If a senior you love has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or a similar type of dementia, you may worry about your risk for developing the condition. Unfortunately, the cause of Alzheimer’s continues to elude researchers, as do potential genetic links. But there are steps experts believe you can take to reduce your risk for the disease. One is regular exercise.
Physical Fitness and Brain Health
Research surrounding the connection between brain health and physical activity has increased in recent years. Studies continue to explore the idea that engaging in fitness activities seems to protect cognitive function longer. A study from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health (UW SMPH), for example, suggests that lifestyle can impact your risk for Alzheimer’s.
Another study examined the amount of exercise it takes to make a difference. Older adults who participated in this study engaged in what is considered modest exercise, walking at a moderate pace on a treadmill for 30 minutes five times a week. A moderate pace is considered to be a speed that raises the heart rate while still allowing the participant to carry on a conversation.
So, what types of exercise should older adults discuss with their primary care physician? We have some ideas you might find useful.
Senior-Friendly Forms of Fitness
Some types of exercise are kinder on older joints than others. A few senior-friendly exercises to try are Tai Chi, chair yoga, swimming, walking, cycling, and Pilates. These are all good for managing pain associated with osteoarthritis, too.
Another idea is to explore the SilverSneakers program. If your health insurance plan is a participating organization, you might be entitled to a complimentary membership. Their classes take place at fitness centers across the country every day.
If you’d like a more directed fitness program but don’t want to join a gym, a few options include:
- Growing Stronger: This illustrated guide was developed by Tufts University and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s designed to make it easier for seniors to get started with an exercise program and stay motivated. You can download it at no cost.
- Go4Life: The National Institute on Aging is home to a variety of fitness resources through a program called Go4Life. Here you’ll find everything from tools for tracking your fitness activities to finding the right workout clothes.
The bottom line is following your doctor’s advice and getting more exercise may do more than give you a healthier heart. It might just help to prevent or delay Alzheimer’s disease.
Wellness Activities at Heritage Senior Communities
At Heritage Senior Communities in Michigan and Indiana, residents have a variety of fitness activities to participate in every day. Popular ones include morning exercise with friends, Wii bowling, walking clubs, and chair yoga. Contact us at your convenience to learn how our communities make fitness fun!
Growing up, most people heard that drinking milk was necessary to build strong, healthy bones. And it’s true. Milk contains calcium and vitamin D, which are linked to better bone health. What few people know, however, is vitamin D doesn’t occur naturally in many foods.
One way most of us get vitamin D is exposure to sunlight. When your bare skin is exposed to the sun’s rays, it synthesizes vitamin D from cholesterol. And it doesn’t take much sun for that process to occur.
While many people enjoy spending time outdoors in warmer months, winter is another story. In northern climates, it can be especially problematic. That’s why when the mercury drops, so do vitamin D levels. It can result in a serious vitamin D deficiency.
Health Problems Linked to Vitamin D Deficiency
Research shows a vitamin D deficiency has a negative impact on our health at every age, but especially as we grow older. Experts typically rank a deficiency in two categories:
- Early-stage: The early signs of vitamin D deficiency are often tough to notice and may be overlooked or misdiagnosed. The most common include muscle and joint pain, mood swings, unexplained fatigue, and weakness.
- Advanced: As the deficiency goes untreated, it can result in greater bone pain and possibly even bone fractures. The condition has also been linked to increased risk of heart and vascular disease, as well as some forms of cancer, including prostate, breast, and colon.
Vitamin D: How to Avoid a Deficiency This Winter
As we head into the heart of winter in Michigan and Indiana, there are steps you can take to protect yourself and your family elder from a vitamin D deficiency:
- Make good food decisions: Cold winter weather might make you want to reach for comfort foods and sugary treats. While they might make you feel better in the short run, most aren’t high in vitamin D or calcium. Try to work canned salmon, milk, tuna, and mushrooms into your meals instead. Vitamin D enriched foods also help. A few to consume are yogurt, cereal, orange juice, and eggs.
- Spend time outdoors: Getting a limited amount of sun exposure can also help. Check with your physician to see how much sunlight they suggest. A common recommendation is about 20 minutes of sun several times a week. If winter temps are too low to stay outdoors that long at one time, break it up over a few days.
- Consider supplements: Nutritionists say it’s best to get essential vitamins and nutrients through your diet. But in the case of vitamin D, that’s not always possible. If you are concerned you or a senior loved one’s vitamin D levels are low, talk with a physician. They might order a simple blood test to check. If you are deficient, your doctor can decide if you need a prescription dose of vitamin D or if an over-the-counter supplement will suffice.
Healthy Diets Are a Priority at Heritage Senior Communities
Seniors, especially those who live alone, often struggle to stick with a well-balanced diet. Meal planning, grocery shopping, and cooking can be a lot of work for one person. It’s one reason older adults find their nutrition quickly improves when they move to a senior living community. Better nutrition also boosts their health and energy levels.
At Heritage Senior Communities, our dining teams are committed to creating meals that are both delicious and nutritious. We invite you to call the community nearest you to learn more!
My wife and I have been married for over 50 years. Several years ago, I suffered a stroke. While I have recovered a lot of my abilities, I am not able to do nearly as much as I used to. Not only does my wife have to help me with personal care, but she’s now responsible for our home’s indoor and outdoor upkeep.
