Category Archives: Senior Health

Blue Light Can Disrupt Your Sleep

We all know how important it is to protect our eyes from the sun’s harmful UV rays; but what about the harmful effects of blue light rays?

Before the advent of artificial lighting, days were spent with the rising and setting of the sun, and evenings were spent in relative darkness. Now, in much of the world, evenings are spent with illumination from other sources, and we pretty much take them for granted.

In its natural form, your body uses blue light from the sun to regulate your natural sleep and wake cycles.  This is known as your circadian rhythm.  Blue light also helps boost alertness, heighten reaction times, elevate moods, and increase the feeling of well-being. Artificial sources of blue light include your electronic devices, digital screens, your TV, computer, tablet, and smart phones.  Also, LED lighting and fluorescent lighting give off blue light.blue_light_from_electronics

While there are many benefits of blue light, as mentioned, helps boost your energy, regulates your natural sleep/wake cycles, there are some very real harmful effects.

Being exposed to blue light at night, can actually reduce the levels of melatonin in your system, thereby disrupting your circadian cycle, or sleep cycle.

Study after study has linked working the night shift and exposure to light at night to several types of cancer (breast, prostate), diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. It’s not exactly clear why nighttime light exposure seems to be so bad for us.

While light of any kind can suppress the secretion of melatonin, blue light at night does so more powerfully. Harvard researchers and their colleagues conducted an experiment comparing the effects of 6.5 hours of exposure to blue light to exposure to green light of comparable brightness. The blue light suppressed melatonin for about twice as long as the green light and shifted circadian rhythms by twice as much (3 hours vs. 1.5 hours).

When our sleep patterns are disrupted, without realizing it, our day follows.  We wake more tired, less likely to eat properly, which leaves us in a depressed state, not wanting to be as active as normal.  All of these situations can add up to an overall feeling of not being ‘with it’.

Turning off the lights in your home, not having a television or computer in your room, will all lead to a better, more healthful nights’ rest.  Having a medical alert system available is also another way to rest assured that your health is a priority to others as well.

Alzheimer’s Disease: Get A Good Night’s Sleep

Sleep is important for many aspects of our health and wellbeing. When we sleep our bodies and our minds are given the ability to slow down and repair itself. Eating healthy and exercising regularly help your brain function at its highest level and can help slow the progression of Alzheimer’s. A recent study at John Hopkins School of Public Health recently found that older adults (70-years-old or older) who slept short periods of time had higher levels of a brain plaque that has been linked to Alzheimer’s.

The study isn’t saying that if you don’t get good sleep that you’re going to develop Alzheimer’s, but it does appear to indicate a link between restless nights and its progression.

Adam Spira, PhD, a researcher in the study was quoted as saying, “These findings are important in part because sleep disturbances can be treated in older people. To the degree that poor sleep promotes the development of Alzheimer’s disease, treatments for poor sleep or efforts to maintain healthy sleep patterns may help prevent or slow the progression of Alzheimer disease,”

While sleep may not stop Alzheimer’s, seeing the connection between “poor sleep and increased amyloid in the brain is a sign of Alzheimer’s disease.” The study will move forward and try to determine whether addressing and correcting poor sleep habits may reduce the incidence of Alzheimer’s.

What can you do to get a good night’s sleep? Here are some tips:
• Get some exercise every day. Taking a walk, working in the garden or even doing housework – anything that can get your heart rate elevated – is good for both body and mind. Exercise can also lead to a better night’s sleep.
• Keep caffeine and alcohol intake at a minimum. Caffeine, while a great pick-me-up in the morning will disrupt sleep if you drink it later in the day or in the evening. Alcohol may make you sleepy but will likely lead to wakeful periods in the middle of the night.
• Get into a bedtime routine that involves yawning, stretching and simple relaxation. Take about a half an hour to 45-minutes prior to bedtime and practice relaxation techniques. Did you know that yawning and stretching can also lead to a better night’s sleep? It can. Try this. Fake a yawn and while you’re doing that reach your arms above your head for a stretch. If you do this three more times, you will likely trigger a real yawn and a deep muscle stretch and this will help to relax you and lead to a better night’s rest.
• Make certain your bedroom is restful. Keep the room dark and cool. Keep electronics, televisions and radios out of the room or turned off when you’re falling asleep. If you feel you need noise to get a good night’s rest, try a sleep machine.
• Take a warm bath or a warm shower as part of your bedtime ritual. Once you’ve begun your bedtime ritual resist the urge to watch television, walk the dog, or raid the refrigerator. Get yourself into a mindset of “this ritual is leading toward a more relaxing sleep.”

Whether you can slow or stop the progression of Alzheimer’s with a good night’s slumber, getting a restful sleep will benefit your body in many ways; do what you can to make certain you’re making the most of the night time hours.

