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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

AARP Reports on Long Term Care Trends

A new report from the AARP says meeting the upcoming demands for workers in Long Term Care will be difficult without recruiting and retaining more workers. The report said that " low wages, low prestige and dangerous working conditions will have to improve to expand the number of workers who fill difficult tasks associated with LTC." At the website for the American Association of Retired Persons you can read their article titled Long Term Care Trends, Comparing Long Term Care in Germany and the United States: What Can We Learn From Each Other? The research paper is by Mary Jo Gibson, AARP Public Policy Institute, and Donald L. Redfoot, AARP Public Policy Institute.

The article said the United States has made progress in (1) shifting from institutions to home based care (2) "strong civil rights protections for people with disabilities, including protections against unnecessary institutionalization "(3) regulations and monitoring that has resulted in improvements in care quality and (4) innovation in areas such as assisted living.

In Germany progress has been made in (1) universal coverage based on disability not income, (2) consumer choice (3) support for family caregivers (4) relieving fiscal pressures on government while maintaining LTC spending similar to U.S. (5) and "developing uniform standards of quality."

Monday, October 29, 2007

Senior Citizens Education Trend - Returning to School

Dr. Dan Canney's Cuesta College Adult Emeritus Class for seniors over age 50 provides a mentally challenging workout studying Greek history and "The Odyssey" by the ancient writer Homer.

This particular class is an example of a growing trend today in which seniors are staying active, involved, and mentally sharp by returning to college or by taking community education classes. The class is pictured above, with Dr. Canney in the middle, and some of the students gathered together on each side. (Photo by Kristi Gott)

Cuesta Community College, San Luis Obispo, California, has a roster of classes for seniors over the age of 50 listed at their website. The ages of the students cover a wide range from their 50's to the students in their 80's.

This Fall the class has spent three hours each Monday afternoon studying The Odyssey, by Homer. As one student explained, "we're seniors becoming Greek Scholars."

Dr. Dan Canney's accumulated lifetime of experience and knowledge makes the study of ancient literature challenging and fascinating. Some of the topics the seniors in the class study include the Age of Homer, the beginnings of the oral storytelling tradition, and the history of the Mycenaean Period.

The classes are free, and this Fall the Great Literature Class has been held at the Duna Vista Mobile Home Park, Oceano, California.

The Odyssey by Home is an epic poem that was sung by a Greek singer called a Rhapsode, who used a lyre. It's the story of Oddyseus' experiences when returning from Troy, and has numerous complicated subplots.

Dr. Canney's insight and humor make the class educational and fun. The students bring homemade goodies to share during the break. Class discussion provides time to discuss varying points of view and opinions.

Senior citizens taking classes like this have a chance to challenge themselves mentally, interact socially, and learn something new. There is lively discussion of the Greeks, and detailed analysis of Homer's writing techniques. For instance, the epic poem is written in Dactylic Hexameter.

Last Spring the students were led by Dr. Canney in a study of Milton's epic Paradise Lost, and students learned where many common references and words used today came from.

Learning, growing and exercising mentally are important aspects of staying healthy for seniors. Returning to college classes or other educational activities provides social interaction and mental challenges.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Self Help Magazine Advises Relaxing Images and Slow Breathing to Reduce Stress

(Photo: Seagull over the ocean at Montana de Oro, Los Osos, California, October 28, 2007. Relaxing images and deep breathing can provide a break from stress. Photo by Kristi Gott)

The award winning mental health site Self Help Magazine advises people to reduce stress by selecting a calming photograph, relaxing, "breathing slowly and gently," and imagining that "you are there, and that you are feeling good and calm."

Self Help Magazine has a slideshow of calming photos, including pictures of sunsets, landscapes, mountains and other scenery. Taking some time to get away from stress with a relaxation break is important for mental and physical health. Emotional and mental tension are part of the "Caregivers Syndrome" of stress and exhaustion. Small breaks to unwind and step away from stress can make a big difference.

Images of soothing scenes can be a tool for the caregiver for self-help or to use when assisting someone who is tense or agitated. I bring library books with me sometimes when I'm assisting people. The large, coffee table scenic tour type books are a relaxing way to spend time with someone. If the person has happy memories of a favorite place, such as the Oregon coastline, I bring a book for that.

When I've assisted people who had Alzheimer's I found they enjoyed the visuals in the large photo tour books. This was especially helpful when the time of day arrived when they were apt to experience sundowners and wandering. Redirecting the person with Alzheimer's to focus on relaxing images and talking in a calm voice about the places in the photos were a big help.

For the stressed, exhausted caregiver, a break in the day to relax, breath slowly, and focus on some relaxing images is a way to reduce stress and unwind.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Holistic Techniques for Music Therapy To Reduce Stress

At Holistic Online the page on Music Therapy explains techniques to use when listening to music for stress reduction. The website explains that listening to music has been found to help with the following: (1) reduce heart rates (if it's slow music), (2) increase the body's serotonin to fight depression, (3) increase deep breathing (which reduces stress), and (4) to reduce pain.

To make the most of Music Therapy the website advises listening to music with a rythm that is slower than the natural heartbeat of 72 beats per minute. Stretch out in a comfy position and take a 20 minute "sound bath."

Choose music that you like, perhaps something familiar that reminds you of pleasant times. Some people listen to favorite music from childhood. Holistic Online says that listening to familiar favorites can help to create a sense of calmness.

Natural sounds, such as rain, or ocean waves can also be good stress reduction therapy.

The information is not new to most of us, but it is a good reminder. I decided to take a walk, always a good stress reducer, and bring a small recorder to make my own sounds of nature therapy.

