Nobody enjoys catching a cold or coming down with the flu. The symptoms are miserable and an illness usually means that the patient has to miss work or school as a result. But there are steps that you can take to protect yourself naturally from cold and flu germs throughout the year so you can stay healthy and on top of your game.
Eat a healthy diet all year long and if you really want to boost your immune system and stave off those nasty germs, increase your intake of green tea. Green tea contains an antioxidant which reduces the risk of illnesses. Add some fresh garlic to your diet as the sulfur compounds will kill virus germs. Ginger contains antiviral compounds so steep it in tea to help keep flu and cold germs away.
Wash your hands frequently, especially if you are around people who are sniffling and sneezing. Your hands are usually your first point of contact with viruses so make sure you wash them with soap and water foregoing antibacterial washes. They do little to kill virus germs on your hands.
Try to keep your hands away from your face especially your eyes, nose and mouth. If you have germs on your hands and touch these parts of your face, the germs will have a quick entry point. If you are sharing a phone with others, wipe it down frequently. Do not share cups or utensils.
Use a humidifier in your home to keep your nasal passages from drying out. Change the water daily.
Get plenty of exercise throughout the year to boost your immune system which will fight germs naturally. If you feel a cold or flu symptoms creeping up on you, pop some zinc lozenges or use some zinc nasal gel as both have been known to reduce the length of cold and flu.
Doing these things doesn’t guarantee you will miss cold and flu season but they are certain steps to help fight off germs.
If you ask your physician he will explain that shingles is a disease related to chicken pox and individuals that had chicken pox at some point in their lives are more prone to developing a case of shingles. The virus that causes chicken pox is also responsible for shingles. In many individuals, the virus for shingles is dormant and resides in clusters of nerve tissue. The affliction typically affects the elderly.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, “one out of every three people in America will develop shingles.” Other statistics released point to the fact that individuals aged 60 or older have a 50 percent chance of contracting shingles. A shingles vaccine is on the market and adults who had chicken pox should receive the vaccine. While shingles is not typically fatal, the disease causes intense pain and that can impact quality of life. Some of the symptoms to look for include:
- Body aches
- Numbness in an area which leads to a feeling of burning pain and tingling
- A rash which usually comes after the sensation of pain. The rash usually manifests on the stomach area
- Fluid-filled blisters
Can You Prevent Shingles?
The shingles vaccine, administered one time, can help prevent the virus. Individuals 50-years-old or older who have had chicken pox should receive the vaccine. The virus can be transmitted if you come in contact with someone who has “active lesions.” If you have never had chicken pox, you can catch it from someone who has shingles; however, you cannot catch shingles.
Individuals should avoid the shingles vaccine if they’ve had an allergic reaction to neomycin or other ingredients in the vaccine. Those with immune deficiencies or undergoing cancer treatments or certain prescription drugs could cause an interaction with the drug. It’s always best to check with your doctor prior to getting vaccinated.
To prevent transmission of the shingles virus it’s crucial that those with the shingles blisters keep them covered and you need to avoid direct contact with the blisters. Frequent hand washing, not scratching or touching the blisters will also help prevent transmission. Once the blisters have healed, the Centers for Disease Control explains, they are no longer contagious.
While there are treatments for shingles and medications that can lessen the pain, it is best to avoid catching. The vaccines have been shown to reduce the risk of shingles by more than 50 percent.
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 as these devices could literally be a lifesaver if you fall ill.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
As we age, we will likely spend more time in the doctor’s office. It’s been shown that doctors are moving patients in and out of the exam rooms at an increasingly fast rate so when you or your aging relatives visit the doctor you need to be prepared and get the most out of the visit. What can you do? Plan for the visit. Consider a visit to the doctor the same type of appointment as if you’re going to your tax preparer, lawyer or other professional; you know what you want from them and the visit before you walk in the door and you should put the same forethought into your next doctor’s visit.
