Why Preparing For A Hospital Discharge Is Key To Ongoing Recovery

Sure, it’s a reason to celebrate when you get the news that you’re being discharged from the hospital. But, there are important steps seniors should take if they want to stay out and get better. A recent Medicare survey shows that 18% of patients over the age of 65 discharged from a hospital are readmitted within the next 30 days. 

Preparing for a successful hospital discharge can reduce the possibility of this, and much of it can happen before even leaving the hospital. Here’s what you need to know.

What a Discharge Means

We tend to think of this as an end state, but really, it’s more of a continuation. When you’re discharged from the hospital, it simply means that your doctor has determined that you’ve recovered enough to no longer need hospital-level care. It does not mean that you are fully recovered.

In many cases—especially with older adults—it means you may still need extra or specialized care. You may need this for weeks or even months to come.

Participating in the Hospital Discharge

Your physician and a hospital discharge nurse determine when you can leave the hospital. It’s not an accusation, but rather an observation. These professionals are extremely busy. It’s not that they are unwilling to spend enough time with you to make sure you understand everything you need to know about post-hospital recovery. They often assume that you are aware of what’s necessary.

This is why it’s important for both caretakers and senior patients themselves to be advocates in the process. Make sure you have all the necessary information you need—and that all of your concerns have been answered—before you leave the hospital.

To help you with this Medicare has created an extremely helpful hospital discharge checklist. Download it here. This checklist is an important tool because it provides you with the key questions to ask about follow-up care, medication, equipment and supplies, and even problems to watch for. These are all questions you must have satisfactory answers for before a senior patient leaves the hospital.

And, you really do want to get this information prior to discharge. It can be much more difficult to get helpful answers afterwards.

The discharge checklist helps both caregivers and senior patients understand what’s necessary for a successful recovery. It’s a partnership between caregiver and patient. Think of it as a handoff. The medical professionals at the hospital have started the process that gets you back to wellness. Now, it’s your turn to keep the process going.

How to Help Prevent Elder Fraud

What is elder fraud? It’s when unscrupulous people take advantage of senior citizens. It affects nearly 40% of those of us over the age of 65, and the loss is over $36 billion annually.

How does it occur? Some of it is going on right under your nose. It includes things that don’t necessarily have to be confusing for seniors, such as misleading financial advice, hidden fees or subscriptions, or even fake dietary products. Here are a few things you need to know.

The 3 Main Types of Elder Fraud

  1. The largest type of fraud is financial exploitation. It’s the cause of nearly $17 billion in annual losses to seniors. Much of this comes as junk mail or unsolicited telemarketing. Scammers defraud seniors by getting consent to take their money.
  2. Seniors lose another $13 billion because of criminal fraud. At the top of the list is identity theft.
  3. Tragically, caregiver abuse contributes another $7 billion in annual losses to seniors. This is not physical abuse. It’s when a trusted person uses their relationship with a senior to inappropriately use finances or even outright steal money.

Who’s Most at Risk?

You might think that seniors with memory issues are the biggest victims of elder fraud. Statistics may surprise you.

  • Studies have shown that thrifty seniors are 5 times more likely to be at risk because they’re attracted by the bargains that get pitched to them by scammers.
  • Ironically, extremely friendly and sociable seniors are 4 times more likely to be defrauded. Experts believe this is because they’re more approachable and tend to give strangers the benefit of a doubt.
  • Even financially sophisticated seniors are at risk. Experts have discovered these seniors tend to lose more due to fraud because they’re comfortable with larger amounts of money.
  • Seniors who receive one or more telemarketing phone calls a day are 3 times more likely to experience a financial loss due to fraud than someone who only gets an occasional telemarketing phone call.

Prevention

The easiest way to keep elder fraud at bay is to check on a senior’s financial situation regularly. There are enough scams to worry about already, but it’ll be in your best interests to start paying attention to those that are particularly aimed at seniors.

You can cut down on telemarketing and potential scams by helping seniors sign up for the National Do Not Call registry. It’s a free service provided by the Federal Trade Commission. You can register online or call 888-382-1222.

Take As Prescribed: Why Seniors Fail To Follow Medication Schedules

It’s not just seniors. The New York Times reports that at least half of the medications for chronic diseases simply aren’t taken as prescribed. That’s a serious issue for a person of any age, but it can have even worse consequences for seniors. It’s estimated that 10% of hospitalizations for seniors happen annually because of missing medication doses.

Here are the three main reasons why seniors decide not to take medication prescribed to them, and suggestions on what to do about it.

