Answers to Common Geriatric Health Questions

Premier Physician Network doctors answer frequently asked questions about geriatric health.

What are healthy nutrition guidelines for seniors? How do they differ from nutrition guidelines in earlier years?

Certified Registered Nurse Practitioner Elaine Scott discusses geriatric health concerns. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

As you age, nutrition makes an important difference in your health and how you feel.

It is important that seniors:

  • Eat nutrient-dense foods
  • Eat a variety of dairy products
  • Eat some protein foods daily
  • Vary protein choices among not only meats, but also beans and tofu
  • Eat healthy fats (for example canola oil, olive oil, avocado)
  • Drink plenty of fluids, especially water

Caloric intake recommendations change as people age. For example, moderately active women over 50 should consume about 1,800 calories a day, and moderately active men over 50 should consume 2,200 to 2,400 calories a day, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Older adults also should limit the sodium intake to about 2/3 a teaspoon of salt a day to help keep their blood pressure under control, according to the NIH. This will in turn lower the risk of heart disease, stroke, congestive heart failure and kidney disease.

Everyone – young or old – should be eating to energize their body to function well throughout each day. But, it’s important for seniors to concentrate on eating nutrient-dense colorful fruits and vegetables and low-fat, high-protein foods to get essential vitamins and nutrients while maintaining a healthy body without adding extra weight.

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How can an older adult determine what type of exercise is best for them and their health?

Physical activity is an important part of staying healthy and can help combat conditions such as high blood pressure and heart disease, as well as improving sleep and possibly even leading to a longer life, according to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).

Almost anyone can do some kind of exercise safely, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Talking with your doctor about your health status is a great way to make sure you’re doing exercises that are best for you.

There are four basic types of exercise, according to the NIH, and it’s good to interchange them to help reduce boredom and get the most out of your exercise routine.

The four types of exercise, according to the NIH, are:

  • Endurance – Also known as aerobic exercise, endurance activities increase your breathing and heart rate. Endurance exercises include brisk walking or jogging, vigorous yard work, dancing, swimming, biking, climbing stairs, tennis and basketball
  • Strength – These exercises make your muscles stronger. Strength exercises include lifting weights and using a resistance band but also can include everyday activities, such as carrying groceries
  • Balance – Balance exercises help prevent falls, especially in older adults. These exercises can include standing on one foot and Tai Chi
  • Flexibility – Stretching your muscles helps your body stay limber. Flexibility exercises include yoga, shoulder and upper arm stretches and calf stretches

If you’re not active at all, it’s a good idea to start slow and build from there, according to the NIH.

For more information about what exercises would be good for you to start with, talk to your physician.

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Why is exercise so important for an older adult?

Exercise is important for everyone, especially older adults because exercise helps maintain mobility and stamina while reducing the incidence of disease, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE).

Exercising regularly has been shown to prevent or delay diabetes and heart disease, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Other benefits of older adults choosing to exercise, according to the NIH and the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), include:

  • Reducing arthritis pain
  • Reducing anxiety and depression
  • Helping people stay independent
  • Maintaining healthy blood vessels
  • Helping to manage weight
  • Helping to cope with stress
  • Reducing stroke risk
  • Reducing colon and breast cancers
  • Reducing the number of falls

For more information about why exercise is important to older adults, talk to your physician.

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What are some of the major difficulties of transitioning into the role of a family caregiver for an older adult?

Certified Registered Nurse Practitioner Elaine Scott discusses geriatric health concerns. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

More than 44 million people in the U.S. are caregivers for their spouses, parents, relatives and friends, according to the Administration on Aging (AoA), part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Some major difficulties that can go along with taking on the role of caregiver for an older adult include:

  • Stress
  • Feelings of anger, guilt, impatience, resentment and loneliness
  • Fear of the future
  • Feeling overwhelmed

It is important that caregivers develop coping strategies and seek help to learn the best ways to provide support to their loved ones they are caring for.

Even though a caregiver has their older loved one’s best interest at heart, there can be days when the added stress of providing the care – in addition of personal, family and work responsibilities – can become overwhelming. These days can make the caregiver feel resentful, burnt out and even numb to their loved one’s needs and emotions.

