While deep brain stimulation has been used to manage the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease for almost three decades now, there’s been little escape from the negative drawbacks and limitations. With this in mind, researchers have recently developed a new and improved implant which works off real-time feedback from the brain itself. This real-time feedback helps to fine-tune the signalling of this new and improved implant model.
While both seniors and caregivers have a myriad of things to worry about as they age, one of them shouldn’t be food – most especially healthy foods and their availability.
Food insecurity amongst the elderly is an increasing concern across the globe, not just the United Kingdom, with a large portion of seniors struggling to meet healthy nutritional requirements month after month.
What is food insecurity?
In general, food insecurity refers to a lack of access to sufficiently nutritious foods due to economic, social or physical restrictions. When it comes to seniors, food insecurity is largely caused by poverty or limited access to a monthly income, little or no private pension access, a lack of mobility or geographical limitations.
Under-nutrition amongst seniors is a daily reality in the United Kingdom, which is a leading cause of functional decline and increasing mortality rates. It can lead to poor health, increased falls, delays in recovery from illnesses and extended periods in hospital. It’s also a leading cause of depression and can contribute to the cognitive decline in those suffering from diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Evidence from the National Nutrition Screening Survey shows than an estimated 1.3 million seniors throughout the UK suffer from a permanent state of food insecurity and a daily nutritional deficit. While 29% of seniors are found to be malnourished upon admission to hospital after falling ill.
What can caregivers do to help?
First thing’s first, you will need to do a little observation as a caregiver as to whether your care receiver is suffering from food insecurity or has poor eating habits of their own.
With this in mind, you’ll need to ask the following questions:
- Can they actually afford nutritious foods in addition to their monthly living and healthcare costs?
- If they have the funds, are they making healthy or poor food choices?
- Do they have access to a grocery store selling healthy foods and can they transport their groceries home and prepare meals for themselves?
- Do they have a disability which limits their ability to shop for and prepare healthy meals?
- Does their mental state limit their self-care, i.e. are they too depressed to eat?
- If you do the shopping and prepare the meals they eat, how nutritious are these meals or are you contributing to their food insecurity?
Granted, some of these questions may be tough to ask and answer- but being 100% honest about the situation is the first step to combating food insecurity.
So what can you do to help?
- Take a closer look at the nutritional value of the foods your care receiver eats on a daily basis. You may need to reason with them and slowly replace less nutritional foods with healthier choices.
- If finances are an issue, look to food banks or charities to help fill the gap.
- If mobility or accessibility is an issue, set up a weekly online grocery store delivery system which has healthy groceries delivered to their doorstep.
- Find a local meal delivery system to send homemade, delicious meals (fresh or frozen) to their home once a week.
- Reassess their monthly budget – sit down with your care receiver and discuss where money can be juggled to make way for a larger food budget, where possible.
- Contribute healthy meals and food items to their pantry where and whenever you can. Enlist the help of other family members or friends to do the same.
Nutrition is a key contributing factor to how you live out the last years of your life, so help your care receiver live a life that’s healthy, happy and as free of illness as possible.
Alcoholism amongst the elderly is far more common than most people realise. Whether it’s a lifelong addiction or a relatively new habit, many families may have a senior family member who harbours this life-threatening habit.
The act of caregiving is built on the premise of offering constant care and support to a loved one, sibling, family member or even a friend. It’s this simple act of caregiving, or looking after another person which can spur on feelings of guilt in those you care for. As a primary caregiver, they rely on you and this makes them feel like a burden.
One thing is for certain in the world of caregiving – there is no such thing as the perfect caregiver. What may work for one caregiving routine could spell disaster for another – that’s why there’s no point in comparing your caregiving journey to another’s. However, we understand this is easier said than done.
Ornanisation is key
But one of the main stalwarts of success in your caregiving journey is organisation. Those caregivers who appear to have a handle on everything? They’re probably some of the most organised people you’ll ever meet. But each person’s organisation process is completely unique.
If you’re looking for a few pro tips on how to better organise your caregiving routine, these nuggets of advice should help:
1. Create a system for all facets of medication management
This is vitally important to keeping your loved one on a healthy, happy path. But medication management doesn’t just stop at sorting their medication into a pill organiser. Make sure to synchronise all aspects including having back-up medication if you haven’t managed to get a prescription filled out in time. Ensure also, that your prescriptions are renewed timeously and that medical insurance claims are submitted and filed.
2. Find useful products to simplify everyday tasks
As we grow older, everyday tasks tend to become all the more cumbersome and frustrating, especially if a loved one is particularly frail or ill. Keep a look out for products on the market which can simply everyday life. This may include a double-handle mug for meal times to reduce spilling, a foldable shower stool, a foldable tray table, plate covers to keep food warm for slow eaters. Every month new innovations are brought to the market, do your research and decide what could streamline your everyday routine.
