Sunday, May 29, 2016

During Men’s Health Month, Talk to Dad About Fall Prevention

Every June since 1994, we’ve celebrated Men’s Health Month. The sponsor of this event, the Men’s Health Network, says that this recognition is a time to “heighten the awareness of preventable health problems and encourage early detection and treatment of disease among men and boys.” Families are encouraged to make wellness a part of their Father’s Day celebration.
One topic to discuss with Dad is fall prevention. Falls are a pretty serious issue for older adults. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each year, one in three American seniors takes a fall. One-fifth of these falls will result in hip fracture, a head injury or other serious injury that can lead to hospitalization, a loss of independence and even death.
Studies show women are more aware of the risk of falling, and they’re more likely to take steps to lower their risk. Now it’s Dad’s turn! Encourage Dad to…
Get more exercise—Many more women than men sign up for exercise classes, but a February 2016 study from Yale University found that men actually benefit more from working out. The team, led by geriatrics professor Dr. Thomas M. McGill, found that men who exercise can lower the risk of a serious fall injury by 38 percent. The male study subjects who exercised were 53 percent less likely to sustain a fall-related fracture, and were 59 percent less likely to be hospitalized in the aftermath of a fall. Encourage Dad to talk to his doctor about an exercise program that includes activities that build muscle strength, joint flexibility and coordination.
Give his home a safety inspection—Many falls are caused when a senior trips over a throw rug, electrical cord or a patch of ice. Remove hazards, and make home modifications that can reduce the risk of falls, such as improved lighting and grab bars in the shower. And while you’re fall-proofing your home, don’t forget Dad’s “man cave” or workshop. Are cords from power tools lying across walkways? Is that greasy old floor mat frayed at the edges? Does Dad tend to pile things on the basement stairs?
Eat right, and don’t drink too much—A sensible diet—what, when, and how much we eat—helps improve a person’s energy, stamina and alertness, all factors for reducing the risk of falls. And it’s important to know that many falls are caused when a person has had “one too many.” Alcohol can negatively affect balance and coordination and slow the reflexes. Encourage Dad to talk to the doctor if he’s drinking more than is recommended.
Get screened for osteoporosis—Many people believe that osteoporosis, a potentially debilitating bone-thinning condition, is a women’s disease. But older men are also susceptible. A study from Northwell Health (formerly North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System) found that only one-fourth of men think it’s important to be screened for osteoporosis—yet around one in ten men will suffer an osteoporosis-related fracture during their life. Diagnosis can help them get treatment that can protect their bones and lower the risk of fall injury.
Talk to the doctor about other fall risks—If Dad has experienced dizziness or balance problems, report those right away. He should have his vision and hearing regularly tested. And each year, he should have his medications reviewed; prescription and nonprescription drugs can lower the risk of falling by treating Dad’s health conditions, but some medications cause drowsiness and other side effects that can raise the risk.
Learn more about Men’s Health Month at

