Tag Archives: Guest Post

HO-HO-H2O: Aquatic Therapy and Exercise Gifts

For the Christmas season, Felecia Fischell, aquatic specialist, has written a personal piece on  shopping for aquatic gifts.

The noodle is by far the most useful and versatile piece of aquatic equipment, and experientially speaking, HYDRO-FIT® sells the best product on the market. The HYDRO-FIT density foam has the longest shelf life I have ever seen. Several lasted more than 10 years, being used in a fresh water lake, saltwater cruise ship pool, chlorinated swimming pool, hot tub and the ocean. Currently referenced on their website, HYDRO-FIT sells the 54-inch long, 3.25-inch diameter solid noodles for $11.95 plus shipping. The shipping was considered “oversized” and therefore more expensive. However, I would rather purchase them again, as an eco-conscious consumer, because I have seen way too many of these equipment deteriorate and crumble in as little as one calendar year of indoor swimming pool use. Financially speaking, a $12 noodle, lasting 10+ years, is less expensive than buying $3 noodles every year or two. Because they are solid, not hollow, and made of superior foam, noodles retain their flotation properties well and do not become easily waterlogged. If you purchase a noodle, it can be straddled or wrapped around the back under the arms and may negate a need for the more expensive waist belt.

Photo Credit: Courtesy from HYDRO-FIT, Inc.
Photo Credit: Courtesy from HYDRO-FIT, Inc.

Waist belts are particularly useful when training in deep water. Low back support and aid in maintaining a vertical posture, when striding and pressing through the water with limbs can be important. This is so as not to compromise safest form through movement. There are many brands of belts and since this may truly be a personal comfort matter, it is difficult to recommend a specific one. Most belts should fit snugly around the midsection, almost as if the person cannot breathe when out of the water. The belt should not have dangling loose parts or get in the way of arm or leg movement through their fullest range of motion. Since waist belts are not often used in therapy as in exercise, this article provides tips to consider, rather than recommending a preferred brand. Please note, however, that belts which are straps with flotation “pillows” can be placed in different locations along the strap secured around the body. This may not only impede some movement but also increase the risk of losing the safest vertical form.

HYDRO-FIT still makes many of my most favorite products and during the Christmas season, their $100 cuff kit is being sold for $85. This kit includes a pair of webbed gloves (thin), a pair of hand buoys, a set of cuffs (which can be used not only on ankles or arms, but also buckled together to form a waist belt), and a very useful, sturdy mesh tote. I have enjoyed using other brand webbed gloves, as they do not need to be rolled down off the hand from the wrist, to prevent stretching that occurs if pulled off from the fingertips. Novice users do not require the added resistance and power of thicker, more robust gloves. Hence, the “wave mitts” included in this kit are perfect for beginner.

All of the items mentioned (highlighted and underscored) so far, except the gloves, are buoyancy equipment. The webbed gloves are drag equipment, as are paddles, bells and blades. Drag equipment is useful in that it works “omnidirectionally.” When under water, the drag equipment can train muscle parity (balance between complementary muscle pairs) more smoothly as it is not buoyant and likely to pop up to the surface. Muscle parity is frequently a more desirable objective in the outcome of rehabilitation and developing proper function for daily activities.

Paddles have evolved in design and form such that there are now glove-like devices that can be worn. There are far more designs and manufacturers of these than the paddles I use and started using more than 20 years ago. Comments based upon experience allow me to reference a pair of paddles that are hand-held, about 17-inch long and have a disc at each end. There is a center dial, allowing for adjustment of the triangular openings around the inner diameter of each disc. Water flows through the adjusted openings, making the resistance minutely modifiable. They are inexpensive, at less than $20 per pair, and withstand the test of age and durability. Water Gear Aquaflex manufactures these paddles and they can be obtained from many online vendors, including Swim2000.com. Persons with gripping issues or especially compromised wrist joints should not necessarily use such paddles.

max Blades and Bells by AquaLogix are inexplicably a new favorite. Purchased just a little over a year ago, their durable plastic polymer construction gives a sturdy appearance and I have found them easy to don, care for, carry and use. The bells come in three different sizes and the grip handles, inside the bells, make the equipment particularly comfortable to hold. The blades almost appear to be the innards of a turbine engine, and they are attached to a velcro strap that cinches around each ankle (or wrist/forearm). Using drag equipment is beneficial to those who prefer developing their strength by controlling the amount of force to move the equipment through water. Such folks do not want the feature of buoyancy to support their extremities when working out in the water.

