Toronto Company Developing Moisture Monitor For Seniors

Toronto based startup Sensassure has developed a product which may have enormous benefits in the area of senior incontinence management.  The Smart Patch is a reusable device that sits on the outside of regular adult diapers or briefs.  The sensor instantaneously alerts nursing staff if a senior has soiled themselves and requires changing. Not only does this product mean that patients are attended to as soon as possible, but it also helps to restore dignity for those elderly who would otherwise be sitting in their own waste unattended.

It also means that caregivers do not have to constantly check patients to see if they need to be changed and frees up time in their hectic schedule.

In a company press release Sensassure CEO Sameer Dhar said:

“With enough patient data we anticipate being able to generate predictions of urinary patterns. Applying this would enable Sensassure to prompt caregivers to preempt urination events so that the resident can toilet properly.

Additionally, down the line when we can get accurate enough, urinary volume is an important component of fluid balance, and the composition of urine can also give insight into the onset of UTIs and prolonged dehydration (among other things). We plan on exploring applications of Sensassure’s data in the field of ongoing diagnostics in the future.”

Down the line the possibilities for urine and stool analysis exist. If later versions of Sensassure contained a means of measuring the pH balance of a patient’s urine, this would allow caregivers to keep an eye on whether an infection may be present and allow them to change the patient’s medication accordingly. With a stool analysis, Sensassure could possibly open doors to testing for certain types of stomach and colorectal cancers which would also save time, money and potentially prolong life.

In doing research for this blog it was difficult to find much about other innovative technologies directed towards the eldercare industry.  This, to me is very confusing.  As people live longer and deal with the various issues of health and aging, it would seem there is an enormous opportunity that is being missed.

What are the reasons for this?  I’d be very interested in your comments.

Sources:  Toronto Star:  “Looking to their elders for success” Brandie Wielke July 7, 2015

Music Therapy and Dementia

Music therapy is now more than ever used with Dementia patients. Studies show that music therapy programs can help with behavioral issues such as aggression.  Music therapy may also help with sleep issues in these patients.

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When used appropriately, music can shift mood, manage stress-induced agitation, stimulate positive interactions, facilitate cognitive function, and coordinate motor movements.

This happens because rhythmic and other well-rehearsed responses require little to no cognitive or mental processing. They are influenced by the motor center of the brain that responds directly to auditory rhythmic cues. A person’s ability to engage in music, particularly rhythm playing and singing, remains intact late into the disease process because, again, these activities do not mandate cognitive functioning for success.

Dementia patients who have a decline in their language function may find that music therapy can serve as a means of communication. Language is processed by one part of the brain, while music is processed by many different parts of the brain.  The many elements in music are processed differently, which help stimulate the brain.

Music can stir long-term memories. Familiar music can be more beneficial than unfamiliar music, as it will evoke a more positive experience.  Music from our past is better known to our brain and is therefore more comforting and reassuring.  A patient’s enjoyment is typically increased as they dance or sing along with the music.  Encouragement of singing along, swaying, clapping or dancing can be very therapeutic as well.

Other ways in which the well being of dementia patients can be helped include:

  • memory recall;
  • positive changes in moods and emotional states;
  • a sense of control over life;
  • non-pharmacological management of pain and discomfort;
  • stimulation that promotes interest even when other approaches are ineffective;
  • structure that promotes rhythmic and continuous movement or vocal fluency as an adjunct to physical rehabilitation; and
  • opportunities to interact socially with others.

What is the Future of Canadian Healthcare?

In an article by Kristy Kirkup, The Canadian Press it was reported that a federal panel has found that Canada’s medicare system is aging badly and that a major renovation of the medicare system is overdue.

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The project was chaired by Dr. David Naylor, a physician, researcher and past president of the University of Toronto.

“We have a good health care system that is excellent and is innovative in spots but is not as good as it could or should be,” he said. “That’s in spite of the fact we have fabulous talent in the system.”

