Staying safe and healthy through ergonomics

couplejumpingWhile we often consider safety risks for certain activities we partake in, other risk factors for everyday tasks are a bit less obvious. Ergonomics is the science of human safety and capabilities in the workplace and at home.

As part of National Safety Month in June, take time to evaluate how you can keep yourself safe and secure in all that you do.

Ergonomics affects so many aspects of our daily lives—including how we sit, sleep, stand, lift, and reach. If not practiced properly, repetitive actions can lead to overused muscles, poor posture, and even to injury. As we age, our muscle and bone mass naturally decreases, which can lead to stiff joints and limited mobility.

No matter what activities you partake in at home, at work, or anywhere else, it’s important to make sure you’re safe and comfortable at all times. The following tips can provide a helpful starting point to assessing your ergonomic safety.

  • When sitting at a computer, make sure to keep feet flat on the ground, position monitor at eye level, and keep wrists flat and straight. Sit up straight—even the most expensive chair won’t protect you from creating tension in the neck and back without proper form.
  • If you’re sitting in one spot for a prolonged amount of time, take breaks to get up and walk around every hour to avoid slouching or slumping. Tighten and relax your abdominal muscles a few times in a row to improve core strength and keep your back safe.
  • Wear supportive footwear, especially when standing. Supportive shoes help maintain the body’s center of gravity and alignment of the spine.
  • When lifting something from the ground, bend only at the knees and hips, keep the object close to your body, and avoid twisting while lifting.
  • Get regular aerobic exercise—such as running, walking, or swimming—to help the muscles of the back stay strong and promote good posture.
  • Aside from posture and proper bodily techniques, proper lighting is important to keep eyes healthy and reduce the risk for eye strain. Position lighting to avoid glare on screens and use task lighting as needed.

Staying proactive and practicing proper techniques in everyday activities can be the difference in staying safe and healthy!

An active mind is a healthy mind

crossword puzzle and pencils

As we age, we often think about a decline in physical health and how we can work to keep our bodies active. But just as important as maintaining physical health is the health of our brains.

When we’re young, we are continuously learning. At some point in life, we become primarily a user of mastered skills and abilities and no longer engage the brain to acquire new abilities. Most of what we do are things we are familiar with. We apply skills unthinkingly and tend to look for nonstressful paths to things. But this can be detrimental to mental health.

A lack of challenging activities combined with the gradual shrinking of the brain’s volume with age can lead to brain cell damage and an acceleration of natural cognitive decline.

Fortunately, many of the ways we work to keep our bodies healthy also apply to enhancing brain health. These include staying physically active, following a healthy diet, and engaging in regular mental and social activity.

According to a clinical trial presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, this combination is proven to slow cognitive decline. Slowing this decline can help keep memory language skills, perception, reasoning, and judgment strong—plus keeps brain cells healthy to fight off dementia.

Activities that challenge the brain are key. This can include reading the news and discussing it with others, learning a new skill, taking a class, or playing stimulating games. Helpful online resources for keeping your brain active can be found at the following sites:

Additional steps you can take to keep your mind sharp as you age include controlling cholesterol and blood pressure levels, getting sufficient amounts of sleep, and avoiding excessive smoking or drinking.

It’s important to remember that while occasional memory lapses are normal, significant memory loss is not a regular part of aging, and any cognitive changes noted should be discussed with your doctor.

Meet Steve Minich

“I can now live the principle of paying it forward.”

What difference can an hour make? For Touchmark resident Steve Minich, donating an hour of his time to help others gives him the greatest joy. “Some people can retire and be OK. I’m not one of those people … I need a purpose,” explains Steve of his decision to move to Touchmark more than three years ago.

“I had a busy career working for the same company for 47 years. I couldn’t just turn the switch off and not be helpful.” Steve welcomes Touchmark’s Full Life and regularly embraces the seven dimensions of wellness, including Occupational/Vocational. This dimension is defined as “determining and achieving personal and occupational interests through meaningful activities, including lifespan occupations, learning new skills, volunteering, and developing new interests/hobbies.”

The rewards of volunteering

Steve is willing to lend a hand wherever and whenever he can, whether it is helping with an event, program, or cause. “I volunteer, because it helps my mental and physical health.”

