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The Healing and Invigorating Power of Gardens

Monday , April 29 , 2019

The Healing and Invigorating Power of Gardens

According to Dee McGuire, a horticultural therapist at Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital in Baltimore, spending time outdoors is restorative for seniors – even if they have dementia.

And indeed, for many older adults, there’s nothing they’d rather do than dig in the dirt and tend to their plants. Most of them do it solely for the pleasure of nurturing a living thing and helping it thrive. Growing the perfect tomato or pruning a beautiful rose bush can bring immense satisfaction.

As it turns out, however, horticulture is more than just a feel-good hobby. It’s also really good for your health.  Studies show that by spending just 2.5 hours a week gardening, seniors can reduce their risk for multiple health issues–both physical and mental.

Keep reading to learn more about the benefits of being outside–and how you can help your older loved one continue to garden, well into their golden years:

How does gardening benefit the elderly?

If you’ve ever had a really stressful day, popped outside for a quick walk, and then immediately felt better–you understand the benefits of ‘green time.’ Nature can be an amazing salve for even the toughest of wounds.

  • Physical health: For those that might otherwise live a sedentary lifestyle, even the smallest amounts of exercise can be beneficial. And gardening is a great way to get some movement in: It’s low impact, improves endurance and strength, encourages use of motor skills, and can be done at your own pace. Even better? If all goes well, you’ll be rewarded with healthy fruits and vegetables at the end. Other benefits include

– Improved mobility and flexibility

– Decreased risk of osteoporosis

– Higher levels of Vitamin D

  • Mental Health: In the past, I’ve discussed the difficulties many seniors face with loneliness, social isolation, and depression. Often, exercise is promoted as a way to combat these, and other, mental health issues. Gardening, in particular, is often recommended to older adults for its emotional health benefits. Spending time outdoors and tending to plants is an excellent stress reliever. It not only promotes relaxation and provides stimulation, but can also promote socialization, as many seniors choose to join a gardening club or even invite grandchildren to help them out.

Planning and working in a garden is an act of creativity and an investment in the future. It is a gift to others that brings meaning and purpose to the life of the gardener.

 Overcoming obstacles

Despite its numerous benefits, gardening may pose a problem for many older adults–especially those with limited mobility or other physical limitations. There’s no question that tasks such as weeding the garden or pruning the plants require a lot of up-and-down, kneeling, squatting, and other movements that may become more difficult with age. Sometimes, even the physical requirements of simply carrying a watering can may seem like they’re too much.

 Don’t let those limitations deter you! Many of the physical obstacles to gardening can be overcome by using the right technique or the right tools. Here are a few suggestions:

  •  Use a vertical garden or raised beds to alleviate the need to bend or crouch
  • Purchase brightly-colored tools to make them easier to find
  • Avoid the hottest times of day by gardening early in the morning or just before dusk
  • Stay hydrated and wear protective clothing, such as sun hats and long-sleeved shirts
  • If the garden is on the ground, use a kneeler or knee pads for a more comfortable experience
  • Invest in tools with longer handles to decrease the need to bend
  • Try a garden scooter if walking becomes tiring–they’ll allow easy movement around the garden and even hold all of the needed tools
  • Choose plants that can last a few days on their own without being watered or tended

 Final thoughts

Renowned neurologist Oliver Sacks said, “In 40 years of medical practice, I have found only two types of non-pharmaceutical ‘therapy’ to be vitally important for patients with chronic neurological diseases: music and gardens.”

He believed that nature has a calming and organizing effect on our brains. That it is restorative and healing, even for those who are deeply unwell. Many studies back up his claims and I have to say–I agree.

Posted in: Aging, Health

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“Prejudice Against Our Future Self”: The Damage of Ageism

Monday , March 18 , 2019

“Prejudice Against Our Future Self”: The Damage of Ageism

In America we often see aging solely in terms of debilitation—a process that robs people of their strength, ability, beauty, and health. Ashton Applewhite disagrees. “Aging is not a problem to be fixed or a disease to be cured,” she says. “It is a natural, powerful, lifelong process that unites us all.”

