Music and Memory

Music is a powerful thing. It is part of our lives from the time we are young to the time we die, and triggers memories and emotions in us. Listening to certain songs tend to bring back feelings and emotions from a particular time in our lives. Music and emotions activate in the same part of the brain, which is why music has the power to sooth or to energize. Music can bring calm to a difficult day, energize and add a spark to an exercise program, help you focus to complete a task, or raise your spirits.

Dementia care researchers are studying whether music can help caregivers be less stressed and more successful as they take care of the people they love. Recent studies have found that patterned behavior can be more effective when accompanied by a song. In one such project, the caregiver found that if he sang the cues to his mother, who had dementia, she was much more willing to participate. For example, before the addition of the musical cue, she called prune juice poison and would not touch it. However when he sang a song about drinking it, she was more willing to drink it. He also sang bathroom cues, and other cues for activities of daily living, with similar results.

Researchers are also testing whether music may help people with dementia retain new information. They have found that when information is sung to the person, he or she retains it longer than if the information was spoken. Memories are made in the hippocampus, a part of the brain that Alzheimer’s disease attacks first. They theorize that since music uses different parts of the brain to create memories which aren’t as damaged by the disease, music can access an alternative memory center. This theory is supported by anecdotal evidence that people who do not recognize their own family and typically sit and stare into space, sometimes “wake up” and have a short logical conversation after listening to their favorite music. Check out this touching youtube video illustrating this effect!

I have been in Marden’s Place Memory Care at Sierra View Homes Retirement Community when the residents were attending a hymn sing along. I was amazed how many of the residents not only knew the first verse but could sing with gusto all the verses of favorite hymns.

If you are a caregiver of someone who is slowly losing short-term memory, try to find some music from the time they were young. The music should come from some time when they were between 10 and 30 years of age. Find those favorite songs they recognize. You may be able to enjoy the positive energy that happens as your loved one listens and remembers long forgotten memories.  Also, consider singing the cues you give for use of the restroom, eating, getting dressed and more. Have an “eat your lunch song,” “brush your teeth song,” “toilet use” song, and the list goes on. Using tunes like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star but changing the words to give the cue is a good place to start. A tune you make up yourself is good too. You are hopefully triggering a part of the brain that still functions quite well.

Marden’s Place staff has found that music can redirect residents and stop sad emotions. At the meal time, soft soothing music is played to encourage the residents to relax and enjoy the meal. Sierra View Homes also uses drum circles where each resident gets to play a rhythm instrument to a familiar song. The circles are well attended and the residents are attentive and happy – even family members participate!

Music plays a part in our overall demeanor throughout our lives. We listen to music in all sorts of ways and for many reasons. A song can transport us back in time to a special memory, encourage us, stimulate us, or give us peace of mind during a stressful time. Now we are seeing it might help people with dementia have more quality of life. I encourage you to incorporate music into your day if you are a caregiver of someone with dementia. Hopefully you will see positive results for a less stressful day.

Have you laughed today?

Do you know some of laughter’s amazing benefits?

Studies show that laughing is very beneficial to one’s overall health. It helps reduce pain, brings greater happiness, reduces stress and even boosts the immune system.

Humor is infectious. The sound of someone laughing is very contagious. Laughing is a natural event that we do from a very early age.  Infants start to smile after just a few weeks. After several months babies laugh easily, often with gusto. As we age and go through life’s bumps and bruises, our laughter tends to decrease.

When people laugh together they feel a bond of happiness and intimacy. It creates a common bond that brings friends together and keeps the relationship fresh and exciting. Laughter and playing together adds joy, vitality and resilience.  Humor helps to heal resentments, disagreements, and hurts.

Laughing helps with mood. Nothing works faster or more effectively to bring your mind and body back into balance than a good laugh. A hearty laugh with friends or coworkers can relieve tension, increase alertness and increase the feeling of connectedness. One can laugh alone, but shared laughter is more powerful. Even in the Sierra View Homes Skilled Nursing Center, where activities can be pretty intense, one resident starts an audible laugh and soon the whole group is going!

Laughter has a strong effect on health. Laughter relaxes the body by decreasing stress hormones, and thus relieving physical tension. It gives you an inner-body work out. A good belly laugh exercises the diaphragm, contracts the abs and even works out the shoulders and has been shown to have a good effect on the heart. A hearty laugh can have the effect of pleasant feelings for quite a while afterwards. Laughing increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies giving your body a stronger immune system and fewer physical effects of stress.

