June is Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month

June is Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month

Six Tips to Build Resilience and Prevent Brain-Damaging Stress

These days, we all live under considerable stress — economic challenges, job demands, family tensions, always-on technology and the 24-hour news cycle all contribute to ceaseless worry. While many have learned to simply “live with it,” this ongoing stress can, unless properly managed, have a serious negative impact on our ability to think clearly and make good decisions, in the short-term, and even harm our brains in the long-term.

The Problem

Recent studies show that chronic stress can also lead to depression, and even to a higher risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease symptoms. Why? Under stress, the brain’s limbic system responsible for emotions, memory and learning triggers an alarm that activates the fight-or-flight response, increasing the production of adrenaline (epinephrine) and cortisol, which work together to speed heart rate, increase metabolism and blood pressure, enhance attention, the immune system and anti-inflammatory response, and lower pain sensitivity all good things when your very survival is on the line. When the stressful situation is over, the body resets back to normal.

However, under constant stress, the body is unable to reset. High adrenaline and cortisol levels persist, potentially causing blood sugar imbalances and blood pressure problems, and whittling away at muscle tissue, bone density, immunity, and inflammatory responses. These events block the formation of new neural connections in the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for encoding new memories. When these new connections are blocked, the hippocampus can actually shrink in size, hindering memory.

Too much stress can almost make us “forget” how to make changes that reduce that stress, limiting the mental flexibility needed to find alternative solutions and triggering general adaptation syndrome (GAS) better known as “burnout” which makes us feel unmotivated and mentally exhausted. This is why next time you forget someone’s name at a party, try not to obsess about remembering it. Instead, make fun of your DNA (we are all human, aren’t we?). The name in question is then more likely to appear in your mind when you less expect it.

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What Can You Do?

Rather than simply living with stress, learning how to effectively master our stress levels and build emotional resilience can not only help you feel and perform better on a daily basis, but also protect your brain from the long-term damaging effects of stress. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Get some exercise – Studies show that aerobic exercise helps build new neurons and connections in the brain to counteract the effects of stress. In fact, a recent study found that people who exercised very little showed greater stress-related atrophy of the hippocampus (the part of the brain that stores memories) compared to those who exercised more. Regular exercise also promotes good sleep, reduces depression and boosts self-confidence through the production of endorphins, the “feel-good” hormones.
  2. Relax – Easier than it sounds, right? But relaxation through meditation, tai chi, yoga, a walk on the beach, or whatever helps to quiet your mind and make you feel more at ease can decrease blood pressure, respiration rate, metabolism, and muscle tension. Meditation, in particular, is tremendously beneficial for managing stress and building mental resilience. Studies also show that getting out into nature can have a positive, restorative effect on reducing stress and improving cognitive function. So move your yoga mat out into the yard, or turn off that treadmill and take a walk in the park. Your brain will thank you for it.
  3. Socialize – When your plate is running over and stress takes over, it’s easy to let personal connections and social opportunities fall off the plate first. But ample evidence shows that maintaining stimulating social relationships is critical for both mental and physical health. Create a healthy environment by inviting friends, family and even pets to combat stress and exercise all your brains.
  4. Take control – Studies show a direct correlation between feelings of psychological empowerment and stress resiliency. Empowering yourself with a feeling of control over your own situation can help reduce chronic stress and give you the confidence to take control over your brain health. Some video games and apps built around heart rate variability sensors can be a great way to be proactive and take control of our stress levels.
  5. Have a laugh – We all know from personal experience that a good laugh can make us feel better, and this is increasingly backed by studies showing that laughter can reduce stress and lower the accompanying cortisol and adrenaline levels that result. Having fun with friends is one way to practice two good brain habits at once. Even just thinking about something funny can have a positive effect on reducing stress and the damage it causes to your brain.
  6. Think positive – How you think about what stresses you can actually make a difference. In one study at Harvard University, students were coached into believing that the stress they feel before a test could actually improve performance on graduate school entrance exams. Compared with students who weren’t coached, those students earned higher scores on both the practice test and the actual exam. Simply changing the way you look at certain situations, taking stock of the positive things in your life and learning to live with gratitude can improve your ability to manage stress and build brain resilience.

