Category: Senior Living

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.

Keeping their best interests at heart

Her 90-something father, the friend said, had been told he could no longer drive.

He hadn’t been driving much anyway, but the first thing he did upon hearing of his loss of driving-privileges was to steal away in a family vehicle and drive to a grocery store and, later, to a pizza shop.

The account reminded me of my grandfather, who many decades ago rolled his wheelchair to the end of a hall in his residence, unlatched the door and proceeded apace across the parking lot.

When people found him in his overturned wheelchair, he was laughing.

Such stories strike terror in the hearts of health care providers and family members—and rightly so—because both tales could have had vastly different and perhaps terrible conclusions.

Yet, their authors’ escapades also remind us that in any care situation, we are dealing with individuals—individuals with unique personalities and pasts, with, yes, occasional stubborn streaks and often-captivating humor.

And at Diakon we recognize and love that fact!

As an organization that has been successfully serving people of all ages since 1868, we wouldn’t have it any other way. We take time to know each resident and client on the individual level.

Indeed, we must do that—because it’s the only way we can truly uphold a core value of our mission: That “all people are unique gifts of God to be valued.”

Valuing them—according them the dignity they deserve—means we care for our residents and clients as we would care for ourselves, keeping their best interests always at heart, helping to make their worlds whole again to the extent possible and, yes certainly, keeping them safe!

So no unauthorized car excursions and certainly no wheelchair elopements but, yes, acknowledgement and honor of the traits and experiences that underscore each unique lives.

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

Creating a safe environment for a loved one with Alzheimer’s

I have a friend whose husband developed a form of cognitive illness in his mid-70s. From caring for him to making sure he took his medications, got to physician appointments and ate adequately, she had her hands full.

And evening, which sometimes precipitates what is called sundowning (or “late-day confusion”), brings its own challenges.

Her situation is precisely why creating a safe environment for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or similar cognitive illness is absolutely necessary, especially as care needs and disease progress.

The changes that cognitive illnesses precipitate can greatly affect the safety of those with the disease, notes the Alzheimer’s Association. These changes are often seen most in judgment, sense of time and place, behavior, physical ability and senses.

If a loved one is beginning to spend money foolishly or forgets daily tasks; gets lost on a familiar street; is easily confused, suspicious or fearful; or is experiencing changes in vision or hearing, you may need to add safety to your list of things to manage.

Here are several tips to help ensure safety:

Consider the environment. Is the garage easy for your loved one with Alzheimer’s to access? Can the person get into the basement or other workspace where you place cleaners and other chemicals? These are among the most dangerous for those with Alzheimer’s because use of tools and cleaners requires close and careful supervision. In addition, be sure to watch your loved one closely outdoors, as wandering can become common.

Click here to read more helpful tips to ensure safety.

Five ways short-term rehab can promote a faster recovery

As a long-time executive director of senior living communities, I have seen firsthand the impact short-term rehabilitation can have on people’s health and wellness.

If you’re not familiar with short-term rehab, it offers older adults round-the-clock care and access to therapies that can help them recover more quickly, whether from a fall, joint replacement or other surgery or hospitalization.

Most times, short-term rehab is offered for a few weeks but when older adults need additional monitoring or are not yet ready to return home, services can be provided for a longer time. The decision for length of stay rests with the individual and the care team.

If you are planning surgery, trying to oversee care for a loved one scheduled for surgery or recovering from a recent health emergency or simply trying to stay informed on potential options, we can help. Short-term rehab has numerous benefits:

  1. Consistent access to care. Senior living communities such as those operated by Diakon provide 24/7 access to on-site nursing, medical and pharmacy services, as well as specialty services such as dentists, podiatrists and vision specialists. Visiting physicians also are available, as are physical, occupational and speech therapies. Care teams create individualized plans to help achieve rehabilitation goals, allowing a return to normalcy as soon as possible.

  2. Time to heal and rest. If a loved one tends not to be able to relax or won’t take time to attend rehab treatments, short-term care can be a great option. In that case, the individual will have everything he or she needs in one place, with housekeeping taken care of and plenty of time to regain abilities and relax before returning home.

  3. Programming and activities. Short-term rehab is not without fun. Seniors taking advantage of in-patient rehabilitation also can participate in the senior living community’s interesting programs and range of clubs and activities.

Click here to read more…

Five engaging activities for older adults with cognitive issues

My daughter will always remember that one interaction.

My mother—her grandmother—had had a stroke and was doing rehab in a senior living community for the cognitive impairments that can accompany a stroke.

While we were talking with my mother, she tipped her cup of tea, the warm liquid running across the table. Seeing it, my mother let out a mild expletive—somewhat uncharacteristic for her. Her face reddened a bit, but then she chuckled, my daughter joining her.

In an initial bout with cognitive issues—or the initial stages of a longer-term condition such as Alzheimer’s disease—older adults can be embarrassed about changing abilities, or even fearful of judgment, uncertain as well over what is to come.

