Vision Problems in Seniors

Eye health is an important component to overall health for an individual of any age. However, once a person reaches the age of 60, it’s even more critical to have regular eye exams, as well as specialized tests and screenings. Most eye diseases common to seniors develop painlessly. When gone undetected for a period of time, the result can be permanent damage, vision impairment and in some cases blindness. Early symptoms of eye diseases can easily be mistaken for normal signs of aging, but they shouldn’t.

Research shows that one in three Americans age 65 and older have some type of vision-impairing eye disease. The senior population is most susceptible to four major age-related diseases. These include glaucoma, cataracts, macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy. Here’s what you should know about these age-related eye diseases . . .

Glaucoma: At the onset of the disease, there are no symptoms; however, as glaucoma progresses an individual may notice peripheral vision impairment. The disease slowly damages the optic nerve, and when gone untreated can cause vision loss and blindness. With nearly one million Americans unaware that they have glaucoma, regular exams are detrimental to an early diagnosis.

Cataracts: This is a common cause of vision loss, and involves clouding of the eye’s lens. Cataracts are a buildup of protein that grow overtop of the lens making it difficult to see. People with symptoms may complain more about glare, cloudy or fuzzy vision and sometimes double vision. Cataracts are a part of aging, and mostly affect those over 70 years of age.

Macular Degeneration: This is a very serious condition that dramatically affects central vision. It is caused by a deterioration of the light-sensitive tissue behind the eye. People with the disease often have trouble seeing enough to read, drive, or perform normal daily activities. Age is the biggest risk factor for macular degeneration, and nearly 50% of people over the age of 75 have the disease.

Diabetic Retinopathy: This potentially blinding eye disease is associated with diabetes. Diabetes causes irregular changes in the retina’s blood vessels. This can prompt them to leak and grow in places they shouldn’t. When this happens, the blood vessels may break off and hemorrhage. Seniors with type 2 diabetes must be aware of diabetic retinopathy especially if they are on certain medications.

It’s recommended that all seniors have regular eye exams that include visual acuity, dilation and tonometry. If you’re caring for someone with one of these eye diseases, it’s important to learn about their condition and understand how it limits their abilities to do certain activities. To find out more about caregiving for someone with vision problems, contact AT Home Care today.

Understanding Shingles and How it Affects Seniors

Shingles is a disease caused by the same virus that causes the chicken pox. Typified as a skin disease, shingles is a rash. However, unlike a minor rash that is bothersome and unsightly, shingles causes the individual a significant amount of pain. The rash appears on one side of the body in a band or strip. The early stages of shingles include three key symptoms. First, pain and tingling occurs before the rash actually begins to itch. Then blisters resembling chicken pox begin to appear.

It’s important to understand how shingles and chicken pox are related. For anyone that has had chicken pox, the virus remains in your body well after recovery. This means that at any point in time the virus can reactivate itself. The result is shingles. Many people don’t understand if shingles is contagious. The disease is not contagious to someone as long as the person has already had chicken pox. However, people with shingles are contagious to those who are still susceptible to the chicken pox virus. Babies, young children and unvaccinated individuals are most susceptible, as well as those with weakened immune systems.

Just like chicken pox is a childhood skin disease, shingles is most common in older individuals 60-80 years of age. Research indicates that nearly half of all Americans who have had chicken pox will have gotten shingles by the time they reach 80. This is unfortunate because the elderly experience significantly more pain and risks associated with shingles than younger individuals.

For most people, shingles only develop once. However, studies suggest that those most likely to have a recurring episode were people whose symptomatic pain had lasted more than 30 days with their first shingles incident. If it is severe enough, the pain resulting from shingles can last months and even years. The medical term for this type of pain is called post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN). Persistent pain and lingering symptoms is fairly common in seniors.

In 2006, the FDA approved a vaccine (Zostavax) to prevent shingles in people age 60 or older. Shingles’ prevalence in the elderly population and the risks for long term symptoms is what has doctors urging seniors to get the vaccine. Even if you don’t recall ever having the chicken pox, or if you’ve already had shingles, you can still get the vaccine. It is a one-dose vaccine with no age maximum on who can receive it. Luckily, studies show that the vaccine reduces the number of shingles cases in seniors by half.