Living with high levels of sustained stress can have a profound negative impact on your psychological and brain health. While often there is little we can do to change the stressful situation itself, there are many things we can do to alter or manage our reactions to it. Managing stress and mastering our own emotions through simple lifestyle changes and the use of basic techniques that anyone can do can help reduce stress-related damage to the brain, improve emotional resilience and thwart cognitive decline as we age.

When Families Can’t Agree About Care for Elderly Parents

As elderly parents begin to rely on family for more support, the amount of conflict between adult children can increase. Dealing with a parent’s care can rekindle rivalries that have laid dormant for years and the discord can tear families apart.

Causes of Family Conflicts

Family dynamics are infinitely complex, but two underlying themes run through most sibling disputes about their parents: injustice and inheritance.

Injustice

When on sibling shoulders a disproportionate burden of dad or mom’s care, that sense of unfairness can foster resentment. Often, by virtue of distance, the siblings who live further away are “off the hook” when it comes to caring for an aging parent, while the nearest siblings are obliged to take on a caregiving role. When the caregiving sibling asks for help from other siblings, the other siblings often don’t fully appreciate, or choose to ignore, how much help their parent needs, and how much work one sibling is doing.

Inheritance

Many siblings clash over a parent’s finances. With the average American household’s net worth declining since 2007, siblings may have to divide a decided decrease in inheritance, naturally increasing the likelihood of conflict. In a perfect world, each of us is selfless and not motivated by money, but we live in a far from perfect world where money is indispensable, so it remains a problem for families.

Caregiving is stressful on its own, but when injustice and inheritance are added to a situation, they can create animosity between siblings. When family dynamics are already tense because one sibling feels unjustly overburdened with a parent’s care, money can compound the conflict.

A sibling who provides most of a parent’s care may feel entitled to a greater share of an inheritance. Or, siblings who are more distant or not involved, may believe that the caregiving sibling is spending too much money on a parent’s care. Sometimes, the children of aging parents will even resist plans for professional care in order to “protect” an inheritance.

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Tips for Improving Communication with Your Siblings During a Family Disagreement

There are no easy answers to settle disputes between siblings who are butting heads over a parent’s care, but maintaining communication is crucial. Consider using the following tips for improving communication with your siblings during a family disagreement:

A Family Meeting

Ideally, siblings can correct issues before they become irreconcilable. The key is good communication, and true strategy to facilitate the exchange of ideas is the family meeting. At a family meeting, there should be frank and open discussion about a parent’s care needs. Each sibling’s role and obligations should be established, and future plans should be made. But if the question of where to hold the family meeting leads to a bitter argument in and of itself, the friction may have gotten past the point when a family meeting can help.

Advisors, Counsels, and Mediators

Sometimes a neutral third-party can calm feuding siblings. Family counselors can also help to bridge the difference between siblings, assuming they still talk to one another. If things have become really heated, a family mediator specializing in senior care issues may be able to break through the ill will and help build consensus and find a middle-ground.

The High Road

Ultimately, the only person we can change is ourselves. No matter how much we try to reason with a disagreeable sibling, we may not succeed. While advocating for what’s best for our parent, its’ wise to let go of anger or resentment towards a sibling who has been unhelpful or hurtful, and to strive for the undeniable peace that comes from acceptance and forgiveness; neither stifling our impulse to call out an uncooperative brother or sister, nor allowing ourselves to be consumed with anger.

May is Older Americans Month

Be Well!

Although Americans are living longer these days, more are also developing chronic illnesses. Do illness and aging always go hand-in-hand? The answer is a surprising, but resounding, NO!

It is never too late to get more active or revamp your diet. It is not a matter of training for a marathon or giving up entire food groups, either. Small things can lead to huge differences in the way you feel and the way your body works. Although you should always consult with your doctor before making changes, there are easy steps you can take toward overall wellness—regardless of your age.

About 80% of older Americans have at least one chronic health condition.

