Category: Senior Living

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.

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.