Archive for the ‘Senior Living News’ Category

Why More Baby Boomers are Choosing Life Plan Communities

 

Since they were teens, baby boomers have done things differently. It’s little surprise that they’re revolutionizing retirement, reinventing themselves and changing the senior living industry completely. The senior living communities that are most attractive to this generation aren’t just residential care providers. They’re vibrant villages that offer a range of residential options and new opportunities for creative, educational, and personal exploration.

Many baby boomers are finding that Life Plan Communities, also known as Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs), offer the mix of features and amenities they’re searching for, according to Senior Planning Services, a company that specializes in helping seniors navigate Medicaid-sponsored senior care.

What Are Life Plan Communities?

Life plan communities are designed to offer more than one level of care on a single campus. They range from seniors who want an increased sense of community and connection to those who need more assistance and care. These communities tend to focus on active lifestyles and opportunities for seniors to get involved, be a part of their community, and to give back, both to the Life Plan Community and to the community as a whole.

Why Life Plan Communities?

Project NameStorm, a joint initiative among aging services and senior living industry companies to come up with a new name for CCRCs, recognized several years ago how baby boomers’ commitment to doing things differently has carried over into their retirement years. Boomers are enticed by wine tastings, salsa dancing classes and locally-sourced food prepared by talented chefs.

Participants in Project NameStorm launched the term “Life Plan Community” in place of “Continuing Care Retirement Community” in an effort to better reflect the changing needs of seniors. These communities are designed to allow seniors to embrace this stage of their lives, chances to enjoy new experiences, meet new people, and engage in regular activities that keep them moving, engaged, and learning.

Designed for Younger Seniors

As baby boomers age, more and more will be seriously considering senior living options within the next decade. The goal of Life Plan Communities, however, is to encourage seniors to find a senior living option earlier on.

For many younger seniors, downsizing and moving into a smaller home in a Life Plan Community is an appealing prospect. These communities offer a supportive, interconnected environment while allowing residents to continue to live independently and with the personal freedom they’ve come to expect.

From Passive Care to Active Living

The shift to Life Plan Communities isn’t just about a new name. It also emphasizes a critical shift in senior living offerings from passive care to more active living and advanced planning. This change is well aligned to the active seniors of the baby boomer generation.

The changing desires of the senior care industry’s target customers make it necessary for the industry to adapt in response. Baby boomers complained that Continuing Care Retirement Communities made them think of old people sitting around staring at one another and withering away, perhaps playing the occasional game of shuffleboard to keep things interesting. The name “Life Plan Communities,” however, evokes an image of a more vibrant, active image lifestyle that is desirable to today’s seniors.

Life Plan Communities and baby boomers are inextricably linked, as these communities reflect the changing needs of today’s seniors. Older adults are now living longer than ever, and they want to remain part of their communities and their loved ones’ lives for as long as possible. Life Plan Communities rose out of those evolving needs. With careful planning, today’s seniors can expect to experience very different retirement years from the generations that came before them.

Ben Lamm is a communication specialist and blogger with Senior Planning Services. He enjoys playing the guitar, spending time with family and social networking.

This post originally appeared on Caring.com

 

Volunteering 101: Opportunities and Benefits for Older Adults

When most people think about volunteering, what comes to mind are opportunities for young adults to work with children, teens, or senior citizens in different settings. Maybe you think about volunteering in a nursing home, or about putting time in at a local school or sports organization to help shape today’s youth.

Often overlooked – or at least not top of mind for most people – are the abundant opportunities that exist for older adults to devote their time for the benefit of others. But it’s not just the people served by an organization or volunteer effort who benefit; older adults who spend time volunteering reap tremendous rewards from the experience, as well. Here’s a look at the volunteer opportunities that exist for older adults and how seniors can benefit from getting involved in community efforts.

Reasons for seniors to volunteer their time Senior volunteers

Older adults who have entered retirement feel compelled to do something that allows them to contribute, making a valuable contribution to society. Most of us spend many years working long hours, and while retirement should be a welcome reprieve, many older adults are hard-wired to set and work towards goals. Volunteering can help fill the gap that’s left when seniors retire from their careers. Among the many other benefits of volunteering for older adults include:

