Single-use masks could be a coronavirus hazard if we don’t dispose of them properly.
Many people have already been wearing masks for some time in a bid to protect themselves and others from COVID-19. Evidence has shown masks likely do reduce the spread of COVID-19, so wearing them is a good and ethical thing to do, but one conversation we’re not having enough is around how to safely dispose of single-use masks. Disposing of used masks or gloves incorrectly could risk spreading the infection they’re designed to protect against.
While reusable cloth masks are an option if you’ve been able to buy one or even make one yourself, disposable, single-use surgical masks appear to be a popular choice. They provide protection and they’re cheap and convenient. It’s estimated the global use and disposal of masks and gloves will amount to 129 billion face masks and 65 billion plastic gloves for every month of the COVID-19 pandemic. The effect on the environment is an important but separate issue to the health risks we’re discussing here.
Alarmingly, from what we’ve observed, people are discarding masks in communal trash bins and even leaving them in empty shopping carts. Incorrectly disposing of masks could create a risk of infection for others. People should know better than to leave used masks lying around, but they can’t be expected not to discard them in public bins when there’s no other option, and when they’re not given any advice on how to dispose of them properly. While there are clear guidelines on the disposal and separation of medical waste within healthcare settings, guidelines for disposal of surgical masks in public settings are unclear.
The Australian government simply advises they be disposed of “responsibly in the trash bin”, meaning they will be mixed with ordinary waste. This is in contrast to personal protective equipment (PPE) used in health-care settings, which is disposed of separately to regular waste, transported to sealed landfill, and in some cases incinerated.
We don’t yet know a whole lot about the survival of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, on textile materials. One study published in the medical journal The Lancet found no infectious SARS-CoV-2 could be detected on textile materials after 48 hours. A review study which looked at the survival of a range of pathogens on textiles found viruses could survive longer than 48 hours, though not as long as bacteria. Although we need more research on this topic, it seems there is potential for cross-contamination, and therefore possibly COVID-19 infection, from disposed masks. In addition, if the discarded mask is carrying infectious particles, it may be possible for these to cross-contaminate the surfaces they come into contact with, such as shopping carts. And we know SARS-CoV-2 survives more readily on hard surfaces than porous ones, so this is a worry.
The safest thing to do is to put used masks and gloves into a plastic bag when you take them off, and seal it. Then, when you’re back at home, throw the bag away into a closed bin.
Source: The Conversation, www.theconversation.com
Whether it’s the annual flu season or a pandemic like COVID-19, St. Anne’s understands the value of wearing masks and the impact they have on the health of our Residents and staff. Our campus has been closed to outside visitors since March, and since that time, masks have been required within our community. The importance of masks in reducing SARS-CoV2 infections in our communities is explained in the article below.
What’s the Deal with Masks?
Adapted from the article published on May 29, 2020 by Erin Bromage
Masks should not be a political issue. They are a public health issue. But they seem to have stirred up a whole mess of fuss for various reasons.
When we breathe, talk, yell, sing, cough or sneeze we release respiratory droplets. Tiny balls of mucus that go speeding out our mouth and nose and into the air around us. Those tiny little mucus balls can package up all sorts of fun things – for example, bacteria and viruses. Bacteria are by far the easier ones to see.
Viruses are a little harder to measure. You need to catch the droplets and put them in a tissue culture plate containing cells that will allow the virus to grow. The presence of virus in respiratory droplets of infected people has been demonstrated by many labs around the world.
When we speak, those tiny little respiratory droplets are projected forward from our mouth. Hard letters, such a “P” and “K” and “T” project droplets further than the softer letters in our alphabet. The large droplets (100um) hit the ground within 3 feet, the smaller ones within about 6 feet, while the smallest of all (known as the droplet nuclei) can travel great distances. The breathing zone (0-6 feet away) is the high-risk zone for potential infection. If you are within that range, you are inhaling respiratory droplets from the person with whom you are speaking. Outside of that range, the only concern is the smaller droplet nuclei.
The size of the large droplets allow more virus to be packed inside them. In contrast, the small droplet nuclei may only have a few infectious viral particles in each one. However, being smaller doesn’t necessarily mean they are safer. Smaller particles, when inhaled, can travel deeper into the lungs than the larger particles – and then find a home in the receptive lung tissue, more easily initiating infection.
Face-to-face conversations are one of the riskiest things you can do when there is an infectious respiratory disease running rampant in your community. It’s even more worrisome when we are facing a respiratory pathogen like SARS-CoV2 that is infectious for up to 5 days before the symptoms show (sub-clinical infectious period).
- The closer you are to another human, the more risky your conversation or interaction.
- Staying 6 feet away allows all the larger droplets to hit the floor.
- Your risk is primarily the virus contained in the droplet nuclei, but the further you are away the more they are dispersed in the surrounding air, resulting in a lower dose, and a lower risk.
- The longer you speak face-to-face with someone, the more chance there is to accumulate an infectious dose of virus.
Location: Indoors vs. Outdoors
- Respiratory droplets still hit the ground at the same speed indoors and outdoors. What changes is the distance they travel before hitting the ground.
- Wind and air conditioning can push the larger droplets further from the person talking.
- Pay attention to the direction wind or A/C is blowing. Try to speak cross breeze, if at all possible, so the air pushes the droplets away from both of you and not to towards either of you.
- Wearing a mask while breathing, talking, yelling, coughing or sneezing catches respiratory droplets leaving your mouth and nose.
