14 Most Important Elder Issues Facing Senior Citizens from Medical Health to Elder Law

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By:  Tehila Mörtl

 

While there are a number of matters which seniors often face, I thought today we would focus on the thirteen most common senior concerns. 

As we all know, physical activity is an important part of everyone’s daily life.  For seniors though, it carries an even greater importance as research indicates that staying active helps delay or even prevent particular diseases (i.e. heart disease, diabetes, some cancers).  Not only is activity good for one’s physical health but it impacts an individual’s mental health as well (i.e. mood enhancement, assists in relieving depression).

A healthy, balanced diet is also of great significance in senior care and maintaining one’s health.  To avoid malnutrition, diabetes and improve general health one should avoid sweets and other empty calories and eat plenty of fresh produce which can offer much needed vitamins and minerals.

Malnutrition can result in a weakened immune system, increasing risk of infections, delayed healing of wounds, muscle infirmity and, if this remains a persistent state, can lead to loss of appetite, further compounding the issue.

Snacking can be healthy in that is ensures one is consuming enough nutrients and helps to keep an individual’s blood sugar and protein at healthy levels thus allowing for more energy throughout the day.  Keep in mind that instead of consuming empty calories with such foods as chips, cookies or sugary beverages there are much healthier options that are not only tasty but can be convenient as well.  For instance, cheese with whole grain pretzels or crackers, a small low-fat yogurt, piece of fruit or cup of fruit salad. There are many ways in which one can provide elderly help in keeping with a healthy diet.  One easy way is to prepare a bag of cleaned, raw vegetables that can be kept in the refrigerator for easy access of a quick nosh.

In researching this topic, I came across a great link offered by the USDA.  At the bottom of the page, one can find and plan the following:

·     Personalized nutrition and physical activity plan

·     Track foods and physical activity

·     Find tips and obtain support in helping to make healthier choices

Those providing senior care services might wish to follow the link below for these helpful nutrition and activity trackers:

https://www.supertracker.usda.gov/ 

For further assistance and information, one might wish to visit the National Institute on Aging link for What's on Your Plate? Smart Food Choices for Healthy Aging

https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/whats-your-plate

One final resource that provides useful information on how to maintain a healthier diet and tools for dietary evaluation and explains the five food groups is ChooseMyPlate.gov.  

Obesity amongst the elderly can shorten one’s life as a result of developing such health conditions as hypertension, coronary heart disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis, respiratory difficulties, gallbladder disease, colon cancer, and although there can be a number of contributing factors obesity can heavily contribute to sleep apnea, etc.  Speaking from personal experience, sleep apnea has touched our lives more than once.  One of my spouse’s dearest friends suffered from unaddressed sleep apnea.  Sadly, though in the medical field as well, he had not taken the time to complete a sleep study and get the medical aid necessary resulting in his sudden passing.  Later, when dealing with all of my beloved’s illnesses, I too would develop sleep apnea.  Having gone through losing such a dear friend, we took immediate action.  Although electing to have surgery rather than dealing with a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure machine (CPAP), is certainly a decision I would make again, I must admit that recovery from surgery for sleep apnea in adults is rigorous at best.

For in-depth guides and sensible advice about obesity please visit the National Heart Lung and Blood Institutes of Health website.

In discussing the greatest problems facing senior citizens, many might not realize that tobacco is the singular most avoidable cause of illness and premature death in the U.S.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) smokers who have the support of senior care services through a medical professional are far more successful in quitting.  Nowadays many hospitals, clinics, etc. offer free smoking cessation programs.   In fact, some even provide participants free over-the-counter patches and/or gum to aid in the cessation process.

Another issue which directly touched our lives was substance abuse by an elder.  Although the abuse of alcohol and illegal drugs are not often associated with seniors, the unintended abuse of prescription drugs can lead to serious consequences.  As with many seniors, it can be difficult for them to understand that not only might their adult children be well educated in areas such as medicine or pharmacology but have the experience as well that can help in appreciating why medication should be taken as prescribed.  A senior close to us was in considerable pain and rather than heeding our advice to discuss this with their medical provider, this elder thought they could better manage the pain on their own under the philosophy of if a little is good, more is better.  Tragically, due to abuse of prescription pain medication, this individual suffered internal bleeding and lapsed into a coma from which they would never awake. 