3. Be prepared for emergencies on a daily basis
Emergencies can strike at any moment when caring for the elderly, this is why preparation is the best solution. Make sure to keep obstacles clear from walking paths. Always have a hospital bag packed and filled with your loved one’s essentials with instructions on their care needs. Always keep warm clothing handy and have emergency contact numbers on-hand for both you and your loved one etc.
4. Keep a journal of your loved one’s caregiving needs
This is a great way to keep track of your loved one’s progress if they are suffering from any form of illness. It’s also handy to have at doctor’s appointments and check-ups and will make it easier to transfer your duties to another caregiver should someone else need to step-in for you. Simply take 10 minutes a day, from Monday through to Sunday and write down all your duties for each day.
5. Keep a calendar
This may sound like a no-brainer, but keeping track of appointments, respite care, friend and family visits is extremely important in maintaining an organised routine. Writing things down where you can clearly see and track them can help to put your mind at ease.
6. De-clutter your life
Your home may have become overrun with paperwork, bills, walking, sitting and eating aids for your loved one, but it’s important to keep your living spaces free from clutter. Ultimately, living in a space which is free from chaos can help you feel more at ease and reduce the risk of accidents happening.
We understand that some caregivers may appear as if they hold everything together flawlessly – free from stress, forever punctual and positive. But the fact is that caregiving is a continuous learning process and no two caregiving journeys are ever the same. Maintaining an organised routine is one of the first steps to a successful caregiving journey.
The average age and life expectancy has increased significantly in recent decades, this means that much research is being conducted into how we can live longer, happier and healthier lives.
It’s no secret that cognitive decline is one of the primary symptoms of aging. Whether it’s simply age-related or a result of dementia, memory relapse, processing speed and reasoning can be affected with age.
This has experts wondering how we can protect against age-related cognitive decline. While thousands of studies have been carried out in recent years, one related to meditation and mindfulness has gone on to prove that it could have hugely beneficial effects on cognitive alertness.
The meditation study
The study itself has been endorsed by the Dalai Lama and has been conducted on a group of individuals who regularly meditate over a 7-year period.
Meditation and mindfulness is believed to boost several cognitive abilities, including mental clarity, stability, creativity and focus, while also working to reduce stress and anxiety levels. Meditation is also easy to practice (it can be done just about anywhere), cost-free and carries no harmful side-effects.
But the question remains, can these benefits be sustained over the long-term?
Scientists from the University of California’s Centre for Mind and Brain are conducting the 7-yearlong study. These study participants were assessed before, during and after the meditation retreat which kicked off the proceedings. Since then, they have attended follow-up assessments at the 6-month, 18-month and 7-year marks. By the end of the study, 40 participants remained, all of whom reported to use meditation in their daily lives for at least 1-hour per day.
Since their 7-year mark assessments, scientists have reported a marked improvement in their psychological well-being, ability to manage stress and maintain focus. What’s most important is that many of the older members of the group did not display expected levels of age-related cognitive decline and showed an impressive attention span when compared with younger counterparts.
The final takeaway
Findings provide evidence that continued meditation practice can be associated with a moderate age-related cognitive decline - far less than the average rate of cognitive decline in the elderly.
While there are several other factors which can affect cognitive abilities, such as genetics, lifestyle, diet and levels of health, the study holds ground that meditation and mindfulness could carry positive effects in the long-term. If you haven’t tried mediation before, perhaps it’s a good time to start?
As a caregiver it’s easy to slip into a daily routine and forget about the original intent of a caregiving journey: to make your loved one’s life simpler, happier and worth living.
You may become bound by appointments, caregiving duties and the stress of balancing your own family life. But as a caregiver it’s important to always remember these 10 essential commandments:
1. Yes, they’re still the same person
Your loved one’s memories may have faded, but essentially they are still the same person who deserves the respect, dignity and happiness of any adult on an everyday basis.
2. Always treat your loved one like the adult they are
Your loved one’s behaviour may be inappropriate, unpleasant, unkind and even child-like at times, but they are still adults and must always be treated as one. Baby talk and patronisation is never ok.
3. Take the journey into their world
The reality is that dementia and Alzheimer’s patients simply cannot function in the world you live in. You have to take the plunge into their world and remember to accept what is ‘normal’ for you, may not be ‘normal’ for your loved one.
4. Actions are more meaningful than words
Sometimes the act of affection, a hug, a touch on the hand, a kiss on the cheek can say so much more than a dementia or Alzheimer’s patient can understand through words. Don’t neglect affection!
5. A consistent schedule is key
A daily schedule of caregiving duties helps your loved one to tap into relevant memories they may have formed, helping to strengthen parts of the brain. Schedules provide a sense of security and calm.
