The Health Benefits of Journaling When You Are a Senior

The Health Benefits of Journaling When You Are a Senior

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Write without stopping; don’t worry about spelling and grammar. Just keep going.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

The Therapeutic Value of Journaling When You are a Caregiver

The Therapeutic Value of Journaling When You are a Caregiver

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:

  1. Physical Health: Journaling positively impacts physical well-being. Research shows it can reduce symptoms of chronic diseases like arthritis and asthma.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Insomnia and Aging: How to Get a Good Night’s Rest

Insomnia and Aging: How to Get a Good Night’s Rest

Dear Donna:

Since I retired a few years ago, I’ve developed insomnia. While I know many people have difficulty sleeping well as they get older, it’s new for me. I’ve read sleep issues can contribute to health problems, so I know I need to beat this.

Do you have any suggestions? The fatigue is really catching up with me this winter, and the timing is bad. I’m downsizing my house so I can start exploring independent living communities in Michigan to move to next summer. It’s hard work and I need more sleep so I can get things done!


Debbie in West Branch, MI

Tips for Seniors Trying to Beat Insomnia

Dear Debbie:

Thanks for writing to me! First, know that sleep challenges become more common with age. Research shows as much as 30 percent of the population suffers from insomnia. But for older adults, the number soars to as high as 50 percent! Some seniors express difficulty falling asleep and others say it’s tough to stay asleep. As you mentioned, the lack of rest can take a toll on your health.

  • Eat right and exercise: When you are tired from a lack of sleep, bad habits are more likely to slip in. Eating unhealthy comfort foods, sitting too much, and exercising too little are a few. It’s a vicious circle. Try to work on making better food choices and getting regular exercise. Start small, such as taking a 10-minute walk each morning and limiting how much time you spend watching television or on social media.
  • Find healthy stress busters: You mentioned you are preparing for a move to an independent living community this spring. Even when you are excited about a move, change can be tough. Try to explore a few ways to naturally manage daily stress. Some suggestions might be meditation, chair yoga, or journaling.
  • Develop sleep rituals: The lack of structure retirement often brings is another potential cause of insomnia. You might be able to overcome it by developing a sleep routine and rituals. Turn off your television and other devices at least one hour before bedtime to give your brain an opportunity to rest. Creating a dark, peaceful sleep environment helps too. If you can’t sleep when it’s too quiet, try using a white noise machine or a fan. Finally, go to bed and get up at the same time every day.
  • Limit caffeine: Another common cycle that develops among seniors who have sleep problems is consuming too much caffeine. The energy boost it provides can be hard to resist when you are feeling weary. While caffeine does help in the short term, it can contribute to insomnia. Try to limit caffeine intake to the morning. Also, take time to learn about hidden sources of caffeine in your diet. Some examples include candy, supplements, protein bars, ice cream, and pain relievers.

If you try these ideas and still can’t get a good night’s sleep, schedule an appointment with your primary care physician. You might have a condition like sleep apnea that requires medical intervention.

Kind regards,


How to Spark Joy in a Senior with Alzheimer’s

How to Spark Joy in a Senior with Alzheimer’s

If a senior in your family has Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, you might find yourself wondering how they are feeling. As the disease impairs their communication skills, it can be tough to assess their emotional well-being. Dementia experts have long believed that people with even advanced Alzheimer’s and dementia can experience sadness and joy. However, there wasn’t any concrete evidence to prove it.

In 2010, a study conducted at the University of Iowa showed how emotions linger after memory fails. Let’s look at the study and how you can spark joy for adults with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia.

What Research Shows about Alzheimer’s, Emotions, and Memory

The study was comprised of 34 older adults who were split into two groups: a group of adults with Alzheimer’s disease and a group of healthy adults.

Researchers first asked each participant how they were feeling and documented their responses. Once a baseline emotional status was determined, participants were shown eight movie and television scenes considered to be sad. Five minutes after participants were done watching the scenes, researchers asked each participant what they remembered and how they felt. They repeated these questions after 15 minutes and then again 30 minutes later.

After taking a five-minute break, the study resumed.

This time, participants were shown movie and television clips believed to stimulate joy and happiness. Researchers then asked each participant the same sequence of follow-up questions as before.

The study seemed to indicate that even though the participants with Alzheimer’s couldn’t recall what they watched, they did remember how the scenes made them feel. Their memories were gone, but the emotions lingered. Unfortunately, this research suggests that sadness is the emotion that lasts the longest.

While this study was small, it offers preliminary support for the need to create meaningful days and a positive environment for adults with Alzheimer’s. So, what can you do to spark joy for a loved one with dementia? Here are a few ideas you might find helpful.

