The Amada Senior Care blog discusses all things senior care - including in home care, assisted living, health and wellness, nutrition, long-term care insurance, and veterans programs.
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Millions of Americans have purchased long-term care insurance in an effort to protect themselves from the financial risks associated with long-term care. Unfortunately, when seniors are ready to benefit from their investment, many have difficultly filing their claim and can end up spending months or even years trying to convince their insurers to approve it. Here is what you need to know before you file a long-term insurance claim. Is it the right time for you to file a long-term care insurance...
Millions of Americans have purchased long-term care insurance in an effort to protect themselves from the financial risks associated with long-term care. Unfortunately, when seniors are ready to benefit from their investment, many have difficultly filing their claim and can end up spending months or even years trying to convince their insurers to approve it. Here is what you need to know before you file a long-term insurance claim.
Before your file your long-term insurance claim, you should make sure you are at the stage where you’re receiving (or are ready to receive) long-term care. If you’re not, it might not be the right time to file. If you’re unsure about whether or not now is the right time to file, you can take advantage of Amada’s complimentary long-term care advising services. Amada will often send a registered nurse to your location to help determine your eligibility. Ultimately, it’s the carrier (via the language of your policy) that determines eligibility, but working with an organization like Amada can help clear up any confusion.
If you you are ready to file a long-term insurance claim, you can file it directly with us!
Benefit triggers are the conditions that must occur before you start receiving benefits from your long-term care insurance policy. Most insurers decide when you can start receiving your long-term insurance benefits by evaluating your ability to perform certain “activities of daily living” (ADLs).
Bathing, dressing, using the toilet, walking, and remaining continent are the most common ADLs insurers assess.
Benefits usually begin when you need help with two or three ADLs.
Your long-term care policy has an elimination period, also known as a deductible or waiting period. An elimination period is the number of days you must receive home care or nursing care before your policy begins to pay benefits. Common elimination periods are 30, 60, and 90 days. Generally, the shorter your elimination period is, the higher your premium will be.
Long-term care insurance policies can be challenging to navigate, which is why Amada Senior Care specializes in long-term care insurance claims. A trained Amada professional can help you get the most out of your policy by helping you understand and verify your benefits. We can:
Long-term care insurance was one of the best investments you could have made for you and your family’s financial security. When the time is right, let’s make sure you get the benefits you’ve been paying for all these years!
“Read This Before You File Your Long-Term Insurance Claim,” Ashley LeVine, Amada Blog Contributor.
It’s no secret that a healthy diet contributes to a healthy body, but eating nutritious foods can also lower the risk of cognitive decline as we age. A team of researchers recently found that elderly people who consumed the most nutritious food lowered their risk of cognitive decline by nearly 25 percent, compared to those with the least healthy diets. “It is likely that a healthy diet has effects on cardiovascular risk factors and cardiovascular disease, and that this is an important...
It’s no secret that a healthy diet contributes to a healthy body, but eating nutritious foods can also lower the risk of cognitive decline as we age. A team of researchers recently found that elderly people who consumed the most nutritious food lowered their risk of cognitive decline by nearly 25 percent, compared to those with the least healthy diets.
“It is likely that a healthy diet has effects on cardiovascular risk factors and cardiovascular disease, and that this is an important mechanism for reducing the risk of cognitive decline,” said the study’s lead author, Andrew Smyth, a researcher at the Population Health Research Institute at McMaster University in Ontario and the HRB Clinical Research Facility Galway at the National University of Ireland in Galway.
“This is a very large scale study that demonstrates that a healthy lifestyle impacts not just physical well-being and longevity, but also cognitive well-being,” said James Becker a professor of psychiatry, neurology and psychology at the University of Pittsburgh. “If you’re eating well, odds are your brain is less stressed,” he said. “And as a consequence, your brain is happier.”
So what foods make up a healthy brain diet? Below is a list of the top brain power foods – in no particular order – that can improve mental health, especially for seniors who want to ward off cognitive decline.
Studies show that substituting salmon for meat a couple times per week can slow mental degeneration. Salmon – and other cold-water fishes like tuna, sardines, and halibut – contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids like docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). “DHA is the most abundant fatty acid in the brain. It makes sense that if you have higher levels of DHA in the blood, then the brain will operate more efficiently,” said Andrea Giancoli, registered dietitian and past Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson. Low levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the blood have been linked to smaller brain volume and worse mental function performance.