“VitalStim” Therapy to Help Patients Learn to Swallow

AT Home Care is One of Only Five Home Health Nursing Agencies to Offer “VitalStim” Therapy to Help Patients Learn to Swallow 

More than 15 million Americans have moderate to severe difficulty swallowing (dysphagia). In over 50% of the cases, dysphagia is a result of strokes or radiation treatments to treat throat cancer. Parkinson’s disease is another cause of swallowing difficulties. Thankfully, medical technology has developed a device which delivers neuromuscular electronic stimulation, known as Vital Stim, to specific muscles in the neck which acts to jump start them into functioning at an improved level. This non invasive treatment has been approved by the FDA.

“More than 15 million Americans have moderate to severe difficulty swallowing”

AT Home Care has specially trained Speech Language Pathologists who are certified to perform this therapy. In conjunction with other speech therapy, muscles are reeducated and swallowing efficiency is improved. Electrodes are gently placed on the front of the patient’s neck. A carefully measured electrical current is administered to targeted nerves. The current produces neural stimulation, which creates a muscle contraction that facilitates swallowing. Through repetition and specific therapeutic exercises and strategies, the patient’s muscles relearn how to swallow independently.
Trish Ginn, a speech pathologist with AT Home Care, treated a patient recently who had suffered from a stroke. She had been using a PEG feeding tube for years and never thought she would enjoy food again. After only a month of Vital Stim therapy, in conjunction with specialized therapy, she was able to swallow soft food. “The rewards are immense for these patients”, Ginn said. “Sometimes it is only a pleasure feeding just so that the patient can enjoy their sense of taste again. Each patient requires different amounts therapy”, she added.
Vital Stim, which began only 8 years ago is gaining more popularity as doctors see the results and the success stories become prolific. Home health care companies such as At Home care must devote the appropriate resources to training their clinicians to be successful. For AT Home Care, the time dedicated to training has been well worth it in outstanding patient moral and outcomes.

Seniors & The Grieving Process

Dealing with loss is a difficult circumstance for a person of any age. However, seniors have the unfortunate experience of being faced with multiple losses in a short period of time. The magnitude of a series of losses can be devastating for a senior.

When we think about seniors and grieving, oftentimes we focus on the loss of a spouse. This life-changing event changes what was once a partnership and makes the remainder of life a solo venture. In many cases, death isn’t the only challenging part of the actual loss. Seniors who lose their spouse may also lose financial stability, a best friend and even social acquaintances.

Loss is also a natural part of aging. As a person grows old they may lose their physical strength and cognitive abilities. These characteristics affect independence, self-confidence and the overall feeling of knowing their place in life. While death is inevitable, it’s the cumulative effect of multiple loses over a short time frame that can really hit seniors hard.

Grieving is a challenging process that each individual handles uniquely. It can be a very slow and gradual process that naturally unfolds on its own schedule. Before a person can begin to regain balance in their life following a loss or series of losses, they must progress through four steps:

  1. Acknowledge that the loss occurred and accept it as part of a new reality.
  2. Endure the pain and emotion that comes along with the grieving process.
  3. Adjust to the changes, whether it’s living alone, being less secure financially, or finding new social groups.
  4. Gradually remove the emotional energy put into handling the loss and devote it to new people, activities and/or passions.

If a loved one is grieving it’s important to know how to help and support them through what can be a very slow process. The first thing to remember is to be patient and give them time. Visit them regularly, especially if they are now living alone. Talk about the loss, and share memories. Take notice of changes in attitude, and point them out to the person. It’s likely they are unaware of how the loss is affecting their behaviors. If over an acceptable amount of time there are little signs of improvement, encourage the person to talk with their doctor.

Non-Medical Tips for Improving Eye Health

Eyesight is one of the senses that we grow so accustomed to that it’s likely the one most taken for granted.  It’s not until faced with a disease that causes a decline in vision, or even blindness, that we realize the importance of preventative eye health.  Once a person reaches the age of 40, regular eye exams are recommended.  Since asymptomatic disorders of eye diseases can easily be mistaken as a normal sign of aging, it’s important that screenings continue into the senior years.  Here are a few non-medical tips for improving eye health…

