An Overview of Long-Term Care Financing

Will you need long-term care? What’s available? Who pays? The Motley Fool provides a quick overview of an important topic.

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An Exercise Lesson from Our Ancestors of Long Ago

When we look at fossils of early man, we might be in awe of their heavy, powerful bones. Yet research from University of Cambridge in the UK reveals the surprising truth that our own bones have the potential to be just as strong.

The research team found that human hunter-gatherers of 7,000 years ago had bones that were as strong as those of orangutans—yet today, people have significantly lighter and weaker bones. Is the change due to our genes? Our diet? No, the team says—the culprit is our much less active lifestyle, specifically, a great reduction in activities that strengthen the bones. When it comes to “use it or lose it,” most of us are losing it!

The study authors reported, “There is, in fact, no anatomical reason why a person born today could not achieve the bone strength of an orangutan or early human forager. But even the most physically active people alive are unlikely to be loading bones with enough frequent and intense stress to allow for the increased bone strength seen in the ‘peak point’ of traditional hunter-gatherers and nonhuman primate bones.”

Study co-author Dr. Colin Shaw says that for millions of years, the lives of our primitive ancestors involved much action and physical activity. Said Shaw, “It’s only in the last 50 to 100 years that we’ve been so sedentary. Sitting in a car or in front of a desk is not what we have evolved to do.”

Why do strengthening activities make our bones stronger? It’s complicated (read more here), but in short, says Shaw, “This thickening is the result of constant loading on the bone from physical activity as hunter-gatherers roamed the landscape. The fierce exertion caused the bone mesh to grow back ever stronger and thicker throughout life—building to a ‘peak point’ of bone strength which counterbalanced the deterioration of bones with age.”

Even though few of us spend our days roaming the wilderness in search of food, Shaw assures us that we can still benefit from regular workouts. He says, “The fact is, we can be as strong as an orangutan—we’re just not, because we are not challenging our bones with enough loading, predisposing us to have weaker bones so that, as we age, situations arise where bones are breaking when, previously, they would not have.” He adds, “Hip fractures, for example, don’t have to happen simply because you get older, if you build your bone strength up earlier in life so that as you age it never drops below that level where fractures can easily occur.”

Strength training should begin early in life, but is of benefit at any age. Why don’t more people take part in weight lifting and other strength-building activities? Researchers from Penn State College of Medicine speculate that while most people today are aware of the benefits of aerobic exercise, guidelines for strength training were only issued a decade ago.

It’s time to bring our knowledge up to date! Strength training not only builds bone and muscle, but is also linked with improvements in diabetes, low back pain and obesity—and longevity! Penn State professor Jennifer Kraschnewski and her team studied a large group of seniors and found that those who took part in strength training lived longer—with a 41 percent lower chance of dying from heart disease, and a 19 percent lower chance of death by cancer during the years of the study.

These findings are very encouraging, say researchers. Says Kraschnewski, “We need to identify more ways that we can help get people engaged in strength training so we can increase the number from today’s 10 percent to a much higher percentage of our older adults who are engaged in these activities.”

Strengthening activities include lifting weights, using a resistance band, and exercises that make you lift your own body weight, such as toe stands. There are weight training exercises you can do while seated in a chair. Check out senior exercise programs at the gym or local senior center. Visit the National Institute on Aging’s Senior Health website to learn more.

It’s never too late to start an exercise program—but talk to your doctor first. Your healthcare provider can recommend strengthening exercises that will be safe and effective for your individual health condition.

Source: IlluminAge Age Wise, reporting on studies from University of Cambridge and Penn State University.

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Yoga For Seniors

More seniors are trying yoga. Here’s a Seattle program designed especially for people older than 50.

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A New Therapeutic Use for Music

Yet another benefit of music: Could it help seniors who have hearing loss better understand speech when they’re in a noisy room?

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Help Seniors Break the Cycle of Poor Health and Loneliness

Loneliness is a serious health problem for older adults. Studies over the past decade have found that feeling isolated can cause depression, raise our blood pressure, suppress our immune system, hasten the signs of Alzheimer’s disease, and increase the perception of pain. Lonely people are less likely to exercise or eat a nutritious diet. A March 2017 study from the American Psychological Association even noted that people who feel lonely have a worse time of it when they come down with the common cold!

With all this evidence that loneliness raises our risk of illness and disability, could the opposite also be true? Researcher Meaghan Barlow of the Personality, Aging, and Health Lab at Concordia University in Quebec said, “We were surprised by the amount of literature that examined whether people who are lonely are more likely to get sick. Yet none of them asked the opposite question: ‘Do sick people get lonely?’”

To find out, Barlow and her team conducted a study of seniors with chronic illness, and found that illness can indeed lead to loneliness. The team urged people who are dealing with chronic illness to make social connections a priority. Said Barlow, “Putting a halt to socializing only contributes to a downward spiral. Dealing with a chronic illness shouldn’t prevent you from still trying to get out there if you can.”

The team warns of one pitfall: People with chronic conditions may blame themselves for the illness they are dealing with. Barlow said, “The fact that loneliness can lead to further complications means that measures can be taken to prevent the effects from looping back around. Finding different ways to connect with other people also means you are less likely to blame yourself for being sick.”

