Monday, February 29, 2016

Healthier Heart and Lungs, Healthier Brain?

March 14–20, 2016 is Brain Awareness Week. This recognition event is a good time to take stock of whether we are following a brain-healthy lifestyle.
We’ve learned a lot about brain health during the past decade. We know more about things we can do to lower the risk of Alzheimer’s, stroke and other conditions that threaten cognitive well-being. Positive lifestyle choices include good nutrition, getting enough sleep, reducing stress, protecting ourselves from head injury, and taking part in mentally stimulating activities.
And on the very top of that list is to stay physically active. For years we’ve known about the important benefits of exercise for our hearts and lungs. And research continues to confirm that what benefits the heart and lungs also benefits the brain.
In November, a University of Illinois study added to our understanding of the complicated relationship between having a healthy heart and lungs and a healthy brain. The research team, headed  by researcher Michelle Voss, compared the brain health and cardiorespiratory health of a group of young and older people.
They measured brain health by using brain imagery (functional magnetic resonance imaging) to measure the strength of connections between different parts of the brain. Cardiorespiratory fitness was determined by how efficiently a person’s body used oxygen during physical activity. They found, as expected, that the brain connections were stronger in younger people. They also showed that among older people, those who were physically fit also had stronger brain connections.
Unfortunately—or fortunately, depending on your genes—when it comes to the amount of activity needed for cardiorespiratory fitness, it would seem that there isn’t a level playing field. The University of Illinois team report that some people can maintain better fitness than others, regardless of activity level. Said Voss, “The idea that fitness could be related to brain health regardless of one’s physical activity levels is intriguing because it suggests there could be clues in how the body adapts for some people more than others from regular activity.”
This doesn’t mean that some people can be complete slackers, though. Exercise has brain benefits for everyone. According to Voss, who is currently an assistant professor at the University of Iowa, “An encouraging pattern in the data from our study and others is that the benefits of fitness seem to occur within the low-to-moderate range of endurance, suggesting that the benefits of fitness for the brain may not depend on being extremely fit.”
Almost everyone can take part in an exercise program, no matter what their physical and cognitive condition. A good brain-protective exercise program includes aerobic, muscle-strengthening, flexibility and balance training activities.
Talk to your healthcare provider about an exercise program that’s right for you. Lace up your sneakers and build up your brain!
Source: IlluminAge AgeWise, with material from University of Illinois. Brain Awareness Week is sponsored by the Dana Foundation (

