Coping With Sleep Disorders Among Seniors

Written by Amy Highland

Aging is often associated with increased instances of memory loss, slowed reflexes, and depression, but one of the most prevalent issues for seniors is insomnia. Seniors need seven to nine hours of sleep just like other adults, but many find themselves up several times during the night or waking too early. You may face some unique sleep challenges because of the aging human body. However, once aware of these issues, you can work to implement habits that will improve your chances of getting a good night’s rest.

Age and Sleep

Circadian rhythms, which are physical, mental, and behavioral changes that occur on a regular 24-hour cycle, control the sleep-wake cycle. Circadian rhythms are heavily influenced by light expo       sure but can also be adjusted through behavior. Special receptors in the eyes called ganglion absorb the blue light that helps regulate circadian rhythms. Over time, changes in the eye such as narrowing pupils and yellowing of the lens can alter the sleep-wake cycle.

Seniors often experience circadian rhythm disruptions due to changes in the eyes. A study published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology explored the decrease in photo receptivity in the aging eye. Researchers noted that a 10-year-old child’s eye will absorb 10 times the amount of light as that of a 95-year-old. It was found that a decrease in pupil area and changes in light absorption resulted in a progressive loss of the eye’s ability to absorb the light necessary to regulate circadian rhythms. Another study found that patients who’d undergone cataract surgery experienced a better sleep-wake cycle due to the lightening of the eye lens, which allowed more light to regulate their rhythms.

But, but all sleep disorders in seniors do not stem from circadian rhythm problems. Seniors are also at higher risk for disorders such as sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, periodic limb movement disorder, and rapid eye movement (REM) behavior disorder. Because of growing medical needs, many seniors may be taking medications that interfere with the sleep cycle including antidepressants, anticholinergics, and blood pressure medications.

The Road to Better Sleep

Though seniors face many challenges to getting a good night’s rest, a few behavior changes along with a proper diagnosis of any underlying problems can increase sleep quality. You can also help yourself rest better by:

  • Nighttime Comfort: Seniors often have body aches and pains that get in the way of good sleep. Be sure your mattress offers enough support and is appropriate for your preferred sleep position and weight. This simple change can often reduce nighttime pain.
  • Increasing Natural Light Exposure: Spending more time in natural light can help increase the among of blue light absorbed. It’s this blue light that regulates the circadian rhythms.
  • Using Bright Light Therapy: For some seniors, it can be difficult to get natural light exposure due to mobility issues or weather. Bright light therapy uses a special bulb the gives off light similar to sunlight. Exposure in the morning helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle.
  • Exercising Regularly: Regular exercise helps to tire out the muscles. It’s also a good opportunity to get outside and increase your natural light exposure.
  • Avoiding Daytime Naps: Excessive daytime tiredness in seniors often results in several daytime naps. While a short nap of 30 to 45 minutes can counteract the effects of sleep deprivation, much longer than that and you could be disrupting your sleep-wake cycle.

Changing habits can take time, but with consistency and effort, you can give yourself a better chance to get the rest you need for improved physical, mental, and emotional health.

Caregiving in Retirement? You’re Not Alone.

Written by James Fleming

Many seniors who invest time in planning and saving for retirement often think about their own longevity and incorporating money into the mix for long-term care they might need down the line. Instead of requiring your own care, however, have you thought about what you would do if you became a caregiver in retirement?

How Many Seniors are Caregivers?

For many seniors in their “golden years”, caring for a family member like a spouse or parent, is a very real and prevalent situation. In fact, the latest report from the National Caregiving Alliance and AARP shares that 34 percent of caregivers in the U.S. are 65 years of age or older. Older caregivers often devote more hours of care to their loved one than the average caregiver, often because it is a parent or spouse with whom they live.

Caregiving duties can range from managing prescription refills and providing transportation to appointments, to more skilled nursing care like administering medicine, changing dressings, and assisting with ADLs. Activities of daily living (or ADLs) include personal tasks like bathing, getting dressed, using the toilet, eating, and transferring out of bed or into a chair.

Over one-third of caregivers in the U.S. specifically provide care to a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. For senior caregivers, this ratio is even higher as older adults (like spouses and parents) are much more likely to develop dementia as they age.

In addition to performing typical caregiving duties, caregivers of an older adult with Alzheimer’s also manage a unique emotional toll that comes with watching a loved one lose their basic faculties, memory, and so forth. A large percentage of seniors with Alzheimer’s experience “sundowning” where they exhibit signs at the end of the day including irritability, confusion, and aggression. This can be exceptionally challenging for caregivers.

Tips for Retired Caregivers

While caregiving does provide fulfillment and a sense of purpose to people who have the means and capabilities of being able to provide care for a loved one, it can also be a physical, emotional, and financial burden which sidelines your retirement dreams. If you have taken on the role as caregiver in retirement, keep these tips in mind:

Ask for Help
Are you worried about being a burden on your own friends, kids, or siblings? If you are caring for a spouse or parent and experiencing age-related health issues yourself, the caregiving role can seem even more daunting. Asking for help is tough, however, it is necessary. Instead of hiding the extent of your loved one’s condition, be willing to share it and ask for help.

