Get Your AAHSA On

For some people, aging can be pretty depressing. Many companies are concerned that showing the least bit of humor will be offensive to the families they are trying to woo into residency.  As a result, nearly every senior care community uses the EXACT same photography, brochures and messages.

In the senior care space, it’s rare that organizations will take the risk to put forth a clever approach to marketing their events.

Enter AAHSA, the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging. AAHSA is a non-profit and advocacy group within senior care.

Below is a really fun video that shows you can care about providing great care and have fun at the same time.  Kudos to you AAHSA.

About the Author: Ryan Malone is the founder of InsideElder Care and author of the ByFamilies, For Families Guide to Assisted Living. He regularly speaks and advises families about how to improve their aging loved one’s quality of life. Ryan is also the president of SmartBug Media, a content marketing agency that helps companies increase leads, customers and influence. You can read more from Ryan on the SmartBug Media blog or follow him on Twitter.

Assistive Technology Like Microsoft Health Vault Improved Quality of Life

Assistive technology (AT) is defined as any item, piece of equipment, or product system that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities. It can be almost no-tech items like canes, dressing sticks, effortless can openers, or low-tech, like rolling walkers, walk-in bathtubs, height-adjustable kitchen countertops for wheelchairs, automatic shut-off faucets and stoves,  etc. Examples of high-tech items include: voice activated microwaves, stair-lift chairs, stair-climbing wheelchairs, smart home monitoring systems, remote health monitoring machines, or robot-nurses.

Assistive Technology Improves Quality of Life

Assistive Technology helps seniors maintain their efficacy, independence, and a sense of control over their lives. Assistive Technology is not a new concept, walking aids like the cane or wheelchair have been around for centuries; but there is an enormous need for new and innovative products that improve the quality of life the aging population. Assistive technology can make up for the shrinking number of caregivers and the skyrocketing institutional care costs. The number of adult caregivers for each person needing care is shrinking thus we need assistive technology to supplement personal care. In 1990 there were 11 caregivers for every 1 older adult. By 2050, the ratio of caregivers to older adults will be one to one. Assistive technology prolongs aging in place thus curbing institutional care costs that can cost about 70,000 a year.

Microsoft Health Vault: An Online Database of Personal Health Records.

Microsoft Health Vault is an emerging technology which empowers consumers to control their personal health records. This technology allows consumers to organize and store their health information in one place, to access their health records whenever and wherever they want to (which is particularly useful in an emergency), and to learn from data to help them make informed decisions. Microsoft HealthVault is free to consumers and it has compatible remote monitoring devices, such as blood pressure monitor, glucose meter, pedometer, and weight scale. These tools allow consumers to upload vital sign data to HealthVault to share with caregivers and care providers.

For more information please visit   www.healthvault.com

If looking for an assistive device for you or a loved one, AssistiveTech.net is a website that finds and compares over 22,000 assistive devices and links people to vendors’ websites to purchase merchandize. Simply go to www.assistivetech.net

Note: The previous definitions and statistics were provided by personal correspondence with Dr Echo Chang lead researcher of the first Microsoft HealthVault study at California State University, Fullerton.

About the Author: Ryan Malone is the founder of Inside Elder Care and author of the By Families, For Families Guide to Assisted Living. He regularly speaks and advises families about how to improve their aging loved one’s quality of life. Ryan is also the president of SmartBug Media, a content marketing agency that helps companies increase leads, customers and influence. You can read more from Ryan on the SmartBug Media blog or follow him on Twitter.

Seniors and Caregivers Connect Online

There’s a pervasive notion out there that older people can’t, or don’t want to, use computers.  Facebook fan pages like I Hate Teaching Old People How To Use Computers, boasting over 200 members, Yahoo! chat forums, the Lifestyle section of some newspapers and guests at cocktail parties can all be counted on for stories of someone’s mother/grandfather/elderly neighbor messing up when it comes to computers and getting online.  These anecdotes spread and grow and eventually morph into a general perception that seniors and technology don’t mix.  The reality, however, isn’t so clear-cut.

