Loneliness May Be Due to Increasing Aging Population

Lonely workaholic with alcohol problem

Despite some claims that Americans are in the midst of a “loneliness epidemic,” older people today may not be any lonelier than their counterparts from previous generations – there just might be more of them, according to a pair of studies published by the American Psychological Association.

“We found no evidence that older adults have become any lonelier than those of a similar age were a decade before,” said Louise C. Hawkley, PhD, of NORC at the University of Chicago, lead author of one of the studies. “However, average reported loneliness begins to increase beyond age 75, and therefore, the total number of older adults who are lonely may increase once the baby boomers reach their late 70s and 80s.”

The studies were published in the journal Psychology and Aging.

Hawkley and her colleagues used data from the National Social Life, Health and Aging Project and the Health and Retirement Study, two national surveys of older adults that compared three groups of U.S. adults born in different periods throughout the 20th century. They first analyzed data in 2005 to 2006 from 3,005 adults born between 1920 and 1947 and a second time in 2010 to 2011 from 3,377 people, which included those from the previous survey who were still alive, and their spouses or partners. The third survey, in 2015 to 2016, comprised 4,777 adults, which included an additional sample of adults born between 1948 and 1965 to the surviving respondents from the previous two surveys.

The authors examined participants’ level of loneliness, educational attainment, overall health on a scale from poor to excellent, marital status and number of family members, relatives and friends they felt close to. They found that loneliness decreased between the ages of 50 and 74, but increased after age 75, yet there was no difference in loneliness between baby boomers and similar-aged adults of earlier generations.

“Loneliness levels may have decreased for adults between 50 and 74 because they had better educational opportunities, health care and social relationships than previous generations,” said Hawkley.

Adults over 75 were more susceptible to becoming lonely, possibly due to life factors such as declining health or the loss of a spouse or significant other, according to Hawkley.

“Our research suggests that older adults who remain in good health and maintain social relationships with a spouse, family or friends tend to be less lonely,” said Hawkley.

In a similar study, researchers in the Netherlands found that older adults were less lonely than their counterparts from previous generations.

These researchers used data from the Longitudinal Aging Study Amsterdam, a long-term study of the social, physical, cognitive and emotional functioning of older adults. A total of 4,880 people, born between 1908 and 1957, participated.

The study measured peoples’ loneliness, control over situations and life in general and goal achievement. For example, participants rated loneliness on a scale from 0 (no loneliness) to 11 (severe loneliness) based on feelings such as, “I miss having people around.”

Older adults born in later generations were actually less lonely, because they felt more in control and thus most likely managed their lives better, according to Bianca Suanet, PhD, of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and lead author of the study.

“In contrast to assuming a loneliness epidemic exists, we found that older adults who felt more in control and therefore managed certain aspects of their lives well, such as maintaining a positive attitude, and set goals, such as going to the gym, were less lonely,” said Suanet. “Additionally, as is well-known in loneliness research, participants who had a significant other and/or larger and more diverse networks were also less lonely.”

Suanet recommended that older adults take personal initiative to better nurture their social ties, such as making friends to help them overcome increasing loneliness as they age. Also, interventions to reduce loneliness should focus more on bolstering older adults’ feelings of control, instead of only offering social activities.

“People must manage their social lives better today than ever before because traditional communities, which provided social outlets, such as neighborhoods, churches and extended families, have lost strength in recent decades,” said Suanet. “Therefore, older adults today need to develop problem-solving and goal-setting skills to sustain satisfying relationships and to reduce loneliness.”

Seniors may also want to make use of modern technology to maintain meaningful social connections, according to Hawkley.

“Video chatting platforms and the Internet may help preserve their social relationships,” said Hawkley. “These tools can help older adults stay mobile and engaged in their communities.”

Articles: “Are U.S. Older Adults Getting Lonelier? Age, Period and Cohort Differences,” by Louise C. Hawkley, PhD, NORC at the University of Chicago; Kristen Wroblewski, MS, L. Philip Schumm, MA, University of Chicago; Till Kaiser, PhD; and Maike Luhmann, PhD, Ruhr University Bochum. Psychology and Aging. Published Dec. 10, 2019.

Music: The Secret to Mental Health and Balance While Aging

No matter where you travel, you’ll notice one universal truth — music has a very particular and powerful hold on us all. Cultures everywhere make and love music. This has been the case throughout history. We have used music to relax, communicate and celebrate — the human brain is hard-wired to react to music. According to Kimberly Sena Moore, a neurologic music therapist, “Your brain lights up like a Christmas tree when you listen to music.”

The magic of music goes much further than entertainment — there a surprising number of health benefits for the elderly, and there is a lot of evidence to support the fact that music is a secret weapon when it comes to maintaining optimal mental health and balance in our old age.

Boost Memory by Learning to Play an Instrument

If you want to ensure your memory is strong well into your winter years, consider picking up an instrument. Regardless of what you prefer to play, the act of learning how to play will sharpen your memory recall. This is because the process of learning and playing an instrument requires a great number of complex tasks, such as reading musical notes and knowing where to place your fingers. In time, this expands your working memory capacity and your ability to multiprocess without feeling overloaded. You will also be able to remember information for longer periods.

Music Can Act as a Stress Reliever

Coping with stress can become more difficult as we get older. We have less resilience to it, and it can affect us differently, which is stressful in and of itself. On top of changes in response to stress, we can experience changes in triggers as the years go by, so it is important we all find a way to cope.

There have been many studies to show music has a notable (and positive) effect on our stress and blood pressure levels. In fact, this is the case even if we’re not conscious. One study involving surgery patients found the use of music before an operation reduced stress levels to an even greater degree than anti-anxiety medication. The act of singing sends small vibrations throughout the body, which lowers cortisol (the stress hormone) levels and releases endorphins, thereby helping to keep you calm and collected in trying times.

Music Can Reduce Falls in the Elderly

Remarkably, studies show when the elderly exercise while listening to music, it helps them maintain balance and reduce the risk of falling. Falling is a huge concern for those over the age of 65, and music might well be the answer. According to a 2011 Swiss study, where participants were trained to walk and perform certain movements in time to music, they experienced 54% fewer falls when compared to the control group. The study also found that walking speed and stride length increased as a result.

A Good Drum Beat Can Kickstart Brain Function

The brain instinctively syncs to a rhythm. Because of this, therapists use drumming to get through to patients with severe dementia who don’t normally respond to external stimulus. When dementia patients hear music, you can detect a noticeable shift. They show more of an interest in their surroundings, they clap to the beat or even sing. This is because music can stimulate many parts of the brain simultaneously. Music which was popular when the patient was between the ages of 18 and 25 generally gets the most positive response.

Music Can Soothe Physical and Emotional Pain

Swedish researchers have found your favourite music can be a great pain reliever, as it can distract us and boost positive emotions. Interestingly, by evoking nostalgia, music can help us get through the pain, both physical and emotional.

Music Can Combat Depression and Boost Happiness

A serotonin imbalance in the brain causes depression. When you listen to music, you experience a boost in serotonin, so music can be used as a tool to combat depression in the elderly. Doctors claim the simple act of singing can release oxytocin, providing a significant mood booster. So while music alone may never entirely relieve the symptoms brought about by depression, it can certainly do its bit to enhance wellbeing.

Music Provides Opportunities for Social Interaction

Music can provide an essential source for social contact, which promotes interaction and a sense of belonging. This is increasingly important as we age. By incorporating music therapy and joining a choir, the opportunities to socialise and collaborate let us make new friendships and create new bonds.

Music Can Improve Quality and Quantity of Sleep

Many seniors don’t get as much sleep as they need, which can cause serious medical issues in time. Lack of sleep has been shown to have a profound and negative impact on mental health and wellbeing. A 2009 meta-analysis found music can improve the quality and quantity of sleep. Of course, the benefits may not happen overnight. But if you persist, in as little as three weeks, you should notice a pay off from this relaxation technique. Some of these include falling asleep faster and remaining asleep for longer.

Loneliness Found to Be High in Public Senior Housing Communities

Older adults living in public senior housing communities experience a large degree of loneliness, finds a new study from the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis.

Nevertheless, senior housing communities may be ideal locations for reducing that loneliness, the study finds.

“There are many studies on loneliness among community-dwelling older adults; however, there is limited research examining the extent and correlates of loneliness among older adults who reside in senior housing communities,” wrote Harry Chatters Taylor, doctoral student at the Brown School and lead author of “Loneliness in Senior Housing Communities,” published in the Journal of Gerontological Social Work.

The study was co-authored by Yi Wang, doctoral student at the Brown School, and Nancy Morrow-Howell, the Bettie Bofinger Brown Distinguished Professor of Social Policy and the director of the Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging.