HEALTHY LIVING

  • Helps to control weight and strengthen muscles
  • Improves balance, making falls, and other injuries less likely to occur
  • Decreases risk of depression
  • Reduces risks related to brain health
  • Offers opportunities to be social and have fun

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BE WISE, BE WELL

Start slowly. If you have not been exercising, choose something low-impact that you can do a little at a time. Walk for ten minutes in the morning and the afternoon. Sign up for a Tai Chi class, or…learn some gentle stretches.

Exercising is less of a chore when you do it with people you enjoy. Involving others will also hold you accountable. Gather a group of friends or join a class that offers what you are looking for. At The Classic, we actually offer residents a fitness class, seated Pilates, and seated yoga on a weekly basis.

Activity is important, but nutrition is equally vital. Keep an honest record of what you eat to see how you are doing. If you have a condition like diabetes, always consult your doctor before changing your diet. Nutritionists are another excellent resource, whether you have special dietary needs or not.

Wellness is a matter of body and mind. Eating healthy foods and staying active may reduce risks to your brain’s health. Do even more by learning new things and exercising your mind. Try reading, playing games, taking a class, or simply being social.

Is it time for residential dementia care?

Is it time for residential dementia care?

There may come a time when the person with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia will need more care than can be provided at home. During the middle stages of Alzheimer’s, it becomes necessary to provide 24-hour supervision to keep the person with dementia safe. As the disease progresses into the late-stages, round-the-clock care requirements become more intensive.

Making the decision to move into a residential care facility may be very difficult, but it is not always possible to continue providing the level of care needed at home. Below is a checklist you may want to consider reviewing that may help in your decision whether or not to pursue placement in a residential dementia care community.

 

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Does your loved one:

Fall frequently (more than twice in the past year)?

Have frequent urinary tract infections (more than once or lasting more than a month in the past year)?

Have a significant weight change (lost or gained more than 10 lbs. in the past year)?

Require assistance with bathing, brushing teeth, personal hygiene and getting into his/her clothes?

Require assistance with toileting and have frequent episodes of urinary and fecal incontinence?

Show little awareness of recent experiences and events as well as his/her surroundings?

Have difficulty distinguishing familiar and unfamiliar faces?

Have major changes in sleep patterns (like sleeping during the day and restless at night)?

Have the tendency to wander and get lost and disoriented — even in their own home?

Behave in a compulsive and repetitive way, like hand wringing and tissue shredding?

If you checked at least five of the above questions, there is strong evidence that your loved one would benefit from the kind of professional 24/7 care that is provided by the Memory Care community at The Classic at Hillcrest Greens. Let us help you consider your options.

Is it Time to Consider Assisted Living?

Is it Time to Consider Assisted Living?

Am I ready for a move to a senior living community that offers assisted living? When is the right time?  How will I know? Listed below are several questions to think about that may help you decide.

Evaluating your lifestyle and housing needs:

Do you skip any of your meals?

Is it difficult for you to arrange for transportation, shopping & medical appointments?

Do you wonder if help will arrive quickly in an emergency?

Has bathing/showering become difficult for you?

Do you sometimes fear for your personal safety?

Have stairways made getting around more difficult?

Do you feel too dependent on family members to meet your personal needs?

Have routines such as grocery shopping and house cleaning become a tedious chore?

Do you sometimes feel lonely and isolated?

Do you miss social activities with people who share your hobbies and interests?

Do you have difficulty managing your medications?

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If you answered “no” to most of the above questions, your present housing situation most likely fits your needs. On the other hand, a number of “yes” responses means that a move to a more secure, supportive, and social situation might be something you would consider. Once you have decided to consider a new housing situation, you will discover a multitude of choices, life care communities, apartments, cooperatives, and assisted living residences.

We are confident that you would benefit from the professional 24/7 assisted living care that is provided by The Classic at Hillcrest Greens. Let us help you consider your options.

THE CLASSIC’S PALMER’S RESTAURANT FEATURED ON WQOW TV-18

THE CLASSIC’S PALMER’S RESTAURANT FEATURED ON WQOW TV-18

Thanks to WQOW TV-18, the Chippewa Valley was able to get a glimpse of the fantastic restaurant and food operation our residents have access to on a daily basis. Our own Palmer’s Restaurant was highlighted during a news segment on TV-18 this week.