  • Easing the generational gap – Many young people spend more time volunteering today, whether due to more rigorous requirements for graduating high school or college or a simple desire to help others. This means that seniors who choose to volunteer have the opportunity to work alongside individuals from different generations, allowing them to share perspectives and gain an appreciation for those who are younger or older than us.
  • Exercise for the body and mind – Volunteering doesn’t always involve physical activity, but it often does, and it almost always entails using your brain. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “Research has suggested that combining good nutrition with mental, social and physical activities may have a greater benefit in maintaining or improving brain health than any single activity. At the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference® 2014, a two-year clinical trial of older adults at risk for cognitive impairment showed that a combination of physical activity, nutritional guidance, cognitive training, social activities and management of heart health risk factors slowed cognitive decline.”
  • Socialization and relationship skills – Volunteering provides ample opportunity to interact with other people who share similar interests. The increased socialization alone is beneficial for older adults, but especially for those who are otherwise shy and find it difficult to make new friends. Because volunteering provides a common ground on which to build the foundation of a relationship, this activity can actually help you refine your relationship skills.
  • Self-confidence and self-purpose – Those who have retired from their career, or have lost a spouse, can find themselves lacking a sense of self-purpose. Volunteering provides a reason to get out of bed each morning – other people (or animals, or perhaps the environment) are relying on you, after all. This can also help seniors increase their self-confidence, particularly should you discover a new skill that you never knew you had.
  • Increased vitality and lower mortality rates – An August 2013 article in BMC Public Health reviewed 40 studies examining the health benefits of volunteering. Among a number of psychosocial benefits, the review found that “helping others on a regular basis — like serving food in a soup kitchen or reading to the blind— can reduce early mortality rates by 22%, compared to those in people who don’t participate in such activities,” according to an article in TIME magazine reflecting on the study’s findings.

These are just a few of the ways seniors benefit from volunteering. But how do seniors go about discovering volunteer opportunities in support of causes that matter to them and with organizations and efforts that are local to them?

How to find worthy volunteer opportunities

VolunteerMatch

There are several organizations dedicated to matching older adults with volunteer opportunities that are both worthy of contributions and are a good fit for the individual volunteer’s skills and interests. RetiredBrains.com offers an excellent list outlining many such avenues for finding local volunteer opportunities, such as:

  • AARP’s Volunteer Resource Center – Simply fill out some basic information, along with your interests and availability, and AARP will get in touch with volunteer opportunities that match your interests.
  • SeniorCorps – Part of the Corporation for National & Community Service, SeniorCorps connects today’s older adults (age 55+) “with the people and organizations that need them most.” This service helps seniors become mentors, coaches, or companions to individuals or families in need, or helps them find ways to put their skills and talents to use to benefit community services and organizations.
  • Idealist.org Volunteer Resource Center – Idealist.org is a “starting place for learning more about and finding great volunteer opportunities around the globe—whether you’re looking to get involved in your own neighborhood or thousands of miles (or kilometers) away.” Users can search for volunteer opportunities using a search tool similar to a job search, or browse a variety of helpful articles about volunteering. A quick search for volunteer opportunities in Seattle, Washington, for instance (at the time of this writing), reveals opportunities for volunteers at the Woodland Park Zoo, opportunities for volunteers to help the United Way fight poverty, tutoring opportunities, and even be a Social Media Wizard for the Rainier Valley Food Bank.
  • VolunteerMatch.org – Another search platform that allows you to find volunteer opportunities near  you, VolunteerMatch.org lets you search by the criteria that you find most important, such as location, to find the perfect way for you to get involved.

Get in touch with local organizations that matter to you

Speaking of what matters most to you, most older adults have an organization that is close to their heart for one reason or another. If a parent suffered from Alzheimer’s disease or a loved one lost their battle with cancer, you might donate to the Alzheimer’s Association or the American Cancer Society. There are many such organizations, and most people have at least one person they love who has been impacted by a disease like Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, heart disease, HIV/AIDS, or any one of the many chronic conditions that plague humanity.

You’ve probably heard of, or maybe even been involved with, events like The Walk to End Alzheimer’s or the Relay for Life. Organizations like these hold major fundraising events at least annually, often more frequently, and have plenty of ways for people of all ages to contribute. The best way to find out how you can help is to visit the websites of national organizations and get in touch with the director or fundraising coordinator at your local chapter.

Walk to End Alzheimer's

You can find a helpful list of these organizations at Lifeline Chaplaincy, and Medline Plus maintains a pretty substantial list of many health-related organizations, including the associations dedicated to raising funds for research to prevent and cure disease, such as:

Don’t limit yourself to health-related associations, though. If you have other interests, find out what organizations in your area do related work, reach out and ask about the ways you can lend your expertise or get involved. Many seniors enjoy volunteering for their local Meals on Wheels program, for example, or a local Boy Scouts of America group. If you love animals, you might find volunteer opportunities through the Animal Welfare Institute or a local rescue group that operates in your city, county, or state – some of which can be found using PetFinder’s Animal Welfare Groups search.

Opportunities to donate your time to worthy causes are usually abundant, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find your own way to help others. Carve out your own niche and do something meaningful that matters to you.

Movember is Here: Raising Awareness About Men’s Health

You may have noticed an increase in men sporting moustaches in recent years during the month of November, which, since 2003, has become known as “Movember.” All the fuss (and extra facial hair) is about more than merely an excuse for men to get creative with their moustaches; it’s an important movement designed to raise awareness of men’s health issues. Since its inception in 2003, The Movember Foundation has raised more than $650 million and funded more than 1,000 programs that focus on men’s health concerns such as prostate cancer, testicular cancer, poor mental health and physical activity.

Movember vs. No Shave November Movember vs No Shave November

If you thought Movember was about growing extraordinarily bushy beards, you’re not alone. In fact, No Shave November is actually a thing, and it’s often confused with Movember. Both movements aim to increase awareness of men’s health issues, primarily prostate cancer and testicular cancer. The difference lies in the approach: Movember participants grow a moustache, while No Shave November participants can grow both beards and moustaches.

