5 Tools and Gadgets That Make Aging in Place Easier

On a recent trip home to visit my octogenarian mom and stepdad, I surveyed their technology landscape. Like some of their peers, they’re not eager to embrace new devices. Why? Maybe they have a fear of the unknown, skepticism about the value, lack of awareness of what’s available, or a combination of all three.

But in the last year, my stepdad has—thanks to his cardiologist—a machine that monitors his heart and blood pressure and digitally transmits results, which helps with his care. Mom has a new computer with larger lettering and high speed Internet access, which keeps her connected.

This progress got me thinking: what other new technology could improve their lives and connectivity?

The good news is that the market for senior technology is booming and there’s a plethora of options. To give you a taste of what’s out there now, these five tools and gadgets definitely fit the “high tech helpfulness” bill.

  1. Skype. While it’s true that some older people aren’t able to—or don’t want to—use computers, many do. The truth is that older people, as well as their family and friends, can benefit from connecting via online services like Skype and Facetime, which allow you to see and speak to another person in real time. You may need a caregiver to help facilitate the call, but once the reluctant cross the hurdle, it’s habit-forming.
    And it’s not just limited to desktops or laptops. “A tablet or iPad allows the older person to literally hold the device and someone’s face—almost cradling—in a way that is so much more powerful and intimate than sitting in front of a computer screen,” says Claude Goodman, president of CareWheels, a nonprofit developing technology services to help older people live safely and independently in their own homes.
  2. Grabbers and Reachers. They aren’t very high-tech, but one could argue that grabbers and reachers are more useful for day-to-day living. If you’re concerned about your parent’s safety and the potential ill effects of a fall while trying to pick something off the ground, this long, thin tool acts as a secure hand to help maintain independence in the home. It’s also terrific for enabling arthritic hands to grasp objects.
  3. Sight and Sound Gadgets. Let there be light—and amplification! Advances in technology aimed at keeping elders reading, viewing, and hearing help to lower anxiety, boost self-esteem, and generally keep them more engaged and connected at home. A variety of magnifying helpers searchable by “illuminated,” “hand-held,” and “computer” make reading and viewing much easier for older eyes. Telephone amplifying devices allow older loved ones to carry on conversations without constantly asking people to repeat themselves, which, in turn, leads to more natural connection with friends and family. They’re also helpful for making error-free appointments with doctors.
  4. Stairlifts. For those with heart ailments or mobility issues, installing a stairlift at home can be a godsend. There are a variety of stairlift options to consider, from adapting one for a straight or curved staircase to renting vs. buying. It’s essential to consider each person’s needs in a decision. This may not be for everyone, especially if the older person has trouble with motion or sitting to the side. But for those who want to get to a second floor and continue living in a beloved home, installing one makes a difference in quality of life.
  5. High-Tech Senior-Friendly Telephone Systems with Portability. Among the many items showcased at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show, the CareLine Home Safety Telephone System received attention for being an all-in-one communications center that solves some of the challenges of effectively aging in place.
    It includes a corded base and cordless handset with large-text display, large amber-backlit buttons, and audio boost. The answering machine even has a “slow” option, so elders can play messages at a more comfortable speed. But what really takes it up a notch is the portable and rechargeable CareLine pendant. In effect, this is a light, mini-cordless phone around the older person’s neck that comes with just two programmable buttons. You can set it up so that one button reaches you or a caregiver, and the other contacts 911. The older person can also voice dial up to fifty numbers set up in the system’s phonebook.

With new high-tech devices for seniors being developed at a rapid rate, keep an eye out for ones best suited to your situation. To find out more, see Getting Started with DIY Universal Design and Aging in Place.

About the Author

Dave Singleton is an award-winning writer and Caring.com author. Want to know whether caregiving gadgets really work? Find out what family testers say when they put products to the test, in Caregiving Problem Solvers.

