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10 major benefits to staying active in old age
Sticking to an exercise routine can be tough during our working years, with limitations on our time and energy making it hard to stay committed. After retirement, it can be even harder to start exercising, even though there may be more time available to do it. But with all the benefits that regular exercise can bring, it’s important we do everything we can to encourage older people to enjoy staying active and to reap the rewards. Here are just some of the major benefits to staying active in old age: 

1. Prevent bone mass loss 

Simple activities such as walking can help maintain bone mass, making older people less susceptible to osteoporosis and to suffering fractures easily. One study showed that by simply walking for 30 minutes a day, hip fractures were reduced among the elderly by up to 40 per cent. 

2. Improve sleep 

Older people often have problems with getting a good night’s sleep, and simple light exercise can improve this no end. Doing some gardening, walking around a stately home or simply doing some housework can significantly reduce problems with insomnia and help to aid restful sleep. 

3. Strengthen muscles 

Loss of muscle mass in old age is natural, and begins as early as our 30’s and 40’s. By working to maintain muscle mass, older people can enjoy better mobility as well as helping to avoid excessive pressure on the joints which can exacerbate pain from arthritis. 

4. Improve balance 

Exercises which bolster the sense of balance can help to reduce the incidence of falls, and can make older people feel more confident in their mobility. Low impact balancing skills like yoga and Pilates can be great for this, or even just going for a walk. 

5. Improve circulation 

Poor circulation can cause high blood pressure, heart disease and water retention, as well as a host of other health issues. Regular cardiovascular exercise can reduce the likelihood of these issues, and can help prevent stroke or a heart attack too. 

6. Reduce the risk of dementia

Living a sedentary lifestyle in older age can increase the risk of dementia, or can accelerate its onset in someone who has already been diagnosed. Physical activity can have a significant impact on both the physical and mental wellbeing of those who are already living with dementia, and can help to reduce the risk of developing the disease too. 

7. Improve mental ability 

The brain needs blood flow to keep it in peak condition, and by increasing the heart rate through light exercise, brains can be kept healthier and mental alertness sharper into older age. A study in the US showed that people who walked between two and three miles each day could slow the rate of mental decline in old age compared to those who walked less than half a mile. 

8. Feel happier 

Many older people can be plagued with depression for one reason or another. Exercise can counteract this, and can help older people feel happier and remain mentally well. This is because exercise releases happy chemicals, known as endorphins, which keep us feeling happy and positive about our lives. 

9. Reduce aches and pains 

It can be hard to start exercising for those who suffer from aches and pains, but research shows that in the long run, moderate exercise can help stave off these discomforts. Starting off slowly and only doing what is possible without excessive discomfort is key to starting to build resilience. 

10. Live longer 

People who exercise regularly in their 50’s, 60’s and beyond have been shown to live longer than those who don’t. Even something as simple as walking for half an hour a day can help older people to live a happy, healthy life as they age. 

Encouraging older people to exercise if they are not used to it can be challenging. Here at Blenheim House, we set out lots of opportunities for exercise, many of which don’t seem like exercise at all. For instance, residents will be soon be able to make use of the innovative ‘Tovertafel’ – a new interactive light game that helps with encouraging movement, whilst aiding reminiscence and helping to relax residents. 

From dancing to playing games, we always manage to find an appealing way to get older people moving, so they can benefit from all the positive impacts of moderate exercise. 

It's time for the flu jab: should you have it?
Despite the flu jab being offered for free, vaccination rates have fallen year on year since it was first introduced. Last year’s rate was at 70.5 per cent among the over 65’s, compared to 74 per cent in 2011. This could mean around 500,000 older people could enter the winter months needlessly unprotected, risking an outbreak of the magnitude seen in the southern hemisphere over the last few months. 

Across Australia, a particularly virulent strain of the H3N2 flu virus triggered a record number of cases, around two and a half times more than there were in 2016. By the end of September, 72 flu related deaths had been recorded, mainly among elderly people. If you’re over 65 yourself, or have a relative that is eligible for the free vaccine, it’s important to think carefully about choosing not to get vaccinated, and to know the facts about the benefits of the flu jab so that you can make an informed decision. 

Who should get it? 

The flu vaccine is a free of charge treatment for people who are most at risk. Those who are eligible to get it for free on the NHS include: 

· People over 65, or who will turn 65 before 31st March 2018 
· Anyone who is pregnant 
· Those with particular medical conditions including diabetes and heart conditions 
· People living in residential care homes 
· Those who are caring for elderly or disabled people 

Those who don’t fall into these categories can pay to have a flu vaccine privately. The cost varies depending on the provider, but should never cost more than £20 per vaccine. 

Does it work? 