It’s no coincidence that these nuts look like tiny human brains. Walnuts are rich in vitamin E, which works to trap free radicals that can damage brain cells, according to the Alzheimer’s Research Center. A study by Rush University Medical Center found that people who eat foods with high levels of vitamin-E had a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
Green tea contains enzymes, amino acids, and vitamins that can help alleviate mental fatigue and boost brain function. It also contains an antioxidant called EGCG, which helps stop beta-amyloid proteins from harming brain cells, according to a study in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.
The yolks are rich in choline, a nutrient the brain uses to make a neurotransmitter that may be vital to maintaining memory and communication among brain cells. A 10-year study by researchers at Boston University found that choline intake was associated with better performance on memory tests.
Dr. Steven Pratt, author of Superfoods Rx: Fourteen Foods Proven to Change Your Life, calls them “brainberries.” He said animal studies have shown that blueberries help protect the brain from oxidative stress and may reduce the effects of dementia. Blueberries are also one of the only proven things to improve the loss of motor function as we age. A study by Tufts University and the USDA found that a diet rich in blueberries improved short term memory loss and reversed some loss of balance and coordination in aging rats.
“I don’t think the avocado gets its due,” said Ann Kulze, author of Dr. Ann’s 10-Step Diet: A Simple Plan for Permanent Weight Loss & Lifelong Vitality. Though the avocado is a fatty fruit, it’s a monounsaturated fat, which contributes to healthy blood flow, Kulze said. “And healthy blood flow means a healthy brain,” she said. Avocados also lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of hypertension, which is a risk factor for cognitive decline.
Spinach is an excellent source of folic acid, and studies show that eating spinach helps prevent dementia, especially in women. Spinach and other cruciferous vegetables – broccoli, cabbage, and dark, leafy greens – can help improve memory.
Written by Taylor French, Amada Senior Care contributor.
“Three out of four Americans aged 40 years and older are not confident they will have the financial resources to pay for any needed care as they age,” according to the Scan Foundation. Up against the hundreds of thousands of dollars that long-term care can cost, it is no wonder Americans lack confidence when racking their brains for ways to pay for care. Perhaps the first solution that comes to mind is to pay for the cost of long-term care out of your own pocket. You don’t...
“Three out of four Americans aged 40 years and older are not confident they will have the financial resources to pay for any needed care as they age,” according to the Scan Foundation. Up against the hundreds of thousands of dollars that long-term care can cost, it is no wonder Americans lack confidence when racking their brains for ways to pay for care.
Perhaps the first solution that comes to mind is to pay for the cost of long-term care out of your own pocket. You don’t have to be a well-off, retired millionaire to consider this option. Many middle-income families believe their assets will be enough to retire with and cover any care needs they might have later on. Maybe you believe your income, whether you are now a 45-year-old employee or a 65-year-old retiree with a pension, will be enough for you to settle down with as you age. Maybe you have promising investments that will surely return enough profit to take care of you for life.
Out-of-pocket spending situations vary among aging Americans, but certain constants remain. Ten thousand Americans turn 65-years-old every day. These seniors are living longer lives due to more advanced and pricier health care. In addition, the demand for senior care besides medical care is ever rising. But with a limited amount of quality providers and workforce members available in the senior care industry, resources are scarce and expensive.
The Scan Foundation also states, “70% of Americans who reach age 65 will need some form of long-term care for an average of three years.” An average, middle-income American making a $50,000 salary would have to reserve six years’ worth of income (about $300,000) to pay boarding fees for three years in a private nursing home room that costs $92,000 annually. This is a general example of what your situation can be like as you age and come to need care. To calculate your actual numbers, consult Genworth for the cost of long-term care in your area.
If monumental costs of care like these worry you to the extreme, or if you tend to avoid planning long-term care coverage until it is too late, the people you love may suffer. Long-term care is not just an individual senior’s personal need, but a concern and often a labor and financial burden to entire families. This is especially true when your personal assets dwindle because of the cost of care. With the ultimate goal of helping you and your families, this article will reveal the harsh reality of out-of-pocket spending for seniors and give you ways to avoid it at all costs.
Long-term care expenses, such as nursing homes and assisted living, are the No. 1 category of out-of-pocket spending, followed by home-health care.
In a study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, over 3,000 seniors revealed this statistic and other eye-opening findings for health and retirement issues. As people become more ill and require additional help, their out-of-pocket expenses soar and eventually wipe out all their resources. Medical care costs increase as people age and need more treatment, which buries individuals and families in premiums, deductibles and debt.