Music has the ability to change people's moods. A high energy faster rythm can help get you going if you are trying to pick up the pace when you're out walking or exercising.

Listening to old favorites on headphones can be like having an old friend with you. Something familiar that brings back good memories and feelings can be uplifting.
These techniques and ideas for music therapy to reduce stress can be helpful for caregivers or seniors.

Friday, October 26, 2007

It's Flu Shot Time Again

The Center for Disease Control and Protection says at their website "The single best way to protect against the flu is to get vaccinated each year."

The flu shot or the nasal-spray flu vaccine are the two ways people can receive the vaccination.

Flu shots are encouraged by the CDC for "people at high risk for complications from the flu, such as seniors 50 years or older, people with certain chronic medical conditions, and people who live in nursing homes and other long term care facilities."

Pictured in the photo is senior citizen Ruth Wampler, age 94, receiving her flu shot from nurse Mary Jane Kipper, Maxim Healthcare Services, at the Central Coast Seniors Center, San Luis Obispo County, California. Ruth's daughter Ellen, a volunteer at the Center, stands nearby. (Photo by Kristi Gott.)

The CDC says that October or November are the best times to get a flu shot, but if you wait until December or later you can still be vaccinated.

Flu season begins in October and can last as long as until May.

The CDC website lists six steps people can take to reduce the chances of getting the flu. Avoiding close contact with someone who has the flu is step one. Staying home when you're sick can help prevent the spread of the flu.

Covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze will also help protect others. Washing your hands frequently and avoiding touching your mouth, nose or eyes will help to protect you from getting the flu.

You can find a clinic offering flu shots by going to the site at the American Lung Association and using the clinic locator by putting in your zip code. Other places offering flu shots include your local drug stores, senior centers, and medical clinics.

Influenza can lead to pneumonia so it is a potentially life threatening illness, especially for elderly people or people who have frail health.

I spent some time yesterday at our local Seniors' Center during the flu shot hours, and there was a steady stream of seniors getting their flu shots. Like Ruth Wampler, pictured above, they will have the protection of the flu vaccine before winter gets here.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Anthropologist Teaches Seniors Class Life Story Writing

"Voices from the Past, Gifts for the Future" is the motto for a class of seniors aged 50 on up, who participate in "Life Story Writing - A Guided Course in Memoir/Autobiography Writing. The class is taught by Anthropologist Myla Collier and is part of the Cuesta Community College Adult Emeritus classes, San Luis Obispo County, California. Retrieval of detailed memories from 40, 60 or 80 years ago, by using Myla's system of Memory Joggers for each time period in life, enables students to write and preserve their life stories.

Myla teaches a group of life story classes in San Luis Obispo County,Ca., and the Grover Beach class is shown in the photo. From left to right are Olivia Scholz, Jessie Stone, Cheryl Hagopian, Gary Simms, Mary LeBlanc, Anthropologist and Instructor Myla Collier, Sara Medzyk, Arnie Dowdy, Phyllis Simms, Susie Tacbas, and Chester Johnson. (Photo by student Kristi Gott, not pictured).

Elders storytelling and seniors' life story writing are popular trends today. Classes and groups can be found through local community education programs, college programs, and genealogy groups.

Traditionally seniors have been society's storytellers, who preserved the family history, and passed on details of an era to the next generation. Seniors' life story telling is a chance for family and friends to gather around, and hear about times that have disappeared forever.

Instructor Myla Collier sits at the end of the table in the photo, with Phyllis Sims, age 80, sitting on her right, sharing her life story. Her husband, Gary Sims, age 81, also a prolific life story writer, sits to the left of Myla. The class gathers round to share and discuss. Chester Johnson, age 84, far right, is also a skilled storyteller. He shares many interesting facts in his life stories about growing up in Louisianna.

In my current class we link the historical events with life events, and write a chonological life story, starting with birth. Photos and other memory treasures are brought to class and become part of each life stage, as we write the life stories. As class members create a written record of their life histories, they often include valuable genealogy information that will be passed on for generations.

Sharing their life stories brings people closer to each other. Seniors often find that writing life stories helps them to feel more comfortable with the past. Painful events can be softened by the passage of time, and humorous events might become funnier in the retelling.

Putting the events together, in a chronological narrative, makes many people feel that having a timeline makes looking back less confusing.

Teacher and Anthropologist Myla Collier advises students to use the Memory Joggers which are part of the class materials. She also says that if a memory keeps coming up to "go ahead and write it down while it is fresh in your mind."

Examples of Memory Joggers are questions such as "What were your first impressions as you started school?" Many people are surprised at the details they can remember once they get started.

Using photos and family memorabilia helps jog the memories also. The class members agree that writing a life history provides good mental exercise. Sharing life histories with class members, family and friends provides a chance for social interaction.

Many life history writers also become active with family history and genealogy.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Senior Centers Provide a Wealth of Resources

Senior Centers across the country provide a wealth of free practical resources that caregivers and seniors can use, as well as being a place for friends and fun. By working with Betty Milne, Manager of the Central Coast Seniors Center, I have had an opportunity to learn more about the resources and activities offered for active or frail seniors at senior centers. Caregivers and seniors who are looking for helpful free community resources can find activities such as the following.

