How to Keep Your Mind Sharp as You Age

Learn useful tips for how to keep your mind sharp as you age.

It’s no surprise that as we age our brains change. We all lose our keys or forget appointments, but as we age these moments of forgetfulness can become a health concern. Our brains help us make sense of the world, connect to others, remember, learn, and create. As we age, it’s important to give our brains what they need to remain healthy and sharp.

Changing Brain

According to the National Institute on Aging, our brains control many aspects of thinking, remembering, planning, organizing and making decisions. As we get older parts of our brain can actually shrink, causing delays in our ability to learn and complete complex mental activities. However, our brains can change in positive ways as well. Our lifetime of experiences help us to learn new things and give us the opportunity to create new memories. As we age, it’s important to understand how to care for our brains and what puts them at risk.

 

How to Keep Your Mind Sharp: Risks to Cognitive Health

While some aspects of brain health are related to genetics, there are other environmental and lifestyle factors that can influence our cognitive function as well. The National Institute on Aging has provided a list of the most common factors that can contribute to a decline in our cognitive health:

Health problems

Those at risk for heart disease and high blood pressure increase their chances of experiencing a stroke, which can put you at risk for developing dementia. Memory diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia can lead to memory loss and thinking complications. While these conditions can be genetic, eating a heart-healthy diet can help protect your brain.

Brain injuries

It’s not uncommon for older adults to experience a fall-related injury. In fact, according to the National Council on Aging, one in four Americans aged 65 and older fall each year. These accidents can put you at risk for developing a brain-related injury or head trauma. If you are at risk of falling, make sure to fall-proof your home, especially in tight spaces such as the hallway.

Medicine

Some medications, especially when you take several different prescriptions, can cause side-effects such as confusion, memory loss, and delusion. Medications can also cause you to develop a Urinary Tract Infection, which, if gone untreated, can cause confusion and disorientation. Always make sure your doctor knows which medications you are consuming, especially if you see multiple healthcare providers.

Lifestyle

Our lifestyle choices can have a dramatic effect on our cognitive health, especially as we age. Lack of exercise can increase the risk of heart-related diseases, depression, and stroke, all of which can negatively affect the brain. Brain health is closely related to our heart health. This means that smoking, consuming a diet high in fat and sodium, and consuming too much alcohol put stress on your heart, which can ultimately affect your cognitive health.

 

How to Keep Your Mind Sharp: Tips for Mental Fitness

Keeping our brains healthy is just as important as keeping our bodies active. Choosing to work on your mental fitness each day will improve your quality of life, especially as you age. These tips, published by the Harvard Medical School and Healthline, will help protect and improve your memory at any age.

  • Learn with your senses. Studies show that when we intentionally use all of our senses while learning something new, we’re more likely to remember it in the long-term. This requires you to slow down, and take note of the environment around you. Ask yourself, what do I hear? What do I smell, touch, and taste? When we pair a memory with one of our senses, our chances of recalling other details are much higher.
  • Stop multitasking. We might all think we’re great at multitasking. But, the truth is multitasking is impossible! Focus on one task at a time and use full concentration.
  • Trick your brain into working. There are a variety of games available that practice using different parts of the brain such as crossword puzzles, board games, and Sudoku. These games build your brain muscles, allowing you to learn new tasks, and increase your attention span and reaction time.
  • Read! Whether you choose to read a magazine article or a romance novel, reading constantly demands your brain’s attention. Reading forces us to use our imaginations, process words and sentences, and spark different parts of the brain.
  • Improve your sleep habits. Getting a full night’s rest can actually improve your brain function. Sleep is essential for consolidating memories and improving cognitive functions.
  • Stay positive. Your cognitive health starts with positive self-talk. Giving yourself daily affirmations can actually strengthen your neural pathways. Acknowledge your good qualities and be gentle with yourself!

We spend a lot of time talking about ways to keep our bodies healthy, but our brains deserve some attention too. At Maplewood Senior Communities, we encourage our residents to keep their minds sharp by trying new things. Whether it’s through technology or music, our residents always have the opportunity to learn. To learn more about our offerings at Maplewood communities, please reach out to us.

