Thursday, December 27, 2012

Individuals Often Defy Patterns

Image by JoePhilipson
I like finding patterns in nature, in literature, in human behavior.  Patterns help me negotiate through the landscape of life. When I decided three years ago to pursue a degree in gerontology, I hoped to better perceive the patterns that emerge in the aging process.  Equipped with such knowledge, I might help the generation above me avoid some of the bumps in the road of advanced age. And by learning from them, I might better manage my own aging process.

Instead, I find that individuals often defy the norm and few are completely prepared for the challenges of aging.   

When I talk with clinicians, they are more aware than academics that individuals often defy the norm. A physical therapist can tell me what exercises can reduce risks of falls and recite statistics about the increase risk of falls with advanced age. But the same expert can produce several examples of people who walk briskly in their 90s and others who falter in their 50s.  People who have several chronic illnesses sometimes outlive their agemates who are mature athletes.  Aging is a crap shoot!  

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Penalty for Delaying Enrollment in Part D

Photo by NVinacco
When beneficiaries new to Medicare investigate Part D prescription drug coverage, some decide to go without that insurance.  Because the premiums for prescription drug coverage average $30 a month, I can see how declining coverage would tempt some beneficiaries.

Those who decline Part D insurance are most often not taking any prescription drugs or they are taking generics that only cost them around $10 a month--even with no insurance.  They say to me, “Why would I pay a premium that cost more than I spend in a month without any insurance?”


However, those beneficiaries who procrastinate enrolling in a prescription drug plan start accruing penalties that they must pay once they decide to sign up for Medicare Part D.  Depending on how long they procrastinate, these penalties can increase to (for example) an additional $4, $25, $60 for each month between eligibility and enrollment. 



Saturday, December 15, 2012

Adjusting to Bifocals: It Was All a Blur

Photo by Ms. Tina. 
By 2009, I had been wearing single lens glasses for forty years.  I never seriously imagined myself ever wearing bifocals.  But that was the year I turned 47.

This post discusses

* Warning Signs
* Denial
* Physical Challenges to Adjusting
* Timeline

I have since learned that when people reach their forties, they usually acquire presbyopia, age-related eye trouble that often requires the use of bifocals.

I started seeing warning signs, which I chose to misinterpret. If I read small print for too long, I was getting headaches. I was asking my children to read the small print on medicine bottles. And I was increasing the font size on the computer.

No matter how I adjusted the light and the distance, I couldn't read the text.  Finally, I went to the optometrist, thinking I would just get a minor adjustment to my standard glasses.

Nope. The optometrist informed me, “You need bifocals.”   I wasn't emotionally ready to make the switch.  However, my identity as an avid reader was stronger than my identity as a fashionable women—by a long shot—so I ordered new bifocal lenses.

The assault to my ego was mild compared to the assault to my senses. 

Oh, the vertigo!   Bifocals require you to move your gaze to either the top of the frames or the bottom of the frames, depending on the distance of the object you are viewing. Yes, I could read the small print of that reference book with ease; the book and I remain fairly still. However, walking, using the stairs and driving were incredibly challenging tasks. 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)

Photo by Flood
As people get older, they experience age-related changes to their memory: i.e., they take longer to store and retrieve information, their attention is compromised when multitasking, and they take longer to retrieve the desired name, date, place or specialized word.

Sometimes older adults too readily fear that they are in an early stage of Alzheimer's disease (AD). Usually, these changes to memory are just normal signs of aging.

But what if the memory problems seem more serious?  Is it Alzheimer's disease?  Maybe, maybe not.

Yes, as people age, their risk for AD and other forms of dementia does increase. About 5% of those ages 65 to 74 have AD; the rate increases to about 50% for those 85 plus. Yes, symptoms of AD can often mask as normal changes to memory. Some disregard atypical memory changes, which postpones a diagnosis until people move beyond the early stage and into the mid-stage of the disease.

(For a fuller overview of various stages of memory performance,
see this list at alz.org.)

However, older adults with memory problems should first consider the possibility they have Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI).

The Alz.org document 2012 Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures reports this prevalence: "Studies indicate that as many as 10 to 20 percent of people age 65 and older have MCI" (p. 9).  Furthermore, only a small percentage (15%) seek medical advice about MCI. Of those who do seek treatment, half will develop dementia in 3-4 years.

