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Guest Blog: Managing Back Pain as You Age

Like other critical parts of the musculoskeletal system, the spine experiences some wear and tear over the decades. Does this mean back pain is inevitable as you get older? Not necessarily.

What Happens to Your Spine as You Age?
The spine itself is composed of a series of stacked bones called vertebrae. Small joints between each vertebra allow for the spine’s range of movement and little rubbery discs with jelly-like centers inside make sure bones don’t rub against one another (they also serve as the spine’s shock absorbers).

Over time, these disks can dry out, shrink, and wear away, causing the spine to compress. This is known as degenerative disc disease. Sometimes the space surrounding the spinal cord will start to narrow too; this is known as spinal stenosis. Arthritis and osteoporosis may also affect the spine as you age leading to joint degradation and even spinal fractures.

Any of these age-related conditions can contribute to back pain, especially when bones start rubbing against one another and nerves get pinched. The body may even go as far as to grow bone spurs in an effort to stabilize a degenerating spine.

Preventing and Managing Back Pain
So, is there anything older adults can do to prevent it or at least manage the pain and discomfort that comes with those types of conditions? Definitely.

Experts recommend taking actions to relieve some of the burden your spine bears during daily activity. This includes:

  • Exercising to strengthen your back and core to more properly support the spine
    Practicing good posture when sitting, using the computer, texting, etc.
    Wearing a back brace for added posture support and lumbar compression
    Eating a healthy diet rich with anti-inflammatory foods that help you maintain a healthy weight and combat systemic inflammation in they body – think fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, and lean proteins
    Reducing stress on the back. This may mean utilizing lumbar cushions when driving, updating your mattress to better support your spine when sleeping, and avoiding activities which exacerbate your back pain

Additional Thoughts
Of course, it is also important to remember that acute back pain can also stem from something as simple as a muscle strain. Lifting something heavy, straining your arms and neck reaching for something in an awkward position, even sitting for a long period of time in an uncomfortable chair – any of these things can cause back pain and inflammation.

By |2020-06-22T11:40:41-05:00June 29th, 2020|Dr. Mauk's Boomer Blog, News Posts|Comments Off on Guest Blog: Managing Back Pain as You Age

Guest Blog: When Should Seniors Stop Driving?

On a list of the greatest fears many seniors have, failing health, hearing loss, and falling often rise to the top. One major fear that few actually talk to their families and doctors about though is losing the ability to drive. In fact, a new AAA study found that over 80 percent of older drivers never discuss their safe driving ability at all with their care networks or medical professionals.

For many seniors, driving is the hallmark characteristic that defines independence. Being able to drive allows seniors to travel, to run their own errands, to get out of their house and socialize. Losing that ability to drive doesn’t just strip those things away, but it also requires seniors to ask for help and coordinate transportation, all of which can leave them feeling like a burden on their caregivers.

What is the danger then? Well not only do older drivers who have outlived their ability to safely drive a vehicle endanger their passengers and other drivers on the road, they put themselves at increased risk for injury and even death. Because older adults typically have more fragile bones and higher rates of chronic illness that can complicate an injury recovery, they are more likely to get hurt or even die in a car crash than younger adults.

Talking About Driving with Your Aging Parent

The bottom line is that simply conducting a dialogue about driving doesn’t mean a senior will lose their license or be held back from driving. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Just as using a cane for walking empowers a senior with mobility limitations to keep moving, talking about safe driving can empower seniors to take helpful steps that keep them safe on the road.

For example, the Senior Driving division of AAA offers loads of helpful resources, tools, and information that connect seniors with local refresher courses on defensive road wise driving, help them understand how medicine can affect safe driving, and much more.

If you need to have a conversation with your aging parent about safe driving, experts recommend approaching it from a place of compassion and empathy. Instead of accusing them of being an unsafe driver, confess the concerns you feel about their safety on the road and ask them about their own perspective. Discuss helpful driving tools, safe driving refresher classes, and even consider attending a senior driving expo together.

By |2020-05-27T11:58:58-05:00June 2nd, 2020|Dr. Mauk's Boomer Blog, News Posts|Comments Off on Guest Blog: When Should Seniors Stop Driving?

Guest Blog: 4 Ways You Can Find Affordable Homecare

Home care is often preferred by seniors. An overwhelming 90% of seniors want to age in place. It is also affordable compared to nursing homes and assisted living facilities. However, hiring a caregiver may still be out of reach for many families.

