Why Cardiovascular Health is Important

Exercise is important at every age but maintaining a consistent exercise routine as we get older can help keep us independent for longer. Studies have suggested that physical activity, such as cardiovascular exercise, is the number one contributor to longevity. In addition to helping us live long and independent lives, exercise, in general, helps maintain weight, reduce the impact of chronic diseases, improve immune and digestive functioning, regulate blood pressure, lower the risk of obesity, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and even some cancers. Older adults are more at risk of living sedentary lives, especially as they undergo physical changes that might make exercise seem more challenging. However, by making an exercise plan that fits your needs and modifying exercises to fit your abilities, exercise can be a part of your life at every age.

How Much Exercise Does an Older Adult Need?

According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, physical activity needs to change as we age. Older adults need 150 minutes, or 2.5 hours a week, of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, such as cardio. Just 30 minutes of physical activity can be physically and mentally beneficial for older adults. The guideline also suggests that older adults practice muscle-strengthening exercises two days a week and three days of cardiovascular exercises, such as walking or dancing. As we age, it’s normal to lose muscle mass and bone density, however, physical exercise can help reduce the risk of these conditions.

Benefits of Cardiovascular Exercise for Older Adults

While all types of physical activity are beneficial for our overall health, cardiovascular exercises have special benefits for older adults. Exercise can help older adults manage their blood pressure, improve bone and joint health and preserve their long-term cognitive function. Here are a few benefits that come with maintaining a consistent cardiovascular exercise practice:

Improved Immune Function. Our immune systems help fight off illnesses and protect us from diseases. A healthy immune system will also help heal our bodies from illnesses more quickly. According to Harvard Health, exercise can promote good circulation, which allows the cells that make up the immune system to move throughout the body more freely and more efficiently.
Enhanced Respiratory and Cardiovascular Function. According to the American Lung Association, regular exercise helps strengthen your lungs and heart. As we exercise, oxygen gets infiltrated into the bloodstream, transporting it to our muscles. As our exercise routines become more consistent, our bodies become more efficient at oxygenating our muscles.
Increased Bone Strength. Just as our muscles respond to exercise by getting stronger, so do our bones. Older adults are more at risk of losing bone density and developing osteoporosis. However, regular cardiovascular exercise can help strengthen our bones and reduce the risk of losing bone mass and developing osteoporosis. Exercising for bone strength can also help reduce the risk of falls and decrease the recovery time from a fall-related injury.
Decreased Risk of Chronic Illnesses. According to the Mayo Clinic, aerobic exercise can help decrease the risk of developing a chronic illness and help manage symptoms of an existing illness. Low impact exercises can help improve muscle function for those with lower back pain, while those suffering from arthritis can reduce pain and stiffness through cardiovascular exercises. Also, exercise can help improve the quality of life for those with cancer and lower the risk of dying from breast, colorectal, and prostate cancers.
Improved Gastrointestinal Function. Regular cardiovascular exercise can help boost metabolism, regulate the elimination of waste and encourage overall digestive health. Those suffering from slow digestion and constipation often find relief when implementing a consistent exercise regimen.

Types of Cardiovascular Exercises for Seniors

As our physical abilities change as we age, it’s important to make adaptations in our exercise routines to decrease the risk of injury and promote overall safety. Incorporating cardiovascular exercises into your routine doesn’t have to be as challenging as it sounds. Here are a few cardiovascular exercises that can be added to your fitness routine:

Ballroom Dancing
Dancing in general is a great way to get your heart rate up, build muscle and strengthen bones. Ballroom dancing, however, has become popular among older adults because of its ability to strengthen cognitive function. Remembering steps and the fast-paced movements keep our brains sharp and help with balance and coordination, which can protect us from fall-related injuries.

Water Aerobics

Water aerobics classes can help older adults reap the benefits of cardiovascular exercise without putting much impact on bones and joints. Practicing aerobic exercises in the pool can provide more resistance to add a strength-training element to this exercise as well.

Swimming

If you prefer independent exercise, as opposed to group activities, swimming laps can be a great alternative. Swimming can help build lung capacity, build endurance, muscle strength, and promote heart health.

Recumbent Biking

Biking is also a low-impact exercise, which is a great activity for older adults. For those who struggle with balance and coordination, or who prefer a safer activity, recumbent bikes can provide all the benefits of traditional cycling without the risk of injury or falling.

Making an Exercise Plan that Fits Your Lifestyle

Establishing an exercise routine can feel challenging, especially for those new to exercise. However, following a few simple steps can make your cardio routine a reality. First, start by choosing an activity that you find interesting, fun, and that will raise your heart rate. Choose the length of your workout, starting with just 20 minutes if you are doing something new or haven’t exercised for some time.

And, lastly, set your workout schedule each week, choosing the days you will exercise and at which time during the day. Sticking to this schedule will help you be consistent and allow you to establish a routine without having to make hard decisions each day. As you get into your routine, you might consider setting goals for yourself such as exercising three days a week or adding a new level of intensity after a month of consistent exercise. As always, it’s important to consult with your doctor before adding a new exercise to your routine or adding levels of intensity.

Keeping Up with Cardio at Maplewood Senior Living

At Maplewood Senior Living, we know how important cardiovascular exercise is to the overall health of our residents. Each of our facilities comes with a robust workout and wellness facility that offers group and private classes. To learn more about our facilities or to schedule a tour, please contact us.

Power of Pets for People with Dementia

According to the World Health Organization, nearly 50 million people have dementia worldwide. Dementia is a general term used to describe a variety of diseases that impact one’s ability to think and remember, which can interfere with everyday activities. In the later stages, confusion, depression, and anxiety are all common side effects of the disease. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, nearly 40% of people with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common type of dementia, suffer from significant depression.

Some researchers suggest that the biological changes caused by Alzheimer’s disease may intensify a predisposition to depression, which can have a strong effect on the quality of life. According to the Mayo Clinic, depression can lead to worsening cognitive decline, greater disability involving daily living skills, and increased dependence on caregivers.

While there are a variety of ways to treat depression and anxiety, pets have proven to be especially helpful for those with dementia. In addition to pacifying depression-related symptoms, researchers have suggested pets can have the ability to lower blood pressure and heart rate, reduce the stress hormone cortisol and increase the body’s natural mood booster, serotonin. Nursing homes and retirement communities across the nation have started to introduce pet therapy to residents suffering from dementia and other illnesses, finding that the power of pets is more than we might think.

Health Benefits of Owning a Pet for Those with Dementia

Animals make wonderful companions for those with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Animals have a keen sense of knowing what people need and how to give it to them. In addition to relieving the symptoms of depression and anxiety, researchers have also suggested that pet therapy for dementia patients can help them reap many physical and emotional benefits including:

Reduced Agitation
Research has shown that spending time with pets can reduce negative behavioral changes throughout the day. In fact, in addition to releasing endorphins, the act of petting produces an automatic relaxation response that has a lasting calming effect.

