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A Safety Issue: Substance Abuse in the Elderly

Have you become concerned about an elderly loved one’s dependence on a prescription drug or you notice that he or she drinks more than usual? Starting and having a conversation about substance use is often difficult, but when it comes to the safety and well-being of your elderly loved one, it’s crucial. What if he or she were to have a fall in the home or cause an accident? There’s no telling what could really happen.

 

Here are some signs that your elderly loved one may have a substance abuse problem and how you can help them:

Substance Abuse in the Golden Years

 

Many people assume that when an older adult abuses alcohol or drugs, he or she has had a problem for years. The truth is that some older adults, who struggle with addiction, develop the dependence in their golden years. An elderly man, who only enjoyed a few beers a couple of times a year when he was younger, but now drinks hard liquor every day or an 80-year-old grandmother, who used to only take aspirin for headaches, but now takes painkillers all day, may have addiction issues.

Reasons for Addiction Later in Life

 

Some elderly individuals start drinking after family has moved farther away or when a spouse or a good friend dies. Others may start to calm nerves, loneliness, and anxiety. Boredom, lack of socialization, and limited mobility may also lead to substance abuse. In some cases, an individual may have had a casual and healthy relationship with alcohol and prescription drugs, but as he or she ages, it becomes a significant concern. Regardless of the reason, there are no specific reasons as to why an elderly individual may struggle with substance abuse.

Signs of Substance Abuse

 

For older people, who struggle with addiction, it is often overlooked or even misdiagnosed. Problematic drinking and prescription drug abuse may not be as obvious as one may think as some symptoms may be assumed to be part of the aging process. Some signs to watch for include, but are not limited to: secretive or solitary drinking, slurred speech, change of appearance, chronic complaints of health, and depression or confusion.

Starting a Conversation, Offering Help

 

Addressing addiction issues is never easy and many family and friends are hesitant to bring up the subject for fear of seeming disrespectful or even being removed from the elderly individual’s will. If you suspect addiction, it’s important to talk about your concerns. First, start out by having a frank discussion. If that seems to go nowhere, try to organize an intervention with a doctor or with friends and family.

 

Offer your love, support, and have resources at the ready, whether it’s a 12 step program, a support group, or therapy. Talking about addiction and getting your elderly loved one help may be a lengthy process that requires the help of professionals and advice about treatment may be most helpful from your local health department, social services, and doctors, who should be able to supply you with adequate resources.

 

Travel Safely Past 65

When we are young, travel is a lark. Slip on the Reboks, pack a toothbrush and underwear, and hit the open road with a cellphone and the kind of energy and agility that feels like it will last a lifetime.

Past 65, when the energy and agility have faded – often noticeably, in spite of our best efforts – travel becomes more complicated, and requires more preparation. In addition to the obvious – travel insurance, necessary documentation, and due diligence – there are medications and medical goods/devices that are mandatory travel items for many seniors with health problems  

Medical Equipment and Supplies for Safe Travel

In some cases, there are even peripheral medical devices, ranging from hand-held and hand-operated asthma-type inhalers (also called bronchodilators) to electrical devices called nebulizers, which deliver a fine mist of medication designed to open airways and relieve breathing. Or consider the equipment needed if one is a Type 2 diabetic – test strips, a glucometer and insulin, without which travel is not possible.  

Finally, there is oxygen, via either a portable generator or tanks which range in size and weight from about 18 inches tall and four pounds, to 30 inches tall and 10 pounds. All these aids and devices are necessary if older people are to travel safely, within a large city, across the country, or to international destinations like Rome, London, Paris, and Cancun.

Because some items may create conflict and longer waits because of Transportation Security Agency (TSA) scrutiny, potential travelers should contact the TSA’s precheck page for cautions and recommendations.

Choosing Locations for Safe Travel

It’s difficult to stay safe in locations where war, social upheaval, or diseases are running rampant. The best defense against traveling to unsafe locations either in North America or internationally is to make oneself aware of conditions in an area being considered for travel.

The most recent example of places to avoid would have been the 2016 Olympics. Organizers sold 4.2 million tickets. In all, about 10,500 athletes and 500,000 spectators attended the opening ceremonies in Rio de Janiero, Brazil on Friday, August 5. Not only were event organizers poorly prepared, and security staff woefully short-handed, but the infrastructure was lacking which would have kept attendees safer from both violence and disease.

Vaccines are a routine part of travel outside the U.S. Some, like the yellow fever vaccine, are mandatory, depending on your destination, of course. Others are recommended, especially for vulnerable demographic groups like pregnant women, the very young and very old, or those with heart disease, cancer, and immune-system diseases.