The challenge is how to bring more laughter into your life.  My first suggestion is to smile. Smiling is the beginning of laughter.  Smiling is just as contagious as laughing. Practice smiling on your family, friends and the people you meet on the street! You will be surprised at the smiles people will give back in response.

Take some time to count your blessings. By counting your blessings you start to look at the brighter, nicer things in life and the sad or stressful parts seem less daunting.   Surround yourself with pictures of happy times with family and friends.

When you hear laughter, move toward it to get in on the fun. Sometimes a joke might be private, but most of the time you will find the group will want to share the joke because it allows them to laugh again.

Spend time with people who laugh easily both at themselves and at life’s absurdities. These are people who find humor in everyday events. Look for humor in your daily activities. It is surprising how many things can be humorous once you reassess the situation.

Look for humor in your own life. If you have grandchildren or pets, watch them play. Pets and children can be fun to watch as they often will do or say something cute. If you find yourself in a stressful situation, think of how it will sound as a story. Planning how to share the story can give you the chance to see the situation as a challenge instead of a threat. Challenges are much less frightening and your mind will find solutions much easier.

Read a funny book or watch a funny TV show or movie.  Allow yourself to chuckle at the funny parts!

Laughter is a way to stay healthy and happy. It is good for your mood, your heart, and your immune system. You can’t feel anxious, angry or sad while you are laughing. So, smile more often, laugh when you think something is funny, share a humorous story with a friend, look for the humor in your life and see if your quality of life improves!

What is Assisted Living?

Question:  I see advertisements in the newspaper for assisted living facilities, and it is difficult to understand what is offered there in comparison to other care services, such as skilled nursing. Can you explain the differences? –  K.A. Reedley CA.

 Answer: Great question! The term “assisted living” became popular in the 1980’s. At that time, it was a new level of care that allowed retirement communities to provide personal care programs. Before retirement communities provided assisted living, personal care was mostly handled by small board and care facilities or nursing homes.

Assisted living facilities provide help for seniors who struggle with daily chores but do not need 24-hour medical care. One room apartments with a bathroom, meals and snacks, activities of various interests, medication observation, and some assistance with personal care are provided. The goal of assisted living is to help seniors remain as independent as they can be for as long as possible — delaying the need to live in a skilled nursing facility.

Skilled nursing care is generally utilized for people with severe disability and/or a resident who needs rehabilitation therapy. Skilled nursing is ‘total care,’ offering 24-hour staffing with licensed nursing and registered therapists to allow patients to recover or at least maintain the functions they have.

The decision to move into an assisted living facility can be a difficult one. It often means moving out of a house full of memories and downsizing, leaving precious belongings. It means allowing someone to assist you with your medications and possibly having some hands-on personal care.

When is it time to consider Assisted Living? Some simple questions will help you decide.

Fortunately, there are two very reputable retirement communities right here in Reedley that offer assisted living, as well as several small board and care facilities in the greater Reedley area. Not all facilities are alike. Just as there are different levels of care, the costs can also vary widely. Some facilities charge a basic fee and then charge separately for additional services while others have an all-inclusive rate. Assisted living can run between $2,000 to $5,000 per month, while the cost of a skilled nursing facility can be $6000 to $7000 per month.  

The best way to make a decision is to visit the facility, talk to staff and residents, and ask questions regarding care and services. As with all planning decisions, it is best done well in advance, with time to make comparisons and have all your questions answered before making such an important decision.

Not all Assisted Living communities are alike. Here are some factors to consider as you help your loved one choose.

Are All Assisted Living Communities Alike? How to Choose.


I am thinking it is time to move my mother into an Assisted Living Residence. How do I go about choosing one? Are all assisted living facilities alike? How do I deal with helping her adjust to the changes in her life?

This is a very good question because not all assisted living residences are alike. There is no standard blueprint for what an assisted living facility should look like.

Assisted living facilities go by many different names, like “personal care home,” “board and care home,” and “congregate living facility.” Some are multi-story buildings, some are private homes that have been converted into a group living environment, and others are more like hotels, with hallways and rooms on either side of the hallway. Some are part of a retirement community, and others have no attachment to any other type of facility. Depending upon what they call themselves and whether they are connected to other facilities, there are different rules and regulations according to their license with the State of California.

