While the spotlight continues to focus on COVID-19 and new variants, it’s important not to forget that flu season is upon us. A question that comes up every flu season is whether you need an influenza vaccine (flu shot) every year. Some people believe it isn’t really necessary because the virus is so similar from year to year. The experts say, however, that’s a bad assumption.
In reality, strains of the flu virus differ each year. Some years the difference is especially significant. Because of that, the vaccine is designed to protect against what are believed to be the most common strains for the upcoming flu season.
Leading Flu Risks for Seniors
While younger adults might be better able to fight the flu, seniors may not. For older adults, a serious case of influenza can be dangerous and potentially life-threatening. While the flu is no fun for anyone, the risks are often greater for seniors.
- Flu-related complications: People aged 65 and older are at a higher risk than younger people for serious health complications related to the flu. Pneumonia, for example, is one of the most dangerous. Older adults account for 85% of flu-related deaths and almost 70% of influenza-related hospital admissions every year.
- Exacerbating pre-existing conditions: Seniors are more likely to have a weakened immune system because of pre-existing health conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The flu further exacerbates these illnesses.
One of the best ways a senior can guard against influenza is by having an annual vaccine. So, yes, getting a flu shot every year is a good idea. For some, false information associated with vaccines might deter them from getting it. Here are two of the most common misperceptions about the flu shot.
Busting Two Common Myths about the Annual Flu Vaccine
- The flu vaccine gives you the flu to build up immunity.
An older adult who really needs the vaccine might resist getting it because they believe it will make them sick. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), flu shots build immunity by administering either an inactivated virus or a single strain of the flu. This produces an immune response in the body that protects you from the flu without getting sick.
- Flu shots hurt and can have painful side effects.
For most people, the shot itself causes very little discomfort. Relaxing your arm as you receive the vaccine also helps minimize pain. Make sure to move your arm around afterward to prevent stiffness. Side effects are usually fairly minimal, too. Common ones include pain at the injection site, a minor headache, and muscle aches.
What Is the Best Month to Receive a Flu Vaccine?
Your primary care physician is probably the best person to answer this question. They know your personal medical history and risk factors. But health experts generally agree that getting your flu shot in mid-October is best. That gives the body time to build up immunity before the virus begins to make its rounds.
The influenza vaccine isn’t the only way you can prevent being bitten by the flu bug. This article, “Prepare to Shoo the Flu,” offers more useful tips to stay safe and healthy.
Want to find a senior living community near you? Explore our Heritage Senior Living Communities or contact us today.
My mom had a bad fall at home a few days ago. While no serious harm was done, she is pretty bruised and sore. Her fall caught us off guard as it’s never happened before. I scheduled a physical with her primary care physician but want to be proactive in identifying potential problems in the meantime.
What are some warning signs that an older adult is at risk for a fall? What changes can we help her make at home?
My family and I would be grateful for any direction you can provide!
Kaye in Ann Arbor, MI
Identify Fall Risks for a Senior Loved One
I’m glad to hear your mother didn’t suffer any serious injuries when she fell, but I’m sure it must have been frightening for both of you! It’s good that you are taking this seriously. Falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries among seniors, so anything you can do to lower your mother’s risk is essential.
Here are a few recommendations to help you try to identify your mother’s potential risks:
- Conduct a home safety assessment: If your mother lives in an older home, it might not have been designed with senior safety in mind. Stairs, poor lighting, and difficult-to-access showers are a few potential hazards. One of the first steps you can take is to conduct a room-by-room evaluation of her house to identify problem spots. This information will help you.
- Examine her nutrition: This one often catches people off guard. Poor nutrition can cause weakness and make seniors unsteady on their feet. Spend some time talking about her diet. Make sure she’s eating well and not skipping meals.
- Review her medications: Medications can have side effects and interactions that increase the risk for a fall. Talk with your mom’s pharmacist by phone or in person to identify any potential problems. Don’t forget to tell them about any over-the-counter medications or homeopathic remedies she is taking.
- Schedule a vision exam: Another reason seniors experience falls is poor vision. Sometimes older adults might not even realize their vision is worsening. A yearly eye exam helps identify issues early and gives the ophthalmologist an opportunity to intervene before small problems become big ones. If your mother hasn’t had one in more than a year, schedule a check-up.
