National Health Awareness Months 2018

Have you ever heard of Breast Cancer Awareness Month (October)? How about National Autism Awareness Month (April)?

Chances are you’re familiar with at least one well-known health awareness observances. But did you know the calendar is full of special months, weeks, and days that raise awareness for a variety of important health issues and conditions? There are two dozen different awareness campaigns for cancer alone!

Awareness observances are important because they focus attention on specific health conditions. This allows individuals and their loved ones, advocacy organizations, and support groups to join together in educational, support, and fundraising events at a designated time.  

Each month, Home Helpers & Direct Link brings attention to a different health and wellness campaign. These campaigns focus on issues and illnesses that affect seniors every day. By learning about one health-related topic each month, seniors and their loved ones and caregivers can get ideas, information, and resources on a variety of health matters throughout the year.

Browse the tabs below for information on each Health Awareness campaign we’re bringing into focus in 2018!

National Health Awareness Months 2018

The Silent Thief of Senior Eyesight

In addition to their obvious practical use, the eyes have been a source of inspiration for poets and dreamers practically since people have had the time to invest in such pursuits. Among friends and loved ones, a simple look or even a glance can communicate how someone feels or what we are thinking.

January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month; as good a time as any to remind ourselves of how much we rely on our sight for even the simplest of pleasures and tasks, and of how fragile this gift can be. Next to diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness in the United States. The risks are greater once we reach age 50, and the symptoms often are so subtle that they may not even be noticed until the condition is fairly advanced.

Early symptoms can be limited to a very gradual loss of peripheral vision, but may also include red eyes or seeing halos around bright lights or brightly lit objects.  There’s no cure, but treatment can preserve the patient’s vision and can be as non-intrusive as prescription eye drops.

The most important treatment, of course, is early diagnosis. Eye examinations are covered by some health insurance plans, but not all, including Medicare Part B. If you or other members of your family don’t have vision coverage, talk to your primary care physician about your individual risk and screening options.

The Glaucoma Research Foundation offers a free booklet about the disease, which you can request here. There’s also an option to download a PDF version if you prefer not to share your mailing address.

Despite the best of intentions, maintaining a healthy lifestyle can be difficult at any age! In today’s fast-paced society, it can seem like there aren’t enough hours in the day to keep up with eating right and exercising.

But living healthy doesn’t have to be such a challenge! A little planning and prep can go a long way to helping you feel more energized and focused throughout the day as you keep your heart healthy and strong.

In honor of American Heart Month, we’re offering the following tips and tricks to help you on your way to a healthier heart, one small change at a time:

1. Keep moving: According to the American Heart Association, inactivity can double your risk for heart disease! Just 30 minutes of walking a day can help reduce your risk. Pressed for time? Try parking further away from your destination, taking the stairs and walking during your lunch break. You’ll be surprised how quickly your steps add up!

2. Eat fresh: The closer a food is to its natural state, the better it is for you. Shop for your groceries in the perimeter of store – that’s where you’ll find fresh produce, low-fat dairy and lean cuts of meat. Try to avoid processed or refined foods and foods that are high in sodium or sugar. When you get home, cut up fruit and veggies so they’re easy to snack on throughout the week. Toss ingredients into the slow-cooker the night before and turn it on in the morning so dinner is ready when you get home. Check out the following websites for more tips:

 - Visit the American Heart Association's Nutrition webpage for dietary recommendations that support good nutrition and promote heart health.

 - Check out SparkPeople.com’s slideshow 12 Foods to Eat for a Healthy Ticker. (Need an incentive? Chocolate made the cut!)

 - Visit Eating Well for quick, delicious (and healthy) recipes.

3. Maintain a healthy weight: Physical activity and nutrition go hand-in-hand when it comes to maintaining a healthy weight, but where do you start? It can be helpful to calculate your body mass index or BMI to determine how many calories you need a day to either maintain or lose weight. To calculate your BMI, plug your height and weight into the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Adult BMI Calculator. The CDC also offers helpful tools to determine your individual needs and track your progress.

4. Quit smoking: Studies show smoking can lead to a host of chronic conditions, including coronary heart disease, heart attack and stroke. Need help snuffing your urge to smoke? The American Cancer Society offers a Guide to Quitting Smoking that will help you kick the habit.

5. Manage blood pressure: Also known as hypertension, high blood pressure is the single most significant risk factor for heart disease. Sometimes called “the silent killer,” one in three adults has high blood pressure, but 21% don’t know it. The best approach is to schedule a screening with your physician to check your baseline blood pressure. Depending on the results, your doctor may prescribe medication to help manage blood pressure. It can also be helpful to manage stress, limit alcohol and adhere to the tips and tricks listed above.

What Happens When Seniors Won't Eat?

National Nutrition Month is a good time to take a look at other factors that might be interfering with your efforts to make sure your loved one is eating healthy.

There’s no question that selecting fresh, healthy ingredients is fundamental to senior nutrition. As Caregivers, we’re often called on to plan meals, prepare food, shop for groceries and sometimes serve meals to our senior loved ones. Besides making sure food and snacks are on hand and properly stored, we also may need to ensure items that become spoiled, stale or otherwise past their prime are promptly discarded.

