Saturday, July 30, 2016

Keeping Nursing Home Residents Connected

As we age, our ability to maintain social relationships may wane. Friends and loved ones pass away, health issues may isolate us, and physical limitations may make it difficult to go out and meet people. But socializing remains important. Not only does it help us feel connected and alive, but it also provides numerous health benefits. Several studies have shown that socialization protects the immune system. Some researchers say that social isolation is a greater health risk that smoking and obesity! A study conducted by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that people who engaged in a lot of social activity in their 50s and 60s had slower rates of memory decline compared to those who were socially isolated. “People need people,” the song goes, and it’s quite true.
“Being socially connected is our brain’s lifelong passion,” says Matthew Lieberman, a professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral science at UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior and author of the book Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect. “It’s been baked into our operating system for tens of millions of years.”
That’s why it’s important for all seniors to remain socially active. But if you have a loved one who resides in a nursing home or other healthcare facility, keeping them socially active may seem challenging. Of course, it’s good to visit your loved one as much as possible. But next time you’re visiting, take a little time to help your loved one find out what social opportunities are available at the facility. You might be surprised!
One of the advantages of having a loved one being cared for in a skilled nursing facility is that there are always people around, providing numerous opportunities for socialization. Most facilities have an activities calendar, so residents can participate in games, movie nights, special parties, and outings to local museums and events. Meals are most often served in a community dining room, allowing people to spend time with another while they dine.
Here are some other tips to improve your loved one’s socialization opportunities:
  • If you see your loved one is not engaging with other residents or seems lonely, talk to the staff. Together, you may be able to come up with a plan to get your loved one involved in more activities and events.
  • When you visit, ask your loved one if they’re meeting other people, and ask to be introduced. If you show an interest in meeting their friends, they may be more likely to make an effort.
  • Encourage them to join any clubs or participate in events that may be offered – book clubs, women’s or men’s groups, religious services, art classes or intergenerational programs. Follow up and show an interest in what they’re doing.
  • Ask the staff it if would be possible for you to bring along your family pet. Socializing with animals provides many of the same benefits of human companionship.
  • Finally, if you know people who know your loved one, encourage them to visit. Seeing a new, yet familiar, face can go a long way in making someone’s day.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Wildfires Endanger Seniors, Even From a Distance

Wildfires have raged in most of the western states and elsewhere this year. Arizona, California and Colorado have been particularly hard hit, and north of the border, the monumental Fort MacMurray fire in Alberta destroyed thousands of homes and businesses. And while wildfire is a part of nature, shaping ecosystems and renewing the land, government agencies make every effort to protect people and property from damage.
When we think about the dangers of forest fires, we mostly think about homes that are destroyed, injuries and fatalities when people can’t evacuate in time, and of course, the dangers to firefighters who risk their lives extinguishing these conflagrations. But the American Heart Association reminds us that even from a distance, wildfires can compromise the health of people—especially seniors—who are in the path of the smoke.
During last year’s wildfire season, the American Heart Association reported on an Australian studythat showed the air pollution from wildfires may increase the risk of heart problems for older adults. Study author Anjali Haikerwal, a doctoral candidate at Monash University in Melbourne, set out to examine the association between the risk of cardiac arrest and the tiny particles given off by wildfires—particles that are smaller than a speck of dust, and are usually not visible to the human eye.
Haikerwal found that during a wildfire event in Victoria, Australia, there was a 6.9 percent increase in cardiac arrests, especially among people older than 65. Seniors also experienced an increase in ischemic heart disease (heart problems caused by narrowed heart arteries). Advised Haikerwal, “These particles may act as a trigger factor for acute cardiovascular health events. Do not delay seeking medical help if you experience symptoms of heart problems during smoke episodes from wildfires.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers advice for protecting these vulnerable seniors from smoke pollution:
  • Check your local air quality reports. Your community may provide reports to the Environmental Protection Agency; check out the website to look for current problems. InciWeb from the National Wildfire Coordinating Group also provides information about wildfire activity.
  • Stay indoors if advised, and keep indoor air as clean as possible. Don’t use the vacuum cleaner—the CDC says vacuuming stirs up particles that are already in the house. Keep windows and doors closed. If you have air conditioning, use it, but keep the fresh air intake closed and clean the filter. If you don’t have AC and it’s too hot to be indoors with the windows closed, go to a designated evacuation shelter or somewhere else where the air is safe.
  • Contact your doctor if you’re having trouble breathing, and evacuate the area if possible.
  • Do not rely on paper “dust masks” for protection. The masks you buy at the hardware store only trap larger particles, such as sawdust.
Of course, we can all do our part by preventing wildfires from starting. Don’t burn trash or debris unless local regulations permit it. If you’re enjoying an outing away from the city, watch your campfire closely. And remind smokers to extinguish cigarettes with care.
Visit FEMA’s website to find much more information about protecting your family and home during wildfires.
Source: IlluminAge AgeWise, reporting on research from the American Heart Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Five Food Myths That May Be Harming Your Health

