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Reading & References

Common Health Problems in Seniors

How The Caregiver Can Assist The Elderly During Changes In Life Situations

  • The Caregiver can spend time with the elderly person and listen to them talk about their past. Allow them to share their experiences, if they choose to share them.
  • Provide assistance in connecting with specific organizations that may be able to help. (e.g. Hospice can provide support to the dying individual and his/her family.)
  • Be alert for any negative impacts on the elderly persons physical or mental health, which change may have. This can become evident when talking to the client or to the family.
  • If they sense there is a need for professional attention, (e.g. counselors, therapists), they can contact the supervisor on the care-giving team, who is responsible for taking action on life situation changes.

How The Caregiver Can Support Depressed Clients

  • The Caregiver should become familiar with the elderly person’s situation.
  • Find out if support systems exist within the family or the community.
  • Watch for the “red alert” indicators of depression (e.g. sadness, withdrawn, lethargic, neglected hygiene and personal appearance).
  • Take any and all comments about death or suicide seriously.
  • Support the client in finding help.
  • The Caregiver should be supportive and understanding.

What is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a disease wherein there is an accelerated loss of bone mass and a reduction in bone quality. If not prevented or if left untreated, it can progress painlessly until a bone breaks, usually in the hip, spine and/or wrist.

Fractures to the hip and spine are of greatest concern, although any bone can be affected, A hip fracture usually requires hospitalization and major surgery. It can affect a person’s ability to walk unassisted and may cause prolonged or permanent disability or even death. When fractures occur in the spine, spinal or vertebral fractures also have serious consequences, including loss of height, severe back pain and deformity.

Causes/Risk FactorsSymptomsConsequencesTreatment
  • Specific causes are not known but there are risk factors:
    • older age
    • female gender
    • Caucasian or Asian race
    • small, slender bones
    • low calcium diet
  • Often there are no symptoms
  • Fractures
  • If vertebrae break, there is severe back pain, loss in height & spinal deformity
  • Bones become fragile and are susceptible to fracture
  • Loss of height
  • Severe back pain deformity
  • Eat a calcium rich diet
  • Take in enough Vitamin D
  • Estrogen replacement therapy (to be determined by a Physician)
  • Do weight bearing exercises
  • Wear a back brace or corset (determined by Physician)

What is Diabetes?

The pancreas produces a hormone (insulin), which is responsible for regulating the level of sugar in the blood. When the level of sugar becomes abnormally high, the resulting condition is known as diabetes.

There are two main types of diabetes which affect seniors: Type 1 Diabetes, which used to be called “insulin-dependent” or “juvenile diabetes”, is caused by the lack of insulin produced by the pancreas. Type 2 Diabetes, which used to be called “non insulin-dependent” diabetes, is also known as “adult onset”. It is believed to be related to life style habits.

Note: Not all people who develop diabetes display symptoms; hence, it may go undetected for years.

How The Caregiver Can Help Seniors With Cardiovascular Disease

Encourage the elderly perdon to lead a healthy lifestyle which includes:

  • participating in a medically supervised aerobic exercise program
  • quitting smoking
  • controlling high blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes
  • limiting consumption of alcohol and fluids
  • eating a heart healthy diet which is low fat and low salt and
  • weighing daily to monitor fluid retention

Signs and Symptoms of a Heart Attack

The main symptoms and warning signs of a heart attack are:

  • Chest pain:
    • fullness or burning
    • heaviness, pressure or squeezing
    • tightness, discomfort or crushing
  • Pain spreading from center of the chest:
    • down one or both arms
    • up to the neck, jaw, shoulders or back
  • Additional Signs
    • nausea, vomiting and/or indigestion
    • anxiety or fear
    • denial, refusing to admit that anything is wrong
    • paleness, sweating or weakness or shortness of breath

Note: If an elderly person displays these symptoms, the Caregiver should ensure that he/she gets medical attention immediately, ideally by calling for an ambulance. Respiratory Conditions The Respiratory system brings oxygen into the lungs and expels carbon dioxide. When this function is interfered with, a person is said to have a chronic obstructive lung disease.

Causes/Risk FactorsSymptomsConsequencesTreatment
  • smoking
  • genetic abnormalities
  • low level infection
  • environmental pollutants
  • allergies
  • progressive shortness of breath
  • phlegm producing cough
  • rapid labored breathing
  • blue tinge to skin
  • breathing difficulties when lying flat
  • early death
  • temporary flare ups
  • respiratory
  • failure which leads to heart rhythm irregularities
  • quit smoking
  • medications
  • inhalers
  • oxygen therapy
  • surgery

Paralysis

Paralysis is a complete loss of strength in an affected limb or muscle group. While it can affect a single body part, it usually affects an entire body region. The types of paralysis are classified by region:

  • Monoplegia, which affects only one limb
  • Diplegia, which affects the same body region on both sides (e.g. both arms)
  • Hemiplegia,which affects one side of the body
  • Paraplegia,which affects both legs and the trunk and
  • Quadraplegia,which affects all four limbs and the trunk.
Causes/Risk FactorsSymptoms/ConsequencesTreatment
  • stroke
  • tumor
  • trauma
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Cerebral Palsy
  • metabolic disorder
  • herniated disc
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • loss of movement in affected parts.
  • pain
  • numbness & tingling
  • speech difficulties
  • balance problems
  • vision changes
  • breathing difficulties
  • loss of bowel & bladder function
  • loss of sexual function
  • treatment of underlying cause
  • physical therapy to strengthen muscles that still work
  • use of assistive devices such as canes, braces, wheelchairs
  • occupational therapy to develop tools & techniques to facilitate self care
  • depending on the impairment, assistance may be needed (e.g. Respiratory Therapist Counselor, Social Worker, Speech Pathologist)