Here are some tips whether you’re a caregiver or a Baby Boomer for getting the most out of your visit:
- Know what your “chief complaint” is and tell that to the doctor up front. Chances are you made an appointment because you were dealing with a particular ache or pain or cough. Perhaps there is no specific ailment but you’re merely worried about yourself or your caregiver is worried about the fact that you “sometimes can’t remember where you left things,” or “you left the stove on again,” or “it hurts when I lift my arm this way, but not that,” etc… Know when the pain started and if anything precipitated it, if there is anything that makes it worse, or better. What have you tried to address it? Offering the doctor a chief complaint will give him something to focus on rather than a vague “I’m just not feeling well,” although prolonged feelings of malaise could be a symptom of depression. If, as a caregiver, you know that once your relative walks into the doctor’s office he won’t articulate his complaints, take time before you go to “interview” him so that you can share the information with the physician.
- Do you have more than one complaint or ailment? If so, try to prioritize them from the most troubling to the least. Remember, you may only have 10 or 15 minutes with the doctor and you don’t want him to simply hand you prescriptions to address myriad ailments because you couldn’t pinpoint anything specific.
- Take your current medication list and dosages with you to the doctor, especially if you’re seeing more than one provider. Also, make note of any hospitalizations or infections or other events that have transpired since your last visit. Chances are, your doctor may not have access to all of your medical treatments outside of his realm of specialty.
- Make sure you understand the action plan or follow up regimen before you leave. Write them down so you don’t forget once you get home. Do you need to get blood tests? X-rays? Change your medications? If you have to go for tests, ask when you should expect the results and whether you should be calling the office or if they will be calling you.
- Ask questions. If there is anything your doctor recommends or refers to that you don’t understand, don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you don’t understand a treatment or are unclear on how or when to take a medication, it could lead to long-term complications. Simply say to your doctor, “Could you repeat that, I’m not sure I understood you fully.” If your doctor refuses to accommodate your request for more information or clarification, it may be time to switch physicians – your health is too important to leave to chance.
If you’re a caregiver or have recently taken over the role of caregiver, it might be wise to have a healthcare proxy and other vital paperwork filled out so that you are allowed to work with the physician, ask questions and even make difficult medical choices.
As we age, the amount of medication and the frequency with which we must take them increases. This can become an issue if your parents are becoming forgetful or if they’re simply overwhelmed with the amount of medications they must take. Determining a schedule for taking the medication – whether it needs to be taken in the morning or evening, with or without food – can become daunting and in some cases rather than figure it out, your parents may simply stop taking them or take them incorrectly. Taking the medications incorrectly or “doubling them up” rather than taking one pill every twelve hours, for example, could lead to dangerous drug interactions or simply cause the medication to not perform the task for which it was prescribed.
Today’s advances in medication means that we can live longer lives and in better health than in decades past. When you consider that today’s medications can not only treat but cure diseases that were unable to be treated in the past and you can see the myriad benefits that prescriptions provide. For your aging parents though, the prescriptions that are being given to help cure or treat an illness can also lead to confusion.
As a caregiver, it may become your task to make certain the medications are being taken at the appropriate times and in the appropriate manner to help prevent any medication related issues. It’s been shown that close to one quarter of nursing home admissions are due in part to the elderly adult’s inability to take his or her medication correctly.
Caregivers that are dealing with parents with Alzheimer’s disease are heavily involved in parceling out medications, but it may be a good idea for caregivers of all elderly parents to take control of the medication and its schedule. Using pill reminder boxes is a great way to help make it easier for your parents to take the medications at the correct times throughout the day.
To truly get a handle on the medications that your parent is taking it might be best to go with them to a doctor’s visit and find out for certain what the current list of medications are. The next stop should be to the pharmacist and, armed with the medication list, you can ask him or her the best way to take the medications, after that you can devise a plan for the medication for your aging relatives. Using one pharmacy for all prescriptions is the best way to avoid any potentially harmful interactions.
Some of the issues that may prevent your aging relatives from taking medications properly include:
- Dexterity issues. If there are no children or grandchildren in the home, consider using non childproof bottles.
- They simply may not remember to take the medications. This could be a matter of setting a timer, putting the pill bottles by the dinner table, any methods you can device that can help them remember to take the medicine.
- If they have vision problems, reading the labels on the bottles can lead to confusion and their not taking the medicine. Invest in a magnifying glass or use pill reminder containers.
- If your parent is having a hard time hearing the doctor or pharmacist, designate a family member to go to appointments with them and keep track of doctor’s orders.
