Category Archives: Caring for the Elderly

Good News for Older Drivers: OnStar Now Available For ANY Vehicle

Good news for older drivers — or anyone who wants to have more peace of mind about the safety of an aging parent or elderly loved one who is still behind the wheel…

As of July 24, you’ll be able to retrofit just about ANY vehicle with OnStar — the emergency aid and vehicle location system from General Motors that has only been available on new GM vehicles. The aftermarket version of OnStar, called OnStar FMV (For My Vehicle), is actually a replacement rear-view mirror unit which contains the OnStar technology.

The core appeal for safety-minded older drivers is the simplicity of being able to get emergency help from a live person with the push of a button — and the peace of mind knowing that the system can detect accidents and send emergency help even if you cannot push that button.

In other words, if you or an aging parent or loved one is in an accident, you don’t have to rely on having a mobile phone — or being able to use one in a high-stress situation — in order to get help.

Also critical: The OnStar service will connect you or your loved one with a trained “emergency advisor” during an emergency. Whether an older driver has been in an accident, suffered a medical emergency, or has just become confused or lost, being able to speak with a live person can be enormously reassuring and calming.

Although OnStar FMV gives you access to the same core services that GM builds into new Chevy, Buik, GMC, and Cadillac vehicles, most aging drivers will probably find the basic emergency response and roadside assistance services most useful:

• Automatic Crash Response, triggered by an accelerometer in the unit, connects the vehicle to a trained OnStar emergency advisor in the event of a crash. The advisor can provide the exact location of the crash to emergency responders using the mirror’s GPS location, even if the vehicle’s occupants are unable to respond.

• Emergency Services, summoned by pushing the red button, bring specially trained emergency advisors on the line immediately to help in a crisis, such as witnessing a collision or a crime in progress.

• Roadside Assistance for non-emergency situations, such as a mechanical breakdown or a flat tire, is a blue-button push away.

• Stolen Vehicle Location Assistance uses OnStar FMV’s global positioning satellite system to provide a stolen vehicle’s location to law enforcement officials.

Read the full article

OnStar also offers a Turn-by-Turn Navigation service, an upgrade that may be worth every penny to technophobic older drivers who want nothing to do with dashboard navigation systems. Instead, the driver pushes the blue button to give an advisor a specific address or location. The advisor downloads directions to the unit, which plays back spoken turn-by-turn directions to the destination. 

This is a much easier and safer navigation solution for older drivers who don’t want to riskbeing distracted by looking at an LCD screen, or who don’t always safe leaving the car to ask for directions. OnStar FMV is also compatible with hands-free calling through a Blue-Tooth connection to a mobile phone. 

OnStar FMV will sell for $300 and will initially be available at Best Buy stores, where you can also have it installed for $75. The system will also be available through other chain and online retailers, but you’ll still need to have the unit installed professionally. The basic service plans start at $18.95 per month, or $199.95 per year. Adding the Turn-by-Turn Navigation option (which is bundled with optional hands-free calling for a mobile phone) costs 28.90 per month or $299 per year.

For more information, check out the OnStar FMV website.

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Safe Aging at Home Tip: Elderly Should Beware Strangers in Uniform

Are you or your aging parents letting thieves who scam seniors in through the front door?

The elderly are ideal targets for scammers because they tend to be more trusting — especially if someone shows up at their front door wearing a uniform. Older adults who live alone, or who have begun to show signs of impaired judgement or memory are even more likely to be manipulated or intimidated.

Three recent news stories illustrate just how often seniors are opening their front doors to thieves posing as construction and utility workers, police officers, and even home health aids.

In Spartanberg County, SC, the sheriff is looking for a group of thieves who have been posing as construction workers to distract and burglarize unsuspecting seniors….

In the most recent incident… the men asked an 87-year-old Inman woman about construction “stobs,” or stakes in the ground. The woman went outside and spoke to several men, who said there was a new phone line going in around the area, an incident report said.

The woman told the men she would have to talk to her daughter and when she returned to her house, she found that the door had damaged around the knob. She asked the men to stay outside but the men pushed by her and went inside, the report said.

The men asked her where her money and prescription medication were, and they roamed her home for about 10 minutes, the report said. They later took her cell phone and ripped her phone line out of the wall before leaving. After the men left, the woman went to a neighbor’s home to call police.