Another finding confirms that an ill person’s spouse or partner can’t provide all the social support they need. Said Barlow, “You can’t count on a partner to fill that gap. The quality of our social ties plays a role when it comes to coping with the effects of serious disease in later life. And just having a partner around may not be enough.”

Understanding this cycle can motivate ill seniors, their families and our public and private senior care organizations to make social opportunities a priority. Adapted activities, transportation and senior support services all help. And support groups can be of great benefit. When we’re dealing with a chronic condition, who better to understand what we’re going through than other people who are coping with the same challenges? Organizations that advocate for and serve the needs of people with health conditions often sponsor support groups—for example, the American Diabetes Association, the American Lung Association, The Alzheimer’s Association and the American Heart Association. Support groups traditionally have met in person, but today more and more seniors are enjoying virtual companionship and a real mood boost through online support groups.

Source: IlluminAge Age Wise, reporting on study from Concordia University (

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I Have Cataracts—Can I Drive?

June is Cataract Awareness Month, a great time to get an eye exam. During the exam, your doctor will check for the presence of cataracts, which are caused by the clouding of the lens of the eye. Cataracts cause dull, blurry vision and make it harder to take part in normal, daily activities.

The bad news is that cataracts are very common among older adults. But there’s good news: cataracts are very treatable. A simple, safe surgery can markedly improve a senior’s sight. Today, this is the most often-performed surgery in America, and that’s paying off in senior health. A recent study from Harvard Medical School even reported that cataract surgery has increased our life expectancy, right along with medical advances in cardiac care!

Before older adults undergo cataract surgery, they—and their families—might wonder if it’s safe for them to drive. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) offers this information:

Be alert for signs of cataracts which might make it dangerous to drive:

  • Difficulty seeing at dawn, dusk, and at night
  • Sunlight seems too bright
  • Night driving is harder due to glare from car headlights
  • Colors look faded
  • You might see double images with the affected eye

If you notice these symptoms, see your eye health care provider right away. Your doctor may recommend surgery, and you may also be referred to a specialist who can help:

  • A driver rehabilitation specialist can test how well you drive on and off the road. This specialist also may offer training to help improve your driving skills, and keep you and others safe on the road. To find a driver rehabilitation specialist, visit the website of the American Occupational Therapy Association.
  • An occupational therapist with special training can provide driving skills assessment and remediation. To find an occupational therapist, contact local hospitals and rehabilitation centers.

Can I still drive with a cataract?

If your doctor has told you that you have a cataract, there are certain things that you should know and do to remain a safe driver. The NHTSA says:

Every person’s cataract is different. In its early stages, your cataract may be so small that it does not affect your vision. You may be able to drive safely for many years if you have no other serious medical problems. However, over time, the cataract may worsen and cloud more of the lens of your eye.

It may become difficult to see and to drive safely if you have a cataract. You may need to plan car trips to avoid times when vision may be most affected—for example, driving west at dusk into a setting sun or during rainy conditions at night. Clean your car windshield (both inside and outside) often so vision is not reduced even further. You also should clean your automobile headlights to provide as much light as possible for night driving.

What if I can’t drive?

Giving up driving doesn’t mean giving up mobility. Learn about alternate transportation in your area, such as the bus or rapid transit, taxi cabs or ridesharing services. If you think you only need a short-term solution until you have cataract surgery, family and friends also may be happy to give you a lift.

Source: IlluminAge AgeWise with information from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Visit the NHTSA website to learn more about safe driving for older adults.

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Daughters are the Backbone of our Eldercare System

Trumpcare? Obamacare? What about “daughter care”? The New York Times reports that women still carry the lion’s share of caregiving for loved ones who have dementia and other chronic illness.

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Stay Safe on the Golf Course

Will you be one of the estimated two million Americans who will be watching the U.S. Open in mid-June? Golf is a popular sport for older adults—it’s almost a cliché for senior retirees! It can offer a pretty good workout and a chance to soak up some vitamin D. But, as with every sport, we should take precautions to avoid injury.

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) offers some advice on preventing golf-related injuries. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, each year more than 100,000 people are treated in emergency departments and doctors’ offices for golf-related injuries.

The AAOS says that most golf injuries are due to overuse from repeating the same motion. Leading the list of injuries is golfer’s elbow, technically known as medial epicondylitis, an inflammation of the tendons that attach your forearm muscles to the inside of the bone at your elbow. Also common are lower back injuries caused by poor swing techniques.

Said AAOS spokesperson Gabriel Elias Soto, MD, “During a game of golf, significant stress is placed on the same muscles, tendons and joints as a result of the repetitive swinging motion used throughout the sport.” Dr. Soto, who is an orthopedic surgeon, says, “Golfers can perform simple exercises to help build up forearm muscles, strengthen lower back muscles, and prevent injuries.”

The AAOS suggests these exercises to help strengthen arm and back muscles. You can do them year-round to keep in shape before hitting the golf course.

