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May is Mental Health Awareness Month

Monday , May 3 , 2021

May is Mental Health Awareness Month

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. And now, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s more vital than ever to reduce the stigma around mental health struggles.

For the millions of Americans already living with mental illness, the uncertainty of the pandemic may have caused added stress. And the number of people experiencing symptoms is on the rise. According to recent studies, reports of anxiety disorder and depressive disorder increased significantly between April and June 2020 compared to the previous year.

These issues can be even worse for older adults, especially those who are isolated or who lack social support. 

Keep reading for more information on mental health issues in older adults and what you can do to help.

What is Mental Health Awareness Month?

Since 1949, Mental Health America has been observing May as Mental Health Month. The event helps spread the word about mental health through media campaigns, awareness activities, local events, and screenings.e

This year, the theme is “Tools 2 Thrive,” and the goal is to provide practical tools that everyone can use to improve their mental health and increase their resiliency in any situation. Topics include: 

  • Adapting after trauma and stress
  • Dealing with anger and frustration
  • Getting out of thinking traps
  • Processing big changes
  • Taking time for yourself
  • Radical acceptance

Mental Health and Older Adults

The American population is rapidly aging: approximately 75 million people will be over 65 by 2030. And according to a 2012 study from the Institute of Medicine, about one in five older adults have a mental illness, substance abuse condition, or both. 

It is likely that someone close to you – a friend, family member, or neighbor – is personally impacted or will be in the future.

Here are some ways you can help: 

Identify Risk Factors

Mental health illness can worsen an older adult’s physical health and overall well-being, but conditions such as anxiety and depression are often unrecognized and undertreated. It’s vital to be aware of issues that may leave your older loved ones vulnerable so you can intervene early. 

According to the MHA, common risk factors include: 

  • Chronic medical conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [COPD], cardiovascular disease, thyroid disease, and diabetes
  • Overall feelings of poor health
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Side effects of medications (i.e., steroids, antidepressants, stimulants, bronchodilators/inhalers, etc.)
  • Alcohol or prescription medication misuse or abuse
  • Physical limitations in daily activities
  • Stressful life events
  • Adverse or difficult events in childhood

Know the Signs and Symptoms

Mental health illness can be challenging to recognize in older adults because they may show different signs than younger people. It’s important to know what to look for so you can help. Some common indicators include: 

  • Issues with confusion, concentration, or decision-making. Age-related memory loss is expected, to an extent. However, if an older adult starts to repeat themselves several times a day, states the same thing repeatedly, or has trouble concentrating for extended periods, it may be an issue. 
  • Periods of sadness lasting more than two weeks. Everyone feels sad from time to time. If these feelings persist, though, it is wise to see a doctor. 
  • Decrease in appetite or unexplained weight loss. Depression and anxiety can both play a role in appetite.
  • Changes in appearance. A marked decline in personal grooming can be a sign of several different mental health issues. 
  • Social withdrawal. When people struggle with mental health, it can be challenging to be functional in relationships. Keep mindful of loved ones who struggle with social isolation and do your part to try to connect. 
  • Unexplainable physical health problems. Mental health can affect physical health. Headaches, body aches, and feelings of general malaise are common in those with emotional health issues.
  • Unexplained fatigue. Mental illness can impact normal sleep patterns, leading to fatigue, lethargy, and brain fog during the day.

Get Help When Necessary

If you suspect that your older loved one or friend is suffering from mental illness, don’t let them struggle alone. Help them contact their health care provider to evaluate their condition and see what treatments are available. 

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Driving Safety for Older Adults   

Monday , April 19 , 2021

Driving Safety for Older Adults  

Driving a car represents freedom and independence to many older adults. Yet as we age, many of us begin to experience unavoidable physical and mental changes that can affect our ability to safely drive.

It’s vital to be aware of how these changes to your health may impact your driving skills so you don’t risk hurting yourself or others. Keep reading to learn about conditions that may impact your driving and how to deal with them safely:

Trouble Seeing

According to the American Foundation for the Blind, roughly 12% of Americans aged 65 – 74 suffer from severe eye problems as compared to 5% of adults aged 18 – 44. Many experience vision problems so serious, they impact the ability to complete simple daily tasks. This problem is only expected to grow as the baby boomer generation continues to age.

To help ensure safe driving:

  • See your eye doctor every year.
  • If you need glasses or contacts to see far away, always wear them when driving.
  • Avoid driving in the dark, during sunrise and sunset, or during bad weather.

Trouble Hearing 

As we get older, hearing can change. In fact, nearly one in three people between 65 and 74 experience hearing loss. This can impact our ability to hear horns, sirens, or even sounds coming from our own car.

To help ensure safe driving:

  • Have your hearing checked at least every 3 years after age 50.
  • If you have hearing concerns, speak to your doctor.
  • Try to limit sound, such as music or podcasts, inside your car.