Naylor said the challenge is that Canada has a health care architecture that is decades old.

He said international assessments suggest the country is “losing ground.”

This cannot be good news either to boomers or to the aging loved we are caring for.  The situation raises some interesting questions:

Does the future of medicare need to be a frontline issue in the upcoming federal election?

How do we deal with the ever increasing cost of our medications?

What can be done to direct more funding into preventative medicine?

Does the transfer payment system that exists between the federal government and the provinces need to be revamped?

Do we need to return to paying premiums in our provincial health care plans?

Is the aging of the medicare system a failure to keep pace with the advances and innovations in modern medicine?

What are your thoughts?  What would you suggest in the way of reforms?

Detecting Heat Related Problems

How is Hyperthermia Detected?

A person with symptoms including headache, nausea, and fatigue after exposure to heat probably has some measure of a heat-related illness. It is important to recognize the difference between the very serious condition known as heat stroke and other heat-related illnesses. Persons experiencing any of these symptoms should consult a doctor.

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Heat Stress occurs when a strain is placed on the body as a result of hot weather.

Heat fatigue is a feeling of weakness brought on by high outdoor temperature. Symptoms include cool, moist skin and a weakened pulse. The person may feel faint.

Heat syncope is sudden dizziness experienced after exercising in the heat. The skin appears pale and sweaty but is generally moist and cool. The pulse may be weakened, and the heart rate is usually rapid. Body temperature is normal.

Heat cramps are painful muscle spasms in the abdomen, arms, or legs following strenuous activity. The skin is usually moist and cool and the pulse is normal or slightly raised. Body temperature is mostly normal. Heat cramps often are caused by a lack of salt in the body, but salt replacement should not be considered without advice from a physician.

Heat Exhaustion is a warning that the body is getting too hot. The person may be thirsty, giddy, weak, uncoordinated, nauseous, and sweating profusely. The body temperature is usually normal and the pulse is normal or raised. The skin is cold and clammy. Although heat exhaustion often is caused by the body’s loss of water and salt, salt supplements should only be taken with advice from a doctor.

Heat Stroke can be Life Threatening! Victims of heat stroke almost always die so immediate medical attention is essential when problems first begin. A person with heat stroke has a body temperature above 104° F. Other symptoms may include confusion, combativeness, bizarre behavior, faintness, staggering, strong rapid pulse, dry flushed skin, lack of sweating, possible delirium or coma.

Heat-related illnesses can become serious if preventative steps are not taken. It is important to realize that older people are at particular risk of hyperthermia. Many people die of heat stroke each year; most are over 50 years of age. With good, sound judgment and knowledge of preventive measures the summer can remain safe and enjoyable for everyone.

Summer Heat Can Be Hard On The Elderly

After a rough winter and a long cold spring, summer is finally here.  But, keep in mind that during the summer months, there are many additional threats to healthy senior living. Older adults are often less able to regulate their body temperature, and certain medications can make it difficult for seniors to recognize when they’ve become dehydrated.  The temperature does not have to hit 35 C for a person to be at risk. Both one’s general health and/or lifestyle may increase a person’s chance of suffering a heat-related illness.

Hyperthermia is the general name given to a variety of heat-related illnesses. The two most common forms of hyperthermia are heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Of the two, heat stroke is especially dangerous and requires immediate medical attention.

Health factors which may increase risk include:

Poor circulation, inefficient sweat glands, and changes in the skin caused by the normal aging process.

  • Heat, lung, and kidney diseases, as well as any illness that causes general weakness or fever.
  • High Blood Pressure or other conditions that require changes in diet. For example, people on salt restricted diets may increase their risk. However, salt pills should not be used without first asking a doctor.
  • The inability to perspire, caused by medications including diuretics, sedatives and tranquilizers, and certain heart and blood pressure drugs.
  • Taking several drugs for various conditions. It is important, however, to continue to take prescribed medication and discuss possible problems with a physician.
  • Being substantially overweight or underweight.

