Northern VA Eldercare Answers
Helpful tips for family caregivers
You may have warned your loved one about phishing on email, but now there’s a new con artist on the block: Smishers. These are people who use SMS (short message service, aka “texting”) that you need to warn them about. No longer is the smartphone just a cool connecting device. Caution required. In our middle article we look at the topic of brain training. “Use it or lose it” as they say. But you may be surprised to learn what the research is showing about best methods. Move over crossword puzzles. There’s more to it than games. Last we look at edema. With summer coming on, your loved one may be plagued by swollen legs and feet. Learn about the many possible causes and remedies.
Text message scamming: "Smishing"
Your loved one may be watching for phishing scams on email, but now there are scams carried out by short message service (aka, texting). “Smishing” scams rose 58% in 2021. Nationawide they cost victims over $10 billion. Seniors are a prime target, as three out of five now own smartphones. While convenient, smartphones present new opportunities for getting scammed. Time to alert your relative to smishing.
Smishers masquerade as businesses your loved one may already deal with: Amazon, Netflix, the bank, or the postal service. Typical ploys involve bogus claims of
- a “shipping issue” (25% of smishing messages are delivery scams)
- “problem with payment” method, or an invoice they say needs verifying
- concerns about “suspicious activity on your account”
Before your loved one gets a scam text, counsel them:
- Don’t reply to the text, even if it says to “text STOP” to be taken off the list. Any reply lets the scammer know the phone number is “responsive.” They can sell that valuable information to other con artists.
- Don’t call the number. Instead, go to the official website of the company to get its phone number. Call, and work with the company directly if there’s an actual problem to be solved.
- Don’t click on any links. It will likely go to a website that looks authentic but is simply set up to collect account numbers and logins. Or to download malware to harvest such information later.
- Copy the message and text it to 7726 (SPAM). There is no charge to do this. It will notify the phone carrier of the problem so they can investigate.
Ways to protect your loved one’s phone:
- Check the settings on the mobile device and turn on spam protection.
- Talk to the phone carrier about its protective services. A “call-blocking” service can be extended to cover spam texts as well.
- Consider call-blocking apps. They identify and can filter out suspicious senders for texts and phone calls. The wireless phone trade association (ctia.org) has a list of apps for Apple and Android devices.
Does brain training work?
The brain is another organ to keep fit, and regular workouts are a good thing! Our brains enable many types of thinking: Problem solving, planning, attention, and memory. They manage our emotions and help us understand the emotions of others. Our brains also control movement (balance, speed, and coordination). And it’s where we process our spatial awareness—used for packing a suitcase or reading a map.
It’s never too early or too late to focus on one’s brain health. If your loved one—or you, for that matter—would like to improve brain fitness, consider these “exercises” that research studies have proven effective.
- Draw a map from memory. Start with the neighborhood. Strive for detail.
- Do math in your head. Try mental math first, then pull out the calculator to verify.
- Use your nondominant hand. If you are right handed, try brushing your teeth, eating, drawing, or writing with your left hand. It’s hard! But that’s the point. Challenges cause your brain to grow new brain cells and build new pathways.
- Learn something new. Take up a musical instrument. Learn a new language. Start a new hobby.
- Practice focused attention. Take 15 minutes a day to purposefully concentrate on what you are seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, or even tasting. Mentally stretch your awareness to observe outside your usual patterns of perception.
- Socialize. Interacting with others builds your emotional intelligence and improves mental health. (Isolation fosters depression and anxiety.)
- Brain-training apps. The jury is still out on how effective these are. If they are enjoyable, try them. But don’t spend a lot of money hoping for improved cognition in daily life.
Fuel for the brain. The brain is 2% of our body weight but consumes 20% of our daily calories. Good food, physical exercise, and adequate sleep help it get the oxygen and nutrients it needs.Return to top
Swollen legs and feet
Many older adults experience swollen legs and feet. For some, it’s because of sitting a lot and leading a sedentary lifestyle. For others, it’s the water retention side effect of a medication. And for others, the swelling—called “edema”—is a symptom of a chronic or even serious illness such as heart failure or liver or kidney disease.
Additional signs of edema include difficulty walking, stiff joints, a sudden weight gain (2–3 pounds in a 24-hour period), or skin that is stretched, shiny, discolored, or painful. If you suspect your loved one has edema, ask the doctor to do a thorough workup.
Strategies that might help
- Elevate. Sit or lie with feet elevated, ideally higher than the heart. Let gravity do some of the work!
- Reduce sodium. Too much of this important mineral can cause the body to hold onto fluids. Ask about the best salt substitute for your loved one. Use herbs, lemon juice, and other condiments to add flavor to food.
- Wear compression socks. Ask the doctor for a fitting. These special socks may be helpful for keeping fluid from settling in the feet.
- Check shoe fit. Tight shoes can contribute to fluid retention. In turn, fluid retention can cause shoes to become uncomfortably tight. Try a bigger size.
- Exercise. Getting up and moving around helps the heart and veins do their job of keeping fluids where they belong. Walking and swimming are recommended.
- Monitor drinks/fluids. Some conditions are best managed with limited fluid intake. Others do better with more fluids. Find out which is best for your relative’s situation.
Ask the doctor which of these strategies are best for your loved one’s condition.
Keep the legs and feet clean and dry. Use moisturizing lotion, but not between the toes. Inspect daily for cracks and inflammation. Split, dry skin can become painful and infected, causing even more health problems.Return to top