alzheimer’s, according to an estimate published in the newly released Alzheimer's Association annual reportAngela Geiger, chief strategy officer at the Alzheimer's Association, worked with Fox News to identify other key points of this new report, several of which relate to caregivers. Those caregiving for seniors with memory loss can use these 10 factoids on Alzheimer's Disease to better care for their senior loved ones and senior clients.

1) Alzheimer's disease is more than lost memories. Forgetfulness is a hallmark symptom, but the disease cuts deeper. "Your body forgets how to function," explains Geiger. In fact, Alzheimer's disease causes death, as its progression eventually prevents the individual from engaging innate abilities like moving and swallowing.

2) Early diagnosis may garner better care. According to 2009 research in the journal Alzheimer's and Dementia, people 70 and older who were told they had Alzheimer's or dementia by a doctor and were aware of it--or had family members who knew--tended to have more doctor contact and fewer days in the hospital. But early diagnosis, which can translate into a care plan that can have a significant impact on the quality of life of the individual and the family, is not always attained. "We know people don't know enough about early signs [of the disease]," including healthcare professionals, says Geiger. Mood and behavior changes, an early warning sign of Alzheimer's, often get misdiagnosed as depression, for example.

3) Alzheimer's patients have higher out-of-pocket costs. People 65 or older with Alzheimer's disease or dementia pay 30 percent more in out-of-pocket healthcare costs than those without such disease, according to the new annual report.

4) Total healthcare spending is radically higher in Alzheimer's families. Add up all the healthcare dollars spent by various payers--including Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurers--on people 65 or older with Alzheimer's or dementia, and you get triple the burden of people without, says the new Alzheimer's Association report. "The costs get greater and greater as the disease progresses," says Geiger, and more consistent, specialized care is needed, typically resulting in 24-hour nursing home care.

5) Additional medical conditions complicate matters. The majority of people with Alzheimer's or dementia also have at least one other serious medical condition, according to a January report by the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice. For example, 60 percent also have hypertension, 26 percent have coronary heart disease, 23 percent have diabetes, and 18 percent have osteoporosis. The presence of Alzheimer's or other dementia only complicates the management of another chronic disease. To properly control diabetes, notes Geiger, vigilant daily maintenance is required, from checking blood sugar to taking insulin to being extremely conscientious about food choices.

6) Hospital trips become more frequent. Having Alzheimer's or another form of dementia at age 65 or older resulted in triple the likelihood of a hospital stay compared with people without such an illness, says the January Dartmouth report. And the frequency extends to caregivers, too. A 2008 Journal of General Internal Medicine study found that nearly 1 in 4 caregiver spouses of people with Alzheimer's or dementia required a trip to the emergency room or hospitalization.

7) Family caregivers take a personal health hit. Multiple studies have found that unpaid caregivers for those who have Alzheimer's or other dementia are more likely to have higher levels of stress hormones, reduced immune function, new hypertension, and new heart disease than noncaregivers. Geiger stresses the importance of caregivers' efforts to alleviate their own stress: "We want to break down that isolation." She encourages caregivers to participate in local face-to-face support groups or, if they prefer, anonymously in online message boards.

8) Family caregivers face a long haul. People with Alzheimer's and dementia typically experience a slow progression of the disease, so family caregiving is often a long-term prospect. A 2004 report by the Alzheimer's Association and the National Alliance for Caregiving found that at any one time, nearly a third of these caregivers have been at it for five years or longer and nearly 40 percent have been doing so for one to four years.

9) Family caregivers do the job free. The Alzheimer's Association estimates that in 2008, 9.9 million caregivers--from children and other family members to friends and neighbors--provided 8.5 billion hours of unpaid care, which amounts to some $94 billion in value. On top of that, these caregivers pay an average of $219 per month out of their own pockets, according to the 2004 report by the Alzheimer's Association and the National Alliance for Caregiving.

10) The states will feel an increasing burden. The annual report estimates that by 2025, the western states of Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Idaho, Utah, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and Alaska will experience an 81 percent to 127 percent growth in the number of residents with Alzheimer's Disease, as compared to year 2000. Also by 2025, California and Florida, where more than 500,000 residents will have the disease, will lead the nation in volume.