The No Shave November website explains, “The goal of No Shave November is to grow awareness by embracing our hair, which many cancer patients lose, and letting it grow wild and free.” Participants grow a full beard, shaving a unique moustache at the end of the month. Men are asked to donate the money they would typically spend on shaving and grooming to “educate about cancer prevention, save lives, and aid those fighting the battle.

According to some sources, Movember does not allow beards; in fact, there are strict rules regarding manscaping. Your moustache may not join with your sideburns, which is considered a beard. Your moustache may also not join the handlebars to your chin, which would be considered a goatee. Moustaches only for “Mo Bros,” as participants have become known.

Movember and No Shave November fundraising

While both movements support the same initiatives, one key difference between the two is that Movember raises funds which go directly to support organizations that research and men’s health issues. No Shave November, on the other hand, encourages participants to donate the funds they’ve saved from shaving and grooming to these charities and organizations on their own.

According to the Prostate Cancer Foundation, “Funds raised in the US are directed to programs run directly by Movember, Prostate Cancer Foundation and the LIVESTRONG Foundation. Together, the three channels work together to ensure that Movember funds are supporting a broad range of innovative, world-class programs in the areas of awareness and education, survivorship and research.”

Men are able to register at Movember.com to participate, and women (“Mo Sistas”) and men alike are able to support his efforts in growing a “Mo,” Australian slang for moustache, as the movement originated in Australia. For 30 days, Movember participants get friends and family members to support his efforts through donations. No Shave November also allows men to create teams and fundraising pages to get friends and family involved in their efforts to support men’s health initiatives.

How are the funds used?

At the time of this writing, 943 teams with more than 3,500 participants in No Shave November have raised nearly $190,000 to support organizations like the American Cancer Society, the Prevent Cancer Foundation, Fight Colorectal Cancer, and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. In 2014, participants in Movember raised $20.2 million in the U.S. for the Movember Foundation, with 80 percent of the funds raised allocated to men’s health programs. In the U.S., Movember’s partner programs include “the Prostate Cancer Foundation, the LIVESTRONG Foundation and the Prevention Institute.

“These partners, along with Movember Foundation managed programs, ensure that donations support a broad range of innovative, world-class initiatives.” According to the Movember website, all funds distributed to these partners are restricted for use only in Movember approved programs. For participants, that means assurance that 100 percent of the funds are used to directly support the delivery of health initiatives; none are used to cover Movember partners’ fundraising and promotional costs.

No matter your preference for facial hair, there’s a way for every man and every woman to get involved in raising awareness for men’s health issues this month. Whether you sport a moustache, grow out your beard, or simply support someone else who is, everyone can participate in improving the health and well-being for men everywhere during the month of November.

5 Important Preventative Health Screenings That Older Men Should Receive

There are many recommendations for health screenings for people in various age groups, but one particular demographic that’s not often discussed is older men. We’ve talked about the importance of regular screening for breast cancer for older women (through monthly breast self-exams and periodic mammograms), but what preventative health screenings should older men receive? We’ve identified five of the most recommended and important screenings to help older men be more proactive about their health.

Blood pressure, cholesterol, and heart disease prevention

While blood pressure and cholesterol screenings are actually different tests, we’ve grouped them together as a single recommended screening simply because it’s easy to have these screenings all performed at the same time. According to the National Institutes of Health, U.S. National Library of Medicine, men over the age of 65 should have their blood pressure checked annually and their cholesterol checked every five years – if your levels are normal. An EKG (Electrocardiogram) may be included with this group of screenings and is recommended for adults over age 50 every three years. Important health screenings for older men

If your levels are abnormal, or you have high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, kidney problems, or other related conditions, it may be necessary to have your blood pressure, cholesterol levels or both checked more frequently. Your healthcare provider will direct you if your current health status necessitates more frequent screenings.

Prostate screening

According to the Mayo Clinic, “The majority of prostate cancers are found in men age 65 or older.” The American Cancer Society recommends that discussions about prostate screening should begin between healthcare providers and men at the age of 50. Together, they can decide whether prostate screening is right for him. Should he move forward with testing, he will receive a PSA (prostate specific antigen) test, which is a blood test, with or without a DRE (digital rectal exam).

The frequency of prostate screenings moving forward is based on the man’s PSA level. However, PSA testing is only recommended for men with a life expectancy of 10 to 15 years, and as the Mayo Clinic points out, some experts and health providers have concerns with the risks involved with PSA testing. Therefore, most health organizations leave this decision up to the individual and his healthcare provider.

Colorectal cancer screening

Colorectal cancer (CRC) is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths among men in the United States, behind lung and prostate cancer. However, with proper screening and the removal of adenomatous polyps (precancerous polyps, or growths which can be removed before symptoms develop), most CRC is preventable. Yet, one-third of adults between the ages of 50 and 75 are not getting the recommended screenings.