  1. Proper lighting: Increasing the amount of light in the home is important since pupils change as we age. Use lamps for regular use and task lights for certain activities like cooking or reading. Avoid glare by using lamp shades which help to diffuse light. Halogen and fluorescent bulbs will enhance color interpretation.
  2. Warm contrasting colors: Reds, yellows and oranges help emphasize objects and make daily activities easier. This is especially significant for persons with minor lens yellowing. Again, halogen and fluorescent bulbs are helpful as they improve color rendering.
  3. Vitamins, minerals and antioxidants: Diets that incorporate spinach, blueberries, beets, red onion, fish and sweet potatoes just to name a few are packed full of antioxidants that can improve eyesight and repair damage from common eye conditions.
  4. Natural sunlight protection: Wear sunglasses outside to protect eyes from harmful UV rays. Even if it’s not sunny, sunglasses will keep your eyes from feeling the effects of harsh, drying wind.
  5. Car air-conditioning and heating: Point vents down to the floorboards, not towards the face. Wearing sunglasses while driving can also help alleviate potential dry eye. Not only is dry eye a nuisance, but in excess it can lead to corneal abrasions and other serious conditions.
  6. Computer use: Move the computer screen just below eye level so you are looking slightly downwards. Avoid glare from windows and lights. Let eyes readjust by looking away every 20 minutes. For longer computer sessions, take a 15 minute break every 2 hours.

It’s surprising how regular daily activities and habits can adversely affect eyesight. Practice these easy tips and suggestions for better eye health and prevention. Whether it’s warding off dry eye or preventing serious conditions like cataracts and macular degeneration, proper eye care makes a big difference in our overall health.

Elderly Can Combat Skin Aging

Most of us grew up basking in the warmth of the sun throughout the summer, and rarely considered sunscreen on a daily basis when not on the beach or tennis courts.  Today we are well aware that UVA rays speed up aging and cause skin cancer in various degrees.  Interestingly enough, UVA exposure is only one of many causes of skin aging.

Accumulated cellular damage in the skin results not only from UV sunlight, but also from smog, toxins, cigarette smoke, x-rays, drugs, and other stressors.  The important thing to know is that some of the effects can be reversed through lifestyle changes as simple as diet and supplemental creams.

Skin Care Tactics for Seniors

As we age, we have less ability to repair DNA and renewal cells to combat these free radicals.  Enzymes that provide antioxidant activity decrease in the elderly.  But, there is greater understanding of how diet can play a big role in improving cell energy and antioxidant activity.  Foods rich in nucleic acids such as sardines, salmon, tuna, shell fish, lentils and beans help improve cell energy.   Foods containing antioxidants and other phytochemicals such as fruits, vegetables, and green tea help protect against oxidative damage and free radical attack of all body cells including the skin.

Understanding the complexities of all of the factors affecting skin, can help motivate the elderly to change the things they are able to; diet and lifestyle. Home Health Care Clinicians have a unique insight to their patients’ activities of daily living as well as their diet.  They are often able to best raise the topic about the benefits of lifestyle changes and alternatives.  Some agencies, such as AT Home Care in Virginia, have partnered with trained dieticians who are able to consult with patients to create a tailor made nutritional plan for each person’s physical condition.   The home nurse and dietician may collaborate to focus on problem areas such as skin conditions or skin quality improvement.

DHEA, Melatonin, and Skin

Hormones play a large role in skin health.   So much hormone activity occurs in skin that it has been called another endocrine gland.  Skin has its own immune system and specialized enzymes not found in any other part of the bod.

The sleep hormone (melatonin) and the anti-stress hormone (DHEA are both found in the human skin.  They are both converted into other entities which benefit the skin. DHEA is converted into estrogen and androgen-type metabolites found only in skin.    Melatonin is synthesized in skin.  In low concentrations it can stimulate cell growth.

Estrogen’s skin-enhancing effects are well-known.  It provokes collagen and a moisture factor known as hyaluronic acid.  Aging decreases both estrogen and collagen.  Enzymes that convert DHEA to estrogen also decline.  Not surprisingly, women who take synthetic estrogen have scientifically proven thicker skin.

It is thought that faulty skin immunity affects the entire immune system.  Sunlight can penetrate deep into the skin and alter the entire body’s immunity directly.  It also affects hormones.   It decreases melatonin, norepinephrine, and acetylcholine and increases cortisol, serotonin, GAVA and dopamine.

Interestingly, both DHEA and melatonin are absorbed by skin when applied topically and can have an 85% greater effectiveness than when taken orally.  The additional benefit is that it works directly on the skin and does not end up in other organs.

