Volunteerism and the Elderly: Boomers Giving Back

There are many gratifying benefits of volunteering at any age. The helper’s high–a good feeling one receives from helping others–can be experienced by anyone.  But it is probably a feeling more appreciated by an older person. Think about it, a retiree who has had a lifetime of work and experience behind them must feel good when they can use that previous knowledge to improve the life of another individual.

Sociologist Erik Erikson theorized that all people go through the same life stages. He labeled middle adulthood as anyone being 40-64 years old.  He labeled this stage of life Generativity vs Stagnation. All of Erikson’s stages involved two opposing possible outcomes at odds with each other. Generativity means  the person feels they have produced something of value to leave behind. Stagnation means the person feels that they haven’t produced anything of value or significance and when they leave this world, they would be forgotten. Simply having children doesn’t bring about generativity.

During the Generativity vs Stagnation stage, people are questioning “Will I produce something of value?” To achieve generativity a person needs to give back to society, and volunteering is a great way to do that.

Benefits for society from seniors volunteering

There are numerous societal benefits in having seniors volunteer in our communities. They have helped out by providing compassion to  visitors for people in hospitals. Retired teachers have helped out younger generations by tutoring them after school. Professionals of all kinds donate their time and services after retirement. This give back mentality has carried then national when times are tough.

WECARE: Seniors Helping Seniors

WECARE stands for Working to Enhance the Care and Resources for our Elders. It is a non-profit program funded by the Americorps and California State University, Fullerton. The idea behind WECARE is to have seniors help other seniors. Today, college students and baby boomers work together to improve the lives of seniors in the Orange Country community. Doing everything from healthy living classes, friendly visits, care giving, etc., WECARE rescues or creates community programs to enable seniors to age in place. Americorps also provides living stipends for their members.

For more information about WECARE please email Ashiya Kerr, volunteer coordinator at akerr@fulllerton.edu . To find out more information about Americorps please visit www.americorps.gov.

Photo credit: San Jose Library

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.

Fear of Falling and Fall Prevention Programs

Falling for the elderly is devastating and has many lasting consequences such as pain, injury, loss of independence, and costly medical bills. In fact, fifty percent of older adults who have fallen in the past year have a fear of falling. In 2005, 15,800 people 65 and older died from injuries related to unintentional falls.

A fear of falling, like most other fears is embarrassing. For this reason, many seniors do not share this fear with their families or doctors. Women are more likely to report a fear of falling, although men are more likely to die from falls.

The Impact of a Fear of Falling

A fear of falling can result in reduced activity.  People who are afraid of falling may completely stop or modify how they do things. These individuals naturally walk more slowly, however are able to walk significantly faster when asked to do so. A consequence of reduced activity is weak muscles, which could lead to or exacerbate a fall.

People of all ages value their independence, but seniors seem to be the only age group at risk of losing their independence because of a fall. In 2009, the CDC reported that people 75 and older who fall are four to five times more likely to be admitted to a long-term care facility for a year or longer.

Muscles weakened due to inactivity compromise social interaction and increase the risk of isolation and depression.  A fear of falling also increases the risk of falling, and causes depression, while  depression and/or anxiety have disruptive affects on quality of life. There are also enormous financial costs associated with falling.

Financial Costs of Falling

Falls are expensive and make up a large component of health care costs. According to a 2009 report by the CDC, the total direct cost of all fall injuries for people 65 and older exceeded $19 billion in 2000. By 2020, the annual direct and indirect cost of fall injuries is expected to reach $54.9 billion (in 2007 dollars). The average cost of a fall for an older adult totaled $19,440, which included hospital, nursing home, emergency room, and home health care, but not doctors’ services. Furthermore, these costs did not include the long-term effects of falls such as dependence on others, lost time from work, household duties, and reduced quality of life.