There are a variety of imaging tests and laboratory tests which can be used to screen for colorectal cancer. A colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy are the tests most frequently recommended by organizations such as the American Cancer Society, U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) and the American College of Gastroenterology (ACG), and most recommendations suggest that screenings should begin at the age of 50 and continue through the age of 75 for men (and women) with average risk. The general recommendations for those with average risk include a stool test annually, a flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 – 10 years with a stool guaiac test or a colonoscopy every 10 years. Men with a family history of colorectal cancer or other risk factors may benefit from more frequent screenings. These men should discuss their risk factors with their healthcare providers to determine whether more frequent, aggressive screenings are advisable.

Diabetes screening

The National Diabetes Education Initiative (NDEI) highlights the diabetes screening guidelines recommended by the American Diabetes Association (ADA). These guidelines recommend screening for any adult who is overweight or obese (defined as a BMI – Body Mass Index – of 25 or higher or 23 or higher in Asian Americans) and has one or more diabetes risk factors.

Risk factors may include a first-degree relative with diabetes, physical inactivity, a history of cardiovascular disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), a high A1C (average blood glucose over a 2-3 month period) from a previous screening, risk factors related to race or ethnicity, or other conditions associated with insulin resistance, such as severe obesity or a condition called acanthosis nigricans. Testing should begin at age 45, particularly if the patient is overweight or obese, and if results are normal may be repeated every three years. A fasting plasma glucose (FPG) is typically the first screening method of choice. Results are typically confirmed with a second screening method on a different day, such as 2-hour postload plasma or hemoglobin A1C.

Dental, vision, and hearing exams

Dental, vision, and hearing exams are, of course, all distinct screening tests. While annual dental exams and cleanings and annual or bi-annual eye exams are considered pretty standard practice, it’s easy for older men to become less diligent about following through with these screenings as they get older.

Older men should have dental exams (and cleanings) annually, and vision exams are generally recommended either annually or bi-annually, especially for those who have vision problems or glaucoma risk. An eye exam can detect serious health problems like glaucoma before symptoms appear, and regular dental exams and cleanings will help to prevent problems such as gingivitis. Hearing tests are typically recommended only if you’re experiencing trouble hearing. However, as WebMD points out, “At least 25% of people age 65 to 74 have disabling hearing loss, most of which is treatable. That number increases to 50% after the age of 74.” If you feel like you’re not hearing as well as you used to, a hearing exam is in order.

While some of these screenings may not sound like a swell time, preventative health is extremely important for men who plan to live a long, healthy, and vibrant life long into their golden years. Spending time in a doctor’s office isn’t a whole lot of fun for anyone. But as the risks for many diseases and disorders affecting men climb with age, your body – and the people who love you – will thank you 10 to 15 years from now for being so proactive about your health today.

Why All Women Should Know the Numbers Behind Breast Cancer

Early breast cancer detection in older womenIt’s hard to miss the fact that October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, as companies and organizations are promoting wider awareness and raising funds to support research in hopes of a cure. Breast cancer doesn’t really discriminate; women of practically any age can develop breast cancer, as can men.

Prevalence of breast cancer

More than 200,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year in the United States, and more than 40,000 women die from the disease. Men can and do get breast cancer, but men account for less than one percent of  breast cancers. Most breast cancers are found in women age 50 and older, but approximately 11 percent of all new breast cancer diagnoses each year are in women under 45 years of age.

In 2013, more invasive cases of breast cancer were newly diagnosed among women age 65 and older than any other age group (99,220 diagnoses), and nearly twice as many women age 65 and older died from the disease in that same year compared to women age 50-64 (22,870 deaths and 11,970 deaths, respectively). According to BreastCancer.org, the younger a woman is, the less at risk she is of developing breast cancer. That means that your risk for developing breast cancer increases with age. At age 30, for instance, your chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer in the next 10 years is 1 in 228, while women at age of 60 have a 1 in 29 chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer in the next 10 years. By age 70, the risk is 1 in 26.

Early detection and treatment improves outcomes

Most women realize the importance of having a mammogram periodically after the age of 40. According to the CDC, “The United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends that if you are 50 to 74 years old, be sure to have a screening mammogram every two years. If you are 40 to 49 years old, talk to your doctor about when to start and how often to get a screening mammogram.”

Early detection and treatment improves outcomes, allowing many women with breast cancer diagnosed in the early stages who receive prompt and adequate treatment to resume normal lives, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation. That’s why it’s especially important for women to conduct monthly breast self-exams, get professional breast exams at least annually from a healthcare practitioner, and get regular mammograms (every two years for women over age 40) to increase the odds of early detection and thus, a better outcome.

Breast self-examination information

Generally, women age 20 and older are advised to give themselves a monthly breast self-examination. The younger a woman begins this habit, the more familiar she becomes with her breasts, which can allow her to more easily notice subtle changes and small lumps that require further evaluation by a healthcare professional.

