One question we often hear from adult children across the state of Michigan is how they can tell if an aging parent is still safe behind the wheel of their car. The older a parent is, the more families wonder how they will know when it is time to encourage their senior loved one to hang up their keys for good.
National Older Driver Awareness Week 2016 is December 5th through 9th. We are joining our voice with other aging services providers across the country to share important information on older drivers and the unique challenges they face.
Does Aging Impact a Senior’s Ability to Drive Safely?
Part of the challenge in assessing a senior’s driving ability is that it can’t be determined solely by their age. While we all have some similar aging experiences, everyone ages differently. Your 82 year old father may be a much better driver than a 70 year old who lives with multiple chronic health problems.
Here’s what Michigan families should know about aging issues that can affect driving:
- Medication Side Effects: Some medications commonly used by older adults can cause drowsiness. A few of the worst offenders are pain medications, sleeping pills, antidepressants, and over-the-counter cough medicine.
- Flexibility: While many older adults are active and fit, they can still suffer from a loss of flexibility. This makes it difficult to turn and look over their shoulder to back out of a parking space or merge on to the freeway.
- Vision: Since 90% of decisions made while driving are based on visual information, vision impairments can make driving much more difficult. In general, the aging eye requires more light than a younger eye. This often makes driving at night unsafe for senior drivers.
- Reaction Time: Reacting to an emergency when you are behind the wheel of a car requires sensing, deciding and acting often within a matter of seconds. Age lengthens the time it takes the brain to react. It can put older adults at higher risk for an accident.
Overcoming Age-Related Driving Issues
In some cases, there are steps seniors can take to stay safer behind the wheel of their car:
- Make sure your senior loved one has a yearly vision exam. This makes it easier to spot and address potential problems early.
- Read medication labels. If your loved one takes any medication that warns of drowsiness or comes with the caution “Do not operate heavy machinery,” remind them to leave the driving to you or another family member.
- Encourage your senior driver to leave more distance between them and the car ahead of them, so they have more time to react to unexpected issues on the road.
- Remind your parent to minimize driving distractions, such as listening to the radio or talking on a cell phone.
- If traffic moves too fast on main highways and freeways, advise your older family member to take side roads instead. It also helps to schedule appointments and run errands during slower traffic times.
Our final tip is to encourage your aging loved one to take a class to refresh their driving skills. These courses will provide changes in traffic laws and offer other safe driving tips for seniors.
Being a good driver means being aware of and accepting changing abilities. These simple adjustments can help you keep the older drivers in your life safe.
Anyone who has watched a family caregiver struggle to manage all of their roles and responsibilities knows just how exhausting the job can be. It often leaves people worn out and stressed out.
Caregiving can also have an impact on the caregiver’s own family finances. It isn’t uncommon for them to have to cut back on their hours at work. This loss of income can be especially difficult because family caregivers incur additional expenses related to caring for their loved one.
The holidays can be a great time to show the caregiver in your life that you are thinking of them.
2016 Gift Guide for Michigan Family Caregivers
Here are a few suggestions for holiday gifts for the family caregiver you love:
- Maid Service: A great holiday gift for the caregiver in your life might be maid service. Because they are so busy caring for everyone else, their own home may be neglected. Whether you buy them a one day deep cleaning package or a monthly cleaning, it will no doubt be appreciated.
- Home Delivered Meals: Healthy, home delivered meals are probably a caregivers dream. If there isn’t a local option near the caregiver’s home, a variety of national meal services are available. Hello Fresh and Blue Apron are just a few.
- Day of Pampering: Time and money are often in short supply for a family caregiver. This is why they might really enjoy spending time being pampered with a friend. Whether it is at one of Michigan’s Spa Resorts or just a few hours at a local salon, the caregiver will benefit from a little bit of rest and relaxation. You might need to explore respite care services so your friend doesn’t have to worry about their loved one when they are taking a break.
- Gift of Time. For caregivers, there are never enough hours in the day. A gift idea they will truly appreciate is a coupon book full of vouchers they can use when they need a helping hand. Having a coupon to trade in might make it easier for them to ask for help. Create coupons for things like picking up prescriptions, preparing a home cooked meal, dropping their kids off at volleyball practice or picking up a few groceries. The gift of time is sure to be a hit with a family caregiver.
The bottom line is the best holiday gifts for caregivers are usually those that allow them time to slow down and enjoy themselves!
I am heading home to mid-Michigan to visit my mom for the holidays. When I was there this summer, I was a little concerned that she might be developing Alzheimer’s disease. I saw small changes in her that have kept me wondering and worrying. Especially with regard to her memory. She has gotten to be so forgetful!
How do I know if these are normal signs of aging or something more serious?
Is This Normal Aging or Something More?
What a great question! Small memory lapses happen to all of us. As we age, they may happen more frequently. It often leads families to become concerned that it is an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease.
Although memory loss isn’t always an issue for seniors, it often is. But there are signs that can indicate the problem is more serious than just age-related forgetfulness.
Signs of Memory Loss Related to Alzheimer’s Disease
First, it’s important to understand that there is a difference between forgetting where you put your keys and forgetting how to drive your car to the grocery store. If your mom is struggling to perform activities she’s done countless times before, it’s time to speak to a doctor about her symptoms.
Here are other common signs of Alzheimer’s-related memory loss:
- Feeling disoriented, even in familiar places, can be a concern
- Repeating words or sharing the same stories during the a conversation
- Unable to keep up with the flow of conversation
- Using the wrong words or garbling words (Note: this can also be a sign a person is having a stroke)
- Forgetting how to behave in social situations
- Making poor decisions or having lapses in judgment
Another common sign of Alzheimer’s is being unable to remember something you’ve forgotten later. So if your mom not only forgot to go to her doctor’s appointment, but forgot she even had an appointment, it might be a warning sign of something more than normal aging.
