Is Diet Soda Healthier? Myths Uncovered

Diet Soda & HealthAs a caregiver, you are charged with caring for your aging or ill loved one, but you also need to care for yourself. Self-care, unfortunately, is not something that comes easily to caregivers – there are just too many pressing tasks on their plates, many of them say. One way in which a caregiver can practice self-care is through their food and drink choices.

Before you pick up that diet soda, thinking that you’re saving calories and therefore drinking “healthier” you should be aware of a few myths that are pervasive. Yes you will be saving calories and sugar and you can still receive a sometimes much-needed caffeine boost, but the caloric savings from diet to non-diet sodas may not even the scale.

Studies have shown though that even with the ingestion of fewer calories and sugar, diet sodas may not be better for your overall health. Researchers from Boston University found that both types of sodas – sugar and diet – can “boost the risk of metabolic syndrome- a collection of risk factors that increase the risk of health problems including heart disease diabetes and stroke.”

This metabolic syndrome was shown to be close to 40% higher among individuals who drank one can of soda a day as compared to those who didn’t drink soda. The research didn’t show that an individual who drank soda would suffer this syndrome, but that there was a connection.

It’s also been shown that those who drink sodas with artificial sweeteners may eat more than those who don’t drink diet sodas. The reason could be that the artificial sweetener doesn’t allow your body to properly “assess” the calories you’ve ingested and may make you believe you are still hungry.

Making a change from diet sodas with artificial sweeteners to regular soda is a start in weaning oneself off of carbonated drinks. Giving up soda is also better for your teeth because the carbonation can lead to tooth decay. A healthier option would be to give up soda all together and drink water. Add a slice of lemon or cucumber or even a few squeezes of lime juice to the water to jazz up the flavor a bit.

Ask your family and those in your care to give up the soda as a show of solidarity and help the family all make healthier choices in beverages!

How To Be A Great Long Distance Grandparent

It’s a fact of life for many families that they are separated by as much as hundreds or thousands of miles. A recent study found that more than 50 percent of all grandparents live more than 200 miles from their children and grandchildren. The family may have had to move for a job opportunity or other financial reasons, but where does that leave the grandparents who want to have a close bond with their grandchild? It leaves them to find interactive, unique ways in which to stay in touch.

Tech savvy grandparents are turning to the internet and to options such as FaceTime or video chats to stay involved in the lives of their grandchild. Forming a bond across the miles is much easier if you can see and virtually interact with them rather than simply being a faceless voice on the telephone.

Just because you don’t live “over the river and through the woods” there are ways – thanks to technology – that you can keep in touch with your grandchildren. Don’t let yourself become the “grandma who gives me gifts” be the “grandma that’s waiting for me when I get home from school or soccer practice.”

Here are ways you can stay in touch, and in tune, with what’s going on in the lives of your grandchildren:

  • Make a daily or weekly “date” with your family. If your grandchild is too young to video chat, ask your children to let you be a part of his or her life by turning on the video camera during dinner or bath time or even when he or she is trying to take her first steps.
  • Once your grandchild is old enough to know that it’s time for grandma and grandpa time, use the video feature to talk with them about their day, read a book with them or even do crafts together.
  • Make sure that once your grandchild is old enough that he knows you have a date at a particular time and ask your children to make sure they help build the excitement of the visit. Imagine if you could be there to welcome your grandchild home from school in case they come home to an empty house on occasion. It would be a treat for the both of you and could even put mom and dad’s mind at ease.
  • Read a book together. Find an age appropriate book and either read it to your grandchild or when they get old enough read the book together and talk about it.
  • Are you a crafty grandparent? If so, see if your grandchild wants to learn to knit, crochet, bake or do woodworking crafts with you. You can supply them with what they need to complete the craft and then you can be on the camera together learning and working on the project.
  • You can play a game together. Set up a chess set in each house and play together. Grab a crossword puzzle book or a word jumble and complete them together.
  • Play a getting-to-know-you game. You can each ask questions via email and then answer them. This is a great way for you to truly get to know your grandchild and for you to pass along some of your life experiences.
  • Grab a camera and take a photo a couple of times a week to share with each other. Did you go to the park? Take a picture. Did your grandchild have a soccer game? Have a picture of him taken in his uniform so you can see it. Remember too, that with the beauty of the internet you can have your child video tape or even have you there “live” at the game or the dance recital.

It isn’t easy to be long distance from your beloved children and grandchildren, but thanks to technology you can feel as though you’re in the same room!