One of the greatest threats was Zika virus. It will be weeks, perhaps months, before the total number of Zika virus transmissions from the Olympics becomes known, but at least one individual returned to her native land with the disease.

Robberies, muggings and other violence also plagued the recent Olympics, prompting one news media outlet to describe the venue as “…a potential headache for tourists”.

Staying Connected

Travel in the modern world is not only more complicated but also safer, thanks to the technological advances of the last two decades. Mobile phones keep track not only of family, but of travelers themselves, thanks to advanced GPS location tagging and emergency response capabilities.

These phones also make travel more enjoyable and less frantic by incorporating web search technology, electronic mail capabilities, camera technology, and personal databases like medication management systems and Electronic Medical Records, in case illness strikes.

Modern IOS and Android phones are even capable of tracking distance traveled, the number of steps taken or stairs climbed, calories burned, and the length and quality of sleep.

Some software applications for mobile phones, tablets and pads will even allow owners to tag the location where they parked their car, or use the camera software as a magnifying lens with a light to brighten small objects and text.  

Living Alone: Fall Prevention in the Home

The Baby Boomer generation is living longer than previous generations and according to the latest data released from the Administration on Aging, nearly 30% of older adults live alone. While many elders take pride in their continued independence, they may be more prone to suffering injuries while living alone. Elders are at a greater risk of being injured in an accident in the home involving a kitchen fire, accidental poisoning, slip and trips, and being struck by fallen objects that are out of reach.

Out of all of the accidents that occur in the home, falls are the most common and have some of the most long lasting effects.

Falls in the Home

Each year, 1 in 3 elderly individuals, 65 years or older, fall and 2.5 million older individuals are treated in emergency departments for fall injuries. Falls account for 95% of all hip fractures and are the common cause of traumatic brain injuries (TBI) in older adults. Although many falls do not result in an injury, 1 out of 5 falls results in a serious injury, such as a fracture or TBI. As a result to falling in the home and being injured, many elders may be unable to call for help right away, fail to report their accident, or delay treatment. Additionally, once an elderly individual has fallen in his or her home, they may become more fearful of falling again (subsequent falls are common) and they may be afraid to go out and about.

Reasons Behind Falls

A fall in the home can happen for any number of reasons, some common risk factors include lower body weakness, Vitamin D deficiency, and the use of medications. Additionally, as an individual ages, it’s natural for the body to become weaker and issues with vision,mobility and balance, which can also lead to falls. Some other contributing factors leading to falls in the home include poor footwear, uneven floors or steps, tripping hazards like rugs or clutter, and ice or uneven pavement on sidewalks, stairs, or driveways outside of the home.

Reducing and Preventing Falls

When an elderly individual falls in his or her home, his or her independence may come to an end, requiring in home help or even moving to a nursing home facility. While a fall can happen when an individual is being careful, prevention can reduce the chances of falling. Here are some ways to decrease fall prevention in the home so elders can extend their independent living:

  • Get a Checkup: Since issues like poor vision, medications, and even a Vitamin D deficiency can increase the risk of falls, it’s a good idea to have a check up and talk with your doctor about any medications you take to see if they can affect balance or increase dizziness.
  • Stay in Shape: Getting exercise on a regular basis can help to keep your body more mobile and stronger. Consider taking a gentle yoga class to work on your balance and lower body strength.
  • Improvements in the Home: Don’t wait until you fall to fall proof your home. Take a look at the lighting. Is it too low? Install handrails, remove tripping hazards, fix areas that are likely to increase your risk of falling.
  • Ask for Help: Just because you live alone, it doesn’t mean that you have to do everything by yourself. Do you struggle with yard work, house maintenance, or shoveling snow? Ask someone to give you a hand.

Helping Seniors Cope With Stress

For seniors, living in a constantly changing world can be overwhelming and confusing. We live in a world of technological advancements, and societal and political situations that can cause fear and anxiety in anyone. The world isn’t what it once was and it can be difficult for seniors to adapt to the changes taking place. Having a health condition can be difficult for seniors as well, especially if they have a physical disability like arthritis that causes them pain and discomfort. If you are a caregiver, it is important that you create an atmosphere that is stress-free and relaxing for the senior in your life.

Seniors spent their entire life taking care of others. Retirement is their time to rest and reap the benefits that years of hard work earned them. Make sure that the senior in your life is living in conditions that bring them safety and security. Help relieve the stresses in their life.

For some seniors not working or staying active can be stressful in itself. Not being able to do the things they once enjoyed, and even losing their life partner can be emotionally crippling for some. You can help add a little sunshine to their life. Let’s explore some practical ways.

