Holiday Fire Dangers and Seniors in Michigan

Holiday Fire Dangers and Seniors in Michigan

Dear Donna,

I have a great-aunt who really loves to decorate her house during the holidays. Before having everyone over on Christmas Eve, she spends hours decorating. Lately, I’ve heard that seniors are more likely to experience holiday house fires than other age groups, much of which seems to be caused by decorations.

My aunt really goes all out! I don’t want to spoil her fun or seem condescending, but I do want to keep her safe.

What can we do for her in terms of fire prevention without dampening her spirits?

Kind regards,

Chris in Saginaw

Holiday Fire Safety for Seniors in Michigan

Dear Chris,

Thanks for asking such a great question! Unfortunately, you’re right about older adults and their risk of house fires during the holidays. According to the Electrical Safety Foundation International, the rate of house fires goes up dramatically during major holidays. And people older than 65 are twice as likely to be the victim of a home fire during the holiday season as younger adults.

This doesn’t mean that your great-aunt can’t enjoy herself during the holidays. But it is important that she and the rest of your family understand the things that put her at risk so you can take the necessary precautions.

Let’s have a look at what those risks are and what you can do to reduce them.

Fire Risk Factors for Seniors during the Holidays

The sources of holiday home fires often include:

  • Burning candles
  • Damaged or defective holiday lights
  • Live Christmas trees that dry out
  • Electrical outlets and extension cords

The best way to broach this subject with your great-aunt is probably to share this information with her. Express your desire to help her have a joyous—but safe— holiday season. Then, offer to provide assistance in helping her reduce these risks so she can focus on staying merry.

Here are some ways to address the risk areas I mentioned above:

  • Invest in electrical candles that mimic natural flames
  • Only use high-quality indoor lights and make sure to inspect each bulb carefully for cracks or other damage
  • Purchase an artificial tree Christmas tree made of flame-retardant materials instead of a live one
  • Don’t overload electrical outlets with splitters, extension cords, or adapters
  • Design a detailed escape plan in case of a fire —one that takes any mobility problems into account

Thanks so much for the question, Chris. I hope this information is helpful and that you and your family have a safe and happy holiday season.



Do you have a senior care question?

Donna loves to help caregivers with questions about their senior loved ones. But if you have a number of questions or have one that needs answered immediately, please contact us. We’d be happy to answer any senior care questions you have or arrange an in-person meeting at one of our senior living communities.

Dear Donna: How Can I Help Prevent the “Winter Blues”?

Dear Donna: How Can I Help Prevent the “Winter Blues”?

Dear Donna:

My mom has always looked forward to the holiday season, but this year, she doesn’t seem to have her usual enthusiasm.

 She is sleeping more and is less interested in her favorite holiday activities. What can I do to help her prevent the winter blues?

Kelly in Traverse City


Take Steps to Prevent the Winter Blues


Dear Kelly,

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), or the “winter blues,” is a common form of depression among people in colder climates. Symptoms include low energy, overeating, sleeping more, and less interest in social activities.

There are many ways to help your mother feel better this season.

Eat a balanced diet to improve mood.


Many people with SAD indulge in carbohydrates and other “comfort” foods. This can cause weight gain, blood sugar spikes, and cardiovascular risks.

Help your mom choose more vegetables, fruits, and lean protein, and avoid snacks with refined sugars or sodium. Look for sources of vitamin D, iron, and omega-3 fatty acids, which may help with symptoms of SAD.

Physical activity improves overall well-being.


Research shows that staying active can improve cardiovascular health, maintain weight, and keep blood sugar levels stable. Physical activity has also been found to improve mood and memory among seniors.

If your mom has trouble getting around, she can start small. Just walking around the house, lifting light weights, or doing easy stretches can help.

Fitness centers and YMCAs have many low-impact options like walking tracks, treadmills, or swimming pools. An active video game, such as Wii bowling, is another way to get moving.

Try light therapy to reduce the winter blues.


Many people experience SAD because limited exposure to natural daylight during winter months can cause sleep disruptions and changes in brain chemicals. Special “light boxes” that imitate outdoor light may help.


Do some research to determine which type of light box is best for you. You may wish to speak to your doctor, especially an eye doctor, before making a purchase.

Stay connected to stay happy this winter.


Even if your mom doesn’t feel like socializing – a common symptom of depression – a small get-together with friends or family can make a big difference.

Encourage her to have coffee with a neighbor or invite family members over for the holidays. Joining a local group, such as a book club, also can prevent feelings of isolation.


Talk to a health care professional about seasonal depression.


If your mom is showing symptoms of SAD, it can help to see a doctor.

A healthcare provider may order tests to rule out problems such as anemia or hypothyroidism. He or she can also help determine the best treatment and prescribe medication if necessary.

As a caregiver, help is available to you!


Overwhelmed with the responsibilities of caregiving? Heritage Senior Communities offers short-term options for seniors who need some type of assistance.

We provide a variety of lifestyle options that help our residents ward off the winter blues. Communal dining, physical activities, and medication assistance are just a few of the amenities we offer. Contact us today to learn more about our senior living options!


Photo provided by

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.

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.



What questions Should I ask on My Assisted Living Tour?

What questions Should I ask on My Assisted Living Tour?

Dear Donna:

I am searching for an assisted living community for my mother and I know it’s important to visit and take tours. However, I don’t just want to see the building and grounds. I want to be sure I come away from the tour having learned what I need to know.

The problem is I’m not sure what that is! How should I prepare? What questions should I ask? Help!!

-Sheila in Saginaw


Questions Families Must Ask on an Assisted Living Tour

Dear Sheila,

You are definitely on the right track in wanting to ask good questions during your assisted living tour! Sounds like you just need a few questions to get going.