1. Home Care Agency

A popular option for hiring a caregiver is through a home care agency. Hiring a caregiver through an agency allows seniors to have personalized one-on-one attention and flexible pricing (choosing less hours means saving on costs). You are also not responsible for any employer obligations like payroll tax and being held liable for any injuries that happen at home. However, this means that agencies pass administrative costs to the family which may still be unaffordable.

2. Family Caregivers

Did you know that there are an estimated 40 million unpaid family caregivers in the United States? Family caregivers perform a wide range of duties like paying bills, running errands, and helping with light household chores. Many family caregivers dedicate on average 20 hours a week towards providing care and some take time off work as well—resulting in a loss of earnable income. While being a family caregiver can save you money, your loved one may have needs that go beyond what you can support.

3. Local Classifieds

You can hire a caregiver directly through your local classifieds or online directory. Hiring a caregiver directly, and not through an agency can provide more affordable home care for your loved one, but there are some extra hurdles. You will need to personally interview and screen potential candidates. This involves meeting with the caregiver, verifying their references, and performing a background check. If your loved one needs care immediately, this process may be difficult and time consuming to do properly.

4. eCaregivers

After learning about using eCaregivers, you can find private caregivers with rates starting at $10-$14/hour for care, versus $20-$24 with an agency, helping you save thousands of dollars in a year while still ensuring quality home care for your loved one. All of the caregivers on eCaregivers have passed a background check so you have a peace of mind that you’re hiring a vetted caregiver for your loved one.

 

About the Author

Peter Kang is a writer for eCaregivers. He is inspired by his caregiver experience with his late grandfather and role model, a Korean War veteran, to help families find affordable care for their loved ones. Follow Peter on Facebook and Twitter.

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By |2020-04-06T10:59:55-05:00April 14th, 2020|Dr. Mauk's Boomer Blog, News Posts|Comments Off on Guest Blog: 4 Ways You Can Find Affordable Homecare

Simple Ways to Find Purpose as you Age

Having a purpose in life impacts its quality regardless of our age. A recently published study on Purpose of Life (PIL) in older adults found that people with purpose experienced fewer disability problems and chronic conditions. PIL is defined as a life with goals, direction, and meaning. People with a high PIL were found to be resilient, healthy and with social support, faith, and good knowledge of health-related matters. Here are some simple ways of keeping these factors in your life as you age.

1. Join an Age-Friendly Gym
Find a gym that has programs for elders. If you don’t know many fitness centers that offer such programs, use an online tool like this facility locator on the International Council of Active Aging website. The map shows the available options in a city by name, number, address, and allowed gender. Next to the name of the center, there are icons to show what type of services they offer. Besides fitness centers, you can use the tool to find other services as well, including recreation centers, retirement living facilities, YMCA, community services, etc. Here are 5 places you can visit to stay in shape and find new friends.

2. Become a Volunteer
Consider becoming one of the many elderly who volunteer. Some popular forms of volunteering include fundraising, teaching, mentoring, and preparing/distributing food. Retired individuals are a good fit for volunteering programs because they come from a variety of businesses and sectors. For instance, your input can be valuable for a fundraiser if you have spent your career in marketing and have a strong connection in the community that takes years to develop. Sites like Volunteer Match list opportunities in a variety of areas and for people of different age groups.

You can also offer your services as a mentor to young people in general or in your field of expertise. For food related jobs, check at your local food banks and at any local food service companies. Volunteering can offer both physical and mental benefits. When choosing a form of volunteering, make sure that it engages you, so you don’t find the work to be tedious and boring.

3. Visit Your Favorite Places
Start signing off the places you have on your travel bucket list. Hit the road, take the plane, rail, or ship. Don’t allow a limited budget to come in your way – look for discounts. A variety of discounts are available, including airfare, dining, clothing, grocery, and entertainment discounts. Here is a list of some of these discounts. Go through them to plan your trip for less. If your travel appliance have gone out of shape, use a home warranty to fix or replace them for free.

4. Learn Something New
Join a class at your library or senior center to stay mentally agile and find people who share the same interests. Check courses at your community college as well. Take a driving course if you feel like your driving skills need a little sharpening. Continue the process of learning.

By |2020-01-26T09:04:48-05:00January 26th, 2020|Dr. Mauk's Boomer Blog, News Posts|Comments Off on Simple Ways to Find Purpose as you Age

Guest Blog: Managing Family Dynamics with Geriatric Patients: A Guide for Nurse Practitioners

 

Gerontology nurse practitioners face a unique set of challenges within their field. It comes with the territory of caring for older adults that issues such as death, dying, terminal illness, and chronic illness are commonly addressed.

