Enhance wellness through lifelong learning

DHB_3903You’re never too old to learn something new. These days, learning a new skill and keeping the brain active has never been easier for older adults. A study by the Rush Memory and Aging Project showed that seniors who are cognitively active were less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia than those who did not exercise their brains.

In addition to stimulating the brain and helping to enhance intellectual wellness, these pursuits are often social endeavors that can provide as sense of involvement and belonging in the community as well as helping to avoid feelings of isolation.

There are many excuses that might keep someone from learning something new: it’s not worth the effort, it’s too expensive, I’d have no way of getting there, among others. But educational opportunities are more abundant than you might realize, both in your community and in the digital world.

  • Libraries, senior centers, and local retirement communities likely offer courses or seminars—and often at no charge. These offerings may be held in partnership with local colleges and provide a more convenient way to access an in-depth look at a favorite or new subject.
  • Local colleges and universities may offer the opportunity for waived tuition or scholarships for older adults pursuing either credit or non-credit courses.
  • Auditing a course provides the social and intellectual benefits without the stress of exams, homework, and high costs.
  • Online courses are convenient for getting access to information without having to leave your home. And they can still provide the social benefits of an in-person class through online discussions.

Growing our minds and learning something new doesn’t have to end with retirement. Find what interests you and pursue greater knowledge!

Resident Feature: Love and life—before and after dementia

When Alice Kulak married Geoff, her high school sweetheart, 57 years ago, she knew life would be anything but boring.

Alice, 78, kept an active schedule volunteering with the Junior League of Edmonton, serving on the board of directors of the Art Gallery of Alberta, and sitting on the executive board of the Chamber Music Society. She worked part-time and anchored the home front for her husband and two daughters, but Geoff, now 79, led the parade!

Geoff was a prominent, well-regarded engineer with an international reputation for his specialty in steel structures.

“It was an adventure,” remembers Alice. “He was ambitious and bright, and we lived for periods of time in places as diverse as the US, Brazil, South Africa, Switzerland, and Norway where Geoff lectured and did research.”

Geoff taught for 25 years in the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Alberta, retiring in 1994. He sat on many technical committees in Canada and the US. In 1996, he cochaired with lawyer Ken McKenzie the Royal Commission that investigated the rollercoaster accident at West Edmonton Mall that resulted in three deaths.

Geoff wrote the engineering textbook Limit States Design in Structural Steel, which is still used at the undergraduate level in 95% of Canadian universities. To honor him, the Steel Fabricators of Alberta created a $30,000 annual scholarship fund in his name.

Dealing with “the diagnosis”

Over four years ago, Geoff was diagnosed as having entry-level dementia. The couple’s once fast-paced and busy lifestyle shifted to more of a shuffle. The change has affected both Alice and Geoff equally.

“There’s a lot of pain and grief as you see a life slipping away; seeing your loved one losing his presence. Geoff feels frustrated as well. He realizes he is losing ground, and it bewilders him.”

The Kulaks moved to Touchmark as the couple realized the two-story home they were living in had become more house and garden than they could handle. Alice, Geoff, and their two daughters felt it was the right time to make the move as Geoff’s dementia was becoming more defined.

“We definitely enjoy the maintenance-free lifestyle here at Touchmark. When we need someone to fix something, it happens very quickly.” Touchmark’s various levels of care services also appealed to the couple.

“Everything has changed in the last two-and-a-half years. I now feel the responsibility of being a caregiver rather than a companion. I take care of Geoff and the household, but I now also handle all of the things Geoff used to deal with like our investments and taxes. All of this, while trying to grieve the husband I am losing.”

Helping hands

Two times a week for four hours, Alice has help through Home Care Services as well as from Touchmark’s assisted living staff to give her some time for herself.

“My goal now is to keep my health and my spirits up for Geoff. I exercise using the treadmill, bike, medicine ball, and weights for 35-45 minutes a day. The staff are great with Geoff, so during my breaks I go play bridge. I love going for lunch with my friends and going to church or reading.”

The respite care has been a benefit to the couple’s relationship, as well. “I’ve realized that I need time for myself. And Geoff welcomes the caregivers coming in. We’re together all of the time, so I’ve realized that he, too, wants relief from me.”

Memory care opening

With a new memory care neighborhood opened at Touchmark this March, more care options became available for families like the Kulaks.

“Geoff is on the waiting list, has had an interview with the nurses, and has been assessed for what his care needs would be. I know the quality of life for both of us would go up by having him there, but I still feel conflicted. I worry if I’ve done everything I can for him on my own,”

This is a conflict faced by many in the same situation. While it’s not an easy choice to make, Alice is comforted knowing there is quality memory care support coming available just a few doors away from her.

“Realizing I can’t do everything I want to do with him on my own and knowing that he could have quality care, and I could still be close by and involved—that gives me some peace of mind.”

