Exploring senior living and lifestyle options

Although the COVID pandemic still occupies the news, older adults continue to explore living and lifestyle options.

And when it comes time for retirement, experience shows they seek a lifestyle that allows them to sit back, relax, live life as they please and enjoy peace of mind. Often, that peace of mind comes from selecting senior living communities that offer health-care services on-site.

These are just some of the reasons older adults choose to live where services are on campus and always available:

•    With a range of services, the community can meet your needs and preferences for years to come, especially if those needs change.

Click here to read more….

Allowing a different story to take shape …

Dan and I married 17 years ago, when I was newly out of college. I graduated in December of that year with an education degree. Being mid-school year, it was difficult for me to find a full-time teaching job.

At that time, there was a family from our church adopting a sibling group who needed child care. I became their nanny during the day—my first experience working directly with children in the foster-care system.

I believe God used this experience to foreshadow an intended story, one very different from Dan’s and my own plans.

They were great kids and I loved my time with them. In the evenings, Dan and I would have conversations about doing something similar, welcoming a sibling group into our home someday.

We decided to start a family but five years passed before I became pregnant with our first son. Because of continuing challenges with conception, we believed God was telling us to close that door.

We moved on and started to consider adoption again. We researched, prayed and both felt called by God to foster a sibling group. It broke our hearts to hear about siblings not being able to be together. Both Dan and I had siblings growing up and are still close to them. We went through classes, interviews and a home study. After that home study, I apologized to Dan for being cranky and exhausted. It turns out I was pregnant with our second son.

God had pressed the pause button on foster care.

After our second son was born, we moved to Pennsylvania so Dan could finish his dissertation and earn his doctorate. Once settled, we felt God was telling us to press “un-pause” and we did. We included the boys in our conversations about fostering siblings and possible adoption.

They were excited about it.

We have friends at church with four kids, three of whom became part of the family through foster-adopt with Diakon Adoption & Foster Care, so we reached out to Diakon to begin classes.

We planned to seek two foster two girls, no older than 5. We got several phone calls over six months. During that time, one of those phone calls was to provide respite care for a sibling group of three, two girls and a boy, ages 6 through 18 months. It was just for five days, so we said sure!

The way they interacted with our boys showed us that limiting our foster-care choice to under age 5 wasn’t necessary (another nudge from God to allow Him to write our story).

After that respite placement, we contacted Diakon and increased our age limit. Shortly after that, we received a phone call about two girls, ages 7 and 3. They are now our adopted daughters.

Yet God’s story had another unexpected chapter. A Diakon adoption specialist contacted us nearly two years later and told us the girls’ birth mother was pregnant again and asked us to be a resource family for this newborn. How could we resist? Their baby brother was born and he is now our adopted son.

God just wrote our story so perfectly. Flexibility is so important. We learned it wasn’t about us growing our family; it was about meeting the needs of these kids.

We learned not to try to control every detail and to allow God to direct us. That story is so much better than how you might want to write it yourself.

—Trista Herrlin

We’re all in this together – and need to stay that way!

With the visitor restrictions, the enhanced safety measures and even the way we interact with one another, all implemented in response to COVID-19 disease, it’s obvious we are in a changed world, especially in terms of senior lifestyle and health care services.

While the many changes may have been unsettling, what I have witnessed in my newer role as vice president of operations for a number of Diakon senior living communities is a staff response I can characterize no other way than incredible.

Diakon staff members have constantly gone above and beyond in their efforts to meet head-on the challenges we face. Although each Diakon senior living community is unique in some ways, the approach to safety for both residents and staff, the ways we clean, disinfect and protect, are consistent across the board.

In addition, our staff members have become very creative in efforts to engage residents through technology. In addition to using FaceTime, Facebook Live, Skype and telemedicine visits, we have encouraged family members to talk with residents on their phones or connect virtually because we understand the importance of making personal connection possible as we work to ensure residents’ physical and mental well-being.

