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Avoiding Pneumonia This Winter: How to Stay Safe and Healthy

Monday , November 23 , 2020

Avoiding Pneumonia This Winter: How to Stay Safe and Healthy

Pneumonia is a lung infection that can be serious in older adults. According to the CDC, hundreds of thousands of seniors are hospitalized with the disease and about 50,000 die every year.

While a person may become infected with pneumonia at any time of the year, instances are more prevalent during the winter months. And this year, with Covid-19 added to the mix, the risk for developing serious infection or a co-infection is even greater.

Keep reading for measures you can take to stay as healthy as possible during the winter months ahead.

What is Pneumonia?

Pneumonia is a respiratory infection that causes inflammation in the air sacs in the lungs, called alveoli. The sacs may fill with fluid or pus, making breathing difficult, and the disease can affect one or both lungs. Other symptoms may include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain when breathing
  • Cough (usually a wet one that produces phlegm)
  • Fatigue

It is important to note that seniors may develop different symptoms such as confusion and changes in mental awareness.

Pneumonia in Older Adults

According to the NCBI, the death rate among older adults with severe pneumonia can be as high as 20%. While experts aren’t sure why pneumonia is more aggressive in seniors, there are likely a variety of contributing factors:

  • As people age, their immune systems weaken, leaving them less able to fend off infection
  • The normal aging process weakens lung function
  • Chronic health conditions such as COPD and heart disease can exacerbate the effects of pneumonia

Additionally, older adults are at increased risk of complications of pneumonia, including bacteremia, pleurisy, lung abscess, and acute respiratory distress syndrome.

What Causes Pneumonia?

Pneumonia can be caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other organisms. It can occur on its own or after someone has been infected with a cold or flu, and it is sometimes a severe side effect of Covid-19.

Pneumonia caused by viruses such as flu or Covid can be especially severe and even deadly, especially in older adults. Those with a weakened immune system, recovering from a recent surgery or illness, or who suffer from chronic health conditions are at particular risk.

Preventing Pneumonia in Older Adults

Older adults – especially those with pre-existing conditions – are encouraged to receive the pneumococcal pneumonia vaccine and the flu vaccine every year.

Other ways of preventing pneumonia, and staying generally healthy during winter months, include:

  • Wash hands thoroughly and often. The CDC recommends washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol to clean hands BEFORE and AFTER:
    • Touching your eyes, nose, or mouth
    • Touching your mask
    • Entering and leaving a public place
    • Touching an item or surface that may be frequently touched by other people, such as door handles, tables, gas pumps, shopping carts, or electronic cashier registers/screens
  • Practice good health habits such as staying physically active and eating a diet high in produce and whole grains.
  • Manage chronic conditions such as COPD, diabetes, and heart disease.
  • Don’t smoke. If you’re a smoker, talk to your doctor about help quitting.

Final Thoughts

Because pneumonia and its complications can be difficult to diagnose and treat in seniors, it is vital to take preventative measures now. Talk to your doctor about how you can help keep yourself safe from pneumonia this winter – and all year long.

Posted in: Health

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Over 50? This is Why You Need the Shingles Vaccine.

Monday , October 26 , 2020

Over 50? This is Why You Need the Shingles Vaccine.

These days, everyone is talking about a vaccine for Covid-19. When will it arrive? Will it be effective? Will it be safe for everyone?

But we have something else on our minds: Shingles.

For older adults, the risk of developing the rash increases with age. Other factors, such as being infected with chickenpox early in life or being immuncompromised, also add to the risk.

That’s why experts recommend that anyone over the age of 50 receive the shingles vaccine.

Keep reading to learn more about shingles and how you can protect yourself:

What is Shingles? 

According to the CDC, shingles usually develops as a stripe across one side of the body or face. People may feel pain, itching, or tingling for a few days before the rash actually appears. Other symptoms may include fever, chills, headache, and upset stomach.

A few days after the rash appears, it turns into fluid-filled blisters, like chickenpox. They usually scab up after 7 – 10 days and will fully clear up a few weeks after that.

Even after the painful rash has died down, the after affects can be even worse.

The most common complaint post-shingles is something called postherpetic neuralgia – nerve pain at the site of the rash that typically lasts for 90 days or more.

Dr. David Hrncir, an allergist-immunologist at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, says, “The older you are when you get shingles, the more likely it is you’ll develop post-herpetic neuralgia, or PHN, and have longer-lasting and severe pain. The pain is not easily treated. So you’re left with constant pain that can significantly affect quality of life.”

A less common complication involves the eyes and can result in pain, scarring, and (in rare cases) vision loss.

Who’s at Risk?

Who’s in danger of developing shingles? Anyone who’s had chickenpox, though those who experienced the virus before 18-months are at higher risk.

Shingles is an activation of the varicella zoster virus, the same bug that causes chickenpox. After chickenpox clears, the virus lays dormant in your body for the rest of your life. Although it’s not clear why, the virus may reactivate many years later as shingles.

Experts say that 1 in 3 people will develop shingles in their lifetime, usually after the age of 50. Though some younger adults do develop the illness, it’s far less common.

If you do have shingles, direct contact with the fluid from a blister can cause infection in other people, even those who have not had chickenpox. The risk of spreading the virus is low if you keep the blisters covered.