Forearm Muscles

  • Squeeze a tennis ball. Squeezing an old tennis ball for five minutes at a time is a simple, effective exercise that will strengthen your forearm muscles.
  • Wrist curls. Start with your forearm laying on a flat surface, palm up. Use a lightweight dumbbell (start with a light weight and increase weight as you improve). Lower the weight to the end of your fingers, and then curl it back into your palm, followed by curling up your wrist to lift the weight an inch or two higher. Perform 10 repetitions with one arm, and then repeat with the other arm.
  • Reverse wrist curls. Use a lightweight dumbbell. Place your hands in front of you, palm side down. Using your wrist, lift the weight up and down. Hold the arm that you are exercising above your elbow with your other hand in order to limit the motion to your forearm. Perform 10 repetitions with one arm, and then repeat with the other arm.

Lower back

Specific exercises and illustrations are available in the AAOS low back pain exercise guide. They include:

  • Wall squats. Stand with exercise ball between your lower back and wall. Slowly bend knees 45 to 90 degrees. Hold five seconds. Straighten knees. Repeat the process raising both arms over head.
  • Lying on a ball. Lie on your stomach over exercise ball. Slowly raise alternate arms over your head. Slowly raise alternate legs two to four inches from floor. Combine one and two, alternating opposite arms and legs. Bend one knee. Slowly lift this leg up, alternating right and left legs.
  • Yoga and Pilates. These exercise programs focus on trunk and abdomen strength, as well as flexibility.

Remember to stretch your back, shoulders and legs prior to a round of golf.

Source: The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. For more information on golf injuries and prevention tips, visit Adapted by IlluminAge AgeWise.

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More Good News About Exercise and Brain Health

Exercise training may stimulate brain plasticity, say University of Maryland School of Public Health researchers, who used fMRI imaging to watch it happen.

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Are You Feeling Caregiver Guilt?

Family caregivers are the bedrock of our nation’s elder care system. The AARP estimates that this care, if provided by paid professionals, would cost more than $470 billion dollars each year! Caregivers support the well-being of senior loved ones with hands-on help, healthcare management, transportation, dementia care and more—all while trying to keep up with their jobs, family responsibilities and other part of their lives.

Despite all that they do, many caregivers report feeling guilty for not doing more, or not living up to their own expectations. And guilt is an emotion that can affect our health and our emotional well-being. It can interfere with our ability to be a good caregiver, a good parent, a good spouse and a good employee—even as we might be trying to balance all of those roles. It’s important to break that cycle.

The first step in retaining some balance in your life and shedding your sense of guilt is to recognize that what you’re feeling is completely normal. Realizing your situation is one shared by millions of others who are experiencing the same emotions can go a long way in helping you cope. Here are some other tips to help you take back your life.

Treat yourself with compassion and kindness. You may harbor some anger and frustration towards the person for whom you’re caring. You may experience profound sadness if you feel that the person you once knew is slipping away from you. You may occasionally resent the time you spend with your loved one because it’s taking time away from your career or other family responsibilities. Understand that these feelings are completely normal and grant yourself permission to feel them.

Set boundaries. As far as it is possible, let your loved one know when there are specific times that you will be unavailable for routine assistance. If you have a specific event you need to attend, let your loved one know and provide an alternate source of help, if possible. If you’re going to meet your loved one in person, call ahead and ask if they need anything, so you don’t have to turn around the minute you arrive to pick up a prescription or food. Explain to your family and boss what is going on with you: it’s better that they know why you might be late sometimes, or unable to attend an event you would normally not miss.

Make connections. Find a friend you can confide in or see a counselor to help you sort out your emotions. Support groups are also a wonderful way to connect with others in the same situation. You’ll likely discover that the simple act of telling your story to a receptive audience and listening to others can be very healing. Many long-term friendships have formed among caregiver family members.

Ask family members for help. Enlist support from other relatives. If they live far away, explain what’s going on and ask them if they would be willing to take a weekend or a week to help. Hold a family meeting, if possible. Explain the toll that assuming sole responsibility for caregiving is having on you. This includes the financial impact of serving as primary caregiver. If other family members aren’t able to provide support in person, ask for financial help for your loved one’s expenses and for respite care.

Discover community resources. Check out the resources that are available in your community, such as local Area Agencies on Aging, senior service providers, aging life care professionals (geriatric care managers) and senior centers. These organizations can provide information on specific diseases, general topics on caregiving and aging, as well as service providers that can help in a number of ways.

Enlist the support of professional caregivers. Professional caregivers can provide a variety of support services, including helping your loved get dressed and bathed, grocery shopping, medication management and even light housekeeping. If your loved one has more clinical needs, home health professionals can provide nursing and therapeutic services as well. If your loved one’s care needs are complex, consider an assisted living or other senior support community.

Take care of yourself. When one gets caught up in a caregiving role, it’s easy to let other things slide – things like going to the gym and grocery store or getting together with friends. But being a good caregiver means taking care of yourself physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. It’s important to eat well, exercise, get enough sleep, socialize, and to continue to feed your spirit, whether that’s reading a good book, going to a movie, or walking the family dog.

Source: IlluminAge AgeWise

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