Senior Health – Helpful Advice for Those of Us With Aging Parents and Loved Ones

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As our senior parents age, we become more and more concerned with their health.  Not just their physical health, but also their emotional health.  Maybe we are seeing their memories decline, or perhaps they have recently experienced the death of a spouse and are struggling to cope on their own.  Sometimes we are lucky enough to be nearby and can help with some of the issues they are experiencing and other times we are far away and need to find help that is closer.  However, in both cases, it often becomes necessary to seek the help of health professionals to assist our senior loved ones as they age.  If you are experiencing these issues, please continue reading for some helpful information.

Staying in the Home

Some seniors feel the best when they are able to stay in their home.  They can be around their possessions, be near neighbors they have probably known for years and are in a familiar neighborhood that they can easily navigate.  However, when their physical health begins to decline, staying in the home can present a problem.  Although you may be able to come in and help them out with some issues, it sometimes makes sense to hire in-home help.

“Our goal is to help people remain independent to the extent that is possible for them,” says Kris Beckenbach with Guardian Angels. “Remaining at home allows a person to keep their own sleep schedule as well as having meals prepared to their liking and on their own time.  Having familiar things in familiar places allows those with visual deficits to function at a higher level without having to relearn their surroundings.  For those who are challenged with memory issues moving can be upsetting. There are times when moving to a facility can alleviate the difficulties of a home with too many stairs or other barriers, but for those with the resources and desire, remaining at home can be a benefit to their physical and emotional health.”

Monica Kuhn with Home Instead says that customization of in-home care is key.  “We offer care consultations with the family members,” she says.  “We find out what their needs are and pride ourselves on matching our clients with the right staff for a lasting relationship.”  Along with their non-medical care such as cleaning, laundry and transportation, they also offer physical, occupational and speech therapy which helps seniors increase or maintain strength, allowing them to be independent longer.

Scott Neal of Right at Home also believes that customizing the best plan for each individual family is the best way to provide personalized care.  “Each of our individuals gets their own custom care plan and assessment, which is done with the family.  We also focus on matching the right caregiver to each client, so we do personality profiles to determine the best fit.  Then, to keep our caregivers accountable, we also have a tracking system that helps give the family peace of mind that their loved are being properly cared for.”

There can be a number of challenges when a senior remains at home, one of the largest of which can be health care.  Whether it’s due to mobility issues, an illness or another factor, it can often be difficult for your loved one to leave the house for doctor’s appointments.  Fortunately, Health at Home Consultants can help with this issue.  “As a Nurse Practitioner in the home, we are able to assist and manage a senior’s care,” says Jamie Peters.  “We believe that when services are performed in the home setting, whether it be at their home or in a retirement community, that individual is most likely to behave in their normal way.  We pride ourselves on knowing our patients and our model is focused on continuity of care.  Our Nurse Practitioners become involved in activities, family events and the everyday way of life.”

Finding the right in-home caregiver can be a daunting task.  Fortunately, there is help available.  “Care Consultants for the Aging is a Home Health Registry, matching professionals with clients in the Lincoln and Omaha areas,” says Robbie Nathan.  “Licensed caregiver applicants are thoroughly screened and all caregivers must provide proof of liability insurance before they are referred to clients.  Caregivers are able to do everything that is needed in a home care setting, whether it be simply offering companionship or tending to medical needs such as transfers, bathing assistance and medication assistance.  Care Consultants also often coordinates with a hospice or other case management agency to ensure that all needs are met so the client may remain at home.”

Transitioning to a Retirement Community

Sometimes, it just makes more sense for a senior to move to a retirement community.  Greg Joyce from Legacy Retirement Communities says, “I believe that people decide to make the move for many reasons.  For some, yard work and home upkeep might be too much, for others cooking and cleaning might be overwhelming and some just want to be in a more social and active environment.  Each individual is different, but in general, I feel that people who look at all their options early and thoroughly and make proactive decisions regarding their future typically enjoy the most benefits from making the move.  If you feel that a move is in your loved one’s five to ten year plan, it is never too early to get out and start looking at your options and begin working on a decision.”

Moving to a retirement community can have wonderful effects on your loved one’s health, both physical and emotional.  “I have seen so many cases where people start to absolutely thrive after moving to our communities,” says Joyce.  Just being in a social environment and having people to dine with and enjoy activities with can be so powerful.  I would honestly say that 95% of those who move into our communities experience an improvement and enhancement in their lives.

Angela Johnston with Milder Manor adds, “Oftentimes, when a senior is at home they no longer have the social outlet they did when they were younger.  They tend to stay close to home and often rely on someone to help them get to an activity or appointment.  We provide that socialization for the senior with activities, group dining areas and one on one interactions with other seniors and staff members.”

