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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Make a Difference

by Rebekah Martin

How many of you have seen the challenge on the Alz Assn’s website “Do a little BIG thing”?

I took care of my Mother for an entire year and after she passed away, I called our local hospital to provide a change of address as I was still paying down her medical bills.  The account manager in their billing dept stated she remembered me from when she set up the payment plan and asked how my Mother was…  She wanted to know if everything ended as well as it could or if it was rough.

When I hung up the phone that day, I thought to myself “What a huge difference you can make in a small place”

Do a little BIG thing made me think…

The Walk to END Alzheimer’s is a small part of life that gives more back to you than you invest.  For example, when you walk, run, cycle or do other activities, you receive the gift of discovering courage, tenacity and the inner strength you possess

It isn’t what you do that makes you an athlete.  It isn’t how fast or how far you go or haw many personal bests you have.  Its waking up every day knowing that you will take on whatever life has for you that day.  You embrace the challenges – physical, emotional and spiritual – because you know it’s the challenges that make you stronger.

Through your journey you realize you have gained the strength to face it all – the best days and the worst – for what they are: Days, Moments, Experiences

As you set out to walk this morning, remember, Every finish line is a gift.

And because of what you’re doing today, you can expect BIG things!

Walk on, friends.

Contributing Author Rebekah Martin is the Community Relations Director at Pacifica Senior Living in Modesto, CA.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Memory Loss - Like a Stealth Bomber?

Memory loss is such a strange thing. You can’t see it. You can’t touch it. You can’t hear it. You can’t smell it. You can’t taste it.

Staring into the eyes, ears, nose or throat with the naked eye cannot give you a clue. Palpation and percussion of the head or neck will reveal nothing. Listening to the chest or smelling of the breath won’t work either. The usual tools that Mom used to diagnose our childhood illnesses or that the family doctor or office nurse could employ are worthless.

Memory loss is like a brewing storm- you just don’t know it’s coming if you’re not paying attention. Or, it is like a stealth bomber- you never even saw it coming until the bomb hits. Unfortunately, the disease that will ravage the brain and steal the memory is a pretty sneaky entity.

Those of us who are already touched by this illness have an inside track on new medications, diagnostics, and approaches to diagnosing and treating the memory disorder. Yet still, we are where we are- probably not ever having guessed that we would be here.

Those who have not yet been touched may have a niggling worry in the back of their mind. They may have a family history or a predisposing gene. They may know someone who has dealt with this illness. For the most part, though, these folks walk through their daily routines not suspecting that their lives may change at any moment.

When memory loss begins to become apparent, we can deny, we can rationalize and we can make excuses. But as the loss becomes more pronounced, the disease has already snuck in the back door and has probably been living with us for some time already. The ravaging of the brain cells has already begun- slowly but surely robbing us of the one we knew.

Standing before us is the loved one who looks all the word like the person we have known. Their hair is the same color, their smile the same, their walk and gestures so familiar. Yet, all the while we are looking at that same corporeal body, the essence… the mind… the thoughts… habits… behavior… are slipping away.

By the time we can deal with the early losses, another progression of the disease process has snuck in. We see a subtle, or sometimes, marked change. More and more, the losses take their toll and soon the corporeal body begins to fail as well. Only now can we see it, touch it, hear it so clearly. 

Memory loss is indeed a strange thing, an insidious thing, a terrible thing. And still, we are where we are- never having guessed that we would be here. Would that we could change it. Would that we could make it go away. Would that a “cure” can be found.

In the meantime, we support one another with an understanding that no one, no one who has not been touched will know. We hug each other and say, “I know”. We face the inevitable together.

And we understand that we have been blessed- blessed with our friends and family support, blessed for having the chance to remember even though they have forgotten- blessed to have had them in our lives and our love. 

Christine Varner
Executive Director at Pacifica Senior Living Belleair, FL
Memory Care Community 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Let Them Eat Cake!

I read an article in McKnight's Long Term Care News in regards to the effectiveness of dietary restrictions in people over the age of 75 and I'd like to share some thoughts on it. Based on a study conducted by Penn State & Geisinger Healthcare, the conclusion was that after a person reaches 75 years old, changes to diet are not likely to be effective. The damage has already been done and trying to eat "healthy" is not going to change the likelihood of acquiring Cardiovascular Disease, Diabetes, and Hypertension. Eating healthy throughout your early lifetime is the first line of defense, keeping yourself happy, in my opinion, is the second. 