Foods That Fight Aging

It’s no surprise that the process of aging changes our bodies in a variety of ways, some of which we can see and others we cannot. However, what most people don’t know, is that as we age our dietary needs change as well. Because of this, many older adults accidentally put themselves at risk of becoming malnourished. Consuming a well-balanced diet helps strengthen the immune system, and ultimately allows our bodies to fight off diseases and illnesses. When we under-nourish our bodies, we can negatively affect its ability to protect us. Understanding what our bodies need can ultimately keep us out of the hospital, and live healthier, longer lives.

How do our Needs and Habits Change?

 Calories and Appetite

It is not uncommon for older adults to eat less as they age. Most older adults might not be as physically active as they were in their younger years, which means they don’t necessarily need to eat as much as they once did. However, undereating can cause a wide variety of health problems.

Food sensitivities can also affect a person’s appetite, making it difficult to consume the appropriate amount of food each day. Some older adults might experience food sensitivities especially to foods like onions, peppers, dairy, and hot spices. If these are causing discomfort or pain after eating, they might need to be eliminated from your diet.

Nutrition Absorption

Even while monitoring your food and nutrition, medications can interfere with the nutrients your body is able to absorb. If you are taking a variety of medications, talk to your doctor or healthcare provider about supplements you can add to your diet.

Immune System

Unfortunately, as we age our immune systems can weaken, making our bodies more vulnerable to illness and disease. However, we can strengthen our immune systems by consuming different types of food and nutrients.

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Maplewood Senior Living Walks to End Alzheimer’s

What You Should Know about Alzheimer’s Disease

The month of September is designated as World’s Alzheimer’s Month. Alzheimer’s disease isn’t just a national problem, it’s a global issue that affects nearly 44 million people worldwide. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s is a memory disease, under the umbrella of dementia, which causes problems with memory, thinking, and behavior. As symptoms worsen, Alzheimer’s can ultimately affect a person’s ability to complete basic human tasks like speaking and eating.  The number of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s is expected to rapidly increase in the next 30 years— from 5.8 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s today to 14 million by 2050. As the threat of the Alzheimer’s epidemic increases, so do campaigns that spread awareness and raise funds devoted to finding a cure. The first step in spreading awareness of Alzheimer’s is to educate people on the causes of the disease.

Contributing Causes of Alzheimer’s Disease

While it would be impossible to identify just one cause of Alzheimer’s, researchers and scientists do believe there are a few leading causes of the disease. Some of the causes and factors can’t necessarily be changed, but some of them, like lifestyle and environment, can help inform our daily lives and decrease our chances of being diagnosed. Listed below are the associated causes and risk factors of Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Age

While most people with Alzheimer’s get diagnosed after the age of 65, 10% of patients are diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s between the ages of 30 and 60. Age isn’t directly correlated with the disease, however the risk of being diagnosed doubles every five years after the age of 65.

Family History and Genetics

Adults who have immediate family members with Alzheimer’s disease are more at risk for being diagnosed than compared with families without a history of the disease. Researchers and scientists believe that the risk increases with each family member who has the disease. The reason behind this can possibly be attributed to genetics and environment.

According to the National Institute on Aging, researchers haven’t identified a specific gene known to cause the disease. However, many experts believe that those who carry a form of the APOE gene are more at risk of developing the disease than those who do not.

Environment and Lifestyle

Those who study Alzheimer’s believe there is a connection between the brain and the heart, which can ultimately influence the risk of developing the disease. This means that those who experience high-blood pressure, stroke, high cholesterol, or heart disease should be aware of the symptoms of the disease and consult with their healthcare provider. Eating a well-balanced diet and exercising daily will decrease your risk of heart disease, ultimately decreasing the risk of Alzheimer’s.

Brain health is also a factor when it comes to developing Alzheimer’s. Falls and brain trauma are also known to be underlying factors to the disease. Protecting your brain by wearing your seatbelt and decluttering your home to decrease your risk of falling, can help protect you from Alzheimer’s dementia.

