As we age, there is no better place than Northern Michigan to enjoy an active, healthy lifestyle. Supporting your physical, mental and emotional health are key pieces to maintaining independence well into the golden years. Here are a few topics that we are exploring to support healthy aging in Northern Michigan:
Most older adults want to do everything they can to stay happy, healthy and independent. A good diet supports the physical strength and mental well-being that we all need.
Eating fresh foods can make a profound impact on your heart. Studies show that 70% of heart disease can be prevented with correct nutrition. But eating right isn’t always easy. Surprisingly, as we age, even our taste buds change. Increased sweet and salty cravings can be satisfied by eating fresh fruits and vegetables. Not only are they delicious, but they also help reduce cholesterol.
Often people don’t want to buy fresh fruits and vegetables because they worry they will spoil. Most local grocers know this and make it easy to purchase only what you need. You can also keep produce longer by freezing it into individual portion sizes. Having frozen fruits and vegetables on hand is great! It’s convenient and you get to enjoy them all year long.
There are lots of options for finding fresh, local produce in Northern Michigan. Here we are blessed with an abundance of fantastic farmers markets and local grocery stores. Try delicious fresh produce and improve your health in the process.
Getting outside is just as important for your health now as it was when you were a kid. Spending time outdoors exercising or just enjoying the scenery can improve your health and your mood.
In Northern Michigan, there are plenty of opportunities and activities for people of all abilities to enjoy the outdoors. At Hull Park in Traverse City, anyone can walk on the paved pathway, fish from the dock, or sit and watch the boats on Boardman Lake.
Some beaches are equipped with Mobi-Mats, which provide a hard surface across the sand so anyone can get right up to the waterfront. There are lots of Mobi-Mats throughout the region, including Sleeping Bear Dunes, Clinch Park, and the Petoskey State Park.
Another option is to explore trails like the ones at the Grass River Natural Area. The boardwalks covering the trails are wheelchair friendly and provide access to the unique wetland environment.
Or how about getting outside right at home? A walk with family and friends is a good way to socialize and get some exercise. Lawn games such as bocce ball, croquet, horseshoes or even playing board games, are great ways to spend time outdoors.
Shuffleboard is a great social activity! You can find courts across Northern Michigan at senior centers, parks and even some restaurants.
Many of us have family members spread across the country and world. Even if you live close by, busy lives can make getting together difficult. Communicating across generations also creates unique challenges. Many technologies in use today were not designed for older adults and can cause frustration.
We know that loneliness increases the risk of high blood pressure, depression, and even the ability to think clearly so staying in touch with the people you care is important.
One solution we’re excited about is the grandPad, an easy to use tablet that makes keeping connected effortless, fun, and secure. Video chatting is as easy as the push of a button. You can record voicemails, share photographs and a lot more. In addition to the grandPad, new technologies, programs and apps are being created every day to make keeping in touch easier.
Scheduling regular phone calls has benefits too. Our loved ones know they can count us, they look forward to the conversations—and that improves overall health and wellbeing.
Of course, using the old-fashioned mail is very much appreciated by the generations that grew up writing letters. Print photographs, send them to your loved ones and talk about them over the phone.
Put some thought into what kind of communication plan will work for you and your family. It’s proven to have a big impact on staying happy and healthy.
As we age, one large concern for many of us is our cognitive health. Becoming forgetful can be challenging. The good news is that we can reduce our risk of cognitive decline. At Comfort Keepers, we encourage our clients to incorporate these four strategies to keep the brain healthy:
Scientific studies suggest the key to maintaining a healthy brain is active engagement. So keep learning, stay active, and be social!
While the kitchen is considered the heart of the home, an unsafe kitchen can be a disaster for you or an aging loved one. It’s important to consider fire prevention, comfort and convenience, and food preparation and leftovers when making the kitchen safe. Here are five ideas to prevent accidents and stay safe in the kitchen:
Make sure you survey the kitchen with a critical eye. What may seem perfectly harmless to you may be a potential threat to your loved one.
This time of year, it can seem like everyone is happy and enjoying the season. But for lots of people, especially for older friends and family members, the holidays magnify feelings of loneliness and loss. Here are a few tips to help aging loved ones avoid the holiday blues:
Simple activities and time spent together during the season will go a long way toward preventing the holiday blues.
No matter our age, we all strive for and enjoy independence. For aging Baby Boomers and seniors, maintaining that independence can come down to three M’s: medication, mobility and meals. An issue with one of those three can snowball into a large problem.
