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Combating Loneliness in Seniors

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By Barbara Goll, Community Liaison Educator and Nutritionist

speaking with loved ones on the phoneLoneliness affects more than 42 million older Americans according to the American Psychological Association.  While living alone does not inevitably lead to loneliness, it can be a contributing factor.  Social contact typically decreases with age due to retirement, spouse and friends dying or moving away, lack of mobility and physical limitations.  When an entire peer group is experiencing these naturally occurring changes it is easy to see why there is a decline in the number and quality of relationships as we age.

Loneliness is a very personal experience.

Loneliness comes with different causes and implications for every individual. This makes addressing the problem complex.  Loneliness is a negative emotion defined by the quality and quantity of relationships that we have versus those we long to have.  It is based on an individual’s values, needs, wishes and feelings. Loneliness can create a persistent loop of negative thoughts and feelings that can wear us down and push others away.  “Loneliness is tricky because someone has to tell you their negative emotions,” says Kerstin Gerst Emerson from the Institute of Gerontology. “Diagnosis depends on asking questions, not a blood test or MRI.” It is a subjective feeling of social separation.  When one does not feel they have value, self-worth or a purpose to their lives, it can lead to loneliness and depression.   Loneliness can be defining and devastating to the lives of the elderly.

I realized the devastation of loneliness when my mother made a comment after a holiday family gathering stating that she felt alone and not a part of conversations.  She also felt that what she might have to say was not important and that the conversations she had with others were just small talk.  At the nursing home where I worked, I saw the pain on residents faces as they told me how lonely they were feeling, even though they were participating in a group activity at the time.  Loneliness is personal and these feelings are all valid.

Loneliness has a harmful impact on mental and physical health.

When loneliness becomes a lifestyle, research shows it can cause depression, risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, weakened immune system, anxiety and dementia.  These are not issues to be ignored. The Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience suggests that the connections with loneliness and health risks lie in harmful lifestyle choices such as eating poorly, inactivity and smoking.

What can be done to combat loneliness in seniors?

As family, caregivers and community members we can help our seniors become less lonely, more engaged. Here are some helpful suggestions:

  • Encourage seniors to express themselves while being a good listener. Ask them to tell you more about past interests and activities.  Try to rekindle and adapt past interests and hobbies to fit their current abilities.
  • Use information learned from inquiring conversations to create an individual plan to decrease loneliness. Be creative with ideas, things offered in your community, clubs, and groups.  Be prepared to nudge a little bit outside of their comfort zone.
  • Foster relationships between generations through visits and technology such as email and Facetime or Skype. Help grandchildren learn wisdom, childhood stories and family history from grandparents.  Have them show grandparents how to use their cell phone or computer more easily or help them correspond with friends and distant family.
  • Visit as often as possible and engage in meaningful conversation. Give your full attention and really listen and hear what they have to say. Take a walk, read, sing or listen to favorite songs or play a board game. If unable to visit often you can write, call or use technology.
  • Seek out and attend activities of interest with the senior, especially for the first few times. Local senior centers and Area Agency on Aging are a good place to start.
  • Let seniors teach you something. When a former art professor moved into the nursing home where I was working, I empowered him to teach a basic sketch class to the residents.  This brought worth and value to his life as well as the other residents lives who learned how to draw.  Older individuals love to pass on knowledge.
  • Take seniors out to restaurants, Sunday church service, a movie, to visit with a friend, shopping or a drive around the neighborhood or out into the country. Fresh air and a change of scenery can do wonders.
  • Help facilitate connections with old friends that may not be able to visit anymore through letters, in-person visits, or emails.
  • Encourage seniors to volunteer. Volunteering can be very rewarding and seniors have a lot of skills and wisdom to contribute to their community.  This is a great social connection and adds purpose, worth and fulfillment to their lives. Volunteer search sites include:  volunteermatch.org, rsvpcapreg.org and createthegood.aarp.org
  • Take a class such as exercise, computer or other educational topic of interest. Many community colleges offer free lifetime learning classes for seniors.  It is a great way to create new connections.
  • Community planners and local authorities must take action and create policy that places emphasis on healthy aging. Allow communities to support our older adults and the aging process as well as those living with dementia. Dementia Friendly America and Age Friendly Cities are initiatives that focus on communities working together to support our older Americans.