Slow Reaction Time and Reflexes 

As we age, loss of brain connections slows reaction time and reflexes. This can make it harder to handle more than one task at a time, more difficult to steer or use foot pedals, and tricky to respond quickly.

To help ensure safe driving:

  • Leave plenty of space between you and the car in front of you.
  • Start braking early when you need to stop.
  • Avoid rush hour and heavy traffic areas when possible.
  • Stay in the right hand lane when on the highway.

Stiff Joints and Muscles 

As we get older, joints get stiff, and muscles weaken. Problems such as arthritis and spinal stenosis can make it more difficult to turn your head, turn the steering wheel, or brake quickly.

To help ensure safe driving:

  • See your doctor if pain or stiffness seem to impact your driving.
  • Be physically active to keep and improve muscle strength and flexibility.
  • Consider hand controls for both the gas and brake pedals.

Memory Loss 

Memory loss is a concern for many people as they grow older. In fact, about 40% of people aged 65 or older have age-related memory impairment. Often, people with memory loss don’t even realize they are having driving problems, so it’s up to family and friends to act. If decision-making skills are impacted, the individual must stop driving. 

More Safe Driving Tips 

  • Take a defensive driving course. Organizations like AARPAmerican Automobile Association (AAA), or your car insurance company can help you find a class near you.
  • Ask your doctor if any of your health problems or medications might make it unsafe for you to drive.
  • Don’t drive when you are stressed or tired.
  • Always wear your seatbelt and make sure your passengers wear their seatbelts, too.
  • Don’t use your cell phone while driving.
  • Avoid distractions, such as eating or chatting.

What if I Have to Stop Driving?

Are you worried that you won’t be able to get around if you can no longer drive? There are more ways to travel than you think! Many areas provide free or low-cost transportation options for senior citizens, religious and civic groups often have volunteers that will drive you, and most senior living communities offer shuttles to supermarkets, doctors, and more.

Contact your local Area Agency on Aging for help finding services near you: 1-800-677-1116 or

https://eldercare.acl.gov

Posted in: Aging

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The Surprising Ways Gardening Can Benefit Seniors

Monday , April 12 , 2021

The Surprising Ways Gardening Can Benefit Seniors

It’s officially spring, and that means it’s time to start your garden. Whether you grow vegetables, flowers, houseplants, or anything in between, gardening is a fun and healthy hobby!

Studies show that spending time weeding, planting, and sowing is an excellent way to boost mental and physical health—especially for seniors. It stimulates the senses, provides physical activity, and helps us reconnect with nature.

Keep reading to find out more about the benefits of gardening and how to best grow your own:

How Does Gardening Benefit Seniors? 

Home gardening has been on the rise since the onset of COVID-19. Why? Because not only is it an amazing socially-distanced activity, but it also helps promote emotional wellness. 

  1. It lowers stress. Studies have shown that gardening can lower levels of the stress-producing hormone cortisol and raise the levels of serotonin, a calming chemical that helps improve mood. Some studies have even linked gardening to a reduction in symptoms of depression. In addition, gardening increases hand-eye coordination, which helps to keep the brain and body in sync.
  2. It boosts heart health. Did you know that in the 60–79-year-old age group, 69.1% of men and 67.9% of women have cardiovascular disease? Luckily, studies have found that regular gardening can reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke by as much as 30% for people over 60. Additionally, gardening can help you burn 200 to 400 calories an hour, which has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease.
  3. It increases mobility. Mobility problems in seniors can stop them from participating in activities they enjoy and lead to social isolation and depression. Many older adults begin to limit what they do physically, believing they are saving themselves from injury – but remaining active is the key to good health. Gardening is known to engage lesser-used muscles and help build strength and mobility.
  4. It increases brain health. No one knows exactly what causes Alzheimer’s Disease or how to prevent it. Still, studies show that positive life choices, such as gardening, can have an impact. In fact, the physical demands, critical thinking skills, and sensory awareness can reduce the risk of dementia by up to 36%.
  5. It encourages healthy eating. There are many reasons why it can be difficult for seniors to stick to a healthy diet. New food aversions. Difficulty chewing. Dietary restrictions. Boredom. The list goes on and on. But growing your own garden makes it easy to access healthy, delicious foods in season—including many you can pluck off the plant and eat on the spot.

Final Thoughts

Gardening can be an enjoyable activity when the weather is nice, and the benefits are many. One of the best things about gardening for seniors is that it is adaptable for all skill and ability levels. For example, potted plants or raised beds can be used instead of a traditional garden for those who can’t bend or kneel.

Need help getting started? In response to the influx of home gardeners during COVID-19, the Rodale Institute is offering a free Victory Garden Starter Kit complete with an Organic Gardening 101 webinar!

Check it out – and don’t forget to share photos of your home garden on our social media pages!

Have fun and happy gardening!

Posted in: Health

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