Ageism, Elderspeak, and Long-Term Care

Wouldn’t you be confused if a near-stranger patted your head and called you “sweetie”, or if a nurse shouted instructions despite your excellent hearing? These behaviors are confusing and elicit irritation, but, for seniors, they are becoming more and more common. Ageism, elderspeak, and bias are an unfortunate reality for many seniors in long-term care. Seniors everywhere are struggling against the presumptions that demean them as well as the negative toll on their personal lives.

a care worker or medical professional with a senior client at her home . She is discussing the senior woman’s options on her digital tablet.

Ageism in Medicine

Ageism refers to negative stereotypes about older people that lead others to treat seniors differently from younger people. In medicine, extensive clinical evidence shows that older adults do not receive the same level of preventive care, diagnostic care or treatment as other age groups.

By speaking to residents in certain ways, long-term care workers perpetuate stereotypes about seniors. In turn, older adults may shut down or become angry at staff, which reduces their willingness to ask for help or to talk about their health concerns.

What is Elderspeak?

Elderspeak refers to a communication approach towards seniors that is based on the assumption that older people are incompetent, fragile or impaired. To some, elderspeak is unavoidable because many elders suffer from hearing loss or cognitive decline. But most seniors view elderspeak as a type of bullying that belittles their age. Elements of elderspeak include the following:

  • Speaking in a sing-song voice
  • Using baby talk
  • Talking too slowly
  • Interrupting frequently
  • Speaking loudly when it is unnecessary
  • Saying “we” instead of “you”
  • Using overly familiar endearments (“dearie,” “sweetie”) towards unfamiliar seniors
  • Using overly familiar signs of affection (hair-tousling, back-patting) towards unfamiliar seniors

Elderspeak and Dementia

Research suggests that elderspeak may be distressing to older adults, and may lead nursing home residents with dementia to act out negatively (e.g., disregard instructions, act aggressively) or to withdraw from social interactions altogether. This throws into sharp relief that even in the face of cognitive decline elderspeak has a negative impact on seniors.

Challenging Elderspeak

Several approaches can reduce the frequency of elderspeak. These include:

  • Self-awareness. Most nursing home staff do not realize that they sometimes use elderspeak to communicate with residents. This form of speech may occur among caregivers who genuinely want what is best for the people in their care. When caregivers become aware of their speech behaviors towards seniors, ageist assumptions are challenged.
  • Clear, respectful speech. Nursing staff should learn to speak to seniors in a normal, conversational way, including the use of humor when appropriate. A simple educational lecture is all the difference necessary to raise awareness among caregivers.
  • Encourage assertiveness. Not every senior will take offense at all elderspeak practices. Some seniors find nicknames such as “sweetie” or “honey”, endearing. However, when seniors are annoyed or hurt by certain utterances they can be encouraged to speak out, for example, to say, “You don’t need to yell, I have a hearing aid” or “My name is Lori, can you call me that?” By using calm, clear wording, seniors can advocate for themselves and challenge the inaccurate perceptions of others.

David York Agency provides exceptional in-home care for seniors. If you have further questions about ageism, please contact us.

For more information about David York Agency’s qualified, compassionate caregivers, contact us at 718.376.7755. A free phone consultation can help you decide what services might be best to provide you and your loved one with the assistance they need. If you’d like to hear more from us, please like us on Facebook or follow us on TwitterGoogle+, or LinkedIn.

What is Ageism in Medicine?

Today, there is an unfortunate epidemic that is affecting the elderly. This problem is the result of biases, misconceptions, and assumptions, and we refer to it as “ageism in medicine.”

Consider this: a doctor tells a 75-year-old woman that there is no need to take blood pressure medication because hypertension is a “normal” part of aging. Miles away, a research study about the side effects of a cholesterol-lowering medication includes no research subjects over the age of 60. In addition, the drug in question is most commonly prescribed to the elderly. What’s wrong with this picture?

These stories have one theme in common. They reflect a serious social issue called medical ageism, a phenomenon that affects millions of American seniors.


What is Ageism in Medicine?

Ageism is described as the “systematic stereotyping of, and discrimination against, people because they are old.” In medicine, ageism results in deficiencies in the medical care that older adults receive.