- Do an annual review of the medications your parents are taking and determine whether they are still necessary (ask the doctor before stopping any medications) Also, if your parent has lost or gained a significant amount of weight the dosages may need to be adjusted, ask about this during the annual medicine review.
- Remember to tell their doctor about any over the counter medications your elderly relatives are taking.
It may seem, at times, that the medications your aging relatives take are a double-edged sword, but managed properly may allow them to live a longer, healthier, more vibrant life.
Once summer rolls around, there is nothing better than spending time outside sitting in the shade, working in the garden or relaxing in the early morning or late afternoon sunshine. Summer weather is great for mental and physical well-bring and the sunshine just seems to make everyone feel better!
When it comes to your aging relatives, making certain they are able to enjoy the out-of-doors safely is a must. Make certain they can safely navigate any stairs that lead outside and that the pathways on which they walk are clear of debris and any items they could potentially trip over. While your relatives likely are aware, they need to stay hydrated when they’re outside, even if they don’t feel overly warm or overly thirsty.
If there is a spot in the yard where you can erect a raised garden bed where they can plant and cultivate fresh veggies that is much better than having to get onto and off of the ground to garden. Having a shaded space with comfortable chairs will also be a welcome respite if they’re working in the yard, or for simply enjoying a cup of coffee and the morning newspaper.
Other considerations when you’re spending time outside include being safe from outdoor pests. We have some suggestions for doing just that:
- Wear light colored and light weight clothing. Hot days bring with them mosquitoes and other insects and perspiration draws them to us. Using a topical repellant and burning citronella candles will help keep them at bay. Light colored clothing also appears to repel them more than dark clothing and light colored clothing won’t absorb the heat.
- Use bug repellent. There are topical products in the form of lotions or sprays and there are even bracelets on the market that have been shown to be effective in repelling outdoor insects. Whatever repellent is used, though make sure it is thoroughly washed off at the end of the day and also if there are pets in the house buy a product that isn’t toxic to them. If there are pets in the household, make sure they are protected from ticks and fleas to keep them healthy and as a way to keep the fleas out of the house.
- Remove all standing water and cut back nonessential shrubbery. Insects breed in standing, stagnant water and your shrubs could also be a breeding ground for them. Adding bird feeders around the yard will not only be a relaxing sight, but the birds will also help keep flying insects at bay.
Your relative can likely gauge his or her ability to work in the lawn or care for a small garden, but if they are willing and able to get outside and enjoy the fresh air, do what you can to facilitate that for them. Also, remember if they are prone to trip or fall accidents or suffer health issues, equipping the house with a medical alert system and making certain they wear their medical alert pendant will keep them safe both indoors and out because they can call for help at the push of a button.
Whether you’re a caregiver or the elderly relative in need of care, stress impacts everyone. Regardless of whether it’s work, family situations, finances, failing health or even a social situation, stress can lead to potentially harmful impacts on your mind and body. Not all stress is harmful, though, there are times when a stressful situation may motivate you to make a decision or meet a deadline, but long term, chronic stress is another matter entirely.
Each individual responds to stress in his or her unique way and what is stressful for one person may not cause any anxiety in another. The ways in which you respond to your particular stress triggers can help you cope. For example how to react to stress can hinge on myriad items, including:
- Your overall view of the situation. Is it as bad as you originally imagined?
- Do you think you can get through the stressful situation? In other words, can you see light at the end of the tunnel?
- Are you generally an optimistic or a pessimistic individual? Your attitude going into a situation could also impact the amount of stress is places on you.
- What is your general state of health and mental well being? Have you been sleeping well? Eating healthy? Exercising regularly? Your overall health situation will impact how stress affects you.
Stress, especially chronic stress can lead to overall anxiety, sleep issues, high blood pressure, heart disease, anxiety and depression. In the case of a caregiver and his or her stress, feelings of guilt may also factor into the stressful situation. Gaining control of your stress and managing stressful situations will help you get back on an even keel and lead you back toward a happier, healthier state.
Here are some steps you can take to rein in your stress:
- Take control of the situation. There are items you can easily address and there are items that may be out of your control – determine which are which and then tackle those that you can and ask for help on those that are beyond your control. Simply knowing what you can and cannot do can relieve stress.