From the Nekdoodle to the Wonderboard and Buoyancy Wrap by Sprint Aquatics, there is SO much product on the market today. Swim Outlet is one online clearinghouse for aquatic equipment of all sorts including suits, shoes, videos and electronics. Purchase choices are greatest through internet sources, where name brand sources can sometimes be found at small discounts. Store bought products are usually of lesser quality and cannot be supported for replacement, like many manufacturer websites. The choices are numerous, overwhelming and sometimes hard to decide. Visiting local aquatic and therapy facilities that use equipment is a great way to try out products before making the investment. There is no harm in asking if you may borrow or even test out the products in a pool facility during a non-busy time. Just make sure to bring your own towel and be prepared with a swimsuit worn under your clothes or kept in the car. Have fun helping yourself, a friend or loved one celebrate a positively Buoyant New Year!

Felecia Fischell is an aquatic specialist with 25 years experience in aquatics. She leads aquatic classes and consults as an aquatic personal trainer and a swim instructor in and around Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia, USA. The Founder of FunLife Aquatics Consulting and Personal Training, Felecia presents at health fairs and has given aquatic presentations to high schools, Howard County Board of Education, Howard County General Hospital and Howard Community College.

12 Ways to Reach Out to Caregivers During National Caregivers Appreciation Month

Photo Credit: Marianne Scuccio
Photo Credit: Marianne Sciucco

Chances are you know someone caring for a loved one who is sick or has a disability. This could be due to an illness such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cancer, stroke, or a variety of other conditions. Some family members provide live-in care, others visit daily or weekly, and some oversee care from a distance, or care provided by hired aides or a nursing facility.

No matter how the caregiver performs his or her role, caregiving is a tough job, requiring resources that are often scarce: time, money, support, and assistance. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that more than 34 million unpaid caregivers provide care to someone age 18 and older who is ill or has a disability, and an estimated 21 percent of households in the USA are impacted by caregiving responsibilities.

Almost all of this work is unpaid, typically provided by family members and often performed around the clock with no breaks. Also, many caregivers juggle other responsibilities such as jobs, raising children, and managing their own households.

November is National Caregivers Appreciation Month, and a great time to reach out to those providing care and help lighten their load. In recognition of those who work tirelessly and selflessly to care for a loved one, below are 12 ways to offer assistance and let caregivers know that you care. These people need support and often that support does not cost much, if anything, and takes little time.

  1. Ask if you can sit for them a little while so they can run errands, take a break, see the doctor, or attend church or a caregiver’s support group, whatever they need to do to take care of themselves.
  2. Going to the grocery store? Call and ask if there is anything you can pick up for them.
  3. If your employer allows, donate paid sick time, vacation days, or personal time to a coworker caring for a relative who is hospitalized or needs post-hospital care.
  4. Volunteer to mow the lawn, weed the garden, rake the leaves, or shovel the snow.
  5. Share the bounty, whether from your vegetable or your flower garden. Fresh produce and fresh flowers are cheerful.
  6. If you have the skills and tools, offer to change the oil in their car and rotate the tires.
  7. Again, if you have the skills and tools, offer a free haircut to the caregiver and/or their loved one.
  8. Walk their dog.
  9. Ask if they would like you to wash and clean out their car.
  10. Volunteer to take out the trash and bring the barrels out to the curb on trash day.
  11. Double cook a meal, preferably one of their favorites, and send over a dinner.
  12. Include them in your prayers.

For more information about caregiving and caregivers, please follow #AlzAuthors on Twitter during National Caregivers Appreciation Month in November 2015, or find AlzAuthors on Facebook.

Marianne Sciucco is not a nurse who writes but a writer who happens to be a nurse. A lover of words and books, she dreamed of becoming an author when she grew up, but became a nurse to avoid poverty. She later brought her two passions together and writes about the intricate lives of people struggling with health and family issues. Her debut novel, Blue Hydrangeas, an Alzheimer’s love story, is a Kindle bestseller, BookWorks featured book, IndieReader Approved, and winner of IndieReCon’s 2014 Best Indie Novel Award. A native Bostonian, Marianne lives in New York’s Hudson Valley and when not writing, works as a campus nurse at a community college. She can be reached via her website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Keeping Brains Healthy Across the Lifespan: Is It Really As Easy As Counting to 5?

Photo Credit: Allan Bergman
Photo Credit: Allan Bergman

Research over the last 20 years on the impact of lifestyle on brain health indicates that how people live each day can strongly influence the delay and potential prevention of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. To appreciate the full weight of these findings, the World Alzheimer’s Report 2014 estimates that if dementia is delayed for just five years, incidence would be cut by half! By 2030, this delay translates to nearly 44 million people who will not succumb to dementia, and estimated financial savings for individuals, their families and global health systems is projected to exceed $600 billion.

Risk for age-related brain disease, the number one fear of people over 50 in the USA, begins decades before symptoms appear. The appeal of embracing a protective lifestyle is a welcomed alternative and becomes increasingly important from middle age onward. While the brain’s plasticity across the lifespan means that it is never too late to benefit from healthy lifestyle choices, the rule of ‘use it or lose it’  implies that loss of unused neural networks, skills and healthy habits are harder to recapture the older people get.