Making Smarter Choices about Senior Housing

If you’re thinking of buying a new dishwasher, where do you turn? If you’re like many people, you probably turn to the Internet at some point during your search to read reviews from other consumers who have direct experience with the brands you are evaluating. And you’ll find an abundance of such reviews across dozens of websites. The decision to place a loved one in a senior living community — and deciding which senior community is right for your loved one —  is a far more important choice. Yet, you won’t find the same abundance of reviews online from real consumers.

But that’s starting to change. The population is aging rapidly, and the need for different types of senior housing options is growing. Today’s consumers are savvier and more educated, and fully aware that the decision is far more complex than simply choosing a community based on its location and the amenities listed in a brochure. Word-of-mouth marketing and personal recommendations aren’t new, but the availability of this information from dozens to hundreds of consumers at your fingertips is a growing concept in the senior living industry.

What Makes a Good Senior Community Review?

When you consider online reviews as a whole, there’s a clear differentiation between those that are genuine and valuable and those that are untrustworthy. It’s not uncommon for a brand to pay consumers or offer an incentive in exchange for a positive review. In the senior living space, you need real reviews, from real consumers who have had direct experiences with the communities they’re reviewing.

There’s also an important role for expert opinions. Geriatric care managers, home care workers and other industry professionals have a different perspective on the communities they interact with on a regular basis—a perspective that’s important for consumers to learn before making a decision as big as selecting a senior living community.

Senior community reviews should address the most important considerations families face when choosing a senior community for a loved one, including:

  • Staff friendliness, as well as issues with turnover and staffing ratios.
  • The facility itself, such as cleanliness and updated furnishings, as well as the available amenities on the property.
  • Quality of care, such as prompt attention to concerns, adequate care for resident needs and whether the care provided inspires confidence and trust.
  • Dining services, including the ability for residents to choose dining times, accommodation of special dietary needs and the quality of the food provided.

Inspection Data Becomes Increasingly Important

Finally, data from state inspections has become increasingly important to consumers. Nursing homes and other providers are required to make the results of these inspections available to any resident, family member or visitor in most states—and much of this data has been made available online in recent years.

Even the government has taken notice of the demand for critical decision-making data, launching a number of initiatives that provide information to consumers on the Internet, including the Five-Star Nursing Home Quality Rating System and Nursing Home Compare. In fact, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services plans to make even more nursing home deficiency information available online in the near future, thanks to the steady consumer demand for easily accessible data at their fingertips.

Un-Biased Reviews a Critical Aid for Complex Decision-Making

Choosing a senior community for a loved-one is a complex and often nerve-wracking process for families. Locating senior communities on the web, reviewing the available information on services and amenities, touring facilities and meeting with staff and administrators can be a daunting process. Despite all this, many families still enter a senior community experience not knowing what to expect.

Legitimate, unbiased online reviews of senior communities can alleviate some of the unknown associated with such a new experience, easing the minds of both seniors and their loved ones who are each undergoing their own journey through this process. Online reviews can provide consumers with dozens or hundreds of detailed opinions, describing the atmosphere at a community, the quality of care, staffing, amenities, services provided and even personal experiences.

There’s no real way to make the decision of choosing a senior community an easy one. But online reviews will allow seniors and their loved ones to be more confident in their choices, reducing the stress for everyone involved in this life-changing process. The availability of online senior community reviews is one way that technology is reducing some of the challenges associated with aging.

About the Author

Chris Rodde is the CEO and co-founder of SeniorHomes.com, a free resource for people looking for senior housing or senior care for a loved one or themselves. SeniorHomes recently launched a national ratings system to help seniors and their families make more informed decisions. To learn more about the ratings program and the Best of Senior Living Awards visit: http://www.seniorhomes.com/p/2013-best-senior-living-awards/

Photo credit: moodboardphotography

The Ins and Outs of Medicare Supplemental Insurance

If you’re approaching the age of 65 or have just turned 65-years old, you have no doubt been pelted with various literature advising you to enroll in Medicare Advantage and/or choose a Medicare supplemental insurance plan. Navigating the seas of Medicare Advantage and Medicare supplemental insurance can seem rather overwhelming, but with the following simple pointers you’ll be able to choose the right plan, and sail off into your golden years well-prepared and worry-free. Remember, you’re never too young to start researching your Medicare supplemental insurance options.

