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.

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.

Technology Upgrades Residential Senior Care

It’s estimated that one in five adults in the United States now have access to a smart speaker. There are nearly 50 million of these voice-powered devices now in use. Alexa could very well be the most spoken name in the world.

These devices can offer more than quick ways to find out the temperature outside or order something from Amazon. They’re helping seniors and their care providers. Providers like Libertana Home Health and Bayada Home Health Care are using Amazon’s Echo technology to deepen access to medical assistance and use Alexa’s artificial intelligence to be a digital and entertaining friend that can reduce feelings of loneliness.

The pace is accelerating

We’ll see technology continue to interact with seniors and caregivers as manufacturers find more ways to inject artificial intelligence into the home setting. For older adults, this means an increasing ability to maintain independence because of the digital assistants like Alexa and even Apple’s Siri.

We’re already familiar with the term “smart home.” Now we’ll see this technology migrate to help older adults living residential care facilities. There are already shining examples of technology-enabled homes that are focused on helping seniors popping up across the nation. This model home in San Diego is outfitted with an impressive array of technology that encourage greater independence for seniors, as well as helping caregivers with their responsibilities.

It’s a shared goal, and entire innovation centers are opening around the country that are showcasing technology-powered support for older adults. The Thrive Center is a public-private partnership between the Commonwealth of Kentucky and Louisville Metro, as well as companies such as CDW Healthcare, Samsung, Intel, Ergotron, Lenovo and HP/Aruba. Senior health care providers, including Kindred Healthcare and major skilled nursing provider Signature HealthCare are also involved.

Connecting seniors with healthcare professionals

Our desire for digital assistants in the home is extended to the healthcare industry, too. Congress and federal regulatory agencies are working with startups and well-established companies to make telehealth more accessible to seniors. The foundation was put in place to make this happen several years ago with governmental actions such as the 21st Century Cures Act. This legislation calls for ways to help seniors make better use of telehealth opportunities.

We’ve heard about IoT – the Internet of Things – and smart speakers are ushering this digital assistance into residential care homes for seniors to create opportunities for older adults to have richer and more independent lives, while still being connected to safety and instant assistance.

Bed And Seating Aids

You don’t have to be a senior citizen to experience difficulty getting out of bed in the morning. An exercise injury can reward you with a stiff joint, giving you a taste of what might be waiting for you as you get older.

Bed and seating aids help older adults remain independent with daily activities like getting in or out of bed, or sitting in a chair. They make these everyday actions easier and safer.

Useful and Easy

Aging and living with chronic conditions can increase the amount of time we spend at home, which makes it important to make that environment comfortable and safe. Mobility aids, especially in the bedroom, living room, and bathroom, make it easier for older adults to get around independently.

On an average, we spend a third of our lives sleeping. We spend so much time there that it’s important to focus on the needs of older adults for assistance in mobility. Bedroom aids such as a bed rope ladder or a fitted bed rail help older adults rise to a seated position when they awaken. These aids provide safe support with getting on or off the bed.

Bed rails can be easily installed and safely secured. Some can slide out of the way when not in use, while others also act as a protective guard to prevent falling out of bed during sleep. See the FDA Guide on Bedrail safety to help find the most appropriate device for your needs. https://www.fda.gov/MedicalDevices/ProductsandMedicalProcedures/HomeHealthandConsumer/ConsumerProducts/BedRailSafety/ucm20038764.htm

For those with greatly reduced body strength, there are also electric profiling beds that greatly reduce the effort. An overbed table might be the solution for those who prefer to read or do other activities in bed.

Help with Sitting and Standing

While there are plenty of aids to help an older adult get in and out of a chair, often one of the most simple and effective solutions is a quality chair cushion. It raises the overall height of the seat, so older adults don’t have as far to lower themselves when sitting – or to rise when standing.

Risers that attach to the legs of furniture are another inexpensive way to adjust the height of a sofa or chair, making it easier for an older adult to be seated or stand. They are typically sold in packages that offer the ability to raise a piece of furniture three to four inches. The bottoms have non-skid pads to protect flooring.

It doesn’t take much to return a sense of independence with these bed and seating aids, and many are relatively inexpensive purchases.

Older Adults And Feeling Cold

It might sound like a stereotype, but medical science won’t argue if you say that many older adults often complain about feeling cold. It’s a fact that as we age, some of us find it harder to tolerate cold, especially in hands and feet.

Increasing sensitivity to told temperatures may be the sign of a medical problem such as diabetes or hypertension. It’s also common for medications like beta blockers prescribed to older adults to decrease the heart rate, which can reduce the circulation to our hands and feet. Calcium channel blockers may be prescribed for seniors living with hypertension. The drug works by relaxing blood vessels, and that can contribute to the feeling of being cold. High blood cholesterol and thyroid conditions can also impact our ability to regulate body temperature. For these reasons, it’s important to consult with a medical professional if an older adult complains about constantly feeling cold. If it’s not related to a health condition, it’s likely just a consequence of age.

Colder than it used to be

Healthy older adults may find that they do actually feel colder than they used to. It’s not psychological. One of the most common reasons is a decrease in circulation. As we age, the walls of our blood vessels lose their elasticity. There’s also a thinning of the fat layer under the skin, which helps to conserve body heat. Both of these can contribute to feeling cold.

Metabolic responses also slow down as we age. Our body has a built-in body temperature regulator. The vasoreceptors responsible for this regulation may not be as quick as they used to at directing the body’s blood vessels to constrict in order to raise our body temperature. 

On top of this, science shows that older adults tend to have slightly colder body temperatures. Most of the time, an older adult who feels cold is in no danger. It’s important to understand that hypothermia is a possibility. Hypothermia is a real threat for older adults, and the condition sets in when body temperatures fall below 95 degrees.

While you might associate hypothermia with freezing conditions, seniors with lower metabolism caused by medications or chronic health conditions can get hypothermia in temperatures as warm as the mid-70s.

Feeling cold all the time is a natural condition and part of aging. Once an underlying medical condition is ruled out, warming up is often as easy as putting on a sweater. Scarves and hats aren’t outdoor fashion accessories for older adults, they’re necessities. A warm drink can help a senior shake a cold spell – but keep in mind that adding alcohol to it actually can trigger heat loss.