The changes women should look for when conducting a monthly breast self-examination include:

  • Lumps
  • Discharge other than breast milk
  • Swelling of the breast
  • Skin irritation or dimpling
  • Nipple abnormalities, including pain, redness, scaliness, or turning inward

The procedures followed by healthcare professionals to conduct a professional breast exam are very similar to the physical exam a woman can give herself monthly.

It’s often easy for women to slowly taper off from their once-diligent breast self-exams, but older women should pay close attention to any suspicious changes in her breasts. The sooner a diagnosis is made, the sooner treatment can begin, and the better the odds of a positive outcome and an ability to resume your normal life following treatment.

Active Aging Week 2015: Live Your Adventure

Active Aging Week 2015Last week marked Active Aging Week (September 27 – October 3, 2015), an annual event that celebrates aging and active living. Each year, activities professionals at senior living communities plan a full schedule of events for residents. Senior centers and other event organizers also take advantage of a week designated specifically to celebrate living well in an effort to engage the senior citizens in their local communities and inspire them to live longer, healthier lives by remaining active and enjoying life.

“Live Your Adventure” the theme for 2015

Each year, the International Council on Active Aging, which initiated Active Aging Week in 2013, designates specific themes for each day during Active Aging Week and offers related resources to help event organizers plan fun, engaging events for the seniors in their communities. The over-arching theme for Active Aging Week 2015 is “Live Your Adventure,” with specific themes for each day broken down as follows:

  • Sunday, September 27th: Foot Health with the IPFH
  • Monday, September 28th: The WALK! with Aegis Therapies Event
  • Tuesday, September 29th: Say Hello! with CaptionCall
  • Wednesday, September 30th: Take the Plunge with SwimEx
  • Thursday, October 1st: Good Things Come from Sysco
  • Friday, October 2nd: Get Skin Health Smart

Senior living communities get in on the action for Active Aging Week

Senior living communities and local event organizers took full advantage of the opportunity to get seniors up and moving last week, with many highlights reaching the news waves. The Birches Assisted Living in Clarendon Hills, for example, celebrated all week long. In keeping with the theme of “Live Your Adventure,” The Birches invited residents and anyone involved in The Birches community to partake in their own personal adventures each day throughout the week.

The community’s Activities Director, Katie Klitchman, created an exciting atmosphere by using decorations to turn the community into an exotic safari. A weeklong scavenger hunt complete with prizes, a “Moving to Music” session with Dance Therapist Gail Ann Bradshaw, discussion groups giving residents the opportunity to discuss what “adventure” means to them, and a variety of other opportunities rounded out the week of celebrations at The Birches.

In Yakima, Washington, seniors from Highgate Senior Living got a taste of adventure by testing out some ATVs at Owen’s Harley Davidson, and later in the week had opportunities to learn the ins and outs of social networking and communication platforms like Facebook and Skype.

At the Peak Health and Wellness Center, seniors could take self-defense classes as part of Active Aging Week, taught by 5th-degree black belt in karate and personal trainer Don Johnson. Having basic self-defense skills can help seniors gain confidence so they can be more active in what has become a rather dangerous world. You can be sure these seniors won’t be foregoing a walk to the local park or a stroll around the neighborhood out of fear—in fact, it’s probably not a good idea to mess with these seniors who are now well-equipped to protect themselves against would-be offenders.

Overall, more than 3,000 major events were expected to take place for Active Aging Week 2015, which is celebrated throughout North America as well as in Finland and Australia. Many senior living communities participate in some way in Active Aging Week, with a broad range of activities designed to celebrate active aging, such as dances, tournaments, contests, exercise classes like yoga and Pilates, art classes, table tennis, and even events like indoor skydiving and hot-air balloon rides for the truly adventurous senior.

The only criteria for Active Aging Week events is that they are designed for older adults age 50 and older, are free or low-cost, educational in nature and provided in a safe, fun and friendly atmosphere. That opens the door to endless possibilities limited only by your imagination and creativity.

How did your community celebrate Active Aging Week 2015? We’d love to hear your stories and see your photos.

Cognitive Activities May Benefit Older Adults with Alzheimer’s Disease or Dementia

Seniors enjoying a game of cardsAlzheimer’s disease is a growing problem around the world, with its expected to increase considerably over the next several decades. In fact, as of 2015, one in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia, and it’s the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S.

Prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia is on the rise

An estimated 5.3 million Americans of all ages have Alzheimer’s disease in 2015, and caring for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia will cost the nation $226 billion in 2015; these costs are expected to skyrocket to $1.1 trillion by 2050. As Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are now an extremely common healthcare concern among older adults, and the costs of caring for an individual with Alzheimer’s disease or some other type of dementia reaching such astronomical figures, any method for slowing the progression of the disease or improving cognitive functioning is welcome.

Both physical and cognitive activities may improve cognitive functioning, research shows

While Alzheimer’s disease cannot be prevented, cured or slowed despite advances in modern medicine and therapeutic techniques, there are some cognitive and even physical activities that have shown promise in research studies for improving cognitive functioning.

