How to Prevent a Senior From Getting the Holiday Blues

How to Prevent a Senior From Getting the Holiday Blues

Dear Donna,

With the holiday season quickly approaching, I have what some people might think is a strange question. Last year, around mid-December, I noticed that my Mom seemed to be feeling down a lot.

She’s 80, and I’m wondering if she was feeling a touch of the holiday blues. I’ve heard of this, but I’m not sure what causes it. I’d like to keep this from happening again. What can I do to keep her spirits up this holiday season?

Thank you,

Beth in Grand Rapids

The Holiday Blues and Older Adults

Dear Beth,

Thank you for asking this question. It’s not a strange one at all!

Mental health is an important issue this time of year, and you’re very perceptive for wondering about your mom’s frame of mind. Here are a few reasons why she may be feeling down, plus some suggestions about how you can help.

Commons Reasons Seniors Develop the Holiday Blues

  1. Long Distance Family

We all like to think this is the ‘season of joy’ but not everyone experiences the season in quite the same way. For some seniors, the holidays can actually bring sadness—especially if their children and grandchildren live far away.

From your letter, it sounds like your mom lives near you in Grand Rapids. Are there other family members, perhaps outside of Michigan, that she yearns to see? Can you arrange for them to visit during the holidays?

  1. Loss of Significant Other or Others They Hold Dear

Even seniors who are surrounded by family members all year long can still suffer sadness. One reason is they may be facing their first holiday season without their spouse. Many have lost friends or other family members, and the holiday season can highlight their absence, too.

Has your mom recently lost someone dear to her? If so, there’s no denying the sadness she may be feeling. You can help by being there for her. If and when she wants to talk, be a good listener. Encourage her to express her feelings to you at any time. Check in with her every day and let her know that you care.

  1. Thoughts of Better (Healthier) Times

This season triggers memories of past holiday celebrations in all of us. For older adults, those memories may only heighten their awareness of aging. Some older adults get the holiday blues because they’re mourning the loss of their own mobility or other physical capabilities.

Has your mom been experiencing health issues? Is she frail or experiencing a loss of appetite?

If you think the symptoms of aging might be causing her holiday sadness, try to plan some fun outings in the upcoming weeks. How about a spa day? Museums or a show? Holiday shopping? Be sure to plan outings that are manageable day for her.

Distracting her from any health issues she may have can help improve her mental well-being. Plus, proving that she can still get out of the house and have fun–despite her health issues–should help lift her spirits.

  1. Set Aside Lots of Time Together

Finally, some people find that the cure-all for many issues is spending quality time together. For your mother, any loss that she’s experienced can spark strong emotions. It doesn’t matter if the loss is a spouse, a friend, a pet, or the ability to dig in her garden.

If she’s like a lot of people, she may feel those losses more deeply during the holidays. Facing those emotions all at once during what’s supposed to be a joyous season is enough to bring on the blues in anyone.

Spend quality time with your mother so she doesn’t have to face all those emotions alone. Ask her for help with holiday prep activities, make her feel needed and included, and most of all, show your love in a variety of ways.

Beth, I hope this has helped you to understand your mom a little better. May you and your mother have a blessed holiday season, from everyone here at Heritage Senior Living.


Heritage Senior Living Communities Invites Your Questions

Beth’s question raised a lot of important issues and we are glad we could help shed some light on her mom’s situation.

Do you have a question for Donna?

Send it our way and we’ll make sure she gets it.

How to Safely Include a Senior with Dementia in Your Holiday Celebrations

How to Safely Include a Senior with Dementia in Your Holiday Celebrations

One of the nicest things about the holiday season is the many opportunities we have for celebrating with friends and family. Between all the parties and family get-togethers, it’s traditionally a very social time of year. Naturally, you want to include everyone in the festivities.

For people who have a loved one with dementia, the holidays can be a bit more challenging.

You have to think about their comfort and safety, and you want everyone to have a good time. With a few considerations, you can still have a joyous season where everyone gets involved in the holiday fun.

Three Safe Ways to Include a Senior With Dementia in Your Celebrations

All it takes is a little forethought, and you can plan events that are fun and festive for everyone.

  1. Include Your Senior Loved One in Holiday Cooking

During the holidays, the air is full of familiar scents like turkey roasting or cookies baking in the oven. Just having your loved one around while you’re cooking can be a good way to include them. The familiar, comforting cooking aromas may spark pleasant memories of holiday celebrations from their past. There’s a name for when that happens: sense memory.

If you’re not familiar with the concept, it’s the idea that our five senses play an important role in creating memories. Recalling certain parts of the past may be difficult for someone who has dementia but tapping into sense memory may be easier.

