If the Michigan senior you love is feeling lonely and blue after the long winter, a pet may be a happy solution! Pets can be great therapists. They are proven to help with everything from decreasing blood pressure to lowering rates of depression among our elders.
Health care organizations from hospitals to hospice programs incorporate pet therapy in to their daily routines.
But there are many factors to consider when choosing pets for seniors. From community restrictions on pets to budget issues and mobility challenges, there are a few issues to consider.
How to Find the Right Pet for an Older Adult in Michigan
- Budget: The financial impact of owning a pet is one consideration. While Great Danes or another large breed of dog may be your senior loved one’s favorite, they can be more expensive to feed. At the opposite end of the spectrum are the fluffy little dogs many people find so appealing. A challenge with owning one of these dogs, however, is they tend to need frequent grooming. Depending upon what part of Michigan your senior loved one resides in, the costs for grooming can quickly add up. Before you make a decision on a pet, be sure to factor in all of the expenses your loved one will incur with each of the companions you are considering.
- Mobility: Our snowy, icy Michigan winters can make it hard for older adults to get outdoors to walk a pet each day. While dogs are known to help seniors improve their physical fitness, they can also put them at risk for a fall during the winter months. If your senior loved one doesn’t have a fenced yard or easy outdoor access, a dog may not be the best choice. By contrast, a cat doesn’t need (or often want!) to go outside when the weather is frightful.
- Community restrictions: Another factor to keep in mind is where your senior loved one lives. If they reside in a senior living community in Michigan, is it pet-friendly? Or if they call a condominium complex home, are there homeowner’s restrictions regarding pets?
- Easy maintenance: Is your aging family member able to care for a pet that might be higher maintenance? For example, a puppy might be a little too high energy for some seniors. An older dog might be calmer and easier to handle. A small bird or fish might be other options. Both are known to help decrease stress and agitation, especially for adults with Alzheimer’s.
Resources for Finding a Pet for a Senior
Finally, we thought it would be helpful to share a few good resources you can use when it comes time to choosing a furry or feathered friend for your Michigan senior loved one:
- Petfinder is an organization that maintains a nationwide database of pets waiting to be adopted
- The Michigan Humane Society can help connect you with pets big and small that are looking for a home
Mediation is the practice of quietly focusing thoughts on the present moment or on a simple word or phrase. It is most commonly associated with religious practices, but it is often recommended to improve health and well-being. In fact, the Latin root of the word “To meditate” means “to remedy.”
The National Institutes of Health (NIH)notes that meditation has been shown to effectively combat insomnia, reduce high blood pressure, relieve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and shorten the duration of the flu.
Meditation and Alzheimer’s
Several NIH-funded clinical studies also show that regular meditation could promote slow, stall and possibly reverse aging in the brain. And a recent study indicated that meditating at least two hours a week may slow the progression of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Researchers from UCLA and the Australian National University collaborated on a 2014 study which found that people who meditated regularly for years showed significant reduction in the amount of age-related brain atrophy than those who did not meditate.
In 2013, researchers at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School studied people with dementia and found that those who did yoga and meditation for just two hours a week showed less brain atrophy and stronger cognitive activity than those who did not meditate.
And in at least one study, meditation has been shown to be effective in reducing the symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s disease, such as sleep disturbances, moodiness and chronic stress. Researchers note that these Alzheimer’s-related issues often result in the accelerated progression of the disease. Mediation therapy improved sleep and reduced stress, leading researchers to conclude that it could possibly slow cognitive decline.
Why meditation works
The research on meditation and its effect on brain health showed a reduction in unhealthy proteins and inflammation. Both are known to contribute to heart disease, stroke, and other chronic disease.
How to meditate to prevent dementia
The Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation recommends a 12-minute Kirtan Kriya exercise. The Kirtan Kriya involves deep concentration while singing and coordinating finger movements.
According to Prevention Magazine, brain-boosting benefits can come from other forms of meditation, too. Activities like walking, yoga and Tai Chi allow the mind to shut out distractions and concentrate on relaxation.
