Category: Senior Living

How independent living helps older adults stay socially active

My father, a pharmacist, retired in his late 50s when he sold his independent drug store. And then he went right back to work.

He did what is called “relief work,” meaning he worked a day here and a day there for other pharmacists who needed relief from the daily 9-to-9 grind.

In fact, he worked into his late 70s, by then working for a mail-order pharmacy. He wasn’t fond of computers but he liked compounding prescriptions—that is, filling capsules by hand—which a lot of younger pharmacists eschewed, a perfect match. That schedule also afforded plenty of time for travel and play with grandchildren.

For many older adults, retirement is much more than choosing senior independent-living accommodations and then spending one’s days just relaxing. For most, retirement is about staying physically active, remaining engaged within the community and learning new things. These older adults view retirement as an opportunity not only to do some part-time work—if that’s what they would like to do—but also everything they’ve always wanted to do but never had time for.

All of these pursuits lead to staying socially active—one of the best parts of independent living. In fact, being socially active has a wide range of health benefits. According to an article in Psychology Today, research outlines potential concrete benefits for older adults, including:

Improved physical health. It’s suggested that social engagement helps to ensure a stronger immune system, helping seniors to fight off colds, the flu and, according to the article, some types of cancer.

A longer lifespan. The article notes that those who spend more time with others and have supportive relationships—and are therefore not isolated—tend to live longer than others who are frequently alone.

To read more about the benefits of seniors being socially active, please click here.

Helping a loved one transition to memory care

Tom knew Sarah could no longer remain at home.

It was impossible for him to be home all the time and even with occasional help from family and friends and a local agency, taking care of Sarah—whose battle with Alzheimer’s disease had begun slowly but escalated recently—was becoming more difficult.

Tom knew they had reached the stage at which Sarah needed intensive memory care.

Yet, like many people, he had no clue where to begin. And even though he had accepted the need for care, would Sarah—if she even understood what was happening? Yet what had been her wishes? Where would she enjoy living? How might he even broach the subject?

While every situation is different, the transition from home to memory care can be a difficult conversation to have, if not with the person experiencing memory loss, at least with other family members.

If your loved one’s memory loss is beginning to require care beyond what you can provide, that person’s safety is at risk—plus, despite your best efforts, your loved one may not be receiving the care or even lifestyle he or she deserves.

Discussing such a transition can prompt a lot of stress, agitation and even downright anger if the topic is not approached properly. That is why it’s important to bring this up at a good time.

Discussing memory care is often best done on one of your loved one’s better days and at the person’s best time. If the loved one is at his or her best in the morning, consider bringing the subject up over breakfast, rather than later in the day.

Certainly, it’s very important to listen to the person’s wishes and consider individual thoughts and feelings. The discussion may, in fact, take place over time.

My loved one is transitioning to a memory-care community. Now what?

Whether your loved one has decided to make a move on his or her own, or you needed to make that difficult choice, it’s important to ease into the transition. There are a number of ways you can help them. Consider some of the following suggestions by clicking here.

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

Personal care: A blend of support and independence

Several Diakon Senior Living Services staff members recently discussed the fact most people call what we offer in our personal care communities assisted living.

Because of varying licensures in Pennsylvania (Maryland is different—what we offer there is called assisted living), what Diakon’s senior living communities provide is technically called personal care.

Yet the term simply means we are providing assistance to people with the activities of daily living.

As we grow older, there may come a time it becomes harder to live on our own, yet we still want an independent lifestyle.

Personal care is helpful when it’s not possible for us to remain in our own homes any longer. Personal care allows people to continue to enjoy an active lifestyle, programs, activities, social opportunities—along with daily care.

People who receive personal care typically live the same lifestyle as before, except with the benefit of a little added care when it’s needed.

Click here to learn how personal care can help with daily tasks.

Five tips for choosing the perfect active retirement community

In my career in sales of senior living accommodations, I’ve found that one of two things happens when older adults begin their journey to retirement communities.

They either know exactly what they want and need … or …

They’re overwhelmed by the abundance of available options.

That second situation is not surprising: There are many things to consider, from services and amenities to programming and opportunities for exploration and learning.

My goal is to not let the search for the perfect senior living community become a challenge, so here are five brief tips that can help you or your loved one choose the right community.