While Alzheimer’s is irreversible, getting your mom to her physician early in the process may allow for interventions that can help slow the progression of the disease.
I hope this information is helpful, Tina! If you have more questions about Alzheimer’s, please feel free to call the Heritage Senior Community nearest to your mom’s home in Michigan. Our team will be happy to help!
Body mass index (BMI) has long been used to determine a person’s overall fitness. Physicians and health professionals compare a person’s weight to their height to calculate a body fat score. But this method has more than a few critics. The most obvious criticism is that that BMI fails to differentiate between muscle and fat.
This means a very fit person with considerable muscle mass might end up with a high BMI score or that a thin person with little muscle mass might be determined to be fit when they aren’t.
Because newer research revealed just how important muscle mass is to longer life, experts are re-thinking BMI.
A UCLA study published in the American Journal of Medicine found that people with higher amounts of muscle mass are at decreased risk for metabolic syndrome. This in turn lowers a person’s risk for cardiovascular disease.
Tips for Pumping Up Muscle Mass during Retirement Years
Age-related muscle loss is called Sarcopenia. The condition is common in older adults who might not be as active as they were in younger years. Doctors liken it to Osteoporosis of the muscles. It can begin as early as age 30.
The good news is there are steps you and your senior loved one can take to improve muscle mass.
- Healthy Exercise: Schedule an appointment with your primary care physician to talk about which senior-friendly forms of exercise they recommend. It might help to research your options before the appointment so you have an idea of some that interest you. The goal should be to create a program that combines range of motion, flexibility, cardio, and strength training. A few types to consider are Chair Yoga, water aerobics, Pilates, bike riding, walking and modified weight training.
- Focus on Nutrition: Many people are unaware of the role nutrition plays in building muscle mass. Diet is just as important as exercise when it comes to healthy muscles. The Harvard Medical School recommends older adults consume 7 grams of protein each day for every 20 pounds of body weight.
- Get Moving: Sitting too much can lead to a loss of muscle mass. And a sedentary lifestyle can’t be overcome by an increased amount of exercise. Researchers now call sitting the “new smoking” because it is so dangerous for your long-term health. Stand when you talk on the phone instead of sitting. Take frequent breaks to move around if you are at your computer all day. Remember that it is important not just to exercise each day, but to keep moving.
Online Fitness Programs for Seniors
Several organizations have online fitness programs for seniors that make it easier to incorporate exercise and good nutrition in to your everyday life:
- AARP Healthy Living: AARP has a wide range of resources designed to help older adults live healthier lives. You can find everything from reviews on fitness products to videos on weight training for seniors.
- Go4Life: The National Institute on Aging created this free senior fitness program. It combines online resources like guides and checklists with DVDs you can order at no cost.
Visit a Heritage Senior Community Near You
Wellness is an important part of what we do at the Heritage Senior Communities in Michigan. We invite you to schedule a tour at your convenience to learn how good nutrition, life enrichment and physical activity are a part of our residents’ everyday lives.
Since our father passed away unexpectedly last spring, my brother and I have been trying to fill in and complete the chores and tasks our dad always handled. Because Mom lives in Michigan, we know it’s important to make sure her car is in good shape before the winter winds blow. I will be visiting her next week and I’d like to be able to cross that item off my list of things to do.
That catch is… I live in sunny southern Florida where we don’t need to worry about winterizing the car.
Do you have any tips I can use? I would appreciate any advice!
How to Prepare a Senior’s Car for Winter in Michigan
You are right! Michigan winters can indeed be tough on vehicles. And it is important to take time to get your Mom’s car ready.
I spent a little time researching some of our favorite senior resources and found a few tips you might find helpful:
- Schedule a Check Up: Helping your mother winterize her car should start with scheduling an appointment for an oil change and tune-up. You might want to can set that up before you head north so you can be sure the repair shot can fit you in. Ask the mechanic to make sure he tops off her fluids (including anti-freeze), examines the condition of her wiper blades and replaces the air filter if it needs it. Also request that he check the tread on the tires. Worn out tires need to be replaced before your mom hits the road on a snowy day.
- Stock Up on Lock De-Icer: If you’ve spent any time in the Great Lake state during the winter months, you may have experienced frozen door locks. You head in to the grocery store to pick up a few things and when you come out, the locks on the car are frozen and you can’t open the door. While you are with your mom, buy a few cans of de-ice. Encourage her to keep one with her all the time whether it is in a coat pocket or her purse. This will help her avoid being stuck without transportation when she is away from home.
- Pack Emergency Supplies: Create two “winter emergency kits” for your mom during your visit. One will stay in a closet at her house, and the other will be stored in the back seat of her car. Include water, non-perishable food items, blankets and warm clothing, a flashlight with extra batteries and even a stash of her medication in a locked container. An extra cell phone battery is also helpful to have. In the event your mom is stranded in her home or car, she will have enough supplies to last until help arrives.
- On-Going Vehicle Winter Safety: There are a few other items your mom will need to monitor throughout the winter to make sure her vehicle stays in good shape. One is to check the tire pressure anytime the weather changes significantly. Another is to keep her windshield wiper fluid topped off. If your mom needs help doing this when you aren’t around, see if there is a friendly neighbor who might help out. If not, speak with the mechanic to see if he can handle these tasks for her during the winter months.
I hope these tips are helpful, Georgia! Safe travels back home to see your mom.