Creating Happy Days for Adults with Dementia

  • Exercise: Physical activity can help calm anxiety. It also promotes feelings of accomplishment and purpose, especially outdoor activities. Walking is a great option. During colder months, stretching or chair yoga can boost happiness.
  • Music: Music therapy has well-documented therapeutic benefits. Play music from your loved one’s happiest days. If they are able, encourage them to dance or shuffle around a bit with you. They will not only benefit from the activity, but from the memories the music sparks. If you have kids in the house, try to get them to join you!
  • Gardening: This is another life enrichment activity shown to benefit those with Alzheimer’s disease. Get supplies for a stand up or raised garden bed, container garden, or window box. These forms of gardening have a lower risk for falls. A word of caution: use only non-toxic plants in case the older adult ingests them. You might want to quickly review this list of toxic plants.
  • Nature: People don’t always realize what a stressbuster spending time in nature can be. For an adult with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, caring for birds, watching the butterflies, and just relaxing in the sunshine can lift the spirit.
  • Arts and crafts: One of the best parts of enjoying arts and crafts is the variety of ability levels these projects can encompass. From simple activities like putting photos in an album to more detailed ones like watercolor painting, the very process of creating is empowering.
  • Pets: While you might not have time to adopt a dog or cat, a visit to a petting zoo or humane society might give your loved one a chance to enjoy a little pet therapy. Some rescue organizations look for volunteers to spend time with the animals they are trying to rehome. You could make it a weekly outing if your senior loved one is able to safely do so.

Specialized Dementia Care at Heritage

At Heritage Senior Communities, we understand the vital role life enrichment activities play in promoting joy and self-esteem in our residents with dementia. From raised gardening beds to music therapy, residents in our dementia care neighborhoods enjoy specialized programming designed to work with their abilities. Call the Heritage dementia care community nearest you to learn more today!

New Year’s Resolutions: How to Start 2022 on a Healthy Note

New Year’s Resolutions: How to Start 2022 on a Healthy Note

As 2021 draws to a close, most of us are looking forward to a fresh start. While many people use this time to make New Year’s resolutions, few stick to them. Since 2021 was another turbulent year, making wellness the focus for the upcoming year is more important than ever.

Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail

Before you set any goals for 2022, it may be helpful to learn why so many people fail to stick with their resolutions. According to personal growth experts, there are many reasons people don’t meet their goals. Setting unrealistic resolutions, being impatient, and not having clear targets are a few leading reasons people give up. Resolutions rarely last more than a few weeks.

As you prepare to welcome 2022, remember to make your resolutions clear and attainable. Instead of listing “lose weight” or “exercise more” as goals, be more specific. How much weight do you want to lose each month? What is your overall weight loss goal? What kind of exercise will you engage in and how often? Setting specific, measurable objectives increases the likelihood of achieving your resolutions.

Think Holistically in 2022

While a well-balanced diet and regular exercise are important parts of your 2022 fitness plan, wellness involves much more than the body. It also means focusing on your mind and spirit.

Here are a few ways to get healthier in the new year:

  • Limit screen time: Whether it’s scrolling social media or binge-watching the latest Netflix series, too much screen time is linked to a sedentary lifestyle. It can also contribute to stress and depression. Between COVID-19 challenges and nonstop political news, it’s easy to get overwhelmed when you stare at screens too long. Limit your daily screen activity by setting very specific goals, including what types of programs you’ll watch and how much time you’ll spend on social media. While staying connected is important, overconsumption is unhealthy.
  • Volunteer virtually: If you are limiting public interactions because of the coronavirus or winter weather, you can still donate your time and talent to a great cause. Nonprofit organizations have lost a lot of volunteers amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Many have begun to create virtual volunteer jobs. Your local United Way agency might be able to help you find a virtual opportunity near you. Another option is to search an online volunteer network, like Volunteer Match. In addition to on-site volunteer jobs, they also maintain a database of agencies looking for remote support.
  • Learn to meditate: Living in the moment is a matter of discipline. It is also necessary for a healthy life. Meditation is one way to accomplish this, and it can be performed anywhere. It’s also a good way to manage chronic pain. A few resources to help you get started are Headspace and Calm.
  • Keep a gratitude journal: Before you go to sleep each night, write down 5–7 good things that happened to you during the day. Even simple joys such as playing catch with the dog or watching a cardinal at the bird feeder can help you develop a habit of focusing on the positive. During tumultuous times, journaling can help keep your mind and spirit on a healthy track.

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If you found this article to be of interest, bookmark the Heritage Senior Communities Blog and visit often. We publish new articles every week on topics ranging from healthy living to caregiving and senior care. It’s a great way to stay on top of the latest news on aging with success!