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Staying Active in Older Life
Every week there seems to be a new viral photo or video depicting the amazing feats of older athletes and keep-fit enthusiasts. From an 85 year-old who recently set an age-group world record at the Toronto Marathon, running it in under four hours, to a 67-year-old completing the hardy Ironman challenge, rebelling doctor’s advice that he should refrain from tough exercise altogether. 

Of course, these are extraordinary accomplishments, but it’s no secret that staying active throughout your life and into older age has numerous benefits and can help to reduce the risk of age-related illness and conditions. Combine it with eating well, regular exercise can keep you feeling fit, healthy and independent for many years. 

There are lots of exercise classes and health referral schemes for older people. If you’re overweight or suffer from particular health conditions, speak to your GP about what you can and can’t do. It’s important to start slowly at first and build your fitness. And, of course; do activities that you enjoy. 

1. Walking 
Walking is an ideal form of exercise for those who want to start exercising a bit more regularly, but don’t want to participate in anything too active. Regular walking of a moderate intensity has been shown to have wider health benefits, reducing the risk of chronic illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, asthma and type 2 diabetes. Keep it social by walking in a group or with a friend.  

2. Table Tennis 
Activities such as table tennis have been proven to improve motor skills and increase blood flow to the brain. It’s is a competitive physical activity but it’s also is sociable and entertaining. Playing table tennis also improves hand-eye co-ordination and balance. It really is a game that can be played by people of any age, and can even be played sitting down. 

3. Yoga 
Many people often start yoga in their seventies, as a result of its health benefits. Research has suggested that regular yoga practice can be hugely beneficial for people with aches and pains, including lower back pain, heart disease, high blood pressure, as well as depression and stress. Yoga is often popular amongst people living with arthritis. 

4. Dancing 
Dancing is an effective way to add aerobic exercise to your weekly routine. There are many dance exercise DVDs that you can use at home or, even better, check out your local community center for dance exercise classes that are specifically for older people. Classes such as low-impact aerobics, salsa, jazz, tap, ballroom and even chair aerobics are easy to join since you can work at your own pace.  

At Blenheim House, we encourage our residents to participate in as much physically activity as they’re able, whether that’s a seated exercise class or a stroll around our beautiful gardens. For more information about our lifestyles and activity programs, contact us today.          

Could an app reverse the early signs of dementia?
New research from the University of Cambridge and the University of East Anglia suggests that Brain training games can boost the memory and may reduce the risk of dementia.   

Researchers used an app called ‘Game Show’ to treat people with amnestic mild cognitive impairment. Participants played the game on an iPad and had to try and win gold coins by putting different patterns in their correct places, with the game becoming increasingly challenging as players succeed, in order to keep them stimulated.   

42 people over-45 living with amnestic mild cognitive impairment participated in the study, which last for one month. Half of the participants played Game Show for two hours a week and the other half played no video games at all.   

The results, published in the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, revealed that players improved their “episodic” memory by about 40 per cent and participants said that they enjoyed playing it, and felt motivated to continue playing. 

This helps with the day-to-day activities such as remembering where we put our car keys, or a joke we shared with friends.   

Dr Carol Routledge from Alzheimer’s Research UK said: “Game Show could hold some benefit for people with mild memory problems. 

“But without more research we can’t tell if the same benefits could be achieved with any other electronic game. 

“The fear of a dementia diagnosis is at an all-time high so there is a lot of interest in cognitive brain training.” 

Larger trials are planned to see how long the benefits last.

Questions to ask when choosing a care home
Finding the right care home for your loved one is a crucial step in helping them live a happy and fulfilled life. Trusting the care of someone you love to someone else is tough, but making a well thought choice at this stage will help you feel confident in your actions. 

Don’t be afraid to ask questions when you visit a care home; the more information you can gather, the more you can feel certain that you’ve made a good choice. Here’s some advice on what to think about, and what to ask, when you visit a potential care home. 