1. They have difficulty understanding the cost

Not all prescription medications are expensive, but much of it is. Many seniors know that they are on a fixed and limited income, and sometimes they decide it’s a better idea to take less than what has been prescribed.

While it may make the prescription last longer, it can make the benefits of the medicine far less effective—or even totally ineffective. If it’s possible, find out whether this is why a senior is skipping taking their medications. It may be necessary to have a frank discussion with them, reminding them that they’re really not saving money. It will cost far more in hospital or medical bills if their condition is not kept in check.

2. They don’t believe there’s any benefit

Serious health conditions like a heart attack or kidney failure often have a long recovery period. During that time, it may not seem as if the daily medications prescribed are doing anything at all. Seniors may start to lose faith that they indeed will get better. Even worse, taking regular medications is a daily reminder that they are not well.

Keep an ongoing dialog with seniors about the medications they’re taking. Remind them that the medicine works best with a healthy diet and lifestyle changes. Point out improvements you see, which they may not. This can help to associate taking the medication with gradual health improvements.

3. They think there’s no longer any reason to take it

Sometimes it seems like a waste of time—and money—to take a medication if you’re feeling better. That’s always a decision best left to a health professional. Often, medications must continue to be taken even after a senior recovers from a health crisis.

No one is likely to appreciate hearing that they’ll have to take a daily medication for the rest of their lives. Seniors may exercise curiosity and decide to stop taking a medication to see if it changes the way they’re feeling. And, they probably will continue to feel fine for the short term.

The problem with this false sense of wellbeing is that they won’t really be able to determine whether drugs that treat conditions like heart disease or high blood pressure are working or not. Many health conditions in the elderly have few or no noticeable symptoms.

The most important thing to remember as a caregiver is that most seniors do not purposely skip medications with the intention of harming themselves. Many times, they simply need a reminder or reassurance that it the medication really is good for them, regardless of what they can or can’t feel.

Heart Failure In Seniors: Know The Signs

The American Heart Association reports that nearly 6 million Americans have some form of heart disease. It’s one of the top reasons why people over the age of 65 are taken to the hospital.

While it’s important that a medical professional make the diagnosis, there are signs to look for if you suspect that someone under your care may be experiencing heart failure.

Start With the Definition

Heart failure is the term used to describe a condition. It means that the heart is weakened and is not pumping blood as well as it should. When the heart can’t do its job, our kidneys cause the body to retain salt and water. Fluid builds up and our body becomes congested. This becomes known as congestive heart failure.

Heart failure in seniors causes shortness of breath, fatigue, and coughing.

Common Symptoms

Heart failure is usually diagnosed because someone experiences more than one of the following symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath. Pay attention of a senior complains of difficulty breathing while they’re lying flat.
  • Persistent wheezing or coughing. Pay attention if this coughing produces pink or white mucus.
  • Edema. Pay attention if a senior complains of swelling in their feet, ankles, legs, or abdomen.
  • Fatigue. Pay attention if a senior tells you they’re feeling tired all the time, or if they’re suddenly feeling fatigued by everyday activities like walking.
  • Appetite changes. Pay attention if a senior tells you they feel nauseated, or if they lose their appetite.
  • Impaired thinking. Pay attention if a senior suddenly appears to be confused—especially if it’s accompanied by memory loss.
  • Increased heart rate. Pay attention if a senior tells you they feel as if their heart is throbbing or racing.

We all have days when we just don’t feel right, so it’s usually nothing to be concerned about if a senior tells you they’re experiencing one of these symptoms. They’re all signs of possible heart failure, but each can be caused by many other things.

On the other hand, if you notice multiple symptoms, it’s wise to seek out a medical professional. Heart failure is a serious condition. There’s often no cure, but heart failure in seniors can be treated and managed with medications.

A Better Night’s Sleep? Tips For Seniors.

You’ve probably heard it said that the older you get, the less sleep you need. It’s why seniors are such early birds. There’s another reason why seniors get up early, and often wake up repeatedly all night. 

Often, seniors in nursing care homes are living with chronic pain. Sleeping in a position that doesn’t support their body creates pressure that amplifies the pain. A better night’s sleep can be as close as applying a few of these simple tips to align and support the body.

Start with Comfort and Alignment

When we’re younger, an aligned and neutral sleeping position keeps our spines straight and our lower backs in a natural slightly curved position. This comfortable alignment may not work for seniors.