Lifestyle factors that can increase risk include: 

Lack of transportation. People without fans or air conditioners often are unable to go to shopping malls, movie houses, and libraries because of illness and/or the lack of transportation. Friends or relatives might be asked to supply transportation on particularly hot days. Many communities, area agencies, religious groups, and senior citizen centers provide such services.

Visiting overcrowded places. Trips should be scheduled during non-rush hour times and participation in special events should be carefully planned.

Overdressing. Because they may not feel the heat, older people may not dress appropriately in hot weather. Perhaps a friend or family member can help to select proper clothing. Natural fabrics such as cotton are best.

Unbearably hot living quarters. People who live in homes without fans or air conditioners should take the following steps to reduce heat discomfort: open windows at night; create cross-ventilation by opening windows on two sides of the building; cover windows when they are exposed to direct sunlight; and keep curtains, shades, or blinds drawn during the hottest part of the day.

Not understanding weather conditions. Older people, particularly those at special risk (see health factors), should stay indoors on especially hot and humid days, particularly when there is an air pollution alert in effect.

In the next post we’ll talk about detection and treatment of hyperthermia.  Stay cool.

 

More on Hearing Loss

If the signs and symptoms of hearing loss are ignored, it is very likely that the impairment will get worse. Early identification and treatment help mitigate the physiological damage while improving auditory acumen through medication, hearing aids or surgery.

There is a relatively simple questionnaire that helps seniors identify significant hearing problems.

It involves answering the following questions, with three or more “yes” answers indicating a hearing problem that warrants medical attention.

  • Do I have problems hearing when there is background noise?
  • Is it difficult to follow a conversation when multiple people speak at once?
  • Do I have problems hearing when talking on the phone?
  • Do some noises seem especially loud and intrusive?
  • Do others complain that my TV volume is too loud? (This was my signal)
  • Do most people I speak with seem to mumble or speak unclearly?
  • Do I have trouble understanding what others say and responding appropriately?
  • Do I regularly ask people to repeat themselves during conversations?
  • Do I have to concentrate or strain to hear or comprehend a conversation?
  • Do I have trouble comprehending women and children when they speak?
  • Do others complain that my TV volume is too loud?
  • Do I regularly experience ringing, hissing or roaring sounds in my ears?

If you answered yes to several of these questions, it is recommended that you schedule an appointment with your general practitioner. In many cases, your doctor can identify the nature of the hearing problem and provide treatment.

If your hearing impairment is complicated or severe, you may be referred to an otolaryngologist or an audiologist. An otolaryngologist is type of physician who specializes in issues pertaining to the ear, head and neck. He or she will do a thorough exam and perform any necessary tests. Audiologists specialize in identifying and measuring hearing loss, and generally use audiometers to test hearing ability across a range of pitches and volumes.

While a degree of age-related hearing loss occurs naturally and is unavoidable, noise-induced loss of hearing is preventable. Avoiding noises that exceed 85 decibels will protect the ears from damage.

Precautions for noise related hearing impairment includes lowering the volume of televisions and stereos, wearing earplugs when operating loud machinery and avoiding excessively loud environments. Conductive hearing loss can be prevented by removing earwax blockage with glycerin, baby oil, mineral oil or ear drops designed to soften earwax. Another way to prevent hearing loss is to make sure none of the medications you take are ototoxic (damaging to the ear). If you are taking such a medication, ask your doctor if there is a non-ototoxic alternative that can be prescribed.

The most common treatment for age-related hearing loss is the use of hearing aids. These are battery operated electronic devices that essentially turn up the volume on the sound waves entering the ear. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes that fit in the outer ear, the ear canal or behind the ear. Unfortunately, many older adults who can benefit from wearing hearing aids fail to do so. Only an estimated 20 percent of those who can benefit from these devices actually use them due to the stigma surrounding hearing loss and for cosmetic reasons.

