Monday, January 23, 2012

Safe at Home

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that one-third of all people 65 years of age and older fall each year, and up to two-thirds of them sustain injury in their own home.  At the same time, people want to live in their current home as long as they want.

“Aging in place” refers to people staying in their existing homes safely as they age. Some helpful suggestions for improving the safety of a home follow:

  • Kitchen cabinets with roll-out and pull-out shelving alleviates the need to stretch or bend.
  • Extra lighting, especially in bedrooms and bathrooms.
  • Raised toilets can be easier to use.
  • Non-slip floors and non-skid rugs reduce risk of falling.
  • Raised garden beds.
  • No-threshold showers with grab bars.
  • Non-skid strips in the shower.
  • Lever handles instead of standard round doorknobs. 
  • Front loading washer and dryer.
  • Replace drawer knobs with U shaped pulls which are generally easier to grasp.
  • Vary height of counter top to accommodate height of person and makes tasks easier
  •  Use contrasting colors, particularly at tops and bottoms of stairs.
  • Install and secure railings which are easier to grasp.
  • Replace fixed shower head with a hand-held model.
  • Replace light switches with easy to use rocker switches
  • Make doorways wider.
  • Adjustable height closet rods.
  • Raise electrical outlets, requiring less bending.
  • Purchase smoke detector with strobe lights if hearing impaired.

Incorporating subtle modifications such as above can provide comfort, help you stay in your home longer and ultimately age in place safely.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

'Walkable' Neighborhoods Lead to More Active Lifestyles for Seniors

Numerous studies show that physical inactivity causes a variety of health problems, and older adults are particularly at risk. Literature has recently emerged regarding the relationship between neighborhood environment and physical activity - suggesting that neighborhood design has a significant relationship to physical activity and body weight among older adults.

The study looked at objective measures of neighborhood design in 216 different US census blocks. The researchers assigned each census tract to one of four categories, based on whether the neighborhood was of high- or low-income, and of high or low walkability—relative to the surrounding area. The designation of “walkability” was based on residential density, land use, and features of road intersections.

Researchers recruited a total of 719 older adults and each participant completed a physical activity questionnaire; gave a self-report of their height and weight to calculate body mass index (BMI) and any mobility impairments; and was equipped with an accelerometer to objectively measure their physical activity. The outcomes evaluated by the questionnaire included weekly minutes spent walking or biking for errands, and weekly minutes spent performing outdoor activities. The accelerometer was used to count weekly minutes spent in moderate or vigorous physical activity.

Neighborhood walkability correlated to physical activity (according to accelerometer measures as well as participant self-report) and BMI. In both high- and low-income areas, high walkability was associated with 22 to 40 more minutes per week of active walking. Further, residents of highly walkable neighborhoods averaged about 33 percent more moderate and vigorous physical activity. Neighborhood income related to activity and BMI, but was not associated with active walking. These findings suggest that designing walkable neighborhoods can encourage healthy, active aging across income levels.

"Body Clock" tied to risk of Dementia

A woman’s “body clock” might affect her dementia risk according to a new study.  The timing of an older woman’s sleep/wake cycle (also known as circadian rhythms) and the levels of daily physical activity was also linked to odds for mental decline, the study found.
It found that the risk of dementia or "mild cognitive impairment" (a state that sometimes precedes dementia) was higher in older women with weaker circadian rhythms who are either less physically active or more active later in the day, compared to those who have a stronger circadian rhythm and are more active earlier in the day.

"We've known for some time that circadian rhythms, what people often refer to as the 'body clock,' can have an impact on our brain and our ability to function normally," lead author and scientist said.  Findings suggest that future interventions such as increased physical activity or using light exposure to influence body clock cycles could help influence cognitive mental health in older women.

Data was analyzed from almost 1,300 healthy women, over age 75, who were followed for five years. At the end of that time, 15 percent of the women had developed dementia and 24 percent had some form of mild cognitive impairment.  Women with weaker circadian rhythms who had lower levels of physical activity or who were most active later in the day were 80 percent more likely to develop dementia or mild cognitive impairment than those with stronger circadian rhythms who were active earlier in the day.

"To our knowledge this is the first study to show such a strong connection between circadian activity rhythm and the subsequent development of dementia or mild cognitive impairment," researchers said. The finding marks an association only, however, and cannot prove cause-and-effect.  "The reasons why this is so are not yet clear," he added. "The changes in circadian rhythm may directly influence the onset of dementia or mild cognitive impairment, or the decrease in activity may be a consequence, a warning sign if you like, that changes are already taking place in the brain.
Identifying what the reason is could help us develop therapies to delay, or slow down, the development of brain problems in the elderly.  In the new year, keeping busy and keeping your mind stimulated would be a good resolution for all! Happy New Year – I hope everyone has a healthy and safe 2012 – and surround yourself with caring people.