Clearly, older adults and their loved ones need a greater awareness of MCI as a distinct diagnosis.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Movies about Older Adults Active in the Dying Process

Photo by OldOnliner
As a student of the aging process, I regularly watch films that feature older adults.  Mature people live, love and have amazing adventures. But all people--especially the old--experience the dying process.

I value reading nonfiction books about death written by gerontologists, spiritual guides, doctors, social workers, psychologists and other experts. However, as a retired English teacher, I find great truths conveyed through creative works such as novels, memoirs, plays, poems, paintings, and film.  These works might help viewers prepare for the death of a parent, a spouse or another loved one.

Here are a few films with clips. Last updated Dec 2014 to add Lullaby (2014):


Saturday, November 17, 2012

Women Help All to Get Old

Sharon Couto, Maye Musk and Sally Beatty Photo from Get Old
I have long suspected that women are primarily in charge of people's bodies. Whether they are gestating bodies, feeding bodies, healing bodies, cleaning up fluids flung loose from bodies, or assisting aging bodies--women are most often in positions of key management over such matters.  I know that in my house, I am the person most focused on effective body management.

Other family members, consumed with personal achievement or leisure activities, often put the health and function of their bodies on the back burner. So I ask them, "When was the last time you ate?" "Why are you coughing?"  "Are you getting tired?"  "Are those shoes too small for you now?"  "How did you get that bruise?" "Why don't we eat some leafy greens?"  

Yes, sometimes little girls, men and boys help with these body-focused duties as they occur in the domestic sphere. I love a man who will change a diaper or a teen who will clean up vomit or a child who will choose carrot sticks over cookies. I applaud them.

However, my trip to the Get Old* blogger summit this October confirmed my suspicions. No matter what our current age or social role, we women are clearly major stakeholders in the management of bodies.  And most every body wants to get old in a healthy way. 

The blogger summit also confirmed another notion: Everybody ages.

In attendance were 10 vibrant bloggers who address issues across the lifespan.  Although my list forces these bloggers into concern based on the "age" of their blogging topics, all demonstrated interest in connecting the generations through family life, education, storytelling (with words and images) and advocacy.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Talking with Older Adults in a Crisis

Photo by The National Guard
The prevalence of news stories about Hurricane Sandy this week reminded me of a set of guidelines I composed for how to talk with older adults in a crisis. (For general information on how to cope in a crisis, see FEMA's page on the topic.)

Before getting to the specifics, it's important to avoid Elderspeak, a form of baby talk that people too often use to address older adults.

People are usually well meaning when they modify their speech this way, but the result too often is that the older adult feels patronized. Read this post on Elderspeak to learn more about its features, tone and harmful effects.

Nevertheless, healthy aging does often require conversationalists to make some adjustments.  I suggest starting with a normal conversation features and then adjust as you receive input about possible limitations. Don't start with the assumption that people have limits such as bad hearing and compromised cognition.  If you guess wrong, you've already broken trust.  The American Speech Language Association (ASHA) shares these tips for communicating with older adults.

These additional guidelines were composed in 2010 for local police officers interviewing older adults after suffering from an accident or from a crime, but they might be helpful in other crisis settings.  You can remember key points through the mnemonic E.L.D.E.R. 

Friday, November 2, 2012

Strong, Smart Women Wrestling with Caregiving

Photo by On Being
Over the last three years, I have tried to read broadly about the challenges and opportunities of aging.  Now that I've consumed over 50 books on the topic, I'm seeing a few trends. For example, several long-established, best-selling authors are now writing books about caregiving. They are doing so because they have become caregivers themselves.



Diane Ackerman writes about supporting her husband after his stroke in her 2001 book One Hundred Names for Love: A Stroke, a Marriage and the Language of Healing.   Because she and her husband are both writers, Ackerman chose to design a speech therapy program unique to his love of language  Review




Jane Gross describes how she advocates for her mother over several years and several levels of health, showing how caregiving is an ever-evolving activity in her 2011 book A Bittersweet Season: Caring for Our Aging Parents--and OurselvesReview






Betty Rollin explains her perspective as an adult child trying to help her mother manage a devastating cancer diagnosis and invasive treatment in her 1998 book The Last WishReview.