(1) flu shots
(2) free legal assistance
(3) free tax assistance
(4) medicare and insurance consultations
(5) Alzheimer's caregiver consultations
(6) Health care classes presented by hospitals
(7) Commodities and Brown Bag to assist with groceries
(8) activities ranging from Bingo, to playing cards, to country line dancing
(9) opportunities to volunteer and enjoy making a difference for others
(10) consultations and information about Alzheimer's, Dementia, long term care, in home care
(11) special dinners, craft shows, bake sales and more
(12) Senior Nutrition programs that offer lunches

At a recent Friday Night Out for Seniors the Spaghetti Dinner began at 4:00 in the afternoon. Seniors who ranged from very active to frail began arriving to visit for several hours before Bingo and have a leisurely meal. I spoke to one lady, who was recovering from hip surgery and using a walker, and she said this is her night out for a treat. Another said she gets there as soon as the doors open each week, to catch up on news from her regular group of friends. Some of the more frail seniors were assisted by caregivers. There was talking, laughing, and having fun.

Bingo has changed a lot since decades ago when I last saw someone playing Bingo. These Bingo experts laid out several pages of Bingo squares, and it was a mental challenge to find the sometimes complicated patterns of numbers as rapidly as they were called out. Some of the games are slow and easy, but some such as "Speedball" mean a new number is called out every 3 seconds. With Bingo squares spread out for several feet in front of you that one really makes you work.

On another afternoon I took photos of the Country Music Line Dancers who were practicing their dance steps to some music with a great beat. There was also the Yoga group, providing some good stretching and gentle exercises suitable for seniors.

Another day I visited the Pinochle group, a game of dice and cards. The Bridge group and Bunco groups also provided fun for card players.

Free local legal services are donated and listed on the schedule, as are tax assistance. An Alzheimer's Caregiver Consultant has regularly scheduled times. There are Health care classes taught by the Arroyo Grande hospital, such as recent classes on Emphysema Information and Living with Diabetes.

For those who like movies there is a Cinema night with refreshments.

The Senior Nutrition Program is held every day starting at 11:30 am. Local seniors enjoy sharing a meal at the Central Coast Seniors Center that provides balanced nutrition and social interaction with friends. Many are regulars almost every day. There is a $2.75 donation, but it is not required.

A Country Crafts and Bake Sale is scheduled soon, and people are enjoying getting everything ready. Seniors sell their crafts by signing up for a table at the Center, and there are a lot of chances to visit and see friends.

The seniors centers across the country provide a place that a caregiver can find helpful. Caregivers and seniors can enjoy sharing activities or find free help from the community resources.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Duke University Says Hearing Aids Help But Are Often Not Used

Difficulties with hearing can effect many areas of life, and many seniors do not get hearing aids, or use their hearing aids, if they have them. An article at Medical News Today titled "Duke University Study Finds Hearing Aids Are Underused" says that only "one in five who could benefit from a hearing aid has one and just one-third of those who have hearing aids use them."

The Medical Technology Assessment Working Group at Duke University studied hearing aid use and seniors. They found that, as caregivers know from experience, many seniors who need hearing aids do not get them, or if they have them, they do not use them.

As a caregiver I've seen that often the hearing aids remain in a box on the dresser or counter. Sometimes seniors need assistance with putting hearing aids in and other times they have decided not to use them for a variety of reasons.

Seniors may need assistance with adjusting the sound level until it is comfortable or help making sure the hearing aids are resting in the right place in the ears.

Many elders have told me that the quality of the sound is not the same as regular hearing.
A local hearing aid store in my area explained the new digitial hearing aids can be custom programmed, and the new hearing aids are a big improvement over the old technology.

Without hearing aids, people realize they cannot hear conversations with others. They may begin to avoid social interaction, and others may begin to avoid them.

Sometimes others may mistake lack of hearing and misunderstanding for dementia. If someone does have Alzheimer's or Dementia, poor hearing can be an additional challenge.

As a caregiver, have you assisted someone who was used to having the television turned all the way up, so it could be heard from the neighbors house? The new wireless headphones for television can be worn by a senior who needs to have the sound amplified.

One senior told me that wearing these headphones made all the difference in the world, and he could enjoy music on TV this way too.

Seniors with hearing difficulties have explained to me that hearing aids can make sounds echo, small sounds like road noise are magnified, or there is sometimes a static or other sound coming from the hearing aid. A trip to the hearing aid specialist can help in these situations.

Other comments seniors have made to me include the problem that the tiny wheels or adjusters on the hearing aid are too small for a senior to adjust, so it is necessary to wait for a caregiver to help.

One senior said he wanted to get one of the hearing aids that connects by a wire to a large component that he could put into his shirt pocket, because he would be able to adjust it by himself then.

Another senior had red sore places on the ears from the hearing aids, and it was necessary to make a trip to the hearing aid specialist.

If someone does not wear hearing aids for some reason, there are ways to communicate without using a loud voice. Often if you speak within a foot or so of the person's ear, directly toward it, not from in front or an angle, a normal voice level will suffice.

The article about the Duke University study finished with Executive Director Martyn Howgill saying "We need a better understanding of why people are not using hearing devices in order to improve hearing aid technology in ways that would surely aid untold millions of potential recipients."

This article was from 2006, written by Michael Stewart, and it is unfortunate that such large numbers of people are not getting hearing aids or not using them. Digital hearing aids and modern advances have made the old hearing aids a thing of the past.

Being able to hear and to communicate is a major part of staying connected to family, friends, and the world out in public. Advances are being made constantly in the world of hearing aids.

If someone you know does not have one, or has one with older technology, perhaps a chance to try one of the newer hearing aids will make a difference.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Alzheimer's Caregivers Consultations and Support

I had an opportunity to visit with Alzheimer's community resource specialist Jacque Murray yesterday, who was giving Caregiver Consultations at the Central Coast Seniors Center, San Luis Obispo area, California, where I write a blog for their organization. Jacque Murray, of the San Luis Obispo, California, Alzheimer's Association became a Caregiver's Consultant after her mother passed away from Alzheimer's ten years ago.