All of which points to a critical message as the regions in which Diakon senior living communities are located transition from “red” to “yellow” and even from “yellow” to “green.” Pent-up energy to be with family members will undoubtedly fuel an increasing desire to see loved ones within our senior living communities. That is absolutely understandable and we welcome these reunions.

At the same time, we need to remind everyone that we cannot let our guard down. Older adults are particularly susceptible to severe cases of COVID-19 disease. That caution pertains not just to residents in personal care, assisted living or nursing care, but also to those who live in independent-living homes and apartments on our campuses, especially in light of reports that indicate the relative ease with which this virus sometimes can be transmitted.

For that reason, even as we begin to plan how to ease visitor restrictions, we need to remain extremely vigilant, adopting new practices and emphasizing the tried-and-true measures with which we all have become familiar:

• Wash your hands frequently

• Wear a mask as appropriate to the occasion, but particularly in public. You are not only protecting yourself, but others as well

• Maintain physical distancing

• Monitor yourself for potential symptoms of the virus

• Try to avoid crowded places, particularly where others are not following safety measures

I recently read of people who object to the phrase “new normal,” because they believe we can soon return to what we considered normal. I certainly hope we can eventually resume the lives we experienced before COVID-19. But I also read an article by an epidemiologist who indicated that, even with a vaccine, this virus—which he hoped would eventually weaken—may be with us a long time.

We want your loved ones also to be with us a long time.

That is why we will continue to underscore the need for caution and vigilance even as we take first steps toward the new senior-living landscape.

Robert Musser serves as senior executive director of Buffalo Valley Lutheran Village, Lewisburg, and is vice president of operations for Diakon Senior Living –Hagerstown, Maryland, and three Diakon campuses in Pennsylvania: Cumberland Crossings, Carlisle; Frey Village, Middletown; and Ohesson, Lewistown.

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More than heroes

It was 4:50 a.m. when the phone rang, waking me from a dream immediately lost. There was a death and the family had requested the chaplain come in to offer a blessing prayer with their loved one.

That is not an unusual request but these are unusual times, and the call was from our red zone—that is, our COVID-19 positive unit. Deep breath. A prayer of thanksgiving for the official “fit-testing” of my new N-95 mask yesterday.

Then a mental review of the PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) I would need: gown, mask, goggles, gloves. Another prayer to calm my anxiety about a task I have done many times before during six years of ministry here, a task now made entirely new and, to be truthful, more than a bit scary.

Prayer finished, divested of PPE other than the ever-present mask, I stopped to check on the nursing staff and to offer them words of affirmation, because they wake up every morning choosing to set aside apprehensions and don their PPE and work long shifts caring lovingly for residents who have this devastating illness.

As they enter our building, they pass by signs naming them as “heroes.” They are.

Oh, but it is so much more than that one word can possibly encompass! I call them the faithful—faithful to the mission of this skilled nursing home’s stated purpose: “…to demonstrate God’s command to love the neighbor through acts of service.”

They are faithful to the vows of their vocation as nurses. But most of all they are faithful to each resident, one by one, whose lives are precious to them, and in danger of slipping away. Courage mixed with compassion.

It is an awesome calling. It is a fearsome responsibility. I am humbled by their faithfulness, brought to tears by their courage, and so very proud to be in their presence.

Thank you to all of them for all you are, and all you do for the people we serve. 

—The Rev. Dr. Colleen Kristula                                                                        Chaplain, The Lutheran Home at Topton

Communicating despite COVID-19 restrictions

Physical distancing in the time of COVID-19 disease is making alternative means of communication even more important, especially for senior living residents.

At The Lutheran Home at Topton, a Diakon Senior Living Community in Berks County, Pennsylvania, we are now making approximately 80 FaceTime or Skype calls every week.