Tips for other caregivers

While Alice realizes she isn’t alone in dealing with the demands of being a full-time caregiver, she also realizes just how fortunate she is to have help. She has friends who have gone through the same situation who have helped her, and now Alice shares her own personal story as a resource for others.

“My tips for other caregivers are these: get yourself into circumstances you can handle; get involved in your community; and ask for help! It’s important not to isolate yourself. Our family mantra is, ‘Keep Dad comfortable and loved,’ and having the help of my family and the extra care for Geoff have made my life—and his—a little easier.”

Essential estate planning documents

Although it may be difficult to think about, having an estate plan in place ensures that you and your assets are cared for by someone you trust when you are no longer able to do so yourself. No matter your health or your age, it’s never too early to begin arranging your end-of-life plan and to share your wishes with those you trust.

The first step in planning your estate is speaking to a lawyer who is knowledgeable on state laws and required documents, and can answer any questions you may have.

A typical estate plan includes instructions for how your health care, assets, and funeral should be handled as well as who has the authority to make these different decisions. Several different legal documents should be in place to make up a comprehensive estate plan.

The most important documents for every estate plan include:

  • Power of attorney for health care: This document designates another individual to make health care decisions on your behalf should you become unable to do so. A backup individual can also be selected.
  • Living will: Also known as an advanced health care directive, this document specifies your wishes for end-of-life care or in the case of a catastrophic illness. Discussing these wishes with your designated health care power of attorney can help make a difficult time easier.
  • Durable power of attorney: This enables you to choose who will handle your finances as well as how you would like them to be handled. Without a power of attorney, a court may be left to determine the distribution of your assets.
  • Authorization for final disposition: While “next of kin” is legally authorized to make funeral and burial arrangements, this document lets you specify a different individual if desired and also detail how you wish your funeral and burial to be handled.
  • Trusts and wills: These documents instruct what should be done with your assets (money, possessions, real estate, etc.) upon death, and who will be in charge of carrying out your wishes.
  • Inventory of assets: This document contains all of the vital information necessary for someone to manage your estate, including bank information, credit card numbers, attorney contacts, pensions, insurance, and more.

Once these documents are in place, it’s important to review them regularly and make sure they are in line with your current needs and wishes. Discuss the plan with those involved and be sure to store the documents in a safe, accessible place.

Spring cleaning versus organizing

This article is a guest post from professional organizer Vicki Norris.

Spring cleaning has arrived—or is it spring organizing? Cleaning de-grimes your living space producing disinfected surfaces, dirt-free floors, and sparkling sinks; however, cleaning can actually create clutter. In contrast, organizing asks you to stop, think, and make decisions about where items really belong.

Because decisions are involved, organizing takes a little longer than cleaning, but it’s worth it. By choosing not to simply hide clutter that you don’t want to deal with, you’re making smart choices to create and maintain order, which will prevent clutter from accumulating in the future. Organizing also prevents loss of items, which costs you enormous time, stress, and frustration.

Cleaning will produce a hygienic, unsoiled environment and temporary sense of relief. Engaging in the organizing process will produce sensible use of space and resources yielding more freedom and peace of mind.

The good news is that you can have both an organized and a clean home! When a space is organized, it is easier to clean, because nomadic items can be confidently returned to their appropriate location, and surfaces aren’t clogged with clutter.

I invite you to begin your own process of organizing; it is an investment in your quality of life!

Vicki Norris, president of Restoring Order®, is a nationally recognized organizing expert, author, and speaker. Her team of professional organizers serves home and business clients in Washington and Oregon. You can watch her organizing segments on KPTV’s Fox 12 More Good Day Oregon. Visit RestoringOrder.com for more information.

Resident Feature: Shari’s zest for life

May is Older Americans Month, and the minute you meet Shari (on left in photo), you realize she’s a woman full of life with boundless energy—someone who likes to make a difference in people’s lives. “I enjoy getting involved in a community and meeting people. I’ve done that everywhere I’ve lived,” says the Minneapolis Minnesota native who moved to Touchmark 13 months ago from her longtime home in Venice, Florida.

An outdoor enthusiast, Shari spends as much time working in her yard or walking as she can. She and her companion and best friend Lady, a 9-year-old papillion, are frequently seen playing Frisbee and going for walks. “My daughter found this cottage for me, and the corner lot is a blessing, I have a great yard, lots of open space, and great natural light coming in to my home. It has worked out perfectly.”

Community engagement

A former marketing manager for a chamber of commerce, Shari joined the Helena Chamber of Commerce right away. She takes every opportunity to attend the Chamber’s Lunch and Learn programs and other opportunities to learn more about Helena. She also joined the Elite Travel Group at a local bank and looks forward to their many local outings and educational lectures.

