Does Your Diet Need a Heart-Smart Makeover?

Does Your Diet Need a Heart-Smart Makeover?

Heart disease continues to be the leading cause of death for both men and women worldwide. The statistics are startling. Research shows that 1 in 4 deaths are linked to heart disease. Heart health experts say it doesn’t have to be this way. Many of the risk factors that lead to cardiac-related illnesses can be controlled through lifestyle choices, especially what we do and don’t eat.

In honor of National Heart Month, we are sharing a few tips to give your diet a heart-smart makeover.

Ways to Improve Heart Health through Diet

  • Start the day with a healthy breakfast.

You’ve probably heard your doctor or another medical professional say it’s important not to skip breakfast. That’s because breakfast sets the tone for the food choices you’ll make all day—good or bad. A high protein breakfast, such as a bowl of oatmeal or a smoothie, will help you feel full longer. You’ll be less likely to feel sluggish and crave sugary treats mid-morning.

  • Watch your sodium intake.

This can be tricky. Some sodium is necessary for maintaining proper fluid levels in the body, as well as for nerve and muscle function. Too much, however, can set you up for cardiac issues. It contributes to high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease. Unfortunately, many western diets contain too much sodium. “Get the Scoop on Sodium and Salt” is a good article to review.

  • Limit sugary treats and beverages.

Sugary treats like baked goods, soda, and candy are another part of many people’s diets. While an occasional indulgence is probably fine, moderation is important. Elevated blood sugar is linked to heart disease, especially among women. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 6 teaspoons per day of added sugar for women and 9 teaspoons per day for men.

  • Incorporate foods with soluble fiber into your menus.

Soluble fiber plays a role in overall health, including managing cholesterol and blood sugar. Both of these are important to maintaining a healthy heart. The American Heart Association Eating Plan recommends a total intake of 25 to 30 grams of dietary fiber a day with 6 to 8 grams of it being soluble fiber.

  • Avoid or limit processed foods.

Many times, seniors who live alone rely on fast foods or convenience foods to avoid cooking for one. While they might be easier, most are high in sodium, trans fat, and calories. All of these contribute to weight gain, obesity, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure, which are known risk factors for heart disease.

  • Limit alcoholic beverages.

One surprising lifestyle choice people don’t often associate with heart problems is consuming too much alcohol. While some studies say red wine might be good for your heart, not everyone agrees. Ask your doctor for advice based on your personal medical history.

  • Explore Mediterranean-style diets.

People who live in areas surrounding the Mediterranean Sea seem to have lower incidences of a variety of illnesses ranging from diabetes and heart disease to Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Learning more about the Mediterranean diet might help you adopt a healthier way of eating.

  • Build a strong relationship with a primary care doctor.

One final suggestion is to find a primary care doctor you trust and feel comfortable with and see them regularly. You’ll be more likely to stay on track with preventive tests and screenings when you have an established relationship with a doctor.

Nutritious Meals Served Every Day at Heritage

Residents at Heritage communities enjoy delicious, nutritious meals every day. If you or a loved one is considering moving to a senior living community in Michigan or Indiana, we invite you to call us and schedule a visit. One of our experienced team members will be happy to take you on a tour and arrange for you to stay for lunch! Call us today to set up a time.

Is Your Senior Loved One Experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Is Your Senior Loved One Experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Does your aging parent or a senior in your family have a case of the “winter blues” they just can’t seem to shake? More than 6.5 million Americans over the age of 55 are impacted by seasonal depression. Shorter days, less sunlight, and more time spent indoors can increase feelings of sadness in the wintertime.

This change in mood could be a condition known as seasonal affective disorder, also referred to as SAD. It primarily occurs during colder months.

