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Archive for May, 2019

Falls: The Biggest Threat to Senior Health and Wellness?

Thursday , May 30 , 2019

Falls: The Biggest Threat to Senior Health and Wellness?

We all have moments in our lives when we think, “If I had only known then, what I know now.” One of those moments for me is remembering back to a time many years ago when my mother happened to mention to me, oh so casually, that she had taken an unexpected fall. She wasn’t badly hurt, but it shook her up physically and emotionally.

It turned out that her fall on a sidewalk in Charleston, SC, was the first of several that would turn out to be critical to her health and well-being – and that, ultimately, shortened her life. But that was before I entered the world of health and senior care, and I’m sorry to say that I had no idea how significant that first fall was and how consequential her failing balance and strength would become.

If I knew then what I know now, I would have insisted she talk to her doctor about it immediately. I would have asked that the doctor do an evaluation to help determine the cause of the fall. And I would have immediately encouraged her to do physical therapy to work on her strength and balance. I also would have looked at her home for fall risks and suggested she permit someone to help her with some of the activities that would put her more at risk for falls (not that she would have listened!)

Consequences of falls in the elderly

Everyone takes a tumble every now and then. You’re walking outside and fail to see a root in the sidewalk, or your child leaves a toy (the same one you’ve told them to pick up a dozen times) laying on the stairs. Usually, it’s a bit embarrassing, but you can get up and carry on.

As we age, however, our muscles begin to weaken – in fact, they start to weaken at just 30 years old. With that comes decreased balance, shorter strides, slower steps, and ever fuzzier vision. Those midlife changes can have a profound affect on physical wellbeing later in life: One in three adults over 65 takes a serious tumble every year, many of them resulting in disability or even death.

Here are a few more shocking statistics from

  • When an elderly person falls, their hospital stays are almost two times longer than those of elderly patients who are admitted for any other reason
  • One in four Americans over the age of 65 fall each year
  • Every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for fall-related injuries
  • Two-thirds of those who fall will do so again within six months
  • Falls are the leading cause of death from injury among people 65 and older
  • Every 19 minutes, an older adult dies from a fall
  • One in ten falls resulting in serious injuries such as hip fracture, other fractures, subdural hematoma, or traumatic brain injury
  • The most profound effect of falling is the loss of functioning associated with independent living


Common risk factors

Over the years, our bodies change. Because of pre-existing health issues, lower bone and muscle strength, and other factors, falls among the elderly tend to have greater consequences than they would among younger adults.

The top contributing risk factors for fall risk are age, being female, a history of previous falls, and a fear of falling. That’s right – the fear of falling, by itself, can make you more likely to fall down. Studies show that up to 50% of those who fear falling limit to exclude social or physical activities because of this fear. This limited physical activity can, in turn, lead to loss of strength and balance, making the older adult more apt to fall.

Other risk factors include:

  • Living alone or having limited interaction with others
  • A decrease in physical function
  • Ambulatory disabilities (e.g., difficulty walking or moving from sitting to standing)
  • Use of certain medications such as benzodiazepines, antidepressants, and drugs for lowering blood pressure
  • Vascular diseases, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, depression and arthritis (each associated with a 32% increased risk of falls in the elderly)
  • Environmental causes (e.g., poor lighting, slippery floors, and uneven surfaces – especially in the bathroom)
  • Poor footwear and foot pain


What you can do to help prevent falls

Many older adults fail to notice that their coordination and balance are slipping until it’s too late. Many people assume that because they have always been agile, they won’t fall – but balance, just like strength, is something that you need to work to maintain.

The use of strength and balance exercises (such as Tai Chi, squats, or using a wobble board) can make your legs stronger and help improve balance. In addition, a good night’s sleep can make a world of difference – studies show that deprivation slows reaction time and is directly related to falls.

As a loved one, you can help with common fall avoidance strategies such as:

  • Install home improvement features that can help prevent a fall (e.g., grab bars in the shower, anti-slip rugs, and proper lighting)
  • Provide rides to the doctor for checkups, including regular vision exams
  • Encourage your older adult to stay physically active
  • Provide emotional support

For those whose fear of falling affects their daily life, the State of New Jersey, Department of Human Services, Division of Aging Services run a fabulous program called A Matter of Balance: Managing Concerns About Falls.

The program is designed to reduce the fear of falling and increase the activity levels of older adults who have this concern. The class utilizes a variety of activities to address physical, social, and cognitive factors affecting fear of falling and to learn fall prevention strategies. For more information:

Posted in: Aging, Health

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The Surprising Effects of Oral Hygiene on Overall Health

Monday , May 20 , 2019

The Surprising Effects of Oral Hygiene on Overall Health

What does the health of your mouth have to do with your overall well-being? A lot, as it turns out!

Taking care of your mouth, teeth, and gums is a worthy cause unto itself. Good oral hygiene can help ward off bad breath, tooth decay, gum disease, and more. But the benefits of brushing twice a day go even further than that: Researchers have recently discovered that a healthy mouth may help prevent a host of common medical disorders.

The flip side? An unhealthy mouth may increase the risk of serious health conditions such as heart attack, respiratory infections, diabetes, and even Alzheimer’s.

Keep reading to learn more about the link between oral health and overall health:

How poor dental care can affect your overall health

If you weren’t already aware, your mouth is teeming with living organisms. Most of the bacteria that surround your teeth and gums are harmless, but some have the potential to cause serious damage.

Without proper oral hygiene, those bacteria can reach harmful levels. In addition, certain medications – such as antihistamines and diuretics – can reduce the flow of saliva, crippling the body’s natural defenses against such bacteria.