Improved Nutrition
As we age it’s common for our diet and hunger cues to change. Many older adults struggle to fuel themselves properly, especially for those with Alzheimer’s or dementia. However, some researchers have suggested that spending time with a pet can increase hunger and nutritional intake.

Increase in Physical Engagement
Animals are full of energy and need physical activity throughout the day. Tossing a ball or going on a walk is great for the animal and its companion. Physical activity can help reduce feelings of anxiety and depression, while also promoting overall health and wellness.

Reduced Feelings of Loneliness
Loneliness among seniors is a public health concern and can be worsened by diseases such as dementia. However, simply petting an animal can provide a soothing presence and companionship that is similar to unconditional love.

Lowered Blood Pressure Levels
The American Heart Association has found that pet-owners, or those who spent time visiting with pets regularly, have less blood pressure and smaller heart rate fluctuations than non-pet owners. Similarly, studies have found that pets can reduce blood pressure and tension.

Comfort and Safety
As dementia progresses, it’s not uncommon for older adults with the disease to feel unsafe or confused, especially during the nighttime. Pets can provide a sense of security for those who experience these feelings or for those who live alone.

What to Know Before Adopting a Pet

People with dementia can benefit greatly from owning a pet. However, as the disease progresses, taking care of a pet can become more difficult. Before you or a loved one with dementia decides to adopt a pet, there are a few things to consider.

Animals can live a long time, so if you’re choosing to adopt a young animal, it’s important to come up with their care plan to ensure they’ll be cared for throughout their lives. It’s also crucial that the person will be able to meet the needs of the animal including veterinarian visits, cleaning up after the animal, and feeding it regularly.

Some people with dementia, and their caregivers, may not be comfortable with interacting with animals. If you are considering adopting a pet on behalf of a friend or family member, make sure to consult with them and their caregiving team beforehand.

Alternatives to Pet Ownership

If you find that you might not be able to commit to owning a pet, many alternatives can still provide you with all the benefits of pet ownership. One popular option, especially for those in the later stages of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, is purchasing a robotic pet. Some robotic pets, like those from Joy For All Companion Pets, feel and look like real pets. These robotic pets can ease feelings of loneliness without all of the responsibility that comes with caring for a pet.

Pet therapy is also a great alternative, especially for those who live in a residential community, such as Maplewood Senior Living. Many hospitals and long-term care communities partner with organizations to conduct regular visits to patients and residents. While these visits are short, there is evidence that just 15 minutes of bonding with an animal can increase levels of serotonin, which is our body’s natural “feel-good” hormone. Some organizations, such as Therapy Dogs International, will conduct home visits to those who live independently but are still interested in receiving pet therapy visits.

Experience Pet Therapy at Maplewood Senior Living

Pets are great sources of comfort and joy for all, especially those living with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. While owning a pet comes with its benefits, we realize not all are capable of caring for their pet.

Our Maplewood Senior Living communities offer pet therapy so all residents can receive the many benefits that come with spending time with pets. To learn more about our offerings or to schedule a tour of our facilities, please contact us.

Importance of Eye Health in Seniors

As we age, our bodies undergo physical changes that can impact our quality of life. Vision loss, for example, is common in older adults. Approximately one in three adults over the age of 65 have some form of vision-reducing eye disease. As we age, so does our risk of developing eye conditions such as cataracts and glaucoma, which can severely damage our eyes and result in vision loss when left untreated. In addition to developing age-related eye conditions, older adults are also more likely to develop other medical conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes, all of which can lead to vision impairment. Seniors must take extra precautions to maintain optimum eye health and reduce their risk of developing eye conditions, especially those of which are commonly found in older adults.

Common Eye Conditions in Older Adults

There are certain eye conditions that physicians often look for when consulting with senior patients. Cataracts, macular degeneration and glaucoma are some of the most common eye-related ailments that arise later in life. While all three can result in vision loss, they affect the eyes in different ways. Here’s how they work, along with a few other common eye conditions:

Cataracts

Our eyes have a clear lens that helps focus light on the retina. When we get older, this lens can become cloudy, which is referred to as a cataract. Most people experience a progressive decrease in vision and might notice using their readers more often, or still, struggle to see even when using corrective lenses.

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, nearly 24.2 million Americans age 40 and older experience cataracts. Furthermore, nearly half of all Americans have cataracts by the age of 75. While cataracts are the most common cause of visual blindness globally, they are highly treatable and vision loss can usually be corrected through a surgical procedure.

Macular Degeneration

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) affects the macula and can cause central vision loss. The macula is the center of the retina at the back of the eye that allows us to see colors and fine details. The most common type of macular degeneration, dry form, results in the atrophying of the macula’s cells, which can build up on the retina and cause a slow progression of vision loss. AMD can affect daily activities like cooking, reading, driving and even watching TV. Depending on the case, macular degeneration can be treated with injections, or eye drops and vitamins.

Glaucoma

Glaucoma describes a group of eye diseases that damage the optic nerve. This can result in the loss of peripheral vision, which can be hard to notice in the beginning stages. Many people only notice changes in their vision when the center field of vision becomes impaired. Glaucoma is typically treated with topical eye drops, however, irreversible vision loss can occur if left untreated.

Dry eye

Tears help to protect the surface of the eye and can also provide clear vision. Dry eye occurs when too few tears are produced, resulting in dry and itchy eyes. It’s not uncommon for older adults to develop this condition, especially when taking certain medications or if they live in windy and dry climates. Usually, dry eyes can be treated with artificial tears or prescription drugs.

Retinal detachment

Retinal detachment occurs when the retina separates from underlying tissue, which can be caused by a backup of fluid, head or eye trauma, or health problems such as diabetes. If left untreated, retinal detachment can cause permanent vision loss.

Importance of Eye Care

Although the risk of developing an eye condition comes with age and can be influenced by family history, there are some things we can start doing now to preserve and improve our eye health. Diet is a key lifestyle factor that can have long-term effects on our ocular health. Eating a balanced diet is good for overall health, but it’s especially good for our eyes. Colorful fruits and vegetables, essential fatty acids, lean red meat, beans and whole grains all contain nutrients and minerals that are good for ocular health.

In addition to our diet, overall lifestyle choices are important factors in maintaining good eye health. For example, quitting smoking can greatly reduce the risk of developing age-related vision problems. Wearing sunglasses, taking breaks while working at the computer or reading a book and checking your blood pressure are all helpful tips to implement into our daily lives. Likewise, exercising each day can help promote good circulation and oxygen intake, which is important for our eyes.