The study examines the extent of loneliness in three public senior housing communities in the St. Louis area. Two of the three complexes were in urban neighborhoods, and the last was located in a suburban neighborhood. All were publicly funded under Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly Program. Data for the project was collected with survey questionnaires with a total sample size of 148 respondents. Loneliness was measured using the Hughes 3-item loneliness scale. Additionally, the questionnaire contained measures on socio-demographics, health/mental health, social engagement and social support.

‘We believe that senior housing communities could become ideal locations for reducing loneliness among older adults.’

Results showed approximately 30.8 percent of the sample was not lonely; 42.7 percent was moderately lonely, and 26.6 percent was severely lonely. In analyzing the data, researchers found loneliness was primarily associated with depressive symptoms.

“We speculate that loneliness may be higher in senior housing communities for a few important reasons,” Taylor said. “The first is older adults residing in senior housing communities often have greater risk for loneliness. In order to qualify to live in these senior housing communities, older adults must have a low income, and having a lower income is a risk factor for loneliness.

“Additionally, most of the residents we interviewed identified their marital status as single, which is another risk factor for greater loneliness. Many older adults living in senior housing communities also have greater health and mental health vulnerabilities, which increases the likelihood that an older adult will experience loneliness.”

Despite all that, the study finds, senior housing communities may be better suited to combat loneliness than traditional residential homes.

“We believe that senior housing communities could become ideal locations for reducing loneliness among older adults,” Taylor said. “Senior housing communities are embedded in communities with peers who may have similar age and life experiences. There are occasional activities and support from senior housing management to encourage the building of friendships, bonds and social support among senior housing residents.

“Most senior housing communities also have a common space or multipurpose room available for use, which can also help facilitate building bonds between residents. Senior housing communities are frequently located close to public transportation, which provides access to transportation for residents without automobiles.”

Still, loneliness is frequently a stigmatized condition, he said.

“We often do not like to talk about our feelings of loneliness,” Taylor said. “For practitioners, it is important to be patient when working with older adults, and it could take a while for an older adult, regardless if they reside in a senior housing facility, to admit they are feeling lonely.

“Whether you are a child, relative or family member to an older adult, or provide services to older adults, be patient when discussing issues of loneliness and mental health with older adults.”

Medicare For All – Protection for Your Retirement Plans

An unexpected medical emergency, a life-changing diagnosis, or a car accident are a number of countless situations that can land us in the emergency room, setting off a chain reaction of diagnostic tests, follow-up appointments, prescriptions, treatments, and more. Of course, this all has a significant implication on your pocketbook, and even if you have insurance, the bills can still be staggering.

Health insurance is supposed to be an investment, a sort of safety net to minimize your financial obligations in the event of a significant health illness or injury. But rising premiums, high deductible plans, and coverage exclusions have rendered comprehensive, quality, affordable insurance plans a thing of the past.

This can have significant implications for older adults nearing or at retirement age. A car accident, a cancer diagnosis, or any number of other health issues can quickly drain away savings, including retirement plans.

Health Care Costs Threaten Retirement Plans

Amassing a retirement savings large enough to provide a comfortable living for decades is no small feat. Because seniors tend to see increased health issues and health care costs in their latter years of life, a significant portion of their retirement plan needs to be able to cover those increased costs.

According to a study performed by Fidelity, a 65-year-old couple retiring in 2017 will need to cover approximately $275,000 in health care costs throughout their retirement. That amount reflects a 6% increase over the 2016 figure of $260,000. However, that estimate has increased more than 70% when compared with the initial estimate ever performed by Fidelity back in 2002.

Simply saving up enough money to be able to retire can be a challenge, especially when you encounter unexpected health issues and emergencies earlier on in life. According to a survey by Bankrate, only 41% of adults say that they have enough money in savings to be able to pay off an unexpected cost. However, 45% of survey respondents indicated that they’d had a major unexpected expense in the past 12 months.

And if a family has a high-deductible insurance plan, a single visit to the ER can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Families without adequate savings may feel pressured to reach into retirement savings to fund the emergency, leaving them with even less savings than they’d had initially.

A Compounding Problem

The issue of health care costs depleting retirement savings becomes even more urgent when you consider the seniors who can’t afford to retire at all. The U.S. Jobs Report indicated that the retirement age is increasing, with almost 19% of United States seniors aged 65 or older were working at least part time during the second quarter of 2017. Additionally, 19% of 70- to 74-year-olds were still working.

Working later into life leads to increased retirement savings, but this isn’t a practical option for many seniors. Health issues force many seniors to quit their jobs even if their retirement savings aren’t yet large enough to provide them with long-term security.

Simply finding a job can be a challenge, since employers may be more reluctant to hire seniors (despite age discrimination laws). Seniors may find themselves with fewer job options and may have to settle for lower-paying jobs with poor health insurance policy offerings.

Medicare for All: Protecting Retirement Savings

Medicare for All could be a solution to this growing problem. With single-payer health care, all Americans could enjoy protection against unexpected large medical bills. Americans wouldn’t need to dip into their retirement savings for health-related emergencies. And with reduced health care costs, they could put more earnings into their retirement plans.

If more Americans were able to put aside more retirement savings, they could retire at age 65 without having to worry about extending their employment into their senior years. They could enjoy reduced stress and could focus on healing after a health crisis, rather than worrying about the massive bills that would follow.

With access to the medications and treatments that they need, Americans could enjoy better health, happiness, and an improved quality of life. Isn’t that what we want for our seniors, our retirees, and all American citizens?

Change Never Ages

As the second-oldest state in the nation, West Virginia is in dire need for professionals who can work with its aging population.

To meet this need, the School of Social Work at West Virginia University has launched a new undergraduate gerontology minor.

The minor is an interdisciplinary program geared toward understanding the biological, social and spiritual aspects associated with the aging process.

“The biggest thing the minor will do for students is set them apart from other applicants in their job search, making them more marketable and helping them receive higher consideration for jobs,” said Kristina Hash, professor and director of the gerontology certificate program and minor.

There are several courses in the diverse program, including online options and a General Education Foundation course that can count toward a student’s major or another minor.

Kristin Hash

“Usually people come to gerontology from a personal place,” Hash said. “Students might take a course or complete an entire minor just to learn about their aging loved ones. “We have something for everyone, regardless of career goal or major.”

As the baby boomer generation comes of age in the United States, it brings with it the “Floridization” phenomenon. By 2020, the population distribution of the United States will be comparable to that of the state of Florida.

Because of the shifting population, there is a shortage of trained professionals working with older adults. The shortage includes not only physicians and nurses, but the entire helping health profession.

“It’s a crisis at both the national and state levels, and it’s only going to get worse,” Hash said. “That’s where the jobs are going to be.”

This cohort of older adults is different than previous generations because they are healthier and seek more opportunities for recreation and learning. As a result, nursing homes and senior centers are beginning to change by adding new features like coffee bars and Wi-Fi to meet the evolving needs of the cohort. This is opening more employment opportunities than ever before in new markets, such as insurance, marketing, and tourism.

“This particular cohort are people who march for equal rights, who stand up for their beliefs, who question—they are not going to be passive. The baby boomers are pushing the envelope,” Hash said. “In response, many other fields are also changing to prepare for the aging population, leaving a lot of entry points into the sensation that is aging adults. It’s not just social workers and nurses and physicians and pharmacists—it’s economists, marketers, interior designers and urban planners, too.”

The gerontology minor is available now. Students interested in studying gerontology or working with older adults are encouraged to contact their academic adviser to learn more or visit http://eberly.wvu.edu/students/majors/gerontology.

Military Service Boosts Resilience, Well-Being Among Transgender Veterans

Transgender people make up a small percentage of active-duty U.S. military personnel, but their experience in the service may yield long-term, positive effects on their mental health and quality of life.

A study from the University of Washington finds that among transgender older adults, those who had served in the military reported fewer symptoms of depression and greater mental health-related quality of life. The findings were published in a February special supplement of The Gerontologist.

The paper is part of a national, groundbreaking longitudinal study of LGBT older adults, known as “Aging with Pride: National Health, Aging, Sexuality/Gender Study,” which focuses on how a range of demographic factors, life events and medical conditions are associated with health and quality of life.

Estimated numbers of U.S. military personnel who are transgender vary widely, but range between one-tenth and three-quarters of 1 percent of the roughly 2 million active-duty and reserve forces. A study from UCLA estimates about 134,000 transgender veterans in the United States.

The new paper, by researchers from the UW School of Social Work, explores how military service affects transgender people because previous data indicated that, among LGBT people over age 50, those who identified as transgender were more likely to be veterans than lesbians, gay men or bisexuals.

Reports have indicated that transgender individuals serve in the military at higher rates than people in the general population. In the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey of 28,000 individuals, 15 percent said they had served, compared to about 9 percent of the U.S. population overall. And yet, little is known about how military service influences the well-being of transgender veterans later in life.