Volunteering is new to Steve, who says his career and schedule prevented him from being able to volunteer his time to organizations. “I worked odd hours, which meant I was at work when many civic groups were having meetings or events. But here, I can help out whenever I want. I can now live the principle of paying it forward.”

That desire to help has led Steve to new opportunities. He is the Vice President of the Resident Council and serves on the Dining Services Committee. He has learned new games and skills so he can help fulfill a need in his community. For example, the bridge group was short a player, so Steve learned to play the game; now he can stand in when needed. He also taught himself to play mahjong so that group could continue.

“Steve volunteers for everything,” says Life Enrichment/Wellness Director Nanette Whitman-Holmes, “and if he doesn’t know how to help, he will find a way to learn.”

Supporting the annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s is an activity that’s especially meaningful. “I like to work the booth and interact with the participants. It is a great feeling when someone donates $100, and we get to ring the bell and celebrate that person’s contribution to an important cause.”

Making others “feel good”

Another favorite event to help with is Touchmark’s annual Dick Morgan Memorial Easter Egg Hunt. “I help sort the eggs, fill the eggs, hide the eggs … anything that needs doing, I do.”

Giving blood donations is another way Steve helps others. A donor early in life—he started giving blood in high school when a fellow student developed leukemia—Steve appreciates that he can donate at Touchmark during the regular community events held on-site.

As he says, “Helping others gives me a good feeling, a personal satisfaction that what I do matters to someone else.”

In fact, Steve doesn’t just go the extra mile to help others—he believes in going 25 miles. Despite not having volunteered during his working years, Steve strove to make his work matter. “At Food Services of America, we were encouraged to go the extra 25 miles to make a difference. I was always looking for ways to make processes more efficient and cost-effective for my employer.” Upon his retirement, Steve was presented with all 12 of Food Service of America Founder Tom Stewart’s principle coins. “I just broke down. Very few employees ever earn one of the coins, so to get all 12 was truly an honor.”

That desire to make a difference in the lives of others is deeply ingrained in Steve. “Helping people gives me great satisfaction. I appreciate Nanette and the other staff’s work ethic and enthusiasm and passion for giving every resident at Touchmark access to the Full Life. And I like to be part of that and enrich others’ lives.”

The Next Chapter: Short- and long-term care options

When a family member needs assistance beyond what’s currently available to them, either due to injury or other factors, one option is in-home health care.

There are benefits and risks with this choice. The information here explores both. It also looks at additional care options, helping you to assess which option is best for you and your loved one.

When in-home care makes sense

Private, in-home care can be your best option under certain circumstances. Here are the primary ones:

  • When the need for assistance is short-term
  • When the needs are predictable and can be tightly scheduled
  • When the needs are not medically complex
  • When the person in need of assistance absolutely refuses to move from his or her current home

Three options for providing extra assistance

When extra help is needed, there are three common options for care providers:

  1. Family and friends. If nearby family and friends are available, this can be a natural first option for those requiring occasional help. Family and friends can do things like mow the lawn, drive the person to the doctor, help with grocery shopping, or help prepare healthy meals. If the need for assistance is temporary—while the family member recovers from an illness or minor surgery—this may be the option that makes the most sense.
  2. Private, in-home professional care. This is often the next solution considered for those needing extra help. During specified hours, professional caregivers come into the home to perform various tasks, such as help with bathing and dressing, medical assistance, and light housework.
  3. A retirement community providing a continuum of care. This option is best when a family member’s need for assistance is long-term or when taking into consideration care that will likely be necessary in the future, even if it isn’t currently needed.

Common drawbacks of hiring and managing in-home caretakers

When considering in-home care, there are a few things you will want to research thoroughly before signing any agreements:

Possible employer obligations. If you choose to hire outside of a licensed agency setting, you can be legally obligated to act as the “employer.” In this situation, after a relatively low threshold of payment for services, you must meet all the duties of an employer, including:

  • Determining citizenship status
  • Being responsible for paying payroll taxes, overtime, worker’s compensation i nsurance, Social Security, general liability coverage, reporting to the IRS, etc.

Unpredictable, uncontrolled financial costs. In-home care costs can quickly add up. For example, the monthly cost of 24-hour care is approximately $16,000.

