How to Help a Senior Find Purpose After the Loss of a Loved One

How to Help a Senior Find Purpose After the Loss of a Loved One

Dear Donna:

We lost my dad after a long battle with cancer early last year. It’s been tough trying to process this loss and support my mom in her grief. They were married almost sixty years, and she was his very devoted caregiver for over six years.

Because my mom’s days were so focused on caring for my dad, she rarely did anything for herself. One challenge she is facing is finding purpose again. Overnight she went from never having enough time to suddenly having nothing but time.

I’d like to find ways to help my mom rebuild her own life. She’s spending far too much time alone. Do you have any suggestions?


Casey in Byron Center, MI

Encouraging a Senior Loved One to Reconnect

Dear Casey:

Please accept my condolences on the loss of your father. I’m sure it’s difficult to process your own grief while also caring for your mother.

It’s great that you recognized this problem and are trying to help your mom. Going from caring for someone around the clock to having an open schedule is a big adjustment! I have a few suggestions I hope will be useful:

  • Volunteer for a cause: Much like with caregiving, knowing someone is counting on you gives the days meaning. While your mom probably isn’t looking for full-time volunteer work, sharing a few hours of time each week for a cause close to her heart might help her feel needed again. Your local United Way office may be able to suggest nonprofit agencies currently seeking volunteers. If not, try a website like VolunteerMatch. They match volunteers to projects by city or zip code.
  • Learn something new: Learning is good for the body, mind, and spirit. Encourage your mom to explore local classes and workshops. Has your mom always wanted to learn how to play the piano but never had time? Or does she enjoy researching family history? Encourage her to share her dreams so the two of you can work on making them a reality.
  • Join a senior center: Like many caregivers, your mom’s social circle may have shrunk when she was busy taking care of your dad. Joining a local senior center is one way she can make new friends. Most have minimal membership fees and offer programming that ranges from art classes and card groups to group outings.
  • Practice healthy self-care: One final suggestion is to encourage your mom to take care of herself. If she’s been neglecting her annual physical or is behind on health screenings, make those a priority. Also help her find easy ways to exercise and eat well. Lifestyle diets, such as the DASH Diet or the Mediterranean Diet, are linked to lower rates of heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and more. An exercise program that incorporates weight training, stretching, and cardiovascular activity will also help her feel better.

I hope this is helpful, Casey! Sending good thoughts to you and your mom.

Kind regards,


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How Senior Living Communities Are Different Than You Think

How Senior Living Communities Are Different Than You Think

Where you live greatly impacts how well you live as you grow older. Research shows that environment plays an important role in healthy aging. Everything from physical activity, socialization, and nutrition is affected by the place you choose to call home during retirement.

One way to make the most of your retirement years is moving to a senior living community. From well-balanced meals to on-site fitness programs and life-enriching activities, the benefits of community living are numerous. These communities allow older adults to stay connected and engaged in ways living at home alone often can’t.

Unfortunately, misconceptions associated with senior communities can make older adults a little skeptical. They can even convince a senior to remain at home, despite being lonely or fearful about living alone. If you or a loved one are considering moving but aren’t sure it’s the right decision, this information will help you better understand senior living.

Busting the Myths About Senior Living Communities

  1. Residents are lonely.

This myth couldn’t be further from the truth! Even a short visit to a Heritage Senior Community will quickly dispel this idea. From informal gatherings in common areas and gardens to delicious meals with neighbors in the dining room, residents can be as involved as they choose.

  1. Communities are depressing.

This misperception might be linked to nursing homes of the past, which often resembled hospitals. Senior living communities, however, are usually warm, inviting places. First-time visitors often remark how lovely the communities and grounds are. Most are also a hub of activity with residents and families gathering for programs, special events, group outings, fitness programs, and more. It creates a vibrant environment for residents, staff, and visitors.

  1. It’s too expensive.

Another often-repeated myth is senior living is only for the wealthy, and it’s less expensive to stay at home. Older adults who live in a mortgage-free home are more likely to think this. However, with utilities, taxes, lawn care, and housekeeping often included in a community’s fees, you’ll find there isn’t much difference. This is especially true when a senior’s needs increase and they need to employ in-home caregivers. The average cost of home health care was $27 per hour in 2021.

  1. The food is awful.

This is another myth that couldn’t be less accurate. In many senior living communities, the food is fabulous! Most communities employ or consult with both chefs and nutritionists to plan menus that appeal to a variety of palates and dietary needs. Residents have their choice of menu options and mealtimes. An added perk is the socialization that occurs when residents gather in the dining room. Seniors who make a move to a community often find their health improves because they are enjoying more well-balanced, healthy meals.

Schedule a Visit to Heritage Today

The best way to dispel the myths you or a family elder might have about senior living is to visit a community in person. You can join us for a meal or participate in one of our many activities and programs. Call the community of your choice to set up a time!

Safety Tips for Alzheimer’s Caregivers

Safety Tips for Alzheimer’s Caregivers

After being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, some senior parents move in with their adult child. While many know it’s likely a short-term solution, it can give family members more time to explore options and create a plan of care they feel confident in.

As the senior’s disease progresses, new challenges arise. From bathroom safety to wandering, it’s important to create an environment that addresses common struggles people with Alzheimer’s experience.