- Even with the most basic mask, virtually 100% of the large and medium-sized droplets are caught on the inside fabric surface.
- As the masks increase in quality, the amount of small respiratory droplets and droplet nuclei that get caught on the inside surface increases. Quality includes:
- How well it fits your face
- How much air passes through the fabric (versus up past your eyes/glasses)
- The type of fabrics included in the breathing area of the mask
**Wash your mask regularly with soap and water, especially if you are wearing for extended periods.**
Despite all the publications on mask use, there are no hard and fast numbers to provide because each mask and the way people wear them, is different. At a minimum, it is believed a good mask will reduce 50% of emissions from the mask-wearer. Multi-layered mixed fabric masks approach filtering efficiencies as high as 90%.
There is no clear evidence to indicate that cloth masks will protect you from inhaling the smallest infected respiratory droplets (those droplet nuclei) from another person. The primary purpose of a cloth mask, when worn by everyone, is to serve as a control for source emissions. If we lower the respiratory droplets coming out of us, we can substantially lower the amount of virus put into the air, thereby lowering the risk to everyone.
My mask protects you. Your mask protects me.
Successful Infection = (Exposure to Virus) x (Time)
If we can decrease the amount of virus released into the air in droplets through wearing masks, we will increase the time in which we can have safer face-to-face conversations
The risk for infection increases in shared spaces increases with:
- The more people that are in that space
- The longer time we spend in that space
- Indoor spaces are more risky than outdoor spaces (due to lack of air exchange indoors)
What role do masks have in indoor spaces?
Indoor spaces allow for the virus to accumulate in the air if there is not adequate air filtration and exchange.
In indoor environments with poor air exchange and filtration, the infected respiratory droplets can spread throughout the room, build up in the air, and, after a sufficient length of time, people sharing that space can inhale enough of a viral load to become infected. However, with mask use, the respiratory emissions are lowered, and you are provided with a greater period of time before reaching an infectious dose. The better the quality of the mask, the greater reduction in respiratory emissions and the longer you can spend in the indoor space safely.
If you spend a lot of time in shared spaces, what can you do?
- Invest in high quality masks. Look for a mask that has a multi-layer multi-fabric design and an adjustable nose bridge to seal the top part of the mask to your face. The more of your exhaled air that is forced to pass through the mask fabric, the greater the filtering respiratory droplets will be caught inside the mask, and everyone is safer.
- Improve the intake of outside air – the more air you can exchange with outside, the lower the viral burden in your space.
- Improve the filtration – some HVAC systems can be easily upgraded to have high quality filters included in the system. Potentially upgrade with UV. Consider purchasing portable HEPA filtration systems for smaller spaces where the central system may not be adequate (therapy offices, treatment rooms etc).
- Masks are part of the solution to reduce the release of infectious virus into the environment, but they are not 100% effective.
- Social distancing works when outdoors and in brief indoor encounters, but distance alone, while indoors, does not protect you from infection.
Face mask use is a social contract.
My mask protects you. Your mask protects me.
Face masks are not perfect and they need to be used in conjunction with other measures to lower risk of infection such as physical distancing and hand washing. There is ample evidence to suggest that widespread use of masks results in significant reductions in the transmission of respiratory viruses. Mask use is grounded in biology and can have a real world and meaningful effect on slowing the spread of infection, protecting your coworkers, and those vulnerable members in your community.
- Can my fabric masks protect me as well?
Yes, some brands provide filtering capacity on exhalation and inhalation, but their effectiveness comes down to how well they fit your face and the material used.
- Should I wear a mask with valves?
Masks with valves allow the ejection of your respiratory droplets out through the air port. Possibly at a higher velocity than normal breathing and therefore dispersing the droplets further. While the filter in the port does protect you from infection and the masks do catch your largest droplets, they are not the best option when we are considering a community-minded approach to mask use.
- Why not wear a N95 or KN95?
These high quality respirators provide excellent protection on both exhalation and inhalation, but only if they are fitted properly, and they are not easy to fit properly. All air must pass through the respirator material and the vast majority of people wearing them do not wear them correctly.
To read the full article with graphics, visit https://www.erinbromage.com/post/what-s-the-deal-with-masks
As counties in Pennsylvania and other states begin a phased reopening plan, many people are concerned about the continued spread of COVID-19 or another spike in cases. While health officials stress the importance of handwashing and wearing masks, we want to share highlights of an article that can guide you away from situations of high risk.
COVID-19: The Risks – Know Them – Avoid Them
Published on May 6, 2020 by Erin S. Bromage, Ph.D.
Where are people getting sick?
We know most people get infected in their own home. A household member contracts the virus in the community and brings it into the house where sustained contact between household members leads to infection.
In order to get infected, you need to get exposed to an infectious dose of the virus; based on infectious dose studies with other coronaviruses, it appears that only small doses may be needed for infection to take hold. Some experts estimate that as few as 1000 SARS-CoV2 infectious viral particles are all that will be needed. Please note, this still needs to be determined experimentally, but we can use that number to demonstrate how infection can occur. Infection could occur, through 1000 infectious viral particles you receive in one breath or from one eye-rub, or 100 viral particles inhaled with each breath over 10 breaths, or 10 viral particles with 100 breaths. Each of these situations can lead to an infection.
How much Virus is released into the environment?
