It's estimated that about one-half of all seniors have some sleep problems. As we age, we tend to have more "fragile" sleep, meaning we're more easily awakened, and deep sleep stages get shorter. Some of these sleep changes are hormonal, but various illnesses, pain, psychiatric conditions, and medications can also interfere with rest.
Whatever the reason, being deprived of sleep can leave you tired, irritable, and unable to concentrate. It can also cause headaches, memory troubles, and accidents. On the other hand, we generally need less sleep as we get older, so if you feel rested and refreshed in the morning, don't feel drowsy during the day, and don't need long naps, you don't have anything to worry about.
It's easier to get a good night's sleep if you try the following:
- Keep a regular sleep and wake schedule even if it is the weekend. Maintaining proper sleeping patterns can help your body adapt and fall asleep easier.
- Don't have drinks with alcohol or caffeine before bedtime. Alcohol may put you to sleep at first, but you'll get less deep sleep and may wake up more often later.
- Avoid having a big meal less than three hours before bedtime.
- Avoid drinking extra fluids at least 2 hours before bedtime, to keep from waking up at night to go to the washroom.
- Don't smoke since nicotine can keep you awake (it's a stimulant).
- Try not to worry about things when it's time to sleep – they can wait until tomorrow. If you simply can't put them out of your mind, try writing out your concerns to help put them aside until daylight.
- Avoid watching TV or reading in bed – keep the bed for sleeping.
- Relax before going to bed by doing deep breathing exercises, drinking warm milk, or taking a warm bath.
- If you can't get to sleep, try not to watch the clock. Instead, get out of bed and meditate or read until you feel tired.
If your sleep troubles last over a month or disrupt day-to-day life, don't suffer in silence – ask your doctor for help.
Natural or herbal remedies are becoming more and more popular for all sorts of ailments, from arthritis and menopause symptoms to prostate problems, Alzheimer's disease and cancer. Many people believe in the notion that if it's "natural," it's better for you and all-around harmless. But people can put themselves in danger by taking herbs that turn out to have side effects of their own or interact badly with their other medications.
Many seniors don't tell their doctors that they're trying a herbal remedy, but that can be a big mistake. Always let your doctor know everything you're taking, including herbs, vitamins, minerals, and over-the-counter medications. Here are some risky combinations of medications and natural remedies to avoid:
- Ginkgo biloba, taken to prevent or treat Alzheimer's disease, can cause excessive bleeding, especially if you're taking ASA (Aspirin®) or warfarin every day to prevent blood clots.
- Other herbs you shouldn't take if you're already taking warfarin are danshen, dong quai, garlic (in large amounts), and papaya extract.
- Glucosamine sulfate, a popular arthritis remedy, can block the effects of insulin, so be careful with it if you're diabetic or overweight.
- St. John's wort, used to relieve depression, can interfere with many medications, including antidepressants and medications used by people with heart conditions, AIDS, or who've had organ transplants. It's best to avoid this herb if you're taking antidepressants or any long-term medications.
Remember, since many herbs do have important effects on our bodies, consider them in the same light as you would any other medication.
Watch your step! Falls can lead to serious injuries, such as hip and wrist fractures, that can rob you of your independence – and even your life. In fact, falls are the main cause of serious injury and death among older people.
As we age, normal changes such as worsening eyesight and hearing, weakened muscles, and tendencies to lose balance, make us more prone to falling. Be sure to get regular checkups from your doctor to test your eyes and ears. A bone density test can be recommended to measure your risk of developing osteoporosis.
Some medications, including those for depression, high blood pressure, and sleep problems, can affect your muscles or balance and make you unsteady on your feet, causing falls. See your doctor right away if you feel dizzy, weak, unsteady, or confused – it might be due to a medication you're taking, an illness, or a physical condition.
If your doctor recommends that you use a cane or a walker, don't ignore that advice! It can make the difference between being mobile and having to recover from a fracture. Also, when getting up after you've been lying down, always sit for a couple of minutes before standing up – you'll be less likely to feel dizzy. And try to get enough exercise and calcium in your diet to keep your bones strong and prevent fractures.
Take these steps to make your home safer and prevent slips, trips, and falls:
- Wear shoes or slippers with non-slip soles.
- Keep your home well-lit and use night-lights to avoid tripping over things.
- Wear glasses regularly if you have them.
- Get rid of throw rugs or fasten them to the floor.
- Don't put electrical cords across pathways.
- Install grab bars by the bathtub and toilet.
- Put in handrails on both sides of stairways.
- Don't climb on stools or stepladders – let someone else do the reaching for you.
- Don't use slippery waxes on floors.
Since older people tend to have more chronic illnesses, they're especially vulnerable to getting taken in by quacks – people who knowingly sell worthless, unproven, even downright dangerous remedies. Anti-aging potions, arthritis remedies, and cancer cures are among the favourite products used to lure victims.
How can you protect yourself from getting ripped off by quacks? First of all, remember: if it sounds "too good to be true," it probably is. Don't always believe what you see and hear in ads. And watch for these common ploys:
- promises of a quick or painless cure
- claims of a "special" or "secret" formula only available by mail from one source
- testimonials from "satisfied patients"
- advertising that a product works for a wide variety of ailments
- claiming to have a cure for a disease that isn't understood by medical science yet
If you're concerned about any claims made for a particular product, be sure to check with your doctor or pharmacist before you buy it.