Before you begin, however, I always advise making a list of your personal wants, needs and desires. After that list is complete, search for senior living communities both near you and a little farther away (but see the caution below about family and friends). Don’t write off a community just because it’s a little farther than you thought you’d like—it might just be the perfect community for you.

Plus, be sure to schedule tours, check items off your list and try to picture what your life would look like there. Here are my personal suggestions for building your list:

1.    Consider the environment. Do you thrive in the city, where there are plenty of shows to attend, musical performances to enjoy and shopping and dining opportunities? Or do you prefer the laid-back countryside full of peaceful walking trails, horseback riding and nature? In either case, be sure to tour communities that fit your preferences. If you’re open to a good mix of both, you may find communities that offer the best of both worlds. But never settle for a lifestyle that’s less than what you want.

To read more suggestion, please click here.

Distinguishing between dementia and normal age-related memory loss …

The email was puzzling: Would I be able to get the staff colleague the document she had requested?

Eh … what document? my mind immediately wondered.

Apologizing in both text and email, I asked for clarification. What had I promised to do?

We had discussed the item two weeks ago, came the reply.

Ugh! But I was still drawing a blank.

Fortunately, I can attribute this instance of memory-loss to the fact we get so many requests in my office that if I don’t write them down immediately, I’m typically on to whatever item is staring at me from my inbox and that other request is … well … gone.

We often find aging parents exhibiting similar behaviors and our immediate question typically is: Is this normal aging or something else?

Many older adults consider this question themselves over fear for the future. And the question is not easy to answer but, over time, answers usually become clear.

So, is it normal memory loss?

It’s common for forgetfulness and memory lapses to occur because of normal changes in the brain associated with aging.

The National Institutes of Health notes that this situation may make it harder to learn new things or retain information as easily as in the past. And, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, typical age-related changes may include making a bad decision once in a while, missing a monthly payment, forgetting what day or time it is but remembering it later, forgetting words or meanings of words and losing things from time to time.

These memory lapses can fluctuate as time goes on, but are perfectly normal.

But what they are the signs of cognitive illness? Click here to read more!

Supporting an aging loved one during short-term rehab

I took a 95-year-old relative for minor surgery recently and, afterward, she complained just a little about having had to put up with the inconvenience of the procedure.

As several family members have chuckled on occasion, our relative is quite fortunate overall. While she had to care for her husband as he faced health issues for a number of years, she’s had relatively few significant health issues herself.

And she still lives alone—and drives! Undoubtedly, most of us hope for that future.

Unfortunately, as we age, the likelihood increases that we may face varying issues including chronic health conditions or other diseases, surgeries or falls. Often, those situations can be improved with short-term rehabilitation.

Short-term rehab encompasses physical, occupational and speech therapies that can help people reach their individual potential and, quite frequently, return to the lives they love.

The care team at a short-term rehabilitation center creates a personalized plan that can help older adults regain strength, manage medical conditions and transition back home. In addition to offering care around-the-clock, these centers also typically offer education and resources for both seniors and their families.

Many short-term rehabilitation centers, such as those operated by Diakon Senior Living Services, offer private and semi-private suites, therapy gyms and personalized instruction, nutritious dining designed to enhance health, and space for socializing. The goal is an overall positive experience that helps patients thrive.

If my relative required short-term rehab, it’s likely she would say she did not need it. She would not be alone in that self-assessment. Many older adults tend to decline short-term rehabilitation after being released from the hospital. Often, this is because they’d rather go home and don’t see the value in rehabilitation, according to Aging Care.

You can help them to understand their stay is only temporary—and it can lead to their remaining healthier longer. In fact, if they return home too soon and aren’t yet healed properly, they can be setting themselves up for a longer stay in rehabilitation later on.

To make this process easier on your loved one, click here to read about a few things you can do.

Personal Care: Fact vs. Myth

I love when we’re able to help people gain the care they need, but often don’t want to seek, typically for a variety of reasons.

Right now, several Diakon senior living communities, Diakon Senior Living – Hagerstown among them, are helping motivate people to seek personal care or, as it is known here in Maryland, assisted living—through various incentives.

But why might older adults who need such care not seek it immediately? Certainly, as people grow older, they may notice changes in abilities. Whether someone has suffered a fall, is recovering from a surgery or simply needs assistance completing the typical tasks of daily living, personal care may be of great benefit.

But when some older adults hear the phrase “personal care,” they may have a negative reaction.

They think, for example, that they don’t need any help and that they are still sufficiently independent to continue caring for themselves.

