More Good News About Exercise and Brain Health

Exercise training may stimulate brain plasticity, say University of Maryland School of Public Health researchers, who used fMRI imaging to watch it happen.

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Are You Feeling Caregiver Guilt?

Family caregivers are the bedrock of our nation’s elder care system. The AARP estimates that this care, if provided by paid professionals, would cost more than $470 billion dollars each year! Caregivers support the well-being of senior loved ones with hands-on help, healthcare management, transportation, dementia care and more—all while trying to keep up with their jobs, family responsibilities and other part of their lives.

Despite all that they do, many caregivers report feeling guilty for not doing more, or not living up to their own expectations. And guilt is an emotion that can affect our health and our emotional well-being. It can interfere with our ability to be a good caregiver, a good parent, a good spouse and a good employee—even as we might be trying to balance all of those roles. It’s important to break that cycle.

The first step in retaining some balance in your life and shedding your sense of guilt is to recognize that what you’re feeling is completely normal. Realizing your situation is one shared by millions of others who are experiencing the same emotions can go a long way in helping you cope. Here are some other tips to help you take back your life.

Treat yourself with compassion and kindness. You may harbor some anger and frustration towards the person for whom you’re caring. You may experience profound sadness if you feel that the person you once knew is slipping away from you. You may occasionally resent the time you spend with your loved one because it’s taking time away from your career or other family responsibilities. Understand that these feelings are completely normal and grant yourself permission to feel them.

Set boundaries. As far as it is possible, let your loved one know when there are specific times that you will be unavailable for routine assistance. If you have a specific event you need to attend, let your loved one know and provide an alternate source of help, if possible. If you’re going to meet your loved one in person, call ahead and ask if they need anything, so you don’t have to turn around the minute you arrive to pick up a prescription or food. Explain to your family and boss what is going on with you: it’s better that they know why you might be late sometimes, or unable to attend an event you would normally not miss.

Make connections. Find a friend you can confide in or see a counselor to help you sort out your emotions. Support groups are also a wonderful way to connect with others in the same situation. You’ll likely discover that the simple act of telling your story to a receptive audience and listening to others can be very healing. Many long-term friendships have formed among caregiver family members.

Ask family members for help. Enlist support from other relatives. If they live far away, explain what’s going on and ask them if they would be willing to take a weekend or a week to help. Hold a family meeting, if possible. Explain the toll that assuming sole responsibility for caregiving is having on you. This includes the financial impact of serving as primary caregiver. If other family members aren’t able to provide support in person, ask for financial help for your loved one’s expenses and for respite care.

Discover community resources. Check out the resources that are available in your community, such as local Area Agencies on Aging, senior service providers, aging life care professionals (geriatric care managers) and senior centers. These organizations can provide information on specific diseases, general topics on caregiving and aging, as well as service providers that can help in a number of ways.

Enlist the support of professional caregivers. Professional caregivers can provide a variety of support services, including helping your loved get dressed and bathed, grocery shopping, medication management and even light housekeeping. If your loved one has more clinical needs, home health professionals can provide nursing and therapeutic services as well. If your loved one’s care needs are complex, consider an assisted living or other senior support community.

Take care of yourself. When one gets caught up in a caregiving role, it’s easy to let other things slide – things like going to the gym and grocery store or getting together with friends. But being a good caregiver means taking care of yourself physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. It’s important to eat well, exercise, get enough sleep, socialize, and to continue to feed your spirit, whether that’s reading a good book, going to a movie, or walking the family dog.

Source: IlluminAge AgeWise

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Seniors with a Gambling Problem

The New York Times reports that a growing number of seniors are dealing with a gambling addiction, endangering their financial well-being and even leading them to commit crimes. Do “senior specials” at casinos tempt them to spend more than they should?

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Can Alternative Health Practices Prevent or Treat Alzheimer’s Disease?

Many people, particularly older individuals, worry about forgetfulness and whether it is the first sign of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, forgetfulness has many causes. It can also be a normal part of aging, or related to various treatable health issues or to emotional problems, such as stress, anxiety or depression.

