A Blog For and About Today's Seniors

by Sandra K. Sprague

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Holiday Visits and Top 10 Signs a Senior Needs Help

The holidays are joyful times we can get together with other family members, enjoy the pleasure of each other's company, eat great foods and catch up with one another!
These holiday visits are also great times for a subtle well-check; take note of any signs in a senior loved one's household that they may need a little extra help around the house.
Most of us have spent the majority of our lives looking at our parents or grandparents as symbols of independence; they have always been the ones who have helped and assisted us. There does often come a time when a tipping point has been reached and suddenly that same model of independence and support needs our help.
If you are visiting your parents or grandparents this Holiday Season, take a look around to see if any of the following conditions are in evidence.

The Top Ten Signs a Senior Needs Extra Help
  • Less Active Lifestyle: More time spent at home, decreased church attendance, less-frequent trips to the park, the movies, etc.
  • Decline in Housekeeping Quality: Beds remain unmade, dirty dishes are piled in the sink, dirty laundry has piled up, etc.
  • Blackened or Charred Pots and Pans: A sign of forgetfulness and/or significant hearing loss.
  • Uncharacteristic Weight Loss: A sign of increased inability to prepare regular, nutritious meals; a sign of decreased self-care ability and interest.
  • Bruises, Abrasions or Other Signs of Falls
  • Distinct Change in the Home's Exterior Upkeep and Maintenace
  • Bills and Other Mail Piled Up and Unopened
  • Reduction in the Number of Social Engagements: Ceasing regular card game attendance, bowling league participation, gardening club activities, etc.
  • Lack of Interest in Pursuing Hobbies: Sudden cessation of golf or gardening, sewing circles, book clubs, etc.
  • Reduced Self-Care Efforts and Concerns: Personal hygiene failings such as dirty clothes, body odor, etc.

The Right Time to Discuss Help Needs

As I mentioned earlier in the post, our senior loved ones are just as apt to see themselves as the indepenent and support provider for you; they may well be unaware of the signs you see during a holiday visit and will often have a difficult time setting aside their pride to constructively discuss their need for help. Nevertheless, the best time to start such a dialog is before any of the signs you've observed result in a serious fall or other household injury or calamity that could require even more extreme corrective measures.

Approach the matter calmly and patiently; handle the matter tactfully and respectfully. These are the people who provided you with years of support and assistance; allow them to maintain the sense of dignity and self-direction they deserve. Handled properly, a mutually agreed-upon plan-of-action can be a win-win for everyone!

Alternative Measures

There are a number of things which can be done around the house to help ease a senior loved one's difficulties with daily activities. Simple additions to the household, such as bathroom grab bars, ramps, better lighting and other modifications and improvements, can go a long way toward improving the quality of life for a senior loved one or couple.

Above all, have a Happy Holiday visit! Enjoy and cherish each other's company!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Dennis Quaid Joins Nationwide Effort to Prevent Medication Errors

Actor Dennis Quaid Lends Support to Eliminate Medication Errors

Recently (December 2009) actor Dennis Quaid announced at a Las Vegas press conference that he was becoming publicly involved with The National Alert Network for Medication Errors (NAN). This newly-launched organization has established a goal of developing and implementing an alert network which immediately sends e-mail notifications to hospitals, medical clinics and health care professionals whenever a serious or potentially-serious error occurs in the process of dispensing medication.
Dennis Quaid's wife, Kimberly, gave birth to twins in 2007; the newborns were accidentally given overdoses of a blood thinner medication which nearly resulted in their deaths. The twins survived the ordeal (although it is too early to completely rule out any longer-term adverse after-affects) but the Quaids are determined that this kind of mishap not happen again.

Drug Name Confusion

On my in-home care giving firm's website, www.caregiversnw.com, we published an article in 2008 about the growing problem of drug name confusion. I couldn't agree more with Dennis Quaid and the National Alert Network for Medication Errors: Drug name confusion and resulting serious medication errors is a serious problem which continues to grow.
Not long ago, it was suspected that an eight year old died after receiving methadone instead of methylphenidate, a drug used to treat attention deficit disorders; a 50 year-old woman was hospitalized after taking Flomax, used to treat symptoms of an enlarged prostate, instead of Volmax, used to relieve bronchospasm.
The FDA estimates that about 10% of all medication errors reported each year are direct results of drug name confusion.

Alphabet Soup: The XYZ's of Naming Drugs

Pharmaceutical companies follow the premise that a catchy, snappy moniker for a new drug is an important part of its market development. The FDA will not allow names that imply medical claims, suggest a use for which the drug isn't approved, or promise more than it has clinically proven to deliver.
Typically, every drug has 3 names: chemical, generic (non-proprietary), and brand (proprietary). The generic name is selected by the United States Adopted Names Council (USAN). Generic names are created using an established stem, or group of letters representing a specific drug class. For instance: The arthritis medications celecxib, valecoxib and rofecoxib are generic names containing the -coxib stem; each belongs to a class of drugs known as the COX-2 inhibitors.
While names which include the common stem of their classification are easier to remember and suggest what a drug is used for, their similarities can contribute to medication errors. There are over 9,000 generic drug names and 33,000 trademarked brand names in use in the United States; it is no wonder that there is an increasing incidence of medication mix-up!