“I’m an avid supporter of the arts and purchased Helena Symphony season tickets,” she says, noting she also enjoys volunteering as an usher. In addition to joining a church, she has been taking a yearlong leadership course to keep herself engaged.

She is hoping to use her experience teaching English as a second language by volunteering with the Lewis and Clark Literacy Council. “I’ve reached out to several organizations to let them know I would be happy to help. I enjoy teaching and sharing my experiences with others.” Shari spent two summers teaching English to high school and first-year college teachers in China. “We primarily taught methodology. It was an amazing experience.”

Making her mark at Touchmark

With a skill for negotiation and a desire to improve her community, Shari accepted a position as the cottage representative on Touchmark’s Resident Council. She is also working with Touchmark staff to reduce how fast cars drive through the retirement community. “New 10 mph signs have been installed at the entrance, and we’re working on more ‘SLOW’ signs.”

Interest in mahjong is growing after Shari introduced the game. “We need two more full-time people to join us, and then we’ll have two strong teams.” In addition to mahjong, Shari participates in the Helena Duplicate Bridge Club as well as one at Touchmark.

Another of Shari’s keen interests is cooking and entertaining. She’s looking forward to hosting coffees and other social gatherings for her cottage neighbors. Last Christmas, she hosted a Tom & Jerry party for all the cottagers. “Super group and great fun!”

“Shari embraces all seven dimensions of wellness,” says Life Enrichment/Wellness Director Nanette Whitman-Holmes. “She demonstrates each day how older adults lead active, full lives.”

Read about more Touchmark residents and how they embody the {FULL} Life!

Positive Living with Sensory Decline

Our five senses—hearing, sight, 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 one or all of our 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 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.

Touchmark Reports: April 2016

Current research and news to enhance your well-being …

Get out and shake it!

Whatever you do to keep your body moving is beneficial for your brain.


Even older adults need a boost(er).

Booster shots and other vaccinations are an important step in maintaining good health.


A look at dementia, through spouses’ eyes …

The effects of dementia can be trying for any marriage. Sometimes, just hearing someone else’s story can help.


Eat your apples (and other fruit)!

An expansive study in China shows a potential link between regular fruit consumption and reduced health risks.


Look to your waist—not your weight—to predict heart disease.

Excess abdominal fat can be a powerful predictor of heart disease.


Show your pearly whites some love.

April is National Oral Health Month in Canada. Good oral health can improve overall health and quality of life.


Beware: little-known danger lurks in the backyard barbecue.

Before you fire up the grill, take a closer look.

 

When “fine” is not really fine

As the child of an aging parent, it can be difficult to notice signs that things may not be as “fine” as the parent claims them to be. Those who live far away and may be consumed with their own busy lives can easily miss changes that can affect their parent’s safety, health, and overall well-being.

When visiting a parent or loved one, the signs listed below are just some of the things to keep an eye on to make sure they are continuing to manage well at home. Spending the night at a person’s house can often provide more insights than a short visit, and can allow you to observe hygiene, cleaning, and nutrition habits.

  • If things are piling up, the lawn and garden are overgrown, and laundry is not done, household chores may be too much to handle.
  • In the kitchen, charred pots and pans or burn marks on the countertops can indicate potential safety concerns. Expired food in the refrigerator may mean that nutrition needs are not being met.
  • Scratches on the side of the car could indicate it’s time to give up the keys.
  • Even when living with a spouse, the partner who serves as caregiver may be overwhelmed and in need of support.

A parent or loved one who insists they are managing fine by themselves will likely be resistant to accepting help. They may be too proud, in denial, or trying to avoid feeling like a burden. It’s important to approach any conversation with sensitivity and not just force a solution upon the person.

Adjustments to help a loved one manage at home can be small and may not require much disruption to personal routines. Hiring a cleaning service, transportation, or home care to assist with daily activities can help an older adult maintain their confidence and remain independent in their home.

Agreeing to check in every few months can help to identify potential issues and find solutions before they get serious. Maintaining an open dialogue about the changes that lie ahead can help to avoid surprises and avoid children having to “parent” their older parents.

Meet Kathy and Bob Ramsay

Catch them if you can
There is hardly a corner of the globe nor an adventure in Bend that Bob and Kathy Ramsay have not explored. And as Touchmark residents, they continue to embrace the {FULL} life.

The Ramsays met 36 years ago, when both were naval officers in the Philippines. Within a month of their meeting, Bob’s ship set sail and the two began a long-distance romance. Between space-available flights and conveniently scheduled training missions, they managed to see each other quite regularly. “We dated for a year long distance, and in that one year we got together 40 weeks out of 52,” says Bob. They will celebrate 35 years of marriage in May 2016.

Upon retiring from the Navy, the couple started an aerospace-consulting company in the Puget Sound area, and ran that company for 20 years before moving to Touchmark. The two did their homework before making the decision to move. “Bob had done lots of research online,” says Kathy. “We figured that if we’re going to go to all the trouble to move, let’s find a community offering a continuum of care so we won’t have to move again.”

They considered some communities in the Seattle area, but upon visiting Touchmark, they knew their decision was made. “When we drove in here, there was no comparison. This is what we were looking for, with the trees, river, and architecture.”

It may be a long wait
The Ramsays were told it could take five to seven years for a house on the river to open. “We ended up getting the call in only three months!” says Kathy. An upcoming cruise adventure posed a bit of a hurdle, though. “The wrinkle was that we were getting ready to go to Antarctica, and then we’d have to sell our house. We had 41 days to make it all happen, and it was meant to be! We got the perfect house for us. This is karma!”

While the earlier-than-expected move to Touchmark proved to be a challenge, the decision was not. “Once we knew we were coming, we shut the company down and moved here. It was an easy decision,” says Bob.

The couple wasted no time getting immersed in the Touchmark lifestyle. “We’re thrilled to be here, and we’re more active than we ever were,” says Kathy. “One word to describe it is ‘fun’. We’re laughing all the time! It’s really, really healthy. We participate in all kinds of stuff that Touchmark and Bend have to offer. Plus, we traded 300 days of rain for 300 days of sun!”

Bob adds, “One of the best parts is the happy hours and then going into the dining room and hanging out with people for a few hours. Every one of these people has a great story to tell, and they’re all different. All you have to do is ask them to tell you about themselves, and they have a lot to say!”

Loving life
The Ramsays love their carefree lifestyle. “We had a huge yard in Washington and spent hours keeping it up,” says Kathy. “Now I just have tomatoes in pots on the deck, and Bob doesn’t have to do anything except go hit golf balls.”

Bob grins. “I go out and watch those guys mow my lawn every Monday!”

From their river-view home, they watch the tubers and kayakers. Four days every week, they walk the River Trail. “We are really, really busy, but it’s really, really fun,” says Kathy. “I overheard Bob tell a friend, ‘I’ve known this lady for over 30 years, and she’s never been healthier or happier.’ There’s so much to do here, and the people are so wonderful. We’re as social as we can be!”

The busy couple can be found participating in a myriad of activities. For example, they are founding members of the wine club; they also enjoy playing Mahjong and Jeopardy as well as golfing with their neighbors, and skiing. They attend resident presentations in the Forum and Socrates Circle, and the two plan to participate on one of Touchmark’s Pole Pedal Paddle (PPP) teams this spring.

Kathy was the sprinter on last year’s team that placed first for their age group. “Our downhill competitor was 84, our kayaker was 80, the chef did the mountain run, and a manager did a run.”

Bob and Kathy also manage to continue their globetrotting. In March, they returned from nearly a month of travel. Their trip started in Singapore. After a few days, they boarded a Seabourn® cruise ship and set sail for Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Hong Kong. “It was fabulous,” says Kathy. “Culturally, very interesting! And Seabourn ships are small and beautiful, and both the crew and passengers are international. It was a great experience.”

She adds that a lot of travelers live at Touchmark. “It’s so easy; they watch your house and take care of things.”

After a few days recovering from jet lag, the Ramsays’ days are again filled with friends and fun at home … and planning for their next trip.

Plugging in to today’s technology

Technology is abundant in the lives of most people these days, but older adults historically have not embraced it with the same fervor as younger generations. Today’s seniors are most likely to adopt technologies that provide some benefit to their lives instead of just technology for technology’s sake.

If you’ve tried to help a loved one use technology, you may have been met with resistance for a number of reasons:

  • They don’t see a need or any benefit in using a certain technology.
  • They’re not confident they’ll be able to use it.
  • They worry they can’t afford it.
  • They get easily frustrated.

But usage is increasing. According to a Pew Research Center study, 60% of adults over the age of 65 now use the internet and 77% have a cell phone. Of those who have a smartphone, 82% reported finding the phone a way to connect rather than distract.

Fortunately, most of today’s technology is intuitive and easy for nearly anyone to learn how to use. Many tools can be valuable for seniors and can help improve personal wellness, such as video calls to keep in touch with friends and loved ones, health tracking apps, brain fitness apps, and more.

For those looking to help an older adult get connected—or embrace more technology yourself, consider the following approaches:

  • Research a range of size and price options. Tablets are less expensive and usually simpler than a desktop computer. If home internet service is not feasible, consider using computers at the local library, or using Wi-Fi in cafés and other public places.
  • Look for local classes and workshops designed to help seniors with technology. While family members and friends can teach how to use new devices, sometimes being with those in similar situations and learning from a professional can have more of an impact.
  • Explore how technology can actually make things easier. There are apps for everything these days, including medication reminders, health trackers, and safety notification.
  • Stay safe—keep informed of scams and viruses to make your online experience a positive one.