Staying safe and healthy through ergonomics

couplejumpingWhile we often consider safety risks for certain activities we partake in, other risk factors for everyday tasks are a bit less obvious. Ergonomics is the science of human safety and capabilities in the workplace and at home.

As part of National Safety Month in June, take time to evaluate how you can keep yourself safe and secure in all that you do.

Ergonomics affects so many aspects of our daily lives—including how we sit, sleep, stand, lift, and reach. If not practiced properly, repetitive actions can lead to overused muscles, poor posture, and even to injury. As we age, our muscle and bone mass naturally decreases, which can lead to stiff joints and limited mobility.

No matter what activities you partake in at home, at work, or anywhere else, it’s important to make sure you’re safe and comfortable at all times. The following tips can provide a helpful starting point to assessing your ergonomic safety.

  • When sitting at a computer, make sure to keep feet flat on the ground, position monitor at eye level, and keep wrists flat and straight. Sit up straight—even the most expensive chair won’t protect you from creating tension in the neck and back without proper form.
  • If you’re sitting in one spot for a prolonged amount of time, take breaks to get up and walk around every hour to avoid slouching or slumping. Tighten and relax your abdominal muscles a few times in a row to improve core strength and keep your back safe.
  • Wear supportive footwear, especially when standing. Supportive shoes help maintain the body’s center of gravity and alignment of the spine.
  • When lifting something from the ground, bend only at the knees and hips, keep the object close to your body, and avoid twisting while lifting.
  • Get regular aerobic exercise—such as running, walking, or swimming—to help the muscles of the back stay strong and promote good posture.
  • Aside from posture and proper bodily techniques, proper lighting is important to keep eyes healthy and reduce the risk for eye strain. Position lighting to avoid glare on screens and use task lighting as needed.

Staying proactive and practicing proper techniques in everyday activities can be the difference in staying safe and healthy!

An active mind is a healthy mind

crossword puzzle and pencils

As we age, we often think about a decline in physical health and how we can work to keep our bodies active. But just as important as maintaining physical health is the health of our brains.

When we’re young, we are continuously learning. At some point in life, we become primarily a user of mastered skills and abilities and no longer engage the brain to acquire new abilities. Most of what we do are things we are familiar with. We apply skills unthinkingly and tend to look for nonstressful paths to things. But this can be detrimental to mental health.

A lack of challenging activities combined with the gradual shrinking of the brain’s volume with age can lead to brain cell damage and an acceleration of natural cognitive decline.

Fortunately, many of the ways we work to keep our bodies healthy also apply to enhancing brain health. These include staying physically active, following a healthy diet, and engaging in regular mental and social activity.

According to a clinical trial presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, this combination is proven to slow cognitive decline. Slowing this decline can help keep memory language skills, perception, reasoning, and judgment strong—plus keeps brain cells healthy to fight off dementia.

Activities that challenge the brain are key. This can include reading the news and discussing it with others, learning a new skill, taking a class, or playing stimulating games. Helpful online resources for keeping your brain active can be found at the following sites:

Additional steps you can take to keep your mind sharp as you age include controlling cholesterol and blood pressure levels, getting sufficient amounts of sleep, and avoiding excessive smoking or drinking.

It’s important to remember that while occasional memory lapses are normal, significant memory loss is not a regular part of aging, and any cognitive changes noted should be discussed with your doctor.

The Next Chapter: Short- and long-term care options

When a family member needs assistance beyond what’s currently available to them, either due to injury or other factors, one option is in-home health care.

There are benefits and risks with this choice. The information here explores both. It also looks at additional care options, helping you to assess which option is best for you and your loved one.

