Helping Caregivers Through the Holidays

When someone in your family has dementia, or really any other chronic condition, it can affect what holiday time and family gatherings look like. There’s no magic solution, but we hope these tips and reminders might help make this holiday season a bit easier and merry as you balance the holidays as a caregiver.

1. Help your family and friends adjust their expectations
If some time has passed since visiting relatives or friends have seen the person who has dementia, there may have been significant changes in that person’s status since the last time friends or family last saw them. It is often very helpful if you update family, perhaps via a mass email or individual phone calls, on what kind of cognitive changes are going on and what they can expect when they arrive.

These changes can be hard for family members to accept. Remind them that changes in memory and behavior are a result of the disease, not the person. Continue reading

Guest Blogger Joni Sellers, RN: The Pursuit of Happiness

Check out this great article from our friend Joni at Care Improvement Plus! -AGE Blog Staff

logo By: Joni Sellers MSN, MHA, RN, CDE, Care Improvement Plus

May is Mental Health Month, as well as Older American’s Month, making this the ideal time to discuss a topic that is often overlooked—the mental health issues faced by seniors and their caregivers.

Many seniors face difficult changes as they age, and may not realize that their sadness over these changes may be a more serious issue like depression. In fact, late-life depression affects about six million Americans age 65 and older, but only 10 percent receive treatment. Depression cannot only affect one’s physical health; it can also make the sufferer feel sick, with aches, pains and fatigue. Seniors with health problems are especially vulnerable to depression, though it can be caused by many factors, including:

• Health problems like chronic illness, disability, cognitive issues and disease
• Loneliness and isolation from living alone, dwindling social circle due to deaths or relocations, decreased mobility or loss of driving privileges
• Reduced sense of purpose caused by loss of identity due to retirement, physical limitations on activities or loss of a significant other
• Fear and anxiety over financial problems, health issues and the future
• Recent bereavement due to the death of friends, family members and pets

Caregivers may also experience depression, as they put their own physical and emotional needs aside to care for a loved one. According to the National Family Caregivers Association, 40 to 70 percent of family caregivers have shown significant symptoms of depression, and approximately a quarter to one half of these caregivers have been diagnosed with major depression. Family caregivers experiencing extreme stress have been shown to age prematurely by as much as 10 years. Feelings of anger, anxiety, sadness, isolation and exhaustion—as well as guilt for having these feelings—can add more stress to an already stressful situation.

Though depression can be scary, there are many ways that those suffering can work together with loved ones to successfully treat depression:

• Stay Active: Physical activity has mood-boosting effects, as well as health benefits. Make a point to schedule a walk once or twice a week. The activity will give you something to look forward to, as well as improve your mood.
• Be social: When alone many people have a difficult time maintaining perspective and sustaining the effort required to beat depression. Encourage your loved one to join a local senior activity group or volunteer to help keep them social. These social activities will also help them to feel engaged and reestablish their sense of purpose.
• Seek help: To address mental health issues, consult a physician or mental health professional. To learn more about mental health and obtain general information and support, you can also contact the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264).

Learn more about Care Improvement Plus here!

Research and Links:
“Depression in Seniors Often Ignored”
“Depression in Older Adults and the Elderly”
“Statistics on Family Caregivers and Family Caregiving”

WebMD: Depression Linked to Alzheimer’s Disease

Any medical professional worth their salt will tell you that depression in older adults can impact other parts of their well-being, but this new study shows that it can increase risk for cognitive impairment too…

By Salynn Boyles
Older people who suffer from depression have nearly double the risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, a new study finds.

Researchers followed elderly participants in the ongoing Framingham Heart Study for up to 17 years to explore late-life depression and dementia.

They found depression to be a significant risk factor for dementia, even after other suspected contributors to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease had been considered.

But it is not clear if depression is a risk factor for dementia or if vulnerability to depression also makes people more vulnerable to Alzheimer’s disease.

Previous studies examining the impact of late-life depression on dementia have been mixed, possibly because participants were not followed long enough, study researcher Jane Saczynski, PhD, of the University of Massachusetts Medical School tells WebMD.

“A major criticism of many of the earlier studies was that the interval between the measurement of depression and dementia was not long enough,” she says. “In our study, people were followed for up to 17 years and the assessment of dementia was very, very rigorous.”

Depression, Dementia Common
As many as 6 million Americans ages 65 and older suffer from depression, but only about one in 10 receives treatment because depression is often not recognized or is wrongly considered a normal part of aging.

Depression can also lead to memory and other cognitive impairments in older people, complicating the diagnosis of both disorders.

The newly published study included 947 longtime participants in the Framingham Heart Study, which has followed residents of Framingham, Mass., since the late 1940s.

All were elderly but showed no signs of dementia when enrolled in the study. Their average age at enrollment was 79, and 125 (13%) were classified as having depression at the start of the study.

By the end of follow-up, 164 people had developed dementia, including 136 with a specific diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. Those with a diagnosis of depression at the start of follow-up had a 70% greater risk for developing dementia.

Roughly one in three people with depressive symptoms at the start of the study developed dementia compared to one in five people without a diagnosis of depression.

Read more at WebMD.com

CBS News, part 2 of 3: Caregiving and Alzheimer’s Disease

(CBS) In part two of our three-part series, “Alzheimer’s: A National Crisis,” CBS News Medical Correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton discussed some of the effects of Alzheimer’s on loved ones.