In cases of severe hearing impairment, an otolaryngologist may recommend a cochlear implant. These are small electronic devices that surgeons implant beneath the skin behind the ear. Cochlear implants receive sound waves, transform them into electrical signals, and bypass the non-working physiology of the ear by sending the signals to the brain. This allows patients with significant hearing deficiency to perceive sounds in a relatively normal manner.

We’ll discuss hearing aids and Cochlear implants in future posts.  Please send us you comments or questions.

Dealing with Hearing Loss

As a “boomer” involved in various aspects of caregiving for relatives I observe the various challenges that seniors face simply due to aging.  Memory loss, mobility issues, vision loss, incontinence concerns etc.

But as someone who has become hearing impaired myself, I can really relate to the challenges faced by those of our aging population who have hearing issues.  For me having a hearing problem is frustrating enough, but for someone who has a hearing problem as well as the other frustrating issues that can come with aging, it must be almost unbearable at times.

So the next couple of posts are going to deal with hearing loss in our loved ones. Perhaps it can help the caregiver to deal with the frustration of caring for someone who doesn’t hear properly as well as helping the senior to deal with problem more efficiently.

Hearing loss is quite common among older adults, with more than 30 percent of seniors between 65 and 74 years of age and half of those over 75 experiencing some degree of hearing impairment. Some seniors have only mild hearing loss in which certain high-pitched sounds are inaudible, while others suffer from virtually complete loss of hearing.

Hearing loss comes in many forms. It can range from a mild loss in which a person misses certain high-pitched sounds, such as the voices of women and children, to a total loss of hearing. It can be hereditary or it can result from disease, trauma, certain medications, or long-term exposure to loud noise.

Types & Causes

There are two parent categories of hearing loss:

Sensorineural hearing loss is the more serious and permanent of the two types, as it is caused by damage or injury to the auditory nerve or inner ear.

Conductive hearing loss occurs when something (fluid, earwax) is blocking sound waves from reaching the inner ear. It may also be caused by a punctured eardrum. There are medical and surgical treatments that remove blockages and repair punctures to restore hearing.

Presbycusis is a common type of hearing loss that is associated with aging. It has a gradual onset and is thought to be caused by physiological changes in the anatomy of the ear and auditory nerve. Presbycusis generally begins around the age of 50, with the loss of hearing ability increasing each year thereafter.

Tinnitus, which is also common in seniors, is a “ringing” or similar sound in the ears caused by frequent exposure to loud noises. It can also be caused by certain ototoxic medications. Tinnitus describes a symptom, not a particular disease, and it can occur with any type of hearing impairment.

For years I tried to tell myself that I had tinnitus, but in the end I am sure I was dealing with Presbycusis.

Hearing loss can also be indicative of other health problems such as circulatory diseases or allergies.
Otitis media, a type of ear infection, can also result in permanent hearing loss if it is not appropriately treated. Also, the hereditary condition otosclerosis results in abnormal bone growth that impedes proper inner ear function.  I had many ear infections as a child (in the days before they treated the condition with ventilation tubes.  I also had two cousins who went deaf, so maybe it was in the genes.  Sorry, but every so often I have to have a why me moment.

Acute injury such as a severe blow to the head can also cause damage to the structures of the ear with subsequent hearing loss, as can exposure to loud noise as referenced above in the description of tinnitus.

In our next post we’ll look at some signs and symptoms as well as treatment options.

Therapy Dogs Making a Difference

From the time I was very young I have associated the St. John Ambulance organization with first aid.  I took a course given by the organization as a boy scout and was fortunate enough to earn a gold badge.  Over the years a came to appreciate that they were also involved Health and Ambulance Service as well as volunteering necessary services for large events such as the upcoming Pan Am games being in and around the GTA.

Even though they have been around since 1877 I have to admit that I really didn’t pay them much mind on a day to day basis.  After all I was fortunate enough that I never needed any of their services.