You can also learn more about the costs of senior care and ways to pay on Caregiverlist's home page.

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Early Warning Signs for Alzheimer's Disease

Senior caregivers know the difficulties of caring for someone with memory loss.  But sometimes when you see someone daily, you do not as easily notice some of the early warning signs for memory loss in the form of Alzheimer's Disease.  The Alzheimer's Association has been promoting their new "Know the 10 Signs" for early detection and early diagnosis of Alzheimer's Disease.

 These 10 signs include:

 

1) Memory changes that disrupt daily life

 

2) Challenges in planning or solving problems

 

3) Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure

 

4) Confusion with time or place

 

5) Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships

 

6) New problems with words in speaking or writing

 

7) Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps

 

8) Decreased or poor judgment

 

9) Withdrawal from work or social activities

 

10) Changes in mood and personality


As soon as you notice signs of memory loss, it is a good time to make sure the senior has an estate plan in place and to understand the ways to pay for senior care as many years of caregiving are often necessary for those living with memory loss.


 

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How Alzheimer's Disease Changes Behavior

Everyone forgets something now and then.  How many of us have left the house to go someplace and then remember we forgot to bring something along or wondered if we unplugged the iron or what time a meeting we scheduled weeks ago is suppose to start?  Sometimes we simply have too much information going in and out of our head to properly process it or we don't take the time to really listen and file it away while multi-tasking - regardless of whether we are a senior or not which is why we all have the so called "senior moment".

I am often asked how memory loss for those with Alzheimer's Disease is different than other types of memory loss.  One of the most common answers to this is that Alzheimer's Disease impacts a senior's decision-making ability ongoing and includes confusion of "person, place or thing".  Instead of just forgetting what time a meeting is scheduled for, they might also forget where the meeting is to be held and who is attending or they might confuse their sister for their mother.  Confusion comes into the picture along with the memory loss.

PBS has provided informative programming on Alzheimer's Disease and their website provides a chart showing what part of the brain impacts the various behaviors experienced by those with Alzheimer's disease and makes it a little easier to understand how this disease differs from other types of memory loss.  

Many times a senior may not have their memory loss properly diagnosed.  Because there are a few drugs which can slow the progression of memory loss and services available to help both a senior and their family members with the emotional aspect of dealing with memory loss, definitely make sure you visit a geriatric doctor who can provide a proper diagnosis.  Caregivers can provide better care if they are informed on the type of memory loss the senior has been diagnosed with as there are many tools available for exercising the mind and slowing the progression of memory loss.  It has also been shown that meditation - simply emptying the mind - can be very beneficial for those with memory loss, as well as relaxing.

 

 

 

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Acupuncture Beneficial for Many Age-related Illnesses

Acupuncture originated in China more than 5,000 years ago and continues to be a part of Traditional Chinese Medicine.  The acupuncture points provide gateways to influence, redirect, increase, or decrease the body’s vital substances, qi (energy) & blood, to help correct many of the body’s imbalances.

You are probably thinking "ouch" but actually, the needles used for acupuncture are very thin and delicate.  You will not even feel most of them go in if you have a good practitioner.  And once the needles are in, you still won't feel them except for feeliing maybe extra pressure in that area for a moment.  On one of my visits for acupuncture, I started to get up, thinking all the needles were out.  The ones I could see were gone but there was still one in my forehead, which I didn't realize was still there.  It is a very relaxing experience and not at all painful.

I saw a presentation on senior care in China recently and it was noted that most of their nursing homes offer acupuncture treatments for everything from stroke to memory loss to depression.  It is routinely provided as part of the senior's daily activities- grab breakfast and then show up for an acupuncture treatment.

Acupuncture is beginning to be covered by more health insurance plans in the U.S. and offered in integrative medicine programs at hospitals and clinics.  In addition, more acupuncture research studies are being done to provide us westerners with the proof we seem to need before giving something new a try.  And much of this research is studying the benefits of acupuncture for age-related illnesses.  If it benefits the elderly in other countries, it can benefit the elderly in our country.