She pointed out more than 40 percent of family and other unpaid Alzheimer and dementia caregivers rate the emotional stress of care giving as high or very high, compared with 28 percent of caregivers of other older people. The stress is relentless.

“(Alzheimer’s patients) can require 24/7 care as it progresses. For this reason, caregivers are frequently experience high levels of stress. Too much stress can be damaging to both the caregiver and the person with Alzheimer’s.”

So how can you tell if you’re experiencing caregiver burnout?

Ashton said the symptoms can be subtle, but if you experience some of the symptoms below on a regular basis, you need to consult your doctor.

She said people should look for signs of depression, anger, sleeplessness, lack of concentration and physical health problems. These could all be signs you are way too stressed.

Ashton added caregivers need to take care of themselves.

Read more here at the CBS News Website.

Pets and the Seniors Who Love Them

This article is from our friends at Faith in Action!

How many elderly people do you know who have a pet? Are you elderly yourself? How many elderly people do you know?

Elderly people, in general, can be at risk of social isolation. They are no longer employed, many friends have died, they may have financial considerations and their health may restrict their activities. Feelings of loneliness grow stronger as people age and there is no doubt that pet ownership can provide much-needed companionship for elderly people

Elderly pet owners themselves actually state companionship as the most important criterion in pet ownership, as it is in other groups of people. Plans for the day or even the week may center on rituals with their pets. For some elderly people, their pets are their only friends.

The presence of a pet may help alleviate any loneliness by providing contact with others. Dog-walking owners speak regularly to passers-by about their dogs and also speak directly to their dogs. Cats and other pets provide a topic of conversation.
It is not only companionship that pets can help provide. Retiring from work can leave elderly people with the absence of a role in life. Here, pets can provide the role, motivating the elderly person to keep a routine or simply get up in the morning. People are never too old to play with their pets and the majority of older people do so regularly.

The benefit of a good relationship with a pet can benefit more people than just the elderly owner themselves. In general, pet owners experience improved levels of health and well being. People often consider pet owners to be happier than non-owners and one group of elderly pet owning women was found to have a closer relationship with their husbands than the non-owners. Even rating themselves, elderly pet owners considered themselves more nurturing, independent and optimistic in comparison to non-pet owners. Men who were not pet owners were considered more arrogant and hostile than pet owners and women in general.

Not every elderly person wants to own a pet, even those who were previous pet owners. This decision should be respected and no older person should have to take care of an unwanted gift. Some older people, who do not wish to own a pet, may still desire some contact with animals. Neighbourhood pets and friends and family can oblige here.

Many elderly people would, however, like to own a pet but sadly the absence of suitable support in the form of daily care, suitable housing or finance is absent. Due to the companionship and social benefits that a pet provides, the elderly may benefit most. Having a companion animal gives them a chance to nurture once more.

For many elderly people there is the worry of what would happen to their pet if they should die first. When questioned about any arrangements should they predecease their pet, around half of those questioned had plans which usually included family members, friends or spouse, if present, keeping the pet. Those people with low incomes were more likely to have made plans for their pet.

As with other groups of pet owners, death of a beloved pet can leave an elderly person grief stricken and this is complicated by the fact that they are aware that they may never own another pet in their lifetime.

For those older people who still wish to have the companionship of a friendly pet, other members of society can help. Volunteers can walk dogs, wash and groom pets, provide transport and foster care and give financial assistance where necessary. Many programs of assistance programs have been initiated in other countries and help elderly people keep their pets or at least have regular contact with a companion animal.

Confusion and Forgetfulness: The Right Diagnosis is Important

From the Right at Home website

Ralph had hip replacement surgery at the local community hospital. Though he was in good general health and normally had his “wits about him,” he emerged from the surgery confused. He didn’t recognize his wife Betsy and thought he was at home, not at the hospital. Betsy worried that he had developed dementia. But by morning, Ralph was recovering his orientation.

As it turns out, delirium after surgery is common in elderly people and is just one of many conditions that mimic Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia. Delirium is normally temporary and reverses itself in a short time. But a number of other diseases and causes may convince family members that their loved one is “becoming senile”—even though a treatable condition is actually causing the symptoms.

Because there are so many possible reasons for dementia-like symptoms, it’s important for a physician to perform a thorough medical workup to eliminate other causes before making a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or other dementia. Unfortunately, as we grow older, conditions that cause cognitive impairment become more common—not only Alzheimer’s, but also such diseases as Lewy body dementia, Parkinson’s disease, vascular dementia or multi-infarct dementia from a stroke or series of strokes. Early diagnosis is important so that the appropriate treatment and care can be started.

Read more at the Right at Home website

Phoenix Center Report Says Internet Cuts Depression for Elderly

According to a new report, senior citizens – especially those facing any form of depression – may have a new cure that doesn’t involve prescriptions, therapy or support groups.

The Phoenix Center, a non-profit organization that studies broad public-policy issues, announced that its newest Policy Paper titled, “Internet Use and Depression Among the Elderly,” shows that spending time online reduces depression by 20 percent for senior citizens.

Not only could this new research improve the quality of life for the elderly, but the report also said that reducing the incidence of depression by Internet use among the elderly could potentially trim the nation’s healthcare bill.

Click Here for the full article.

To learn more about getting a senior “wired,” visit the Austin SeniorNet website here.