Long-term care spending includes covering nursing homes, intermediate care facilities, home health services and home and community-based services that provide assistance with activities of daily living. For example, a homemaker or caregiver will cost a state-wide average of $44,616 annually to provide in-home care. If costs of long-term care are so high, why do people choose to pay for it out of pocket?
At first, many people pay for long-term care with their own money. Their resources include personal savings, pensions, stocks, bonds or home equity. Out-of-pocket spending starts with seniors receiving informal help from friends and family, like transportation or food, and finding that they need paid help to take over these tasks. Also, gaps in government assistance such as Medicare mean some long-term care must be covered independently, or individuals obtain some type of private supplemental insurance to fill in for their needs. Another reason why people might choose to pay out-of-pocket for long-term care is because they do not wish to buy long-term care insurance, or have been ineligible for it. An unfortunate reality is that some people deny they will need long-term care in old age, and have not made any financial arrangements to cover it.
Two out of three 65-year-olds will need some long-term support and services before they die.
Whether or not you are in denial of your needs in old age, the majority of seniors are statistically proven to need long-term care. In days when seniors were stronger, more independent and near invincible, it may have been easy for them to disregard the reality of old age in the future. Perhaps they are confident that their families will take care of them when they need long-term care. These assumptions may have truth to them for some people, but for others, they lead to a harsh reality.
Saving far too little or falsely believing that accumulated assets are enough to cover the cost of long-term care will only place emotional and financial burden upon you and your families if your long-term care comes to exceed your resources. Lack of preparation is a huge reason why individuals and families resort to depleting their personal assets to cover care. This can start with spending personal savings to cover caregiver wages, having family pay for some of your nursing home room and board, or paying for rehabilitation fees using credit cards. When long-term support and services are nearly a sure-thing, you should guard against out-of-pocket coverage because it will very likely not be enough.
One in ten seniors will have to put aside at least $200,000 at age 65 to pay for their long-term care.
Putting aside this large of an amount of money is no easy feat, especially for middle-income people. Many people in this pay grade live on what they make and have little left for savings, let alone funds for long-term care much later in their lives. But over a working lifetime and into your old age, you will have to put aside hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay for long-term care on your own. The obvious question becomes – where should this money come from?
Some families find most of their savings in their larger investments, like their homes. After accruing home equity, selling their home may be the only option for seniors to get money, seeing as they most likely do not still work. Life savings can also be taken to cover long-term care.
$200,000 could cover years of in-home care provided by home health agencies. However, it is possible for seniors to require more aid than this amount would cover. With increasing health issues, seniors may come to need more hours of in-home care, or higher-skilled professionals to help them. They may also lose independence to the point that they need to live in assisted communities. A study found that a participating 65-year-old man would need to save an average of $47,000 for long-term support and services while a woman of the same age would need to save more than $90,000. So, gender can be an issue that increases your cost of care in addition to all other things.
One in five middle-income seniors will end up on Medicaid.
Medicaid provides some long-term care for people with disabling conditions. However, it is only available for individuals who meet income and other eligibility requirements. Middle-income seniors may initially be unqualified for Medicaid because they have or make too much money, but once they experience the harsh reality of out-of-pocket spending, that often changes. For a range of levels of income, seniors who spend out-of-pocket to cover long-term care costs will find their assets deplete faster than they expected. Once they have no more personal funding to spend, many will have to rely on Medicaid to pay for long-term care.
This is the last wish for some individuals and families, and often a blow to the pride of seniors who had established themselves as independent, self-sufficient and in control. However, many families find no other option. In 2010, Medicaid covered 62% of all long-term expenditures in the United States. Long-term care services are primarily financed by public dollars.
Borrowing against credit cards and home equity will leave few resources for a surviving spouse’s future needs.
Families often take on the duty of providing long-term care for a senior loved one before any other additional help is enlisted. This usually means that a senior’s spouse becomes the primary caregiver and with no compensation. Yes, this saves some money from the large price hired help would charge. For this reason, family caregivers believe they are serving to avoid financial burden. However, the emotional cost of family caregiving without respite is devastating. Family caregivers are proven to have decreased health, wellness, mood and are even vulnerable to early death.
