Healthy Aging Steps for Seniors and Caregivers

Growing older brings the gift of a long life along with the challenges of aging.  How do we navigate the waters of life as a senior?  Americans are living longer and longer with life expectancy of a new born today being 100 years old.  As we have knowledge of how to maintain a healthy lifestyle, we do not necessarily implement those steps.

However, if we are going to live long, we might as well live well.

Step 1:  Maintain a healthy body weight:  68% of Americans are overweight.   This means whatever your current age, you should try your best not to be overweight.  There are many tools out there and Weight Watcher's says they have more clients online than offline.  The internet makes it easier than ever to access tools to help you stay healthy.

Step 2:  Stay physically fit.  Exercise and enjoy doing it.  Go for a morning walk with a friend, take up tennis or golf or softball (my girlfriend's father retired to Florida and is having a ball playing softball on 4 different teams).

Step 3:  Exercise your brain.  Read the newspaper (before they become extinct) and do the crossword puzzle, play Scrabble or brige or poker.  Take up knitting or take a class at a local community college.  Do something to keep your mind thinking everyday.

Step 4:  Stay connected and involved.  Sustaining happiness happens when you feel engaged in an activity with a sense of purpose.  One of the luxuries of retirement is having more time to spend doing the things you love to do.  Share the wisdom you have learned throughout your life by volunteering in your community or participating in family activities or creating your own weekly events with friends.

The Better Memory Kit provides a convenient program for seniors and caregivers and includes flash cards with questions and games which are appropriate for older adults.  Dr. Dharma Singh Khalsa developed the kit and includes diet and exercise tools and vitamins which assist with memory improvement.






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Dark Chocolate Boosts Elderly Brains

Here’s some science I can get behind: a recent study shows that the consumption of dark chocolate and red wine may improve cognitive function in older adults.  Senior caregivers can now have a positive reason to share chocolates with seniors.

Flavanol consumption is favorably associated with cognitive function, according to The Cocoa, Cognition, and Aging (CoCoA) Study conducted by lead researcher Dr. Giovambattista Desideri, director of the geriatric division in the department of Life, Health, and Environmental Sciences at the University of L'Aquila, Italy, and published online in the August 14 issue of the American Heart Association journal, Hypertension.

In the study, 90 elderly individuals with mild cognitive impairment consumed drinks containing high, medium and low milligrams of cocoa flavenols once daily for 8 weeks. Their results showed a marked difference in brain function, with those who consumed the highest amounts of flavenols scoring higher in verbal fluency and eye-hand coordination. The study was funded by the candy-bar company, Mars, Inc.

If the findings are true, implications could be widespread. Mayo Clinic researchers have found that mild cognitive impairment is prevalent among the elderly and increases with age. According to Ronald Petersen, M.D., Ph.D., “12 percent to 20 percent of the entire population of those over age 70 may have either mild cognitive impairment or dementia, which is quite significant.”

In addition to the recent research, flavanols have been shown to provide a variety of benefits, including improving high blood pressure, preventing blood clots, and improving insulin resistance.

Although dark chocolate’s benefits are many, those suffering with obesity or borderline diabetes should find their flavenols from other sources like broccoli, grapes, apples and tea.

Not all researchers are on board with the findings. According to US News and World Report’s HealthDay reporter Steven Reinberg, when asked, Dr. Sam Gandy, associate director of the Mount Sinai Alzheimer's Disease Research Center at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, said that "the study is interesting but requires replication before it can be taken seriously."

I’ll take my chances and begin to include reasonable amounts of dark chocolate and red wine (along with other flavenol-rich foods, of course) into my diet in my effort to age well.

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Health Care Law (Obama Care) Helps Fight $1 Billion in Medicare Fraud

Medicare fraud rings to the tune of $65 billion each year.  It is difficult to imagine this number and to imagine any type of service or business could operate while having this much money stolen from them each year.  But one of the benefits of the new health care law that has perhaps not garnered enough attention (politicians love talking about all the problems with it) is the fact that there is now a National Health Care Anti-Fraud Association and Medicare Strike Force.

The bad guys buy wheelchairs for people who don't need them and pocket the money and garner approval for medical services via doctors who also will bill for services that do not take place.  Medical equipment has traditionally been an attractive platform for the Medicare fraud along with the home care certifications by medical skilled Medicare agencies.  The Wall Street Journal also did an investigative report showcasing Medicare payments were rather generous for home health agencies with a bonus payout of $2,000 for an additional R.N. visit. 

