Aging is often seen as the evitable demise of health, yet more Americans are living longer than any other time in history, explains the Administration for Community Living. For seniors who live on their own, in skilled nursing facilities, with family members or in other assisted-living arrangements, longevity can feel like a burden.
Approximately 80 percent of all older adults have at least one chronic condition, and older adults have a 55-percent higher risk of diabetes and a 25-percent higher risk of obesity, explains U.S. News. Meanwhile, baby boomers are expected to suffer more serious health problems than any previous generation, and the disparities between standards of care in different areas will continue to become evident, asserts the National Institute on Aging.
As a senior caregiver, it is hard to learn how to address these disparities. How do you define what encourages one senior to persevere when another wants to avoid physical exercise or healthy food choices? How does the environment impact biological and psychological health, and what can be changed to improve overall health along the way?
The answer lies in how you address each concern, and fortunately, senior care training will evolve to focus on healthier longevity, not longevity by any means necessary. In other words, you will need to take an active role in helping seniors age with fewer health problems.
Mental Stimulation Is Critical to Preventing Cognitive Decline Among Seniors
For seniors with dementia or other forms of cognitive decline, the environment of care and mental stimulation have a protective effect. In many care settings, memory care is becoming popular, explains U.S. News.
Memory care refers to specialized care settings where senior caregivers go beyond secured units, alarm devices and enclosed areas. Instead, senior caregivers use “verbal cues and sensory stimulation” to encourage patients with cognitive decline to live healthy, fulfilling lives. Part of the problem is a tendency to simply “give up” on trying to do other things. According to Nancy D’Auria of Hebrew Home at Riverdale, “[Seniors] are just like, ‘I can’t do this’, and they start looking for placement [in a facility.]”
Memory care should include ample room, both indoors and outdoors, to give seniors an opportunity to live in a safe and healthy environment. This may include the use of recreational activities, such as gardening or arts and crafts, areas for exercise and opportunities to interact with family members and peers. Essentially, the idea behind memory care is to make the environment conducive to any changes that accompany dementia or cognitive decline.
Diet Plays a Role in Mental and Physical Aging
Neurotransmitters are chemicals in the brain, but they have root elements that must be obtained from the diet, such as amino acids, proteins and glucose. As a result, diet is an important aspect of healthy aging. It helps prevent premature degeneration of neural tissue and promotes homeostasis in the body. Furthermore, healthy foods contribute to higher energy levels, which translate into the release of endorphins.
Seniors Need to Be Part of the Continuing Education of Elderly Health and Wellness
Senior care has become focused on care plans and best practices, but seniors themselves are actually left out of the conversation in most cases. Society has grown dependent on the role of caregivers to ensure seniors adhere to daily activities, medications and therapies. However, seniors need to be included the conversation.
Continuing education opportunities for senior caregivers should include the importance of individuality and keeping seniors involved in their care. This builds rapport between senior caregivers and seniors, which increases communication and interaction.
Chronic Conditions Need to Be Addressed Directly
Rather than avoiding chronic conditions, senior caregivers need to work on addressing conditions directly. Seniors understand chronic conditions impact their longevity and health, but effective management of chronic conditions must go beyond medications. It may include changes in lifestyle, increased interaction between seniors, peers and staff, and education.
For example, seniors living with heart disease or COPD should be educated on how their activity levels can be improved through simple exercises, such as range of motion and walking. However, the key to making this work is keeping the line of communication open.
Medication Treatment Should Be the “Second” Option
As seniors age, caregivers have a tendency to look at medication treatment as the best and only option. While this may be true for some, medication-exclusive treatments do not include the health of the whole person. Senior caregivers must watch for adverse reactions, changes in behavior and improvements to health. In other words, senior caregivers must take a comprehensive approach to managing any potential health problem.
Help Seniors Prevent Falls
More than 2.5 million seniors fall each year, and many of these causes are unsafe environments, explains the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Senior caregivers need to work to prevent falls if longevity is to be the goal of all health programs.
For example, senior caregivers may need to help seniors with daily activities and encourage them to rest when tired. Furthermore, potential fall hazards should be identified and addressed as soon as possible.
Consider “Invisible” Threats to Elderly Health, Such as Zika
Longevity faces a new threat in 2016, Zika. Seniors who travel to affected regions may be infected with Zika. According to the World Health Organization, seniors may have a greater mortality risk from Zika due to poor immune function or inability to care for themselves while ill. Consequently, senior care training must evolve to include a focus on preventing transmission, such as wearing long sleeves and using mosquito repellants.
Longevity is being threatened on many fronts, which range from dementia to Zika. However, senior caregiver training is becoming the fundamental way to reduce health problems that appear to accompany aging. By understanding how to address these fronts, senior caregivers can help to encourage longevity and health throughout the mosquito-laden summer and beyond.