Taking a yoga class or enrolling in a meditation session is another way to learn mindful meditation. The University of Michigan offers a 16-week Mind n’ Motion class for seniors that combines balance exercises with meditation techniques.
Meditation can help Alzheimer’s caregivers
Caregivers of senior loved ones with Alzheimer’s and dementia deal with a great amount of stress. Meditation can help them reduce stress, fight depression and maintain good health.
A 2012 study at UCLA found that the Kirtan Kriya method of mindful meditation significantly reduced the amount of inflammation and increased immune cell production in family caregivers.
For more information about meditation and the brain, visit the AARP Brain Health and Wellness website.
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Driving an automobile allows seniors in Michigan to maintain their independence. But as we age, our ability to operate a car safely declines. According to AAA, 90 percent of adults over 65 have health conditions that impair driving. In addition, age-related issues like loss of flexibility, diminished vision and reduced reaction time increase an older adult’s ability to drive safely.
Just a few years ago, this meant that seniors might have had to give up the keys. But automakers have developed high-tech safety features that allow older adults to stay safe behind the wheel longer.
These features include parking aids, backup cameras and reverse-sensing systems that can alert drivers to autos and objects in the driver’s blind-spots. Some cars are even equipped to automatically apply the brakes when a pedestrian or obstacle is in the path. Adjustable safety belts, pedals and seats can also improve visibility, reaction time and comfort.
Matching Senior Drivers with the Car Safety Features They Need
AAA Automaker software can help adults over 65 choose a car tailored to their physical limitations and health needs. This useful tool can help you and your senior loved one select automobile features that can help overcome some of the physical changes caused by aging.
Six-way adjustable seats. This can make is easier to get in and out of a car, as well as reduce hip and leg pain associated with rising and sitting. Seats with multiple positions, height adjustment and back support can help older adults feel more comfortable and confident behind the wheel.
Keyless entry and ignition. This is a must for seniors with arthritis. A push-button system eliminates the need for turning keys and fumbling around trying to push small buttons on a remote key chain.
Thick steering wheels. These are kinder on older hands because they reduce the need for a full grip on the steering wheel.
High-contrast, large print gauges. An easy-to-read instrument panel can help seniors with vision issues monitor their speed and vehicle issues.
Best Vehicles for Senior Drivers
Some cars are more senior-friendly than others. Consumer Reports rates new and used cars for older adults based on a variety of features ranging from seat adjustment to steering wheel comfort. Here are their recommendations for older driver safety:
2014 Chevrolet Impala
2011-2014 Chrysler 300
2008-2014 Honda Accord
2011-2014 Honda Odyssey
2014 Kia Soul
2004-2015 Lexus RX
2009-2015 Subaru Forester
2005-2012 Toyota Avalon
2007-2014.5 Toyota Camry
2004-2014 Toyota Highlander
For more information about older adult driving safety, visit the Michigan Guide for Aging Drivers and Their Families.
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Caring for a senior loved one with Alzheimer’s is difficult and sometimes frustrating. As the disease progresses, it robs your senior loved one of the ability to understand and communicate. It also brings personality changes and behavioral changes that can challenge even the most patient of caregivers.
How family caregivers and personal companions respond and react in these situations can make a difference.
The Alzheimer’s Association recommends that caregivers practice “compassionate communication” and respond calmly. This can not only minimize conflict, but reduce aggressive behaviors.
Minimizing Stress in a Senior with Alzheimer’s Disease
Here are some dos and don’ts that can reduce stress for your loved one with Alzheimer’s and for you.
DO change the way you communicate.
- DO use short, clear sentences. Repeat yourself using a calm voice when necessary.
- DON’T provide explanations or tell lengthy stories.
- DON’T ask questions like “Do you remember when…? Or ask if your loved one remembers what happened in recent memory. This can be humiliating for a person living with Alzheimer’s who likely can’t remember.
- DO carefully rephrase your questions so that they can be answered with a “yes” or “no.”
- DON’T remind your senior loved one that their memory is failing. Statements like “I just told you that this morning,” or “I cannot believe you don’t remember that,” can upset and agitate a person with Alzheimer’s.
DO adjust your attitude.
