The Importance of Brain Health for Older Adults

Our brains do it all. In addition to managing voluntary and involuntary physical activity, they control our cognitive abilities, like memory and decision-making, which affect — in ways large and small — every moment of our lives. So of course our brains need to be protected, nourished, supported, and treated with the best possible care. Brain health for older adults is especially important.

At Maplewood Senior Living, our communities support brain health and overall health with everything we do. Our goal is to help you live a healthy, independent lifestyle.  We are offering Your Guide to a Healthy Brain, a complimentary guide for great tips and advice for Keeping Your Brain Healthy as You Age.  Download today (click the link) The guide highlights 7 specific areas you can focus on to help improve brain health today.

As we age, certain parts of the brain shrink, especially those that control learning and mental activities. In other brain regions, communication between neurons might not be as effective when compared to the brains of younger adults. While these changes are normal parts of aging, there are steps we can take to maintain our brain health. A healthy diet, hydration, engagement with friends and family, and even how much we sleep can all maintain brain health in older adults. To help, we’ve outlined the different ways you can make small changes that will lead to long-term brain health.

What is Brain Health?
According to the National Institute on Aging, brain health refers to how well a person’s brain functions across several different areas:
● Cognitive ability — how well you think, learn and remember
● Motor function — how well you make and control movements, including balance
● Emotional function — how well you interpret and respond to emotions (both pleasant and unpleasant)
● Tactile function — how well you feel and respond to sensations of touch, including pressure, pain, and temperature
Growing research suggests that making small changes to your daily routine could help you function better for longer. These changes can also help decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s and other age-related memory loss.

Diet and the Brain
While eating a balanced diet is a great step toward achieving overall health, some researchers have suggested there are specific diets linked to improving brain function. These include:
● Mediterranean diet
● Blue Zone diet
● DASH diet (Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension)
● MIND diet

Mediterranean Diet or The Blue Zone Diet
The Mediterranean and Blue Zone diets are similar because they are primarily plant-based. Meat is eaten minimally, 1-2 times a week, and it is suggested to completely avoid added sugar, refined grains, trans fats, processed meats, and highly processed foods. Both diets are inspired by parts of the world that have communities where people eat food in its most natural state, are more active, value social interaction, and tend to live longer. These lifestyles also focus on being less sedentary. Exercise is achieved through walking, chores, gardening, and even harvesting food.

DASH diet
The DASH diet was created to prevent high blood pressure but it offers several health benefits. It mitigates sodium intake — the standard DASH diet encourages 2,300 mg or less per day. The lower sodium DASH diet recommends no more than 1,500 mg per day.

MIND diet
This is a combination of the Mediterranean Diet and the DASH Diet. According to the Mayo Clinic, there is great evidence that diet can improve brain health, potentially lowering cognitive decline and dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. The MIND diet highlights vegetables, berries, nuts, olive oil, plant-based meals, and one glass of red wine per day.

Exercise for Brain Health
Recent studies suggest that the activities you do to strengthen your body, heart, and lungs can also improve your brain health. According to the Cleveland Clinic, physical activity can benefit the brain by promoting cardiovascular health, improving blood flow to the brain, reducing inflammation, and lower levels of stress hormones. To reap the brain benefits of exercise, experts suggest aiming for 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as walking, biking, or swimming.

Mental Stimulation
Practicing new and challenging activities can help you build and preserve cognitive skills and mental acuity. Our brains can learn and grow even as we age, but to do so, they need stimulation. Training our brains includes practicing a new activity each day. According to Harvard Health, “much research has found that creative outlets like painting, learning an instrument, writing, and learning a new language can improve cognitive function.” Here are a few tips to get you started in training your brain:
● Pick one new activity and devote your time and attention to it.
● Sign up for a class. This is a great way to learn the basics of the activity, especially if it requires special skills like reading music or painting.
● Schedule time for your activity. Life can get away from us! It might be helpful to schedule practice time at the start of each week to ensure consistency.

Social Connectivity
Isolation and loneliness can have a deleterious effect on one’s physical and mental health. Research has shown that those who are socially isolated can experience cognitive decline, chronic illness, and depression at higher rates than those who maintain social connections. Volunteering, spending time with grandchildren, joining a club, or even attending an exercise class are all great opportunities for connecting with others. Even speaking with a loved one on the phone or through a video call can help combat isolation and loneliness.