We’ve all heard the conventional wisdom, either from our doctors or some random studies – fat is bad for you, fish is good, and eggs raise your cholesterol. Unfortunately, some of this advice is not only inaccurate, but could be causing harm, as well as robbing you of high-quality nutrients. It could also be keeping you from enjoying some really delicious and satisfying meals.
Myth #1: “Low fat” is synonymous with “healthy”
Fats have gotten a lot of bad press, but science is beginning to take issue with this notion. First of all, many low-fat or nonfat foods are loaded with sugar (and therefore, calories), which can be more harmful to health than fats. Second, not all fats are created equal. Many foods high in fat – avocados, olive oil, wild salmon, walnuts – have numerous benefits and can actually help improve health. Even the much-maligned saturated fats may not all be bad for you. Several studies on coconut oil, which is very high in saturated fat, have shown that it may have some real health benefits, including lowering blood pressure and preventing tooth decay. Of course, all fats should be eaten in moderation as part of a balanced diet. There are fats you should always avoid – trans fats being the main culprit. In fact, the FDA recently ordered all food manufacturers stop using trans fats because of the potential danger they present. As with all things, it is best to eat all fats in moderation as part of a balanced diet.
Myth #2: All fish is good for you
While much fish is good for you – especially wild Alaskan salmon, sardines, and herring (all rich in brain-healthy Omega-3s) – many fish are high in mercury and PCBs, both of which have been found to be harmful to human health. Shark, swordfish and orange roughy have high mercury levels; walleye and farmed salmon are high in PCBs. Imported shrimp, which is nearly 80 percent of what Americans consume, have been shown, in some cases, to contain high levels of banned antibiotics and pesticides. Ask your doctor if you have concerns about these types of fish.
Myth #3: Eggs are bad for your heart
Eggs are high in dietary cholesterol. That much is true. But there is no evidence that shows that eating eggs raises your serum cholesterol (the number you get from your doctor after a blood test). The Framingham Heart Study examined the serum cholesterol in high versus low egg consumption and found no significant difference in either men or women. In fact, eggs are extremely nutrient-rich and are a source of high-quality protein. According to a study by the Harvard School of Public Health, regular consumption of eggs may help prevent blood clots, stroke, and heart attacks.
Myth #4: You can’t have healthy bones without drinking milk.
Milk is high in calcium and calcium is necessary for bone health. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics also says that milk is an excellent source of protein, riboflavin, vitamins A and D and other vitamins and minerals. But is it absolutely required for bone health? What if you are a vegan, lactose-intolerant, or just don’t like milk?  Dark leafy greens – such as kale, watercress, collards and arugula – also are high in calcium, as are broccoli, almonds, white beans and sardines. Additionally, greens have Vitamin K, another nutrient necessary for bone health, and milk doesn’t. Talk to your doctor if you are concerned about getting enough calcium in your diet.
Myth #5: Foods that are “all natural” are necessarily good for you
The label “all natural” is popping up everywhere these days. There are numerous problems with foods labeled “all natural.” First, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate the term, meaning virtually anyone can use it without substantiating the claim. Second, many “natural” ingredients are harmful to human health – processed sugar, nicotine, and mercury, just to name a few. The bottom line is that virtually anything can be called “natural,” making the term meaningless when it’s found on a food label.
This article is not intended to replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Speak to your doctor and/or a registered dietitian if you have questions about your nutritional needs.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Blueberries Are More Than Just a Delicious Treat

Thinking about topping your morning cereal with a cup of blueberries? Do it! Just one cup of blueberries per day could be the key to reducing blood pressure and arterial stiffness, both of which are associated with cardiovascular disease, said a recent study from Florida State University, published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
“Our findings suggest that regular consumption of blueberries could potentially delay the progression of prehypertension to hypertension, therefore reducing cardiovascular disease risk,” said Sarah A. Johnson, assistant director of the Center for Advancing Exercise and Nutrition Research on Aging (CAENRA) and postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Nutrition, Food and Exercise Sciences at Florida State University.
Johnson said she is interested in looking at how functional foods—foods that have a positive impact on health beyond basic nutrition—can prevent and reverse negative health outcomes, particularly for postmenopausal women.
“Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States,” Johnson said. “Once women go through menopause, this puts them at an even greater risk for it. Our findings suggest that the addition of a single food, blueberries, to the diet may mitigate the negative cardiovascular effects that often occur as a result of menopause.”
Over an eight-week period, 48 postmenopausal women with pre- and stage-1 hypertension were randomly assigned to receive either 22 grams of freeze-dried blueberry powder—the equivalent to one cup of fresh blueberries—or 22 grams of a placebo powder. Participants, meanwhile, continued their normal diet and exercise routines.
At the beginning of the study, the team took participants’ blood pressure and measured their arterial stiffness and select blood biomarkers. At the end of the eight weeks, participants receiving the blueberry powder on average had a 5.1 percent decrease in systolic blood pressure (the top number in the blood pressure reading that measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats). They also saw a 6.3 percent reduction in diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number measuring the pressure in the arteries between heartbeats). Additionally, participants in the blueberry-treated group had an average reduction of 6.5 percent in arterial stiffness.
The researchers also found that nitric oxide, a blood biomarker known to be involved in the widening of blood vessels, increased by 68.5 percent. That is important, Johnson said, because arterial stiffness and the narrowing of blood vessels are both a part of hypertension. This rise in nitric oxide helps explain the reductions in blood pressure.
Previous studies on blueberries have shown positive effects on cardiovascular risk factors including blood pressure, but they all included large amounts of blueberry powder consumption, anywhere from 50 grams to 250 grams. In the case of 250 grams, that would translate to more than 11 cups of fresh blueberries, which would not be realistic for most people to consume on a regular basis.
Johnson said that future studies will consider other dosages of blueberries, longer intervention periods and other sample populations.
Source: Florida State University, adapted by IlluminAge AgeWise. The study appeared in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

“Great Activities for People of Every Age” Wordfind

As we grow older, it can be tempting to let ourselves back off from life, especially if we are dealing with physical and sensory challenges. Sometimes it seems like “just too much trouble” to keep up with our longtime interests or pick up a new hobby or two.
But today, so many activities can be adapted to provide physical, cultural and intellectual enrichment for people of every ability! This puzzle contains the names of favorite pastimes that help keep seniors active and engaged. Click here to download the puzzle, and give your brain a workout by finding all 20 words.
Need a little help? Click here for the solution to the puzzle.