It is a fact that the elderly receive less aggressive medical prevention, detection, and treatment than younger adults. As a result, greater rates of preventable disability and early mortality occur among this age group.

Ageism is everywhere. It occurs at the institutional level, as evidenced by the lack of training provided in geriatric medicine. It also happens at the individual level. For instance, a nurse avoids spending time with her senior patients because they are “depressing.”


Examples of Ageism in Medicine

  • Only 40% of older Americans receive routine health care screenings for high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol. This occurs despite the fact that these conditions worsen with age.
  • Only 10% of older Americans receive prostate and colon cancer exams even though early intervention is crucial for treating these diseases.
  • A doctor complains that his next patient is a “difficult old lady” who is a “trainwreck” waiting to happen.
  • A 70-year-old widower tells his doctor that he is always sad and has lost a lot of weight. The doctor doesn’t refer the man for depression screening despite the fact that the suicide rate for elderly white men is higher than it is for any other group in America.

The list goes on.


How Can I Help?

If you are a healthcare provider or professional caregiver

  • Seek out training opportunities in geriatric care and medicine.
  • Be mindful of any implicit biases (prejudices you may not be aware of) that affect how you perceive and interact with older adults.
  • Be aware of the language you use to describe older patients. Phrases like  “cranky old-timer” and “sweet old lady” may seem harmless, but they can perpetuate stereotypes about older adults.

If you are a family member or caregiver

  • Be assertive in ensuring that your loved one receives routine, preventative care. Do not assume that her physician’s office will automatically conduct regular screenings.
  • Help empower your senior relative to have a plan before talking to the doctor.
  • Educate yourself about ageism in medicine and become an advocate for your older relative.


For more information about David York Agency’s qualified, compassionate caregivers, contact us at 718.376.7755. A free consultation will help determine what services your loved one needs. If you’d like to hear more from us, please like us on Facebook or follow us on TwitterGoogle+, or LinkedIn.

Caring for the Caregiver by: Anita Kamiel, R.N., M.P.S.


Mother’s Day approaching and May being Older Americans month, I started thinking about caregivers at the beginning and at the end of life, for those young and old. People most often associate caregiving with the harried young mother who has no time to shower or get dressed as she feeds, bathes and runs after little ones. However, those who care for seniors are often just as stressed, pressed for time and tied to their charges.

Caring for aging loved ones was never an easy prospect. However, up until now, caregiver stress was not much of an issue. Families lived in multi-generational households and together they shared the burden of their sick and elderly. Today, families are scattered and the responsibility for care usually falls on the spouse to shoulder almost alone. But, the spouse usually has their own physical problems of decreased mobility and strength as well as pain discomfort. Paying for outside help can be quite expensive and unless proper planning took place years before, funds are often not available for full time relief. It’s clear that these caregivers need help.

Caregiving is exhausting business. Seniors needing care often have complex health problems warranting total care. Though it may a labor of love, there is the routine activities of daily living (ADLs) such as bathing, grooming, dressing and feeding. Days may be centered around the need to properly nourish, ambulate and stimulate the patient. Those are all physically demanding activities that become even more so if the patient has dementia or a personality shift due to a disease such as Alzheimer’s.

Caregiver burnout is all too common. There is juggling the errands such as grocery shopping, pharmacy trips and laundry – all must haves. Except, seniors needing care are not as portable as infants, making the situation more stressful and coverage even more crucial. No matter how well intentioned the caregiver, a difficult situation may spark feelings of fear, resentment and frustration and, if left to fester, can easily turn into full blown depression.

Caregivers are often confined and isolated with no one on hand to ask questions to; day-to-day decision making can become burdensome. In a facility, the staff have each other. At home, there is only the caregiver and patient with short interludes of other family members, doctors and allied health professionals. Furthermore, the social support system for caregivers shrinks due to their responsibilities which in turn can contribute to a budding depression.

Almost as much of a problem is the tendency of caregivers to push their own health under the rug. They are notorious for skipping their own doctor appointments and ignoring their own aches and pains hoping they just disappear. Denial might make the short term easier, but may be detrimental in the long run preventing them from seeking appropriate care and properly plan. In fact, there is a higher incidence of health issues associated with caregivers than non-caregivers probably due to a combination of stress, age and a certain degree of self-neglect. All too often, caregivers reach damaging and unhealthy levels of stress before they come to the point of reaching out for help and support.

