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Karen M. Rider

Karen M. Rider

Karen M. Rider, M.A. crafts credible and compelling health content to better engage readers in their own health journey. With 15 years health writing experience, Karen has worked with a variety of healthcare organizations and medical practitioners to develop content that elevates consumer health literacy.

Website URL: https://www.linkedin.com/in/karen-m-rider Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

A therapeutic innovation launched during the COVID-19 pandemic is making its way into mainstream care of older adults who live alone and those who have dementia. Lifelike robotic cats and dogs are an effective way to help seniors enhance social interaction, improve symptoms of depression, and reduce feelings of loneliness. These robotic pets can even be purchased by family members to gift to a loved one – perfect for the holiday season.

Loneliness Increases among Older Adults in Winter Months

Feelings of loneliness, depression, and isolation can increase dramatically during the winter months, particularly around the holiday season. Among older adults, these feelings can become overwhelming – worsening their symptoms and increasing risk for accidents and even suicide. Research shows that something as simple as a lifelike pet cat or dog can significantly improve wellbeing for older adults, including those with Alzheimer’s Disease and other dementias. 

Therapeutic Animatronic Dog or Cat Enhances Social-Emotional Wellbeing for Seniors

The positive impact of these therapeutic robotic pets include improved mood and affect, better communication and meaningful social interaction, including having a sense of being needed by the companion robot pet. 

Additional positive emotions experienced when interacting with a therapeutic robotic pet include:

  • Joy
  • Surprise
  • Empathy
  • Gentleness
  • Connection 

Older adults who have access to a robotic pet may also have better outcomes during a hospitalization, including less delirium, loneliness, fewer falls, and reduced need for a 1:1 companion. Some studies point to older adults with a robotic pet having enhanced cognitive function, less agitation, and less anxiety; although more research is needed in these areas.

Animatronic Therapeutic Pets Ideal for Seniors in Many Living Arranagements 

Initially launched in the spring of 2020, in a partnership between Ageless Innovation and the Department of Elder Affairs in Florida (among other states) the program provided lifelike Joy for All Companion Pets® as a means to facilitate and enhance interaction between an older adult and their caregivers and family members. Since the end of the pandemic, the therapeutic robotic pets have been used in a variety of settings including senior centers, hospitals, nursing homes, memory care facilities, and senior living communities.  

Mood Enhancing Behaviors for Older Adults with a Therapeutic Robotic Pet

Some of the mood enhancing interactions that have been observed between seniors and their therapeutic robot pets include:

  • Cuddling
  • Grooming
  • Petting
  • Sleeping with the pet
  • Naming the pet
  • Taking the pet with them on outings
  • Playing
  • Gathering in a communal area to talk to others about their “pet”
  • Intergenerational connection between an elder and a young child

Features of the Robotic “Thera-Pet”

The robotic pet cat or dog (and now birds are available) has motion sensors in the head, cheek, back, tummy and other areas so the animatronic can respond to petting. Each also has sound effects (purrs, cries, barks), which can be turned off for an elder with audio sensitivity. The fur is very soft and inspired by the texture of real animal coats. The “pets” can mimic a “nuzzling” action, can detect light in the room and respond to it with vocalizations, can bark and purr depending on movement and room setting. The robotic pets come in a variety of colors, too.

To discuss incorporating a Joy For All Companion Pet into the care plan for your loved one, please inquire with your health care provider. If your loved one is a resident at one of the Everbrook Senior Living Communities, please inquire with our Wellness staff. If your loved one is not a resident at one of our beautiful communities schedule a visit today.   

Resources

Florida Department of Elder Affairs

Hudson J, Ungar R, Albright L, Tkatch R, Schaeffer J, Wicker ER. Robotic Pet Use Among Community-Dwelling Older Adults. J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2020 Oct 16;75(9):2018-2028. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbaa119. PMID: 32789476; PMCID: PMC7566965.

Koh WQ, Ang FXH, Casey D. Impacts of Low-cost Robotic Pets for Older Adults and People With Dementia: Scoping Review. JMIR Rehabil Assist Technol. 2021 Feb 12;8(1):e25340. doi: 10.2196/25340. PMID: 33497349; PMCID: PMC8082946.