When in-home care makes sense

Private, in-home care can be your best option under certain circumstances. Here are the primary ones:

  • When the need for assistance is short-term
  • When the needs are predictable and can be tightly scheduled
  • When the needs are not medically complex
  • When the person in need of assistance absolutely refuses to move from his or her current home

Three options for providing extra assistance

When extra help is needed, there are three common options for care providers:

  1. Family and friends. If nearby family and friends are available, this can be a natural first option for those requiring occasional help. Family and friends can do things like mow the lawn, drive the person to the doctor, help with grocery shopping, or help prepare healthy meals. If the need for assistance is temporary—while the family member recovers from an illness or minor surgery—this may be the option that makes the most sense.
  2. Private, in-home professional care. This is often the next solution considered for those needing extra help. During specified hours, professional caregivers come into the home to perform various tasks, such as help with bathing and dressing, medical assistance, and light housework.
  3. A retirement community providing a continuum of care. This option is best when a family member’s need for assistance is long-term or when taking into consideration care that will likely be necessary in the future, even if it isn’t currently needed.

Common drawbacks of hiring and managing in-home caretakers

When considering in-home care, there are a few things you will want to research thoroughly before signing any agreements:

Possible employer obligations. If you choose to hire outside of a licensed agency setting, you can be legally obligated to act as the “employer.” In this situation, after a relatively low threshold of payment for services, you must meet all the duties of an employer, including:

  • Determining citizenship status
  • Being responsible for paying payroll taxes, overtime, worker’s compensation i nsurance, Social Security, general liability coverage, reporting to the IRS, etc.

Unpredictable, uncontrolled financial costs. In-home care costs can quickly add up. For example, the monthly cost of 24-hour care is approximately $16,000.

Consistency of care. In the home-care industry, there’s less assurance that a caregiver will reliably be available to a particular person. Developing a relationship with a caregiver is important, but your family member may be required to see a different caregiver each day.

Care coverage. If your family member’s scheduled caregiver has an emergency or simply quits, there may not be anyone available to cover the shift, leaving your family member without help.

An unsafe home environment. Is your caregiver trained to identify fall risks and other health hazards? Sometimes the home presents extra challenges that need to be considered.

Extra stress on family members. A spouse, close friend, or family member must always be on call to deal with emergency situations, caregiver no-shows, staffing issues, etc., which can become overwhelming.

If you’re considering in-home care, you should always get recommendations and ask for credentials and proof of licensure. Working with a reputable home health/home care agency can minimize the risks of doing it yourself.

Private, in-home care is rarely the best long-term solution

In-home caregivers can be a good solution for noncritical, short-term care needs, however, for long-term needs, it’s best to consider other options. One option could be a retirement community offering a continuum of professional services. The benefits of moving into an established community include:

  1. A complete range of pre-established around-the-clock care, with services that easily expand and contract depending on needs (generally at a much lower cost than comparable in-home care)
  2. A wide range of highly qualified medical professionals always on hand to address any issue that arises
  3. Trained geriatrics staff
  4. A safer physical environment intentionally designed with specific needs in mind
  5. Organized social opportunities and events designed to nourish emotional, spiritual, and intellectual health
  6. Increased peace of mind for everyone involved

Time and again, studies underscore how managing a long-term in-home situation can easily overwhelm a caregiver. Thus, it makes sense to use in-home care as an interim step while searching for a better long-term solution.

Even though moving can present some challenges, most people repeatedly share how happy they are after the move, and they say, “I wish I’d done it sooner.”

We suggest you begin looking at your options now, so that if a greater need suddenly arises, you are prepared to act. Planning ahead always offers more options and usually offers better results; it is much easier to make a move when it’s a thoughtful decision rather than an urgent need.

Assessing your own situation

Answer these important questions to help determine which care option is right for you or your loved one:

Assess your own needs
  1. What type of assistance is needed? (Housekeeping, personal assistance, medical care, all types?)
  2. What level of assistance is needed? (How many hours, days/nights/weekends, around the clock?)
  3. How long will the assistance be needed? (A few days, weeks, months, permanently … not sure?)
Assess the practicality of caregivers
  1. Are there enough qualified in-home caregivers in your area? Can you get a referral from your health care provider or a friend of the family?
  2. Will you have to take on the legal and financial responsibilities of being an employer? This will require you to verify licenses and citizenship and talk with a certified public accountant or other financial advisor.
  3. How much will it cost for the type and level of services needed? Can you afford it?
  4. Can your caregiver handle all of the paperwork for Medicare and other insurance claims?
  5. Will the caregiver you choose offer flexibility? Will they be able to handle emergency medical situations that arise? Can they easily expand their hours or service, as needed?