Before lamenting the costs of Medicare, perhaps the first focus by politicians should be on eliminating the fraud - just as any private sector business, especially public companies, would immediately move to fix fraud that was robbing them of $1 billion per year.  It is also important the reimbursement rates are fair and not inflated for services such as medical equipment.

This is one positive aspect of the new health care law and let's hope that no matter who is leading the country, this focus on eliminating Medicare fraud will remain.

Seniors and their caregivers should be mindful of reviewing medical bills and making sure they are purchasing medical equipment from trusted resources.  It is also important to be wary of telephone solicitations and anyone who claims they will process the paperwork for you.  Eliminating Medicare and Medicaid fraud will take the efforts of everyone, including seniors who benefit from these programs.


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Diana Nyad Attempts Cuba to Florida Swim at Age 63

Senior swimmer Diana Nyad isn’t planning on letting anything stop her this time—not jellyfish stings, storms or hypothermia. In her fourth attempt to make the 103 mile swim across the Florida Straights without a shark cage, Diana Nyad is out to prove that it’s never too late to chase your dream.

The endurance swimmer turns 63 on Wednesday. She’s expected to arrive in Florida some time Tuesday, despite being slowed down and pulled off course by storms. Her last attempt at the effort was thwarted by toxic jellyfish stings. She was 28 years old when she first attempted the swim. Diana Nyad is nothing if not persistent in her desire to make the history.

A CNN Health article sums up Ms. Nyad’s indomitable spirit:
In her 60s, she says, she still feels "vital (and) powerful" -- and definitely "not old." A successful swim ideally will inspire people her age and older not to let their age hinder them, Nyad said.

"When I walk up on that shore in Florida, I want millions of those AARP sisters and brothers to look at me and say, 'I'm going to go write that novel I thought it was too late to do. I'm going to go work in Africa on that farm that those people need help at. I'm going to adopt a child. It's not too late, I can still live my dreams,'" she said.

Read about the swim at Diana Nyad’s blog.

Ed. note: At 742am EDT Diana was pulled from the water when a doctor determined that another jellyfish sting could prove life-threatening. She swam 67 nautical miles for over 40 hours before she was forced out of the water. We at salute Ms. Nyad and her spirit. She continues to inspire us all.


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Caregiverlist Poll - How Many Hours of Caregiver Training

Senior caregivers are required to implement many skills while performing senior care duties.  In addition to providing care for the senior's physical needs, a caregiver must be able to interact well with seniors with memory loss, hearing loss and understand the emotional challenges that come with aging.

Northwestern University's Dr. Lee Linsquist recently ignited a conversation about caregiver training after releasing a study that indicated many senior caregivers are staffed without proper background checks and training.  Senior home care agencies must perform background checks to meet their professional insurance requirements and perform certain caregiver training to meet the licensing requirements in some states.  Caregiverlist's 10-hour online Caregiver Certification training meets the training requirements advocated by the private duty association in the state of Illinois and required by the Illinois Department of Health.

Take Caregiverlist's Poll:  How Many Hours of Training Before Beginning Work as a Professional Caregiver


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Medicaid Eligibility Varies by State and by Unique Case

Medicaid is a government program that provides access to medical care for individuals and families who are otherwise financially unable to receive healthcare or medical treatment.  Eligibility for Medicaid is primarily determined by an individual or couple’s financial assets and income.  The maximum monetary limit for each of these is determined by each state, but consistency does exist among most states’ requirements.  

Medicaid financial requirements for participation, with the exception of a handful of states, require an asset limit of $2,000 for an individual or $3,000 for a couple.  This is the norm across the nation.  In addition, most states placed a limit at less than $1,000 for an individual’s income and a limit of less than $1,300 for a couple’s income.  Additionally, Medicaid typically allows an individual or couple to retain ownership of a house and vehicle and does not include these possessions in its consideration of assets.  A financial “look back” of 5 years further exists nationwide, which prevents individuals from quickly transferring their assets to another’s possession in order to qualify for Medicaid.   

Interesting trends in Medicaid income and asset limits reveal that states that maintain higher costs of living reflected these costs in their Medicaid eligibility requirements - Hawaii, Florida, and New York allowed the highest income and asset limits.  For example, Hawaii has the highest income limit, allowing nearly $2000 for a couple and nearly $1500 for an individual.  New York exceeded the asset limit of every other state by far, allowing an individual to retain nearly $15,000, while a couple is allowed more than $20,000 in assets.