For instance, a 2013 Cochane review (an update to a 2008 review) found that exercise “may improve both cognitive functioning and the ability to perform activities of daily living in people with dementia.” The study’s lead author, Dorothy Forbes, PhD, associate professor, Faculty of Nursing, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada, says the results indicate that prescribing physical activity for individuals with dementia could offer benefits.

Additionally, other studies have demonstrated the positive effects of physical activity in midlife. Psychology Today reports on several such studies whose findings indicating that physical activity in midlife can reduce the risk of developing dementia later in life — and those who participate in regular physical activity as young adults benefit from a boost in brain power in midlife. Generally, physical exercise has brain-boosting benefits that can have positive effects for several decades.

Cognitive activities linked to memory and cognitive improvements

According to Everyday Health, the brain, like the muscles in the body, can atrophy with a lack of use. So much like physical exercise is beneficial for maintaining lean muscle mass, targeted brain-flexing activities can help you to preserve your brain’s cognitive reserve, or “its ability to withstand neurological damage due to aging and other factors without showing visible signs of slowing or memory loss.”

There have been several meta-analyses of prior research studies performed in attempt to gain a body of evidence supporting the idea that cognitive stimulation can improve the effects of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia on cognitive functioning.

Results generally indicate that some positive effects are noted, such as improvements in cognition above the effects of medication, as found in this review, and improvements in scores on the mini-mental state examination (MMSE) and Alzheimer’s disease Assessment Scale-Cognition (ADAS-Cog), as found in this analysis. However, it’s worth noting that improvements in Assessment Scale-Cognition (ADAS-Cog) were not clinically significant, and the authors note that “difficulties with blinding of patients and use of adequate placebo controls make comparison with the results of dementia drug treatments problematic.”

What cognitive activities can help improve cognitive functioning for people with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia?

The best brain exercises and activities may vary from person to person, depending on the individual’s current level of cognitive functioning, interests, and abilities. The Alzheimer’s Association recommends several activities that can help seniors stay mentally active, including:

  • Learning something new, such as how to play a musical instrument
  • Committing to lifelong learning and remaining curious; enrolling in continuing education courses at a local college or university
  • Attending lectures or plays
  • Playing games or participating in memory exercises
  • Gardening
  • Reading, writing, or working on crosswords or other puzzles

Healthline suggests a variety of additional activities that can keep the brain engaged, including:

  • Painting
  • Knitting or needlework
  • Learning a new language
  • Taking up a new hobby
  • Playing chess
  • Playing computer games that require strategizing, memory, quick responses, and active participation
  • Puzzles, including both traditional jigsaw puzzles and other types, such as brain teasers, Sudoku, and even math problems

There’s no shortage of options when it comes to brain- and memory-enhancing activities that can be enjoyed throughout life. Whether you’re trying to ward off Alzheimer’s disease or dementia or working with a senior or group already experiencing memory impairment resulting from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, the range of activities that provide brain-health benefits makes it possible to design custom activities programs that are as unique as the individuals enjoying them.

Music Therapy: Providing Many Benefits to Aging Adults

Senior couple enjoying musicMusic plays such a major role in so many daily activities. It serves as a backdrop for work and for play, for dancing, for worship, while we drive to work or the store, and even spending quality time with family and friends. It’s no surprise then that music has the power to bring back memories—both fond and sometimes sad—from days gone by. But for seniors, music can be so much more.

The NAMM Foundation cites a number of facts and statistics on the benefits of music therapy, including:

  • Playing music is shown to reduce stress and actually reverse the body’s response to stress at the DNA level, according to findings from Dr. Barry Bittman.
  • For patients who had undergone surgery, Bryan Memorial Hospital in Lincoln, Nebraska, and St. Mary’s Hospital in Mequon, Wisconsin found that playing music lowered heart rates and calmed both blood pressures and respiration rates.
  • The rhythmic cues offered by music can aid in retraining the brain following a stroke or other neurological impairment, according to findings by Michael Thaurt, director of Colorado State University’s Center of Biomedical Research in Music.

These findings alone provide ample evidence that music can be beneficial for adults (and children) in a variety of situations, but let’s take a closer look at some of the specific benefits of music therapy for older adults.

Music can help aging adults with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia recall moments from their past

Music is one tool that can produce outcomes even in the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America.”When used appropriately, music can shift mood, manage stress-induced agitation, stimulate positive interactions, facilitate cognitive function, and coordinate motor movements.” Music is powerful in this way because it the “rhythmic and other well-rehearsed responses require little to no cognitive or mental processing.”

Think about the last time your favorite song came on the radio. If you found yourself subconsciously tapping your fingers on the steering wheel or tapping your foot under your office chair, you’ve experienced this effect firsthand.

Music has strong connections to memories

Most people have probably also experienced the subconscious mood effects certain music can have on your demeanor. The song to which you danced your first dance at your wedding long ago, for instance, may make you feel content and happy without consciously trying to alter your mood or attitude. Likewise, songs that bring back sad memories can make us feel melancholy, even if you don’t actively think about the sad memory from your past.