Jacque said she is concerned that many people who could benefit from resources offered by the Alzheimer's Association are not aware of the support that is provided, as well as the educational resources. She offers one-to-one visits where caregivers can have an opportunity to sit down with someone and discuss resources and ideas that will be of help.

When a diagnosis of Alzheimer's is made by a doctor a family may not know where to turn for help or who to call. They also may not be familiar with what to expect, how to cope, where to learn how to communicate and provide caregiving, and where to find resources. Your local Alzheimer's organization is there to answer questions, provide groups for sharing, and provide education for caregivers.

She also works with Alzheimer's Support Groups in the area where people share experiences and get educational information to help them cope.

To find your local Alzheimer's Association you can go to their website for locations. Isolation is often a problem for Alzheimer's Caregivers and attending one of the support groups and can provide an opportunity to share with others and make friends.

Education about Alzheimer's has been proven in studies to reduce the stress level of Alzheimer's caregivers, and your local Alzheimer's organization can be your educational resource as well as a support resource. The article at News Daily titled "Family Caregivers Life Shortened" explained the study in which the stress and exhaustion of being an Alzheimer's caregiver can shorten life by an average of 4 to 8 years.

The recent news articles, which were not unexpected, about the effects of stress and exhaustion on Alzheimer's caregivers, emphasize the importance of support for the caregivers. "Caregiver Syndrome," is described at CNN and you can read about it if you click on the link, and find it by doing a search on the website search box.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Olive Riley, World's Oldest Blogger, Turns 108 Today

Happy 108th Birthday to Olive Riley of Australia! Today is the 108th birthday of Olive Riley, who writes the blog Life of Riley, and who is the world's oldest blogger. Bloggers all over the world have joined together in a group to write special posts on their blogs to wish her a Happy Birthday. ABC TV featured Olive in a newscast and the video of it is on the website today.

Olive lives on the Central Coast, NSW, of Australia. The actual birthday celebration was scheduled a few days early, on Oct. 17. Olive's friend, Mike, assists her by posting the information on her blog. For her birthday Mike had a group 8 year olds, because they were exactly 100 years younger than Olive, come to sing Olive's favorite songs. Photos and videos on the site today show the children crowded around Olive, as she opens her presents.

The world birthday celebration of bloggers for Olive was organized by Ronni Bennett, author of one of the world's top blogs for elders As Time Goes By. Ronni is a retired television producer for such shows as 20/20, Barbara Walters Specials on ABC, and other shows at Lifestime TV, NBC, CBS and PBS.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Computer Education for Older Adults at SeniorNet

Using a computer provides seniors with valuable resources and good mental exercise, but many seniors have a hard time finding a way to learn about computers. There is a resource just for seniors who want to learn more about computers, but don't want to have to read technical computerspeak. SeniorNet was founded in 1986 with a mission to help older adults learn computers.

It is now one of the world's top educators of adults over the age of fifty. It is a nonprofit, volunteer based organization. If you go to the website at SeniorNet you can read about online training and education at centers in the U.S. and internationally.

I tried out one of the online courses and it included topics such as Copy and Paste, Display a Photo on the Desktop, and Email and Attachments.

There were also topics related to using Microsoft Vista, Antivirus software, and using WiFi.

Plain everyday English made it easy to understand. I volunteer at the local Senior Center and SeniorNet will be one of the websites I'll recommend to people who want to learn more about computers.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Caring for the Exhausted Caregiver

Last evening I talked to a friend from another state who is also a caregiver. This friend has been home for a week resting and sleeping after having basically collapsed from exhaustion. This caregiver is a paid caregiver, and lives to help others, to serve, and to minister to the needs of others. It is frightening to hear the long hours, lack of sleep, isolation,self-sacrifice, and obvious exhaustion that has occurred with this caregiver, and with others.

When a caregiver is so exhausted from long hours and stress that a week of staying home, mostly resting and sleeping, is the result, then it's time to try to find ways to make changes to relieve this. But it's easy to say and hard to do.

Family caregivers find it hard to find or afford help, so they keep on going, often without rest, exercise, or time to relax. If they care for someone who needs assistance to reach the bathroom they may be getting up many times per night, plus assisting all day.

Paid caregivers earn minimum or low wages, and they are trying to survive so it is tempting to overwork. Plus they often love to help others and they neglect themselves. They often work long rows of 24 hour shifts, getting up frequently during the night to provide assistance, plus providing stand by assistance during the day.

Family caregivers are often unable to pay for hired help, and often unable to find trained volunteers who are accustomed to dealing with people with mid to late dementia or Alzheimer's, or other illnesses and injuries. They keep on going as exhaustion and stress accumulate.

The recent articles on "Caregiver Syndrome" highlighted this, but many people have no conception what it is really like for these caregivers. The other recent articles that spoke of the effects of caregiving on health and longevity made it clear that research shows caregivers are less healthy than noncaregivers.

Last evening I tried to get the idea across to my exhausted friend, who was returning to work. But the problem remains of how a caregiver can really get help before her or his own health gives out too. Whether someone is a family caregiver or a paid caregiver with a desire or avocation to serve the needs of others the stress and exhaustion have been well documented.

I am thinking some special positive thoughts for my friend, and for all the exhausted, stressed caregivers out there. But, I wish there was something more concrete to do in order to help.

An easy solution to the current caregiver crisis is difficult to find, and it won't get easier in the future as more people are needed to act as caregivers for an aging population. When the caregivers need care too, because exhaustion and stress has made them ill, what can be done?