Mental Health and Stress Management
Stress affects our minds and body. Not surprisingly, our brains suffer because of it. Stress raises the level of cortisol in our bodies, which may impair thinking and memory. Stress presents in other nefarious ways: you may drink more, overeat, undereat, eat more of the wrong foods, decide not to exercise. Any of these stress indicators take a toll. All the lifestyle changes we listed above will improve both mental health and stress levels. If you’re suffering from stress, ask your doctor about therapy or medications that may help.
A few de-stressing tips: Be positive. Avoid multi-tasking. Exercise (even a short walk can help). Add music into your daily life. Make sure you laugh regularly. Visit with a friend or family member.

How Maplewood Senior Living Supports Brain Health
At Maplewood Senior Living, our communities support brain health and overall wellness with everything we do. Through our delicious and nutritious dining options, exercise classes, support groups, and robust activity schedule, our goal is to help each resident live a happy, healthy lifestyle. To learn more about the benefits of choosing Maplewood Senior Living or to schedule a tour, please contact us.

Why Social Isolation is Detrimental to Older Adults

Social isolation, which includes having few social relationships or infrequent contact with others, is a national public health concern, especially for older adults. Our bodies use pain as a warning sign to signal that something is wrong. Like pain, feelings of loneliness can be a sign that isolation is beginning to affect our health. While it’s possible to feel lonely without being socially isolated from others, long-term social isolation can very likely increase our risk of feeling lonely. The recent COVID-19 pandemic has shed light on the social isolation in older adults’ epidemic. However, subsequent social distance and lock-down protocols have exacerbated the epidemic, causing a spike in reported isolation among the senior population.

Isolation and subsequent loneliness are not new concerns. However, according to the Association of Health Care Journalists, new social isolation statistics suggest that lock-down and social distance protocols have already increased loneliness in older adults. A June 2020 poll from the University of Michigan found that “56% of respondents over the age of 50 reported that they sometimes feel isolated from others which is more than twice of the 27% who felt that way in a similar 2018 poll.” The same report suggests that nearly one-fourth of adults aged 65 and older are considered to be socially isolated. These increasing numbers are concerning for several reasons, including the fact that older adults who experience long-term isolation are significantly more at risk for many health concerns.

Effects of Social Isolation on Mental Health

It’s common for older adults who are socially isolated to show signs of cognitive decline and decreased speed in information processing. Those who are socially isolated for long periods can often experience physical inactivity, depression, poor sleep quality, high blood pressure and inflammation, all of which can contribute to cognitive decline.

While researchers are still studying the relationship between isolation and cognitive decline, many new developments have been made. Researchers have found that loneliness, due to isolation, has been linked with the same types of brain changes found in those with Alzheimer’s disease. For those with Alzheimer’s disease, certain proteins build up in the brain and alter the brain’s function. These proteins, beta-amyloid, and tau, are also found in those who have reported long-term social isolation. Certain life stressors linked to isolation, such as negative thinking, can also cause the same proteins to build up in the brain, which can increase the risk of disease and illness.

Effects of Isolation on Health

Some research suggests that isolation can alter cells in the immune system causing inflammation. While inflammation can help our bodies heal in the event of injury, if it goes unaddressed for long periods, it can increase the risk of chronic diseases. Those who are isolated can develop compromised immune systems, making them more vulnerable to viruses and infectious diseases.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people who are isolated and suffer from pre-existing conditions, such as heart failure, are at an increased risk of hospitalization by 68%. They also have a 57% increased risk of emergency department visits and have nearly four times the risk of premature death. Loneliness and isolation are also associated with higher rates of depression, anxiety and suicide. Those who live in social isolation are at risk of premature death from all causes, the severity of which rivals the risk associated with smoking, obesity and physical inactivity.

A study from Florida State University gathered data from 12,030 older adults aged 50 and above to study the relationship between dementia and loneliness. While there is a difference between the two, loneliness can often be a result of social isolation. The findings reported that loneliness was associated with a 40% increased risk of dementia after analyzing data from a 10-year follow-up. This risk includes people of all genders, education, race and ethnicity.