When help is finally hired, either before or after a family caregiver needs replacement, it is often a relief. However, without proper planning and preparation, one senior’s long-term care may be gained at the sacrifice of the other’s. With senior couples, out-of-pocket spending to cover long-term care usually comes from mutual funding options, like joint incomes or home equity. If that funding is wiped out for one spouse, the other may not have anything left to cover their long term care. And since women are proven to live longer than men, their long-term care may cost much more than their spouse’s. Though they tend to be healthier, women spend much more than men on medical care.
These are the three options seniors can use to pay for long-term care:
Why Should You Buy Long-Term Care Insurance?
“Out-of-Pocket Spending for Senior Care: The Harsh Reality,” by Michelle Mendoza, Amada Blog contributor.
“Retirement” may evoke thoughts of snowbird winters in Boca Raton – of seniors who finally ditched the nine to five and began to enjoy themselves without the stress of the hectic life they moved on from. Retirement may mean age finally becomes a factor that can’t be ignored, and that the overwhelming demands of pre-retirement life must finally be put aside. Senior citizens who have experienced this life transition have much in common with the retired athlete. For...
“Retirement” may evoke thoughts of snowbird winters in Boca Raton – of seniors who finally ditched the nine to five and began to enjoy themselves without the stress of the hectic life they moved on from. Retirement may mean age finally becomes a factor that can’t be ignored, and that the overwhelming demands of pre-retirement life must finally be put aside.
Senior citizens who have experienced this life transition have much in common with the retired athlete. For athletes, “retirement” means hanging up the cleats, passing the torch and swallowing the reality of the final whistle. Like retired seniors, athletes who end their sports careers have to come to terms with leaving their normal livelihoods. They may have ailments that hinder them from being what they used to be. They may also find themselves without an outlet for their passion, where they were on top of the world, defeating all odds.
A successful, professional athlete’s core consists of persistence, resilience, determination and strength. This is not lost when they retire, and the same goes for us when we do. So how do retired athletes carry on into the elderly season of their lives? To answer that question, we have compiled stories of five retired professional athletes who exemplify senior citizen success. We hope you are inspired by the stories of their lives.
Alan Page redefined the position of defensive tackle as an NFL football player for the Minnesota Vikings. He had already achieved a national championship with Notre Dame in 1966 before he went on to help the Vikings win four conference titles as a professional. Page was MVP of the NFL in 1971, defensive player of the year twice and was selected to nine Pro Bowls. He played 14 years in the NFL, earning six All-Pro honors, being named NFL Player of the Year and the NFL Most Valuable player in 1971.
Page championed player rights as a leader in the NFL Players Association, a union that fought for better pay and benefits for professional football players. While he tried to accomplish better treatment as an athlete, the media and his team owners were critical of his actions. Page nevertheless continued to be “an exception to every rule,” becoming a dual-sport athlete as a marathon runner, and working at a labor issues law firm – all during his football career.
While still playing for the Vikings, Page earned his Juris Doctor from attending the University of Minnesota Law School. After a long career in law as a courtroom attorney, he became the first African American to serve on the Minnesota Supreme Court in 1992. He served as an associate justice until 2015, when he hit the court’s mandatory retirement age of 70.
Today, Page and his wife Diane provide financial and mentoring assistance to students of color through the Page Education Foundation. Unexpectedly, Page is also the author of two children’s books: Alan and His Perfectly Pointy Impossibly Perpendicular Pinky and The Invisible You.
In 1973, King faced off against 55-year-old Wimbledon champion Bobby Riggs in the famed “Battle of the Sexes” exhibition match. King was 29-years-old then, Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year in 1967 and the first tennis player named Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year in 1972. She had triumphed at the French Open in 1972, which made her the fifth woman in history to win the singles titles at all four Grand Slam Events.
And yet, Riggs believed he could beat any woman player, saying “the best way to handle women is to keep them pregnant and barefoot.” In their match, King annihilated Riggs 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 in front of 30,000 fans and 50 million TV viewers – the largest crowd to ever watch a tennis match at the time. Years later, Riggs and King actually became friends.
Over the rest of her career, King managed a record 20 championships won at Wimbledon, and countless other honors.
King was vocal about issues beyond the court, such has her homosexuality, and especially the treatment of female athletes. She campaigned for equal prize money in men’s and women’s games fearlessly, then in 1973 became the first President of the women’s players’ union – the Women’s Tennis Association.
King is considered “the figure most responsible for the growth of tennis in the United States.” She is now involved in the Women’s Sports Foundation and the Elton John AIDS Foundation. She is also the founder of the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative and co-founder of Mylan World TeamTennis, a mixed-gender professional tennis league.