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Below is the script from the news piece.

Hospitals, gas stations, and sometimes, nursing homes and assisted living communities — they can all be known for sub-par food.

In the past, some nursing homes and assisted living facilities were sometimes known for their bad food. But one local assisted living facility is known for the opposite.

The Classic at Hillcrest Green in Altoona is a little different than your typical assisted living and memory care facility. They don’t have a cafeteria, but rather a restaurant.

Residents at the Hillcrest don’t get a schedule of what they’re eating every day of the week. They get a menu to choose from, and the food is cooked to order. Ralph Hudson a resident at the Classic said he loves all of the different options.

“When we come into the dining room, we have a diet which is what’s scheduled for that day, but then you don’t have to take that you can have a menu and so it’s very widespread and it’s extremely good,” said Hudson.

Residents also don’t have a set schedule as to when they can eat. They can come to Palmer’s Restaurant whenever they’re hungry.

The restaurant opens every day at 7:00 a.m. and the kitchen closes at 7:00 p.m.

“What I thought about when we started the Classic was what would I want and what would I want for my grandma. And I wouldn’t want to be told when to eat or what to eat. I knew that I wanted that flexibility and I would want that for someone that I loved, so to me it was a simple choice,” said Jennifer Rooney, owner of the Classic at Hillcrest Greens.

Rooney said right now the waiting list to live at the Classic is about two years. She said part of the reason it takes so long to get in is because of the fine dining.

The restaurant isn’t open to public, but family and friends of the residents are welcome.

 

Haaken Hill Farm Representative to Speak on Growing Clean, Fresh, Local Food

Our area is increasingly adopting sustainable food growing practices in order to create a healthier community. Suzy will explain how Haaken Hill Farm has embraced a culture that is having a positive impact on our environment and surrounding ecosystems. The staff at Haaken Hill practices the “farm to table” concept with regenerative agriculture based on the principles of natural systems.

As part of The Classic’s ongoing Savvy Seniors Series program, Suzy Sivertson from Eau Claire county’s Haaken Hill Farm will present “Farm to Table: Growing Clean, Growing Fresh, Growing Local Food” on Wednesday, May 2 from 3:45 to 5 p.m. Hear firsthand from Suzy how the Chippewa Valley is undergoing a culture change with regard to how food is produced and consumed.

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“Savvy Seniors Series,” is a free monthly information session that is open to the general public and is held on the first Wednesday of the month from 3:45 to 5 p.m. at The Classic. Each session features a different speaker with a message focused on enhancing the quality of life for seniors. Light refreshments will be available along with door prize drawings.

Moving My Spouse to Memory Care

We fully understand that making the decision to move your husband/wife to a memory care community is not an easy one. As a caregiver, you may feel you are doing everything possible to provide for your loved one at home. However, there often comes a time when both of you would benefit from a move to dementia care.

Signs It May Be Time for Memory Care

Your loved one with dementia isn’t safe at home. The main reason to consider a move to memory care is when there are simply not enough resources to safely care for your spouse at home.

You’re getting burned out. “Burned out” is an umbrella term that encompasses a lot of difficult situations for care partners. You may become physically exhausted because of your loved one’s needs and your own health may be suffering. Or…you may just be emotionally worn out, socially isolated, and basically feel “out-of-touch.” Guilt also contributes to burnout. If you’re locked in a cycle of feeling stressed out, angry, or poorly equipped to care for your loved one, and then feeling guilty for having those thoughts, it’s definitely time to consider dementia care.

Your loved one with dementia is bored. When your loved one is constantly following you around, asking what you are going to do, they need more stimulation. At The Classic, we have numerous activities specifically planned for people with dementia and your loved one can be with others who are in a similar situation. Ultimately, it’s about your loved one having meaning and purpose in his/her day. You shouldn’t feel badly if you aren’t meeting their needs any longer. Caregivers can be so burdened that the person with dementia at home is getting very little or no stimulation and their decline may be even faster.