Importance of Social Activity

Cultivating meaningful relationships and having consistent interaction with others can promote both physical and mental health. Research has suggested that those who feel supported in their relationships have a 55% lower risk of dementia. Those who have strong social connections often cope better with stress and they have a supportive social circle to lean on in stressful situations. Social connections can help those who already have protein-build up in the brain decrease their risk of dementia and lessen the build-up over time.

The pandemic has presented a unique challenge, especially for older adults, as many social-distancing protocols are still in place making interaction more difficult. However, many older adults are using technology as a way to interact with others and maintain meaningful relationships.

Using Technology to Combat Isolation

Now more than ever, we are seeing how technology can be used to alleviate social isolation for many older adults. Here are a few ways older adults are utilizing technology to stay connected:

Connecting with Friends and Family
A survey out of the University of Michigan reported that 59% of older adults use social media to connect with others at least once a week, while 31% use video conferencing platforms. In May of this year, video conferencing apps broke records with 62 million downloads. Apps like FaceTime, WebEx, and Zoom are being used to host virtual cocktail parties, dinner gatherings, and book clubs.

Staying Active
Many older adults use exercise and physical activity as a way to connect with others and make new friends. Now, technology has made it possible to continue this connection, while also staying safe. YouTube offers virtual exercise classes like Pilates, dance classes, and chair yoga that can be done with a group, but from the comfort of your own home.

Lifelong Learning
Social connection can occur when people bond over similar interests. For those who like to learn, there are many online options available. Open University offers many free classes, most of which offer online forums that allow classmates to connect with and learn from each other.

Preventing Social Isolation at Maplewood Senior Living

At Maplewood Senior Living, we know how important social connection is for older adults. Our facilities offer a wide variety of social activities and utilize technology to encourage connections with family and friends. Our Temi robots give residents many opportunities to video chat with family members, interact with online videos, and monitor their health. For more information or to schedule a tour, please contact us here.

Benefits of Gardening for Seniors

As spring continues in full bloom, now is the best time to think about finally starting your own garden. Because of our current global pandemic, all of us could use a little more joy in our lives. Growing plants, whether it be flowers, vegetables or fruit can help improve your mood, decrease anxiety and improve your overall health. While gardening might be a lifetime interest of yours or something you’ve never tried, its history is long.

History of Gardening

As you can imagine, gardening in the ancient times was mainly focused on cultivating plants that could be used as food. Instead of spending hours foraging for food, eventually people began planting these vines and trees together to make gathering food more accessible and efficient.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, many gardens were planted with the purpose of growing herbs for medicinal purposes. Monasteries and churchyards were known for housing beautiful and intricate gardens to supply infirmaries and kitchens. It wasn’t until later on that gardens were developed for aesthetics.

During the Elizabethan era, which came after many people died during the Black Death, there was more land available and gardens became centered on fruit, herbs and animals. By the 18th century, gardens really had no set borders and ventured into rolling hills. At this time, English gardens often contained a body of water, trees, flowers and other food producing plants. Still to this day, gardens bring sources of food, beauty and health benefits for all people.

Health Benefits for Seniors

Many people love to garden and grow their own produce, fruit and flowers, but many don’t know why gardening is so good for you. Both AARP and Good Housekeeping Magazine compiled a list of all the reasons why gardening is more than just a fun spring and summertime hobby.
Lower Blood Pressure– According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, just 30 minutes of exercise each day can help seniors avoid health problems normally associated with aging, like high blood pressure. Gardening can increase your heart-rate helping you burn calories and build strength.

Strengthen Bones– When you spend time gardening outside in the sun, your body absorbs Vitamin D which fills you with calcium, a nutrient essential for building strong bones. Of course, long-term sun exposure can increase your risk of developing skin cancer, so make sure to wear sunscreen.

Relieve Stress When we experience long-term stress, it can have a powerfully negative effect on our health. Stress can cause depression, heart problems and cognitive decline. Gardening can provide a sense of control, confidence and pride as you watch a plant grow from seed.

Decrease Risk of Dementia– Working in the garden can provide a lot of sensory stimulation, which can help reduce the progression of dementia. In fact, a study found that spending time each day in a garden working with plants has the potential to reduce the likelihood of dementia by up to 36 percent.