Caregivers need to find healthy ways to manage the additional responsibilities and emotions of caring for an older loved one before they become overwhelmed.

In addition, it can be hard to take on the role of a caregiver for someone who is used to being independent and making decisions on their own.

Creating a team between the loved one and caregiver and giving the older adult as much input as possible in decisions about their health care can help make the transition less stressful.

Talk with your loved one’s physician for more information about how to build a healthy caregiver relationship.

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What can a caregiver do to avoid or lessen the stress that caregiving causes?

Caring for an older adult can be a big job. Though taking care of a sick family member has rewards and advantages, it also can be physically and emotionally tiring and stressful, according to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).

Some ways the AARP and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommend for caregivers to minimize stress include:

  • Find caregiving resources in your community
  • Take a caregiver class to learn how to best deal with the disease your loved one is facing
  • Ask for help and be willing to accept help when it is offered
  • Say “no” to requests that would be overwhelming if added to your caregiver role
  • Focus on doing the best you can rather than trying to be the perfect caregiver
  • Set realistic goals
  • Stay organized by making lists and following a daily routine
  • Talk to family and friends when you need someone to listen
  • Make time every week to do something you want to do, such as go to a movie or go out for a meal
  • Find time to be physically active
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Get enough sleep
  • See your doctor regularly
  • Try to have a good sense of humor
  • Keep other loved ones involved as much as possible

Every caregiver – no matter how dedicated – needs and deserves a break, whether that is time alone to run some errands or a week-long vacation, according to the AARP. Finding a balance between caring for your loved one and caring for yourself is critically important.

Talk to your doctor for more information about how you can find ways to minimize and avoid the stresses of being a caregiver.

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What is MyChart, and how does its use benefit older adults?

MyChart is a free service offered to patients of Premier Physician Network that provides secure online access to portions of their medical records.

From the comfort of your own home, MyChart allows patients to:

  • Schedule medical appointments
  • View a health summary
  • View test results
  • Renew prescriptions
  • Access trusted health information resources
  • Communication electronically with your medical team

MyChart benefits older adults because of its easy access and up-to-date information available at your fingertips.

For patients with disabilities or special needs, proxy access to MyChart will be granted to a proven guardian.

For more information about MyChart and how it can help you, talk to your physician.

What is MyChart?

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What do we need to know about senior medication safety?

Certified Registered Nurse Practitioner Elaine Scott discusses geriatric health concerns. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

There are many simple steps seniors can take to make sure they are safely managing the medications they take.

Here are a few medication safety tips:

  • Keep a list of your medication names, dosages and why you’re taking them. Keep a copy at home and another copy in your wallet so you will have it if you go to the hospital or the doctor’s office. This will help you avoid possible bad drug interactions or overdoses.
  • Bring all your bottles of medications to your doctor’s visit so your doctor can see exactly what you are taking and reevaluate where needed. This is especially important if you have a variety of medications prescribed by more than one doctor.
  • Know the possible risk factors and side effects of over-the-counter pain medication. These risk factors include kidney problems, blood pressure problems and stomach bleeding.
  • Keep track of which medications to take and when. Don’t be embarrassed if you need to short your medications by day or time of day, or if it helps to set a timer on your phone to make sure you are taking all the right medicines at the right times. Better to be prepared than to take too much or too little of a medication you need.

For more information about medication safety for seniors, talk with your physician at your next appointment.

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What is an adverse drug event (ADE)?

An adverse drug event (ADE) is when someone has a bad reaction to a medication, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

ADEs cause more than 700,000 emergency department visits in the U.S. each year, and almost 120,000 patients have to be hospitalized because of the ADEs, according to the CDC.

Adults age 65 and older are twice as likely as other people to visit emergency departments because of ADEs, according to the CDC.

Symptoms of an ADE include:

  • Swelling of the lips, tongue and face
  • Breathing problems
  • Itching
  • Flushing
  • Drop in blood pressure
  • Stomach ache or diarrhea
  • Coughing

Talk to your physician for more information about adverse drug events.

