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Archive for October, 2019

Essential Halloween Safety Tips for Older Adults

Tuesday , October 29 , 2019

Essential Halloween Safety Tips for Older Adults

Halloween was different when I was a kid. We went door-to-door in our hometown, visiting neighbors we had known our entire lives. Often, they invited us inside, where we would model our costumes for everyone in the family.

Sometimes we’d get a miniature candy bar, and sometimes we’d get a questionable homemade popcorn ball – but no matter what was dropped in our bags, we’d say thank you and remain respectful.

But today (here comes the “kids these days” speech) you rarely know who is standing outside your door. Many of the children show up without a parent or guardian. And most trick-or-treaters (both children and older individuals) never say “hello” or engage in conversation.

Carloads of strangers often drive from neighborhood to neighborhood in search of candy – usually, it’s just to find a safe place to walk because their own town is not, but you never know.

Halloween can be spooky, and not just because of the costumes. According to data from Travelers Insurance, crime-related claims spike by more than 20% each Halloween – more than any other day of the year.

Here are some tips for keeping yourself (and all the little witches and ghouls!) safe this holiday:

Don’t invite people into your home – Unless you know someone personally (like your nephew, for instance), keep visitors outside. Even opening your front door offers strangers the opportunity to peek in. Consider sitting on your porch for a few hours to hand out candy (if you’re able).

Keep the lights on – In the past, the golden rule used to be, “If you’re handing out candy, turn on the porch light. If you’re not, keep it off.” Now, experts recommend keep on the lights (both internal and external) to deter intruders, regardless of whether you’re passing out treats. Don’t have candy? Put a sign on the door asking people not to ring the bell.

Ask for help – Answering the door again and again, or even sitting on the porch, can be extremely tiring and stressful for older adults. Recruit some assistance in the form of a friend or family to help on the big night! You’ll be happy to have some extra hands refilling bowls and passing out candy bars.

Remove hazards – Lights or not, stairs and sidewalks can be dangerous after dark. Prepare your home in advance by removing loose items from the walkway (yes, even Jack-o-Lanterns!), as they pose a tripping hazard to both you and any visitors. In addition, avoid placing decorations in windows if they block your view of the front porch/walkway.

Don’t play music outside – Festive Halloween tunes like “The Monster Mash” are lots of fun, but all that noise can make it difficult to pay attention to what’s going on around you. Save the music for when you’re back inside the house, devouring your leftover candy alone.

Not going to be in town? –  If you’re going to a friend’s house for Halloween, or you’ll be away during the evening, ask a neighbor to keep an eye on your house (and remember – keep the lights on for when you get back!).

The most important rule, of course, is to have fun! Once you’ve taken precautions to help ensure your safety, enjoy yourself. Halloween offers a wonderful opportunity to connect with your community and, frankly, a lot of laughs. I mean . . . have you seen what some of those kids wear these days??

Posted in: Aging

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Why We Need Workplace Wellness Programs For Family Caregivers

Monday , October 14 , 2019

Why We Need Workplace Wellness Programs For Family Caregivers

According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, approximately 43.5 million caregivers have provided unpaid care to an adult or child in the last 12 months. On average, they spend 24.4 hours a week tending to their loved one. And 73% of those people have other jobs, outside the home.

How does working an extra 20 hours week, in an environment that can be emotionally draining and physically exhausting, affect work performance? 66% of caregivers report that they’ve had to make some sort of adjustment to their professional life, from arriving late to work to quitting entirely.

And caregiving doesn’t just take a toll on the employee – it also affects corporate America. As the number of older adults continues to grow, the number of employees in a caregiving role will also expand. Those workers will be less productive than their non-caregiving counterparts for a variety of reasons, such as stress and unplanned absences from work.

As we come up on November, National Family Caregivers Month, it makes sense for organizations to consider strategies to help support employees who provide caregiving and may need assistance.

A Growing Aging Population Needs Care

The American population is aging quickly and living longer. In 2011, the first of over 78 million baby boomers began turning 65. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 107 million Americans — 31% of the population — will be over 55 in 2030 and that 70 million Americans — 20% of the population — will be 65 and over that same year. By 2060, the number of Americans over the age of 65 will reach nearly 100 million.

Nearly 70% of these older Americans will require assistance at some point in their lives. Often, those responsibilities will fall on a family member. And, most of the time, that family member is a woman, who already has a job and is caring for at least one other person (like a child who lives at home).

Challenges for Employees

Finding work/life balance can be difficult under the best of circumstances. For the millions of Americans who currently care for an older, ill, or disabled loved one, it can be nearly impossible.

Research shows that working caregivers report higher levels of stress than their non-caregiving colleagues. In particular, one survey from the United Health Foundation and the National Alliance for Caregiving found that 88% of caregivers report increased stress or anxiety as a result of caregiving, and 77% state sleep deprivation as an issue.

Further, research shows that this near-constant stress can have grave consequences on a person’s health. According to Caregiver Action, the “stress of family caregiving for persons with dementia has been shown to impact a person’s immune system for up to three years after their caregiving ends thus increasing their chances of developing a chronic illness themselves.”

The Impact on the Workplace

The stress and health difficulties experienced by caregivers can have widespread ramifications in the workplace. Employees who care for their aging parents or other loved ones are more likely to be less productive, take more time off, and arrive to work late on a regular basis. This lower productivity often equates to lower revenue – and a larger workload for non-caregiving employees.

