Archive for the ‘Health News’ Category

Movember is Here: Raising Awareness About Men’s Health

You may have noticed an increase in men sporting moustaches in recent years during the month of November, which, since 2003, has become known as “Movember.” All the fuss (and extra facial hair) is about more than merely an excuse for men to get creative with their moustaches; it’s an important movement designed to raise awareness of men’s health issues. Since its inception in 2003, The Movember Foundation has raised more than $650 million and funded more than 1,000 programs that focus on men’s health concerns such as prostate cancer, testicular cancer, poor mental health and physical activity.

Movember vs. No Shave November Movember vs No Shave November

If you thought Movember was about growing extraordinarily bushy beards, you’re not alone. In fact, No Shave November is actually a thing, and it’s often confused with Movember. Both movements aim to increase awareness of men’s health issues, primarily prostate cancer and testicular cancer. The difference lies in the approach: Movember participants grow a moustache, while No Shave November participants can grow both beards and moustaches.

The No Shave November website explains, “The goal of No Shave November is to grow awareness by embracing our hair, which many cancer patients lose, and letting it grow wild and free.” Participants grow a full beard, shaving a unique moustache at the end of the month. Men are asked to donate the money they would typically spend on shaving and grooming to “educate about cancer prevention, save lives, and aid those fighting the battle.

According to some sources, Movember does not allow beards; in fact, there are strict rules regarding manscaping. Your moustache may not join with your sideburns, which is considered a beard. Your moustache may also not join the handlebars to your chin, which would be considered a goatee. Moustaches only for “Mo Bros,” as participants have become known.

Movember and No Shave November fundraising

While both movements support the same initiatives, one key difference between the two is that Movember raises funds which go directly to support organizations that research and men’s health issues. No Shave November, on the other hand, encourages participants to donate the funds they’ve saved from shaving and grooming to these charities and organizations on their own.

According to the Prostate Cancer Foundation, “Funds raised in the US are directed to programs run directly by Movember, Prostate Cancer Foundation and the LIVESTRONG Foundation. Together, the three channels work together to ensure that Movember funds are supporting a broad range of innovative, world-class programs in the areas of awareness and education, survivorship and research.”

Men are able to register at Movember.com to participate, and women (“Mo Sistas”) and men alike are able to support his efforts in growing a “Mo,” Australian slang for moustache, as the movement originated in Australia. For 30 days, Movember participants get friends and family members to support his efforts through donations. No Shave November also allows men to create teams and fundraising pages to get friends and family involved in their efforts to support men’s health initiatives.

How are the funds used?

At the time of this writing, 943 teams with more than 3,500 participants in No Shave November have raised nearly $190,000 to support organizations like the American Cancer Society, the Prevent Cancer Foundation, Fight Colorectal Cancer, and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. In 2014, participants in Movember raised $20.2 million in the U.S. for the Movember Foundation, with 80 percent of the funds raised allocated to men’s health programs. In the U.S., Movember’s partner programs include “the Prostate Cancer Foundation, the LIVESTRONG Foundation and the Prevention Institute.

“These partners, along with Movember Foundation managed programs, ensure that donations support a broad range of innovative, world-class initiatives.” According to the Movember website, all funds distributed to these partners are restricted for use only in Movember approved programs. For participants, that means assurance that 100 percent of the funds are used to directly support the delivery of health initiatives; none are used to cover Movember partners’ fundraising and promotional costs.

No matter your preference for facial hair, there’s a way for every man and every woman to get involved in raising awareness for men’s health issues this month. Whether you sport a moustache, grow out your beard, or simply support someone else who is, everyone can participate in improving the health and well-being for men everywhere during the month of November.

5 Important Preventative Health Screenings That Older Men Should Receive

There are many recommendations for health screenings for people in various age groups, but one particular demographic that’s not often discussed is older men. We’ve talked about the importance of regular screening for breast cancer for older women (through monthly breast self-exams and periodic mammograms), but what preventative health screenings should older men receive? We’ve identified five of the most recommended and important screenings to help older men be more proactive about their health.