Figuring out how to live each day may not be so simple. Though multiple studies show a difference in types of daily activities for people who did not develop dementia versus those that did, pinpointing WHAT activities is complex. Researcher Jaak Panksepp’s work sheds light on wired at birth brain networks that need to stay active across the entire lifespan to effectively promote survival and longevity for mammals. These include seeking, play, care and restoration. Scientific news reports also tout the importance of sleep, exercise, diet, leisure activities, antioxidants and other factors supporting brain health. In general, beneficial lifestyle activities create awareness and reflection, involve physical activity, promote heightened engagement and connection to people, pique interest, and more.

Frequency counts! The above-referenced research suggests that those who did not develop dementia engaged in at least five beneficial activities per day, five days a week. Given that average cognitive decline for people over 60 is 1-2 percent per year, frequency appears to be very important to avoid this slippery slope. Actual improvement in cognitive function will also likely require MORE than these activity levels. For most, this runs counter to conventional thinking about aging, which tells people to slow down or retire as they age.

Brains are better off if individuals participate in beneficial activities such as good sleep, exercise, learning and play; and people engage in interesting, fun hobbies five times a day, five days a week. Due to the slippery slope of decline per year, people need to maintain a healthy lifestyle throughout their lives by staying active. The goal is not to overwork the body to keep brains healthy, so below are two mechanisms that promote wholesome lifestyles and offer protection if people take time out because of illness, injury, or vacation.

1. The longer people engage in beneficial activities, the more cognitive reserves they build, which protect against cognitive decline. Education and physical exercise are the primary ‘reserve’ builders. Education across the lifespan is the best way to maintain and improve brain functioning, and the more physical exercise people do over many years, the greater resiliency their bodies have to fight unhealthy aging. Reserves will kick in for protection if injury, illness or an abundance of stress occurs. Even those with ailments can partake in tailored activities that ensure the highest possible quality of life.

2. It is possible to multiply the benefit of each activity by adding ‘boosters’. There are a number of ways to do this, but for simplicity’s sake, counting to five is ideal:

  • Add social engagement to any activity throughout each day.
  • Weave a physical element into whatever you are doing – work up a sweat as you vacuum, go for a walk while on the phone, take action breaks when sitting for extended periods.
  • Choose activities that are meaningful to you – be with people you care about, do things you consider important and have always wanted to do.
  • Love what you do! Choose activities that make you and others laugh, that make you feel great, and that bring out the best in you.
  • Try new things, meet new people, stretch your mind and body in ways you have not done before.

By counting to five – five activities a day, five days a week, five boosters that add up to five more years of brain health – one can reap a potential lifetime of health benefits for both the brain and body.

Joan Parsons, MBA and MS Certificate in Interpersonal Neurobiology, is founder and CEO of Lifestyle Rewired. The company offers lifestyle assessments, High Value Activity Programs and Immersion Travel Programs that enrich and protect brain health. Joan’s mother Sally developed dementia in her 70’s, becoming the inspiration to identify how such a vital woman could succumb to brain disease at a relatively young age. Researching hundreds of studies on the impact of lifestyle on the brain enabled the team to develop concepts and models to support life long brain health, hence Lifestyle Rewired was born. The company’s programs and tools focus on activities that inspire learning, new experiences, and meaningful human connection. 

Family Caregivers: The Unsung Heroes of Society

Photo Credit: Vicki Tapia
Photo Credit: Vicki Tapia

In 2004, my father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s-related dementia and a few months later, my mother with Alzheimer’s disease. That was the year I became a caregiver. While my parents did not reside with me, I was still intimately involved in their daily care for the next 4 and 5 years. Traveling down that rabbit hole of dementia with my parents was difficult and sad. I watched helplessly as this disease steadily and ruthlessly chipped away at their brains, one memory at a time. That said, it was also a time of considerable personal growth for me. I learned to parent my parents with patience and compassion, caring for them much as they had cared for me as a child so many years before. Interspersed with the challenges were times of fleeting lucidity as well as moments of poignant tenderness, which I still remember and cherish, even today. These are moments I would have missed forever, had I not been a family caregiver.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association’s 2015 Facts and Figures, 85 percent of unpaid caregiving help for older adults in the USA is provided by family members. Women make up two thirds of that number, and over half of women caring for people with dementia are taking care of parents.

How many people actually plan on being an unpaid caregiver? Whether it is a spouse, parent or well-loved aunt, it is unlikely that most of us will ever anticipate the reality of wearing the label “caregiver.” As the boomer population continues to age, the number of unsung heroes caring for a family member is on the upswing. According to the report, *Caregiving in the U.S. 2015, there is currently an estimated 34.2 million American adults caring for a loved one 50 years or older.

Caregiving can be overwhelming, both emotionally and physically, bringing with it a myriad of emotions, all of which I experienced at one time or another, including frustration, helplessness, anger, sadness, depression, and guilt. The experience can also be lonely. At times I remember feeling like I was on a deserted island, with nary a person who really understood what it was like.