- Encourage regular exercise: Core strength is linked to good balance. That’s another vital component of a good fall prevention program. Walking, light weight lifting, and resistance band workouts can help improve strength and balance. As is true of any new form of exercise, talk with your mom’s physician before starting.
I hope this information is helpful to you, Kaye! Please let us know if we can be of any further assistance.
Heritage Senior Communities Encourage Fitness
With 15 locations in Michigan and northern Indiana, Heritage Senior Communities is a leading provider of senior living in the Midwest. Part of our success comes from understanding the role wellness plays in residents’ lives. Call a Heritage community for more information today!
Much of the focus on successful aging is placed on a heart-smart lifestyle. Because heart disease claims almost 655,000 lives in the United States each year, it’s easy to understand why. But your heart isn’t the only organ that needs special attention as you grow older. Lung health can also impact how long and well you live.
With age, the lungs typically become weaker and less flexible. But lifestyle can play a role in how much change the lungs will undergo.
Get the Facts about Lung Disease
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, lung disease is the 3rd leading cause of death in the U.S. An estimated 235,000 Americans lose their lives to lung-related illnesses every year. A number of conditions are categorized as lung diseases, including lung cancer, asthma, pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and pulmonary fibrosis.
While not all lung diseases are preventable, your lifestyle choices can affect many of these. The following tips can help protect lung health as you grow older:
- Don’t smoke tobacco: Smoking is a major contributor to lung disease. While most people know the risks, kicking the habit can be tough. If you want to stop but haven’t been able to, schedule an appointment with your physician. There are newer medications and smoking cessation programs that might work for you, but some require a prescription.
- Avoid secondhand smoke: You don’t have to be a smoker for your health to be negatively impacted by cigarette smoke. Living with a smoker or being otherwise exposed on a regular basis can be almost as dangerous. Research shows people exposed to secondhand smoke are at increased risk for respiratory infections, asthma, and lung cancer. Unfortunately, secondhand smoke accounts for 41,000 deaths in this country every year.
- Monitor air quality: Breathing harsh chemicals can also weaken the lungs. Protect yourself by avoiding household cleaners, lawn care products, and paints that contain strong chemicals. Opt for items with natural ingredients whenever possible. When you can’t avoid exposure, wear a mask or respirator.
- Protect against infections: The risk for infections like the flu and pneumonia, which can be deadly for seniors, can decrease with the help of vaccines. Getting an annual flu shot in the fall is essential. As is speaking with your doctor for advice about pneumonia vaccines.
- Exercise regularly: One of the best ways to keep your lungs healthy is routine exercise. Walking, cycling, swimming, chair yoga, and low-impact aerobic activities all build stronger lungs.
Exercise and Lung Health for Seniors
In general, experts suggest older adults get 30 minutes of moderate exercise at least 5 days a week. The key is to find fitness activities you enjoy and alternate them so you don’t become bored. If you’ve been sedentary for a while, a few forms of aerobic exercise to discuss with your primary care physician include:
- Taking walks or hikes outdoors
- Walking indoors on a treadmill
- Cycling on a bicycle or recumbent bike
- Swimming or taking a swim aerobics class
If you or your senior loved one has a mobility impairment or balance problem, exercises that can be performed from a seated position include:
Whatever form of fitness you choose, it should make your heart and lungs work hard. That allows them to process oxygen more efficiently.
As is true of any new form of exercise, check with your primary care physician before starting.
Live Well at Heritage Senior Communities
At Heritage, we utilize a unique Wellness Model that encourages residents to stay physically, mentally, and socially engaged. Learn more by calling the Heritage community nearest you today!
While employing a contractor can feel risky at any age, it can be especially hard for a senior to hire a contractor. Because there is a perception that they are easy to scam, it’s important for loved ones to be especially careful of who is hired and vigilant throughout the process.
From high pressure tactics to trick a senior into paying for “emergency” repairs to taking money for a deposit and disappearing, home improvement scams cost older adults a lot of money. According to the FBI, fraud against seniors totals $3 billion in losses each year. Home repair and improvement scams account for much of it.
So, what can you do if an older adult in your family needs to hire a contractor? We have some safety tips you can use to protect them and their finances.