Those calls can be challenging, however, when a loved one has hearing impairments or a cognitive issue, so here are some tips to try when making a “virtual visit”:

Make the call brief, and expect to do most of the talking yourself. Share with the loved one what you are doing or seeing where you are. Reassure the person that his or her extended family is doing okay.

Remember that sound coming from a computer or mobile device might be more difficult to hear. Be prepared with some homemade signs in large print to say the important stuff: “We love you.” “We miss you.” And “I will visit you as soon as I can.”

Many people with cognitive illness have difficulty grasping the concept of video conferencing. They may see the screen as a photograph or television and not realize they can have a conversation. It may help to have a person sitting near your loved one talk back and forth a few times as a model, so that the loved one can see how it works.

An effective way to answer the question “Why aren’t you visiting me?” is by connecting to a long-ago memory. Many older folks can recall the time when measles or polio was in full swing. “Remember when you had the measles and everyone had to stay in the house and no one could visit? Right now there’s a virus going around, and we all have to stay in our houses and are not allowed to visit.”

When in doubt, mention governmental guidelines. Adults from the Greatest Generation respect and honor our national leaders. “Right now, the president, the governor and other leaders say we all have to stay put right where we are. When they say it’s okay to visit, then we will come to see you in person. For now, we can only see each other this way.”

Above all, stay positive and upbeat. As Debra Gogno, the executive director of The Lutheran Home at Topton, frequently reminds us: “Every storm runs out of rain eventually.”

—The Rev. Dr. Colleen G. Kristula
Chaplain, The Lutheran Home at Topton

Insights on fad diets

From keto to gluten-free to vegan and more, fad diet options abound. But are these eating plans a healthy choice for older adults?

And the question has become especially important, as more people eat in and cook at home as they shelter-in-place related to the current pandemic from the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Two registered dietitians with Morrison Community Living, Diakon’s culinary services partner, Samantha Griffith, RD, LDN, the nutrition care manager at Ohesson in Lewistown, Pennsylvania, and Connor Forlini, MS, RDN, LDN, nutrition care manager at Cumberland Crossings near Carlisle, Pennsylvania, provide insights. As in most cases, if you have specific questions about your own diet, please consult your health-care professional.

One common theme among many fad diets is that something must be eliminated for the diet to be successful: cut carbs or eliminate wheat or eat virtually no fats.

“That’s the first red flag,” says Griffith. “As dietitians, we promote the idea that everything is okay in moderation. People don’t like to hear that, though. They think it’s easier to cut just one thing and magically lose weight.”

Take the ketogenic, or “keto,” diet, for example. According to Griffith, the diet calls for reducing carbs so drastically that you are tricking your body into starvation mode and producing ketones from fat to create energy.

“The problem is that it’s awful for your metabolism; you start to feel fatigued and it’s just not sustainable for the long-term,” she says.

Or the gluten-free diet. Unless you have celiac disease, Griffith says, there’s no advantage to cutting out gluten.

“Gluten is a protein in wheat, rye and barley with no caloric value,” she says. “If you can’t tolerate it, gluten can create serious digestive issues. But a lot of people follow the diet and cut out grains. If you do that, you cut out an important source of B vitamins, fiber and other nutrients. Grains also often are fortified with iron, which a lot of older adults struggle to get enough of. Getting iron from dietary sources, including fortified grains, helps you avoid taking iron pills.”

Griffith’s advice is to instead modify your diet to reduce your carbs overall, but not completely. Not all carbs are bad.

Forlini adds that carbs are often misunderstood. Older adults may just need more education on them, he says.

“Your doctor may tell you to limit your carb intake,” he says. “That really means empty carbs, like sugar. And it doesn’t mean you can’t ever have a sweet dessert. Just have a smaller piece,” although that advice may vary for people with diabetes, who should follow physician recommendations on carb-intake.

Because many older adults deal with health issues such as heart disease and high blood pressure, Forlini notes that culinary services at Diakon vary menus, with less red meat and meatless options. Most foods are prepared in-house from scratch, he explains, and use low-sodium products or are made only with naturally occurring salt and no added sodium.