Seniors Benefit From Flu Shot Vaccinations

Getting a flu shot may not be a high priority when it comes to the tasks on a To-Do list for many individuals. Those aged 65 or older, though should make it a top priority annually. The number of influenza-related hospitalizations and deaths soars in seniors aged 65 or older, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The reason for this is that our immune systems weaken as we age and this makes seniors more susceptible to the ravages of the flu.

It’s wise to get the flu shot early as many areas of the country can actually run short of the vaccine later in the season. Many people are afraid to get the flu vaccine but here are a few tips that help dispel the myths that surround the reasons some seniors refuse to get a flu shot:

  • I’ve already missed the window for getting the shot, or catching the flu. This is untrue because as the CDC explains that it takes about two weeks following the vaccination to develop immunity so even if it gets a little later in the season.
  • If I get the flu shot I’ll get the flu. Many people believe that getting a flu shot gives them the flu. The reality is that the virus in the flu shot are “dead” viruses and therefore cannot “give” you the flu. Some individuals do experience redness or swelling where the shot was given and may even experience a low grade fever or slight aches; while this is not typical, it does happen.
  • I’ve already had the flu, I can’t get it again. This is not true because the flu that shows up every season is of a different strain. Having the flu doesn’t provide you immunity from catching it again.
  • If I get the flu I’ll just get my doctor to prescribe antibiotics. This won’t work because antibiotics target bacteria-driven illnesses but the flu is a viral infection. Antibiotics are ineffective against viral infections.
  • If I avoid the public, I’ll be safe. Many people think that the flu is spread through contact with coughing, sneezing people. This is true, but it’s also true that the virus can survive on surfaces for hours, sometimes days, and the most common way the virus is spread is through surface contact. Frequent hand washing is crucial to protecting yourself from catching the flu.

The flu shot is especially crucial for those seniors that are aging in place. A bout of the flu can mean you’re too ill to drive yourself to a doctor’s visit or stock up on groceries. Side effects from the flu are dehydration and that can lead to dizziness and slips or falls. Talk with your family or caregivers if you start to feel ill and if possible, have your home equipped with a medical alert device

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(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

as these devices could literally be a lifesaver if you fall ill.

 

Staying Healthy When Living With Grandkids

As we age, our immune systems become taxed much more quickly than when we were young. Also, as we age, we are often surrounded by grandchildren and as any parent can tell you, children bring with them germs and illnesses that they may be able to easily fight off, but may prove to be problematic for an aging loved one.

If you’ve made the decision to move your aging parents into the family home, be aware that they will be exposed to many more germs and viruses than they would if they were aging in place. Also, if your children are school age, they will also bring home more germs than if they were younger than school age. What can you do to make certain your elderly relatives don’t get ill? There are several steps that can be taken and it doesn’t mean you will have to separate everyone until an illness passes.

Here are some steps to take to keep your aging relatives healthy while dealing with sick children:

 

  • The importance of hand washing cannot be minimized, especially when there are elderly in the house. The flu, fevers, sore throats, coughs and colds are germ-borne but can be minimized by washing the germs away. Make certain your elderly parents wash their hands after they’re in contact with your children and make certain your children wash their hands before they give Grandma a hug.
  • Creating a barrier between a sick child and an elderly relative can be as simple as slipping on a bathrobe or sweater. If your relatives will be caring for your child, have them get in the habit of donning an additional layer of clothing and then taking it off when they’re done.
  • Having tissues on hand is critical. If your child is sick and you have elderly parents in the home, consider having separate boxes of tissues for each. Also, if your child is old enough, have him wipe his own nose as a way to limit your relatives’ exposure to germs.
  • Depending on the type of illness your children have, your relatives may want to wear a mask if they’re going to be in the same room. The level of your parent’s health and their ability to fight off an illness is a major consideration if you feel you need to take this step. Disposable masks are available at all pharmacies and can greatly limit the risk of exposure to germs and viruses. Be aware, though that the masks may be frightening to your younger children.
  • Limited exposure to germs may help to build up an immunity, but as a caregiver, you need to keep everyone as healthy as possible especially because your senior relative will have a harder time fighting off a “bug.”

It is easy to co-exist with both your growing family and your aging relatives, even in the face of seasonal illnesses, you just need to have a plan in place.

Ten Steps You Can Take Right Now To Extend Your Life

There are so many steps that we can take from an  early age to help extend our lives and to simply make our Golden Years more enjoyable because we could be enjoying them with better health. Aging in place, and aging gracefully includes making good choices in our earlier years that should continue as we grow older.

