With advancing age comes a myriad of health problems for many seniors, this is just a fact of life. Along with this, seniors may also begin to experience joint pain, muscle stiffness and a lack of mobility due to a number of conditions, including arthritis.
To add to this, the onset of diseases such as osteoporosis, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s or dementia increase the likeliness of cognition issues, dizziness and weakness as side-effects of chronic medications.
All of these conditions can lead to a heightened risk of trips, falls and general instability in seniors. This is why gentle, low-impact mobility exercises are an excellent way to keep balance, flexibility and strength in check to increase mobility.
Practise the following exercises in the comfort of your own home, on a daily basis. Just keep in mind that another person, a sturdy chair or handrail should be used for support if needed.
1. The Tightrope Walk
For this exercise, you will need a few metres of clear, unobstructed space. Stand with your arms held up, straight out from your sides, facing parallel to the floor. Keeping your arms up at your side, walk in a straight line, pausing every two steps to lift your leg off the ground, and balancing for 1-2 seconds at a time. Slowly lower your leg back to the ground, and repeat.
Take 15-20 steps for the entire exercise, remembering to keep your head up and eyes fixed on an object in front of you. Use a spotter, someone to walk beside you, if needs be.
2. Rock the Boat
Place your feet hip-width apart and make sure that each foot is properly pressed into the ground for stability, evenly distributing your weight across both legs. Keep your shoulders back and head lifted, with your eyesight focused on an object in front of you. Now, slowly transfer your weight onto one leg and lift the other off the ground, holding it in the air for a maximum of 30 seconds. Lower your leg and repeat on the other side.
Complete each repetition 5 times on each side, building up to more as strength and balance improves.
3. The Heel-Toe Shuffle
While this exercise is more a walk than a shuffle, you will need to place one foot directly in front of the other to improve flexibility. Aim to place the heel of your front foot as close to the toes of your back foot as possible. If you can’t manage this, just try to get your two feet as close to each other as you can.
Take 15-20 steps this way while keeping your shoulders back, head up and eyesight fixed on an object in front of you.
4. The Flamingo Stand
For this simple exercise, you’ll basically be mimicking the stance of a flamingo. Stand with both feet firmly placed on the ground, hip-width apart. Use the back of a chair for balance if needs be, then slowly raise one leg off the ground, bent at a 90-degree angle, and hold it there for a few seconds. Then repeat this process on the other leg. You may find this exercise easier on one side than the other, but this is 100% normal. Keep your shoulders back, head up and eyesight focused on an object in front of you.
Growing older doesn’t always have to be uncomfortable- taking a few minutes out of your day to focus on your strength, mobility and flexibility is just as important as any doctor’s check-up!
Why carer flu jobs are so important?
If you are caring for someone you may be concerned about how being ill will affect you as a carer and the person you care for. If you are the main carer for an elderly or disabled person who may be put at risk if you fall ill, and/or if you are in receipt of Carer's Allowance, you should be offered a free flu jab, according to government policy. Other categories of people are also eligible for a free flu jab, including those aged 65+, those who are pregnant, and those with certain health conditions.
Further information on flu jabs in England can be seen on the NHS website.
Shingles is the close cousin of the highly common childhood rash, chickenpox. They are both caused by the same virus, known as varicella-zoster. However, the difference between these two conditions is that one tends to affect young children, while the other tends to affect the elderly.
So, why is shingles so prevalent in the elderly?
Essentially, shingles is a virus that lingers in the body after someone has had chickenpox. The virus can lay dormant for decades in the body’s nerve cells, and for reasons still not fully understood, can be reactivated to produce shingles in later life.
When the virus is activated, it travels along nerve endings throughout the body to produce a skin rash on the surface of the skin, characterised by small, painful blisters. While not many seniors get shingles in later life, approximately 1 in 5 people who’ve had chickenpox are at risk of developing shingles over the age of 50.
It’s worth noting that shingles is not contagious, so as an adult caregiver or a loved one, you cannot contract shingles from someone you’re caring for. However, if you’ve never had chickenpox, you are at risk of contracting chickenpox from someone with shingles!
Increased risk of developing shingles
As mentioned, if you previously suffered from chickenpox as a child, there is always the risk of developing shingles in later life. But the odds are generally quite low of this happening unless you have a severely compromised immune system caused by a number of factors. In seniors, this tends to be illnesses related to HIV, cancer, chemotherapy treatments, radiation treatment and extreme amounts of stress which can take its toll on the body.
The symptoms of shingles
Shingles develop in a very obvious, clear pattern. The first sign is a tingling or burning sensation across a specific area of the skin, generally on one side of the body only. After this, the skin will break out in a red rash which then develop into fluid-filled blisters.
