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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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The Surprising Link Between Dementia and Music

Monday , October 21 , 2019

The Surprising Link Between Dementia and Music

Alzheimer’s Disease is a neurological disorder in which the death of brain cells causes memory loss and cognitive decline. Typically, symptoms start out mild and get progressively worse over time. Eventually, Alzheimer’s patients will have difficulty remembering recent events or recognizing people they know, and their ability to reason will fade.

If this sounds stressful to you, it’s because it is. Those who suffer from Alzheimer’s – and other forms of dementia – often experience severe anxiety and disorientation. But new research shows that listening to music may help.

5.7 Million Americans Live with Alzheimer’s Disease

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 5.7 million people in the United States live with Alzheimer’s Disease – about one in every six women and one in every ten men over the age of 55. That number is expected to increase to 14 million diagnosed cases by 2050.

The first signs of the disease often include memory loss, poor judgement, taking longer than normal to complete daily tasks, and losing or misplacing things. Alzheimer’s progresses differently for each person, but ultimately everyone will have trouble with day-to-day decision making, self-care, and the use of language. Mood and personality changes are very common, as are anxiety and aggression.

These changes aren’t just difficult for the patient, but for the people around them. Both caregivers and healthcare professionals are constantly trying to come up with strategies to prevent or relieve the emotional distress experienced by their loved ones and patients.

One way of alleviating Alzheimer’s-related anxiety has consistently stood out as a promising: Listening to music.

Can Music Help Someone with Alzheimer’s?

A 2017 study from The Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease looked at individuals with subjective cognitive decline – the self-reported experience of worsening or more frequent confusion or memory loss – and found that “music listening can significantly enhance both subjective memory function and objective cognitive performance in adults with SCD, and may offer promise for improving outcomes in this population.”

A more recent study from scientists at the University of Utah Health music can “tap into the salience network of the brain that is still relatively functioning.” 

The brain’s salience network is a collection of regions of the brain that select which stimuli are deserving of our attention. It contributes to a number of different functions, including communication, social behavior, and self-awareness.

According to study co-author Dr. Jeff Anderson, the team was interested in seeing how music might stimulate undamaged regions of this and other brain networks.

Over a period of three weeks, they assisted participants (17 people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease) in finding and selecting songs that were known and meaningful to them.

Using this information, the team created personalized playlists, which they loaded onto portable media players and instructed the participants and their caregivers on how to use. The affects, they say, were astounding.

Music Stimulated Brain Activity

When the scientists performed MRI scans of the participants’ brains while they listened to music from their own playlists, they found that individual brain networks were stimulated. In addition, communication between individual networks was greater.

The effected areas of the brain included the visual network, salience network, and executive network.

“This is objective evidence from brain imaging,” says senior study author Dr. Norman Foster, “that shows personally meaningful music is an alternative route for communicating with patients who have Alzheimer’s disease.”

“Language and visual memory pathways are damaged early as the disease progresses,” he notes, “but personalized music programs can activate the brain, especially for patients who are losing contact with their environment.”

The Future of Music Therapy

Many people believe that music holds the key to stopping – or even reversing – Alzheimer’s-related cognitive decline. Still, despite the encouraging results of the University of Utah study, researchers warn against wishful thinking.

This particular study had a small pool of participants and un-replicated results. In addition, researchers were unable to track how long the positive effects of music listening could last.

Bottom line? More research is needed.

Using Music to Connect with Your Loved Ones

Even if we don’t know if, or how, music will be used to treat Alzheimer’s in the future, we do know that it helps to calm those who suffer. Listening to or singing songs can provide many emotional benefits to Alzheimer’s patients, as well as those with other forms of dementia.

If you’d like to use music to help a loved one who has Alzheimer’s, consider these tips from the Mayo Clinic:

  • Think about your loved one’s preferences.What kind of music does your loved one enjoy? What music evokes memories of happy times in his or her life? Involve family and friends by asking them to suggest songs or make playlists.
  • Set the mood.To calm your loved one during mealtime or a morning hygiene routine, play music or sing a song that’s soothing. When you’d like to boost your loved one’s mood, use more upbeat or faster paced music.
  • Avoid overstimulation.When playing music, eliminate competing noises. Turn off the TV. Shut the door. Set the volume based on your loved one’s hearing ability.
  • Encourage movement.Help your loved one to clap along or tap his or her feet to the beat. If possible, consider dancing with your loved one.
  • Sing along.Singing along to music together with your loved one can boost the mood and enhance your relationship.
  • Pay attention to your loved one’s response.If your loved one seems to enjoy particular songs, play them often. If your loved one reacts negatively to a particular song or type of music, choose something else.

Keep in mind, because each Alzheimer’s patient is different, it is possible that music will have no effect at all. Still, it’s worth it to try!

Posted in: Dementia

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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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