The same dangers of fatigue apply to hired home health aides as they too are vulnerable to stress and isolation. Additionally, since they are often from entirely different cultures, varying priorities and expectations on the part of the patient, their family and caregiver may cause tension. Even the most caring aide can transfer this back to the senior or even his family which is why it is important for the aide to work no more than 5 days a week on one case and for the family to have relief aides on hand.

This leads me to my next point, relief for family members. It is so important to care for the caregiver. Family and friends need to be offer practical support and watch for signs of caregiver stress. Here are some suggestions:

1. Help with meals once a week or once a month. Even frozen food can be a help in a pinch.

2. Run an errand sporadically or on a regular basis. Do the trip to the drug store or the like.

3. ‘Senior-sit’ even one hour a week so the caregiver can get to the gym or a weekly class they enjoy.

4. If you can afford it, pay for a cleaning service once in a while to pinch hit.

5. Last, but not least, make a regular visit or just phone to show you care.

By the same token, caregivers must take steps to prevent any negative effects from their truly admirable work. Caregivers must seek the help of a friend, support groups or a physician, before their struggles become severe. Here are some steps to take:

1. Keep in contact with friends, neighbors or relatives. Though they feel pressed, they need to maintain their ‘social contract’ with friends. Keeping active socially reduces stress and provides an outlet for the rollercoaster of emotions that come with caregiving.

2. Seek out a support group. Many of the various associations that deal with diseases endemic to the elderly have regular, often local, support group meetings, even online.

3. Get active. Ride a bike. Go for a run. Put in an exercise video. Keep the blood circulating and the mind sharp.

4. Carve out ‘alone time’, even in the corner of the house, to read a book or watch a movie in peace. Some people find journaling daily thoughts and activities helps relieve stress.

5. Seek help immediately if depression is suspected. Talk therapy with a social worker or psychologist can help work through the unique challenges felt by caregivers. Remember, care must be taken to avoid what has become all too common – prescription drug abuse.

6. Keep your own nutrition up. That is the best way to maintain your health and energy level. You are a priority too!

Caregiving is praiseworthy, but lonely and challenging business – not for the faint of heart. However, if you make efforts to protect yourself while reaching out for help at the appropriate times, you will emerge healthy and fulfilled. Let me know if I can help!


Anita Kamiel, RN, MPS, is the founder and owner of David York Home Healthcare Agency, licensed by the State of New York. She holds a master’s degree in gerontological administration and is fully acquainted with all factors related to eldercare services and the latest guidelines for seniors. Thirty years ago, she realized the need for affordable, quality home health aide services provided and supervised by caring individuals. You can contact her at 718-376-7755 or at David York Agency is also on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn.

Preventing Falls in an Elderly Home: Review

preventing elderly fallsAccording to the CDC, one in three seniors experiences a fall. Of those that fall, 20 percent have a serious injury, such as a broken bone or head trauma. Therefore, preventing falls in seniors is extremely important. Although this is a topic we have discussed in the past, it is important enough to review again, as it affects so many people. Consider the following ways to make the home of your senior loved one safe.


Stairways are dangerous because a fall can easily cause serious injury. Implement these tips to make the stairway safe.

  • Install handrails on both sides of the stairs. Most stairways only have handrails on one side.
  • Be sure the handrails are sturdy. Tighten down any that are wobbly.
  • Clear the stairway of all clutter. No items should be stored on the stairs.
  • Check that the lighting is adequate, so the stairs can be seen when it is dark outside.
  • Take the above steps for all stairways, including those outside that are used to enter the house.


Falls in a bathroom are so dangerous because of all the hard surfaces. The tile floors and fixtures have no give and the edges of the sink and tub can cause injury. A few changes will make the bathroom much safer.

  • Install a night light for nighttime trips to the bathroom.
  • Install grab bars by the toilet and tub.
  • Ensure the toilet seat is at the right height. Consider buying an elevated seat if the existing seat is too low.
  • Remove trip hazards such as loose carpets, and install non-skid mats.

Living Area

A dark, cluttered home is a trip hazard. Consider the following tips to reduce the risk in the living area.