Helps Fight Loneliness– Isolation can be dangerous to our health, especially for older adults. Community gardens provide the opportunity for socialization and finding common ground with others in our neighborhood or senior living community.

Gardening in Small Spaces

While gardening has many health benefits, you might be discouraged by your lack of space, especially if you live in an apartment building. However, as many people migrated into the city, new ways of urban gardening became popular. If you live in a small space, don’t have access to a community garden, or are more comfortable with gardening inside, here are some great options:

Windowsill Gardening– You don’t have to have a large garden to reap the benefits of being around plants. If you have a window, you can garden! Herbs do especially well inside if they get enough sunlight. A small container will allow you to grow basil, cilantro, rosemary and thyme among others. If you’re more interested in growing vegetables, you might consider getting slightly larger containers for carrots, onions, hot peppers and lettuce.

Vertical Gardens– The problem with traditional outdoor gardening is that it requires a lot of space that most apartments don’t provide. If you have a small yard, you might consider purchasing hanging pots or larger containers that you can put a trellis inside, allowing you to grow your plants up instead of out.

Patio Gardens– Many people who choose to garden on their patios use raised beds. These garden beds are usually deep enough to grow vegetables but don’t require much space. In fact, some raised beds are simple enough to build on your own. You might also consider growing plants that don’t require much space, like tomatoes and peppers.

Indoor Gardens– Indoor gardens are quite simple to start. Begin by choosing a sunny, south facing window to put your container. Fill the shallow container, making sure to poke or drill holes into the bottom. Gently pack in the seeds, mist with water and watch them grow. You might start with easy to grow plants like herbs, spinach, watercress or cabbage.

Staying Safe Outdoors

While gardening can be a great way to enjoy the outdoors, it does require some protection and safety precautions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a list of tips to keep in mind the next time you go outside to enjoy your garden.

Dress Appropriately– The summer sun can be extremely hot and dangerous to your skin. It’s recommended to wear sturdy shoes, long pants and breathable long-sleeve shirts. Make sure to wear gloves to reduce the risk of cuts and irritation. In addition, it’s important to wear a sun hat to protect your skin and eyes from the sun.

Put Safety First– If you’re working with chemicals and fertilizers, make sure to read the label before using them. Many chemicals can cause unwanted reactions when mixed together. In addition, make sure to be careful with sharp tools. If you’re unsure how to use certain equipment, it’s always a good idea to ask for help before using.

Know Your Limits– It’s essential to pay attention to signs of heat-related illnesses. These symptoms include headaches, dizziness, confusion and nausea. If you experience any of these symptoms, go inside and contact your healthcare provider immediately.

Stay Hydrated– In general, most older adults struggle with staying hydrated. Its’ important to consume more fluids especially when working outside in the hot weather. Bring a water bottle outdoors and set a timer on your phone or watch to remind you when it’s time for a drink.

Protect Your Body– Be realistic when it comes to your limitations. If you are at risk of falling, raised beds might be a good option instead of gardening at ground level. If you have arthritis, make sure to purchase tools that are easy to grasp and feel comfortable. As always, contact your medical doctor when you experience any chest and arm pain or dizziness.

Gardening at Maplewood Senior Living.

As summer approaches, our residents at Maplewood Senior Living Communities are busy preparing their gardens. All of our facilities have gardening options for residents. While many have been gardening for most of their lives, there are still many other residents learning to garden for the first time. If you’d like to hear more about our offerings or to schedule a virtual tour, please contact us.

Ways to Combat Social Isolation During COVID-19

As we all do our part to flatten the curve of COVID-19’s global impact, most of us find ourselves self- quarantined in our homes. While self-quarantine is the best thing to do to stay healthy, it can also come with challenges, especially for vulnerable populations. Many older adults are at risk of isolation during this time, especially if they are alone. For many individuals, social interaction and physical touch can be reduced to just minutes per day, if at all. According to AARP, loneliness and isolation “affect a significant proportion of adults in the United States and have been calculated as being the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day.” Long-term isolation can have serious effects on an individual’s health both physically and mentally.

Effects of Isolation on Mental and Physical Health for Seniors
The symptoms of long-term isolation can present themselves slowly and can be difficult to identify, especially in yourself. That’s why it’s so important to check-in with yourself each day and assess how you’re feeling. If you experience any of these symptoms or effects of isolation, you should contact your doctor or healthcare provider right away to get the treatment you need. According to the Lifeline Crisis Support, here are some of the most common effects of long-term isolation.

