What’s A Geriatrician?

“Something to do with old people.” This sums up what most people can tell you if you ask them to explain geriatrics. According to the American Geriatrics Society, the definition is simple. It’s a medical specialty focused on the high quality, person-centered care we all need when we age.

Think about it this way. Our children benefit from healthcare that’s focused on what growing bodies and minds need, so we make sure they see a pediatrician. Shouldn’t we apply that same thought process to older adults?

What’s a Geriatrician?

That’s the name for geriatrics doctors. They are medical professionals who specialize in the care of adults who are 65 and older. Most are doctors of internal or family medicine, and the only difference is that they’ve undergone an extra one to two years of training to understand and treat conditions most commonly found in older adults, such as mobility issues, osteoporosis, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s disease.

A geriatrician also has deeper experience and knowledge about helping people who have multiple chronic health conditions caused by aging. They understand how an older body can respond to different medications and treatments. 

A standard internal or family medicine doctor usually has patients who are between the ages of 30 to 60 years old. Their range of experience tends to be based on treating people at these ages. If they’re asked to care for an older adult, they may not have the depth of experience to help them understand how standard medical treatment for younger adults might impact an older patient.

Should All Older Adults See a Geriatrician?

According to this US News & World report, there are only about 7,500 certified geriatricians in the United States. Research shows that about 30% of people over the age of 65 would benefit from the specialized care of a geriatrician. There’s a growing demand for this special doctor, but there definitely are not enough. This demand is forecasted to increase 45% by 2025.

So, should you worry if you are or care for an older adult who’s not seeing a geriatrician? The general consensus is that the existing relationship you have with an internal or family medicine doctor is sensible to maintain as long as this medical professional is confident that they have the experience to treat the specific medical conditions of an older adult.

A doctor’s priority is to make sure that patients under their care are getting the best possible treatment and advice. Often, they’re the ones who will make the recommendation that an older adult under their care seek out the specialized attention of a geriatrician.

General Aches and Pains: What Seniors Should Know About Over The Counter Pain Relievers

You can be any age and experience the muscle soreness of overexertion, or even just a common headache. Older adults have more to think about before they reach for that bottle of over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever. Some can be dangerous to their health.

Seniors often have to deal with the aches and pains that come with chronic health conditions, and pain management may be a daily need. They’ve likely been advised by a physician about which OTC medications are best for them. It’s a different story for the occasional headache, though. Here are some tips on what to keep in mind before reaching for that bottle in the medicine cabinets.

Generally the Safest

Geriatricians agree that acetaminophen is the safest OTC pain reliever for older adults. The non-generic name for this pain reliever is Tylenol. There’s a strong warning, though, about the amount a senior should take. It’s recommended that older adults take no more than 3,000 milligrams of acetaminophen in a 24-hour period.

This is because high doses of this OTC pain reliever are known to cause serious liver damage. Adults of any age with a history of chronic liver disease or alcohol abuse should restrict their use of acetaminophen. Many other medications – both prescribed and OTC – also contain acetaminophen, so it’s important to consider whether taking additional doses will push over the 3,000-milligram limit.

This OTC pain reliever has few side-effects for older adults, as long as you stay within the limitations.

Avoid NSAIDs

There’s a reason people use the acronym of NSAID. It’s much easier than saying “non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug.” NSAIDs are the most common OTC alternative to acetaminophen. (They are sold under the brand names of Advil or Aleve).

Seniors should be extremely careful when taking NSAIDS. These OTC pain relievers are known to cause harmful side-effects for older adults. These include:

  • Stomach, small bowel, or colon bleeding. Older adults already taking daily aspirin or a blood-thinner should avoid NSAIDs.
  • Stomach lining problems.
  • Interference with high blood pressure medications.
  • Fluid retention and decreased kidney function.

The National Institutes of Health reports that more than 41,000 seniors are hospitalized each year because of complications caused by taking NSAID pain relievers. Even more alarming, the organization says it’s the cause of death for more than 3,000 older adults annually.

A physician may still prescribe NSAIDs for seniors because the anti-inflammatory effects are an effective way to treat the pain caused by arthritis.

Avoid Aspirin Too

It might be the oldest and most trusted OTC pain reliever, but aspirin has many of the same negative side-effects as NSAIDS – especially in older adults.

Sometimes it’s necessary to take an OTC pain reliever to get rid of a pesky headache. For seniors and their caregivers, the safest choice is acetaminophen. Always consult a physician if more pain relief is needed.

