Published on March 23, 2017
Articles in this issue:
Experts predict that more seniors will be "unbefriended."
What is this condition that is so devastating for seniors? Loneliness.
Many recent studies have demonstrated the negative effect of social isolation. Sophisticated medical imaging even shows that loneliness and physical pain both cause a reaction in the same area of the brain. When we lack adequate social contact with other people, a distressing and painful cycle of decline can result, because in a sense, social skills are a "use it or lose it" ability. Loneliness is harmful for people of every age—and seniors today are especially vulnerable. University of California San Francisco experts say up to half of older adults are experiencing feelings of loneliness. With an increasing number of seniors—seniors who are living longer—this constitutes a serious public health problem.
What's behind this trend? The baby boomers are entering their senior years having had fewer children, a lower marriage rate and higher rate of divorce. Consequently, more seniors live alone. As they age, they are more likely to relocate to a new part of town … a new part of the country … or a new part of the world, distancing them from established social networks. Then, when they develop mobility problems, sensory impairment, memory loss or other challenges of aging, they have a much smaller pool of support to help them maintain meaningful social connections. A poll in the January 2017 issue of Caring Right at Home showed that only 2 percent of our readers were confident that they’d have a large, supportive network of family and friends to help them as they grow older!
Organizations that serve seniors are taking note. The AARP Foundation and the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a) recently partnered to create the Connect2Affect campaign to help seniors evaluate their risk for loneliness and locate opportunities for social connection. And the American Geriatrics Society (AGS) recently released new guidance for helping "unbefriended" elderly patients. The AGS warned, "Baby boomers are at particular risk for becoming unbefriended, since more than 10 million boomers live alone and as many as 20 percent have no children."
What can we do to promote social connections among seniors? It starts with our communities, with senior services agencies offering more social opportunities. Friendly neighborhoods are a plus. In a recent Caring Right at Home poll, the majority of respondents reported that they have helped out elderly neighbors at some time or another—yet today, it can be harder to get to know our neighbors. In place of sitting on the front porch chatting with passersby, we're holed up in our air-conditioned homes, often spending time online interacting with friends we've never actually met—friends who aren't in a position to step in and give us a ride to the doctor, shovel our front sidewalk, or bring over a pot of chicken soup.
So just as we plan for healthcare and financial well-being in our later years, we should make a plan for social wellness. As our needs change, we can choose a living situation that wards off isolation—perhaps a supportive living environment or a retirement community. Professional care provided in the home is another good source of human companionship, and for many seniors, that's only the beginning. Professional caregivers provide transportation, personal care and grooming to help their elder clients remain active and feel socially confident.
Raise your hand for a healthier old age
Retirement often leaves another big hole in our social life. We may not realize until we collect our gold watch how much of our day-to-day socialization is with our co-workers. Said Georgia State University professor Ben Lennox Kail, "Some older adults are leaving the labor force and not replacing it with anything. If you're not replacing work with a work-like activity, your retirement is radically different than how you spent most of your life, and not necessarily radically better." Kail conducted a study which showed that volunteering 100 or more hours per year can replace the benefits we get from employment.
April is Volunteer Month—a great time to consider the benefits of volunteer service for seniors!
Make donating your time and talents part of your plan for healthy aging. Almost everyone has something to offer others. Look for new opportunities, or continue a long-time volunteer job. Even if your health condition changes, you can make adaptations to continue your valuable service. "I have arthritis and I can't drive anymore," reports one senior volunteer. "But I still tutor at the school where I've helped out for so many years. I have an in-home caregiver who helps me get dressed, and drives me to the school. You could say I benefit from assistance to help me assist!"
Following the doctor's instructions helps keep blood pressure at a healthy level.
To most of us, blood pressure is a bit of a mystery! We go to the doctor, the doctor puts a cuff on our arm, inflates it, listens, and jots down a set of numbers. Then we're told that everything is fine—or, if we are getting older, more likely we are told that we have high blood pressure, also called hypertension.
High blood pressure raises the risk of heart-related problems, stroke, kidney disease, vision loss and even cancer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tells us that more than 1,000 deaths each day are related to hypertension. Up to one-third of all American adults have this condition—yet only half of them have it under control. High blood pressure can be managed with a combination of medications and lifestyle choices such as a healthy diet, exercise, quitting smoking and limiting alcohol.
We're always learning more.
Medical research continues to refine our understanding of hypertension. For example, here's an interesting update about white coat hypertension, a topic that previously appeared in the Caring Right at Home newsletter. "White coat hypertension" occurs when a patient, feeling anxiety about being at the doctor's office, has higher-than-normal blood pressure during the appointment. (Perhaps not surprisingly, a UK study from a few years ago showed that the effect is somewhat less if a nurse is doing the measuring rather than the doctor.) The white coat effect generally has been considered harmless, but the American College of Cardiology recently reported that in older patients, blood pressure that spikes during stressful events could indicate an increased risk for developing heart disease.
And the American Heart Association reports that some patients exhibit the opposite problem! Rather than "white coat hypertension," they have "masked hypertension," with normal blood pressure at the doctor's office, but a higher level elsewhere. In either case, the doctor may recommend the use of a home blood pressure monitor to get a more accurate idea of what's going on.
Another topic of recent research is the ideal target blood pressure level for patients who are being treated for hypertension. The American Heart Association recently reported that if patients were to keep their number lower, more than 100,000 deaths could be prevented each year. On the other hand, in January 2017, the American College of Physicians and the American Academy of Family Physicians recommended less aggressive treatment for certain older adults. And while hypertension raises the risk of cognitive impairment caused by strokes and vascular dementia, the Alzheimer's Association recently suggested that people who develop high blood pressure in their 80s or later actually might be at lower risk of Alzheimer's disease.