Gail Sheehy once again helps her age mates map out the landscape of a life stage--based on her experience providing care for her husband as well as journalistic-style interviews and research--but this time the path is more recursive than linear in her 2010 book Passages in Caregiving: Turning Chaos into Confidence. Review




Paula Span found that supporting her aging parent trickier than she anticipated, so she dove into the topic and followed other pairs of adult children and their parents through their challenges and produced this 2010 book When The Time Comes: Families with Aging Parents Share Their Struggles and SolutionsReview


Saturday, October 27, 2012

Hearing Loss Can Be Hard to Manage

Photo by Eknath Gomphotherium
On Thursday, I went to visit one of my friends who lives in a skilled nursing center.  She has a number of chronic diseases that she's managing with help from the staff, so I usually feel as though her situation is somewhat under control. This week, however, I watched her struggle to manage her latest challenge.

About a month ago, she suffered hearing loss that appeared at the same time that she fell and hit her head.  I am not a doctor, and I am not a member of her family, so I don't have access to her medical records. And she has cognition problems that prevent her from reporting what her doctor and her adult children tell her about her own health.

Consequently, I don't know for sure why she can't hear or whether she will ever fully regain her hearing. But I did observe these new communication challenges that have emerged:

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Aging Involves Increased Time on Self-Care

Photo by Helga Weber
I have a tween girl who spends a lot of time preening in front of the mirror. I start to roll my eyes while formulating a comment about how she's plowing too much time into self-care.

But then I stop short. At 50, I am also spending a lot more time taking care of my body. This is annoying, bordering on enraging.

I can't believe all the time I spend striving for the energy and appearance I took for granted in my 20s and 30s.  I'm spending more time each day preparing healthy meals, exercising, and primping in front of the mirror.

Argh! I didn't expect to spend this much time on self-care until I hit my 70s or 80s.  If this is how I prepare for my day, how much time do I have left over for "achievement"?  


Saturday, October 13, 2012

Aging Happens to Other People, Not to Me

Photo by theqspeaks
Since starting my graduate work in gerontology, I have been emboldened to talk with people about aging issues. People usually deflect the topic of aging to the generation above them. They resist accepting their own aging; hence, my blog's title.

Even my octogenarian friend Lupe talks about "those old people you could help in your new vocation, Karen." Granted, she's very healthy, active, independent and mentally sharp. Nevertheless, she demonstrates several markers for the category "older adult" as anyone in her 80s would.  But she wasn't interested in any information or insights that I've gleaned about the aging process. Maybe she sees me as too young to have any authority on the topic. I might have figured that when she chuckled and patted me on the head.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Importance of Touch Persists through the Lifespan

Photo by Rosie O'Beirne
A couple of weeks ago, I visited a friend of mine who is currently residing in a skilled nursing home. Upon arrival, I discovered that she had a large bruise around her right temple and that she couldn't hear.  It was apparent that she had fallen.   Understandably, she was also a little bit disoriented and very emotional.

I first tried gesturing and encouraging her to read my lips. Nope. I tried to write messages to her. However, she was having trouble focusing and decoding even short, simple sentences that I wrote in large block letters using a black felt-tip pen. Finally, she said, "Give me a hug!"

Well, why didn't I think of offering a comforting touch as soon as I saw that she had suffered a fall?  And why did I still not think of it when my attempts to communicate by talking and then by writing were obviously failing?

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Acknowledge the Abilities of Older Adults

Photo by Susan NYC
If you go to the grocery store between 9 am and 11 am, you might encounter a demographically disproportionate number of older adults. You might be tempted to view them of clones, each inhabiting the same archetype of "old person." However, if you sat down with each of them, you would discover a wide range of personalities, skills, perceptions and interests   From experience, have you found this to be true of individual people who constitute a crowd of teenagers at the food court in the mall?   It's very easy to stereotype, but it ultimately hinders relationships and limits the contribution of some groups within the larger culture. 

Unfortunately, like many other people who share one defining feature, older adults are subject to stereotypes and myths, some of which I have addressed in previous blog posts. (See posts on Elderspeak, PC Terms for starters.)