- DO practice kindness and patience. It is easy to become irritated and frustrated when you are caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia.
When working with your loved one becomes difficult, take a deep breath and remind yourself that they cannot control their disease. Alzheimer’s causes the deterioration of brain cells. Your loved one is not behaving as they are because they want to aggravate you. As the Alzheimer’s Association puts it, “Once dementia is diagnosed, the patient is excused 100% of the time.”
- DO be cheerful and reassuring. This can keep your Alzheimer’s loved one calm and help them to feel safe.
- DO “go with the flow.” The Family Caregiver Alliance explains that caregivers shouldn’t be concerned about correcting their senior loved one’s misunderstandings. For instance, rather than letting them know that a loved one they want to go see has been dead for years, experts recommend caregivers “let it go” and play along to avoid conflict and stress.
DO change your response.
- DON’T argue or confront. Taking an aggressive stance can trigger an aggressive defense in a person living with Alzheimer’s. When your senior loved one does or says something troubling, it is best to distract them from their thought or behavior. For instance, if your father with Alzheimer’s insists that he needs to get to work, distracting him with a snack and a walk will calm him. Explaining that he retired ten years earlier will only further agitate him.
- DO focus on reducing stress and making your senior loved one feel safe. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, people living with dementia are very often fearful. When reacting to their behavior, consider all your options and act with their comfort and security in mind.
For more information about caring for your senior loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, visit the Alzheimer’s Association’s Caregiver Center.
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We know firsthand how tough it is to talk with kids about a grandparent’s Alzheimer’s. People of all ages have difficulty understanding this debilitating disease.
Making time to explain what is happening to children is important. A grandparent or other senior family member may seem fine then suddenly become confused and a little paranoid. The unpredictability of the disease can be frightening for children.
What are some tips Michigan family caregivers can use to explain Alzheimer’s disease to children?
Talking with Children about a Michigan Senior’s Alzheimer’s Disease
Here are a few suggestions that may help the conversation go more smoothly.
1. Sit Down together as a family: Find a time for everyone in the family to sit down together when you won’t be interrupted. Explain the disease in its simplest terms. Be sure to educate your children on behaviors their grandparent is currently exhibiting. Don’t make the mistake of getting too far ahead in the disease process yet. You can tackle more advanced signs of the disease once the kids have an opportunity to digest the basics of Alzheimer’s disease.
One reminder is to make it clear to your children that Alzheimer’s is a disease and the disease is responsible for the changes in their grandparent (or senior loved one). Also be sure the kids understand that Alzheimer’s isn’t contagious like the flu or a cold. The idea that a parent or sibling might “catch it” might be frightening to them.
2. Talk about Communication: Another factor to talk about with your kids is how to communicate. For example, explain to them that they should approach their grandparent from the front. This is because Alzheimer’s often causes damage to a person’s peripheral vision. If an older adult living with Alzheimer’s disease doesn’t see you coming, they may be startled and strike out in fear. Also share with your kids how important it is to use a calm voice and to avoid making loud noises around the family member who has Alzheimer’s.
3. Video Series: A video library created by the Alzheimer’s Association, Kids Look at Alzheimer’s Disease, can be a great resource. This video project features children and teenagers talking about how a loved one’s Alzheimer’s disease has impacted their own life. One series was created for video series is for teens and the other for younger children.
4. Encourage Honesty: During your conversation with your children, encourage them to be open and honest about their feelings. For example, their feelings may be hurt because their grandfather was short-tempered with them or they are embarrassed by an unusual behavior of their grandmother’s. They might even being feeling frightened. Remind your kids not to feel guilty and encourage them to share whatever it is they are feeling with you so you can talk through it together.
5. Fun Times Remain: Finally, help your child understand that there are still activities and projects they can do with a grandparent despite the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. Create a list of activities the two generations can safely enjoy together to share when you talk with your family. 101 Activities from the Alzheimer’s Association is a great resource to use when you are creating your list.
Memory Care in Michigan
When the time comes and you need to find a Memory Care program in Michigan, please remember Heritage Senior Communities. The Terrace is our personalized dementia care program. Call the senior living community nearest to you, to arrange a personal tour.
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