What is Assisted Living?

When is it time to consider Assisted Living?

Some factors to consider as you are choosing an assisted living facility for your loved one:

  • Location.
    A major factor in assisted living choice is the facility’s location. If possible, choose a location that is near to family members that will be able to visit frequently. Use the internet to find assisted living residences in your area. Also, the Valley Care Giver Resource has lists of places to choose from. I highly suggest you go and visit places you are interested in.
  • Staff.
    The first thing to look at when you enter a new facility is the staff. Are they friendly and welcoming? Ask them how long they‘ve been working there – longer is better! Watch how they are treating the current residents. In assisted living the staff is around to help with those tasks that have become difficult. Lurk around a bit to see if you can hear staff interacting with residents. How do you feel when you walk through the halls? Is your impression of the place a positive one?
  • Meals.
    If you can, have a meal at the facility. Watch how the meal is delivered to the residents and how tasty is it.  Talk to residents and find out about their experience in the facility. If residents are happy they will be eager to share how wonderful it is to live there.
  • Activities.
    Check the activities calendar. Is there an activity program that offers something for a variety of interests and physical ability levels? Are there activities your mother would enjoy doing?
  • Building Size and Layout.
    It is important that you choose a place that will best meet the needs of your loved one.  For some, a smaller and more intimate setting suits them better than a larger facility. Others enjoy having several social groups. Watch as you go through the facility for friendly common areas. Does the building seem well cared for? Is there a recreation room, library, social area, dining room, out door area that is welcoming?
  • Cost Structure.
    Rent for assisted living can vary greatly by the size of the room and services included in the rent. Some places include almost everything in the price, so the cost could be $2,000 to $3,500 per month. Others charge you for only the services your loved one uses, so the basic rent price is much lower, but the services cost can add up. Unfortunately, there is no government assistance to help with payment. The VA does have a program for Veterans and their wives to help defray costs of assisted living. The rent for assisted living is usually very reasonable when you consider what the rent covers.
  • Services Provided.
    Typically, assisted living facilities provide a long list of services. For example, most residential care facilities like Sierra View Homes’ assisted living provide:

      • 3 meals a day
      • 24 hour supervision
      • some personal care assistance
      • housekeeping and laundry services
      • minor medical supervision (with a medication technician who brings medicine to your loved one and documents that it was taken)
      • social, cultural, educational and physical activities to keep your loved one’s mind and body functioning as well as possible
      • snacks for those who need a little something to tide them over from meal to meal
      • a room with a full bathroom.

    Sierra View Homes Retirement Community offers even more than these basic services above in our assisted living/residential care.

  • What to Bring.
    Transitioning into a new living environment is difficult no matter what age. When getting ready to move to an assisted living setting, talk to the staff about what to bring. Most facilities will have a handbook or at least a list of what you will need. Plan what pieces of furniture you want to bring with you. Most facilities have the resident bring their own things to make the room feel more like home. If you are moving a relative in, it may be good to set up the room without them and then adjust things to their liking later.

Tip: Become acquainted with the facility so you know your way around and can help your loved one find places like the dining room and social areas easily. Don’t expect your mother to move in and be comfortable at once. I tell families that it takes at least a month before a new resident feels confident and comfortable. Families are encouraged to support the new resident by frequent visits and even dining with them at times.


Ready to Retire?

The Baby Boomers are starting to enter into retirement. Many people look forward to the freedom that retirement brings, but with it comes financial and social changes. How do you know if you are ready?

The idea of retirement is a fairly recent one that started in the 19th century because people began living longer. When life expectancy was low and there was no pension or social security, people often worked until death. Germany was the first country to introduce retirement in the 1880’s.

Most developed countries today have some sort of system to provide pensions for retirement in old age. In third world countries, support for older people is still primarily provided by the family. Each country has its own formula and age when a person is eligible to receive benefits. In the United States, the longer you work and wait to collect social security, the more money you get monthly when you do collect.  As a result, people who have greater wealth tend to retire earlier since they do not have to rely solely on the social security benefits.