Shortlisting care homes 
Talk to your loved one about what’s important to them in a care home. Would they like a lovely garden, do they want to be close to family or friends, or do they need specialist care of some sort? What do they consider to be ‘essential’ in a care home, and what is just ‘desirable’? Once you’ve understood their needs and requirements, you’ll find it easier to start drawing up a shortlist. 

Questions to ask yourself 
Allow plenty of time at the home, so you can really get a feel for the place. As you’re looking around, ask yourself: 
 
How does it sound? Listen for how care workers talk to residents. Are they friendly, compassionate and loving?

How does it smell? Care homes can sometimes have an odour – that’s to be expected to an extent. However, if the odours are overwhelming, it might not be getting cleaned as well as it should.

What is the food like? See if you can stay for a meal, so you and your loved one can see and taste the quality of the food. Older people may need encouragement to eat, so food should taste and smell delicious, as well as being visually appealing.

What are residents doing? A good care home will encourage residents to be active, social and busy. Seeing lots of people up and about is a good sign, as is a full calendar of activities and events.

What are the staff like? A busy staff is normal, but stressed and tired looking care workers are not. Listen in to care workers interacting with each other; if they’re being sharp or rude with their co-workers, chances are they’ll be sharp or rude with the residents too. 

Taking all this in will give you a good insight into how the care home performs. Think about your gut feeling about the home, and whether the people living and working there look happy and satisfied. 

Questions to ask the care home 
As well as doing your own investigations, make sure you ask plenty of questions about the care and facilities your loved one will have access to. Chances are you’ve got your own set of questions relating to their specific care needs, but think about some of these issues as well:

Will they have a phone in their room, or access to a phone?
How can they receive post?
How can you submit feedback?
When will you be briefed on how they are doing; are there relatives meetings?
Are there set times that relatives can visit; can children or pets be brought in?
Can guests stay for meals, and what is the cost? 
Can they stay overnight?
What security measures are in place to keep valuables safe?
What activities are on offer for your loved one to take part in?  

The power of attorney dilemma: Pros and cons of putting someone else in charge
Putting someone else in the driving seat of your financial or medical decisions can be a daunting decision. As our capacity to deal with forms, telephone calls and visits to the high street reduces, our reliance on others increases, but when is the right time to hand over power? Here’s what you need to know about power of attorney. 

What is power of attorney? 
The power of attorney is essentially your permission for another person to act on your behalf in serious situations where normally only you would be able to deal with the issue. It takes the form of a legal document, which you put together and sign, giving that individual the rights to attend to certain matters on your behalf. 

A power of attorney doesn’t have to be a permanent decision. Sometimes it can be helpful to have someone dealing with a particular situation for you, but for other issues you’d rather stay in control. For example, if you were in hospital and needed a friend or relative to pay your bills for you, you could grant temporary power of attorney to them to ensure these things are done.  

Alternatively, you can grant a more permanent power of attorney. This enables a friend or relative to act on your behalf for the rest of your life, and can be a great decision if you are diagnosed with a degenerative disease such as dementia. 

Types of power of attorney 
There are three main types of power of attorney, each of which may be useful to you in different situations.

Ordinary power of attorney: This allows one or more people, who will be known as your attorney, to make financial decisions for you. This type of agreement is only valid while you have mental capacity to make your own decisions, so it is best for people who are temporarily in hospital, can no longer get to the bank or post office, or physically struggle to complete necessary paperwork.

Lasting power of attorney: Lasting power of attorney gives someone you trust the right to make decisions on your behalf if you are unable to make those decisions yourself. This can be for financial reasons, such as selling your home, investing savings or paying bills. It can also be for care and health purposes, such as what medical care you receive, where you live and how you spend your time.

Enduring power of attorney: Today, there is no longer such a thing as an enduring power of attorney, as these were replaced with lasting power of attorney in October 2007. However, if you signed an enduring power of attorney agreement prior to this date, it will still be valid. Enduring power of attorney only covers financials, so if you want your attorney to deal with healthcare decisions too, it can be a good idea to set up a lasting power of attorney to work alongside your existing enduring power of attorney. 