- Write it down. Many people find they wake in the middle of the night with a to-do list running through their heads. To avoid this it’s best to write a list of items you know you need to complete; the simple act of writing it down will usually remove it from your mind. Also, don’t forget to write down those items which cause you the most stress. Writing them down may help you see a solution you hadn’t considered previously. Write down items which can be delegated to other family members or for which you may need outside, professional help; remember to ask others to help share the load.
- Learn to say no. Remember, it’s all right to simply take a step back and take a day off from caregiving; or if you’re a senior that babysits the grandchildren you too can ask for a day off. There are times when a caregiver needs to take care of him or herself and the best way to do that is to ask for relief and a day off.
- Prioritize and set limits. Only you know what are the most important items for yourself and your family. If you’re a member of the so-called “sandwich generation” (those who are raising their own families while caring for aging parents) you need to balance time with your family as well as with your parents. Once you’ve listed priorities take a hard look at the list and see if there are items you could delegate or simply not do.
Finding ways to manage stress will lead to a healthier and happier life for both the caregiver and the senior. Remember too, as a caregiver you need to be cognizant of the stress your aging relative may be under. Take time to sit with them and ask what stress they may be experiencing and seek out ways to help them cope – you will all be better off for it.
The best way to keep your body healthy is by physical exercise and eating well. This holds true for keeping your mind healthy. Nutrition plays a crucial role in keeping your brain healthy as evidenced by a study from the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America that found that “the brain is made up of 60% fat and that fat insulates the nerve tracks. Without the fat stores in the brain, we slow down mentally.” Individuals need to consume the right kinds of foods and avoid foods that are high in sugar or transfats as those foods aren’t good for your brain or your body. Focusing on foods that are good for your brain and reducing your risk of Alzheimer’s is something we can all agree is a good plan, right?
Here are some foods to keep in your pantry and kitchen to feed your brain with:
- Go nuts! Walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts and pecans, that is. Walnuts are filled with Omega-3 fatty acids, great for your brain and they also are packed with nutrition. A study in mice found that those mice that were given walnuts showed a marked improvement in both motor coordination and memory. Nuts also contain flavonoids and vitamin E, both of which can protect your brain.
- Go fish! When eating fish, prepare it in a heart healthy way by avoiding fish fries and opting for baked or broiled styles. Mackerel, salmon and sardines are high in Omega-3 fatty acids. Eating eight ounces of fish per week is ideal. If you can’t abide fish, though, ask your doctor whether taking a fish oil supplement would be of benefit.
- Grab a handful! Eating berries – blueberries, cranberries and strawberries – infuses your body (and your brain) with antioxidants. Almost all berries are full of polyphenols, an antioxidant that stops inflammation and helps your brain cells function at higher levels. Berries have been shown to enhance your brain’s ability to gather and process information.
- Eat your greens! “Eat your vegetables,” It’s a mantra we have likely heard from childhood but as we age eating green, leafy vegetables such as spinach or kale becomes even more important. These vegetables are packed with fiber and antioxidants. A national study showed that women, aged 60 and older, who ate more green, leafy vegetables scored higher on memory and verbal tests than did women in the same age group that didn’t eat as many greens.
- Spice it up! Adding turmeric, which is full of vitamin D3 may help your brain rid itself of amino acids that form plaque on the brain. The plaque is associated with onset of Alzheimer’s. When you’re cooking, look for ways to use turmeric in your recipes.
- Wake up and enjoy! Yes, you can have your coffee and your chocolate as part of a brain-healthy diet! A study conducted by the University of South Florida showed that individuals aged 65 and older who drank three cups of coffee a day were able to ward off the onset of Alzheimer’s for an additional three to five years. Caffeine is also shown to help reverse, or at least slow down, the impacts of Alzheimer’s. Imbibe in chocolate, dark chocolate preferably, as a way to keep your brain healthy. The flavonoids contained in dark chocolate may help you stay brain healthy, so enjoy!
For the most part, a brain-healthy diet is one that benefits both body and mind. Keep in mind too, that staying active both physically and mentally will help you live a longer, healthier life!