Although no treatment has been proven to stop Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia, some conventional drugs may limit worsening of symptoms for a period of time in the early stages of the disease.

Sometimes people with Alzheimer’s disease and people worried about getting Alzheimer’s disease turn to alternative treatments, such as supplements and mind-body practices. But are these sometimes-expensive products and practices effective? Can they be dangerous?

Many dietary supplements are marketed with claims that they enhance memory or improve brain function and health. To date, research has yielded no convincing evidence that any dietary supplement can reverse or slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia. Additional research on dietary supplements, as well as several mind and body practices such as music therapy and mental imagery, which have shown promise in basic research or preliminary clinical studies, is underway.

The U.S. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health shares five important things to know about current research on complementary health approaches for cognitive function, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease:

  1. To date, there is no convincing evidence from a large body of research that any dietary supplement can prevent worsening of cognitive impairment associated with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia. This includes studies of gingko, omega-3 fatty acids/fish oil, vitamins B and E, Asian ginseng, grape seed extract and curcumin. Additional research on some of these supplements is underway.
  2. Preliminary studies of some mind and body practices, such as music therapy, suggest they may be helpful for some of the symptoms related to dementia. Several studies on music therapy in people with Alzheimer’s disease have shown improvement in agitation, depression and quality of life.
  3. Mindfulness-based stress reduction programs may be helpful in reducing stress among caregivers of patients with dementia. To reduce caregiver stress, studies suggest that these types of stress-reduction programs may be more helpful for improving mental health than attending an education and support program or just taking time off from providing care.
  4. Don’t use complementary health approaches as a reason to postpone seeing a healthcare provider about memory loss. Treatable conditions such as depression, bad reactions to medications, or thyroid, liver or kidney problems can impair memory.
  5. Some complementary health approaches interact with medications and can have serious side effects. If you are considering replacing conventional medications with other approaches, talk to your healthcare provider.

Source: The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) is the Federal Government’s lead agency for scientific research on complementary and integrative health approaches. One of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), NCCIH’s mission is to define, through rigorous scientific investigation, the usefulness and safety of complementary and integrative health interventions and their roles in improving health and health care.

The information in this article is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. Talk to your healthcare provider if you have questions about your memory, and share information about any medications you are taking, including herbal supplements.

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Older Americans Month Facts

In honor of May’s Older Americans Month, the United States Census has released interesting facts and figures about the 65+ population—close to 50 million of us now, and projected to rise to close to 100 million by the year 2060!

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Planning for Our Senior Years—It’s Never Too Soon!

Maybe you’re looking to retire in the next few years. Or maybe you’re not sure you want to retire, but you want to be prepared for the unexpected, including age-related challenges. Studies show that today’s younger people have done very little planning for their senior years—but giving it some thought now makes it more likely you’ll have the quality of life you want in your later years.

One of the gifts of growing older is the wealth of life experience you have accumulated. By the time you face the challenges of later life, you have most likely raised children, held several jobs, and organized everything from school bake sales and political gatherings to garden club fundraisers and family reunions. You have dealt with medical and financial crises, times of emotional upheaval, and family stress. Though you may not have looked at it from this perspective, all of those life events have taught you the essential skills of planning and teamwork that you can now use in taking control of this stage of your life. You have what you need to consider the options open to you, come up with a realistic and workable plan, and live these later decades of your life in a manner that makes sense to you.

There are always unknowns as we face the future—more so as we grow older. It’s impossible to predict when challenges to our health and well-being will appear. So any plan for our senior years has to be flexible. It has to take into account the potential of change or of increasing disability. However, especially if you begin early, you have a good chance to put in place the outline of a life that has meaning for you, that allows you to pursue your interests and reflects your priorities.

It All Begins with Planning

As you look to the future, what is most important to you? What are the conditions that are most essential to your quality of life? Does being close to family make it to the top of the list? Or putting aside resources that will allow you to travel? As you look at where you want to live, is it important to you to have a garden, a workshop, a good kitchen, or to be located near a variety of cultural events? It’s time to make a plan! The questions that help you create your plan should include:

Where do I want to live?

