Threats Seen & Unseen

senior health home equity retirement

Are we missing the signs of tangible threats to our potential borrowers?

Are You Sure It’s Dementia? Paving New Neural Roads

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Scientist, yogi and author Lisa Genova, who wrote Still Alice, shares some encouraging words for brain health. While we can’t change our genes or prevent aging (yet!), restorative sleep is “like a power cleanse for the brain,” as is regular exercise and good nutrition.

These are basics we’ve heard for years, of course. But putting them into practice is something many people may not take seriously until they’re old enough for a reverse mortgage. A witty 93-year-old TEDx presenter suggests bodybuilding in old age is a great idea for precisely this reason. And if you start in your youth, you might be as limber as this incredible gymnast at 91!

Before It’s Clinical

However, the amyloid plaque that leads to Alzheimer’s disease begins accumulating in our brains 15-20 years before clinical symptoms appear. So keeping our brains healthy needs to begin in early middle age, if not sooner.

Here are some of the myriad posts in which we’ve discussed dementia, memory care, and brain health:

Medication — Or Meditation? Om-ing our way to mental health.

50th Birthday Reset: When medications block new brain cell formation, depression and pain remain.

I Knew You Looked Familiar: Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) can mimic Alzheimer’s.

Thanks for the Memories: Creative ways to keep our brains bright.

reverse mortgage newsWomen in their sixties are more than twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s over the course of their lives as they are to develop breast cancer. And with the onset of mild cognitive impairment, women’s cognitive decline is twice as fast men’s. Alzheimer’s activist Maria Shriver asks, “Why aren’t more people interested in this? This is the biggest health crisis in the world… It bankrupts families faster than any other disease.”

All of which is good reason to make every effort to protect our aging brains. But there’s a larger issue that is often overlooked: misdiagnosis.

Dementia Masquerade

How easy is it to assume an older person has dementia, when it might actually be a vitamin or mineral deficiency? Absorption of nutrients declines with age. An elder exhibiting cognitive impairment may need B12 injections, more sun exposure (Vitamin D) or other nutrients. In such cases, “dementia” is reversible once the problem is properly diagnosed and remedied.

A serious health issue could also compromise a senior’s mental acuity: in her final months, my mother was not the woman I knew, although strangers (even the doctors unfamiliar with who and how she had been) did not detect it. Congestive heart failure, a series of falls, and a medication cocktail combined to alter her brain chemistry and function. She wasn’t as mentally sharp as she had been. But it was not dementia.

Similarly, in an elderly person the symptoms of a urinary tract infection can express as brain fog/confusion, which can lead to an erroneous dementia diagnosis — and a painful, untreated bladder infection.

Medication (such as chemotherapy) that blocks the formation of new brain cells can keep a person depressed and in pain, which can seem like a slide into dementia. This can become a causal circle: loss and loneliness tend to increase with age. Loneliness, and the lack of mental stimulation and emotional connection, increases the risk of heart disease and other physical and mental health problems. The result can be depression, and later dementia, if family members or caregivers are not paying close attention.

Finally, Parkinson’s disease, a long-term degenerative disorder of the central nervous system, can cause dementia symptoms. While dementia only becomes widespread in advanced stages of Parkinson’s, depression and anxiety are more common complications, and can escalate mental decline.

Inquiry Can Save An Elder’s Sanity

At the library recently, an older gentleman seated in the new book browsing area smiled at me as I turned from the shelves. He was beaming, so I stopped to ask, “What is it?” He replied, “I’m an artist, and I was sketching your form in my mind as you browsed the books.” He tapped his head, “It’s all up here.” Deeply moved, I took his hand and told him, “That’s one of the sweetest compliments anyone’s ever given me. What’s your name?” He told me his name, and just as we were getting into a conversation, a young woman rushed over and said, “Don’t tell her your Social Security number!”

Nonplussed, I thanked him again and turned to leave. After checking out my books, I saw the woman (out of his line of vision), beckoned her over and asked, “Are you his caregiver? When she said yes, her concern suddenly made sense. I asked, “Does he have dementia”? She said, “Yes, it’s in the early stages.” I told her our conversation had seemed perfectly normal, and that the only reason he was talking to me at all was because I initiated it. She said, “Well, a week ago he met another veteran and invited him over to the house; he told him his address!” Which struck me as reasonable behavior for someone — especially an older man — who was excited to make a new friend.

I cautioned her about being too quick to assume it’s dementia, and said I hoped his daughter, with whom he lives, had consulted a geriatrician (a physician who specializes in elder care). The 37-year-old caregiver no doubt saw this 86-year-old as elderly and infirm. But at my present life stage (and having had a lifelong friend live to 101), he didn’t strike me as particularly “old” — and certainly not addled.

Whenever possible, make sure your HECM clients’ family members are cognizant of the dementia impersonators that could be lurking in an older loved one’s life. By educating themselves, they may be able to restore a senior’s mental health — and maintain everyone’s sanity.

