My brother and I both went home to visit our parents in western Michigan over the Easter holiday. Our Dad contracted pneumonia this past winter and is slowly been getting back on his feet. What my brother and I weren’t aware of until this visit is how bad my mother’s driving has become. Before this illness sidelined him, Dad was the primary driver.
We aren’t sure if there are ways to adapt their car to make driving easier for my Mom or if it is just time for her to hang up the keys. She has arthritis in her spine and I think it is a big part of her struggle. She just isn’t very flexible. With my brother and I both living far away, transportation would be a real challenge if neither of them can drive any longer.
Are you aware of any resources that can help us?
Concerns about an aging parent’s safety behind the wheel are at the top of the list of questions we hear from adult children. Many feel like you do. They know their aging parent needs to be able to get to physician appointments, the grocery store and more, but aren’t quite sure how to assess if their older loved one is safe.
We know it can be difficult to objectively evaluate if a senior driver might be fine driving during non-rush hour times, if driving aids can be utilized to help them adapt their car to accommodate the physical changes created by aging or if it is time to stop driving altogether.
Here are links to a few online resources you and your brother may find to be of help in evaluating your mother’s fitness for driving:
- Senior Driving: This site was created by AAA. It is rich with information that ranges from cars that are more senior-friendly to the AAA Interactive Driving Evaluation Online Test. The latter is a good tool to encourage both of your parents to take.
- Michigan’s Guide for Aging Drivers and Their Families: This free publication was developed by the Michigan Department of Transportation. In it you will find resources covering a variety of topics including a self-assessment tool, tips for having a conversation with a senior about giving up driving, and medical problems that put drivers at higher risk for an accident.
- Tools to Aid Older Drivers in Michigan: If you think a driving aid might make your mother safer behind the wheel, this article will be of interest. It shares suggestions such as a swivel seat cushion, mirror adapters, foot pedal extenders and more.
- Exercises to Help Older Michigan Drivers: This article shares exercises developed by MIT Age Lab and The Hartford Center for Mature Market Excellence. They are designed to help improve older drivers’ range of motion and flexibility. Both abilities are necessary for safe driving.
I hope this information is helpful to your family, Anne!
When a loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, legal issues are probably the last thing on anyone’s mind. But because dementia will eventually render them unable to make financial and medical decisions, the Alzheimer’s Association urges families to begin legal planning right away.
Here are the key terms you will encounter as you prepare for the future:
Dementia patients should appoint a Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA), a responsible person to act as their Agent in financial and legal matters. This legal document gives the agent the immediate authority to manage banking and investments, sell property, and more.
Advance Directives allow the Alzheimer’s patient to take an active role in their end-of-life planning. These are written documents that express their wishes related to their health care.
An important advance directive is the Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care (DPOA-HC), which names the person chosen to make decisions for your loved one when they no longer can. In Michigan, this person is known as the Patient Advocate. Michigan law also allows patient advocates to make decisions about mental health care and to donate organs upon death.
Another advance directive is a Living Will, a document that communicates a patient’s intentions about whether they should be kept on life-support. This also grants the patient advocate authority to make this decision. Michigan is one of three states that do not consider a living will legally binding, but can be useful to the patient advocate when making end-of-life decisions.
A DNR, short for “do not resuscitate,” is a medical form informing medical personnel not to perform CPR if the patient’s heart stops. A copy should be given to physicians and caregivers. Michigan law states that DNR orders are only valid when the patient is at home or in an assisted-living facility. Hospitals and nursing homes may or may not honor the document, depending on their policies.
Sometimes these directives are not enough to ensure the Alzheimer’s patient is healthy and safe, and the caregiver must seek Guardianship from a judge. This requires filing a petition in probate court to take power over a patient’s financial, medical and other life decisions as guardian or Conservator.
For more information about planning ahead, visit the Alzheimer’s and Dementia Caregiver Center
A stroke refers to the death of brain cells occurring as a result of a blockage of oxygen to the brain. Strokes affect people of all ages, but they are far more prevalent in those over 65, who might have more medical risk factors like high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol.
Though some strokes are mild, many are devastating. Even minor strokes can affect memory, physical function, and the ability to communicate. In Michigan, stroke is the fourth leading cause of death. And while family history, ethnicity and gender can play a role, stroke risk can be reduced.
The American Stroke Association, which named May Stroke Prevention Month, says 80% of strokes can be prevented with lifestyle changes.
Eat well; be well: Fill your plate with nutrient-dense foods like fresh fruits, vegetables, and low-fat proteins. It may be hard for seniors to try new foods, but adding whole grains, beans and nuts to the diet a bit at a time can help to improve the diet.