“We learn about residents’ diet history, their medical history, what foods and drinks they like,” he says. “We don’t tell them they can’t have this or that food. We always offer alternatives.”

Griffith and Forlini agree that fad diets aren’t the answer if you’re trying to eat healthier. Here are five suggestions they make for greater success:

Forget the word “diet.” Think lifestyle changes, Griffith says. “You are changing habits versus cutting things out.”

Make small changes, gradually. You are more likely to stick with the diet than if you overhaul your entire way of eating all at once.

Don’t cut out complete food groups. If you’ve read that fruits are high in sugar, that doesn’t mean you stop eating them altogether. “Many fruits are good sources of minerals, fiber and anti-oxidants,” Forlini says.

Have pizza or a slice of your friend’s birthday cake—just don’t do it every day and pay attention to the carb count if you are diabetic. Good nutrition is not made or broken in one day, Griffith says. “I call those kinds of food good for the soul; we all need those.”

Think of the foods you eat as helping you fight disease. “The American health-care system is more reactive, treating people after they get sick,” Forlini says. “Dietitians and nutritionists are “pro-active,” using food to prevent or reduce the disease state.”

If you’re looking for a tried-and-true approach to healthy eating, Griffith and Forlini recommend the Mediterranean food plan. It focuses on eating smaller portions of meat, more seafood, plenty of vegetables, healthy fats and whole grains.

A promise amidst the “panxiety”

Corona virus.

COVID-19.

Pandemic.

We take all necessary precautions. Buy the items we need. Practice self-isolation and social distancing.

We’ve done all we can. Or have we?

We all seem to have a list of things about which we’re anxious. Pandemic leads to what I might call “panxiety.”

It’s everywhere. We all see it, experience it, feel it. Yet in the midst of panxiety also comes a recollection, a feeling, a memory, a belief, of promise.

And for me, St. Paul’s words from Romans provided that promise: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

Nothing can separate us from God’s love.

Not pandemic.

Not panxiety.

By Rev. Mark A. Wimmer, MBA

Vice President, Church Relations and Community Partnerships

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Care that makes you feel at home

In my new role, I am now associated with a number of Diakon senior living communities and if there is one consistent factor I see, it’s the fact that our staff members recognize that no two people are alike.

That means we have to develop specialized care and an individualized approach to meet each person’s needs and preferences. Our goal always is to provide care in just the manner you or your loved one prefers.

In fact, that’s the secret to successful long-term care: Making our residents, their families and our staff teams feel part of a family.

The attributes of this type of care also offer a guide for you as you consider a long-term care community:

• Warm-hearted care. The care team should offer 24-hour nursing support in an inviting, welcoming environment. They should always listen to you and your loved one’s concerns, needs and desires to provide the most personalized service.

A resident-focused approach. No matter what your loved one’s needs are, staff members should strive to provide choice, purpose and meaning in life each day. By keeping you and your loved one at the center of care planning and involving you in the decision-making process, care-team members not only build relationships, but also create a plan that meets individual needs and preferences. Whether you have a concern, idea or simply want to talk, staff should listen to you, allowing them to better serve your loved one while adapting to changing needs. 

You can read more important attributes to look for by clicking here.

Recognizing and treating anxiety in children

A 16-year-old client of Diakon Family Life Services experienced persistent symptoms of anxiety, including difficulties in sleeping and excessive worry about school and interactions at school. Before long, he was using drugs to cope with the situation.

Through work with a Diakon Family Life Services therapist, the young man was able to learn new ways to reduce his stress and, in turn, was able to conquer his anxiety. Skills he learned included deep breathing to assist with anxiety-reduction, positive self-talk, how to “work” with pressure instead of against it and agenda-creation to manage school work. That step helped to reduce stress associated with homework and related projects.

And, of course, he is not alone.