 

Here are some steps you can take today to help extend your life and good health:

  1. Check your cholesterol. When you go to your doctor for an annual physical and he checks your heart and blood pressure, ask him to test your cholesterol. In order to know whether you’re eating healthfully or whether you’re on the road to a potential heart issue, knowing your cholesterol and keeping it in check is crucial.
  2. Your doctor should also be monitoring your blood levels and checking for diabetes. It’s estimated that Type 2 diabetes will increase from 30 million to close to 50 million by 2030 – this means that one of every four Baby Boomers could be dealing with diabetes.
  3. Eat a healthy diet. It’s sometimes easy to rely on processed food or drive-thru foods but eating a healthful diet full of fruits, vegetables, low fat foods and limiting your intake of red meats lead to a healthier life. Look at the Mediterranean diet as a healthful way of eating; it is full of grains, vegetables, chicken, fish, fruits and limits red meat intake.
  4. Don’t mix alcohol with prescription drugs. Always follow the labels on the medications that you take and limit alcohol intake as it could interfere with the medicine’s effectiveness.
  5. Pay attention to the warning signs of a heart attack. Chest pains aren’t the only red flag warning sign of a heart attack. In women, a heart attack can feel like indigestion, pain between the shoulder blades or extreme fatigue. Diabetics sometime note they have lower back pain when they’re suffering a heart attack.
  6. Watch your weight. Obesity leads to myriad other health issues and when you consider that as we age, our metabolism slows down as does our activity which means we need fewer calories. Staying active as we age is beneficial to also helping keep our balance and preventing slip and fall accidents.
  7. Don’t lose sleep. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that Boomers rarely get enough sleep (eight hours is ideal). Your body needs sleep to heal itself from the rigors of the day. If you’re not sleeping well, talk with your doctor to uncover the root cause.
  8. Stay active. You may not be able to get up and jog five miles a day, but you can certainly get some muscle strengthening activities by simply taking a daily walk or a gentle yoga class. Consider too that walking three times a week can increase your brain activity and may ward off dementia. It also keeps your heart healthy, can lead to weight loss and will also decrease your blood pressure.
  9. Talk to someone if you’re dealing with a lot of stress. Carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders can lead to depression which in turn leads to a whole host of other potential illnesses. Ask for help. Talk to a doctor or a family member. Stress can impact caregivers and if you’re in a care giving situation you may need to take a step back and ask for help from others.
  10. Stop smoking and drinking to excess. The risks of smoking are well noted as are the risks of drinking too much alcohol. Stopping smoking is a great decision to make at any age. Drinking in moderation – as long as it doesn’t impact any of the medications you’re taking – may not be bad for your health but you should ask your doctor if you’re not certain.

These may all be common sense steps to take, but as we age and if we want to continue aging in place and being independent, we need to take care of ourselves now so that we can age gracefully and live independently.

The Surprising Health Benefits Of Caffeine

For more than 125 million Americans, a cup of morning coffee helps them kick start the day and helps keep them going. Did you know though, that in addition to the boost caffeine provides, it can also boost your mood and even help fight off disease? There are some surprising health benefits to your morning cup of java that you may not have considered.

  1. Caffeine has been shown to help chase away the pain of a headache or toothache. The pain relieving effects of aspirin or ibuprofen are amped up when followed by a cup of coffee.
  2. Even though caffeine will cause your blood pressure an initial spike, the benefits of two cups per day may protect against heart failure. You should ask your doctor, though, whether it’s healthy for you to consume caffeine.
  3. Caffeine may make you more mentally alert. Caffeine can sharpen your memory, enhance your attention span and improve reaction time. Just as doing crossword puzzles or remaining physically active helps slow down the aging process, caffeine may also be a viable option.
  4. In addition to boosting energy and your mood, caffeine may also relieve certain arthritis conditions and may also lower the risk of suffering an attack of gout.
  5. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that “coffee drinkers live 10-15% longer than non-coffee drinkers and are less likely to die early from disease.

If a morning cup of coffee or an afternoon cup of tea has been part of your daily routine, it appears  that caffeine can remain an enjoyable way to start the day.   Be sure to check with your doctor, however, before assuming caffeine is good for you!

Dealing with Dementia and Incontinence

Over 24 million people are living with dementia worldwide. Affecting the brain and resulting in a serious loss of cognitive ability, dementia deteriorates memory, attention, language and problem solving. The longer people live with dementia, the more likely they will become reliant on their caregiver for daily necessities. The simplest of tasks can become impossible for someone with dementia to undertake on their own, including continence.

Incontinence often affects those who have dementia. Bodily functions can become completely uncontrollable, causing both the patient and the caregiver to feel uncomfortable or embarrassed.

Seeking Treatment for Incontinence

Doctors can typically discern why their patient is experiencing incontinence. One possibility is urge incontinence, a condition that occurs when an individual’s body does not give them ample warning that they need to use the bathroom, leading to urine leakage. This type of incontinence is very common in the elderly and is often a sign of bladder or kidney infection. Urge incontinence can be treated with antibiotics. However, if your loved one’s incontinence is not caused by an infection, there are other steps caregivers can take.