Monday, February 22, 2016

Protect Seniors from Pyramid Schemes

With the growing senior population in America, financial elder abuse has been classified as an epidemic. The Gerontological Society of America (GSA) recently devoted an entire issue of their publication, Public Policy & Aging Report, to the growing problem. The GSA wants to alert financial institutions, seniors and families that scammers wrest almost $3 billion each year from unwitting older adults, and they agree with other experts that elder financial exploitation is “the crime of the 21st century.”
Financial elder abuse might be as obvious as a family member, trusted friend or caregiver stealing from an older adult. Increasingly, online schemes such as phishing, phony sweepstakes and the infamous “grandparent scam” target vulnerable elders. And many scammers take advantage of the fact that Americans are living longer, sometimes with inadequate savings and investments, and find themselves needing employment to supplement Social Security. These con artists concoct a never-ending variety of phony work-at-home schemes and investment “opportunities.”, an online consumer portal from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), recently warned that seniors who wish to earn money after retirement may be vulnerable to being taken in by pyramid schemes, which are increasingly promoted through social media, internet advertising and other online sources. Pyramid schemes masquerade as legitimate multi-level marketing programs, where participants are paid not only for products they sell, but also products sold by distributors in their “downline.”
If you are an older adult, or you have senior friends, relatives or clients who are seeking moneymaking opportunities, share the following information from the SEC:
Pyramid scheme promoters may go to great lengths to make a program look like a business, such as a legitimate multilevel marketing (MLM) program. But the fraudsters use money paid by new recruits to pay off earlier stage investors (usually recruits as well). At some point, the schemes get too big, the promoter cannot raise enough money from new investors to pay earlier investors, and people lose their money.
When fraudsters attempt to make money solely by recruiting new participants into a program, that is a pyramid scheme, and there is only one possible mathematical result—collapse. Imagine if one participant must find six other participants, who, in turn, must find six new recruits each. In only 11 layers of the “downline,” you would need more participants than the entire population of the United States to maintain the scheme.
These are some of the hallmarks of a pyramid scheme:
  • Emphasis on recruiting. If a program focuses solely on recruiting others to join the program for a fee, it is likely a pyramid scheme. Be skeptical if you will receive more compensation for recruiting others than for product sales.
  • No genuine product or service is sold. Exercise caution if what is being sold as part of the business is hard to value, like so-called “tech” services or products such as mass-licensed e-books or online advertising on little-used websites. Some fraudsters choose fancy-sounding “products” to make it harder to prove the company is a bogus pyramid scheme.
  • Promises of high returns in a short time period. Be skeptical of promises of fast cash—it could mean that commissions are being paid out of money from new recruits rather than revenue generated by product sales.
  • Easy money or passive income. There is no such thing as a free lunch. If you are offered compensation in exchange for doing little work such as making payments, recruiting others, or placing online advertisements on obscure websites, you may be part of an illegal pyramid scheme.
  • No demonstrated revenue from retail sales. Ask to see documents, such as financial statements audited by a certified public accountant (CPA), showing that the company generates revenue from selling its products or services to people outside the program. As a general rule, legitimate multilevel marketing companies derive revenue primarily from selling products, not from recruiting members.
  • Complex commission structure. Be concerned unless commissions are based on products or services that you or your recruits sell to people outside the program. If you do not understand how you will be compensated, be cautious.
Source: IlluminAge AgeWise, with information from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy. Find more information here.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Heart Healthy Foods Word Scramble

February is American Heart Month. This is a great time to take a look at the lifestyle choices we’ve made over the past year, and to think about how we can do better. Exercise, reducing stress, not smoking and regular healthcare appointments are on the list—and right near the top is healthy eating!
To inspire you to think about a heart-healthy diet, this month’s puzzle contains the scrambled names of nine good choices—and the hidden name of a food that’s a big no-no. Click here to download your copy of the puzzle. (The answers are at the bottom, if you need a hint.)
Learn More
The American Heart Association (, sponsor of American Heart Month, offers a wide variety of information about heart health, including diet and lifestyle recommendations.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Caregiving Grandparents Need Our Help