How The Caregiver Can Help Seniors With Paralysis

  • provide emotional and psychological support
  • encourage elderly person to undergo caregiver services and therapies recommended (e.g. physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy)
  • assist with exercises or perform range of motion exercises to maintain muscle function
  • use devices such as pillows and footboards to maintain good body alignment at all times
  • give good skin care to prevent bed sores
  • turn and position the senior at least every two hours
  • prevent burns by ensuring temperatures are within safe limits and
  • prevent falls

Cancer

Cancer is any malignant growth or tumor, which is caused by abnormal and uncontrolled cell division. It may spread to other parts of the body through the lymphatic system or via the blood stream. Many types of cancer are curable, if caught early. Treatment varies depending on the type and classification of cancer an individual has.

People diagnosed with the disease make the choice as to whether or not to undergo treatment. Some choose to let the disease run its course, without medical intervention to prolong life, whereas others will opt for any and all types of treatment available. It is an individual decision and the inflicted person needs to be supported in whichever option he/she chooses. The Caregiver needs to respect their client’s wishes and not pass judgment on the choices they make.

Causes/Risk FactorsSymptoms/ConsequencesTreatment
General risk factors:

  • food/diet
  • genetics
  • hormones
  • radiation
  • tobacco
  • physical activity/weight
  • workplace
  • environment
General Symptoms:

  • a lump or thickening in the breast or testicles
  • a change in a wart or mole
  • a skin sore or a persistent sore throat that doesn’t heal
  • a change in bowel or bladder habits
  • a persistent cough or coughing blood
  • constant indigestion
  • difficulty swallowing
  • change in bowel or bladder habits
  • unusual bleeding or vaginal discharge
  • chronic fatigue
  • Consequences:
  • some forms of cancer are fatal
  • some forms of cancer are curable
  • some cancers can be put into remission
  • some cancers are painful
  • chemotherapy
  • hormonal therapy
  • radiation
  • surgery
  • pain management
  • combination o

Eye Problems

Vision can be affected at any age. Sight problems may develop suddenly or they can evolve over a period of years. Two of the more common eye disorders that affect seniors are: Glaucoma is a disease of the eye, which is marked by increased pressure within the eyeball. If it is left untreated, glaucoma can damage the optic nerve and cause loss of vision.

A Cataract is a clouding of the lens of the eye. The majority of cataracts are related to age and take years to develop. If left untreated, cataracts will eventually cause blindness.

DisorderSymptomsTreatment

Glaucoma

  • difficulty adjusting to a dark room
  • difficulty focusing
  • double vision
  • tearing of eyes
  • sensitivity to light or glare
  • sudden loss of vision
  • blurred vision
  • seeing white or black spots
  • seeing a halo around light
Can be controlled but not cured with:

  • surgery
  • medication
  • eye drops
  • laser treartments

Cataract

  • blurry vision
  • double vision
  • sensitivity to light & glare
  • colours appear dimmer
  • surgical removal of lens & implantation of an artificial lens

Ear Problems

The two primary functions of the ear are hearing and balance. Many people experience some hearing los, as they age, which ranges from mild to total deafness. Comon ear problems that can be found in seniors are:

  • Hearing Loss
  • Meniere’s Disease
CausesSymptomsTreatment
  • damage to the nerve fibers in the inner ear
  • obstruction or infection in the ear canal
  • perforation of ear drum
  • difficulty hearing sounds
  • hearing the wrong words
  • problems hearing in a group setting
  • trouble hearing higher pitched voices
  • responding inappropriately to questions
  • turning up volume on tv, radio or stereo
  • perception that others mumble a lot
  • hearing aids are helpful when hearing loss is a result of nerve damage
  • medical treatment is used for most other types of hearing loss (e.g. surgery, medication)

Common Health Care Mistakes Made by Seniors

  • not asking family/friends for help
  • not participating in prevention programs
  • not seeking medical help when warning signs occur
  • not having one main Doctor who oversees the medical treatment plan
  • not taking measures to guard against falls
  • not understanding information the Doctor has given to them
  • not having a plan for managing medications
  • not discussing intimate health problems with their Doctor or health care provider
  • not accepting assistive devices which will help them cope with the aging process and
  • not giving up driving when doing so is no longer safe

Summary

Aging brings with it a series of chronic conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease and nervous system disorders. The development of these conditions is a normal process and can inflict many seniors. While chronic problems are not usually life threatening, they do affect lifestyle, functionality and sense of purpose. They bring with them physical, mental and emotional challenges, the likes of which many seniors have never faced before. Learning to accept these unwanted realities takes time, patience and understanding. Along with chronic conditions, seniors are also susceptible to more serious and life threatening diseases, such as cancer, which can be devastating to them and their families. By being supportive and knowledgeable about the causes, symptoms and treatment of these conditions/diseases, The Caregiver can help the elderly cope and ease into their golden years with as little stress as possible.

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