Ihamäki P, Heljakka K. Robot Pets as "Serious Toys"- Activating Social and Emotional Experiences of Elderly People. Inf Syst Front. 2021 Aug 14:1-15. doi: 10.1007/s10796-021-10175-z. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 34413702; PMCID: PMC8364409. 

Petersen S, Houston S, Qin H, Tague C, Studley J. The Utilization of Robotic Pets in Dementia Care. J Alzheimers Dis. 2017;55(2):569-574. doi: 10.3233/JAD-160703. PMID: 27716673; PMCID: PMC5181659.

Talking to a teen about a family member diagnosed with dementia can be incredibly difficult for caregivers. The approach taken when you have this conversation can help your teen cope effectively with the news and empower them to preserve a meaningful connection with their loved one. 

When to Tell a Teen About a Loved One Diagnosed with Dementia

For most teens, the family member with dementia will be a grandparent or older family member, but for some it may be a parent.  Even if, at some level, a teen had some awareness that the diagnosis was coming, hearing it spoken aloud is a hard-hitting reality. It’s imperative to have the conversation as soon as possible after a diagnosis of dementia is confirmed, so that your teen does not find out “accidentally” from someone else in (or outside) the family; this would compound stress for all and may feel like a breach of trust to the teen.

Beginning the Conversation about Dementia with Your Teen 

Be prepared for the fact that your teen will experience a jumble of emotions from shock and anger to grief and even shame. Many teens feel they can’t talk to their peers about such devastating news. It’s also not uncommon for them to feel like they can’t go to other adults in the family whom they may see as struggling to cope with their own emotions while trying to plan for the family member’s medical care. 

First, plan ahead for when and where you will have the conversation. If at all possible, avoid having the conversation with your teen when they’ve had a lousy day at school, work, or practice. Give them some space at home to recover from their day and then invite them to sit down for a chat.

Second, manage your own emotions. Begin the conversation about a family member with dementia when you feel as centered as possible. Your teen will need your guidance and support; they should not feel like they have to support you. You want to create a safe space for them to experience whatever emotions come-up for them.

Third, be prepared to provide support. Make sure you have resources ready to share with your teen, should they need them. Of course, they can lean on you; also, be able to recommend other family members, community resources, or support groups. The teen probably won’t want this at that very moment, but you can tell them you have these resources ready for them, should they be interested.

What to Say to a Teen about a Loved One with Dementia

When you do speak share the news with your teen, be honest and open from the start. If a rapid decline is expected, let them know this. Be forthcoming with whatever knowledge you have about the family member’s diagnosis. And, remember:

  • Keep information simple; don’t use complicated medical terms. Explain treatment plans in concise terms so the teen knows what to expect going forward.
  • Give only the information you know; don’t speculate. 
  • Be realistic; don’t encourage false hope. There is no way to reverse dementia.
  • Accept your teen’s feelings. They will move through many different ‘feeling states’ during the course of a loved one’s struggle with dementia. 
  • Help the teen to understand changes in behavior, thought process, and personality that can occur in their loved one with dementia.
  • Encourage your teen to utilize appropriate resources to help them learn how to respond as their loved one changes and so they can effectively process their own feelings as these changes occur. 

Some teens will understand more about dementia than others. They may dive into researching information to better understand how their loved one will be affected. Others may not want to know any details about the diagnosis. These are both coping strategies. For most teens, it may be helpful to have a family meeting with the medical providers or medial support staff who can answer questions and provide more specific advice to help you teen cope.

What Can Your Teen Do Once They Learn of a Family Member with Dementia?

In the days and weeks that follow the news about a family member having a diagnosis of dementia, your teen may wonder how they should act around this person. What should they—or shouldn’t they—say or do? 

Teens often will be concerned about how their own behavior may affect the family member with dementia. Additionally, the teen will be concerned about the safety and quality of life of the family member with dementia. This is a lot for a teen to think about on top of all the usual excitement and stress that comes with being a young person on the verge of adulthood. 

Help Teens Stay Connected with a Family Member with Dementia 

There are quite a few things that your teen can do to help them maintain meaningful interaction with their loved one who has dementia include:

  • Continue with usual routines, such as a weekly visit, with the family member with dementia.
  • Play simple games such as cards, puzzles or even rolling a ball back and forth
  • Bake cookies or muffins.
  • Play with molding clay or even Play-dough.
  • Enjoy time outdoors by taking a walk or sitting in the park.
  • Look at photos or create a memory box or scrapbook.
  • Watch re-runs of their favorite TV show.