Because music does play such an important role in our lives, it’s likely that many of your memories from days gone by are associated with a particular song or tune. When you think about a memory from your past now, the song may not immediately come to mind—but if you hear a song on the radio associated with that memory, you may find yourself suddenly thinking about an important event in your life.

That’s why music is so powerful for seniors with memory impairment; when music is played that carries strong associations to long-term memories, seniors who ordinarily may be unable to recall or discuss these life events may suddenly recall memories they thought had been long forgotten. Because of this effect, seniors participating in music therapy often then have the opportunity to share stories from their past with friends and loved ones, providing socialization and a lift in spirits that is often much welcomed.

Music encourages seniors to be physically active

The Music Therapy Center of California points out that for many older adults, mobility and range of motion can be issues due to physical disorders that affect the central nervous system (such as Parkinson’s Disease or Tardive Dyskinesia), the musculoskeletal system (such as osteoporosis or osteoarthritis), or muscle weakness, joint stiffness, pain, and other common conditions that can arise throughout aging.

Music therapy can be quite beneficial for seniors suffering from these conditions by encouraging physical activity. Even slow, rhythmic movements while an older adult remains seated can help to improve strength and mobility. The Music Therapy Center of California explains, “Music, dancing and movement activities can aid in maintaining walking endurance, improve range of motion, strength, functional hand movements and finger dexterity and improve limb coordination. For instance, using instruments (such as drums) can be a motivating way to purposefully improve hand use, cross midline, and reach high/low. Co-treatment with an occupational or physical therapist also may enhance the effectiveness of music therapy strategies. Relaxation with music, toning (singing with vowels focused on a certain area in the body), and other techniques may help reduce the perception of pain and the need for pain medication.”

Increased verbalization, emotional release, and social benefits offered by music therapy

Overall, music therapy can help aging adults achieve a variety of therapeutic goals. Laurel Redecker is a member of the Seattle-King County Advisory Council on Aging who taught organ and piano lessons at a senior center and, upon realizing the therapeutic effects music had on the seniors she worked with, decided to pursue a degree in Music Therapy for the Aging, which she received at the age of 54.  Redecker talked to the Seattle Times about the goals of music therapy for older adults, including “appropriate release of emotions, increased verbalization and social skills, reinforced listening skills, and enhanced self-mage and personal development.”

Redecker explains to the Seattle Times, “Many problems specific to the aging population can be helped by music therapy. These include loss of independence, isolation, possible loneliness or depression, or just being perceived by themselves and others as `old and useless.’ Music therapy, such as learning to play an instrument, can help build self esteem, offer socialization, and help express individuality and creativity.”

With benefits like these, it’s no surprise that music is such a beloved part of culture for people of all ages. But for seniors, music can provide the key to unlocking memories from the past, as well as a lifeline for connecting with others in the present.

Is Your Elderly Loved One Consuming Enough Of These Nutritional Requirements?

Dietary needs of seniorsEveryone needs the proper amount of vitamins and minerals in their diet to maximize their overall health and well-being, regardless of age. But as we age, our bodies change, and our physiology often changes, too. Even putting special diets to manage chronic conditions such as diabetes aside, seniors have different nutritional requirements than those of younger people. Here’s a look at a few important nutrients your aging loved ones could be missing out on by not paying attention to their specific dietary needs, as well as some other important dietary guidelines.

Decreased Vitamin B12 absorption 

Older adults cannot absorb Vitamin B12 from the foods they eat as efficiently as younger people, according to WebMD. Vitamin B12 is essential for creating red blood cells and DNA, so seniors may need to eat more foods rich in B12, such as fish, meat, poultry, milk, and other dairy products to ensure they’re getting enough of this essential vitamin.

Calcium helps to maintain bone health

Calcium’s most important function in the body, while it serves many purposes, is building and maintaining bone health. It also helps to lower blood pressure. However seniors tend to consume less calcium in their diets, which can cause the body to leech calcium from their bones, thus leading to brittle bones and an increased risk of fractures. The National Institutes of Health recommends that women age 50 and older and men age 71 and older get at least 1,200 milligrams of calcium daily, while men between the ages of 51 and 70 should consume at least 1,000 milligrams of calcium daily. For the proper calcium intake, seniors should consume three servings of low-fat milk and other dairy products daily, or opt for calcium-rich foods like kale and broccoli.

Vitamin D goes hand-in-hand with calcium

Vitamin D is necessary for the body to properly absorb calcium, so a deficiency in Vitamin D could lead to the same issues caused by not getting enough calcium in a senior’s diet. According to WebMD, “Recent findings suggest that D may also protect against some chronic diseases, including cancer, type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and autoimmune diseases. In older people, vitamin D deficiency has also been linked to increased risk of falling.” Vitamin D is primarily produced by the skin when exposed to sunlight, but older adults can ensure their bodies are getting enough Vitamin D by consuming more foods that are fortified with Vitamin D, such as cereal, milk, yogurt, and juice. Check the label to make sure the foods are fortified to get the maximum benefit.