There’s a humorous old saying among grandparents: “If I had known how much fun grandkids were, I would have had them first!” This reflects the fact that grandparents enjoy many of the joys of having small children in their lives—with far fewer responsibilities.
But for some grandparents, this is not the case. We hear a lot about the Sandwich Generation—people who are not only caring for their children, but also are providing care for senior loved ones. We know that these caregivers are often busy and stressed. Yet few people are aware of another population of caregivers: According to Generations United, today 7.8 million American children live with grandparents, and 2.7 million grandparents are the primary caregiver for their grandchildren.
Grandparents may end up serving as the primary parent for their grandchildren when the children’s parents are deceased, or are unable or unwilling to take on the responsibility, due to military deployment, substance abuse, incarceration, mental illness or death. Generations United reports that grandparent-headed households are profoundly underserved, and calls for improved support services.
“Children belong in families. When they cannot remain with their parents, the comfort of a grandparent, aunt or cousin eases the trauma of separation,” said Donna Butts, executive director of Generations United. “Compared to children in non-relative care, children being raised by relatives do better. They have more stability, are more likely to maintain connections with brothers and sisters and preserve their cultural heritage and community bonds. Supportive policies help give caregivers the tools they need to ensure children thrive.”
Raising small children when you’re older can be physically challenging. Grandparents may experience conflict with the children’s parents. Their careers can be impacted, and they face financial hardship. The children many have emotional and behavior challenges stemming from separation issues.
University of Washington Professor LaShawnDa Pittman studied a group of Chicago grandmothers, and released her findings in a recent issue of The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences. Pittman reported that two-thirds of grandmother-headed households live at or below the federal poverty line, and often aren’t eligible for or aren’t able to access the services that could help them. “They fell through the cracks in ways that have real ramifications for them,” said Pittman.
Complicating the picture, financial and legal assistance to support these families often comes from both ends—senior service and child welfare services. Fortunately, some states are addressing this growing population through kinship navigator programs to help grandparents work through the complexities of accessing information and services to support themselves and their grandchildren
Pittman found that the grandmothers she studied were resilient and determined. She reports, “Even though raising their grandchildren is really hard, they wouldn’t have it any other way. One of the big things I heard was ‘My grandbaby won’t end up in the system. If that means I’ve got to make these kind of sacrifices, that’s just what it’s going to be.’”
These grandparents do a world of good for their beloved grandchildren—and, according to Generations United, save taxpayers more than $6.5 billion each year by keeping children out of foster care. It’s time to advocate for the needs of these families who model the powerful benefits of love.
For More Information
Read Dr. Pittman’s study here.
Find a director of kinship navigator programs here.
Visit the Generations United website ( to find much more information about grandfamilies.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Infection Control

Protect Seniors from Norovirus Illness
Gastrointestinal illnesses are most common during the cooler months of the year. Those suffering from the unpleasant symptoms sometimes report that they have a case of the “stomach flu,” but this term really isn’t accurate; “the flu” refers to respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses.
The most likely culprit in these illnesses is a class of germs called noroviruses. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), illness from noroviruses strikes up to 21 million people in the U.S. each year. This very contagious illness causes an inflammation of the stomach and intestines. For most people, a bout of norovirus leads to, at worst, two or three very miserable days spent close to the bathroom. But for seniors, norovirus illness can be serious, even fatal.
How do people catch norovirus?
You may have read about outbreaks of norovirus on cruise ships, in college dormitories or in hospitals and nursing homes. This is because the virus spreads quickly in closed places. Unsafe food handling practices can also spread the virus, making it the most common cause of “food poisoning.” You also can catch the virus from contact with someone who has it, or by putting your hand in your mouth after you’ve touched a contaminated surface or object. Infected people can spread the virus even before symptoms begin, and even days after they are feeling better.
What are the symptoms of norovirus?
The signs of norovirus include diarrhea, vomiting, nausea and stomach pain. The symptoms usually strike suddenly. People who have contracted the virus also may experience fever, headache and body aches. These effects usually last for one to three days.
How is norovirus treated?
Viruses cannot be treated with antibiotics. If you or a loved one develops a norovirus infection, bed rest is recommended. Drink plenty of liquids to replace fluids that are lost from vomiting and diarrhea. The doctor may recommend certain types of fluids to help replace important nutrients and minerals.
Norovirus may cause dangerous dehydration, especially in children and older adults. If you or someone you are caring for is severely dehydrated, call the doctor. Hospitalization and intravenous fluids may be required. Symptoms of dehydration include:
  • Decreased urination
  • Dry mouth and throat
  • Dizziness when standing up
How can we prevent norovirus infections?
There is currently no vaccine for norovirus. The best way to avoid catching and spreading it is to use effective handwashing practices. Wash your hands with soap and water before eating or preparing food, and after using the toilet. The CDC reports that alcohol-based sanitizers can be used in addition to handwashing, but they are not a substitute.
Safe food preparation is another important way to avoid contracting the virus. Wash fruits and vegetables, cook foods to the recommended temperature, and disinfect preparation surfaces with bleach-based cleaners. The CDC warns that noroviruses can survive temperatures as high as 140° F, which is higher than we tend to cook some foods.
If you are caring for a person who has norovirus, immediately remove and wash contaminated clothing and linens in hot water (above 140 degrees) with detergent at the maximum available cycle length and machine dry them. Wash your hands after handling soiled items.
For more information about preventing norovirus and protecting yourself while caring for a person who is ill with the virus, visit the CDC’s norovirus information resources (
This article is not meant to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have questions about norovirus or resulting dehydration, call your healthcare provider.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Show Your Eyes Some Love

