Dementia is Hard Work for Both Sides

Recently, while attending an educational conference, I attended a class taught by Laura Wayman. She has written a book on “A Loving Approach to Dementia Care.”

Dementia is not a specific disease; it is a term used for a group of brain disorders. Many diseases can have a dementia component. Alzheimer’s disease is probably the most prevalent. Recent studies show there are many more diseases that can result in dementia.

What is dementia? How can I tell if my loved one is on this path or could the problem be rectified? According to the Alzheimer’s Association, here are some symptoms that should not be ignored. Symptoms from the list include short-term memory loss when a person’s immediate memory is being challenged. Another issue can be the loss of the ability to process everyday activities which creates difficulty performing familiar tasks such as cooking, making a telephone call or remembering how to play a game. Struggling with words can be a sign of a problem. Individuals with Alzheimer’s disease often forget simple words or substitute an unusual word leaving the listener confused as to what is being said. Significant mood and/or behavior or personality changes could be a reason to be tested. We all have times when these symptoms are present. It could be brought on by medication, exhaustion, or stress. If you or your loved one is experiencing any of these symptoms for an extended period of time, seek help from a doctor who specializes in diagnosing dementia. For most of us, the symptoms will disappear when we take care of ourselves.

Laura Wayman talked about the caregiver of someone with dementia. She spoke about her mother’s journey as her father’s caregiver and shared insights she learned from watching them.

One of the issues for caregivers is the dementia-related person’s lack of ability to process thoughts and/or activities which often leads to trouble when a caregiver is trying to communicate. If a question is asked, an answer is expected. What happens when you cannot process the question? Anger and frustration can flare up. As our loved ones move deeper into dementia, it is important to remember not to ask questions. Wow, is that hard. I came back from my conference and noticed how often I would interact by asking questions of the people in Sierra View Homes Marden’s Place. We naturally want to ask questions. I did find I was successful in just talking with the resident because I got pleasant happier feedback.

The inability to process what is going on also means there is no good way for someone with dementia to tell us what is going on with him or her. Often, their behavior is the only way to understand there is an issue. People with dementia can be mirrors of the emotions of their caregivers. Have you heard the phrase “it is not what you say; it is how you say it”? In life, we all have encountered times when we felt put down or that someone was angry with us. Did the words stay with you or the tone of voice that caused you to take notice? If you are impatient and/or try to rush the dementia-related person, they will slow down. Showing you are frustrated and upset often leads to resistance and aggressive behavior. Laura stressed the importance of staying calm so everyone can have a better experience.

If you are a caregiver, it is extremely important to take care of yourself. You need to educate yourself on what to expect as the dementia progresses and to make sure you ask for help so you can step away for a few hours every so often. It is important that you keep yourself healthy and have the ability to cope with the situation. All too often, the caregiver becomes “worn out” and passes away too early.

Many of our residents’ family members find that interactions with their loved ones become more positive after they have moved into Marden’s Place Memory Care, our dementia-care assisted living. Not worrying about day-to-day caregiving tasks frees family members up for the positive, loving, meaningful interactions that they crave.

There is no cure for people with dementia. Studies show there are many more ways to get dementia than we previously thought. As the Baby-Boomer population ages we will see more people with a disease that has a dementia factor. Laura Wayman shared with those of us in her class the importance of continuing to be educated about dementia. The care of the dementia-related person is difficult, but the approach you use can significantly help you.

Chaplain’s Corner: Embodying Resurrection

It may come as no surprise that I have been reflecting a lot on resurrection this month. This is the season we focus our attention on the event of the resurrection.

Anticipation builds in the church as we near the end of Lent. We sing hosannas on Palm Sunday, take communion on Maundy Thursday, reflect on the seven last words of Jesus on Good Friday, and show up for the highest attended Sunday service on Easter morning to celebrate the resurrection.

But how do we keep from losing that energy when we head back to work on Monday? I believe one way to do so is by understanding resurrection as not only a one-time event found in scripture, but also a reflection of the character of God that we are to carry forth into the world.

Resurrection means seeing the good in people and in situations where the world has long given up. It means being faithful even when the work does not seem to bear fruit or “results.” And it means releasing the logic of our own minds to the mysterious wisdom of God’s plans.

Let us not stop the Easter celebration of resurrection on Easter this year. Let us go forth and embody resurrection as well, so that the world may know the love of God through our actions.
Caley Ortman, Chaplain

Service Animal or Emotional Support Animal – What’s the Difference?