Omega-3 fatty acids may lower risk of chronic illness

Omega-3 fatty acids are another important essential nutrient for seniors. Omega-3 fatty acids “have been proven to reduce inflammation, which can cause heart disease, cancer and arthritis,” according to AgingCare.com. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in many types of fish, walnuts, canola oil, flaxseeds and flaxseed oil. AgingCare.com recommends that older adults consume foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids at least twice weekly. Supplements are also available, so seniors who have conditions such as heart disease or arthritis (or are at high risk for these conditions) may want to talk with their physician about whether a supplement would be beneficial in the prevention or treatment of disease.

What about calories?

It’s hard to know how many calories seniors should be consuming each day. Especially as we grow older, the body’s metabolism tends to slow down, meaning it doesn’t process energy as efficiently as it used to. HelpGuide.org provides a useful breakdown of calorie recommendations for adults age 50 and older based on activity levels, using data from the National Institute on Aging:

Calorie recommendations for older adults

This is by no means an all-inclusive list of the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that older adults should be paying close attention to, but they are among the most important. Overall, consuming a healthy diet rich in essential nutrients will help your aging loved ones stay vibrant and healthy, and help to prevent disease and illness.

Senior Living Communities Rely on On-Campus and Locally Grown Produce to Promote Health

Seniors enjoying locally grown produceThere’s a “growing” trend among senior living communities (pun intended): More senior living communities are reaping the benefits of locally grown produce. Some communities opt to source produce directly from outside sources, while others are taking it a step further and growing their own produce on-campus.

Rooftop gardens bring sustainability to urban living

The Chicago Tribune reported of one such community in December 2014. Seniors at Concord Place Retirement & Assisted Living Community in suburban Northlake, Illinois (just west of Chicago) took sustainable living into their own hands by designing and maintaining a rooftop garden, which they named Harvest Rooftop Garden. It’s a hydroponic garden created in collaboration with the community’s production manager, Samantha Lewerenz, and gardening consulting firm, Topiarius. Lewerenz aided in designing and getting the system up and running and also trained residents on proper planting and harvesting techniques, as well as how to increase production.

Not only is the Harvest Rooftop Garden easily accessible to residents, but it allows the community to take another step in its commitment to sustainable living and utilizing locally sourced produce for healthy eating. Concord Place residents, who are strongly supportive of the sustainability movement, can take an active role in their own health while participating in enjoyable activities. Residents and staff grow fruits, vegetables, and even herbs in the Harvest Rooftop Garden—contributing to lower food costs and nurturing a sense of empowerment among residents.

On-site gardens and gardening clubs a growing trend

An article from Atria Senior Living points out that while the agriculture, farming, and gardening trend is getting a lot of media buzz as of late, it’s a practice that Atria Penfield residents have been participating in for years. Atria Penfield residents have had the opportunity to join the community’s gardening club since 2011 and participate in producing vegetables and herbs that the kitchen staff then incorporates into the community’s menu selections. Additionally, Atria Penfield residents can take advantage of their own on-site gardens, including both indoor and outdoor beds.

Atria Senior Living points out the many benefits of growing produce on-campus, including nourishment, mental and physical engagement, cost efficiency, the opportunity for residents to learn new skills or make use of their green thumbs, and, of course, the sense of accomplishment that comes with contributing to a larger sustainability movement among the community.

Farm-to-Table programs gain acceptance at senior living communities

Even senior living communities who don’t grow all or some of their own produce on-campus can still take advantage of the locally grown trends taking the world by storm. Senior Living Residences, a company that operates 12 senior living communities, is also championing the local food movement. “Through some unique food purveyors and some creative local relationships, every Senior Living Residences’ community  can say that a significant portion of their every day menu offerings is coming from local farms and producers, or ‘Farm-to-Table,'” according to an article on the company’s website.

A commitment to serving high-quality, nutritious food led Senior Living Residences to create its Brain Healthy Cooking program, which is based on the Mediterranean diet and relies on ready access to fresh vegetables, fruits, and fish. From this, the company’s commitment to sourcing produce locally was born. Rather than grow and harvest their own through on-campus gardening, however, Senior Living Residences partnered with a local, family-owned company that could provide locally farmed foods in the volume required while also adhering to industry food safety regulations through its relationships with dozens of local farms. In doing so, Senior Living Residences is helping to support local farm sustainability—something every resident can be proud of.

Companies aim to aid senior living communities in implementing on-campus gardening programs

There are now third-party companies who offer programs to help senior living communities initiate their own on-campus efforts. Green City Growers, for example, offers a professional team of farmers who visit the campus weekly or bi-weekly to teach participants the skills and knowledge needed to create and nurture a successful vegetable garden. For senior living communities, the company installs adaptive raised beds that sit three feet off the ground for easier access.

Both on-campus gardening programs and initiatives for communities to source produce locally offer numerous benefits for residents, and the trend toward locally sourced and on-campus grown produce shows no signs of slowing in the near future. Which will be welcome for seniors who don’t want to forgo the joy of gardening or eating fresh produce when moving to a senior living community.