Bathroom Helpers: Making Life Easier For Seniors

It’s a matter of pride. Even as children, we’d rather take care of going to the bathroom all by ourselves. As we age, however, it can become difficult for many of us to perform everyday bathroom tasks like using the toilet, washing hands, and even bathing.

Few of us want assistance with these things. We want to do it ourselves if we can. Here are some helpful bathroom helpers for seniors to help them keep their independence.

Making it Easier to Wash Your Hands

Let’s face it, the average bathroom faucet designer did not have seniors in mind as the target audience when they created their sleek, low-profile look. They do look beautiful, but practicality – especially for seniors – leaves a lot to be desired.

Consider replacing the bathroom faucet with one that reaches farther upward and outward. It allows seniors to wash their hands without needing to bend or reach forward. If replacing the faucet is out of the question, you can purchase a faucet extender for about $10. It attaches to the existing faucet and reduces the need for bending or leaning forward.

Liquid dispensers are much easier to deal with than bars of soap. Add one of these to the counter. Many are disposable. Or, upgrade a bit and get one that operates on batteries and automatically dispenses just the right amount of soap with a motion sensor. This can be extremely helpful for seniors who are living with arthritis.

Better Aim

Here’s the thing about most toilets. They’re white. Here’s the thing about most bathrooms. They’re white or light colored, too. So, if you’re an older gentleman who might be struggling with poor vision, there’s a higher chance that you might, well, have a bad aim.

It’s embarrassing enough to miss. It’s also not easy to clean up if you’re a senior who might also be experiencing mobility problems. There’s an easy and inexpensive way to help both the men, and their caregivers – and it’s a simple fix. A growing number of manufacturers offer toilet target aids for the home market. It’s a decal that applies to the inside of the bowl, and it helps men clearly see for a better and less embarrassing aim.

A Little Help Down There

Bending down to reach behind and wipe after going to the bathroom is often difficult for elderly people with limited mobility. It’s seldom a matter of neglect, and more a problem of just not being able to do a thorough job. And, who wants to ask for help with that?

As our general population ages, a growing number of companies are creating ingenious new aids to help seniors with daily personal tasks like this. These curved wand-like aids allow seniors to use regular toilet tissue or more convenient and hygienic moist wipes for a better job of cleaning themselves after going to the bathroom. We’re also seeing more bidet attachments that can be inexpensively put in place of the toilet seat.

We’d rather take care of bathroom matters alone, and at just about any age. These mostly inexpensive and simple upgrades can help seniors retain their independence, and dignity.

Why Seniors Struggle With Athlete’s Foot

What’s up with that? Many seniors are still active, but it seems as if they struggle with athlete’s foot more often than those who should be more prone to getting it.

Athlete’s foot is actually common in older adults – and it has little to do with how often they’re in a gym locker room. Seniors are more susceptible to fungal problems because they’re often less capable at keeping their feet clean and dry.

4 Ways to Kick Back at Athlete’s Foot

It doesn’t matter what age we are. Nobody wants to put up with persistent pain and itch. Here are four ways to help seniors deal with athlete’s foot.

  1. It starts with thorough cleaning. They may need help. There are medicated soaps you can purchase that help. You can also purchase liquid soap with tea tree oil. It’s tingly and soothing, and the tea tree oil is a natural substance with antibacterial and antifungal properties.
  2. Help them keep their feet dry. The fungus and bacteria that contribute to athlete’s foot prefers a moist environment – especially between the toes.
  3. There are both medicated creams and aerosol sprays that are highly effective in curing athlete’s foot. These can be purchased over the counter. Apply all over the foot – not just on the soles. Make sure to get between the toes.
  4. It might seem counterintuitive, but it’s a good idea to apply a moisturizer after the medicated cream or spray has been absorbed. This helps promote healing.

More Tips

Socks and shoes can trap moisture, which creates the optimal environment for athlete’s foot. It might be a good idea to switch to wearing open-toe slippers. Look for slippers that have closed backs, so they won’t slip off while walking. Toes and feet get to breathe and stay dry.

Socks might need more than standard wash. Keep athlete’s foot from returning by soaking socks with an anti-fungal disinfectant soap like Pine Sol. The soaking will kill any remaining fungus that’s in the sock fibers. Then, wash as usual. Dry with a high temperature.

All it takes is a small amount of lingering fungus to bring on another round of athlete’s foot. Often, the cause is our shoes. If the fungus can live on a gym shower floor, it’s right at home on the sole of a favorite pair of loafers. The easiest way to clean shoes is to regularly spray the insides with Lysol.