Reducing loneliness in all generations is derived from strong and loving relationships we have with others.  Let’s try to help our seniors create and preserve these relationships throughout their lives and show them how valuable they truly are.


Barbara Goll is a Community Education Liaison and Nutritionist for Homeland at Home. Her passion is educating and helping people attain a higher quality of life while aging in place. Goll is a valued member of Homeland’s community outreach team offering a variety of short talks on nutrition and age-related issues, including her “My Reflections” workshop to help you to think through many end-of-life care decisions. She has presented at 50 Plus Expo’s, civic organizations, community support groups, senior centers, aging forums and more. Homeland at Home offers Hospice, HomeHealth and HomeCare.

Healthy Choices, Healthy Brains

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By Barbara Goll, Community Education Liaison and Nutritionist

For most of us, Alzheimer’s disease is not a topic we like to think about or discuss. We fear the word and diagnosis when we hear it. This doesn’t have to be our perception of the illness. June is Alzheimer’s disease and Brain Awareness Month. It’s perfect time to better understand how eating for a healthy life impacts brain health. Eating for your brain will help you achieve peak performance in every part of your life.

Most individuals worry they have Alzheimer’s disease the moment they notice problems with their memory. Like any disease, cognitive impairment develops over years, with lifestyle choices directly impacting our brain. Our brain becomes a product of what we eat, how we move and manage stress, our quality of sleep, social connections and how we challenge our memory.

According to 2020 statistics, eight million people are living with Alzheimer’s disease. One in ten people age 65 and over have Alzheimer’s disease, and it is the sixth leading cause of death in the US. There is currently no cure for this progressive disease, and medications approved by the FDA do not slow down the disease but only offer some temporary help with symptoms.

Scientists believe lifestyle changes and nutritional therapy offer the best hope to decrease the risk for Alzheimer’s and many other chronic diseases. Lifestyle changes, known as functional medicine, delve into the root causes of health problems instead of offering prescriptions to mask the systems.

The brain is home to some of the hungriest cells in our body and uses approximately 20 percent (420) of the calories we consume daily. One reason we are both undernourished and overfed is our consumption of the wrong foods for fuel. As Americans, our standard diet puts us in a constant state of inflammation leading to cell dysfunction, destruction, and ultimately disease.

The good news is you can reverse this course at any age and with any diagnosis to sharpen brain function and avoid memory loss. Key to the change is the consumption of nutrient-dense food.

These foods include:

  • Deep green leafy vegetables – at least 1 cup/day
  • Rainbow colored vegetables – at least 3 cups per day
  • Seafood – (2) 5 ounce servings/week (wild caught, cold water)
  • Healthy oils – extra virgin olive, avocado and nut oils (first cold pressing on label)
  • Nuts – 1 to 2 ounces daily (peanuts not included)
  • Avocados – ½ per day
  • Beans – ½ cup per day (black, navy, pinto, kidney, cannellini)
  • Berries – ½ to 1 cup per day (blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries)
  • Dark chocolate/cocoa powder – at least 70% cocoa on label, 1 ounce or 2 Tbs. per day
  • Herbs and spices – fresh or dried
  • Red wine – (1-2) 5-ounce glasses per day

It is important to note the brain damaging foods you should avoid.

These foods include:

  • Saturated fats
  • Trans fat
  • Sugar and refined carbohydrates
  • Processed foods

Bon appétit!

 


Barbara Goll, Community Liaison Educator and Nutritionist for Homeland at Home, offers group presentation on brain nutrition as well as many other topics on aging well, end of life decisions, as well as providing a broad overview of our Hospice, HomeHealth and HomeCare services.

To learn more, contact Barbara by emailing or call 717-221-7890.

Gratitude and Optimism!

