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Archive for January, 2020

Is it Alzheimer’s or Age-Related Memory Loss?

Monday , January 27 , 2020

Is it Alzheimer’s or Age-Related Memory Loss?

Have you ever walked into a room and forgotten what you went there to get? Stopped mid-sentence because you forgot what you were saying?

I’ve personally walked around my house looking for my cell phone while I was already holding it in my hand (on more than one occasion).

On occasions like that, I sometimes worry that my mind is slipping. You probably do, too. But most of the time, these incidents are simply a sign of normal age-related memory loss, lack of sleep, or even stress.

When should you worry? Experts say that if you still can’t remember what you were looking for later in the day, or if you seem to forget entire chunks of time, it’s time to see a doctor.

Here are five differences between normal aging and Alzheimer’s that you should be aware of:

  1. Retrieving Memories

In normal age-related memory loss, you may have trouble retrieving memories from long-term storage. This can lead to problems such as forgetting names or not recalling where you met someone. These issues can usually be overcome with cuing and context.

With Alzheimer’s Disease, there is a problem with retrieving recent memories that simply can’t be overcome. For example, you may have a guest in the morning and then by afternoon you can’t remember who stopped by – even if someone gives you a prompt such as, “It was a friend from grade school.”

  1. Chronological Memory

If you have dementia, you may have trouble recalling items or events in the order in which they occurred – whether events from your memories or the order of different parts of a sentence. For example, you may know that you went on vacations to Europe and to Hawaii, but you can’t remember which one came first (even though the trips were ten years apart).

Researchers have found that most people can recall recent memories in order (especially with audio prompts) but recall significantly decreases in those suffering from dementia.

  1. Planning and Problem-Solving

Normal aging typically means that it takes more time to think things through, reactions are slower, and multitasking becomes difficult. On occasion, you may forget to pay a bill or leave a pot on the stove a bit too long.

With dementia, things are a lot more difficult. You may become very confused when planning things out – even something as simple as what to have for breakfast. Concentration is difficult, if not impossible, to maintain and poor judgement is a frequent concern.

  1. Language

As you age, you may have a bit of trouble finding the right word sometimes. You might find yourself needing to concentrate more to keep up with a conversation or becoming distracted if too many people are speaking at once.

For those with dementia, however, finding the right word is a frequent problem and they often refer to objects as “that thing” or people as “that woman/man.” They regularly lose their train of thought and can’t keep up with conversation, and may even have trouble initiating communication with others.

  1. Orientation

Orientation problems can happen to any person at any age. Most of us have forgotten what day of the week it is or even what year, and we’ve all walked into a room and forgotten why we’re there.

These problems naturally increase as we age, but those with dementia may completely lose their ability to track the passage of time. In addition, dementia patients frequently have no sense of location and can get lost in places that were once very familiar (even their own back yard).

When to See a Doctor

When memory problems start to look like this, it’s time to seek medical help:

 

  • When memory problems don’t improve with cuing and context
  • Day-to-day functioning begins to decline with memory
  • You have difficulty with familiar tasks, such as operating the microwave
  • Bills are often missed or late
  • Others tell you that you’re forgetting things, but you are personally unaware that a memory problem exists

Final Thoughts

Many seniors panic at the first sign of memory problems, terrified that they signify dementia or Alzheimer’s. It’s important to understand that minor memory problems are often just a normal sign of aging. If you’re unsure of the severity of changes you’re experiencing, ask a loved one what they observe, or set up an appointment with your physician.

Posted in: Dementia

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How Senior Citizens Can Prepare for a Trip to the ER

Monday , January 20 , 2020

How Senior Citizens Can Prepare for a Trip to the ER

For many older adults, the emergency room can be difficult to navigate – and unfortunately, these visits can happen all too often.

Many seniors are chronically ill and frail, resulting in regular trips to the ER. Whether it’s for an unavoidable accident, a serious health complication, or something else, the best thing you can do for your loved one is to help them be prepared.