Saturday, September 22, 2012

Buy Jewelry that Will Age Well

Photo by Stacie Stacie Stacie
For two years, I have been volunteering at Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) that is home for almost 200 seniors.  This gives me an opportunity to socialize and support people with a wide range of challenges and opportunities.

One of my observations includes the change required in selecting jewelry.  As we age, many people find it difficult to manipulate the small clasps.  Vision changes and fine motor skill changes make it difficult if not impossible to open and close most kinds of clasps on necklaces, bracelets and brooches.

Photo of lobster clasp by Mauro Cateb
Photo by Revere.Academy
There are several types of clasps available.

Most are too hard for aging hands and eyes to manage.


The magnetic clasp is fairly simple to manipulate, and you can retro-fit magnetic clasps on favorite pieces of jewelry.  These are available online.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Older Americans 2012 Federal Report

Photo by Wolfgang.
Thanks to the rigors of my graduate program, I have been compelled to read materials that are outside my comfort zone as a retired English teacher.

I read the quantitative research of economists, policy analysts and actuaries--all of whom compile and evaluate statistics. Surprisingly, I've developed an interest in these materials.

While you might recoil at reading data-heavy documents, I invite you read at least some of this report generated by the Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics.


The report (just click the title of the report in the text above) is actually relatively accessible because the authors primarily use images coupled with bullet points of data.

Established in 1986, this forum brought together the resources of several federal agencies in order to better focus on the experiences and needs of our nation's older adults. Every two years since 2000, they have published this detailed, yet far-ranging report. 

This report contains data and analysis for 37 Indicators of Well Being are listed within on of these main areas:
  • Population
  • Economics
  • Health Statistics
  • Health Risks and Behaviors
  • Health Care
  • Special Features
If you only read one page of the report, read the page labeled "Highlights," which presents a handful of trends supported with statistics in the body of the report. For example, here is a highlight from the Economics section:

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Donut Hole Is Closing by 2020

Photo by Sun Brockie
Medicare Part D is a government-sponsored insurance program that subsidizes beneficiaries' prescriptions.  If you don't understand the basics, please take some time to view the Medicare Part D website.  

This program does not cover 100% of prescription costs. Beneficiaries are responsible for these expenses:
  1. Monthly premium 
  2. Deductible
  3. Co-pays 
  4. Full costs of over-the-counter drugs 
  5. Full costs for drugs not covered in your plan's formulary. 
  6. And if beneficiaries delay signing up for Part D, they have another cost: a permanent penalty for late enrollment, which is 1% of the premium for every month the beneficiary delays signing up for coverage when eligible. 
Of all these expenses, the co-pays give beneficiaries the most trouble. The bottom line: Medicare beneficiaries enrolled now may have to pay $4,700 out-of-pocket annually just in prescription costs, maybe a bit more if they reach catastrophic coverage.


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Embracing My Age

Photo by brutapesquisa
Each morning, I wake up facing this choice: Do I fight to look younger, or do I just let Father Time have his way with me?

How much time do I really want to spend at the gym building muscle mass so that I can carry myself throughout the day?  How many products am I going to put on my face to clean, conceal and paint it so that my wrinkles disappear?  How often will I dye my hair in order to hide the gray?

How much will I contort my figure with foundation garments to hide my emerging Michelin Tire Man shape?  How much money will I spend on accessories and manicures to attract attention away from my skin and body and towards my ability to assemble a chic-looking outfit?

But maybe the choice isn’t really about foregrounding youthfulness and hiding signs of decay. Maybe my choice is really between celebrating myself instead of constructing an elaborate façade.


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Subtle and Atypical Heart Attack Symptoms

Photo by Ally Aubry
Comic, actress, and talk show host Rosie O’Donnell and I are the same age, and she suffered a heart attack this month.   This news would be unsettling merely because we are both too young for the senior discount.

But this news has also been pestering me because her symptoms were so subtle and atypical that it took her a very long time--nearly 24 hours--to recognize them as heart related. 

Fortunately, she lived long enough to seek medical care and to receive a stent for the LAD artery (the widow maker) that was 99% blocked. She survived and wrote a blog post announcing the news this week.

[If you have any concerns about your heart health, please contact a licensed medical professional. This post is not designed to offer medical advice, only to raise awareness.]