6. A daily dose of the outdoors is vital
Fresh air and sunshine is absolutely imperative to keep elderly loved ones sane, happy and in a positive frame of mind. A short walk in the sunshine, 20-minutes on an outside bench or a day bed in the sunshine each day should suffice.
7. Incorporate pleasurable activities into your routine
Even if a loved cannot remember that you took them for tea and cake, the pleasurable feelings and happy emotions can still last for hours afterwards. Remember to regularly provide them with these feel-good endorphins.
8. Keep things sociable
This is important, but must be tailored to what your loved one is comfortable with. If large crowds are a no-go, stick to smaller social gatherings of two –three people at a time. Even if they cannot remember grandchildren, make an effort to visit to help boost feel-good emotions.
9. Create a safe environment
This means offering your loved one the freedom to move about on their own, but in the safest manner possible. This may mean installing hand rails throughout the home, removing all fall and trip hazards and buying a walker.
10. Keep them as healthy as possible
Yes, indulgences are allowed, but for the most part make sure your loved one is eating a nutritional, balanced diet which will help to promote healthy brain function and immune system.
Some days may be harder than others along your caregiving journey, in fact, that is a given. But if you ever falter on what’s important, these 10 caregiving commandments should set you back on track.
Did you know we breathe more than 25 000 times a day without even thinking about it? It’s one of the most natural human processes which is often taken for granted throughout our everyday lives. Breathing gives us life, so it’s no wonder that practicing certain breathing techniques can help to boost oxygen levels, reduce stress and anxiety and offer a host of other benefits.
As we age, many people tend to develop respiratory issues and difficulties with breathing. This is why learning to control your breathing can help to alleviate some of these symptoms while also helping to improve both physical and mental capabilities.
Both caregivers and their loved ones can work to improve the body’s oxygen levels, relieve symptoms associated with asthma attacks, high blood pressure, shortness of breath, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and sleep apnoea. This, in turn, can help to improve immune function, energy levels and reduce stress and anxiety within your everyday life.
Here are three breathing techniques to begin practicing today:
1. Diaphragmatic Breathing
Most people breathe incorrectly, taking short, shallow breaths straight into their chest throughout the day. For those with limited lung capacity, the shortness of breath is even greater. A proper breath is drawn from the diaphragm, pushing it down and expanding the belly. Deep diaphragmatic breathing can dramatically help to increase oxygen flow and levels:
Step 1: Sit up straight, place one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest
Step 2: Inhale slowly through the nose and feel the stomach expand with each full breath
Step 3: Exhale slowly out the mouth
Step 4: Repeat 6 or more times each minute – try and do this for 15 minutes to boost oxygen levels and reduce stress.
2. The 4-7-8 Breathing Technique
This breathing technique is highly effective in helping you fall asleep faster, helping to ease tension throughout the body and promote relaxation. The technique has also been proven to help beat food cravings throughout the day, reduce anxiety levels and assist with insomnia.
Step 1: Breathe out of the mouth fully, creating a ‘’whoosh’’ noise as you do so
Step 2: Inhale through the nose, keeping the mouth closed, while counting to 4
Step 3: Hold this breath and count to 7
Step 4: Exhale through the mouth for a count of 8, make sure to repeat the ‘’whoosh’’ sound
Step 5: Repeat steps two –four at least 5 times.
3. The Buteyko Nose Breathing Technique
This breathing technique came about in the 1950’s, aimed at curbing asthma attacks and helping to treat a host of respiratory issues. People across the globe have consequently adopted this technique because of its natural and effective healing capabilities. This breathing technique has reportedly provided relief for thousands who suffer from asthma, hypertension and sleep apnoea. Make sure elderly loved one perform this technique under supervision to avoid hyperventilation.
Step 1: Sit in a quiet, peaceful place, upright and focused on breathing
Step 2: Inhale slowly through the nose and fill the lungs as much as possible
Step 3: Exhale slowly through the nostrils as much as you can, until you feel compelled to inhale once again
Step 4: Repeat steps two and three at least 5 times.
If you want to reap the full benefits of these breathing techniques, whether for your own benefits as a caregiver or to help an elderly loved one, consistency is key. Set some time aside each day to focus on your breathing and track your progress in a diary to note any changes in your health.
While delirium and dementia share very similar symptoms, they are completely different conditions which are commonly confused with each other. Likewise, the cause of these conditions is very different – but what they do have in common is that going under the knife with general anaesthesia can exacerbate both of their symptoms.
Common symptoms of both delirium and dementia include confusion, issues with perceptions, mood swings and impaired cognition, however they are separated by the length of time they affect the elderly.
