Exercise is good for us: boomers and our aging parents

This is worth a couple of minutes of your time to read: http://cbc.sh/0ctW9JL.

It's a good CBC News story about the benefits for the eldery to exercise. It's an easy read, but the message is important for all of us pressing into their late fifties and over.

Care for yourself during the holidays!

During any festive season we all have our prescribed periods of time to observe, reflect, celebrate; times when families draw close to share and offer thanks for what we have.

For families with aging parents and other loved ones who are no longer in good health, this can be a more difficult and demanding time. How to be together? Where? Under what conditions? If various forms of dementia are involved, what are the implications? If physical disabilities are an issue, how can they be dealt with, or what alternative might there be?

Caring for your loved one requires attention, planning and coordination.

But there’s also you. The caregiver. Care for yourself during the holidays! How will you get through the holidays with the demands you’ll be facing? Because it’s important to realize that in striving to make every holiday a special one for aging and failing loved ones, you’re probably dipping into your personal well of reserve strength.

So just this caution from one whose had to learn the hard way: make some time and room for yourself. Give yourself a much-deserved slice of down time. Whatever the size of that slice, it will be good for your body, mind and soul. Take a moment now to decide how you’re going to do that.

The next blog will give you tips on how to make the holidays better for your aging parents and other elderly loved ones.

Elderly winter wardrobe changeover

We’re well into fall now, the warm days are gone, we’re turning the clocks back, and the nights are cooler.

Those of us in the colder climes all change over our wardrobes, putting the sweaters up front, the corduroy slacks close at hand, and dig out the boots, hats and gloves.

But let’s not forget to help our aging parents and other elderly loved ones do the same. Don’t assume it will happen without your asking, or maybe even your help. Assisted elderly winter wardrobe changeover can make their lives that much easier.

Way too often, many elderly people just don’t think about what kind of preparations are needed for seasonal weather changes, or sometimes, with the onset of diminishing cognitive skills or any form of dementia, there’s a mental disconnect regarding what to do and why, and sometimes how to do it.

That’s why during seasonal changeover times it’s good to ask, check, help in terms of wardrobe changeovers. Have you done that?


Flu shots important for aging parents, yourself


            “I never get the “flu”. I often hear that from patients, colleagues and friends. After awhile the public seems to ignore news about the “flu”. When reports first came out of Mexico about the “swine flu” in 2012 (more accurately called H1N1) and the number of cases mounted and the World Health Organization issued reports about the potential for a world-wide outbreak (pandemic), the media issued reports every day which caused a great deal of concern in the US and Canada.

            However, as it became clear that for most people who contracted H1N1 infections, the cases were mild, there seemed to be a sense of boredom on the part of the public about the risks entailed in this “flu” outbreak. The excessive media focus on the outbreak may have done an inadvertent disservice to public health officials who were trying to prepare the public for the upcoming “flu” season. The fact is, it’s important to get a flu shot each year to ward off illness for aging parents and yourself and family.

Personal History of “Asian Flu”

            As a teenager growing up in Brooklyn I contracted the Asian “flu”. I recall how terribly ill I was, being bed bound for a week with high fevers and excruciating muscle pains. The Asian influenza outbreak of 1957-1958 was followed years later by the Hong Kong outbreak of 1968-69. In both outbreaks it is estimated that hundreds of thousands if not more people succumbed to the illness directly or indirectly due to underlying chronic illnesses worsened by the infection. This was especially the case in the senior population.

            One problem with the public’s recognition of the potential seriousness of such outbreaks is that we have tended to use the term “flu” for a disease which rightfully should be called influenza. The term “flu” is used almost dismissively for almost any type of viral infections, many of which are minor in nature and have nothing to do with influenza. Sometimes health care professionals will describe non-specific illnesses with fever and respiratory symptoms as the “flu”. Since these illnesses are usually not serious, the whole idea about the potential catastrophic nature of true influenza is lost. Telling people to get the “flu shot” even when used by public health officials may be perpetuating the false sense of security about influenza being relatively innocuous.