One national study showed half of 78 stroke patients receiving standard rehabilitative care, who also received acupuncture treatment recovered faster and to a greater extent, spending 88 days in a hospital or nursing home compared to 161 days for those without acupuncture treatment.  And guess what?  This saves dollars for insurance companies which is another reason acupuncture research is taking place and the reason there is a movement to incorporate it into health insurance plans.

I have found acupuncture to work amazingly well and to be the most cost-effective treatment for ailments.  I fell on my elbow a couple years ago and several months later still had a bump on my elbow along with shooting pain, at times, when my elbow hit something just wrong.  One acupuncture treatment later and the bump disappeared, along with the pain.  All for just $35 at my local college of oriental medicine.

As a caregiver, you may want to find out what acupuncture offerings are available in your area and if there are discounted pricing for seniors - the clinic near me does offer senior discounts.

 

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NFL Begins to Help Former Players with Dementia

Frank DeFord reported on NPR this past week that former Baltimore Colts football star, John Mackey, suffers from dementia.  And, due to efforts by John Mackey's wife and other players and their wives, the NFL and the player's union have started the "88 Plan" (named after Mackey's old football number).  The 88 Plan assists players with dementia.

The NFL does not admit that perhaps head injuries in football and the helmuts that were worn back in the early days of the game, which were not as protective as today's helmuts, contributed to player's experiencing dementia, but at least they are willing to help now.

The NFL has also developed a comprehensive study of brain damage and dementia in players and the results will be revealed in 2010.

John Mackey's wife, Sylvia, also went back to work as a flight attendante when she was 56 to help make ends meet while caring for John, and to get the benefit of health insurance.  Finally, she had to place John in a nursing home to provide for his care.  Caregivers have even more challenges when caring for a physically large person, and former football players fit into this category.  And, when dementia starts when someone is younger, the challenge of financially providing for care is also presented as often they continue to be healthy physically.

The "88 Plan" has now been written into the NFL's labor agreement and provides up to $88,000 a year for nursing care or day care for ex-players with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, or $50,000 for home care.  This will help both former football players who suffer dementia as part of aging and those who are not yet elderly.

Let's hope the NFL's move to provide for their employees who develop dementia will also spread to other industries to prevent financial devastation to families when memory loss develops - and remember that long-term care insurance, which can be purchased privately, also helps pay for these care costs.

And, cheers to Sylvia Mackey for successfully advocating for change in NFL benefits.

 

 

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Cold Sore Virus Linked to Alzheimer's Disease

Last week, Science Daily reported that University of Manchester researchers have discovered the cold sore virus is a major cause of the insoluble protein plaques found in the brains of those diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease.

This discovery could lead to new medications and vaccinations for treatment and prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease.  This is welcome news for seniors suffering from memory loss.

The researchers believe the herpes simplex virus is a significant factor in developing Alzheimer’s Disease and could be treated by antiviral agents such as acyclovir, which is already used to treat cold sores and other diseases caused by the herpes virus.

Alzheimer's disease causes progressive memory loss and severe cognitive impairment. It affects over 20 million seniors (average age of on-set is in the 50’s) world-wide, and these numbers rise with increasing longevity. 

The underlying causes of Alzheimer’s Disease are still unknown and current treatments only assist in slowing the progression of the disease.

The research found most people with Alzheimer’s Disease are infected with the herpes simplex virus type 1 when they are younger and this virus remains in their peripheral nervous system.  The virus causes cold sores in 20 to 40% of those infected with it.  Evidence of a viral role in Alzheimer’s Disease would point to the use of antiviral agents to stop progression of the disease.

The team had discovered much earlier that the virus is present in brains of many elderly people and that in those people with a specific genetic factor, there is a high risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.

The findings of this research are published in the Journal of Pathology.  Professional and family caregivers assisting a senior with Alzheimer's Disease should discuss the findings of this new research with their medical doctor.

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