Here are several questions you can ask yourself to determine if you are financially ready for retirement:

  • Will my retirement benefits completely replace my current income? If not, try living on only the amount of money you will receive upon retirement.
  • What are my lifestyle plans? Do I plan to travel or spend more money? Will the activities I plan to do during my free time cost money?
  • Are my debts paid off? If you have credit card bills or additional debt that puts a monthly strain on your income, you may wish to continue to work until these are removed.
  • Will my income from benefits keep pace with normal inflation?
  • How will I pay for healthcare and perscriptions?

But what about the psychological part of retiring?  Many of us have our identity wrapped up in our job. The idea of not needing to be at work every day seems great, but it is important to remember that all of the hours previously spent at work will still need to be filled. Most people still need some type of structure for retired life, some reason to get up in the morning. Finding ways to socialize is important: retirees won’t find happiness sitting at home. The ability to find balance between being busy and having time to pursue your own interests may take some practice. Keeping your mind and physical self well will help you enjoy the later years of life.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself to determine if you are psychologically ready to retire:

  • What do I plan to do with my time?
  • Are the people that I plan to spend time with retired as well or available during the day?
  • What activities will get me up in the morning?
  • Do I plan to volunteer or continue to use my skills and talents in some way? Volunteering can provide a new sense of identity and self-worth. There are numerous places where one can volunteer, but look at your interests and ask around for opportunities that fit your talents.
  • What are my interests? Are there any hobbies that I have been unable to explore before now, or that I did when I was younger and would like to try again?
  • What new challenges would I like to take on?

Since I have not retired myself, I talked to a few people about the first months after retiring and the adjustment:

David Hasagawa said he and his wife made a decision that they would quit what they were doing and move on to other interests if they ever got tired of what they were doing. When that happened for both of them they realized that they could retire. “The hard part,” recalled David, “is that everybody thinks you have time to volunteer. It is easy to become busier then you ever were while you worked!”  The six months after he retired, David said no to most every request. “That gave me time to look at volunteer opportunities and decide how I wanted to be busy. I now feel I have a pretty good balance between fun time, personal time and volunteering.”

Jay Huchabay told me that he has retired several times since his first retirement.  His first retirement ended a career that spanned two decades. Shortly after this retirement he met and married his sweetheart. Together they have had many adventures. They managed a hotel, a mobile home park, and took on several other projects for two to three years apiece. Along with these jobs came several moves. Once settled at Sierra View Homes Jay reports they now enjoy the activities and opportunities a retirement community offers.

Cathy Ratmeyer explained that eight years ago she made the decision to retire from teaching. She loved the job but felt the stress was too much and so she chose to leave the job. Cathy remembers those first few days feeling exhilarated being able to drink coffee any time she wanted to.  Soon after her retirement she made plans for extended visits with her children and grandchildren living in several different states. She reports, “It was wonderful to become more connected with my family.”  Retirement for Cathy has meant she can volunteer with organizations that mean a lot to her. “It is important to stay close to friends and socialize regularly through church and activities.”

Planning ahead and looking at how you want to fill the days of your retirement will help you be better able to make the transition.  These stories illustrate that it is important not only to have a plan for your finances, but to also have plans for keeping your mind and spirit stimulated.  Look at your interests and see where you have an opportunity to share your skills. Find ways to connect with people. Join a coffee group, find a place to volunteer, become more connected with your church, take time to be with family, and look at hobbies that could give you hours of entertainment.  Retirement can be the start of something wonderful.

Consider a Retirement Community

There are a number of senior retirement facilities in my area. Why would I want to live in a retirement community?  K.A. of  Reedley

Lifting the home maintenance burden.
Retirement communities are set up to provide an option for seniors when the maintenance and care of owning a home becomes overwhelming.  As people age, the ability to physically keep up with a yard and house maintenance becomes more and more daunting.  Projects that were, at one time, fairly easy can become difficult and sometimes next to impossible to complete.  If one spouse has passed away or has the need to be in a long-term care facility, the task of keeping up the house falls to the one remaining at home.

Residence choice.
Retirement communities are also set up for residents who wish to enjoy the freedom of a private home, but still remain free of the many responsibilities of home ownership and maintenance. Most retirement communities try to have a variety in living arrangements to offer some choice to the resident.  There are communities with apartments varying in size and amenities, some have duplexes and some have single family houses.  Either covered carports or garages are usually available where a resident can park a vehicle.

Community meals.
Some retirement communities offer varying meal plans. Other senior communities include one or more meals in the rent. Usually there is a main dining room where the meal is served. This helps the residents of the community have a chance to get together and socialize with others during a meal.  Having at least one nutritious meal during the day can help the resident maintain his or her health and energy.