King has had her stint as an actress fairly recently as well. In 2007, she starred as a Judge in Law and Order and appeared in Ugly Betty in 2009.
Don Shula can be said to have actualized two athletic careers: one as an NFL player and the other as an NFL coach. The former boasts career achievements like a championship game appearance with the Cleveland Browns. In the middle of his rise as an athlete, Shula served in the Ohio National Guard for 11 months during the Korean War. He returned to football with the Baltimore Colts, and unfortunately suffered a broken jaw. Shula was playing with the Washington Redskins when he retired in 1958.
This could have been the end of a staggered athletic career for Shula, but he chose to continue with football as a coach. His first coaching job was as an assistant at the University of Virginia. In just two years, he was the defensive coordinator for the Detroit Lions in 1960. Shula went on to revisit the Colts, serving as Head Coach and compiling a 71-23-4 record, two Coach of the Year Awards and an NFL Championship in 1968.
By 1970, the end was still nowhere in sight for Coach Shula. From age 41-66, Shula was the Head Coach of the Miami Dolphins. In 1972, the Dolphins went undefeated 17-0-0 then proceeded to take the Super Bowl title, making them the only team to win with a perfect season. The next year, they won the Super Bowl again. Overall Coach Shula has set the record for career wins at 347, making him the winningest coach in NFL history.
Shula and his wife Mary Anne now live in an Indian Creek village recluse, leading much simpler lives. But Shula still attends every Miami Dolphins game to visit the coaches and players on field. He films commercials and has even appeared on the HBO show, Ballers. Shula has become an accomplished businessman who co-founded the Shula’s Steak Houses LLLP chain and opened Shula’s Hotel & Golf Club in Miami Lakes. In honor of his late wife Dorothy, the Don Shula Foundation raised money for breast cancer research, which led to a $1.5 million donation to the Moffitt Cancer Center.
In May, 2016, Shula was hospitalized because of fluid retention and sleep apnea, two common problems for the elderly. He was released soon after, and now receives the support and well wishes of an entire football community. Fortunately, Coach Shula made a very welcome appearance at the 2017 Super Bowl.
In college, Bill Walton was a star on John Wooden’s powerhouse UCLA team in the early ’70s. Later as a professional, Walton was named the NBA Most Valuable Player in 1978. He was at his prime with the Portland Trail Blazers, yet plagued with injuries including a broken left ankle. After surgery on his foot, doctors said he would never play again.
He ignored them.
In 1978-79 Walton was contracted to play with the San Diego Clippers. Walton went on to improve with the Clipper team over the next two years, then realized his childhood dreams of playing with the Celtics in 1985-86. That season, the Celtics compiled a 67-15 winning record with one of the strongest lineups in NBA history. He retired at age 34 with 6,215 points and two NBA titles under his belt.
Since his playing days have ended, Walton is now a TV sports broadcaster known as a free-flowing jester. He overcame a stuttering problem to become a successful and controversial commentator for NBC, the LA Clippers, the Sacramento Kings and ESPN. He published a memoir, Back from the Dead: Searching for the Sound, Shining the Light and Throwing it Down in 2016. Walton has undergone nearly 40 orthopedic surgeries in his life, yet is one of the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players and a Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer.
Nancy Lopez won her first amateur golf tournament at age 13. She was the Golf Writers Association of America Female Player of the year from 1978-79 and in 1985. After winning dozens of tournaments, Lopez crossed the $1 million mark in career earnings in 1983 and gave birth to her first child in the same year. Her 35th career victory was the Sarasota Classic, which led to her induction into the LPGA Tour Hall of Fame. Throughout her professional career, Lopez gave birth to three daughters, underwent knee surgery, gall bladder surgery and competed till the age of 51. She won 48 LPGA Tour events, including three major championships.
Lopez now holds numerous honors, such as the 2003 Billie Jean King Contribution award from the Women’s Sports Foundation and being the first woman to receive the Frances Ouimet Award. Lopez has hosted the Nancy Lopez Hospice Golf Classic since 1986 to raise money for Albany Community Hospice. These days she hosts an annual golf tournament in Florida to benefit the disabled and impaired children and adults with special needs. In 2014, she started Nancy Lopez Golf Adventures to educate others and share her love for the sport.