But what if you’ve done everything the experts recommend and Mom or Dad just will not eat?

If you’ve already ruled out medical conditions or side effects from a prescribed medication, you might consider adjusting other parts of the food routine to see if it changes your results.

Start with timing. We all know that people are supposed to eat three meals each day at standardized times during the day. But an older person in your care – and particularly his or her metabolism – may not have received that message. It can be useful to serve the meals they want when your loved one is actually hungry for them. Even if vegetables aren’t your particular idea of a well-balanced breakfast, if that’s when your senior wants them, who are we to judge?

Adapt serving styles to their preferences. As we get older, our abilities for different tasks change in ways that are unique to each individual. If you suspect your elder may be uncomfortable with certain utensils, find a work-around. Serving soup in a coffee cup, for example, or cutting roast chicken into finger-friendly strips may be a solution.

Don’t be afraid to spice things up. Nobody likes to eat food that tastes like nothing. As we age, our sense of taste can change or diminish. Some families we serve have found success with adding extra herbs and spices to an older adult’s food, even if they previously didn’t care for stronger flavors. Just be conscious of salt intake and any other dietary restrictions.

It’s shameful how many senior citizens suffer from poor nutrition. Even more disturbing is that so many of our parents and grandparents are invisible to hunger statistics because they have access to appropriate amounts of food, but for one reason or another, aren’t consuming it. At Home Helpers, we all take proper nutrition seriously and are always looking for ways to make healthy eating more enjoyable for those in our care. 

The Key to Living with Parkinson's is Family Communication

APRIL 3, 2018 BY EMMA DICKISON

We greet Parkinson’s Awareness Month in April with mixed emotions.

Advancements in the fight against Parkinson's disease are made possible by the tireless work of many people including:

 - Parkinson’s Disease Foundation

 - Michael J. Fox

 - Brian Grant 

..and many others fighting to #EndParkinsons. While we applaud these efforts, our thoughts remain with the many families who still deal with the disease every day.

Parkinson's Affects the Entire Family

When you think about it, PD is not something that happens to an individual, but to an entire family and support system.

Parkinson’s care is challenging for family caregivers in ways that few diagnoses are. For one, while chronic and progressive, the disease is at best unpredictable. There is no template for how quickly it will progress. It’s also variable: there will be good days and bad days. Days when more support is needed and days when less. 

These circumstances wear on loved ones, too. PD changes the lives of those around the one with the disease almost as much as the loved one with the diagnosis.Adequate communication is essential to managing the stress of these changes. All stakeholders—family members, close friends, faith communities among others—need an understanding of the issues faced by everybody in the relationship. Particularly in the case of two people in a committed relationship, it has to be clear from the beginning of this journey that each partner still needs the support of the other. 

Parkinson's disease is variable. There will be days when more support is needed.

Find the Help You Deserve

Our caregivers counsel open discussion in these family and relationship dynamics. Understand that the need for a respite from one or another person is not a break in the relationship, but an expression of commitment to refreshing and maintaining it. While this road may seem isolating, there are friends, family and organizations like Home Helpers & Direct Link of Amsterdam ready to support you.

The NPF resource center is a good place to start. Your objective should be the well-being of all members of your family: caregiver and loved one, alike. Working together and trusting the resources available can give comfort on this journey.

Until once and for all we #EndParkinsons.

Is it a Stroke? Better Act F.A.S.T.

Gerry, a 50-ish professional with an active lifestyle, was chatting with a co-worker in the parking lot outside his office when his companion suddenly began leading him to his own car. Several times, Gerry protested that he had somewhere to go, but his colleague persisted.

Gerry was fortunate that day because his friend had the training and awareness to recognize the signs of a stroke. While Gerry thought he was having a normal conversation, his friend noticed the suddenly slurred speech and inability to properly express complete thoughts that are symptoms of stroke and should never be taken lightly.

Ischemic strokes, when a blood vessel to the brain becomes blocked, account for almost nine in 10 strokes in the United States according to American Stroke Association. Hemorrhagic stroke, the breaking of a weakened blood vessel, is less common but also a tremendous risk to the patient.

Strokes can happen at any age and to people in any physical condition, but the risk does increase the older we get. That’s why, in addition to preventative steps like maintaining healthy diet and exercise and monitoring blood pressure, it’s important to know the signs of a stroke and what to do when we recognize them.

The Stroke Association and the medical community teach the F.A.S.T. response system. This acronym serves not only as a way to remember the signs of a stroke, but a reminder of the urgency in getting medical attention right away.

F – Face: Is one side of the face drooping more than the other? Does it move in the same way as the opposite side? Ask the person to smile and notice if their expression is even.

A – Arms: Is one arm suddenly weaker than the other? Is it numb for no apparent reason? As the person raises their arms holding a small weight, or even empty-handed, if one arm starts to drop before the other, this may be a sign of weakness.