Friday, May 20, 2016

A Free Meal That Can Cost Seniors Plenty

Older adults are often the target of financial swindlers. According to the Investor Protection Institute, over half of adult protective services workers, doctors, law enforcement officials, securities regulators and others who regularly deal with older adults report often encountering elderly victims of financial exploitation. U.S. government figures show that financial fraud costs seniors close to $3 billion each year!
The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau recently reported that seniors are often invited to attend “free lunch seminars”—events that are marketed as educational get-togethers, when in fact, they are sales events to sell everything from insurance products and funeral services to financial investments, such as reverse mortgage products, real estate investments, mutual funds and securities. Some free lunch seminars are on the up and up—but many are hard-sell sales pitches in disguise.
Seniors can be especially vulnerable to this sales tactic. They often have a nest egg—money in retirement accounts, home equity and other accumulated assets. They may be dealing with memory loss and impaired judgment. Seniors were raised in a time when politeness was valued—they find it harder to say no. And the wording on the invitation may be designed to create a sense of urgency—“limited seating available,” “call now.”
According to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), these seminars are often advertised with names like “Senior Financial Survival Seminar” or “Senior Finance Workshop.” Sounds good, right? Who doesn’t want to learn about financial well-being?
And a free lunch, what’s not to like? The seminars are often held in upscale restaurants, posh hotels or golf resorts. Sometimes they’re even held in the person’s own retirement community or church. There might be door prizes, gifts, or the chance to win a vacation trip and other prizes. The speaker might even be a celebrity or known author! With all this high-class spectacle, they must be on the up-and-up, right?
And the postcard invitation has a reassuring claim that “this is not a sales pitch.” Sounds good! However, says FINRA, even if attendees aren’t pressured to make a decision or purchase at the seminar, they often receive follow-up contacts from the company. Perhaps as the dessert is being served, the presenter passes out cards for the diner’s contact information. Sales calls follow, and the seller can be pretty persistent!
It’s important to be cautious. According to FINRA, half of the sales materials attendees received “contained claims that appeared to be exaggerated, misleading or otherwise unwarranted.” Even worse, 13 percent of the seminars appeared to involve outright fraud. Though not all free-lunch seminars are held by unscrupulous companies, it’s good to be cautious.
Read more from FINRA here. And if an older friend or loved one tells you they’re planning to attend a free lunch seminar, here’s a thought! Make them a lunch yourself, and while you’re chowing down, watch this short video from FINRA to open the conversation about how to avoid the free-lunch bait.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Can Caregivers Go on Vacation?

If you are a family caregiver, this might sound familiar: you use up most of your vacation time to help your elderly parents with their healthcare and other needs. If your parents live at a distance, that’s where you go on your vacation. If your loved one lives with you or nearby, it seems like an overwhelming impossibility for you to get away on your own—wouldn’t you worry the whole time, so you wouldn’t even be able to enjoy that beach resort or city tour?
The Aging Life Care Association—formerly the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers—recently released a tip sheet for family caregivers who are considering getting away on a vacation trip:
When you are responsible for the care of an aging loved one, summer vacations or weekend getaways may seem out of reach. The questions race through your mind: What happens if Mom falls? Who will remind Dad to take his medications? What if there is a storm? You feel overwhelmed and cancel your plans.
But not taking time away from caregiving responsibilities can lead to bigger problems—caregiver burnout, stress, or poor health. With some extra planning and help, primary caregivers can take a break. Aging Life Care experts from the Aging Life Care Association offer these tips to ensure a loved one is safe and comfortable while the caregiver is away:
In-home caregivers: If there is not another family member or trusted friend or neighbor to fill in for you, connect with an Aging Life Care Professional who can help arrange for in-home care, monitoring, or transportation needs. Many Aging Life Care Professionals offer 24/7 service and can serve as an emergency contact while you are away. Depending on the individual’s needs, paid caregivers can assist with activities of daily living—bathing, dressing, mobility, meal preparations, house cleaning, or transportation. If you plan on using a caregiver, spend time getting the caregiver and your loved one familiar and comfortable with each other and to be sure that the caregiver is a good match.
Organize important documents: Prepare a folder or binder of information for the person/agency who will provide care and oversight while you are away. Include information on emergency contacts, physicians, preferred hospital, pharmacy, and other service providers, such as therapy services, Meals on Wheels, home care agency, etc. Also include the loved one’s medication list and other important documents such as Power of Attorney, Living Will, Advance Directives, and Do Not Resuscitate orders.
In-Home Technology: There are a variety of new technologies designed for keeping aging adults safe in their homes, including personal emergency response systems (PERS), GPS tracking devices, automated medication reminders and dispensers, as well as systems that allow someone to remotely monitor or control the usage of certain electrical outlets or appliances.
Respite care: Many retirement communities, assisted living facilities, and nursing homes offer respite care on a per diem basis for short stays. If the senior needs daytime-only activities or supervision, consider an adult day care center.
“Caregiving is exhausting and difficult work,” says Jeffrey S. Pine, Aging Life Care Association past president, “but with some extra planning and research, it is possible to take some time away from your caregiving responsibilities to recharge your batteries.”
Source: Aging Life Care Association (ALCA), adapted by IlluminAge AgeWise. Visit the Aging Life Care Association website ( for more information and to access a nationwide directory of Aging Life Care Professionals.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Talking With Your Loved One About Incontinence