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Sparking Creativity

Each year, with the help of the National Center for Assisted Living, we dedicate one week to celebrate the people and residents who make assisted living special. This year’s theme, “A Spark of Creativity” invites us to explore the role of art in senior communities and the way it encourages communication and self-expression. While there are many different forms of creativity, one of the most common amongst the senior population is art therapy. This type of therapy uses art as a way to address specific conditions, like Alzheimer’s and Dementia, while gaining healing benefits. As art therapy gains popularity within senior living communities, research suggests that there are benefits for many older adults, not only those who are diagnosed with memory disorders.

Benefits of Art therapy for Older Adults

 Serves as an alternative method of communication

 As adults age, nearly 40% will be diagnosed with an age related memory impairment. When memory impairment worsens, many adults will experience a loss of language or difficulty in recalling words and building sentences. This can make communicating with family and loved ones extremely difficult and sometimes impossible. However, art therapy gives these older adults an alternative way to communicate. The techniques used in art therapy stem from parts of the brain that language and communication do not. Not only does this enable self-expression, but it also enables families to connect to their loved one in new ways.

Improves mood

As we age, we can experience a number of changes in our physical abilities. While many older adults experience a loss of memory, others experience a loss of hearing, low vision, or other physical handicaps that can take away one’s autonomy. Oftentimes, this loss of independence can lead to feelings of depression. Art therapy, however, encourages socialization, reduces boredom and leaves older adults feeling accomplished and proud. As an added bonus, many adults find they have true artistic talent!

Advances cognitive abilities

Many older adults, even those who don’t suffer from memory disorders, lose some of their cognitive abilities as they age. Art therapy, while known for its psychological benefits, can actually improve cognition after time. Many art therapy techniques use sensory items, like holding a paintbrush, or squeezing clay, to complete art projects. These repeated movements can encourage the body to remember basic movements and improve their function.

A way to rediscover yourself

Regardless of memory loss or physical handicaps, the foundation of art therapy encourages older adults to connect to their emotions in ways they haven’t already pursued. By using a different part of the brain, art therapy students are able to express their emotions not only through their completed project, but also within the process. Art therapy goes beyond physical artwork and dives into the importance of self-autonomy. As adults lose their independence, art therapy reinforces their individuality by connecting with their emotions and expressing them though art and motion.

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Live-In Home Care Vs. Assisted Living

We have addressed a number of care levels available to seniors in our recent articles – independent living, assisted living, and private duty caregiving. However, to this point, we’ve not yet mentioned “Live-in Home Care.

Live-in home care is a unique care situation where an agency will provide a person to “live” with your loved one. Of course the appeal with any ‘in-home care’ is that the senior is able to remain in their own home, which is something that appeals to a vast majority of seniors. There are also many things to consider with regard to your loved one’s healthcare needs, and if remaining in their home, even with someone living with them, is the best option. Keep in mind, there are usually quite a few ‘rules’ with agencies who provide ‘live-in’ aides. Some of these include: the caregiver must be able to sleep for a minimum of 8 hours per day, they must be able to have a ‘day off’ every so many days, they must be provided a private area in your loved one’s home where they are able to sleep, dress, etc. There may be other rules involved, but this can vary from one home care provider to the next. You’ll also want to inquire as to how you will be billed for this service.

It is also important to ask key questions before bringing a private duty caregiver into your loved one’s home. Do they background check and drug test their aides? Are the aides bonded and insured by the agency? Are they trained in first aid? How long have they worked for the agency? Can they provide names/contact information of families that have used the service in the past? What is the plan if the aide that is living with your loved one becomes ill and can’t work? What happens if the aide gets injured while on your loved one’s property?  Not all states require home care agencies to obtain a license to go in to business, therefore it is important to do your research before hiring this type of service.

Comparing this level of care to assisted living, where you have access to multiple aides around the clock, many of these single-aide concerns go away. And assisted living guidelines require the aforementioned items such as: drug tests, background checks, worker’s compensation to be submitted/provided to all employees.

If you’re considering either one of these levels of care, we would encourage you to read the following article, with advice from our Maplewood Senior Living Medical Director, Dr. Susann Varano. Also weighing in on this subject is Eleonora Tornatore-Mikesh, Chief Experience and Memory Care Officer at Inspīr, the newest Maplewood Senior Living project, which is underway in Manhattan.