If any of the three Ms become an issue for you or your aging loved one, talk to your doctor to help determine next steps.
Telling someone they’re too old to be driving can be a difficult and sad conversation to have. Although it is hard to pull that independence away from an adult, there are times it needs to be done for the safety of loved ones. Here are a few tips on how to talk about this difficult discussion:
Understand that there may be many conversations about driving. By acknowledging the person’s feelings and coming up with a few solutions, you can help your loved one maintain their independence and ensuring their personal safety.
There comes a time in everyone’s life when a loved one can no longer can live on their own independently. Here are answers to a few common questions that we receive in regards to making the decision about moving or getting care for your aging loved one:
Having the conversation about moving or getting in-home care can be difficult. Keep reminding yourself that by being proactive, you will not only provide safety for your family member, but will also keep them happy and healthy for years to come.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 1 in 10 people have Alzheimer’s disease and another person is diagnosed every 65 seconds. Although memory loss is affecting nearly every family, it is a difficult conversation to start with loved ones. Talking about the disease can help bring it from the shadows and prepare for treatment. Here are a few questions that we often hear about preparing for a conversation about Alzheimer’s:
Another important facet of early discussion of Alzheimer's disease with loved ones is getting financial, legal, and long term care plans in place while everyone is at their cognitive peak. Remember to approach the conversation with great sensitivity and care. Patience and understanding are the key to successful communication about Alzheimer's disease.
End of life is a topic of conversation that no one really wants to have. Once an emergency happens, it may be too late to get things in order. Here are a few tips on how to prepare for a crisis:
Most importantly, be patient, kind and loving. Just because this topic may be top of mind for you, it doesn’t mean it is for the rest of the family.
When two people tie the knot, “in sickness and in health” is one of those common vows that are made. Growing older together can eventually lead to experiencing declining health of a spouse, which is a real challenge. Here are a few important points to remember when caring for an aging spouse:
Being a spousal caregiver is an important and challenging role, and ss with any caregiving role it may be difficult to think about “me-time”. Remember to take care of yourself—eat well, get enough sleep, and exercise. Both you and your loved one will benefit.
Personal hygiene can be difficult to maintain as we age, and is one of the hardest topics to approach. Here are a few questions that we are often asked regarding personal hygiene for aging loved ones:
Most importantly, remember that the bathroom is a sensitive place to ask for help. Some people want only family members to help, and others are adamant about having a third-party individual help with bathing. Understand what your loved one’s desires and preferences are in regards to hygiene assistance and make sure them.
As elderly parents begin to rely on family for support, conflict between adult children can begin. This can be a difficult time as you go from seeing each other from once a year, to needing to make important and intense decisions together. As old rivalries and criticisms are brought back to the surface, here are three ideas to make sure everyone works together:
Remember that there are no perfect families. Be calm, take it slow, and communicate early. The main objective is getting your parents the help they need.
Talking about money with loved ones is hard, especially because financial conversations are typically a quiet topic among families. Now that people are living longer it’s even more import to start early because it costs more to live in retirement age, and finances provide comfort and security. Here are a few tips for talking with loved ones about money:
Remember that talking about money with an aging loved one is not a one-time event. It will take time, energy and patience. Above all, the discussion needs to come from a place of love and kindness.
Having a glass of wine with dinner or the occasional drink is a common part of life for most people. But as we age, the way the body handles alcohol changes and can be problematic for reasons that we may not readily recognize. Below are a few reasons why alcohol consumption can be dangerous as we age:
While there is no one-size-fits-all recommendation for alcohol use as we age, it’s important to be aware of the potential risks. If you suspect that your loved one may have a problem with alcohol, encourage them to talk to a professional such as a doctor, counselor, or social worker. As with any conversation, remember to be kind and patient.
There’s nothing like being thrown into a crisis to make you realize that you haven’t planned as well with your family as you needed to. Here are a few tips to ensure you’re ready if a predicament were to occur:
It’s not an easy conversation, but being prepared for a family crisis is essential. Consider having a series of small, brief discussions to avoid overwhelming your loved one – or yourself! Planning ahead shows you are taking on responsibility as well as making sure your parent’s wishes are honored.
“Laughter is the best medicine” is an adage we’ve all heard before, probably countless times. Most of us have likely said it a time or two, as well. Whether we are encouraging our kids to laugh off scrapes and bruises, reminding moody teenagers that it’s okay to laugh at themselves once in awhile, or getting together with family after a tragedy and laughing about good memories of happier times, laughter has a mysterious and wonderful power to heal.
