Category: Miscellaneous

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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43 years? Today, more like 43 months …

In a little more than two months, I will begin my 43rd year with this organization.

Tell that to young people today and their eyes grow wide. Very few people work for an organization that long any longer.

In fact, as just one example, my son-in-law, 31, is in his third corporate position—he’s an expert in UX (user experience; that is, how we interact with and use software), a role entirely unheard of when I began my career. I suspect other positions will eventually follow.

That’s simply the way of the world now.

While that change can present stellar opportunities for employees, it brings challenges to employers.

Diakon is fortunate that we have a number of longer-term employees. You might suspect that with an organization that is more than 150 years old, with long-established locations.

And yet we face the same concerns most health-care providers are experiencing: an increasing need for nursing staff and lots of competition for those potential staff members.

Addressing those concerns requires creative solutions. Diakon has adopted a number of them, including new-employee bonuses, referral bonuses, flexible scheduling, a comprehensive range of benefits and such concepts as “Stay Interviews.”

Recently, the organization has made two additional changes. The first is the provision of certain Day 1 benefits such as paid health-care insurance. No longer do you need to wait through a probationary period to receive this important coverage.

The second is a new, tiered approach to tuition assistance, with increased financial assistance for Diakon staff members interested in furthering their education in nursing.

TAP is a great benefit—I used it myself some years ago to gain my master’s degree in strategic communication—and, in fact, was not one offered when I joined a predecessor of Diakon decades ago, one more example of how organizations adapt to changing times.

—William Swanger, MA, APR, Fellow PRSA
Senior Vice President, Corporate Communications

‘Pre-Hab’ 101: Maximizing your short-term rehabilitation

Last month I wrote about the value of short-term rehabilitation for people who experience a health emergency, a hospitalization or injury or who just otherwise need help in transitioning to safe living at home.

While short-term rehab features a specially trained team of professionals to help you, it’s particularly helpful—if possible—to know what to do beforehand, to prepare for rehabilitation. Doing so can help you make the most of your short-term stay.

To help you, we’ve compiled a number of ways to prepare. While accidents and emergencies can happen, if you have surgery planned, you may want to consider these questions:

● What program will meet your needs? Do you need to be close to home, or want to be close to family? You are likely to get the most out of short-term rehab if it meets such needs.

● What services will you need? From on-site physical therapy, in-home visits from doctors, special diets and more, a senior living community must offer the services you need.

How will you pay? Savings, insurance and Medicare Part A can help to pay for short stays, through which you receive care for hospital-related medical conditions, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Plus, before choosing a short-term rehabilitation facility, click here to read more to be sure you know what to look for: 

Cultivating gratitude to stay motivated

New Year’s means resolutions, right?

Not this year, at least for me.

Because of a recent trip, I’ve been focused on something better that I think may be more successful than making lofty (and sometimes unreachable) resolutions that focus on my own well-being and, essentially, boil down to a tiresome to-do list.

What if, instead of resolutions, I adopt a mindset of “getting” to do things instead of “having” to do things? That approach may make it easier to see challenges as possibilities and problems as opportunities.

Yes, I know that sounds a little cheesy, but I tested this theory recently when I joined my daughter in India. She is a little past the halfway mark on The World Race, an 11-countries-in-11-months missions trip and the week was the only one parents are invited to participate—bucket showers and all!

The trip was demanding. I think the only times in my life I was so physically exhausted were during childbirth! From the time I left my house to when I arrived at the Hyderabad airport, more than 32 hours had passed. The long journey was not the only obstacle; the 10.5-hour time change proved a hurdle as well.

But it was worth it all to see my daughter’s smile after having been separated so long, lately with no Wi-Fi on her end to talk or text.

Almost immediately, the work began, with long rides into villages, differences in food and sanitation and a language barrier. Each time I was driven out of my comfort zone, I prayed for strength and gained a sense that I didn’t have to do any of this, I had the opportunity to do it; that is, I got to do it. My prayers were answered time and again—and I was able to focus on why we were there in the first place, to show love to orphaned children and offer support to the missionaries and World Racers who would not be coming back to the comforts of America, as I was a week later.

The plane ride home allowed plenty of time to think about how I could take what I had learned and apply it to other areas of my life, especially the ones usually at the top of my New Year’s resolution list:

  • I don’t have to exercise more; I get to because I have the ability to do so.
  • I don’t have to give more; I get to because I have opportunities and resources to bless others.
  • I don’t have to eat healthier; I get to because I have so many healthy options to fuel my body.
  • I don’t have to clean out the spare room; I get to because I have been blessed with a home and a family (who can also help to clean it out!).

Basically, I realized that a mindset of gratitude is what can prompt me to act.

I won’t use resolutions this New Year to start a diet or kick a bad habit. Instead, I am starting the year with a heart overflowing with gratitude, so that when it comes time to tackle a goal or a challenge, I get to embrace it rather than have to do it.

By Melissa Kindall
Manager, Social Media and Digital Communications Manager
Corporate Communications & Public Relations

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Fostering: Following a call into the unknown

I had been a licensed foster parent for only a few weeks when I got the call: “Expect a 5-year-old girl to arrive on your doorstep at 7 p.m. this evening.”