Click here to read the article in US World and News Report by Elaine K. Howeley.

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Long Distance Caregiving

You may not have anticipated becoming a long-distance caregiver, but if you are helping a loved one that lives more than an hour away, it is a reality. It can be challenging to know how best to help but don’t panic; there are some steps you can take that will make things easier now and down the road.

Make a Plan

This may seem obvious, but it’s an important first step to take, while everyone is cognitively aware. If you are the caregiver for a parent, ask questions now about their healthcare, medications, doctors and any other information that you might need to assist with later on. Take the time to understand and document any desires they may have for today and for future care. Health situations can change quickly, so having your loved one’s details and wishes documented will relieve stress and make decision-making easier.

Get Help

Although an hour may seem like a long distance for some, the reality is that many adult children are acting as caregivers across states. If so, is it imperative to drop everything and jump on a plane to take care of your loved one? Not necessarily. Sometimes leaving your own family and job may not be feasible, even though you want to make sure your parent or family member is being well cared for. If that is your situation, consider hiring a geriatric care manager.

What is a geriatric care manager?

The National Institute on Aging defines a geriatric care manager this way, “A geriatric care manager, usually a licensed nurse or social worker who specializes in geriatrics, is a sort of “professional relative” who can help you and your family to identify needs and find ways to meet your needs.” Simply put, these professionals can help stand-in for your parent even when you’re not there. Whether helping with complex medical concerns or assessing daily physical and emotional needs, these individuals can care for your loved ones and help you stay connected. They also allow loved ones to maintain independence.

 How Can I Find One?

To find a geriatric care manager, reach out to local senior organizations near where your loved one is living and ask for recommendations. You can also check online at https://eldercare.acl.gov/Public/Index.aspx.

Consider Assisted Living

If your loved one needs more dedicated care, you can begin the process of choosing an assisted living community even if you’re not close by. While a visit may be necessary at some point, there are a lot of things you can do to begin the process. Before starting your search, understand your budget, and assess the financial feasibility for any community.

Once costs have been determined, narrow the options down from your initial three to five picks. It’s equally important that care needs are considered along with budget. This can be difficult to do if you are unsure of your parent’s current health considerations and is another area where a geriatric care manager is helpful.

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Fit & Fabulous

Most of us know by now that exercise and diet are essential for overall wellness. And that doesn’t lessen as we age. In fact, what we now know is that maintaining an exercise routine well past our prime can play a significant role in staying healthy and active longer.

Research suggests benefits of exercise for those with Dementia

According to recent studies on Alzheimer’s and dementia, exercise might do more than we think. Evidence suggests that biochemical changes, created by exercise, can “fertilize” our brain and mend nerve cell health. Although additional research is needed, prioritizing exercise and nutrition in our communities clearly improves the quality of life for all residents, including those with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. At Maplewood Senior Living, our focus is on helping residents enjoy a high quality of life which includes staying active and independent.

Along with the attention given to cognitive health, ensuring we maintain balance and strength is essential. When these two components work together, seniors can better avoid falls that may occur from tripping or loss of balance. If a fall were to occur, strength is the best defense against potential injury.

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Food for Thought

The culinary experience at Maplewood Senior Living is one that will leave your taste buds craving more. Through partnerships with local farms, and our own farm in Easton, Connecticut, we’re able to provide fresh seasonal produce that our chefs use to create delicious meals morning, noon and night. Because of this, our residents enjoy the vibrant tastes of each season and reap the long list of health benefits that come from eating freshly harvested fruits and vegetable.

We sat down with Mary Ellen Greenfield, Corporate Director of Culinary Services, to learn more about the benefits of utilizing fresh, locally sourced ingredients and here is what we learned.

Aside from supporting the local economy, sourcing our foods locally allows for produce to arrive at our communities shortly after being harvested. There are a couple of health benefits that come from reducing transport time. The first is a lowered risk of contamination. As food moves across states or changes hands, the possibility of bacteria exposure increases.

Additionally, the more time that passes between the food being collected and being eaten, the more fruits and vegetables lose valuable nutrients. The best time to eat food is right after it’s picked, when the nutritional value is highest. For that reason, transporting food locally, as opposed to across multiple states, can significantly improve the nutritional value to the consumer.