Understanding the types of power of attorney available to you is the first step towards deciding if it’s right for you to put this agreement in place. 

Pros and cons of power of attorney 
There is no hard and fast rule about when you should implement a power of attorney agreement. It’s very much an individual decision, and one you should consider carefully.  There are a lot of advantages to setting up a power of attorney agreement, including:

• It’s inexpensive
• You’ll feel more certain of the future
• You can still retain ultimate control if you wish
• You get to choose who is your attorney 

 It’s also worth weighing up the disadvantages too. A power of attorney will only end upon your death, so it’s a decision you’ll have to live with for the rest of your life. Think about things like:

• Whether the person you choose is competent
• Whether they are trustworthy and willing to help
• If all your financial institutions are going to recognise the power of attorney
• What you will do if something goes wrong 

For most situations, appointing a power of attorney is nothing to be afraid of. In fact, the process can be liberating. It’s easy to assume that if our mental capacity fails us our affairs will be handled by our wife or husband, son or daughter, but in actual fact, without a power of attorney drawn up, they may well not be. Consider your options, and do your homework on the pros and cons of power of attorney, because it could be the best decision you ever made. 

Don’t forget, you can contact us for more information and our team can point you in the direction of independent financial advisors. 

Could dementia be slowed by taking more exercise?
As we are living longer than ever, so the number of people living with dementia is increasing too. Predictions are that cases of dementia will double every 20 years, and that by 2050, there will be more than 130 million people worldwide living with the disease. 

Dementia is a wide-reaching term that describes a number of individual diseases, so complete prevention is very difficult to achieve. However, studies have shown that in many early onset cases, the progression of the disease can be slowed through healthy living strategies, and in particular exercise. 

How can exercise keep the brain healthy? 
A study at the University of Nottingham found that a stress hormone produced by the brain during moderate exercise could protect the brain from the changes caused by dementia diseases. The hormone, called CRF, or corticotrophin-releasing factor, has been shown to keep mental facilities sharp, and do help nerve cells stay alive. 

In people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, the researchers found a significantly lower level of CRF. Production of this stress hormone can be stimulated by both physical and mental exercise, and could have a beneficial impact on slowing the progression of the disease, particularly where memory is concerned. 

Numerous other studies have supported these findings, and it is becoming clear that even moderate exercise can boost memory, mental processing speed and can even build the size of the hippocampus, even in previously sedentary adults. Just walking at a moderate pace three times a week could reduce mental decline by up to 10 years in older adults. 

Exercises for older adults 
When we talk about exercise for dementia, it’s not only the body that needs a work out. Exercising both the body and the brain has been shown to tackle the progression of the disease, and to help older adults enjoy better overall wellbeing. 

Physical exercises 
Increasing the heart rate and breathing more deeply is good for all areas of physical wellness. Sending all that fresh blood to the brain can help keep it healthy, as well as boosting levels of the dementia preventing stress hormone, CRF. Here are some ideas for physical activities that can be enjoyed by a range of older people:

• Gardening; either low exertion like weeding or pruning, or more physical like mowing or raking
• Bowls and skittles
• Dance classes, either formal dance or improvised movement; chair dancing is fine too!
• Chair exercises such as turning, marching, bending and raising limbs
• Walking
• Swimming
• Tai chi or yoga 

Physical exercises should challenge the body, but without causing injury or pain. Encouraging old people to do ‘one more’ or to push themselves just a little bit further will maximise the impact of any exercises undertaken. 

Mental exercises 
Keeping your mind active can help slow the effects of dementia by reducing cell damage and supporting the growth of new cells. Nerves will create new pathways between each other, and old connections will be strengthened. Try some of these activities to keep your brain sharp:

• Learn a language
• Do puzzles and crosswords
• Play board games with other people
• Try video games or online memory games
• Read and write
• Play a musical instrument 

There are lots of ways you can keep exercising your brain, and the benefits can be long lasting. Just 10 hours of brain training has been shown to produce results that can last up to 10 years, so make an investment now to reap the rewards later.