Our residents health and nutrition is very important to us, that is why we spend quite a bit of time with families at our round table meetings when a new resident is joining us asking about preferences, allergies & special dietary needs. Hearing what our new resident has been eating since diagnosis of dementia is just as important as hearing about what they grew up eating and allowing our residents to have a choice in what they eat. I am in no way suggesting cotton candy as a steady diet for a diabetic, I am simply re-applying the age old saying "you are what you eat." By allowing our residents to be happy with the quality and presentation of the food they are served, we are giving them additional moments of happiness. 

While some foods may have a higher value than others, nutritional value can be found in almost all foods. We strive to encourage the foods that do the most good, however, as taste buds change and diminish the list of those foods will also change. A resident who once ate only bland oatmeal throughout most of his life for breakfast now prefers brown sugar and cinnamon added in or will now only eat french toast with strawberries and bananas on top. It is not our intention to over-sugar or super saturate foods with salt, but if that simple addition keeps your loved one consistently taking in some nutrition that in itself is far better than not receiving any nutrition at all. At the end of the day what it all comes down to is a variation of the age old saying "Let them eat cake" which in our setting means that when bread is refused, it may be better to let your loved one eat cake rather than eat nothing at all. 

About the Author:

Stephanie Muhlbach is the Activity Director at Pacifica Senior Living Paradise Valley in Phoenix, AZ.

Monday, April 8, 2013

World Health Day 2013 - Take Control of Your Blood Pressure

Yesterday was World Health Day. World Health Day is celebrated every year on April 7th to mark the anniversary of the establishment of the World Health Organization. Each year a new theme is chosen to raise awareness of the world’s major health issues. This year’s theme is focused on addressing the problem of Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure. High blood pressure and other related conditions (such as obesity, poor nutrition, and lack of physical activity) are risk factors for chronic diseases, including cancer.

It is important on this World Health Day to raise awareness of the growing burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) on the world population. NCDs kill more than 36 million people each year, and almost 80% of these deaths occur in low and middle-income countries. In 2012, the World Health Assembly decided to adopt the target to reduce premature deaths from non-communicable diseases by 25 percent by 2025. The Member States are finalizing global targets for 2025.

“Early detection of high blood pressure and lowering heart attack and stroke risk is clearly far less expensive for individuals and governments than heart surgery, stroke care, dialysis, and other interventions that may be needed later if high blood pressure is left unchecked and uncontrolled,” says Dr Shanthi Mendis, Acting Director of the World Health Organization Department for Management of Noncommunicable Diseases.

Cut the risks of high blood now pressure by:

-Eating a balanced diet incl. consuming less salt
 (This following link provides some great tips on Lowering your Salt Intake )

-Engaging in regular physical activity

-Avoiding tobacco use

-Avoiding or minimizing harmful use of alcohol

According to the WHO, the prevalence of hypertension is highest in Africa with 46% of adults being affected, while the lowest prevalence it found in the Americas with 35% of adults affected. Overall, high-income countries have a lower prevalence of hypertension (35% of adults) than low -and -middle income groups (40% of adults) – thanks to successful multi-sectoral public policies, and better access to health care.

 Source: World Health Organization

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Nutrition for a Healthy Brain

You are what you eat. Who hasn’t heard this old saying? Our diet affects every bodily function including brain function and health. Certain foods such as refined sugars, increase inflammation and reduce blood flow to the brain. World renowned neurologist Dr. Majid Fotuhi said “Food can affect the brain in minutes”, during interviews with CNN and the Dr. Oz show. The “Superfoods” and supplements listed below do the opposite, reducing inflammation and increasing blood flow to the brain helping keeping it strong:

Brain Superfood  1: Elderberries
Elderberries are packed with quercetin, a flavonoid that’s critical to your brain’s health. Like blueberries and strawberries, the flavonoids found in elderberries help reduce harmful inflammation at a cellular level. Additionally, quercetin increases the activity of your cells’ mitochondria, which you can think of as the “powerhouses” within each of your cells. By boosting your mitochondrial activity, you’ll boost your overall energy level, too.

Brain Superfood 2: Pecans
Pecans are high in omega-3s, which are vital for a healthy brain. In fact, pecans are the most antioxidant-rich tree nut, and are ranked by the USDA among the top 15 foods with the highest antioxidant capacity. A brand new study shows consumption of omega-3 rich foods like pecans can dramatically reduce the risk of neural degeneration.

 Brain Superfood 3: Chicken Giblets or Clams
Most of us make the mistake of throwing chicken giblets (the neck, kidneys, gizzard, heart and liver that come bundled inside a whole chicken) directly into the trash. Even though they may not look appealing at first, fight the urge to toss them! Not only can the giblets be delicious as an addition to a chicken stock or prepared on their own (you’ll find plenty of recipes online), but they’re a great sources of vitamin B12, which is crucial for brain health. In fact, just a cup of giblets provides 228% of your recommended daily dose of B12. If you can’t bring yourself to eat them, however, clams are another terrific source. They also contain zinc and iron, which have been associated with the brain’s ability to stay focused and recall information.