A 13-year-old girl requested counseling services for high anxiety and an inability to concentrate in school. After four months of therapy, however, she reports her anxiety to be at an all-time low. She can now engage in more social activities without anxiety, increasing her number of friends and gaining renewed interest in artistic endeavors. She benefitted significantly from talking through her anxiety, learning thought-stopping techniques, and engaging in calming skills such as mindfulness.

Do you have a child or teen about whom you are concerned? If so, Diakon Family Life Services staff members answer the following questions they often hear from parents and guardians. Of course, no article such as this is a substitute for professional therapy and if you believe your child might benefit from that, we urge you to contact us or another therapist for guidance.

Q. What is a common trigger for stress that most parents are surprised their child or teen is experiencing?

A. Unfortunately, parents are often surprised by how much their own stress affects the level of stress their child is experiencing. Plus, children and adolescents are often struggling to manage their own stress, which just becomes compounded by stress within the family itself. In fact, many parents are unaware how much their children worry about adult matters that they hear their parents discuss. Among key factors causing stress for young people are relationship issues, things they see in social media or on the internet, bullying, parental friction, school and peer relationships, parental expectations and the concerns and stresses friends are experiencing.

Q. What behaviors should parents or caregivers watch for to determine if children are struggling with anxiety?

A. There are a number of behavioral changes for which parents should stay alert. Among them are:

• Being nervous, appearing worried, easily distracted; withdrawing from family and friends

• A tendency to isolate, avoid, be panicked or secretive; hesitant about social interactions; paranoid about life events

• Angry or easily irritated

• Changes in sleep patterns such as falling or staying asleep or unexpected mood swings, such as crying

• Cell-phone attachment

• Avoidance of certain activities, appearing stressed

• Gastrointestinal issues

• Restrictive or over-eating; hair-pulling and self-harm (in extreme cases)

• Reports of physical symptoms such as headache or stomachache

• Not wanting to attend school

• Excessive video-game use, drug or alcohol use

• Not spending as much time with friends as usual

• Lack of motivation

Q. What can parents do in their own lives to make children and youths less anxious?

A. One of the more important actions is to provide a safe home environment and keep your own anxiousness in check. Parents also can help structure their children’s lives so they have a more predictable schedule, responsibilities and bedtimes. Further, parents need to be aware of their use or overuse of substances; reduce preoccupation with electronics and cell phones, along with social media. Spend one-on-one time with each child.

Beyond that, you can model healthy habits and positive coping skills, as well as ways to handle stressful situations. Discuss your availability and willingness to listen to children, expressing hope that any negative situations will change and always talking in a calm and loving manner. Certainly, keep open communication, give children and youths their “space” and avoid telling young people about problems that do not concern them, such as relationship issues, finances or family drama. Be sure to provide children with a safe place to express themselves without judgment.

Other suggestions include limiting screen time and social-media use, having realistic boundaries, increasing time for family talk and routinely asking children about any concerns.

Q. What’s the difference between having “normal” anxiety and an anxiety disorder?

A. While no definition fits every situation, an anxiety disorder is more severe, with the anxiety causing great distress and interfering with the activities of daily life. In fact, it will tend to make normal tasks a struggle. Regular anxiety is situational, whereas an anxiety disorder will occupy thoughts for more days than not over a longer period of time; it typically involves chronic anxious thinking patterns.

As overall information, anxiety is the body’s reaction to a “trigger” and is generally a short-term experience, being a response to a situation such as getting married, a birth or even taking a driver’s test. In some cases, this type of stress can have a positive effect by generating motivation. An anxiety disorder is a sustained mental health disorder that can be triggered by stress and impedes your ability to carry out your normal daily activities; often, it is a response to a real or imagined threat.  

It’s important to remember that everyone experiences anxiety and can typically cope with it. Coping becomes much more difficult when it involves, for example, excessive and perpetual worrying that interferes with life; such a diagnosable anxiety disorder would need further attention by professionals.