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Tips to Make Your Spouse’s Move to Memory Care Easier

1. People with dementia who do not want to move permanently can sometimes make the transition more easily if you tell the individual the move is temporary and for a practical purpose. For example, you might say he/she needs to be out of the house while it is being painted, or…that they have go somewhere where some aspect of their health can be properly taken care of for a while.

2. Typically, families will make arrangements, select and decorate the new room or apartment in our memory care community. You can work with our staff so that everyone is on the same page of the script. Once your loved one is engaged in our community, they often accept things as a permanent situation.

3. Keep your tone joyful. As hard as that sounds, try to bury whatever guilt feelings you may have. It may be difficult to use “loving lies,” but keep in mind that telling your loved one the truth can be unnecessarily hurtful.

4. Once your spouse has moved in, make your first visit short and sweet. Keep the conversation really positive. He/she will likely ask you repeatedly when they are going home. Avoid telling them that they are living here now, rather divert them by talking about the potential of new friends, fun activities, or food.

5. Stay in touch with our staff. If our staff indicates that your loved one is agitated after your visit, you may want to give him/her more time to adjust before resuming regular visits.   At The Classic, we are here to help your loved one’s transition to Memory Care. Ultimately, the decision about moving to dementia care should be a team decision by involving the person with dementia, your family, and your doctors.

Five Steps to Consider When Convincing a Parent to Move to Memory Care

Making the decision to enter memory care is difficult for seniors, and it’s a process to get them to accept that this is the right choice. They of course want to remain on their own as long as possible. A big decision like this can’t be forced. Your best chances of success lie in helping your parent own the decision, so that they have the feeling that this is something they’re choosing for themselves. While every family is different and there is no real “cookie-cutter” approach, the following steps may help you gain some insight as how to get your parent to accept a move to memory care.

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1. Help mom or dad begin to get used to the idea. Identify problems that would be solved by a move to memory care and how that move would improve quality of life. For example: “You know, mom, you wouldn’t have to worry about hiring someone to take care of the lawn if you were in memory care.” Or, “Dad, wouldn’t it be nice if you lived somewhere with people your own age around?”

2. Help them see the signs that it’s the right time for this sort of care by connecting this need to things that happen. For example, when mom leaves the stove on, gently but tactfully use the opportunity to point out that both of you would be less worried about these incidents if she were in memory care. Be careful not to be too pushy here, unless there really is a crisis brewing that would necessitate moving quickly.

3. Make sure all siblings are on the same page. When it comes to approaching a parent about making a move, it is vital that all siblings and family members are on the same page and that all the adult siblings are giving their parent the same general message. It often only takes one disgruntled child who urges the parent to stay in his/her home to make placement nearly impossible.

4. Offer to help them tour a Memory Care community like The Classic on a no-strings-attached basis. Try to seek out activity times when they can notice the residents having fun. However, it may still be too soon for them. Be prepared to just drop it if they show resistance to the idea.

5. When you go on a tour, point out all the positive aspects of the community. Be as excited as you would be about renting a new apartment or buying a new home: focus on the possibilities. Would mom’s favorite antique chair look good in the room/apartment? Does the activity room have a piano so that dad could still play? Once you’ve gone through this process, wait for all that you have seen and discussed to sink in. Don’t expect that they’ll have that “Aha!” moment right away: unfortunately, it often takes some sort of accident or crisis for a move to seem necessary. They are making a huge life decision, and that needs to be respected.

If you are feeling the need to move your parent along in this process, however, the most effective argument would be to say that you and other family members would have much greater peace of mind if they were in a memory care community. Remind them how much their safety means to you. This will hopefully help them to see the importance of making the move.

Dementia Care Do’s & Don’ts: Dealing with Dementia Behavior Problems

Dementia Care Do’s & Don’ts:  Dealing with Dementia Behavior Problems

Mid-to-Late stage dementia often presents challenging behavior problems. The anger, confusion, fear, paranoia, and sadness that people with the disease are experiencing can be very frustrating for other family members who are trying to cope as best they can.

