Nature and Dementia

All of us have probably experienced the benefits of nature at one time in our lives or another.  The calming sound of waves on the beach, the gentle rain on a roof or the canopy of the forest, or even the calm breeze through the pines can knock our anxiety levels down a few notches.  What few people realize, however, is that there is genuine scientific evidence that reveals that which we’ve all experienced…nature is good for us!  It’s even better for those suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s.

It is so good for us, in fact, that in Finland regular doses of nature incorporated in their governmental health policy.  They may prescribe a walk in a natural area as treatment for anxiety, alcoholism, attention problems or depression.   But Finland is not alone as a country finding ways to combat the ailments of our century.  South Korea, Canada & the US are all studying nature’s effects on the human psyche.  Many questions are being answered as scientists delve into these areas of study, but it is mostly confirming what we all seem to know intuitively.  Nature is good for us.  It calms us down & helps us become more thoughtful.

Because Dementia & Alzheimer’s can be diseases that have some social stigmas attached to them, the diseases themselves are often accompanied with extreme depression or anxiety.  Regular outings into nature are incredibly helpful for those suffering from any of these diagnoses.  When you’re in nature, none of those things matter so much.  You can find a beautiful caterpillar, for instance, and be allowed time to pay attention to the exquisite detail of something that is currently in front of you without needing to remember its relationship to everything else in your world.  You can watch it for a long period of time without needing to rush.  You can remain calm & it will not judge your actions.  You are given time to think, to wonder & to be amazed.  You are given the freedom to be you. 

Of course, it is prudent to have someone along with you on your trips into nature.  We are not advocating that patients with dementia or Alzheimer’s wander in the woods alone as treatment.  But, as often as possible help those you care about to experience nature in meaningful ways.  Perhaps they’d like to bring along drawing supplies, or a camera for the outings.  Meaningful occupations that will bring attention & mindfulness are never amiss with patients & loved ones that struggle with these diseases.  It will likely improve their (and your) quality of life for years to come!

 

 

Incontinence in Older Adults

 

Incontinence in an issue of great embarrassment among many people.  Because people are unwilling to talk openly about it, however, there tends to be a bit of misinformation floating around about the topic that could easily be corrected for the benefit of the sufferer in order that they might have a much less complicated life. 

There are many causes of incontinence in older adults.  The causes can range from poor posture, to inflammation or worse.  One common thing that people say is that it is normal to have urinary incontinence as you age.  This is simply not true.  Do not accept this as it is a common belief.  Perhaps your condition is caused by something that could be easily fixed if you knew the cause.  It may be that you have a medical condition that needs to be addressed before it will be solved, but either way, you’ll know the cause & be able to move forward with treatment & possibly a solution to the problem.

One of the most common, but least talked about causes of a weak bladder is poor posture.  For a variety of reasons, we tend to slouch or slump forward as we age.  It is somewhat natural, but you must think about your internal organs when you allow your body to slouch forward.  Your organs are arranged inside of you atop of one another, but also being supported by the spine in the back.  If you slouch forward, on the other hand, the organs push forward & rest fully on top of your other organs…specifically atop your bladder.  Apart from causing terrible back, neck & shoulder problems, slouching will often cause weak bladder or, if left for long enough, incontinence.

Another common cause is inflammation in the lining of the bladder.  If you have an infection of some kind, it may be a simple matter of receiving a prescription for an antibiotic & you could be on your way to recovery!  Sometimes it really is this simple, and yet people will go on for months thinking that they are just getting older & that incontinence is a natural part of that process. 

Of course, things are not always this simple.  Sometimes you may need to do exercises to help strengthen the pelvic floor, other times you may need to go for treatment if the physician finds something more serious.  The main thing to remember is that if this problem begins or persists, you need to listen to your body & try to solve the problem.   In the meantime, if you need to wear adult incontinence pads or underwear, do your best to get the proper size & absorbency for your needs.  Some folks that are on a limited budget try to economize by getting a smaller size (because there are generally more pairs in the package) or by getting some that are less absorbent (because they are cheaper).  The result of this is that you can end up getting sores from ill-fitting underwear or end up in an embarrassing situation when the absorbency was not up to par.

Whatever your current situation with incontinence, if it IS an issue for you, do not be afraid to raise the question with your doctor.  Start the conversation so that you can begin the process of healing & return to a more active lifestyle!

Combating Loneliness In The Golden Years

Loneliness is a very real problem for people of all ages, but it seems to prey greatly on those of advancing years.  It can cause all kinds of issues, from undue stress, to depression & feelings of worthlessness.  While all of us naturally will have times in our lives that are more lonely than others, we need not just go with the flow if the time period is becoming extended.  There are things we can do to fight it off & lighten the heaviness created by it.

First, evaluate the changes that have occurred in your life to make you feel this way.  Has there been a death of a loved one?  Have several friends moved to other places like nursing homes or #assisted living facilities?  Are there family and friends that are struggling with their health & are no longer able to go out and about like they used to?  Are you struggling with your health?  It's important to think through all of the many changes so that you understand why you are justifiably struggling during this time.  Every major change in life brings about stress, & big changes such as these will take time to heal & require thought to develop a plan for how life will continue best after having fought through them.

Second, find your strengths.  Are you naturally a gathering person?  What I mean by this is do you like to gather people together for functions or even just to have them come to your kitchen for a cup of coffee and conversation?  If you are, start small, but make a couple of calls to people you feel may be likely to accept your invitation.

Third, consider starting new traditions. I know of someone who gathers her aunt & cousin together on the same date every year to celebrate their birthdays which all fall in the same month. They look forward to the conversation & time with people that they otherwise do not see on a regular basis, even though they live within 1 hour of each other.  If you have cousins, nephews & nieces, friends, children or grandchildren that you don't see often, consider organizing an occasion to visit together. It does not have to be a large gathering, though it could be, if you desire to put in a lot of effort.

