Sleep May be the Best Medicine

An old Irish proverb says, “a good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book”.  Sleep at times is the best medicine and sleep is essential for staying healthy.

Older adults need about 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep, but for many reasons they may often be sleep deprived.  Sleep deprivation may be caused by day time napping, anxiety, sleep apnea, movement disorders such as restless leg syndrome, medications, or dementia. 

Symptoms of sleep deprivation include irritability, fatigue, blurred vision, memory lapses and inability to concentrate.  Physical symptoms may include bags or dark circles under the eyes, eyelid twitching, and unsound sleep.   In the extreme, hallucinations may occur.   

Risks of sleep deprivation include: a decreased ability to fight infection, heart disease (48% greater chance of developing or dying from heart disease), high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, an increase incidence of accidents, impairment of attention, alertness, concentration, judgment, reasoning and problem solving.  Lack of sleep contributes to depression, aging of the skin, anxiety, forgetfulness, weight gain, and ability to interpret the significance of events. Sleep maybe the fountain of youth but unlike that elusive natural wonder, sleep can be found and embraced.

There are many tips to get better nights sleep.  Most important is to minimize sleep during the day. A short daytime nap may be beneficial but multiple naps or extended day time sleeping affects the quality and quantity of the primary sleep period.  Developing habits around bedtime, waking hour, regular exercise, and starting a relaxing bedtime routine help to maximize sleep.  Caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and large quantities of liquids and food should also be avoided close to bedtime.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

Safe sleep is just as important and good sleep.  When getting up in the middle of the night from a sound sleep, disorientation, low blood pressure or generalized weakness may develop. Keep a phone and emergency phone numbers close to the bed, use a nightlight in the bathroom, remove area rugs and get up slowly making sure strength and balance are present before walking.  Falls are the leading cause of injury related visits to the emergency room with most of them happening at night.

Sleep is not a problem for some.  My dad would put his head down and he would be out.  He stayed busy during the day, either mentally or physically, took a short afternoon nap in his most senior years, and had a regular night time routine; a successful formula that lasted for 90 years.  As I lay awake at night, I wonder how I never learned this lesson from him.

Aging with a Plan

Aging with a Plan

The old and very old years as labeled by Erik Erikson, renowned developmental psychologist, are the longest stages of the life span and least prepared for. People save for retirement to continue their lifestyle after retiring from their job.  Planning for aging is preparing for living 20-30 years after retiring at the age of 65, which is years longer than all of childhood, college, raising children and longer than middle age.  They  plan for marriage, babies, vacations, college, building homes, and save for retirement, but planning for aging is different than monitoring a 401K. 

Some people dabble in aging preparation; downsizing their home with all essential living area on one floor, getting rid of large yards, adding a few grip bars, or moving closer to family members.  True planning includes home adaptation for aging as a part of routine remodeling, holistic health management, financial planning for assistance to age in place and dual access to assets, accessing senior services to remain informed and connected, and legal preparation including wills, power of attorney and living wills. 

On my to-do list is the remodeling of the master bath in my home.  Initially the old tub was to be replaced by a corner whirlpool tub, both stylish and sleek.  Now with plans to age in place, these plans have been replaced with wider doors that are walker accessible, a walk-in shower and taller toilet.  As my dad aged and became more physically disabled his environment was adapted to accommodate his increasing physical limitations.  The bathrooms were adapted, gardening was brought to his level, his workbench was lowered and aisles between work spaces were widened.  A scooter was acquired to increase his mobility and ramps were built. Wills, POA, and living wills had been prepared, but were reviewed. I had been added years earlier as cosigner on all of the assets. Oxygen sources were located to enable travel, Medicare part D was applied for and reviewed annually, Veterans benefits were explored and applied for, and financial planning was reviewed to ensure resources for an extended life span my parents and many of their generation had not planned for. Most of this was planned for years ago, making the implementations a smooth transition for my parents and myself.

Aging with a plan and planning to age must both be done to age with grace and the resources needed.  As my dad would always say the only other alternative is “don’t get old” – not really my favorite option.

 Many factors of aging can contribute to memory loss.  Researchers are exploring possible contributing factors and information concerning activities and lifestyles that may minimize the risk and degree of memory loss.

Memory is associated with the area of the brain call the hippocampus, which is known to shrink in size with aging.   Research from the University of Pittsburgh suggests that moderate exercise for one year can increase the size of hippocampus and slow or even improve age-related memory loss. 

Researchers randomly divided 120 sedentary seniors between the ages of 55 and 80 into two groups.  One group participated in aerobic exercise which consisted of walking around a track for 40 minutes three times a week.  The second group was limited to a stretching routine, yoga and lightweight training.  Brain scans were performed at the beginning of the study, at six months, and again at the completion of the one year study period.  Results showed that the size of the hippocampus increased in the walking group and decreased in the group that stretched.  Memory tests were conducted at the same intervals and memory function also increased from the baseline test in the walking group.  Chemicals in the brain associated with memory were also found to increase with the size of the hippocampus.  

Researchers concluded that even a modest increase in exercise may improve memory and slow normal aging in the brain, suggesting it is never to late to begin exercising.

 A new study conducted by French researchers suggests that older people with the cluster of chronic diseases associated with metabolic syndrome may be at increased risk for memory loss.  

Metabolic syndrome includes the symptoms of high blood pressure, fat deposits at the waistline, high blood sugar, a low level of “good” or HDL cholesterol, and high triglyceride levels. 

Over 7000 people 65 years old and over were tested for this syndrome with 16 percent having the risk factors.  Participants were given memory tests at the beginning of the research, two years later and at the end of the fourth year.  Those with metabolic syndrome were 20 percent  more likely to have memory decline. Results indicated that managing metabolic syndrome may help slow down age related memory. 

Caregivers referred by Griswold Special Care monitor medication compliance, offer medication reminders and accompany clients to physician appointments helping manage the symptoms of metabolic syndrome. Caregivers assist with the activities of daily living, prepare nutritious meals, assist with grocery shopping for healthy foods, and encourage exercise by providing motivation, companionship, and ambulation assistance.  

Companionship is often all that is needed to foster healthier living instead of existing in an isolated sedentary lifestyle.   Caregivers referred by Griswold Special Care will help you remember to eat right, and exercise regularly; so you can continue to remember.

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