Protect Yourself From Diabetes: Tips For Caregivers And Seniors

One of the most common and most prevalent forms of diabetes is Type 2 (formerly called adult-onset and/or non-insulin dependent diabetes). This form of diabetes impacts close to 95% of the 26 million Americans that have been diagnosed with diabetes.

Adults don’t have to look at a diagnosis if diabetes as an inevitable product of aging. If you want to prevent diabetes, taking care of yourself and living a healthy, active life can go a long way in keeping it at bay. Your doctor will also tell you that monitoring cholesterol and blood pressure levels is also critical to a healthy life and avoiding diabetes.

Here are some other steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing diabetes:

Eat nuts daily. Almonds, walnuts and other tree nuts have been shown to reduce the risk of developing diabetes. Even eating peanuts – a legume, not an actual nut – can be beneficial. Eat only the recommended daily amount.

120px-Cup_of_coffee_5084862159Enjoy your coffee! Increasing your coffee consumption by one cup a day over what you typically drink can provide a close to 10 percent decrease in developing diabetes as compared to those individuals who didn’t make any changes to their coffee drinking habits.

Take a walk after you eat. Getting up and moving, especially after a meal, will lower your risk. Also, it’s been shown that people who sit for more than eight hours a day are more likely to develop diabetes than their more active counterparts. Start lifting weights – resistance training can keep blood sugar levels in check in ways that even aerobic exercise cannot.

Cut back on alcohol consumption. Drinking more than four alcoholic beverages within a two hour time frame can increase the risk for developing Type 2 diabetes because alcohol interferes with insulin in the brain. Drinking soda, whether it’s sweetened or unsweetened, can increase your risk of developing diabetes by more than 25 percent.

Cutting back on the consumption of red meats can also decrease your chances of developing diabetes. Processed meats should also be eaten in limited quantities as well. Eating fish, poultry and whole grains and low fat dairy are much healthier for you overall and as a way to prevent diabetes.

Caregivers should be looking at living a healthier lifestyle – which we understand is not always the easiest when you’re helping take care of aging parents – but these tips are ideal for both caregivers and their relatives to consider.

Social Gatherings and Hearing Loss

Interacting with people when you have hearing loss can be very frustrating.  If you don’t have any hearing loss, it’s difficult to understand but it can be especially trying to attend social gathering, dinners, parties and other activities such as plays, church services and more.  In fact, for those without hearing loss it can be difficult to hear in loud, noisy situations and doubly so (if not nearly impossible) for those who require hearing aids and lip-reading to engage.

Below are some tips and strategies that may help in social situations:

1) If you are sitting down to have dinner with family and friends, select a seat that is best for you.  Here are a few suggestions:

  • Seat yourself so that most of the people are on your “best” side.
  • Avoid facing a window as the glare could make it difficult to see the faces of the people seated across from you making it harder to read lips.
  • Sit with a buddy – that someone who understands how well you hear and has the patience to fill you in on what you miss.

2) Try to maintain a distance of about 3-5 feet from the person you’re talking to. Any closer and you’ll have trouble reading their lips and if you get farther away, you’ll have more trouble hearing & understanding them.

3) Eliminate background noise. If you’re at a person’s home, politely ask them to turn down any background music or TV. No one wants to make a situation worse so simply explain your situation and ask for their cooperation.

4) Ask people to speak more slowly, face you or speak more loudly if needed. Most people won’t know what you need unless you tell them. Be patient and polite but remind them of your needs and it will eventually be more natural.

5) If you’re attending a concert or church service or other event, arrive early so you can select the best seat.

If you are someone who hears without difficulty, develop a little more empathy toward those who don’t hear as well. Unless you’ve experienced being in a social setting where you can’t hear and understand everyone, you really don’t realize how frustrating it can be.

If, on the other hand, you have hearing loss, be clear and explain your needs to others – then, keep your sense of humor. People are going to forget that you don’t hear as well as they do and may not seem as considerate as you’d like. Gently remind them and enjoy your time!

Technology And The Caregiver

Today’s technology can help make caring for an aging loved one, especially from a long distance, easier. Whether you’re using smart phone technology, a computer or even a home medical alert device, these technologies allow you to be almost instantly in touch and a home medical alert device provides peace of mind that at the touch of a button, your aging loved one will have access to a trained professional who can summon emergency medical care.