Consider getting a pet if your living situation allows for it.  Something about a dog or cat, or even a bird, makes humans feel less alone.  It's nice to have someone to talk to as we bustle about our day.  Someone that shows affection to us on the days when we see nary a soul.  Someone to care for & that cares that we've gotten up to greet the day with them.

Observe nature.  Watching the birds that come to your feeders & having a book on hand can help to combat loneliness.  Knowing that there is a world of quiet solitude that is also full of life can help us as we enter this stage of life.  Taking walks & identifying the trees we see along the paths, or the flowers & plants will make you feel as though your are coming to meet new friends & watch how they progress throughout the year.  Even indoor plants can have this affect as we wait for the blossoming times & take cuttings to form new plants to offer to family and friends.  Field guides are incredibly helpful in all these areas to become truly familiar with the things that you find.  You may be surprised at what you locate that you've never noticed before.

Join clubs, guilds or community organizations.  There are as many clubs, guilds and organizations out there as there are hobbies & interests.  If you cannot find them in person, you may be able to find them online & be able to chat with people with similar interests in forums.  If you are fortunate to find a quilting guild, for instance, near you, make it a point to attend meetings & offer any help that you're able to give.  Several communities have senior centers to get involved in.  Other communities have home economics groups that meet.  Nearly every community has community education courses that one could take if they were interested in any of the courses offered.  These are several ways in which to reach out to the broader community and meet people with whom you do not otherwise interact.  Maybe you'll make a steadfast friend, or at the very least, you'll pass the time in a productive manner & learn new skills.  Either way, the time was not wasted!

Consider music.  Whether it's playing an instrument, singing or simply listening to & learning music, this can be a very worthwhile aid in combating loneliness.  Music has the ability to change emotion.  It can lighten our darker moods or dampen our light moods.  If you have a talent with an instrument, consider passing that on to a student or two.  I knew an older woman of 92 who was still giving lessons to a couple of children a week, even though she had early stages of #dementia.  She may not have had the lessons laid out consecutively each week, but the students were still learning & growing, not just from the piano that she taught, but also greater lessons about what it means to care for someone going through the frightening changes of old age.  If you do not know how to play an instrument, simply play music.  It does not matter the genre.  Try to listen to a number of works by a certain composer.  See if you can identify their songs by only hearing them, even if you do not see who wrote it.  Try listening to music from different generations & get a feel for the music that stirred them.  Then bring it up in conversation when you meet someone from that generation.  They may be very surprised that you know the groups that were popular, and it may be an opening into more meaningful conversations.

Lastly, do not feel alone in your loneliness.  This may sound ridiculous, but sometimes simply knowing that this is a common thing for all of us to face helps a great deal.  We're all learning and growing through this process, just as we have through all the other challenges we've faced in life.  Let's face it with strength and a little ingenuity.  We'll get through it just fine!

Hydration in the Elderly

In recent years fitness gurus have been touting how important hydration is for our health.  You’ve probably seen the water bottles for sale on the internet that have times listed on the side so that you’re sure to drink a certain amount of water throughout the day to maintain proper fluid levels in your body for optimum health.  Few people, however, realize that is even more important for elderly people to remain hydrated.

Why is it more important for the aging population? There are many factors that contribute to dehydration in the elderly, but we’ll just cover a few of the major ones.  First, water levels in the human body decrease as we age.  There is naturally less water in us as we grow older, & we need to be replenished more often.  Secondly, medications often cause dehydration.  While medications can help with a number of ailments, many of them also have dehydration as a side effect.  Check with your doctor if this is something that you should be aware of so that you can be proactive in combatting the problem.  Finally, as we age, our kidneys are often not able to function as well as they did when we were younger.  This is just a natural part of growing older, but it does contribute to dehydration.

What can you do to stay hydrated sufficiently?

  1. Find ways to increase water intake. Set goals for yourself to drink a bit more water several times a day.  Large quantities on an empty stomach can cause nausea, but try taking it in smaller doses several times a day and you might find it easier on your body.   If you do not like tap water, try filtered water.  If you need to, add some fruit into it for flavoring.  Lemon or lime sliced & steeped in water with a few mint leaves can make a nice infusion.  If you prefer hot drinks, try hot lemon water.
  2. Herbal teas. If you prefer even more flavor, you can increase your water intake without the side effects of caffeine by making herbal teas.  There are so many options to choose from, you’re sure to find something that you enjoy.
  3. Eat fruit and vegetables. Both fresh fruit & fresh veggies have good amounts of water in them that will help contribute to your hydration.  They also have the added benefit of adding fiber to your diet.  Pay attention, of course, if you are a diabetic as some fruits may cause issues with your blood sugars.
  4. Stay out of intense heat. Because it is so easy for an older individual to become dehydrated without noticing, it’s best to stay out of very hot environments whenever possible.  If you do need to be out in the heat, make sure that you wear hats that block the sun, stay in the shade and bring along a water bottle to drink.  Force yourself to drink water even if you do not feel thirsty.
  5. Eat soups & stews.  Soups can be eaten hot or cold, depending on preference.  Broths can be sipped throughout the hour in the same way that you would sip tea, and if can increase mineral intake if prepared properly.

You may be surprised as you maintain healthy hydration levels at how many ailments are alleviated!  There can be corrections in blood pressure, headaches may go away, dizziness may cease, infections may be flushed out of your system & energy levels may improve.  It is certainly not a “cure-all”, but sometimes the small & overlooked things in life can have long reaching implications.  So, start now!  Go and drink a glass of water for your health!

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