There are many lists of self-care tips, but many caregivers don't have a moment to catch their breath between the demands of taking care of loved ones who may have multiple issues that need to be addressed.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Why Do Some Brains Compensate As They Age?

Physical exercise and a lifestyle with "brain exercise" have been shown in studies to make a difference in avoiding memory decline as people age. There is an article titled "Doctors Discuss Theories on Aging Brains" by Lauren Neergaard in U.S. News and World Report, dated Oct. 15. It says "some senior's brains forge new pathways" as they age. This means that as aging causes memory decline, some people's brains compensate. When old pathways disintegrate. the brain creates new pathways in some people.

The article describes how in a healthy brain the "branch like tentacles" that extend from brain cells are like a thick bush. In a less healthy brain the branches are like twigs on a sparser bush. Fewer "twigs" means it is more difficult to connect and send messages.

Learning causes more of the tentacles, or twigs, to form.

In some older people if a path no longer works in the brain, the path is "rerouted" and messages take another path. Some older people also have "bushy" brains full of lots of tentacles, like twigs. If they lose some there are still plenty left.

Scientists are trying to figure out what causes some people to have brains that reroute or create new pathways.

The article said that people with challenging mental stimulation do better than "couch potatoes."
Tests showed that when older people had physical exercise their brains started showing patterns that looked more like younger people.

Exercising physically and exercising the brain make a difference. Crossword puzzles, computer brain training programs, and anything that avoids the "couch potato" lifestyle help people to avoid memory decline.

A summary of recent articles I've read would say keep on learning, don't be a couch potato, and exercise regularly. Live a healthy lifestyle in terms of nutrition, stress reduction, and rest. Have an active social life, avoiding isolation. These factors have been recommended in many articles on aging.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

New Blood Test Can Determine Alzheimer's

An article in The New York Times today titled "Progress Cited in Alzheimer's Diagnosis" by Andrew Pollack says there is a new blood test that is 90% accurate in determining Alzheimer's. It was also 80% accurate in determining which patients with mild cognitive memory issues would develop Alzheimer's in two to six years. The study took place mainly at Standford University, California.

The article explained that currently diagnosing Alzheimer's is based on mental and other tests, and on the physician's judgement.

The test will not be available for doctors to use for several years. The preliminary results will need to be validated and the tests approved.

If there is a test available to help predict the risk of Alzheimer's it will help people to plan ahead and be prepared.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Empathy - A Healing Art That Forms Bonds

Have you wondered lately how you would feel if you were in someone else's place? Of course, especially if you are a caregiver. Good caregivers are often naturally empathetic. Intuitively sensing how someone else is feeling, emotionally or physically, is part of empathy. Acknowledging, instead of ignoring, someone else's feelings makes the person feel that someone understands, someone "gets it." It makes someone feel that others care.

When I managed a psychiatric office for twenty years, often I would hear patients say to the doctor, who was also my husband, "Gee Doc, you really 'get it,' but no one else understands me." This would be because some form of acknowledgement of the person's feelings had been made.

Listening with empathy is a common topic that is discussed in communication classes, and it's often described as reflective listening. Carl Rogers, author of "Client Centered Therapy" referred to "sensitive reflection and clarification."

Noticing the nonverbal signals, observing details of the situation, and untuitively sensing what is happening in someone else's world help provide clues when someone is not putting it into words.

Recently I arrived to assist an elderly senior, and found out that she had fallen in the home a few days earlier. The emergency room had not found any broken bones, and so she was sent home. When I arrived I could see she was in a lot of pain, but the caregivers said she was refusing medication or further help. I knew she was a strong, independent person. I said, "I can see you are really hurting, even though I know you're always stoic and you don't like to complain. " She opened up to talking to me. We made another trip to see a doctor so that something could be done for the pain.

In Spanish there is a saying that friends who share and trust are "simpatico." They are "reading from the same page." Empathy leads to "simpatico."

Elders' Craft Projects and Bazaars

Do you know seniors or elders who are alone too much and have too much time on their hands? Many seniors and elders are using their creativity, making hand-made items, sharing time with a club where they have friends, and putting it all together for a craft bazaar. I just made a flyer to advertise a Country Crafts and Bake Sale at the Central Coast Seniors Center. It's easy to see how the chance to make friends and share a fun activity has made a difference there for so many people.

Fabric arts, needle arts, woodcarving crafts, Christmas decorations, all types of creative heirloom quality items, and old fashioned home-made baked goods will make this a fun day. People who did not participate in making crafts are still going to come over to see the crafts, talk and meet new friends, or just people watch.

Frail elders can enjoy being part of the day and it's a great outing for someone who does not go out often.

This time of the year there always seem to be more craft bazaars as the holidays approach. There are lots of opportunities everywhere for getting involved with learning to make a craft, going to a craft group, and being in a bazaar or just going to bazaars to view the crafts.

Caregivers and frail seniors can find there are crafts suitable for people with varying conditions. It's also something that a family caregiver, or a hired caregiver, and an elder can share.

Participating in bake sales is fun too, and I've done a lot of home-style baking as a caregiver. We might be arriving at a bake sale with a back seat full of pies and breads made from vintage recipes. There is a big difference between these and the store bought goods today.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Elderblogging at "As Time Goes By"

At "As Time Goes By" subtitled "What it's really like to get older" written by retired television producer Ronni Bennett you can learn what is really happening today in the world of aging and elders' blogging. Ronni has been the producer for television shows that include 20/20, The Barbara Walter's Specials on the ABC network, and shows at Lifetime TV, NBC, CBS, and PBS.