When searching for Medicare supplement insurance for seniors, it is important to keep in mind there are hundreds of options to choose from, and with many seniors living on fixed budgets, costs can really matter. While Medicare supplemental plans are standardized and regulated by the federal government, there are some variations that occur due to additional state’s regulations.

Double- and Triple-Check for the Best Deal

It may seem easy to just reach out and sign up for the first supplemental Medicare insurance plan you find, but trust me, patience will pay off here. It is nearly impossible to over-stress how important it is to compare Medicare supplement plans before choosing the best one for you. There are quite a few resources readily available both on the Internet and in person. One major resource that is used is www.Medicare.gov where you can find information regarding all aspects of Medicare. On another site there is even a nifty tool to assist in the planning of long-term care. The good thing about databases like these is that they contain a wealth of information. The not-so-good thing about databases is that they sometimes contain so much information it can sometimes take a little while to find the answer to your exact question. In circumstances like this, our next tip is essential.

When in Doubt, Give a Person a Shout

In addition to online databases, there is a wide variety of human resources just a phone call or email away. In order to get the best answer to your question it is recommended that you consult with one of the national groups that specialize in Medicare insurance. An excellent resource is the Senior Advisors Group. This insurance agency deals exclusively with Medicare supplemental, Medicare Part D and Medicare Advantage plans. Because of their expertise, this agency as well as others quickly and (more importantly!) correctly answer any query whether it’s about Medicare Advantage, choosing the best Medicare supplemental insurance plan, or even questions about Medicare Part D (Medicare’s prescription plan). So next time you’re confused about your options, just pick up the phone and make a call!

Do I Really Need Medicare Supplemental Insurance?

Yes! So how does this relate to Medicare’s coverage? There is a general rule of thumb that is called the “80/20 rule.” Outside of some of the preventative items like mammograms, colorectal screenings, and some psychiatric care, Medicare covers the first 80 percent of medical bills, leaving you to cover the last 20 percent. Medicare will also cover certain medically-necessary pieces of equipment like seat lift mechanisms and diabetic shoes (fitted by a specialist, of course). It doesn’t seem so bad at first, especially if you’re a healthy individual, but if something happens that requires you to need urgent medical care or even an operation, you may have to spend tens- to hundreds-of-thousands of dollars. A June 2011 report from the Kaiser Family Foundation predicted that by the year 2020 the median out-of-pocket spending for seniors with Medicare is projected to reach 26 percent of all income, with the most money being spent in the last five years of their life. This is why supplemental Medicare insurance is a necessity for every senior. Not only do you really need Medicare supplemental insurance, you need it before something happens to you, and you likely won’t use it much until the last 5 years of life. So two points to keep in mind 1) If you wait until a procedure is needed or something unexpected happens to you, you’ve waited too long, and 2) Don’t make the mistake of cancelling your Medicare supplement policy because you’ve’ paid in more than you use. It’s health insurance and in this case it works best if it’s held to its natural end point.

So What Is the Best Medicare Supplement Plan for Me?

If you’re still wondering which Medicare supplement plan is the best Medicare supplement plan for you, the answer is: it really depends on your specific needs and preferences! This is why you need to compare Medicare supplement plans, Medicare Advantage plans and Medicare Part D plans thoroughly before making a decision. Depending on your specific needs there is a variety of choices that could fit. As they say, sometimes a good offense is to have a good defense, so don’t wait until the last minute to take care of finding a Medicare supplemental insurance plan. Pick up the phone and start to compare Medicare supplement plans today and you’ll be sure to have many happy, healthy tomorrows.

About the author: Simone is a writer and researcher who has written for various companies about Medicare supplemental insurance, home security systems, travel, and personal safety. Her opinions can be found throughout various industry forums and blogs.