Home Safety Tips

In the earlier stages of the disease, you’ll probably need to modify one or all of your bathrooms to make them safer for your aging parent. A few suggestions to consider include:

  • Mounting grab bars: Dementia can cause balance problems, including unsteadiness rising from a chair or the toilet. It’s a good idea to install sturdy grab bars near the toilet. You may also want to take down towel bars so the older adult isn’t tempted to pull on them. Because towel bars aren’t meant to hold much weight, they may pull away from the wall, resulting in the senior falling. It’s often helpful to add a grab bar near the senior’s bedside, too.
  • Installing a raised toilet seat: Another safety feature that might help is a raised toilet seat. They are fairly inexpensive and easy to install. For adults who are unsteady on their feet, they help minimize the risk of falling while using the toilet. Most drug stores and home improvement stores sell them for under $100.
  • Putting down nonskid mats: Throw rugs can be a fall hazard in any room. Pack them away while the senior is in residence. To help keep the senior safe getting in and out of the shower, especially with wet feet, put down nonskid mats. You can use them both inside the shower and outside on the bathroom floor.

If you store cleaning products or medications in the bathroom, add a lock to the cabinet door. As Alzheimer’s progresses, an adult might mistake these products for something else and ingest them. The same is true for cabinets where you keep cleaning products, knives, or other potentially hazardous household items.

Wandering from Home

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, six in ten adults with Alzheimer’s will wander from home at some point. Unfortunately, once a senior wanders they are more likely to do it again. That’s why it’s important to plan for the worst.

If you have a home security system, make sure it sounds an alert when an exterior door is opened. Adjust the volume if needed so the chime can be heard across the home. If your system doesn’t include cameras around the home’s exterior, it’s probably a good idea to add them.

In the event your loved one does wander, whether it’s from your home or another location, you’ll want to have a GPS tracking device that allows you to quickly locate them. Options have increased in recent years. Most are discreet enough not to be harmful to the senior’s self-esteem, such as:

  • Pocket devices: iTraq and PocketFinder are small devices designed to track everything from car keys to luggage. If a loved one has memory loss, you can drop these in their pocket when they are getting dressed in the morning. In the event of an emergency, you can track the user’s location from your smartphone or laptop.
  • GPS watch: Another option to explore is a GPS watch. There are a variety of models at different price points. The HandsFree Health Smart Watch is highly rated by reviewers. In addition to GPS tracking, it also offers two-way communication. That’s a nice feature for communicating with a loved one who is lost and frightened.
  • SmartSole: This very discreet GPS tracking system slides into an older adult’s shoe. It’s trimmable so you can fit it to the senior’s shoe size. No one will even know they are wearing it. You can track their location in five-minute increments and even receive an alert if they move out of a predetermined geozone.

One final suggestion is to create an Alzheimer’s Wandering Kit. If the worst happens and you can’t locate your loved one, this information will allow emergency responders to quickly get to work.

How to Ask for Help When You Are a Family Caregiver

How to Ask for Help When You Are a Family Caregiver

Dear Donna:

I’m the primary caregiver for my parents. They only live about 15 minutes from my husband, son, and me. While my siblings don’t live very far away, I am the oldest daughter and our parents’ care has fallen to me.

In the early days, taking care of my mom and dad primarily meant picking up groceries and helping them with lawn care. It was easy and allowed them to stay in their home.

Lately, however, it’s become a full-time role. In addition to working part-time, I still have a teenaged son at home. I’ve tried to drop hints to my siblings that I need help, but they either don’t get it or aren’t interested. My husband is getting more and more angry about it, and I’m not sure what to do.

Do you have any advice? The time has come for me to have some help.


Lisa in Holland, MI

Tips for Getting Siblings to Help with Caregiving

Dear Lisa,

Let me start by saying you aren’t alone. I’ve had similar conversations with more eldest daughters than I can count over the years! It’s very common for families to look to daughters, especially the oldest, when an aging parent or parents need help.

Here’s what I would suggest:

  • Schedule a family meeting: Invite your siblings to meet at your house. It’s best to find a few hours when you won’t be interrupted.
  • Make a list: Create a list of the caregiving duties you and your husband have been doing. Then make a second list of items you want a sibling to help with.
  • Be direct: It sounds like dropping hints hasn’t been working. You need to come right out and say you need your siblings to pitch in. Be kind but emphatic.
  • Take notes: Keep good notes detailing everyone’s caregiving duties. Let your siblings know you’ll provide each of them with a copy after your meeting to make sure you are all on the same page moving forward.
  • Offer alternatives: If one or more of your siblings isn’t willing or able to assist in your parents’ care, perhaps they can help finance alternatives. For example, will they pay for someone to clean your parents’ house each week or for a meal delivery service? Or perhaps a week of respite care for your parents at an assisted living community every six weeks or so?
  • Utilize a geriatric care manager: Some families find it useful to hire a geriatric care manager, also known as an aging life care expert, to help them navigate the situation. They have experience helping families work together and find solutions.

One final piece of advice is to consider that your parents’ quality of life might improve if they moved to an assisted living community. From nutritious, well-balanced meals to daily activities, it’s an environment designed to support success for seniors. And it will allow you to spend more quality time with them. “Benefits of Moving to Assisted Living” might be a good article to review before you sit down with your siblings.

Please let me know if you have any more questions!

Kind regards,