Assisted living tours are the best way for caregivers and their senior loved ones to get a feel for a particular community. Seeing the living spaces in person is important. But the real insight you’ll gain from your visit comes from the people you will meet.

Only from talking to the people who live and work at an assisted living community can you get a true sense of whether or not it is a good fit for a senior.

Questions to Ask When You’re On an Assisted Living Tour

You’re there to get a true picture of what it’s like to live in an assisted living community, so here are the three of the most important questions to ask.

  1. What services are available?

Some assisted living centers are stand-alone communities while others are part of a continuum of care. The additional levels of care at the community might include memory care, respite care, and independent living. Some families prefer this continuum of services so if their senior loved one’s needs change down the road, they won’t have to move again.

  1. What programs and activities are available?

Assisted living isn’t just about getting help with the tasks of daily living. It’s also about living a healthy lifestyle filled with enriching activities, programs, and events. So it is important to ask what sort of life enrichment activities and wellness programs there are each day. Also ask about special events and outings to local restaurants, parks and other attractions.

Another dimension to wellness is whether staff encourages residents to participate in programs and activities. You’ll want to talk to staff directly to learn more about the community’s wellness model and whether it includes personalized attention to case management.

  1. What staff members are on-site throughout the day (and night)?

The staff-to-resident ratio can vary from community to community, so this is an important area to investigate. Also, you’ll want to ask how many nurses are on hand at any given moment, and how often a doctor visits the community.

Don’t forget to ask about staff training and turnover, too. It’s usually a very strong indicator of the quality of care and services residents receive. If the staff is always coming and going, it’s going to be hard for them to get to know your senior loved one and their needs.


More Questions and a Checklist for Your Assisted Living Tour

The AARP maintains a comprehensive checklist for caregivers and their senior loved ones to use when they’re visiting assisted living communities. I’d recommend printing it out and using it before and during your tour.


Visit and Experience Heritage Senior Communities

At Heritage Senior Communities, we love visitors! We always encourage families to come for a tour, meet our staff and stay for lunch if you can.


There are Heritage Senior Communities located across the state of Michigan and in northern Indiana. Each offers a range of services, including assisted living care, independent senior living, dementia care, and short-term respite stays. Visit us online to find a Heritage community near you and schedule a tour.

I hope this helps, Sheila!

Kind Regards,



How Can I Help my Newly Single Mother Make New Friends?

How Can I Help my Newly Single Mother Make New Friends?

My father passed away about six months ago, and my mother seems to be struggling with loneliness. My parents always did everything together, from cooking meals to weekly yard work. Now that my dad is gone, my mom isn’t adjusting to single life as well as I’d hoped.

I know she’s still grieving for my dad, and that she misses him a lot. We all do. But I hate to see her spending more time in front of the TV, and less time out doing fun things that would make her happy. I’ve tried suggest that she get out and make new friends, but I don’t want to be pushy.

Do you have any suggestions for things I could try? I would love to get mom back into the social swing of things.


Kimberly in Lansing, Michigan


Dear Kimberly,

Thank you for your question. This is a dilemma that many older adults face when they lose a spouse or life partner. For many it feels like they’re starting their social lives over, which can be very daunting. Thankfully, there are lots of options available for jump starting a social life again.

Here are a few things you can suggest that may help your mother.

Helping a Parent Rebuild Their Social Circle

Reconnect with Old Friends

The internet offers wonderful opportunities for reconnecting with childhood friends and staying in town with loved ones near and far. There are several social media sites that would provide your mother with an easy way to find people she may have lost touch with years ago. Facebook is an especially popular social media channel for older adults to connect (and reconnect!) with friends and loved ones.

AARP notes that for adults who didn’t grow up in the ‘digital age,” technology can sometimes be frustrating. For aging loved ones who are hesitant to embrace the digital world, reconnecting with long-lost friends may be a great incentive to get started. If your mother seems reluctant, it may be that she’s not comfortable with her computer. Spending a little time showing her the ropes —including Facebook’s security and privacy settings — could help her get started.

Follow your Passions

Finding others who enjoy the same interests and hobbies is a great way to make new friends. You mentioned that your parents used to cook and do yard work together. Perhaps finding a local gardening club or a baking group would give her a chance to meet others with similar interests.

Ask your Mom if there’s something she’s always wanted to try, like wine tasting, photography or ceramics. Finding new things to try will provide opportunities to meet new people. Sometimes all a new friendship needs to blossom is a shared hobby.

Fitness with Friends

Exercise is critical to staying healthy, particularly as we age. The Mayo Clinic says that we naturally lose both muscle and strength as we age, which is why regular exercise is so important. But exercise is always more fun when you do it with friends!

If your mom doesn’t already have a regular exercise routine, you could suggest that she join a gym. If a gym membership isn’t in the budget, look into local walking clubs or classes offered at your local community center. Many offer a variety of inexpensive exercise classes, like:

  • Water aerobics
  • Tai Chi
  • Gentle yoga

This would offer your mother the double benefit of both regular exercise, and a chance to meet new people.

Keep Other Needs in Mind

Be aware that your mom may still be coping with grief or even depression that can require more than just new friendships to move forward. Losing a beloved spouse is tough, and some seniors need more than just time to heal. If your mom is really struggling to find happiness in daily life, encourage her to talk to her doctor.

Also, daily home maintenance gets harder as we age. With the recent loss of your dad, your mom may be facing new challenges around the house. This could mean more work for her, and less time to socialize. I know it can be a very hard subject to discuss, but if your mom is having a hard time managing alone, it may be time to talk about senior living options in Michigan.

I wish you the best, and hope your mom is able to find fulfilling ways to meet people and make new friends.