Delirium is often characterised by short, abrupt disruptions in mental cognition and function, while dementia is indicated by a gradual decline in mental function over time. People with dementia can often show signs of delirium and vice versa. However, these two conditions are vastly different.
Delirium and anaesthesia
Delirium, brought on by anaesthesia, can be a fairly common occurrence in the elderly who undergo surgery and hospitalisation. In fact, this has led to studies aimed at whether anaesthesia can cause permanent brain damage or even drive the onset of dementia. However, results have been inconclusive, with no real body of evidence to prove either of these theories. At present, post-operative cognitive dysfunction (POCD) is the terminology used to describe a specific decline in cognitive ability post-anaesthesia.
Is anaesthesia safe for those with dementia?
As a caregiver you may be faced with a big decision when it comes to a loved one needing surgery which requires full anaesthesia. The truth is that the risks associated with anaesthesia and dementia still remain a little blurry, some seniors make a full recovery without any further cognitive decline, while others never return to their pre-cognitive ability.
When it comes time to make such a decision, here are some important thoughts to consider and steps to take:
1. Consider the benefits of the surgery on their future quality of life. Will the surgery help to drastically improve mobility, pain levels or a loved one’s overall health? Do the pros outweigh the cons?
2. When making the decision, take into account their age, physical health and pre-existing cognitive abilities. Is their level of dementia just too advanced to risk any further cognitive decline, or do the benefits of surgery outweigh the risks?
3. Consider their ability to co-operate, participate and understand post-op rehabilitation, if it’s needed.
4. Meet with their doctors and consider whether full anaesthesia is needed for a procedure. Regional anaesthesia in combination with a sedative can also be a safe and effective alternative to reduce the risks posed by full anaesthesia.
5. Make sure that a full pre-op evaluation with their existing physician is done, and make that surgeons and anaesthesiologists are aware of their medication regimen and any pre-existing conditions i.e. dementia, heart or lung conditions, hypertension, diabetes etc.
No matter your age there are always risks associated with undergoing anaesthesia, and when it comes to the elderly, preparation and evaluation is key. Ensuring the medical team is up-to-date on your loved one’s health status will always decrease the risk of anything going wrong!
Nobody likes to be rushed, most especially if you are using your own time to help someone else – such as with full-time caregiving. For those suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia, time may seem far more fleeting than it actually is, creating a sense of anxiety and an air of mis-judgement around everyday tasks.
However, this sense of timing is not only reserved for those with cognitive impairment. In fact, many seniors become increasingly aware of time as they age, often inaccurately timing certain tasks in order to avoid ‘’being late’’ or ‘’missing out’’ on certain things. As we age, we tend to become ‘early birds’ as part of the process!
While timing mis-judgement may seem amusing or endearing to other family members, it can pose a real challenge for a full-time caregiver who is already strapped for time, with a packed schedule to balance. Being rushed by a loved one, only to arrive somewhere 30-minutes early, can become extremely frustrating as that extra time could have been used for other duties or commitments.
In order to reach a compromise with an elderly loved one who is highly-strung on time, here are a few simple tips:
1. Understand their ‘need for speed’
Try and get to the root of your loved one’s ‘need for speed’. There must be an underlying reason why they have to be 30-minutes early for their weekly doctor’s appointment or moans and groans if you’re 10-minutes later than their usual pick-up time. There may be an underlying anxiety around leaving the house, perhaps they are worried about missing their favourite TV show or leaving a pet unattended. With a clear understanding on what the rush is, you can work out a schedule together which can help put their mind at ease and leave you with a little more time to spare.
2. Devise a precise timing schedule
When drawing up your schedule with your loved one, try and be realistic about timings. If you know that it takes 15-minutes to put on their shoes, gather their belongings and get into the car, factor this timing into the schedule. Make sure you arrive 15-20 minutes earlier so that you aren’t underestimating the time it takes to perform everyday tasks and get to appointments on time.
Let your loved one know that you have accounted for everything in the schedule so there is zero chance of being late or staying out of the house for longer than is needed. Just remember to be a little flexible here, as unforeseen circumstances can come up, so flexibility is key.
3. Learn to value extra time
Having a little extra time because you arrived 20-minutes early to an appointment is all about perspective. You can choose to sit and feel annoyed by it, or you can use this time wisely, to your advantage.
Take the extra time and use it to catch up with a loved one, have a real conversation with them, if possible. Alternatively, use it to catch up on text messages to friends, writing out a shopping list, updating your own schedule or catching on emails. If you know that your loved one insists on arriving 20-minutes early to every appointment and is reluctant to change this, schedule that extra 20-minutes into your day and use it for something productive where possible.
A large portion of caregiving is about how you approach a situation and choose to deal with it. Choosing to reframe a frustrating situation can go a long way in saving both your sanity and your respect for your loved one.