That’s especially important to remember during this time of year when there’s plenty of opportunity for using the senses to engage your loved one. Although memories can be triggered by any of the five senses, the strongest connections are made between smell and memory. The olfactory bulb, which handles scent, is located next to the part of the brain that’s responsible for our memories.

  1. Involve Them in Holiday Preparations

If they’re able, your senior loved one could even help with the baking. That way, they can feel they’ve played a role in the holiday preparations.

In fact, there are lots of ways to weave purposeful activities into holiday celebrations with your loved one. Even if it’s something as simple as hanging decorations on a tree or placing non-breakable decorations around the house, helping may make your loved one feel useful and more involved.

But we want to caution you about holiday decorations and adults with dementia. The Alzheimer’s Association recommends avoiding using blinking lights. These have been known to cause confusion and anxiety in people who have dementia.

  1. Read Holiday Stories Together

Reading aloud to people who have dementia has been found to be therapeutic in many instances. During the holidays, it can be a powerful way to engage them in the spirit of the season.

This works especially well if you have children in your family. For your senior loved one, hearing traditional stories read aloud may not only evoke fond memories but it may also ease feelings of stress.

Celebrating the Holidays at Heritage Senior Living Communities

Heritage Senior Communities is a family-owned company. We know about the importance of family bonds and celebrations throughout the year, not just the holidays. It’s part of living a full, satisfying life.

For our residents with dementia, we have The Terrace–a space that’s 100 percent dedicated to improving their quality of life.

If you’d like to know more about specialized dementia care at The Terrace, we invite you to call us any time!

Halloween & Dementia: Keeping a Senior with Alzheimer’s Safe

Halloween & Dementia: Keeping a Senior with Alzheimer’s Safe

Halloween is a favorite time of year for many of us, young and old alike. The costumes, parties, and trick-or-treating are time-honored traditions enjoyed by people of all ages. But for someone who has Alzheimer’s disease, Halloween can be downright frightening.

Halloween can trigger anxiety and confusion in people who have Alzheimer’s disease.

If you are a caregiver for someone who has Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, here are some ideas to help keep them safe this Halloween.

Tips for Keeping a Senior with Alzheimer’s Safe on Halloween

There’s always uncertainty about how someone with Alzheimer’s will react in new situations. Here’s what you can do to help them stay calm and comfortable during this spooky celebration.

1. Choose Decorations Wisely

Decorating your house with tombstones, cobwebs, bats, and ghosts might seem harmless, but they can cause anxiety for someone with dementia. That also extends to front yard decorations, especially if it is the entrance your loved one typically uses to enter the house. Instead, opt for pumpkins, mums and less threatening forms of decorations this year.

2. Decorate Sparingly

If you do decide to decorate, do so sparingly. A change in environment is tough for someone with memory impairment. Going overboard on Halloween decorating can change the look of your home. That may cause your loved one to become disoriented or confused.

3. Keep Nighttime Lights to a Minimum

Illuminated jack-o-lanterns, flashing lights, candles, and anything else that lights up the night can cause problems with visual perception. People with dementia often have perception problems already, and these types of lighting can exacerbate these issues.

4. Try a Less Invasive Way of Handing Out Candy

A constant stream of costumed strangers ringing the doorbell can cause anxiety and agitation for an older adult with memory impairment. People with dementia rely on a consistent sense of place and home in order to feel calm and comfortable. All those invaders begging for candy and screaming ‘trick or treat!!’ can be difficult to process.

Try putting the candy on your porch with a note for kids to help themselves. If you’re afraid they’ll help themselves a little too much, consider setting up shop on the porch while your loved one with dementia stays safely inside.

5. Be Mindful of Where You Place Decorations

Adults with dementia often develop vision problems, as well as difficulty with mobility. It puts them at greater risk for falls. As you are decorating for Halloween, think carefully about your loved one’s pathways and be sure to keep them clear.

Heritage Senior Communities in Michigan

Just like you, we want adults with dementia to enjoy every holiday and special occasion without sacrificing their sense of safety or their dignity. It’s at the core of what we do each day.

If you are looking for dementia care for a Michigan senior you love, we can help. Call the Heritage Senior Community nearest you to learn more!

Dear Donna – Can I Do Anything to Prevent Alzheimer’s?

Dear Donna – Can I Do Anything to Prevent Alzheimer’s?

My mom has Alzheimer’s and watching her slowly slip away is so awful.

It also makes me worry that I will develop this awful disease. I’ve read some researchers think there may be genetic links to some forms of the disease.

