Being Prepared: Learn About Advanced Directives

It’s not an easy thing to think about, but planning ahead for end-of-life care can prevent stress and anxiety among family members and make sure your wishes are met whenever the time comes.

The most effective way to set your wishes in place is to develop an advance directive. Requirements for this legal record vary by state (find your state’s requirements here), but do not typically require help from a lawyer and can simply be a notarized statement of your wishes.

An advance directive is actually made up of two separate documents: a living will and a health care power of attorney. Some states combine these documents into one, so be sure to check.

  • A living will is a written plan for what types of medical or life-sustaining treatment a person wants when they are unable to speak for themselves.
  • A healthcare power of attorney designates someone to make health care decisions on the person’s behalf when the person cannot communicate for themselves. This is different from a regular durable power of attorney, which usually is for financial matters.

Despite the importance and relative ease of creating an advance directive, they’re not quite as common as you’d expect. According to The American Journal of Medicine, only 26.3% of Americans report having an advance directive in place. And the California Healthcare Foundation reports that only 7% of people reported having an end-of-life conversation with their doctor.

Sharing this information with family members, your doctor, and the person you have chosen to serve as your health care proxy can help provide peace of mind for your loved ones. An advance directive can be changed at any time, as long as the person is considered of sound mind to do so.

To learn more about end-of-life care and ensuring your wishes are met, check out the following resources or look for an informational class in your area.

 

The New Old Age

Since 1900, life expectancy has increased more than 30 years—and numbers continue to rise. What was once considered “old age” has shifted as people live longer, work longer, and maintain their independence for longer.

So when does old age begin now? Most people consider “old age” to be some number older than their current age, but a study by the Pew Research Center states that the average response is age 68. But the saying “age is just a number” certainly holds true—as 68 years can look vastly different for different people.

For those in good health, life in later decades can be quite an enjoyable time that exceeds the expectations held at a younger age. There’s plenty of time for family and hobbies, more financial security, and less stress in these “golden years.”

Technology is also catering to the older generation and new products are constantly being developed to help people stay safe and connected as they continue to live alone.

While longer life expectancy means more time to spend with loved ones and more life experiences and milestones to enjoy, it can also include increased and prolonged living costs, more required care, and more time spent in deteriorating health.

A controversial article published last year by The Atlantic detailed author Ezekiel J. Emanuel’s stance that living to age 75 is long enough for him. Emanuel argued that for many people, living too long renders people deprived of their former selves and changes the way others relate to and remember them. Age 75 represents a complete life as well as one that is past its prime.

While Emanuel’s article presented some valid points, it doesn’t appear to be a shared view. In the same Pew Research Center study mentioned earlier, when asked how long they’d like to live, the average response was 89 years. Most adults over the age of 65 report happiness levels comparable with those in younger age groups. And of adults over the age of 75, only 35% reported feeling that they were old.

Whatever your age, what’s more important than the number is how you feel and your outlook on life.

Resources:

http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2009/06/29/growing-old-in-america-expectations-vs-reality/

Staying Protected Against Senior Scams

Male and female mature students working together on a computerFinancial scams are one of the most growing crimes in this increasingly technological age. These low-risk crimes can have devastating effects on a person’s well-being and financial security.

These days, we need to stay cautious of potential financial scams coming through the mail, the phone, our emails, websites, and the front door. The best protection against such scams is to be informed and alert when it comes to spending your money.

While these types of scams can happen to anyone, seniors are often targeted. Scammers may believe that seniors have a significant amount of money in their accounts—or that they would be more susceptible to believing the false claims purported. They are also less likely to report a scam to authorities.

Some of the most common types of scams targeting seniors include:

  • Health care/health insurance fraud
  • Counterfeit prescription drugs
  • Funeral and cemetery fraud
  • Anti-aging products or “miracle” cures
  • Investment schemes
  • Sweepstakes
  • Reverse mortgage scams

In addition to being aware of the common types of scams, there are general precautions to help identify red flags and keep your finances protected.

  • Avoid making on-the-spot decisions. An offer that requires you to “act immediately or miss out” is likely a scam.
  • Avoid giving out personal banking information, credit card numbers, or social security numbers over the phone to someone who has called you. Always verify the name and company or organization of someone asking for money over the phone.
  • Do not hire someone who shows up at the door claiming that work needs to be done on your house.
  • Do not sign anything that you don’t fully understand—and don’t be afraid to ask for help or further clarification from someone you trust.
  • Register your phone number on the National Do Not Call registry to limit phone calls from telemarketers. Call 888-382-1222 or visit donotcall.gov to sign up.

If you suspect you’ve been the victim of a scam, tell someone. Don’t be embarrassed by what has happened—know that you’re not alone. Reporting these crimes can help save someone else from becoming a victim, as well.

The FBI provides details on several different types of frauds frequently targeted to seniors as well as tips to avoid all types of scams. Visit their website for valuable information.

fbi.gov/scams-safety/fraud/seniors

When is it time to give up the car keys?

Making the decision to stop driving can be a scary, life-changing experience for many. Fears of giving up independence and not being able to meet basic needs are certainly common and not unfounded.

It can also be a sensitive subject to broach with someone—as driving and owning a car can be a matter of pride. Studies have shown that reduced mobility, such as losing one’s ability to drive, can be a major cause of depression.

But it’s important to value safety and consider the potential risks to yourself and others if your driving abilities are questioned.