S – Speech: Is the person’s speech slurred? Can they complete ideas and repeat simple phrases? Ask the person a simple but very specific question like, “Can you tell me what color your shirt is?”

T – Time: If any of these symptoms are present, it’s time to act now. In most situations, your best option is to call 911. Explain that you have a person suffering an apparent stroke, share your address and answer the dispatcher’s questions as calmly and clearly as you can. Also note as closely as possible when you first noticed the symptoms. This timing can be very important in the treatment the medical professionals administer.

Gerry’s condition turned out to be a TIA, or transient ischemic attack. It’s a temporary blockage of blood flow to the brain or to some part of it. Usually, the clot dissolves or breaks loose before any permanent damage is done, and this was his case. But among the various names they’re called, the most important one to remember is “Warning Stroke.” He’s following a regular schedule of diet and exercise now, and he’s checking his blood pressure regularly.

He’s also learned, as we all should remember, the potentially lifesaving value of knowing the signs and how to react ...

 before it happens to someone you love.

May is National Stroke Awareness Month. Join the conversation and share your story on Facebook.

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JUNE IS PTSD (POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER) AWARENESS MONTH

Those with PTSD don’t want sympathy, they want understanding. Awareness can create understanding and remove stigma. 

Faces of PTSD is just one resource that explains what PTSD is and how it’s a treatable disorder with a root cause. Seeking assistance isn’t a sign of weakness—it’s a sign of strength.

If you think you or someone you care about has PTSD, getting help is crucial.

Those with PTSD are more likely to isolate themselves, and anyone who has suffered a triggering event such as physical or sexual assault, a serious accident, torture or some other life-threatening trauma, is susceptible to PTSD.

If you or someone you know thinks you might have PTSD, please don't suffer in silence!

Find out more about PTSD at sites such as PTSD Alliance. PTSD Alliance recommends the following if you're in need of assistance: 

Contact mental health or medical professionals in your area, such as:

  • Your family doctor
  • Your OB/GYN
  • Social workers
  • Mental health counselors
  • Community mental health clinics
  • Support groups
  • Private clinics
  • Psychiatric services at local universities, schools, or hospitals

Veterans may contact the Veterans Crisis Line at 1.800.273.8255 for assistance locating a mental health facility nearby.

Home Helpers 2018 Exceptional Caregiver of the Year, Craig Burt, earned this distinction primarily through his work with a veteran afflicted with PTSD. Learn more about Craig and the veteran he helps care for in the video below.

How Can You Support Your Senior Loved Ones' Independence?

What if when you wake up tomorrow morning and suddenly, you cannot carry your laundry down the stairs or step safely into the shower? You know you have a long list of stuff you want to do this week, but for some reason, you can only remember half of it. Out of nowhere, you’re having a very hard time walking outside to get your mail. This would certainly be a daunting experience for any normal, healthy person. But for many elderly people, these circumstances are realities and are just a few of the many daily tasks that are difficult to do. Although some activities of daily living might become burdensome or unsafe for a senior, it does not necessarily mean that it’s time to start researching alternative living facilities. By taking proper precautions and providing the best support, we can help our aging loved ones remain independent, aging in place where they feel comfortable and familiar--at home.

A recent AARP study found that 85% of all Americans over the age of 65 state that they would like to stay at home, aging independently. Being able to age at home though is just one of the factors that keep seniors independent. As we age, we do not lose our interests or our feelings of self-worth. We want to stay connected to our friends and family, enjoy our hobbies and passions, maintain normal physical activity and stay healthy. It is essential to have something to look forward to and a reason to get out of bed in the morning. By providing the means for seniors to keep their sense of self and independence intact, we are helping them to live longer and happier lives.

How can I help facilitate aging independently?

Some ways that you can help foster senior independence are:

1) Perform a home safety check

Perform a home safety check to ensure that the major causes of falls and fires in the home are eliminated.

2) Go on a weekend outing

Take your elderly family member to a museum, play, concert or sporting event. If that’s too much for them, watch one on TV with them.

3) Visit everydayGertrude Stein quote — Home Helpers Home Care blog

Visit daily, or have others make a trip to see your loved one. A neighbor, church member, grandchild, or family friend can quickly perk up their day.

4) Go grocery shopping together

Have your loved one write out a list and pick out the items. You can bag and unload them.

5) Do a technology lesson

Teach your loved one new technology such as quiz apps on the iPad to keep them entertained and stimulated. Apps like Lumosity and Vismory, Jeopardy are popular choices among the senior demographic and will help to sharpen memory and increase attention skills.

These are just a few ideas that you can use facilitate aging independently for your loved one.

Happiness and meaning are linked to one another and although “meaning” is different for everyone, wanting a sense of purpose is universal. Try to do things with your elderly family member rather than for them. Things might be tougher to do as we age, but we still want to participate in the tasks we’re used to performing. It is discouraging to have someone barge in and take over something that we are used to doing ourselves, our way. We cannot stop the process of aging but we can make it more pleasant for our loved ones by helping them to maintain as much dignity and independence as possible.