When paired with immune-weakening disorders suffered by many older adults, like cancer and malnutrition, it can spell disaster. When they reach an unmanageable level, the bacteria have the ability to cause infection – and not just in your mouth. The harmful effects can be felt throughout your body, causing dozens of different ailments.

Should you be worried? Not necessarily: As long as you practice good oral health care, such as daily brushing and flossing, you can keep those bacteria under control.

What health issues are caused by bad oral health?

Bacteria from the mouth can get into the bloodstream and cause infection wherever it goes. The below health issues can occur for any number of other reasons, but bad oral hygiene can aggravate them or even help bring them on:

  • Heart Disease: If the gums are inflamed due to the bacteria that causes periodontal disease, that same bacteria can get into the bloodstream causing atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).
  • Respiratory infections: Bacteria in the mouth from infected teeth and swollen gums can travel to the lungs through the bloodstream, causing respiratory infections, pneumonia, bronchitis, and more.
  • Diabetes complications: Gum disease can lead to higher than normal blood sugar levels, which in turn make diabetes more difficult to manage.
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis: According to the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society, people with gum disease were four times more likely to have Rheumatoid Arthritis.
  • Dementia: Research shows that the bacteria from gingivitis can leave the mouth and spread to the nerve channels, affect brain cells, and ultimately lead to dementia.


Oral health and older adults

As a result of growing up without the benefit of community water fluoridation and other fluoride products, many adults today who are aged 65 and older suffer from a variety of oral health conditions.

Other disadvantages such as having a limited income or being disabled or homebound can aggravate the problem. Traditional Medicare does not currently cover dental care, and dentists who make house calls (though the service does exist) are not available in many locations.

Problems such as missing teeth or sore gums and mouth can affect nutrition, as chewing and swallowing may become painful. Because issues such as gum disease and oral cancers are fare more prevalent in the elderly, this is something to remain aware of.

How to protect your oral health

Oral health is something that should be maintained throughout your life. Even though you may feel like you have healthy, strong teeth now, a lack of care can lead to problems down the road. Proper oral hygiene should include the following:

  • Brush your teeth at least twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste
  • Floss daily
  • Eat a healthy diet and limit sweet treats
  • Schedule regular dental checkups and cleanings
  • Avoid the use of tobacco products
  • Limit enamel-damaging foods, such as carbonated drinks and citrus

Remember: an investment in your oral health is an investment in your overall health.  Always call your dentist at the first sign of trouble to avoid any lasting effects!

Posted in: Aging, Health

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The Older Americans Act Expires in September – Here’s What You Need to Know

Monday , May 13 , 2019

The Older Americans Act Expires in September – Here’s What You Need to Know

At the signing of the Older Americans Act in 1965, President Lynden Johnson said, “No longer will older Americans be denied the healing miracle of modern medicine. No longer will illness crush and destroy the savings that they have so carefully put away over a lifetime so that they might enjoy dignity in their later years. No longer will young families see their own incomes, and their own hopes, eaten away simply because they are carrying out their deep moral obligations to their parents, and to their uncles, and to their aunts. And no longer will this nation refuse the hand of justice to those who have given a lifetime of service and wisdom and labor to the progress of this progressive country.”

For decades, many older Americans have depended on the act to fill in the gaps left by Social Security and Medicare.  Although they may receive aid from different programs, the OAA is a major provider of social and nutrition services for seniors and their caregivers. In 2016 alone, the OAA served over 1.3 million people. To those people, 145 million meals were delivered, and 40 million hours of home care funded.

Now, the law authorizing the OAA is about to expire. On September 30, 2019 Congress will vote on reauthorization, funding, and priorities for the act, which has been critical to the well-being and independence of so many older Americans.

Here’s everything you need to know about the Older Americans Act, how it serves our aging population, and what’s on the line:

What is the OAA?

The Older Americans Act was passed in 1965 as concern grew over the lack of available social services for older adults. According to the Administration for Community Living, “the original legislation established authority for grants to states for community planning and social services, research and development projects, and personnel training in the field of aging.” The law also established the Administration on Aging (AoA) to administer the newly created grant programs and to serve as the federal focal point on matters concerning older persons.

What services does the OAA provide?

The OAA is relied on by many seniors who want to live independently but don’t necessarily have the capability or the means. Some of the services provided include:

  • Support for nutrition programs, including Meals on Wheels
  • Home and community-based services, such as preventative health services and transportation services
  • Assistance for family caregivers including counseling and training
  • Prevention and detection of elder abuse and neglect in nursing facilities
  • Implementation of federal and local agencies to advocate for older Americans
  • Management of Aging and Disability Resource Centers in each state
  • Part-time community service employment and training, including the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP), which helps low-income older adults enter the workforce

What’s at risk in September?

Despite the fact that funding for the Older Americans Act has held steady in recent years (and even saw increases to a few key programs), experts worry that it’s not enough. At a regular increase of just 1.1% per year, funding simply has not kept up with the rate of inflation. With America’s aging population steadily growing larger every year, the current budget just isn’t going to cut it.

When lawmakers vote in September, they’ll have the opportunity to refine programs and set new funding goals.

The AARP says that some issues currently under consideration include:

  • Screening for malnutrition and improved meal delivery programs
  • Assistance for family care givers
  • More resources for combatting Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Better mobility assistance

What can you do?

To ensure that the Older Americans Act gets the funding it so desperately needs, contact your members of Congress. Tell them how the program has benefited you or the older adults in your life and how they would struggle without such assistance. It is essential that your representative hear from you as they move forward to make a decision!

For assistance finding your local Congressperson, click here.

Posted in: Aging, Caregivers, Health

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