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When Should Seniors Give Up Driving?

  Seniors who possess a car and the capacity to drive are more likely to report participating regularly in social activities, and are less likely to experience isolation and depression. However, according to Statistics Canada, people aged 70 or older experience accident rates second only to young males. Seniors often see their licenses revoked only after breaking the law, or being involved in an accident. On the other hand, the decision to pre-emptively revoke a senior’s license can have a major impact on independence and well-being, and can be devastating news to deliver, and receive. Factors Affecting Driving Ability in Seniors Though seniors may have decades of driving experience, the ability to drive safely can be affected by changes to: Vision Hearing Attention Reaction time Judgement of speed and distance These deficits can lead to difficulty responding quickly to danger, merging safely into traffic, and maintaining appropriate speed. Certain health conditions can also affect driving ability: Dementia, which can affect navigation, decision-making and judgement Reduced range of motion, which can lead to difficulty quickly navigating controls Poorly controlled diabetes, which can lead to altered consciousness Sleep disorders and medications affecting alertness Making the Decision Because of the potential loss of independence, seniors are less likely to make the decision themselves to stop driving, and are more likely to be told by a loved one, physician or licensing authority that it is no longer safe to continue driving. If you are concerned about your loved one’s ability to drive safely, it is important to communicate this to their health care provider. Doctors are much more likely to screen a senior...

Women and Heart Disease

While many think of heart disease as a big health concern for men, it is often overlooked that heart disease is the number one cause of death in Canadian women over 55. Women are significantly less likely to develop heart disease before menopause because of the protective effects of estrogen. After menopause, however, the risks of developing heart disease increase with age. Why Heart Disease is Deadlier for Women Women are faced with poorer survival rates following cardiac events, for a number of reasons worth knowing. Timely treatment is crucial to preventing or reducing heart damage following a heart attack. But because of a lack of awareness of the risks, women are more likely to discount unusual symptoms as possibly being heart-related, and tend to delay seeking treatment. Much of the scientific research on heart disease has focussed on men, so there is less guidance for health care providers on when to investigate potential cardiac issues in women. Though women do often experience classic chest discomfort and pain during heart attacks, they may instead experience less classic symptoms such as fatigue, nausea and back or jaw pain. Furthermore, women’s arteries are smaller than those of men, making blockages more difficult to detect. Because of these gaps in awareness among women and health care providers, women are 50% more likely to die than men in the year following a heart attack. The Canadian Women’s Heart Health Centre is working to improve understanding and public and clinical awareness of the differences between how men and women manifest signs of heart disease. Risk Factors In women over 55, several factors increase the...

Why Seniors Should Record Memoirs

While many people at some point contemplate writing a memoir, many are dissuaded by a perceived lack of writing ability, or the assertion that their stories are not interesting enough. However, taking the time to write down stories from your past is well worth the time and effort, whether the end result is a publishable memoir, or a collection of memories to share with your friends and family. You don’t have to be a literary giant to produce something that will allow your history to endure in a valuable way. Do It For Your Brain There are many cognitive and emotional benefits to turning memories into a narrative. Accessing old memories revives neural pathways, which may have a protective effect on memory and cognition. Writing narrative activates many parts of the brain, including visual, language and emotional centers. Writing memories into a narrative provides the opportunity to see things through more focussed lens, which can help in the reframing and processing of trauma and grief. Your Stories Matter Your memories can provide a valuable snapshot in time. Stories don’t have to involve a dramatic moment to be interesting. Details that may seem insignificant can provide a rich level of insight into an era, event or family history, for example: Descriptions of relatives and their personalities Landmarks, addresses, building features Daily routines, traditions What you wore, played with or drove Where you learned, played and observed Getting Started For ease of organization, revision and eventual sharing, writing on a computer is preferable. If typing is too difficult, there are many word processing programs, such as Dragon, that include talk-to-text capabilities. Alternatively,...