Blood pressure, cholesterol, and heart disease prevention

While blood pressure and cholesterol screenings are actually different tests, we’ve grouped them together as a single recommended screening simply because it’s easy to have these screenings all performed at the same time. According to the National Institutes of Health, U.S. National Library of Medicine, men over the age of 65 should have their blood pressure checked annually and their cholesterol checked every five years – if your levels are normal. An EKG (Electrocardiogram) may be included with this group of screenings and is recommended for adults over age 50 every three years. Important health screenings for older men

If your levels are abnormal, or you have high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, kidney problems, or other related conditions, it may be necessary to have your blood pressure, cholesterol levels or both checked more frequently. Your healthcare provider will direct you if your current health status necessitates more frequent screenings.

Prostate screening

According to the Mayo Clinic, “The majority of prostate cancers are found in men age 65 or older.” The American Cancer Society recommends that discussions about prostate screening should begin between healthcare providers and men at the age of 50. Together, they can decide whether prostate screening is right for him. Should he move forward with testing, he will receive a PSA (prostate specific antigen) test, which is a blood test, with or without a DRE (digital rectal exam).

The frequency of prostate screenings moving forward is based on the man’s PSA level. However, PSA testing is only recommended for men with a life expectancy of 10 to 15 years, and as the Mayo Clinic points out, some experts and health providers have concerns with the risks involved with PSA testing. Therefore, most health organizations leave this decision up to the individual and his healthcare provider.

Colorectal cancer screening

Colorectal cancer (CRC) is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths among men in the United States, behind lung and prostate cancer. However, with proper screening and the removal of adenomatous polyps (precancerous polyps, or growths which can be removed before symptoms develop), most CRC is preventable. Yet, one-third of adults between the ages of 50 and 75 are not getting the recommended screenings.

There are a variety of imaging tests and laboratory tests which can be used to screen for colorectal cancer. A colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy are the tests most frequently recommended by organizations such as the American Cancer Society, U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) and the American College of Gastroenterology (ACG), and most recommendations suggest that screenings should begin at the age of 50 and continue through the age of 75 for men (and women) with average risk. The general recommendations for those with average risk include a stool test annually, a flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 – 10 years with a stool guaiac test or a colonoscopy every 10 years. Men with a family history of colorectal cancer or other risk factors may benefit from more frequent screenings. These men should discuss their risk factors with their healthcare providers to determine whether more frequent, aggressive screenings are advisable.

Diabetes screening

The National Diabetes Education Initiative (NDEI) highlights the diabetes screening guidelines recommended by the American Diabetes Association (ADA). These guidelines recommend screening for any adult who is overweight or obese (defined as a BMI – Body Mass Index – of 25 or higher or 23 or higher in Asian Americans) and has one or more diabetes risk factors.

Risk factors may include a first-degree relative with diabetes, physical inactivity, a history of cardiovascular disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), a high A1C (average blood glucose over a 2-3 month period) from a previous screening, risk factors related to race or ethnicity, or other conditions associated with insulin resistance, such as severe obesity or a condition called acanthosis nigricans. Testing should begin at age 45, particularly if the patient is overweight or obese, and if results are normal may be repeated every three years. A fasting plasma glucose (FPG) is typically the first screening method of choice. Results are typically confirmed with a second screening method on a different day, such as 2-hour postload plasma or hemoglobin A1C.

Dental, vision, and hearing exams

Dental, vision, and hearing exams are, of course, all distinct screening tests. While annual dental exams and cleanings and annual or bi-annual eye exams are considered pretty standard practice, it’s easy for older men to become less diligent about following through with these screenings as they get older.

Older men should have dental exams (and cleanings) annually, and vision exams are generally recommended either annually or bi-annually, especially for those who have vision problems or glaucoma risk. An eye exam can detect serious health problems like glaucoma before symptoms appear, and regular dental exams and cleanings will help to prevent problems such as gingivitis. Hearing tests are typically recommended only if you’re experiencing trouble hearing. However, as WebMD points out, “At least 25% of people age 65 to 74 have disabling hearing loss, most of which is treatable. That number increases to 50% after the age of 74.” If you feel like you’re not hearing as well as you used to, a hearing exam is in order.

