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senior home health care malnutritionThis is the second article in a series on senior malnutrition. Last week’s article focused on factors which make seniors at risk for malnutrition, and next week’s will focus on recommendations from senior home health care experts on steps to take if malnutrition is suspected.

Due to the complicated factors which can lead to malnutrition in seniors, senior home health care experts note that it can be tricky to identify seniors who are suffering from it.  Yet early detection is important to correcting the situation and helping prevent complications from developing before it is too advanced.

For family members with elderly loved ones, especially those who may be at risk, senior home health care providers indicate that it is important to be attuned to the following in order to detect potential issues with a loved one’s nutrition.

Eating Habits

The best way to know what a loved one is eating on a regular basis is to spend time at their home, or the assisted living facility or nursing home where they live.  Visiting at meal time is a good way to find out what they are actually consuming, or if they are skipping meals entirely.  A sudden or drastic change in a senior’s long established eating patterns can indicate that they may not be able to access the same foods they have been eating all their life.

Food Supply

Family members who stop by for a visit can also observe what is in the refrigerator or pantry during their visits.  If the cupboard is bare or seems to contain only unhealthy foods, there may be reason for concern.  For seniors who are on a fixed monthly income, checking the pantry at the end of the month or just before their next social security or retirement payment is due may indicate they are struggling to have enough food to last until the end of month.

Weight Loss

While it may not always be easy to notice if a loved one has lost weight, try to observe any changes between visits.  Do they seem noticeably thinner?  Do their clothes seem a lot looser, or do they otherwise fit differently?  Family members who accompany loved ones to doctor’s appointments may be able to obtain information about weight loss between appointments, or if the senior is willing to provide proper authorization, a doctor may be able to provide information about the senior’s health including any concerns about weight and nutrition.

Health Symptoms

While weight loss is something that is logically connected to nutrition, senior home health care providers indicate that there are actually other physical signs that can signal malnutrition.  Frequent bruises, having cuts and other wounds take a long time to heal, and dental health problems can also indicate that a senior is malnourished. Although it may not seem logical, weight gain can actually be a sign of malnutrition as well.

Medications

Certain medications can affect a senior’s appetite and their body’s ability to digest and absorb certain nutrients.  Being aware of the medications a loved one is on and possible side effects related to nutrition can raise family members’ awareness, triggering them to look for possible signs of malnutrition.

If a family member or friend suspects that their loved one is suffering from inadequate nutrition, there are several steps that can be taken and resources that can help, according to senior home health care experts.   These options will be addressed in the final part of this series on senior malnutrition.

health care providers healthy resolutionsEvery year, many new year’s resolutions are made as midnight approaches on January 1st. Here are a few New Year’s resolution suggestions for seniors geared toward having a healthy year in 2015 and beyond.

Increase Daily Physical Activity Levels 

OK, exercising is a pretty obvious resolution and a common one for people of all ages, but that is because it is an important one.  If you want to be healthy, you have to keep active.  Health care providers recommend setting a realistic goal.  If you’ve never exercised before, running a marathon is not a realistic goal.  Taking a 30 minute walk 4 or 5 times a week may be more realistic. Or check out the class offerings for active older adults at the local YMCA.  Make a goal to do something active outside of your regular routine at least a few times a week.  Then stick to your goal, and if you miss a week, make the resolution all over again.

Eat Healthier

Again, set realistic goals.  Health care providers recommend a diet that you can stay on for life, so do not set yourself up for the impossible. If you say everything you eat has to be 100% healthy, you are likely to fail by January 2nd.  Choose one unhealthy thing to eliminate, like refined sugars or trans fats.  Another option is to choose to eat healthy things first, like 5 servings of fresh vegetables daily, before letting yourself indulge in a sweet or dessert.   Or try a change in the types of foods you eat – try eating mostly fresh whole foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes, lean meats and poultry, and fish and eliminate highly processed foods as much as possible.  Every little change helps and the more realistic it is the more sustainable it will be for the long term.