Given the opportunity, seniors can and will use computer technology in much the same way their younger counterparts do.  A 2004 study, for example, found that older US Web users do product research (66%), purchase goods (47%), make travel reservations (41%), visit government Web sites (100%), look up religious and spiritual information (26%) and do online banking (20%).

What does set older and younger computer users apart, however, is their ability to get-online in the first place.  Seniors are much more likely to be grappling with vision loss, hearing loss, cognitive impairment and diminished motor skills, all of which create barriers to getting online.

Why Is It So Important That Seniors Get Online?

When Cora McCune’s husband passed away, her family became worried about her being on her own.  Phone conversations were beginning to get difficult for Cora yet her children needed an easy way to check in with her everyday.  The solution was to set Cora up with a computer and email account.

Connected individuals are healthier and happier than their non-Internet using counterparts.  The evidence is compelling.  Those who connect with family, friends and the wider community via email and the Internet are less likely to suffer from depression.  Age-related dementia can be slowed, and possibly reversed, when seniors take advantage of computer-based brain-fitness games.  Self-esteem goes up when individuals learn something new.  And some studies suggest that those who take advantage of what the Internet has to offer stay independent longer.  The list goes on and on.

Cora’s computer became her link to the outside world.  It was both a source of entertainment and communication.  When Cora wasn’t using it to play games, do puzzles or read the online version of the local paper, she was emailing her children and grandchildren.  And her grandchildren, who were more comfortable connecting online than picking up the phone, emailed back.  Cora’s computer was like a friend in her room.

Caregivers Benefit When Their Loved One Is Online

Cora’s daughter Sheila was a two-hour drive from her mom.  Being able to check in with her mom every day, even when she couldn’t physically be there, was a godsend.  Being able to videophone her mom using Skype™ technology was especially useful.  “It let me monitor the room,” says Sheila.  “I can listen in, for example, when the TV repair man visits.  And there’s something more intimate about being able to see her.  It’s one thing to talk to someone but being able to actually see how they look is even better.”

There’s also an economic benefit.  In a May 2010 study done by Volunteers of America, 48% of women surveyed say the recent economic downturn has made it harder for them to care for loved ones.   And nearly 80% of those same women believe people should receive paid leave-of-absence to care for an elderly family member.  In Canada, individuals providing four hours or more of care per week were more likely to reduce their work hours, change their work patterns or turn down a job offer or promotion. (From Balancing Career and Care.)

While email, video phone and Internet connections are no substitute for personal interaction, they can provide a cushion that allows caregivers to keep working a little longer while still caring for aging parents.

About the author: Karen Hamilton is a writer and blogger with PointerWare Innovations Ltd. PointerWare is an easy to use computer platform that helps anyone get online and stay connected with family and the wider world. Using PointerWare, anyone can send email messages to loved ones, play brain-fitness games, organize photos and see and talk to their children and grandchildren with voice and video conferencing.  For more information, visit their website at www.PointerWare.com

Remembering: Memory Loss on Memorial Day

In the days leading up to Memorial Day, I found myself reflecting on the true meaning of the day.

Memorial Day is commemorated differently. To some it is simply the beginning of summer and an opportunity to gather with friends and family around a BBQ , a beach or park. To others it’s a time to be particularly grateful and honor those who have fought for country and freedom, paying the ultimate price.

I found myself thinking how fragile life is and how for veterans it must be a very personal time to think of friends and shipmates that have gone by, that were lost. It then hit me how fewer and fewer World War II and the Korean War veterans are left and how, because of the current war on terrorism,  there now are also young faces of men and women added on a daily bases to our collective memory of those who have fallen.

One common thread seemed to repeat as I watched veterans and civilians alike line up across the nation to pay homage to heroes: Memorial Day is a day of remembering those who are no longer here, a time of memories replayed loud and clear and in full in our minds. Suddenly I was gripped by a sadness as I wondered how many of those faces maybe slowly suffering from yet another loss in front of my eyes, a loss of exactly those special life shaping memories. How many of these valiant veterans this time next year might not even remember enough to commemorate Memorial Day?

My local involvement with the Institute for Memory Impairments and Neurological Disorders (UCI MIND) at the University of California, Irvine (www.mind.uci.edu)  and the Alzheimer’s Association (www.alz.org) this year have helped me start to understand more the disorders of the brain, particularly those that are age-related.