It’s also recommended that those 65 and older have their eyes checked every year. If you are experiencing any symptoms of eye conditions, like blurry vision or slow progressive vision loss, it’s important to consult a doctor right away. Identifying and treating eye conditions quickly can help prevent additional eye damage.

Living with Vision Loss

Some diseases like glaucoma and macular degeneration can cause vision loss when left untreated for long periods. However, low vision resources can help with regaining some independence after vision loss. Here are a few tools that can be helpful for those experiencing changes in their vision:

• Magnifiers. A magnifying lens can be mounted in spectacles to form a microscope, which can be used for close-up tasks like writing a letter. Magnifiers can also come as handheld telescopes to help people see longer distances or modified for reading tasks.

• Video magnification. Table-top systems can be used to read magazines and newspapers, while smaller more portable systems are good for reading menus or labels at the grocery store.

With today’s technology advancements, researchers have been able to develop a wide variety of tools that can help make daily tasks easier for those with low-vision. The American Foundation for the Blind has compiled a list of the best low-vision solutions for seniors, which can be found here.

Living with Low Vision at Maplewood Senior Living

Our Maplewood Senior Living Communities are dedicated to providing the tools and solutions that improve the quality of life for all residents, including those who have low-vision. To learn more about our offerings or to schedule a tour, please contact us.

Senior Sleep: Why It’s So Important

Older adults ages 65 and above need between 7-9 hours of sleep a night but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention nearly 1 in 3 older adults fail to meet the minimum requirement of sleep each night. While some older adults might prefer to change their sleeping patterns as they age, such as going to sleep earlier and waking up earlier, the amount of sleep they need doesn’t differ much compared to their younger years. However, there are many different reasons older adults might not be getting adequate sleep. For some, feeling sick, experiencing pain and the increased frequency of urination can affect the overall quality of sleep. As we age, our risk of health problems increases and the medications used to treat these issues can actually interfere with our sleep duration and quality. Although it’s common for older adults to experience changes in their sleep, it’s important to resolve these issues, as sleep is responsible for maintaining many functions of the body.

Importance of Sleep for the Body

We rely on sleep to carry us through the day and give our bodies energy to function properly. Getting adequate rest each night allows our blood pressure to regulate itself, reducing the chances of high blood pressure and other sleep-related conditions. Our mental health is also impacted by sleep. Research suggests a link between lack of sleep and increased risk of depression. In fact, a recent study suggests that sleep is a contributing factor in deaths by suicide. A lack of sleep can also impact our ability to relate to and connect with others. Some studies have even suggested that a person’s emotional empathy, or the ability to recognize and relate to other people’s emotions and expressions, is less when they don’t get enough sleep.

Adequate, high-quality sleep gives our bodies time to repair themselves. In fact, research shows a link between sleep and reducing inflammation in the body. For example, those with gastrointestinal diseases have an increased risk of flare-ups during periods of sleep deprivation. Sleep helps the body regenerate and recover, allowing the body to better fight off infection and illness.

Aging and Sleep Quality

It’s not uncommon for older adults to experience changes in their sleep quality as they age. According to the Sleep Foundation, our body’s “master clock,” located in the brain’s hypothalamus is composed of 20,000 cells that make up the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), which controls our circadian rhythms. These circadian rhythms influence our daily cycles, like when we get hungry, tired and when certain hormones are released in the body. As we age, so does our SCN. Deterioration in the function of the SCN can disrupt these rhythms, affecting when we feel tired and alert.

Light serves as one of the most powerful cues in maintaining circadian rhythms. Older adults are less likely to get efficient exposure to sunlight, which can affect the functioning of the SCN and throw off our circadian rhythms. As we age, the body secretes less melatonin, which can also play a role in disrupted sleep.

Common Sleep Issues in Older Adults

It’s not uncommon for older adults to experience sleep issues that result in sleep deprivation or other related side effects. Researchers suggest that more than half of older adults suffer from insomnia. Chronic sleep problems can interfere with our body’s ability to regulate itself, complete daily activities, and decrease our quality of life. According to the Sleep Foundation, common sleep changes with age include:

Pain. Discomfort can cause sleep disturbances including poor quality of sleep or waking up in the middle of the night. This can be especially disruptive for those with chronic pain disorders like arthritis, nerve damage, and lower back pain.
Nighttime urination. Frequent nighttime urination, or nocturia, affects nearly 70% of men and 75% of women above the age of 70. Nighttime urination can disturb sleep patterns and increase the risk of fall-related injuries.
Daytime drowsiness. Excessive daytime sleepiness is often a sign of other underlying sleep issues like sleep apnea. In addition, it can also be a warning sign of cognitive impairment or cardiovascular diseases.
Sleep apnea. Sleep apnea occurs when there are pauses in breathing during sleep. This can occur when there is a repeated or partial collapse of the upper airway. Symptoms can include headaches, daytime sleepiness, and difficulty concentrating.
Restless leg syndrome. This causes an urge to move the legs while resting or sleeping and can result in involuntary movements of the legs or feet. Restless leg syndrome can affect 10 to 35% of people over 65, impacting sleep and quality of life.
Insomnia. Those who have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep may suffer from insomnia. Those with insomnia might experience daytime sleepiness or other cognitive impairments related to sleep deprivation.

Sleep Tips for Seniors

There are many ways you can improve your sleep by keeping a bedtime routine, setting yourself up for a restful night, and reevaluating your diet. If you struggle with getting adequate sleep, here are a few places to start:

Establish a bedtime routine
Finding a consistent bedtime routine that works for you will remind your body that it’s time to prepare for sleep. Going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day will help get your body into a routine. Developing bedtime rituals such as taking a bath, playing music or meditating can also help you wind down before bed.

Setting up your environment
When we use our bedrooms for more than sleeping, our bodies can get confused when it’s time to rest. Watching TV or using a computer while in bed for long periods of time should be avoided. Make sure to block out noise that might disturb you like turning off the television or using a white noise machine. Keep your bedroom dark and cool as light and heat can cause sleep problems, especially for older adults.

Make healthy choices
Diet can actually play a big role in your quality of sleep. Make sure to limit caffeine, especially later in the day, and avoid alcohol before you go to sleep. Eating a full meal at dinnertime or having a light snack before bedtime will keep you from waking up hungry in the middle of the night. Be sure to cut down on sugary and processed foods as they can pull you out of the deep stages of sleep.

Staying Well Rested at Maplewood Senior Living

Sleep can positively or negatively impact our whole day. At Maplewood Senior Living, we offer meditation and relaxation classes, healthy meal options, and install safe lighting to make sure all residents have what they need for a restful night of sleep. To learn more about our offerings or to schedule a tour, please contact us.