While most states make their asset and income limits public, some states require an individual to file an application for Medicaid or to speak with a state worker about their situation in order to determine if they are eligible.  However, nearly all states with publicly displayed financial qualifications for Medicaid include a disclaimer that individuals may still be eligible even if they do not meet the listed qualifications.

Qualifying for Medicaid seems to be a highly personalized process.  While guidelines and limits are presented by many states, the lack of Federal regulation for Medicaid allows for customized cases and flexible financial limits.  Find more information on Medicaid qualifications in your state and search for a Medicaid nursing home in our directory of 18,000 nursing homes nationwide. 

Angela Manhart, Caregiverlist Blogger

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Helen Gurley Brown Tribute: Living in Style until the End

Helen Gurley Brown passed away on Monday night, at the age of 90 and was known as the editor of Cosmopolitan magazine and a leader in the movement for the fun, fearless female.  She was also a senior who kept on living life and kept on working as she aged, setting example for all of us.

I met her once.  On a business trip to New York City a girlfriend was also there on business, as she sold advertising for a magazine, and asked me if I wanted to attend the premiere of a movie called the "Gladiator".  I sort of didn't want to see the movie but it was free and at the Ziegfeld Theatre and so I thought I might as well go.  The movie turned out to be good.  And then after the movie everyone walked to the back to mingle and there was Russell Crowe, but he wasn't famous then, and then I met Helen Gurley Brown.  She must have been pushing 80 and she had on a mini-skirt and high heels and I thought to myself, yes, it will be just fine to grow older because you can keep on dressing fashionable and going out.  A chic older lady - so nice to see!

A profile of her by a friend, in the New York Times, highlights her style and how she turned her publishing office into her own "assisted living" residence, as she showed up for work in her 80's.  She was a career woman who paved the way for women to build a career along with a life.  She will be missed.




Seniors Facebook and Skype to Stay Connected

It’s a simple conversation between sister and brother with the usual niceties. “How’s the weather by you? We’re in the middle of a heat wave.” “How are the grandkids? They look like they’ve grown so much!” “You look good, have you lost weight?” It’s nothing out of the ordinary except that the siblings are in their 80s and live half a world apart. My mother sits down to Skype with her brother in Poland every Tuesday afternoon. They know that although their days of transcontinental travel are probably over, technology like Facebook, Skype and FaceTime can keep them connected.

Seniors are utilizing social networking sites now more than ever, and as a result, are keeping depression at bay. Recent research from The Pew Internet & American Life Project’s Kathryn Zickuhr and Mary Madden, shows that:
  • As of February 2012, one third (34%) of internet users age 65 and older use social networking sites such as Facebook, and 18% do so on a typical day.
  • From April 2009 to May 2011, social networking site use among internet users ages 65 and older grew 150%, from 13% in 2009 to 33% in 2011 and
  • Half of adults ages 65 and older are online.

Studies also show that “internet use contributes to the well-being of elderly Americans, and estimates indicate that Internet use leads to about a 20% reduction in depression.” It also allows the elderly to more easily age in place.

Programs such as Selfhelp’s Virtual Senior Center, an initiative between Microsoft, the NYC Department for the Aging, NYC Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications places “extremely-easy-to-use” touchscreen devices with integrated webcams into the homes of socially-isolated elderly New Yorkers to “create an interactive experience that reduces social isolation, promotes wellness, and provides better access to community services. The program allows participants to engage in activities like discussion groups, museum lectures, and music classes from the comfort of their own home.”

With so much opportunity for interaction, consider getting your senior online. Teach your caregiver how to help facilitate setup. Staying connected helps seniors access and communicate with loved ones and the outside world. In the process, you will help them lead a happier life.


Summer Olympics Showcases Older Athletes

Summer Olympics Brings Older Athletes

Every four years we find ourselves riveted by the spectacle that is the Summer Olympics.  Watching these athletes, these perfect physical specimens at the top of their abilities, vie for the gold makes for a thrilling couch-side activity. I justify my inertia because of my age. The Olympics are, after all, a young person's game, right?

The 2012 London Olympics have plenty of older and wiser competitors to watch, certainly a motivation for healthy aging. In this year's team USA, ten of the more than 500 athletes are over 44 year's old.

While not exactly AARP material, it's pretty amazing to see older competitors in a sea of teens and twenty-somethings.  Not surprisingly, gymnastics and the 200-meter freestyle are not events at which you will encounter older medal hopefuls (not yet, at least.) But if you watch equestrian and shooting events, you will see plenty of mature challengers. 