A Bathroom: Bathrooms have a lot of high touch surfaces, door handles, faucets, stall doors and the transfer risk in this environment can be high. We still do not know whether a person releases infectious material in feces or just fragmented virus, but we do know that toilet flushing does aerosolize many droplets. Treat public bathrooms with extra caution (surface and air), until we know more about the risk.
A Cough: A single cough releases about 3,000 droplets and droplets travels at 50 miles per hour. Most droplets are large, and fall quickly (gravity), but many do stay in the air and can travel across a room in a few seconds.
A Sneeze: A single sneeze releases about 30,000 droplets, with droplets traveling at up to 200 miles per hour. Most droplets are small and travel great distances (easily across a room). If a person is infected, the droplets in a single cough or sneeze may contain as many as 200,000,000 (two hundred million) virus particles which can all be dispersed into the environment around them.
A Breath: A single breath releases 50 – 5000 droplets. Most of these droplets are low velocity and fall to the ground quickly. There are even fewer droplets released through nose-breathing. Importantly, due to the lack of exhalation force with a breath, viral particles from the lower respiratory areas are not expelled. Unlike sneezing and coughing which release huge amounts of viral material, the respiratory droplets released from breathing only contain low levels of virus.
Remember the formula: Successful Infection = Exposure to Virus x Time
- If a person coughs or sneezes, the viral particles go everywhere. If you are face-to-face with a person, having a conversation, and that person sneezes or coughs straight at you, it is possible to inhale 1,000 virus particles and become infected. Even if that cough or sneeze was not directed at you, infectious viral particles can fill every corner of a modest sized room. All you have to do is enter that room within a few minutes, take a few breaths and you have potentially received enough virus to establish an infection.
- With general breathing of 20 viral particles per minute into the environment, even if every virus ended up in your lungs (which is very unlikely), you would need 1000 viral particles divided by 20 per minute = 50 minutes.
- Speaking increases the release of respiratory droplets about 10-fold. Assuming every virus is inhaled, it would take 5 minutes of speaking face-to-face to receive the required dose.
- Anyone you spend greater than 10 minutes with in a face-to-face situation is potentially infected. Anyone who shares a space with you (say an office) for an extended period is potentially infected.
- It is critical for people who are symptomatic to stay home. Your sneezes and your coughs expel so much virus that you can infect a whole room of people.
What is the role of asymptomatic people in spreading the virus?
Symptomatic people are not the only way the virus is shed. We know that at least 44% of all infections occur from people without any symptoms (asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic people). You can be shedding the virus into the environment for up to 5 days before symptoms begin.
Infectious people come in all ages, and they all shed different amounts of virus. The amount of virus released from an infected person changes over the course of infection and it is also different from person-to-person. Viral load generally builds up to the point where the person becomes symptomatic. Just prior to symptoms showing, you are releasing the most virus into the environment.
Ignoring the terrible outbreaks in nursing homes, we find that the biggest outbreaks are in prisons, religious ceremonies, and workplaces, such as meat packing facilities and call centers. Any environment that is enclosed, with poor air circulation and high density of people, spells trouble.
As we move back to work, or go to a restaurant, let’s look at what can happen in those environments:
- Restaurants: A single asymptomatic carrier releases low-levels of virus into the air from their breathing. Because of the airflow from vents, approximately 50% of the people at the infected person’s table became sick, 75% of the people on the adjacent downwind table became infected and a few of the people on the upwind table were infected (believed to happen by turbulent airflow). No one out of the main airflow from the air conditioner became infected.
- Call Center: A single infected employee infected 43.5% of the workplace (mostly one side of the room). While the exact number of people infected by respiratory droplets / respiratory exposure versus surface transmission is unknown, it serves to highlight that being in an enclosed space, sharing the same air for a prolonged period increases your chances of exposure and infection.
- Meat Processing Plant: Densely packed workers must communicate to one another amidst the deafening drum of industrial machinery and a cold-room virus-preserving environment.
- Business Networking: Face-to-face business networking
- Choir: A single asymptomatic carrier infected most of the people in attendance after singing inside for 2.5 hours – even though people took steps to minimize transfer (ex. no hugging or handshakes). Singing, to a greater degree than talking, aerosolizes respiratory droplets extraordinarily well. Deep-breathing while singing facilitated those respiratory droplets getting deep into the lungs.
- Indoor sports: A sporting event brings athletes and teammates in close contact in a cool indoor environment, with heavy breathing for an extended period.
- Birthday parties / funerals: An infected person shares a takeout meal served from common dishes and then attends a funeral, hugging family members and others in attendance to express condolences the next day. He also attended a birthday party where he hugged and shared food with other people. The spread of the virus within the household and back out into the community through funerals, birthdays, and church gatherings is believed to be responsible for the broad transmission of COVID-19.
Commonality of Outbreaks
The reason to highlight these different outbreaks is to show you the commonality of outbreaks of COVID-19. All these infection events were indoors, with people closely-spaced, with lots of talking, singing, or yelling. The main sources for infection are home, workplace, public transport, social gatherings, and restaurants. This accounts for 90% of all transmission events. In contrast, outbreaks spread from shopping appear to be responsible for a small percentage of traced infections.
Indoor spaces, with limited air exchange or recycled air and lots of people, are concerning from a transmission standpoint. Social distancing guidelines don’t hold in indoor spaces where you spend a lot of time. The principle is viral exposure over an extended period of time.