Common Challenges

There are many challenges families face when caring for an older relative. For example, the loss of independence a geriatric patient may have. Families may need to step in and care for the aging patient, which, unfortunately, can add stress to their daily lives. This buildup of stress can lead to caregiver burnout, depression, anxiety, tension within the family, and even anger or resentment.

Another possible challenge is the imbalance of perceived “power” within the family. A scenario for this would be if an elderly patient moves in with their adult child and their family. For many years, the patient was the head of household; the one who made decisions and ran the home. Now, the adult child is the head of household, while the aging parent/ family member is an occupant. The family may experience a “power struggle” which can lead to conflict and strife within the home.

Dealing with chronic illness is another prominent challenge – possibly one of the most significant. Dementia, for example, is a condition which does not improve over time. Dementia affects almost half of adults over age 85. The early stages are the most difficult, as patients experience forgetfulness which could lead to safety concerns (i.e., wandering away from home, leaving the stove on, etc.). Family members may become frustrated easy, but as the disease progresses, they may experience a prolonged “mourning” of the patient.

Along with situational components, there are other factors that contribute to a family’s dynamic. Socioeconomic level, education level, cultural differences, and even something as basic as personalities all contribute to how a family interacts with each other and deals with stress.

Tips for Geriatric Nurse Practitioners

When dealing with geriatric patients and their families, it’s important to first acknowledge that each family unit has unique dynamics. From there, utilizing the nursing process is a great way to address the individual needs of the patient and family. Below are some tips, using the nursing process, that can help geriatric NPs manage the sometimes-complicated dynamics within families.

Assess

The first thing geriatric NPs should do is assess the family’s interactions and communication skills. Ideally, meeting with both the family and patient is ideal. Assessing communication skills such as active listening, non-confrontational statements, and body language will help the NP determine how effective communication is within the family, and what needs to be improved. Geriatric NPs can also assess the patient and family’s knowledge base, readiness to learn, and if anyone is experiencing any of the stages of grief.

Diagnosis

After assessing the family dynamics and interactions, geriatric NPs can create a “diagnosis” of what they may need. For example, if the daughter of an elderly patient with dementia can no longer care for the patient, the NP will need to take action in terms of finding a suitable living arrangement. Another example is if the son of an elderly patient with a chronic disease becomes easily frustrated and angry with them. The NP would have to develop a plan to address the issue.

Planning

After assessing the family and patient’s needs and determining what is needed, the geriatric NP must create a plan to meet their individual needs. Because the needs of the patient and family are unique, breaking apart the needs of each family member will help tailor a plan to help create a healthy family dynamic. For example, using the first scenario above, the NP can create a plan to help the family find a care home for the patient, while assisting to help them manage the emotions involved with possible feelings of loss of control and fear. In the other example, the NP can consider arranging appointments for the son to see a counselor to deal with his feelings regarding his parent’s chronic illness, and how to communicate in a positive manner.

Implementation

The implementation phase of the nursing process is putting the plans into process. For the geriatric NP, this means arranging appointments, providing resources, and collaborating with the rest of the care team. Using the examples above, that could mean providing a list of care homes, putting the family in touch with a social worker, and/or recommending a counselor for the significant life change of transitioning to a care home. In the second example, the NP can recommend family counseling as well, and possibly provide tips for stress management for caregivers.

Evaluation

Evaluating a patient and family’s response to the recommended plan is one of the most essential pieces of dealing with altered family dynamics. This phase is a delicate process, as the NP needs to ensure the family has not only followed through with the treatment plan, but that it was effective as well. If not, the planning and implementation phase would need to be re-structured. In the examples used above, that would mean making follow-up calls to see how the elderly patient is doing in the care home, how the family and patient are doing with the transition, and if there are any other needs. In the second example, the NP can follow up with the elderly patient’s son to see how he is dealing with his parent’s chronic illness. It may also mean working to help manage the chronic illness as well.

Conclusion

Working with families is not unique to nurses and nurse practitioners. However, working with aging patients and their families presents a different set of challenges. While it’s impossible to provide tips on every potential challenge geriatric NPs may face, going back to basics using the nursing process will help identify each individual need so that a plan can be developed to address them. One of the most important things to remember is to include the family whenever possible in the decision-making process, and to maintain as much dignity and independence as possible for the geriatric patient.

By |2020-01-21T12:34:00-05:00January 21st, 2020|Dr. Mauk's Boomer Blog, News Posts|Comments Off on Guest Blog: Managing Family Dynamics with Geriatric Patients: A Guide for Nurse Practitioners