Convenient transportation.
As we age our ability to drive safely can diminish. Retirement communities typically have a van or a bus to provide transportation for grocery shopping, general shopping trips and outings. The activity director plans outings and activities of interest. These outings could include going to a see movie, visiting local attractions, attending a local play or musical concert.  For example, as I’m writing this article today, the bus at Sierra View Homes took 15 residents to the cheese factory in Traver. They enjoyed a tour of the factory, had lunch at the restaurant and finished with ice cream all in the company of good friends.

Retirement communities vary in the housekeeping services that they provide.  Some, like the Sierra View Terraces apartments, include housekeeping services in the rent. Others offer services for an additional cost, and some offer no housekeeping services at all for those in an independent living setting. Some facilities allow the resident to hire someone from outside the community, which may include off-duty staff members.

Health care options.
Health care services for residents in independent living facilities are quite minimal. The expectation is that the residents are able to care for themselves and maintain their own health needs. There are communities that offer weekly or monthly blood pressure checks and some facilities have a nurse designated to help residents with short-term dressing changes or other short-term needs. However, retirement communities with graduated levels of care like Sierra View, offer the opportunity to increase levels of assistance, or spend some time in rehabilitation or skilled nursing before returning to independent living.

Beauty and barber shop.
Many facilities offer beauty and barber shop services on the premises. The shops can be run independently or through the company. The opportunity to get one’s hair or nails done helps seniors maintain positive self-esteem and enjoy some pampering without ever leaving the campus.

Exercise and wellness programs.
More and more seniors are looking for retirement communities that offer opportunities to exercise, which will enable them to stay healthy and maintain independence. For instance, most mornings you will find a room full of residents peddling on stationary bikes, walking on treadmills, swimming or doing general exercise in the Wellness Center at Sierra View Homes. Most facilities are looking to provide opportunities to exercise that are geared toward seniors so the residents do not need to travel away from the community to work out.

In the future, retirement facilities will continue to evolve in order to meet the needs and interests of the next generation coming in.  Each generation brings new interests and desires and facilities are seeing more and more seniors who want computer and Internet access, cable T.V. as a standard, and various entertainment options.

The benefits of living in a congregate arrangement have been well documented in scientific studies done throughout the world.  So if you want to live a longer, happier and more fulfilled life, consider living in the company of friends in a retirement community.

Walk Safely: Canes and Walkers

Our ability to live independently becomes jeopardized when we have trouble walking. Sometimes using a cane or a walker can make a huge difference.  Walking aids allow many older adults to keep active and independent. They can reduce pain while walking or compensate for balance problems. The problem with using a cane or a walker is if they are used improperly they can cause a fall, and that’s the very thing we were trying to avoid in the first place!

 A six-year government study shows that falls with walkers/canes are an under recognized health problem.  It was remarkable how many older adult falls were attributed to walking aids.  In 2006 more than 47,000 seniors went to an emergency room due to a fall that involved a walker or a cane. The government study showed people were seven times more likely to be injured by a fall if they were using a walker than those using a cane.   People who are using a walker could be more fragile thus needing a walker instead of a cane. Also, the fall risk increases with age. The highest rate of falls was in the 85 and older age group.

 When someone has a walking or balance problem the doctor will often recommend a walking aid. There should be a Physical Therapy order as well. The person needs the training of how to use the walking aid properly. The therapist’s job is to make sure the walking aid is the correct one for the problem and the right size. A number of people will borrow a cane or a walker from a relative or a friend and not have it fitted to them or be trained on how to use the aid properly. Many accidents happen when the cane or the walker is not the right height or type, or they have not been shown the proper way to use it.