If the teen does not live near the family member, these approaches can help them maintain connection:

  • Write letters to the family member with dementia. Letters can be read by, or to the adult with dementia. It creates a more meaningful connection than email or text. If the family member can use technology, it’s okay to text or email as long as it is medically prudent to do so. 
  • Call and leave a voice message. Frequent calls and voice message can be appropriate ways to let a loved one know they are in your thoughts. Video calls are another good option. 
  • Send a care package. Everyone loves to receive goodies in the mail. Include art or and photos or other personalized items that the teen creates, if desired. Be sure to check with medical providers for items that should not be sent.
  • Plan a visit. It is really hard to know for sure how quickly a person will decline with dementia. Don’t delay in planning an in-person visit. 

There are many other activities that a person with dementia can continue, depending upon the degree to which the illness is affecting them. Be sure to check with your family member’s medical support team for specific suggestions.

As you and your teen navigate the care of a family member with dementia, encourage your teen to talk or journal about their experiences and emotions. When necessary, meet with a grief counselor as a family. And remember, as you demonstrate healthy emotions and model ways of maintaining connection, you will help your teen work through their own concerns and feelings about how dementia will affect their loved one.

Everbrook Senior Living Helps Families Cope with a Dementia Diagnosis

When it comes to the support a family needs to cope with dementia diagnosis, the staff at Everbrook Senior Living go above and beyond to provide resources and support for all. We, too, are son and daughters, nieces and nephews, of person’s who have been placed in long term care due to dementia. We are available and approachable – often giving out our cell phone numbers as we help families navigate challenges that come with declining health due to dementia. You can trust in our healthcare experience; you can count on our compassion. Learn more about our Memory Care services and our EGIS program.

Resources 

Parent Guide to Helping Children and Teens Understand Alzheimer’s Disease

https://www.alz.org/documents/national/brochure_childrenteens.pdf 

Alzheimer Society. Helping Teens Understand Dementia

https://alzheimer.ca/en/help-support/i-have-friend-or-family-member-who-lives-dementia/helping-teens-understand-dementia 

When a Friend or Family Member Has Dementia: Resources for Kids and Teens

https://www.alz.org/help-support/resources/kids-teens 

Fresh air and colorful fall foliage make the autumn months ideal for spending time outdoors. An excellent way for older adults to be active outside is to become involved with a volunteer project in their local community. When senior citizens become active in doing good deeds for others, their health and well-being improve! 

Someone who chooses to do volunteer work does so because they believe it makes a difference for others who are having a harder time in life. Research shows that such altruistic behavior also makes the volunteer feel good about themselves. Volunteerism helps give a person a refreshed perspective on their own life and a sense of belonging to something greater than themselves.

Beyond just feeling good in that moment of doing a good deed, volunteering also has lasting effects on several aspects of an older adult’s physical and social-emotional health and well-being.

Older Adults Volunteers Experience Improved Social Well-being 

The isolation that comes from not feeling a sense of belonging and having a community that one can rely on is detrimental for an older adult’s health. Seniors who spend too much time alone can become depressed and anxious, which can contribute to other health problems. 

When older adults get involved with volunteer work they experience benefits for their social well-being, such as:

  • Stronger sense of community and personal connection to people and resources 
  • Opportunities to create genuine friendships
  • Reduced feelings of loneliness and isolation

Older Adult Volunteers Have Enhanced Emotional Well-being 

When older adults are active in their community, using their time and talent to give back to others, it reinforces a sense of urgency, brings meaning to their life, and helps them acquire perspective on how much living and giving they still have left to offer. The emotional benefits of volunteer work for older adults include:

  • Improved self-esteem
  • Greater sense of worthiness
  • Reduced feelings of depression and anxiety
  • Regaining a sense of purpose and meaning

Older Adult Volunteers Experience Positive Changes in Their Physical Health 

In general, people who volunteer are more physically active; have lower rates of heart disease, depression, anxiety; and overall take better care of themselves. 