  • Remove any loose carpeting.
  • If lighting is not adequate, install new lighting. It is difficult to avoid tripping on items you cannot see. Bright light is beneficial.
  • Make sure wires do not run along walkways. Relocate wires to the edges of the room and tack them along the walls.
  • Remove clutter from rooms and walkways. If you must, put items in storage. Clear paths are critical.

Learning More

If you have an elderly loved one living at home, it is important to take steps to reduce the risk of falls. Implementing the above safety tips will help keep your loved one from being injured. For additional information on preventing senior falls, check out our handout and our resource page.

David York Agency can help you elder-proof your home. For more information about David York Agency’s services and their qualified, compassionate caregivers, contact us at 718.376.7755. A free phone consultation can help you decide what services might be best to provide you and your loved one with the assistance they need.

If you’d like to hear more from us, please like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter, Google+, or LinkedIn.”

Senior Care: Art, Creativity & Dementia

art therapy

Dementia affects millions of Americans each year, but doctors have yet to find a way to prevent the onset of this disease. However, studies have shown that the use of art and creativity often provide solace to seniors and caregivers alike.

Art Therapy

Art therapy benefits seniors tremendously. Creative activities, such as painting, craft making, or collaging, provide a positive creative outlet to seniors living with dementia. They often recall pleasant memories from their past and feel joy in those moments. And, since loneliness and depression are common emotions for seniors both with and without dementia, the joy derived from a creative endeavor can be a powerful force for positivity in their lives.


One of the best artistic activities for seniors is collage-making. Collages often expose parts of someone’s world and their perspective. Magazines contain images that can evoke emotions and memories. When one chooses an image to use in a collage, it reflects inner machinations of his or her world, inside and out. Consciously or unconsciously, seniors create more than a collage. They create both a window to their world – past, present and future – and a safe haven for themselves.

Naturally, assistance will be necessary for this activity. Seniors may have difficulty using supplies such as glue and scissors. But materials that stimulate sight and touch prove therapeutically beneficial to participants, so it is worth it to help with this activity.

It is highly recommended that caregivers be part of the creative process with their loved ones. It proves rewarding for everybody involved. When you create art with the special person in your life who has dementia, you not only help them create something new, you give them a way to connect to their past. When that happens, you can be on the spot to catch a glimpse. This will help you build a stronger bond with them and memories of your own for years to come.

Getting Help

At David York Agency, we understand the fears and challenges that dementia can bring, not just for the person diagnosed, but for everyone in their life. We provide families with the support and care they need during this particularly difficult time.

For more information about David York Agency’s qualified, compassionate caregivers, contact us at 718.376.7755. A free consultation can help you decide what services might be best to provide you and your loved one with the assistance they need.

If you’d like to hear more from us, please like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter, Google+, or LinkedIn.

How Hospital Social Workers Ease the Transition from Hospital to Home

Discharge planning

After a hospital stay, plans upon being discharged involve careful consideration of the patient’s medical issues and development of a plan of care for that patient’s return home. This critical area is called discharge planning and it arranges the logistics so that the patient can recover safely in the comfort of their own home.

Discharge planners are usually hospital social workers that work with the patient and their family to determine how to make the transition from the hospital to the home as smooth as possible.

Transitioning your loved one from the hospital to home can be a scary time since there is a lot to plan for and consider. This is especially the case when the patient is faced with diminished capacities, even temporarily. However, a discharge planner can help smooth this transition and get your loved one back home safely again.

They do the following:

  • Discuss plans for discharge with the patient and/or their family based on the recommendations of medical professionals treating the patient. The social worker may also visit several times toward the end of the hospital stay in order to ensure the discharge plan is appropriate.
  • Assess the needs of the patient and make necessary referrals to ensure he/she will have access to any medical treatment that may be needed after returning home. This may include arranging in-home nursing, in-home therapies, and/or arranging for necessary medical equipment to be delivered to the home.
  • Provide information on resources  within the community as well as any contact information for any state or federal resources that may be needed to assist with the needs of the patient.
  • Possibly contact insurance companies in order to ensure coverage and may also assist with finding alternate payment options for anything not covered.