Protect Yourself from this Year’s Surge of Flu Cases

The 2016–2017 influenza (flu) season is well underway, with public health officials across Canada warning that they are seeing spikes in flu cases, which are beginning to overwhelm emergency rooms. The dominant strain this year is called H3N2, and the vaccine that is currently widely available targets that particular strain. Flu Shot Myths The best defense against the flu is to get vaccinated annually against the dominant strain. However, according to Statistics Canada, approximately 70% of Canadians choose not to get the flu vaccine, which is available through doctor’s offices and pharmacies across Canada. You cannot get the flu from a flu vaccine. It takes 2 weeks for a flu vaccine to be fully effective, and the effectiveness of the flu vaccine depends on whether it is matched to the dominant strain of flu in circulation. Those that develop the flu after getting a vaccine were either in the process of developing an infection, or were not vaccinated against that strain. There can be multiple strains of influenza in circulation, although one strain tends to dominate. Why Should I Get Vaccinated? It is not unusual for people to self-diagnose less severe viral illnesses as ‘the flu’, and to in turn underestimate how debilitating an actual case of influenza can be. In Canada, 3,500 people die each year from influenza, and 12,000 are hospitalized with complications such as pneumonia. Elderly people are particularly vulnerable, especially those with cardiac and lung issues, diabetes, and other underlying health problems. Flu symptoms include fever, headaches, coughs, sore muscles, a sore throat and exhaustion, and can put healthy adults out of commission for 2...

What does Healthy Weight Mean for Seniors?

For many people, the New Year is a time to start fresh, and atone for the overindulgences of the holiday season by setting health goals. However, older adults are sometimes faced with conflicting information about the risks associated with starting new health regimes and losing weight, compared to the risks associated with being overweight or obese. In 2014, more than 60% of Canadians over 60 were overweight or obese, and as with the wider population, the number is climbing.  While some seniors have experienced a lifetime of being overweight, many become overweight as their activity level declines and metabolism slows, and no dietary adjustments are made. At any age, being overweight or obese is associated with elevated risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and certain types of cancer. Is Extra Weight Protective? Until recently, a prevailing belief was that carrying around extra weight later in life had a protective effect on health. This is because some studies suggested that beyond age 65, life expectancy was the same, or possibly higher, among obese and overweight adults compared to those who were at normal weight, and poorest among those who were underweight. However, these studies were not looking at quality of life, which tends to be lower in overweight and obese older adults due to physical disability and disease, and tended to exclude populations in long-term care. Overweight and obese older adults are significantly more likely to end up in long-term care than those at healthy weights. A 2012 study that accounted for these factors found that the risk of mortality related to obesity increases with age....

Caregiver Tips for Managing Dementia-Related Behaviours

While many of us think of memory loss as being the most distinctive characteristic of dementia, many other mental processes can be affected. Changes in behaviour and personality can be especially distressing to caregivers of loved ones with dementia, who may struggle to understand, manage, and come to terms with difficult new behaviours. Monitoring Changes Keep your loved one’s health care provider informed of changes in behaviour, as in some cases, there may be an underlying medical cause, or a specific treatment that can alleviate symptoms. Keep a record of new behaviours with information such as the time of day, and circumstances under which the behaviour occurred. This may help you identify patterns and triggers that you can learn to work around together. Go With the Flow Be mindful that changes in behaviour and personality due to dementia are due to changes in the brain that are not within your loved one’s control.  Where appropriate and possible, accommodating new behaviours may be less distressing on everyone than trying to change them. For example if your loved one tends to get agitated and is compelled to wander at a certain time, appoint someone who is available at that time to go for a walk with them. If a loved one frequently empties the pantry looking for something, develop an activity that satisfies that need. Reducing Problematic Behaviours You may encounter behaviours are inappropriate or dangerous, such as sexually inappropriate behaviour or aggression. In addition to engaging your loved one’s health care provider and keeping a record, develop an action plan to implement when these behaviours arise, and share it with...

Will I Develop Alzheimer’s Disease Too?

Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease can be emotionally, physically and mentally draining. It is also very common for caregivers and family members to worry about whether they will develop the disease themselves in the future. The good news is that there is strong population-based evidence that certain lifestyle choices can reduce the risk of developing dementia by up to a half. These ‘modifiable risk factors’ are currently the best known defense against future cognitive decline. As such, good self-care is especially critical for those caring for family members with Alzheimer’s. What Causes Alzheimer’s Disease? The science around Alzheimer’s disease is rapidly evolving, as scientists gain a clearer understanding of the processes and risk factors involved in the development of the disease. This growing body of knowledge is paving the path to prevention, earlier detection, and new treatments. The degenerative effects associated with Alzheimer’s disease are ultimately caused by the progressive destruction of nerve cells, which are thought to be damaged through a process that leads to accumulation of plaques and tangles in the brain. Ongoing studies are examining what triggers the process, how to halt the process at various points, and how to clean up or reverse the plaques and tangles to preserve nerve cells. For those at risk, prevention remains key. Am I at Risk? While there is no single known trigger or marker for Alzheimer’s disease, there are several factors that may influence the onset of the disease. The biggest known risk factor is simply age. One in nine people over 65 will develop Alzheimer’s, and this increases to one in three among those...