A few of the many physical health effects that come from being engaged in volunteer work include:

  • Being more physically active and improving fitness
  • Enhanced resilience
  • Less affected by muscle tension
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Reduced risk for Alzheimer’s Disease

There are many ways for older adults to become active volunteers in their local community. Everbrook community program directors are always looking for local events. You may also reach out to your local library, children’s home, or food shelter to see what type of help they need. Perhaps you have a hobby or skill from your professional experience that can benefit a local non-profit. Maybe you want to try something new; volunteering is a great way to learn a new skill! Find a cause that is meaningful for you and get involved—you’ll be helping others and helping improve your health, too! 

Everbrook Senior Living Residents are Active Members of a Community

At Everbrook, we believe that interdependence helps to preserve independence. We encourage our residents to become involved in their community, both at and outside of their immediate residence. 

Our caring and dedicated team will help residents discover what is significant in their life. Residents, with as much support as is needed for their functional status, can become involved, active, and healthier through a variety of activities at Everbrook and in the community beyond Everbrook. The hub for these opportunities is our Wellness 4 Later Life™ program, which encompasses seven dimensions of wellness: physical, spiritual, emotional, social, intellectual, vocational, and environmental, as are advocated by the International Council of Active Aging

If you are looking for a senior community where you'll experience mutual respect and support among residents, as well as a place where all residents experience belonging, and can find meaningful ways to be involved in life, then please visit an Everbrook Senior Living community today. 

Resources

NationalService.gov. “The Health Benefits of Volunteering: A review of Recent Research.” Corporation of National & Community Service. Accessed 13 Oct 2018: https://www.nationalservice.gov/pdf/07_0506_hbr.pdf

Thebalancesmb.com “The 15 Unexpected Benefits of Volunteering that will Inspire You.” Accessed 13 October 2018: https://www.thebalancesmb.com/unexpected-benefits-of-volunteering-4132453 

CreateTheGood.org “Health Benefits of Volunteering.” Accessed 13 Oct 2014: http://createthegood.org/articles/volunteeringhealth 

Carlson, Michelle C., Erickson, Kirk I., Kramer, Arthur F., et al., “ Evidence for Neurocognitive Plasticity in at-risk older adults: The Experience Corps Program.” Jls of Gerontology: Series A, (1 December 2009) 64A:12, Pages 1275–1282, https://doi.org/10.1093/gerona/glp117

 

 

 

Monday, September 12, 2022 17:45

Cleaning House—It’s Good for Your Brain!

Cleaning up around the house isn’t just meant for springtime! The health benefits of picking up around your place has been shown to be good for your brain. Plus, it’s pretty good exercise. So, if you’re someone who has never been too keen about house cleaning, you’ve got good reason to change your mind! New research shows that the physical activity of doing household chores is good for brain health—even reducing your risk for dementia. 

Physical Activity and Brain Health

Being physically active increases blood flow circulation throughout the body and to the brain. Moderate physical activity promotes a positive mood, helps you manage stress, and can reduce inflammation in the body. A large research study recently published in the journal, Neurology, showed it’s not just exercise (such as brisk walking, swimming, or bike riding) that supports brain health. Daily activity from doing household chores also showed protective benefits against risk for dementia. Don't worry, we aren't talking about "bucket full of cleaners, rubber gloves, and a mop" type of cleaning. Just the simple, day-to-day, chores.

Essentially, the study team wanted to know “What lifestyle habits can reduce risk for various forms of dementia?” 

Over 500,000 men and women participated in the study, completing various health and lifestyle questionnaires. Participants ranged in age from 40-69 years, with an average age of 56.5 years. The participants were recruited from England, Scotland, and Wales. The results of the study established a significant relationship exists between certain lifestyle factors and decreased risk for dementia over a ten-year period. 

3 Simple Lifestyle Shifts that May Lower Risk for Dementia

The findings indicate that 3 lifestyle factors are associated with reducing risk for dementia:

  • Frequent Physical Activity: Associated with a 35% lower risk of dementia.
  • Housework-Related Activities (Chores): Associated with a 21% lower risk of dementia.
  • Social Visits with Friends/Family: Associated with a 15%lower risk of dementia.

These results indicate a strong correlation between risk for dementia and each of the 3 lifestyle factors. Suggesting that simple lifestyle shifts contribute to reducing risk of dementia as we age.