These blisters can be both itchy and painful, depending on the severity of the shingles and the location. The blisters can take between 3-5 weeks to completely clear up. Along with this rash, you may also experience chills, fever, headache or an upset stomach.
How to treat shingles
While there is no immediate cure for shingles, there is much that can be done to minimise symptoms and shorten the duration of the virus.
You’ll need to see a doctor immediately after the skin rash has developed and they will usually prescribe an anti-viral medication to reduce its spread and shorten recovery time. You may also be prescribed an analgesic or anticonvulsant medication for pain relief. Seeing a doctor as soon as possible is important to lowering the risk of developing complications down the line!
If you believe a senior loved one is at high risk of developing shingles, you can ask your doctor for a vaccination to keep it at bay. This is highly recommended for anyone over 60 who is suffering from chronic illness or extreme amounts of stress.
A recent study, conducted by the Buffalo School of Nursing, based in the United States, has found that over 91% of caregivers suffer from poor sleep patterns and don’t get enough sleep. The study also found that caregivers of those with dementia tend to suffer the most, with quality of sleep varying considerably from one night to the next.
A lack of sleep amongst caregivers, especially those that are direct family members, has been closely linked to increased instances of depression, anxiety, obesity and heart disease. This is why it’s so important to understand the interrelationship between caregiver sleep patterns and caregiving duties, and how these two can be best combined to make for a better sleep environment.
The study, published in Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, analysed the sleep of 43 people serving as primary caregivers for a family member with dementia.
What this study uncovered at its core is that family caregivers suffer a far worse sleeping schedule than they let on. At first, these caregivers described their sleep patterns as ‘poor’. But after each participant in the study was given an actigraphy (a non-invasive measure of rest and activity) watch to wear to track their sleep, findings displayed a chronic issue with sleep.
Most participants were getting less than the recommended minimum of 6 hours’ sleep per night, accompanied by frequent awakenings - some as much as four disturbances in an hour. This makes for severely disrupted sleep, which really isn’t 6 hours of sleep at all.
The main contributing factors to these sleep disturbances are the burden of care, anxiety and wandering among the majority of care receivers, common symptoms associated with dementia.
To add to this, poor sleep hygiene and sleep latency were also common among the majority of study participants. Poor sleep hygiene includes day-time napping and over-stimulation before bedtime, which leads to sleep latency – an inability to fall asleep. Most participants were found to take an average of 40 minutes to fall asleep, cutting into their overall rest time.
What can be done to create better sleep patterns?
If this sounds all too familiar to you as a family caregiver, you might need to make some significant changes in the way you prioritise sleep and your caregiving duties.
Some simple changes you can implement to create better sleeping habits include:
- Establishing a regular sleep and wake schedule and sticking to it, i.e. going to bed at the same time each night, where possible.
- Establish a relaxing bedtime ritual, which doesn’t involve overstimulating the brain, such as watching television or scrolling the internet.
- Limiting your daily naps – keep daytime napping to a minimum of just 20-minutes as longer naps could be disturbing your evening sleep pattern.
- Maintain a healthy workout regime – this should help your body to expel pent-up energy or anxiety and help you sleep more solidly.
- Share the load – if sleep disturbances are a common nightly occurrence, you may need to begin sharing your burden of care with another family member who is willing to help.
Taking care of yourself as a caregiver should be a number one priority, and this includes the management of your sleep. After all, only a well-rested caregiver will be able to provide the most attentive care possible.
While a little bit of minor swelling or what appears to be weight gain may not seem like much cause for concern, it’s especially important to take note of these changes in seniors. Many seniors may already suffer from health complications such as kidney disease, heart disease, chronic respiratory infections or arthritis – these are conditions which can often spur on the development of oedema.
At one time this condition was known as dropsy, but today, its most commonly referred to as oedema, characterised by an excess fluid build-up seen in the hands, feet, ankles, wrists and legs. The most important thing for caregivers is to be able to accurately recognise oedema and its symptoms.
What causes oedema?
This condition develops when excess fluid begins to leak out of small blood vessels, becoming trapped in surrounding tissues. Oedema can often be triggered when a senior sustains some form of injury, such as a fall, surgery, allergic reaction or chemical changes in the body due to new medications.
Different forms of oedema
The most common form of this condition is known as peripheral oedema and most likely to occur in the feet, ankles, legs, hands and arms.
Generalised oedema is a condition that affects the entire body which begins to hold onto fluid, although swelling in the extremities is also common.
Then there are more specific forms of oedema, classified according to the organ that is affected, such as pulmonary oedema which affects the lungs, lymphedema which affects the lymphatic system or corneal oedema which affects vision.