Clean and dry. That’s the approach to athlete’s foot and seniors. If the problem is persistent or extremely painful, it’s time for a visit to a healthcare professional.

More Than Memory Care

Until recently, Grace Homes specialized in memory care. It’s a distinct form of assisted living care that specifically caters to people living with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, or other types of memory problems. Our group of residences and staff were geared to focus on this area.

But the world of residential senior care homes is changing. The transformation comes in response to the way society views assisted living today – which is no longer only for the elderly. Today, Grace Homes is proud to be able to provide a living environment capable of caring for all types of health conditions, as well as a wider age range for residents.

Healthy Connections

There’s growing research showing the physical and emotional benefits of intergenerational living. Studies by the national Institute on Aging indicate that older adults who experience social isolation experience a variety of mental and physical disorders

Both large senior care organizations, as well as smaller residential senior care homes such as those operated by Grace Homes, are seeing the benefits of welcoming new residents who are sometimes only in their 30s to 50s. To do this, we must expand the type of care we offer.

That’s precisely what we’ve done. Today, Grace Homes is able to provide for all types of chronic illnesses and disabilities, instead of specializing only in memory care. New residents living with chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, Parkinson’s, and other disabilities can be accommodated. As a result of this greatly expanded type of care, the existing residents are being joined by new – and sometimes younger – ones.

Residents and their visitors, as well as caretakers, have noticed a growing change. It was always comforting and welcoming. Residents developed deep bonds and friendships. The intergenerational camaraderie has created an even deeper sense of family in the homes.

A Growing Trend

Grace Homes is not alone in moving in this direction. Already there are hundreds of intergenerational day care facilities which have opened for business throughout the United States. There’s also a growing movement by retirement communities and organizations to forge ties with nearby preschools, high schools, or colleges. The connections encourage regular exchanges between people of different ages.

The trend goes beyond America. Similar programs have already been set up in the Netherlands and France.

Recognized by the State of Minnesota

Grace Homes now participates with the elderly waiver program administered by the Minnesota Department of Human Services, which is for people over the age of 65. The trio of care homes also participates with the Minnesota’s Community Access for Disability Inclusion (CADI) program, which is for people who are under the age of 65.

It started with memory care, but the future for Grace Homes is simply care.

Heart Attacks And Strokes: A Sensible Approach To Prevention

Heart disease is so common that it’s the cause of one out of every four deaths in the United States – and that’s regardless of age. It is true, however, that the probability of complications by heart disease increase as we age.

We can and must do more to prevent heart attacks and strokes in seniors, and it starts with a preventative approach. It’s not an easy approach because neither our caregivers nor the seniors they look after are cardiologists. Even so, there are some best practices.

CACS Scan

Would you invest about $80 to find out if your heart’s arteries are getting blocked? That’s the average cost of a coronary artery calcium scan (CACS). Without this preventative scan, you may have no warning about blockage – and it’s a leading cause of fatalities.

The CACS scan is widely available, uses no dye, takes only about a minute, and is more accurate than a stress test.

Seniors Should Skip the Urgent Care Clinics

Older adults experiencing chest pain, pressure, or tightness and squeezing sensation should be taken directly to an emergency room, and not an urgent care clinic. This does not mean the care available at urgent care clinics are lower in quality – but these organizations are less likely to do more than a basic evaluation.

Someone who goes to an emergency room will undergo a thorough evaluation that’ll include multiple cardiac enzyme and ECG tests, as well as a definitive test before discharge. These “before and after” tests ensure that additional medical care and follow-ups are done.

Ask About These Advanced Lab Tests

If they’re covered by medical insurance, these advanced tests can help answer many questions raised by a cardiac episode in seniors.

  1. Advanced Lipid Profile: This advanced test measures LDL particle number and size, which are more predictive of future heart and stroke events.
  2. Homocysteine: This substance found in our bodies is important for artery and brain health. If levels are elevated, it can be treated to return them to normal.
  3. Lipoprotein A: It’s rarely used, but hundreds of research studies indicate that if it’s high, the risk of heart attack and stroke dramatically increase.
  4. TMAO: A new marker of heart and kidney health that’s been shown to cause heart and kidney damage and is associated with worsened prognosis

There’s much to be said for taking an “as long as we’re here” approach to medical attention. The more you know about potential cardiac problems, that more you can help to find treatment and solutions.