In talking with my age mates about Rosie, it turns out that a handful of them have also experienced heart attacks around age 50 with symptoms that were subtle or atypical.  These symptoms of a heart attack can include one or more of the following:
  • Shortness of breath or panting
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A Detached Retina Needs Immediate Care

Photo by Michael Yan
As we age, we are subject to wear and tear of the body, including the eyes.  Many realize that older adults often are at risk for various vision problems. As people age, they often need larger print, greater light, higher contrast between ink and paper, and reduced glare in addition to wearing corrective lenses.

As people age, they are at greater risk of presbyopia, macular degeneration, glaucoma and cataracts.  But many may not realize that people 50 plus are more prone to another vision problem: retinal detachment.

This problem affects a small percentage of people, roughly 1:300, but it can cause vision loss if not treated within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

More Seniors than Ever: Population Pyramids

Photo by Nestor_PS
Every society has a shape for how the various generations relate to each other.  Because of fertility rates, war, famine, disease, and immigration, the shape of these charts might change from decade to decade.  Demographers often call these multigenerational charts "population pyramids."  

The shape of our nation's pyramid is moving to look more like a rocket because of a number of factors. For example, the US has decreased infant mortality, decreased the average number of children born to each woman, avoided widespread fatalities (such as war, famine and disease), and increased the average life expectancy.  

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sundowning: Agitation in the Evening


Photo by Fr Antunes
I have to admit that I avoid visiting skilled nursing facilities (SNF) in the late afternoon and early evening. I have a handful of friends who live in SNFs, and I have observed a phenomenon called sundowning or sundowner’s syndrome, which affects a number of residents.  

People with Alzheimer's disease and other dementias are prone to experience confusion and agitation as the sun goes down, making it difficult to communicate with them and care for them.  For some reason, people in the mid-stages of dementia seem to be most affected.   Symptoms include the following: yelling, crying, confusion, hallucinations, tremors, and pacing. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Put Down the Book and Go Visiting

Photo by SP8254
Today I delivered an early birthday present to my friend Gladys, who will turn 102 at the end of this month. I gave her a book about the 1875 Chinatown wars in Los Angeles.  Gladys remembered her parents talking about this event plus the Tong wars in San Francisco, so she wanted to read this new book after seeing it reviewed in the local paper.

I told her that I didn't know much about these events, but I had recently finished The Buddha in the Attic and  the Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, which are very engaging novels about hardships endured by Japanese immigrants and their children. I shared with her what I learned about picture brides and the Japanese internment.

Gladys is an avid reader, but she replied, "Well, I haven't read either of those books, but I can tell you a little bit about my experience with the Japanese internment."

Friday, July 13, 2012

Chasing the Older Boomers


Photo by Renato Pequito
I have recently learned that as one of the youngest members of the Baby Boomer generation, I can be described as a Generation Jones-er, (b. 1954 - 1964).

The name implies that I am constantly trying to catch up with those spear-heading our Boomer cohort.  

The term Generation Jones-er comes from the phrase “Keeping up with the Joneses.”   This well describes my vantage point within the Baby Boomer generation.

The Baby Boomers are defined as those born between 1946 and 1964.  

However, the tail end of this group—those born 1954 to 1964--missed some key events of this generation. 

We were too young to be drafted into fighting the Vietnam War, too young to drive a VW to Woodstock, and too young to participate in the Summer of Love. 

I have been chasing the older Boomers my entire life. 

Friday, July 6, 2012

Hospital-induced Delirium


Photo by Dan Bolton.
[Updated April 9, 2013 to add info on PTSD for patience experiencing delirium while hospitalized.]

When an older adult is hospitalized, family members are already upset and concerned.  Then often the patient falls into a state of agitation, delirium or even psychosis—making an already stressful event even more traumatic.  

Family members may not realize that older adults are more prone to hospital-induced delirium.  

"Delirium occurs in up to 56 percent of hospitalized patients and nearly 80 percent of patients admitted to intensive care units," according to a
study conducted by University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. Note, these statistics are for patients of all ages; everyone is at risk. 
 
Symptoms include restlessness, agitation, anxiety, confusion, lack of focus, disorientation, speech problems, memory problems, sleep disturbance, trying to pull out lines, trying to rise out of the bed, picking at skin, hair pulling, nightmares, hysteria, hallucinations, paranoia and aggression (spitting, hitting, biting). 