Read the full story here

In Michigan, Grand Rapids police reported that a woman has been approaching seniors claiming to be a police officer to gain access to their homes…

…a 72-year-old resident walking in his neighborhood near Lake Michigan Drive NW and Collingdale avenue was approached by a woman identifying herself as a police officer and then talked her way into his house after showing a badge.

While in the house, the woman asked the intended victim about his finances and whether there was money in the home. The woman claimed she was investigating a “counterfeit ring” and said the resident matched the description. The woman got into an old white station wagon driven by someone else and took off, according to police.

Read the full story here

And in Delaware County, Penn., an elderly couple was victimized by a young woman wearing hospital scrubs who claimed she worked for the Delaware County Office of Services for the Aging…

The woman told the elderly man that she was there to check on his wife, who is confined to a bed because of medical issues, police said. The man let the woman inside and she spoke to his wife about her medical issues. After a few minutes, she left the home.

A short time later, the woman returned telling the man that her car had broken down and asked to use the phone. The man allowed her inside again, but this time the woman ran into the wife’s bedroom, went immediately to a bedside table and took a number of items, including cash and a check book. She ran back out the front door before the man could stop her. The suspect’s car was heard driving away toward Washington Street, police said.

Read the full story here

How can you tell if the person ringing your bell really works for the utility company or the police? The following safe aging at home tips can help protect yourself or your aging parents the next time a wolf in sheep’s clothing comes a knockin’ at the front door:

• Don’t open the door! You are not being rude. This is a matter of security, not manners. Whatever needs to be said can be said with you safely inside. Never allow someone you don’t know or trust to literally “get a foot” in your door.

• Beware bogus utility worker scam teams working in pairs. One thief distracts their elderly victim by convincing them to go outside to the backyard or into the basement. Meanwhile, the other thief sneaks in the front door, or pretends to go the bathroom, or to check the gas appliances for leaks. While you are busy outside, the second scammer is stealing any valuables he or she can find.

• Look for a marked utility vehicle with your local utility company’s logo in front of your house or in your driveway.  No sign of a properly marked utility vehicle is a red flag. So are unmarked utility trucks or personal vehicles with “peel off” magnetic signs.

• Don’t be fooled by what appears to be a uniform or an identification badge. Generic uniforms can be made to look official with the right patches. Besides, would you know how to tell a genuine utility worker ID or a police badge from a fake?

• Confirm any letters, door hangers, or phone calls from a utility company that say workers will be in your neighborhood or will need access to your home. Important: Look up the number in a phone book or online AND CALL THE UTILITY COMPANY YOURSELF.

Increasingly, sophisticated scammers who want to put skeptical victims at ease are giving advanced notice that someone will knock at your door — just like real utility companies. The notice may be on utility company letterhead, but the “confirmation number” may be answered by one of the scammers or a bogus recorded message. For the same reason…

• Verify any unexpected visits from utility workers or the police by calling the utility company or the police station yourself. Do not let the person on the other side of your front door give you a number to speak with their “supervisor.” Do not let them have someone call you from the utility company or the station, or dial a number for you on their cell phone. And never, ever let anyone in your home to use your phone.

• If the stranger in uniform at your door says it’s an emergency or you have even the slightest doubt that something isn’t right, call 911. The police take calls about people impersonating cops very seriously. If the gas or electric utility workers are for real, they will have no problems waiting for the police to verify their identity. And the police take calls about people impersonating cops very seriously.

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Elderly Fall Prevention Tips to Keep Aging Parents Safe

Elderly fall prevention is a top safety concern for aging parents for a good reason. According to The Centers for Disease Control, one out of three adults age 65 years and older falls each year. Even more frightening: Falls are the leading cause of injury death for older adults and the death rates have been rising.

Unfortunately, when it comes to falls and the elderly, the saying “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” doesn’t apply. Even non-fatal falls can have devastating life-changing consequences. Broken arms, legs, and backs are common, as are hip fractures and head injuries.

And the older you are, the more severe those consequences become. According to the CDC, “Adults age 75 and older who fall are four to five times more likely than those age 65 to 74 to be admitted to a long-term care facility for a year or longer.”