Screening and Hiring a Home Improvement Contractor
- Be wary of door-to-door salesmen: Don’t hire anyone who shows up on the doorstep offering deep discounts because they are “working in the area.” This is one of the most common scams targeting older adults.
- Know what you want: If you are seeking a contractor for renovation work, spend time listing what you want and need. Are you trying to make improvements for better resale value? Or modifications to keep the senior safer? Have a solid understanding of what you are looking for before meeting with contractors.
- Ask trusted friends for referrals: The best way to find a contractor you can trust is through friends and family. Ask for the names of contractors they have actually used, not just people they know.
- Check with the Agency on Aging: While they tend not to make recommendations, some local offices on aging do keep a list of senior-friendly contractors. That will at least give you a few to call as you begin the search. The National Association of Area Agencies on Aging allows you to search for an agency near your senior loved one’s home.
- Get written quotes and proof of insurance: Whenever possible, have a second person available when the senior meets with each potential contractor. Having a second set of eyes and ears is invaluable. Ask each contractor to provide a written quote, copy of their contract, and proof of insurance. Also ask for a list of references.
- Don’t pay upfront: Many contractors require a deposit, but you should never pay the full amount up front. That’s a red flag that the contractor may not be legitimate. If possible, pay by credit card. Doing so gives you some leverage if the project isn’t done correctly or if the contractor disappears. Most credit card companies will work with clients who file a dispute.
- Never rush your decision: Take time to thoughtfully review estimates and check the contractor’s license, references, and proof of insurance. It is usually beneficial to check with the Better Business Bureau and read any online reviews you can find. Be wary if a contractor tries to convince you to use them with warnings about potential price increases or lack of availability.
- Hold on to final payment: Finally, don’t agree to pay the final amount until you and the senior are satisfied with the work. It may be your only recourse for getting the contractor to fix anything you are unhappy with before they move on to a new project.
The AARP has a few templates you might find helpful, including one for interviewing contractors and another for checking references. You can download them at no cost.
Moving to an Assisted Living Community
If you are making home improvements in anticipation of your senior loved one moving to assisted living, you might be struggling to figure out your next steps. At Heritage Senior Communities, we understand the process can be overwhelming. 10 Tips for Downsizing and Moving a Senior Loved One might be of interest. It covers topics ranging from decluttering to staying organized.
Since nutrition plays an essential role in overall wellness, it stands to reason that food choices may impact brain health, too. Researchers believe a cleaner, healthier diet may help brain health by warding off Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Consider the lifestyle of people living in the Blue Zones as evidence.
Blue Zones and Brain Health
Blue Zones are regions where people experience the longest, healthiest lives. They have lower rates of many life-limiting diseases, including heart disease and Alzheimer’s. Ikaria, Greece, is one example. Residents there are 75% less likely to develop dementia than their peers in the United States.
While people in Blue Zones are physically active on a daily basis, researchers believe diet might be the key to warding off disease. What do people in the Blue Zones eat that may be protecting brain health? Here’s what researchers say make up the core of a Blue Zone resident’s diet.
Blue Zone Residents’ Diet
- Mostly whole foods: Instead of a diet high in convenience foods or menus that alter the natural state of foods, people in the Blue Zones consume mostly whole foods. Fruits and vegetables make up the bulk of their diet. Healthy nuts, such as walnuts, almonds, pistachios, and cashews, are also staples.
- Less meat: Unlike traditional Western diets, people in Blue Zones eat very little meat. Most consume only two ounces of meat, which includes beef, pork, and chicken, no more than five times a month. Instead, Blue Zone residents eat fish in moderation, primarily sardines, cod, and anchovies.
- Limit eggs: Many healthy eating plans use eggs to replace meat as a protein source. Blue Zone guidelines, however, suggest consuming few eggs. If you do eat eggs, they should have omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 eggs are produced when flaxseed is added to the hens’ diets.
- Consume beans: Beans are considered a superfood in the Blue Zones. That’s because they tend to be low in calories while high in fiber and protein. Because they are so filling, beans can prevent you from overeating and gaining weight.
- Eat whole grains: Whole grain breads are best, as they contain fiber and other essentials. By contrast, breads and pastas that contain bleached white flour should be avoided. The body converts white flour into sugar, which results in spikes in insulin levels.