While some of these screenings may not sound like a swell time, preventative health is extremely important for men who plan to live a long, healthy, and vibrant life long into their golden years. Spending time in a doctor’s office isn’t a whole lot of fun for anyone. But as the risks for many diseases and disorders affecting men climb with age, your body – and the people who love you – will thank you 10 to 15 years from now for being so proactive about your health today.

Why All Women Should Know the Numbers Behind Breast Cancer

Early breast cancer detection in older womenIt’s hard to miss the fact that October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, as companies and organizations are promoting wider awareness and raising funds to support research in hopes of a cure. Breast cancer doesn’t really discriminate; women of practically any age can develop breast cancer, as can men.

Prevalence of breast cancer

More than 200,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year in the United States, and more than 40,000 women die from the disease. Men can and do get breast cancer, but men account for less than one percent of  breast cancers. Most breast cancers are found in women age 50 and older, but approximately 11 percent of all new breast cancer diagnoses each year are in women under 45 years of age.

In 2013, more invasive cases of breast cancer were newly diagnosed among women age 65 and older than any other age group (99,220 diagnoses), and nearly twice as many women age 65 and older died from the disease in that same year compared to women age 50-64 (22,870 deaths and 11,970 deaths, respectively). According to BreastCancer.org, the younger a woman is, the less at risk she is of developing breast cancer. That means that your risk for developing breast cancer increases with age. At age 30, for instance, your chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer in the next 10 years is 1 in 228, while women at age of 60 have a 1 in 29 chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer in the next 10 years. By age 70, the risk is 1 in 26.

Early detection and treatment improves outcomes

Most women realize the importance of having a mammogram periodically after the age of 40. According to the CDC, “The United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends that if you are 50 to 74 years old, be sure to have a screening mammogram every two years. If you are 40 to 49 years old, talk to your doctor about when to start and how often to get a screening mammogram.”

Early detection and treatment improves outcomes, allowing many women with breast cancer diagnosed in the early stages who receive prompt and adequate treatment to resume normal lives, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation. That’s why it’s especially important for women to conduct monthly breast self-exams, get professional breast exams at least annually from a healthcare practitioner, and get regular mammograms (every two years for women over age 40) to increase the odds of early detection and thus, a better outcome.

Breast self-examination information

Generally, women age 20 and older are advised to give themselves a monthly breast self-examination. The younger a woman begins this habit, the more familiar she becomes with her breasts, which can allow her to more easily notice subtle changes and small lumps that require further evaluation by a healthcare professional.

The changes women should look for when conducting a monthly breast self-examination include:

  • Lumps
  • Discharge other than breast milk
  • Swelling of the breast
  • Skin irritation or dimpling
  • Nipple abnormalities, including pain, redness, scaliness, or turning inward

The procedures followed by healthcare professionals to conduct a professional breast exam are very similar to the physical exam a woman can give herself monthly.

It’s often easy for women to slowly taper off from their once-diligent breast self-exams, but older women should pay close attention to any suspicious changes in her breasts. The sooner a diagnosis is made, the sooner treatment can begin, and the better the odds of a positive outcome and an ability to resume your normal life following treatment.

A Helpful Guide to Increasing Physical Activity In Your Life

On Wednesday we discussed the importance of exercising your brain, and today we’ll turn to your physical health. Physical fitness is one of the major cornerstones of maintaining a happy and healthy body, as well as a sharp mind. Despite a growing rate of Americans suffering from obesity, most people recognize the value of maintaining an active lifestyle and engaging in physical activity.

For adults over the age of 65, regular physical activity becomes one of the most important contributors towards a healthy and long life. However, those under 65 abide by a set of guidelines that may not be what older individuals with different needs desire. As a result, a different set of useful guidelines on physical activity are necessary. These guidelines offer older adults with an excellent road map towards a more active and healthy lifestyle.

How Physical Activity Helps Older Adults

Although everyone benefits from regular physical activity, adults over 65 who maintain an active lifestyle benefit most from regular exercise. Maintaining an active lifestyle that involves plenty of moderate to vigorous physical activity can help prevent a wide variety of age-related health problems. Health issues such as diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure often cause more harm in older adults who maintain a sedentary lifestyle as opposed to more active adults.

These are the benefits that older adults receive by keeping up an active lifestyle in combination with a healthy diet:

  • Show significant physiological signs of improved health
  • Have lower rates of high blood pressure, type-2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and colon cancer
  • Exhibit fewer symptoms of depression and other mental issues
  • Exhibit a higher standard of cardiorespiratory fitness as well as muscular strength
  • Show significant improvement in weight, body mass and composition
  • Less likely to experience loss of flexibility or strength as they age
  • Show lower risks of hip fractures, vertebral fractures or other similar conditions

Learn more about the guidelines to follow so you can craft active, healthy living during your retirement on our Physical Activity for Older Adults page.

Don’t Forget to Exercise Your Most Important Organ – Your Brain!

Continuing this month’s theme on ways to maintain brain health, having previously focused on music therapy, brain exercises or how vitamin D deficiency can contribute to the risk of Alzheimer’s, today we’re highlighting two brain health resources. 

Fact or Fiction:  All short-term memory lapses are an early sign of brain decline.

Fact or Fiction:  Crossword and Suduko puzzles can prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

I’ll confess that I didn’t answer all the questions correctly on the What is Brain Health’s Fact or Fiction quiz, but then that was the point of the quiz. It’s time to dispel some myths about what happens to our brain when we age and why everyone, not just seniors, should be incorporating brain exercises into their daily exercise regime. (If you’re interested in the answers, they are both fiction.)

What is Brain Health? is a campaign that partners the Administration for Community Living (ACL) with the National Institutes for Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other research organizations to provide educational resources on how people can maintain brain health. Materials range from an in-depth look at the anatomy of the brain by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke to a post on how belly fat may affect your risk of dementia. Marcia Gay Harden is the spokeswoman and her involvement with the campaign was inspired by witnessing her mother experience memory loss.

What I found fascinating was the slideshow of how the brain changes through the decades. From the ages of 10 until 30, “complex reasoning, long-term memory functions begin to peak, and creativity may be at its highest.” While there is some consolation that there is only slight decline in brain volume during your 30s, once you reach your 40s, “the first signs of gradual decline in brain volume begin to show: short-term memory may be less sharp.”

For caregivers seeking specific material on how to care for someone with dementia or how to prevent brain injuries, the ACL’s Brain Health webpage is a helpful resource. Brain injuries, such as traumatic brain injury, are of particular concern, not just for those who have served in the military, but also older adults. Statistics reveal that “falls cause 81% of TBIs in older adults.”

Though we unfortunately cannot prevent the natural aging process, there are ways to support your brain health: discovering a new talent, keeping a full social calendar and eating healthy. Best of all, exercising your brain doesn’t require hitting the gym or taking walks when it’s raining. You can stay inside and work on a puzzle or learn a new language on the computer. If you need inspiration for what to keep your mind activity, consider joining your local senior center; they have a monthly calendar filled with dance classes, outings and game nights. Trivia nights at the local bar or pub are also a great way to socialize and exercise your brain, though alcohol should only be consumed in moderation.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to do a Suduko puzzle.

The Surprising Link Between Vitamin D Deficiency and Dementia

One of the most frightening aspects of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias is that there is no known cure, and even the best of treatments can only slow the inexorable cognitive decline. However, with new research, we learning what factors can speed the progress of the illness. While we still have no way of stopping the disease yet, there are actions we can take that can delay the onset of conditions.

According to David S. Knopman, M.D. of the Mayo Clinic, “new research suggests people with very low levels of vitamin D in their blood, known as vitamin D deficiency, are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.” Additionally he points to a study published in Neurology in 2014 which found that “results confirm that vitamin D deficiency is associated with a substantially increased risk of…dementia and Alzheimer disease.”

The obvious question here is, “Will vitamin D supplements prevent me from developing dementia or Alzheimer’s disease?” This is an area where scientists are a bit more guarded with their optimism. “”We’re relatively cautious in how we say this,” Joshua Miller, chairman of the department of nutrition in the school of environmental and biological sciences at Rutgers University, said, in an NPR article on the topic. Dr. Knopman adds that “vitamin D is vital to bone metabolism, calcium absorption and other metabolic processes in the body,” however “its role in brain function, cognition and the aging process is still unclear.” So while numerous studies have pointed to the fact that vitamin D plays a role in many non-skeletal conditions, the jury is out when it comes to recommendations.

Sources of Vitamin D

A healthy diet means that most nutrients should come directly from food rather than dietary supplements such as vitamin pills. However, unlike most other essential nutrients vitamin D occurs naturally in very few foods and even then in small quantities. According to the National Institute of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements, among the best sources are fatty fish such as salmon, tuna and mackerel. Other foods that provide small amounts of vitamin D include beef liver, cheese, egg yolks and mushrooms. Additionally, nearly all milk and many breakfast cereals are fortified with vitamin D, but a substantial portion of this necessary nutrient is synthesized by the body when exposed to direct sunlight.

Skin exposed to sunshine through a window will not synthesize vitamin D. Furthermore, cloudy weather, shade and even skin with a darker complexion can thwart the ability to create the vitamin. Those living at higher latitudes may not be able to synthesize any vitamin D during winter months. That being said, when seeking sunlight, care must be taken to limit exposure due to the risk of skin cancer.

Our modern lifestyle, which frequently includes precious little time outdoors, in combination with the many factors that limit vitamin D synthesis, may indicate a need for dietary supplements. Given that one of the critical benefits to older adults is that, when taken in conjunction with calcium, vitamin D can help ward off conditions like osteoporosis. To the laymen it may seem like a no-brainer to add supplements to one’s diet, but those considering such a change should always discuss this with their physician, to best determine how to improve their health.

Music Therapy: Providing Many Benefits to Aging Adults

Senior couple enjoying musicMusic plays such a major role in so many daily activities. It serves as a backdrop for work and for play, for dancing, for worship, while we drive to work or the store, and even spending quality time with family and friends. It’s no surprise then that music has the power to bring back memories—both fond and sometimes sad—from days gone by. But for seniors, music can be so much more.

The NAMM Foundation cites a number of facts and statistics on the benefits of music therapy, including:

  • Playing music is shown to reduce stress and actually reverse the body’s response to stress at the DNA level, according to findings from Dr. Barry Bittman.
  • For patients who had undergone surgery, Bryan Memorial Hospital in Lincoln, Nebraska, and St. Mary’s Hospital in Mequon, Wisconsin found that playing music lowered heart rates and calmed both blood pressures and respiration rates.
  • The rhythmic cues offered by music can aid in retraining the brain following a stroke or other neurological impairment, according to findings by Michael Thaurt, director of Colorado State University’s Center of Biomedical Research in Music.

These findings alone provide ample evidence that music can be beneficial for adults (and children) in a variety of situations, but let’s take a closer look at some of the specific benefits of music therapy for older adults.

Music can help aging adults with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia recall moments from their past

Music is one tool that can produce outcomes even in the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America.”When used appropriately, music can shift mood, manage stress-induced agitation, stimulate positive interactions, facilitate cognitive function, and coordinate motor movements.” Music is powerful in this way because it the “rhythmic and other well-rehearsed responses require little to no cognitive or mental processing.”

Think about the last time your favorite song came on the radio. If you found yourself subconsciously tapping your fingers on the steering wheel or tapping your foot under your office chair, you’ve experienced this effect firsthand.

Music has strong connections to memories

Most people have probably also experienced the subconscious mood effects certain music can have on your demeanor. The song to which you danced your first dance at your wedding long ago, for instance, may make you feel content and happy without consciously trying to alter your mood or attitude. Likewise, songs that bring back sad memories can make us feel melancholy, even if you don’t actively think about the sad memory from your past.

Because music does play such an important role in our lives, it’s likely that many of your memories from days gone by are associated with a particular song or tune. When you think about a memory from your past now, the song may not immediately come to mind—but if you hear a song on the radio associated with that memory, you may find yourself suddenly thinking about an important event in your life.

That’s why music is so powerful for seniors with memory impairment; when music is played that carries strong associations to long-term memories, seniors who ordinarily may be unable to recall or discuss these life events may suddenly recall memories they thought had been long forgotten. Because of this effect, seniors participating in music therapy often then have the opportunity to share stories from their past with friends and loved ones, providing socialization and a lift in spirits that is often much welcomed.

Music encourages seniors to be physically active

The Music Therapy Center of California points out that for many older adults, mobility and range of motion can be issues due to physical disorders that affect the central nervous system (such as Parkinson’s Disease or Tardive Dyskinesia), the musculoskeletal system (such as osteoporosis or osteoarthritis), or muscle weakness, joint stiffness, pain, and other common conditions that can arise throughout aging.

Music therapy can be quite beneficial for seniors suffering from these conditions by encouraging physical activity. Even slow, rhythmic movements while an older adult remains seated can help to improve strength and mobility. The Music Therapy Center of California explains, “Music, dancing and movement activities can aid in maintaining walking endurance, improve range of motion, strength, functional hand movements and finger dexterity and improve limb coordination. For instance, using instruments (such as drums) can be a motivating way to purposefully improve hand use, cross midline, and reach high/low. Co-treatment with an occupational or physical therapist also may enhance the effectiveness of music therapy strategies. Relaxation with music, toning (singing with vowels focused on a certain area in the body), and other techniques may help reduce the perception of pain and the need for pain medication.”

Increased verbalization, emotional release, and social benefits offered by music therapy

Overall, music therapy can help aging adults achieve a variety of therapeutic goals. Laurel Redecker is a member of the Seattle-King County Advisory Council on Aging who taught organ and piano lessons at a senior center and, upon realizing the therapeutic effects music had on the seniors she worked with, decided to pursue a degree in Music Therapy for the Aging, which she received at the age of 54.  Redecker talked to the Seattle Times about the goals of music therapy for older adults, including “appropriate release of emotions, increased verbalization and social skills, reinforced listening skills, and enhanced self-mage and personal development.”

Redecker explains to the Seattle Times, “Many problems specific to the aging population can be helped by music therapy. These include loss of independence, isolation, possible loneliness or depression, or just being perceived by themselves and others as `old and useless.’ Music therapy, such as learning to play an instrument, can help build self esteem, offer socialization, and help express individuality and creativity.”

With benefits like these, it’s no surprise that music is such a beloved part of culture for people of all ages. But for seniors, music can provide the key to unlocking memories from the past, as well as a lifeline for connecting with others in the present.

How Seniors Can Access Fresh Produce Through Government Programs

During September we are continuing the theme of highlighting the benefits of healthy eating. This is the first of two posts focused on how seniors on a limited budget can access nutritional food.

Eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables is widely acknowledged as the most important thing one can do to improve one’s health and well-being through diet. Yet alongside that widely acknowledged fact is the myth that fresh fruits and vegetables are unaffordable for those with a limited income. On the contrary, there are many programs—both public and private—to help seniors afford nutritious food.

The largest and most well-known program to increase food access is the federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly called the Food Stamp Program. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), “SNAP is the largest program in the domestic hunger safety net,” benefiting “millions of eligible, low-income individuals and families.”

Few Seniors Utilize Benefits

One of the unknown facts of this seemingly well-known program is that many seniors who are eligible for SNAP benefits don’t receive them. According to AARP, 67 percent of eligible individuals 60 and older do not receive eligible benefits, despite the fact that many have paid into the system through their taxes for decades and it is easy to apply for the benefits.

According to the Harris School of Policy Studies 2009 study at the University of Chicago, once seniors are initially enrolled they are no more likely to drop SNAP enrollment than any other age group. However, the challenge lies in the initial adoption.

AARP suggests that the reasons why seniors don’t sign up for this benefit is because they are embarrassed, feel that by accepting benefits they are taking away from others or are simply unaware of the program. The University of Chicago study mirrors these findings, stating that “60 percent of eligible non-participants are unaware of their eligibility.” The National Council on Aging (NCOA) observed similar reasons for low-adoption rates for SNAP among seniors, pointing to mobility, technology and again stigma and shame for accepting public benefits. Furthermore, some seniors are discouraged by myths about how SNAP works and who can qualify.

NCOA has promoted initiatives to increase the adoption rates by seniors, including funding partner programs that assist older adults with the enrollment process. This can range from help understanding criteria for income eligibility or simply using encouraging messaging about how SNAP is “saving money,” instead of seniors “receiving benefits” or “welfare.”

Increased Access to Farm-Fresh Foods

Many states now allow SNAP recipients to not only use their benefits at any grocery store, but at farmers’ markets. Farmers markets in all 50 states now accept EBT SNAP cards and more and more markets are offering program that allow seniors to double their SNAP funds. A November, 2014 NPR article points out that the success of a number of local initiatives at farmers’ markets across the country—such as at the Crossroads Farmers Market just outside of Washington, D.C. where a combination of donors and private foundations contributed to double EBT funds—led to the passing of a 2014 farm bill “that included a program to boost SNAP dollars when they’re spent on fresh fruits and vegetables.”

The State of Washington now offers a Fresh Bucks program which “matches SNAP funds, dollar-for-dollar up to $10 per cardholder per market, per day.” While it is true that not all programs operate in the same fashion, in many instances, customers with EBT cards can visit the market information booth to receive a transfer voucher. The customer then decides “how much he or she would like to spend…and the account is verified using a cell phone.” After that “the market provides the customer with wooden tokens” to be spent on farm-fresh foods at individual vendor booths. In addition to the SNAP program, “fresh, nutritious, unprocessed fruits, vegetables, honey and fresh-cut herbs can [also] be purchased with Seniors Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP) benefits. “Coupons are issued to eligible SFMNP participants to buy eligible foods from farmers, farmers’ markets, roadside stands or CSAs that have been approved by the State agency to accept SFMNP coupons.”

Through government programs low-income seniors can improve not only their nutritional health, but also support their local food producers. Moreover, those who are concerned about the economic ramifications of programs like SNAP can take heart in the fact that the USDA cites that every $5 spent using SNAP generates $9 in economic activity.

Is Your Elderly Loved One Consuming Enough Of These Nutritional Requirements?

Dietary needs of seniorsEveryone needs the proper amount of vitamins and minerals in their diet to maximize their overall health and well-being, regardless of age. But as we age, our bodies change, and our physiology often changes, too. Even putting special diets to manage chronic conditions such as diabetes aside, seniors have different nutritional requirements than those of younger people. Here’s a look at a few important nutrients your aging loved ones could be missing out on by not paying attention to their specific dietary needs, as well as some other important dietary guidelines.

Decreased Vitamin B12 absorption 

Older adults cannot absorb Vitamin B12 from the foods they eat as efficiently as younger people, according to WebMD. Vitamin B12 is essential for creating red blood cells and DNA, so seniors may need to eat more foods rich in B12, such as fish, meat, poultry, milk, and other dairy products to ensure they’re getting enough of this essential vitamin.

Calcium helps to maintain bone health

Calcium’s most important function in the body, while it serves many purposes, is building and maintaining bone health. It also helps to lower blood pressure. However seniors tend to consume less calcium in their diets, which can cause the body to leech calcium from their bones, thus leading to brittle bones and an increased risk of fractures. The National Institutes of Health recommends that women age 50 and older and men age 71 and older get at least 1,200 milligrams of calcium daily, while men between the ages of 51 and 70 should consume at least 1,000 milligrams of calcium daily. For the proper calcium intake, seniors should consume three servings of low-fat milk and other dairy products daily, or opt for calcium-rich foods like kale and broccoli.

Vitamin D goes hand-in-hand with calcium

Vitamin D is necessary for the body to properly absorb calcium, so a deficiency in Vitamin D could lead to the same issues caused by not getting enough calcium in a senior’s diet. According to WebMD, “Recent findings suggest that D may also protect against some chronic diseases, including cancer, type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and autoimmune diseases. In older people, vitamin D deficiency has also been linked to increased risk of falling.” Vitamin D is primarily produced by the skin when exposed to sunlight, but older adults can ensure their bodies are getting enough Vitamin D by consuming more foods that are fortified with Vitamin D, such as cereal, milk, yogurt, and juice. Check the label to make sure the foods are fortified to get the maximum benefit.