With those kind of cheerful statistics, it’s not surprising that elderly fall victims are often terrified of falling again. That’s understandable. But for many older adults, the fear of falling becomes a phobia that actually INCREASES their risk of falling.

Part of the reason may be psychological. Recent studies indicate that anticipating a fall may help precipitate a fall. But the main reason is that fear of falling can lead to reduced physical activity and fitness…which leads to weaker muscles and impaired balance…which is a recipe for more falls.

IMPORTANT: If you’re concerned that your aging parent or loved one may be risking serious injury due to a fall, you’re not alone. But don’t expect them to let you know they’re having trouble staying on their feet. Many older adults don’t tell their family or their doctors about balance problems because they are embarrassed or fear losing their independence as much as they fear falling.

But suffering falls in silence is dangerous — a point that senior health and home care columnist Sara-Lynn Reynolds recently made in an excellent opinion piece for the Foxborough Patch:

If you you begin to recognize that you are at risk of falling, it is time to be pro-active – denial is not helpful.  Do not let someone insist you are ‘just getting old’. Go for a ‘fall risk assessment’ at your local Physical Therapist office. Learn what they have to offer. They will help correct your posture and strengthen (with proper therapy) your muscles in no time. Frailty is not your friend.  If you are living alone, (or know of someone who is) and find yourself or them being inactive, know that inactivity DOES accelerate the loss of muscle, strength and balance and you will be at a higher risk for a fracture if you do fall…which equals possible nursing home care.

I understand that the body does not do what it used to (mine doesn’t either). I understand being on a fixed budget. I understand not wanting to exercise. However, we have to keep moving. And although canes are good to pirouette around and a walker is a good assistive device, it is important to realize that physical activity is the “key” to maintaining or restoring our bodies to an improved physical state which in turn will stimulate our brains and restore our confidence and desire to get out and live a more active and productive life for the time available to us.

Read the full article here.

For more information about how to keep your aging parent or loved one safe from serious falls, check out these elderly fall prevention tips from the Mayo Clinic.

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Tech Lab Working to Make Caring for Aging Parents Easier

Concerned about caring for your aging parents? Here’s some good news: Tomorrow’s aging at home technology will make today’s medical alert buttons look like rotary dial phones from 1955.

Wireless motion sensors that monitor your aging parent as they walk around the house, lay in bed, and use the bathroom. Computer-based word and memory games that help a remote healthcare professional monitor brain function and motor skills for warning signs of impairment. An electronic pill dispenser that tracks when medication is taken and signals when to take it.

It’s the future of aging at home — and it’s being developed now by major corporations who want a piece of the enormous market for technology that makes it easier and safer for aging baby boomers to age in place as long as possible.

In an excellent Los Angeles Times article, writer Walter Hamilton details the extensive research conducted in the homes of 480 elderly in Portland, Ore., to field test these new technologies. The studies are being run by the Oregon Center for Aging & Technology at Oregon Health & Science University and funded, in part, by Intel and General Electric.

…Rutherford’s two-bedroom condominium has been outfitted with an array of electronic monitoring gear that might eventually find its way to retail shelves — all of it light years away from those rudimentary medical-alert necklaces advertised in an endless loop of TV commercials.

Motion sensors along hallways and ceilings record her gait and walking speed. A monitor on her back door observes when she leaves the house, and another one on the refrigerator keeps tabs on how often she’s eating.

A few months ago, the former waitress even tested a robot with a Skype-like video monitor that lets faraway relatives check on loved ones.

Rutherford’s granddaughter Katie Cooper piloted “Celia” from home in rural Wyoming, steering the machine — shaped like a 4-foot paper clip on wheels — around Rutherford’s house as they spoke.

At first, Cooper struggled to control Celia, bumping the robot into tables and running over a shopping bag. But she got the hang of it quickly.

“My grandmother’s furniture hasn’t changed in 20 years. I knew the layout of the house,” she said. “Anybody who’s ever played a video game would have no problem using this.”

The equipment in Rutherford’s home is monitored by researchers at the Oregon lab, which was established in 2004 and developed most of the gear.

The lab includes a “model home” to test new gadgets. One is a special bed laced with sensors to assess breathing patterns, heart rate and general sleep quality. If someone lying on the bed holds a breath for a few seconds, the computer monitor flashes “subject has stopped breathing.”