While speaking at a caregivers meeting recently, two women approached me afterwards to share their stories. One woman told me that her spouse with Alzheimer’s is slowly becoming more than she can handle, but her children are insisting that she keep him at home. The other woman suspects that her elderly father who lives next door to her is showing signs of dementia, but he flatly refuses to go to the doctor. They were both searching for answers. Like growing old, caregiving is not for sissies.

I sensed in these two women what experts label caregiver burnout, a very real phenomenon and the number one reason why it is imperative for all caregivers to recognize the importance of self-care.

If you or someone you know is experiencing the below symptoms, I encourage you to please make time to see a doctor.

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Social withdrawal
  • Sleeplessness
  • Exhaustion
  • Poor concentration
  • More susceptible to illness

*Caregiving in the U.S. 2015 – A Focused Look at Caregivers of Adults Age 50+ was published by the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) and the AARP Public Policy Institute.


Over the past several months, four other authors from across the country and I have crossed paths, all of us affected in some way by Alzheimer’s disease/dementia. Two watched both their parents’ memories disappear and one is a nurse who was a caregiver for those affected. Another is a granddaughter that was forgotten by her beloved grandpa, and the other is experiencing the disease himself.

For the month of November, the 5 of us have joined together together in recognition of both National Caregiver Appreciation Month and National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month to acknowledge those family caregivers who are unsung heroes. From each other, we learned that all of us felt compelled to write our books, eager to make a difference…hoping that we might make the pathway for others traveling this road a little less painful and lonely.

Check out this commentary for more information on these great books!

Vicki Tapia, long-time lactation consultant and published author of numerous lactation articles, found her energies redirected to the other end of life when both her parents were diagnosed with dementia in 2004. Her diary documenting their journey resulted in the publication of Somebody Stole My Iron: A Family Memoir of Dementia, a 2015 finalist for the High Plains Book Awards. The mother of three grown children and eight grandchildren, Vicki lives with her husband and Mini Schnauzer in South Central Montana.

The Science of Alzheimer’s: Where Are We Going?

The McMaster Health Forum, with support from the Labarge Optimal Aging Initiative, recently hosted a public talk to examine the latest research and evidence into risks, prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. This talk featured presentations by Jay Ingram, one of Canada’s best-known and most popular science personalities, and Dr. Christopher Patterson, an expert on the diagnosis and treatment of dementia.

“My experience is that when you talk to people about Alzheimer’s, they have three questions,” said Ingram. “The first one is always ‘am I going to get it?’ The second is ‘If it looks like I’m likely to get it, what can I do to lower that risk?’ And the third question is ‘if that doesn’t work and I do get it, what are the prospects?’”

Jay Ingram
Photo Credit: McMaster Health Forum

Will I get Alzheimer’s?

Early-onset familial Alzheimer’s

“There are two kinds of Alzheimer’s disease – early onset familial Alzheimer’s, which you inherit and is a dominant gene. If you had a parent with this kind of Alzheimer’s, you have a 50/50 chance of getting it yourself,” said Ingram.

But, he cautioned, “That’s so not the norm. There’s really only three genes that have been absolutely identified as early onset familial genes. They represent something less than 1% of all Alzheimer’s.”

Also, not every case of early-onset Alzheimer’s is genetic.

“Yes, there’s a risk but it’s a very tiny risk. For the most part, I think you could set that aside,” said Ingram.

Late-onset Alzheimer’s

“There’s really only one gene that has been unambiguously associated with late-onset Alzheimer’s (that is 65-70 years old and older),” said Ingram. “It comes in three varieties. One is bad, one is neutral and one is actually beneficial.”

“Let’s say, worst case scenario, I’m carrying two copies of the bad gene called APOE4. The most pessimistic of studies would say that that my risk is now 15-fold greater than it would have been. So you might think I’m terrified, but there are some other facts to consider. About half of the people who have the two bad genes never get Alzheimer’s. Plus, a good percentage doesn’t have those genes and do get it.”

“As far as late-onset, it’s so ambiguous for my money, it’s not worth worrying about.”

What can I do to prevent Alzheimer’s?

“There’s this whole constellation of effects, but when you put them together, I think they boil down to some pretty commonsense things,” said Ingram. “Exercise, watch your weight, watch your blood pressure, engage socially and keep your mind active. These are all sort of commonsense things that one should do in life.”

Education

“Education has been shown to be clearly related to your risk of dementia. The further you go in school, the less likely you are to become demented,” said Ingram. “If you continue on in what is defined as a mentally stimulating job, you’re also better off.”

Exercise

The single most important thing that older adults can do to prevent dementia is to walk 35 or 40 minutes a day.