 In the search for the walking aid it is important to have a conversation with your doctor or physical therapist as to what type of aid is best for you.  Canes are used to help with balance, or to help stabilize your walking gait if one side is weaker than the other. There are different types of canes. Canes can have a single tip on the bottom or they can have four prongs. The four prongs offer more stability if you need to put a lot of weight on the cane. Then the height of the cane is important. If the cane is too high or too low it will not allow you to balance properly thus putting you at risk for falls. Walkers provide more stability than canes. They let you shift more weight to your arms. There are pick up walkers, walkers with front wheels and walkers with four wheels. The type of walker to choose depends on how much need there is to put weight on your arms as you walk. The pick up walker is placed in front of you and you walk into it. Then you pick it up and place it further out in front and walk into it again. The two-wheel walker allows the walker to slide forward. The person using it does not need to pick it up. At Sierra View Homes Retirement Community we find the two-wheel walker the safest for our residents to use. The four-wheel walker is the least stable. The four-wheel walker rolls along, although most have brakes, the person using it needs to understand how to use the brakes and how to control the movement of the wheels. Using a four-wheel walker is like pushing a grocery cart: it gives you something to hold on to but does not offer much support.

 The selection of walking aids can be daunting. There are so many styles and models to choose from. It is important to choose a cane or walker that suits you in terms of support, design, fit and feel. If you go to a medical supply store ask the clerk to show you how the aid can be adjusted for height. Then have a physical therapist check it out for size and instruct you how to use it safely.  

 Aging brings along with it the fear of loosing one’s independence. Using a walking aid can help maintain that independence. It is important to choose the right aid and follow safety instructions from your doctor and/ or a physical therapist to keep that independence for as long as possible.

Better Care in Nursing Homes

One of the reasons I chose to live in a retirement community was because I checked out the nursing home on campus, just in case. You hear a lot about boredom and even overmedication. How do you safeguard from that?  E.E. of Reedley.

When nursing homes first came on line in the 1960’s it was all too common to find over-medicated residents. The funding was minimal and therefore staffing inadequate.

Often you would go into a nursing home and see the residents lined up in their wheel chairs, sleeping or just staring off into space.  They would not respond well to the activity program. They did not have a desire to participate in much of anything.

Better knowledge for treatment and care of our senior citizens and more government funding through Medicaid brought about changes in the nursing home care. Today, there is training so the staff, who take care of the nursing home residents, are competent and have all sorts of ideas on how to provide care both efficiently and allowing dignity. The classes provide the students with both hands on and classroom learning.  Emphasis is given to how to assess the resident and make them feel comfortable. Nursing assistants are required to take a state-directed class with 50 hours of class time and 100 hours of hands on. They are required to have 24 hours of in-service each year.

Nursing homes have come a long way in the last 15 years. More and more emphasis is being placed on creating as much of a home like environment as is possible. They are inviting and pleasant places to hang out, windows that look out over flower beds,  grass and trees, aromas coming from the activity room such as bread baking, and places to be outside to feel the breeze. There is a staff of activity people whose job is to find out what each person did for entertainment or enjoyment at home and try to help that person do some of those very things to keep the resident motivated and encouraged.

All staff is responsible for stimulating the mind of the residents, helping them achieve a sense of well-being. The staff gives a listening ear or a helping hand to allow the resident to feel heard and successful.  There is assistance by the staff so the resident can use the common areas. When you come into nursing care centers you will see more chairs and couches for residents to sit on. There are large screen TVs in common areas so residents can watch their favorite programs. These areas also allow for visiting, people watching, or meditating.

The job of the activity director has become an important part of the resident’s care. The director assesses the resident’s interests and then plans activities to meet those interests. There is group time, game time, activities that allow residents to work with their five senses; the activity staff visit residents one-on-one, take the time to go for walks indoors and outdoors with the resident, celebrate birthdays and holidays, and more.

The well-being and stimulation of each resident is the responsibility of more than just the activity staff. The licensed nurses are constantly assessing resident’s mood and behavior. They watch for changes in mood. This often can signal a health change. Residents and resident family members are encouraged to share what the resident has done in the past to give staff some clues as to what activities to try and encourage the resident to attend.  We all have times of anxiety and feeling agitated. It is the job of the nursing home staff to help the resident get through those feelings.

The residents have a couple of advocates these days who come from outside the facility staff. One is the Department of Health. The State Department of Health sends out trained staff to survey every nursing home in the state at least every 9-15 months. These individuals are trained to look for any one who is over medicated or placed in a situation that is not in their best interest.  The other advocate for the resident is the Ombudsman. These are volunteers who are trained to spot potential problems or abuse. The Ombudsman often comes to the nursing home just to walk through, talk to residents and ask questions of staff. They work with residents, resident’s families and staff to find a solution to any problem reported to them. Anyone can report concerns to the Ombudsman.