Symptoms of oedema
As mentioned, it’s vitally important for caregivers to know what to look for when it comes to the early development of oedema in seniors. Some of the most common symptoms to keep on your radar include:
- Unusual swelling or puffiness of the skin
- Skin that appears stretched, shiny or discoloured
- Persistent aching in a certain body part
- Stiff, rigid joints
- Changes in weight, i.e. weight gain or an overall appearance of weight gain
- Skin that tends to dimple for a while when pressed, not returning to its normal ‘smoothness.’
So, what are the treatment options?
Once you notice any of the above symptoms begin to appear, you must seek medical assistance right away. If oedema is left untreated, it can lead to serious complications down the line such as painful swelling, limited mobility, skin infections, poor blood circulation, skin ulcers and damage to arteries, veins and joints.
Make an appointment with your regular physician as soon as possible – they will do a thorough check-up and may need to make adjustments to certain medications.
Some of the most important things to do as a caregiver to help control bouts of oedema include serving healthy meals, and applying compression and massage therapy to the affected area. It’s important that the skin is regularly conditioned to keep it supple, and be sure to elevate your loved one’s feet and watch their fluid intake.
It’s no secret that many seniors who suffer from neurodegenerative disorders struggle to sleep solidly, without disturbance throughout the night. This is especially true for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients who have a tendency to wander at all hours of the day, even when everyone else is asleep, and then sleep on and off during the day.
While deep brain stimulation has been used to manage the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease for almost three decades now, there’s been little escape from the negative drawbacks and limitations. With this in mind, researchers have recently developed a new and improved implant which works off real-time feedback from the brain itself. This real-time feedback helps to fine-tune the signalling of this new and improved implant model.
While both seniors and caregivers have a myriad of things to worry about as they age, one of them shouldn’t be food – most especially healthy foods and their availability.
Food insecurity amongst the elderly is an increasing concern across the globe, not just the United Kingdom, with a large portion of seniors struggling to meet healthy nutritional requirements month after month.
What is food insecurity?
In general, food insecurity refers to a lack of access to sufficiently nutritious foods due to economic, social or physical restrictions. When it comes to seniors, food insecurity is largely caused by poverty or limited access to a monthly income, little or no private pension access, a lack of mobility or geographical limitations.
Under-nutrition amongst seniors is a daily reality in the United Kingdom, which is a leading cause of functional decline and increasing mortality rates. It can lead to poor health, increased falls, delays in recovery from illnesses and extended periods in hospital. It’s also a leading cause of depression and can contribute to the cognitive decline in those suffering from diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Evidence from the National Nutrition Screening Survey shows than an estimated 1.3 million seniors throughout the UK suffer from a permanent state of food insecurity and a daily nutritional deficit. While 29% of seniors are found to be malnourished upon admission to hospital after falling ill.
What can caregivers do to help?
First thing’s first, you will need to do a little observation as a caregiver as to whether your care receiver is suffering from food insecurity or has poor eating habits of their own.
With this in mind, you’ll need to ask the following questions:
- Can they actually afford nutritious foods in addition to their monthly living and healthcare costs?
- If they have the funds, are they making healthy or poor food choices?
- Do they have access to a grocery store selling healthy foods and can they transport their groceries home and prepare meals for themselves?
- Do they have a disability which limits their ability to shop for and prepare healthy meals?
- Does their mental state limit their self-care, i.e. are they too depressed to eat?
- If you do the shopping and prepare the meals they eat, how nutritious are these meals or are you contributing to their food insecurity?
Granted, some of these questions may be tough to ask and answer- but being 100% honest about the situation is the first step to combating food insecurity.
So what can you do to help?
- Take a closer look at the nutritional value of the foods your care receiver eats on a daily basis. You may need to reason with them and slowly replace less nutritional foods with healthier choices.
- If finances are an issue, look to food banks or charities to help fill the gap.
- If mobility or accessibility is an issue, set up a weekly online grocery store delivery system which has healthy groceries delivered to their doorstep.
- Find a local meal delivery system to send homemade, delicious meals (fresh or frozen) to their home once a week.
- Reassess their monthly budget – sit down with your care receiver and discuss where money can be juggled to make way for a larger food budget, where possible.
- Contribute healthy meals and food items to their pantry where and whenever you can. Enlist the help of other family members or friends to do the same.
Nutrition is a key contributing factor to how you live out the last years of your life, so help your care receiver live a life that’s healthy, happy and as free of illness as possible.
Alcoholism amongst the elderly is far more common than most people realise. Whether it’s a lifelong addiction or a relatively new habit, many families may have a senior family member who harbours this life-threatening habit.
The act of caregiving is built on the premise of offering constant care and support to a loved one, sibling, family member or even a friend. It’s this simple act of caregiving, or looking after another person which can spur on feelings of guilt in those you care for. As a primary caregiver, they rely on you and this makes them feel like a burden.