Seniors who are experiencing urinary incontinence often feel all alone. But they are not. Though the topic seldom comes up in conversation, incontinence affects more than half of women past the age of menopause, and also affects many senior men. According to the American College of Physicians (ACP), over $20 billion per year is spent on incontinence, and it accounts for 6 percent of nursing home admissions.
Family caregivers are often the ones to notice that an elder loved one is experiencing incontinence—yet many family members report that their loved one avoids discussing the problem. But this is a genuine health issue that needs to be addressed promptly. Incontinence causes skin irritation, interferes with sleep, and can lead to depression. As seniors worry about having an “accident,” they begin to stick close to home, leading to a debilitating decline in social connectedness, physical activity and intellectual stimulation. This can lead to a dangerous cycle. For example, Dr. JoAnne Pinkerton, Executive Director of the North American Menopause Society, reports on the relationship between incontinence and osteoporosis. Said Dr. Pinkerton, “Many women with incontinence find themselves limiting physical activity out of fears of leakage.”
Incontinence seldom gets better without medical treatment. Yet the National Association for Continence estimates that the average senior waits close to seven years to report the problem to their doctor. The ACP said that women, in particular, often remain silent. Said ACP president Dr. David Fleming, “Urinary incontinence is a common problem for women that is often underreported and underdiagnosed. Physicians should take an active approach and ask specific questions such as onset, symptoms, and frequency of urinary incontinence; it is estimated that about half of the women with incontinence do not report it to their doctor.”
What Causes Urinary Incontinence?
As is true with any health condition, the first step in treating incontinence is to determine underlying causes. It’s important to diagnose the type or combination of types of incontinence the person is experiencing.
Urge incontinence results from neurological damage, strokes, diabetes or the aftermath of bladder infections or kidney stones. In this circumstance, the individual does not receive a signal in time to reach the bathroom before the bladder begins to empty itself.
Overflow incontinence occurs when small amounts of urine leak from a bladder that is always full due to conditions such as obstruction, constipation or nerve damage. In men, enlarged prostate is often the cause.
Stress incontinence means the involuntary passing of urine during any increase in abdominal pressure, such as coughing, sneezing, laughing or lifting heavy objects. It is caused by weakened pelvic muscles.
Functional incontinence occurs when a person has normal bladder control, but is unable to get to the toilet on time because of a mobility problem or dementia.
Depending on the underlying cause or causes of a person’s incontinence, the doctor may recommend:
Lifestyle changes, such as cutting down or eliminating caffeine, alcohol and tobacco products or some medications, all of which can irritate the bladder.
Bladder training, which builds a patient’s ability to hold urine for longer periods.
Pelvic muscle exercises to strengthen the bladder muscles and the muscles of the pelvic floor.
Medications targeted to treating the type of incontinence the patient is experiencing.
Medical devices to help prevent leaking or to hold the bladder in place.
Surgery, which is sometimes recommended when other treatments are ineffective.
Treating underlying medical conditions, such as urinary tract infections, obesity and osteoporosis.
Many people with incontinence feel more secure wearing special absorbent, disposable undergarments which are inconspicuous and quite effective at masking the incontinence. These undergarments are sold in drugstores and supermarkets and can enhance the person’s peace of mind.
Providing Help While Preserving Your Loved One’s Dignity
Family members are urged to reassure their loved ones and to encourage them to seek help. Use tact and sensitivity when discussing this issue with your loved one. Try not to overreact if an older family member or friend has an accident around you. This is one of those occasions in which you need to be particularly careful in your caring! The first step might be to share with your loved one that they are in good company with millions of other people who are taking charge of incontinence. If your loved one agrees, come along to a healthcare appointment and talk to the doctor about ways you can help—which might even be as simple as cleaning up clutter so your loved one can make it to the bathroom on time. Even though this can be an embarrassing problem, it’s nice not to feel alone while addressing it.
Learn More
The National Institutes of Health’s SeniorHealth website offers in-depth information for consumers about the diagnosis and treatment of incontinence.