Fresh produce also taste better, which is important for our residents. Appetites often decrease with age, and yet the need for nutrient-rich food remains. We want to provide the best-tasting dishes that our residents are excited to try. With fresh, tasty ingredients, we can offer delicious options, even for residents with Alzheimer’s or dementia, who may have limited ability to eat a three-course meal.

At Maplewood, our connection to farms, including our own, means we utilize fresh foods that grow naturally for the season. Flavors are richer and nutrient levels are at their highest. This close connection to the supply allows our culinary team to design recipes around the freshest ingredients.

An example of these unique recipes is shared below from Giovanni Dillard, Chef at Maplewood at Strawberry Hill. This particular summer kale and carrot salad recipe utilizes kale grown at our Maplewood farm in Easton, Connecticut and is favorite among residents.

Kale and Carrot Salad

Ingredients:

1lb Purple kale

1lb Green kale

2c Golden raisins

4c Shredded carrot

2c Light mayonnaise

2tsp Garlic powder

2tsp Apple cider vinegar

Directions:

Chop kale into bit size pieces. Toss shredded carrot, golden raisins, and kale with light mayo.

Lastly season with garlic powder and apple cider vinegar.

Refrigerate till ready to use to let flavors combine.

Download Recipe: Kale and Carrot Salad Recipe

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Unlocking Memories with Music

According to the Mayo Clinic, research suggests that listening to or singing songs can provide emotional and behavioral benefits for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. Musical memories are often preserved in Alzheimer’s disease because key brain areas linked to musical memory are relatively undamaged by the disease.

Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging

At Maplewood Senior Living, we’re continually looking for ways to improve the health and wellbeing of the residents in our communities. One unique way we’ve done that is by partnering with the Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging (Benjamin Rose).

Benjamin Rose has operated with a mission to “advance support for older adults and caregivers” in Ohio, since 1908. Along with providing resources related to housing and advocacy efforts, Benjamin Rose has a Center for Research and Education focused on the development of programs that improve senior health and wellness.

In 2015, Benjamin Rose received a grant from the Ohio Department of Aging to implement a music and memory program with individuals living at home or in assisted living settings. Through this initial partnership, Maplewood residents in all three Ohio communities received iPod shuffles that contained songs as part of their personalized music playlist. This initial collaboration allowed Maplewood community members to participate, engage and receive the benefit of music. As that program came to a close, the partnership between Benjamin Rose and Maplewood communities was growing stronger.

Connections through Music – A New Approach

In 2017, Benjamin Rose developed a new group music program for individuals with dementia, called Making Connections through Music. This innovative new program is made up of 6 individually themed sessions complete with familiar songs, small instruments, discussion questions, and photos to increase engagement and socialization among group members.

Benjamin Rose has been training group leaders, both staff (at communities like Maplewood) and volunteers, on how to administer the Making Connections through Music program. The leader uses a pre-defined curriculum for six sessions, with the understanding and empowerment to adjust to fit the dynamic of each group.

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Tech Savvy Seniors – Part 2

At Maplewood Senior Living, we focus on connection, engagement and cultural enrichment opportunities for our residents. We don’t believe our residents should ever stop experiencing their favorite activities, whether or not they’re still able to travel.

One way we provide opportunities is through the use of Virtual Reality or VR, which connects our residents with their families, hometowns and the rest of the world around them. To learn more about how we use VR in our communities, click here.

Another exciting way we offer cultural enrichment activities is through participating in the Live Living Network. This unique network was designed for adult communities as a way to participate in live, interactive programming. Maplewood Senior Living’s Center for Aging Innovation and Technology was a founding partner of this incredible opportunity for residents.

Why Live Living?

Far beyond watching television, this network allows our residents to engage in a variety of cultural activities. Research has shown that this essential social interaction promotes health and quality of life, especially in older adults. And yet, it can be a challenge for residents who aren’t able to travel as easily as they once did. It also accommodates residents with Alzheimer’s or dementia, who might otherwise be left out of such an important enriching experience.

How Does it Work?