Another medical health issue which might come as a surprise to many is HIV/AIDS.  In fact, AIDS in adults over 50 has risen over twice as fast as in the younger population.  Not having grown up in an era where there was such a serious health threat, seniors are less likely to use condoms.  Compounding the problems of risks, etc. is how seniors are often stereotyped when it comes to sexual activity.  Those who have an active senior at home, living on their own, are encouraged to discuss safety precautions for HIV/AIDS and other STD’s. 

The most common mental health issue facing elders is depression.  Not only does depression have negative effects on one’s physical well-being but all too often leads to suicide among seniors.   

Further in discussing mental health, although dementia is by no means just a part of aging, it can be brought on as the result of disease, medication reactions, renal failure, diabetes, infections, etc.  Therefore, with any sign of ongoing dementia, one’s elder should have a thorough health exam by their physician along with blood work, etc.

Injury due to falls are the leading cause of hospital admissions and death amongst the elderly be they a senior at home alone or living in a retirement community.  Statistics show that each year one in three seniors over the age of 65 will experience a fall.  Two ways in which one can assist their elder in preventing falls is to encourage them to exercise; thereby, improving both balance and strength plus, have them discuss this issue with their primary care physician so that medication can be reviewed and, if necessary, physical therapy prescribed. 

As discussed in a previous article on vaccines, flu and pneumonia are among the leading causes of death among seniors.  By ensuring one is up-to-date with their vaccines, one’s elder need not become a fatal statistic.

In regards to health care, as with vaccinations, seniors often neglect to maintain regularly scheduled check-ups, blood work or even follow-up appointments.  An elder benefits greatly by having a caregiver or loved one to assist them in keeping a log of medical appointments, yearly check-ups, tests such as X-rays, EEG, EKG, MRI (to name a few) and blood work. 

Further in the interest of promoting a healthier life, it is vital to consume plenty of fluids every day.  For instance, water assists with digestion, nutrient absorption and eliminating waste from the body.  When visiting the doctor, ask if there are any medications (i.e. blood pressure) being prescribed that necessitate increasing intake of water.  Please also discuss with your physician any need to limit how much fluid is consumed. 

To aid in getting enough liquids throughout the day, we recommend drinking a full glass of water when taking medication, enjoy a cup of low fat, low sodium soup as a snack, take sips of milk, juice or water between mealtime bites, drink a glass of water prior to working in the garden, any type of physical exertion or going outside on a warm day.  In addition to water might enjoy drinking low fat milk and beverages without added sugar.  Finally, just as important, if dealing with a bladder control issue speak with your physician about treatment rather than decreasing intake of fluids.

While diet, nutrition, physical activity, medical and mental healthcare along with proper hydration and the rest of elder issues we have discussed are all important, let us also remember the financial and legal needs of seniors.

First, one must review whether their elder has the mental capacity to sustain financial independence by paying bills on time, maintaining bank and other accounts, use credit cards wisely and so on.  Finances are, to most, deeply personal and not always something one cares to discuss with relatives.  In cases such as these, obtaining the services of a financial planner and advisor is strongly encouraged.  Doing so will not only assist the elder but help prevent added financial stresses on family members. 

The importance of providing for elder law services is not only vital for one’s elder but for family and loved ones as well. Following is a listing and explanation of legal documents all seniors should have in place:

·     Medical Directive also known as a Living Will or Advanced Healthcare Directive – provides both medical providers and loved ones directions on what type of care the elder wants in the event of disabling illness or incapacitation.

·     Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare plus, HIPAA release – allows pre-determined and designated individual to make healthcare decisions on their loved one’s behalf.  Meanwhile, a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act form (HIPAA), passed by Congress in 1996, release is necessary in order for the access to all medical records and physicians.  Both are documents vital when addressing elder law.

·     Financial Durable Power of Attorney – allows a specified individual to manage their spouse or elder’s finances such as bill payment, property sales, etc. should he or she become debilitated.

·     Revocable Living Trust – allows an elder to designate someone to manage property (i.e. home, investments, personal belongings) and is called a living trust because it is for when one is still alive but temporarily or permanently unable to manage their estate. One of the reasons a Revocable Living Trust is important in regards to elder law is that it allows an estate to be settled without the time consuming and often expensive process of probate, reduces the chance of a legal dispute over your estate, avoid conservatorship and to ensure your privacy even after death.

·       Last Will and Testament – specifies how assets and personal property are dispersed.  Not having a will in place can lead to long, drawn out legal disputes over an entire estate after one’s death.  To ensure one’s wishes are followed as directed, we advise securing the services of an elder lawyer for the writing of a will.


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