  • Where do I want to be geographically?
  • With whom and near whom do I want to live?
  • What size and configuration of home makes the most sense—long-time family home, one-story condominium, mobile home, seasonal residence?
  • What activities or interests should my home allow—cooking, gardening, woodworking, exercise equipment, space for children and grandchildren to visit?
  • How would my proposed home function if I were to become ill or disabled?
  • Will a move almost surely eventually be necessary, or can my home environment be adapted to new life circumstances?

What do I want to do?

  • What long-time interests do I want to continue?
  • What have I always wanted to do, but didn’t have time for?
  • Do I want to work for pay, full or part time?
  • What volunteer opportunities would I like to pursue?
  • What do I want to do for myself?
  • What do I want to do for my family?
  • What do I want to do for my community?

How do I envision the rest of my life?

  • Do I want to live in one place forever? What are the trade-offs in that strategy?
  • Do I want to make a plan for the present and assume I will move to a different home or care setting when I get older? What will trigger the decision to make that move?
  • What are my priorities to accomplish now, when I am at my most healthy and active?
  • When I slow down a bit, what activities will continue to be important?
  • Do I have a spouse, sibling, parent or other relative for whom I will probably need to provide care at some point? How does that impact my life plan?

Bring Others Into the Planning Process

As you can see, answering the questions above involves a lot of thought. It is best to begin thinking about many of these issues early. It’s also helpful to do your initial thinking with the help of others. If you are married or in a committed relationship, obviously your partner needs to be part of your conversation. If you have children, it’s good to let them know what you are thinking. Their assumptions about your retirement might be quite different from your own! It’s probably best to have all family members working on the same assumptions.

Once you think you know what you want to do, then you need to gauge honestly and realistically the feasibility of your plan. You might talk to a financial advisor or eldercare attorney at this point. What are your financial resources and how do they impact your choices? Do you already have health considerations to take into account as you plan your future? Discuss them with your healthcare provider.

Along with these conversations, remember that there are a variety of resources available. Your local library will have books on the topic, from purely philosophical reflections on later life to how-to workbooks for retirees. Planning seminars and workshops are offered by your local aging services department and community colleges. Online retirement planners are available. Aging life care professionals (geriatric care managers) can help you learn about resources for seniors in your area or the area in which you wish to live. All these sources might nudge you to think in ways you would not have considered by yourself.

Once you’ve done all this background investigation, you can truly evaluate your initial strategy. If you now see that your plan is not going to work, figure out how it might be changed, then check through the feasibility again. Keep at it until you think you have a plan that works for you and is realistic. Congratulations! Abundant research shows those who plan for retirement and later life enjoy their life more and make better choices. You have just joined their number.

Source: IlluminAge AgeWise

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Before Your Cinco de Mayo Party, Check Your Medication Labels

Planning a margarita party for Cinco de Mayo? The National Institute on Aging says seniors should review their medications first, to prevent dangerous drug-alcohol interactions.

As we grow older, we’re more likely to develop health conditions that can affect our quality of life. The medications we take help us manage these conditions. But medications often have side effects, either by themselves, or in combination with other drugs. As we grow older, we’re more likely to experience these side effects, because our bodies process substances differently than they did when we were younger.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) also warns that many of these drugs can be dangerous if we take them with alcohol. These medications include those prescribed for common conditions such as:

  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Sleep problems
  • Arthritis
  • Mood disorders
  • Cough and cold
  • Blood clots
  • Enlarged prostate
  • Heartburn and indigestion
  • High cholesterol
  • Pain

Just as our bodies process medications differently as we age, we’re also more affected by alcohol—and the combined effects of both. Shedding light on the extent of this problem, the NIAAA conducted a study of 26,000 adults and found that almost half of senior adults who drink alcohol also take some of the above medications, putting themselves at risk of side effects that range from mild—nausea, headaches, loss of coordination—to severe, including internal bleeding, heart problems and difficulty breathing.