The 2012 London Olympics eldest statesman is Hiroshi Hoketsu of Japan, who at 71 is the oldest Olympian in 92 years and, along with his 19-year-old mare Whisper (also a senior at 66 human years), will compete in the equestrian dressage event. This is Mr. Hoketsu's third appearance at the Games, making his Olympic debut in Tokyo in 1964. He also harbors some hope to become the oldest Olympian in history four years from now at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

The title of oldest Olympian is held by Sweden's Oscar Swahn, who was 72 when he won a silver medal in shooting at the 1920 Antwerp Games.  According to the sport and science resource, Top End Sports, here are some historical older Summer Olympic competitors

  • Arthur von Pongracz of Austria also competed at age 72 in Dressage in 1936.
  • Louis, Count du Douet de Graville (69 years old) competed in Equestrian at the 1900
  • GamesGalen Carter Spencer was an American who competed in archery at the 1904 Summer Olympics. He won the gold medal in the team competition.
  • Jerry Millner (born July 5, 1847) was a British shooter who represented Great Britain and Ireland at the 1908 Summer Olympics. He won a gold medal in the Free rifle at 1000 yards. At the time he was 61 years old. 
  • The oldest woman to compete in the Olympics was British rider Lorna Johnstone, who participated in Equestrian at the 1972 Olympic Games at 70 years old. 
  • In 1908, British archery winner Sybil Queenie; Newall became the oldest woman ever to win an Olympic gold medal, she was 53 years old.

Certainly as living advertisements for aging well, here are the some of the older Olympic hopefuls to cheer for on team USA:

  •    Shooting: Emil Milev, 44 
  •    Shooting: Daryl Lee Szarenski, 44 
  •    Shooting: Eric Uptagrafft, 46 
  •    Equestrian: Steffen Peters, 47
  •    Equestrian: Phillip Dutton, 48    
  •    Equestrian: Beezie Madden, 48 
  •    Equestrian: Tina Konyot, 50   
  •    Equestrian: Rich Fellers, 52
  •    Equestrian: Jan Ebeling, 53  
  •    Equestrian: Karen O'Connor, 54
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Northwestern University Study Confirms Caregiver Quality Vital Requirement

Senior caregivers must be qualified and trained in order to deliver quality care.  As we have often said, senior caregiving is not at all like babysitting.  The parents are present at the beginning and end of a babysitting shift and children are expected to follow the directions of a babysitter.  In senior care, age-related diseases such as memory loss, can be present, and the additional stress of dealing with the aging process require a trained caregiver.

Now a Northwestern University research study confirms caregiver quality is a vital when senior care services are necessary.  Lee Lindquist, M.D., an associate professor of medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, conducted a research study which is published in the July 13th issue of the Journal of American Geriatrics Society.  The study confirms that quality standards are a must when hiring a senior care company.

Hire-direct care rarely works in senior care and because of the high incidents of financial abuse in senior care, many states have passed legislation requiring only licensed senior home care agencies to provide in-home care (be wary of the babysitter websites - many of them have a long list of babysitter arrests since there is a lack of identification checks to prevent an alias name from being used - - - there are new social babysitting sites where only neighborhood Mom's are making referrals).  Senior care industry professionals know that active management is necessary for successful senior care.  In addition, licensed senior home care agencies provide the necessary payroll taxes and insurance coverages, such as Worker's Compensation insurance and Professional Liability insurance to protect both the senior and the caregiver.

Proper background checks are imperative - it is important to know that a simple name and social security number match are only a beginning.  Proper training for senior caregivers also should be a requirement, such as a caregiver certification course (the state of Illinois requires a minimum of 8 hours of training for senior caregivers and you should ask a senior home care agency to provide you with their training system).

Dr. Lindquist provides "10 Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Caregiver":

  1. How do you recruit caregivers and what are your hiring requirements?
  2. What types of screenings are performed on caregivers before you hire them?  Criminal background check (federal or state?), Drug screening? Other?
  3. Are they certified in C.P.R. or do they have any health-related training?
  4. Are the caregivers insured and bonded through your agency?
  5. What competencies are expected of the caregiver you send to the home?
  6. How do you assess what the caregiver is capable of doing?
  7. What is your policy on nproviding a substitute caregiver if a regular caregiver cannot provide the contracted services?
  8. If there is dissatisfaction with a particular caregiver, will a substitute be provided?
  9. Does the agency provide a supervisor to evaluate the quality of home care on a regular basis? How frequently?
  10. Does the supervision occur over the telephone, through progress reports or in-person at the home of th eolder adult?

Caregiverlist provides a Career Center for senior caregivers which includes training tools and information on the senior care industry.


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