While working on a memoir tentatively titled The Course of My Life, Lopez is also “crazy busy” and loving it. Her granddaughter, Molly, calls her “D-amie,” a simpler translation of “Grammy.” Lopez hopes Molly will fall in love with golf some day, just like she did.
“Living Legends: 5 Retired Athletes & Their Senior Success Stories,” by Michelle Mendoza, Amada Blog Contributor
“Dear Mom…” Jenny lifted her pen to look at the Mother’s Day card she was writing. There was a lot of blank space to fill under these words. Something about the empty card was intimidating. She had a lot to say to her mother, yet too few ways to say it. She was at a loss for words. Jenny’s mother lived far away, in her home town of Raleigh, North Carolina. In Chicago, Jenny’s life revolved around her job and her husband. Though she was an only child, she...
Jenny lifted her pen to look at the Mother’s Day card she was writing. There was a lot of blank space to fill under these words. Something about the empty card was intimidating. She had a lot to say to her mother, yet too few ways to say it. She was at a loss for words.
Jenny’s mother lived far away, in her home town of Raleigh, North Carolina. In Chicago, Jenny’s life revolved around her job and her husband. Though she was an only child, she always felt like her mother was more of a sister than a parent when she was younger. Her mom was just as independent, just as busy, stubborn and strong-willed as Jenny was.
She called her mother when she found the time. The last she heard, her mother was transitioning to an independent living facility, where some of her friends were already. Jenny felt like she hadn’t called enough, but she had been so focused on her own life – confident that her mother would always be okay at home.
Frustrated, Jenny decided to call before continuing her card. She dialed her old childhood home phone number, anticipating her mother’s familiar voice and almost jumped the gun to say, “Hi mom!” before an automated message beat her to it with the words, “This number is no longer active.”
Jenny hadn’t misdialed the number, but she realized she had misjudged the reality of her mom’s situation. Her mother had probably changed her life, moved away or worse – gotten into trouble, and Jenny didn’t know about it. She hadn’t stayed connected to her mother the way she should have.
Jobs and life events tend to separate adults from their parents, especially as the troubled job market leads them to take any job they can get. This can leave children far away from to mom and dad, but it can also lead them to find creative ways to reach their parents.
Letters, packages, cards and deliveries are valuable, tangible items you can send your parents remotely. Phone calls offer a little more intimacy, especially if you feel your parent needs to hear your voice. In addition, technology today allows us to reach parents through live video communication. Whichever medium of connection you choose to bond with your parents from afar, it can make the distance between you seem smaller.
If you are a long-distance caregiver, managing an aging parent’s care can get in the way of bonding if you take more of a “supervisor” or “babysitter” role over your mom or dad. Instead of hovering over your parents, actually take the time to bond with them. This article will give you ideas on how to do that.
“Maintaining Close Bonds with Parents from Afar,” by Michelle Mendoza, Amada Blog contributor.
What is cognitive vitality? Or perhaps we should first ask, what is cognitive decline? It may be something you or your elderly loved one is experiencing right now. With normal aging, cognitive decline takes the form of slower mental processing. Verbal communication, written communication, and decision-making can be things your senior is slower to do and understand. Though some accept cognitive decline as an inevitable part of aging, studies show that it can sometimes be reduced. In other...
What is cognitive vitality? Or perhaps we should first ask, what is cognitive decline? It may be something you or your elderly loved one is experiencing right now. With normal aging, cognitive decline takes the form of slower mental processing. Verbal communication, written communication, and decision-making can be things your senior is slower to do and understand. Though some accept cognitive decline as an inevitable part of aging, studies show that it can sometimes be reduced. In other words, you or your elderly loved one can take steps to promote and achieve cognitive vitality.
“Vitality” is defined as the power giving continuance of life, or the state of being strong and active. Like any willing and able adult, your elderly loved one has all the potential to adopt new, healthy lifestyle strategies to promote cognitive vitality. Explore the following topics, and find out how you or your elderly loved one can train yourself to maintain cognitive vitality.
If you were ever told, “Old dogs can’t learn new tricks,” you’ve been misled. In general, old and young adults have been shown to learn new tasks and skills at approximately the same rate. In a study published by Psychology and Aging, older adults given the same training as young adults performed tasks with equivalent accuracy and improvement rates. In fact, “some cognitive functions increase with age and can compensate for functions that may decline,” according to the Mayo Clinic.