A pill box fitted with electronic switches records when medication is taken. And a Wii video game system has been rejiggered so that players stand on a platform that measures their weight and balance.

More is on the drawing board at the Oregon tech lab and elsewhere: software to help dementia patients find their way home if they get lost, devices that interpret facial expressions for signs of depression and robotic “pets” that have lifelike interactions with seniors.

Read the full article

Experts are cautiously optimistic about this new generation of safety and healthcare monitoring technology.

The technology is appealing for health insurers and Medicare hawks because it is seen as a way to reduce or control skyrocketing healthcare costs. Compared to an in-office visit, it’s a lot less expensive to monitor basic bodily functions like blood pressure if you can get an elderly person to put their arm in a cuff that’s connected to a computer. And remote monitoring can be conducted by technicians who make considerably less per hour than a physician’s assistant or registered nurse.

More advanced monitoring technology also promises to bring additional peace of mind to the adult children of aging parents — many of whom are caring for aging parents while trying to raise and support their own families.

But there is serious concern that the new aging at home technology may also isolate elderly adults, especially if they are predisposed to staying at home in the first place. Social interaction with family and friends is critical for mental health and healthy aging. No sensor can anticipate or prevent every health or safety problem. And tracking mom as she moves around her home is no substitute for visiting in person and often.

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Senior Safety Tips for Summer Heat

As summer temperatures soar this summer, so do the health risks for seniors:

Sunburns are particularly dangerous for older adults. Not only because of the risk for serious skin damage, but because seniors are at greater risk for bacterial infections and other complications.

Prolonged exposure to excessive heat and humidity can result in heat exhaustion — a serious medical condition which, if untreated, can lead to heat stroke, a life-threatening situation that requires emergency care.

Dehydration is constant concern for seniors during hot weather because the ability to sense thirst often diminishes with age. Dehydration can cause dizziness that leads to falls, confusion, or disorientation.

Older adults are also more susceptible to breathing problems due to poor air quality caused by heat and humidity.

Here are some tips from the Centers for Disease Control that will help you or your aging parent or loved one stay safe in the summer heat:

• Drink Plenty of Fluids. During hot weather you will need to increase your fluid intake, regardless of your activity level. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink. During heavy exercise in a hot environment, drink two to four glasses (16-32 ounces) of cool fluids each hour… Don’t drink liquids that contain alcohol, or large amounts of sugar—these actually cause you to lose more body fluid. Also avoid very cold drinks, because they can cause stomach cramps.

• Wear Appropriate Clothing and Sunscreen. Wear as little clothing as possible when you are at home. Choose lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing. Sunburn affects your body’s ability to cool itself and causes a loss of body fluids. It also causes pain and damages the skin. If you must go outdoors, protect yourself from the sun by wearing a wide-brimmed hat (also keeps you cooler) along with sunglasses, and by putting on sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher (the most effective products say “broad spectrum” or “UVA/UVB protection” on their labels) 30 minutes prior to going out. Continue to reapply it according to the package directions.

• Schedule Outdoor Activities Carefully. If you must be outdoors, try to limit your outdoor activity to morning and evening hours. Try to rest often in shady areas so that your body’s thermostat will have a chance to recover.

• Pace Yourself. If you are not accustomed to working or exercising in a hot environment, start slowly and pick up the pace gradually. If exertion in the heat makes your heart pound and leaves you gasping for breath, STOP all activity. Get into a cool area or at least into the shade, and rest, especially if you become lightheaded, confused, weak, or faint.

• Stay Cool Indoors. Stay indoors and, if at all possible, stay in an air-conditioned place. If your home does not have air conditioning, go to the shopping mall or public library—even a few hours spent in air conditioning can help your body stay cooler when you go back into the heat. Call your local health department to see if there are any heat-relief shelters in your area. Electric fans may provide comfort, but when the temperature is in the high 90s, fans will not prevent heat-related illness. Taking a cool shower or bath or moving to an air-conditioned place is a much better way to cool off. Use your stove and oven less to maintain a cooler temperature in your home.

• Use a Buddy System. Heat-induced illness can cause a person to become confused or lose consciousness. If you are 65 years of age or older, have a friend or relative call to check on you twice a day during a heat wave. If you know someone in this age group, check on them at least twice a day.

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