As we close the book on the tumultuous year that was 2020, many people continue to experience a great deal of stress. While the COVID-19 pandemic persists, there are a variety of reasons to feel anxious. Uncertainty about a vaccine, worries about exposure, and isolation are among the most common.
Because chronic stress is linked to health issues ranging from headaches and weight gain to diabetes and heart disease, it’s important to learn healthy ways to navigate tough times. When you don’t have positive ways of coping, unhealthy behaviors are more likely to develop.
Many people find regular journaling eases stress. It can be a productive way to sort out your feelings, focus on your blessings, and keep grounded. In fact, University of Texas at Austin psychologist and researcher James Pennebaker believes regular journaling may even improve your health.
Journaling your feelings and fears helps you find solutions and peace. It can strengthen your immune system, increasing your odds of fighting off infections and staying healthy.
How and Why You Should Journal
One study highlighted the importance of journaling about what is really getting you down. Researchers found that 47% of patients with a chronic health condition experienced improvement in their physical and emotional well-being after writing honestly about what was impacting their lives. In contrast, people who journaled solely about everyday activities only had a 24% improvement. The bottom line was writing about what really hurts is difficult but meaningful.
If you’ve never tried journaling before, here’s some advice for getting started:
- Your journal doesn’t have to be expensive or particularly beautiful. While something nice to write in might entice you to journal more, even a spiral notebook will work.
- Journal at least four times a week to document your fears and hopes. Twenty to thirty minutes at a time is optimal for many people.
- Write without stopping; don’t worry about spelling and grammar. Just keep going.
- Write this for your eyes only. You’ll be more inclined to be open and honest if you don’t worry about what others might think.
- If writing about something makes you too upset, stop. Take a break and try again another day.
The Therapeutic Value of Journaling When You are a Caregiver offers more tips on journaling for better health. While written for family caregivers, much of the advice can be applied to anyone.
Heritage Responds to the COVID-19 Pandemic
At Heritage Senior Communities, we understand how fearful people are of being exposed to the coronavirus. Older adults are at highest risk for serious health consequences if they develop it. Coronavirus Precautions has tips to help you reduce your chances of being exposed, as well as information on our communities’ prevention measures. As conditions change, so will our response.
If you have ever kept a diary, you probably already know the clarity getting your thoughts down on paper can bring. Writing is a therapeutic form of self-expression known to relieve anxiety and stress.
The Therapeutic Value of Journaling for Caregivers
Caring for aging parents or another senior loved one can be tough on many different levels. There are moments of joy and then there are times of sadness. The rollercoaster of emotions is often difficult to manage.
Journaling is one tool family caregivers can use to process their own feelings and record life events. It provides family caregivers a safe place to honestly record their innermost thoughts.
Words that Heal
Journaling can also be a powerful healing tool for caregivers. A few common benefits include:
- Physical Health: Journaling positively impacts physical well-being. Research shows it can reduce symptoms of chronic diseases like arthritis and asthma.
- Reduce Anxiety and Stress: Caregivers may experience a wide range of emotions every day from sorrow and despair to joy and gratitude. Writing can help you understand and process difficult feelings like anger and resentment. It can also allow you to find moments of happiness amidst the toughest days of caregiving.
- Personal Time: Every family caregiver needs a few minutes of personal time every day. Journaling is a way to slow down and focus on your own feelings and fears.
- Problem-solving: Writing your worries down on paper allows you to access the right side of the brain. It’s the part of your brain where creative thought comes from. Let’s say you’ve been struggling with how to talk with your mother about her diabetes and the impact a poor diet is having on her health. After journaling about the problem, you may realize one solution is to talk with your mom about moving to a Michigan senior living community. Healthy meals that meet her dietary restrictions will be provided for her.
Journaling Prompts about Caregiving
If you would like to give journaling a try but aren’t quite sure how to get started, this exercise will help.
Set a timer for 10 to 15 minutes once every day. Use the time to write freely and to complete each of the following sentences:
- Today I feel…
- I’m looking forward to…
- I’m worried about…
- I’m grateful for…
Remember, when you are a caregiver, it’s important to make an extra effort to take care of you. By caring for your own health and well-being, you can be present to more fully care for your senior loved one.
Indiana and Michigan winters are known for being cold and snowy. The rough weather can take a toll on the immune system, especially for older adults. Then there are concerns about the viruses that reappear or worsen during the winter months, such as influenza, RSV, and COVID-19. While they can be annoying and uncomfortable at any age, these viruses can be especially dangerous for seniors.
At this time each year, we try to share a few tips to help seniors and their family members pump up their immunity. It’s important because a healthy immune system is vital for everything from warding off disease to protecting you against infections.