Other studies have shown that transgender veterans suffer higher rates of depression than other veterans. UW researchers were somewhat surprised, then, to learn that the transgender veterans they surveyed tended to have better mental health than transgender people who hadn’t served, said lead author Charles Hoy-Ellis, a former UW doctoral student who is now an assistant professor at the University of Utah College of Social Work.

The traditionally masculine culture of the U.S. military would seem to be a potentially difficult environment for someone who doesn’t identify with the gender they were assigned at birth, he said.

But military service creates its own kind of identity, the authors said, because it presents often dangerous and traumatic challenges; overcoming those challenges builds resilience. And that’s where the identity as a transgender person enters the picture.

“Many people develop an identity as a military person — that it’s not just something they did but something that they are,” said Hoy-Ellis. “If transgender people, who are among the most marginalized, can successfully navigate a military career, with so many of the dynamics around gender in the general population and in the military, then that experience can contribute to a type of identity cohesiveness.”

The internalizing of negative stereotypes, such as those around sexual orientation, is considered a risk factor for poor mental health, added co-author Hyun-Jun Kim, a UW research scientist in the School of Social Work. Military service could be the opposite — a protective factor.

“Often when people think of the transgender population, they focus on the risk factors, but it’s equally important to focus on the protective factors and nourish those resources. In this case, what aspects of military service contribute to being a protective factor?” Kim said.

Researchers said they were somewhat limited by the size of their study sample: Out of the 2,450 people ages 50 to 100 who were surveyed for Aging with Pride, 183 identified as transgender. Of those nearly one-fourth, or 43, had served in the military. Of those who had served, 57 percent identified as female. People of color made up 29 percent of the transgender veterans in the study.

But as awareness grows about gender-identity issues, there is an opportunity to address support services for transgender veterans at the federal level and in the community, Hoy-Ellis said.

“This is a population that has served the country very proudly, and it’s important that we recognize that service,” he said. “Learning what we can about transgender older adults with military service may help us develop and implement policies and programs for people who are serving today.”

Other co-authors were Chengshi Shiu, Kathleen Sullivan, Allison Sturges and Karen Fredriksen-Goldsen, all in the UW School of Social Work. Funding was provided by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Aging.

Low Medicaid Rates Limit Beneficiaries’ Access to Assisted Living Facilities, Quality Care

More than 700,000 elderly and disabled Americans receive health care in residential care communities, such as assisted living facilities. As the population ages, this number will grow.

A new study by RTI International found that low Medicaid payment rates for services in assisted living and similar settings discourage residential care providers from serving Medicaid beneficiaries, which limits their access to community-based residential care.

The study found that some residential care settings limit the number of Medicaid residents they serve or decrease operating expenses in ways that may also reduce quality of care.

“Medicaid payment rates only cover services in residential care settings; they do not cover room and board,” said Michael Lepore, Ph.D., senior health policy and health services researcher at RTI and lead author of the study. “One of the access barriers is the difficulty that Medicaid beneficiaries have paying for room and board in residential care settings because of their low incomes. This situation dissuades residential care providers from serving Medicaid beneficiaries.”

Residential care settings are community-based homes or facilities that offer room, board and care services, the most popular being assisted living. Compared to nursing homes, these settings often are less institutional and are often the preferred setting.

If Medicaid beneficiaries with long-term service and support needs cannot access residential care settings, then nursing homes may be their only option, ultimately costing taxpayers more money because Medicaid payment rates for nursing homes are higher.

The study, published in the Journal of Housing for the Elderly, found barriers that influence Medicaid beneficiaries’ access to state-licensed residential care include Medicaid reimbursement rates for services, the supply of Medicaid-certified residential care settings and beds, and policies that affect room and board costs for Medicaid beneficiaries.

Researchers examined Medicaid policies in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, interviewed subject-matter experts, and conducted four state case studies informed by reviews of state policies and stakeholder interviews.

“States need to ensure their Medicaid rates for residential care services are sufficient to maintain an adequate supply of these settings and beds available to Medicaid beneficiaries, while also safeguarding quality of care and taxpayer resources,” Lepore said. “Higher Medicaid rates may encourage more residential care settings to serve Medicaid beneficiaries, which may help reduce nursing home use by older adults and people with disabilities and potentially reduce Medicaid spending on long-term services and supports.”

10 Useful Apps for Your Tech-Savvy Aged Parent

Are your parents aging but still wanting to keep in touch, be in the know, and continue to be avid fans of their smartphones? Now is a great time to be a tech-savvy senior, as they have far more options to choose from when it comes to applications designed to keep their lives simpler and more streamlined. While your mother or father may be huge fans of the new phones available, they may not be aware of all the great options.

They can do more than shop for best deals for catheters online; now they can take control of their lives with some great new products.

Here are ten apps every tech-happy parent should download onto their phone.

1. Pillboxie

This useful app, which is only available for iPhone, gives a visual guide to help with daily, short-term, or weekly medications. Rather than just a note that pops up on your calendar, this is a virtual medicine cabinet that helps users see and organize their meds easily, gives them a gentle reminder to mark what they have taken and see if they missed anything. This app is great for anyone taking medication that just needs a little reminder not to miss a day.

2. Mint Bills and Money

This application is here to make sure you never miss a bill payment. Available for Android as well as iPhone, the app is especially nice because, after its initial set-up, all that’s needed is a quick confirmation to go ahead and digitally pay a bill. This app makes sure that the power never goes off, the cable is always on, and the gas is available. It can also monitor your bank accounts and credit cards to show you any unusual activity or just help you check your balance. No more forgetting a payment or making troublesome trips to the bank.

3. Goodreads

Reading is such a great activity for all of us but, especially, for those of us getting on in years. This app completes the experience with a social element—users can make friends with other fans of their favorite books and leave messages for one another. Book reviews are also encouraged, and readers can list books they plan to read in the future, as well as communicate with their favorite authors. Best of all, the app is free and available for all phones and tablets.

4. Words with Friends

This app goes beyond note writing or just chatting. With this popular word game application, users can challenge friends, family, or random users to a game of scrabble. While traditional rules apply, this app puts a new twist on an old favorite. The game has no time limit, so one match can last if the two opponents need to do other things, they can message one another in the chat section, and those who want to play alone have the solo play option.

Anyone looking for a new friend to play also has the Smart Match option. This option evaluates one’s skill level and matches them to someone at a similar level. Scrabble champions can easily find others who can keep up with them while beginners do not have to get creamed by a pro.

5. Spotify

You may think of Spotify—for Android as well as iPhone—as a place to find new music, but it is also a great place to find old favorites. Does your dad go on and on about the genius of Lawrence Welk? He can find the man’s music here. Users can create personalized radio stations based on their interests and even use the app on their desktop computer to fill the room with their favorite tunes. Don’t be surprised if you catch them dancing once they have their membership.

6. Skype

Keeping in touch is extremely important to everyone in your family, especially those who are getting older. Skype is a wonderful, free app that can be used on a desktop or any phone. The technology combines video and audio for a great option to catch up. Group conversation options are also available, as well as calling a landline or cell phone if necessary. See new babies, check in on distant relatives, and even go exploring together with the help of this very fun application.

7. Lumosity

Designed to keep brains active and memory alive, Lumosity is essentially a gym for your brain that you can access from any phone or tablet. The games on this application were designed by neuroscientists in hopes of helping people challenge themselves mentally and do so in a way that is entertaining and helps them have fun.

You will not feel like you are taking a test, but rather like you are playing a low-key, entertaining video game. The application can help prevent mental issues like Alzheimer’s and dementia. It also just improves general cognition so anyone can jump in on the fun. The app has gone worldwide for a reason—it is just great!

8. Blood Pressure Monitor

Only available for Apple phones, Blood Pressure Monitor helps users take control of their heart health and keep track of their pressure, their heart rates, and their activity. The app comes complete with reminders to take medicine or do an activity, as well as help to export any unusual activity to a doctor’s email. While this is not meant to replace any professional tools, it can help anyone with heart concerns feel better with a visual chart of just how their heart is doing and give a clear warning when something is going wrong.

9. Evernote

Evernote is an especially good one for senior citizens living alone or with limited care. The digital notebook comes in three versions, from free to premium, and offers all kinds of things. Listing different things to remember, a to-do list, audio notes, digitizing business cards, and just writing out documents are all available for both Android and Apple users. Also, it syncs up phones with desktop computers so that it can be used from any interface. Never forget a thing with the help of this great digital personal assistant.

10. WebMD Pain Coach

You have likely already used the WebMD website, which helps identify problems through symptoms, but you may not have tried this great app, though you and your parents absolutely should. It is designed to be a holistic approach to pain management and to take the mystery out of health problems, the app has a pain tracker, offers advice on pain reduction, and helps the user keep a kind of journal to show their doctor to help explain the problem. The app also has a daily goal tracker, dietary suggestions, and a built-in library of articles about preventative health to help users.