DHEA’s benefits extend beyond its conversion to skin-friendly hormones.  It protects blood vessels which have been injured and appears to prolong the healing process.  It preserves the ability of skin to react to cancer-causing, skin destroying pollutants in air, food, and water.  It also keeps chemical carcinogens from binding to DNA.

Melatonin is another antioxidant that protects against UV radiation.  Studies have shown that topical melatonin give excellent protection against sunburn if applied before sun exposure.  In small amounts, melatonin causes skin cells to proliferate.  (In large amounts, it stops proliferation).

Aging causes a progressive decline in our ability to internally synthesize the essential fatty acids required by the skin to maintain a youthful, moist appearance.  The most important oils are the omega-3s that can make the skin smoother, softer, and look more radiant.  Less of the effects of aging are noticeable.  Fish oil, Flax or Perilla oil provide abundant quantities of the omega 3 fatty acids that are so beneficial to the health and appearance of skin.

Additional Measures for Keeping the Skin Young

The ozone layer filters out the UVC and much of UVB rays, but the ozone layer has little effect on UVA rays which cause most of premature wrinkles, loss of elasticity and  hyperpigmentation.  Wearing a hat and clothing with substantial coverage is your best bet in avoiding UVA rays.

Solar Max 17 is a sun protection formula that also contains antioxidant vitamins and sun protection factor 17.  Vitamins A,C,E protect from free radical damage. Rejuvenex Body Lotion contains some titanium oxide, precise amounts of glycolic acid, vitamin C. and melatonin The Dream Cream, also known as RejuveNight, contains all the anti-aging ingredients including DHEA amounts and melatonin, together with associated factors, work specifically in the epidermis layer of the skin.

Medical professionals such as a primary care doctor or a home health nurse can create  a care plan with a certified dietician that will add the optimal supplemental vitamins, topical creams or diet to improve skin health.

Dietary Impact on Memory Loss

Foods that Fight Memory Loss

Forgetfulness and memory loss are normal signs of aging. While there is little we can do to prevent memory loss, diet can play a huge role in maintaining a healthy memory. Just like there are diets to promote a healthy heart, there is a group of foods believed to improve brain function and memory. Although no single food has been proven to prevent memory loss, there are some important diet-related tips that can help maintain healthy memory even as a person ages.Berries and other dark-skinned fruits like plums, oranges, red grapes and cherries are all packed with antioxidants that may help slow age-related cognitive decline.

  • Leafy vegetables like kale, collard greens, spinach and broccoli are good sources of vitamin E and folate. Dark, leafy greens are believed to lower levels of homocysteine, an amino acid in the blood. This is significant as high levels can kill nerve cells in the brain.
  • Fish like salmon, mackerel, and tuna are full of omega-3 fatty acids and DHA. These nutrients are extremely important for the normal functioning of neurons in the brain that promote a healthy memory.
  • Foods like sunflower seeds, avocado and peanut butter are all high in vitamin E. This nutrient is believed to reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Fiber-packed whole grains represent an entire food group that lowers the risk of cognitive impairment that may lead to dementias like Alzheimer’s disease. Whole wheat bread, oatmeal, brown rice and quinoa are just a few of many foods full of fiber and whole grains.
  • Oils like extra virgin olive and cold-pressed coconut contain good cholesterol, triglycerides and antioxidants that may aide in improving brain health.
  • Stimulants like coffee and chocolate have a significant impact on cognitive ability. Research indicates that the caffeine and antioxidants in these two foods may help protect against age-related memory impairment. However, for an easy, restful night’s sleep, it’s recommended to avoid these foods after mid-day.

In addition to diet, there are many lifestyle factors that affect memory. Exercise, sleep, and social interaction are some other ways to fight memory loss. These habits and activities have a great impact on how a person consolidates memories. Pairing dietary changes with lifestyle modifications can help improve memory and fight off age-related cognitive decline.

Advance Directive & DNR Orders

In 1991, The Patient Self-Determination Act (PSDA) was enacted, and enabled people to exercise their right to make decisions about the type and extent of health care they choose to accept or deny when under medical supervision. This applies to care provided in a variety of medical environments including, hospitals, nursing facilities, long-term health institutes and home health agencies that receive Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement. Virginia law recognizes a patient’s right to consent to treatment, and their right to refuse medical treatment. Advance directives and DNR orders are two important components to a patient’s right to make decisions on receiving and denying treatment.