Once home, a qualified compassionate caregiver from the David York Agency can provide the extra in-home assistance the patient’s needs. For more information about David York Agency’s home health care services, contact us at 718.376.7755. A free consultation can help you decide what services might be best to provide you and your loved one with the care they need. From geriatric social work to advice on how to deal with a diagnosis, David York Agency can help.

If you’d like to hear more from us, please like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter, Google+, or LinkedIn. For more information on discharge planning, contact us.

Danger of Polypharmacy in the Elderly by Anita Kamiel, R.N., M.P.S.


Polypharmacy is a term used for taking five or more drugs concurrently and this trend is on the rise. While this is a cause for alarm in the young, in the elderly, who usually take a panoply of medications prescribed to them by their stable of specialists along with their internist or geriatrician, the effects can be extremely serious. With so many doctors and healthcare professionals managing the patient, it is easy to both rack up the number of drugs at play as well as fall into the “prescribing cascade” where drugs are prescribed to counteract the side effects of another prescribed drug.

Risks in the Elderly

As with most things, the problem of drug interaction is more acute in the elderly than their younger counterparts. If dizziness is a side effect, as it is with beta blockers, and a fall occurs, the results can be catastrophic as compared to someone younger. In fact, higher medication use in the elderly has been cited as responsible for some falls and doctors have been advised to avoid medications that have been linked to falling.

Older patients seem to use their own discretion when taking their medications. They don’t easily cede their independence and it extends to this area of their lives as well. The senior patient may also be loath to tell the doctor about a complementary therapy or remedy having experienced a closed-minded or judgmental reaction it in the past.

Rising Trend...

According to a Harvard study, polypharmacy has seen a 70% increase over the last 12 years. A longitudinal study in JAMA Internal Medicine found that more than 33% are taking five or more medications, 66% are taking dietary supplements and 40% are taking over the counter drugs.

In 2006, 8% of seniors were at serious risk for drug interaction, but that number rose to over 15% in 2011. Adverse drug interactions include combining aspirin with the blood thinner Plavix. Taken together there is an increased risk of abdominal bleeding. Taking fish oil for heart health combined with the blood thinner Coumadin can also cause bleeding.

Most elderly patients don’t bother to tell their doctors about the non-prescription drugs or supplements they are taking for the simple reason that their doctor often neglects to either ask them about it or inform them that there could be risks of drug interaction. If the elderly will be choosing which medication they want to take (or can afford – a whole other topic), it is important to educate them about the purpose of each and the possible interactions, so they, their families and doctors can make informed decisions.

Communication & Follow-up Is Key

A serious problem is that medications are very often prescribed by specialists who don’t necessarily communicate with each other. A clinical pharmacist specializing in geriatric care can help. They are often the repository for all the prescriptions for the patient and can be a central clearinghouse. They can perform a drug reconciliation to make sure the patient is not combining substances with negative interactive effects. Consult Beer’s List put out by the American Pharmacists Association for drugs not to use in older adults. There is a handy list of “Tips on Polypharmacy Management” available through the

Another problem is once we start medications, we almost never stop them. Money is poured into efficacy tests for a course of drug treatment, but we almost never study how and when treatment is to end. A study out of the Veteran’s Affairs Hospital showed that 44% of elderly patients were actually given at least one unnecessary medication upon discharge.

In the meantime, go along with your senior loved one to the next checkup or doctor visit and bring every prescription and non-prescription over the counter remedy or supplement with you so you can do a comprehensive review. It will be a good time to re-visit the necessity of the medications as well as a time to tweak dosages.

If elderly patients are confused about what to take or are in the beginning stages of dementia, it’s easy to mismanage the arsenal of medications they are prescribed or recommended to take. A caregiver or family member must step in to avert what can sometimes become a life threatening disaster.


Anita Kamiel, RN, MPS, is the founder and owner of David York Home Healthcare Agency, licensed by the State of New York. She holds a master’s degree in gerontological administration and is fully acquainted with all factors related to eldercare services and the latest guidelines for seniors. Thirty years ago, she realized the need for affordable, quality home health aide services provided and supervised by caring individuals. You can contact her at 718-376-7755 or at David York Agency is also on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn.