February 14 is Valentine’s Day, and the entire month of February is Age-Related Macular Degeneration/Low Vision Awareness Month. Members of the American Academy of Ophthalmology recently issued a set of tips consumers can use to show their eyes some love.
Seniors are at heightened risk for age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness among older Americans. The disease damages central vision, limiting a person’s ability to read and to recognize faces. Approximately 2.1 million Americans had AMD as of 2010, and this number is expected to double to more than 5.4 million by 2050. Meanwhile, fewer people are aware of the disease compared to other eye diseases such as cataracts and glaucoma.
To help raise awareness of AMD as Valentine’s Day approaches, the American Academy of Ophthalmology is reminding seniors that their eyes need love, too. There are steps they can take to take better care of their eyes and protect themselves from AMD-related blindness.
Here are five eye-loving tips from the Academy and the facts behind the advice:
Get regular comprehensive medical eye exams. AMD often has no early warning signs, so getting regular comprehensive eye exams from an ophthalmologist—a physician that specializes in the medical and surgical treatment of eye diseases and conditions—is critical to diagnosing and treating AMD in its early stages. The Academy recommends that people over age 65 get an exam every one to two years, even if they have no signs or symptoms of eye problems.
Quit smoking. Numerous studies have shown that smoking increases the risk of developing AMD and the speed at which it progresses. If you smoke, you are twice as likely to develop macular degeneration compared with a nonsmoker.
Know your family’s eye health history. If you have a close relative with AMD, you have a 50 percent chance of developing the condition. Before you go in for your next eye exam, speak with your family about their eye health history. Sharing this information with your ophthalmologist may prompt him or her to recommend more frequent eye exams. The earlier AMD is caught, the better chances you may have of saving your vision.
Eat a diet rich in omega-3s and low in cholesterol and saturated fat. A number of studies have shown that people who had a reduced risk of AMD had diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish. In one study of patients who were at moderate risk for AMD progression, those who reported the highest omega-3 intake (not in the form of a supplement) were 30 percent less likely to develop advanced AMD after 12 years. In another study, an increased risk of AMD was found in individuals who had a higher intake of saturated fats and cholesterol and in those with a higher body mass index.
Exercise regularly. Many studies have shown that getting regular exercise can benefit your eyes. One study found that exercising three times a week reduced the risk of developing wet AMD over 15 years by 70 percent.
“There is still a worrying lack of awareness when it comes to AMD, despite it being the number one cause of blindness in seniors,” said Rahul N. Khurana, M.D., a clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. “Older Americans who are unaware of the disease may be putting themselves at risk by not taking early steps to care for their vision. The good news is that they protect their sight from AMD-related blindness by showing their eyes some TLC with regular eye exams and lifestyle changes.”
Source: The American Academy of Ophthalmology (, the world’s largest association of eye physicians and surgeons. AAO’s  EyeSmart program provides the public with the most trusted information about eye health, including information about age-related macular degeneration. Seniors concerned about their risk of AMD may qualify for EyeCare America (, a public service program of the American Academy of Ophthalmology that offers eye exams and care at no out-of-pocket cost for eligible seniors age 65 and older.
Learn More About AMD
The American Academy of Ophthalmology offers consumer information and resources through their EyeCare America ( information and referral portal, including TheEyeSmart AMD pages.
Prevent Blindness America (, the nation’s leading volunteer eye health and safety organization dedicated to fighting blindness and saving sight, sponsors Age-Related Macular Degeneration/Low Vision Awareness Month. Their website offers information and resources including the Living Well with Low Vision ( webpage.