Although this set of symptoms generally show the patient is more worked up than usual, he or she could also be more inert showing symptoms such as fatigue, slurred speech, withdrawal, and unresponsiveness.

This is a difficult situation for medical professionals to diagnose because physiological causes for these symptoms need to be treated or excluded. 

Friday, June 29, 2012

Protein Intake for Older Adults


Photo by Paula Steele aka pixieclipx
Older adults often struggle to maintain a proper dietProtein is one area that might suffer because of problems with transportation, finances, chewing/swallowing or mobility. 

Deficiencies in protein can affect energy levels and contribute to bone frailty and muscle wasting aka sarcopenia.  For these reasons and others, older adults should pay attention to dietary proteins

The RDA (recommended daily allowance) for adults is .8 grams of protein for each 1 kilogram of body weight.  However, some emerging studies suggest that older adults need 1 gram per kilogram or even 1.2 grams per kilograms.  

If a person is recovering from surgery, or if they are very active, they need to consume protein at a higher amount. If you have liver problems, you may need to consume less than the RDA amounts. Consult with your physician.


Friday, June 22, 2012

Social Security Fixes: Increase Taxes or Cut Benefits?

Photo by 401K2012
   
I’d rather blog about every other dimension of aging but finances, but I should probably annually revisit the topic of Social Security. Each spring, the Social Security Administration releases a report, which includes projections for how long the program will be viable. The most current report was released on April 25, 2012. 


The report itself is very detailed. You could read the entire report, read only the overview, or you could read one of many summaries / responses to the report. However, it’s challenging to find a summary that stays neutral. Be sure to look at the biases of the reporting organization.  I prefer looking at the Central Budget Office’s response, penned by one of the directors as a blog entry. It tends to focus on the numbers.

The current projections show that the retirement branch of Social Security will suffer funding problems by 2033.  The recession’s lower wages and higher unemployment made a significant dent in the health of this program. A lot can change between now and then, so I don’t view this date as set in stone.  


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Books on Aging


Photo by Tourist on Earth
As a former college English teacher, I'm using my skill as a voracious reader to learn more about how I can make healthy lifestyle choices at midlife to increase my quality of life as I age.

I'm also learning more about late life--its challenges and its opportunities.

Here is my constantly expanding list (check back) with links to reviews.

Note: I am only including titles that I have actually read. 

Last updated May 2017 with Warraich's Modern Death (2017) Campanella's Motherhood: Lost and Found (2013) and Harding's Tinkers (2009)

Do you have recommendations for me?  Note that I strongly prefer reading physical books over e-books.

I also write reviews of related books, grouped by theme:
The Full List

Ackerman, Diane (2001). One Hundred Names for Love: A Stroke, a Marriage and the Language of Healing.  Review

Agronin, Marc E. (2011). How We Age: A Doctor's Journey into the Heart of Growing Old.   GR Review and Blog Review.

Albom, Mitch (1997). Tuesdays with Morrie.  Review

Altman, Nancy J. (2005). The Battle for Social Security: From FDR's Vision to Bush's Gamble. Review

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Head-to-Toe Risks for Falls


Photo by sheilaz413

People will mention that a parent or grandparent has starting falling with frequency.  The cause for such falls can be manifold.  The older adult should see a professional for an assessment since the cause might be difficult for the individual or the caregiver to discern. If the person has fallen twice in six months, it's a problem that needs professional intervention.  

The CDC reports multiple statistics about falls, including this: "Among older adults (those 65 or older), falls are the leading cause of injury death. They are also the most common cause of nonfatal injuries and hospital admissions for trauma" (emphasis added).

One of the most effective means of fall prevention is activity, including strength-bearing exercises that help the muscles, joints, and bones work properly. However, falls can have causes that cannot be addressed through a fitness regime. 

Here is a list, organized head-to-to, for some of the more common causes for falls:

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Older Adults Who Are Athletes

Diana Nyad. Photo by hammer_nutrition.
Last Update: December 9, 2015

Too often, the general population defines older adults by their limitations.  While it is true that as a group, older adults accrue more physical limitations as they age, it is still possible to maintain an active lifestyle.   Even though biology seems like destiny, people have a lot of control over their fitness through lifestyle choices such as diet, exercise, smoking cessation and stress management.