• Physical Symptoms– You might notice your pre-existing conditions worsening or the development of new conditions. Headaches, aches and pains and sudden illness are all common physical symptoms of long-term isolation.
• Mental Health Conditions– During periods of isolation you are more at risk of depression, anxiety and panic attacks, especially if you have experienced these conditions before.
• Interrupted Sleep Patterns– You might experience difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep or even sleeping too much. These interrupted sleep patterns can cause you to feel tired, fatigued and generally disinterested.
• Changes in Diet– Isolation can cause loss of appetite, which results in sudden weight gain or loss. If you experience these changes, it’s important to notify your doctor quickly.
• Substance Abuse– To deal with the stress of isolation, it’s not uncommon for adults to increase their consumption of alcohol, smoking, medications and drugs. If you have a history of substance abuse and are experiencing long-term isolation, be sure to have support plan put in place.
• Negative or Depressed Feelings – Long-term isolation can provoke feelings of hopelessness and disinterest.

How to Stay Connected during Social Isolation
While we’re navigating these difficult times, the thought of being unable to see our loved ones adds another level of challenge and stress. However, there are many alternatives to help you stay connected to your family and friends from the comfort of your own home while decreasing your risk of feeling isolated.

Video Chatting
While there’s no replacement for hugging your family and friends and spending time connecting in person, there is an alternative that can help you stay connected while also staying healthy. Many people are using video conferencing platforms to speak with their loved ones, while also being able to see their faces. Applications like Zoom, FaceTime, Skype, WhatsApp and Google Hangouts are video enabled platforms that are great for chatting with either one person or large groups. FaceTime is great for Apple products, while Skype, Zoom and Google Hangouts are accessible on all devices. If you have a loved one who is living abroad, you might consider using WhatsApp.

Entertainment
Who says you can’t have fun in self-quarantine? There are a wide variety of online platforms that allow you to have virtual parties with your friends and families no matter where they live. These services allow you to watch movies or play games with your loved ones online.

Houseparty– While this application isn’t exactly new, it has become more popular in the last few weeks. While video chatting is a great way to stay connected, Houseparty allows you to video chat while providing entertainment for your group. This app allows you to play games with your group such as: Heads Up, Trivia, Quick Draw and many others.

• Watch Party– Facebook offers a feature that allows its users to watch Facebook videos together. Users can watch videos together in real time while writing and sharing their comments and reactions with their friends. Here are some tips to keep in mind while using.

Netflix Party– Watching movies is a great way to spend your time inside, but sometimes it can get lonely watching by yourself. That’s why Netflix created an extension called Netflix Party, which allows its users to type text into a chat box while watching.

Ways to Learn Online
You might be looking for ways to mix up your day and stay busy. This is a great time to learn new skills and utilize online learning tools. While learning is something you can do alone, it can also help you feel part of a community, especially if you find a friend to learn along with you. If you’re looking for a new book for your kindle, check out Amazon or buy a new book from Oprah’s Book Club. You might even consider starting a book club with your friends and using a video chat to discuss your thoughts.

There are so many ways to learn by using the computer. If you like learning about new topics, you might consider listening to a talk on TED. You can choose from a variety of lectures on hundreds of topics. Other platforms like Teachable and Coursera offer college level courses free of charge, and you can also choose to buy a membership for more access. Choose a course to take with a friend and call each other after to discuss what you’ve learned.

How to Build an Online Community
The best way to decrease you risk of isolation is find ways to build your community of support. Whether you’re video chatting or watching a movie with a friend, the more you interact with others the less likely you will feel isolated. For times like these, the best way to build a community is by utilizing technology.

Facebook and Instagram allow users to post pictures and videos, while allowing friends and family to comment and leave their well wishes. You might also consider starting an email chain with family and friends to stay updated on new life happenings. Group text messages are also a great way to share how you’re feeling and what you’ve been doing each day.

At our Maplewood Senior Living Communities, seniors are busy learning the latest technologies to stay entertained and connected with family and friends during this time. If you’d like to learn more about our offerings or to schedule a virtual tour, please contact us.