Fixing the Problems

The recently-formed NAN certainly has established a goal which will go a long way towards heading off many of the medication errors occuring today. Additionally, the FDA imposes strict naming guidelines for newly-introduced drugs. The FDA reviews about 400 pharmaceutical brand names per year before they go to market. About 1/3 of the reviewed names are rejected because they look or sound like existing brand names. The FDA may also require brand name changes even after a drug reaches the marketplace. After its introduction, the diabetes drug Amaryl was being confused with the Alzheimer's medication, Reminyl; the Alzheimer's medicine is now called Razadyne.
Physicians are encouraged to write prescriptions more clearly - printing in block letters rather than in cursive handwriting; avoiding the use of abbreviations; and indicating the reason for the drug prescription.
According to the FDA, pharmacists can help by keeping look-alike/sound-alike products separated from one another on pharmacy shelves; by avoiding stocking multiple product sizes together; and by verifying with the doctor information that is not clear before filling the prescription.

What You Can Do to Protect Yourself or Loved Ones

If you or a senior loved one is receiving in-home care, and the care plan calls for medication reminders, make sure each attending care giver is familiar with the medications being taken, as well as the dosage levels and frequencies. A good in-home care service will list this information in the care plan binder which should be kept in the client's home at all times.
Whether you are taking the medication yourself, getting medication reminders from an in-home personal care attendant or family member, using a pill box sorter is an invaluable tool to help guard against mistakes.
Other preventative steps include:

  • Know the name and strength of prescribed drugs before leaving the doctor's office

  • Insist that the doctor include the purpose of the medication on the prescription

  • Doubly-verify that a refill is what it should be

  • Tell your doctor about any medical history changes

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Walk-In Bathtubs: Choose Carefully Before You Get Into Hot Water!

If you watched any television over the holidays, there is a good chance you saw a TV ad spot for a walk-in bathtub. Walk-in tubs have beome one of the most popular American household improvement choices - particularly for seniors.

One of the greatest walk-in bathtub benefits for seniors is the significant reduction of risk of falling. One of the most important training modules I give to the caregivers working for my senior in-home care firm is "Fall Prevention". Falls are one of the greatest hazards to senior safety and health; the shower and bathtub are epicenters for bad falls. "Bathing Safety Standby" is a common service option cited on most senior in-home care agency brochures, and with good reason.

But before you start dismantling your bathroom to install a walk-in tub, take a moment to review these five important walk-in bathtub considerations. Knowing a little bit about walk-in bathtubs can save you a lot of time, money and disappointment!

Walk-In Bathtubs Can be Expensive - Some Financial Options:

Walk-in bathtubs offer a wide price-range - between $2000 - $10,000. For many Americans, particularly seniors, this is a big expense. There are several financial maneuvers which can lessen the big price tag impact or defer the expense of a walk-in bathtub:

  • Retail Store Financing: Several of the larger U.S. retailers offer various financial and promotional programs or terms to help consumers with a large home improvement purchase such as a walk-in bathtub. For instance: Lowe's, the large home improvement chain, offers a "Lowe's Project Care", enabling a participating consumer to buy a bigger-ticket home improvement item and make no payments for 6 months with zero accrued interest; after the initial six months the required monthly payments can be very small. Check out their website, lowes.com, for more information.

  • USDA Rural Development Housing and Community Facilities Program: The Single-Family Housing Program provides home ownership opportunities to low and moderate-income rural Americans through several loan and grant and guarantee programs. Funding is also available to individuals to enable them to implement vital improvements necessary to "make their homes decent, sanitary and safe". Details, availability and eligibility information can be found at their website: rurdev.usda.gov/recd_map.html.

  • Capital Expenditure Deductibility: The IRS allows certain tax deductions against capital expenses involving some special equipment installed in the home if the primary purpose is medical care for the user(s). Consult the IRS website, irs.gov or your CPA, accountant or attorney to determine your eligibility for such a deduction.

Walk-In Bathtub Doors: Innie or Outie?

An inward-swinging walk-in bathtub door can be clumsy and hard to maneuver around for users with mobility or size issues. Outward-swinging walk-in bathtub doors offer the user a much easier entrance and exit, but the swing-path of outward-swinging models may be impractical for a smaller installation space. If you're leaning towards an outward-swinging door, make doubly-sure the space you're installing the tub into has enough clearance for the tub's swing path. Note: Outward-swinging walk-in tub doors do not leak.

The Little-Known Safety Risk in Some Walk-In Tubs!

Many walk-in bathtubs with an inward-swinging door feature provide no true emergency entrance access mechanism. This can be a serious deficiency if a person bathing in such a tub were to slip down below the waterline for a reason such as a heart attack or fainting episode. If the walk-in bathtub you choose has an inward-swinging door, make certain it features an effective emergency entrance access.

Step-In Height Factor: Some Walk-In Tubs are Really "Step-Over" Tubs!

One of the biggest reasons to install a walk-in bathtub is to eliminate the need to step over the relatively high side of a conventional bathtub to bathe or shower. Even with grab bars, the act of swinging one leg over the side of a traditional tub can put a senior off-balance and lead to a serious fall.

Many so-called "walk-in" bathtubs feature step-in threshold heights of over 7 inches! Requiring a wobbly senior to clear a seven inch hurdle to bathe or shower can defeat the purpose of a walk-in bathtub. It is not difficult to find walk-in tubs offering step-in heights of around 2 inches. Keep the step-in height dimension in mind when choosing a walk-in bathtub.

Size Matters: Measure Twice and Buy Once!

Walk-in bathtubs come in many sizes, shapes and form-factors. Make certain you understand the available space in the bathroom or other areas intended for walk-in tub installation. If you are relying on a wall being removed or adjusted to provide adequate space for a walk-in tub, verify the feasibility with a reliable, licensed contractor before committing to a purchase. Remember: The more modifications required to accommodate a walk-in tub, the more it will likely cost to install it.