10 Things You Can Do To Prevent Falls by: Anita Kamiel, R.N., M.P.S.

friendly caregiver talking to senior woman outdoors

It used to not be this way.

How many times have you heard someone say their father or mother was fine before he or she fell? For many older adults, an unexpected fall can touch off a series of events that end in serious or fatal complications. It can lead to extended hospital stays and disabling conditions that make living independently more of a challenge.

As we age, we begin to lose our balance. Due to their unsteadiness, the elderly are terribly afraid of falling and tend to view themselves as fragile. This is one of the underlying reasons they avoid commonplace activities like walking, shopping and even socializing. Their physical reality combined with their fears often exacerbates their feelings of isolation and depression, all too common in this group.

May be the most serious concern for the elderly.

The National Institute of Health maintains that “falls are the number one cause of fractures, hospital admissions for trauma, loss of independence, and injury deaths” among those 65 and older in the US making fall prevention in the elderly a high priority. The risk only increases as we age with one in five people 85 and older reporting a fall more than once a year compared to one in 10 of those between 65 and 74. Falls in the elderly are often fatal or have long term consequences for performing their activities of daily living.

Elderly patients must be counseled on how to prevent falls in terms of their surroundings and medications. Certain drugs can affect their already compromised sense of balance. They include:

  • anti-seizure drugs (anticonvulsants)
  • hypertensive (high blood pressure) drugs
  • sedatives
  • tranquilizers
  • anxiolytics (anti-anxiety drugs)
  • aminoglycosides (a type of antibiotic)
  • diuretics
  • vasodilators
  • certain analgesics (painkillers)
  • certain chemotherapeutics (anti-cancer drugs).

Things you can do.

The National Institute on Aging has a handy tip sheet at Go4Life on preventing falls.

Here are 10 things you can do to prevent falls:

  1. Regular exercise, especially those that work on balance like yoga and tai chi, can help steady the elderly adult as can weight-bearing exercises that slow bone loss and lower-body strengthening exercises.
  2. Elderproofing a home where most falls occur while doing mundane tasks is critical. Tripping hazards from carpets, wires, and clutter must be removed. Half of all falls at home happen in the bathroom and a misstep in this room can spell disaster. Grab bars in places like the shower, tub and toilet as well as proper lighting are essential.
  3. Make regular eye and hearing check-ups to ensure properly fitted glasses with the optimal prescription. Wearing bifocals while walking or on steps may blur the vision enough to cause falls. Proper hearing can ensure no cues are missed.
  4. Regular dizziness may indicate an underlying medical condition with respect to blood pressure, circulation, or sensory issues which should be checked out by a physician.
  5. Physical therapy may be useful for improving balance and walking confidence.
  6. Have the doctor or pharmacist review all medications to identify those most likely to cause dizziness and drowsiness.
  7. Stand up slowly from a seated or lying position.
  8. Wear rubber soled shoes to avoid slipping.
  9. Limit the amount of alcohol consumed.
  10. Get enough sleep.

Interestingly, Ritalin may help prevent falls. In an encouraging breakthrough, Ben Gurion University researchers have found that a single dose of the drug used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and narcolepsy, helps improve balance during walking reducing the risk of falls among seniors. While they admit the results may be due to the improved focus brought about by the medication, they also feel that Ritalin actually has a direct influence on parts of the brain that deal with motor and balance control.

Prevention is key.

Falls can be prevented and a good caregiver can minimize any negative long term effects if one does occur. The importance of caregivers being familiar with maintaining safe environments and routines for the elderly cannot be overstated. Many geriatric social workers and occupational therapists can help set up a safe living space for an elderly person. If you don’t know of one, a home healthcare agency should be able to refer one to you.


Anita Kamiel, RN, MPS, is the founder and owner of David York Home Healthcare Agency, licensed by the State of New York. She holds a master’s degree in gerontological administration and is fully acquainted with all factors related to eldercare services and the latest guidelines for seniors. Thirty years ago, she realized the need for affordable, quality home health aide services provided and supervised by caring individuals. You can contact her at 718-376-7755 or at David York Agency is also on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn.

A Hot Trend: The Internet, Social Media & The Elderly by: Anita Kamiel R.N., M.P.S.