If your loved one is hesitant about moving to a retirement community, it’s important to help educate them about how these communities have changed.  They may be picturing a stark nursing facility when today’s communities are actually more like a resort.  “Our communities offer a very wide range of amenities and services,” says Greg Joyce.  “Our focus is improving our residents’ lives and making each day better than the one before.  We offer a vast array of activities and social opportunities, theme dinners, special outings, dances, musical entertainment, special events, happy hours, shopping excursions, sight-seeing trips, family events and more. We also offer five-star menu style dining featuring gourmet creations from our award dinning chefs.  Our dining approach is very unique in that we focus on providing a five-star dining experience each and every meal.”

Helping your loved one make the difficult decision to leave their home and move to a retirement community is not an easy task, especially if they are resistant to the idea.  Angela Johnston suggests, “Listen to what your loved one has to say.  Often times, seniors who go into retirement communities feel they lose the opportunities to make decisions for themselves.  We often see family, Power of Attorney and doctors making the decisions for them and failing to ask their choice in the matter.”

Memory Care

An added challenge that some have to deal with as they age is memory issues in the form of dementia, Alzheimer’s or just a general decline in memory function.  If your loved one is suffering from a memory issue, you may want to consider a community that specializes in memory care.  “Our Memory Support Household benefits those with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis by keeping these seniors in a safe, locked unit where they still have the option to make some personal decisions in a secure environment,” states Angela Johnston.

Those with memory issues have specific needs that may be very difficult or you to manage on your own.  It’s important that seniors with these challenges get the skilled help they need from trained staff who are experienced caring for those with memory impairment.

Finding the Right Fit

Choosing the best retirement community for your loved one’s needs can be a daunting task.  With all of the choices in town, it can seem like an overwhelming prospect to choose just one.  However, if you take it step by step, you can help your loved one make the choice with a minimum amount of stress.

First, you should narrow down your choices.  If you have criteria written up for what you absolutely need in a retirement community (a memory care unit, for example), what you’d like to have (perhaps an in-house pharmacy) and what would be nice to have (a location close to your home), you can begin eliminating prospects and rank the prospects that remain on your list.

Once you have narrowed down and ranked the list, it’s time to start visiting the communities.  Set up a time when both you and your loved one have plenty of time so you don’t feel rushed and visit the top options on your list.  If you can, go during a mealtime and visit with the other residents.  Have an interview scheduled with the director so you can ask him or her questions and encourage your loved one to have a list of questions as well.  Ask to meet other staff members so you can see how you and your loved one relate to them and have a few different questions prepared for them as well.

The most important deciding factor is how you and your loved one feel about the communities.  Do you feel comfortable?  Appreciated?  Communicated with?  Do you feel this is somewhere your loved one could call home?  Determining your feelings in these areas will help you and your loved pick the right option.

Physical Health

Staying healthy is extremely important as your loved one ages.  Whether he or she is remaining at home or transitioning to a retirement community, maintaining their health at the highest level possible is key. Here are a few issues to consider.

Exercise

“Exercise plays a pivotal role in how our bodies age,” explains Anthony Sobotka of Madonna ProActive.  “As we get older, our body’s ability to maintain muscle mass decreases as does our metabolism.  Regular exercise allows us to slow these processes down, preserving our muscle mass and stabilizing our metabolism for a longer period of our life span.  Without consistent exercise, these two processes lead to a much faster regression in our body and its systems, making us more prone to having health complications ranging from diabetes and heart disease to mobility issues.  All of these health issues can take our ability to be independent away from us!  As we age, our focus on the types of exercise we do should change, moving more toward maintaining our daily independence and overall quality of life.  Sometimes in our early years, exercise revolves around more superficial expectations, such as looking good in clothes.  As we get older, the focus needs to be put on overall health and quality of life.  The three criteria to focus on are endurance, strength and flexibility.  Endurance is a vital part of living a long, healthy and independent life.  As we age, so do all of our body systems that keep us alive.  Our cardiovascular and pulmonary systems are the primary two to consider with this thought.  Aerobic exercise is the type of exercise you need solely focus on when it comes to maintaining or improving your endurance and strengthening these systems and can be done by walking, biking, swimming or using machines at a fitness center.  The strength criterion is also important to focus on as you age and can be done in a variety of ways with a variety of equipment including dumbbells, resistance bands and weight machines.  Flexibility is one of the most overlooked criterions for maintaining your independence as a reduction in flexibility means a reduction in mobility.  Improving flexibility is done by stretching your muscles that we use each and every day.  All of us should be stretching daily!”