Providing such care while working a full-time job is both physically and mentally taxing for most employees, and studies show that burnout from caregiving responsibilities cost companies nearly $13.4B each year in health care expenses alone. When other factors, such as turnover and absenteeism, are taken into account, caregiving can cost organizations up to $33.6 billion per year.

Workplace Accommodations for Family Caregivers

According to Corporate Wellness Magazine, “Organizations have an opportunity to support employees who provide caregiving for loved ones by offering access to programs and resources that can help make their lives easier.”

A few of their suggestions include:

  • Transition to a Paid Time off (PTO) Program – PTO groups all time off (vacation, sick days, paid holidays) into one program, so employees have more flexibility with how and when they can take days off.
  • Flexible Scheduling and Telecommuting – Flexible scheduling means that employees can adjust their hours as needed, as long as they meet their required minimum. For example, they may choose to work four 10-hour days per week, rather than five 8-hour days. Or they may work through lunch and leave an hour early at the end of the day.
  • Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) – EAPs offer services such as personal and family counseling, crisis intervention, and bereavement and other assistance to help employees cope with personal stressors and create better work/life balance.
    Implement Policies to Protect Caregivers – It’s critical that organizations reinforce and frequently review recommendations from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to ensure compliance with nondiscrimination guidelines.

Final Thoughts

A happy employee is a productive employee! While many employers worry that allowing perks like extra time off or flexible hours may encourage laziness, research shows that just the opposite is true. Providing support to your employees and helping to improve their work/life balance can lead to increased productivity, higher-performing employees, and a better bottom line.

As the aging population continues to grow, now is the time to consider what types of support you can offer employees who are in a caregiving role.

Posted in: Caregivers

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The Rising Importance of Universal Design for the Home and Workplace

Monday , October 7 , 2019

The Rising Importance of Universal Design for the Home and Workplace

As we all know from our everyday experiences, most homes and workplaces are not designed to suit all people. In fact, most standard designs are intended for young, fit people of able body and mind. But the human population is very diverse – and, as disability activists remind us, at best we are all “temporarily abled.”

With each passing birthday, our vision and hearing become a little bit weaker. Eventually, our mobility and muscular strength will start to go as well. We will all face these issues – they’re just a normal part of aging.

Universal design in the home and workplace isn’t just for a subgroup of people who already have health or mobility issues – it’s for all of us. We must create environments which respect the fact that different people have different needs.

What is Universal Design?

UD creates a more welcoming and usable space for all people – with and without disabilities. The easy designs provide a more accessible world for everyone. One common example is curb cuts on public sidewalks: Yes, they are helpful for people with wheelchairs and mobility devices. But they are also useful for mothers pushing strollers, travelers with rolling suitcases, or children on bicycles.  

According to the University of Buffalo,

“Universal design means planning to build physical, learning and work environments so that they are usable by a wide range of people, regardless of age, size or disability status.  While universal design promotes access for individuals with disabilities, it also benefits others.”

UD creates a more welcoming and usable space for all people – with and without disabilities. The easy designs provide a more accessible world for everyone. One common example is curb cuts on public sidewalks: Yes, they are helpful for people with wheelchairs and mobility devices. But they are also useful for mothers pushing strollers, travelers with rolling suitcases, or children on bicycles.


The Seven Principles of Universal Design

In 1997, a committee of 10 people, under the leadership of architect Ron Mace, wrote the seven principles of universal design. Today, these norms still act as the gold standard:

  1. Equitable Use. The design is useful to individuals with varying levels of ability. It provides the same means of use to all people (identical when possible, equal when not) and avoids segregating or stigmatizing.
  1. Flexibility in Use. The design accommodates people with a wide range of personal preferences and abilities. For example, it can accommodate right or left-handed access and adapts to a user’s individual pace.
  1. Simple and Intuitive Use. The use of design is easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or level of concentration. It eliminates unnecessary complications, offers intuitive design, and provides feedback and suggestions.
  2. Perceptible Information. The designs communicates necessary information to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or their sensory abilities. It uses different modes of communication (text, verbal, pictorial), maximizes “legibility” of information, and provides compatibility with a variety of devices used by people with sensory limitations. 
  1. Tolerance for Error. The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions. It provides warnings of hazards and errors, includes fail safe features, and discourages unconscious action in tasks that require vigilance. 
  1. Low Physical Effort. The design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue. It allows users to maintain a neutral body position and minimizes repetitive actions and sustained physical effort. 
  1. Size and Space for Approach and Use. The design provides appropriate size and space for approach, reach, manipulation, and use, regardless of user’s body size, posture, or mobility. It offers a clear line of sight to important elements, makes reaching to all components comfortable, and provides adequate space for the use of assistive devices – for seated or standing users.

Universal Design in the Real World

Even when the principals of universal are explained, they can be difficult to understand. In layman’s terms, it all boils down to ONE thing: The building, product, or service can be used by ALL people. Here are some illustrative examples:

  • A walk-in shower or one with no doors
  • An easy-to-press button to open an automatic door
  • Buttons or controls that can be distinguished by touch, shape, or location
  • Sinks located at different heights in a public restroom
  • Lever handles to open doors, rather than traditional knobs
  • Adaptive lighting that comes on when someone enters the room
  • Text paired with audio and diagrams for ease of understanding
  • Safety features such as non-slip floor tiles
  • Appliance, such as a microwave or coffee maker, than can be turned on with one touch

Final Thoughts

Universal Design isn’t just for the elderly or permanently disabled. As the baby boomer generation ages, there is greater need for accommodative facilities. With UD, aging in place IS possible – without sacrificing comfort or aesthetics.

Posted in: Aging

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