Applewhite, a Brooklyn-based writer and activist, is the author of This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism. Her widely viewed TED talk on re-envisioning aging makes a compelling case for throwing out the false and harmful stereotypes we learn early on and thoughtlessly perpetuate.

Why, in a world where bigotry is fought on every front, is discrimination against the elderly still tolerated? The “old geezer” stereotype isn’t doing anyone any favors. It’s not just emotionally harmful to older adults, but physically as well.

In fact, a 2016 article in the journal of the Association of Healthcare Journalists reports that studies show “real mental and physical consequences” of being exposed to ageism, including greater stress, slower recovery time from health setbacks, decreased will to live, and a shortened life span.


What is ageism?

You’ve likely heard the terms ‘racism’ or ‘sexism’ . . . but ‘ageism’? What’s that? Discrimination against the elderly isn’t discussed nearly as often in mainstream media.

The term, coined in 1968 by gerontologist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Dr. Robert N. Butler, refers to a basic denial of older people’s human rights. Butler first used the phrase during a Washington Post interview for a story titled “Age and Race Fears Seen in Housing Opposition” – an article about the public’s resistance to building a housing complex for the elderly poor in their high-class neighborhood.


How ageism harms older adults

Not much has changed since the 1960s. Many people today still mock, antagonize, belittle, or otherwise discriminate against older adults. The reason is likely the same: they don’t want to imagine ever being enfeebled themselves.

This attitude, however, is highly harmful for the elderly as well as those around them.

Ageism can:

  • Harm the overall health of older adults. Studies show that those who are subject to age-related discrimination can suffer from higher levels of stress, depression, respiratory problems, and heart disease.
  • Lead to emotional hardship. Older people are often made to feel like they are a burden or that others see them as less valuable, leading to low self-esteem and isolation. This, in turn, can also lead to physical decline.
  • Cause mental decline. A 2018 study from Yale University showed that negative beliefs about aging may be linked to brain changes related to Alzheimer’s Disease. Specifically, people who have more negative thoughts about aging tend to have a greater number of amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles – two conditions related to mental decline in dementia.
  • Harm the future health of young people today. The same Yale study found that people who hold negative stereotypes about aging are less likely to be healthy in their own later years.


What can you do to fight ageism?

You likely have older loved ones in your life right now that you care about and want to see happy. In addition (whether or not you want to think about it), you will likely be an elderly person yourself one day.

The best thing you can do for both your loved ones – and yourself – is to fight the stereotypes surrounding aging:


  • Use positive language. Think about how you discuss aging and age-related conditions: You may not even realize that you make negative jokes or help reinforce harmful stereotypes. Make a conscious choice to use positive language in regard to elders and aging.
  • Share positive images of aging. Have you ever purchased an “over the hill” birthday card? Shared a meme about an older person unable to figure out technology? While they may seem harmless, things like that help perpetrate stereotypes. Instead, seek out books, movies, or images that portray the joy in growing older and share those!
  • Call people out for ageist comments. When you hear someone make an insensitive joke or a cruel comment, bring it up just as you would any other inappropriate remark. Often, people don’t realize that what they’re saying is harmful and will be apologetic.
  • Engage with older adults. Don’t just talk the talk – walk the walk. Volunteer at a senior center, take your older loved ones out to lunch, invite your younger friends over for game night with your grandmother. By taking the time to hang out socially with older adults, you will help show others that it’s not something to be avoided or mocked. This isn’t just to be kind; each generation benefits from spending time with one another.
  • Avoid “Elderspeak.” It is galling to have your life experience and achievements erased by people who speak to you in a patronizing, over-familiar fashion. Don’t address seniors by their first names unless they invite you to do so, and certainly don’t use endearments. Keep in mind the words of Maggie Kuhn, founder of Gray Panthers: “The worst indignity is to be given a bedpan by a stranger who calls you by your first name.”


Final thoughts

Like all prejudices, ageism is dehumanizing. It can have far-reaching implications for the physical, emotional, and social health of older adults. Each of us can work every day to help reduce stereotypes and harmful attitudes through our own positive outlooks.

Tell us – what do you do to help fight ageism?