 

Ways to reduce stress

Own an animal If a senior doesn’t have allergy issues, having a pet might help cope with stress, anxiety and depression. Studies have shown that owning a pet can help seniors cope with stress, lower blood pressure, increase social interaction and even help them learn. Cats are known for their soothing and relaxing qualities.

Take a nice walk Some seniors are limited in their mobility. Having a walker may help make walking easier if they are physically disabled or in a wheelchair. Take them out for a stroll. Take a walk through a forest if you can. In Japan, there is a common practice called forest bathing that is said to be a stress reliever. Walking through nature is healing. It also helps fight anxiety and disease.

Avoid negativity If you are caring for a senior, try to avoid adding any stress to them. Turn the TV off every once in awhile and take them outside. Plan fun activities that will allow them the opportunity to engage and interact with other seniors in a positive setting. If the senior you watch is living alone or in a retirement home, help them stay active. If there are community events like an ice cream social or a game of bingo, sign them up for it. Some buildings may even offer free exercise programs. Keeping in mind any physical limitations, make sure to use sensitivity and understanding. Some seniors aren’t as comfortable in social gatherings. Don’t push them too hard. Be patience and understanding.

Vitamin Intake The older one gets the more the bones weaken. Seniors who are dealing with osteoporosis and arthritis are under much pain and stress. Vitamin C and D are boosters that help regulate calcium levels and fight fatigue and depression.

 

Have a nice conversation over coffee

Often the best stress-reliever for most seniors is a quiet and stress-free environment. Play classical music or songs that they enjoy. Sit down with them, have a cup of joe and enjoy a nice and healthy conversation. Who doesn’t enjoy a good story? Seniors have a lifetime of stories to tell, and like anyone, they appreciate someone taking the time to listen. Have some fun and enjoy a good laugh while you’re at it! Laughter is after all medicine.

Staying Active as a Senior: What to Do & How to Do It

What can you do to improve your mood, manage stress, remain cognitively agile, and improve your overall health? No matter what age you are, physical activity is crucial for your mental and physical wellbeing. If you’re hoping to have more energy even as you get older, exercise is a great way to do it. It has the ability to keep you living independently longer, and your risk of disease decreases. So as a senior, what are some good ways to stay active, and how can you do it safely? Here are some things to keep in mind.

  1. Start Slow & Take It Easy

If it’s been a while since you’ve been physically active, make sure you start slowly. The goal is to stay as healthy as possible. You’ll really want to ease yourself into exercise so you don’t sustain any kind of injury whatsoever. Don’t push yourself too hard – listen to what your body is telling you. Work your way up in intervals of maybe 10 or 15 minutes. Give yourself time and space to breathe.

  1. Make It a Priority

It’s important to understand that in order to really maximize the benefits of being active, it should be done on a regular basis. Try to develop of a routine for yourself. Having a somewhat steady routine in general can also help boost your mood. It might be easiest to try exercising first thing in the morning. Motivate yourself to get going – that way you can treat yourself by relaxing later in the day.

  1. Get Social

Invite a couple of friends to get active with you! Use this as a time where you can socialize and catch up with everyone while also doing something great for your health. The more you enjoy what you’re doing, the more you’ll want to do it!

  1. Make It Fun – Do What Works for You

What do you enjoy? You might try walking, gardening, yoga, or water aerobics. This is a great opportunity for you to explore some things you may have never tried before. Get creative, and make your daily exercise something that you have fun doing!

Switch it up occasionally as well. On nice days you can go for brisk walks with friends or put a pair of headphones in with your favorite music while you work in the yard. Walking is also great because you can do it indoors if the weather isn’t great. Water aerobics, swimming and yoga can also be done indoors, so you can get yearlong enjoyment out of them.

Consider different activities that can help improve your endurance, strength, flexibility, and balance. When you do lots of different activities, you reap the benefits of many different types of exercises.

  1. Listen to Your Doctor

Always consult with you doctor before trying anything new. It’s so important that he or she is up to date on what you’re doing. If you’re at risk for heart disease or have any health concerns whatsoever, it’s especially important you talk with your doctor beforehand. Safety is the number one priority! Listen to your doctor, listen to your body and have fun staying active!

Safe International Traveling for Seniors

International travel during your golden years can be one of the best adventures of your lifetime. Unlike traveling decades earlier, you don’t need to worry about using vacation time or returning to work after a relaxing getaway. Given the time and money involved in international travel, maybe you never had the chance until now. While traveling by air, land, or sea can open your mind to a whole new world of opportunities, it’s important to stay safe while traveling. Here are some safe travel tips when traveling abroad:

Have the Right Documents

When traveling abroad, you need to have the proper travel documents to legally enter and exit countries. If you’ve never had a passport book or passport card, you should apply for one as soon as you make your travel plans. Keep in mind that passport cards cannot be used for air travel. If you already have a passport, but haven’t traveled in a while, make sure it’s not expired. Although it can take around 6 weeks to process a passport application, it’s recommended to apply at least three months in advance.