Alzheimer’s Foundation of America Celebrates World Social Work Day

Today is World Social Work Day, a time to honor social workers and recognize the contributions they bring to society.  As social workers play an instrumental role in the health and improved quality of life of individuals with dementia, the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) is offering a special discount, throughout the month of March, on its “AFA’s Partner’s in Care: Supporting Individuals with Dementia” training DVD.

“This month is an opportunity to put a spotlight on the profession as we recognize the more than 600,000 social workers across the country,” said Charles J. Fuschillo, Jr., AFA’s president and chief executive officer. “Social workers are a vital part of the care team.  They face challenging issues on a daily basis, working with individuals and families, helping them to reach their full potential.  It is beneficial for them to have dementia-specific training so they can learn how to make a greater impact in the lives of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia.”

Social workers help individuals increase their ability to solve problems, cope with stress, and find valuable resources.  It is always advantageous for health care professional to increase their knowledge, especially when it comes to disease-specific topics.

The “AFA Partners in Care” training series assists health care professionals in gaining a better understanding of dementia, learning effective communication strategies, facilitating care transitions and developing relationships with the individuals in their care in order to foster more meaningful living. It also includes tips and strategies for professional self-care.  Developed by healthcare professionals for healthcare professionals, the program is appropriate for a variety of disciplines. 

Individuals who complete the program and pass the associated exam can pursue designation as an AFA Dementia Care Partner. They will also be eligible for six continuing education contact hours.  Social workers can order the “AFA Partners in Care” training DVD, and take advantage of the discount, which is only $150 this month, by contacting Molly Fogel, AFA’s director of educational and social services, at 866-232-8484 x131 or mfogel@alzfdn.org.

Mindfulness Shows Promise as We Age, but Study Results Are Mixed

COLUMBUS, Ohio – As mindfulness practices rise in popularity and evidence of their worth continues to accumulate, those who work with aging populations are looking to use the techniques to boost cognitive, emotional and physiological health.

But studies so far have shown mixed results in the elderly, and more investigation is needed to determine exactly how best to apply mindfulness in that population, a new review of the research to date has found.

A majority of the 27 studies in the review suggest that the focused attention at the core of mindfulness benefits older people, but others don’t point to improvements. And that should prompt more rigorous investigations in search of interventions likely to do the most good, researchers from The Ohio State University found. Their analysis appears in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.

“Mindfulness is a practice that really serves as a way to foster a greater quality of life and there’s been some thought that it could help with cognitive decline as we age,” said Stephanie Fountain-Zaragoza, lead author of the study and a graduate student in psychology.

“Given the growing interest in mindfulness in general, we wanted to determine what we know right now so that researchers can think about where we go from here,” she said.

The good news so far: The evidence from a variety of studies points to some benefits for older adults, suggesting that mindfulness training might be integrated into senior centers and group homes, the researchers found.

Older people are an especially important population to study given diminished social support, physical limitations and changes in cognitive health, the researchers point out.

Studies of mindfulness meditation usually involve three types of practices. The first, focused attention, involves sustained attention to a single thing (such as the breath) and an effort to disengage from other distractions.

Open monitoring meditation, often seen as the next step up in mindfulness, includes acknowledging the details of multiple phenomena (sensations, sounds, etc.) without selectively focusing on one of them.

“This includes being open to experiencing thoughts and sensations and emotions and taking them as they come and letting them go,” Fountain-Zaragoza said.

Loving-kindness meditation encourages a universal state of love and compassion toward oneself and others.

“The goal with this is to foster compassionate acceptance,” said senior author Ruchika Shaurya Prakash, director of Ohio State’s clinical neuroscience laboratory and an expert in mindfulness.

In addition to looking at how mindfulness contributed – or did not – to behavioral and cognitive functioning and to psychological wellbeing, some of the research also looked at its potential role in inflammation, which contributes to a variety of diseases.

In all categories of study, including inflammatory processes, Prakash and Fountain-Zaragoza found mixed results.

The hope is that mindfulness could help the elderly preserve attention and capitalize on emotional regulation strategies that naturally improve as we age, Prakash said.

“Around 50 percent of our lives, our minds are wandering and research from Harvard University has shown that the more your mind wanders, the less happy you are,” she said.

“Mindfulness allows you to become aware of that chaotic mind-wandering and provides a safe space to just breathe.”

In older people, mindfulness ideally has the potential to help with cognition, emotion and inflammation, but little research has been done so far and those studies that have been done have had mixed results and scientific limitations.

While most of the studies in the review showed positive results, the field is limited and would benefit greatly from larger randomized controlled trials, Fountain-Zaragoza said.

“We want to really be able to say that we have strong evidence that mindfulness is driving the changes we see,” she said.

9 Ways to Gain the Health Benefits of Grapes

food-healthy-man-person-1190x595

Grapes come in so many sizes and shapes and not to forget, the colors! It is known as “The Queen of Fruits”. Did you know that a grape is a berry of the deciduous vines?

Grapes can be eaten raw and fresh or could be used for making wine, jam, jelly, raisins, vinegar and grape seed oil. This fruit mainly belongs to various species of Vitis genus. Genus Vitis is a type of the family Vitaceae, which is like woody vines with simple leaves and flowers. This includes a large variety of grapes as well.

Grapes grow in clusters of fifteen to three hundred. It could be in shades of crimson or red, dark purple or black, dark blue, yellow, green, pink, orange.

Grapes have health benefits ranging from the head to the toe of a human.

Health benefits include increasing the health of the heart, preventing cancer, better digestion, low in sugar, increases longevity and skin health, decreasing the risk of obesity and helping in weight loss, treating asthma and migraine, increasing bone health, eliminating constipation and fatigue, promotes health of hair, treats, kidney disorders, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits, as well as cognitive benefits. The list can go on and on. So here are the eight benefits of grapes given below.

Has Cardiovascular Benefits And Heals Kidney Disorders

The never-ending inflammation of the cardiovascular system should be a concern for several kinds of disease. Excessive fat intake, also known as “the French Paradox”, could lead to cholesterol problems. But grapes can solve this problem.

Grapes helps in better blood pressure regulation. It could increase your BP if it’s low or decreases it if the BP is high. This fruit reduces cholesterol levels and oxidation. Grapes also increase the levels of glutathione in the blood.

This colorful fruit reduces the acidity of uric acid. Since grapes contain high water content, they create the urge of urination. This eliminates this acid which results in the reduced stress on kidneys.

Prevents Cancer And Strengthens Bones

Grapes contain polyphenols. Polyphenols are powerful antioxidants that

slow down and prevent various kinds of cancer. Cancers that occur in lungs, mouth, pharynx, gullet, pancreas, prostate gland and tumors in the colon can be treated to an extent by consuming red wine.

Micronutrients like copper, manganese, and iron are present in this little fruit. These minerals help to strengthen and form the bones. Aging can lead to problems like osteoporosis can be avoided by the intake of grapes.

Helps In Digestion And Provides Relief From Constipation

If you want to get rid of any stomach infection or constipation, start eating grapes. Grapes are classified as laxative foods because they are rich in sugar, cellulose, and organic acid.

They relieve the heat, constipation, end the issues to dyspepsia and the irritation you experience by toning the intestinal muscles and stomach.

Low In Glycemic Index (Sugar) And Reduces Diabetes

Grapes contain a low glycemic index (GI) level. Low GI levels between forty-three to fifty-three is a good indicator for consumption for the diabetic patients. Resveratrol present in grapes protects you from diabetic neuropathy and retinopathy.

Black grape intakes balance the blood sugar levels helps in insulin regulation and increases the insulin sensitivity. Diabetes could, later on, cause eye degeneration. To prevent the same, grapes should be consumed. They are rich in lutein and zeaxanthin that help maintain good eye health.

Increases Longevity And Skin Health

Phytonutrients are present in grape skins and grape seeds and flesh. This helps in increasing longevity and decreasing calories. The more we decrease the calorie intake, the more we remain nourished. Staying nourished will keep us healthy and will provide longevity to life.

Did you know that applying grape juice or pulp of grapes reduces and cures uneven skin tones? The polyphenols present in the grape helps to improve the skin tone. In fact, green grapes lighten the scars caused by acne.

Grape seed extracts work as exfoliating agents and make the skin softer than before.Mashed grapes are the best remedy for sunburns. They act as a sunscreen and reduce the redness on the skin. Grapes help in the reducing your dark spots and wrinkles.

Grapes are rich in Vitamin C and Vitamin E. Vitamin C helps in the rejuvenation of the skin whereas Vitamin E secures the moisture in the skin. Grapes also increase the elasticity of the skin. Plus it improves blood circulation that helps in a better skin texture as well as a healthy and glowing skin effect.