While frustration can at times seem insurmountable, there are definite strategies that family members can implement when interacting with their loved ones involved with dementia.

Dealing with Dementia Behavior

Communication difficulties can be one of the most upsetting aspects of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia — and it’s frustrating for those with the disease and for loved ones.

Although it can be hard to understand why people with dementia act the way they do, the explanation is attributable to their disease and the changes it causes in the brain.

Familiarize yourself with some of the common situations that arise when someone has dementia, so that if your loved one says something shocking, you’ll know how to respond calmly and effectively.

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Common Situation #1: Aggressive Actions or Speech

Examples: Statements such as “I don’t want to take a shower!,” “I want to go home!,” or “I don’t want to eat that!” may escalate into aggressive behavior.

Explanation: The most important thing to remember about verbal or physical aggression, says the Alzheimer’s Association, is that your loved one is not doing it on purpose. Aggression is usually triggered by something — often physical discomfort, environmental factors such as being in an unfamiliar situation, or even poor communication.

DO: The key to responding to aggression caused by dementia is to try to identify the cause — what is the person feeling to make them behave aggressively? Once you’ve made sure they aren’t putting themselves (or anyone else) in danger, you can try to shift the focus to something else, speaking in a calm, reassuring manner.

DON’T: The worst thing you can do is engage in an argument or force the issue that’s creating the aggression. Don’t try to forcibly restrain the person unless there is absolutely no choice. The biggest way to stop aggressive behavior is to remove the word “no” from your vocabulary.

Common Situation #2: Confusion about Place or Time

Examples: Statements such as “I want to go home!”, “This isn’t my house.”, “When are we leaving?”, “Why are we here?”

Explanation: Wanting to go home is one of the most common reactions for an Alzheimer’s or dementia patient living in a memory care community. Remember that Alzheimer’s causes progressive damage to cognitive functioning, and this is what creates the confusion and memory loss.

DO: There are a few possible ways to respond to questions that indicate your loved one is confused about where he or she is. Simple explanations along with photos and other tangible reminders can help. Sometimes, however, it can be better to redirect the person, particularly in cases where you’re in the process of moving your loved one to a facility or other location.

One solution is to say as little as possible about the fact that your loved one has all of their belongings packed. Instead, try to redirect them by finding another activity like going for a walk, getting a snack, etc. If your loved one asks specific questions such as “When are we leaving?”, you might respond with, “We can’t leave until later because…the traffic is terrible / the forecast is calling for bad weather / it’s too late to leave tonight.” Every situation is different and you have to figure out what’s going to make the person feel safest, even if that ends up being a “therapeutic lie.”

DON’T: Lengthy explanations or reasons are not the way to go. In most cases, trying to reason with someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia is almost impossible and you may actually be triggering a negative response because of the questions we’re asking.

Common Situation #3: Poor Judgement

Examples: Unfounded accusations: “You stole my vacuum cleaner!” Trouble with math or finances: “I’m having trouble with the tip on this restaurant bill.” Other examples include unexplained hoarding or stockpiling and repetition of statements or tasks.

Explanation: The deterioration of brain cells caused by Alzheimer’s is a particular culprit in behaviors showing poor judgement or errors in thinking. These can contribute to delusions, or untrue beliefs. Some of these problems are obvious, such as when someone is hoarding household items, or accuses a family member of stealing something. Some are more subtle, however, and the person may not realize that he/she is having trouble with things that they never used to think twice about.

DO: First you’ll want to assess the extent of the problem. As an example, if you’re curious and don’t want to ask, take a look at a heating bill. Sometimes payments are delinquent or bills aren’t being paid at all. You may also want to flip through their checkbook and look at the math or have them figure out the tip at the restaurant.

Try to be encouraging and reassuring if you’re seeing these changes happen. Also, you can often minimize frustration and embarrassment by offering to help in small ways with staying organized.

DON’T: What you shouldn’t do in these circumstances is blatantly question the person’s ability to handle the situation at hand, or try to argue with them. Any response that can be interpreted as accusatory or doubting the person’s ability to handle their own affairs only serves to anger and put them on the defensive.