How to Connect to Someone with Dementia or Alzheimer’s

Do you have someone in your family with dementia or Alzheimer’s?

Like many of us, you may be worried about the best ways to communicate with your loved ones. We’ve put together a list of suggestions of how to connect with someone newly diagnosed or when you visit someone who has been living with the disease for a longer period of time. Our communities at Maplewood Senior Living are here to help at any time, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Additionally, we suggest downloading our complimentary  Your Guide to Navigating a Dementia Diagnosis for more information.

Dementia affects nearly 50 million people worldwide, with Alzheimer’s contributing to 60-70% of cases. Receiving a dementia diagnosis can drastically change your plans, impact relationships with your friends and family, and cause you to reevaluate your wishes for your life. Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease affect a person’s memory, thinking, orientation and can causes changes in comprehension, language, and judgment. As the disease progresses, many of those living with a diagnosis will rely heavily on support from spouses, family members, or caregivers.

A dementia diagnosis can be extremely difficult to digest for the recipient, but it can also be devastating for friends and community members. As the disease progresses, many people might find it difficult to maintain a connection with a loved one living with dementia or Alzheimer’s, especially in the later stages where memory can be severely impaired. Instead of feeling like you’re watching yourself lose someone you care about, there are ways you can be actively involved in maintaining your connection to them—in a way that works for both you and your loved one.

When Your Loved One Receives a Diagnosis

If your loved one has just received dementia or Alzheimer’s diagnosis, the news could come as a surprise—or maybe it’s something you’ve suspected for a while. Regardless, the most helpful thing you can do is to learn about the disease and how to make small, helpful changes in your interactions. As you do your research on dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, here are a few things to keep in mind as you work to support your loved one in their diagnosis:

How to Talk to Someone with Dementia

The thought of losing the ability to communicate can be devastating for those who have been diagnosed with dementia, especially for those in the early stages. As the disease progresses, it can be tempting to communicate with your loved one. Instead, you might consider implementing these strategies early on:
• Make eye contact, speak clearly and call your loved one by their name
• Talk as you would normally, but make sure to speak more slowly if necessary
• Give your loved one time to respond and avoid completing sentences or talking over them
• Let them speak for themselves, especially when it comes to their health care
• Offer simple choices and options
• Use hand gestures, body language, and rephrase questions when necessary

Act as an advocate

Sharing a diagnosis with a larger community can have its challenges. If your friend is planning on sharing their diagnosis, you might consider asking if they want help telling others and sharing their wishes.

Make time for yourself

Walking through someone’s dementia or Alzheimer’s journey can be emotionally taxing, so it’ important to take time to grieve in your way. Taking some time to explore your hobbies and interests can help rejuvenate your spirit and help you be a support system for your loved one.

Respect boundaries

As friends, we want to take care of our loved ones and support them in any way we can. However, it can be tempting to accidentally overstep boundaries. There can be a tendency to do too much without noticing. This overdoing can make a person feel like they are unable to support themselves or contribute to the friendship. Instead, consider having a conversation with your loved one discussing what help is appreciated and what is not.

Tips for Connecting to Someone with Dementia

As your loved one progresses through the disease, it can sometimes feel like the friendship has changed. When normal activities such as taking walks, going to the movies, or playing cards, become more difficult, you may need some inspiration to maintain the connection. The Family Caregiver Alliance has compiled some of their best tips to stay connected to your loved one as they continue on their journey with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease:

• Start with Positivity. Those with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia can often pick up on body language to convey a message more quickly than words. Setting a positive mood with physical touch, facial expressions, and tone of voice will help communicate your message and feelings of affection.

• Limit Distractions. Competing sounds and noises, like loud music or television, can add to the confusion for those with dementia. You might consider turning off these distractions or move to a quieter setting. As the disease progresses, you may need to identify yourself by your name and relation, address your loved one by their name and maintain eye contact.

• Be Mindful When You Ask to Visit. Many of those living with dementia or Alzheimer’s have good and bad times during the day, especially for those who experience sundowning. Before your visit, ask their caregiver which time of day is best for your loved one and schedule the visit around their preferences.

• Ask Simple Questions. Ask your questions one at a time, leaving space for them to answer. Giving and showing options instead of asking open-ended questions can also be helpful, especially if you’re asking them to choose between multiple items.

• Adapt Activities. When you’re no longer able to do things you normally would do together, you may need to adapt. For example, if you’re used to going on walks with your loved one, you might consider sitting outdoors or bringing elements of the outdoors inside, like a vase of flowers. Even talking about the good old days’ can bring back memories and spark conversation. Listening to music is also shown to be especially comforting for those with the disease.

• Respond with Empathy. People with dementia will often feel confused, forgetful, and unsure. Instead of correcting them when they recall memories incorrectly or repeat themselves, respond with compassion. Stay focused on the emotion they are trying to convey and respond accordingly.

Living with Dementia and Alzheimer’s at Maplewood Senior Living

Our Maplewood Senior Living communities offer support and therapy groups to those who have been affected by Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. These groups can be a great opportunity to learn how to support and connect to a loved one’s diagnosis. To learn more about our offerings or to schedule a tour, please contact us.

The Importance of Vitamin D as We Age

Getting enough vitamin D ensures that our bodies function well, keeps our bones strong, and may minimize the effects of some cancers. Maintaining proper levels of vitamin D is important at every age, however, it’s especially significant for older adults, who are more at risk of fall-related injuries. Without vitamin D, our bodies are unable to absorb calcium, which is the primary component of bone.

While our bodies make vitamin D when exposed to direct sunlight, many older adults don’t always get regular sun exposure and can have additional difficulties absorbing vitamin D. Although many of us are aware of the importance of vitamin D for bone health, there are many other ways vitamin D protects our bodies that are often overlooked.

At Maplewood Senior Living, your health is top priority. Our culinary teams work hard to make sure our residents are eating well as they age and keep a close eye on them to make sure they are getting all the right nutrients they need.  Read about our dining philosophy. 

Importance of Vitamin D for Seniors

Traditionally, people recognize vitamin D by its role in protecting our bones. However, researchers are beginning to accumulate more data that suggests vitamin D does much more than it’s credited. Here are some of the important functions that vitamin D plays in the body:

Bone health and calcium absorption. Vitamin D is best known for its ability to keep bones healthy by increasing the absorption of calcium. Low levels of vitamin D can significantly reduce the body’s ability to absorb calcium, increasing the risk of bone fractures. Besides, weak bones can lead to loss of bone density and osteoporosis.

Working with parathyroid glands. Parathyroid glands help balance calcium in the body by communicating with the kidneys, gut, and skeleton. When there is sufficient vitamin D enabling the absorption of calcium, extra dietary calcium is put to use in other areas of the body. However, if there is a shortage of calcium being absorbed or if vitamin D is low, the parathyroid glands will take calcium from the skeleton to maintain proper levels of calcium in the blood.

Prevents cancer. Research suggests that vitamin D can help prevent certain cancers. Some data suggests that many cells in the body can activate vitamin D, helping to regulate cellular growth. In return, this can help reduce the risk of cancers like colon, breast, and prostate cancer.

Reduces the risk of cognitive decline. Older adults are more at risk of developing illnesses that can result in cognitive decline. Recent studies have suggested that low vitamin D levels in older adults are associated with an increased risk of cognitive decline.

Causes of Vitamin D Deficiency

It’s not uncommon for older adults to have low levels of vitamin D, especially since many lack direct exposure to sunlight. In fact, during the shorter summer months, people who live at certain latitudes don’t have enough exposure to UVB energy to make all the vitamin D they need. Many older adults can have difficulty absorbing vitamin D as a result of interactions with certain medications or due to hereditary diseases, such as familial hypophosphatemia.

Lack of vitamin D can be difficult to identify, especially in adults. Signs and symptoms of vitamin D deficiency can look like fatigue, bone pain, muscle weakness, muscle aches, mood changes, and depression. While there are many different causes of vitamin D deficiency, here are a few of the most common causes in older adults, according to the Cleveland Clinic:

• Age. As we age, our bodies naturally reduce vitamin D production in the skin. Researchers have found that older adults produce 50% less vitamin D when compared to younger individuals.

• Mobility. It’s not uncommon for older adults to lose physical mobility as they age. Those who are non-ambulatory might find it difficult to get direct sun exposure as often as needed.

• Skin color. Those with darker skin do not necessarily lose the ability to produce vitamin D. According to a study performed on Maasai herders, they were producing vitamin D at the same level as adults taking 3,000-5,000 units per day.

• Chronic illnesses. Diseases like Cystic fibrosis, Crohn’s disease, and celiac disease make it difficult for intestines to absorb vitamin D.

• Weight loss surgeries. These surgeries can make it difficult to consume and absorb sufficient amounts of nutrients and vitamins needed for our bodies to function properly. Instead, those who have undergone weight-loss surgeries may need to consume supplements to ensure their bodies are absorbing enough vitamin D.

• Obesity. Those with a body mass index greater than 30 are more at risk of testing at low levels for vitamin D. Research suggests that fat cells store vitamin D instead of releasing it throughout the body.

• Kidney and liver diseases. These diseases make it difficult for the body to transform vitamin D into a usable form. This can cause a vitamin D deficiency that will need to be monitored.

Health Risks Related to Vitamin D Deficiency

When the body detects low levels of vitamin D, it has trouble absorbing calcium, which is critical for bone health. Instead of malfunctioning, the body takes calcium that’s stored in the bones. If this continues to go unaddressed, it can increase the risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures, which older adults are already at an increased risk of developing.

Vitamin D deficiency can also lead to other medical problems like diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, and autoimmune conditions. Those who have low levels of vitamin D were 70% more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.

How to Consume More Vitamin D

Adults ages 70 and below require 600 IU of vitamin D, while adults over the age of 70 require 800 IU. While getting enough vitamin D is needed to maintain proper body functions, too much can have an adverse effect.

Vitamin D comes primarily from direct exposure to sunlight. However, we can also consume vitamin D through food sources. While most foods aren’t high in vitamin D, there are some fortified foods, like milk, cereal, and orange juice that have higher amounts of vitamin D. You can also get vitamin D from fatty fishes like salmon and tuna, mushrooms, and egg yolks.

Maplewood’s Culinary Director, Chef David Simmonds gave us this delicious salmon recipe for two. He uses a variation of this in our communities.

Salmon Quilt Enroute with Mushroom Duxelle

(Mushroom stuffing, serves2)

Ingredients:

  • Fresh Norwegian Salmon Filet, 10 oz (skinless)
  • Olive oil, 2 oz
  • Mushrooms medium, 12
  • Shallots, 2 cloves peeled
  • Milk/Cream, 3 oz
  • Parmesan Cheese, 3 oz
  • Dry White wine, 4oz
  • Sea Salt, 1 teaspoon
  • Cracked black pepper, 1 teaspoon
  • Puff Pastry
  • Egg, 1

Cook mushrooms with shallots, olive oil, wine, reduce on low, add milk/cream continue to reduce. Pull from heat and add to a food processer. Blend the ingredients, add parmesan cheese season to taste, and then fold in a whipped egg. Place mixture on sizzle plater. Cut the salmon into thin strips to braid. Braid the strips and place them on top of the mushroom duxelle

Brush with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 12 minutes or until the internal temperature is 140 degrees.  Chef Dave garnished with roasted beets, green beans, and fresh lemon.

If this isn’t enough, vitamin D supplements can be a better option. It’s always important to consult your doctor before making changes to your diet or adding in a dietary supplement, especially because too much vitamin D can be harmful to your health.

Catering to Vitamin D Needs at Maplewood Senior Living

Taking care of our bodies can feel like a full-time job. At Maplewood Senior Living, our talented staff prioritizes the health needs of all residents. Our team of chefs at each community prepares meals specifically designed to meet the needs of older adults. Maplewood’s Nutritionist, Maria Gleason, works with our culinary teams and residents to create meals that are tasty and healthy. “We make sure our menus incorporate foods that are rich in Vitamin D such as salmon, eggs, cheeses, and fortified milk and orange juice.”

If you’re interested in learning more about our special offerings or scheduling a tour, please contact us.

Living Well with Parkinson’s Disease

Have you or a loved one recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD)? Below, we outline some of the symptoms, the 5 stages, causes, and risk factors. To additionally help you during this difficult time of a recent diagnosis, we encourage you to download our complimentary Parkinson’s Disease Guide to help you through your journey.

Nearly 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with PD each year and approximately 10 million people worldwide live with the disease today. By 2030, almost 1.2 million Americans will be diagnosed with PD.

According to the Mayo Clinic, PD is a progressive nervous system disorder that affects movement. While symptoms look different for each individual, the disease can often go unnoticed in the beginning stages. PD can start with a gradual tremor in one hand, but as the disease progresses, symptoms can begin to affect both sides of the body.

Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease

Those with PD can experience both motor and non-motor symptoms. As the disease progresses, some individuals experience tremors in the face, legs, arms, and hands. It’s not uncommon for adults to experience hand trembling while resting or have the tendency to rub between the forefinger and thumb. Rigidity is also a common symptom of the disease, resulting in muscle stiffness, which can limit the range of motion and become painful, especially if it lasts for long periods of time. PD can cause delayed movements in speech and gait, such as walking with shorter steps or dragging your feet while walking. Speech can also come across with hesitation, softness, or slurring words. Many of these symptoms are due to a loss of neurons that produce a chemical called dopamine. When these levels become too high, it can cause abnormal brain activity. While the cause of Parkinson’s disease is unknown, there are some factors that can increase the risk of developing the disease later on.

Causes and Risk Factors

While researchers are continuing to study the disease to determine a cause, there are some factors that play a role in the development of PD. According to Hopkins Medicine, there are a few risk factors that can contribute to Parkinson’s disease:

Genes: There has been evidence of specific genetic mutations directly relating to PD but it is rare to develop them unless PD is present in many family members.
Environmental Triggers: It is possible that some toxins or environmental factors could contribute to getting PD. An exposure to chemicals used in farming, such as herbicides or pesticides; working with metals, solvents, and detergents could also contribute. While these may trigger PD, it is not believed they cause PD.
Lewy Bodies: Microscopic markers of PD in brain cells are called Lewy bodies. It is believed they hold an important clue to the cause of PD.
Age: It is rare for young adults to be diagnosed with PD. On average it develops mid to late in life around age 60 or older.
Heredity: While your risk may increase if you have a close relative with the PD, the risks are actually still quite small unless many relatives in your family have the disease.
Sex: Men tend to develop Parkinson’s disease more than women. In fact, one study suggests that men have a 1.5 times greater risk of developing the disease compared to women.
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What are the 5 Stages of Parkinson’s Disease?

The stages of PD may vary from person to person. The stages listed below are a guideline of what one might experience; however, everyone experiences symptoms differently. Other concurring illnesses or environmental factors may impact progression.

Stage One: Mild symptoms tend not to interfere with daily activities. A person may start to show subtle changes in posture, walking and/or facial expressions.

Stage Two: While the person may still be capable of living alone, symptoms will begin to progress. They may experience tremors, rigidity, and other movement symptoms on both sides of their body.

Stage Three: This is considered to be mid-stage. Individuals may experience a movement slowdown and loss of balance, putting them at a higher risk for falls. The individual should still be able to remain quite independent but may need assistance with tasks such as dressing and eating.

Stage Four: At this stage, symptoms will most likely begin to affect day-to-day activities. While individuals may stand unaided, they could benefit from assistance with walking, such as a walker. To ensure the individuals remain safe, work with the care team to assess for safety in the home.

Stage Five: At this stage, an individual will need 24/7 care. Mobility is compromised. They will need assistance with personal care and may need adaptive equipment, such as a wheelchair. During this stage, connection, companionship, and comfort are imperative to their overall wellness.

Resources for Living a Normal Life with Parkinson’s

Learning how to cope with PD can feel like an impossible and lonely job. However, there are so many resources created specifically for those dealing with the disease. Some organizations specialize in creating resources that give comfort and support to PD patients, families, and caregivers. Here are a few of them:

For learning about the disease
The Parkinson’s Foundation offers expert briefings webinars that offer first-hand access to PD research and practical tips for managing the disease from experts. The foundation also has podcasts with topics that discuss treatments, research, clinical trials, and more.

• The Michael J. Fox Foundation has compiled a list of books and resources to teach you more about the disease and offer first-hand experiences.

For living with the disease
The Parkinson’s Resource Organization has created a virtual support group network that meets online multiple times a month. The organization has different types of meetings specifically designed for caregivers, community members, researchers, and of course, those living with the disease.

• The American Parkinson Disease Association offers a complete calendar of programs and events ranging from educational programs to tips on managing your symptoms.

For caregivers and families
• The Parkinson’s Resource Organization offers resources specifically designed for caregivers and family members. These resources include newsletters, educational meetings, and even one-on-one sessions with a PD specialist.

Navigating Parkinson’s Disease at Maplewood Senior Living

At Maplewood Senior Living, our nurses meet with residents and their families, assess needs, and develop a specified plan to meet their requirements. Learning how to live with PD can be difficult for those diagnosed with the disease and their families; however, Maplewood Senior Living is dedicated to making it feel a little easier. Our complimentary and downloadable Parkinson’s Disease Guide is a comprehensive resource for families with someone who has been newly diagnosed or looking for advice as to how to proceed.

If you would like to discuss your diagnosis with someone on our team or schedule a tour, please contact us today.

Heart Health Tips for Seniors

Aside from your brain, your heart is one of the most important organs in your body. The heart is a large muscle that pumps blood into our bodies. The right-side pumps blood to the lungs and the left side receives blood from the lungs and redistributes it through the arteries. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death in men and women in the United States and the statistics don’t vary much between race or ethnic groups. For older adults, maintaining heart health is the key to living a long and healthy life.

Age-Related Changes in the Heart

As we age, our bodies go through physical changes, many of which are obvious, such as the appearance of wrinkles or changes in mobility. However, some changes, like those in our heart, go unrecognized. Aging can cause changes within the heart and blood vessels that can put older adults more at risk of developing various heart conditions Increased stiffness in large arteries can lead to high blood pressure. Other changes, like those within our body’s electrical system, can cause arrhythmias, or irregular heartbeat. As we age, the chambers of the heart can increase in size, causing the heart wall to thicken and develop heart rhythm problems, such as atrial fibrillation. Fatty deposits can build up in the walls of our arteries over many years, which can ultimately lead to heart disease.

Types of Heart Disease

Cardiovascular disease encompasses a wide variety of conditions and diseases that can affect our heart function and overall quality of life. While there are many types of heart conditions, here are a few of the most common among older adults:

Coronary artery disease (CAD)

This type of cardiovascular disease occurs when the coronary arteries harden and narrow, causing blockages in the vessels that provide blood to the heart. The development of CAD happens over time and can eventually restrict blood to the heart completely. This can cause a heart attack, stroke, and other heart-related diseases.

Heart attack

Heart attacks usually occur when blood is severely restricted to the heart or completely blocked off, as in the case of coronary artery disease. However, heart attacks can also occur when substances, like fat, cholesterol, and plaque, build up and restricts access to blood to the heart. Heart attacks can result in permanent damage or death to part of the heart muscle.

Arrhythmia

This occurs when the heart develops an irregular rate of rhythm. During an arrhythmia, the heart can beat too fast, too slow, or irregularly, causing blood to pump ineffectively to the lungs, brain, and other organs. If an arrhythmia goes untreated, it can cause damage to the organs.

Heart failure

Heart failure occurs when the heart’s ability to pump blood becomes weakened. Blood will eventually move throughout the body at a slower rate, increasing pressure in the heart and reducing the amount of blood and oxygen in the body’s cells.

Cardiomyopathy

This is a progressive disease that causes the heart to become enlarged and thickened, limiting the heart’s ability to pump blood. Cardiomyopathy can cause other heart conditions such as heart failure or arrhythmias.

Signs of Heart Disease

Early heart disease doesn’t normally show symptoms, that’s why visiting your doctor annually is so important. Chest pain and heart attack are usually the first signs of progressing heart disease. According to the National Institute on Aging, here are some of the most common symptoms of heart disease and heart attack:

• Chest pain or discomfort that doesn’t subside
• Pain and discomfort in the jaw, neck, or back
• Weakness, light-headedness, and nausea
• Shortness of breath when active, at rest, or while lying flat
• Dizziness
• Confusion
• Cold sweats
• Tiredness or fatigue
• Swelling in the ankles, feet, legs, stomach, or neck
• Reduced ability to exercise
• Problems doing normal activities

If you experience any of these symptoms, be sure to contact your health care provider right away.

Tips for Preventing Heart Disease

While genetics can play a role in the development of heart disease, some factors can be controlled to help reduce the risk of the disease. Simple lifestyle changes, such as eating healthy and exercising consistently, can help prevent heart disease. If you’re wondering how to keep your heart healthy, here are a few simple ways:

Control portion sizes.
Eating more than you need can contribute to obesity, which is a key risk factor for heart disease. If you struggle with overeating, you might consider using a small plate or bowl to help you control your portions. Stick with high volume, low calorie, and nutrient-rich foods to help you stay full and maintain your weight.

Eat more fruits and vegetables.

Consuming a proper amount of fruits and vegetables with each meal can help prevent cardiovascular disease. Also, eating more fruits and vegetables can help you cut back on high-calorie foods. Keep fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables on hand so they are available for quick snacks and meals. Smoothies, soups, and salads are great ways to pack in servings of vegetables and fruits.

Eat whole grains.

Whole-grain foods are great sources of fiber and help regulate blood pressure and maintain heart health. You can easily add whole grains into your diet by swapping white bread for whole-grain bread and pasta. Brown rice, barley, and buckwheat are also whole-grain foods that are great for heart health.

Reduce sodium.

Consuming a lot of sodium can lead to high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Canned vegetables and processed foods are usually high in sodium. Instead, you might consider buying low-sodium options and making foods at home. Try salt-free seasoning blends, herbs and spices, and reduced salt versions of condiments.

Exercise.
Physical activity is extremely important when it comes to protecting your heart. Just 30 minutes of activity each day will strengthen your heart and help maintain proper heart function start with activities you enjoy such as walking, dancing, bicycling, or gardening.

Quit smoking.
While smoking is dangerous by itself, it can also damage artery walls in your heart. Quitting can lower your risk of heart disease, stroke, and cancer over time.

Manage stress.
Long-term stress puts pressure on the heart and can lead to high blood pressure. It’s important to learn how to manage stress and put relaxation techniques into practice. Yoga, breathing exercises, and tai chi can help manage your stress and allow you to relax, taking the pressure off your heart.

Maintaining Heart Health at Maplewood Senior Living

At Maplewood Senior Living, we know the important role heart health plays in living a long and happy life. Heart-healthy habits are instilled in each element of living in our Maplewood communities. From our experienced team of chefs to exercise offerings and stress management activities, our goal is to keep our residents healthy and happy. To learn more about our offerings or to schedule a tour, please contact us.

Aging without Family: Senior Orphans

As baby boomers begin to reach retirement age, many make decisions that will impact how they live the rest of their lives. While most older adults want to stay independent for as long as possible, many underestimate the care they will eventually need. According to Senior Care, 69% of Americans will require long-term care, but only 37% will plan for it in the future. As they age, many older adults will rely on family members, such as adult children or their spouse, to care for them as they need additional support. However, for senior orphans, or those who lack a family member to care for them, aging can look a lot different. Nearly one-quarter of Americans are currently or will be elder orphans in the future.

Older adults isolated for long periods are more at risk of health concerns than those who are not. Adults who consider themselves lonely can experience cognitive decline, trouble completing daily tasks, and develop heart disease and chronic illnesses. Medical complications, mental illness, mobility issues, and access to healthcare are also real concerns for socially isolated older adults. Many elder orphans do live full and happy lives, but aging can pose additional challenges preventable with proper planning.

Life Planning Tips for Seniors

While we can’t avoid the physical, emotional, and mental challenges accompanied by aging, we can prepare for them before they occur. Whether aging alone is an intentional choice or not, we should all prepare for what the future might look like if we happen to age independently. Here are a few ways to start preparing now:

Create a support team
If you are aging without family or friends who can offer you support, it’s important to build your team. Think about those you trust—perhaps a physician, clergy person, social worker, attorney, or a financial planner and ask them to be a part of your care team. Together, these individuals can work to ensure that your wishes are upheld as you age. If you are still in your working years, you may consider having these discussions with those you trust earlier. This can help you establish a care team before you need their support.

Consider how you want to age
If you foresee yourself aging alone, it’s important to think about how and where you want to spend your later years. You might consider adjusting your living situation so that weekly tasks, like going to the grocery store and doctor’s office, are feasible. Many senior orphans consider moving into communities, like assisted living or continuing care retirement communities, to better prepare for their future. These communities offer built-in social networks, easily accessible healthcare, and offer support with daily tasks.

Plan early and often
As you begin planning for the future, assess your family history. If you have a long line of heart disease, cancer, or a history of early death, you should start planning earlier and reassess your plan to reflect your needs.

Instill healthy habits
If you want to make your own decisions later in life, you have to start taking care of yourself now. Eating a healthy diet and exercising can make a positive impact on how we age. Staying engaged and active can help prevent cognitive decline and keep our brains sharp for longer.

Develop and maintain a social life
Loneliness and social isolation can lead to cognitive decline, depression, anxiety, and even early mortality. The best protection against depression and loneliness is to connect with others often. Joining senior clubs, recreation centers, or volunteering can all help ward off loneliness and isolation while giving you a platform to connect with others routinely.

Challenges for Elder Orphans

Healthcare

Older adults are more at risk of developing chronic illnesses and diseases that require additional healthcare such as doctor’s visits or medication management. For those without caregivers, healthcare arrangements should be made in advance. One option is to appoint a healthcare proxy. This process legally designates a person to act on behalf of a patient and allows them to make medical decisions when necessary. While it’s best to choose someone, you’ve known for a long time, such as a friend or former colleague, social workers can also act as a healthcare proxy when necessary.

In addition to appointing someone to advocate for your healthcare needs, it’s also important to compile important documents somewhere easily accessible. This might include your living will, which will help identify your end of life wishes, as well as your do-not-resuscitate order if applicable.

Financial Planning for Seniors

Many older adults will require assistance with managing their finances, especially for those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. Generally, many aging adults assign their adult children to manage their finances. However, there are plenty of options for those without caregivers or family support. Here are a few things you can be doing now to ensure you’re prepared for the future:

How to Plan for Your Future Financially

• Seek Professional Help. CPA and financial advisors can help provide money management services such as paying bills, facilitating required minimum distributions, reconciling bank statements, and end of life planning.

• Authorized Signature. If you have children or friends who are long-distance, you might consider granting them permission as an authorized signature on your account. This permits them to sign checks but doesn’t give ownership of the account. This setup can be a good option for managing bills and other recurring payments. As always, you should only give financial access to those you trust completely.

• Money management programs. For those who prefer outside help, there are companies you can hire to handle bill payments and other financial matters, specifically designed to serve the elderly. You can find these programs through the America Association of Daily Money Managers.

Aging at Maplewood Senior Living

Our communities at Maplewood Senior Living offer a wide variety of services to ensure that residents feel supported, especially for those without family. Regularly scheduled activities, exercise classes, and support groups encourage residents to socialize and decrease the risk of loneliness and isolation. To learn more about our communities, please contact us.

Caregiving 101: Preventing Burnout and Maintaining Self-Care

Nearly 10,000 baby boomers reach the age of 65 every single day. As the number of baby boomers retiring begins to increase, so will the demand for caregivers. In fact, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, nearly half of older adults will require outside support by the time they reach 85 years old. Traditionally, caregivers assist older adults in daily activities such as medication management, eating, bathing, getting dressed, and running errands. Caregivers can be unpaid family members or professionals who are hired by the individual or the family to assist a loved one. While caregiving is a rewarding profession, it can also be emotionally and physically demanding. Over time, it’s not uncommon for caregivers to experience stress, which can ultimately lead to caregiver burnout.

What is caregiver burnout?

Caregiver burnout occurs as a reaction to the emotional and physical strain of caring for another person. It’s not uncommon for caregivers to report high levels of stress when compared to those who are not caregivers. While caregiver stress can show up in different ways, some warning signs are common amongst caregivers according to the Mayo Clinic:

Caregiver Burnout Symptoms

• Feeling overwhelmed and worried
• Fatigue
• Gaining or losing weight
• Becoming irritated or angry
• Losing interest in activities
• Experiencing headaches or body aches
• Sleeping too much or too little
• Abusing alcohol or drugs, including prescription medications
• Feeling sad
• Lack of concentration

When these warning signs are ignored, it can lead to dangerous mistakes, such as making errors in managing medications or slower responses in emergencies. When caregiver stress goes unacknowledged for long periods, it can also lead to long-term health concerns.

Long-term effects of caregiving on health

Caregivers can experience a wide range of emotions in a single week, let alone a single day. Caregiving can reinforce feelings of helpfulness, love, and commitment, and provoke feelings of worry and exhaustion at the same time. When left unidentified, chronic stress releases stress hormones in the body, which can have serious long-term effects on your health. Here are some of the most common ways stress can affect the body:

Depression and anxiety. Long-term stress can lead to feelings of anxiety and depression, which can increase your risk of developing other conditions like heart disease and stroke.

Weakened immune system. When stress is left unacknowledged it can cause additional stress on your immune system. The immune system works to fight off illnesses and diseases. Weakened immune systems can increase your risk of developing a cold or flu, and reduce the effectiveness of vaccines.

Obesity. Chronic stress can produce betatrophin, which blocks a protein that breaks down body fat. Long-term release of betatrophin can lead to weight gain or obesity, which can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and diabetes.

Increased risk for chronic diseases. Ongoing stress can also increase the risk of developing chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes and arthritis.

Problems with short-term memory. Those who experience high levels of stress can also develop problems with their short-term memory, making it difficult to care for another person.

Self-care for caregivers

While stress is common for caregivers, leaving it unaddressed can cause long-term problems on our overall health and wellness. Our bodies have a natural way of combatting stress, which is regulated by our nervous system. However, if you’re experiencing high levels of stress, you may need to activate your body’s natural response through a variety of activities. Here are a few ways to help address stress and prevent feelings of burnout:

• Practice self-compassion. It’s not uncommon for caregivers to feel like they’re not doing enough for their loved one. This can lead to feelings of guilt, especially when caregivers take time to care for themselves. However, practicing self-care allows a caregiver to be present and focused when caring for a loved one.

• Practice breathing exercises. Meditation and relaxation techniques have been proven to be effective ways to process and redirect feelings of stress. Taking five minutes at the beginning or end of the day to breathe deeply or practice meditation will help you relax your body. Here are a few exercises to get started.

Eat well. Forgetting to eat or not getting enough quality sleep can contribute to caregiver stress and burnout. The simplest thing caregivers can do for themselves is eating a balanced diet and create a relaxing nighttime routine. To prevent inflammation in the body, avoid foods that are processed and high in refined sugars. Focus on eating foods that are high in nutrients, protein, and fiber.

Connect with others. Caregiving can be isolating, especially for those caring for a spouse or family member. Reconnecting with others and prioritizing socialization can help combat feelings of isolation and depression. You might even consider scheduling social activities, like talking to a friend on the phone, into your weekly calendar.

Reduce stress. It’s important to be able to recognize warning signs that might occur when you begin to feel stressed. These signs might include disruptive sleeping patterns, forgetfulness, or feelings of loneliness. Once you understand what is at the root of your stress, you can begin to take action.

Ask for help. It can be extremely difficult for caregivers to accept help. But, accepting someone’s offer to help can allow you to manage your stress and conserve your energy. Make a mental list of ways that others could help you if they offer and don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.

Start to exercise. Consistent daily exercise can help reduce your risk of caregiving related injuries, illness, depression, and anxiety. A mind-body practice such as yoga, tai chi, or meditation can help reduce stress. Just 30 minutes of exercise each day can promote better sleep, help manage your sleep, and reduce physical and mental tension.

Services for caregivers

In addition to prioritizing self-care, there are many resources available to caregivers who may be feeling overwhelmed or burnt out. Many communities offer meal delivery and other non-medical services like housekeeping, cooking, and making changes to your home like installing ramps or modifying bathrooms. Respite care, which is when a substitute comes to relieve a caregiver, can help free up time for full-time caregivers who may need to run errands or schedule appointments. The National Eldercare Locator can help you identify caregiving services in your area.

Caregiving support at Maplewood Senior Living

At Maplewood Senior Living, we are constantly looking for new ways to show our support to caregivers. We also are available to discuss options to relieve the strain of caregiving if having your loved one live in one of our communities would be a more suitable option. If you’re interested in learning about our offerings or to schedule a tour, please contact us.