"The Elder Storytelling Place," another "Time Goes By" weblog by Ronni is a place for elders to submit their stories to be in a blog online, whether they are bloggers or not.

Elders who blog can get a "PROUDELDERBLOGGER" badge to post to their blog. They can also get an "ELDERBLOGGERS RULE" badge or "I support ELDERBLOGGERS" badge.

Elder Videos and Geezer Flicks are several of the features at "As Time Goes By". Other features include "Where Elders Blog", "Social Security Privatization," and "Hurricane Katrina."

On a personal level is "A Mother's Last, Best Lesson," the uplifting story of the time Ronni shared with her mother during her mother's last illness. There is also a "Photo Biography" that starts with a photo of Baby Ronni on Dec. 7, 1941, the day Pearl Harbor was attacked.

Issues such as the risk of falls for elders and changes that occur in lifestyle as people age are discussed in blog posts.

A post on October 12, 2007 is titled "It's Not Everyday a Blogger Turns 108." This tells about Olive Riley, who will turn 108 on October 20, 2007, and who has the blog "Life of Riley." (Olive's friend Mike actually transcribes and posts their conversations on the blog.)

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Article Says People With Dementia Not Receiving Needed Meds

If you are a caregiver for someone with dementia there is an article at Science Daily titled "Community Model for Caregiving for Dementia Patients" that has some important information. In the article Dr. Boustani, a geriatrics specialist, explains that "60% of people with dementia or pre-dementia (also known as mild-cognitive impairment), are not recognized as having these conditions when they go to a hospital, and 80% are not recognized as having dementia or predementia by their primary by their primary care physicians."

The article says that less than 10% of people with dementia or predementia are receiving the medications that they need.

I think this is important for caregivers to know about because they can help by alerting the primary physician to check for dementia or predementia. Medications are available for these conditions.

At the website for there is a list of symptoms of dementia or Alzheimer's. Family caregivers and paid caregivers can read about symptoms and discuss them with a doctor if they are concerned about a loved one.

On October 20 there will be a summit meeting in Indianapolis for "Recognizing and Assessing the Progression of Cognitive Impairment and Dementia in Primary Care." The summit meeting will have the goal of developing a model for dementia care.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Canine Caregivers - Janet Neumann Trains Service Dogs

Sunday afternoon my lab mix, Teddy Bear, and I were walking in a park when we met a very interesting caregiver. This caregiver had 4 legs, weighed about 40 pounds, had a mixed heritage, and could provide valuable assistance to people with disabilities. The canine caregiver was accompanied by his owner, Janet Neumann, a Certified Service Dog trainer and owner of "PAWSabilities." Janet explained to me the types of assistance a service dog can supply for a disabled senior, or person of any age, and the unique training.

The dogs can wear backpacks, and carry the owner's purses, books, water bottles, and other objects. For people with various injuries or disabilities it's very helpful to have someone else carry objects that weigh 5 or 10 pounds. I have a backpack for my lab mix, who is energetic and powerful, and he loves to be useful, carrying water bottles and books.

Some dogs sound an alarm if the owner is about to have an epileptic siezure. They have a way of being able to sense what is going to happen.

One of the types of training she specializes in is training "hearing dogs" for people who are hearing impaired.

One of the most interesting aspects of Janet's training is that if someone does not have a dog already, she goes with them to find a "rescue dog" at a shelter. Finding a dog that the person senses a special bond with is very important. Janet is also able to tell if the dog has the potential to be a service dog.

Having a companion dog is well documented as providing stress-reduction and greater happiness for many people. The service dogs assist people who have a disability and provide friendship and affection.

Because people with disabilities might have physical limitations, the service dog is trained to respond to the voice for guidance or commands. Janet trains the owner how to train the dog, instead of just training the dog.

Janet received her Certification at the Assistance Dog Training Institute in Santa Rosa, California. She can be reached at (805) 773-3269 and (805) 610-1157.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Landmark Self-Help Book "Living With Progressive Memory Loss"

A new type of book about dementia is the self-help book "A Personal Guide to Living With Progressive Memory Loss" written by two gerontological nurses, Sandy Burgener and Prudence Twigg. Because this book is a self-help book, it's different from other books about memory loss. There is information to help people with memory loss regarding communication, self-esteem, and overcoming the stigma of memory loss.

The book is recommended by top experts including Linda L. Buettner, Professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Alzheimer's Association Early Stage Task Force. Linda says this book is "a landmark self-help book that focuses on the needs of the person with the diagnosis."

It was also recommended by John Keady, Ph.D., RMN, Professor of Older People's Mental Health Nursing at The University of Manchester/Bolton and Trafford Mental Health NHS Trust, and Co-Editor of Dementia: The International Journal of Social Research and Practice. He said this book "empowers people living with dementia, signposting hope, choice, and a life to be lived."

Stories of real people who have coped with the challenges of progressive memory loss are included in the book. Good and bad ways of coping are discussed and illustrated with examples. The experience of living with memory loss is described, and the authors recommend "staying active and engaged in society."

Caregivers experience the ways that progressive memory loss effects every part of a senior's life, including activities and relationships. It's interesting that once again the eldercare experts are recommending that people stay active and engaged in society. Becoming passive, withdrawing from people, and sharing fewer activities with others is something that caregivers see frequently with elderly seniors who have memory loss.

Enabling seniors with memory loss to participate in group activities at a senior center, senior day care, family activities, senior classes, and senior clubs can help them to stay active and connected socially.