I’ve tried to convince my wife to slow down and ask for help. She’s not willing to do that nor is she interested in hiring a caregiver through a home care agency. I really think it’s time for us to move to a senior living community. It seems like a solution that would free her from some of her burdens and allow her to tend to her own well-being.
Any suggestions on what I can do? I’m afraid something will happen to my wife if she keeps up this pace.
Thanks in advance,
Steve in Saginaw, MI
Caring for the Reluctant Caregiver
Sounds as if you and your wife have been through some tough times together in recent years! It’s not unusual for a spouse to try to manage their partner’s care all alone. Many spouses are reluctant to ask for or accept help, often thinking no one will be as good a caregiver as they are. But you are right to be concerned about your wife’s health and well-being.
Family caregivers experience more incidences of health problems than their non-caregiving peers. Medical issues can range from back injuries and headaches to digestive disturbances and sleep problems. Since it sounds like you are trying to convince your wife that it’s time for a move, sharing the benefits of senior living communities with her may help change her mind.
I always remind family members that this is a process. It usually takes a series of conversations and community visits to help a reluctant spouse or parent accept the time for change has arrived. Remind your loved one of the advantages of a move. In a senior living community, you will be able to:
- Enjoy your time together: With fewer chores and less household upkeep, you and your wife will have more time to enjoy each other’s
- You can reconnect with favorite pastimes or tackle new ones together when you have more free time.
- Protect your future: Find a kind way to remind your wife that by taking better care of herself, she protects both of your futures. Making time for routine health screenings is essential, as is staying physically fit. Opportunities to exercise, such as yoga, stretching classes, and walking groups, occur daily at senior living communities.
- Eat well–balanced meals: A healthy diet is an essential component to aging well. That’s true no matter what your circumstances. At senior living communities, residents enjoy nutritious meals every day. You’ll usually have a variety of menus to choose from. Instead of having to worry about preparing food, you and your wife can relax and chat at mealtimes.
- Gain peace of mind: Some residents say a move to a senior living community is a gift they give their children. That’s true for spouses, as well. You will both gain peace of mind knowing your needs will be met and that you have quick access to help in the event of an emergency.
While these are just a few benefits you’ll gain by moving, they may be enough to change your wife’s perspective.
Please drop me a note if you have any additional questions I can answer!
Heritage Senior Communities
A family-owned, fourth generation provider of senior living, Heritage Senior Communities has locations throughout Michigan and one in Indiana. With a well-earned reputation for quality care, Heritage offers independent living, assisted living, and memory care.
My husband and I visited his mom in northern Michigan over the holidays. Even though we FaceTime with her each week, we weren’t prepared for how much her health has declined since we saw her last spring.
Mom’s house hadn’t been cleaned well in a while, and it was obvious she’s not opening her mail and paying bills timely. The biggest change, however, was in her appearance. She’s lost a significant amount of weight, and her hair looked unkempt and dirty.
We were so shocked we didn’t even know what to do or how to respond! On the flight back home, we researched types of senior care and it seems like Mom needs assisted living. In a few weeks we are going to visit some communities in Michigan and see what we can find.
The challenge is that we aren’t sure what to look for and how to get started. We want to find a community that is a good fit for Mom’s personality. Do you have any advice?
Searching for Assisted Living in Another State
This is a question we hear often after the holiday season. Like you, adult children typically visit parents’ homes to celebrate. For those who haven’t been together in a while, the change in an aging parent can be startling.
When you first begin your search for assisted living for a loved one, it can feel overwhelming. A rule of thumb is to think about your mom’s unique personality while also being realistic about her personal needs. Be mindful of what matters most to your mom and what her health requires.
Keep these factors in mind when looking for an assisted living community:
- Changing needs: As we grow older, our needs change. Sometimes seniors need temporary assistance while they recover from an injury or illness. Other times the natural progression of aging means the additional care required is permanent. If your mom only needs help with housekeeping and meals right now, it might be tempting to focus only on those in your search. But it’s also important to consider what happens when a senior’s health changes. Are higher levels of care available on the campus?
- Caregiver experience: The experience and dedication of the team’s caregivers are directly linked to the quality of care the community provides. As you speak with different communities, ask about their caregivers. Find out how team members are recruited, what the screening and background check process is, and how often caregivers undergo additional training. Ask what the staff-to-resident ratio is and how long (on average) caregivers have been with the company. Continuity of care comes from tenured staff so it’s important to know the answer to this question.
- Community’s personality: As you mentioned, it’s important to find a place that fits your mom’s personality. For example, does your mom prefer a casual environment or does she like getting dressed up for dinner? When you tour communities, keep an eye on how the residents are dressed, especially during mealtimes. Assisted living communities definitely have their own personalities.
- Dining services: Your mom’s weight loss might be a sign she is struggling to prepare meals and get adequate nutrition. When you visit communities, ask for a copy of recent menus. Inquire about the number of choices residents have and how often the menu changes. Also find out if residents can select their own mealtimes and tablemates. Flexibility and variety are important. Many families find a senior’s nutrition improves fairly quickly once they have access to well-balanced meals every day.
- Life enrichment: Opportunities to socialize and enjoy life enrichment activities are also important. Ask how often resident programs occur, including if they are scheduled on weekends and evenings. If your mom has favorite pastimes, are those offered already or can they be added? Are resident outings to local restaurants, shopping malls, and other destinations offered?
I hope this information is useful in your search, Cindy. Because Heritage has communities throughout Michigan, we hope you will call us and schedule a time to visit. We’d love to meet your family and show you around!