Consider Travel Insurance

Travel insurance is a good idea for any traveler, but especially for older travelers. If you are afraid of running out of medication while on vacation or falling down and getting hurt, travel insurance is a relatively inexpensive way to make you a little safer.

Travel to Safe Places

The U.S. Department of State: Bureau of Consular Affairs, strongly recommends that travelers enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (formerly known as “Travel Registration” or “Registration with Embassies”). By enrolling in the free program, travelers will be given traveling tip, including Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts. With this important information, a traveler can avoid certain areas or cancel travel plans. The program makes it easier for travelers to receive quick and accurate assistance during an emergency or if a passport is lost or stolen. The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program assists with contacting family, in the U.S., if an emergency occurs during travel.

Bring Technology to Stay Connected

Even if you’re not tech savvy, it’s a good idea to bring a mobile device (such as a cellphone) to stay connected or to check in with friends and family. Before packing up your technology, whether it be an iPad, cellphone, or your medical management system, make sure it will work if traveling overseas. Additionally, before you leave, make sure your adult children or someone else knows about your travel plans, other important details, and your plan of action in the event of an emergency, illness, or even death while traveling.

Pack Light, Dress Appropriately

When traveling, it’s always a good idea to pack light. Remember, the more you take, the more you need to keep track of or may have stolen. Bring the essentials and keep valuables at home. When touring the historic narrow, cobblestone streets, make sure you wear comfortable footwear with good tread and a low heel. Don’t wear any clothing or footwear that will increase your chances of slipping, falling, or getting hurt while travel. Nothing cuts a once-in-a-lifetime trip like an injury or illness.

Dating: Senior Citizens

The desire to be loved and adored doesn’t automatically disappear once one reaches his or her golden years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the life expectancy for females is 81.2 and for males, 76.4 years old; with men and women living longer than ever before, there’s plenty of time for a love life. These days, seniors are no strangers to the dating scene and nor should they.

Just because the senior population is living longer and alone, doesn’t mean they should have to pass on companionship. In 2014, 72% of senior citizen aged men and 46% of women of the same age were married. In the same year, there were 8.7 million widows and 2.3 million widowers. While divorce and separation in older individuals remains low at 14%, the percentage has almost tripled since 1980. The statistics prove that there are many seniors on their own.

Although many seniors are happy to live alone or don’t want to attempt the dating scene ever again, many could benefit from companionship.

Take the Plunge, Start Dating

If you are a senior, living alone and longing for companionship, don’t be afraid to get yourself out there and start looking for a potential partner. While it can be an overwhelming adventure, take small steps, be confident, and have fun. There’s no point to dating if you’re not going to enjoy the process. Afraid of be viewed as too silly or immature? Senior citizens dating is more popular (and normal) than ever. Here are some tips to get started:

  • Join Groups: If you want to meet new people the old-fashioned way, you’re going to have to take an active role. Check out classes at your senior center or try activities you’ve never done before (i.e. yoga, hiking, cooking), there may be eligible mates in attendance. Some senior communities have “Singles Groups”, don’t pass up the opportunity to mingle.
  • Look Up an Old Friend: Still think about that old significant other from high school or college? Wonder what he or she has been up to all these years? Do a simple internet search or look them up on a social media site like Facebook. Seems too farfetched? You never know, your long lost love may be living alone and looking for companionship as well.
  • Consider Online Dating: If you consider yourself tech-savvy, give online dating a try. While there are pros and cons to online dating, there are plenty of age appropriate sites just for seniors, such as AARP, Stitch, eHarmony, and Our Time. Many people prefer online dating because they feel like it’s easier to be themselves, but at the same time, some people pretend to be someone they are not.
  • Online Dating Safety: While a majority of online dating is legitimate and safe, you should always be cautious when sharing your information. It’s easy to get swept away by the perfect profile and Mr. or Mrs. Right who seems to pen the most beautiful love notes, but it’s important to beware of potential online scams that can leave you heartbroken and penniless.

When dating, don’t be afraid to be yourself, don’t forget to communicate all or your expectations (it’s okay to be picky), and don’t forget to have fun. While you may not find the love of your life, you may find the perfect dance partner or dinner date, just use your head before your heart.