There are several age-related factors that can affect a person’s driving abilities, including:

  • Impaired vision
  • Impaired hearing
  • Slower mental process
  • Side effects of medications

Fortunately, even without a car, there are several ways for older adults to get around. Family and friends can often help with basic needs. Public transportation, senior centers, and retirement communities can provide supplemental options, as well. It’s often a pleasant surprise to find that getting around can be easily accomplished—without the cost, maintenance, and stress of owning a car.

Staying safe

Ensuring safety behind the wheel requires regular evaluation by an impartial third party. Other steps to take include taking a driver safety course (often offered by AARP), exercising regularly to keep the mind and body sharp, and being cognizant to identify personal high-risk areas, such as driving at night, in bad weather, or on unfamiliar routes. A doctor can also provide a clinical assessment to evaluate an older driver.

If you think driving may no longer be safe for you or a loved one, the following resources can help identify warning signs:

Always put safety before pride when it comes to driving.

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 non-stressful 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.

A natural remedy with plentiful benefits

Portrait of a mature woman receiving shoulder massage

We often think of massage therapy as a spa-like indulgence to help us relax and relieve stress, but this ancient practice has plenty of health benefits, as well. It can be a valuable form of treatment for a variety of conditions, while also helping to help feel younger, healthier, and balanced.

The benefits of massage therapy are vast! Depending on each individual, massage can help:

  • Relieve pain
  • Improve range of motion
  • Enhance immunity
  • Increase joint flexibility
  • Alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety
  • Relax injured, tired, and overused muscles
  • Release endorphins—the body’s natural painkiller

Different types of massage can help serve different purposes, each utilizing different types of movement and levels of pressure.

Massage for older adults tends to differ from traditional massage practices, and usually includes gentle stroking, kneading, and light pressure on specific points. Targeted pressure can help lubricate joints, which relieves the pain and stiffness of arthritis. The relaxation and communication promoted during massage can often help those living with Alzheimer’s disease.

And unlike many medications, massage is a natural way to stimulate the nervous system and increase blood circulation. In fact, according to Massage Today, regular massage can often help reduce the need for medications.

In the middle of July, the Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals (ABMP) group sponsors EveryBody Deserves a Massage Week to raise awareness of the health benefits of massage and bodywork. Many organizations offer discounted massages during this week—check with those in your local area for a great chance to treat yourself.

Massage therapy can benefit most people; however, it may not be appropriate for those with bleeding disorders or who are taking blood-thinning medication; people with deep vein thrombosis; or when you have open or healing burns or wounds. Speak to your doctor before scheduling your first massage.

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 eventually 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!

Encouraging wellness and PLENTI{FULL} living

You hear a lot these days about personal wellness in terms of physical health—exercising regularly and eating healthily. But wellness goes beyond bodily health. It is a whole-person state of being that involves several dimensions, each of which contributes to our individual quality of life.

Aspiring to whole-person wellness is especially popular among older adults who wish to mitigate health risks, keep health care costs down, and maintain happiness and physical and mental abilities as they age. Being out of the workplace (and sometimes out of the family home, as well) can mean seeking out fulfilling and enriching activities in different ways.

Participating in whole-person wellness programs can actually slow the aging process and promote independence. Research from the MacArthur Foundation’s Study of Aging in America concluded that successful aging is not determined solely by genetics but is also accomplished by incorporating wellness concepts into everyday life.

The seven dimensions of wellness listed below promote overall purpose and self-esteem and can be achieved in different ways for every person. Individual wellness looks different for each of us—but here are some examples of events and activities to cultivate each focus area.

  • Emotional wellness includes maintaining a positive outlook on life and being able to recognize and express feelings. At Touchmark, we promote emotional well-being by celebrating special events, giving back to the community, and reaching out to others.
  • Environmental wellness promotes awareness and appreciation of the needs of the environment, with a focus on long-term positive interactions with the world we inhabit. Touchmark environmental activities include conservation projects, gardening, and birdwatching.
  • Intellectual wellness requires openness to new ideas. Touchmark provides the opportunity to keep the mind sharp and active through Brain Builders classes, lifelong learning events, classes on the latest technology (such as iPads, digital cameras, and Skype), and attending theatre and other cultural events.
  • Occupational/vocational wellness doesn’t end with retirement. Developing personal interests and hobbies, learning new skills, and volunteering all contribute to lifelong occupational wellness. Touchmark fosters these elements through legacy projects, intergenerational programs, and the ICAA Champions program.
  • Physical wellness keeps the body healthy and strong as we age. This can be done by engaging in regular cardiovascular, strength, and flexibility exercises and maintaining a healthy diet. With a myriad of exercise and fitness classes, walking clubs, and other activities to get moving, Touchmark is a strong proponent of physical well-being.
  • Social wellness is achieved by developing and maintaining healthy relationships with others, sharing interests, and participating in community events. Nearly every event on the Touchmark {FULL} Life calendar promotes social wellness—including holiday celebrations, club meetings, outings, and enjoying meals together.
  • Spiritual wellness focuses on finding meaning and purpose in life events, appreciating nature, and showing compassion to others. Touchmark offers a wide range of activities to promote inner peace such as Bible studies, yoga, and meditation.

Retirement communities, libraries, senior centers, fitness clubs, churches, and other local establishments are great places to stimulate personal wellness through a variety of offerings. Other wellness opportunities can be as simple as spending time with loved ones, meditating, taking a walk, or reading a book.

Take the time to consider what contributes to your personal wellness—and let’s enjoy an activity together!