“Exercise. Why is that important? Cardiovascular health, the health of your circulatory system and, maybe most importantly, your blood pressure are all risk factors, if they’re in decline, for Alzheimer’s disease,” said Ingram.

Be social

“There have been studies that show that it’s not even the kind of activities you do, its the number of them that you engage in and the number of people with whom you engage,” said Ingram.

Other factors

  • There is good epidemiological evidence that people who adhere to a Mediterranean-type diet are least likely to develop Alzheimer’s.
  • People who watch a lot of TV are more likely to become demented.
  • Obesity and diabetes are risk factors for Alzheimer’s

Does having diabetes increase the risk for Alzheimer’s disease?

“If you have diabetes, your risk of developing dementia is about twice that compared to if you don’t have diabetes. Certainly, management of blood sugar is important. Whether that actually changes the progression of the disease, I don’t think we know but we would suspect that it would because appropriate management delays other vascular complications,” said Dr. Patterson.

Can cognitive exercises help improve brain function?

“The evidence for enhancing your memory by doing those memory exercises is not nearly as solid as the evidence for physical activity,” said Ingram.

“The evidence is that, in earlier stages of cognitive impairment, you see improvements in those domains in which you practice. If you do memory tests, it may not necessarily improve executive function,” said Dr. Patterson.

How does dementia impact the quality of life for caregivers?

Dr. Patterson commented that in a research project, in which he was involved, quality of life did not diminish in individuals over different stages of the disease whereas for caregivers it clearly did.

“While we talk about memory loss so much , the most disturbing change to families is not the memory loss but the change of mood or affect or personality. That’s where people feel they’ve lost the person,” added Ingram.

If I do get Alzheimer’s, what can I do about it?

Education 

“Understanding the disease and what’s going to happen to that person overtime is extremely important,” said Dr. Patterson. “Also, learning how to deal with some of the behaviors that may evolve as the disease progresses is by far the most important part of management of individuals with dementia.”

Support

Dr. Patterson highlighted that it is important to recognize “that being a caregiver for an individual with dementia is extremely stressful.”

Case management is a way of supporting families through this journey.

Medications

“Of the whole management of individuals with dementia, medications really play the least part.”

“The single medication that is commonly prescribed these days, will stabilize cognition for 9-12 months,” said Ingram. “As the cells generating neurotransmitters die, to a degree, you can replace them chemically. But, the cells are still dying and eventually you can’t make it up chemically.”

Patients may be prescribed medications to help with other symptoms of the disease.

“In the future, there may be medications that can literally interrupt the sequence of the disease,” said Dr. Patterson.

“So what do we do in the meantime? We can do lots of things that make us healthier and happier people. We hope that with increasing general health, reduction of diabetes, and daily exercise slow down the obesity train. That may be, at least in the short-term, the most effective thing we can do,” said Ingram.

The rest of the summary is available here and the video below presents highlights from the event.

Steven Lott is the Senior Lead, Communications for the McMaster Health Forum. He leads the Forum’s communications initiatives including the dissemination of Forum products and information, coordination of public talks, social media engagement, media relations, and website management. Steven has worked with a variety of patient advocates, non-governmental organizations, think tanks, academics and other health system stakeholders in Canada, USA, South America, Europe and Africa to promote strategic health policies.

Who Are You? Where Am I?

In an effort to increase awareness for the first annual National Memory Screening Week held Nov. 1-7, Vicki Tapia, author of Somebody Stole My Iron, has joined with four other authors of books about dementia/Alzheimer’s. This article describes the campaign and presents a brief synopsis of their books.

Photo Credit: City of Overland Park

It was the weekend of our family reunion and almost everyone was gathered together at my parent’s condo to celebrate a milestone. Our patriarch, my dad, was turning 90. When the front doorbell rang, Mom opened the door, took one look at her oldest granddaughter and asked in a perplexed tone of voice, “Who are you?” After a moment of silence, we all laughed a little uncomfortably, but brushed it off, rationalizing the comment as a manifestation of Mom’s stress in caring for Dad, who had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. It was not mentioned again.

Our family continued to somehow normalize or overlook the ever-increasing signs that something was not quite right with Mom’s behavior. Another two years passed before she finally agreed to be evaluated by her health care provider, around the same time Dad was diagnosed with Parkinson’s-related dementia. Although by this time, our family wasn’t completely surprised by Mom’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis, we were alarmed to hear she was already considered to be in the “moderate” stage of the disease. I later learned this scenario is typical.

Studies tell us that the delay in diagnosis can be attributed to the family’s own denial in not wanting to face the fact that something is wrong. In retrospect, this could be applied to our family, although in many ways, we were simply clueless in the beginning. Sometimes, a fear of diagnosis can result in reluctance on the part of the affected person to agree to an evaluation, particularly if it involves an adult child prodding an intractable parent. Healthcare costs may also be a factor in avoiding an assessment by a qualified health care provider (HCP). The oft-perceived stigma associated with a potential diagnosis of dementia/Alzheimer’s can be a barrier to evaluation for the entire family.