Recently, the media has made much of Dara Torres, Olympic swimmer, who was born April 15, 1967 and Diana Nyad, endurance swimmer, who was born August 22, 1949.

Not all older athletes are professionals.  Many of the Baby Boomers are redefining late adulthood as an era of active aging. The IHRSA reports that the number of health club members 55+ grew by 343% between 1987 and 2003 compared to 180% for their middle aged peers. Publications such as Sports Geezer and online sources such as the sports section of The Senior Journal attest to an increase of amateur athletes.


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Missing Personal Items: Lost or Stolen?


Photo by Natalie Barletta
Over the last year, I have been making weekly visits to a skilled nursing center to check on one of my friends.  All too often, she tells me that she’s missing a personal item: lipstick, magazines, television remote, eye glasses, clothing, etc. 

Most upsetting was the loss of her new winter coat less than a week after she received it as a Christmas gift.  Most of these items were not marked with the owner's name. 

Because I am not there 24/7, I am not sure how these items go missing.  My friend has cognition problems, so I suspect that some of these items are merely misplaced.  Places I regularly check for items:
  • In the bedding
  • Under the bed, dresser, vanity or nightstand
  • In the pocket of a sweater or coat
  • In a purse that is seldom used
  • On the floor of the closet
  • Within the wheelchair in which she is sitting

Also, some of the other residents also have cognition problems, so they may pick them up innocently.   Also, some of the items never were marked with pen or engraved.  Staff members struggle to direct items to the correct resident if they are not marked.

Most unsettling is the possibility that items have been stolen—either by another resident who knowingly took them, by a visitor, by regular staff, or by one of the many visiting professionals.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Age-Related Risks for Dehydration


Photo by Bergius
Now that the weather is turning warmer, it’s a good time to review the problem of dehydration in older adults. 

In order to prevent dehydration, older adults need to do the following:

* drink frequently
eat foods high in water content
* adjust their water intake if their medications have a diuretic effect, and
* receive assistance if they have mobility problems that make fluid intake a challenge.

Briefly, older adults have more physical, mental and mobility problems with keeping hydrated.  This can cause a series of negative outcomes ranging from mild (dry mouth) to serious (renal failure).  

Now let’s slow down and look at dehydration piece by piece.


Older adults can suffer dehydration for one or more of the following causes: physical changes, diet & medication changes, psychological changes.


Thursday, May 3, 2012

Modify Conversation with Older Adults As Needed


Photo by McBeth
How do you talk with older adults?

Communicating with older adults may not require any adjustments on the part of the speaker.

Often people 65 plus have no problems maintaining good communication.

Here is an overview of some communication challenges that might be at play.
  • Elderspeak on your part
  • Delirium from a treatable medical problem, such as an infection or dehydration
  • Dementia 
  • Hearing Problems
  • The Use of Touch to Communicate
  • Depression
  • Drug Interaction
  • Hospital-induced Delirium

See the list of links below for more detail about many of these challenges. 

Most older adults only have mild communication challenges if any, so don't let this list and the links let your imagination run wild.   But cautiously and calmly consider whether the communication problems you perceive need some kind of intervention, including changes in your own communication choices. 

If you interact regularly with the same person, you will soon see his or her typical needs for clear communication. If you work with the general population and only the occasional older adult, it make take you a while to hit the mark correctly. Again, you do not want to treat people as feeble minded or childlike, but you do want to accommodate their communication needs if possible.


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Elderspeak: Babytalk Directed at Older Adults

Photo by Neighborhood Centers
About a year after I started volunteering at a skilled nursing home, I observed a set of new teenaged volunteers who came to help with a craft at the monthly meeting of the Red Hat Society.  

I heard several of the volunteers speak slowly and loudly, using a sing-song voice.  In response, I saw many of the residents roll their eyes.   

Unfortunately, I had flashbacks to when I first started as a volunteer.   I had altered my speech inappropriately as well, hoping to be supportive but coming off as patronizing instead.


I have since learned to identify the features of elderspeak.  More importantly, I’ve learned to change my attitude.   

