Q. I'm worried about my 80-year-old mother's health, but I can never get any information out of her. Any ideas?
Why not call her hairdresser? Hair stylists may have a unique opportunity to help steer their elderly clients to needed health services, according to a small, exploratory study. More than 80 percent of 40 Columbus, Ohio, area stylists surveyed said that older clients often or always shared their problems during appointments.
"Hair stylists are in a great position to notice when their older clients are starting to suffer from depression, dementia or self-neglect," said Keith Anderson, assistant professor of social work at Ohio State University and co-author of the study that appeared in the Journal of Applied Gerontology.
Study participants reported that, on average, about one-third of their clients were 60 years old or older. Anderson said the results suggest that most stylists do develop close long-term relationships with their older clients.
About 85 percent of stylists described their relationships with older clients as "close" or "very close." About 72 percent said their role was like one of "family" to some of their older customers.
Health and family problems are the issues most often brought up by elderly customers - more than three-quarters of stylists have heard such complaints, the survey revealed. And more than a third of stylists said clients have discussed problems with depression or anxiety. The vast majority of stylists said their response to hearing their clients' problems is to offer sympathy and support, and to try to cheer them up. But fewer than half said they have given advice, and only about one-quarter have tried to get the client to speak to someone who can help them.
That's not because they are unwilling to help, Anderson said. About two-thirds said they are willing to refer an older client to appropriate services. But the problem, Anderson said, is that more than half - 52 percent - said they were unfamiliar with community services that may be helpful to older adults.
For your information - and that of the hair stylists in your community - one of those resources is Home Instead Senior Care, a company with franchises in more than 600 U.S. communities whose CAREGivers help keep seniors independent. Log on for more information about the many services the company provides.
Q. My mother, who is diabetic, takes so many pills that she sometimes gets confused. I worry about her since she lives alone. What are the risks and do you have any suggestions?
An estimated one-third to one-half of all patients in the U.S. don't take their medications as prescribed by their doctors, according to the New England Healthcare Institute (NEHI). Chronic disease patients who do not consistently take their medications often experience preventable worsening of disease, becoming vulnerable to serious medical risks.
Among all patient groups, poor adherence poses an increased risk of hospitalizations, resulting in significant costs. For example, among diabetes patients, those with low levels of adherence have almost twice the annual health care costs of those with high levels of adherence ($16,498 versus $8,886). According to the NEHI, patients who don't take their medications properly jeopardize their health as well as put a strain on the health-care system.
First, why not help your mom by checking with her doctor, her local pharmacy or online for a pill organizer. This tool, which would provide a way for your mother to organize her pills in compartments by days of the week, could help ensure that she was taking her medications on schedule.
Second, consider assistance for your mother - perhaps even a caregiving companion. Home Instead Senior Care hires CAREGivers to go into the homes of older adults and one of their most requested services is medication reminders. A CAREGiver would prompt your mother to take her medications, which could ensure her safety and help put your mind at ease as well.
Since a full 75 percent of U.S. health care spending goes to the treatment of chronic disease, poor medication adherence presents a serious roadblock to efforts to improve health care efficiency and affordability.
Q. I'm looking for resources to help my 87-year-old father practice safer driving habits and to determine if he's still safe on the road. Do you know of any that could help?
As a matter of fact, AAA launched a new senior safety and mobility Web site, www.AAASeniors.com in June. It includes content and resources based on extensive research, provides families of older drivers with valuable information related to senior mobility challenges and tools to help extend safe driving.
The Web site provides information for senior drivers and those who care about them in three areas:
Sensing - One of the most noticeable effects of aging is diminishing eyesight. We receive 85 to 90 percent of the information necessary to drive through our eyes, so good vision is essential for safe driving. In addition to deteriorating eyesight, mature drivers must also cope with decreased hearing ability. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), hearing loss is one of the most common conditions affecting older adults. Roughly one-third of Americans 65 to 74 years of age and 47 percent of those 75 and older have hearing loss.
Deciding - Once your eyes and ears take in information, it's up to the mind to process it and decide on the best course of action. Age lengthens the time it takes the brain to process information and also makes it harder to ignore distractions. The good news is that experience, mature judgment and good driving habits can many times compensate for those diminished skills.
Acting - Finally, once a senior driver has decided on the best response to the situation, it's time to act.
Older drivers can reduce their speed, maintain an escape path and cover the brake (lift the right foot from the accelerator and position it above the brake if a risky situation is imminent).
For more information contact DeLauter at 522-6533 or visit www.homeinstead.com.