Engage In Mental Fitness Activities

Learn a language, play trivia or brain games, join a book discussion group, take a class.  Keeping your brain active and engaged will keep you mentally astute and healthy.

Take Care Of Your Health 

Health care providers advise preventative checkups on a regular basis to prevent common conditions from getting out of control.  Get routine health screenings for cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, bone density, thyroid levels and other routine health screenings.  Have health screenings for prostate or other cancers.  Get your mammogram scheduled. If you’ve been avoiding the eye doctor, dentist, primary care physician or other health care providers, it’s time to make an appointment.  Have you been neglecting to start your cholesterol medication or get your new glasses prescription?  Resolve to take the actions you know you need to improve your health. 

Improve Your Home’s Safety

To prevent falls, add new lighting, move cords out of hallways and walkways, make sure the edges of carpets and rugs are securely fastened.  Replace the batteries in your smoke detectors and consider adding a carbon monoxide detector.  Consider having someone do repairs to loose floorboards or faulty wiring.  Have the heating system checked for safety if you didn’t get around to it before the holidays. 

Expand Your Social Network

Good mental health is as important as good physical health in many ways.  Maintaining relationships is an important part of keeping seniors mentally healthy and avoiding isolation which can lead to depression.  If a senior is becoming increasingly isolated, consider ways to connect: join a senior center, get active with a church or community group, or consider volunteering with a community organization.  If it is difficult to get out, consider inviting friends or family members over for visits more frequently, and use the phone or letters to keep connected.

By making health and wellness resolutions like these, seniors can be on their way to a healthy, happy New Year!

Home Health Aide AssistanceAlthough there are many things to get done before having hip or knee surgery, an important aspect of getting ready is preparing the house where recovery will occur. Far in advance of going to the hospital for surgery, it is crucial to prepare the home to make recovery and life easier afterwards.

Consulting with a doctor, nurse, physical therapist or home health aide that knows the specifics of the individual’s situation and can make recommendations about home preparations in advance is critical.  Generally, there are a number of important preparations to consider:

Accessibility:

If possible, plan to have everything needed for recovery on the same floor.  While it is preferable not to use stairs at all initially, their use will need to be limited to once a day if they cannot be avoided entirely. In addition:

  • The bed used during recovery should have a firm mattress and be low enough that one’s feet touch the floor while sitting on the edge of the bed. Ideally, the bed will be on the first floor of the house.
  • A bathroom or a portable commode should be located on the same floor where most of the day will be spent.
  • Food and other supplies should be in a cupboard between waist and shoulder level.
  • Phone and charger should be easily accessible.
  • Frequently used items should be placed on the kitchen counter or another location that is between waist and shoulder level.
  • Chairs with a firm back should be located in each frequently used room, including kitchen, bedroom and bathroom, to enable sitting while doing daily tasks.

Supplies

There should be sufficient supplies at home to last several weeks, or as long as the doctor recommends.  In addition to regular supplies, there may be other items to consider purchasing with can be particularly helpful during recovery.  Items to consider include:

  • Canned or frozen food
  • Shampoo, toilet paper and other personal items
  • Medications
  • Crutches, a cane or a walker
  • A shower sponge with a long handle
  • A long-handled shoehorn
  • A sock aid to help put on socks
  • A reacher to help pick up things from the floor and assist with putting on pants and taking off socks

Bathroom Preparation

The bathroom presents many hazards so it is important to consider the following preparations:

  • Raised Toilet Seat: There are several ways to raise the toilet seat to help prevent excessive flexing of the knee.  Options include adding a seat cover or an elevated toilet seat, utilizing a toilet safety frame or using a commode chair instead of a toilet.
  • Safety Mats: Non-slip suction mats or rubber silicone decals should be put on the floor of the tub to help prevent falls.  A non-skid bath mat should also be placed outside the tub.
  • Bath or Shower Chair: A bath or shower chair with rubber tips on the bottom should be used for bathing. A seat without arms should be used in a bathtub.
  • Safety Bars: The doctor may recommend installing safety grab bars in the bathroom.  It is important to remember that towel racks cannot substitute as grab bars as they are not designed to withstand the weight of a person.
  • Placement of Essential Items: Items like soap and shampoo should be easily accessible and should not require twisting, standing up or straining to reach.  Towels and wash cloths should also be within easy reach.