After answering these questions, you should have a better idea of what the best solution is for your caregiver needs. Be sure and discuss the results with others, such as family members, financial advisors, health care providers, and potential service providers before making a final decision.

Laughing toward better health

 “Humor is mankind’s greatest blessing.”

– Mark Twain

Most people have heard the saying “laughter is the best medicine,” and while that may be an overstatement, laughter does offer some profound benefits.

In fact, recent studies have shown that laughter has the power to reduce stress and anxiety by shutting down stress hormones like cortisol and triggering dopamine production. It also increases oxygen intake by stimulating the heart, lungs, and muscles, and it is a natural pain killer.

Here are a few suggestions for increasing your laughter levels:

Laugh when others laugh. Sometimes your body just needs to get warmed up, and a few false chuckles can help you get started on the real thing.

Learn to laugh at yourself. Laughing instead of getting angry at yourself when you make a mistake will give you more reasons to laugh and may help you be a happier person overall.

Browse YouTube. Type in “funny videos,” and you will find thousands of opportunities to tickle your funny bone.

Change up your radio stations. There are a variety of ways to listen to recorded comedy, including CDs, humor podcasts, and satellite radio comedy stations.

Schedule a weekly funny movie night. Invite friends or neighbors and suggest taking turns hosting and selecting the film. When accompanied by others, many people are 30 percent more likely to laugh than when on their own.

Embrace every opportunity to laugh: after all, our health can be a laughing matter.

An active mind is a healthy mind

As we age, we often think about a decline in physical health and how we can work to keep our bodies active. But just as important as maintaining physical health is the health of our brains.

When we’re young, we are continuously learning. At some point in life, we often become primarily users of mastered skills and abilities and no longer engage our brains to acquire new abilities.  Most of what we do are things we are familiar with. We apply skills unthinkingly and tend to look for non-stressful paths to things. But this can be detrimental to our mental health.

A lack of challenging activities combined with the gradual shrinking of the brain’s volume with age can lead to brain cell damage and an acceleration of natural cognitive decline.

Fortunately, many of the ways we work to keep our bodies healthy also apply to enhancing brain health. These include staying physically active, following a healthy diet, and engaging in regular mental and social activity.

According to a clinical trial presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, this combination is proven to slow cognitive decline. Slowing this decline can help keep memory language skills, perception, reasoning, and judgment strong—plus keeps brain cells healthy to fight off dementia.

Activities that challenge the brain are key. This can include reading the news and discussing it with others, learning a new skill, taking a class, or playing stimulating games. Helpful online resources for keeping your brain active can be found at the following sites:

  • brainhq.com
  • happy-neuron.com

Additional steps you can take to keep your mind sharp as you age include controlling cholesterol and blood pressure levels, getting sufficient amounts of sleep, and avoiding excessive smoking or drinking.

It’s important to remember that while occasional memory lapses are normal, significant memory loss is not a regular part of aging, and any cognitive changes noted should be discussed with your doctor.

Preparing for flu season

The seasonal flu is a viral infection affecting the nose, throat, and lungs, and with the change in seasons, it’s essential to take preventative steps to protect yourself and your loved ones.

For many, the flu is a serious nuisance—and for some, it can develop into a serious illness that can lead to hospitalization and even death. Those at the highest risk for serious flu complications include:

  • Pregnant women
  • Children under the age of 5
  • Adults age 65 and older
  • People with health conditions such as asthma or diabetes

The most effective way to prevent the flu is by getting a flu vaccine. Flu vaccines may be administered as a shot or a nasal spray and are available at many different locations, such as your doctor’s office, clinic, pharmacy, or employer. They are covered under the Affordable Care Act as well as Medicare Part B.