Brain Superfood 4: Vegetable Juice
Vegetables are like heath gold mines, providing all the vitamins and antioxidants our hearts and brains need. Juiced vegetables are a convenient and delicious way to get all those vital nutrients. If you’re buying vegetable juice at the market, look for bottles labeled all-natural with no added sugar. Of course, the best way to enjoy vegetable juice is freshly juiced at home, with no added sugar or preservatives. Whether store-bought or homemade, be sure to limit your intake to 8 ounces a day to avoid excess sugars.

Brain Superfood 5: Beets
Nosh on this root vegetable to boost your brainpower. As we age, poor blood flow contributes to cognitive decline. Research has determined, however, that the natural nitrates found in beets (as well as cabbages and radishes) can actually increase blood flow to the brain, thereby improving mental performance. Be sure to make beets and all the superfoods listed above a part of your diet. You’ll send your brain capacity through the roof, and tip the scales in the battle against Alzheimer’s.

Brain Booster Supplement: DHA
If you’re only going to take one supplement, DHA is the one you need. DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid, is an omega-3 fatty acid that makes up a significant portion of your brain tissue. Lower DHA levels are associated with a smaller brain size, so it’s important to supplement your natural DHA intake (which comes primarily from cold-water seafood). Taking a DHA supplement reduces inflammation, combats the plaque buildup associated with Alzheimer’s, and increases blood flow to your brain. In fact, studies have shown that taking 600mg of DHA supplement daily for 6 months boosts your brain so much that it functions as though it were 3 years younger!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Traveling with Food Memories

By Steven Mattingly

I’ve created a BIG problem for myself in a couple of weeks.  Our community throughout 2012 has participated in something we call the “Passport Dining Series”.  Each month we have created a unique dining experience by visiting different parts of the world.  Among others we have had Breakfast in Paris, dined on the varied cuisine of Italy, and celebrated Bosnian cuisine.  Bet you didn’t see that one coming now did you?

The next place that we will visit doesn’t exist in the real world and that is the problem that I have created for myself.  Many who read this blog know that I am a former chef who realized early in his career that I wasn’t going to be the next Wolfgang Puck or even a mediocre executive chef.  I left the 90 hour work week of food and beverage when I came to my senses and began a career in the world of senior housing.  But the urge to prepare food for the masses never really leaves you.  My family will attest to that as does my expanding waistline.   So every now and then (it’s usually around the holidays) I have the hair brain idea that I will cook a meal for the community and that is what I am doing in two weeks.  The place I want to visit doesn’t exist anymore; it’s mealtime at my mother’s kitchen table located in the house that she and my father built on Rural Route 2, Saint Mary’s Road, Lebanon, KY  40033 more than 50 years ago. 
How can I tell the story of that place in the foods that I prepare?  Do I cook the fried chicken that my wife recalls my Mother lovingly showed her how to make when she was a very new bride more than 30 years ago or do I make the Sunday Dinner Pork Chops that she made just like her mother, my Memmaw.  I could make the Cincinnati style chili that was a cold night favorite or my all-time favorite of beef hash with fried cornpone (who knew she was ahead of her time frying polenta cakes).  I could make the 60’s favorite tuna Noodle Casserole from which I picked out all those little bits of mushrooms or the other 60’s dish of Macaroni and Cheese made with Velveeta.  I remember orange Jell-O cubes served as dessert with real whipped cream as much as I remember the chocolate birthday pies that she made for me each year.  Or the divinity fudge that was a Christmas staple along with the regional black walnut cake made with black berry jam. I could make her most famous disasters, the pickled bologna that eventually sat in the refrigerator until it truly turned green.  So many ways I could get to that special place.  It’s overwhelming to consider it all.

I committed to taking our community to this special place more than a month ago. It’s only a couple of weeks away and I still am trying to decide on the perfect menu that will be transport our community to the place that I called home.  What I have to remember is that just like when we all were growing up, the meal will happen, the warm hands and hearts of our care giving team will make sure that we get where we need to be at just the right time, and I will somehow just like my Mom did each and every day I ate at her table, create a memory for the community albeit a fleeting one for many.

As I get older and my vision of my life as a senior become clearer, I see how those little journeys that we have taken this year really are important to our community.  If even for a brief moment a special smell or taste or atmosphere provokes a memory, it’s a good thing.

Contributing author Steven Mattingly is the Executive Director of Pacifica Senior Living in San Leandro, CA.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Winter Holiday Season Caregiving Tips for Families with Loved Ones with Dementia

'Tis the season to be jolly. Or is it?