Misconceptions about Seniors and Exercise

Many aging adults avoid exercise because they are afraid of being injured. Little do they realize that the actual danger lies in becoming too sedentary. As we age, our bones, joints, and muscles naturally begin to deteriorate as cells gradually die off, making us more frail and prone to serious injuries. The only way to combat the aging process is by exercising, which encourages the body to produce new cells and increase muscle and bone density. Fortunately, it is never too late to start an exercise regime and improve your fitness: “In one study, life expectancy was increased even in persons who did not begin exercising regularly until 75 years of age.” No matter your age, fitness level, or mobility limitations, there are low-impact exercises that can improve mobility and promote a healthy life. Find out more about how exercise can positively affect many areas of your life:

Increasing Balance & Preventing Falls

Falls are an all too common occurrence among seniors and even the slightest of slips can have catastrophic consequences for older Americans. Over 40% of people who suffer a hip fracture are unable to return home to live independently. In addition, 25% of seniors who suffer a fall pass away shortly after their injury. Simple balance exercises and resistance training can strengthen stabilizer muscles that aid in balance and ultimately help prevent falls and potentially fatal injuries.

Research has found that practicing tai chi is especially helpful to seniors. This ancient form of exercise has its roots in martial arts and involves slow, deliberate movements. Practitioners methodically transition between poses while concentrating on their breathing, emphasizing the mind/body connection. This form of exercise is especially helpful to seniors because it is low impact that reduces stress and improves balance and flexibility.

Prevent or Delay Disease

Aging naturally causes a loss in bone density that can result in Osteoporosis, Arthritis, and other diseases, especially in adults who have additional risk factors. While most people associate exercise with losing fat and gaining muscle, strength and resistance training also affect bone density. As you engage in challenging exercises, your body responds by increasing blood flow and creating cells that add new layers of bone growth. This increases bone density and strength, actually making it harder to incur fractures and breaks. Without exercise, cells will continue to die without being replaced, resulting in weakened bones. In addition to low-impact cardiovascular exercise, seniors should incorporate weight bearing movements into their exercise routine. This doesn’t mean slinging around massive weights at the gym. Even powerwalking and dancing can have a beneficial impact on bone density that can help prevent or delay the onset of Osteoporosis and other bone and joint related diseases.

Combat Depression & Dementia

In addition to having physical benefits, exercise can also affect your emotional and mental well-being. Getting older can mean facing a combination of major life changes and stressors all at once. Dealing with the loss of loved ones, a decrease in mobility, and a lack of purpose, can make seniors especially prone to depression. Research shows that older adults experience clinical depression at over twice the rate of the rest of the population. Exercise can be the most valuable tool seniors have when it comes to boosting their mood and fighting depression. In fact, for some patients, regular exercise is just as effective as anti-depressant medications.

Research has also proven that there is a direct link between a strong body and a strong mind. Lack of physical activity can cause cognitive decline and increased instances of dementia and Alzheimer disease. However, if you engage in regular physical activity, you can lower your risk of dementia by 24%. Just 30 minutes of exercise a day can significantly improve your mood and cognitive abilities, thus ensuring a better quality of life.

Help in Healing

Because the body naturally slows down the production of new cells as it ages, older adults experience longer healing time after illnesses, injuries, and surgeries. However, regular exercise can speed up the process by 25%. While you might not be able to fight all the side effects of aging, you can make sure that you are able to recover quickly and return to your active lifestyle.

Conclusion

Despite the fact that exercise can boast a whole host of benefits, 75% of older Americans do not exercise enough to receive positive results. This is due, in large part, to the all too common myth that exercise will actually put them at more risk of falling and being injured. The truth is that regular exercise is our best weapon in fighting the physical, emotional, and mental side effects of aging. Even if you haven’t been active in years or you are chair bound, there are exercises and programs that can be specially designed to challenge your body, promote new cell growth, and improve your quality of life. Get moving today!