- Minimal sugar: Americans have a long-established love of sugar. Sometimes it’s from hidden sources, such as condiments, marinades, dried fruits, and yogurt. Sugar is a leading cause of inflammation in the body. Inflammation is linked to health problems, such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and heart disease.
- Avoid dairy: Blue Zone residents swap dairy with foods made from goat’s milk or sheep’s milk. That helps them avoid potential problems with lactose while also reducing sugar and fat intake.
- Stay hydrated: One final tip garnered from Blue Zone diets is to stay hydrated. Blue Zone residents drink mostly water, but also rely on foods with a high water content. Common ones include berries, cucumber, leafy greens, celery, and melon.
As is true of any major lifestyle change, starting slowly and making gradual adjustments to your diet might lead to greater long-term success in the form of brain health.
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If you haven’t already done so, bookmark the Heritage blog and stop back often. Each week we post new information focused on aging, nutrition, senior living, and caregiving. It’s an easy way to stay updated on the latest news!
Retirement begins a new chapter in life. It is a time when older adults typically enjoy more freedom and flexibility. One question that often arises soon after retiring is how necessary and practical it is to remain in the family home. While a lot of space may have served you well when you were raising kids, the maintenance and financial upkeep can put a crimp in retirement plans.
Sometimes a senior will move to a smaller home or a condominium. Others move to an apartment or villa that’s part of a retirement community. Wherever they choose to move to, most are surprised to find how much joy comes from rightsizing their lifestyle.
Rightsizing is a term aging professionals coined to refer to the process of aligning your goals for the future with your home space needs. For example, do you still need a big house? Or would a small home, where you are free from the burdens and financial demands of maintaining a large home, be better?
How to Downsize Your Home during Retirement
The process usually begins with decluttering and rehoming items you no longer want or need. If you are considering moving to a smaller home or a senior living community in the months or years ahead, cleaning out your closets, basement, attic, and garage now helps ensure a smoother transition.
So, how can you get started? We have some useful suggestions:
- Start with the easy stuff: Unless you are fastidiously organized, it will help to make a quick pass through every room to eliminate obvious clutter. Keep a trash bag and a box with you. Throw away items you don’t need and can’t give away. Pack items you want to donate in the box as you go. Remember, this isn’t a deep cleaning. It’s just a warm up lap around the house to get started.
- Purge paper goods: Most of us accumulate a shocking amount of paper products around the house. The longer you’ve lived there, the worse it usually is. Old catalogs and magazines, outdated utility bills and credit card statements, and unneeded receipts are a few common types. Shred items with identifying personal information and recycle or dispose of everything else.
- Prevent junk mail: Another battle many households face is keeping up with junk mail. In just a few days, it can really pile up. You can cut down on the amount you receive by signing up for the National Do Not Mail List. Though time-consuming, it also helps to email catalog companies directly and request they remove your name and address from their mailing list.
- Clean closets: Closets often harbor clothing, shoes, and accessories that haven’t been worn in years. Apply the 12-month rule to every item in your closet. If you haven’t worn or used something in the last year, you probably won’t do so ever again. The only exception might be formal wear and seasonal accessories. Donate everything to a local shelter or nonprofit resale shop.
- Pare down linens: Like clothing, linens can accumulate easily. Be honest with yourself about how many sets of sheets and towels you really need. The same holds true for old sets of curtains, blankets, tablecloths, and placemats.
- Scale back holiday décor: Whether it is patriotic decorations, Thanksgiving décor, or Christmas ornaments, seasonal items often take up a lot of space. Many of us periodically buy new without getting rid of the old. This is another area where you need to sort through every box and be realistic about the future use of every item. Veterans’ centers, day care centers, preschools, and women’s shelters usually appreciate receiving these types of gently used donations.
One final tip is to frequently drop off donations to the charity of your choice. Waiting until you finish a room or two can easily result in items finding their way back into a closet or drawer.
Selling Your Home during Retirement
If you or a senior loved one has decided to sell your home, we have some tips to help make the process a little easier. How to Prepare a Senior’s Home to Sell covers topics ranging from starting early to making inexpensive updates to increase the selling price.
Should you have questions about senior living, we encourage you to call the Heritage community nearest you. We’ll be happy to help!