While those facing Alzheimer's disease or a related illness in their family might question the sentiment, experts say that it is possible to not only keep the cheer in the holidays, but also to savor them.

Some suggestions you might want to consider from the Alzheimer’s Support Organization:

·  Communicate concerns. In advance of the holidays, be candid with family and friends about your loved one's condition and your concerns, and enlist their support. In cases where resentment brews because one family member assumes the primary caregiving role, use this season of giving as an opportunity to discuss sharing family responsibilities and to strive for family togetherness.
·  Set realistic expectations. Consider both what the individual with dementia is capable of and what you, as a caregiver, can handle given your demanding role. Then, put celebrations into manageable proportions. This can help decrease stress and head off feelings of depression that stem from unrealistic expectations, both for you and your loved one.
·  Select appropriate activities. Be mindful of the individual's current mental condition and do special things that they can still appreciate. Engage your loved one in singing and dancing since these abilities tend to remain intact longer. Involve them in some rituals—whether it is lighting the menorah, decorating the tree or baking cookies. Try to spark memories by bringing out family photographs or heirlooms. But do not demand mental performance by asking them to name people, places or other facts. Rather, help stimulate memories by offering descriptions as you present each object.
·  Pare down traditions. With round-the-clock caregiving, it may not be feasible to juggle all of your religious and ethnic observances. You can still keep traditions alive; just reduce their number to avoid feeling overwhelmed and frustrated. Ask your loved one which traditions to choose; it is another way to involve them. Even though they may not recall later on, making the effort reinforces the fact that you care what is important to them and will make you feel better as a caregiver.
·  Adapt family gatherings. Since crowds, noise and altering routines can aggravate confusion and other behavioral problems, revising your get-togethers may be in order. For example, instead of entertaining the whole clan, limit the number of attendees at a holiday dinner or spread out several smaller gatherings on different days. Mark a calendar with upcoming visits to make your loved one feel special.
·  Stick with familiar settings. Because new environments can increase disorientation and pose safety concerns, discard restaurants or relatives' houses in favor of your own home. Likewise, if Mass is still important to your loved one, consider how they can participate. For example, take your loved one to an earlier, less crowded service; if they are unable to go to church, watch a Mass on TV or ask clergy to make a house call.
·  Head off problems. Avoid alcohol, which may cause depression, increase the risk of falls and add to the loss of brain cells. Try to schedule holiday activities or visits earlier in the day before the potential for sundowing - behavioral problems that typically occur toward dusk among those in the middle stages of dementia. And, in preparing for holiday celebrations, do not re-arrange furniture or create obstacles-both are accidents waiting to happen.
·  Limit holiday decorations. Decorations can still adorn your home, but in moderation. Hang cheerful ones that recall memories and family traditions. Do not overdo the ornaments on a Christmas tree. Remember that hauling out a lifetime of garlands, religious items and wall decorations can clause clutter and over stimulation, which can intensify disorientation and agitation. Ensure, even more than usual, that decorations do not block pathways or pose potential fire hazards.
·  Re-think gift giving. Devise ways to include your loved one, depending on their capabilities. You might take them to a store to buy presents, and offer extra guidance. Or, you can buy the gifts for them and wrap them together since many individuals with dementia like handling paper. In giving presents, pick ones appropriate for someone with the disease. Instead of something material, try things that are simple, personal and sentimental. For example, photographs and heirlooms provide the opportunity to reminisce—a gift in itself.
·  Welcome youngsters. While it is important to include children, it is just as vital to consider their feelings. Address the fear factor by helping them have special moments with their relatives. If their loved one uses inappropriate language or easily becomes angry during the visit, explain that this behavior is not personal or intentional; it is part of the disease. Youngsters' excitement about the holidays can be contagious. Singing songs together can strike a chord for someone with dementia. Or having an elder teach dominoes to children is a good way to foster interaction and make your loved one feel they have something to offer.
·  Join a support group. A forum to express feelings and socialize can help overcome sadness for both caregivers and individuals in the early stages of dementia. Unfortunately, the incidence of depression ranks high during and after the holidays. Consult with a healthcare professional if you detect warning signs of depression: tearfullness, poor eating habits, withdrawal, inability to sleep, and physical complaints.
·  Enjoy yourself. The greatest giftat the holidays: time. Ask a family member, friend or healthcare professional to keep your loved one company so you can relish some respite—time for some holiday shopping, a walk in the park, checkers with an old friend or whatever present you want to give yourself.

Contributing author Steven Mattingly is the Executive Director of Pacifica Senior Living in San Leandro, CA.