As we age, it is vital to always remember the importance of laughter. You can outgrow a lot of things over the course of your life, but laughter is not one of them. Being able to laugh with others and share that kind of connection gives us a feeling of purpose, community, shared experience, hope, joy, and love. All these things are valuable when we are young, and they only become more precious as we get older. It is fundamental to long-term health and overall quality of life to continue finding reasons and occasions to laugh.
Laughing hard with friends or family is something that simply feels good. However, it also delivers numerous scientifically-proven health benefits that are especially important for seniors. Laughing boosts endorphin levels, which affect mood and can even serve as a natural painkiller. Laughter helps lower blood pressure and cholesterol—helping with circulation and working to prevent heart disease, among other advantages. Laughing helps eliminate the feeling of isolation that seniors sometimes feel, and also drastically reduces anxiety, stress, and even depression. Laughter even gives the abdominal muscles a bit of a workout!
Make a point to laugh every day, at least once. Spend time with friends and family members that appreciate your sense of humor. Tell jokes. Recall funny stories. Be willing to laugh at yourself and make fun of your own mistakes. Read a funny book. Pull up a silly video on YouTube. Be intentional about making other people laugh and don’t be afraid to lose yourself in laughter. After all, laughter may not be a universal cure for all the world’s ills, but it will absolutely make a difference in your day-to-day life.
For many of us, getting older comes with negative connotations. If we can’t remember something, or have difficulty taking part in a physical activity that used to be easy for us, our first inclination is often to blame these perceived weaknesses on aging. “I must be getting old if I can’t do this,” we think.
It is important to stay conscious of this mindset, because negativity about aging can so easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Studies have shown that people who embrace aging with a more positive outlook are not only happier, but also have longer lifespans. Indeed, making the choice to be more positive can add 7-8 years to your life, and give you better quality of life to boot.
So how can you push yourself to have a more positive mindset about aging? First, don’t get bogged down in the “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” mentality. Just because you are getting older doesn’t mean you can’t try new things, or go on adventures, or have new experiences. Treating your life as a book with more pages to fill will help you make peace with aging and enjoy the journey.
Self-affirmations help, too. Keep a journal and write down one thing a day that you are thankful for. Alternatively, have a “quote of the day” that reorients your thinking in a more positive direction. Having pithy little statements in your mind like “I am refined by age, not defined by age” can be a terrific way to keep that positive mindset. You can find others online just by searching “positive affirmations for aging” or something similar. Pick out the ones you like best and print them off to hang above your desk, or make them the screensaver on your computer.
If you have a friend or family member who is feeling negative about aging, you can help with this process. Tell your parents or grandparents how much you appreciate them, or thank them for a skill or lesson they taught you years ago that you still use. Even small gestures or shows of gratitude can make someone’s day and shift their mindset from negative to positive.
We all love games. Whether as a centerpiece for social interaction, a form of entertainment, a way to challenge the mind, or a means of passing the time, games play small but notable roles in many of our lives. The fun and value of games does not diminish as we get older. On the contrary, for seniors who might not be going to work anymore, or who may not have as many social interactions as they once did, games can be a vital way to keep the brain sharp and to add socialization and leisure back into the routine.
One of the best things about games is the sheer variety of options that are available. They can be played alone or in groups. They can demand logic and strategy or rest mostly on luck. They can be quick and breezy or lengthy and complex. This variety adds greater value to games for seniors, because it’s possible to find a game to suit virtually any level of cognitive or physical ability.
For seniors with dementia or other types of cognitive impairment, choose games that they have learned and played in the past. Someone who struggles with memory issues can often recall the strategies and muscle memory of games they used to play. It is absolutely possible for a senior to pick up a card game they haven’t played in years and win. Returning to our favorite games, it seems, is a lot like riding a bike.
So what are the best games to play with seniors? The answer depends on the person and on the situation. Seniors looking for enjoyable games to play alone often love solitaire or sudoku—puzzle-like challenges that require problem solving. If you are looking for games to play in a group setting, the actual game often matters less than the emotional benefit that seniors get from playing with other people. Some good options might include war, hearts, euchre, or Uno.
Ultimately, the best bet is to ask a senior which games they enjoy or used to play frequently. Again, it can be very helpful for the senior to have that existing familiarity and skill with a game, even if it is latent. If you don’t know how to play the game in question, ask the senior to teach you! The process of explaining the rules behind a game can be a useful experience both mentally and socially.