Arts and crafts groups, bingo, healthcare classes, and clubs such as woodcarving are available at our local senior center. Many of the activities are fun for everyone, and having some memory loss will not interfere with participating.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Mediterranean Diet Reduces Dementia Risk

You can have a lower risk of dementia from Alzheimer's if you like the following foods: fruit, vegetables, cereal, nuts, olive oil, pasta, rice and moderate amounts of red wine. These foods are part of the Mediterranean Diet, which includes very little meat. An article at BBC News titled "Med Diet Reduces Dementia Risk" explains that researchers at the Columbia University Medical Center studied the health of 2,200 people over a period of 4 years.

People who ate foods more often from the Mediterranean Diet had the lowest risk of developing Alzheimer's. The scientists concluded that a healthy diet can reduce risk by as much as 40%.

The researchers said that when lifestyle includes getting cholesterol and blood pressure checked, exercising, and controlling weight then risk of dementia later in life is reduced further.

The Mediterranean Diet is also discussed at the Mayo Clinic website. Greeks traditionally consume a lot of fruits, vegetables, pasta and rice. Bread is eaten there without butter or margarine, and so the diet is low in saturated fat and trans fat. They also consume fish regularly and the omega-3 helps to keep blood vessels healthy.

In summary, eating a Mediterranean Diet, getting blood pressure and cholesterol checked, exercising, and controlling weight will help to reduce your risk of having dementia from Alzheimer's. It's also heart healthy, and a good way to avoid strokes.

The Mediterranean Diet has been recommended for decades already for its heart healthy characteristics, and since cooking is one of my hobbies I've been reading recipes on it for a long time. I've been using olive oil on bread with tomatoes and herbs, and this is delicious. Good-by to the butter and margarine. Whole grain pasta and brown rice have been around for a long time, but many people are simply not used to these foods or open to change.

I've even used brown rice in a rice pudding, and it was great. Whole grain pasta can be mixed with vegetables or sauces and this too tastes wonderful. Some of my elderly seniors are not used to using whole grain foods, but after I let them have a sample they decide they like it.

In regards to the other suggestions, many people buy a blood pressure monitor at the drug store now and take readings regularly at home in addition to the readings at the doctor's office to be sure there isn't a problem.

Exercise and weight loss - the sign of our times. It's difficult sometimes for seniors to exercise, but physical therapists can design programs to meet their needs. Weight loss might be easier on a Mediterranean Diet because the fattening junk foods would be eliminated.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Study Shows Senors Often Remember Distant Past Better Than Recent Past

I just started a new blog called "Life Story Telling" about writing life histories. With this in mind, an article at PsychArticles Direct about Autobiographical Memory that I read today about seniors was especially interesting because it says seniors can "travel back in time to relive personal events in the most distant past better than those in the recent past." As a caregiver who assists many different people, I often see people in their 80's and 90's who might remember the time they moved to a new home as a teen-ager, but not remember events from last week.

The authors studied the effects of aging on autobiographical memory on 180 people. The nature of memories over five lifetime periods were studied. The study was originally published in "Psychology and Aging."

Family members and caregivers reminiscing with elderly seniors might try using photos, historical events, scrapboooks, family photo albums and other memory grabbers. If an elderly senior cannot remember events from a few days ago, memories from early in life might still be available for retrieval.

Organizing the life history and family history chronologically in albums or a life story can help preserve the memories by providing triggers.

When I've assisted people who had Alzheimer's or Dementia I brought out their photo albums and scrapbooks for us to look at when we had time for activities. Each person is very different and memory ability seems to change from moment to moment sometimes. However, even with some people in late stage Alzheimer's they still recognized things part of the time from the albums.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Smarter Seniors - Study Says 74 Is The New 59

I knew that mental stimulation made a difference in mental functioning and an article titled "Today's Seniors Are Smarter" by Salynn Boyles at Web MD Medical News has good news. The subtitle says "Tests Suggest Less Mental Decline for Current Generation of Elderly." People today have more mental stimulation through mass media and popular culture. The average mental ability of someone 74 years old in the study was closer to someone 15 years younger in the earlier test group.

The study compared test scores of 74 year olds today with scores from 74 year olds 16 years ago. The 74 year olds today scored closer to the 59 year olds who were tested 16 years ago.

The study said this shows that people are more able to keep working beyond retirement age today.

The scientists concluded that the huge amounts of information we receive from television, movies, and other cultural sources are providing mental stimulation so we are "smarter."

The past 20 years have been times of such great change with the increase in the mass media and the internet.

As the baby boomer generation ages it will be interesting to follow the studies to see what the characteristics of the boomers will be in ten or twenty years.

Keeping the mind exercised and mentally stimulated is something we are all reading about a lot these days. This study provides additional encouragement for staying mentally active and keeping our environments enriched with learning opportunities.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Liz Lewis, R.N. and Mary Emma Allen at Alzheimer's Notes - RE: Dementia Project

There is a team written blog at by Liz Lewis, R.N. and Mary Emma Allen. A recent post tells about a creative writing project designed to allow people with dementia living in residential assisted care homes "to have their stories and words seen and heard." The project was designed by a writer in residence, Anthea McKinley for the Glasgow City Council. The project is called "In Our Own Words" and it enables people with dementia to be "recognized as authors in their own right".

I went to the website for the project and I loved the insightful writing by the authors.

One of the writers with dementia listed on the website, Norma Smith, writes about "Being in a Book" and says the following.

"It's very exciting how you can find words in your brain. How words turn into sentences. Suddenly you find you have a wee masterpiece. It goes to the printing press..."

Alex Wallace writes about the experience and says the following.

"I think when you're living like we do, you need someone else outside of your family to make you feel part of a whole, not just part of a wee bit."