It starts with streaming an activity. Whether it’s an interview with an author or a trip to Cultural Centers, National Parks, Aquariums or Museums around the world, it’s brought into our communities using high-speed internet and a computer display. Some residents may be revisiting museums they used to love, others may be seeing it for the first time. Either way, their experience is interactive and engaging.

After the visit, our communities can participate in discussion groups or supplemental skill-building classes. For residents at our Strawberry Hill community in Connecticut for example, a visit to a master chef’s kitchen can be followed up with an onsite trip to our kitchen, where residents can touch and feel the ingredients they discussed earlier.

What’s the Result?

The Live Living Network is reinventing what it means to be active. Both physically, mentally and emotionally, we’re seeing residents participate in a new and exciting way. The opportunity to “travel” virtually improves our resident’s quality of life, through engagement with the Network and subsequently, each other. We also know through research that continued education and an engaged curiosity increases overall health and memory care.

So why is creating learning opportunities so important at all ages? Consider the following article from: gettingsmart.com. Authors Caroline Vander Ark & Mary Ryerse share “10 Reasons for Lifelong Learning”, read below:

10 Reasons for Lifelong Learning

Regardless of which seems most compelling to you, there are lots of reasons for lifelong learning, along with resources and tips to support you on your journey.

  1. Skill Up (Functionality).At home and at work, in order to function effectively day-to-day amidst a rapidly changing world, we need to learn new things. Period. Whether it be learning to use a new phone, a new app, or a new process at work, building skills is a constant in an ever-changing world.
  2. Purpose and Path. One term that has been used over the past couple decades when addressing purpose and path is “college and career readiness.” As groups like the School Superintendents Association (AASA) have taken another look at what readiness means, they’ve expanded readiness to include the concept of life ready.

This concept of “life readiness” refers to the development of perseverance, a growth mindset (at its core, a belief that we can all continue to learn and grow throughout our lives) and other social-emotional skills. Likewise, college and career readiness guru David Conley and the team at EPIC Education Policy Improvement Center have added lifelong learning as a must

3. Passions and Life Satisfaction. Pursuing passions and interests outside of work (where you might have already done a lot of learning, or feel saturated) is important. Check out more through the Generation Do-it-Yourself (Gen-DIY) campaign, which focuses on how this generation is creating new pathways through education into careers they love.

4. Employability. Today, the average person changes jobs ten to fifteen times during their career. Some cite even higher numbers. Both learners and learning providers are adapting accordingly. University Ventures also speaks to the important role of local entities including community colleges to focus on job placement.

5. Economic Imperative.  Technological change demands stronger and more continuous connections between education and employment.

6. Leadership. Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who has mastered industries as diverse as software, energy, transportation and aerospace, shares 3 “secrets” that power his leadership:

1.Become an ‘expert-generalist’

2. Improve your ‘learning transfer’ skills, and

3. View knowledge as a ‘semantic tree.’

7. Transferability. Consistent with Musk’s perspective and AASA’s emphasis on college, career and life readiness, College Spark Washington—a private foundation supporting education initiatives such as the College Readiness Initiative—has invested in impacting life opportunities for young people. Program Officer Heather Gingerich says, “We’ve gotten way more interested in how effective instructional strategies help students become ‘learners’ in ways that extend beyond any one particular class or point in time.”

8. Social Awareness and Perspective. In order to truly empathize with others, increase social awareness and build relationships, we must intentionally seek out ideas that differ from our own. This is critical not only to the health of individual relationships, but also the health of society.

9. Practicality. We live in an era where you can fix pretty much anything in your home by watching a YouTube video. This anytime, anywhere learning has created a DIY culture that allows people interested in everything from home improvements to crafting to cooking to learn practical skills that they may have otherwise hired out for.

10. Longevity. We’ve all heard the stories of people who have actively learned their entire lives living longer. Health research has pointed to lifelong learning as one of the best ways for seniors to stay healthy. An active mind throughout your life has been proven to help you live longer and healthier.

To see the Live Living Network or other learning initiatives in action for our residents, we encourage you to visit one of our Maplewood Senior Living communities. To schedule a tour, click here, or visit us at www.maplewoodseniorliving.com.