At its core, elderspeak communicates a condescending attitude.   And from that attitude the person’s language might demonstrate the following features of elderspeak:
  •  Speaking slowly
  •  Speaking loudly
  • Using a sing-song voice
  • Inflecting statements to sound like a question
  • Using the pronouns “we,” “us,” and “our” in place of “you.”: “How are we doing today?"
  • Using pet names such as “sweetheart,” “dearie,” or “honey"
  • Shortening sentences
  • Simplifying syntax (sentence structure)
  • Simplifying vocabulary
  • Repeating statements or questions
  • Answering questions for the older adult: “You would like your lunch now, wouldn’t you?”
  • In other ways talking for the older adult: “You are having a good time on the patio today, I see. And you have your pink sweater on, which you love. Right?”
  • Asking people questions that assume role loss, idleness and powerlessness such as “Who did you used to be?” “What did you used to do?” 
This post also appears at the fabulous blog Changing Aging.  

Monday, April 23, 2012

Prevalence of Dementia and Diagnosis Tools

Photo by Allesandro Prada
As the population in the United States ages, there will be accompanying increases in age-related ailments.  In addition to sizeable increases in the number of people living with chronic diseases, such as diabetes, the U.S. population is facing an increase in the number of people living with dementia. 

Recent statistics demonstrate that “Alzheimer’s disease (AD) alone affects approximately 5.3 million Americans and is projected to affect 13 million people by 2050” (Christensen et al 2011).   The risk of acquiring AD increases with age, with most symptoms appearing in people 60+.  About 13% of those 65+ have AD, and those 85+ are 14 times more likely to have AD than those 65 to 69.  AD is currently the sixth leading cause of death in the United States (Padilla, 2010).  

As Baby Boomers are turning 65 this year, medical advances are extending their lives so that a larger percentage as well as a larger number of Americans will live beyond 85 than ever before.  Although there are some medications that can ameliorate its symptoms, currently, there is no cure for AD.  

Friday, April 20, 2012

Daphne and Carmen: Octogenarian Supermodels


Photo by WIDOMIRAMA
Beauty is not the sole property of the young. I recently discovered the modeling work of Daphne Self, born in 1928 and Carmen Dell’Orefice  (pictured at the left), born in 1931.  Both are still working as of the date of this blog post.

Advertisers are growing savvy to the fact that older women control a lot of wealth. She-conomy passes on this fact: "Senior women age 50 and older control net worth of $19 trillion and own more than three-fourths of the nation’s financial wealth."

Because a picture is worth a thousand words, search for Daphne and Carmen on Google Images.  Or click on the links below where I have done that for you.

While we are on the subject of mature beauty, please investigate the work of Ari Seth Cohen who maintains the blog Advanced Style. He roams the streets of Manhattan, photographing beautiful women who just happen to be older adults. 


Thursday, April 12, 2012

PC Terms for Aging


Photo by gb_packards
Because I spent 30 years in the field of composition and rhetoric before starting a graduate degree in gerontology, I am hyper-aware of the terms people use to describe older adults. 

For several weeks during the fall of 2010, I recorded all the terms that crossed my path in conversation, paper, and hypertext. The good, the bad and the ugly are listed below. 

Generally, the preferred term is older adult. 

Terms that connote station and vitality such as "elder statesman" and "mature" are strongly preferred over terms that connote weakness and emotional instability such as "elderly" or "dotage."

Again: In order to analyze how people are using language, my list is DESCRIPTIVE rather than PRESCRIPTIVE. Many of these terms are either dated or offensive.

Advanced
Advanced  years
Aged
Aging
Biddy
Codger
Crone
Curmudgeon
Declining
Dotage
Doyenne
Duffer
Elder
Elderly
Elder statesman
Frail
Geezer
Geriatric
Golden ager
Golden years
Grandmother/-ma
Grandfather/-pa
Graying
Gray-haired
Hoary
In a decline
Mature
Maturing
Octogenarian
Old / Old people
Old Fart
Older / Older adult
Old fogey
Old lady / man
Older generation
Patriarch/matriarch
Retired/retiree
Retirement age(d)
Sage
Senescence / senescent
Senior
Senior citizen
Top generation
Vulnerable population
Venerable
Veteran
Winter of life
Wise / wizened


I invite you to ask yourself some of the same questions I asked about these terms: