Let’s get emotional about heart health!

Each February we focus on the importance of heart health, as cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United State and one of the leading causes in Canada.

We often hear about how our weight, blood pressure, diet, and activity levels can affect our heart health. But heart conditions are tied to emotional well-being, too.

While the links between the heart and the mind are not quite as measurable, there is plentiful evidence that suggests a happy mind equals a healthy heart. Paying attention to all aspects of our personal wellness promotes a healthy mind, body, and spirit!

According to the American Heart Journal, up to 15 percent of patients with cardiovascular disease have experienced major depression. Many people with heart conditions also suffer from anxiety.

One of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of depression and subsequent heart conditions is to surround ourselves with those who make us happy—these relationships can provide emotional support, physical and intellectual intimacy, and a sense of purpose.

They say married people tend to live longer, and these feelings are part of the reason why. For those who live alone, owning a pet and spending quality time with friends and family can bring many of these same benefits.

Other ways to reduce stress and promote emotional wellness include taking breaks to clear your head, getting regular exercise (good for the mind and body!), and sharing any early feelings of depression with a family member or your doctor.

Let the love in your heart keep you on the path to wellness this month!

Enticing your loved one’s taste buds

Did you know that people’s eating habits may change as they move through their dementia journey and the disease progresses? These changes are in addition to those experienced by many older adults, as taste tends to diminish as we age.

You may have already noticed a difference in your loved one’s food preferences. Because people with dementia don’t experience flavor the way they once did, they often change their eating habits and adopt entirely new food preferences. For example, they may crave “heavy” foods, like cream, or highly flavored foods, such as sweets.

For a caregiver, packing enough nutrients into a loved one’s meals can be a challenge, but there are ways to do it.

Tips for encouraging nutrition

Add protein

Identify good sources of protein that your loved one will eat or drink. Be aware that older adults may have more difficulty chewing meat, especially if they have dentures.

  • Consider making a smoothie or milkshake and adding some extra protein powder.
  • Supplement other food items, like oatmeal, desserts, and mashed potatoes, with protein. This usually won’t change the food’s flavor or texture.
  • Try offering custard (made with eggs), pudding (made with milk), or liquid supplements.

Sneak in vegetables

Encouraging your loved one to eat vegetables can be a challenge. It’s also important for people with dementia to take vitamin and mineral supplements, but visit with your doctor before starting.

  • Change the texture of the vegetables or add a dipping sauce to help enhance the flavor.
  • Puree vegetables and add them to a smoothie.
  • Try adding flavored powdered vegetable supplements to shakes or smoothies. There are several varieties available.

Make eating a social event

We all, including your loved one, like to eat with others.

  • Eat a healthy meal with your loved one. People with dementia tend to watch other people and mirror their actions.
  • Avoid distractions. This allows your loved one to focus on the food. For example, eating in busy restaurants may be too stimulating. Instead, consider going to restaurants when they are less crowded, noisy, and overwhelming.
  • Depending on where the person is in the disease process, having a conversation while eating may or may not be possible. Early in the disease process, people may be able to multi-task easily. As the disease progresses, talking can actually distract them from eating altogether.

It depends on the stage

If your loved one is in the early disease process, you may have to pay particular attention to dietary restrictions associated with other medical issues to make sure he/she is getting proper nutrition. Inadequate nutrition can lead to other health issues such as weight gain/loss, falls, skin breakdown, etc. When people are in the end stage of the disease process, it’s usually reasonable to let them eat whatever they want.

Changing tastes can be a challenge for you and your loved one, but focusing on making meals special times you enjoy with your loved one can make eating more enjoyable for all—and more nutritious for your loved one.

Meet Marge and Bob Willis

Meet Marge and Bob

Traveling without worries

Every winter, Bob and Marge Willis pack up and head for Florida. “But we don’t worry a bit while we’re gone, because Touchmark takes care of everything while we’re away,” says Marge.

Like many retired Wisconsin residents who fly south for the winter, they used to worry about their home in Kaukauna when they were on the Gulf. “When we were in our family home and went to Florida, no matter how the neighbors helped, we would always come home to dead car batteries, or the furnace didn’t kick in,” she says.

“Now, while we’re enjoying the warm weather, Touchmark takes care of all the details here. We go to Florida in January and come back in April. While we’re gone, Touchmark will start our car so the battery doesn’t die. They clean while we’re gone. They check the faucets, and when we walk in after Florida, everything is pristine.”

Their bright, colorful single-family home is on a neat cul-de-sac near the Touchmark main building and offers expansive views of trimmed lawns and trees gently swaying in the breeze. It’s a home that has the personal touches that make Marge happy and the support system that takes the burden of home maintenance off of Bob.

Choosing a new home

In 2015, the couple decided it was time to move from their large home on the banks of the Fox River in Kaukauna to a 1,640-square-foot home in Touchmark’s Fox Pointe neighborhood. Then they moved to a slightly larger home just down the street.

Bob is a retired sales executive for a paper-converting company, and Marge taught elementary school in Kaukauna. Now grown, their son and daughter were raised in the family home but attended college out of state and eventually started their families outside of Wisconsin. But Marge and Bob say the Fox River Valley was—and is—their home, so they knew their retirement years would be spent in the area they’d come to love.

Before moving to Touchmark, the couple had researched the community as a possible home for Bob’s mother. When they decided it was time for them to move, Touchmark was their first choice. “My mother passed, and three years later, we’re here. Instead of bringing her, we just moved in ourselves,” Bob says.

Adding personalized touches

A painter, Marge’s artistic talent is evident in every corner of their home. The living and dining areas are accented by walls painted soft teal and aqua. The master bedroom is painted a subdued lilac, and the kitchen is accented in gray neutrals. Family photos and treasured heirlooms accent the bright space. The couple worked with Touchmark to customize the home and give it a personalized palette and designer touches. “The environment is so happy,” Marge says. “I love the light! I love the colors, because I picked them. I walk in here, and it feels like home.”

“It’s more than I expected,” says Bob. “I knew we made a good choice, and with the help Touchmark gave us to do what we asked, the results speak for themselves.”

Beyond customized decorating and manicured landscaping, the couple quickly list the amenities they appreciate that are included with their single-family home at Touchmark. They leave all lawn care, snow removal, hedge trimming, and power-washing the outside of their home to Touchmark. Housecleaning is taken care of every other week and while they’re in Florida. Plus, Touchmark does an annual deep cleaning. Building Services staff take care of plumbing, electrical work—even changing a lightbulb. Bob laughs and says he doesn’t need to touch anything now. “Fix-it doesn’t go with my name anymore!”

Enjoying a community

Bob and Marge spent a lifetime traveling but stay closer to home since Bob’s diagnosis. That hasn’t diminished their zest for pursuing a rich life, though. Marge attends exercise classes and paints. Bob also likes attending Touchmark’s exercise classes. His other pastimes include managing their finances and reviewing his collection of Motown recordings and books. His favorites: Smokey Robinson, Mary Wells, and The Temptations.

They like the flexibility of cooking at home or taking advantage of 20 meals a month in the Grand. They frequent the neighborhood block parties for the single-family homeowners. Parties always include live entertainment and have featured a pig roast, pizza parties with outdoor pizza ovens, a Hawaiian party, and even a Door County fish boil put on by a popular restaurateur from the region. “It isn’t your mother’s weenie roast,” laughs Marge.

They appreciate how Touchmark encourages residents to choose what they want to pursue and how much they want to get involved. “Touchmark opens the doors, but they don’t push you through,” Marge says.

Bob agrees. “People here can be independent and not feel a pressure to do something or participate in something. But if they don’t participate, it’s their loss.”

The couple values the suburban lifestyle and the independence of their own home without the hassle. Marge explains when she added up the cost of home maintenance, utilities, repairs, appliance replacement, and even the cost for electricians and plumbers, the value was apparent.

The convenient location is also a plus. She cites ready access to the Fox River Mall, the regional airport, and the downtown Performing Arts Center. “I always say we are 10 minutes from anything, yet we feel like we’re in the country. And we don’t have to worry about the everyday stuff.”

Exercise for adapting needs

As we get older, certain conditions, injuries, or simply the effects of time may keep us from moving the way we once did.

Aging bodies have different needs. Some of the activities you may have once enjoyed as exercise may no longer be feasible. But learning to adapt to these changes can help keep exercise an important and effective part of your life.

Staying active is essential for maintaining or improving your well-being. In addition to reducing the risk of falls and cardiovascular conditions, physical activity helps release endorphins to relieve stress, boost self-esteem, and improve moods.