Social distancing rules are really to protect you with brief exposures or outdoor exposures. In these situations, there is not enough time to achieve the infectious viral load when you are standing 6 feet apart or where wind and the infinite outdoor space for viral dilution reduces viral load. The effects of sunlight, heat, and humidity on viral survival, all serve to minimize the risk to everyone when outside.
When assessing the risk of infection (via respiration) at the grocery store or mall, you need to consider the volume of the air space (very large), the number of people (restricted), how long people are spending in the store (workers – all day; customers – an hour). Taken together, for a person shopping: the low density, high air volume of the store, along with the restricted time you spend in the store, means that the opportunity to receive an infectious dose is low. But, for the store worker, the extended time they spend in the store provides a greater opportunity to receive the infectious dose and therefore the job becomes riskier.
As the work closures are loosened, and we start to venture out more, you need to look at your environment, make judgments and assess the risk:
- How many people are here?
- How much airflow is there around me?
- How long will I be in this environment?
- Am I in an open floorplan office? What’s the of volume of people and airflow?
- Does my job require face-to-face talking or yelling?
- Am I sitting in a well-ventilated space with few people? (low risk)
If you are outside, and walk past someone, remember it is “dose and time” needed for infection. You would have to be in their airstream for 5+ minutes for a chance of infection. While joggers may be releasing more virus due to deep breathing, remember the exposure time is also less due to their speed. Please do maintain physical distance, but the risk of infection in these scenarios are low.
While this article focused on respiratory exposure here, please don’t forget surfaces. Those infected respiratory droplets land somewhere. Wash your hands often and stop touching your face!
As we are allowed to move around our communities more freely and be in contact with more people in more places more regularly, the risks to ourselves and our family are significant. Do your part and wear a mask to reduce what you release into the environment. It will help everyone.
To read the full article and see graphs associated with the author’s research, please visit https://www.erinbromage.com/post/the-risks-know-them-avoid-them
As we exercise our individual and collective responsibility to reduce viral transmissions to preserve human health, we can still exercise our responsibility to act for environmental health. We can use this solitary time to reassess our current habits and develop new ones that are better for the planet.
Here are ways to take action for the planet while social distancing — we hope they’ll stick, even after our global health crisis subsides.
Go plant-based and compost:
When you’re stuck in your house, time is your friend. Now is the time to get creative and break those food ruts! Maybe you made a resolution to eat more plants this year, or maybe you just want to boost your immune system with an abundance of vitamin-rich fruits and vegetables. Either way, now is the time to get creative with your cooking.
Try some new plant-based recipes — Non-perishable foods, like canned or dry beans and rice, are easy to prepare and nutritious. It’s always important to save leftovers and reduce food waste, and this is an especially good time to be making the most of what you have. If you have any produce that has gone bad and you can’t use, try composting. You can compost in a tupperware and store it in your freezer, under the sink, on a balcony, wherever!
Reading over streaming:
Reading is good for the mind, the soul and it turns out, the planet: A pastime like reading easily replaces streaming, which is notoriously carbon-intensive. So, dust off that massive book you’ve been meaning to read, and get to work. Also, if you’re craving sports amid a “sports-less” pandemic, why not crack open a biography about your favorite athlete or sports moment? Since libraries are closed, opt for an e-book through your library’s digital platform.
When life gives you lemons… make disinfectants:
When trying to fight a very contagious virus, cleaning products and disinfectants are our best friends. Whether it might be because your store is out of stock, or because you enjoy natural solutions, you can skip the harsh chemical sprays in favor of safer alternatives. Plus, they’re probably already in your pantry.
If you’re making homemade disinfectant solutions, sprays and wipes using hydrogen peroxide and alcohol, just make sure your mix is 70% alcohol, and leave it to dry on its own. White vinegar and vodka are power cleaners, easily cutting through grease and removing mildew, odors, stains and wax buildup. For surfaces that need to be cleaned — but not sterile — lemons can also be used to clean non-porous surfaces. For extra points, reuse existing spray bottles in your home instead of buying new ones!
Switch to green power:
Did you know you may have a green power option available? Not everyone can put up solar panels or connect to a windmill, but more and more electric utilities are offering green power options, where you can sign up to get some, most or all of your electricity from renewable energy sources. While some utilities may charge a small premium, you likely will find savings in your bill over time. Contact your local electric utility today — it will be worth it.
Take stock, and make stock:
Being stuck at home allows us to take stock of what we already have, and what we don’t need more of. You might be surprised to find that those jeans you had crammed in the back of your closet are back in style. Knowing what you already have can prevent you from making impulse or unnecessary purchases in the future, thus reducing your consumer footprint in the long-run.
Also, everyone’s always telling you to “use your vegetable scraps to make stock” — now you finally have the time to do it! Throw all your veggie scraps into a pot, add some dried-up and forgotten herbs you found at the back of your fridge (just me?), add water and let them simmer away for a few hours. Strain and use this stock to make some soul-comforting dishes like ramen, risotto or just plain soup.
Start a garden exchange:
Start a neighborhood garden or seed exchange, as well as a repurposed wood (for building raised garden beds) and dirt swaps, with your neighbors — now we’re growing our spring gardens together, but separately. To ensure safe social distancing, exchange seeds, wood and dirt by leaving them in front of homes, or set up times to exchange them in a safe manner.
Keep your body moving:
Social distancing doesn’t mean we have to stay indoors all day. Take 20 minutes to get outdoors and take a walk around the block, explore new trails or go for a bike ride. Many of these spaces allow you to connect with others from a safe distance. Spending time in nature, especially among trees, significantly reduces stress and anxiety, improves mood, energy, sleep and boosts the immune system.