While I know there is nothing I can do about my family history, I wonder if there are any steps I can take that may help me prevent Alzheimer’s? 

I would appreciate any insight!


Stacey in Grand Blanc, Michigan


Can Alzheimer’s Disease be Prevented?

Dear Stacey:

Alzheimer’s is definitely a devastating disease a senior and those who love them. It is understandable that you would be concerned about developing the disease yourself.

Researchers are still struggling to learn more about Alzheimer’s. Although there is no proven method of preventing the disease, there are steps you can do that may help reduce your risk

Eat a Well-Balanced Diet

Research has shown that seniors following the MIND diet have lowered their risk for reduced brain functioning by 35 percent. Even people who were so-so about maintaining the diet were 18 percent less likely to have reduced brain function.

The MIND diet is a combination of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet with a few tweaks. The diet is pretty simple: eat lots of green vegetables and fruit, particularly berries. Include whole grains, nuts, poultry, and fish.

Salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, and albacore tuna are especially good for preventing Alzheimer’s because they contain omega-3 fats.

Dairy products, in moderation, are OK if they are low in fat. Olive oil is on the diet, but red meat, sugar and salt should be limited. Also, limit alcohol intake.

Smoking cigarettes is not recommended on this diet.

Anyone who puts effort into following the MIND diet will likely see a payoff. It can include a better functioning heart, healthy blood vessels, and optimal blood pressure—all of which are factors that decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s.

Exercise For Your Life

For years, studies have shown that exercise can benefit the brain and delay the start of Alzheimer’s. People who are less active have a higher risk of developing this disease.

Exercise helps to keep the blood flowing and increases the chemicals that protect the brain. The key is to exercise several times a week for 30 minutes or an hour. In a relatively short time you will feel the benefits of exercise: sharper thinking, improved memory, and better decision making.

Reduce Stress Daily For Your Memory And Mood

In a study looking at how stress impacted the brains of mice, researchers found that stressed mice had high amounts of a protein called beta-amyloids in their brains. These proteins cause memory problems.

Other research has linked these beta-amyloids to Alzheimer’s. Avoiding stress may be one way to keep your brain healthy.

But, let’s face it, stress in life is unavoidable. So it’s especially important when you are a caregiver for a parent with Alzheimer’s  that you find ways to de-stress.

  • Take advantage of community support through online resources or phone help lines.
  • Use relaxation techniques: breathing exercises, visualization and muscle relaxation.
  • Take time to express yourself. Self-expression through music, art, writing, private dance or movement can all help.
  • Find ways to leave your problems behind for a little while. That might be by taking a walk, going to a movie or watching funny videos of babies or pets. There are days when just a long shower or an early bedtime can be a big help.
  • Use positive affirmations and self-encouragement to reduce stress.
  • If you have faith, use it to find peace and comfort while you are caring for your loved one and taking steps to reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

When The Stress Gets Too Much

Finally, it might help you to consider using respite care at the Heritage Senior Communities. Short-term breaks can do a lot to restore balance, energy, joy and hope.

My very best wishes to you and your family, Stacey.



Alzheimer’s Action Day: How to Become an Advocate in Your Local Community

Alzheimer’s Action Day: How to Become an Advocate in Your Local Community

Alzheimer’s Action Day on September 21st provides a chance for early stage patients, caregivers, and others to share stories that help to increase awareness and end the stigma of Alzheimer’s disease.  It can also be a turning point for people who choose to become a community advocate.

Advocating for Adults with Alzheimer’s

Why should I advocate for the disease that I dislike and prefer not to think about?

A number of benefits can result from advocating for Alzheimer’s disease—whether you’re an early stage patient, a family member or friend.

  • Establishing connections with other people, resources, and support systems
  • Reducing the loneliness factor that is so common with the disease
  • Providing opportunities to share your insights, experience and hope
  • Enabling you to contribute to medical research

How can I fit community advocacy into my schedule?

  • Start simple and set small goals. Caring for a loved one can take a huge amount of time and emotional energy, so set small goals. Even one hour a week might help you feel as if you are contributing.
  • Reframe your viewpoint. Change your it’s-a-drain attitude to it’s-a-gain Your support and advocacy may actually recharge your batteries because you will be having meaningful conversations with other adults who have similar concerns and problems.

How can I start advocating in my community?

There are several steps you can take to become an advocate.