Seniors should limit sodium to 1500 mg a day to keep hypertension in check. Shy away from refined sugars, processed foods and sodas.
Read more in the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Get moving: Studies have shown that regular exercise three-to-five days a week reduces the risk factors for stroke. And the good news is that you are never too old to start exercising.
The US Surgeon General recommends a minimum 30 minutes of aerobic activity each day for better cardiovascular health. For seniors, this can be accomplished through brisk walking, and can be broken up into short ten-minute sessions. This type of exercise strengthens the heart and reduces stress levels—all necessary for a healthy blood pressure.
The Centers for Disease Control Physical Activity website is an excellent resource for helping older adults begin an exercise program.
Always check with a doctor before beginning any exercise regimen.
Maintain a healthy weight: Balancing caloric intake and exercise can help seniors maintain a healthy weight that will reduce the incidence of heart disease and stroke.
Quit smoking: Smoking makes the heart work harder by damaging the circulatory system, doubling the risk for stroke. The benefits of quitting even late in life are great. A 2002 study determined that smokers who quit at age 65 added up to 3.4 years to their lives. After one year smoke free, the added risk of stroke was eliminated.
Go easy on the alcohol: While some studies connect one alcoholic drink a day to a reduced stroke risk, others point to an increased risk when people drank two or more. The American Stroke Association recommends no more than two drinks per day for men and no more than one drink per day for women.
To learn more about strokes and stroke prevention, we encourage you to visit the Stroke Resource Center.
Heritage Senior Communities newest community is now open in Holland, Michigan. The Village at Appledorn West offers adults over the age of 55 one- and two-bedroom apartments. An assisted living community on the same campus will open its doors to new residents later this spring.
Hearing loss is one of the most common and most significant health challenges facing older adults. One in three people over the age of 65 and half of those over 85 have some degree of difficulty hearing.
This “invisible disability” can have major effects on a senior’s quality of life, on their relationships, and on their physical and mental health.
While hearing issues associated with aging cannot be cured, family members and caregivers can help in a number of ways.
- Start the conversation about hearing loss
An important step in addressing a loved one’s hearing problem is helping them recognize it. Often seniors don’t realize that they are hearing impaired.
Find a quiet distraction-free place to talk. Begin by sharing a desire for your loved one to enjoy social situations, and discuss safety concerns like the inability to hear a car horn, the smoke detector, or another loved one’s cries for help. Gently point out the tell-tale signs of hearing problems: keeping the TV and radio at excessive volume, asking people to repeat what they have said, and difficulty following a conversation in a noisy restaurant.
The chances are good that they will admit that they aren’t hearing like they once did.
- Change the way you communicate
The Centers for Disease Control offers several recommendations for talking with hearing-impaired seniors:
- Address the person face-to-face and speak clearly, articulating your words.
- Adjust the volume of your voice as necessary, but be careful not to shout, which makes understanding a message more difficult.
- When interacting in groups, ask others to take turns speaking. Overlapping conversations are tough to follow.
- Limit background noise. Most hearing-impaired individuals cannot hear speech over television, music, air conditioners and fans.
- Change your attitude
It’s easy for your patience to wear thin from constantly repeating yourself and raising your voice in order to be heard. This frustration can lead to negative feelings and to resentment that might further isolate the person suffering from hearing loss.
Remember, your loved one cannot control this situation and is likely just as irritated as you. Rather than getting angry or giving up, take a deep breath and try again.
- Be Conscious of Enabling
While a loving caregiver should be willing to work to make sure that a senior can understand, helping too much might allow them to avoid seeking help. If you find that you always have “be their ears,” encourage them to seek help.
- Encourage your loved one to see an audiologist: A doctor of audiology licensed in the state of Michigan will administer painless tests to determine the degree of hearing loss. He or she will screen for medical issues and related balance problems that could lead to debilitating falls. If the hearing loss is moderate to severe, the doctor is likely to prescribe a hearing aid.
- Invest in Assistive Technology
Hearing aids aren’t the only electronic devices that can improve your loved one’s ability to hear. Products like TV sound amplifiers, captioned telephones, and microphones can help older adults enjoy life and communicate with others.
Visual ‘flashing light” doorbells, phones and smoke detectors ensure that your loved one can function safely in their home.
Finally, if your loved one does purchase a hearing aid, you might suggest they consider a Bluetooth-equipped model that transmits from a TV, computer, and MP3 player directly to the device.