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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

How to Age Well - 5 Tips for Staying Independent As the Years Advance

Staying healthy is a worthy pursuit, no matter one's age. But for many seniors, living on their own and staying out of a care facility is the goal they strive for. Sound familiar?

Are you among those who want to enjoy their independent living accommodations for as long as possible?

Here are the mindsets and actions you can take that will help you stay independent, even as the years pass.

1. Know your limits.

Just because you have a youthful outlook doesn't mean that you are physically capable of everything you could do when in your twenties.

Believing that you have physically remained unchanged could be literally setting you up for a fall. And, according to the CDC, falls are one of the number one causes of injury and death in older individuals.

While you do not want to place limiting beliefs on yourself that could curb your potential, it pays to be realistic. Having a firm grasp of reality will help you work within your capability and not do something to threaten your future mobility.

In some cases, this could mean turning to a home care agency to help with certain tasks. In other situations, it might mean lowering the intensity of your gym sessions to keep your heart rate in check. Counsel with a doctor and be open to their suggestions.

2. Keep your brain agile.

Mental decline is common for seniors, but it is not a given. There are ways you can keep your brain young.

Harvard Health Publishing lists 12 actions that could prevent cognitive impairment. They cite mental stimulation at the very top of their list. Why? When you engage in activities that stimulate the brain, your brain continues to form new connections. This action and its results can go on to prevent future brain cell loss.

What does that mean for you? Anything that keeps your brain on its mental toes gets two thumbs up from your doctor. But you need not only turn to crossword puzzles and sudoku. Aerobic exercise provides the brain with the oxygen and nutrients it needs to perform at its best.

3. Have a network - and use it.

Do your children live close by? If not, do you have friends or a network you can call when needed? Do you talk with your neighbors? Do you have friends over weekly?

Your friends and those in your reading club are all part of your social circle, but they are also your network.

Take a moment to consider if you have someone you can call within your circle of friends if you needed a ride to a hospital immediately. What if you suspect you were a victim of fraud--who would you call? The network of people in your phonebook can act as a support system for you. Not only that, they can keep tabs on how you are doing emotionally and physically.

If no one immediately springs to mind, consider boosting your social circle or signing up for a support group.

4. Be optimistic.

Researchers reviewed 80 studies and found that optimism had a marked impact on one's health. The studies covered a wide range of health situations and outcomes, including longevity. Their findings? A positive attitude can provide a physical boost.

How can you cultivate more optimism in your life? Try gratitude as a path that can lead you toward a brighter outlook.

Start or end your day with an acknowledgement of everything that you are thankful for. And you just might be surprised by all the added benefits that accrue due to this shift in thinking.

5. Stay active in ways you enjoy.

If you don't use it, you lose it. The saying is doubly true for seniors desiring to stay independent. Exercise is one of the best ways to prolong your independent lifestyle. Check with your doctor before beginning any exercise program, and then stay moving.

If you have tried to stay active in the past but have failed, consider a moderate approach. Look for ways to engage in an enjoyable activity that will also have you moving about. Make mall walking dates with your friends. Making exercise a social activity can help get you out the door when you are feeling like staying on the couch.

Be careful to not over do it. It's better to start off slow and safe then hurry toward an injury which gets harder to recover from as you advance in years.

This is a guest blog entry.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Understanding Parkinson’s Tremors

One of the hallmark symptoms of the neurodegenerative disorder Parkinson’s is tremors, affecting about 80% of those with the disease. Understanding the types of tremors and how they are treated, may equip someone with Parkinson’s and their caregivers with tools to better manage the disease and improve day to day life.

What Causes Parkinson’s Tremors?
Different than other conditions like multiple sclerosis where tremors are most prominent with purposeful movement, Parkinson’s tremors often occur when limbs are at rest. Why exactly? The overall nature of Parkinson’s disease is a dysfunction of motor control centers due to damaged and dying nerve cells in the brain.

A decrease in dopamine production, a critical neurotransmitter, disrupts the normal communication processes between cells which help control body movements. When dopamine receptors are not sufficiently stimulated it causes a chain reaction in the brain of irregular neural impulses. As the motor cortex receives more and more irregular input from the thalamus which helps control motor and sensory signals, symptoms including tremors, bradykinesia (slowed movements), contractures, and balance problems.

Tremors specifically are believed to be the result of decreased thalamic output due to overstimulated of the globus pallidus interna (GPi), nuclei in the basal ganglia of the brain which regulate muscle tone. Skeletal muscles are voluntary which means they need specific signals from the brain to move, flex, etc. When those signals go haywire, you get movement dysfunction such as tremors.

What do Parkinson’s Tremors Look like?
While Parkinson’s tremors most often appear first in the hand, leg, or arm (and typically starting on just one side of the body), they may also present in the jaw, face, and feet. A cardinal Parkinson’s tremor is referred to as a “pill rolling tremor” because it looks like someone rolling something small, like a pill, between their thumb and forefinger, almost like a finger twitch.

Tremors in the leg when standing or lying down, as well as tremors in the hand when sitting, standing, or lying down, are often decreased when purposeful movement is taken like adjusting posture, reaching for something, or walking. Tremors may begin as minimal involuntary shaking, quivering or spasming and progress to very visible and disconcerting shaking that affects one or both sides of the body.

A clinical diagnosis from a neurologist will usually help someone with these types of tremors deduce whether Parkinson’s disease could be a factor. Other accompanying symptoms like lack of facial expressions, not blinking, not swinging arms at one’s side when walking, muscle stiffness and rigidity, and slowed movements contribute to a proper diagnosis.

Managing Parkinson’s Tremors
While some medications are used specifically to target tremor-type symptoms with dopamine-replacement therapy, there are also non-medicinal ways to mitigate the effect tremors have on your daily living at home:
  • Use a self-stabilizing spoon or other specially designed flatware which employs motion-sensing technology to counteract tremors when eating.
  • Keep up with aerobic exercises and low-impact activities which aid muscle flexibility, coordination, and balance (i.e. yoga, swimming, cycling, etc.)
  • Occupational and physical therapy can also re-train the body to better manage motor symptoms
  • Home health equipment like shower chairs, bed rails, and grab bars can simplify daily tasks and provide support and stability as tremors worsen
  • Tremors in the jaw and tongue may subside in part by chewing gum
Combined with slowed movements, muscle rigidity, and postural instability, tremors can increase risk for someone suffering from Parkinson’s to experience a debilitating, even potentially fatal falls. Taking precautions in the home to prevent falls can therefore significantly improve their health outcomes.

Fall prevention starts with clearing away unnecessary clutter from common walkways, as well as removing trip hazards like cords and curled up carpet corners. People with Parkinson’s and their loved ones may also consider installing fall mats by couches and beds where a lot of standing and sitting happens.

This is a guest blog post.