What's a layperson to do? We can be forgiven if we're confused! Medical research is always a work in progress, as studies refine other studies and researchers continually look for the best treatments. Bottom line, these studies bring home how important it is for people with hypertension to see their doctor regularly, and to carefully follow the doctor's recommendations about medications and lifestyle.
Home care helps seniors manage their hypertension.
It can be challenging to manage high blood pressure. One big obstacle: Hypertension seldom has any outward symptoms, so patients have to provide their own motivation to stick to their treatment plan. Or family members might find themselves forever reminding Mom to take her medications. If your family has hired in-home care to help keep a senior loved one safe and well-cared for at home, the caregiver can be an important part of the hypertension management team. Professional in-home caregivers can:
For More Information
The National Institutes of Health has just created a new web resource, Mind Your Risks, to help consumers prevent and manage hypertension.
For information on topics related to home care and healthcare, visit our Home Care and Healthcare Advocacy group on LinkedIn.
Nelson received a frantic call from Mom. "You need to drive me to the bank right away!" she said. "The IRS called and I owe a thousand dollars in back taxes! If I don't wire the money today, they are going to arrest me!" "Hold on, Mom," said Nelson. "That doesn't sound right." But Mom was insistent. "You don't want me to go to jail, do you?"
This tax season, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is warning taxpayers to be "on high alert” against the most pervasive scam in history.
In this scam, criminals call, email or text their victims, pretending to be from the IRS. They claim the victim owes money, and demand immediate payment of the bogus tax bill. They ask for the victim's bank account or credit card information, or they demand payment via a prepaid credit or debit card, money order, wire transfer from the bank, or even iTunes gift cards.
Most of us are already a bit intimidated by the IRS, and the scammers take full advantage of that, using threats of prison or deportation to intimidate a person into complying with their demands. According to J. Russell George, Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), victims have reported upwards of $30 million in losses—and that is no doubt merely the tip of the iceberg, with many people either unaware they were defrauded, or ashamed to report it.
These con artists can be very sophisticated. They can do a convincing imitation of an agent. They can "spoof" your loved one's caller ID to make it appear that it's the IRS on the line. They create official-looking emails and phony IRS websites.
They also can be menacing and persistent. The IRS reports one of their tactics is to threaten immediate arrest if the victim hangs up; if the victim does hang up, the scammer may call again and again.
The IRS also notes that these crooks frequently target seniors. Older adults are usually very motivated to pay their taxes properly. They often have available money set aside in retirement accounts. They may be less savvy about the ways of con artists. And scammers are quick to take advantage of seniors with memory loss.
How can we protect our older friends and loved ones?
Inspector General George says that his agency is making every effort to apprehend the crooks and shut down their operations. But still, he says, "Our best chance at defeating this crime is to educate people so they do not become victims in the first place. Every taxpayer we protect from this crime is a victory."
The IRS wants taxpayers to be aware of five things scammers do. Any one of these is a sign of a scam, because the IRS will never:
And some victims later admitted, "I did think it was strange for the IRS to text me, or send me a message on Facebook." IRS Commissioner John Koskinen reminds us, "Don't be fooled by callers pretending to be from the IRS in an attempt to steal your money. If you are surprised to be hearing from us, then you're not hearing from us."
If you or a loved one is contacted by one of these scammers, what should you do?
Inspector General George said, "If someone unexpectedly calls claiming to be from the IRS or the Treasury Department, and uses the threat of legal action if you do not pay immediately, that is a sign that it is not the IRS calling, and your cue to hang up. Do not engage with these callers. If they call you, hang up the telephone."
If your loved one fell for the scam, notify local law enforcement immediately. If your loved one gave the scammer bank information, their credit card number or had the bank withdraw and wire money, contact the bank right away. And whether your loved one fell for the scam or not, encourage them to report it—not only to help the IRS catch the crooks, but also for the sense of empowerment that comes from helping others. Here's how to report it:
Protecting the most vulnerable elders
If your loved one has Alzheimer's disease or a related condition, here are suggestions from the U.S. Administration on Aging on how to further protect them from these types of scams:
Prevention through awareness
The best way to protect senior loved ones from these scammers is to talk to them about it. Bring up the subject! Most seniors have a strong sense of justice; they don't like to be fooled, and they find this a compelling topic. Encourage your loved one to talk to friends about it. Post a link to this article, or to the IRS consumer alerts page, or to a video on the TIGTA YouTube channel.
And last, remind your loved one that people of every age have fallen for these scams. Con artists operate best in the dark. You and your loved one can help shine the light that foils them!
"Getting older is not easy for some people," says Joy Potter, a caregiver with Right at Home Ocean County, New Jersey and recipient of Right at Home, LLC's 2016 Northeast Region Caregiver of the Year award. Says Potter, "Many of them have trouble accepting help and feel like being homebound or having limited mobility is equivalent to dying. But making caregiving fun through different arts and crafts projects or activities brings happiness into their lives and gives them something to look forward to."
"The benefits of art therapy for elderly folks are extensive," confirms Erika Ackerman, owner of Right at Home Hackettstown, New Jersey. "Art can provide them with creative expression and critical thinking skills, concrete goals to work toward each week, and a sense of fulfillment upon completion of a project."
|To learn how Right at Home caregivers are using art to promote the well-being of senior clients, visit the Right at Home blog.|