Summer is the season when seniors and family caregivers spend the most time outdoors. It is also the time of year when pests make their return to the Great Lake state. While the Zika virus is a big concern in some areas of the world, experts say Michigan isn’t one of them. Illnesses like West Nile and Lyme disease are more likely.
Weaker Immune Systems Put Seniors at Risk
Older adults and people with chronic illnesses are higher risk for insect -related illnesses because they often have weaker immune systems. This can be especially true when it comes to contracting the West Nile Virus.
Seasonal mosquito activity varies from year to year but mosquitoes in Michigan have been linked to illnesses such as West Nile virus (WNV) and Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE).
Ticks are another pest to contend with. They are linked to both Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne disease in Michigan. In 2013, there were 165 human cases, an increase of nearly 60 percent from the previous year.
What can caregivers do to protect a Michigan senior loved one?
Experts say there are some easy ways you can keep a senior safe this summer.
On Guard against Summer Insects
- Bug Spray: Encourage your senior loved one to invest in a good quality insect repellant and to spray it on from head to toe when they will be outdoors. Search for brands with the either DEET or Picaridin as an ingredient.
- Avoid Potential Harbors: Brush piles, standing water and overgrown grass can all provide safe harbor for mosquitoes and ticks. Avoid walking near these types of areas.
- Vaccinate Pets: If you own horses, be certain they are up-to-date on vaccinations especially the West Nile virus and the Eastern Equine Encephalitis virus.
- Patio Fan: A sturdy outdoor fan that blows air around on your senior loved one’s patio can help keep ticks and mosquitoes away.
- Doors and Screens: Encourage your loved one to keep their exterior doors closed. Also be sure the screens on their windows and doors don’t have any holes. Both are good ways to prevent insects and bugs from getting in to their home.
- Tick Check: Make certain that everyone in the family —including your furry friends — has a head-to-toe tick check as soon as they come back inside.
Michigan’s Emerging Diseases project is asking for the public’s help in tracking the spread of the West Nile virus. If you spot dead birds in your area, please use their website to report it.
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If you are a caregiver trying to maintain a healthy diet and help your senior loved one do the same, you’ve probably noticed an increasing number of products popping up in grocery stores throughout the Great Lake state that bear the label “Gluten-free.”
While most of us think the gluten movement is primarily focused on helping people manage digestive illnesses, newer research might suggest there are other reasons to monitor your gluten intake. One is a link between wheat and other grains and the development of dementia.
Researchers believe the connection might be because gluten increases inflammation in the body. When gluten can’t be digested or processed, the body’s immune system begins to attack. This leads to increased inflammation. Chronic inflammation is widely considered to increase a person’s risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
What is Gluten?
So what exactly is gluten?
Gluten is the protein found in wheat, barley, rye and triticale. It is what helps our food maintain its shape, essentially acting as a bonding agent that holds it together. Estimates are that 10% of the population lives with gluten-sensitivity or intolerance. Some people aren’t even aware they have it. Many times it is misdiagnosed as IBS or a “nervous stomach.”
Researching the Connection between Gluten and Dementia
Dr. David Perlmutter, the author of Grain Brain, is a neurologist who advocates for gluten-free living. His research shows that people with lower blood sugar levels are at lower risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease and related forms of dementia. Dr. Perlmutter believes gluten increases blood sugar.
In reinforcing his point, he cites studies going back more than a decade, including one published in Neurology in 2005. Perlmutter contends that the connection between blood sugar levels and the rate of brain atrophy and cognitive decline is the key.
Even slight elevations of blood sugar increase your risk for brain degeneration. Researchers like Perlmutter are especially interested in a process known as glycation. It occurs when glucose binds to protein in the body. The result is an increased production of inflammatory chemicals.
Dr. Perlmutter and his colleagues say you can cut your risk for dementia by eating a diet rich with inflammation-fighting foods and low in gluten and other carbohydrates.
What Other Researchers Say about Gluten
Then there are the scientists who say this issue is much more complex. Frank Sacks, Professor of Cardiovascular Disease Prevention at the Harvard School of Public Health, believes obesity might be the underlying issue.
They cite the obesity epidemic in our country as the real cause of high blood sugar and the rise in type 2 Diabetes. These experts say eating a healthy diet and getting the right amount of exercise each week will help you lose weight while decreasing the level of inflammation in your body. The result may be a lower risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
To learn more about Alzheimer’s disease, including the latest news on how diet and lifestyle might impact your risk, we invite you to follow our blog. We share frequent updates on a variety of aging-related topics!
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My dad is on his own for the first time in his life. Since my mother passed away unexpectedly four years ago, he’s really slowed down. The two of them used to be on the go all of the time, but now he’s become very sedentary.
In the early days after we lost my Mom, I think he was struggling with depression. Now I’m concerned that he has developed some bad habits. Among them is watching too much television. He’s gained a few too many pounds as a result and I’m worried it may lead to health problems.
I am going with him to have his yearly physical next week. Before that date, I want to talk with my Dad about some senior-friendly forms of exercise he might be interested in. If I can come up with a few ideas my Dad likes, we can discuss them with his doctor during his appointment.
Do you have any suggestions for me? Other than walking, I’m not sure where to start.
Ellen in Glen Arbor, Michigan
The situation you described is fairly common. And we know breaking bad habits isn’t always easy. Your Dad is lucky to have you in his corner!
And you are right to be concerned. A sedentary lifestyle is indeed dangerous. Newer research is actually comparing the dangers of sitting too much to the dangers associated with smoking!
Exercises for Seniors in Michigan to Try
At the Heritage Senior Communities across Michigan, we have adopted a Wellness Model that blends social and physical health services to ensure each resident lives their best life. A few suggestions that follow a similar approach to healthy living include:
- Go4Life: The National Institute on Aging developed this fitness program exclusively for older adults. Go4Life has a variety of resources to make it easier for seniors to get started and stay motivated. From guides you can download to free workout DVDs mailed right to your home, this is a very comprehensive program.
- Silver Sneakers: Another national program for seniors is Silver Sneakers. The organization works with health insurance companies and local fitness centers to offer free exercise classes for older adults. Check with your insurance provider to see if they are a part of the program.
- Growing Stronger: Mounting evidence shows the important role strength training plays in preventing early mortality. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) created their complimentary Growing Stronger Guide to address the issue. It is packed with tips for goal setting, a quiz to measure strength, and suggestions for staying motivated.
A couple of additional senior-friendly forms of exercise for your Dad to consider are swimming at a club like the YMCA or participating in Chair Yoga or Tai Chi at the local senior center.
I hope this gives you some ideas to help get your Dad moving again, Ellen!