Fall Prevention Programs

EnhanceFitness

EnhanceFitness is an evidence-based group exercise program for older adults at all levels of fitness to help them become more active, energized, and empowered to sustain independent lives. EnhanceFitness focuses on endurance training, flexibility, balance, and strength training. Six months after the program participants exhibited 10-30% better physical, emotional, and social health scores.

FallProof

FallProof is another fall prevention program that boosts balance and lowers the risk for falls. Older adults who complete the program demonstrate reduced fear-of-falling and higher physical activity levels. There are three different levels or classes to the program. Mobility I is for the older adult beginning to experience balance problems. The Mobility II program is for the senior who already has a history of falls and requires the use of walkers, wheelchairs and other aids. The third and newest addition to the FallProof program is a water based program. FallProof H2O uses the properties of water to work on balance and mobility. It is for the person who lacks the confidence in balance, or has chronic joint and limb pain.

Matter of Balance

The Matter of Balance program focuses on the fear of falling, and encourages consistent physical movement to reduce the likelihood of falling because of weak muscles.   Participants learn to view falls and fear of falling as controllable, and set realistic goals for increasing activity. Participants also realize ways they can change their environments to reduce fall the risk of falling, and learn simple exercises to increase strength and balance.

Photo credit: Pnikosis

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.

Validation Therapy and Dementia: Pros and Cons

Dementia is a decline in memory and/or intellectual functioning severe enough to interfere with social or occupational functioning. Dementia is not a disease itself, but group of symptoms. It is characterized as a progressive decline in cognitive function due to damage or disease (such as Alzheimer’s) in the brain. Areas particularly affected include: memory, attention, judgment, language and problem solving.

Dementia is condition in which a person loses the ability to think, remember, learn, make decisions and solve problems. Symptoms may also include personality changes and emotional problems. Personality does not change with age in the absence of mental disease.

There are many causes of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, brain cancer, and brain injury. Some Parkinson’s patients experience dementia at later stages of disease progression

Enter Validation Therapy

The idea behind validation therapy is to “validate” or accept the values, beliefs and “reality” of the person suffering from dementia. The key is to “agree” with them, but to also use conversation to get them to do something else without them realizing they are actually being redirected. So, if an 87 year old woman says that she needs a phone to call her grandmother, validation therapy says, “OK.” Here is an example for a caregiver working with someone with dementia in an adult day care:

Older adult: “I have to find my car keys.”
Caregiver: “Your car keys…” ( Don’t mention he doesn’t have a car and he hasn’t driven for years)
Older adult: “Yes, I need to go home – lot’s of work to do!”
Caregiver: “You are busy today?” (Don’t mention he is at adult day care and isn’t going home for hours)
Older adult: “Hell, yes! I’m busy every day.”
Caregiver: “You like being busy?” (Trying to find a topic of conversation that they might accept discussing)
Older adult: “Are your kidding? I didn’t say I LIKED it. I just have to work  like the rest of the world.” (He’s getting a little frustrated, but seems to have forgotten about the keys.)
Caregiver: “I know about work. I do some of that myself. In fact, I’m getting ready to fix some lunch for us. Care to join me?”
Older adult: “Lunch, huh? What are you having?”

Why Validation Therapy Works: The Pros

The number one reason why validation therapy works well is because it is not confrontational. Never is a person belittled, yelled at, or told “no.” Remember dementia is a group of symptoms, not a disease. It is easy to misdiagnose. For example, people suffering from UTIs (urinary tract infections) are said to demonstrate characteristics of dementia if the infection goes undetected.

Criticisms of Validation Therapy: The Cons

The biggest criticism of validation therapy is that it promotes lying. These lies weigh heavy on the consciouses of caregivers and family members. For example, validation therapy says that a family member should just accept their aging parent calling them someone else’s name, not correct them. When family stories are switched around, the family is suppose to just listen to the stories as they are told. While there seems to be significant emotional harm to caregivers and family members, very little harm is done to the person with dementia; but isn’t it the well-being of the person with dementia that is most important.

Photo credit: jam343

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.