Knowing what to expect in advance – and having everything you need ready to go – can make the process a lot less stressful.

Here are some important steps you can take to make sure your older adult gets the care they need and deserve (and they get home as quickly as possible):

  1. Keep a Current List of Medications and Medical Conditions

It is very important that the doctors and nurses caring for your loved one know what medications they are taking and what health issues they have. To help them provide the correct treatment and prescribe the right medications, you should be able to provide:

  • A list of current medications
  • The actual pill bottles, if possible
  • A list of health conditions your loved one is currently being treated for
  • Bring a copy of recent blood work, x-rays, MRIs, and other lab tests if they may be relevant
  1. Know Your Loved One’s Allergies

Just as important as knowing which medications your loved one is taking is knowing which medications they are allergic to. You should be able to tell hospital staff which medicines they have a reaction to, how they react (rash, breathing problems, etc.), and how it is usually treated.

  1. Have a List of Doctors and Specialists

In today’s world, it is highly unlikely that you will be seen by your primary care physician when you visit a hospital or urgent care. Because the emergency room staff will be unaware of your loved one’s medical history, they will likely want to talk to their regular doctor. Having a list of all of your older adult’s doctors and specialists, and their phone numbers, will make it easier for the ER staff to contact them if necessary.

  1. Keep Insurance Cards Handy 

If you show up at the hospital without an insurance card, it’s not the end of the world. You will still receive treatment and you typically don’t have to pay up front – but correcting the error down the road can be a giant headache. Make sure you keep your loved one’s insurance cards in an easy-to-find location so you can quickly grab them when needed.

Note: Most hospitals also require a photo id (driver’s license, passport, etc.), so make sure to bring that along!

  1. Advance Directives and POLST/MOST Forms

Although no one likes to think about a worst-case scenario, it’s best to be prepared. The fact is, many of the conditions that cause seniors to visit the ER (heart attack, stroke, pneumonia, etc.) can be deadly.

If your loved one has an end-of-life plan or healthcare wishes, you need to advocate for them if they are unable to advocate for themselves. That means being prepared with an advance care directive which describes the medical treatments they might want and appointing an appropriate representative (if it’s going to be someone other than yourself).

  1. Have a “Go Bag” Ready

In the event of an emergency, you’ll want to get out the door as quickly as possible. Many people find it helpful to have an emergency bag packed and waiting.

Unfortunately, ER trips can be very time-consuming. Even if your older loved one doesn’t get admitted, they may spend hours in the emergency room waiting to be seen. They may even have to sit in a room overnight while awaiting test results.

Having certain “comfort” items with them can help make the whole ordeal less trying. Things you should pack include:

  • Toiletry kit (toothbrush, toothpaste, lip balm, brush/comb, etc.)
  • Glasses, hearing aids, dentures, and other necessary items
  • “Comfort” items, such as pajamas, slippers, cozy socks, and a favorite blanket
  • Phone charger
  • Books, crosswords, puzzles, or some other form of entertainment

Tip: Ask to stay with your loved one. Due to crowding issues, Emergency Departments often limit how many people can stay with a patient (if any). However, older adults often have extenuating circumstances such as dementia or confusion and can benefit from the company of a friend or loved one.

Final Thoughts

While this list contains many necessary items, it doesn’t necessarily apply to everyone. It is important to be aware of your older loved one’s particular situation so you can pack what is essential to them. Remember to keep everything together in one convenient location (such as a closet by the front door) so you know where it is when you need it!

Posted in: Health

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Trips to the ER Often Signify a Tipping Point for Older Adults

Monday , January 13 , 2020

Trips to the ER Often Signify a Tipping Point for Older Adults

Children of aging parents often dread receiving the call that Mom or Dad has ended up in the hospital. Something as simple as a trip or fall, or even the flu, can turn into a full-blown crisis.