Senior couple using tablet sitting on bed

Many might think that social media is the exclusive domain of the younger generation. However, many of our older adults have enthusiastically adopted it to keep up with the times as well as their old acquaintances and younger family members. Grandparents are becoming proficient in alien things like Skype and Facebook and liking it. It has become a healthy emotional outlet and word of its benefits has spread like wildfire among the elderly.

Statistics on Elderly Internet Use

According to the Pew Research Center, Internet use among those 65 and older grew 150 percent between 2009 and 2011, the largest growth in a demographic group. Furthermore, their 2012 study showed that of those that go online, 71 percent do so daily and 34 percent use social media. The elderly use these tools to bridge the geographic gap between them and their loved ones far away and as a way to re-connect with friends from a far off time. Studies show that the internet has become an important portal for reducing isolation, loneliness and other depressive symptoms.

How the Elderly Use the Internet

Seniors emphasize the informational and educational aspects of the Internet using it in an encyclopedic fashion to visit government sites or research financial issues. Many of the elderly have uncovered the beauty of the digital travelogue and the value of having a book review available through a simple click. This gateway to the outside world is critical once the elderly become homebound. While teens have moved on from Facebook, the older generation has found that it serves them quite well. Seniors have discovered that Skyping is a great way to bring relatives from faraway destinations right into their living rooms. Twitter has become popular for keying into specific news sections they want to follow.

While their younger counterparts use social media in a “selfie” sort of way, the elderly, who are very sensitive to privacy issues, use it to connect with like-minded individuals. They use it for health information and to connect with others experiencing the same challenges. They have recognized that others in their stations in life are also online and have used it to start discussion groups for life and health issues pertinent to them. From dementia to depression to diabetes — all can give and receive support in the comfort and convenience of their home. Doctors and other professionals have keyed into this demographic and set up social media pages to take advantage of this customer and patient outlet. Groups for the elderly experiencing specific ailments as well as groups directed at their caregivers are all set up for those elderly who are increasingly availing themselves of this supportive network.

Computer Classes for the Elderly

Computer classes at senior centers are growing in popularity. Classes on computer basics as well as instruction in using email and other social media platforms such as Facebook have become more common. In fact, the Jewish Council for the Aging in Washington, D.C. offers an entire Senior Tech program. has a whole program called University Without Walls specifically designed for seniors who are homebound where they get to participate in stimulating classes and lectures through their computer or tablet. Local AARP chapters also offer computer basics classes and sometimes partner with vendors for discounts on the hardware.

A Tool With Great Benefits

Research shows the Internet has become an important way to exercise the minds of seniors. A new study out of England and Italy finds that when the elderly are trained in the use of social media as well as Skype and email, they perform better cognitively and experience improved health. During a two year period, 120 seniors in the UK and Italy aged 65 and above were given specially designed computer training and were compared against a control group that did not receive any. Among those that used these tools, the mental and physical capacity improved as opposed to a steady decline experienced in the control group. One woman reported feeling “invigorated” rather than “slipping into a slower pace” and caring more about her appearance and losing weight. It seems that satisfying our basic social needs can have synergistic effects for our overall health.

Overcoming loneliness is that much easier through the Internet and social media. As more and more of the population ages and sticks closer to home, the Internet as a support and educational tool becomes ever more important. Technology has greatly ameliorated the potential of our seniors feeling isolated and alone. Let’s help them take advantage!


Anita Kamiel, RN, MPS, is the founder and owner of David York Home Healthcare Agency, licensed by the State of New York. She holds a master’s degree in gerontological administration and is fully acquainted with all factors related to eldercare services and the latest guidelines for seniors. Thirty years ago, she realized the need for affordable, quality home health aide services provided and supervised by caring individuals. You can contact her at 718-376-7755 or at David York Agency is also on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn.

Senior Substance Abuse: An Explosion On The Horizon by: Anita Kamiel, R.N., M.P.S.

Elderly Addiction

It’s something that we never associate with the elderly, but it does exist: substance abuse. According to the NYS Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS), this “hidden national epidemic is diagnosed in only 37% of those ages 60+ suffering from addiction. Many organizations have new guidelines for doctors and health professionals to screen every patient for alcohol and drug abuse.