Many arguments against the flu vaccine claim it doesn’t work, but the fact show a different trend. Although health authorities can only guess at the strains of flu we might experience in the winter, so far they have achieved a 40 – 60 per cent success rate historically. This means that by getting the flu jab, you will be reducing your risk of contracting flu by 40 – 60 per cent compared to someone who hasn’t got the jab. 

In general, historical records show that getting the flu jab can: 

· Reduce the likelihood of you contracting flu 
· Reduce the severity of the illness if you do contract it 
· Reduce hospitalisation rates among elderly people 
· Protect vulnerable people around you 

The flu vaccine cannot, however, protect you entirely against all types of flu, or against other viruses which may exhibit flu-like symptoms. It is more effective against influenza A and influenza B of the H1N1 types than it is against the H3N2 strains of the virus, as this strain tends to mutate more regularly. However, overall the effectiveness is as good as can be expected, with research ongoing to improve the vaccine in the future. 

Helping your elderly relative to get the flu vaccine 

Various misconceptions about the flu jab have reduced the number of older people getting their shot each year. Many think that the flu jab is actually making them ill, which is not the case. Although the vaccine does contain strains of the virus, they are dead and cannot cause an infection. By introducing these harmless dead viruses in the vaccine, the body’s immune system can create the right antibodies to protect against any more incoming viruses of that type. 

Some older people report feeling achy or running a mild fever for a day or two, symptoms that are associated with this type of immune response. But these symptoms will quickly disappear, leaving that person more well equipped to cope with any outbreaks of flu during that winter. It is crucial we encourage older people to take the flu vaccine, as it is our best defence against seasonal flu and, in the case of frail or vulnerable people, could end up saving their life. 

If you care for an older person who is reluctant to go for their flu jab, you should present them with the facts to start. Explain how the vaccine is made, and that it is impossible for them to become sick as a result of the jab. Show them the evidence of its effectiveness, and discuss the potential risks associated with not taking up the vaccine, and – of course – consult their doctor.

Why gardening is great for older people of all abilities
Gardening is often a popular activity in retirement, and can be highly rewarding as well as an excellent form of gentle exercise. The movements made while gardening can help maintain flexibility and mobility, as well as encouraging the use of all motor skills in the process. It’s also something that people can continue to enjoy as they age, thanks to the many adaptations and modifications that can be made to tools, beds and equipment. 

Encouraging gardening can be beneficial to both physical and mental health, and for an older person who is maybe restricted in the other activities they can enjoy, it can be an excellent way to focus their mind on something productive and fun. However, it’s important to ensure that they can undertake this activity safely, and without putting themselves at risk.

Considerations to help older people enjoy gardening safely

Although gardening is a great hobby for older people of all ages, it’s important to keep them safe when they are working in the garden. They may have some specific requirements, depending on their state of health, so it’s worth thinking about and preparing for their needs so that gardening doesn’t put them at unnecessary risk. For example: 

· Eyesight: Older people may struggle to see as well as they used to, which can be exacerbated if the garden has areas of light and shade. Making safe walkways with even surfaces can help them get around, and using sunglasses or reactive lenses will assist them in coping with glare from the sun. 

· Balance: For an older person, a fall can be disastrous. Their balance might not be as good as it once was, so it’s important to reduce trip hazards and to maintain paths and walkways to stop them becoming slippery. Providing grab rails by steps and ramps can also help to avoid falls. 

· Skin: The skin of an older person may be more fragile, so it’s important they wear adequate protection from scrapes and bruises. Encourage the use of gloves and other safety equipment, and use sun cream and wide brimmed hats to avoid sunburn. 

· Temperature: With a greater susceptibility to dehydration and temperature changes, it’s important to make sure older people stay hydrated and either warm or cool enough. Layer clothing to make it easier for them to adjust their insulation, and use breathable materials to keep them cool and dry. 

There are numerous modifications that can be made to tools, beds and equipment to make it easier for older people to enjoy gardening, even if their mobility is starting to decline. Think about purchasing adaptive tools or modifying tools with foam grips to make them easier to handle. Paving areas of grass can make it easier to get around with a walking frame or wheelchair, and raising flower beds or planting vertically with hanging baskets and trellises can help those who find bending and kneeling a problem. 

Gardening at our care home 

One of the first things you notice when you arrive at our care home are the beautiful, extensive gardens we have here. Although our gardens are professionally landscaped, we also provide facilities for our residents to help out with the planting, weeding and pruning. They love being able to continue their gardening hobby when they move in with us, and to see the fruits of their labour in our colourful flower beds all year round. If your loved one loves to garden, we’ll help them to continue enjoying their hobby in a safe, comfortable way.