One of the most recent technologies to make its way into homes are “smart watches.” From Samsung to Apple, smart watches provide access to health monitoring and information in the form of a wristwatch. Many of these watches monitor blood pressure, track the amount of steps taken on a daily basis and can help you track calories.

Apple will be providing an app called a HealthKit while Samsung currently offers its S-Health tracker in addition to other apps available in the market place. If your aging loved one, or in fact, anyone of any age with a health issue is in possession of one of these smart watches, it is a place in which all health care data and information can be tracked and accessed all in one easy to monitor location. Parents who have a child who needs to monitor blood glucose levels welcome this technology because it lets them track their levels from a distance.

The heart rate monitors may be ideal for those who need to track heart rates, blood pressure and pulse. This information could be set up to be sent to a health care provider, a family member or other virtual location.

This technology, much like the home medical alert devices, allows a caregiver to have immediate and constant access to the health of a loved one. It also provides peace of mind for a caregiver who may need to run errands or be otherwise out of the home or out of touch for an extended period of time. If your loved one lives in an assisted living situation, this health information could be relayed to a monitoring station that the nursing staff can track.

In the case of an elderly parent who is coping with more than one chronic condition: heart disease, blood pressure issues, Alzheimer’s, diabetes or others, this is a technology that provides caregivers with the vital information needed to know whether their loved one is healthy or in crisis. It also makes trips to doctor’s visits easier because vital information can be relayed and tracked prior to the visit and will assure no information will be missed during a discussion.

Medical Alert SystemWhether you want to invest in smart watch technology, an easy-to-use computer or a personal medical alert system, these are pieces of equipment that serve multiple functions in addition to adding to your peace of mind as a caregiver.

Why Tai Chi Is Good For You!

Tai Chi is a Chinese practice and tradition that was originally developed for self-defense but evolved into a graceful exercise that can help reduce stress & anxiety and helps to increase flexibility and balance.

Tai chi is low impact and puts minimal stress on muscles and joints which makes it generally safe for all ages and levels of fitness. It may be especially suitable for older adults who can’t (or may not) otherwise exercise. It also requires no special equipment and can be done inside or out. As with any exercise, it’s always a good practice to check with your physician before starting any routine. Continue reading

Is Microwaving Your Food Healthy For You?

The Microwave was created in 1947 by Percy Spencer, then known as a radar range. Countertop microwaves were not introduced until 1955 and were fairly large and expensive. It was another 12 years before the microwave became more adaptable for use in the home.

Microwave ovens are found in 90% of American homes but are they healthy for cooking food? While extremely popular for reheating food, making popcorn and defrosting foods, they do not brown or caramelize foods. As the quality of fresh food has diminished over the past 100 years due to soil erosion, unsustainable farming practices and herbicides and pesticides, cooking in a microwave may further deplete the nutrition from our food supply.

Microwaving quickly heats food but it can also change the chemical structure. Microwaving has the tendency to make some nutrients inactive and when cooking in plastic and paper containers, some carcinogenic toxins can leach into your food. In the past, radiation leaking from the microwave was also a concern though newer models emit very small amounts.

People who have been exposed to radiation, whether from the microwave or other sources, can experience a number of symptoms. People who live near cell phone towers or other high frequency antennas can also suffer symptoms including:

  • Insomnia, night sweats and sleep disturbances
  • Headaches and dizziness
  • Weakened immune system
  • Vision and eye problems
  • Depression and irritability

Many people use the microwave regularly to prepare their food. In fact, for some seniors who live alone, it’s easier, and often cheaper, to throw a frozen dinner in the microwave than to shop for fresh foods and make meals from scratch.

If you are a caregiver, a friend or family member of an elderly person who lives alone, consider these ideas:

  • When making a casserole, meat loaf, lasagna etc…., make enough to take to your loved one. They will appreciate a good meal.
  • Make soup, put it in containers and freeze it in one meal portions. Instruct your loved one to heat it on the stove rather than the microwave.
  • Take them to out to dinner once a week or a month.
  • Invite them to your home for dinner.
  • Pack a picnic lunch and take them to the park, a museum or find another activity they enjoy.

Keeping your loved one from eating too many fast-food and microwaved meals will be better for their health and nutrition.

The Positive Aspects of Caring For Elderly Relatives

With age comes wisdom, right? We also understand that with age come challenges as they relate to aging in place and being able to perform all of the tasks we’ve become accustomed to. Even with this said, aging also brings positive rewards to both the aging and to the caregivers involved.