My mind immediately began to race. Instead of focusing on important details, such as buying a car seat and preparing her room, my thoughts quickly jumped to the realization I didn’t have any milk in the house and my carpets needed vacuumed! Here I was in the midst of this big, life-changing moment, and I was thinking about minor details.

During the next few hours, my stress level grew and I began to panic. But when 7 p.m. arrived, I opened the door to be greeted with a big smile and a wave: “Hi,” she said, “I’m Sophie.”

And in that moment, I realized that everything would be okay: This child will be an important part of my life and this moment is special.

As a single parent who worked full-time, I found the next few days especially challenging; they passed in somewhat of a blur. While I made sure Sophie’s basic needs were met, she worked through the shock and emotions that come with a foster placement. Looking back now, I wish I had more clarity so that I could remember everything that happened.

The next six months were probably the hardest, as we adjusted to our new life together. But, to be fair, she is such a joyful child that she made it easy. We have had what I would call the easiest, luckiest journey possible. We just fell in love with each other.

Although we initially thought our time together would be limited to a six-week placement, that milestone came and went with many others. While I worried how I would let go when the time came, I realized the only way to make it work would be to change my outlook and live day-by-day. As someone who thrives on planning, that was difficult to do, but Sophie made the difference.

The entire first year we were together, I kept telling myself: “If this is my only Christmas, my only Easter, my only summer with her, I want to make sure it is right for her and right for me.” I had to keep reminding myself of how grateful I was for every single day we had together, even if it ended at some point.

Fortunately, she never left and two and a half years later, she officially became a Fritz!

Looking back on the process, I can now say it was all meant to be. But before I met Sophie, I wasn’t so sure. The only thing I was certain of was that I wanted to be a mom. Foster care called to me.

And so in the fall of 2016, I reached out to Diakon Adoption & Foster Care and attended an information session. By the following January, I had completed training but quickly hit a wall with the paperwork. I dragged my feet for several months before I completed my licensing in June. While at one time I thought every action was random, I now recognize how things could have turned out very differently.

On June 26, 2017, a little girl walked into my house with a big smile on her face and everything changed. I knew in that instant she was the reason all of those other things didn’t happen for me. I knew in that moment that everything happens for a reason.

—Emily Fritz, Diakon Adoption & Foster Care Parent

Emily and Sophie Fritz look forward to celebrating their third Christmas together this year and enjoying activities from their first shared holiday that are now cherished family traditions.

Emily and Sophie

Alzheimer’s and other cognitive issues: The importance of sharing what we learn

I am facing something a lot of people face: caring for a loved one with memory loss, often the result of Alzheimer’s disease or another form of cognitive impairment.

While I sometimes feel as if I am falling apart, I know I am not facing this situation alone. Not only do I have other family members to help, but I also have three colleagues who are either going through or have gone through similar challenges. In addition, we work for an organization that offers a range of community-based services geared to those who are 60 and older.

Am I taking this in stride? Absolutely not.

My 93-year-old aunt, who is my godmother and like my second mom, is in a nursing home with this very emotional disease. My mother, who is her 80-year-old sister, has difficulty understanding how my aunt can be suffering when she doesn’t look physically ill. Cognitive issues truly affect the entire family.

It wasn’t until my aunt turned 90 that we started to notice little things. But, like so many others, we chalked it up to age. My colleague, Susan Long, admits it was only when she insisted her mom see a neurologist that she realized the disease was worse than she had thought.

“My biggest struggle is the guilt that I didn’t insist she go earlier,” she told me.
At some point, it is difficult to explain away the memory loss.

For Susan Johns, who also works for Diakon Community Services, that situation occurred when her 90-year-old father didn’t recognize her. “That was my most devastating experience,” she remembers. “For 70 years, I was his little girl. All of a sudden, he had no idea who I was.”

Despite the difficulties we’ve experienced, we all believe we have learned things that we want to share for the benefit of families in similar situations. One thing that was particularly striking for me was how, despite knowledge that my aunt was changing, I wanted everything to remain normal.

While she still lived at home, we often made her go to birthday parties and other family gatherings with the hope she would have a good time. What we didn’t understand at the time was that these events made her more anxious. Looking back, I wish we had handled things differently.

It was only recently that we found a note she had written to herself seven years earlier after my daughter-in-law’s bridal shower. In it, she revealed that she did not know how to write her name or make the food she normally takes to events. “Something is wrong,” she wrote, offering a clear reminder for us that it is never too early to voice your concerns.

Although it was a difficult decision to move my aunt into a nursing home, we knew it was best for her as her disease progressed. However, many people may never reach that point.

My colleague Jenny Wagner and her sister shared the role of caregiver for their mother. Even though her dementia worsened during the last five years of her life, their mother lived independently with their support. Jenny’s sister checked on her throughout the day and Jenny spent weekends with her.

“It was hard in the sense that it was a long, slow goodbye,” she recalls. “You could see it happening and you were living with it. My mom always maintained a great sense of humor, making it easier for my sister and me to maintain our attitude about the whole thing.”