It is important to bring a description of how your loved one’s incontinence is affecting their lifestyle to their doctor. Monitor their incontinence by jotting down an overview of their daily routine. The following questions are likely to be addressed by the doctor:

1. How much water does your loved one drink daily?

2. What does your loved one’s diet consist of?

3. When did the incontinence begin?

4. How many episodes does your loved one have per day and what is the time frame?

5. Does your loved one have any control over urination?

6. Is the incontinence more prevalent during the day or night?

7. Does your loved one experience any discomfort when he or she has the urge to urinate?

Options for Treatment

Based on the severity of the condition, and whether it is caused by an underlying medical condition, incontinence can be treated by antibiotics or surgical intervention. If your loved one’s incontinence is not caused by a medical condition however, other medications can be given to treat the bladder’s urge to urinate.

Non-medical options for Treatment

Replacing clothing that has complex closures like buttons and snaps with velcro and zippers may be a helpful fix if your loved one is aware of their incontinence and would like more control over their environment. By altering your loved one’s clothing, he or she may be able to become more independent and gain more privacy.

It may also be helpful to modify the home or add portable toilet chairs to the rooms in which your loved one spends most of his or her time. While this method is relatively easy to implement, individuals with dementia may not understand why the layout of the room is being altered, or what the portable chair is intended for.

If your loved one is suffering from dementia, it is helpful to know that incontinence may be an inevitable part of their cognitive decline. Incontinence can be extremely frustrating for both the caregiver and the patient, but consulting with a medical professional early on can help reduce some of the embarrassment and pain. The sooner incontinence is addressed, the sooner the caregiver and patient can explore their options and reduce their frustration.

 

Exercise Your Way to a Fit Brain

Being in the sandwich generation does not leave you with much spare time, and with all the duties piling up on your plate, it can be even harder to remember all the tasks you need to complete in said time. For those of us hoping to retain healthy and active brains into middle age and beyond (or simply enhance our brain power now), the latest scientific studies offer some insight into how to improve one’s memory.

Remaining active appears to be critical in warding off memory loss. While there is no proven connection between preventing Alzheimer’s disease and exercising, remaining active can delay the  creeping memory loss that begins in our thirties. Canadian researchers found that elderly adults who remained active into old age via walking around the block, cooking, gardening etc. scored better on cognitive function tests than those who led wholly sedentary lives. The study was conducted over a five year period and about 90 percent of those with the greatest daily energy could remember and think just as well year after year, while those who were less active experienced more memory loss. According
to the researchers, vigorous exercise isn’t necessary to retain memory, simply completing household tasks and going for brief strolls play a large part on avoiding memory loss in the elderly.

Another study published in the Neurobiology of Aging produced similar results. While many people young and old have difficulties getting motivated to exercise, the Mobility and Cognitive Neuroscience
Laboratory at the University of British Columbia have shown that vigorous exercise is not necessary for memory retention. According to their study, light-duty weight training effects how well older women think and how blood flows to their brains. After conducting a 12 month study where participants
lifted weights twice a week, the women performed significantly better on mental processing tests than a control group of women who participated in a balance and toning program.  M.R.I. scans also showed that the women who completed the light weight training showed that the portions on the brain that control thinking were considerably more active than the non-weight trainers.

As evidenced by the above studies, simply remaining active both now and into old age plays a significant role in retaining memory. While sectioning off extended blocks of time to exercise may seem almost impossible given your busy schedule,  making time to run errands, garden and complete household tasks isn’t as challenging. Your brain will reward you for remaining active now and into the future.

Senior Health: 6 Great Benefits from Regular Exercise

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is very important for everyone and has a very positive impact on many aspects of life. As we age daily activity is even more important. If you are able to stay active you can greatly increase your quality of life. Here are a few benefits from staying active at an old age.

  1. Improves mood: Exercise can actually stimulate brain chemicals that can actually leave you feeling better than you did before.
  2. Combats disease: Regular physical activity can help you prevent — or manage — high blood pressure. Your cholesterol will benefit, too. Regular physical activity boosts high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good,” cholesterol while decreasing triglycerides. This one-two punch keeps your blood flowing smoothly by lowering the buildup of plaques in your arteries. Continue reading

Laughing Your Way to Better Health

When it comes to caregiving, laughter is the best medicine, literally. According to a study by cardiologists at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, laughter may help prevent heart disease. Not only that, laughter may help people maintain their mental health especially those faced with difficult life situations i.e. being a caregiver for a chronically ill, elderly or disabled loved one.

Caregiving is an all-consuming occupation, there are few breaks and the stress that accompanies the position can be overwhelming. Seeing the humor in otherwise difficult situations lessens the tension and makes the job increasingly more rewarding and manageable. Continue reading