Not just caregivers, but people everywhere can understand better what it feels like to experience life from these authors points of view by reading some of their material.

I have been taking a Life Story Writing class by an instructor who also teaches it at assisted care facilities, so finding this blog post and the website was especially interesting.

When I've been caregiving for people with Alzheimer's or Dementia I like to ask questions about the people's lives. If one moment their memory about this morning's events is not very good, in the next moment they might be telling me about things that happened many years ago.

I think enabling people with Alzheimer's and Dementia to tell their stories, and to help trigger their memories with "memory joggers" such as photos, scrapbooks and so on makes their lives more full and relieves some of their isolation.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Tips for Seniors About Life Story Writing or Telling

Anthropologist Myla Collier teaches a class on Life Story Writing for Seniors through Cuesta Community College Adult Emeritus, San Luis Obispo, California. Seniors learn techniques for memory retrieval that include using "memory joggers" because some of the experiences they write about happened more than 50 years ago in their lives.

Throughout history seniors have traditionally been the family historians, adding their life story to the life stories of the ancestors. Genealogy and family trees are related topics that seniors also may research and preserve.

The class offers seniors helpful techniques that include how to write a chronological life history that starts at birth. Seniors learn to feel more comfortable with their memories, and to accept the good times and the difficult times as an integrated part of their lives.

Humorous anecdotes, the development of interests and careers, and life stages are all included.

Examples of the way others told their life stories include Grandma Moses. Her autobiography started as follows:

"I, Anna Mary Robertson, was born back in the green meadows and wild woods on a farm in Washington County in the year 1860, September 7, of Scotch Irish paternal ancestry. Here I spent the first ten years of my life withmy mother, father, and sisters and brothers. Those were happy days free from care and worry."

Writing or telling a life history can be a wonderful activity for seniors. Some people dictate the story into a tape recorder or record it with a videotape.

Describing the styles and trends of an era 50 or 80 years ago and adding the historical events and facts helps to create the setting and time so that others can picture it. Memories become sharper when instructor Myla reads an historical synopsis for a time period, such as the 1950's.

The seniors I've assisted as a caregiver have enjoyed discussing their life history. I frequently use techniques I've learned in Myla Collier's class. Many people make a book out of their life story, and these histories or memoirs are given to relatives and added to the family heirlooms.

Seniors writing a life history refresh their memories, organize the memories chronologically, and enjoy creating a book reflecting life lived during the various historical eras.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Elders Enjoy Helping With Family History

Traditionally elderly people were the storytellers who preserved family stories and legends. Today, seniors often enjoy the social interaction of discussing family history and life stories. I have often thought it helped some of the elderly seniors I've assisted, who live alone, to feel less lonely when they share their life history and memories with me. For many elderly people memories of long ago events are sharper than the details of last week. This is because the earlier memories became part of long term memory, and as we age short term memory starts to lose ability. Storytelling was traditionally the role of the elderly, who preserved the family history, traditions, and legends for the next generation.

Sharing their memories with a younger generation is one way elderly seniors can interact socially, reduce loneliness, and have a hobby of preserving the family history.

Today writing life histories and researching family backgrounds and genealogy are as popular as ever. Dates, names, and events can be researched on the internet. Special reminders can help trigger memories of things that happened fifty or sixty years ago.

As a caregiver I've been surprised when people 95 years old, who have short term memory difficulties, can tell me details of the houses where they grew up 80 years ago. One person whom I assisted turned 100 years old, and was still telling stories of growing up in Minnesota, moving to California, and enjoying the weather and new foods after the move.

Storytelling is still a wonderful activity for elderly seniors, and caregivers and families can enjoy hearing true experiences from history instead of reading about it in books. Recording or writing down the family history can create a treasure to pass on to other generations.

Whenever you don't know how to pass the time of day, you can always ask an elderly person to tell you about life when that person was a child. Frequently even people with memory issues can recall childhood experiences.

There are lots of good internet sites, and one that I stumbled upon is Heirloom Stories. Some people combine reminiscing with making a scrapbook, adding memories to a family cookbook, or writing a memoir. So many memoirs have been published that you never know whose memories may come out as a book next.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Loneliness, Isolation Increases Alzheimer's and Dementia Risk

Caregivers for seniors might like to read about a study from the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center that is discussed in an article titled "Loneliness Associated with Increased Risk of Alzheimer's Disease" at Medical News Today. Isolation and limited social contacts are known to be associated with a decline of mental abilities. In this study the emotional side of loneliness was studied by analyzing people over a four year period. Those with higher levels of lonely emotions were shown to have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer's.

The article went on to discuss the social side of human nature, and our needs for healthy interaction with others.

As a caregiver I've often been called to start a schedule assisting an elderly senior at home who has been living alone for many years. Sometimes a person will have lost a spouse and continued on in the same house, living alone, without adult children living nearby.

After many years of assisting people in offices, facilities, and in home care I can see the difference between people who have had social interaction available and those who have not.

My heart goes out to those frail elders who do not have good enough health to leave the house to visit others, and who do not have old friends or relatives nearby. Sometimes their spouses have passed away, their relatives live in another state, and old friends may have passed away also.

As a caregiver I try to provide social interaction and activities, and to help frail seniors go for outings to the store or to events.

This article about the emotional side of loneliness and Alzheimer's made me think of the elderly seniors I have assisted who have been isolated. There is no doubt to me that the frail seniors who have social interaction are often mentally more cognizant, and emotionally in a better frame of mind, less depressed.

A friendly caregiver who supplies activities and outings can help to make a difference for a frail senior.