National Memory Screening Week

In an effort to promote the importance of early detection of memory problems, the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) has launched the first annual National Memory Screening week scheduled for Nov. 1-7.

The screenings will be free and confidential, and if deemed necessary, refer people onto appropriate follow-up services. One of the goals of the screening is to work toward eliminating the stigma and fears associated with dementia. The AFA also hopes to alleviate fears for people who participate in the memory screening, but do not show a concerning memory problem.

For more information about the screening (date, time) and a list of participating sites, visit National Memory Screening.

Who should consider having a memory screening?

  • Anyone concerned about memory loss or experiencing any of the warning signs of dementia.
  • Anyone who feels they are at risk due to a family history of Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia.
  • Anyone who wants a baseline evaluation of their memory for future comparisons, even though they do not have a current concern.

If you or a loved one answer “yes” to any of the following questions provided by the AFA, it may be prudent to participate in the free memory screening.

  • Are you becoming more forgetful?
  • Do you have any trouble concentrating?
  • Do you have difficulty when performing familiar tasks?
  • Do you have trouble recalling names or words during conversation?
  • Do you sometimes forget where you are going or where you are?
  • Have friends or family told you that you are saying the same thing over and over or repeating questions?
  • Do you often misplace things?
  • Have you become lost when driving to a familiar place or walking in your neighborhood?
  • Have your family or friends told you they have noticed changes in your behavior, moods, personality, or desire to engage socially?

For more information, visit Information for Participating Sites on the National Memory Screening website.



The scene described in the opening paragraph of this blog post is based on an excerpt from my memoir, Somebody Stole My Iron, which details the daily challenges, turbulent emotions, and many painful decisions involved in caring for my parents. Laced with humor and pathos, reviewers describe my book as “brave,” “honest,” “raw,” “unvarnished,” as well as a “must-read for every Alzheimer’s/dementia patient’s family.” I wrote this story to offer hope to others whose lives have been intimately affected by this dreadful disease, and to reassure them that they are not alone.

Four other engaging books about dementia/Alzheimer’s disease that I am pleased to recommend include:

 

On Pluto: Inside the Mind of Alzheimer’s by Greg O’Brien

Greg’s story is not about losing someone else to Alzheimer’s, it is about losing himself. Acting on long-term memory and skill, coupled with well-developed journalistic grit, O’Brien decided to tackle the disease and his imminent decline by writing frankly about the journey. On Pluto is a book about living with Alzheimer’s, not dying with it.” 

Alzheimer’s Daughter by Jean Lee

Jean’s memoir details her journey caring for both parents who were diagnosed on the same day. It is written with wincing honesty about the cruel affects of the disease, but a World War II love story held together by faith and family is contained within the pages.

Blue Hydrangeas by Marianne Sciucco

Marianne describes herself as a writer who happens to be a nurse. She writes this work of fiction based upon her care for the elderly. It is a tenderly told love story about Jack and Sara, owners of a New England bed and breakfast. Sara is stricken with Alzheimer’s and Jack becomes her caregiver.

What Flowers Remember by Shannon Wiersbitzky

Shannon writes this work of fiction through the eyes of a young girl, perhaps not surprising, as her author bio notes that her own grandfather had Alzheimer’s. In the story, when thirteen-year-old Delia Burns realizes that her elderly neighbor is beginning to forget, she involves the entire town in saving his memories.

Vicki Tapia, long-time lactation consultant and published author of numerous lactation articles, found her energies redirected to the other end of life when both her parents were diagnosed with dementia in 2004. Her diary documenting their journey resulted in the publication of Somebody Stole My Iron: A Family Memoir of Dementia, a 2015 finalist for the High Plains Book Awards. The mother of three grown children and eight grandchildren, Vicki lives with her husband and Mini Schnauzer in South Central Montana, USA.

 

 

How Quality Sleep Can Improve Skin Health During Post-Menopause

Photo Credit: 123rf
Photo Credit: 123rf

As the world gets busier day by day, many Americans fail to get enough quality sleep. In fact, lots of people are ready to sacrifice bedtime to catch up on daily tasks. The problem of insufficient sleep has become a huge concern and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now considers it an epidemic along with obesity. Approximately 50-70 million U.S. adults have sleep problems, according to the CDC. Gallup supports this data stating that 40 percent of U.S. adults sleep less than seven to nine hours as recommended by the National Sleep Foundation. Only 59 percent of U.S. adults meet that benchmark.

Lack of sleep is viewed as the cause of major disasters that have claimed and destroyed many lives. Less than the ideal sleep duration leads to difficulty concentrating, poor memory and other cognitive problems. These reduce productivity and result in accidents and man-made calamities. Lack of sleep also leads to a host of life-threatening diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity and cancer. According to a paper presented at ENDO 2015, the Endocrine Society Annual Meeting in San Diego, sleeping 30 minutes less than the ideal on weekdays can boost diabetes and obesity.

