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50+: Live Better, Longer

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Caring for Parents, Keeping Them Healthy

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Eating and the Older Adult continued...

Jews, Christians, Sikhs, Muslims, and Hindus all incorporate fasting into various rituals and celebrations. If your parent is observant, but you suspect he may not be physically up to the fast, speak to his doctor or spiritual counselor, who can talk to him about reasonable exemptions from fasting.

Diet supplements like Ensure are widely used in hospitals and nursing homes. Keep them cooled. Put a few cans on ice in the morning, and make them available all day long.

A glass of wine, if it's allowed by your Mom's doctor, can stimulate the appetite.

Sleep and Older Adults

If Grandma has trouble sleeping (and is not bedridden), encourage her to spend as little "awake time" as possible in bed. Reading, watching TV, and so forth, should be done in a favorite chair, while bed is for sleep only. Going to sleep and waking up at about the same time each day will also help train her body for better sleep overall.

Older adults should avoid oversleeping in the morning. It leads to having trouble falling asleep later, and the cycle of insomnia begins.

If Dad can't fall asleep within fifteen minutes of getting into bed, suggest he get up for a while and do something calming, and then try again later.

Don't take sleep disruption lightly. It can be caused by an improper dose of medication, an illness, or a psychological problem. Talk about it with your loved one's doctor. Many drugs, including Halcyon and even the antidepressants that are supposed to make her life better, can cause terrifying nightmares.

If your father wakes with night terrors, be reassuring. Show him that there's no danger nearby, but avoid arguing. If he insists that something (or someone) woke him, let him know that whatever the trouble was, it's gone now.

People of any age who have difficulty sleeping should avoid exercise in the late afternoon and evening. Try morning walks instead.

Avoid caffeine, not just in the evening but at any time of day. Aside from coffee, tea, and cola, look out for caffeine in chocolate, non-cola soft drinks, and some pain relievers. And while decaffeinated coffee has less caffeine than regular, it's not caffeine-free.

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