Service and emotional support animals are becoming more and more common. The last time I flew to Kansas, in the Dallas Fort worth airport I counted at least three dogs that the owners kept near and one service dog helping its handler to maneuver through the crowds safely. It seems more and more people are realizing the benefits of having an animal in their life. A bakery in Morro Bay has a whole display case full of doggie treats so people who are vacationing can purchase something yummy for their dog as they sip their coffee and have a sweet roll.

When we opened the Terraces at Sierra View Homes Retirement Community, we decided to become pet friendly. That was a game changer for many people looking for a pet-friendly retirement community. As of today, we have had numerous dogs (must be small dogs) cats, birds and a bunny living in the apartments.

So, what is the difference between a service animal and an emotional support animal? A service dog is trained to do specific tasks for the disabled person assigned to them. The disability could be physical, sensory, psychotic, intellectual or other mental disability. Only a dog can be a service animal no other animal can be considered a service animal according to the ADA.

A service dog can be trained to assist an individual who is blind or has low vision and navigating streets are difficult. They can alert someone who is deaf to the presence of people or sounds. Pulling a wheelchair, assisting an individual during a seizure, and retrieving items such as medicine are a few of the things a well-trained dog can do. Each service dog is trained specifically for the person who will receive the dog.

Service animals are usually allowed in most public areas as long as the dog is under control. A service animal must have a harness, leash or other tether, unless the handler can control the animal by voice commands or hand signals.

If the animal barks, growls or jumps on individuals, the dog and the owner will have to leave the area. Service dogs help disabled people live a more satisfying lifestyle and helps their handler to live an independent life.

Service dogs are important and have a real purpose but what does an emotional support animal do? Unlike the service dogs there is no formal training to be an emotional support animal. Emotional support animals can be cats, dogs, ducks, and the list goes on. These animals’ primary role is to provide companionship and comfort to their partners who may be suffering from psychological disorders. The psychological disorders could be PTSD, chronic depression, loneliness, or anxiety. Emotional support animals give unconditional love proven beneficial to many people.

The advantage of owning a pet or emotional support animal is the need to care for it gives incentive to get up in the morning. Stroking, holding, cuddling, or otherwise touching a loving animal can have a powerful effect in lowering blood pressure. Touch and movement are two healthy ways to deal with stress. Pets encourage playfulness, laughter, and exercise. Laughing at the antics of a playful pet helps you enjoy life with a sense of well-being. Studies show playing with a pet can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine which calms and relaxes us.

I expect to see more and more service dogs and emotional support animals in my travels and here at Sierra View Homes Retirement Community. I meet and greet residents, who brought their pets when they moved into the Community as they are walking their pets and enjoying the day. Animals do bring a sense of fun as Sassy, the cat, chases after her toy, or Sierra, the bird, tweets out a song, and the therapy dog make rounds just to say “hi.” Be it a service dog or an emotional support animal, more and more people are realizing the benefits of owning and loving a pet.

Chaplain’s Corner: Finding Yourself in the Story

As Christians we believe the Bible is the living word of God. What does that mean exactly? It means that alongside studying the context of what the text meant to its original audience, we are also called to ask what the text is speaking into our lives today. There are many ways to do this, but the way that I have found particularly powerful the last few years is the question, “Where do you find yourself in the story?”

Asking this puts us into a story in a new way, not as the reader, watching passively from a distance, but as a participant. We should be encouraged to ask wondering questions: What was it like to be this person? How would I react if that was me?

But we also should be attuned to knowing when we are to identify with someone other than the main character in the story. Take, for example, the parable of the Prodigal Son: You can read the story and find yourself as the prodigal son. Six months later you might very well find yourself as the jealous brother, or perhaps the forgiving father.

We never stop reading the Bible because it can speak to us differently through different characters as our life circumstances change, meeting us where we are on our faith journey. Embrace the living word and never stop asking, “Where do I find myself in the story today?”
– Caley Ortman, Chaplain

Chaplain’s Corner: The True Source of Prosperity

“For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.”

These closing words of the very first Psalm lay out the conventional wisdom that we find throughout the books of Psalms and Proverbs. Yet so often in life we are dismayed and frustrated at how often the wicked prosper and the righteous seem to come away empty handed. It offends our sense of what is right and what is fair.