The residents that experience a feeling of being cared for have a sense of well-being which lessens the anxiety and anxiousness that can be part of a resident’s life.  The nursing home staff have classes every week centering on how to make the resident’s stay as positive as it can possibly be. The Certified Nursing Assistants give the resident the ability to look good and feel good by being clean and tidy. All staff members are encouraged to interact with the resident in a meaningful way, keeping the resident motivated and engaged, and still continue to monitor for changes in behavior to see if there is a health change. The extra edge, for nursing home residents living in a retirement community like Sierra View Homes, is the frequent visits from residents from the independent apartments. The goal is for the resident to have as pleasant a stay as possible, not be over medicated and to have the highest quality of life they can have.

Alzheimer’s and Dementia

Alzheimers and Dementia Care

First of all, the distinction between dementia and Alzheimer’s is a very important one. “Dementia” is a term used to describe several different diseases and disorders of the brain. It is characterized by the progressive deterioration of mental abilities such as thinking and memory, changes in behavior, and a decline in skill levels and functioning. There are a number of different types of dementia, of which Alzheimer’s is the most common. Dementia is a set of symptoms, while Alzheimer’s is a specific disease of the brain.

Dementia of the Alzheimer’s type is caused by a neurological degeneration. Chemical and structural changes in the brain slowly destroy the ability to learn, remember, and relate to others. It is appropriately known as a late-life disease. About 5-8% of people over the age of 65 have some form of dementia and this number doubles every five years above that age. A dementia diagnosis in a person below the age of 65 is known as an “early onset” case. Age is a prevalent risk factor, but it is not the cause of the disease. Other risk factors include family history, genetics, and overall health.

What is important to remember about Alzheimer’s is that it is not simply a natural part of aging, nor is it the only cause of forgetfulness and memory loss. Having a few “senior-moments” is not necessarily cause for alarm. Other possible causes of dementia-like symptoms include normal age-related cognitive decline, side-effects of medication, depression, chronic stress, metabolic ailments, infections, and hearing loss.

Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease with different stages progressing from mild forgetfulness to widespread brain impairment. Breaking this process down into three stages can help provide general guidelines for understanding the progression of the disease and planning appropriate care. The three stages are early, middle and late.

Characteristics of the early stage include memory loss of recent conversations or events, repeated questions, mild coordination problems, and mild word-finding difficulties, and difficulty performing familiar tasks. They also may show change in their social interactions such as isolating and taking less initiative. Their overall judgment and decision-making is compromised and reminders to do activities of daily living (ADLs) are needed. The duration of this stage usually lasts two to four years.

The middle stage shows increased progression of these symptoms. Then, the late stage usually brings the inability to perform daily care independently. They may need assistance with feeding and may become mute or exhibit limited ability to communicate. They will often become immobile and may experience weight loss due to swallowing and eating difficulties.

An Alzheimer’s diagnosis can be a confusing, frustrating, and scary experience. While there is currently no cure, there are treatments available for the symptoms. An early diagnosis can prolong independence, so be sure to talk to your doctor if you see warning signs. Just like any other major change, you need time to adapt. Also, reach out for support. Continuing to live a socially connected and leading an active life will be beneficial. Communicate with your family and loved ones about your wishes and desires as you start down this journey.

If you have a loved one that has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s you may be dealing with a host of emotions yourself. You may feel like the person you knew is now a stranger and this can be overwhelming. I would encourage you to learn as much as you can about this disease so that you will understand what to expect and will be more able to plan for effective care. This knowledge will help you to focus on and honor the strengths and abilities that your loved one still has throughout the stages. Also, do not take on the caregiving journey alone. Don’t forget to take care of your own health. Caregivers often experience a decline in health as a result of self-neglect.

What you can do to practically help someone living with Alzheimer’s is provide an environment that is as stress-free and calm as possible. Daily routines should be maintained and emphasis should be on maintaining abilities, not on teaching new skills. Some adjustments to consider within the living environment to reduce confusion are having solid, one color flooring, pictures and signs to help a person find their way around the house, and the covering or removing of mirrors, approach from the front and establish eye-contact, but do not stare, speak clearly, slowly, and simply. It is important to give them plenty of time to respond. Be aware of gestures that could be received as threatening, and never shout or rush the person.

A very valuable way to spend time with a person with dementia is reminiscing. Long-term memories are retained further into the disease than short-term recall. Involve people who knew the person before the disease and be encouraged: that person remains, though it becomes harder to reach them.

