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Health & Wellness

Health & Wellness (4)

No matter your age or activity level, you reap numerous health benefits from spending time in nature. Not only is time spent outdoors good for physical health, it is especially good for brain health. New research from the fields of psychology, health, medicine, and environmental science consistently shows that, for people of all ages, who spend as little as 15 minutes a day interacting with the natural world, experience lower blood pressure, less frequent headaches, and are at lower risk for anxiety and depression. With so much natural beauty surrounding the Everbrook Senior Living Communities, it’s easy to get your daily dose of “nature’s medicine.”

How The Lack of Time Spent in Nature Takes a Toll on Health

Enough research has been done to strongly indicate that people who spend the least amount of time outdoors have greater detriment to their well-being: higher risk of mental health conditions, obesity, high blood pressure, and other chronic illnesses. There’s even a name for the ill-effects of not spending enough time in nature—it’s called “nature-deficit disorder.” Nature deficiency contributes to the following health issues:

  • increased stress
  • trouble maintaining focus
  • diminished emotional resilience
  • deficits in self-expression, creative thinking, and reasoning
  • difficulty establishing healthy social connections (at work, in the community)
  • increased risk for and/or worsening of chronic illness
  • loss of connectedness to nature and one's responsibility for protecting it

Even though nature-deficit disorder is not yet regarded as a medical condition, both conventional and holistic health practitioners recognize the significance of the detrimental health effects stemming from lack of contact with nature. In fact, in Canada, doctors can now prescribe national park passes to patients who are at risk for, or who are struggling with depression, anxiety, and certain other mental and physical health conditions. Many more physicians around the world have come to recognize nature-deficit as a nonclinical syndrome that can impair the emotional, cognitive, and physical functioning of adults and children.

The Health Benefits of “Nature’s Medicine”

A variety of scientific studies have looked at nature experiences such as wilderness therapy, backpacking and biking excursions, recreational hiking and camping, time simply sitting in a park or spent working in a garden. These studies have shown remarkable effects on health, particularly for the brain:

Nature’s Effect on Brain Health

Spending time in nature stimulates neural and sensory pathways (the pathways to and from the sense organs and the brain). This helps promote “neuroplasticity,” the process by which the brain forms new, and strengthens existing, neural connections. Additionally, research shows that neural pathways that have been exhausted by stress and the use of technology can be revitalized with regular time spent in nature. 

  • improved cognitive functioning (focus, attention, problem solving)
  • enhanced self-awareness and feelings of peace, relaxation
  • reduced anxiety, depression, and cognitive dissonance
  • enhanced self-esteem and self-efficacy
  • enhanced personal and social relationships
  • reduced stress and worry
  • enhanced ecological awareness 
  • enhanced appreciation for the interconnectedness of life and all its creatures

Nature’s Effect on Physical Health

Some of the health benefits of time spent in nature can be noticed immediately while others happen over time, including improved function of the circulatory system, the heart and lungs, and the musculoskeletal system. We also receive an abundance of natural light when we are outdoors, helping to boost the body’s natural production of Vitamin D, which is important for many physical processes, including a healthy immune system. 

Get Your Daily Dose of Nature

Whether for 15 minutes or a few hours, there are many ways to experience the health benefits of nature:

Forest Bathing. This is not a dip in a river. It's not a hike with a destined path to follow. Forest bathing or shinrin-yoku, is a Japanese tradition that only dates back to the 1980s!  Simply, forest bathing is a meditative immersion in which you slow down and intentionally turn your attention to the smells, textures, tastes, and sights of the forest (or trail, or park, or beach as the case may be). 

Observe the Night Sky. Before going to bed in the evening, stand outside (away from artificial light) and gaze at the night sky. Try shifting your awareness from the whole sky to a cluster of stars, to a single star.

Take a Stroll. Leave the fitness tracker at home: This is not a goal-oriented, step-counting walk. Just stroll of as little as 5 minutes up to as long as you desire. As you walk, just breathe and observe. Try not to allow your mind to get caught up in any particular thought sequence. This is meditative walking.

Sit Outside. When was the last time you simply sat in your own backyard or on front porch? Or visited a park near your home or the office? Get there – without the phone – and just be present. 

There are so many other outdoor pursuits you can learn (also good for the brain!). From paddleboarding, to taking a plein-aire art class, to joining a conservancy group to help with cleaning the trails – the point is to get outside and give your brain and body a healthy dose of nature’s medicine!

The Wonders of Nature, Just Outside Your Everbrook Front Door

The residents of Everbrook Senior Living Communities need not venture far to enjoy the great outdoors and the health benefits of spending time in nature. Our communities are nestled among tree-lined streets, near local parks and nature preserves, and New England’s finest trails and waterways are never too far. Discover all that Everbrook Senior Living has to offer… just outside your front door:

Colebrook Village - meander the historic villages and towns in and around Hebron, CT.
Stonebrook Village - sit alongside Enfield Falls (CT) or sojourn nearby hiking, biking, and fishing areas.
Elmbrook Village - explore colonial-era history by foot or take to the trails at Hopemeade State Park (CT). 
Cedarbrook Village - venture into historic Ware, MA; enjoy the verdant hills, trails, and waterways.
Hillsbrook Village - nestled just outside Concord, NH and near Bear Brook State Park. This community is scheduled to open in Fall 2022.

Resources

National Park Service “Get Outside” Program

National Environmental Education Foundation

Natural Attraction Ecology video 

Benefits of Forest Bathing

"Why is nature beneficial?: the role of connectedness to nature." Mayer, F. S., Frantz, C. M., Bruehlman-Senecal E., Dolliver K. Environment and Behavior. 2009; 41(5):607–643. doi: 10.1177/0013916508319745.  

"What Is the Best Dose of Nature and Green Exercise for Improving Mental Health? A Multi-Study Analysis." Barton, J., and J. Pretty.  Abstract. Environmental Science & Technology 44, no. 10 (May 15, 2010): 3947-3955. 

"Green perspectives for public health: a narrative review on the physiological effects of experiencing outdoor nature." Haluza, D., Schanbauer, R., Cervinka, R. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2014;11(5):5445–5461. doi: 10.3390/ijerph110505445. 

"Examining group walks in nature and multiple aspects of well-being: a large-scale study." Marselle, M. R., Irvine, K. N., Warber, S. L. Ecopsychology. 2014;6(3):134–147. doi: 10.1089/eco.2014.0027 

"The restorative benefits of nature: toward an integrative framework." Kaplan, S.  Journal of Environmental Psychology. 1995; 15(3):169–182. doi: 10.1016/0272-4944(95)90001-2  

"The relationship between nature connectedness and happiness: a meta-analysis." Capaldi, C. A., Dopko, R. L., Zelenski J. M.  Frontiers in Psychology. 2014; 5, article 976 doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00976. [PMC free article] [PubMed]  

The Experience of Nature: A Psychological Perspective. (1989) Kaplan, R., Kaplan, S. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press; Republished by Ulrich's, Ann Arbor, Mich, USA, 1995. 

Feeling a sense of purpose or meaning in life is associated with a 19% reduced rate of clinically significant cognitive impairment later, according to findings from a review of evidence led by researchers at University College London (UCL).

The UCL researchers examined several positive psychological constructs (e.g., maintaining a positive mood, being optimistic, having a sense of life purpose) to determine if these constructs have a significant association with reduced risk for dementia and other cognitive impairment in later life. 

The results showed that having purpose and meaning in life were key factors consistently associated with reduced risk of dementia years later:

  • Among people who had higher purpose or meaning in life, there was significant association with a reduced risk of multiple cognitive impairment outcomes, including dementia and mild cognitive impairment. 
  • Having a sense of purpose, most notably, was associated with a 19% reduced rate of clinically significant cognitive impairment. This finding—reduced risk for cognitive impairment—did not apply to other positive psychological constructs, such as having a positive mood state.

For this study, the UCL research team conducted what is known as a systematic review and meta-analysis, which involves and in-depth approach to pooling and analyzing data from multiple studies. The researchers gathered evidence from nine previously published studies, yielding data from 62,250 older adults (age 50+) across three continents. This makes the findings quite meaningful because they have relevance across different demographics. 

Meaning in Life: How Does it Protect the Brain from Impairment?

One theory about how purpose and meaning, as well as other positive psychological factors, may protect against cognitive decline has to do with the physiological effect that positive mood and resiliency has in the body, including the brain. 

Positive mood promotes a state of balance (homeostasis) in the body. This reduces the circulation of stress hormones and other chemicals that are known to increase inflammation in the cells and tissues, Inflammation, which causes damage to cells and can alter physiological function, is a known underlying factor in many disease processes, including Alzheimer’s Disease and heart disease among others. 

Having a sense of purpose in life seems to promote positive mood, which supports resiliency from stressful events; in turn, this reduces inflammation in the brain—both of which are linked with reduced risk of dementia.

Reinforcing the positive psychological effects that come with having a sense of purpose is the fact that, when people feel their life has meaning and purpose, they are more likely to engage in activities that support their health: exercising, socializing with peers, doing volunteer work—all of which may protect against dementia risk.

The researchers suggest that prevention programs for people at-risk for cognitive impairment and dementia should prioritize activities that help bring purpose and meaning to one’s life. Staff who work with older adults can devote programming time to helping the elder identify what is important them, what their values are, and how they might act in alignment with these priorities and values. The researchers suggested “taking small steps.” For example, if an elder values “education for all,” they could benefit from volunteering as a literacy coach or as a reading buddy in a local school.

Everbrook Senior Living Residents Find Meaning, Purpose in Ageless Communities

The Everbrook philosophy is that, in later life we become ageless: As we fully accept our health and functional status, and that of our friends and neighbors, we recognize how interdependence helps to preserve independence. Our staff design and deliver activities that are suitable for all residents without regard to their functional status (independent living, assisted living, memory care). It is very important to all of us at Everbrook—and to our residents—that there is mutual respect and support among residents and that all residents experience belonging. 

To promote a sense of belonging, meaning, and purpose (as suggested by the research study), our staff plans activities that enrich intellectual, social, and emotional wellbeing and help to give residents a sense of control over their aging process. Our interdisciplinary team is well-trained to deliver stage-appropriate activities that are matched to a resident’s functional and cognitive abilities. We employ adaptive methods of communication to evoke and sustain a positive emotion throughout the day. 

Our Wellness 4 Later Life™ program model encompasses seven dimensions of wellness: physical, spiritual, emotional, social, intellectual, vocational, and environmental, as are advocated by the International Council of Active Aging. We help our residents discover what is significant in their life, now. Residents, with as much support as is needed, identify ways to add meaning/purpose to their self-care, in their activities at Everbrook, and in the community beyond Everbrook.

Original Research
Positive psychological constructs and association with reduced risk of mild cognitive impairment and dementia in older adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis” by Georgia Bell et al. Ageing Research Reviews. The study was supported by the Alzheimer’s Society

Supporting Research, Resources

Dockray, S., & Steptoe, A. (2010). Positive affect and psychobiological processes. Neuroscience and biobehavioral reviews, 35(1), 69–75. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2010.01.006 

Ong, A. D., Mroczek, D. K., & Riffin, C. (2011). The Health Significance of Positive Emotions in Adulthood and Later Life. Social and personality psychology compass, 5(8), 538–551.https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1751-9004.2011.00370.x 

National Institute on Aging. Positive Mood in Older Adults Suggests Better Brain Function. (2020, Research Highlights 

Since older adults tend to need fewer hours of sleep – around 7 hours a night – than younger people, it might surprise you to learn that sleep deprivation can be quite common in older adults. Not only that, symptoms of sleep deprivation can also be confused for dementia in older adults.

Many people are aware that there is a connection between sleep and brain health. The changes in brain chemistry that occur when we don’t sleep leads to impairment of physical performance, decision making skills, and how well we manage our emotions. Poor quality sleep as well as insufficient hours of sleep makes us sluggish, causes muscle tension and physical fatigue, and can lead to changes in appetite and mood. The longer we go without good quality and sufficient hours of sleep, the more imbalanced brain chemistry and hormones become – and that is not good for the brain.

For older adults, who are less physically resilient to the stresses of poor sleep, the effects on their cognitive abilities can be significant. So much so, family members may wonder if their loved on is showing signs of dementia. 

How Can You Tell if an Elderly Adult is Sleep Deprived or Has Dementia?

Before you start calling assisted living centers about memory care services, you’ll want to carefully observe the sleep habits and behaviors of the older adult you are concerned about. First, you’ll want to understand the different symptoms of sleep deprivation versus dementia:

Symptoms of Sleep Deprivation

  • Daytime drowsiness and fatigue not attributable to medication or a health condition
  • Difficulty concentrating on everyday tasks that usually come easily
  • Forgetfulness
  • Changes in appetite – either eating too much or not enough
  • Less resilient to stressful situations
  • Irritability and mood swings
  • Muscle tension and headaches
  • Being more clumsy than usual, such as tripping or falling frequently

Early Symptoms of Dementia

  • Everyday tasks that should come easily are causing frustration or other difficulty
  • Changes in mood that represent a significant shift in personality
  • Trouble communicating, following a conversation, and losing train of thought
  • Forgetful and needing to repeat statements or questions repeatedly
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability, unusual anxiety, fear, or suspicion
  • Neglecting their appearance and hygiene
  • Confusion about time and place

As you observe your loved one for these symptoms, think about their sleep routine. Ask them (or observe):

  • What is their sleep routine? (learn more about how to improve older adults sleep hygiene)
  • Do they fall asleep easily?
  • Do they wake throughout the night or not sleep at all?
  • Upon waking, do they feel rested or fatigued?

Make notes based on your observation and talk with your loved one and their doctor about their sleep habits. If helping them get consistent quality sleep alleviates the symptoms you’ve observed, then you know they experienced sleep deprivation. With quality rest, you should see a return of healthy cognitive function.

If the symptoms you’ve observed don’t improve with better quality sleep, dementia may be developing. Now is the time to plan for your loved one’s quality of life as the symptoms of dementia will inevitably worsen. 

At Everbrook Senior Living, our exceptional clinical and recreation teams work synergistically to support residents in living a purposeful life. From independent and assisted living to memory care, our programs and services are designed using the latest evidence-based research on aging. Our residents with early to mid-stage memory impairment are surrounded by a compassionate and caring environment – equipped with high-quality amenities designed to support their emerging needs. To learn more about our newly-built, premier communities for older adults, contact Everbrook Senior Living, today.

This Valentine’s Day we want to remind you of a special relationship between physical health and level of risk for cognitive decline. You may already be aware that, when you engage in physical activity you are building both physical and mental fitness. What you may not know is there is a “brain-heart-health connection” that influences your risk of cognitive decline: The healthier your heart, the lower your level of risk is for dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). 

What Does a Healthy Brain Require?

The brain-heart-health connection isn’t particularly complex. In a nutshell, a healthy brain requires 3 things:  

  1. glucose (the chemical name for sugar) for energy
  2. a strong blood supply to carry glucose and oxygen into the brain
  3. a healthy diet to provide essential nutrients (vitamins, minerals, healthy fats) that serve as building blocks for brain chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine. 

Look over those items once more time. Numbers 1 and 3 on the list are directly related to your diet---what, how often, and how much you eat. Number 2 – a strong blood supply--is related to heart health. So how does heart health relate to brain health?

How a Fit, Healthy Heart Fuels a Fit, Healthy Brain

Your brain relies on a strong heart to pump oxygenated blood into all regions. Scientists now believe that the disease process that leads to Alzheimer’s Disease begins when brain tissue degrades and nerve tissue becomes damaged. Poor circulation to the brain is a key factor in causing such damage to brain tissue.

If you have a history of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, have diabetes, or other cardiovascular risk factors, it’s not only your heart that is at risk for disease, your brain is as well. For example, a type of dementia called vascular dementia can happen as a result of a series of small, “silent” strokes, sometimes called “mini-strokes.” Also, repeated or prolonged stress on the heart (such as from lack of physical activity, smoking, and stress) can lead to blockages and high blood pressure, which in turn affects circulation to the brain.

The good news is, many of the same things that strengthen the heart also help keep your brain fit and healthy

Exercise Daily. Exercise helps to strengthen the heart making it more efficient with each contraction; it improves the elasticity and strength of blood vessels; helps to lower blood pressure and improve circulation. When you exercise to build a healthy heart you are also supporting the health of your brain. 

Manage Stress. Stress elevates hormones in the body that increase inflammation which, over time, contributes to illness. Meditation, yoga, and mindful walking are stress management activities that put a damper on stress hormones and support the health of the heart, brain and body.

Smart Food. As we age, our bodies can become less efficient at digesting food and absorbing nutrients. Exercising and choosing nutrient-rich foods helps maintain healthy digestive processes, and provides the fuel the brain, heart and body need to maintain vital health. 

There are many other heart-healthy strategies you can use to support brain health. These include maintaining a sleep routine for adequate rest; reducing your intake of caffeine, processed foods, sugars, and alcohol; and of course, not smoking. 

Remember, the disease process that leads to Alzheimer’s evolves slowly, over as many as ten to twenty years! But the onset of dementia and AD can feel sudden because of the way it robs people of their vitality, memories, and quality of life. You have so many years ahead of you to take care of your heart and your brain...why not start today so that you can have a fitter, healthier future in your Golden Years!

Supporting Healthy Minds and Bodies at Everbrook Senior Living

From delicious, nutritious food to wellness and fitness activities to meet a wide variety of interests and needs, Everbrook Senior Living boasts a wide array of health and wellness solutions for every stage of life. Our cutting-edge wellness activities help participants achieve improvements in cardiovascular fitness, strength, and balance. These outcomes help residence reduce risk of injury from falls and risk for cardiovascular disease. 

The Wellness 4 Later Life program embodies the seven dimensions of wellness: physical, emotional, social, intellectual, vocational, spiritual and environmental. Our highly experienced team of professional nurses, physiologists, therapists, and instructors delivers a customized, safe, and fun exercise program for each of our older adults. Enrichment activities help round out the needs of each resident, through activities that build community, strengthen cognitive skills, and support emotional wellbeing. 

Sources

CDC.com “Brain Health is Connected to Heart Health” Accessed 18 Jan 2022:https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/brain_health.htm

Natural Healing: Prevent Illness and Improve Your Life. The Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (2017). (print)

TED Radio Hour. "Lisa Genova: Can Alzheimer's Disease be Prevented?" Accessed 10 Apr 2018:https://www.npr.org/2017/07/21/537016132/lisa-genova-can-alzheimers-disease-be-prevented 

NIA.NIH.gov "What Causes Alzheimer's Disease?" Accessed 10 Apr 2018:https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/what-causes-alzheimers-disease

Smith G.E., "Healthy Cognitive Function and Dementia Prevention." Am Psychol. (2016, May-June). 71:4, 268-275. Accessed 9 Apr  2018:http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/amp/71/4/268/ 

Healthy Aging and Prevention: Alzheimer's Disease Research Center at Emory University.http://alzheimers.emory.edu/healthy_aging/index.html 

 

 

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