In addition to the flu vaccine, listed below are other steps you can take to help prevent the seasonal flu.

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
  • If you do get sick, stay at home for at least 24 hours after your fever has subsided.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Practice general good health habits, such as cleaning and disinfecting surfaces at home, drinking plenty of fluids, and eating a healthy and balanced diet.

Taking action to prevent the flu can help ensure you have the best season ever!

Seven Dimensions for Full Living

As we age, experts agree it is essential that we stay physically active. But many don’t realize there are several other factors that add up to healthy wholeness. In fact, living a full and satisfied life means overall “wellness,” which is defined by more than physical well-being.

In 1976, Dr. Bill Hettler, co-founder of the National Wellness Institute, developed a six-dimensional model for achieving wellness. According to Dr. Hettler’s model, by focusing on and balancing each of these factors, a more complete form of wellness could be achieved.

In the years since Dr. Hettler made his discovery, a variety of organizations, from universities to health care professionals, have adopted these dimensions. And in the years following, a seventh dimension has been added.

The seven dimensions of wellness are:

  • Emotional: Being aware of feelings and coping with challenges in a respectful way signals emotional wellness and helps create a balance in life.
  • Physical: Healthy lifestyle choices can help maintain or improve health and function.
  • Spiritual: Living with a sense of purpose in life and being guided by personal values is key to our well-being and connection to the larger world and others.
  • Occupational: Utilizing our skills and passion, while cultivating personal satisfaction, is valuable to both society and the individual.
  • Intellectual: Engaging in intellectually stimulating activities is a proven approach to maintaining cognitive function.
  • Social: Positive social support has a protective influence on our health and well-being.
  • Environmental: Living with a greater awareness of the world allows us to begin to make environmentally friendly choices.

The dimensions in action

At Touchmark, the seven dimensions of wellness are an essential part of the Full Life Wellness & Life Enrichment Program™. This award-winning program identifies people’s strengths, skills, needs, interests, and goals to help them lead happy, healthy, and full lives.

By focusing on each dimension, individuals become aware of the dimensions’ interconnectedness and how they contribute to overall health. And the dimensions can be applied in multiple ways to nearly every area of daily activity. For example, going on a hike with friends combines aspects of the physical, social, and environmental, but may also involve the spiritual, emotional, and even the occupational and intellectual, depending on conversations, thoughts, and experiences. The same dimensions may interact in a variety of ways when we go on a picnic, play a game of pickleball, or visit a museum.

Touchmark’s Health & Fitness Club can help by offering residents a firm foundation in the physical that can be easily added onto with other elements like the mental, in classes like yoga, and the social, intellectual, and more in group fitness classes and other group activities in the heated pool.

In order to provide a plethora of opportunities for these kinds of interdimensional crossovers, Touchmark uses its Full Life Wellness & Life Enrichment Program and the seven dimensions to craft daily diverse and creative events and activities that often go beyond what some might expect from a retirement community.

“Residents may find themselves on a seven-day train trip through California, digging in at our old-fashioned clam bake, or enjoying the sights of Touchmark’s annual Father’s Day Weekend Classic Car Show,” says Touchmark at Meadow Lake Village Executive Director Matthew Hoskin. “By carefully listening to what people are interested in, we’re able to offer residents a lifestyle that’s not only fun, enriching, and engaging, but also includes all the elements of wellness.”

Touchmark believes that a full life is available to anyone—no matter one’s age—and its Full Life program ensures all residents have the unique tools, opportunities, and community support to bring their personal vision to life.

A wealth of memory care resources from Touchmark

Touchmark is committed to providing relationship-centered care that meets residents where they are and encourages them to live a full life. We use the industry-leading Best Friends™ Approach to care to get to know each individual resident and build a relationship with them.

To further help residents living in our memory care neighborhoods experience meaningful connections with family members, friends, and staff, Touchmark has developed the tools listed below.