  • Begin by talking about Alzheimer’s with coworkers, friends, church members, and others. That may provide a sense of satisfaction and social purpose.
  • Read the facts and statistics about the disease. This will help you speak comfortably and knowledgably about the issues.
  • Get involved with the local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. You’ll meet people, find camaraderie, be inspired, and have an opportunity to participate in activities that increase empathy, self-esteem and self-care. All of this may help to heal some of the emotional wounds caused by Alzheimer’s.
  • Use social media to connect with people from the comfort of your home.
  • Brainstorm ways to increase attention about Alzheimer’s and other memory problems. Consider arranging a presentation at the local library or organizing regular meetings at a coffee shop.
  • Connect with local politicians and learn about their position on medical research funding for Alzheimer’s. Encourage them to back bills and laws that increase financial support for the disease.
  • Invite health care providers who specialize in Alzheimer’s to speak at local events and chamber meetings. Broaden the topic of the meeting to include other memory disorders and provide tip sheets, brain-healthy menus, and resource lists.
  • Create newsworthy articles for your local media. Include your personal story along with seasonal topics, such as holiday planning or Alzheimer’s-friendly activities.
  • Engage the help of business faculty members at a local college or SCORE counselors to solidify or strengthen your community action plans.
  • Identify assets and financial resources for your advocacy work.

At Heritage Senior Communities, our staff members receive specialty training to help them provide the best possible care for residents with Alzheimer’s. Each team member in our memory care is an expert and an advocate.

Ask about having one of our dementia care experts speak at your local advocacy meeting or for resources that you can share with the other families.


How to Evaluate a Memory Care Program

How to Evaluate a Memory Care Program

The early stages of Alzheimer’s disease are known to cause memory problems. However, as the disease progresses, more symptoms develop. Your senior loved one may experience difficulty with routine daily tasks, communication skills, and appropriate social behavior.

A memory care community with specialized caregivers and a supportive environment may be a solution.

Coping with day-to-day living can be frustrating for someone in the intermediary and later stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Living in a nurturing, specialized environment created for people with dementia may help manage your senior loved one’s symptoms.

A safe, controlled environment may also help them to live a more independent lifestyle.

Finding the right memory care program can feel overwhelming. There are many factors to consider, including types of treatment, staff, and the campus itself.

To evaluate memory care, you’ll need a guide. Here are the important criteria to consider when you’re touring the various communities near you.

Memory Care Basics

  1. First, you’ll want to see the community’s inspection reports. These are based on surveys completed by the state the community is located in. Reviewing it can help alert you to any issues the state regulators found concerning. Or it can put your mind at ease that the community is well run.
  2. Next, ask about the philosophy of care. Does the community promote independence among people with memory loss? That’s important to ask because some researchers say maintaining a sense of independence for as long as is safely possible may help slow the progression of Alzheimer’s.
  3. What specialty programs are offered? Is there a separate life enrichment calendar with activities designed for people with memory loss? What about a supportive dining program?
  4. Plan to visit a variety of communities at different times of the day. Try to be there for a meal, too. Talk to staff and residents and even families if they are available.

Other Factors to Consider When Choosing a Memory Care Program

People who have dementia require specialized care which often incorporates special programs and techniques based on their needs. Making each day purposeful is a common goal, so ask to see a copy of the activity calendar for the month.

Your senior loved one’s unique needs should be addressed in a comprehensive care plan that includes various activities and therapies. For example, some memory care programs have adopted a person-centered approach to care. This approach focuses on the individual and not just their disease.

Caregiving Staff

You’ll want to follow a full checklist of staff qualifications when it comes time to evaluate memory care programs. The Alzheimer’s Association maintains a very useful checklist on their website. It includes staff to resident ratio, training, and caring philosophy of the community staff.

The Community

When you visit, a community should leave you with the sense that staff and residents feel a mutual respect. Personal care should be carried out so that residents maintain their dignity. Residents should appear relaxed, well-kempt, and engaged.

Practical Matters

Finally, meals should be held at regular times and offer appetizing food in a pleasant environment. Nutrition is very often an issue for people who have dementia so ask how that is monitored.

Staff should be encouraging during meals. In later stages of the disease, caregivers likely need to provide hands-on assistance with eating.

Help is Available

This is by no means an exhaustive list for evaluating memory care programs. Finding the right community takes time and lots of research. But with patience, you will be able to find a caring environment for your senior loved one.

Heritage Senior Communities can help you with the decision-making process involving your senior loved one. Our communities throughout Michigan and Indiana have memory care programs we call “The Terrace”.

Staff members who work in The Terrace programs are dedicated to serving the special needs of the residents through a philosophy of ‘person-centered care’. Our aim is to provide a safe environment where your senior loved one can thrive and experience increased quality of life.

Call us at your convenience to find out about our Specialized Dementia Care or to schedule a tour of one of our communities near you.