It can be hard for people outside of the caregiving bubble to understand how they might assist you so request help with specific tasks, i.e. “Can you bring dinner over on Wednesday?” or “Can you stop by the pharmacy and pick up your Mom’s medicine this afternoon?”.

Listen and Learn

Caregiving is as much about getting educated as it is about physical tasks. Learning about your loved one’s condition and training with nurses at the doctor’s office or via home health will go a long way in equipping you with the knowledge and skills to make caregiving easier (and boost your loved one’s quality of life). Not sure where to start? Try:

  • Looking online at high-quality medical information and caregiving sites like MayoClinic.org, Health.Harvard.edu, and DailyCaring.com
  • Writing a list of questions and concerns before each doctor’s appointment that you can take with you and add notes
  • Searching for caregiving classes at your local hospital, Council on Aging, or senior assistance organization.

Practice Self-care
Easier said than done, sure, but self-care is a must as a caregiver. Caregiving is often linked to chronic stress which can manifest itself in a multitude of physical and mental symptoms including headaches, back pain, digestion issues, and depression. Self-care can range from activities like taking a daily walk for exercise to getting a massage, practicing yoga, having friends over for dinner, or taking a relaxing bath before bed.

Local respite services may offer some relief as well, allowing you to take a break from caregiving temporarily to relax and reset. See if there are adult daycare programs available near you or if local resources offer longer-stay respite services (i.e. for a whole week).

Additional Thoughts

The financial burden associated with caregiving can seriously impact retirement savings as well especially if you develop health issues yourself as a result of caregiving. Look into long-term care insurance, set aside enough money to hit prescription plan deductibles each year, update life insurance policies, and make sure you have all your legal documents in place including financial and healthcare powers of attorney. A little forethought goes a long way!

Affordable Ways to Increase Mobility

Written by Becky Wilcox

Do you have problems with mobility? Maybe a stroke or accident has left you with some balance or strength issues, or maybe severe pain or arthritis has been holding you back from getting around the way you used to. If so, you’ve likely been looking at assistive devices to help you get through your daily tasks. One thing is for certain, many high-quality power wheelchairs and lift chairs are priced accordingly, while most of them are not covered under most major insurance plans. So the next step is finding ways to fit a power chair or other piece of durable medical equipment into your budget. Here are a few ways to avoid breaking the bank.

Saving on Your Own or Using a Payment Plan

If you’ve found a scooter or power chair that you really like, the next thing you need to figure out is how to pay for it. Because insurance generally doesn’t cover motorized power scooters and wheelchairs, you’ll have to finance it on your own. To make it easier to save up the money you need, try using an online budgeting software program to help you tag and organize your monthly funds. This will allow you to save specifically for your power chair or other out of pocket health expense. You can start saving but that may take months to get the amount you need, but there is another option. The good news is that most power chair and scooter companies offer flexible payment plans and they accept credit cards. This allows you to make monthly payments that won’t break your budget. If you choose in-house financing option through the power chair company, you can avoid placing the purchase on a credit card. Ask your power chair company what type of financing they offer and if you can obtain a fair interest rate based on your credit rating and their loan criteria for new customers.

Contacting a Home Health Agency

If you feel like you have limitations on your mobility or you’re unable to meet your ADLs, or activities of daily living, consider home health care. Initially, you’ll have to talk to your doctor about your health care needs and then get a referral for home health care. From there, the agency will come to your home and assess your needs. They may help you with things like:

* Showering and bathing

* Preparing food and meals

* Running errands for household items and driving you to doctors appointments

* Perform routine household chores

* Dressing and assisting with transferring from chair to standing

* Other personal care and toileting

A healthcare professional will be able to analyze your situation and find out if you qualify for any DME, or durable medical equipment, to assist you around the home. In some cases, these items, such as a walker, handrails and shower chair may be covered under your insurance. If not, a home health care may offer these items free of charge to help assist you around the house.

Looking for Used Items

If you’re in need of a power chair or scooter to help assist with daily living, one way to cut back on costs may be to find used items. Many power scooters are available locally through DME companies or sold by public sellers. In many cases, you can obtain these items at well below retail costs, depending on their condition. If you’re in need of a bargain, you may want to shop local classifieds or contact the manufacturer directly for used or refurbished power transportation.

Making Your Home Handicap Accessible

Making life easier if you have some limitations means making your home as accessible as possible. One place to start is with a wheelchair ramp. This type of ramp is not just for wheelchairs, but for power chairs and scooters as well. This makes it easier to get in and out without having to worry about leaving the machine outdoors. Widening your doorways is another way to make your power chair or scooter accommodate you throughout the home. The problem with that is it can be expensive to completely remodel your home. If you can’t obtain a second mortgage or personal loan to pay a contractor, reach out to local community agencies for possible assistance. Many charity organizations have funds set aside for low-income individuals who are struggling with household updates. Keep in mind that if you do qualify, you may be put on a waiting list to receive assistance.

No matter what your physical limitations are, know that there are devices and accessories available to help make your life a little easier. All it takes a little budgeting to access the machine or device that’s right for you.