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Too Hot To Handle: Smart Steps to Avoid Heatstroke

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A friend’s untimely death in 2014 has always bothered me. As I wrote in this post on grief, Cheryl (“Snake” to her friends) was 68, healthy and fit. In her twenties she led a women’s expedition over the Himalayas; at 40, she hiked the Pacific Crest Trail solo, from Mexico to Canada. So how did a simple day hike in Arizona end her life?

A few weeks ago I got a shocking answer: it was likely heatstroke. I ran into one of her former coworkers, who told me the rescue team had found urine in Snake’s water bottle. That meant she had run out of water, and knew to recycle her urine so she’d have liquid in her system. Obviously, by then she was in crisis.

Did she underestimate the day’s weather? While it was October, it was also Arizona, notorious for blistering temperatures even in the fall. And Snake’s level of fitness may have unwittingly contributed to her downfall: like many active people in their sixties, she did not perceive herself as a “senior” who needed to pay special attention to her health.reverse mortgage news

Subtle changes can signal grave danger

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “People aged 65 years or older are less likely to sense and respond to changes in temperature.” And they’re not talking about a huge temperature shift, either. A Harvard School of Public Health study found a 1.8-degree Fahrenheit increase could cause heat stress, especially in elders who have chronic health conditions such as diabetes, or heart or lung disease.

In this era of climate change, when we’re experiencing record-breaking heat waves, it’s critical that your reverse mortgage clients, prospects, and other elders in your sphere understand the risks of heatstroke, and the importance of paying attention to how it can sneak up on them, so they don’t become like the proverbial frog in a pot of water on that’s being slowly heated on the stove.

The Mayo Clinic lists the following symptoms of heatstroke:

  • High body temperature. A body temperature of 104 F (40 C) or higher.
  • Altered mental state or behavior. Confusion, agitation, slurred speech, irritability, delirium, or seizures.
  • Alteration in sweating. In heatstroke brought on by hot weather, skin will feel hot and dry to the touch. Heatstroke brought on by strenuous exercise makes skin feel moist.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Flushed, reddened skin.
  • Rapid, shallow breathing.
  • Racing heart rate. Pulse may significantly increase because heat stress places a tremendous burden on the heart to help cool the body. Chest pain is also possible.
  • Headache, dizziness, fainting.

Take preventive action

I remember helping an older woman on a sweltering summer day a few years ago, as she valiantly disregarded the heat in an effort to get home. These are useful reminders for a senior to post on the refrigerator (or for an LO to email HECM prospects this month).

  • Check the Heat Index. High humidity impairs the body’s ability to cool itself through perspiration. A senior can find the current heat index on any weather website. It’s also usually announced on local TV and radio weather reports during exceptionally warm periods.
  • Stay Indoors Midday. There’s a reason Noel Coward famously wrote, “Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.” Older people, especially, should avoid going out midday in times of extreme heat. Do errands early in the morning, when the temperature tends to be cooler. Or, if possible, shop online.
  • Drink Plenty of Liquids! Many medications are diuretic, meaning they create frequent urination. At the same time, a senior’s thirst is usually less acute than that of younger people, so they may not drink as much water as they should — or physical limitations may make it harder to get up and get a drink when they are thirsty. Dehydration is the root of many heat-related health problems. The key is to drink plenty of water, even when you’re not thirsty. (Thirst indicates someone is already water-deficient.) Steer clear of coffee or alcohol in the heat, as these drinks actually dehydrate you.
  • Wear Appropriate Clothing. Light-colored, lightweight, loose-fitting clothes and a wide-brimmed lightweight hat are the best attire for sizzling summer weather.
  • Take it Easy. Avoid exercise and any other strenuous activity, particularly outdoors (such as mowing the lawn), when it’s very hot.
  • Find Air Conditioned Places. Ideally, a senior will have A/C in their home. Seniors whose houses aren’t air-conditioned may want to spend extremely hot days at the senior center, library, mall or movie theatre, all of which should be air conditioned. Be sure to bring a sweater for the A/C! During heat waves, many cities also set up “cooling centers”: air-conditioned public places people can visit to get out of the heat. Seniors without convenient access or transportation to an air-conditioned place can take a cool bath or shower.
  • Know the Warning Signs of Heat-related Illness. If you experience any of the symptoms outlined above, seek medical help immediately. It might be a life-saving move.

Go to the Park

Finally, this month might be the perfect time for someone 62+ to purchase a Senior Parks Pass and enjoy our country’s many lakes, mountains, pine trees, and other cooling natural remedies. Do it soon, though: the price of a National Parks Senior Pass increases from $10 to $80 on August 28, 2017.

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What are your thoughts? Please leave your input in the Comments section below, and share this post on social media using the Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn icons at the top of this page. Thank you!