Recognizing the Signs of Seasonal Affective Disorder in Seniors

If your loved one’s depressed mood has lasted for two weeks or more, it is probably time to seek professional help. Mayo Clinic warns caregivers to look for the following symptoms of seasonal affective disorder:

  • Unintentional weight gain or weight loss
  • Anger, irritability, or agitation
  • Fatigue or low energy
  • Difficulty socializing
  • Self-isolation
  • Heavy, “leaden” feeling in the arms or legs
  • Trouble falling asleep, insomnia, or oversleeping
  • Hopelessness
  • Appetite changes, especially a craving for carbohydrates

If the symptoms outlined above could describe your senior loved one, you probably need to take action. Here are a few ideas that may be useful.


How Family Members Can Help a Seniors with SAD

  • Get outside: A lack of sunlight, common in most parts of the world in winter, disrupts the sleep-wake cycle and brain chemicals. One way to help an older loved one feel better is to get outdoors each day. Accompany your loved one on a stroll around their neighborhood. Soaking up natural light helps to reset vitamin D levels and boost mood.
  • Open the blinds: Brighten up the spaces where your loved one spends most of his or her time. Open blinds and curtains to allow sunlight into rooms. Turn on all of the lights. It might also help to add plants and greenery to the home to simulate a more natural environment.
  • Consider light therapy: Using a light therapy lamp for 30 to 45 minutes a day can bring relief to seniors struggling with seasonal depression, says Harvard Medical School. These devices give off nondamaging UV rays that mimic natural sunlight and help regulate brain chemicals.
  • Promote an active lifestyle: Staying physically active may help your loved one manage his or her SAD symptoms. Chair stretches and low-impact exercises like swimming at a local fitness club not only help seniors feel vital, but can also alleviate symptoms of depression.
  • Eat a healthy diet: Since some experts believe SAD may be a result of vitamin deficiencies, consuming a well-rounded diet rich in nutrients may also lessen symptoms. Encourage the senior to prioritize fruits, vegetables, and lean protein in their diet.
  • Encourage mindfulness: Try to urge your senior family member to engage in activities like meditation, Tai Chi, and yoga, which are offered at many senior living communities. Because they nurture the body, mind, and spirit, they often help combat depression.

If you suspect your loved one is struggling with seasonal affective disorder, encourage them to schedule an appointment to talk to their doctor. They are the most qualified to evaluate the situation and determine a course of treatment.

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How Is Assisted Living Different from Home Care?

How Is Assisted Living Different from Home Care?

Dear Donna:

My parents both turned 80 this year and still live independently in their own home. Recently, I’ve noticed signs that have me wondering if we’ll need to make a change soon. Their house isn’t quite as clean and cared for as it’s always been, and even my mom’s physical appearance is a little less tidy.

I think it’s time for me to start exploring senior care options. One thing I don’t quite understand is how home care is different from assisted living. Do they offer the same services? Is it cheaper to stay home and hire a caregiver? My parents have the means to do either but have always been frugal. Finances will be an issue that impacts their decision.


Haley in Traverse City, MI

Home Care versus Assisted Living for Older Adults

Dear Haley:

Planning ahead is always a great idea when it comes to aging parents and their well-being. Failing to create a backup plan often means adult children are forced to find senior living after a loved one experiences a health crisis or accident. That makes an already stressful situation even worse.

When you are assisting an aging parent who is investigating their options for care, deciding between home care and assisted living is a common struggle. It really comes down to whether a senior loved one can age in place with support like home care or if they are better off transitioning to an assisted living community.

Cost plays a key role in making this decision. Many people mistakenly believe it is less expensive to age at home. Assisted living costs can be equal to or lower than remaining in a private home.

Other factors to take into account when comparing aging in place with assisted living include your parents’ health, availability of loved ones nearby to provide assistance, and the safety of their home. Many older homes aren’t built with the needs of seniors in mind. It can put them at increased risk for falls, which are a leading cause of serious injury among older people.

Here are a few more expenses to consider when deciding between aging at home and moving to assisted living.

Costs of Aging in Place versus Moving to Assisted Living

  • Home maintenance and modification

When aging parents live in a home without a mortgage, it’s easy to assume staying at home and hiring an in-home caregiver is less expensive. Sometimes it is, at least temporarily.