We turn the Bible upside down for the secret key of what we have to do to make sure we have guaranteed security from pain, suffering and injustice. This dilemma was on the minds of the writers of scripture as well.

Of particular interest to me recently has been the book of Ecclesiastes. I recently heard a pastor summarize that Ecclesiastes asks the question: “What if the problem is not God failing to grant prosperity to the righteous, but with our expectation of what prosperity looks like?”

Clinton McCann suggests that “the happiness or prosperity of the righteous is not so much a reward as it is their experience of being connected to the true source of life–God.” May we remember to look for the prosperity that comes not through wealth and comfort, but through the source of life–God, which was present with us all along.
– Caley Ortman, Chaplain

Defining Self-Care

The month of Valentine’s has arrived! Of course, soon after Christmas, the popular Cupids and red hearts were up to remind us to be in good cheer and spend some money on goodies for our loved ones.

Let’s have a little different perspective this time. I would like to remind you to take care of yourself first. Taking care of yourself fuels the good you can do in the world. True self-care is more than a collection of sayings, self-indulgence or surface-level practices. It’s taking stock of your humanness and building yourself up.

Each one of us has dignity as God’s Children. From the womb to death, each one is worth love and care. We were created to love and be loved. By taking care of yourself, you recognize the precious gift you were given to live a meaningful life. Too many, especially some care givers, give so much of themselves in being thoughtful, hard-working, persistent care deliverers, and in-addition active family members. All that caring takes a toll and we can easily see some get to a fatigue that diminishes health.

To those individuals, I say take time out for yourself. The old saying, if you don’t take care of yourself first, you are not going to be much help to others. It’s enlightening to consider self-care as an important sustainable habit that replenishes the body, mind and spirit.

Perhaps in this month, you can rework some habits that bring consideration to yourself. Is there a danger of too much pampering of oneself? For most of us, I don’t think so. The more we receive, the more we give away. May this Valentine’s Day find you replenished and able to love without limit and joyful to know that you are loved.

– Vito Genna, Executive Director

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Wisdom for 2019

The following articles was penned by Sierra View Homes’ Executive Director Vito Genna for our monthly email newsletter. Would you like to receive our newsletter, which includes events and happenings for the month along with messages like this? Email Kecia at KFriesen@sierraview.orgwith the email address you’d like to receive it at, or simply message us on Facebook! 

The New Year was ushered in with lots of noise. If not reveling yourself, you probably watched the “noise” that was displayed at the New Year celebrations from all parts of the world. To say we live in an “age of noise” is certainly an understatement. The sounds envelop us from radio, TV, and social media.

When I was in school I used to admire the folks that could do their homework and study while the music is blaring. I am too easily distracted. Indeed, one of the first disagreements Adriana and I had was over “noise.” Adriana liked to have the radio or a tape running all the time. She enjoys background music no matter what she is doing. She often says she doesn’t listen to the lyrics, she just focuses on the melody. Needless to say it took a while to find compromise and continue marital bliss. Don’t get me wrong, I am not against this form of entertainment and even a time of distraction, but I do think it all has its place.

We live in a noisy world even in rural areas. We are bombarded with new ways of listening (some residents have ‘Alexa’), and phone telemarketers to tell us what we desperately need. We are in a world of instant awareness with 24/7 news. So much of the news cycle is babble rather than hard news. It’s a constant form of comment and noise rather than facts of the happenings.

Unfortunately, in such a so-called sophisticated atmosphere, we see way too much anxiety, worry and panic. We have given up on our peace of mind and quiet contemplation.

A 16th Century mystic gives us some sound advice in her short poem:
Let nothing distract you
Let nothing frighten you
All things are passing away
God never changes
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing
God alone suffices. 

May you have many happy moments in 2019, let the noise drift away and have quiet time to reflect and contemplate the constancy of God.
– Vito Genna, Executive Director

Happy Fall Y’All!

These are just a few photos from Sierra View Homes’ Facebook page. Follow us on Facebook to catch a glimpse of your friends and loved ones and to keep up-to-date on the latest happenings!

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Lessons from Half a Century at Sierra View Homes

Nancy Petinak, circa 1981, dancing with a resident. “This was a really proud moment for me,” she said. “This resident suffered from PTSD and never talked or smiled. Over time, music brought him out of his shell, and he even danced. This picture captures a miracle.”