Compliments of The Green Committee at St. Anne’s
Notice to our Residents, Staff & Visitors:
If you are experiencing flu-like symptoms and have recently traveled to or from anywhere within or outside the United States, please avoid visitation for 21 days. We are taking extra steps to protect our residents and staff from the coronavirus, a flu-like illness that originally developed in outside countries. Precautionary measures are being taken to prevent the spread of the virus.
Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19)
Q. What are coronaviruses?
- Human coronaviruses were first identified in the mid-1960s. They are a respiratory virus named for the crown-like spikes on their surface. We are currently aware of seven different types of human coronaviruses, four of which are associated with mild to moderate upper-respiratory tract illnesses, like the common cold. Other types of the virus include severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19), which is responsible for the latest outbreak. Although COVID-19 is similar to the other types of coronaviruses, it is unique in many ways and we are still learning more each day.
Q. How do you get infected with COVID-19?
- COVID-19 is spread by close person-to-person contact from droplets from a cough or sneeze, which can get into your mouth, nose, or lungs. Close contact is defined asbeing within approximately 6 feet of another person. There aren’t many cases in the U.S., so the risk of contracting COVID-19 is low.
Q. How do I know if I have COVID-19?
- If you were recently exposed to someone with a confirmed case of COVID-19 or have been in a place where an outbreak has occurred within the last two weeks the following symptoms could indicate you have contracted COVID-19 – (a) fever, (b) cough or (c) shortness of breath. Unless your symptoms are severe, it is recommended you call your healthcare provider first before entering a healthcare facility. When speaking with a healthcare provider in-person or on the phone, be sure to note your symptoms, travel history, or if you were exposed to a person diagnosed with the virus.
Q. How severe is this illness?
- The World Health Organization says 80% of people with COVID-19 have a mild form of the illness with cold- or flulike symptoms. The people most likely to get seriously ill from this virus are people over 60 and/or those with pre-existing health conditions. It is estimated that for every 100 cases of COVID-19, between two and four people would die. This is very different from a coronavirus like SARS, where nearly ten in 100 sick people died from the illness.
Q. I see people wearing masks, should I be doing that?
- Health officials in the U.S. do not recommend the use of masks among people not showing symptoms of COVID-19. People in places where spread is more likely, may have been instructed to wear masks to prevent infecting others and to possibly prevent getting ill from close contact in crowded places.
Q. What can I do to prevent getting sick from COVID-19?
- The following tips will help to prevent COVID-19 as well as other respiratory viruses:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
- Don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth, especially with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact with people who are showing symptoms of illness.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
- Cover your cough or sneezes with a tissue or sneeze into your elbow. Throw the tissue in the garbage and make sure to clean your hands afterwards.
- Stay home when you are sick.
Source: Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC)
Each January and February, senior living facilities often notice an increase in phone calls requesting information about admission requirements. Inquiries come from family members who have observed differences in a loved one’s personality, memory or daily routine during holiday visits.
It’s common for family members to begin using both “dementia” and “Alzheimer’s” to describe their loved one’s changing state of mind, but the medical conditions are not the same. The article from AARP below will help caretakers begin to understand the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s and provide talking points for discussions with medical professionals about your loved one’s health.
Dementia vs. Alzheimer’s: Which Is It?
How to understand the difference — and why it matters
The terms “dementia” and “Alzheimer’s” have been around for more than a century, which means people have likely been mixing them up for that long, too. But knowing the difference is important. While Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia (accounting for an estimated 60 to 80 percent of cases), there are several other types. The second most common form, vascular dementia, has a very different cause — namely, high blood pressure. Other types of dementia include alcohol-related dementia, Parkinson’s dementia and frontotemporal dementia; each has different causes as well. In addition, certain medical conditions can cause serious memory problems that resemble dementia.
A correct diagnosis means the right medicines, remedies and support. For example, knowing that you have Alzheimer’s instead of another type of dementia might lead to a prescription for a cognition-enhancing drug instead of an antidepressant. Finally, you may be eligible to participate in a clinical trial for Alzheimer’s if you’ve been specifically diagnosed with the disease.
What it is…
In the simplest terms, dementia is a nonreversible decline in mental function.
It is a catchall phrase that encompasses several disorders that cause chronic memory loss, personality changes or impaired reasoning, Alzheimer’s disease being just one of them, says Dan G. Blazer, M.D., a professor of psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center.
To be called dementia, the disorder must be severe enough to interfere with your daily life, says Constantine George Lyketsos, M.D., director of the Johns Hopkins Memory and Alzheimer’s Treatment Center in Baltimore.
It is a specific disease that slowly and irreversibly destroys memory and thinking skills.
Eventually, Alzheimer’s disease takes away the ability to carry out even the simplest tasks.
A cure for Alzheimer’s remains elusive, although researchers have identified biological evidence of the disease: amyloid plaques and tangles in the brain. You can see them microscopically, or more recently, using a PET scan that employs a newly discovered tracer that binds to the proteins. You can also detect the presence of these proteins in cerebral spinal fluid, but that method isn’t used often in the U.S.
How it’s diagnosed…
A doctor must find that you have two or three cognitive areas in decline.
These areas include disorientation, disorganization, language impairment and memory loss. To make that diagnosis, a doctor or neurologist typically administers several mental-skill challenges.
In the Hopkins verbal learning test, for example, you try to memorize then recall a list of 12 words — and a few similar words may be thrown in to challenge you. Another test — also used to evaluate driving skills — has you draw lines to connect a series of numbers and letters in a complicated sequence.
There’s no definitive test; doctors mostly rely on observation and ruling out other possibilities.
For decades, diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease has been a guessing game based on looking at a person’s symptoms. A firm diagnosis was not possible until an autopsy was performed.
But that so-called guessing game, which is still used today in diagnosing the disease, is accurate between 85 and 90 percent of the time, Lyketsos says. The new PET scan can get you to 95 percent accuracy, but it’s usually recommended only as a way to identify Alzheimer’s in patients who have atypical symptoms.
Closing Thoughts from St. Anne’s…
As a caretaker, the most important thing is noticing a difference in your loved one’s behavior – and not trying to diagnose the condition or the cause on your own. Make notes of your observations, have conversations with other family members and ultimately schedule an appointment with a doctor who can provide guidance regarding your love one’s changing health. It’s also helpful to contact senior living facilities about admission requirements, waiting lists and other information related to your loved one’s care.
Source: AARP, June 25, 2018
We’ve all been there. While our vision for the holiday season is one of intimate gatherings, delicious meals and bliss, the reality can be much the opposite. The volume of activities, shifting of schedules, decadent food and potential for conflict can put added strain on the entire family. Especially older adults.
If you’re an older adult, or if you care for someone who is, you can make the holidays more manageable by taking just a short amount of time to plan ahead. By considering some of the factors you can control this season, you can make the holidays safer, healthier and merrier. Holiday activities for older adults. Here are tips for surviving – and savoring – the holiday season.
1. Set realistic expectations.
Most people have a tendency to romanticize the holiday season. They yearn for the movie-scene, stress-free experiences where everyone is happy and healthy. Where everything is easy and there are no mishaps. But the reality is that, for most families, the holidays don’t go exactly as planned. They bring some stress. And they may even be a source of conflict. By expecting the unexpected during the holidays, you can be prepared for whatever they hold and eliminate the disappointment that can come with inflated expectations.
2. Plan ahead for dietary needs.
The holidays are the time of extravagant menus. Decadent treats. And favorite traditional foods. But older adults may have dietary needs that prevent them from indulging. If you’re planning a holiday meal or event, be sure to ask your guests about special dietary needs in advance. If you’re the person with the special needs, consider bringing your own dish. Or modify elements of the meal you’re served.
3. Be aware of safety risks in unfamiliar homes.
For older adults with disabilities or mobility challenges, an unfamiliar place can be loaded with hidden hazards. Be aware of things like throw rugs, door mats, barriers in doorways or hallways, and cords or loose items that may present a fall risk for older adults. Keep rooms and hallways illuminated. And if a holiday event is being hosted in the home of an older adult with any type of cognitive condition or memory loss, consider how moving furniture or changing the configuration of a room might effect their experience.
4. Be prepared for quickly changing weather conditions.
December is a month that, in many parts of the country, can bring extreme fluctuations in temperature and weather. Layering can help ensure older adults are comfortable during the holidays. And appropriate outerwear – including hats, gloves and boots – can help protect them from the elements as they make their way to all of their holiday events and activities. If you live in colder climates, be sure you’re armed with shovels, salt and other supplies that will keep porches and walkways safe.
5. Recognize the signs of seasonal depression.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that 7 million adults over the age of 65 experience depression. Why? Because depression can be triggered by certain health conditions, and even medications. It can also become more likely when an older adult is adjusting to a significant change, such as a loss, illness or home relocation. The holiday season can intensify depression and its symptoms for older adults. If you or someone you love is experiencing deep feelings of sadness or anxiety, a change in eating or sleeping habits or loss of interest in daily activities and/or personal hygiene, see your doctor.
6. Try to maintain a schedule and routine.
While it may not be possible to maintain every routine during the busy holiday season, keeping some structure can be invaluable for older adults. Predictability and consistency in schedule and routine can help improve quality of life. And studies have shown that routines can help reduce stress and anxiety; enhance feelings of safety, security and confidence; and aid in better sleep. While some routines can have some degree of flexibility, there is one that cannot – and that is the medication schedule. Be sure to keep it on track as holiday activities take hold. Consider calendar reminders, alerts or alarms to help ensure older adults continue prescribed dosage and schedule for important medications.
7. Get adequate sleep.
Getting effective, restorative sleep can be a challenge for older adults. The aging process, chronic health conditions and certain medications can disrupt sleep. And contrary to popular belief, people don’t need less sleep as they age. Older adults require about the same amount of sleep as their 20-year-old counterparts. Sleep deprivation can effect mood, memory and cognition – among other things – in older adults. And it can have an impact on their ability to enjoy the holiday season. So don’t shortchange sleep in favor of more holiday activities. And be sure older adults get plenty of rest after traveling, when the body may need extra time to recover.
8. Find ways to include everyone in activities.
It can be difficult – and even emotional – for older adults whose age or health prevent them from participating in activities or playing their traditional holiday roles. Think about new ways to get them involved. For example, break down meal-preparation tasks and assign appropriate roles to family members young and old. Plan games or activities that can be enjoyed by everyone. Tag-team on gift wrapping or shopping.
9. Don’t do it all alone.
For many older adults, they no longer have the health status or stamina to manage the holiday activities they once could. If you’re an older adult, ask for help. If you care for an older adult, be sure to check in to identify needed help or support. And don’t forget that there are resources – like home care – that can help you manage all of the demands on the holiday season, and beyond.