Home Safety Preparation

To minimize the risk of tripping the following precautions should be taken:

  • Remove loose wires or cords in walking areas.
  • Remove loose throw rugs.
  • Fix any uneven flooring, especially in doorways.
  • Make sure there is good lighting in place.
  • Place night lights in hallways, bathrooms and other dark rooms.
  • Arrange for fast-moving or small pets that can cause falls to stay elsewhere during the first few weeks.

Other preparation

Other preparations to consider are:

  • Prepare or purchase single serving meals that can be frozen and reheated later.
  • If a health care professional recommends using a walker, attach a small basket or strong bag to it to hold important items such as a cell phone, notepad, pen, eyeglasses etc. Alternatively, a fanny pack may be used.  Nothing should be carried in one’s hands when walking after surgery as they may be needed to provide balance.
  • Practice using a cane, walker, crutches, or a wheelchair to correctly sit down to use the toilet and stand up afterwards, get in and out of the shower, use the shower chair and go up and down stairs.

Arrange for Home Care Assistance during Recovery

Unless someone lives at home and can help for the first 1 or 2 weeks after surgery, it is important to arrange to have someone come in who can assist with bathing, using the toilet, cooking, running errands, shopping, doctor visits, and exercising as needed. If a family member or friend cannot help, a health care professional may recommend having a trained caregiver or home health aide come to the home to help.  A home health aide or trained caregiver can also check the safety of the home and help with daily activities.

senior health care walkingEveryone knows they are supposed to exercise, but isn’t it too late to start an exercise routine once one is elderly, sick or under home health care?  The good news it is almost never too late to introduce some kind of exercise.  Obviously high-impact aerobic classes are not going to be a starting place for the elderly who have not previously been active, but walking for about 30 minutes a day is manageable for many seniors. Studies have shown that, even into one’s 90s, cardiovascular health and strength can be improved with regular physical activity.

Before beginning an exercise routine, it is best to check with a doctor about the best strategy for that individual and to make sure that any activity undertaken will be safe. Most people, especially older adults, are not getting enough regular exercise and often walking seems manageable since it is something most seniors are already doing each day to carry out the basic activities of daily living.  The key for those individuals is to increase the amount of time they are walking and make sure they are doing it daily.

The potential benefits of walking are many.  Senior health care studies have shown that:

Walking can increase one’s life span by promoting better health: Leading a sedentary lifestyle results in lower aerobic capacity and in loss of muscle.  Muscle loss affects flexibility and sense of balance which can increase the risk of falls. Walking as a form of exercise, helps combat these, and can also help maintain a lower blood pressure and prevent high blood pressure from developing or worsening.  Walking also seems to help stave off or lower the effects of osteoporosis, heart disease, colon cancer, disabilities and weight gain.  Regular exercise diminishes the risk of premature death.

Walking can provide mobility and independence: Being able to get around can help give seniors a sense of purpose and helps them avoid feeling like a burden on others. The longer a senior is able to remain independent, possibly even continuing to work part-time or be involved in volunteer work, the better for his or her overall sense of purpose and feeling like a contributing member of society. Even if they rely on others for some assistance or have home health care assistance, being able to do some things on their own helps prolong a sense of independence, which in turn helps promote good mental health.

Walking promotes good mental health: Being mobile and having a sense of purpose can improve self-worth.  Together, these benefits can help seniors avoid feeling like a burden, which in turn helps seniors avoid falling into depression.

Walking can affect your brain: Regular exercise can promote better reasoning, memory and reaction time.

Given all of these benefits, walking can be a great way to promote all aspects of health and physical and mental wellbeing.  Whether it’s at a mall in combination with some shopping, out enjoying nature or walking in the community and connecting with others, getting out and walking is a great way to go for older adults.