That perspective is understandable, but family members and other friends may quickly spot the need for assistance.

What are signs a loved one may benefit from personal care?

Is a loved one no longer taking care of him- or herself? Wearing the same clothing for more than a day? No longer seeming to care about appearance?

If so, the person may be having trouble completing these tasks or attending to basic needs. Not only can this situation decrease confidence, but it can also continue to affect independence.

If loved ones react negatively to the idea of personal care, they may be falling victim to myths they’ve heard. To combat this, you could help to dispel those myths …

●    Personal care will decrease my independence. This couldn’t be further from the truth; in fact, personal care can actually enrich your quality of life enough that you may become more independent. For example, if you don’t need to spend time worrying about certain activities of daily life, you may be able to focus more fully on wellness, improving your health through exercise and participating in more lifelong-learning opportunities.

To read more about dispelling the myths about personal care, please click here.

Six drug-free treatment options for people with cognitive illnesses

While cures may not currently be possible for many forms of cognitive illnesses, are there ways to treat people without the use of drugs?

Some believe it is possible to help manage some of the challenging behaviors and symptoms with a number of drug-free treatment options, including holistic therapies. It’s important to note, however, that many of these are based on trial and error, not scientific research.

In fact, according to the Alzheimer’s Association®, “The rigorous scientific research required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the approval of a prescription drug is not required by law for the marketing of dietary supplements or ‘medical foods.’” This means that side effects, uses and efficiency may not be safely monitored. For that reason, many people tend to opt for a different approach: holistic therapies and lifestyle changes.

Options for older adults with dementia …

There are a number of steps you might test when trying to help a person with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. These approaches can affect everyone differently, but through trial and error, you may be better able to help a loved one.

1.    Aromatherapy. Some people may become agitated, angry or even depressed as a result of dementia; it can thus be difficult for them to relax or calm down. In these cases, aromatherapy may be able to help. Try rubbing a lavender-scented lotion on their hands or spraying a refreshing citrus room spray to lift spirits in the morning.

2.    Massage Therapy. If your loved one doesn’t mind being touched, massage therapy might be something that is good for them. It can not only help to relax the person, but also release oxytocin to promote peace and calm.

3.    Pet Therapy. There are few people who don’t instantly light up when they see an animal. Known to be successful in an array of situations, pet therapy can help break up your loved one’s routine and bring joy and happiness. Whether the person prefers the company of a dog or a cat, friendly purrs and wagging tails can make a difference.

For additional drug-free treatment suggestions, please click here!

The power of community

I recently heard someone speak about the importance of community. I was intrigued by an unusual experience he cited, called the Roseto effect.

According to UnimedLiving.com, “In 1964 a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association examined a population of recent Italian immigrants in Roseto, a small town in the state of Pennsylvania. The study was instigated because the town doctor was completely baffled by the Rosetans’ near immunity to heart disease. He reported his observations” and an extensive study was conducted, comparing health statistics in the community to those of neighboring towns.

In fact, from 1954 to 1961, Roseto had nearly no heart attacks within the population of men 55 to 64, normally a high-risk group, and men older than 65 had a death rate of 1%, while nationally the average was 2%, despite other behaviors (such as smoking) considered unhealthy and sometimes-hazardous working conditions.

The local physician attributed the lower heart-disease rate to lower stress. Researchers suggested “the quality of family relationships and the social milieu may be pertinent to the occurrence of or protection against death from myocardial infarction.” (The Huffington Post also writes about it here in more detail.)

Interestingly, as social structures changed and the community grew less tight-knit, heart-disease rates rose to be comparable to the rest of the country.

There are certainly no guarantees that living in a close-knit community will protect you against heart disease but, at least for me, the Roseto effect makes sense.

When we live in healthy communities, assisting one another and enjoying life together, it just makes sense that stress levels are lower. With stress reportedly one factor in heart disease, it seems logical to associate life in close community with others to taking at least one step closer to physical, emotional and spiritual health.

Creating that type of community lies at the heart of what senior living services providers such as Diakon do.

The very design of our senior living communities, the amenities we offer and the events we craft are all designed to engender a sense of community not only among our residents but also between residents and staff members and residents and the general community.

Again, no one can claim creating such community will ensure lowered heart concerns or even decreased stress levels, but it certainly cannot hurt. And when you speak with our residents, many mention the newfound sense of community they have found with us.

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

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