Three of our favourite meals at Blenheim House
A nutritious, balanced diet is important for maintaining health at any age, and as we grow older, our needs can change so that we need to pay even closer attention to what we’re eating from day to day. Metabolism tends to slow down as we age, so older people may eat less, meaning every mouthful needs to be carefully considered to provide maximum benefit to their bodies. 

Older people need to maintain a varied diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables, and including some fortified foods such as breakfast cereals with added iron, B vitamins and calcium. Because some ability to digest and absorb nutrients decreases with age, so replacing these with supplements and fortified foods is essential to maintaining a healthy diet in older people.  

Here are three of our favourite meals, tried and tested by our residents, which they love and provide them with an excellent range of vitamins, minerals and essential nutrients.    

1. Baked salmon 
Salmon is a go-to choice for a lot of our residents. We serve it in a number of different ways to keep things interesting, hot and cold, and try to utilise local suppliers and growers where possible. The salmon is an excellent source of vitamin B12 and vitamin D and also omega-3 fatty acids.   

2. Roast dinner 
Roast lunches are a hit because, well who doesn’t love a good old roast dinner? Twice a week the smells start wafting from the kitchen from early in the morning which starts to stimulate the residents’ senses; provoke memories of happy times and igniting their appetite! We use a number of different meats and cuts from our supplier to make sure the nutritional value is varied along with using local vegetables and our very own garden herbs.   

3. Afternoon teas
More of an occasion than a meal, but we just had to include Afternoon Tea in this list because they always go down a storm. We make all our cakes and biscuits on site and try to vary the selection weekly, including at least two choices that contain oats or fruit.   

Older people may find their senses of taste and smell have decreased, making food less appetising than it used to be. This makes it even more important for our chefs to work hard to make our meals visually beautiful, helping to encourage the appetite of our residents. We welcome visitors into our dining rooms to join their loved ones for a meal, so if you’d like to check out our catering in person, just have a chat with our team.

Is Alexa finally making the internet accessible for older people?
Technology has moved on in leaps and bounds over the past couple of decades, and the advent of high speed internet has opened up all sorts of new possibilities for learning, playing and staying in touch. However, new technology has always been thought of as something for younger people, and older people, who were not brought up with computers around them, have traditionally been stumped by many of these modern facilities. 

But could recent advances in tech be about to change all that? We look at the impact voice activated technology could have on the older generation, and how things are looking for the future. 

Voice technology: The internet, without a PC

The Amazon Echo and Dot are wireless speakers which are connected to the internet, allowing users to search the web and much more by communicating with its in built artificial intelligence, Alexa. These gadgets were two of the most popular Christmas presents in 2016, and are set to be equally popular during this festive season. 

Of course, Alexa is not the only voice assistant out there. Cortana from Microsoft and Siri from Apple have been around much longer, but it is Alexa who has harnessed the convenience of being always on, sitting in the lounge or kitchen, ready to answer all your questions. And, when it comes to integrating this technology with the ‘smart’ home, the possibilities are endless. 

Ageing in place 

For older people who are still living independently, tech like Alexa can be hooked up to various items around the home, to make day to day living safer and more convenient. For example: 
• Alexa can connect to heating systems, to control the thermostat and switch heating on and off when people leave the house or arrive home. 
· It can be hooked up to lights too, to avoid lights being left on when rooms are not in use, or to give the impression someone is home when they are actually away visiting. 
· Alexa will organise shopping lists through voice activation, and can even order products from Amazon directly. 
· You can ask about the weather, hear the news headlines or can even play your favourite music. 
· As Alexa is voice activated, it could be used to summon help, for instance in the event of a fall. 

The possibilities for Alexa to help people who are ageing in place are phenomenal. From tackling loneliness to making life safer, it’s truly an exciting time for voice activated technology. Of course, these things need to be set up, and also require a permanent Wi-Fi connection, something that not all older people will be keen to become involved with, but in a willing household with tech savvy friends or relatives to help, elderly people could be more able to enjoy the benefits of the internet than ever before. 

The internet in the care environment 

At Blenheim House, the potential for Alexa and other voice operated technology is very exciting. Although we don’t yet have such facilities in place, we do have Wi-Fi throughout and plenty of willing care workers ready to help at any time. Many of our residents enjoy Skyping with their families, as well as using the internet, with our support, to find information and connect with other people. 

We also use technology such as Acoustic Monitoring to benefit the well-being of our residents. Acoustic Monitoring listens, non-intrusively, to residents while they’re sleeping and triggers an alert when the sound in a room exceeds set levels. This enables our care team to respond to residents in need of care. And because residents are not disturbed by in-room monitoring visits, they benefit from a better night’s sleep while enjoying greater privacy. 

We are excited to see how technology develops, and how it can be applied in our care setting to improve the lives of our residents.