Vaccine Options

Up until the summer of 2020, there were two options for the shingles vaccine: Zostovax and Shingrix.

Shingrix was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2017 and is the preferred alternative to Zostovax, which was approved in 2006.

Both vaccines are approved for adults over the age of 50 for the prevention of shingles, whether you’ve already had the virus or not. Here’s how they’re different:

  • Zostovax is a live vaccine given as a single injection, usually in the upper arm, and has been shown to offer protection against shingles for up to five years. As of July 2020, Zostovax is no longer available in the U.S., but may be available in other countries.

  • Shingrix is a nonliving vaccine made of a virus component. It’s given in two doses, two to six months apart. Studies show that Shingrix provides protection against shingles beyond five years, and it is recommended for adults over 50, even if they’ve already received Zostovax.

The most common side effects of either vaccine are redness, tenderness, swelling, and itching at the site of injection. Some people report getting a mild chickenpox-like rash.

The CDC offers recommendations about people who should not get the shingles vaccine.

Good to know: Shingrix costs about $280 for both shots combined. Medicare covers Shingrix under Part D.

Final Thoughts

If you’re considering getting the shingles vaccine, talk to your doctor about the possible risks and benefits in your specific situation. For more information, go to www.cdc.gov/vaccines.

Posted in: Health

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60 Fun Activities for Dementia Patients and Their Caregivers

Monday , October 12 , 2020

60 Fun Activities for Dementia Patients and Their Caregivers

Being a family caregiver is an enriching experience, but it can sometimes be challenging. Caregivers of dementia patients, especially, can feel like they work and work and work and don’t make a difference.

That doesn’t have to be the case.

Part of being a great caregiver is learning about activities that will help engage someone who has been diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s, regardless of the level of the disease. Staying active and engaged is beneficial for both physical and cognitive health and can help ease anxious or aggressive behaviors. On top of that, activities done together can help form a bond of trust and security between the caregiver and their loved one.

Of course, many caregivers are thrown into the role by chance and have no formal training or education.

If you’re like the millions of other adults unexpectedly caring for an older friend or family member, you likely have no idea which activities are appropriate for a dementia patient and which are not.

To help keep you and your loved one busy and engaged, we’ve rounded up a list of 60 meaningful activities you can participate in together. Keep reading to learn more:

 

Planning Dementia-Friendly Activities 

Where is a good place to begin when planning activities for a loved one with dementia? A good rule is to meet them where they are. Some good guidelines include:

  • Avoid pointing out what they can no longer do. Focus on options that compensate for skills they may have lost. For example, if your loved one can no longer read, try browsing together for audiobooks they might enjoy.
  • Keep track of skills and abilities. Keeping track of the skills and abilities as they deteriorate is vital. For example, can your loved one still go to the grocery store and shop? Can they plan and cook a simple meal?
  • Be aware of physical limitations. Many older adults, not just those with dementia, suffer from changes to hearing, eyesight, flexibility, and more. Some physical limitations may require modifications to activities, so they are still suitable.
  • Plan appropriate social events. People with dementia often feel anxious or overwhelmed in large gatherings or in an unfamiliar environment. Try to set up gatherings with smaller groups or in a 1-to-1 setting to keep things comfortable.
  • Focus on enjoyment, not success. What does your loved one find entertaining? Find activities that they naturally enjoy and lose your preconceived notions of how it “should” be done to alleviate stress.

5 Fun Activities for Someone with Dementia 

Keeping in mind that every dementia patient has different preferences and abilities, there are some activities that all will likely enjoy. Some accommodation may be required, but here are a few of our favorites:

  • Teach the Caregiver: Ask your loved one to teach you something they love to do and/or an activity they have known or have done for such a long time that they still remember it. Have them demonstrate a skill they can still do through “muscle memory,” such as telling you about what life was like in the past or something they are passionate about. Your loved one may need to show you, versus tell you, a story, depending upon their language abilities. Encourage this method of storytelling.
  • Read a Book Together: Read a book to your loved one. Let them pick the topic area. Pick one with emotional and sensory content to help with comprehension. Short chapters and a great plot help, too.
  • Hand Massage: Reduce anxiety, perception of pain, and difficult behaviors. Begin by covering your loved one’s hands with a wet, warm washcloth for a minute. Massage using a scented cream or lotion they enjoy. Lavender is a good scent as it is both stimulating and relaxing. Always be gentle – older adults’ skin can bruise easily. If you’re unsure of what to do, you can follow this protocol.
  • Sniff the Spices: Select up to five herbs and spices from your loved one’s kitchen and ask, “I want to learn more about these spices. Can you teach me? Let’s smell them together.” Smell them one at a time. Imagine together what kinds of foods they would go with. Ask if they remember using these spices in dishes served during holidays and family gatherings.
  • I Made a Difference: How has your loved one made a difference to others such as his/her spouse, children, parents, siblings, friends, community, or co-workers? How did they contribute to their field of work? This is an important part of life review and can help self-esteem and life satisfaction. Share the ways you’ve made a difference, too, if this is helpful and acceptable to both of you.

By being aware of your loved one’s interests and capabilities, you can build a list of activities that will keep them engaged and encouraged. For our full list of 60 Meaningful Activities to do With Dementia Patients, please contact us at (908) 927-0500 or email us here.

Posted in: Dementia

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