An advance directive permits a person to make decisions and state preferences regarding medical care. It also provides options in the event a person is unable to make these decisions themselves, including the ability to appoint a competent adult to act as a decision maker on their behalf. A durable do-not-resuscitate order (DNR) is a medical order written by a doctor with the patient’s consent. It instructs health care providers to withhold cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if breathing stops or if the heart stops beating. DNR orders are to be followed by emergency medical services (EMS) or any other licensed health care provider. It is valid until revoked by the ordering doctor.

Aging Well with Diet and Exercise

A well-balanced diet and adequate physical activity are the foundation of a healthy lifestyle for a person of any age. However, for seniors over 60, this is particularly applicable. In order to age well, it’s said that seniors must practice good lifestyle habits, stay active and eat well. Adhering to nutrition, activity and lifestyle guidelines for their age and physical health can greatly impact their ability to remain healthy with a high quality of life well through their senior years.

Every senior is different. Some are fortunate enough to be generally healthy, while others may battle chronic illnesses or mobility challenges. The common misconception is that seniors can’t and shouldn’t exercise. People might say that in their age they should simply “slow down and relax” for fear of overdoing it, falling or injuring themselves. However, research indicates that seniors who exercise regularly are seven times likely to live longer, healthier lives. It’s important to recognize that the definition of “regular exercise” is different for everyone, and before beginning any exercise plan it should be doctor approved.

Benefits of regular exercise include:

  • Weight management/maintenance
  • Increased physical endurance
  • Maintaining bone/muscle health
  • Strengthening heart, lungs and vascular systems
  • Enhances mood
  • Provides restful sleep
  • Reduces fatigue

When talking about diet and nutrition for seniors, it’s important to focus on both quality and quantity. A well-balanced diet should consist of proteins, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fiber. Vitamins, nutrients and a generous amount of water and other fluids are critical for a healthy lifestyle as well. Quantity is just as important. The changing nature of a senior’s body calls for specific amounts of vitamins and nutrients. It’s recommended to follow suggested intake requirements, and consult with a doctor about what foods to include and/or avoid in conjunction with current health conditions.

Benefits of a well-balanced diet include:

  • Reduces risk of Type 2 diabetes
  • Decreases chance of heart disease, cancer and other chronic conditions
  • Promotes energy
  • Boosts mood
  • Controls weight
  • Improves digestion

Helping Seniors Beat the Winter Blues

If you struggle with the “winter blues” you know how difficult it can be to make it through the holiday season. Although winter brings cheerful, festive holidays, it also means less sunlight, shorter days and colder weather. This can result in a lack of exercise, more sleep, less interest in activities, social withdrawal, unhealthy eating and a general sense of feeling down.

Medically termed seasonal affective disorder (SAD), the condition can happen at the onset of any season. However, winter depression or winter blues are the most common. What happens to a person’s mood when they lack exposure to daylight creates a domino effect. Serotonin and melatonin levels both drop significantly which causes major changes in sleep and mood—two critical components to overall health and wellness.

Seniors are especially vulnerable to winter-onset SAD. Since they are generally less active, capable and independent it can be a particularly challenging time of year to get through. When you add cold winter weather to the mix, it only makes matters worse. The result is a senior that feels lonely, isolated and depressed.

Fortunately, there are activities to help seniors battle the winter blues. Whether you’re a loved one or caregiver, here are some ideas that might help…

Get enough exercise. Cold temperatures and winter weather can sometimes make it challenging to get outside. Shopping malls are a great place to get out of the house and get moving.

Eat healthily. Winter may put us into hibernation mode which causes us to reach for the comfort foods and sweets. Find low-calorie alternatives like soups, stews, vegetables and hot teas.

Maintain social interaction. Make plans with friends and family. Volunteer and try new activities of interest. Social engagement is a health booster for sure, but during this time of year, social activities may help you enjoy the holiday season even more.

AT Home Care offers a variety of companionship services that help seniors fight off the winter blues. In-home visits consist of meal planning, housekeeping and social interaction. Our staff can also arrange social activities outside of the home, or accompany you to appointments and errands. To learn more about senior companions, call AT Home Care today.