What are some of the positive aspects of caring for elderly relatives and of aging itself? Here are a few:

  • Both you and your parents are likely more mellow and that can help with the coping skills necessary for them to rely on you as a caregiver because the reversal of roles is not always an easy thing to deal with.
  • You can all benefit from the confidence gained by working together. Your aging relatives will see that you are not only competent, but that you have taken the lessons they instilled in you as you were growing up and put them into practice. As a caregiver, you can also see the benefits of the assistance you’re providing your parents – you are able to help them now as they helped you when you were growing up.
  • If you have grandchildren, having them spend time with you and your aging parents is a great way to deepen their bonds. Grandchildren can help to keep your aging parents “young” and your parents will likely be thrilled to have children in the home. Grandchildren can also help reignite curiosity and playfulness into their lives.
  • By spending time together – both in the home and outside of it – you’re helping your aging loved ones to broaden their circle of friendships. This is especially true if you’re introducing them to outside activities as a way to keep them healthy, active and engaged.
  • You may be more motivated to spend time together because, frankly as we age we realize how precious time is and that we need to savor every moment. Your aging parents might be more inclined to volunteer, undertake leisure activities that may have gotten pushed aside during the child-rearing years or they might even want to take a class at the local senior center or college.

Aging is a fact of life, but you can take a proactive and positive approach and welcome the changes that it brings to the lives of both the aging parent and the caregiver.

The Emotional Toll After the Holidays

Christmas, Hanukkah and New Years have all passed and many people are just happy to be getting back to normal.  While the holidays offer great opportunities to spend time with family and friends, they also wear us out and disrupt our routines.

What about mom and dad?  This time of year it is especially common for empty-nesters, the elderly and even children going back to college to experience an emotional toll caused by the end of the holiday season and simply winter itself.

Separation anxiety is a psychological condition whereby an individual experiences excessive anxiety when it comes to separating from loved ones or home.  Because of the strong emotional attachment and time spent together during the holidays,  leaving loved ones and familiar settings can cause anxiety at this time. In fact, those who are left behind can experience this as well since once everyone leaves, life goes back to ho-hum and those they really love and enjoy are gone.

Another consideration is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that occurs in some people due to decreased amounts of daylight during the winter. If you live in the northern states or areas where there is little sun, caregivers and family members should look out for symptoms of Seasonal affective Disorder.  Signs include lack of interest in social engagement, changes in emotions, lack of interest in things they once enjoyed and general sadness and change in behavior.  Using a UV sun light during the day and keeping windows open may help but some may need medication.

You or your loved ones may not have separation anxiety or experience a negative effect due to lack of sun but it’s a very real issue for some and for the elderly, it can be even worse. Keep an eye on your family member post-holidays to see if they are displaying any signs of sadness that is out of the ordinary.  If you notice any changes in their behavior or demeanor, talk with a trusted physician to see what can be done to help the situation.

Natural Light is Good For You!

Earlier this fall, you probably saw the news about a study conducted by Cornell Professor Rana Zadeh. The study compared nurses working in two wards of an acute-care unit. While the working conditions were similar in terms of organization, environment and the type of patients they cared for, the significant difference was the availability of windows in the nurses’ work stations.  The results showed that nurses with more natural light had lower blood pressure, talked and laughed more and had better overall moods than their counterparts in the ward with fewer windows & less natural light. In the study providing evidence that working in natural light improves performance, mood and alertness, and has a positive effect on people both physiologically and psychologically,

So what does this mean for caregivers and nurses?  In most cases, there’s little you can do to modify your work environment but there are a few things that may help:

  • Avoid the windowless break room & lunch room. Opt instead to go outside and enjoy a few minutes of fresh air and natural light. If you can take a walk at lunch, do so. In colder climates, spend a few minutes near a window during the winter months and take in the natural lighting.  These steps are similar to parking farther away in the parking lot and taking the steps instead of the elevator in order to get more exercise.  In this case, you’re taking steps to elevate your mood and improve your performance.
  • If you’re a home health aide or caregiver, throw open the drapes. Not only will the natural light be good for you, your care recipient will benefit as well. While you’re at it, throw open your own drapes at home!
  • Spend time outside when you get home from work and on the weekends. Spending too much time inside can have negative effects on your mood and attitude.
  • If you’re job hunting, there are many factors that are likely to be far more important than a “room with a view”, but while you’re interviewing, observe the surroundings. If you have a choice and all things are (mostly) equal, opt for the job with the most natural light.