Tips for Helping Seniors Cope with Vision and Hearing Loss

Hearing and vision are the two senses we rely on most to communicate and navigate our environment. When one sense declines, we tend to rely more on the other. When both vision and hearing decline, it becomes distressingly difficult to interact with other people, and our environment. Known as Dual Sensory Loss (DSL), studies estimate that 10%-20% of seniors experience some degree of impairment in both vision and hearing. Because it is so isolating, untreated DSL is associated with depression, cognitive decline, and poor health outcomes. Causes Many different factors can cause hearing loss, including genetics, medications, head injury and ear infections. Sensorineural hearing loss is caused by damage to the inner ear or auditory nerve. Conductive hearing loss occurs when something stops sound waves from reaching the inner ear, such as a build-up of fluid. The four most common causes of vision loss are age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, cataracts, and glaucoma, each causing different kinds of visual deficits. Treatment and Assistive Technology Monitoring of hearing and vision by health professionals is key to long-term retention of independence, as early detection can result in measures that can treat or slow the progress of certain conditions. Occasionally, the conditions causing hearing or vision loss are treatable with surgery or medication, such as in some cases of conductive hearing loss, or cataracts. In most cases, however, the hearing or vision that remains is augmented with assistive devices. Hearing aid technology is rapidly evolving, offering more precisely tailored amplification than ever, as well as wireless-based functionalities that allow users to connect hearing aids with other devices such as smartphones, remote microphones...

Tips to Prevent Social Isolation in Seniors

Humans are social creatures by nature, and our need to feel connected to others never goes away. As we age, however, connecting with others can become more challenging. Health issues that affect mobility, energy and communication can be especially isolating. According to a 2014 National Seniors Council report, social isolation is the number one emerging issue facing seniors in Canada. Positive social connections play an important role in maintaining physical, mental and cognitive health. If you are concerned that you, or someone you care for, are experiencing social isolation, there are many ways to overcome limitations and improve social connectedness at any age. Identify and Address the Barriers Understanding what is preventing a person from engaging in social pursuits is key to clearing the path to social connections. Here are some common challenges seniors face, and links to information about how to address them: Physical disability that restricts mobility Difficulty accessing transportation (see below) Unrecognized and untreated hearing loss Anxiety—fear of falling, embarrassment about health conditions such as incontinence Depression, lack of energy, lack of motivation Finding and Facilitating Social Opportunities When circumstances make socializing difficult, social skills can begin to atrophy and lead to discomfort in being around other people. Just as starting a new exercise regime can be uncomfortable, you or your loved one may resist the idea of amping up social interaction. But it’s a muscle that needs to be worked and built with patience. If the desire to interact with others seems absent, it’s best to start small. Having a regular, reliable companion can go a long way in providing the mental and social stimulation...

When Your Loved One Struggles to Take Medication

While medications can improve and prolong our lives, there are many factors that can interfere with our ability or willingness to take medication as directed. Knowing that someone you love is having difficulty sticking to a medication regimen can be frustrating and frightening. Medication non-adherence is very common across all age groups, but for seniors the stakes can be especially high. Up to 25% of nursing home admissions may be attributable to medication non-adherence. It’s important for everyone involved in care to work together to identify and remove barriers. Fortunately there are several things you can do to support your loved one in staying on track with medically recommended treatment, and help them retain their health and independence. Medication Support If you are concerned that your loved one’s non-adherence to medication is putting them at risk, home-based medication administration is available through our nursing care services. Our nurses are specially chosen for their compassion and desire to help improve quality of life, and will take time to listen to you and your loved one’s concerns and challenges. Our nurses will also communicate with other health care professionals as required. Identify the Barriers There are many practical barriers to medication adherence, such as cognitive, physical, and logistical challenges. In these cases, facilitating access to medication through coordination of support is critical and effective. Deliberate non-adherence is a more complex issue to manage. The World Health Organisation (WHO) identifies three factors that affect willingness to comply with treatment: inadequate information low motivation poor self-efficacy (confidence in one’s own capacity to administer medication properly) Does your loved one have everything they need to...
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