Consistency of care. In the home-care industry, there’s less assurance that a caregiver will reliably be available to a particular person. Developing a relationship with a caregiver is important, but your family member may be required to see a different caregiver each day.

Care coverage. If your family member’s scheduled caregiver has an emergency or simply quits, there may not be anyone available to cover the shift, leaving your family member without help.

An unsafe home environment. Is your caregiver trained to identify fall risks and other health hazards? Sometimes the home presents extra challenges that need to be considered.

Extra stress on family members. A spouse, close friend, or family member must always be on call to deal with emergency situations, caregiver no-shows, staffing issues, etc., which can become overwhelming.

If you’re considering in-home care, you should always get recommendations and ask for credentials and proof of licensure. Working with a reputable home health/home care agency can minimize the risks of doing it yourself.

Private, in-home care is rarely the best long-term solution

In-home caregivers can be a good solution for noncritical, short-term care needs, however, for long-term needs, it’s best to consider other options. One option could be a retirement community offering a continuum of professional services. The benefits of moving into an established community include:

  1. A complete range of pre-established around-the-clock care, with services that easily expand and contract depending on needs (generally at a much lower cost than comparable in-home care)
  2. A wide range of highly qualified medical professionals always on hand to address any issue that arises
  3. Trained geriatrics staff
  4. A safer physical environment intentionally designed with specific needs in mind
  5. Organized social opportunities and events designed to nourish emotional, spiritual, and intellectual health
  6. Increased peace of mind for everyone involved

Time and again, studies underscore how managing a long-term in-home situation can easily overwhelm a caregiver. Thus, it makes sense to use in-home care as an interim step while searching for a better long-term solution.

Even though moving can present some challenges, most people repeatedly share how happy they are after the move, and they say, “I wish I’d done it sooner.”

We suggest you begin looking at your options now, so that if a greater need suddenly arises, you are prepared to act. Planning ahead always offers more options and usually offers better results; it is much easier to make a move when it’s a thoughtful decision rather than an urgent need.

Assessing your own situation

Answer these important questions to help determine which care option is right for you or your loved one:

Assess your own needs
  1. What type of assistance is needed? (Housekeeping, personal assistance, medical care, all types?)
  2. What level of assistance is needed? (How many hours, days/nights/weekends, around the clock?)
  3. How long will the assistance be needed? (A few days, weeks, months, permanently … not sure?)
Assess the practicality of caregivers
  1. Are there enough qualified in-home caregivers in your area? Can you get a referral from your health care provider or a friend of the family?
  2. Will you have to take on the legal and financial responsibilities of being an employer? This will require you to verify licenses and citizenship and talk with a certified public accountant or other financial advisor.
  3. How much will it cost for the type and level of services needed? Can you afford it?
  4. Can your caregiver handle all of the paperwork for Medicare and other insurance claims?
  5. Will the caregiver you choose offer flexibility? Will they be able to handle emergency medical situations that arise? Can they easily expand their hours or service, as needed?

After answering these questions, you should have a better idea of what the best solution is for your caregiver needs. Be sure and discuss the results with others, such as family members, financial advisors, health care providers, and potential service providers before making a final decision.

Laughing toward better health

 “Humor is mankind’s greatest blessing.”

– Mark Twain

Most people have heard the saying “laughter is the best medicine,” and while that may be an overstatement, laughter does offer some profound benefits.

In fact, recent studies have shown that laughter has the power to reduce stress and anxiety by shutting down stress hormones like cortisol and triggering dopamine production. It also increases oxygen intake by stimulating the heart, lungs, and muscles, and it is a natural pain killer.

Here are a few suggestions for increasing your laughter levels:

Laugh when others laugh. Sometimes your body just needs to get warmed up, and a few false chuckles can help you get started on the real thing.

Learn to laugh at yourself. Laughing instead of getting angry at yourself when you make a mistake will give you more reasons to laugh and may help you be a happier person overall.

Browse YouTube. Type in “funny videos,” and you will find thousands of opportunities to tickle your funny bone.

Change up your radio stations. There are a variety of ways to listen to recorded comedy, including CDs, humor podcasts, and satellite radio comedy stations.

Schedule a weekly funny movie night. Invite friends or neighbors and suggest taking turns hosting and selecting the film. When accompanied by others, many people are 30 percent more likely to laugh than when on their own.

Embrace every opportunity to laugh: after all, our health can be a laughing matter.

The Next Chapter

In the past, declining health was the primary reason for older adults to move from their “family home” into a home offering support with daily chores and medical care.

Today, that trend is beginning to change, with an increasing number of healthy, active adults moving to retirement communities for a very different reason: social support. And they are discovering it has profound and far-reaching benefits.

The many benefits of social interaction

As it turns out, having regular and meaningful interactions with others is much more than just a pleasant pastime. It is critical to our well-being. In fact, a quickly growing body of research is showing that social engagement—feeling connected to others—can lead to better health and longevity, while social isolation and loneliness have alarmingly negative effects on physical and cognitive health.

Here are a few of the specific benefits of regularly connecting with others:

  • Improves memory and cognitive function. Evidence has shown that an active social life can actually improve brainpower, increasing our ability to concentrate and slowing the rate of memory loss and other cognitive loss.
  • Reduces the risk of premature mortality. People who constantly feel lonely have a 14% higher risk of premature death than those who don’t, according to a recent study by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In fact, having high-quality relationships with a few people is one of the keys to greater happiness.
  • Supports better overall health. The National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project showed that people who feel the most socially connected are five times more likely to report very good or excellent health than those who felt the most socially disconnected and lonely.
  • Enhances the effectiveness of other beneficial activities. Other studies have shown that a strong social network of caring friends, family, and organizations can be as much of a factor in successful aging as diet and exercise. Furthermore, adding a social component to diet and exercise can significantly enhance their effectiveness. For instance, those who have a walking partner or join a walking group tend to take longer walks and walk more often.

As more studies are conducted, we are likely to discover many more benefits of social interaction.

Even couples can feel lonely

Even if you’re not living alone, you can experience loneliness. The following are common causes for feeling lonely:

  • You don’t know your neighbors anymore
  • Your longtime friends have moved away or passed on
  • Your family doesn’t visit as much as you’d like
  • You aren’t as mobile, reducing the opportunity for outside activities
  • Your home itself requires too much maintenance and ties you down

Studies reveal significant benefits to living in retirement communities

Another important study found that people who choose to live in retirement communities, where social connection is commonplace, are generally more satisfied with their daily lives and are more likely to be happier than their contemporaries who remain in their own homes.

It is not surprising, then, that living in a retirement community also has a positive impact on health. The same study found that residents were more likely to report that their current health status was better than it had been in the previous two years, as compared with people who remained in their own homes.

By providing the resources, structure, and support for social engagement, retirement communities offer definite health benefits to residents.

How retirement communities promote greater health and happiness

Here are a few examples of how communities help facilitate easy, meaningful, and regular social connections in one-on-one and small-group settings:

  • Physical activities in a health club, walking groups, and exercise classes
  • Intergenerational activities with grandchildren and children from local schools
  • Growing Together programs for people who share a love of gardening and pets
  • Volunteerism. One study showed that seniors who regularly help others reduce their risk of dying by over 50% compared to those who never offer support to others
  • Lifelong Learning classes for the mind, body, and spirit
  • Special events, such as art shows, speakers, trips, and more
  • Scheduled transportation connects people with the greater community for shopping excursions, trips to the symphony, or a special dinner out
  • Dining rooms offer formal and casual dining options for residents and guests
  • Common areas provide inviting chairs and sofas for conversations
  • Recreation rooms can include cards, Wii, billiards, board games
  • Spacious homes with room to host a book club or bridge party
  • Community rooms to worship together and share friendship

The benefits of social interaction are heightened if they incorporate meaning and purpose for participants. When looking at communities, pay attention to those that have residents’ well-being in mind and respond to their desires.

The importance of balancing social interaction and time alone

It is an important distinction to note that it is the feeling of loneliness, rather than simply being alone, that is associated with an increased risk of clinical dementia. People can, in fact, spend time alone and not feel lonely. We know that for most people, a certain amount of time by oneself can be a healthy activity. Being alone only becomes unhealthy when we feel we are spending too much time alone when we’d rather be with other people.

Each person has a preferred balance of being with others and spending time alone. And this is why it’s important to find a retirement community that celebrates social activities and respects privacy and individual pursuits.

 

 

Meet Bev Kuhn

Laughing … “It gives you life!”

