It is never too early, or too late, to shop for presents. Regardless, try being a little creative this year. What are you going to give mom, dad and the “grands”?
People spend hours browsing through retail and antique stores looking for the perfect gift, but they often come up empty handed. Face it, seniors don’t need more “stuff” that they will never use, especially more pajamas, nightgowns, slippers or robes.
Granted finding the perfect gift isn’t easy, especially when they tell you that they don’t need or want anything at all, but that’s silly. Everyone has a secret list of things that they would like to have but can’t afford, or think they can’t afford, to buy themselves.
At times like these it is difficult to be creative, but try to ignore these self-effacing statements and do the right thing. Ergo, seniors need to cooperate too. This means they need to hint broadly and post a list on the refrigerator door.
• Think about your senior’s health; a one-year membership at a fitness club or at the local senior center is a fine way to show that you care.
• Make up food baskets; not a once a year offering of holiday goodies, but a month to month gift of fruits, soups, crackers, cheeses, breads and other kitchen staples.
• Pay for an older adult’s prescription medications for a year, and have them delivered.
• Pre-purchase cab fares or bus service or take them out once a week for appointments and shopping.
• Gift with a medical alert system, a closed caption phone or other practical safety features.
• Volunteer or hire a handyman to winterize their homes, pay for a cleaning service, or shovel snow.
If your senior has everything, you can give them the latest books (e-book or hard back), audio books, coupons, art or hobby supplies, or gift certificates at a favorite restaurant.
There are many ideas for gifts but nothing is more important than showing them that you care. Forget the chocolates and lap robes and give gifts that they need but are reluctant to buy for themselves. Christmas, birthdays and anniversaries will indeed be dates to remember.
I went to the dentist and lived to tell about it. Seriously, it was painless and affordable. I thought this might be a good time to remind you that routine dental care is important for seniors too. You made your kids go to the dentist and now I am hoping it is your turn.
As a child going to the dentist was all about cavities, as a teen it was about braces, as an adult the emphasis became more cosmetic in nature. White teeth and a pretty smile; those were the days. As a senior the emphasis is on health and well-being. It is time to forget about the little space between your front teeth or the slightly crooked canines, or the crowns or the bridges. The focus now is on keeping your own teeth and preventing the gum disease that could trash your health.
The good news, thanks to improved dental technology, is that more and more seniors are keeping their own teeth. The not so good news is that because you are keeping your teeth you are in danger of developing an oral infection (a.k.a. periodontal disease or a gum infection).
All of a sudden, the news of “no cavities” isn’t good enough, it’s those tiny measurements that they do now. Measurements that indicate how much your gums have receded since last year. “Oh no,” you say. “I’ve never had a seven before.”
If that isn’t enough, you have to worry that the bacteria associated with gum disease will migrate, via the blood stream, to others parts of your body. Now we are talking serious trouble.
Given the health risks associated with poor oral hygiene the importance of seeing your dentist regularly should be a no-brainer. Unfortunately lack of dental insurance, lack of transportation, phobias, and even difficulty wielding dental appliances can make good dental hygiene difficult. Still there is much to learn about things like dry mouth, fluoride treatments, oral cancer, denture care and new and improved appliances.
Oral Health matters. Healthy aging starts and ends with your mouth. Put your fears aside because modern dentistry had come a long way. You have nothing to fear and most dentists have reasonable plans and senior discounts.
Retirement is great or it should be, but if you wake up feeling cranky more often than not, something is not quite right. Researchers have been studying seniors for some time now, and the conclusions drawn have been rather alarming. The Stress that became such a driving force in our generation seems to have followed us into retirement.
If you still feel strapped, tired, and bummed out, you must be doing something wrong. Stress, sadness, and unhappiness do not belong in your life.
Wake up in the morning and think about something pleasant that you want do today. If you need more structure than that, set up a calendar for the whole week.
• Pencil in time to read or to visit with a friend (an e-mail, letter, a phone call or lunch date).
• Every day do something that give you pleasure (gardening, painting, reading, hiking, cooking).