Antioxidant and Anti-Inflammatory Benefits

The hormone, melatonin, is present in grapes. Melatonin acts as an antioxidant. Short-term intake of grapes behaves like a short-term antioxidant benefit. Grapes increase blood levels of glutathione and help protect the cell membranes from radical damage. It also reduces the oxidation of fat.

Grapes lower the risk of unwanted and excessive inflammation. Eating grapes daily would reduce inflammatory issues and keep you healthy for a long time.

This fruit also alleviates symptoms of allergies including running nose, hives, and watery eyes.

Improves Brain Functions And Prevents Alzheimer’s Disease

Consuming grape juice provides benefits to the brain. Grapes enhance the brain’s health and delay the degenerative neural diseases.

Anemia or fatigue can be pushed away by intaking grapes. As grapes maintain the iron and mineral levels balanced, your mind and body will be boosted with instant energy. Grapes also boost the immunity.

Grapes protect the brain and improve the memory and concentration levels. Reservatrol or polyphenols present in grapes is beneficial for declining and treating the Alzheimer’s disease.

Provides Benefits To Hair And Treats Dandruff

The black grape seed oil contains antioxidants and vitamin E. This helps in reversing excessive hair loss, increasing blood circulation in the scalp, stopping split ends from coming back and decreases the amount of prematurely gray hair.

Grapes also help you to get rid of dandruff within a few weeks. Applying grape seed oil regularly will generally reduce dandruff. Grapeseed oil also helps in regaining the lost shine and health of your hair.

Cures Asthma And Migraine

Riboflavin is present in ripe grape juices or grape seed.This is most beneficial for people suffering from migraine.

Grapes have high hydrating power which increases the moisture present in lungs and reduces asthmatic issues. It also keeps you hydrated.

The benefits don’t stop here and neither do the different names of grapes take a break. Grapes are popularly known as ‘Angoor’ in Hindi, ‘Drakshi’ in Kannada, ‘Dhraksh’ and ‘Draksha’ in Gujarati and Marathi respectively. Even thought the Queen of Fruits has several names, it is definitely beneficial to eat it daily. Go grab your bunch of grapes now!

Geriatric Depression: Symptoms, Risk Factors and Treatments

By: Brian Neese

795x400-header-GeriatricDepression-SEU-1

Around 7 million of the nation’s 39 million adults ages 65 years and older are affected by depression, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Although a majority of older adults are not depressed, they have an increased risk of developing depression, which is a persistent sad, anxious or empty feeling, or a feeling of hopelessness and pessimism.

Unfortunately, depression in older adults is often not recognized or treated. Symptoms may be mistaken for natural reactions to illness or life changes that occur during aging. Geriatric depression is associated with an increased risk of suicide, decreased physical, cognitive and social functioning, and greater self-neglect, reports the Annual Review of Clinical Psychology.

Due to its consequences, geriatric depression is regarded as a major public health problem. On a more positive note, the CDC says that it is “fairly easy to detect” and “highly treatable.”

Symptoms

Depression can cause feelings of sadness or anxiety that last for weeks at a time. Additionally, a wide range of other symptoms may be present.

  • Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism, guilt, worthlessness and helplessness
  • Irritability and restlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities once pleasurable
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions
  • Sleeping difficulties or irregular sleeping patterns
  • Overeating or appetite loss
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Persistent aches or pains that do not get better, despite treatment

Depressed individuals over the age of 65 are less likely than younger individuals to exhibit dysphoria, which is a state of unease or general dissatisfaction with life, a study in the Journal of Gerontology found. Older individuals with depression are more likely than younger individuals to experience sleep disturbance, fatigue, psychomotor retardation, loss of interest in living and hopelessness, according to Psychological Medicine.

Additionally, older depressed individuals commonly complain of poor memory and concentration. The Archives of General Psychiatry found that patients with late-life depression had slower cognitive processing speed and performed poorer in all cognitive domains.

Risk Factors

“Non-genetic biological risk factors for depression are particularly important in old age,” says the Annual Review of Clinical Psychology. Several factors have been associated with late-age depression.

  • Endocrine dysregulation, bone loss and certain medications (beta blockers, central nervous system medications, hormones, anti-Parkinson agents, certain cancer medications and others) may cause late-life depression.
  • Around 20 to 25 percent of heart disease patients experience major depression, and another 20 to 25 percent experience symptoms of depression not meeting criteria for major depressive disorder, according to Biological Psychiatry.
  • Dementia may be a risk factor for depression, but diabetes is not. Rather, the evidence suggests that depression is a risk factor for diabetes.
  • Stroke patients have the highest rates of major depression (20 to 25 percent) among other neurological disorders. Rates are intermediate (15 to 20 percent) for Parkinson’s disease compared to Alzheimer’s disease (10 to 15 percent).
  • Anxiety disorder and sleep disturbance are also risk factors for depression among older adults.

Social risk factors for depression, though less important in old age, can become more significant in very old age when individuals face greater losses and fewer resources. As with other ages, Psychology and Aging found that late-life depression is linked to the number of stressful life events experienced. Also, troubled relationships can explain depressed older individuals, including spousal depression, marital conflict and perceived family criticism. In The Journals of Gerontology, financial trouble is one of the most common stressful life events experienced by older adults.

Treatment and Prevention

In a review of evidence-based therapies for depression in older adults, Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice named the following as beneficial: behavioral therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, cognitive bibliotherapy, problem-solving therapy, brief psychodynamic therapy and reminiscence therapy. A behavioral treatment plan for depression in nursing homes was successful in Clinical Case Studies. It found a strong increase in positive affect and activity level after a 10-session program for increasing pleasant activities was administered. In the Journal of Mental Health and Aging, a meta-analysis found that psychotherapeutic interventions changed self-rated depression and other measures of psychological well-being in older adults by about one half standard deviation and clinician-rated depression by more than one standard deviation.

In 2007, an expert panel recommended home- or clinic-based depression care management (DCM) along with cognitive behavioral therapy for older adults with depression, the American Journal of Preventive Medicine reports. DCM uses a team approach with a trained social worker, nurse or other practitioner alongside a primary care provider who prescribes treatments in consultation with a psychiatrist. Clinical trials link DCM to a reduction in depression symptoms, higher remission rates and improvements in health-related quality of life, reports the CDC.

Prevention efforts are often directed to those who are at an increased risk of disorder. The American Journal of Psychiatry found that treating all patients with subsyndromal depressive symptoms could prevent 24.6 percent of new depression onsets in that period. In Aging & Mental Health, cognitive behavioral therapy demonstrated significant benefits in the prevention of depression in nursing home residents. Treatment of insomnia and other sleep disturbance is a valuable opportunity to prevent depression in older adults, given the highly effective nature of cognitive behavioral treatments for insomnia in this age group. The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry identified that individual educational interventions for subjects with chronic illness, individual therapy for at-risk bereaved older adults, cognitive-behavioral interventions to reduce negative thinking and life review were interventions with the most empirical support. Programs to reduce social isolation may also help prevent depression in older adults.

Helping Seniors in the Community

Human services professionals can join healthcare professionals and families to provide support for older adults who have or are at risk for depression. From clinics and nursing homes to homeless shelters, a variety of environments exist where individuals are particularly at risk for developing depression. Professionals trained to work with older adults and lead initiatives in the community can make a difference.

Southeastern University offers an online B.S. in Human Services and an online M.A. in Human Services to positively impact seniors. Both programs equip graduates with the knowledge and skills needed to work in and lead human service environments. The master’s program offers a gerontology specialization, and both degree options take place in a convenient online format.

How Do We Protect the Elderly from Fraud

1452201017003437231

According to the United States Department of Justice, 1 in 10 seniors over the age of 60 is abused every year in the U.S, and elder fraud is another tactic used to abuse our aging population. Many of these cases often go unreported. Factors such as social isolation, lack of family/friends support, cognitive decline, loneliness, lack of awareness of financial matters can put individuals at risk for elder fraud.

One morning, I was waiting for the building exterminator to arrive to my apartment. When Luis* was spraying my apartment, he told me how he discovered his 85 yr old Dominican father was a recent victim of fraud. It all started when his father received a phone call from a person claiming that he won thousands of dollars but in order to receive the prize, the “winner” has to provide his bank account information so the prize money can be directly deposit. Needless to say, Luis’s father did as such and within a couple of days his entire savings of $40,000 was stolen from his account. Sound familiar?

People would often hear stories how the caregiver (usually a family member) would take advantage of the individual’s finances however, the abuse can occur from strangers from the community as well. Perpetrators have their way of finding the perfect victim to scam. Sometimes the perpetrators work in pairs when scamming victims. For example, in 2014 two contractors scammed $500,000 from senior citizens in Southern California during a two year span.