Omega-3 fatty acids may lower risk of chronic illness

Omega-3 fatty acids are another important essential nutrient for seniors. Omega-3 fatty acids “have been proven to reduce inflammation, which can cause heart disease, cancer and arthritis,” according to AgingCare.com. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in many types of fish, walnuts, canola oil, flaxseeds and flaxseed oil. AgingCare.com recommends that older adults consume foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids at least twice weekly. Supplements are also available, so seniors who have conditions such as heart disease or arthritis (or are at high risk for these conditions) may want to talk with their physician about whether a supplement would be beneficial in the prevention or treatment of disease.

What about calories?

It’s hard to know how many calories seniors should be consuming each day. Especially as we grow older, the body’s metabolism tends to slow down, meaning it doesn’t process energy as efficiently as it used to. HelpGuide.org provides a useful breakdown of calorie recommendations for adults age 50 and older based on activity levels, using data from the National Institute on Aging:

Calorie recommendations for older adults

This is by no means an all-inclusive list of the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that older adults should be paying close attention to, but they are among the most important. Overall, consuming a healthy diet rich in essential nutrients will help your aging loved ones stay vibrant and healthy, and help to prevent disease and illness.

Kickstart Your Wellness Goals with Go4Life This September

Go4Life Promo

For seniors who need a bit of motivation to get up and moving, how about this: regular exercise will keep you living not only long but also more independently. And if you think that you’re too old to start exercising or don’t know what exercises you can do, there’s a helpful, free resource you can turn to for help.

Go4Life is an evidence-based exercise and physical activity campaign run by the National Institute on Aging at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). It was developed in response to NIH research which found that exercise can promote independence. In collaboration with the White House Conference on Aging they are celebrating Go4Life Month throughout September 2015.

One of the key messages of Go4Life is to increase the awareness that exercise and fitness activity is a small investment that can pay big dividends when it comes to promoting healthy aging. Just a few of the benefits are increased strength, balance and flexibility, and it can even help mitigate the effects of conditions like diabetes, heart disease and osteoporosis.

In recognition that many seniors don’t have an active wellness plan, Go4life offers “practical real-life-tips to add physical activity to their routine.” The first step is to assess a fitness level you’re starting from—this has no relation to age and only sets the baseline for how to integrate exercise into your life. The next step is to “connect the exerciser to concrete goals.” For example one concrete goal could be continuing to drive or playing with a grandchild. Taking small steps is better than jumping in full steam, which can lead to discouragement. You need only “a little piece of time” to get started—even 10 minutes is fine. Consider setting a goal of 30 minutes of exercise per day, which can be easily broken into smaller chunks of time.

Go4Life points to the four different types of exercise needed to foster well-being:

  1. endurance or aerobic based activities, such as walking, jogging or dancing
  2. strength exercises, such as lifting weights or using resistance band which can make it easier to perform everyday tasks like climbing stairs and lifting groceries
  3. balance exercises,  such as standing on one leg or Tai Chi, in order to prevent falls
  4. flexibility exercises, like stretches or yoga, to give freedom of movement for other exercises

Before beginning an exercise program, you are encouraged to consult to your doctor first, especially if you have any new symptoms, notice problems such as joint swelling, dizziness and shortness of breath, or have had any recent surgeries.

While the Go4Life program is tailored for those who are 50 years old and better, there is no upper limit and seniors are never “too old to get engaged with physical activity.” Whether you’re a senior yourself, or you’re part of an organization that works with older adults, there are numerous ways to participate in G4Life Month.

And if you need an extra bit of motivation to keep with a program, ask your friends or book club to join in. You will also find all sorts of helpful tools on the site to help you plan your wellness goals and track your progress. You can even create a free account, receiving tips from your own virtual coach to help keep you motivated. So get out there and start exercising!