What type of household physical activity reduces risk for dementia?

According to the research, the household physical activities that participants engaged in on a regular basis included the following:

  • tidying rooms / organizing – folding clothes and putting them in drawers, hanging up clothes in the closet, removing any clutter from bureaus and nightstands.
  • dusting / vacuum cleaning – running the vacuum cleaner over high-traffic areas or in the kitchen, dusting the coffee table, bookcase, or other seldom used areas.
  • kitchen clean up – putting dishes and silverware into the dishwasher, wiping down the counters, and placing food items away after each meal.

Why might daily chores lower risk for dementia?

Even though the present study did not investigate the specific mechanisms of why engaging in chores is protective against the brain, other research lends insight into this. For example, doing chores also gets the brain thinking and planning. When house cleaning, you are not just moving; you are also actively planning the order of tasks, how to organize things, making decisions about what to keep or toss out, and so on. In a nutshell, doing chores involves a lot more of the gray matter between your ears than you might think!

Wellness 4 Later Life is a Priority at Everbrook Senior Living 

When it comes to well-being in older adulthood, Everbrook Senior Living provides first-in-class health and wellness solutions to enrich the lives of our residents. Our Wellness 4 Later Life programming offers innovative classes and activities to support mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual wellbeing. From exercise classes to social programs, our staff work closely with residents and clinical teams to deliver fun, individualized programs that enhance self-sufficiency and independent living in later life.

Resources

Jianwei Zhu, Fenfen Ge, Yu Zheng, Yuanyuan Qu, Wenwen Chen, Huazhen Yang, Lei Yang, Fang Fang, Huan Song. "Physical and Mental Activity, Disease Susceptibility, and Risk of Dementia A Prospective Cohort Study Based on UK Biobank." Neurology (July 27, 2022) DOI: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000200701

Psychology Today Online, “Doing Household Chores Linked to a Lower Risk of Dementia” written by Bergland, C., posted on 29 July 2022. Accessed 16 Aug 2022:  https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athletes-way/202207/doing-household-chores-linked-lower-risk-dementia 

As we get older, particularly into our 50’s and 60’s, cataracts can become a common eye condition experienced by both men and women. Cataracts are a leading cause of vision loss in the United States, so it’s important to know how to protect your eyes to reduce your risk for cataract and to be able to recognize the signs of a developing cataract. 

Cataract Formation

Like the rest of the body, the eyes and the structures that support the visual system undergo significant change as we age. One of the structures that undergoes the most change is the lens in the eye. The lens of the eye is located behind the pupil and the colored iris. The lens helps to focus images onto the retina, which then transmits the images to the brain. Normally the lens is “crystal clear.” 

Aging, and other medical conditions can cause the lens to become cloudy and yellow. This can cause mildly blurry vision, resulting in changes in your eyesight. If the crystalline lens loses significant transparency and clarity, then a cataract has formed. A cataract is the clouding of the eye’s lens, causing blocks or changes in the passage of light into the eye. 

Vision Changes Due to Development of Cataracts

If you have cataracts, you may notice changes in your vision, such as:

  • Difficulty seeing in dim illumination
  • Difficulty with night driving
  • Colors appear faded or dull
  • Experiencing glare, haloes, or light sensitivity 
  • Diminished vision

The only way to treat cataracts is to remove them surgically. The longer cataracts are left untreated, the more difficult it can be to successfully remove the cataract and restore vision.  

Cataracts can affect you even if you’ve had normal vision and relatively healthy eyes throughout your life. This is because, for most people, cataract development is a part of the normal aging process. 

Risk Factors for Developing Cataracts

Certain health and lifestyle conditions and use of certain medications can increase your risk for developing cataracts, such as:

  • diabetes 
  • trauma to the eye
  • chronic inflammation of the eye
  • other eye disease
  • repeated sun exposure without using UV protective eyewear (on cloudy days also)
  • long-term use of steroids, cortisone (including for asthma)
  • other chronic inflammatory medical conditions
  • smoking
  • genetics, family history

Preserving Eye Health, Reducing Risk for Cataracts

Early detection and treatment of cataracts is critical to preserving your vision. Even though cataract formation may be an inevitable part of the aging process for many of us, there are things you can do to preserve eye health and reduce your risk for cataracts having a significant negative impact on your quality of life. 