5.3 million people have Alzheimer’s.  It’s the 7th leading cause of death in the United States and it has an annual health care cost of 172 billion dollars! From 2000-2006, Alzheimer’s disease deaths increased 46.1 percent, while other selected causes of death (Breast and Prostate Cancer, Heart Disease, Stroke, and HIV) decreased.

The time I have spent involved with these amazing and pioneering organizations came to the forefront of my mind on Memorial Day weekend as I asked myself a few questions regarding how I can, in my professional capacity, perhaps assist those suffering from memory loss through proper design and home modifications.  This becomes especially important in the case where an Alzheimer’s diagnosed loved one remains and is being cared for at home.

Keep in mind that each person suffering from Alzheimer’s is unique in both their stage of the disease and how it unfolds in their specific circumstance. As such, each case may require its own personalized approach when it comes to adaptations intended to help ensure safety and independence.

Apart from some of the aging in place suggestions made in previous articles, there are many things that can be done though the main ones that applies here revolves around Safety.  Here are some simple things that can be done immediately:

  • Place decals on glass patio doors to help prevent them from walking into the glass
  • Lock up medications, matches, razors, lighters, household cleaners and detergents to avoid accidental poisoning or overdosing
  • “Accident-proof” your fridge, cabinets and closets
  • Eliminate all furniture with straight or sharp corners or attach corner pads to them
  • Maintain a consistent furniture layout in the rooms to help avoid disorientation anxiety and agitation due to changes in environment
  • Consistency in all things provides a sense of safety; change on the other hand can be traumatic
  • Use plastic covers for your seating to allow for quick cleaning in case of incontinence, or replace your upholstery with one specific for dealing with this possibility
  • Hang clocks in easy to see areas around the house to help loved ones orient themselves during the day to the passing of time and what time it is
  • Use visual aids like pictures and creative signs to help them associate with areas, functions and objects around the home
  • Avoid using shiny, reflective or flickering objects since they cause confusion and depth perception problems
  • Remove items that look like fake food, such as food or fruit shaped magnets on fridges
  • Use sturdy plastic plates to help avoid breakage and wipe able table clothes for ease of cleaning
  • Plan your meal / food selections so as to allow your loved one ease of independent, safe eating
  • Make sure your trash can has a lid or is in a lockable cabinet to deter dumpster diving. This also helps avoid having loved ones throw away something valuable by mistake
  • Consider removing the dials on the stove or installing stove knob covers to avoid your loved one turning it on and starting a fire or burning themselves
  • Lower the hot water temperature on your water heater to 120 degrees to prevent scalding injuries
  • Hide car keys to avoid your loved one going for a ride and consider a hide-a-key in case your loved one locks you out of the home
  • Seal off outlets and plugs to avoid electrocution
  • Keep fire extinguishers handy in every room
  • Don’t leave lying around items like coffee makers toasters, space heaters that can be a danger to touch
  • Post in a clear place important information like doctors, 911 emergency, local police, fire and ambulance numbers in case you are not around. Other family members or even neighbors may need to intervene and call for help. Ideally this should be near a main easy to find telephone.

These are but a few things we can start to do to better care for loved ones suffering from memory impairment and Alzheimer’s–all the while working hard towards a cure for this debilitating and fatal disease.

Remember, memory loss that disrupts daily life is not a typical part of aging and slow decline in memory, thinking and reasoning skills can be a symptom of Alzheimer’s. (Go to www.alz.org  to learn about the 10 Signs of Alzheimer’s )

So as Memorial Day weekend comes to a close and as we are enjoying that last hot dog or burger around the BBQ, let us make a mental note to educate ourselves about this disease and commit ourselves to helping find a cure for it. After all, it is our precious and priceless memories and our lives that are at stake.

About the Author: Raad Ghantous is the principal of Raad Ghantous & Associates and is an expert in luxury hospitality, wellness centers, and medical & day spa developments.  He is also the owner of Your Home For A Lifetime, an A.D.A/ Barrier-free/ Universal design/Aging in place, full service design/build firm with over 15 years of experience  specializing in developing integrating elegant and seamless designs/modifications to new or existing structures.