Effects To Skin

Insufficient sleep is a major factor that speeds up the body’s aging process. As such, it can lead to many skin-related problems like dull skin, premature wrinkles and bags under the eyes. Sleep experts say that deep sleep allows the body to do two essential processes to produce healthy and  glowing skin: cell repair and release of growth hormones. Decreased cell repair function can boost the body’s inflammatory response, causing more acne and increased skin sensitivity. In addition, more inflammatory cells in the body mean further breakdown of collagen and hyaluronic acid, the chemicals that give bounce, glow, and translucency to the skin.

Sleep deprivation disrupts hormone balance in the body. Therefore, sleeping less prompts the body to secrete more cortisol, the stress hormone. Excessive cortisol in the body can destroy skin collagen, the protein responsible for a smooth and elastic skin. Sleep loss also lessens human growth hormones that help thicken skin, increase body mass, and strengthen the bones. Moreover, lack of sleep leads to poor water balance, resulting in dull and dry skin. In addition, poor water balance in the body causes bags under the eyes and premature wrinkles.

Post-menopausal Sleep Problems

Adults, across all age groups, need eight hours of sleep on average. But elderly people are having a more difficult time falling asleep. Compared to their younger days, they have more trouble staying asleep. Approximately 50 percent of seniors have no problem sleeping. Seniors are light sleepers and their sleep efficiency – amount of time spent in bed as opposed to the number or hours spent in sleeping – falls at a rate of three percent per decade after they reach the age of 60. Lower sleep efficiency means shortened time in deep sleep.

For senior women, the effects of post-menopause contribute to sleep deprivation. The National Sleep Foundation states that postmenopausal women are less satisfied with their sleep and as many as 61 percent of them have symptoms of insomnia. Doctors cite hormone problems in women as the reason for lesser sleep satisfaction. Their fluctuating estrogen levels produce hot flashes and night sweats that disturb the sleep cycle. Drop in estrogen levels may also lead to sleep apnea, a condition that interferes with breathing during the night. Moreover, lowered progesterone levels in postmenopausal women are linked to insomnia.

During post-menopause, disruptions in women’s psychological condition results in sleep problems. The changes in their bodies before and during menopause may bring anxiety, depression, and stress that hinders the body to relax.

Tips for Better Sleep

To maintain a daily dose of sound sleep, do the following tips:

  • Engage in more physical activities. A daily exercise routine is a great way to induce deep sleep. Just make sure it is done less than an hour before going to bed.
  • Make relaxation methods a part of life. Stress and anxiety often make sleep difficult for most people, especially the elderly. Meditation, yoga, proper breathing, and other relaxation activities calm the muscles and nerves, and cues the body to release the sleep hormone melatonin.
  • Make the bed and bedroom a place only for sleep and sex. Almost a third of the day should be devoted to sleep. Thus, the bedroom should be comfortable and free from distractions. Make sure the bed and mattress are also comfortable for a restful sleep.
  • Get enough exposure to sunlight. Daylight exposure regulates the sleep-wake cycle or circadian rhythm. Sunlight cues the body to increase production of serotonin and melatonin. Serotonin is a molecule in the body that regulates sleep and melatonin keeps the body’s circadian rhythm in check. Be careful about getting too much sun exposure as it will trigger age spots. Using sunscreen can prevent current age spots from multiplying or enlarging in size.
  • Put daily activities in order as this can greatly reduce stress and anxiety.
  • Set a sleep schedule and stick to it even during weekends. Going to bed and waking up at a specific time every day will keep the circadian cycle in order.
  • Avoid eating a heavy meal, smoking as well as drinking alcohol and caffeine a few hours before bedtime. While these activities may satisfy the appetite, they can wreak havoc on the sleeping pattern.
  • Consult a doctor. Always discuss sleep problems with a doctor because there are some health conditions and medications that can disturb the sleeping pattern. A hormone imbalance during post-menopause also causes serious inconveniences including much-needed sleep. A doctor may prescribe hormone replacement therapy to restore the decreased estrogen and progesterone levels.

There is no alternative to daily quality sleep to improve health and beauty. A restful sleep not only retains health in postmenopausal life, but it also revitalizes skin to regain a healthy glow.

George Shanlikian MD is the medical director of Genemedics Health Institute. He is a national leader in the field of bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT) and preventative medicine.

Expectations and Reality: A Review of Long-Term Care

Tendercare Nursing Home. Photo by Jeffrey Smith.
Photo Credit: Jeffrey Smith.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to create a standardized time frame regarding end-of-life or long-term care since it varies case by case. While there are signs and symptoms that allow people to predict the direction that someone’s health is going, many individuals begin long term care after a sudden life change that leaves them unable to care for themselves at home. One day, they could be healthy and the next, there could be a stroke or fall. In the best-case scenario for a situation like a stroke or fall, patients return home after successful rehabilitation, but more often than not, patients are unable to fully recover. When this happens, depending upon the severity of the person’s impairment, they are either taken care of by family members or moved into an institutional setting.