10. Enjoy your time together.
Regardless of how the meals, parties, gifts or activities of the holiday season play out, remember to enjoy the time spent with family and friends. Connecting and engaging with loved ones can be meaningful and fulfilling for older adults, contributing to overall happiness and well-being.
Source: FirstLight Home Care LLC
As the brilliant colors of early fall fade in the northern U.S. states, many of us are preparing for the long winter ahead. In between dusting off our snow boots and digging out our favorite cozy sweaters, we can take some time to think about living sustainably in the cooler season.
With shorter daylight hours and lower temperatures, you may find yourself turning on more lights at home or taking long, hot baths. Of course, we all know that the same rules apply year-round when it comes to turning off lights and taking shorter showers to conserve water.
Here are a few other friendly green living reminders for fall:
Preserve Your Garden Goodies
Before the first frost hits your vegetable garden, preserve as much of your harvest as possible. In case you haven’t heard, canning is cool again, and for good reason. Canning provides you with fruits and vegetables during the months when they can’t be grown in your region, reducing your reliance on produce shipped in from distant warm-weather climates (which adds to your carbon footprint).
Check Your Tires
Cooler temperatures can lower tire pressure and under-inflated tires reduce your car’s fuel efficiency. It takes just a few minutes to inflate your tires to the proper pressure and it’s well worth the grimy fingers. And while you’re at it, check your car service records; is it time to rotate your tires yet? By regularly rotating your tires, you make sure your tires wear evenly. Regular rotation can extend your tire life and improve your gas mileage.
Clean and Test Your Furnace
Did you know that your furnace needs a regular cleaning? Throughout the year, it collects lots of dust and debris, both of which can affect the furnace’s performance and could even cause a fire. Clean out or replace your furnace filter regularly and get your furnace serviced by a professional before the cold weather calls.
Bring In the Houseplants
If your houseplants spent the summer outside, don’t forget to bring them in before it gets too cold. If you don’t have any houseplants, maybe now is a good time to consider getting one or two. Not only do plants brighten up the interior of your home, they will also help clean the air. Since most of us in cooler climates open the windows less frequently in the winter, houseplants can do a lot to improve your indoor air quality.
Do Some Yard Work
If you have a yard, spend some time getting it ready for the winter. Scoop up any fallen leaves and use them in the garden to protect plants throughout the winter — or add them to your compost pile. Fall is the time to plant spring bulbs and some perennials. And you can also plant many types of trees and shrubs in the fall, which will give them enough time to develop a deep root system over the winter months and reduce their water needs come spring.
We all love the coziness that candles provide during the cooler months, but did you know that most candles on the market are made from paraffin wax, a product of petroleum refining? A more environmentally friendly choice is candles made from beeswax — even better if you can find them at a local market or craft fair to avoid the carbon costs of shipping. Be sure to do your research before you stock up on products that make you feel cozy during the fall and winter.
Courtesy of The Green Committee at St. Anne’s Retirement Community
Most seniors live on a fixed income. When you are in that situation, you will want to do everything that you can to make the most of your money and to maximize your benefits. Regardless of what kind of Social Security benefits you receive – disability, retirement, auxiliary, or survivors’ benefits, you will want to choose wisely so you can maximize your benefits and get the highest amount of monthly benefits that you can receive. Here are a few things to consider when applying for Social Security benefits.
The full retirement age is 65. If you start taking retirement benefits earlier – such as at age 62 or 63 – you will not receive your full amount. If you become unable to work because of a medical problem before you reach age 65, you should apply for disability benefits. When you get disability benefits, you will get your full benefit amount. When you reach full retirement age, you will switch from disability to retirement and get your full benefit amount.
Looking at Auxiliary Benefits and Survivors’ Benefits
If your spouse is receiving disability benefits and you are not yet retired or receiving Social Security, you may be eligible to receive auxiliary benefits from his or her account. Auxiliary benefits are paid to dependent children and the spouse of the disabled individual, but there are specific family limits as to how much the combined family can receive. If you were married at least a year, or if you have been divorced after having been married 10 years or more and your spouse or former spouse dies, you may want to apply for survivors’ benefits.
If you are eligible for retirement benefits, you will want to take the highest paying benefit – either draw from your work history and take retirement benefits or draw from your spouse’s history and take survivors’ benefits. You cannot draw benefits from two different Social Security programs or accounts at one time. You should take your time to talk with the representative at your local Social Security office to determine which benefits would pay you more so you can maximize your monthly benefits.
Wait for Retirement
If you are eligible for some other kind of benefits – disability, survivors’ or auxiliary benefits, it is best to go ahead and take those benefits and wait on your retirement until you reach full age. When you do this, you will draw your full benefit when you turn 65. You will want to plan so the transition can happen immediately when you turn 65.
Applying for Social Security Benefits
When you are ready to apply for Social Security benefits, you should plan ahead and review the application process. Contact your local Social Security office. You can start your claim online at www.ssa.gov or by calling 1-800-772-1213. The process does take some time, so file your claim in advance so you can get your benefits started promptly. If you or your spouse is applying for disability benefits, you will want to consult with a Social Security disability attorney who is licensed in your state.