Tips to Help Seniors and Caregivers Boost Their Immune System
A few ways you can give your immune system the boost it needs before the worst of winter arrives include:
- Adopting a healthy diet: When the days are frigid and gray, many of us seek comfort. We might spend more time on the couch curled up watching television or with a book. Our need for comfort often includes overindulging in foods that are high in carbs and sugar. While you might get a short-term boost from those types of snacks and meals, they will leave you feeling more tired and sluggish in the long run. Winter might be a great time to explore a new way of eating. One diet that receives the highest marks from experts year after year is the Mediterranean Diet. Rich in lean protein and fresh fruits and vegetables, it’s believed to help guard against heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and some forms of cancer. The Mediterranean lifestyle also places high value on hydration, whether it’s drinking water or eating fruits and vegetables known for being hydrating.
- Being active: Winter weather often forces people to spend more time indoors. Doing so makes it much too easy to slip into unhealthy habits, such as watching too much television and skipping exercise. That combination is bad for your body’s natural immunity. A sedentary lifestyle increases the risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes, depression, and high blood pressure. Fortunately, there are many options for exercising indoors during winter Tech products, such as an Apple Watch or a Fitbit, can remind you it’s time to get up and move. Tai Chi, Pilates, cycling on a recumbent bike, using resistance bands, and practicing chair yoga can be done in the privacy of your own home.
- Protecting mental health: When the winter winds blow, people often feel melancholy and sad. Others experience higher amounts of stress and anxiety. Each of these can negatively impact your body’s immunity. Another health matter to be aware of is seasonal affective disorder (SAD). It can lead to a serious case of depression. That’s why it’s important to have a plan in place for nurturing the spirit. A few options to explore are meditation, arts and crafts projects, journaling, or music therapy.
- Sleeping well: Insomnia and other sleep problems increase with age. It can be the result of a lack of exercise, a medication, sleep apnea, and more. If you are struggling to get a good night’s rest, talk to your physician. They might have some suggestions for you to try, including referring you for a sleep study to help identify the root cause and potential treatment options.
- Updating vaccines: If you haven’t seen your primary care physician this year, schedule an appointment for a physical. That will provide you with an opportunity to check in with your doctor about which vaccines you need. From an annual flu shot to the new RSV vaccine, there are good tools for protecting against common viruses. If you do come down with the flu or COVID-19, for example, being vaccinated helps you avoid hospitalization.
Try Respite Care at Heritage This Winter
If the idea of you or a senior loved one spending winter months at home alone causes stress, you might want to consider a respite stay at Heritage. You can be our guest for a few weeks or months. During your short-term stay, you’ll enjoy the same amenities and services as our long-term residents.
From opportunities to socialize to well-balanced meals, it’s a great way to make the winter a little less cold and lonely. Call a Heritage community near you to learn more!
Heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in four deaths in this country is linked to a cardiovascular-related condition. While some problems are due to genetic risk factors, others are related to the choices you make every day.
From exercise and movement to alcohol and smoking, here are some lifestyle tips that can help you keep your heart healthy.
Lifestyle Choices and Heart Disease
- Keep moving: Regular exercise plays an important role in heart health. Staying active throughout the day is equally important. That means reducing the amount of time you spend sitting. Research shows that a sedentary lifestyle can be almost as dangerous for your health as smoking.
- Manage stress: Unfortunately, stress is a part of everyday life for most people. How well you manage it, however, can impact your heart’s health. Finding positive ways to keep stress under control is important. Try exploring stress-reducing hobbies, such as Pilates, gardening, journaling, meditation, swimming, walking, and yoga.
- Watch your diet: Much has been written about the heart health benefits of a Mediterranean style of eating and the DASH Diet. Both focus on fruits, vegetables, nuts, and lean proteins. Research shows that people who adopt these types of diets tend to live longer, healthier lives.
- Limit sodium intake: From our restaurants to our reliance on processed foods, Western diets are notoriously high in sodium. Bottom line? Most Americans consume too much salt. Reducing your intake can help lower your blood pressure and your risk for heart disease.
- Monitor your cholesterol: High cholesterol is one of the biggest contributors to developing heart disease. While family history does factor into your cholesterol levels, so does lifestyle. It’s important to work with your primary care physician to have your cholesterol checked on a regular basis and to develop a plan for controlling it if necessary.
- Quit smoking: Most of us think of lung cancer when it comes to the risks of smoking. But experts say tobacco use is also a cause of heart disease and strokes. Secondhand smoke is deadly too. If you are a smoker or live with one, ask your doctor about cessation programs with high success rates. Even if you’ve been unsuccessful in attempts to quit in the past, your heart’s health is worth another try.
- Limit alcohol consumption: This one catches many people unaware. Alcohol consumption damages your health in many ways. When it comes to your cardiovascular system, alcohol consumption increases blood pressure while adding empty calories to your diet.
- Stay connected: Socializing is another way to improve your overall well-being. Seniors who live more engaged lives tend to be healthier. Whether it is volunteering, taking classes at a local community college, or spending time with friends, staying connected with the world around you is important.
Start by making a few small changes at a time and sticking with them. For example, give up two unhealthy foods a week while increasing your level of physical activity.
One more suggestion is to find a heart health buddy who shares your commitment to making changes. You can offer moral support to each other to stay on track.
Live Well during Retirement at a Heritage Community
From a wide range of daily activities to healthy menus, Heritage communities make it easier to live your best life. Contact a community near you to set up a private tour and learn more today!
You’ve likely heard that as we grow older, we require less sleep. Some people believe it’s why many seniors get up so darn early. But sleep experts disagree. Adults need between seven and nine hours of quality sleep each night no matter their age.
What does change, however, is the prevalence of insomnia and other sleep disorders. Research shows that as many as 50% of people over the age of 60 suffer from a sleep disorder. A senior might struggle to get a good night’s rest and give up trying. They eventually settle for a short night of less-than-ideal sleep. This may be the origin of the myth that older adults need less sleep.
What Is Insomnia?
Insomnia is a condition that causes people to have difficulty falling or staying asleep. Sleep occurs in several stages, starting with a light, dreamless slumber. It continues on to periods of active dreaming, known as REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. As we age, these patterns often change. The amount of time you spend in each sleep stage can be disrupted. It can cause seniors to wake up frequently throughout the night or to awaken and be unable to fall back asleep.
A few common signs of insomnia are:
- Difficulty getting to sleep
- Poor quality, non-restful sleep
- Waking up at least three times throughout the night
Why Seniors Often Experience Trouble Sleeping
Sleep disorders in seniors can be the result of a variety of medical issues, some of which can be treated. For example, certain health conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, anxiety, depression, or sleep apnea can make quality sleep tougher to come by. Another factor might be chronic pain. Illnesses such as osteoarthritis or an autoimmune disease often cause persistent pain that makes a good night’s rest more challenging.
Environment might play a role, too. If a senior’s bedroom is too bright, warm, or noisy, it can interfere with rest. Then there is the possibility that poor sleep is a side effect of a medication. Beta blockers—a class of drugs used to treat high blood pressure, arrhythmias, and angina—are prescribed for many seniors and can increase the risk for insomnia.
Finally, a lack of exercise is another possibility. Too much sitting can make you feel tired and sluggish, but that doesn’t translate to good quality sleep. According to the National Library of Medicine, a lack of exercise is associated with insomnia at every age.
Ways to Beat Insomnia and Get a Good Night’s Rest
If you just aren’t able to consistently sleep well, a few suggestions include:
- Sticking with a routine: Routines provide structure. That helps both the mind and body. Try going to bed at night and getting up in the morning at the same time every day. Turn off all electronic devices at least an hour before heading to bed. Engaging in soothing activities that help you unwind, such as reading or taking a warm bath, might also work.
- Creating a peaceful environment: The bedroom should be a calm and peaceful place. It’s important to have a good mattress and soft sheets. Another tip for creating a relaxing sleep environment is to turn the thermostat down a bit overnight.
- Working out in the morning: While exercise is important and aids in promoting good sleep, it can raise your body’s core temperature and boost adrenaline. Try to work out in the morning or at least three hours before bedtime.
- Avoiding late-day naps: If you can avoid taking a daily nap altogether, that’s best. However, if you have to nap, do so earlier in the day. That helps prevent daytime shut-eye from interfering with your ability to fall asleep.
- Limiting stimulants: Caffeine, alcohol, and other stimulants should be consumed in moderation and avoided completely later in the day. While they may not prevent you from falling asleep, they often cause people to wake up in the night and be unable to return to sleep.
- Clearing your mind: Try to deal with the worries of your day before getting into bed. Quiet the mind and focus on peaceful thoughts. Meditation, journaling, stretching, and other activities that promote emotional resilience can be beneficial.
If your best efforts at getting a good night’s rest don’t yield results, it’s likely time to see the doctor. They might be able to figure out the root cause or schedule an overnight sleep study.
Follow the Heritage Blog
With articles ranging from caregiving to healthy aging posted each week, the Heritage Blog is designed to keep older adults and their families informed. We encourage you to bookmark this page and visit often!