If you or your senior loved one is a lifelong learner, they may enjoy things like reading, mastering crafts, or exploring new places with loved ones. A senior who encounters a new project or community is presented with the challenge of adapting to mental stimuli. Acquiring new knowledge in these ways engages aging minds biologically and emotionally. Lifelong learners constantly peak and satisfy curiosity so much that the mind never slows to decline.
Among the noticeable changes in seniors aging with cognitive decline is slowing or warping of decision-making. Without the quick and flexible mental reflexes of youth, seniors may struggle to make both small and large decisions, like where to go for lunch or which doctor to call for medical aid. Neuroscience research has shown that with age, the brain changes structurally, and sometimes at the cost of cognitive vitality.
Complex, supervised intellectual work will improve cognitive strength against these biological risk factors. Under the guidance of a trusted caregiver or loved one, seniors should be given the chance and time to make executive decisions on their own. For example, if Laura is wondering what to buy at the grocery store, her caregiver can ask questions like: “What do you already have in the fridge?” “What do you usually buy?” “This is your budget, will it cover this item?” These are kindly-put, guiding questions a supervisor can ask to help seniors rationalize without making the decisions for them.
Special circumstances make it easy for senior citizens to become socially isolated. With limited mobility, they may not be able to travel to see friends or loved ones. Health restrictions may keep them from enjoying regular activity outside of home. And especially with cognitive decline, seniors may not find their environments welcoming or safe to interact with. The danger of social isolation goes beyond physically being contained in one place alone. Seniors who have little or no social engagement have poor psychological health.
Social engagement is necessary for seniors to actively develop their cognitive capacities. If you don’t know where to socialize, check out what your home town has to offer. Typically, every American city with a recreation department in their government has opportunities for seniors to socialize. Recreational programs offer seniors group activity through exercising, doing crafts, watching movies, reading, or playing games. Often, these services are free to city residents. When engaging in social activities such as these, seniors continue the mental practice of communicating with and learning from others. Talking or being in the company of peers is an enjoyable, complex mental activity proven to protect against cognitive decline and dementia in late life.
There is a direct relationship between physical health and cognitive function. Studies show that physical exercise disrupts vascular risk factors that contribute to cognitive decline. Aerobic fitness in particular, which focuses on the body’s oxygen intake, translates into increased brain blood flow. In turn, the brain is supported efficiently and empowered to stay active. Fitness promotes good changes in the structure and function of the brain as well, according to Neurobiology of Aging.
In relation physical fitness, nutrition plays just as large a part in promoting cognitive vitality. Malnutrition can cause long-term cognitive impairment. Unfortunately, seniors who are incapable of preparing healthy meals or are vulnerable to dietary elder abuse are denied good nutrition. B Vitamins, antioxidants, vitamin E and vitamin C are important in protecting the brain from injury. Eating foods rich in these nutrients, such as leafy greens, fruits, and colorful vegetables, will provide the necessary ingredients toward cognitive vitality.
In people of any age, unhealthy stress is counterproductive to cognitive vitality. For the elderly in particular, cognitively frail individuals with decreased brain reserve are especially at risk for cognitive decline caused by stress. There are short- and long-term effects on the structure and cognitive reserve of the mind. It results in hippocampal atrophy, or the wasting away of parts of the brain.
Fortunately, seniors can train to reduce stress to protect their mental strength. Activities that have other health benefits, like exercise, are outlets to relieve stress productively. Practicing adaptive, open-minded methods for responding to stress are mental strategies to defeat it. Making a mental note to observe concrete evidence of an unhealthy, stressful thought can prove that you should not be worried about it at all.
There is an interference between Bob and Grace’s favorite shows, for example. Instead of the stress of pleasing or fighting with each other, Bob and Grace can resolve to watch one good show they both enjoy together. Lifestyle strategies such as these take training and practice to learn. How stress is perceived is what’s critical to the stress that you feel. In Bob and Grace’s case, their decision towards peace is a leaping bound towards cognitive vitality.
Kramer, A. F., & Willis, S. L. (2002). Enhancing the cognitive vitality of older adults. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 11(5), 173-177.
Fillit, H. M., Butler, R. N., O’connell, A. W., Albert, M. S., Birren, J. E., Cotman, C. W., … & Perls, T. T. (2002, July). Achieving and maintaining cognitive vitality with aging. In Mayo Clinic Proceedings (Vol. 77, No. 7, pp. 681-696). Elsevier.
“Lifestyle Strategies to Promote Cognitive Vitality,” by Michelle Mendoza, Amada Blog Contributor
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