  • Focus on balance. Be sure to incorporate balance exercises like tai chi or Pilates into your routine for a low-impact workout with significant results.
  • Take a seat. Chair yoga and other seated exercises can still provide tremendous benefit and are ideal for those who are unable to stand for prolonged periods of time, or get down onto the floor.
  • Dive in! Aquatic exercise is easy on joints while helping to strengthen the core, legs, and back. Water-aerobics classes can also help enhance cardiovascular health.
  • Think outside the gym. It’s easy to incorporate walking and stretching into everyday life. A stroll through a mall or museum, a dance class, or spending time in the park with grandchildren are all ways to get moving without even feeling like you’re exercising.

No matter your abilities or strengths, the most effective type of exercise is one that you enjoy. To successfully incorporate workouts into your daily routine, consider which activities make you happy and which you’ll look forward to doing each day.

Protecting your body’s largest organ

As is the case with many different parts of our health, our skin tends to change as we age. It may become thinner and may not appear as plump or smooth as it once did. Age spots and wrinkles appear, dry spots develop, and cuts and scratches may not heal as easily. While many of these changes seem mostly cosmetic, there are also potential health risks associated with aging skin.

Skin cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in the U.S. and Canada. The three most common types of skin cancer include basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma, which can spread to other organs and may be fatal. Skin cancer can present itself in many different ways—and the most effective way to treat it is to detect it as early as possible.

November is National Healthy Skin Month—the perfect time to pick up the phone and schedule an appointment with your dermatologist for an annual exam. Your doctor can help identify any new or changed spots or growths for signs of disease.

There are plenty of easy ways to keep your skin healthy at home, as well. Just like any other organ in the body, the skin has basic needs in order to stay healthy.

  • Limit time in the sun and always use sunscreen. Even in winter, the sun can damage your skin.
  • Avoid hot baths and frequent showers, which can aggravate dry skin.
  • Use a room humidifier during the winter or in dry climates.
  • Stay properly hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
  • Perform regular self-exams to help detect changes in the size, shape, color, or feel of any birthmarks, moles, or spots.
  • Avoid smoking.

While certain skin changes are inevitable, skin damage doesn’t have to be a natural consequence of aging.

Making sense of our world

Our five senses—hearing, vision, taste, smell, and touch—connect us to others and the world around us, allowing us to experience things in a number of ways. It’s easy to take our senses for granted, until one or more of them start to diminish.

A decline in senses is a natural effect of aging. Health and environmental factors can also facilitate sensory deterioration. Long-time smokers may experience reduced taste and smell sensitivities, while people living with diabetes may have issues with vision.

While sensory changes can be frustrating, acceptance and a positive attitude can help make the changes more manageable. With patience, you can often learn to compensate for the diminished sense with others, while adaptive devices can also provide assistance.

  • Hearing is often considered our most social sense—and can lead to withdrawal and isolation as people become more and more hesitant to interact with others. Misunderstanding others can also lead to paranoia and disagreements. Avoid shouting, speak face-to-face, and eliminate background noise when speaking with someone who has hearing loss.
  • Vision loss can lead to problems with mobility, poor orientation, and even hallucinations. It may keep people from moving around and getting outside, and also lead to isolation. Many low vision aids can help with adapting to this change. Regular eye exams ensure the most up-to-date assistance.
  • A diminished sense of touch affects both the ability to distinguish between different objects and textures, but also to detect pain. Older adults are less likely to be able to perceive internal pain or rising temperatures. They may also miss out on the therapeutic benefits of another person’s touch.
  • Changes in taste and smell often go hand in hand for those over the age of 50, and can cause food to become unappealing. A loss of smell can also create consequences with safety and personal hygiene. Find ways to enhance the flavor of foods without salt, add textures, and follow good oral hygiene to help retain smelling and tasting abilities.

If you notice changes in a loved one, bring it up in a tactful way. Avoid making someone feel inadequate and instead focus on finding ways to help them adapt and remain successful.

Preparing for flu season

The seasonal flu is a viral infection affecting the nose, throat, and lungs, and with the change in seasons, it’s essential to take preventative steps to protect yourself and your loved ones.