And as the cognitive illness progresses, abilities to engage in ways easily accomplished in the past can decrease.

While this situation can be difficult to watch and may even make it more challenging to connect with loved ones, there are ways you can increase engagement. For example, to encourage a loved one to engage in conversation or participate in an activity, you may simply want to consider adapting how you normally approach the situation.

According to the Alzheimer’s Society, it can help to consider your loved one’s form of cognitive issue, best time of day and comfort level. If the person is uncomfortable, currently ill or doesn’t handle a certain time of day well, you should plan activities for a different time.

It also can be helpful to use easy-to-follow plans, enlarged reading materials and adapted puzzles, if those are of interest. Be sure as well to allow plenty of time to complete activities and respond to conversations. In addition, click here for five possible activities to share with your loved one.

Veterans tell their stories at Diakon Veterans Day events

Editor’s Note: In recognition of Veterans Day, Diakon held events at senior living communities honoring the dedication and service of residents who served in the military. The following post is a compilation of comments made by one of the residents interviewed at the events.

See our eDiakonnect article for more photographs and stories about other military Veterans.

In addition, a link to news about the events is listed at the conclusion of this post.

“As far as we could see, there were American and English ships and boats, then planes going back and forth bombing the French Coast,” Richard Schermerhorn recalls of his time on the English Channel June 6, 1944.

“As we got closer, naval ships started opening up the big guns.”

Welcome to D-Day, when the Allied invasion of Normandy at Omaha Beach turned the tide in World War II with Operation Overlord, the largest seaborne invasion in history. The day became the springboard for the liberation of German-occupied France and set the bedrock for the Allied victory on the Western Front.

“As we got closer, the water was over my chin,” says Richard, 97, and a current resident of Luther Crest, a Diakon senior living community in Allentown, Pennsylvania.  Richard remembers seeing the bodies of many troops on the beach as he and another soldier operated a mine detector, one of them sweeping and one of them probing. Later, as they worked by a road, they saw a one-star general approaching. 

The officer was Gen. Theodore Roosevelt Jr., son of the former president of the same name.

“‘Are you finding many mines, boys?’ he asked. At the time, we had not. He was like on a picnic and this was the biggest invasion we’d ever gotten into!”

Richard recalls that paratroopers had arrived during the night, one landing on the roof of a church, Sainte-Mère-Église. The paratrooper, John Steele, survived, and today a replica of a paratrooper hangs from the church spire in commemoration of the event.

“Our main objective was to establish a beachhead, making it safe so more troops and supplies could come in.”

Richard then transferred to the combat engineer outfit and spent the rest of the war in Germany, “sweeping mines and blowing things up.”

He was a part of the effort to cross rivers to bring supplies, but not over the Elbe River. “That was the biggest river. We never crossed it because Russia had taken Berlin.”

The war over, Richard found himself in France awaiting transportation home when he was sent to a contiguous area of Germany. The country had been partitioned into four zones and Richard had to get American equipment out so that the French could come in. He also spent some time in Salerno, Italy.

Richard recalls that he enlisted in Syracuse, New York, in 1942, but was allowed to finish his college semester, reporting for regular duty in 1943 and serving until Jan. 1, 1946.

“I was a corporal when I went over and was busted to a private,” Richard laughs, “for talking to the Germans.” He had accompanied a friend, another soldier, on a visit to the soldier’s girlfriend in the Rhineland during a blackout night. Richard concluded his service as a private first class.

“I wanted to go to Jack Dempsey’s in New York City” on his first peacetime New Year’s Eve, “but you couldn’t move in the streets. It was so crowded, everyone was hugging each other; it was crazy.”

Richard married after the war and had a son; however, his wife died when their son was 10 months old. Three years later, he remarried and had a son and four daughters, one of whom has since passed away. His wife died two years ago; he has many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Today, he also faithfully attends nearby Nativity Lutheran Church and helps with worship each Sunday afternoon at Luther Crest.

To read news of the Veterans Day celebrations, click here.

Weighing options: personal care or home care?

The ads on television are insistent: choose this home care program to help your loved one.

And, certainly, everyone wants to remain at home as long as possible, but circumstances sometimes make that unlikely. Your choice—or the choice of a loved one—can therefore be difficult.

Do you choose to remain at home, because you don’t need an extensive amount of care, or do you decide to move and choose a personal care community (assisted living in Maryland)? The correct answer is not always the same for everyone; in fact, the answer typically depends on a number of factors:

Personal preference. Some older adults want to remain in their homes as long as possible, so they choose home care by default. However, as care needs increase, this choice may necessitate a later move to personal care. By considering options before a need arises, you can help to ensure you don’t need to make a more difficult decision at the last moment.

Abilities and needs. In-home care can cover only so many of a senior’s needs. As care needs increase in complexity, more intensive personal care may be necessary.

You can read more about choosing home care or personal care by clicking here.