Posted in: Aging

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Common reasons seniors refuse to bathe and how to help

Monday , January 14 , 2019

Common reasons seniors refuse to bathe and how to help

With advancing age, many seniors become reluctant to bathe. The reasons why can vary greatly from person to person. Though illness and disease are often to blame, for others it may be a case of embarrassment or depression.

Below, we’ll discuss those and other reasons your senior may be avoiding bath time.

Weaker Senses
With age, the senses of sight and smell decrease. Body odors and stains may be obvious to you, but your loved one may not even notice the most unpleasant smells. This is especially the case when it comes to their own odor, as people become “nose blind” to smells after only a few minutes of exposure.

Depression can make simple tasks seem like impossible feats–and while personal hygiene is important, those who are feeling down often cannot muster up the energy to do something as simple as brush their teeth.

If you notice that your senior is reluctant to bathe, it’s wise to rule out depression as the cause right up front. Keep an eye out for these other common warning signs and consider a trip to see their doctor.

Fear and pain

For many seniors, the bathroom can be a downright scary place–especially at bath time. Wet, slick floors are a recipe for disaster, and every bath or shower offers a new opportunity to slip and fall (perhaps breaking a hip, or worse). In addition, the bath itself can be uncomfortable for the elderly. Many seniors become cold easily, and joint pain can make it difficult to find a comfortable seated position.

For dementia patients, these issues are often amplified. Your loved one may not understand why there is water running on them and become afraid or hallucinate. They often don’t understand what you’re trying to do and think you want to hurt them.

Lack of control
As people age, they lose more and more control over their own lives. From driving a car to something as simple as opening a jar by themselves, lost abilities are a part of everyday life. The one thing elders often cling to longest is their own personal hygiene, and they can be very reluctant to give that up. For many, it can seem like a final step towards death and they fight it as long as they can.

Tips for helping a senior bathe
There are many different approaches once you’ve figured out why your senior is reluctant to shower or bathe. It can take some trial and error, and often involves compromise, but you can find a solution.

Here are some of our best tips:

Keep the environment safe
If your loved one is avoiding bath time out of fear, there are several things you can do to ease their mind.

• Check the water temperature beforehand to make sure it’s not too hot or cold
• Use a hand-held showerhead to avoid water on the face
• Make sure there is a rubber bath mat and safety bars in the tub
• Start by washing the least sensitive parts of the body first, such as feet & hands
• Keep toiletries and other supplies within easy reach
• Use a sturdy shower chair to help a senior who has trouble standing
• Keep the bathroom floor clean and dry to help avoid falls post-bath
• And, most importantly, NEVER leave your loved one alone

Ease embarrassment

For many seniors, getting help with bathing is embarrassing. It’s vital to do what you can to help them feel comfortable.

• Use a large towel or shower curtain to cover your senior while they undress
• Keep a towel over their private areas while bathing and use a sponge or washcloth to clean underneath
• Give them a washcloth to hold and allow them to do as much as possible on their own
• Distract them with conversation if they become upset
• Note that sometimes it is less embarrassing for a senior to be bathed by a stranger, so bringing in a third party may help

Make hygiene fun
If you find yourself in a power struggle with an elder who simply will not bathe, try making it into a game. Bribery may seem silly, but sometimes the promise of something fun to look forward to can do the trick.

• Turn bath time into a “spa day” by using scented products and your loved one’s favorite lotions
• Get “spruced up” to go out to lunch or to a favorite park
• Reach out to an old friend and set up a special dinner date for bath day
• Put on some happy music and sing your way through bath time
• Don’t forget to say how wonderful they look and smell after their bath

If all else fails, compromise
Above all else, maintaining a loving, trusting relationship is key. When it comes to hygiene, sometimes you have to lower your standards and meet in the middle. Do not expect or insist on a bath or shower to happen every time it’s on the schedule: sometimes it’s just not going to work out.

Final thoughts
If personal hygiene has become too overwhelming for you or your loved one, we can help. At ComForCare, we not only have the professional experience to ease your troubles, but we’ve been through it ourselves.

One of our favorite parts of the job is educating you and your family about senior health and caregiving. The more you know about the prognosis, care, and treatment of your family member’s condition, the more in control you can feel.

Posted in: Aging, Caregivers, Home Care

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