  • The ABCs of Life Book: This picture-based communication
    tool helps people recall long-term memories by triggering them as they go through the alphabet. It is a 2014 winner of the ALFA National Mature Media Awards.
  • Memory Care Resource Flip Book: This valuable resource was created to provide caregivers and loved ones with
    information on a variety of subjects related to a dementia diagnosis and the journey of the disease.
  • Memory Blocks: Colorful blocks with words on them can help residents form sentences and short stories, recall memories from certain words, or sort blocks according to color.
  • Match and Chat Game: Based on local states/provinces and their corresponding flags, this game challenges memory to match the correct cards together, and also features a more personal reminiscing feature with questions about where a person has lived and traveled.

To learn more about these tools and how you can use them for yourself or with your loved one, speak with a team member in memory care.

Gratitude goes a long way

Giving back and expressing gratitude are synonymous with this time of year—it’s only natural to look back on all we’ve been thankful for over the past several months as we look forward to the start of a new year. As we gather together over the holidays, we can share these feelings with loved ones and give thanks to each other.

Showing gratitude can be as simple as giving someone a compliment, sharing a meal with a loved one, or trying to see the positives in a bad situation. More formal ways to give back might include volunteering at a local food bank, becoming a mentor, making a charitable donation, or teaching a class.

Ingraining these habits in our everyday lives helps make these feelings more prominent and can encourage others to follow our lead. In addition to helping others feel a sense of purpose and appreciated, giving to others benefits the giver, as well.

It can help:

  • Increase self-esteem
  • Stimulate the release of endorphins similar to the “high” that comes from exercise
  • Gain a new perspective and take your mind off of everyday concerns
  • Grow as a person and develop new skills and knowledge

This month, consider the ways in which you can show your appreciation for those who make your life a little brighter each day. Spread kindness, express your feelings, and enhance self-worth for yourself and others!

Tips to have a successful holiday season

For some, the holidays are a favorite time of the year. The days are about experiences and people, family traditions, recalling old memories, and creating new ones. This changes for caregivers and people living with dementia, though.  Use these tips to help you stay connected with your loved one during the holiday season.

It is important to build on past traditions and memories.  Focus on activities that are meaningful to your loved one. Your family member may find comfort in singing holiday songs or looking through old photo albums.  Involving the person in holiday preparation is one way to engage and interact with someone living with dementia.  As the person’s abilities allow, invite him or her to help you prepare food, wrap packages, help decorate, or set the table. This could be as simple as having the person measure an ingredient or hand decorations to you as you put them up. Be careful with decoration choices. Blinking lights may confuse or scare a person with dementia, and decorations that look like food could be mistaken as edible.

You may need to adjust your expectations. It is imperative that you adjust festivities and times your loved one is involved in; you want to plan things based on his or her best time of the day.

There may be significant changes in cognitive abilities since the last time an out-of-town friend or relative has visited. These changes can be hard to accept, so giving others a heads-up before they come home is important. Make sure visitors understand that changes in behavior and memory are caused by the disease and not the person. If your loved one is experiencing a particular challenge, be sure to give an example of what that challenge is and how to redirect or assist the person. You may find it easier to share these changes in a letter or email that can be sent to multiple recipients. It’s helpful to include a picture of your loved one, if there have been some physical changes, as well.

Give yourself permission to do only what you can reasonably manage. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and let others contribute if they offer. Be honest about any limitations or needs, such as keeping a daily routine. Sticking to the person’s normal routine will help keep the holidays from becoming disruptive or confusing.

Be sure to plan time for breaks and rest. You also may want to consider breaking large gatherings into smaller visits of two or three people at a time to keep the person with Alzheimer’s (and you) from getting overtired. Choose the timing of your events carefully. If evening confusion and agitation are a problem, consider changing a holiday dinner into a holiday lunch or brunch. If you do keep the celebration at night, keep the room well-lit and try to avoid any known triggers.

Finding the right gift for your loved one can be challenging. Please see the attached graph for some holiday gift ideas. Less is more, not only when looking to purchase gifts but also when planning your holiday celebrations.