• Do something good for your health (a walk, go to the gym 2-3 times a week, plan healthy meals).
Your bliss doesn’t have to come with a big price tag. Try cheap and simple ways to enhance your pleasure:
• Smile at a stranger.
• Buy yourself a bouquet of flowers.
• Take your dog for a walk. Being around animals is known to reduce stress and lower blood pressure.
Sounds easy enough doesn’t it? Let’s look even further:
• Every once in a while, indulge your sweet tooth. Be sure to savor each and every bite.
• Sing along to soothing music when stuck in traffics, or skip the freeway and take the scenic way home.
• Pamper yourself with a bubble bath or a massage. Get a manicure just for the heck of it.
Be good to yourself. Give yourself permission to be happy. Cultivate a sense of humor; smile and laugh more. Think about what you enjoy and build on it. Do something that makes you happy today.
Are you lonesome? Would you like to have one more shot at having a four-footed friend in your life? It isn’t too late. You may not feel you can deal with the responsibility and hard work associated with adopting a puppy or a kitten, but please consider inviting a “senior pet” into your home. A senior pet for a senior person. It doesn’t get any better than that.
It’s a well know fact that pet ownership is good for you. People who have pets are healthier and happier, and whether you think so or not, they really are nicer people.
Don’t spend another minute alone. Someone out there needs you as much as you need them. Think about it: A senior pet will already be trained, and they will not chew or scratch or make demands that you can’t meet. Welcome a pet who will be perfectly happy to snuggle in your lap or settle for a leisurely stroll around the block. That doesn’t sound too hard does it?
Don’t let your age deter you. Unless you adopt a parrot, the chances that you will outlive your pet are still pretty good. The odds increase if you consider that contact with animals is known to lower blood pressure, reduce anxiety and tension, and even prolong life.
Check with your state Division on Aging for special deals on foods and veterinary services for seniors with pets. The rest is easy; treat your senior pet the same way you would like to be treated yourself.
• Give them loads of TLC (that’s tender loving care).
• Remember that pets get arthritis too. Keep them warm in winter and splurge on a nice orthopedic bed, joint supplements, and good food.
• Incontinence can plague anyone. Consider medications, judicious use of pee pads, or britches like the kind people wear.
• Mobility issues. Make life easier on those with tender joints. A pet step, raised food and water bowls, gentle walks, or a carrier or pram for trips to the park.
The best friends are old friends. Adopting a senior pet will keep you young and make you a better person.
How much sleep do you really need? Sleep and aging are topics often coupled and I am sick of hearing about it. Researchers have been trying to frighten us “non-sleepers” to death for years. Everything from dementia to death have been attributed to sleep deprivation.
The statistics are scary. They tell us that if we don’t get eight hours of sleep every night we could die tomorrow. My husband, the geneticist, has been assuring me for years that everyone’s sleep needs are individual, and that they are based on our genetic make-up. This is all well and good but as he is a guy who can fall asleep at the drop of a hat, I was still a little bit suspicious.
I finally found a number of articles that agreed with my “theory” that sleep isn’t all that it is cracked up to be. Yes, sleep is nice, but the fact that I am a “non-sleeper,” doesn’t necessarily mean that I will fall victim to one or all of those dire consequences.
I wake up often and I wake up early but guess what, as far as I know or want to find out, I do not have a sleep disorder and I am not tired during the day.
Guidelines say that we should sleep eight hours every night, but there is no absolute amount of sleep that everyone has to have. How you feel and how you function during the day is what is important.
There is no denying that a good night sleep is important if you want to feel great when you wake up. Seek help if this isn’t happening for you but stop worrying if you don’t sleep the same number of hours as your spouse or your best friend. Everyone’s sleep needs are different. Whether you are a night owl or a morning lark is immaterial. The key is getting the amount that is right for you; quality instead of quantity.
The starting point, which you already know, harkens back to having a regular bedtime, avoiding stimulants, and creating a calming routine. You may need a white noise machine, a meditation session, a glass of warm milk or a cup of chamomile tea. Experiment and find what works for you.