Move that Body. Moving your body enough to elevate your heart rate for 30 minutes each day is not just good for your heart, lungs, joints, and muscles—it’s good for your eyes. Whatever you enjoy for movement, do it. Exercise, such as walking, swimming, yoga, tai chi, weight training, hiking, increases circulation, carrying oxygen-rich blood and nutrients to all the vital organs, including the eyes.

Get More Greens. Dark, leafy green vegetables contain antioxidants, vitamins A and C, and minerals that support the health of the eyes (and the whole body!). Increase your intake of broccoli, collards, spinach, dark leaf lettuces, sprouts, etc. to obtain these nutrients.

Be Cool, Wear Shades. UV-protective eyewear is essential year-round. In the summer, the days are longer, and sun exposure increases as we spend more time outdoors. In winter, the sun is lower in the sky and often can feel like it’s “at eye level” with us while we drive or are outdoors. Just because it is colder outside, does not diminish the impact of UV light on our eyes. If you boat or engage in winter sports, the glare of the sun off the water and the snow increases the damaging effects of UV rays. So…no matter the season, you’ve got to wear shades!

If you are concerned about changes in your vision, or experiencing any of the symptoms listed, it may be time to adopt healthier habits, make changes in your vision care plan, or consult with an ophthalmologist. The health and wellness team at each of the Everbrook Senior Living communities are here to support and guide you.

Resources

American Academy of Ophthalmology “What are Cataracts?” https://www.aao.org/eye-health/diseases/what-are-cataracts 

Prevent Blindness https://preventblindness.org/cataract-awareness-june-2022/

Residents in senior living communities often delight in receiving visitors, especially when those visitors include children. Even so, it can be quite difficult, emotionally, to bring the kids along to a long term care facility. With a little preparation, patience and compassion, a family’s first visit to an elder care community can be made meaningful for all family members—especially for the elder and grandchildren.

Your aging loved one, who is residing in long term care, may have changed a great deal as a result of their physical and emotional health. They may display different behaviors, personality changes, and memory deficits that even the most well-prepared adult can struggle to see. So, how do you prepare a child for their first visit with a grandparent who is residing in an elder care community?

Prepare the Kids Before they Arrive at the Senior Living Facility

A few days before the visit to see their grandparents or other aging loved ones who are in residence at a senior living facility, invite the children to sit down and talk about the upcoming visit. Start by asking the children what they remember most about this family member. Reinforce that those positive qualities and memories they have will always be in their hearts, and the elder’s heart, too. It just might be harder for grandma or grandpa to remember all of those wonderful memories.

Talking with Very Young Kids about a Loved One in Elder Care

For very young kids, under the age of 10, you’ll want to remind them of the physical and cognitive limitations the older adult has, but in simpler terms. Rather than giving the kids a long list of “Don’ts” (Don’t jump on grandpa, don’t try to dance with grandma, don’t leave your shoes on the floor in her room)… focus on the person they are visiting and the kind of caring attention they need from all family visitors:

Grandma is not as strong as you are. You are much younger. Remember to be gentle with your hugs and handshakes.

Grandpa is not able to run and jump and play like he once did. While he can’t play catch with you, he can play cards and board games. It would be nice to bring some games with us. 

You know how we all forget things from time-to-time? (Give an example of forgetting items at the grocery store or leaving things at school) Well, Mimi’s memory is not so great anymore. That can happen when you get older and have SO many memories in your head. They can get mixed-up. She might even forget your name! Just remind her and try not to get upset that she forgot; she feels badly when she does not remember. Just encourage her to learn your name again while we are there and she may start to recall all kinds of great memories with you.

Sometimes granny or pappy gets easily upset if his things are touched or moved around. You know, how you sometimes get upset when someone takes your toy without asking. It’s a good idea to ask before you touch things in the room.

Remember not to give pap pap any food or candy, even if he asks for it. He has to follow a special diet that help his medications work best.

It is a good idea to let the children speak to the elder family member by phone a few times before you arrive. This may lead to any questions about how the grandparent sounds or speaks.

Talking with Older Kids about a Loved One in Elder Care

Children age 10 and up can handle more information, including basic medical information. You might say: 

Nana has a medical condition called “_____” which affects her ability to (remember, walk, speak for long periods, breathe easily) and can make them feel (tired/easily agitated/sad). 

Allow older kids the time to ask questions. If they are teenagers, they may be keen on learning more. You can research information online; the health association websites for particular medical conditions are a good place to start (Alzheimer’s Association, for example).

Regardless of the age of our children, always be honest with them and use age-friendly language. Remember to emphasize why your loved one is living in an elder care community and how their life is being made better (more comfortable, convenient) there because they live with other people in similar situations and can receive the daily living care and healthcare that they need. 

Inform the Community of Your Planned Visit

This is a step that families don’t often think about when they visit a senior living or long term care facility with children. Yet, it’s important that the facility know the age of the children coming to visit and when you will be there. The facility concierge can inform you of the schedule of the day, may have tips to share about making the visit go smoothly, alert you to any events or gatherings at the community, and prepare you if there have been unexpected changes in your loved one’s health. 

Some elder care communities will have a special area for families with young children to meet, especially if your loved one’s room is not spacious enough for more than a few people. These spaces can give young children a little extra room to roam, to observe, and to try to make sense of their grandparent’s new situation.

Plan an Activity

As mentioned above, it’s a good idea to bring an activity that your child and the elder family member can share together. Sometimes the community will have these things on site, as well. Bring an activity that will keep your child busy if they become uncomfortable or bored, such as a digital device, a favorite toy, or something else they really like to do.

Some other activities include:

  • Card games
  • Simple puzzle
  • etch-s-sketch
  • coloring books
  • Molding clay
  • Board games
  • Singing, if there’s a holiday celebration
  • Make decorations (snowflakes, snowman made of cotton balls, painted eggs)

If the weather is nice, plan to walk (or transport in a wheelchair) your family member outside for fresh air and conversation.

You might also bring pictures to serve as conversation starters and recollection of fond memories from days past. 

A Word About Taking Photos

Of course, you want to capture memories with your elder family member. Do be prepared for the possibility that the elder or the children may not want to take photos. The elder may not want to be remembered as being ill. Likewise, even some teenagers have trouble seeing their grandparents in a weakened state and standing alongside for a photo may make them uncomfortable. Now is not the time to argue, but to accept their wishes and continue to have a happy visit.

Every Everbrook Senior Living community is intentionally designed to meet the needs of your elder family member in a compassionate, vibrant and caring atmosphere. From personal and health care needs to dining, recreation, wellness and therapeutic activities, your family member has access to all the services they need to experience the best quality of living throughout their older adult years. All of us here at Everbrook understand what it means to care for an older adult, both those in good health and those whose health is in decline. We are committed to providing a community for elders and their beloved family members where authenticity, trust, compassion, and respect are paramount. 

If you are considering elder care for your aging loved one, contact us to schedule a visit at one of the Everbrook Senior Living communities.

Resources

Elder Care Alliance  https://eldercarealliance.org/blog/tips-for-bringing-kids-to-visit-elder-care-communities/

Today’s Caregiver  https://caregiver.com/articles/nursing-home-visits/ 

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 month we are celebrating the health benefits of sleep for mind and body! National Sleep Awareness Week is March 13-19, 2022—it’s the perfect time for older adults to learn new ways to improve their sleep routine.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, adult sleep habits were affected in many ways. Some people slept more while others didn’t sleep enough. Many of us were tossing and turning through the night. Additionally, many adults got into some pretty poor sleep habits… staying up late or falling asleep in front of a mobile device. 

Poor-quality sleep is detrimental to the health of the brain and the body. In fact, there’s 25 years of scientific research that supports the health benefits of good sleep hygiene for adults (and kids, too). 

How Do We Know Sleep is Good for Health? 

In order to understand the effects of sleep deprivation on our physical and mental health, scientists study how the brain and body respond when we don't sleep enough. 

Insufficient Sleep Increases Risk for Illness

Insufficient sleep increases a person’s risk for chronic disease. When you get less than 8 hours of sleep a night on a regular basis you raise you risk for:

  • diabetes
  • heart disease and stroke
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • colds, flu, and respiratory illness
  • obesity
  • cognitive impairment

While You Were Sleeping: How Does Sleep Affect Health?

No matter your age, sleep effects brain chemistry and the hormones that circulate through your body. Put another way, sleep influences the functioning of the nervous, immune, and endocrine systems. 

When you get sufficient, quality sleep a lot of amazing things happen in your body:

  • the brain develops and reinforces brain pathways that are involved in memory, learning, and emotion
  • the body manufactures hormones that are involved in repair and growth, and which help minimize the effect that stress can have on our physiology. These hormones support the health of the liver, the development of muscle and bone, that break down fat, and the regulation of blood sugar
  • the immune system gets a boost so that it is more effective at fighting infection 
  • the body works to decrease inflammation, which protects us from chronic illness such as diabetes and heart disease
  • the metabolic system manages hormones that the body relies upon to regulate appetite 

As you can see, sleep affects a lot of what goes in the body and how healthy (or unhealthy) your body can be.

How Much Sleep Does an Older Adult Need?

Throughout the lifespan, the amount of sleep we need changes. Also, regardless of age, the amount of sleep you need is influenced by the quality of the sleep you do get, your activity level, and genetics (e.g., some of us really are night owls). Adults typically need 7 to 9 hours of sleep with older adults on the lower end of the range. A very physically active older adult might need more than a sedentary or less active older adult. 

5 Tips to Help an Older Adult Develop and Maintain Good Quality Sleep

The following tips can help older adults maintain good quality sleep habits:

  1. Stick with a Sleep Routine. A sleep routine includes soothing pre-bedtime rituals or steps each night, such as a warm bath, reading (in another room), meditation, or gentle stretching. You’ll want to go to bed and wake at the same time each day. This not only makes it easier to fall asleep, it teaches your body when to expect sleep. 
  2. A note about napping. We all know seniors enjoy their naps. It’s best (for anyone) to nap before 5:00 PM and to limit naps to 20 minutes.
  3. Create Sleep Ambience. The room you sleep in should be quiet, dark, and cool (between 60˚ - 72˚). If you have issues with outside lighting penetrating the room, use blackout shades or wear an eye mask. 
  4. Move Your Body. Compared to exercising late at night, exercising early in the day or early evening (before 7) makes it easier for most people to fall asleep. Exercise also increases the amount and quality of deep sleep you get.
  5. Maintain an Active Sex Life. Regular relations can improve sleep quality so don’t use your time between the sheets to negotiate new car insurance or discuss vacation plans.

The Golden Rule for A Good Night's Sleep: You should only be in bed for two things—sleep and making whoopie! Any other activities performed in bed (reading, computer work, phone calls) can disrupt sleep hygiene.

What Else Can You Do to Improve Sleep?

  • Remove electronic devices from your room. Research shows that, when used within an hour of bedtime, TV and digital devices have a negative effect on sleep quality.
  • Sleep on a mattress and pillows that are comfortable and supportive.
  • Finish eating meals 2-3 hours before bedtime. A light snack an hour before bedtime is okay. Avoid salty, hot, fried, sugary, and saucy foods that require more energy from digestion.
  • Try to limit how many caffeinated products you consume in the afternoon.
  • Alcohol and nicotine in your body can disrupt sleep and can cause nighttime waking. For optimal sleep, don’t use them close to bedtime or avoid them altogether.

A good guide for determining your sleep requirement is this: If you do not wake up feeling refreshed, you may not be getting enough, proper sleep.

Are you Sleep Deprived?

Stay tuned next month as we'll be discussing how sleep deprivation in seniors can mimic signs of dementia. If seniors can't get better rest, and if symptoms don’t resolve it may be time to consult your doctor, and even consider memory care or assisted living services.

Sources

Gottlieb DJ, et al. Association of Sleep Time with Diabetes Mellitus and Impaired Glucose Tolerance, Archives of Internal Medicine. 2005 Apr 25; 165(8): 863.

King, CR et al. Short Sleep Duration and Incident Coronary Artery Calcification, JAMA, 2008: 300(24): 2859-2866. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19109114

Cohen S, et al. Sleep Habits and Susceptibility to the Common Cold, Arch of Intern Med. 2009 Jan 12; 169 (1):62-67.

Spiegel K, et al. Impact of Sleep Debt on Metabolic and Endocrine Function, Lancet. 1999 Oct 23: 354(9188): 1435-9.

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