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.

How to Get Back On Your Feet After An Injury

Written by Sally Perkins

Retirement is meant to be a happy, enjoyable time; you can finally breathe, relax and take in everything life has to offer. No matter which activity you intend to pursue – whether it’s traveling, gardening, or anything else you enjoy – it’s important to be careful and stay safe, as accidents and injuries are quite frequent for older adults. In fact, every year millions of seniors visit the emergency room and 30% of those are there for some kind of injury. Injuries such as fractures, sprains, head trauma and dislocations are particularly common and can slow your life down. However, an injury doesn’t have to ruin your retirement; you can take some effective steps to make sure that you get back on your feet as quickly as possible and feel healthy again despite the injury.

Give Yourself Time

Common causes of injuries in older adults are falling but also car accidents. About 30%-50% of falls cause minor injuries such as bruises and abrasions, but 10% of these cause major injuries such as head trauma or hip fractures. Car accidents involving older citizens have also been increasing, with pedestrians as the majority of accident victims. These accidents also often cause head trauma and other serious injuries.

Recovering from serious injuries takes time and can be a challenging process, so make sure you get plenty of rest and do not force yourself to perform activities which are painful for you. Take it easy and get plenty of rest. In the meantime, you can take up a more sedentary activity, such as reading or writing. Surround yourself with people who care about you and can help you get through this difficult time.

Talk to Your Doctor

Many older adults don’t report falls and are reluctant to talk about pain levels following an accident, even if it’s as serious as a car accident. Remember that your doctor is here to help you and is crucial for your recovery.

Make sure to alert your doctor every time you feel pain, even if you think it’s minor and doesn’t need attention. Doctors today are trained to have an equal relationship with their partners; a good patient-doctor relationship is a partnership, which becomes stronger as you ask questions and tell your doctor when treatments aren’t working or when you’re experiencing pain.

Emotional Healing Is Just As Important 

Accidents can leave you traumatized and dealing with the emotional aftermath is just as important as taking the right steps towards healing physically. Especially after major incidents such as car accidents, many patients have to deal with emotional trauma and grief, while also working on healing from a physical point of view.

This can put a lot of stress on a patient and also delay recovery. Talking to a specialized psychologist can help in your healing and help you process what happened. It can also be useful to get a legal opinion concerning the accident; this can help you ascertain your lack of responsibility for the accident and assist you in receiving compensation for your injuries, which can also help you put the traumatic incident behind you and start over.

Focus on Healthy Nutrition 

Make sure you are eating enough healthy food to sustain your recovery, since food provides the necessary energy and nutrients you need in order to be healthy. Choose a variety of healthy, whole grain foods and also aim to eat plenty of leafy vegetables, fruit and lean protein.

Try to avoid empty calorie foods, such as cookies, fast food, soda and alcohol; these foods are high in calories but very low in nutritional value and will delay your recovery as they increase inflammation in the body. Take supplements if necessary: calcium and vitamin D are two essential nutrients which have been shown to be effective in recovering from fractures or trauma.

Exercise Is Crucial 

As you get older, injuries take longer to heal because of elevated inflammation and hormonal changes. However, research as shown that seniors who exercise recover more quickly than those who don’t. Exercise can be intimidating, especially if you haven’t done it in a while, but it doesn’t have to be difficult or grueling! Moderate intensity walking is a popular choice, since it’s an activity which can be done easily by most older adults and it’s completely free. Other popular choices are yoga, swimming or other water based workouts such as aqua aerobics. Water based activities are easier on the joints and less tiring, but ultimately make sure you choose something you really enjoy.

Talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program in order to exercise safely and effectively. Start slow and for short periods of time, then slowly build up to a more challenging routine.

As well as walking and eating healthy, focus on activities which require core stability and balance, such as standing on one leg. There are also specific yoga classes which cater to seniors, and will help you improve flexibility and balance.

Exercising will increase your strength, energy and balance, as well as reducing risk of injuries, especially those caused by falls. By working on these aspects and having effective patient-doctor communication, you will be able to maximize your recovery time and be fully independent again as quickly as possible.

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!