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All of this changed a couple of years ago when I learned of the St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog program which has been around since 1992.  In this program qualified dogs and their owners visit hospitals, senior’s residences and care facilities, schools universities and colleges as well as community centres and libraries.

Now, I just happen to be the owner of a West Highland White Terrier named Duncan who actually seems to like people more than he likes other dogs.  I thought there might be a fit.  We applied, he passed a series of tests and was qualified as a St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog and we have been visiting local retirement homes on a weekly basis ever since.

The residents love Duncan and vice versa.  I never would have believed the difference he seems to make in their day.

The scientists tell us that these pets provide relief from stress and even relief from pain in some instances.  That the visits encourage residents to become more socially interactive and that their confidence and self-esteem improves.  People who had previously been withdrawn and not very communicative seem to be drawn out after their first interaction with the dog.

Certainly there are folks in eldercare facilities that have had pets in the past but whose present health prevents them from properly caring for a pet.  It is certainly easy to see why these residents would take to a visitor like Duncan.  But people who have never had pets and who “don’t like dogs” have taken to him and look forward to his visits.  When their families and grandchildren come to visit, meeting Duncan is part of the itinerary.

He gets billing on the daily activity board, but it doesn’t seem to have gone to his head.  He enjoys the visits as much as the residents do.

Again science tells us that just 15 minutes bonding with an animal sets off a chemical chain reaction in the brain, lowering levels of the stress hormone cortisol and increasing production of the feel-good hormone serotonin. The result: heart rate, blood pressure and stress levels immediately drop. Over the long term, pet and human interactions can lower cholesterol levels, fight depression and may even help protect against heart disease and stroke.

I’m not going to point this scientific stuff out to Duncan.  After all he is a Westie and there would be no living with him.  But, then again, maybe he already knows.

A Little on Elder Financial Abuse

The Centre for Disease Control defines Financial Elder Abuse thusly:  the unauthorized or improper use of the resources of an elder for monetary or personal benefit, profit, or gain. Examples include forgery, misuse or theft of money or possessions; use of coercion or deception to surrender finances or property; or improper use of guardianship or power of attorney.Canadian Money

You’d like to think that elder financial abuse is committed by strangers.  But, in many cases, financial abuse of elders is more likely to come at the hands of family members and caregivers.

Parents feel emotionally responsible for the economic well-being of loved ones, even adult children. It’s a natural inclination. Some children encourage those nurturing instincts in mom and dad more than others. The danger for many seniors lies in adult children turning that subtle manipulation into outright financial abuse.

The sluggish economy already has more adult children — particularly the unemployed and those facing foreclosure — leaning on aging parents for financial support. In some cases, cash-strapped adults use guilt or fear to push the emotional buttons of parents, grandparents and other family members. In other instances, charm, flattery or extra attentiveness is used to achieve a financial goal.

At the very least, these tactics represent economic manipulation. At worst, they are criminal acts that often go unreported because victims are too embarrassed or don’t want the adult child to get in trouble.

Some steps to protect against financial elder abuse:

  • Protect your parents’ sensitive financial information from identity theft by securing blank checks, bank and brokerage statements and credit cards if you have service providers in their home.
  • Shred incoming credit card applications and other unused financial documents.
  • Monitor your parent’s accounts for unusual activity
  • Discuss common financial scams with your parent.  The police department will have more information about scams that are going on in your local area.
  • If your parent care responsibilities include serving as your parent’s agent in their power of attorney for finance, it is your responsibility to make sure your parent’s money is only used for their benefit.  This may mean some tough conversations with family members and your parents around loans and monetary gifts.

It’s important as a family to discuss your parent care values around protecting your parents’ money.  You can create a family agreement that outlines acceptable behavior based on your family values.

Have you and your siblings had to have a conversation regarding possible misuse of a parent’s savings?  Please comment and let us know more.