Despite the daily challenges of caring for our loved ones, we all have found or continue to find value in the time we’ve been given together—from deeper relationships with parents and treasured moments with a favorite relative to teaching our children respect for their elders.

—Debbie Herb, coordinator of center services for Diakon Community Services in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, with additional thoughts from Susan Long, program coordinator, Diakon Living & Learning; Susan Johns, APPRISE program coordinator; and Jennifer Wagner, community wellness coordinator.

In connection with the thoughts shared in this blog post, Diakon Community Services—along with Independent Living and the county Office of Senior Services—will host “Alzheimer’s and Dementia: A panel of help, hope and understanding,” from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Oct. 23 at the Pottsville Senior Community Center. The educational session is designed for individuals and families caring for a loved one with a cognitive impairment. People may register by calling (570) 624-3016.

Click here for additional information, including a list of panelists.

A pastor’s perspective on orphan care and the church

I am one of the pastors of Grace Baptist Church in Lewisberry, Pennsylvania. My wife and I have eight children—three born to us and five who are either adopted or in the process of being adopted. They span from age 7 to 20. 

Our life is crazy, but good, so good! My wife is awesome and my children are a joy! 

As individual believers, but also as the church, we have a responsibility and opportunity to take care of the fatherless. God tells us in the Old Testament (Psalm 68) that He has a special place in His heart for those who need parents, that He is the Father to the fatherless.  

And in the New Testament book of James, we read that is what “true religion is”: To care for those who cannot care for themselves, orphans.  So I ask, “What is your church doing?” and “What are you doing?” 

Let me also suggest a few potential action steps. 

1. Pray – Pray for your church and its leaders. Pray that they have wisdom in how to care for “orphans.” Pray for those you know who are either displaced children or those who minister to them through foster care and adoption. Pray that God may give you direction in how you can be involved.

2. Ask – Ask what you can do in the church to care for those who are in your sphere of influence.  Ask your church leaders if there is something more you could be doing as a church. Come to them willing to be a part of the solution. An easy thing to do is to participate in National Orphan Sunday. It is usually on Veterans Day weekend and, this year, falls on Nov. 19. (You can certainly focus on the subject another day; last year we had a pair of shoes up front on the platform for every million orphans in the world.)

There are a lot of resources available to you at https://cafo.org/orphansunday if you are interested. Also, I am sure that our friends at Diakon Adoption & Foster Care can assist you.

In the past at our church, we have had people give testimonies and also had focused times of prayer in our services. This year, we will be making some prayer cards for our people to pray for waiting kids, from adoptpakids.org. It will be in the bulletin, so that people can pray for them throughout the next year. 

We also have had different representatives from adoption organizations set up a table to answer questions and provide information

There is much that can be done! Currently, we as a church are providing a diaper subscription to a family who just took in two children in diapers. Again, ask—ask what you and your church can do.

3. Get Involved – Let me encourage you by noting that you don’t have to be perfect to get involved. God can use you right where you are. Not all are called to adopt, but we can all care and become involved at some level. I once heard a statistic that if each church would adopt one child in the U.S., that step would take care of all of the waiting children in the country. There are about 400,000 children in foster care or needing a permanent family—and about 400,000 churches. Obviously, the solution is not as simple as that, but you get the point. 

We could all become involved and do a little more to make a big difference. What are you willing to do?

—Calvin Cutting


A careful plan can help you to ‘right-size’ your living space

In my work as a certified relocation and transition specialist, I come in contact with many people who have lived in the same home for 20 or 30 years or even longer and who have found their accumulation of things to be overwhelming.

In fact, because of all their “stuff,” they often can’t face the idea of moving into smaller accommodations to begin retirement, as a result of health changes or to reduce home costs.

Moreover, the issue of dealing with too much stuff can affect anyone, regardless of age, even though I typically work with older adults transitioning to a smaller home or a senior living community.

Armed with a few strategic tips and guidelines, however, most people can tackle even the most difficult home-organization project with confidence.

The key is about “right-sizing” your living space.

A good place to start is by categorizing possessions into groups: items you need, love and want. A good space will contain only what we need and love and a little bit of what we want.

A great space will have only what we need and love.

A common stumbling block clients describe to me is hesitance to get rid of their children’s old belongings or items they have stored for friends and family.

I tell them not to let this hold them back from taking the first step toward getting organized. Contact children and friends to find out if they want their items back or no longer have use for them. If not, there are many ways to dispose of them, including donation to a nonprofit or selling them online.

The old adage that one person’s “trash” is another’s treasure is true!

Of course, letting go of items collected over the years is tough. Sometimes, though, it can help to take a last look at an item and share your memories about it with a family member or friend—and then pack it away for good.

Depending on your ultimate goal for reorganizing, it’s important to ask yourself if you really do need an item. As just one example, instead of keeping a dinner service for 12, reduce it to four.

I often provide these tips in seminars at senior living communities or work directly with individuals and families contemplating a move.

But whether you plan to right-size your living space with the help of family members or with a professional, the best way to approach what can often be an emotional situation is with the benefit of a good plan.

—Carolyn Doerr owns Caring Transitions of Mechanicsburg