“Our findings show that a substantial percentage of people who drink regularly, particularly older adults, could be at risk of harmful alcohol and medication interactions,” said Dr. Rosalind Breslow, an epidemiologist in NIAAA’s Division of Epidemiology and Prevention Research. “We suggest that people talk to their doctor or pharmacist about whether they should avoid alcohol while taking their prescribed medications.”

Dr. Breslow also recently reported that more seniors today are using alcohol, and many of them are drinking more than is safe. These studies remind us that drinking too much is very bad for the health of seniors—and when you add medications to the mix, the results can be deadly.

Visit the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism website to find a complete list of commonly used medicines (both prescription and over-the-counter) that can have a negative reaction with alcohol.

Source: IlluminAge AgeWise, with information from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

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Are You Taking Too Much Vitamin D?

The New York Times warns that fear of a vitamin D deficiency may cause people to overdose on the nutrient.

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Talking to Senior Loved Ones About Giving Up Car Keys

The American Geriatrics Society recently released a tip sheet for talking to senior relatives about giving up the car keys.

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Seniors and Food Safety: Do You Know the Facts?

Do you like to watch cooking shows? A recent study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior suggests that the popularity of these programs might be one of the reasons that fewer Americans are taking precautions to avoid foodborne illness.

According to researchers from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, during the past decade, fewer consumers reported that they practice food safety steps, such as washing their hands before handling food or keeping food at a safe temperature. To see if cooking shows set a bad example, the researchers watched several episodes of 10 popular shows and rated them on safe food handling practices.

Reported study author Nancy Cohen, PhD, RD, LDN, FAND, “The majority of practices rated were out of compliance or conformance with recommendations in at least 70 percent of episodes and food safety practices were mentioned in only three episodes.” Cohen added, “For most behaviors observed, the percentage of shows in conformance with recommended practices was much lower than that seen in restaurant employees and consumers in general.”

Cohen suggests that cooking shows could step up their game in this department. She says, “There are many opportunities on cooking shows to educate the public regarding safe food handling practices and help reduce the incidence of foodborne illness. Similarly, nutrition and food safety educators could work with the media to produce shows that demonstrate positive food safety behaviors and educate consumers about food safety practices as they adopt recipes.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tells us that each year, one in six Americans—that’s 48 million of us—will get sick, be hospitalized and even die when harmful microorganisms—mostly bacteria, but sometimes viruses, parasites, molds or toxins—get into our bodies by means of the food or liquids we consume.

Being informed about food safety is the first step to protecting yourself and your loved ones. When it comes to foodborne illness, what you don’t know can hurt you! Read on to find out how much you know about foodborne illness … including the special concerns of older adults.

Myth #1: Only small children are at risk for severe cases of foodborne illness.

Fact: For most people, the symptoms of food poisoning, while definitely unpleasant, are short-term and not life-threatening. But certain populations are at higher risk of hospitalization, permanent health problems, and even death. This includes children, people with HIV/AIDS, and people older than 65. As we grow older, we are at greater risk because of …

  • Decreased immune system efficiency, so we can’t fight off bacteria as effectively as when we were younger
  • Reduced amount of stomach acid, which allows more bacteria to survive in the digestive tract
  • Impaired vision and sense of taste, so we become less likely to notice if food is spoiled.

Myth #2: Stomachache, vomiting, diarrhea and fever are usually caused by “the flu.”

Fact: Influenza (“the flu”) is a respiratory ailment, including sore throat, body aches, and sometimes a runny nose. Some people erroneously use the term “stomach flu” when they mean gastrointestinal (digestive) illness: nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramping and diarrhea. The germs that cause gastrointestinal illness most often enter the body through contaminated food or water.

Myth #3: Foodborne illness always strikes within minutes of a person’s consuming contaminated food.

Fact: Sometimes, food poisoning symptoms are obvious within 20 minutes. But in many more cases, it takes days or even weeks for symptoms to appear. The effects of foodborne illness most often last for a day or two, but can persist for over a week.

Myth #4:  Only meat and dairy products can harbor harmful bacteria.