2 Types of Abusers

According to the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, there are two types of elderly abusers: those who are continuing their heavy substance use cultivated over their lives, and those who, due to the disappointments and struggles of later years, have turned to alcohol and drugs as a way to cope with their pain—physical and psychological. OASAS calls these groups “hardy survivors” and “late onsets.”

Older Women

Women, who generally live longer, are more likely to fall prey later in life. Alcohol is usually the drug of choice, but prescription medications rank just below that. Many of these prescription drugs include opiates for pain relief for diseases like arthritis and sedatives for anxiety and sleep disorders.

According to Dr. Andrew Kolodny of the Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, middle-aged women saw an increase of 900% (not a typo!) in addiction to both opioids and heroin since 1997 with a concurrent 450% increase in deaths due to overdose since 1999. The potential to overwhelm the medical system and society is enormous.

The opioids are prescribed for pain, but due to their high acclimation effect, higher and higher doses are needed to get the same result. Doctors, given specious information from drug companies and largely untrained in pain management, prescribe them again and again to improve quality of life, and patients are not educated in alternative methods.

There are acute risks associated with elderly substance abuse.

The elderly use so many prescription and over-the-counter drugs that their adverse interactions with alcohol or narcotics could be disastrous.
Because the way we metabolize alcohol as we age changes, it actually takes much less alcohol for the elderly to become intoxicated. This leads to a greater risk for impaired cognitive functioning, depression, and general confusion. They may even become so confused that they take extra doses of medication resulting in overdose or death.

Already compromised in many seniors, brain cells essential for memory, thinking, and decision-making are destroyed with heavy drinking.
Being sedated by drugs or alcohol combined with its cumulative effects increases the risk of falls and serious fractures to the elderly which are often accompanied by fatal complications.

Not Just for Teens, but Baby Boomers, too!

Up to this point, addiction and substance abuse has primarily been seen as a young person’s affliction, but a whole generation of younger people is aging out. Furthermore, as baby boomers enter the golden years, their exposure to alcohol and drugs as youngsters makes them more open to them now. The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation estimates that 17% of those 60 and older abuse substances, including prescription drugs. They estimate the number to double by 2020.

The Signs & Signals

Though it is difficult to tease out the symptoms of abuse since they mimic many of the common signs of aging, the Center for Applied Research Solutions recommends watching out for:

  • Memory loss
  • Disorientation
  • Lack of balance
  • Shaky hands
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Chronic boredom
  • The Center for Substance Abuse Treatment adds the following symptoms to the list:
  • Changes in sleeping habits
  • Unexplained bruises
  • Being unsure of yourself
  • Unexplained chronic pain
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Wanting to stay alone much of the time
  • Failing to bathe or keep clean
  • Having trouble concentrating
  • Difficulty staying in touch with family or friends
  • Lack of interest in usual activities

Some suggestions for managing this problem include:

Many doctors and professionals are reluctant to confront this since they feel “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” but that is a fallacy. The elderly can be nimble, as proved by their ability to adapt to their personal deficiencies fairly rapidly. They react better to intervention than other age groups and require less-intensive rehab called “brief alcohol interventions.” They recognize the benefits of sobering up since not doing so threatens their independence as well as their cognitive and physical abilities. Early evidence supports the finding that baby boomers are more amenable to recovery since they don’t carry the shame of addiction of previous generations.

Try these tips:

  1. Paying close attention to the elderly family member’s daily comings and goings.
  2. Getting a drug interaction list of the elderly patient’s medications from the pharmacist.
  3. Raising your concerns with the doctor and having him/her assess and screen thoroughly for the problem.
  4. Increasing the activity level and social activities for the elderly loved one.
  5. Participating in a 12-step program or support group.
  6. Having diplomatic, nonjudgmental conversations with your elderly relative.

The key is to avoid the opioid addiction cycle to begin with. Just as we plan for later years, that could begin as early as middle age.

Anita Kamiel, RN, MPS, is the founder and owner of David York Home Healthcare Agency, licensed by the State of New York. She holds a master’s degree in gerontological administration and is fully acquainted with all factors related to eldercare services and the latest guidelines for seniors. Thirty years ago, she realized the need for affordable, quality home health aide services provided and supervised by caring individuals. You can contact her at 718-376-7755 or at David York Agency is also on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn.