Holiday Wellness Checklist

The holidays are a great time to visit with relatives and family members, some of whom we may not see on a regular basis. Visiting with older loved ones this holiday season offers a unique opportunity to assess their wellbeing.

Father and daughter getting the mail.
Father and daughter getting the mail.

InnovAge, which provides health services for aging adults, provides the following holiday wellness checklist to keep in mind during your next visit.

Check if they’ve received flu, pneumonia and shingles vaccinations

Older adults are especially susceptible to the flu, pneumonia and shingles. Getting vaccinated is a quick and inexpensive way to prevent these illnesses, which are particularly dangerous to older adults. People 60 years or older should receive a shingles vaccine to reduce the risk of developing the skin rash and the long-term pain that can follow.

Monitor emotional well-being

Take note of signs of isolation and depression, including withdrawal from activities with others, loss of interest in hobbies, sleep patterns and lack of home maintenance and personal hygiene. The latter can also be a sign of dementia or other serious aliments including dehydration–a serious condition sometimes overlooked in seniors during the winter months.

Daughter and father playing piano.
Daughter and father playing piano.

Make sure the living environment is safe

For seniors aging in place, it’s important to ensure their homes provide a safe environment. Check for potential problem areas including dimmed lighting, unsafe clutter, unopened mail, and old or expired food in the fridge.

While decorating for the holidays is a joyous tradition for many, it’s important to be on the lookout for hazards that could pose a risk. Extra electrical cords on the ground, loose rugs, exposed wires or flammable materials in unsafe areas can all create safety hazards. Natural trees are beautiful, but are at risk of catching fire more easily than artificial trees. If your loved one has opted for a real tree, make sure it has green needles that do not break easily and the tree is watered regularly.

If your loved one has a furnace, schedule a winter checkup. Test all smoke and carbon monoxide detectors to ensure they work. In colder areas that are snowy and icy, have the walkways and driveways kept clear of ice and snow to avoid slips and falls.

Make a list of the medications they are taking

Make a list of all current medications they take. Provide their physician with a copy of the list and put one in your loved one’s wallet in case of emergencies. You can also check if they take their medication as directed by checking if the number of pills left in the bottle coincides with the date on the label.

Some seniors can experience depression during the holiday months, which may cause them to stop taking medications. It’s important to show support and keep lines of communication open with your loved one if you feel they may be experiencing depression or holiday blues.

Mother and daughter spending time together.
Mother and daughter spending time together.

Take note of their physical appearance. Do they appear healthy?

Look to see if there are any notable physical changes or declines in health. Red flags include weight loss, change in mobility, lack of balance and frequent confusion and memory loss. During family gatherings with food, check to see how much your loved one is eating. If there is a notable decrease in appetite or subsequent weight loss, it could be a sign of a more serious health issue. If red flags are apparent after visiting, discuss with your loved one and their primary care physician to determine the best plan of action.

Find support

Look for local resources for support and assistance in caring for your loved one. Use support programs such as PACE (Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly), which provide adult day services to older adults and give caregivers respite to take care of themselves.

InnovAge, a provider of health and wellness services for older adults, offers resources for seniors and their caregivers at http://MyInnovAge.org.

New Mexico Association Honors Gail Stockman’s Service, Volunteer Work

By Christina Pope
It’s one thing to receive an award; it’s quite another to have an award named after you. Gail Stockman now has that honor.
Gail Stockman
Gail Stockman
The InnovAge Greater New Mexico PACE (Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly) occupational therapist was sitting in the audience at the annual meeting of the New Mexico Occupational Therapy Association in September when a new award was announced. It was established to recognize extraordinary volunteers giving service to NMOTA – New Mexico Occupational Therapy Association and the profession. And it was named for someone widely admired and respected.
When Gail’s name was called, she received a standing ovation from the room full of 250 attendees. She is now the namesake of the NMOTA Gail Stockman Award for Meritorious Service.

“I was completely surprised,” Gail says. “As they described this person, I kept trying to figure out who it was.”

Gail has devoted a significant portion of her career and unpaid time to being a clinical educator. She has mentored more than 30 occupational therapy students, which requires 12 weeks of full-time advising and training. She has served on the New Mexico Board of Examiners for Occupational Therapy and volunteered for seven NMOTA annual conferences.
“I love teaching,” Gail says. Before coming to InnovAge five years ago, Gail served on the faculty of the University of New Mexico occupational therapy graduate program. She still teaches classes on death and dying and aging in place.

“One of the tasks I challenge students with is to create a realistic plan for a homebound person on a limited budget,” she says. “What we have to work with at InnovAge isn’t the norm. We get to do what is right for that person.”

Gail works closely with her home care colleagues and loves the team concept of PACE. Her main responsibilities at InnovAge are the pre-PACE and 6-month assessments and meaningful occupational training with participants.
“I think the best part is the participants,” she says. “I get to hear their stories, and I really enjoy it. I have 200 grandparents.”

Three Tips for a Successful Vacation with an Older Adult

By Lisa Price, M.D.

In the U.S., we really enjoy vacations. We made 1.7 billion trips for fun in 2015, according to the U.S. Travel Association. Whether we fly or drive, many of us take family—especially parents or grandparents—when embarking on a vacation.

Dr. Lisa Price, Chief Medical Officer, InnovAge
Dr. Lisa Price, Chief Medical Officer, InnovAge

With so many excursions each year, it’s easy to see how they may be a significant endeavor and present challenges for older adults and family caregivers.

To help make short jaunts and long vacations a success any time of the year, here are three tips to help make the break more enjoyable and less stressful.

Tip 1: Communicate

Honest and open communication between the caregiver and older adult is the place to begin. It’s important to ask–don’t tell.  What are your hopes or goals for this trip?  What are your worries?

It’s extremely important that the caregiver and the older adult participate equally in the discussion. A shared decision-making model is effective when physicians work with older adults, and also can be helpful for family caregivers when planning a family trip.

 Above all, be patient and compassionate to produce a conversation with a positive tone.

 

Tip 2: Medications

Once establishing positive and open communication, it’s time to dive into the minutiae of the vacation. Ensuring you bring the right medication, and enough of it, is essential.

Talk with your loved one to find out how you can help them get all their medications together in advance.   Adults 65-plus take an average of four or more different prescription medications each day, according to a 2005 report published by AARP. It is a good idea to bring a medication list, the name and phone numbers of your doctors and pharmacy.

Pills
Pills

If traveling in the U.S., some chain pharmacies allow prescriptions to be filled remotely, which is extremely helpful if medication runs out or is lost. Be aware that some locations may not have pharmacies readily available and some medications may be more complicated to get refilled.

If your loved one is on oxygen, or if there are other concerns, consider arranging an appointment with your loved one, her healthcare provider and you to plan exactly what arrangements or medications will be needed during the trip.

Tip 3: Getting Around

For many older adults, losing their independence is extremely upsetting. As we age, many activities we did with ease when younger become more difficult and, potentially, dangerous. Something as simple as walking can be a significant challenge. Since vacations and walking seem inextricably linked, plan in advance for any mobility needs the older adult may have.

Difficulty walking often leads to falls—2.3 million adults 65 years and older fall each year—which leads to injuries and hospitalizations, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The possibility of falling increases on vacations because of:

  • unfamiliar terrain;
  • stress sometimes caused by traveling; and
  • tiredness, which often accompanies long flights and car rides.

One way to lessen the chance of falls is to use a cane, walker or wheelchair. It’s important for careg

Canes
Canes

ivers and older adults to discuss using one of these aids while on vacation. Walkers and wheelchairs are a good choice because both provide more stability than canes. However, they are much more obvious and intrusive than a cane. A cane, however, should only be used by an older adult who only needs a little extra support or steadiness. (When using a cane, one is already leaning toward one side or the other, which exacerbates balance issues.)

If you’re considering a new mobility device, call your loved one’s primary care physician to make an appointment. Make sure the device is appropriate and fits your loved one. To cover the purchase, you may need a prescription from the physician.

A significant vacation-related issue is convenience, especially with walkers and wheelchairs.

 

Should the walker be taken on the trip? Can one be rented at the destination? Is the rental car trunk large enough to fit suitcases and a wheelchair? Will the loved one use the walker if you bring it? All are vital questions to discuss with your loved one.

Once the lines of communication are open, most details relating to the vacation will fall in place:

  • relaxing or challenging activities;
  • needed mobility aids (bring or rent); and
  • required prescription or over-the-counter medications.

The goal is to have a great time with as much relaxation or adventure as the caregiver and older adult can handle. Considering each tip before embarking on the journey helps ensure a fun, safe time for all.

Lisa Price, M.D. is Chief Medical Officer at Denver-based InnovAge, a provider of health and wellness services for older adults in California, Colorado and New Mexico. Dr. Price was a private practice geriatrician for 11 years, and then attended on the Acute Care of the Elderly service and taught Quality Improvement at the University of Colorado. Dr. Price is Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Geriatrics, and has expertise in managed care, electronic health records and quality improvement. http://MyInnovAge.org and http://InnovAgeCares.com.