Fact: Undercooked or raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs are indeed the most common culprits in food poisoning, because they provide the best environment in which harmful germs can flourish. But other foods can also harbor bacteria that can make you sick. These include fresh fruits and vegetables, sprouts, and unpasteurized juice. When purchasing and preparing food, take these sensible precautions:

  • At the grocery store, inspect meat packages for tears, eggs for cracked shells, and all products for expired “sell-by” dates.
  • Wash hands before preparing food.
  • Use only acrylic or plastic cutting boards, and clean thoroughly with hot water and soap after use—or better yet, in the dishwasher. It’s safest to use one board for meat, and another for produce.
  • Cook meats to the recommended temperature (for example, beef to at least 160°, poultry to at least 180°, fish to at least 140°).
  • Wash fresh produce.
  • Purchased pasteurized juices only (check for a warning label if you’re not sure).

Myth #5:  So long as you cook meat, poultry and seafood to the recommended temperature, you won’t come into contact with harmful bacteria.

Fact: Proper cooking is important. But one big culprit in food poisoning is cross-contamination, when the juices from uncooked meat come into contact with other foods. It can begin right at the grocery store, if fresh produce and raw meat juices touch in the shopping cart. And give your food preparation practices a checkup. What about that cutting board? When you were done working on the raw chicken, did you then use the same surface to prepare a fresh salad? And if you were cooking on the grill, did you place the cooked steak onto a clean plate instead of the same one on which you carried the raw meat?

Myth #6: Let hot foods cool down thoroughly before putting them away, so you don’t damage your refrigerator.

Fact: The claim that hot food can damage your refrigerator is an old story left over from “icebox” days. Improper food storage is a major factor in the growth of harmful bacteria—and every minute cooked food is left at room temperature allows more bacteria to grow. So it’s important to refrigerate or freeze leftovers as soon as possible. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also recommends consuming leftover prepared foods within 3-5 days. And be sure your refrigerator temperature is set at 40 degrees or lower.

Myth #7: The best way to thaw frozen foods is to set them out on the kitchen counter.

Fact: You should never defrost food at room temperature. This is because the portions that thaw first then are vulnerable to bacteria growth—and as the FDA tells us, bacteria in room temperature food can double every 20 minutes. Instead, thaw food in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave using the “defrost” setting.

Myth #8: Microwave ovens have special germ-killing powers.

Fact: Not to get too technical about it, but microwave energy itself doesn’t kill germs—it is the heat generated by the waves that destroy harmful organisms, the same as with a conventional oven. Remember also that microwave ovens may heat foods unevenly, so it’s important to stir foods once or more during the heating process. Turning the container several times during cooking (or using a carousel) helps heat reach all parts of the food.

Myth #9: All foods, if properly prepared, are safe for older adults.

Fact: The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends that older adults and persons with conditions that weaken the immune system avoid certain foods entirely:

  • Any dishes with raw or undercooked meat or seafood (for example: sushi, steak tartare, raw oysters, hamburgers cooked rare)
  • Unpasteurized milk, and soft cheeses made with unpasteurized milk
  • Foods with raw or undercooked eggs (such as Caesar salad, unbaked cookie dough, homemade mayonnaise, eggnog)
  • Raw sprouts (alfalfa, bean, etc.)
  • Fresh-squeezed, unpasteurized fruit juices

Your healthcare provider can give you more information about the foods that are safe for you.

Myth #10: Restaurant and takeout food are always safe, because restaurants are inspected by the Health Department.

Fact: Though occasional outbreaks of illness are traced back to pathogens in restaurant or deli food, most eating establishments in the U.S. follow proper food handling procedures. But remember: take-out food or “doggie bag” safety is mostly up to you! Eating only until you are full and bringing leftovers home for a later meal is a great idea—for your waistline and your wallet. But only consume leftover food if you can refrigerate it promptly (within two hours, earlier in warm weather).

Learn More About Food Safety

The website, sponsored by a group of U.S. and state government food safety departments, includes consumer advice and other resources, including information for older adults.

Source: IlluminAge AgeWise

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