Practicing self-care as a caregiver

When a loved one is diagnosed with a deteriorating health condition requiring daily assistance and support, it’s only natural to focus on that person’s well-being.

Taking on the role of caregiver for a family member or friend is one that often comes without any notice or preparation. Responsibilities can increase over time until they become all-consuming, often leaving other areas of life in neglect. Putting the needs of an ailing loved one first is gracious, but often unhealthy for the caregiver.

Over time, caring for a loved one can result in sleep deprivation, lack of exercise, poor eating habits, and a general failure to care for yourself. But the best way to care for a loved one is to make time for your own physical and emotional wellness.

  • Visit your doctor. You likely spend plenty of time at doctors’ offices already, but be sure to go for at least an annual visit and share any changes in your sleep, behavior, mood, or appetite.
  • Be realistic. Remind yourself that the care you’re providing is helpful but the effects of the health condition are usually beyond your control.
  • Take breaks. Caring for someone is a round-the-clock job with no time off. Without time to yourself, caregiver burnout is inevitable.
  • Ask for help. It’s perhaps most important to accept and recognize when caregiving duties become more than you can handle. There may be a time when professional care or a move to a retirement community can enhance your loved one’s quality of life.

Talking to a friend, family member, or your doctor about how you’re feeling can provide valuable support for those carrying the stress of being a caregiver. Look into local support groups, as well. Paying attention to your own needs is just as important as the care you’re providing.

Reducing the risk of breast cancer through awareness and early detection

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, now is as good a time as any to make sure you’re educated on the risks and early signs of this disease to help keep yourself or your loved ones healthy. While breast cancer is not preventable, there are several ways to help stay protected and minimize the effect of this potentially deadly condition.

Eighty percent of all breast cancer cases occur in women over the age of 50, with 60% found in women over the age of 65. A woman’s risk of breast cancer tends to increase with age—which makes regular screening and early detection all the more important.

For women between the ages of 50 and 74 years old, a mammogram screening is recommended every two years. This X-ray exam is usually covered by insurance with no out-of-pocket costs, and is the most effective way to detect any signs of cancer as early as possible.

In addition to regular screenings by a professional, it’s important for everyone to be aware of some of the early warning signs of breast cancer, and bring them to the attention of your doctor as soon as possible. Common warning signs include:

  • Lump in the breast or underarm
  • Thickening or swelling of part of the breast
  • Pain in the nipple or breast
  • Redness or discharge from the nipple
  • Any change in the size or shape of the breast

While most incidences of breast cancer are found in women, men are not immune to the disease. It’s important for everyone to be aware of the risk factors and know how to identify early signs in themselves, their partner, or a loved one they care for. This month, educate yourself and promote lifelong health.

Exercise for adapting needs

As we get older, certain conditions, injuries, or simply the effects of time may keep us from moving the way we once did.

Aging bodies have different needs. The activities you may have once enjoyed as exercise may no longer be feasible. But learning to adapt to these changes can help keep exercise an important and effective part of your life.

Staying active is essential for maintaining or improving your well-being. In addition to reducing the risk of falls and cardiovascular conditions, physical activity helps release endorphins to relieve stress, boost self-esteem, and improve moods.

In September we celebrate Active Aging Week, and this year’s theme is “Explore the Possibilities”—a great reminder to think outside the box when it comes to your physical activities and find the options that work for you.

  • Focus on balance. Be sure to incorporate balance exercises like tai chi or Pilates into your routine for a low-impact workout with significant results.
  • Take a seat. Chair yoga and other seated exercises can still provide tremendous benefits and are ideal for those who are unable to stand for prolonged periods of time, or get down onto the floor.
  • Dive in! Aquatic exercise is easy on joints while helping to strengthen your core, legs, and back. Water-aerobics classes can also help enhance cardiovascular health.
  • Think outside the gym. It’s easy to incorporate walking and stretching into everyday life. A stroll through a mall or museum, a dance class, or spending time in the park with grandchildren are all ways to get moving without even feeling like you’re exercising.

No matter your abilities or strengths, the most effective type of exercise is one that you enjoy. To successfully incorporate workouts into your daily routine, consider which activities make you happy and which you’ll look forward to doing each day.

Keep tabs on your health with today’s technology

Today’s technology has made many parts of our lives more convenient. In our phones and tablets, we can carry books, movies, games, notes, maps, and so much more. Some of these new innovations can even help us stay more in tune with our bodies and minds by monitoring our health and stimulating different aspects of our wellness.
The following apps and devices can help promote personal wellness for all ages:

  • Fitbit or other wearable technology: These small bands can track your steps, heart rate, calories, sleep quality, and overall activity level. They are a great motivational reminder to help you meet your fitness goals each day.
    Activity tracking apps: Monitoring your steps and exercise doesn’t necessarily require another piece of technology. Apps like Map My Run, Strava, and MyFitnessPal can also log workouts, calories, and overall health.
  • Luminosity and other brain games: Many of these games are free to download and are fun and stimulating ways to keep your brain active. They can also track your progress and potentially show any areas of decline.
  • Skype or Facetime: Social interaction is important for everyone, but especially for seniors, who are often prone to feelings of isolation. These video chatting tools can substitute face-to-face interactions with grandchildren and other loved ones when an in-person visit isn’t always practical.
  • Medication tracking apps: A daily pill box can still get the job done, but apps like Medisafe or Pill Monitor can provide visual reminders of which pills are needed as well as alarms to help you remember to take them at the same time each day.