About the Author: Amy Blitchok is a professional writer and researcher who is interested in issues affecting seniors and aging in place. She currently writes for U.S. Medical Supplies.

Caregiving for a Proud Elder Patient Who Needs Your Help

Caregiving for a Proud Elder

As people age, the simplest daily tasks we’re used to doing can become increasingly difficult to complete, but what can be even more difficult is entering a stage when the realization that the days of an independent lifestyle may be coming to an end, especially after living a full and independent life where he or she learned to be self-reliant.  This realization can lead to denial of the situation, and even more so when others begin to take notice.  Moving from a life like that can be incredibly difficult and it’s completely understandable.  People often don’t want to admit they need assistance, even when it’s clear they do.

If you find yourself in a similar situation and notice a parent or loved one is in need of assistance, but has shunned attempts at help, it can be an incredibly challenging hurdle to overcome the denial of the circumstance.  It may be possible if you’ve noticed a shift in behavior and attitude, especially if it appears to be dramatic, that the person be developing a neurological condition.  It doesn’t necessarily mean its dementia or even Alzheimer’s, but any change over a period, brief or extended, should be addressed by a healthcare professional.  A geriatric screening may be beneficial.

Of course, even getting a geriatric screening can be another challenge to overcome with someone who is stubborn, prideful, and unabashedly independent.  However, if you are in a caregiving position, there are several things to consider that will make caring for a strong-willed individual.

Patience.

It may be a cliché to call patience a virtue, but in this case, having patience with a stubborn individual or someone who has dementia is critical.  A lack of patience will only lead to grief and misery for both parties and it will create a highly stressful situation.  There will be a considerable amount of stress.  In caregiving, it’s unavoidable.  Managing the stress and having patience is a major first step, but managing stress is a learning process.  It’s about knowing when to take a step back and to breathe.

Plus, if you’re caring for a loved one, it can be emotionally and physically taxing.  You might ask yourself what you’re getting out of it. Emotions can certainly run high and probably will.  If it does become too taxing and stressful, don’t be afraid to find someone else to provide care.  A great way to reduce stress on both you and the person you are caring for is to stay active.  Keeping mentally and physically active is critical.  When they aren’t active, it can be detrimental to their health and mood and if they are already in a state of declining health it can worsen their condition.

Listen.

You don’t want to be the only one doing the communicating.  Listen to what the person has to say and remember that not all communication is verbal.  Look for nonverbal cues in body language and behavior.  If the person wants to be alone, it’s ok to let them be alone for a while.  Instead of demanding that they need your or a caregiver’s help, ask them and engage them in conversation.  If the person is a parent, it can be especially difficult because there can often be a sense of betrayal, which goes both ways.  In any case, you want to be direct and straightforward when you communicated and respond.  You want to avoid letting the person’s hostility to manifest itself in you, because if it does, it can be difficult to recover from and can easily break your patience.

It’s also important not to expect an immediate positive change—or a change at all—in the individual during you care of them.  While you’re a support structure in someone’s life, a pillar, they may lack the cognitive ability to realize that.

About the Author

Christian Wilson currently works in the home care industry. He writes about issues facing the elderly and spends a lot of his work day answering questions regarding home care. When he’s not at work he enjoys traveling with his family and meeting new people.

The Benefits of Home Care after Hospitalization or Rehabilitation

The time after a patient is discharged from a hospitalization or rehabilitation stay is a fragile time – especially for older patients. Every recovery is different, but for many, the management of daily responsibilities can present an overwhelming challenge – and in some cases may not be feasible at all. Even procedures that might seem straightforward can result in lengthy, cumbersome recuperation.

This is also a crucial time; how well patients are taken care of after hospitalization has a huge impact on how successful their recovery is in the long term. As such, it’s important to understand your options during this time, do the due diligence, and plan in advance for care after the hospital stay.