They managed to manipulate the customers in paying more money for work that it was not needed and forged their checks.  Stories of con artist who tag team against the elderly are common. In some cases, one contractor (usually unlicensed) would talk to the victim in the dining room, while the contractor would search the bedrooms for cash, jewelry, or other valuables to steal. It may take hours or days for the victim to realize their valuables were stolen.

It’s important for social workers and other professionals to understand how financial fraud affects the elderly. Can you recall a time when someone stole something that was important to you? Do you remember how you felt afterwards? Some of the affects of financial fraud can include but not limited to anger, embarrassment, lost of control, stressed, fear, etc.

My exterminator, Luis stated that it took a few weeks before he and his brothers found out about his father’s financial fraud. His father who worked many years for the telephone company and saved his money for he and his wife was all gone. Luis said he and his brothers did not understand why his father was asking for money all of the sudden since he is known as a very frugal. His father did not immediately report the incident to his sons because he wanted to try to fix the problem himself.

To reduce and prevent elder fraud cases United States Department of Justice has a Division of Elder Justice that provides education and resources to the public. More health care agencies are hosting conferences to help educate health care professionals, social service staff, and other professionals about elder abuse.

Families, neighbors, friends can report abuse through the adult protective service agency in the county where the victim resides. Some counties make it easy for people to report the abuse. For example, in New York City, residents and health care workers can report abuse to adult protective services online and it will allow you to print the report upon completion. A google search for adult protective services in your county and State will help direct you to the local reporting agency.

Some of the examples of action and prevention mentioned above sounds promising for the seniors, but there should be more steps to be taken to help raise awareness and protect potential victims. For those working with an aging population or concerned about a love one, Caregiverstress.com has put together a comprehensive toolkit to help protect against elder fraud. You can also visit StopElderFraud.gov for more information.

[gview file=”https://swhelper.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/1_Seniors_Fraud_Protection_Kit_US.pdf”]

*Names has been changed to protect the identity.

Holiday Depression and Our Elderly

SNACK_fake_death_xmas

When we think of the holiday’s we often think of joyful times with family and friends but for some of our elderly it can be a time of sadness, isolation and loneliness. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is prevalent during the holidays and winter season due to issues such as being confined indoors, missing loved ones (living or deceased) or chronic illness/pain.

Depression in the elderly looks different than the younger generations as it can mask itself as health related issues which often causes the depression to go on untreated. For example, symptoms like decreased or no appetite, sleep disturbances, incontinence, chronic pain, memory loss/confusion, mood disturbances and fatigue can be signs physical illness like diabetes or an urinary tract infection but they are also signs of depression.

According to the Center for Disease Control ) approximately 6 million elderly seniors suffer from depression and have the highest rate of suicide because as only 10% get treated for it. If you suspect that your loved one may be suffering from depression express concerns to their doctor as soon as possible. You may also ask for a referral to a psychiatrist for a second opinion.

Signs of depression are sadness, fatigue, loss of interest in socializing, poor appetite, sleep disturbances, loss of self-worth, feelings of hopelessness and increased use of alcohol/drugs and fixation on death.

OTHER RED FLAGS TO LOOK FOR

Unexplained or aggravated aches and pains

Anxiety and worries

Memory problems

Lack of motivation and energy

Slowed movement and speech

Irritability

Neglecting personal care

WHAT TO DO WHEN SOMEONE IS IN IMMINENT DANGER?

Call 911 for emergency services

Go to nearest hospital emergency room

Call National Suicide Hotline toll-free, 1-800-273-8255 or TTY 1-800-799-4889

Call your doctor

What to do when someone is not in immediate danger?

Acknowledge that their pain is legitimate and offer to work together on getting help.

WHERE TO GET HELP?

Family physicians, clinics and health organizations: Can provide treatment or referrals

to mental health specialists.

Mental health specialists: psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists and social workers.

Psychiatrists can prescribe medications as they are actual doctors but the therapist

and social workers work together with doctors to make sure seniors are getting medications and care they need.

Community mental health centers: provide treatment based on ability to pay, and usually have a variety of mental health specialists.

Hospitals and university medical schools: May have research centers that study and treat depression.

CleverCare Watch Brings Peace of Mind

Clevercare-Carers-Dashboard-e1423792786654

A few weeks ago at the Home and Community Health Association conference, I met some of the team behind CleverCare, a new service that connects an Android smart watch to a web interface and a 24-hour call centre.

CleverCare is the brain-child of Maria Johnston. As the website explains, “developing the Clevercare system was driven from a personal need for Maria to make a positive difference in the everyday life or her parents. She then found that her family’s problems were experienced by many and now, through Clevercare making lives better with independence and peace of mind can be achieved for many.”

clevercareMedicalAlarmUPDATEDFEB2015-e1429159091562Designed for people with dementia, the Android watch runs a simple app and contains a GPS geolocator. The device is tracked via Google Maps in an online dashboard. Boundaries can be set to alert family, friends or support workers if someone wanders beyond a safe distance. Reminders can be pushed to the watch via the dashboard.

The watch will also alert a call center at the push of a button. The watch can receive phone calls from the call centre (in fact any phone), to establish the person’s need. If unanswered the call centre will contact a nominated person or send an ambulance to the GPS location.

As a user of a Bupa alarm, which is wired to your home, the CleverCare watch’s potential to be a safety net to a wider range of people was instantly obvious to me. I was soon talking to Maria and Shane, CleverCare’s sales rep, about the possibilities for younger people with unique function living independently, but anyone who may be vulnerable to risk and need assistance could utilize the device.

I notice that since the conference, CleverCare has widened its target audience to include children, people working alone, cyclists and more. At the end of the conference Maria and Shane offered me a watch to use. Already I am noticing the peace of mind my Bupa alarm gives me at home but, of course, with the watch, I have it wherever I am.

The dashboard is currently oriented to be ‘driven’ by the support/contact person, not the watch wearer, because of the focus on dementia support. A reorientation could put the watch wearer in the driving seat and, if more contact people were able to be added, a chain of contact, similar to my Bupa alarm, would make this technology truly revolutionary in terms of providing people a sense of safety and confidence.

The watch CleverCare uses at the moment is not the most attractive accessory but, again, it is designed for simplicity of use by older people and those with unique cognitive function. I’m not sure what I’ll do when I get my Apple Watch!

Which brings me to what I see could be the ultimate opportunity – the development of a standalone CleverCare app. Whether on a smart watch, phone, tablet or even desktop device, an app could bring this safety technology to anyone, anywhere.

If you see the benefit of CleverCare for yourself or someone else, do contact them directly or let me know so I can pass the interest on to Maria and her team. There is a cost but I understand it can be funded by the likes of ACC or Individualised Funding. And of course, the bigger CleverCare’s market, I’m sure the more cost effective it can become.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PwQcPc580bQ

When Basic Living is Considered a Utopia for the Poor

elderlypoverty

With our fast paced lives in a technological age of instant gratification and easy distraction, it’s no wonder news channels are beginning to advertise “distractify” sections on their web pages. It’s not difficult to see how quiet unassuming people may get pushed aside, and their needs relegated to the back burner. We assume that they’ll get social security which will provide some basic living. After all, we are told that all Americans can get social security once they retire. Right?

But, retiring means that you have worked, and social security is based on earnings over your lifetime. For homemakers, this doesn’t help much. We assume that they’ll receive Medicare, and yes we might even hear about the problems and costs associated with what Medicare doesn’t cover. We might even assume that the elderly will get food stamps without realizing just how meager food stamp grants really are. In an age of cuts to social programs, not only are all of these so-called entitlements at risk, programs such as food banks, meals on wheels, and utility assistance are also at risks which leads me to tell you about Mrs. Jones.

Mrs. Jones* is a vibrant and lovely elderly woman, free with stories of years gone by and quick with an ear for friends and neighbors. She loves working in her garden and sitting on her porch chatting with passers-by. Many in her community in Atlanta look forward to the spritely older woman and her tales. Many more loved her homespun wisdom and down home recipes, both of which she’s quick to share.

So, it was with great shock and profound sadness that the community witnessed its first day without the fixture that was Mrs. Jones and the loss was palpable. The shock and sadness only increased as the story behind Mrs. Jones’ absence spread.

In all the time she was cornerstone of the community, the very bedrock that most communities seek to cultivate, no one guessed she might have a secret. Mrs. Jones was used to being relied upon in her community and never thought to ask for anything in return. While her neighbors were friendly, caring, and even supportive of her, no one thought to inquire into how this lovely elderly woman, a widow who’d largely been a homemaker, was fairing. Sadly though, Mrs. Jones is one of countless citizens in an unenviable position. She is one of the 3.4 million citizens aged 65 and over in our country who live in poverty making her part of an extremely vulnerable population and one that is often forgotten in our society.