            People who refuse the vaccine often justify their decision with, “I never get ‘the flu’ or last year I got the ‘needle’ and got ‘the flu’ anyway so what good did it do?” Then there is always the story about someone they knew or heard about who got the ‘flu shot’ and got sick or died or was paralyzed or some other perceived and often unsubstantiated disaster. Most of these stories are erroneous and part of the well-known tendency to propagate myth as if it is fact, especially when it is self- serving.

What to do?

            The first and most important point for you, your parents and health care professionals to understand is that characterizing influenza as “the flu”, especially when it is preceded by the phrase “it’s just” is very misleading. Influenza can be a very serious and potentially lethal disease. The influenza outbreak of 1918 following the First World War killed more people than that terrible war itself. According to the website of the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US): For everyone, getting vaccinated each year provides the best protection against influenza throughout flu season. It’s important to get a flu vaccine every year, even if you got vaccinated the season before and the viruses in the vaccine have not changed for the current season.

Historical Perspective Should Inform Us

            The development of influenza vaccine during the Second World War and its improvements subsequently has been one of the great advances in medicine. We have been very fortunate in the United States and Canada in that the vaccine is readily available to the population and in some jurisdictions it is available without cost to everyone. Manufactures are trying to include a fourth strain of influenza into the 2013-2014 vaccine repertoire so that we can decrease its risk on our population. So remember, “it’s not the ‘flu’ – it’s influenza’- get the ‘shot’ and encourage everyone in your family, especially aging parents to do the same.

New study rates elderly well-being high in Canada

A new study rates elderly well-being high in Canada. Just released by the United Nations, the study ranks the well-being of the elderly as being fifth best overall of the 91 nations studied.

See more in the Globe & Mail story: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/canada-ranks-fifth-in-well-being-of-elders-study/article14621721/

Taking to bed: an undercover problem


            Staying in bed is not a “normal” aspect of aging, other than for the occasional day or two which may occur as part of an underlying short-term illness. Most people want get out of bed and greet the day as soon as they can. So if an elderly loved one ‘takes to the bed’ and stays there, a full health evaluation and possibly intervention for depression, should be done.

Proper Assessment Is Essential

            The most important aspect of an in-home assessment is discovering any underlying medical problems that could cause someone to ‘take to bed.’ Clearly, any distinctive physical symptoms—such as pain or shortness of breath— that are relieved by staying in bed will need to be addressed.  In the absence of such fairly obvious physical symptoms, major depression ought to be considered.  Older men in particular have a significant risk of late onset depression, a condition that is easily overlooked, especially when the person denies feeling depressed.  Not every depressed person expresses negative or ‘blue’ thoughts, or mentions feelings of hopelessness or helplessness. Fortunately, treatment for depression, which might include medications or other therapies, is usually effective. 

What’s Wrong with Staying In Bed?

            When older people start taking to bed and refuse to get up, it makes perfect sense to them.  “I don’t have the energy or interest to get out of bed,” or “I just feel better being in bed,” are common explanations. But bed rest of more than a day or two very quickly becomes problematic, causing muscle tone and functional ability to deteriorate so that after a short period of being in bed, the person may indeed have difficulty performing everyday activities. Sometimes, physical condition can deteriorate seriously, leading to the need for hospitalization and urgent medical intervention. Family members often have a difficult time persuading their loved ones that staying in bed is bad for them. 

A Return to Meaningful Mornings and Engaging Days

            ‘Remaining in bed’ may not sound serious, but it can be symbolic of an important underlying condition which needs to be addressed and treated quickly and properly by the whole team of those who care for the older person. Sometimes, especially for the person who is living alone, moving to the more engaging and supportive environment of an assisted living facility may be worth considering. Ultimately, the ‘best decision’ is whatever helps the person look forward to getting out of bed and participating in the world around them.