About 80 percent of seniors receiving long-term care remain within a private home (either their own or a family member’s), and the remaining 20% are moved into facilities. Each situation has pros and cons and what is best for one individual may not be the right choice for another. Those who remain within their homes are often eligible for home-health services to aid family members in their responsibilities. According to the AARP Public Policy Institute, the elderly population in nursing homes has declined over the past ten years with more people receiving care at home, living in assisted living, or being taken care of in group homes. Nursing homes are generally preferred if a person needs 24-hour supervision.

Long-term care, a general term, refers to the type of assistance provided for people with cognitive or physical limitations. Caregivers provide patients with the care needed to complete daily activities. If patients are unable to remain at home, facilities continue rehabilitation to try and strengthen patients and improve their quality of life. Not only does a more functional patient ease the burden of the caregiver, but the more a resident can do by him or herself (eating, using the bathroom, bathing, and changing), the happier they generally are. As age and illness advance, it is important to not have unrealistic expectations since people start to naturally decline.

Typically, long term care is not paid for by insurance companies so cost is definitely a factor when deciding what is best for your loved one. Even with 80 percent of elders receiving care through informal caretakers such as family members, there is still monetary value attributed to this “donated” care. The time spent caring for a loved one could be spent employed elsewhere with wages. There are also transportation costs to think about since an informal caregiver performs duties otherwise performed by paid healthcare aides. It is therefore important to reach out to a social worker as there are benefits that caregivers may not be aware of in their home state. Some states provide a stipend to informal caregivers while other states grant special benefits. Planning ahead and purchasing long-term care insurance can be a good option for many families. Even without this type of insurance, many facilities, especially hospices, charge on a sliding scale. In some states, there is no fee at all beyond Medicaid coverage. See here for eligibility guidelines and a list of Medicaid rules in your home state.

From long-term care, people unavoidably move toward end-of-life or palliative care, and when a loved one makes the transition, it is not about giving up or hastening death. Rather, it is about making death as comfortable and painless as possible. Many people mistakenly believe that admission to a hospice facility is determined by a life expectancy of six months or less, but this is false. Palliative services exist to relieve emotional or physical pain and to manage symptoms.

Before getting to this stage in life, it is crucial to have a written and notarized document, declaring how your loved one would like the end of their life managed in case they become unable to make decisions for themselves. Without preference information available in one’s medical records, it becomes harder on families in a time when things are already hard enough. Thankfully, people live in a time when long-term care and end-of-life care have made one’s later years more comfortable.

Max Gottlieb is the content editor for the Arizona Long Term Care System (ALTCS) and Senior Planning in Phoenix, Arizona, USA. Senior planning is a free service that has helped many Arizona seniors and their families navigate the process of long term care planning. ALTCS and Senior Planning find and arrange care services as well as help people apply for state and federal benefits.

 

 

The Green Revolution – Care Delivery Redesigned

A growing trend in long-term care delivery has sparked the redesign and re-engineering of senior living centers. This trend includes the integration of plants, gardens, and greenhouses within communities. For instance, assisted living homes and skilled nursing facilities nationwide have adopted horticultural programs in order to improve psychological health and serve as a therapeutic comfort for older adults. Mere exposure to living plants and flowers have also shown to increase activity levels in the elderly as well as influence health outcomes for seriously ill patients.

                                                                      Photo Credit: mksfca

Redesigning homes range from developing community plots or atria that encourage active teamwork and participation through gardening to “meditative labyrinths” or aromatherapy gardens. In fact, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation-supported “Green House Project” takes advantage of greeneries, natural light, gardens, and therapeutic outdoor spaces that drastically improve the environment and ambience of care settings. The Foundation has called the project a “catalyst for significant social change in how frail older adults are cared for in this country” and the initiative is being adopted at sites nationwide.

Green House Project homes may qualify as assisted living centers or nursing homes and can be funded through Medicaid or Medicare. Medicaid provides free or low-cost health coverage for families and individuals with low income and limited resources in the United States. Medicare is the federal health insurance program for Americans age 65 and older, certain younger people with disabilities, and people with end stage renal disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The widespread growth of the Green House Project and other pilot programs represent a movement towards person-centered, comfort-based care. These programs also reflect a broader paradigm shift in the delivery system towards non-medical needs, personal comfort and well-being.

Raca Banerjee works in health care policy and consulting. She has conducted research on a wide variety of policy and legislative issues related to the Affordable Care Act, Medicare, long-term care, health IT, and more. Raca is an active participant of Rotary Club International. In her free time, she enjoys volunteering, performing music, playing tennis, and learning new languages.