Did you know that people who read for pleasure are happier than non-readers? Many Seniors fall into a “lapsed reader” category and it puzzles me. You finally have time to read the books that you have been saving for the last forty years. If you gave them away during your last downsizing frenzy, you can still find them. Classics, as well as the latest bestsellers, can be found at the public library.
It isn’t that seniors can’t read, but that they chose not to. Why is this? Is it that reading is out of vogue, or do you think that people who read have no lives of their own?
I wonder if people who don’t read see libraries as alien or intimidating. I have friends who don’t seem to know what I am talking about when I tell them they can get DVDs, CDs, e-books, and even movies from the public library.
You are in for a surprise if you are thinking that fines and fees and shushing librarians are too much to cope with. Libraries have changed. Libraries today have new missions and one of them is to be as senior friendly as possible.
If you can’t get to they library they will come to you via the internet or book mobiles. You can order books, download e-books, conduct research or access tutorials from your living room.
Need a day out. Visit your public library in person. Don’t let poor eyesight keep you home. Libraries have large print book as well as devices to enlarge print further. There are even machines that can turn the printed page into spoken words. Ask a librarian.
The library is the most happening place in town. Arrange for transportation and spend an entire afternoon at the public library. Comfortable chairs, well lighted reading areas, coffee shops and even books for sale for a dollar or less. What more could you want?
Librarians are the friendliest people in the world and they are there to help you, and it won’t cost you a dime.
It’s June. Temperatures are already soaring. For many it is going to be a long hot summer. Last week we talked about the important of drinking enough water, but dehydration isn’t the only concern. Seniors, especially those with chronic conditions, are particularly vulnerable as temperatures soar. Did you know that more people in the United States die from extreme heat every year than from hurricanes, lightening, tornadoes, floods or earthquakes combined? Think about what that might mean for you.
Most of us love summer; we don’t think much beyond cranking up the air conditioning or taking the grandkids to the pool or beach, but not everyone is so lucky. For many seniors living on a fixed income, air conditioning is a luxury not a given. If temperatures in your house are above 85 for a prolonged period of time you could be in danger.
Everyone has heard of hypothermia (what can happen when you are exposed to freezing temperatures), but not everyone is as familiar with hyperthermia? Hyperthermia, commonly referred to as heat fatigue, heat exhaustion, or heat stroke is what happens when your body is too hot.
The symptoms of hyperthermia are often missed. Confusion, dizziness, muscle cramping, fever and headache are not uncommon in the elderly, a little exacerbation is often chalked up to worsening dementia.
• Drink plenty of fluids every day to stay hydrated.
• When outdoors, wear a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen.
• Stay indoors on hot and humid days or go somewhere cool (senior centers, shopping malls, movie theaters or the public library).
• Plan ahead, take hot weather seriously; be prepared.
• If you cannot leave your house and do not have air conditioning, take a cool bath or shower to lower your body temperature.
Know the signs of heat stroke and take action if you notice that your face is flushed, you have a temperature, headache, nausea, rapid pulse, dizziness or confusion. Hot weather is more than just an inconvenience for older adults.
You wouldn’t dream of doing anything that would sabotage your plans for a long, healthy and independent lifestyle, would you? The reason I ask is that many seniors are living on the edge, perhaps someone in your own family.
You may recognize yourself in some of these “Are You” questions…something to think about:
• Are you still driving, even if you know in heart that you are not comfortable behind the wheel? Plan ahead and figure out a contingency plan for when that day arrives. Taxi chits, the bus, designated drivers, a three-wheel bike or a scooter are all in the realm of possibilities.
• Are you refusing to get a hearing aid, wear reading glasses, use a cane, or wear “granny shoes” because they make you look old? Nothing you do or refuse to do is going to stop time from moving on. Get used to the idea.
• Are you too embarrassed to discuss personal problems with your health care providers? Believe me they have seen and heard it all. Nothing you can say is “too personal” for them to hear.