While using apps and other technology can sometimes seem daunting for older adults, most are built to be intuitive and user-friendly. Determine which ones would be most helpful in your life and start embracing the power of technology!

Staying safe in the summer sun

The summer months are a time for fun and relaxation—getting outside, spending time with friends and family, and enjoying the natural beauty all around us. As we spend time outdoors this season, it’s important to take precautions to protect ourselves against the heat and sun.

Prolonged exposure to heat and sun can lead to sunburns, skin cancer, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. For older adults, these conditions can be even more dangerous. Consider the tips listed below before heading out for a day in the sun.

  • Stay hydrated. Carry a water bottle with you especially if you’re going to be outside for an extended period of time. Drinking six to eight glasses of water per day is recommended for adults.
  • Apply sunscreen regularly. Use a sunscreen with SPF of at least 30 and reapply every two hours. Wearing a thin long-sleeve shirt and a hat can further help keep the skin protected.
  • Don’t forget to protect your eyes and lips. These two areas can easily be overlooked after applying sunscreen and dressing properly. Look for a lip balm with SPF and sunglasses with UV protection.
  • Be smart when exercising. It’s important to maintain your exercise routine when the weather warms up, but avoid strenuous activity outside, especially in the hottest time of the day. Take frequent breaks, drink plenty of water, and stay in the shade as much as you can.
  • Know the warning signs of heat-related conditions. Heat stroke can cause flushed skin, nausea and vomiting, headache, and fainting. Tell someone as soon as you notice any of these symptoms and quickly get out of the heat.

Following these simple precautions can keep you happy and healthy all summer long.

Enhance wellness through lifelong learning

DHB_3903You’re never too old to learn something new. These days, learning a new skill and keeping the brain active has never been easier for older adults. A study by the Rush Memory and Aging Project showed that seniors who are cognitively active were less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia than those who did not exercise their brains.

In addition to stimulating the brain and helping to enhance intellectual wellness, these pursuits are often social endeavors that can provide as sense of involvement and belonging in the community as well as helping to avoid feelings of isolation.

There are many excuses that might keep someone from learning something new: it’s not worth the effort, it’s too expensive, I’d have no way of getting there, among others. But educational opportunities are more abundant than you might realize, both in your community and in the digital world.

  • Libraries, senior centers, and local retirement communities likely offer courses or seminars—and often at no charge. These offerings may be held in partnership with local colleges and provide a more convenient way to access an in-depth look at a favorite or new subject.
  • Local colleges and universities may offer the opportunity for waived tuition or scholarships for older adults pursuing either credit or non-credit courses.
  • Auditing a course provides the social and intellectual benefits without the stress of exams, homework, and high costs.
  • Online courses are convenient for getting access to information without having to leave your home. And they can still provide the social benefits of an in-person class through online discussions.

Growing our minds and learning something new doesn’t have to end with retirement. Find what interests you and pursue greater knowledge!

Positive Living with Sensory Decline

Our five senses—hearing, sight, taste, smell, and touch—connect us to others and the world around us, allowing us to experience things in a number of ways. It’s easy to take our senses for granted, until one or more of them start to diminish.

A decline in one or all of our senses is a natural effect of aging. Health and environmental factors can also facilitate sensory deterioration. Long-time smokers may experience reduced taste and smell sensitivities, while people living with diabetes may have issues with vision.

While sensory changes can be frustrating, acceptance and a positive attitude can help make the changes more manageable. With patience, you can often learn to compensate for the diminished sense with others, while adaptive devices can also provide assistance.

  • Hearing is often considered our most social sense—and can lead to withdrawal and isolation as people become more and more hesitant to interact with others. Misunderstanding others can also lead to paranoia and disagreements. Avoid shouting, speak face-to-face, and eliminate background noise when speaking with someone who has hearing loss.
  • Vision loss can lead to problems with mobility, poor orientation, and even hallucinations. It may keep people from moving around and getting outside, and also lead to isolation. Many low vision aids can help with adapting to this change. Regular eye exams ensure the most up-to-date assistance.
  • A diminished sense of touch affects both the ability to distinguish between different objects and textures, but also to detect pain. Older adults are less likely to perceive internal pain or rising temperatures. They may also miss out on the therapeutic benefits of another person’s touch.
  • Changes in taste and smell often go hand in hand for those over the age of 50, and can cause food to become unappealing. A loss of smell can also create consequences with safety and personal hygiene. Find ways to enhance the flavor of foods without salt, add textures, and follow good oral hygiene to help retain smelling and tasting abilities.

If you notice changes in a loved one, bring it up in a tactful way. Avoid making someone feel inadequate and instead focus on finding ways to help them adapt and remain successful.