For reliable information and support, you can call the Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 Hotline: 1-800-272-3900 or visit

Living Well As We Age

As we age I often hear talk about our aches and pains, how much medication we are taking and how tired we feel.  We all understand the need for exercise and eating well to maintain a healthy life style.  But are there things we should be considering to help us live our senior years as well as we can?

Medications and treatment have come a long way in your life time. It is easy to get into the mentality of “I don’t feel well so I will go to the doctor and hopefully he/she will have a pill for what is wrong.”  Life styles have become more sedentary. Modern conveniences have made it easy to do less physical exertion. Technology has given us entertainment that we can do from our easy or computer chair. In order to age in a healthy way it is important we look at different dimensions in our lives to see how we can take charge of our health and well-being.

First look at the emotional stress in your life. Managing stress can be a difficult thing. All our lives we have dealt with stress or our emotions in certain ways. Some people see “the glass as half empty and others see it as half full.” Stress can break down our immune system, causing weight gain and giving you an overall ill feeling. When you retire your routine changes and how you deal with the change can have long-term effects. If there is a particular issue causing stress you might try journaling. Writing down ideas, possible solutions to try, or pros and cons of a decision can help bring the problem into perspective. Stress reduction is important in healthy aging.

Staying physically active is a large component of aging in a healthy way.  Exercising regularly helps keep blood pressure down, helps with weight management, helps to keep your bones strong by warding off osteoporosis and gives you a sense of well-being.  Exercising provides release for stress by increasing endorphins which increase your feelings of overall wellbeing.  Walking is a good form of exercise. There are a number of places in Reedley to walk or ride your bike. Joining one of the various gyms or participate in water aerobics at the Wellness Center at Sierra View Homes gives you a place to exercise.

Sleep is important for health and wellbeing?  Sleeping well at night gives us the ability to deal with the issues of the day. If you find you are not sleeping well at night look at your bedtime routine. Do things right before bed that relax you like take a warm bath, read, and listen to relaxing music.

What we eat also makes a difference in how we age. The food that gives the body the fuel to deal with the day is important. Unfortunately most processed easy to fix food is loaded with calories and salt. Food rich in nutrients often take a while to prepare. Thought and preparation are a must in eating a nutricous diet.

Staying alert by keeping your mind sharp is important. Seek out ways to be involved. Being connected to people and tasks you enjoy helps to keep a positive trend of thought. Keep learning and trying new things. It is exciting to be able to accomplish something new.  You might find a talent that has been hidden all these years. Read for knowledge or just for fun. It is important to challenge your mind. Some people enjoy jigsaw puzzles, crossword puzzles or other types of puzzles. Maybe there is a class at the college that intrigues you. There are many options of things to keep intellectual stimulation going. The challenge in needing to think and to figure things out helps the brain to stay focused and sharp.

Just because you are retired does not mean you don’t have a lot to offer in society. Some retired people look for jobs that will give them a sense of purpose.  Becoming a volunteer with various organizations gives you an opportunity to be productive and make a difference. Volunteer jobs can be found in helping organizations, schools, retirement communities and churches to name a few. Look for jobs doing things you are interested in. Part-time jobs give a sense of structure and yet some flexibility of time you may have been looking for as you retired.  When you feel like you can contribute and make a difference you feel able to deal with the stresses of the day.

Maintaining friendships gives a sense of belonging.  Getting out of the house, being socially connected with others keeps us feeling part of the greater community. Staying home and watching television can cause feelings of isolation. There are a number of different groups throughout Reedley who get together for coffee at various places.  Some friends go for walks together, or just get together to sit and visit. Maintaining friendships helps when life gets tough. Giving and receiving friendship helps give quality in our lives.

Believing in something greater than ourselves gives you another avenue for learning and being involved.  Meditation and worship help to bring peace and purpose in a time of many distractions.   Allowing time to enjoy nature, to take the time to watch the changing seasons and to be aware of the birds or animals around us gives a sense there is something greater than we are.

Working at these dimensions gives all of us ways to enjoy the “golden years.”  When you retire and move into a new schedule of life. Being involved with social groups, be a part of a spiritual group, participate in something you are interested in, keep learning, take care of yourself, and most importantly keep moving. Follow these simple directions and you will lead a healthier life.