Not every decision is clear cut, however. For instance, should you let a senior with failing health continue to own a beloved pet?
If you are caring for a senior aged 65 and older, it is important to ensure that your loved one gets a flu shot this season. Why? The CDC reports: "It is estimated that between 71 percent and 85 percent of seasonal flu-related deaths have occurred in people 65 years and older, and between 54 percent and 70 percent of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations have occurred among people in that age group."
In other words, seniors are at high risk for flu-related complications. This is largely because, as seniors age, their immune systems weaken over time. This is true even for seemingly healthy seniors, but it is even more important to prevent the flu if your senior is already suffering from other physical ailments.
For these families, the holidays also represent an ideal opportunity for discussing 'what if' scenarios regarding senior care for aged loved ones. Why are such discussions necessary, and how can they help a family with a loved one who may be in need of assistance?
Why Seniors May Experience the "Holiday Blues"
Psychotherapist Joyce Marter, LCPC, points out several reasons for seniors to feel especially lonely around the holidays. Perhaps your patient is grieving for a beloved mate who has died, or perhaps he or she is having trouble adjusting to physical or mental decline that will alter the pattern of the way holidays have been traditionally celebrated in the family.
If you are providing care for an aged love one, you may also have some concerns about cognitive changes in your senior. What is normal senior forgetfulness and what are warning signs of Alzheimer's? Here are some signs provided by the Alzheimer's Association to help you determine if and when to consult with a physician concerning your loved one's mental health.
Memory Loss: By far, the most recognizable symptom of Alzheimer's is memory loss. It is perfectly normal to forget a name or an address once in a while. But, if your senior's memory lapses are interfering with his or her daily life, then it is time to consult a doctor.
The Family Caregiver Alliance provides these statistics to illustrate the struggle faced by many women providing care for their aged parents:
- 66 percent of caregivers are female.
- The average caregiver is 49 years old. She cares for her 60-year-old mom, who does not live with her. She is married and employed.
- 20 percent of working female caregivers are also providing financial support to the parent for whom they care.
Social isolation, defined loosely as the absence of social interactions, contacts, and relationships with friends and family, with neighbors, or with society at large, is a serious issue for many older adults.
Andrew Steptoe, lead researcher of a study on the effects of social isolation on health outcomes among the elderly, states: "Social contact is a fundamental aspect of human existence. The scientific evidence is that being socially isolated is probably bad for your health, and may lead to the development of serious illness and a reduced life span."
The study found that the most socially isolated subjects had a 26 percent greater risk of dying than their socially connected counterparts, even when sex, age, and other factors commonly linked to survival were taken into account.
Rooted in Place
This sentiment makes sense. The concept of moving into a different community and a new living arrangement can create anxiety at any age. However, especially in the case of seniors, pulling up roots and making such a change is often an overwhelming prospect.
For many seniors, the homes in which they live are the homes where they raised families, where they invested their time and resources, and where they developed close friendships with neighbors. Leaving all of that behind in favor of a new, sometimes radically different environment holds little appeal.
Additionally, from a purely physical perspective, the thought of moving to a new home is an exhausting one, as seniors consider how to dispose of a lifetime's accumulation of clutter to live comfortably in the smaller space common in assisted living communities.
Home is where the heart is. At least, that appears to be the case for Baby Boomers now entering their retirement years. Unlike older generations, Baby Boomers expect to live independently much longer than their predecessors, and intend to use all tools at their disposal to do so.
USA Today's "Retirees Embrace Ways to Stay Put, Age in Place" notes that the vast majority of people aged 50 or older want to stay in their homes for as long as possible. The article observes: "They want to age in place, continuing to live in their home or at least in the same community. And they're not afraid to remodel and try new technologies to make that happen."
Some of the technologies available to help seniors age in place are:
- smart homes
- personal emergency response systems
- health monitoring devices
According to the Alzheimer's Association, six in 10 people with dementia will wander. Wandering can occur at any stage of the disease, making it necessary for caregivers to take precautions to both reduce the likelihood of wandering behaviors and handle wandering incidents correctly if they should occur.
Why Dementia Patients Wander
Dementia patients can wander for a variety of reasons. The Mayo Clinic lists several common triggers for wandering. They include:
- Stress or fear: Some dementia patients experience stress or fear in unfamiliar surroundings, or in places where overstimulation of their senses occur (ie. loud noises or overly bright lighting).
- Searching: In many cases, dementia patients may be searching for an item they have lost, and wander away from a safe environment before they are aware of doing so.
- Boredom: Occasionally, a dementia patient may wander in search of something new to do or see.
- Attempting to care for a basic need: A dementia patient may be trying to care for a basic need like finding a bathroom or finding something to eat when he or she becomes confused and begins to wander.
- Following a past routine: In some instances, a dementia patient may be trying to go to a place or activity with which he or she is familiar (ie. going to a previous job or favorite store).