In today’s healthcare environment, patients aged 65 and older represent 40 percent of hospitalized adults, with approximately 20% of them readmitted within two weeks of discharge.

For many, a trip to the emergency room can signify a quality-of-life tipping point, as their ability to live independently lessens after a hospitalization.

The key to maintaining an active, healthy lifestyle lies in preparation. While accidents and infections can happen at any time and often catch families off-guard, having a plan in place can help those involved make rational choices.

Keep reading to learn how you can help your older loved one navigate decisions during a hospital stay and prepare for longer-term solutions once they head home:

A Downward Spiral

Research recently published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine shows that seniors are 14 percent more likely to have acquired a disability six months after visiting the ER than adults of the same age who didn’t end up in the ER.

What’s that mean?

After heading to the emergency room, these adults were much more likely than their peers to lose the ability to independently bathe, dress, climb down a set of stairs, prepare meals, exercise, and more.

Oddly, these seniors weren’t admitted to the hospital. They were seen, treated, and sent home – not something that would typically be considered a life-altering event.

Poorer Quality of Life

Research by Dr. Cynthia Brown, professor and division director of gerontology, geriatrics and palliative care at the University of Alabama, shows that many older adults experience a sharp decline in their ability to get up and move around for a full year after visiting the emergency room.

A decline of this sort can be associated with a lot of poor outcomes – poorer quality of life, placement in a nursing home, isolation and loneliness, and even sickness and death.

How Does a Trip to the Emergency Room Lead to Such Dire Circumstances?

For a younger adult, a trip to the ER is usually no big deal. When you get treated and sent home, it’s an indicator that you’re going to be ok.

Why is it so different for older adults?

Experts say that for seniors who are already struggling with day-to-day life, a trip to the emergency room might throw them over the edge. Emotionally, they may feel defeated and not want to try anymore. Physically, an injury or illness may put a strain on the already-limited resources they were working with.

Other possibilities may include seniors who become afraid of further illness or injury and limit their activities, or ER staff may miss underlying conditions which ultimately lead to bigger problems.

Family Members can Help Older Adults During and After a Visit to the ER

Older adults shouldn’t be left to navigate the often confusing and overwhelming Emergency Room environment alone.

If possible, a family member or loved one should stay by their side throughout the experience and help guide them through it.

Experts recommend the following:

  • Ask for a room: Sitting in the waiting room or in the hallway can be an overwhelming experience for older adults – especially those suffering from dementia or prone to delirium.
  • Supply a list of medications to staff: Make sure the hospital has an up-to-date list of ALL of the medications your loved one is currently taking to help avoid interactions and side effects.
  • Keep your loved one comfortable: Have a grab bag ready to go in case of an ER trip that includes everything they may need (eyeglasses, hearing aids, a comfy outfit, a favorite book or other activity)
  • Establish communication with hospital staff: Start by identifying your loved one’s primary ER doctor and the names of any specialists on their team. Request a meeting with the primary care, taking time to write down any questions and concerns beforehand. Don’t be afraid to advocate for your loved one if they are unable or uncomfortable speaking for themselves.
  • Learn about post-hospitalization care: Following a trip to the ER, your older loved one will need to have their health monitored by their primary care physician to avoid and further issues and rehospitalization. New prescription medications may be added to their daily routing with can interact with other meds, foods, or even alter their daily lifestyle. In addition, special medical equipment (like a walker or pressure mattress) may need to be purchased.
  • Determine where your loved one will live while they recover: Often, an older adult is able to go straight home and back to their normal routine after a trip to the Emergency Room. But on occasion, they may require a helping hand in the form of a hired caregiver or a loved one. Sometimes, the easiest solution is to move in with someone else (such as an adult child or other loved one) during the recovery process.

A trip to the ER doesn’t have to be a life-altering event for your older loved one. Knowing what to expect in advance and being prepared can make a huge difference.

Tell us – have you had an elderly friend or family member head to the ER? What was your experience?

Posted in: Health

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