As a widow she did qualify for survivor’s benefits, but as someone who was largely a homemaker, her social security was meager at best. She did happen to qualify for Medicare, but was judged to be over the resource limit for food stamps. Living alone without dependent children reduced her benefits limit to the point that she was deemed to make too much. In short, after a lifetime of raising children, keeping house, and being a good and supportive wife to her husband all things lauded as family values to be protected, the system failed Mrs. Jones.

On the night where we pick up Mrs. Jones’ story, the night before her community witnessed the absence of its cornerstone, Mrs. Jones dialed 911 in a panic. She was having incapacitating abdominal cramps coupled with vomiting. When she arrived at the emergency room she was quickly diagnosed with a bowel obstruction and raced into emergency surgery. Afterward she was admitted to the ICU to recover from surgery and to stabilize her condition. A few days after she was admitted, a concerned friend came to visit and that’s when the true tragedy of Mrs. Jones case was revealed.

Her neighbor, perhaps one of her closest friends, knew that Mrs. Jones had been diagnosed with a heart condition, and that the treatment course was not covered by her insurance. This is not uncommon among the elderly who frequently have too many medical bills and not enough money or insurance. Many Americans think that supplemental insurance like Medicare part D picks up the rest, but the truth is it doesn’t cover everything and creates what some call the Medicare donut. In this position, Mrs. Jones was left to decide between medication and other necessities like food, which also is not uncommon among the elderly.

What makes this story less common, but by no means unheard of, is how Mrs. Jones decided to solve the problem. With too many financial needs and too few dollars at her command, Mrs. Jones decided that she would have to resort to eating dog food to afford her medications. That’s right, as she was trading recipes with her neighbors, offering an ear to all and being the foundation of her community, Mrs. Jones had resorted to eating dog food.

Mrs. Jones had been failed by the very society of whom she was a bedrock. Even more tragically, she is now saddled with even more medical debt which lead to her illness in the first place. Only time will tell how Mrs. Jones’ story will end. With her grown children having moved away and her husband  now deceased, it is very likely her community will forever lose its cornerstone. The debt she’s incurred will drive her to even more austere measures and ultimately lead to her being placed in assisted living.

Mrs. Jones’ story and the stories of millions like her doesn’t have to end this way. It doesn’t have to be a story of poverty, increased health care costs, and increased demand for limited assisted living spaces. The only solution that eliminates poverty and corrects societal tragedies like Mrs. Jones story is a universal basic income.

Had Mrs. Jones lived in a country that provided a guaranteed basic income for its citizens, Mrs. Jones would not live in poverty. She’d receive a stipend that guaranties her a comfortable existence where she could afford food and adequate health insurance. Insurance where her medication is covered, thus eliminating the strain of poverty on our health care system.

Clearly our current system, which leaves 3.4 million of our elderly in poverty, estimates as many as 44% of seniors would be living in poverty if it were not for social security. As stated in the findings by Center for American Progress, the system is broken, and it’s time to find a solution. 

Editors Note: *Mrs. Jones and staff at Emory University Hospital spoke to me on condition of anonymity. Mrs. Jones name was changed to protect her privacy.

The Radical Age Movement Comes Out

New York-The Radical Age Movement held its first public event last evening at the New York Ethical Culture Society.  One hundred people came out in the freezing cold to hear about what it takes to “leverage the power of age”.

The evening began with a welcome from Dr. Phyllis Harrison-Ross, Chairperson of the Social Service Board of the New York Ethical Culture Society.

Alice Fisher, founder of The Radical Age Movement, then talked about the need for people who don’t like the way that old people are portrayed and regarded in what she described as the “youth oriented culture of the United States” need to speak up.  Alice told of her deep interest in longevity and its multiple effects on society and how this led her to the founding of The Radical Age Movement.

10887484_414545252047913_8814331097024105803_o
Founder Alice Fisher, MSW

“I came to the realization that the extra years many of us will be living are not tacked on to the end of our lives.  Rather, a whole new stage of life has opened up along the life span, and those are people between approximately 60 and 80 years of age who are still a vital and relevant part of our society.”  “We”, said Fisher who is 69 years old, “are not ready to throw in the towel.”  After being asked, “how do you change an entire culture”, her response was “with a movement.  It’s the only way we’ve ever done it.”  Right then and there the seed for The Radical Age Movement was planted.

After working for over a year with a small 10 person steering committee and launching a website a few months ago, The Radical Age Movement was ready to come out.  “When people leave their career positions, whether by choice or not by choice, they walk into a void”, she said.  “There is no role for us in society, unless we want to accept the description of old just because we are collecting social security.”  People of this age, although older, are not ready to be consigned to the rocking chair. “Nobody even knows what to call us.  Sometimes we’re the old boomers or the young seniors.  We don’t even know what to call ourselves”, said Fisher.

The original agenda for last evening’s event included a participatory demo of what it is like to be part of an age-oriented consciousness raising group.  Not expecting such a large turnout and without enough facilitators to guide the number of groups that would be necessary to run this part of the program as planned, Radical Age decided to let the program run with interactive discussion.  After a presentation about ageism by Joanna Leefer, 65, a care-giving consultant, three people gave personal testimony about their own confrontation with ageism, while two others testified to the effect that participating in consciousness raising around the topic of age has had on the way they are experiencing ageing.

Corinne Kirchner, 79, who is a sociology professor at Columbia University and  who experienced two strokes in her 70’s, talked about the way that people constantly try to give her too much help.  She described Thanksgiving dinner where a nurse who was a guest at the dinner followed her around, prepared to catch Corinne should she fall. Understanding that the nurse was trying to be kind, Corinne was very polite but “inside I was so angry that this person was treating me like a child learning to walk.”10911401_414546068714498_9154173076394596286_o

Hope Reiner, 70, the founder of “Hope Cares”, a companion service that provides one-on-one stimulation, socialization and engagement to older adults, talked about her abrupt dismissal from the consumer magazine publishing world where she worked for over 33 years. “Despite the magazines’ high ratings and high revenue and my standing as the #1 salesperson for much of that time”, she told the audience, “my career ended. I can only assume my dismissal was based on my age.”

Next it was Rodger Parsons’ turn to talk about his personal experience with ageism.  Roger, 68 years old, does voiceovers for Radio, TV, Cable commercials as well as author voiceovers for other venues. He spoke about how ageism is especially relevant in the Voice Over world and ways of dealing with it. “It is especially important to confront situations as directly as possible to get outcomes that make it clear that access to work should be based on the talent of the performer not the performer’s age.”

After each of these testimonies, lively discussions from the audience ensued. People shared their own experiences or commented on the testimony they had just heard.

Alice then took the podium and gave a brief description of the consciousness raising process that The Radical Age steering committee has been using. “The one advantage to participating in this process”, she said, is providing participants the space and time to examine our own ageist tendencies”.  “After all”, said Fisher, “we did grow up in this youth oriented society.”  The Radical Age Movement is developing a guide for people who want to start their own consciousness raising group around the topic of age.  This guide will be posted to The Radical Age Movement’s website, www.theradicalagemovment.com, in the coming weeks and be distributed at their next event on February 21st.

Barbara Harmon, 72, a speech language pathologist, and Jon Fisher, 70, artist and real estate broker, then testified to the changes that participating in the consciousness raising process has made for each of them.

Barbara spoke of how she came to accept the graciousness of those who offer her seats on crowded subways after coming to the realization that her own ageist attitude was getting in the way of her being able to accept aid when offered.  “Accepting a seat acknowledges the fact that my age is recognized; but because of the discussion and support of my peers, I now feel comfortable with the recognition”.

Jon talked about his career in the ad business where everything had to be new and fresh, including the people.  “I had the mindset that I had to look, act, and feel young; and I carried that with me into my personal life.  When I was invited to join the consciousness raising group, I really didn’t think that my ideas about ageing would ever change.  Now, I also feel more comfortable in my age.  The consciousness raising process has made a major imprint on who I am and who I am becoming”.

Remarks and conversation continued until it was time to leave.  Alice asked everyone to take a save-the-date for The Radical Age Movements next event on February 21st.  This will be a 4 hour workshop entitled “The Age Café.”  Through this process, those who attend will have the opportunity to help plan Radical Age’s agenda going forward.

Reacting to Alice’s expression of disappointment at not being able to proceed as planned, one attendee said that  the evening was one huge gestalt consciousness raising session.  Another comment by a member of the steering committee was, “I think we have the start of a real movement here.”  That expression was echoed by many who attended the event.

Incorporating Homophobia into the Definition of Elder Abuse

Although many older adults receive necessary support from family, friends, and external agencies, some older adults experience exploitation and abuse. Since there is no universal definition for abuse against older individuals, a broader definition refers to elder abuse and neglect as, “any action or inaction by any person, which causes harm to the older or vulnerable person”.