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What are some tips for older adults trying to manage multiple medications in a safe manner?

Dr. Block discusses tips for older adults trying to manage multiple medications safely. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

As people get older, they often need to take multiple medications to manage the health problems that age has left them to manage, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

With multiple medications – each with its own dosage instructions – it can become difficult to make sure you are taking the right amount of each medicine at the right time for the right number of times each day.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the CDC recommends trying these steps to manage multiple medications safely:

  • Keep a list of your medicines
  • Carefully follow the directions on each medication
  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist questions
  • Don’t take more or less than the amount prescribed
  • Check expiration dates
  • Try to follow a medicine-taking routine
  • Take all your medicines with you to your appointment with your primary care doctor so he or she can keep track of what you have been prescribed by all any other specialists

For more information about how to manage taking multiple medications safely, talk with you doctor.

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What is dementia?

Dr. Block discusses what dementia is. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Dementia is a term used for symptoms that are caused by a brain disorder, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Symptoms of dementia, according to the NIH, include:

  • Lose of ability to problem solve
  • Inability to control emotions
  • Change in personality
  • Agitation
  • Seeing things that aren’t there
  • Memory loss
  • Struggles with language
  • Confusion about time and place

Talk to your doctor for more information about dementia and its symptoms.

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What are the early warning signs of dementia?

Dr. Block discusses early warning signs of dementia. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

The early warning signs of dementia can help caregivers of older adults know when to address problems with the physician, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Early warning signs of dementia include:

  • Memory loss
  • Difficulty planning or problem solving
  • Problems completing familiar tasks
  • Confusion about time or place
  • Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
  • Problems with language, words and speaking
  • Misplacing things and being unable to backtrack to find them
  • Poor judgment
  • Withdrawal from work and social activities
  • Mood and personality changes

For more details about warning signs of dementia, talk to your physician.

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What is the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia?

The difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia is that dementia is an overarching term that describes a range of symptoms, while Alzheimer’s is a specific disease that encompasses some of those symptoms, according to the Alzheimer’s Association (AA).

Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia, accounting for 60 percent to 80 percent of cases, according to the AA.

Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior, and the symptoms typically get worse over time, according to the AA.

Talk to your doctor for more information about the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia.

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There is no cure for dementia, but are there ways to treat it or slow the progression?

Dr. Block discusses possible ways to treat or slow dementia. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Whether or not dementia can be treated depends on the type of dementia and how it was caused, according to the Alzheimer’s Association (AA).

For people affected by Alzheimer’s, there is no cure and no treatment that slows or stops its progression, according to the AA. There are some medications that can help temporarily improve the symptoms.

Studies show that getting regular exercise and keeping strong social connections might be an effective way of decreasing the risk of getting dementia, according to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).

Some dementia symptoms that can be treated early on by small modifications, according to the Mayo Clinic, are:

  • Modifying the environment – minimizing clutter and distracting noise can help a person with dementia focus and reduce their confusion and frustration
  • Modifying caregiver responses – trying to avoid correcting and quizzing a person with dementia. Instead reassure the person and validate their concerns to help calm a situation in which they are worked up
  • Modifying tasks – breaking down tasks to easier steps can help put focus on small successes. Having a structured daily routine can help reduce confusion for the person with dementia

Talk to your doctor for more information about ways to treat or slow the progression of dementia.

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What is shingles, and how is it treated?

Certified Registered Nurse Practitioner Elaine Scott discusses geriatric health concerns.  Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Shingles is a painful skin rash caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. It can also cause severe pain that can last for months or years, even after the rash goes away.

After having chickenpox, the virus stays on nerve cells and years later can become active again and travel to your skin.

Most people only have shingles once, but it is possible to get it repeatedly.

Anyone who has had chickenpox can get shingles, but people at greater risk:

  • Are 50 or older
  • Have a weakened immune system from an illness like HIV/AIDS
  • Have cancer – especially Hodgkin disease or lymphoma
  • Take medications that suppress the immune system

If shingles is caught early, it can be treated with an anti-viral medication, which your doctor may prescribe. But if you have had blisters from shingles for more than three days, the medication might not work, so it is important to see your doctor right away if you think you have shingles.