When Bev Kuhn is asked why she’s always smiling and laughing, she quickly answers, “It’s a good release and makes things go well.”

She says she laughs at any humor she finds. Pausing, she thinks about an example and then lights up as she describes her “fun table” of six women who enjoy eating dinner together each evening. “One woman brings a book of Yiddish phrases to share with the group. They’re common phrases we all know, and that sets the stage for a fun dinner.

“We’re all different and may not agree on everything, but we can talk about anything, laugh, and have a great time.”

Research has shown there are many real benefits of laughter, from managing pain to reducing stress, and Bev acknowledges laughter played a big role helping her cope with the many demands of caring for her husband for five years as his Alzheimer’s disease progressed. “It was such a difficult time. I tried crying, but that doesn’t work, so I thought I might as well laugh about it. He had a great sense of humor!”

Before her husband’s diagnosis, the couple spent 20 years traveling across most of Canada and throughout the U.S. and Mexico in their RV. “He was a jokester! I’m not a joke-teller, but I love laughing at jokes when others share them.”

Born in North Hollywood, California, Bev has lived most of her life on the West Coast. She and her husband owned a metal engraving business and raised three daughters. With her flair for design, Bev also was an interior decorator. Plus, she was a district manager for Avon, overseeing 150 representatives.

Life—and laughter—at Touchmark

“I’ve had more culture here at Touchmark since I moved in almost three years now,” she says throwing her head back with a laugh. “The music is amazing, but that’s not all. You can’t do everything there is to do … there’s lots and lots to do.”

In addition to all the cultural events and activities, you can find Bev bubbling with enthusiasm at happy hours, chatting with people while she walks her dog, and signing up for “most anything.”

At the top of her list is the A-MAY-Zing Race, an activity patterned after the popular TV show, the Amazing Race. “I love it! That is the most fun! It’s a challenge, and I didn’t realize I was so competitive, but I jumped into it.” Her team (the Sweet Chicks) has won for the past two years. “And we plan to do it a third year: We’re tough!”

That competitive spirit also shows itself when she plays Wii Bowling, another favorite pastime.

Having crisscrossed North America with her husband, Bev still enjoys traveling and appreciates Touchmark’s organized trips. “We went to Cape Cod last fall, and we plan to go to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, later this year. I’m excited to go to the Panama Canal next year.”

But ask Bev what she likes the most, and she quickly says, “The people! Not only the residents but the staff, too: They’re wonderful and very caring.”

When she’s not talking and laughing with friends and neighbors or playing Pegs and Jokers, Bev is busy with projects in her home. “I adore quilting and have an embroidery machine and a pretty extensive collection of quilts.”

Whether she’s bent over her sewing or raising a glass and toasting life with friends, the one common thread running through Bev’s full and fascinating life is laughter. “It gives you life!”

Staying active in the winter season

It may be cold outside, but that doesn’t mean your exercise routine has to come to a halt for the next several months. Keeping up with exercise can help prevent weight gain and maintain routines so that you don’t have to start over again next spring.

Gyms and fitness clubs often have a variety of options for keeping you active until the weather warms up.

However, for those who prefer to exercise outside, whether it’s walking, running, or biking, there are some important tips to keep in mind to stay safe and healthy during colder weather:

Be aware of the temperature. While exercising outside is still safe in the winter, if the temperature or wind chill dips too low, you could be at risk, especially on areas of exposed skin.

Dress in layers. You will likely warm up as you continue to work out, but it’s important to stay at a comfortable temperature from start to finish. Dressing in layers makes it easy and safe to adjust your temperature by simply peeling off clothing.

Keep an eye out for slippery conditions. Even when it seems clear outside, the ground could be frozen with patches of black ice. Always be aware of your footing, and if it seems unsafe or not dry enough, stay inside.

Stay hydrated. In colder weather, sweating is not as obvious as it is in the summer, and many people don’t consider the risk of dehydration. But it’s still a potential danger in the winter.

Start small. Though you may be able to walk great distances in the summer, your body’s abilities can be different in the cold. If you overestimate your ability and need to stop, your body temperature may drop, increasing your risk of hypothermia. Start out with shorter distances or less intensity and gradually increase your distance.