Cyber Security for Seniors

In the current form of the cyber world, safety has become an issue for a great many reasons. Utilizing the internet can sometimes bring more harm than good, especially when the user is rather clueless of the mechanics of it all. Over-sharing through the internet is a serious issue that is mainly common among young ones. With the recent fluctuation of users, its important to consider cyber security for seniors. They may not be very familiar with technology, and may fall prey to online dangers more easily. This is where the Center for Internet Security comes in.

 

The Threat of Scams Challenges Cyber Security for Seniors

 

One of the main concerns of internet security are scams, and their ability to spread prolifically around the globe. There are mountains of evidence of scams that have cost fortunes. Among the most common victims are the elderly who can be a little too nice, and even gullible, when it comes to sharing. On top of this fact, they are also less likely to report it. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has stated that older Americans are less likely to report a fraud, even after having experienced it.

 

A Discernible Level of Awareness

 

Internet users must be wary of suspicious messages. The elderly must be warned of ‘inviting’ messages like “Free gifts!” and “You’re a winner!” They need to be able to know their rights and limitations as internet users. Your elders must not fall for messages that call for urgency through warnings or scares of their accounts being closed, “new relatives” who suddenly need financial help, and other such scams to con them out of their money. If your elderly loved one does not have the ability to distinguish between safe and appropriate internet activity, then it might be necessary to keep their internet usage under personal watch. Check last visited sites and social media accounts every now and then if you suspect something fishy is going on.

 

Check Online Purchases

 

The need for internet precaution and watchfulness increases if your elderly loved ones like to shop online or use their credit card for other online transactions. This includes the games that they could be playing, or attempts to pay bills through their computer. Buying online has been made as simple as a few clicks, so it is important to be sure that the purchases that are made and sites that are being visited are safe. In such cases, you can consider requiring your authorization for their purchases, depending on their needs.

 

Catfishing

 

Keeping your elderly loved ones safe online is essential. Though certain internet security steps are in place, many elderly are still falling prey to online predators known as “catfish scams.” These are people with fake online profiles that try to extort money from their victims. Although, it might feel intrusive to pry on your elderly loved one’s internet activity, it is a necessary evil in keeping them safe in the long run.

 

To maintain your security, visit the official guidelines here and keep up with the latest internet safety tips.

Seniors and Hygiene: What You Need to Know

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Seniors face many daily challenges. Hygiene can be one of those challenges. A senior with whose cognitive abilities or physical range of motion have recently declined may be in danger of things they’ve never never imagined. Through most of your life, you’re capable of sticking to basic sanitary needs. If you become forgetful with age, or you lose the ability to move in the way you once did, you’ll have issues.

Communication

Some seniors may not be willing or capable of communicating new hygiene needs. This is a sensitive issue. If you are a caregiver, you need to ensure that your patient (or family member, or client, etc) has a safe space in which to discuss problems like this. No one wants to ask for help going to the bathroom or showering. Nonetheless, these things happen and it’s crucial that seniors communicate these needs. As a caregiver, it’s your job to make it comfortable and face-saving as possible for people to come to you with hygiene issues.

Showering

With age, the simple shower can become a dangerous trap. Range of motion decreases and smaller accidents become more serious. For the elderly, a fall in the shower could cause a whole host of big problems. According to the National Institutes on Health (NIH), falling down is a “common reason for trips to the emergency room and for hospital stays among older adults. For a senior, one broken bone could be the difference between independence in a lifelong home and being stuck permanently in a long-term care facility like a nursing home.

Showering is an absolute hygiene must. If someone your provide care for is at risk of a shower fall, you need to be careful. Discuss safety. Keep tripping hazards off of the bathroom floor. A shower chair can work wonders for a senior in the shower, keeping her or him safe, while helping maintain independence and privacy.

Hand Washing

Handwashing prevents people of all ages from getting sick. This is nothing new to seniors. But for many seniors, hand washing has always been an important but relatively small matter; getting sickness was a minor hassle. Older adults have weakened immune systems. This means two things: 1) they get ill more easily 2) illness is much more serious. For the elderly, a simple flu can be life-threatening. According to flu.gov, “Ninety percent of flu-related deaths and more than half of flu-related hospitalizations occur in people age 65 and older.”

As a caregiver, it’s crucial that you remind senior of the importance of good hand hygiene. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention tells us to use soap and water, and to scrub for at least 20 seconds.

Oral Cares

Seniors are also at increased risk for dental health problems. The average person over the age of 65 has “lost an average of 13 teeth,” according to the NIDCR. Make sure any senior in your care brushes for at least two minutes at a time, 2 or 3 times daily. Modern gadgets like electric toothbrushes and water flossers may make this process easier.