Medication can relieve pain, speed healing and lower the risk of complications.

People with shingles can put a cool compress on their skin, soak in a cool bath or use calamine lotion to help relieve some of the pain and itch.

Adults aged 60 and over also should get a vaccine to protect themselves against shingles, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Talk with your physician for more information about shingles and treatment options for it.

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How can caregivers and physicians partner together for more successful health care for an aging parent or loved one?

Caregivers along with physicians are both vital parts of the health care team of aging parents and loved ones.

By working together, the caregiver and physicians can make sure the senior is getting the best possible care.

A few helpful tips to make this partnership between caregiver and physician successful include:

  • Make a list of the most important things – maybe three or four – you want to talk about.
  • Keep the physician’s office informed about who will be accompanying the older adult to the visit. If it is just one or two family members serving as caregivers, this shouldn’t be a problem. But, if many children of an older parent are coming to discuss the parent’s living situation and health options, let the office know you need a consultation visit. This will let the physician know you will need time to talk rather than review the patient’s physical condition.
  • Keep good records for the older adult of current medications, surgeries and specialists they see. If possible, try to keep track of how often – for example, twice a year – the older adult sees the specialist and what issues the specialist takes care of.

The caregiver is important to providing necessary information and filling in any missing pieces of the puzzle physicians need to take care of the older adult.

If you are a caregiver, talk with physicians on your care team about what you can do to help build a good partnership between yourself and them.

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What important information related to electronic medical records should seniors be aware of?

Electronic medical records are an asset to providing good continuity of care.

Having your records saved this way will:

  • Allow the records to be available and organized
  • Allow easy, quick access to your medical history
  • Ensure your care as a patient is not overlooked or duplicated
  • Help your physician develop a long-term care plan

A family member can be named also to sign into your MyChart electronic medical record account to help manage and keep track of your medical appointments, prescription refills, lab test results, and more.

Talk to your physician to get an access code to sign up for your own MyChart electronic medical record.

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What steps can people take to prevent shingles?

Shingles is a disease that causes a painful skin rash. It can also cause severe pain that can last for months or years, even after the rash goes away.

The only way to try to prevent shingles is to get vaccinated.

Adults 60 and older can get a single dose of the shingles vaccine.

Talk to your physician about the shingles vaccine and when would be a good time for you to get it.

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What are the symptoms of depression, and do they look different in older adults?

Dr. Block discusses symptoms of depression and how they show in older adults. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Everyone can have an off day from time to time when they feel sad, but when those feelings continue for more than a couple days it is important to get checked to see if you are suffering from depression, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Some signs and symptoms of depression, according to the NIH, include:

  • Difficulty focusing or remembering
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Eating significantly more or less than usual
  • Excessive tiredness
  • Feeling excessive guilt
  • Feeling like life is not worth living
  • Feeling nervous
  • Frequent crying
  • Frequent headaches, stomach aches or other chronic pain
  • Irritability
  • Loss of interest in normally enjoyable activities
  • Problems getting to sleep or waking in the middle of the night
  • Restlessness
  • Sleeping too much
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Depression is common among older adults, but it does not go hand-in-hand with aging, according to the NIH. For some people, important life changes as they age can cause them to feel uneasy, stressed and sad, which can lead to depression.

Deaths of family and friends, transitioning into retirement and dealing with illness all can lead older people to feel sad and anxious, which can transition into depression, according to the NIH.

Sometimes, depression in older adults can be overlooked because they can tend to be less likely to talk about their feelings and outwardly show less obvious symptoms, according to the NIH.

Talk to your doctor for more information about how to spot depression in older adults.

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Thanks to Premier Physician Network providers for answering these common questions about geriatric health:

Additional Resources

This website provides general medical information that should be used for informative and educational purposes only. Information found here should not be used as a substitute for the personal, professional medical advice of your physician. Do not begin any course of treatment without consulting a physician.

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