For many, the flu is a serious nuisance—and for some, it can develop into a serious illness that can lead to hospitalization and even death. Those at the highest risk for serious flu complications include:

  • Pregnant women
  • Children under the age of 5
  • Adults age 65 and older
  • People with health conditions such as asthma or diabetes

The most effective way to prevent the flu is by getting a flu vaccine. Flu vaccines may be administered as a shot or a nasal spray and are available at many different locations, such as your doctor’s office, clinic, pharmacy, or employer. They are covered under the Affordable Care Act as well as Medicare Part B.

In addition to the flu vaccine, listed below are other steps you can take to help prevent the seasonal flu.

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
  • If you do get sick, stay at home for at least 24 hours after your fever has subsided.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Practice general good health habits, such as cleaning and disinfecting surfaces at home, drinking plenty of fluids, and eating a healthy and balanced diet.

Taking action to prevent the flu can help ensure you have the best season ever!

A message on massage

We often think of massage therapy as a spa-like indulgence to help us relax and relieve stress, but this ancient practice has plenty of health benefits. It can be a valuable form of treatment for a variety of conditions, while also helping us feel younger, healthier, and more balanced.

The benefits of massage therapy are vast! Depending on each individual, massage can help:

  • Relieve pain
  • Improve range of motion
  • Enhance immunity
  • Increase joint flexibility
  • Alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety
  • Relax injured, tired, and overused muscles
  • Release endorphins—the body’s natural painkillers

Different types of massage can help serve different purposes, each utilizing different types of movement and levels of pressure.

Massage for older adults tends to differ from traditional massage practices, and usually includes gentle stroking, kneading, and light pressure on specific points. Targeted pressure can help lubricate joints, which relieves the pain and stiffness of arthritis. And the relaxation and communication promoted during massage can even help people living with Alzheimer’s disease.

Unlike many medications, massage is a natural way to stimulate the nervous system and increase blood circulation. In fact, according to Massage Today, regular massage can often help reduce the need for medications.

Massage therapy can benefit most people; however, it may not be appropriate for those with bleeding disorders or who are taking blood-thinning medication; people with deep vein thrombosis; or when you have open or healing burns or wounds.

Speak to your doctor before scheduling your first massage.

Spend time with others and build your social wellness

We spend much of our lives with built-in opportunities for socializing: school, work, parent-teacher meetings, entertaining, and just being out and about in our communities. But with retirement, isolation and loneliness become valid concerns. Many people lose their sense of belonging and begin to feel detached.

Regular social interaction is proven to help reduce the risk of cardiovascular problems, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s disease; lower blood pressure; increase self-confidence; and reduce the risk of depression. Without opportunities to connect with others, we’re missing out on significant health benefits!

Fortunately, the opportunities for socializing at any age are more plentiful than you may realize—and often help cultivate other dimensions of wellness, as well.

Here are just a few ideas for staying socially active:

  • Attend regular group activities. Weekly church services and club or group meetings are great outlets for socializing and exploring interests.
  • Spend time with loved ones. It may seem obvious, but regular quality time together with friends and family in whatever way possible can help boost personal wellness.
  • Get online! When face-to-face socializing is not possible, connecting with others over the internet can provide the benefits of social interactions. For instance, with Skype you can “attend” a family gathering you might otherwise miss!

Connect with others and find your place in your community—you’re never too old to make a new friend!

Do what you enjoy and live with purpose!

“You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give.”

Winston Churchill

Self-worth is often tied to one’s occupation, which can cause many people to feel depressed and a lack of purpose when it’s time to retire. Having more time to relax and enjoy leisure activities can actually feel like a loss.

But engaging in meaningful work doesn’t have to end in your later years. There are many opportunities to use your skills and passions—or gain new ones—while contributing to the community you live in.

For example, you can:

  • Spend time on hobbies that benefit yourself and others such as gardening and woodworking.
  • Pursue creative endeavors such as painting, sewing, music, or writing to share your talents with others.
  • Get involved in your community and share your ideas. Join a resident committee or volunteer to help effect change.
  • Share your knowledge with others: become a mentor, tutor a student, or read to young children.
  • Try something new! Take a class, start a club, or teach yourself a new skill.

Embrace the freedom of retirement by focusing on activities that you enjoy. Then, find a way to expand their reach into your greater community. Before you know it, your days will be filled and fulfilling!