Anthony goes on to say, “All of those years of living and completing life’s daily tasks can take their toll on our bodies and especially on our joints!  While exercise is a great way to stave off these occurrences if they have yet to show up, there are situations when these issues are already present and may prevent us from partaking in regular exercise.  The most commonly seen issues that prevent us from exercising are joint related and include shoulders, lower backs, hips and knees.  If you or your loved one has issues like this, don’t just give up.  Seek out a doctor to advise you on your situation.  A doctor will recommend taking an approach that will lead you into physical therapy, a recommendation to start an exercise program or further investigation through a specialist.”

Hearing

“Your social and emotional health depends on your ability to engage in meaningful conversation,” says Dr. Sandra Miller of Associated Hearing.  “If hearing loss is present and left untreated, the resulting consequences can include depression, anxiety, social withdrawal and insecurity.  It is important to establish a baseline hearing test by the age of 50 and utilize hearing protection when exposed to excessive noise.  Remember that hearing loss typically happens gradually and can go unnoticed.  In addition, your ability to process information slows as you age, which results in increased difficulty in more complex listening environments.  If you notice any change in your hearing ability or have ringing in your ears, it’s time to have your hearing evaluated.  The solution could be as simple as implementing some listening strategies into your daily conversations.”  It’s important to recognize potential hearing problems in your loved one as well.  If you notice that he or she is asking you to repeat things more often than usual, seems to not be paying attention to conversation or displays other warning signs, get them to an audiologist for a hearing test as soon as possible.

Pre-Planning

A key component of your senior loved one’s health is peace of mind.  If they are constantly worried and stressed about issues, it will take a toll on their emotional and possibly even physical health.  Not planning for issues such as funeral arrangements will cause stress and, if something happens to your loved one before decisions are made, the stress will be transferred to you.  Now is the time to help your loved on make these decisions and it might even be time to make a few decisions for yourself.

“It is rare that someone is golfing one afternoon, shares a wonderful dinner in the evening, and passes away quietly in their sleep that evening,” explains Bryan Block of Butherus Maser & Love Funeral Home.  “More likely there was an extended illness preceding death.  There are financial worries that accompany the extensive care being given and the family may be exhausted from serving as the caregiver for weeks or months.  The strain on the family member’s time and the lack of sleep often leads to lowered immune systems and sickness in the other family members.  There may be children traveling from out of town requiring housing and transportation arrangements being coordinated.  Tempers may become short among siblings as everyone tries to do what they see as the right thing, but everyone is simply tired.  Once death occurs, we take all of these people and start asking them questions about the type of funeral, how it should proceed, who the party is that will be responsible for payment, what songs should be sung, who the minister should be, in addition to dozens of other questions that nobody feels like talking about.  This is NOT the ideal time to be making decisions, let alone major financial decisions.  This is the reason people should make their PRE-arrangements with the funeral home of their choice.  If instead of the above scenario we are able to simply verify with the surviving family members the information we have on file and verify that prepayment was made, then they are able to return home for the much needed support of family and friends.  The bulk of their time SHOULD be spent with family and friends rather than making decisions at the funeral home.  The people who are the most vocal about pre-planning are those who have experienced making funeral arrangements both ways – before death occurs and after death occurs.  There is no comparison.”

Michael Williams with Wyuka Funeral Home adds, “There are several important things to consider when preplanning.  You will want to consider any religious practices that are expected by your faith.  You should consider your family members and their desire to participate in the service by not over planning ahead of time.  Instead, make general suggestions that can be adapted or adjusted to make the funeral more meaningful to the participants.  Refrain from impractical requests.  Your funeral directors can discuss the man pre-planned and pre-need plans available and help you select or design one suited to your personal needs.  If at all possible, discuss these plans with your family for the assurance your plans are appropriate and for their cooperation in respecting them at death.”

“Most people are financially prepared for accidents to their home and automobiles,” continues Michael Williams. “Many are even financially prepared to handle long-term illness. However, few are financially prepared for their final place of rest. Preplanning does have its benefits, including you get a guaranteed price, you select a plan to fit your budget, your funeral services and cemetery needs can be met today out of current income through budgeted payments, you take control by making the decisions for yourself, you eliminate costly, emotional, impulse-driven choices and your loved ones will not be burdened by your funeral expense.”

There are a number of issues that make up a senior’s health, not the least of which are their living situation, stress levels and social interactions.  Helping your loved one make the best decisions to keep them at their optimum emotional and physical health is the best way to help them live their golden years in health and happiness.