The Limitations of Insurance-Covered Home Health Care

When patients are discharged from the hospital or from rehab, they are provided with in-home health care – which is usually covered by Medicare or private insurance. Home health includes select services of nurses, occupational therapists, or physical therapists for a given period of time (usually the first part of the healing period). While this help is crucial for recovery, the services are limited, and there’s a common misconception about how much help is offered, the quality of care, and for how long care is provided.

For example, the provided home health aides will not typically take care of things like grocery shopping, meal preparation, escorts to and from medical appointments, grooming, dressing, and so on. This can come as an unpleasant surprise to patients and their families who may have been depending on these services to be managed.

Planning for Supplemental Home Care

When deciding what kind of help will be needed for the period of post hospital recovery, talk with the doctor to get a sense of what the recovery process will be like. Determine from the insurer what home care benefits will be included. Getting this information will help you decide the best care plan for you or your loved one.

One option that many patients and their families will elect to do is to supplement the home health with a specialized senior home care provider. Using this type of supplemental home care ensures a smooth transition from hospital to home, and it gives the peace of mind that there will not be any surprising gaps in provided care. A good home care provider can create a personalized care plan for whatever length of time is requested and can deliver a number of services that may not be covered by insurance, including:

  • Meal preparation
  • Medication reminders
  • Transportation to medical appointments
  • Housekeeping and laundry
  • Personal care and hygiene
  • Companionship

Because the time after the hospital or rehabilitation is such a vulnerable time for seniors, families often find that temporary home care is an excellent way to alleviate stress, provide some much needed assistance, and ensure the speediest recuperation possible. As individuals on the road to recovery know, a little extra help can go a long way.

About the Author

Charlie Nadler is a community education writer for Chicagoland Methodist Senior Services. CMSS is the most extensive senior services network on Chicago’s north side, providing services such as senior home care, a senior living community, and more.

Families: First Line of Defense in Elder Abuse

Many adult sons and daughters make every effort to visit their aging parents in nursing homes and other retirement communities in order to stay in touch and reduce the feeling of isolation their loved ones may have. There is a larger benefit to doing so and it extends beyond just one family. Nursing home abuse is not uncommon and it takes little effort for families to help elder law attorneys and senior advocates.

Many aides at nursing homes are trained very little and asked to work long hours at little pay. This is in part because facility operators do not get any more money from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services if they provide exemplary care. Therefore, many operate at the bare minimum. Working with aging residents who have varied and significant needs can also be taxing. Many aides snap.

While the situation creates the conditions, those actions are unacceptable. Families on visits should watch for any signs of bruising or injuries suffered by their loved ones. It may be difficult to assess any problems in the case of mental disability such as Alzheimer’s Disease, but that is not a reason to completely discount any complaints. Any repeated comments should be addressed with the facility’s staff at a start, and an elder law attorney if incidents seem to continue.

It also does not hurt to check in with nearby residents, especially if you know that they rarely receive visitors. Seniors in nursing homes are a very vulnerable population and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and state agencies only make annual inspections at best. It does not take more than a minute or two to ask about a parent’s roommate or the man or woman across the hall.

Finally, in addition to checking with the facility, making a complaint to the state Department of Aging or Health and Human Services should be made so that an investigation can be made (for more information on agencies related to nursing home care look here). In some cases, calling the local police department may also make sense. In any case, making examples of elder abuse public help not just your loved ones, but those of many others.

Finally, keep in mind that abuse is not always easily visible. If an older parent is acting differently, they may be depressed from a lack of independence. However, they could also not be fed properly or having their medications restricted without good cause by nursing home aides or nurses. These are more difficult to identify, but adult sons and daughters should be wary of these as well.

Ensuring that one made the right decision can be difficult, especially if there is not a clear sign of abuse. Check with a local senior advocate or even the family doctor to see what signs should be visible, or consider getting in touch with an elder law attorney. Abuse can be devastating to older residents, and family visitors can be on the front lines of making sure it stops sooner rather than later.

This was written by attorney Jonathan Rosenfeld. Jonathan is the founder of Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers in Chicago, IL and has a law practice concentrating in cases involve nursing home negligence.