Abuse of older adults includes physical abuse, psychosocial abuse, financial abuse, neglect (active or passive), institutional abuse and domestic violence. Research indicates that family members instigate much abuse against older individuals. Thus, as a result, many abused older adults suffer in silence, making it extremely challenging to estimate and eliminate abuse cases against older adults.

older lesbian coupleEvery year, approximately 4 million older Americans are victims of elder abuse. Additionally, for every case of elder abuse and neglect reported, researchers estimate that as many as 23 cases are unreported. The quality of life for older adults who experience abuse is significantly altered.

They often experience decreased functional and financial status as well as increased dependency, poor self-rated health, feelings of helplessness and isolation and psychological stress. Older individuals who have been abused also have a lower life expectancy than those who have not been abused even in the absence of chronic conditions or life-threatening illnesses.

Shari Brotman, Bill Ryan and Robert Cormier from the McGill School of Social Work wrote an article exploring the experience and realities of gay and lesbian seniors and their families in accessing a broad range of health and social services in the community. It recommends that older lesbian and gay individuals would benefit from homophobia being included in the definition of elder abuse. Also, the article articulates the definition of elder abuse should be expanded to include sexual harassment based on sexual orientation. Individuals often experience intimidation, harassment, humiliation, or shame as a result of identifying as an older lesbian and gay individual, and this discrimination is heightened in elderly individuals living in long-term care facilities.

Lesbian and gay individuals, especially lesbian and gay seniors, have a long history of discrimination and marginalization as a result of identifying as a lesbian or gay individual. Incorporating homophobia into the definition of elder abuse would greatly benefit older adults as it would help them to be further integrated in society instead valued based on their sexual orientation. It would also introduce freedom of harassment and/or reduce injury when sexual orientation is seen as a right.

Although there is a need to include homophobia in the definition of elder abuse, there currently is not a well-developed universal definition of elder abuse. Stigma is embedded within identifying as a lesbian and gay individual but also with being an aging individual.

Therefore, before this policy change can occur, a universal definition of elder abuse should be developed. Policy makers should also consider incorporating ageism as well as oppression against LGBTTQ seniors in the definition of elder abuse as well.

The Care Act 2014 and What it Means for Prisoners in the UK

elderly-prison-warden

The British prison service is struggling to deal with an ageing and growing population. As it stands, the number of prisoners in the United Kingdom has increased by 20% in the last 12 years, and is now fast approaching 85,000. Higher crime rates combined with longer sentences mean that many inmates are reaching old age in prison, leaving the system struggling to cope with the demands placed on them.

The Break Down

The Care Act 2014 is due to be implemented in April 2015. This Act is a revolutionary piece of legislation because for the first time, it outlines practices for the care of prisoners. As the Minister of Care and Support, Norman Lamb states: ‘The Care Act has created a single, modern law that makes it clear what kind of care people should expect… First and foremost councils will now have a duty to consider the physical, mental and emotional wellbeing of the individual needing care.’

This new legislation will affect not only the prison service but local authorities across the country. As of next year, social care needs in the UK prison system will be assessed on a case by case basis. Prisoners who meet a set of criteria and are deemed to require extra support will have services provided by their local authority, rather than by individuals employed by the prison service. For the first time, the prison service and local authorities will work in conjunction to share a legal duty of care.

Staffing and Training Issues

With 13% of prison inhabitants situated in the 50 plus threshold, this Act could put further strain on the British prison service and its staff. Therefore, in order to comply with this Act as well as cope with these growing care responsibilities, prison staff will require professional training to deal with these extra demands. Courses including palliative care, health and safety, and dementia awareness could soon become a standard part of a prison officer’s training. But there are limitations on the care duties that a single member of staff can be reasonably expected to perform. For example, those inmates who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, are disabled, or incontinent, call for a higher provision of care and require a larger allocation of a prison officer’s time.

This Act will come into effect during a turbulent economic period for the National Offender Management Service (NOMS). Having already experienced huge financial cuts over the last few years, NOMS in currently expected to shave a further £150 million. The prison service does not have the financial budget or levels of staffing that would be required to provide one-to-one care for each prisoner. Given their expected cut back, the reality of being able to viably fund new staff and provide training is a tall order. Yet for the safety and welfare of the general public, these inmates cannot be released back into society purely on account of their age and care needs. Perhaps an appropriate solution would be to create an alternative establishment: by providing a secure facility solely for elderly offenders, a smaller number of staff would require additional training. It would also free up essential space in a prison system that is growing at an exponential rate.

Essentially, The Care Act will now require the UK prison service to provide social care in conjunction with the health care provided by the NHS. The provision of adequate training required by this statute will cause a large strain on an already financially burdened system. The prison system will need to implement core structural modifications, as well as training and staffing changes, in order to provide and cope with this additional social care role.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of ToledoBlade

Consciousness Raising: It’s Time Has Come Again

Perspective

Like many women my age, I participated in the feminist consciousness raising movement of the sixties. It was a powerful vehicle for exploring our innermost feelings about being women, mothers, daughters, wives, and our role in society. For many of us it was the first time we confronted the issue of misogyny (or even knew what it meant) and, not the least, got to touch our own misogynist inclinations having grown up in a male dominant society.

Here I am over 40 years later doing the same thing. Only this time, the topic that my consciousness raising group is exploring is ageism and what it means to grow old. A main difference between our aging consciousness raising group and the feminist groups of the past is that the group is made up of both men and women. Aging makes no gender distinction, and we all grew up in this virulent youth culture that says young equals good and old equals…well, let’s say, not so good. We are a 10-person group, aged 60 to 85. We meet every week for 1-1/2 hours. In order to make it easier for the group, we meet in person every other week. On the weeks in between, we connect virtually through our computers. To our surprise, this has proved to work remarkably well. Our hope is that as we confront our own ageist attitudes we will be able to change the way we perceive aging ourselves and hopefully change society’s ageist attitude towards the old and elderly.

Ageism is an interesting prejudice. Aging is the common denominator for everyone who is born. If fortunate, we are all going to get old. We are all going to die. So being judgmental about people just because of their age, or their wrinkles, or their slower pace, is sowing the seeds for our own internalized ageism.

As we progress in our own consciousness raising initiative, we are creating a manual detailing how to start an aging consciousness raising group so that others can benefit from the work we are doing and to guide them in starting their own groups. Our experience is sometimes smooth flowing and other times bumpy. It is our intention to smooth out all the bumps before we pass the information along to others who have an interest in doing this work.

So, what do we talk about in these sessions? Sometimes we have a topic prepared so that members can reflect on it before we meet. Other times the issue that we begin talking about arises organically out of conversation…many times it is a question that someone asks or a situation in which they find themselves and feel that age or ageismis part of the problem. Recently, we spent two entire sessions on the topic of “help”…how we ask for help, how we offer help. Which is better…being independent or interdependent? Most of us were raised to value autonomy. The message was that we should be able to do everything by ourselves. To ask for help was a sign of weakness. As we age, do we still feel that way? What makes it easier for us to accept help? Many of us have experienced push back from our own parents when we determined that they could no longer function on their own.

We talk about the elders with whom we’ve had relationships and how those relationships shaped our thinking about aging. We share stories. We share our innermost feelings about our own aging. And, we talk about the advantages of being old and the contribution that older adults give to society. Sometimes we are exploring new territory, and sometimes we are looking at relics that are outdated. We’ve noted the conflation of the aged and the disabled. Does someone’s physical abilities make them either old or young? What about the older adult who has an expansive mind, always curious, always learning? Is she defined by her wrinkles or her mind? We are all guilty of agism at one time or another.

I’ll end this with a personal story. My husband and I had the opportunity to be with old friends that we had not seen for a very long time. On the way home, our conversation started something like this; “Did you see Kathy? Doesn’t she look great!” “Yeah, but did you see Susan; she is not aging well at all?” “I can’t believe Joe uses a walker to get around. He was such a great athlete.” “But then there’s Dan who looks so young for his age.” In mid-sentence I stopped myself. “Can you believe where we are going with this conversation?” I asked. “What ageists we are”. The first thing we noticed was how young or how old everyone looked. No mention of who accomplished what or overcame obstacles in their lives.

We immediately went for the jugular because we are both in the same consciousness raising group.  We were able to catch ourselves and reflect on how automatically we were equating the way our friends looked with how old they are. Why does Dan have to look good for his age? Can’t he just look good! How do we know that Susan is not aging well? Just because she has more wrinkles on the outside has nothing to do with how she feels or who she is on the inside. We just automatically went into our own ageist rant.

Would we have recognized the ageist language we were using if we weren’t part of an ageing consciousness raising group? I doubt it. Finally, from another group member who had previously told us how she detested anyone who offered her a seat on the subway because it made her feel old. After only a couple of sessions, she said, “I actually accepted the offer of a seat on the train today,and I felt quite good about it. I don’t think I would have been so gracious if we had not been discussing these issues.”

Exit mobile version