Auxiliary Benefits: https://www.disabilitybenefitscenter.org/glossary/auxiliary-benefits
Local SSA Office: https://secure.ssa.gov/ICON/main.jsp
Social Security Disability Attorneys by State: https://www.disabilitybenefitscenter.org/social-security-disability-attorney
While you’ll find an amazing number of retirement community types these days, it’s true that many people still have the misconception that all of them are the same—and not in a good way.
Thoughts of being stuck in a hospital-like atmosphere where sad people spend most of their hours cooped up in small shared rooms (never with a roommate they like, either) or confined to bed still come to mind for a majority of folks facing retirement.
Luckily, nothing could be further from the truth in 2019—especially for retirees who don’t have current regular care needs and are looking to downsize in order to maximize their free time and enjoyment of life. Independent living communities, like the Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs) and Life Plan Communities served by Explore Retirement Living, offer comfortable and innovative housing options and fun things to do for active adults every day. And they expect and encourage residents to come and go as they please!
But how do you determine whether retirement community living is right for you?
FAQs about Independent Living Retirement Communities
This post features a few frequently asked questions about the benefits of relocating to an all-inclusive retirement community as an active, mature adult. As you consider whether you plan to stay where you are as a retiree or move to a more retirement lifestyle-friendly place, answers to these big questions can help you decide.
What do retirement communities have that I don’t at home?
With apologies to your current home, even if it is beautiful and well-appointed and you love everything about it, the answer here is “quite a lot.” Modern independent living communities tend to be almost resort-like in their amenities, offering chef-prepared meals, excursions, and learning experiences, in addition to other life-enhancing features like:
While the range of specific services available varies by community and sometimes also by the type of accommodations you choose within a community, maintenance is almost always included in the fees you pay. You won’t have to fix things that break around the house, care for a large yard, or worry about things like painting interior and exterior surfaces.
Additionally, you may even have benefits like housekeeping and linen services (no more cleaning toilets or washing bedding!), included utilities, and appliance repair and replacement.
Safety & security
Retirement communities take their residents’ safety seriously and employ security personnel who will guard against crime like trespassing and break-ins. Since most communities also include nursing care resources on campus, 24-hour emergency call systems for medical events are common, as well.
Health & wellness facilities
Do you enjoy swimming, walking for exercise, or taking fitness classes, but wish the gym was more conveniently located to where you live? Because healthcare is often the centerpiece of many retirement communities, they often establish health and wellness centers or form a relationship with local clubs.
St Anne’s offers free membership at one of Lancaster County’s most popular tennis, aquatic and fitness centers because we understand the importance of staying active.
Many independent CCRC and Life Plan retirement communities are dedicated to providing scheduled programming that makes it easy for residents to pursue their interests and explore new ones, too.
LeadingAge.org describes a comprehensive life enrichment program in a retirement community as including “all five dimensions of wellness—emotional, social, spiritual, physical and educational.” The goal of life enrichment is to improve and maintain individuals’ quality of life in mind, body, and spirit.
What living options are available? Will I have to downsize into an apartment?
While many retirement communities offer an array of smaller-scale dwellings like private apartments and “households” in which only your bedroom, bathroom, and a small living area are private, plenty of these campuses also feature detached cottages, bungalows, and carriage homes. Some communities even have separate “off-campus” neighborhoods with full-size homes available that still offer many of the services you would expect if you lived in the heart of campus.
Check with individual communities to find out what your options are. In short, you won’t have to downsize into a living space that you don’t love. The choice is yours!
Can I have pets?
As we talked about in a previous post here on the blog, the number of retirement communities with favorable pet policies is on the rise, which is good news. Research continues to prove that pet ownership is life-enhancing and may make us healthier. To make their communities more enticing, many not only allow pets today, but they may also even provide services or amenities to keep pets safe and well (and their owners happy).
As with other policies and features of individual communities, you should check with those that are most appealing to you to find out what their specific rules are.
What about health care? Is nursing available if I need it?
Yes, various levels of healthcare will be available if you need it. Campus-based independent CCRC and Life Plan communities often offer what’s known as a continuum of care, which allows you to access care when you need it, as you need it without leaving the community.
Some communities even now have programs that allow you to receive care within the living accommodations you’re already in. So, if you do require more in-depth care at some point as you age, you won’t need to make a physical move to another location on campus, such as a personal care wing or memory care unit even if you need to receive those levels of care.
How can I tell if a specific community is the right fit for me?
You’ll want to consider individual communities’ philosophies and stated values, which may include religious affiliations or connections to different cultural groups. Whether your personal beliefs align with the community’s mission may indicate how comfortable you will feel being associated with it.
Remember helping your children (and perhaps your grandchildren) choose a college? This process is not unlike that one. The easiest way to get to know different communities is to visit their campuses and facilities—and on multiple occasions, if you’re having a difficult time deciding. Get on their mailing lists, but also explore the public buildings and overall campuses yourself. Bring trusted family members along with you to get their perspectives, and talk to current residents who may be willing to share their experiences, too.
It’s true that there are many benefits to retirement community living, but the decision to make a move can be a difficult, emotional journey. By taking your time and exploring all your options, you may take the stress out of the process. After all, retirement is a time to celebrate all of the hard work you’ve accomplished in your life and take some much-deserved time out for yourself.
St. Anne’s Retirement Community is a Continuing Care Retirement Community with many options for adults seeking an active, safe community with easy access to all Lancaster County has to offer. For more information, or to schedule a tour, please call 717-285-5443.
Source: Explore Retirement Living, www.exploreretirementliving.org