A lot changes in 44 years, but some things never change. No one can attest to this better than Nancy Petinak. The 79-year-old Reedley resident recently retired from her role as Activities Director at Sierra View Homes Retirement Community, a career which spanned an impressive 44 years.

Happy retirement, Nancy Petinak! You are loved. Thank you for your service!

Nancy played a pivotal role in the growth of Sierra View Homes from a small skilled nursing facility to a full-service continuing care retirement community. Nancy’s career is a source of great pride for Sierra View, as she exemplifies the unusual longevity of the organization’s staff, and more importantly, the service-oriented heart found beating beneath the everyday workings of the community.

When Nancy first began at Sierra View in 1975, she little expected that it would be the first and only employer of her career. “I was just hired because I could play the piano!” Nancy laughed. The director at the time, Art Bergthold Sr., wanted someone who could incorporate music into activities for the residents, and Nancy set out to do just that. She added music into workout classes, sing-alongs, performances, and weekly church services.

Before long, she had discovered that this was more than a job, it was a life’s work. “I realized it was a mission, and that God had placed me here for a reason, to help people and make their lives better each day,” she explained.

Nancy, circa 1982.

Over time, the methods she used to fulfill that mission evolved. “For many years, I focused on bringing events to Sierra View’s residents, like a Country Fair fundraiser that drew thousands of people from the neighborhoods in Reedley,” she explained. “I told our residents, if we can’t bring you to events, we’ll bring the events to you!

This philosophy, and her activity programs, were groundbreaking by necessity. “The year I started, activity programs had just begun to be required by the state, and innovations like assisted living and memory care for dementia patients didn’t exist yet,” she said. “Skilled nursing served a very wide variety of ability levels, from people who just needed a bit of assistance to Alzheimer’s residents who entered with extreme cognitive challenges.”

Nancy, circa 1982.

Thus, almost by accident, Nancy became a pioneer of dementia care. She established Sierra View’s Special Needs program, which laid the groundwork for Sierra View’s current Memory Care, transforming a dining room into a “neighborhood” with centers focused around everyday activities like cooking, laundry, sewing, and a home office. “We saw an immediate difference in our resident behavior,” she explained.

She recalls one particular resident, a former newspaper editor, who came into Sierra View angry and lashing out at the staff. However, at Nancy’s suggestion they added a typewriter and desk to the office area for him, and his behavior changed overnight. “He was suddenly very industrious, and typed all day long – it was like he was back to work,” Nancy said. “When we read what he was typing, it wasn’t always relevant, but it was clear that he was typing his feelings out. His family noticed an immediate improvement. They were so grateful that he was finally content and at peace.” Her program was so successful, in fact, that she visited other communities and spoke at conferences to teach about best practices in dementia care.

When Sierra View Homes’ dedicated Marden’s Place Memory Care wing was built, Nancy’s role pivoted once again, beginning to focus even more on the social needs of residents and their families. “I spent a lot of time mentoring families, dealing with individual concerns, walking residents and their families through power of attorney issues and disputes – basically helping families to understand what was happening to their loved ones,” she said. “But one of my favorite things was to sit with people and sing with them.”

In fact, over 44 years, Nancy has found that music is one of the constants. She helped bring the iPod Music program to Sierra View’s residents, where residents are provided with an iPod tailored to their individual favorite music. This has had special success in Sierra View’s Memory Care, where residents show marked improvement in happiness while singing along to their favorite tunes. “Music and scripture and prayer are the things that are never damaged by Alzheimer’s or dementia,” Nancy explained. “I’ve always told families that, and they seem to find comfort in it. Music, God’s Word, and prayer all speak straight to our heart, and that never changes.”

Another thing that doesn’t change is the service-oriented heart in Sierra View’s staff. “I’ve been blessed to work with a group of people who share my mission,” said Nancy. “Sierra View seems to draw people who want to make residents’ lives better every day, and I’ve been honored to work with many people who have really made a difference.”

Likewise, she has met incredible people in Sierra View’s residents. “One of our residents invented the little clip on pens so that you can hook it to your paper. Another invented a revolutionary design for airplane wings. We’ve had doctors, lawyers, missionaries, and Olympic medalists,” she said. “Sierra View is full of a wealth of stories and wisdom and history, just there for the asking.” So her advice to the younger generations after her? “Ask.”

Some things change – buildings rise up and organizations grow, and foundational staff like Nancy move on to new adventures. But the music, the heart of Sierra View Homes, and Nancy Petinak’s legacy, will always remain.