Kyphosis, or rounded back will prevent seniors from being able to lie flat on their back. For them, an aligned and neutral sleeping position is going to be on their side with their spine supported for a curve—rather than straightened.

Some of the tips offered here call for pillows. Try a folded blanket or a rolled towel before you invest in additional pillows.

Are They a Side Sleeper?

  • Reduce pressure on the upper shoulder by adding a pillow under that arm
  • Use enough pillows to raise the head and maintain a neutral position that aligns the spine with the neck
  • Add a pillow between the knees to align the pelvis, hips, and spine

Are They a Back Sleeper?

  • Use a thin pillow under the head to prevent forward bending of the neck
  • Add a pillow under the knees, which will help to keep the lower back in a neutral position

Are They a Stomach Sleeper?

Sleeping on your stomach isn’t a good idea because it’s hard on the back—but many people prefer this position.

  • Seniors with degenerative disk disease may prefer this position because it offers ease from the pain
  • Consider not using a pillow at all for their head
  • Instead, put a thin pillow under the stomach or pelvis areas

Do They Prefer a Reclining Chair Instead of a Bed?

Sleeping in this position helps relieve the pain of isthmic spondylolisthesis, which seniors can suffer from. The reclined position helps to remove pressure on the spine.

  • You can mimic a reclining chair by using a bed wedge. It’s less expensive than an adjustable bed

Helping seniors to get a good night’s sleep has an important additional benefit. You’ll finally get some rest, too.

Helpful Tips for Hearing Impaired Seniors

Age isn’t the only thing that can impair our hearing, but as we grow older it’s a common occurrence. It’s frustrating—for both those who can no longer hear well, and for those who are their caregivers.

Older adults who experience hearing loss often struggle with everyday things we take for granted, such as knowing when there’s someone at the door, reacting to threatening situations like smoke alarms, or even everyday conversations. Here are some ways to help them—and yourself if you care for someone who needs to hear what’s going on around them.

Start With Developing the Right Attitude

It’s not their fault. Hearing impairment as we age is caused by physical changes in our ears. It can also be caused by damage to the auditory nerve, or even the ability for the brain to process sound. It can be one of these, or a combination of all three.

There are also at least 200 common medications which are known as “ototoxic.” This means that they affect our ability to hear. The primary sign of an ototoxic reaction to a medication is often tinnitus, or ringing in your ears. It’s important to seek out medical advice if you suspect that medications may be the cause of hearing impairment.

In almost all cases, hearing loss is a physical thing. Unfortunately, it also has psychological and emotional impacts. First of all, it’s embarrassing. People handle this kind of frustration in different ways. Seniors may become angry or agitated because of a hearing impairment. Or, they may become distant and less responsive to what’s happening around them because it’s just too difficult to distinguish what they’re hearing.

This hearing impairment can also affect caregivers. It can be extremely frustrating and exhausting to constantly repeat what’s been said. This is why it’s crucial to remember that you’re dealing with something that’s a constant source of frustration for seniors with hearing impairment. 

The Answer Isn’t Always Hearing Aids

These medical devices can make an amazing difference. Today’s digital instruments go far beyond just amplifying general sound. After a thorough test, the hearing aids are “tuned” to amplify only the frequencies that the wearer can no longer hear.

While the technology has improved, the cost of quality hearing aids remains expensive. It’s not uncommon to pay thousands of dollars per hearing aid. Some medical insurance policies will cover some of the cost.

The devices are meant to be small and unobtrusive—which means that they might not be an optimal solution for some seniors. Others just don’t want to be bothered with the care and maintenance of hearing aids. Many of the devices require frequent battery changes. Those batteries are very small and might prove impossible for seniors to work with.

So, while this might be a primary approach, it could prove impractical.

Other Options

Thanks to other technologies—and the growth of the number of companies creating products for our growing senior population—there are simple and inexpensive devices that can be integrated into everyday situations which can help seniors use other senses to compensate for hearing impairment.

There’s a profusion of wireless doorbell kits you can buy that add a flashing light to alert you when someone rings the doorbell.

If you have a landline phone connection—and many of us still do—you can purchase a signaler that plugs into the phone jack. It will flash a light to alert you when there’s an incoming call.

You may have seen them in public buildings. When a fire alarm goes off, the devices also flash with a strobe. This technology has made it into home smoke detectors. Most are as simple to install as putting in a battery and hanging it up on the wall.

We’re all susceptible to losing our hearing, and it’s something that many seniors must live with. Thanks to the concept of mixing visual cues with audio, many of the things seniors thought they would have to tune out are now available to them again.