At last, spring is right around the corner. The days are getting longer, the temperature is rising, and winter is fading away. It’s a time of year when optimism and positive thinking come back to the forefront, after the doldrums of winter. At Comfort Keepers, we are challenging members of our community to spread that feeling of joy to the seniors in their lives.
The “Spread the Joy” challenge is simple. We are urging everyone to get involved by doing something they know will bring joy to a senior in their life. This gesture doesn’t have to be big or expensive. On the contrary, it can and should be simple, because sometimes it’s the littlest things that make the biggest difference in someone’s day.
At Comfort Keepers, we’ve already heard a few beautiful stories of people sharing joy with the seniors they love. For instance, one of our caregivers recently remembered that a client had a 60th wedding anniversary coming up. To mark the occasion, the caregiver went to the dollar store, bought a handful of anniversary cards, and took the cards to people the client knew. Each person signed the card with a nice note and sent it back to the client, in time for the big day. Instead of the woman’s wedding anniversary going overlooked, the cards helped make it appropriately joyful and celebratory.
There are so many ways to have this kind of impact on someone’s life. It could be a family member or someone you’ve known for many years. It could be someone you don’t know very well but who you feel like could use some extra joy in their life. It could be a parent you sit down with to reminisce over an old photo album, or a neighbor who you assist with spring cleaning chores. Whoever it is, think about the person and try to individualize your gesture to suit them. After all, everyone gets joy from different things.
Once you’ve completed the “Spread the Joy” challenge, visit Comfort Keepers online and tell us your story. We think that, if we start sharing these ideas, we can inspire each other to have an extremely positive impact on the seniors in our community. You can share your stories on our website or via our Facebook page.
Next time you see an older loved one, ask them to take you for a trip down memory lane.
Memories are, in many ways, a universal language. They are a way to leave behind the worries or health concerns of the present for a momentary excursion into the bright, happy past. Recalling, cherishing, and sharing favorite memories is good for everyone, but it is especially beneficial for seniors.
As we get older, the mood, mental health, and memory boosts that come with recalling great moments from our lives only become more valuable. When a senior tells a story about a beloved memory, it is a way for them to connect back to who they are and to the things that forged their identity. If an older adult is struggling with dementia or other memory challenges, they may have difficulty recalling more recent events but have clear memories of the long-ago past. Encouraging them to share those memories is a way to help them feel happier and healthier in mind, body, and spirit.
Best of all, it’s easy to encourage the seniors in our lives to share their memories. Ask your parents about significant moments in their lives, like their wedding day or their honeymoon or the day you were born. Ask to hear stories about a neighbor’s youth and upbringing. When visiting your grandparents, pick out a photo on the shelf or a memento from the closet and ask to hear the story behind it. The options for drawing forth those memories and igniting conversations about them are nearly endless.
From there, your job is simple: listen! Having an active listener is validating in any situation, but especially when someone is telling the personal stories of their own life. Listening closely, asking questions, and staying engaged is the best way to amplify the many mental health benefits of older adults sharing their stories.
Sometimes, helping a senior stay healthy can be as simple as picking up the phone and having a conversation.
One of the biggest problems that older adults face is social isolation. All throughout life, things like hope, joy, love, purpose, and connection are extremely important for health and wellbeing. These factors only become more important as we grow older, but they also become more difficult to achieve. If a senior is socially isolated, it is difficult for them to maintain these things in their life. As a result, their health may decline more rapidly than it would otherwise.
Seniors withdraw socially for a variety of reasons. For instance, an older adult struggling with hearing loss may choose to avoid social situations because he or she feels unable to participate in conversations. That sense of auditory isolation breeds social isolation. It’s also not uncommon for seniors to avoid social situation due to fears about appearance or hygiene.
Luckily, friends, neighbors, and family members can make a big difference with just a few simple gestures. Schedule regular family dinners with the seniors in your life and use them as an opportunity to catch up. Give a senior a ride to one of the places where they need to go—be it the grocery store, the doctor’s office, or Sunday church service. Pick up the phone and have a 20-minute conversation. Send a letter, card, or photograph or in the mail. Make it clear that you care. Even taking just a small amount of time and effort to draw a senior out of their shell will, for them, translate to feelings of being loved and valued.
And if you notice that an older adult in your life is withdrawing from social situations for a specific reason, confront it. Ask your parents or grandparents if they’ve had a hearing test lately, or encourage them to get one. Assuage their fears about appearance by telling them that they look great and you like their outfit. These simple interactions can help pave the way for more socialization in the future, which is healthy for all parties—no matter the age.