With a little planning and caution, winter exercising can be rewarding and fun, and it’s a great way to maintain activity levels throughout the year.

Meet Barbara Bruno

Discovering new fitness possibilities

“Exercising is critical! If you want to feel good and not be tired, you have to move,” declares Barbara Bruno, adding, “If I can do it, anyone can.” Rather than slow her down, the fact that she has had three knee surgeries for a torn meniscus motivates her to exercise more.

A board-certified internist and cardiologist for 20 years, Barbara was the first female cardiologist in Scottsdale, Arizona, and was the leading expert in pacemaker implantation. She had been a registered nurse before returning to school and obtaining her medical degree.

In addition to creating a sense of well-being, Barbara appreciates how daily exercising gives her a sense of accomplishment and supports her independence. Her favorite exercise? “Pickleball!”

Earlier in her life, Barbara was an avid tennis player and had never heard of pickleball, but now she enjoys it more. “It’s a quicker game, and I find it more interesting. By the time we finish playing one-and-a-half to two hours, we’ve had a great workout, and it’s so much fun.” She says it has been rewarding to see how she and other players have improved through practice.

Variety keeps it interesting

In addition to playing pickleball three times a week, Barbara visits the Touchmark Health & Fitness Club daily. “I’m taking tai chi, which actually provides a lot of movement from one side to another, and that’s helpful with balance.” She also does strength training and is going to work with Touchmark’s personal trainer for a few sessions. “Getting strength training is so important to prevent falls. We lose muscle if we don’t work out regularly, and that ups your risk of falling.” She appreciates how Touchmark trainers make sure you’re doing things safely and correctly.

Barbara also has a treadmill and hand weights in her home and uses those to limber up before heading out to play pickleball. Hiking with the Touchmark Trekkers is another favorite pastime. “About a dozen of us go on these hikes, which is a comfortable number, and it’s fun being with a group of people and exploring different trails.” She appreciates how Touchmark staff scout the trails in advance and know the distances and whether they are most appropriate for beginning or intermediate hikers.

Exercising offers even more benefits

Both as a doctor and from her own personal experience, Barbara knows exercising’s benefits, and she quickly lists four:

  1. “It’s good for your whole body, particularly for your heart and brain.”
  2. “It’s a great stress-reducer. Sitting all the time is the worst thing you can do. Sedentary behavior can be just as risky as smoking. You must get up and move every hour.”
  3. “It combats fatigue! If you don’t move, your body just starts to freeze.”
  4. “You just feel better!”

Added benefits of the Full Life  

“There’s never a boring moment here—and that’s a good thing!”

She’s part of a health book club, where members read books relating to nutrition, stress … anything relating to health. “We meet twice a month. The next book we’ll be reading is The Alzheimer’s Solution: A Breakthrough Program to Prevent and Reverse the Symptoms of Cognitive Decline at Every Age.

Before moving to Touchmark, Barbara and her husband were living isolated in the woods, so she especially appreciates having a sense of community. “I love being in a community, being around other people. There are so many things to do here, there’s never a dull moment. You have to pick and choose.”

 

A New Year for getting in shape

For many, the start of the new year means a new commitment to getting in shape. But even if exercising is already part of your life, there may be changes or adjustments you can make to take your workouts to the next level.

While any physical activity is beneficial, a varied exercise routine can provide a full and healthy lifestyle and even help prevent or delay certain health conditions. If you already have an exercise routine, now is as good a time as ever to evaluate your routine and find ways to diversify your workouts.

For those who do not work out regularly—and for those who do, as well—consider all the ways you can exercise your body and mind, from stretches, cardio, and strength training, to working on balance, brain activity, and more! In addition to different types of workouts, adding more weight, longer times, and more resistance can also help make you stronger and healthier.

  • Strength training can increase lean muscle mass and kick-start your metabolism.
  • Balance exercises can help improve the ability to control and maintain body position as well as reduce the risk of falls and fall-related injuries.
  • Stretching can make everyday activities such as getting dressed and reaching for items on a shelf much easier.
  • Cardio exercise builds up endurance and can help prevent heart disease and other serious conditions.
  • Brain exercises keep your mind sharp and can protect against Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia.

To find out which exercises are most appropriate for your goals and abilities, set up a fitness consultation or a personal training session. Or just check out a new class one day!