Category: Senior Living

When is staying at home no longer safe?

No one doubts the impact Alzheimer’s disease and similar memory-related illnesses have on older people—and their families.

One of the key issues families face is safety.

Not only do memory-related illnesses make it more difficult for older adults to make safe decisions, but they also can make living alone increasingly difficult. Many times, seniors need a family member to care for them, or families may need to hire someone to ensure their loved one is safe, their needs are being met and they are living the best life possible.

Unfortunately, older adults with dementia may no longer be able to live alone after a time. If you have a loved one currently living at home and you find yourself wondering if that arrangement is still safe or when it may be time to plan a move to a memory-care community, here are signs that may help you in determining a plan:

A loved one is becoming increasingly depressed, agitated and aggressive. Dementia can cause loved ones to act out, feel isolated and even be suspicious of others. In such cases, it may be time to consult a professional about a move. Those who work in senior living communities are trained to deal with this situation, calm behaviors and tailor programming, socialization and more to meet specific needs.

Wandering is beginning to occur more frequently. Those with memory-related illnesses can tend to forget where they are, wander or try to find a place that’s less noisy, crowded and more comfortable.

Click here to read more about the signs to look for to determine if it’s time to plan a move to a memory-care community.

When short-term rehabilitation becomes long-term care

When older adults face an illness, the need for recovery from a hospitalization or support with daily activities, loved ones may think short-term rehabilitation is the perfect option.

Often, it is.

But we may also need to consider what happens if the loved one is not able to regain abilities fully. Where do you turn next at that point?

Organizations such as Diakon Senior Living Services can help. If you have an aging parent preparing for short-term rehabilitation, making slow progress or not meeting goals, you may want to consider discussing long-term care before it is needed.

Five exercises to improve balance and mobility

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many older adults have been staying at home and communicating with family members via electronic means.

That’s certainly a good way to stay safe. But changes in activity levels may mean those same older adults are concerned about losing independence through a fall, which not only can result in serious injury, but also lessen mobility and rob seniors of the things they most enjoy.

While there are numerous steps one can take, including having a healthy diet, being especially careful and increasing activity levels, one of the most important actions is to adopt an exercise routine that enhances balance and mobility.

Although it can be tempting to jump right into a new exercise program, please keep a few things in mind:

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….

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.

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.

Need a snow plow? Nah …

Karen watched the snow pile up in the driveway. Soon, she and her husband would no longer have to worry about shoveling or paying someone to do it.

And yet their move would soon be upon them. How would they manage with the weather being so unpredictable?

But Karen quickly dismissed her concern, because she had a number of tips to follow to make their move to senior living accommodations as smooth as possible.

Although moving typically comes with both hassles and stress, relocating during the winter can be rewarding, if you follow some helpful tips to make the process one of warmth and joy rather than icy challenges.

And if you’re still on the fence, here are some of the reasons residents make the choice to move to senior living:

●    Freedom from home maintenance. Winter is one of the hardest times to maintain a home. From snow removal to winterizing your home and ensuring your steps, mailbox and sidewalks are cleared, winter can be downright treacherous. In senior living accommodations, home maintenance is included, so you don’t need to worry about braving the cold or injuring yourself with a fall.

●    Care is on site. Need to go to the doctor in bad weather? In a senior living community, you often can have your care needs met right on campus.

●    An enriching lifestyle is just outside your door. Isolation and depression can increase during the winter, but in a senior living community, there are endless opportunities to engage with others and participate in an array of programs and activities.

●    No fear of high heating bills. In a senior living community, you can leave those worries behind because everything is included in your fees.

If you do decide to make the move now, click here for tips and tricks to ensure the safest move possible.