As the baby boomer generation becomes the silver tsunami in the coming years, more resources and creative ideas will be needed to care for the growing number of American seniors. According to the Administration on Aging, nearly a quarter of Americans will be age 65 or older by 2050.
The latest thinking in senior health care takes a step back from the traditional focus on providing medical services in response to sickness, instead reaching out into the community to coordinate a web of social services and medical care providers to keep older adults healthy at home and out of the hospital.
One in five adults in the United States has been diagnosed with some form of arthritis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Despite the chronic pain associated with the condition, there are simple steps you can take to treat arthritis and manage its impact on your life.
When Sylvia Aftel was born, the American flag had only 46 stars. It was 1910, two years before the Titanic’s fateful voyage, when most U.S. homes did not have telephones and a gallon of milk set you back 32 cents. Now at 102 years old, Aftel is a regular at Mills-Peninsula’s Senior Focus adult day health program, which she’s been attending since March of 2010. Aftel is still mentally sharp and in excellent health. She lives in her own home, with help from a caretaker, on a quiet cul-de-sac in San Mateo. She is proud of her independence, but says the brightest days in her week are the three she spends at Senior Focus. Read More about Thriving at 102 Thanks to Senior Health Program
For older adults experiencing decreased appetite or waning interest in food, a few simple adjustments to your cooking habits can help, according to Cathy Hazlewood, R.D., CDE, outpatient dietitian and diabetes educator at Mills-Peninsula Health Services.
Keeping up good nutrition is important at all stages of life, but senior nutrition is especially vital. Older adults need fewer calories, so they should eat nutritious foods that count, particularly fruits, vegetables and dairy. Read More about Tips to Boost Senior Nutrition
The people of Nivnice, a small town in the Czech Republic, may speak a different language, but they share some of the same challenges in caring for an aging population as we do in the United States.
While visiting family in Nivnice this past summer, John Macalik, co-chair of the Patient/Family Advisory Council at Mills-Peninsula, stumbled upon an opportunity to speak at the town’s senior care facility. Macalik’s father grew up in Nivnice. Residents and staff of the Senior Charity Home of Nivnice, which houses and cares for about 20 seniors, wanted to learn more about how communities in the United States are supporting healthy aging. Read More about Healthy Aging Circles the Globe
Most people look forward to the golden years, but after age 75 many medical issues arise that can compromise quality of life, says Mike Menefee, Ph.D., director of Outpatient Services at Mills-Peninsula’s Behavioral Health Services Center. “Joint and back pain is especially prevalent among seniors,” he says. In fact, the National Institutes of Health report about half of older Americans living on their own have chronic pain. To manage this pain, many older Americans use opiates, Dr. Menefee says. “Taken over time, they can develop a tolerance for the medication, so either their dosage has to increase or they have to stop taking the medication, go through withdrawal and start a new opiate.”
Dependency vs. Addiction
While developing a tolerance for a pain medication is concerning, Dr. Menefee draws a distinction between being chemically dependent on a medication and addictive behavior. “Many people become dependent on opiate medication, but if they take the medication as prescribed, it’s not a problem,” says Dr. Menefee. According to Dr. Menefee, patients who have developed an addiction don’t adhere to a prescription. They take more medication to relax or ease anxiety.
Risk Factors for Addiction
Many facets of life for older Americans make them vulnerable to addiction:
- Isolation: A senior may lose a spouse or close friend, or retire. He or she becomes increasingly isolated. According to Dr. Menefee, this lack of social structures or organized activities leaves people feeling isolated and lonely. ”Living alone and not meeting daily challenges is fertile ground for anxiety disorders,” he says. “Dealing with the world every day eases anxiety. Seeing the world through the TV, people become fearful about whether they can cope.”
- Deterioration of physical function: As people age, their livers don’t process alcohol as they once did. So the same two drinks someone has throughout their lives become too much in their 70s and 80s. “Drinking too much puts older adults at risk for falling,” says Dr. Menefee.
Danger Signs for Substance Abuse
If a family member suspects that a loved one may be abusing drugs or alcohol, what are the warning signs?
- • Falls and unexplained bruises
- • Poor grooming
- • Poor eating
- • Using multiple pharmacies (“This is a common way to shop for drugs,” Dr. Menefee says. “It is also harder to monitor on the Internet.”)
Helping Seniors Help Themselves
Finding a way to overcome the social isolation associated with aging is paramount to recovery for older Americans. For many, learning to use the Internet and having access to email can help ease social isolation, as does getting involved in activities. “Seniors can keep some contact with the world through email. They can communicate with grandkids and friends,” said Dr. Menefee. “But we want them to exercise, go to senior centers or walk with friends, too.” Mills-Peninsula also offers senior behavioral health services to help manage depression and recover from substance abuse. The program meets two to four days per week for four hours, with lunch provided. “Sometimes we help people move from the home they used to share with family to senior housing or assisted living,” says Dr. Menefee. “We reconnect them to volunteer services and senior centers, and we help them form new bonds with peers. It’s been very successful for a lot of seniors.” For more information on Mills-Peninsula’s senior behavioral health services, call 650.696.4666.