• Are you afraid to ask dumb questions? There is no such thing as a dumb question. Make sure you understand instructions whether from you physician or the salesman selling you a new phone.
• Are you taking fall prevention seriously? Do whatever it takes to be steady on your feet. Safety proof your house. Keep your phone on you or use an emergency help device. This is nothing to be embarrassed about.
• Do you know what medicines you are taking? Take medication administration seriously. It could be a matter of life or death…yours.
• Are you participating in prevention programs? See your doctor regularly and take advantage of vaccines and screenings.
Ask for help. You are not a bother, or at least you aren’t until something happens that could have been prevented. Stay safe and stay well; don’t sabotage your independence by being careless or indifferent.
When it comes to pain, hands and feet trump everything else. You may be focusing on back, hip, or knee pain, but what if a simple task like picking up glass a water or tying your shoes made you cringe?
Believe it or not, when I started looking for studies on the aging hand, I found more information on ways to make hands look younger (topical creams, hormones and injections) than about easing the pain associated with osteoarthritis.
By the time you become a “true senior” you have probably figured out that being able to write, type, or open a jar is more important than whether or not your hands look young.
You are not alone if your hands are painful and stiff; osteoarthritis is universal and one of the many challenges seniors have to face. Do you hear a snap when you bend your thumb? Repetitive stress from a lifetime of activities make the joints at the base of the thumb and finger tips especially vulnerable.
Degenerative joint disease, or osteoarthritis, can affect us all, and it has little to do with whether we have been formally diagnosed with severe arthritis or not.
It is too late to take back the years of repetitive stress, but it is not too late to take care of our hands.
• Movement helps; regular exercise will help maintain range of motion and reduce pain and stiffness.
• Wrap your fingers around a warm cup of coffee or enjoy the luxury of a bath or shower to ease pain and increase flexibility.
• Use assistive devices to ease stress on tender joints. There are many ergonomic tools available today. You will marvel every time you use your ergonomic jar opener, and you will love exploring the world of voice activated computer programs.
• Avoid doing anything that involves resistance (squeezing, grasping, twisting).
Activities that require a lot of gripping run the gambit from using free weights, playing tennis, golfing, knitting and gardening, right down to all-important activities of daily living. If your discomfort goes beyond being a minor inconvenience, see a hand specialist and work with an Occupational Therapist.
Last week we talked about using a pain scale to evaluate pain, but what happens when pain, anxiety and insomnia are literally “off the chart?”
Three out of five of the senior adults in my own family were dependent on prescription medications. Shocking isn’t it, but statistics tell us that this is not unusual. What do you have to do to keep from becoming another statistic?
Pain medications are not a long-term solution. You need to understand that dependency, especially to opioid pain medications, can set in after just a few days. Dependency is a soft word, but let’s look at it for what it is, an addiction. Addiction to prescription medications has become a serious problem for seniors.
It is important that you know what you are taking. If you hear the word opioid (Oxycontin, Percodan, Demerol to name a few) a red flag should go up.
Seniors are at risk:
• Drug Interactions. If you have one or more chronic conditions, and are taking a handful of medications, the likelihood of a drug interaction is high.
• Metabolism slows with age. The active ingredients in all drugs will stay in your system longer.
• Serious side effects. Drowsiness, dizziness, and slower reaction time makes you an accident waiting to happen.
Does this mean that you have to “bite the bullet,” or “grin and bear it” like in the old days? Maybe just a little. Rate your pain, decide if you can in fact “grin and bear it,” or get help.
Don’t discount the benefits of alternate therapies:
• Physical Therapy to strengthen muscles and absorb pressure on joints.
• Devices can be used (splints and braces) to immobilize painful joints. Using a cane or a walker is another way to redistribute weight and give painful joints a break.
• Acupuncture had been known to reduce chronic pain.
• Massage therapy has been known to reduce anxiety and relax muscles and tendons.
Pain medications can be life savers during an acute emergency but they are for short term use only. Be an informed consumer. Be aware of the very real danger of addiction, accidental overdose, physical dependency, and constipation.