In addition to utilities, however, a homeowner must also pay for maintenance and upkeep, property taxes, and repairs. Appliances will need to be replaced on occasion, including major appliances like the furnace, water heater, and air conditioning.

Depending upon the home and the seniors’ abilities, safety modifications, such as installing a step-free shower or improving lighting, might also need to be made. Those will significantly increase expenses. Older adults who age at home will reach a point when they can no longer maintain their home independently. They often need to hire service providers for chores like housecleaning, lawn care, grocery shopping, and meal preparation. One benefit of assisted living communities is that these expenses are typically included in the base monthly fees.

  • Personal care

The aging process can bring unavoidable physical changes. Some might make the activities of daily living difficult for an older couple to handle independently. Personal care tasks, such as bathing, grooming, and dressing, might require a helping hand. That’s also true for menu planning, meal preparation, and transportation.

If your parents eventually need to hire an in-home caregiver for assistance, the expense can quickly add up. The cost of private duty home care has risen significantly since the COVID-19 pandemic. Agencies now charge from $28 to $40 or more an hour, and many require a minimum number of hours per visit or per week.

By contrast, assisted living residents receive much of this support as part of their monthly fee. This includes meal preparation, housekeeping, wellness programs, personal care, transportation, and more. Unlike with home care, assisted living caregivers are on-site and available around the clock.

I hope this information is helpful, Haley! Please contact the Heritage community nearest to you if you have any more questions or would like to schedule a tour.

Kind regards,


What Is Parkinson’s Dementia?

What Is Parkinson’s Dementia?

Dear Donna:

A dear friend and colleague I’ve worked with for many years is the caregiver for her husband, who has Parkinson’s disease. For a long time, she was able to manage his care at home with help from their teenaged children. Several months ago, however, they had to hire professional caregivers through an agency.

Recently, her husband was diagnosed with Parkinson’s dementia. Several of us at work are wondering what this means and how we can help support our friend and her husband.

Do you have any advice?


Theresa in Kalkaska, MI

Learn More about Parkinson’s Dementia

Dear Theresa:

Thank you for your letter! It provides us with an opportunity to share information on this disease and how it can impact an entire family.

Researchers say 50 to 80 percent of adults living with Parkinson’s will also develop dementia. The condition can create unique safety issues for the person with Parkinson’s and their loved ones.

The symptoms of Parkinson’s dementia are similar to Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. While the disease affects everyone differently, the most common signs often include:

  • Memory loss and forgetfulness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Trouble maintaining a conversation
  • Insomnia and other sleep problems
  • Anxiety and agitation
  • Frightening hallucinations
  • Quick to anger or tearfulness
  • Depression or extreme sadness
  • Difficulty finding the right words
  • Decline in judgment and decision-making

As you’ve probably witnessed with your friend, caring for someone with this disease is difficult. It can require around-the-clock assistance, leaving the caregiver exhausted and stressed. But there are a few ways friends can help.

  • Make very specific offers to help: Instead of saying “Let me know if you need anything,” try “I’m going to the grocery store tonight. What can I pick up for you?” Or “Can I stay with your husband for an hour or so while you go out for coffee or have a pedicure?”
  • Drop off meals: People who are taking care of a loved one often put their own wellness on the back burner. They skip exercising and rely on convenience foods. You and your colleagues might consider dropping off healthy meals a few times a week. Apps like Meal Train make it easier to work together.
  • Be a good listener: Sometimes the best way to help a family caregiver is by providing a sympathetic ear. Your friend is likely experiencing a rollercoaster of emotions during this time. Encouraging her to talk might help her process her feelings.
  • Ask her what she needs: It might be a good idea just to ask your friend what she needs help with that day or week. Many caregivers are reluctant to ask for or accept help. Be prepared to find ways to work around that resistance.
  • Explore respite care: You mentioned your friend was working with a home care agency for additional support. Another option she might not be aware of is respite care in an assisted living community. Her husband can be a short-term guest of the community to give your friend a break. It might be helpful to explore what is available in your city and share the list with her.

I hope this information is useful to you! Please call the Heritage community in your area if you have any questions.

Kind regards,