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Roxane E. Hearn, PhD, Homeland's Employee Wellness Program CoordinatorBy “Dr. Rox” — Roxane E. Hearn, PhD
Homeland’s Employee Wellness Program Coordinator, Health & Wellness Psychologist and Personal Health Coach

 

Greetings from a place of gratitude and optimism!

Until we can see normalcy on the horizon, it is important that we do not allow our health and well-being to be set aside. More than ever, this is the time to cultivate a healthy mindset!

YOUR HEALTH & THE CURRENT COVID-19 SITUATION

The current state of affairs has created elevated levels of anxiety, increased blood pressure, and levels of sadness which can spiral downward into depression. Unfortunately, many are also adopting or slipping back into unhealthy habits. All of which will not only weaken your immune system, but also leave you with poor health outcomes and a deep regret once our lives return to “normal.”

No-one knows how long this situation will last. There is however one certainty.  This. Will. End.

But until then, we cannot continue to operate from a place of anxiety and fear and not expect our health and well-being to be impacted negatively.

CULTIVATING HEALTHY MINDSETS

As a Health Psychologist and Certified Health Coach, Dr. Rox helps people cultivate healthy mindsets, so they can create healthier and happier lives by taking better care of themselves and connecting with their values; no matter their current circumstances.

Homeland employees are offered wellness consults on a regular and ongoing basis, but the COVID-19 situation presents a unique challenge. Rest assured wellness consults are a huge help in keeping Homeland’s staff be healthy and happy.

Most people find they benefit from someone who helps them look objectively at their fears, look ahead and consider the bigger picture, live their values,  set goals to become healthier, and create a silver lining to all these clouds.

Living our values, demonstrating gratitude for what we do have, no matter our circumstances, could be the single most important thing any of us can do right now.

“May we all be healthy, may we all be safe, may we all live with ease and well-being.” ~ Dr. Rox

To learn more about Dr. Rox, please visit www.MyDrRox.com

Stressed Out and Eating Too Much?

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By Barb Goll, Community Education Liaison and Nutritionist

If stress drives you to eat, you are not alone. These past few weeks have been challenging for all!  Eating for emotional reasons instead of hunger isn’t really about food at all. You may not even realize you are doing it until the scale shows otherwise. If you eat until you are uncomfortable and stuffed it is a definite sign that something is going on.  We need healthier ways to deal with our emotions. Here are some of the differences between emotional and physical hunger.

Emotional Hunger

  • Comes on suddenly
  • Wants instant satisfaction
  • Craves specific comfort foods
  • Isn’t satisfied with a full stomach
  • Triggers feelings of guilt and shame

Physical Hunger

  • Comes on gradually
  • Can wait
  • Open to healthy choices
  • Stops when you are full
  • Doesn’t make you feel bad about yourself

A few tips for the emotional eater:

  1. Have COMPASSION for yourself. Thinking negatively about yourself only intensifies the problem. Now that you are aware of the problem you can choose to focus on the thoughts leading up to stress eating.
  2. Write down things that cause you stress so you can make a plan on how to deal with the problems. Some causes of stress will be in your control to change and some will not, however, you are always in control of how you REACT to the stress.
  3. Try a quick burst of ACTIVITY or movement to replace the urge to eat. Just a few minutes can refresh and reduce stress.
  4. Try WAITING at least 10 minutes before grabbing for what you want to eat. Tell yourself, “I can choose to eat this in 10 minutes after I give myself time to think about why I have this urge.” This may help you to not follow the urge, and even if you do, you may feel you are more in control for waiting the 10 minutes.
  5. LAUGHTER has many positive benefits to lighten you mental load. It can increase your intake of oxygen, activate and relieve your stress response, and soothe tension.  In the long run it can improve your immune system, relieve pain and improve your mood. Laughter can be very distracting and keep you from stress eating. A four year old laughs on average 300 times each day and a 40 year old laughs on average 4 times a day. What happened? If you think you are lacking humor or a sense of humor it can be learned.
    • Seek humor through TV sitcoms, funny videos or social media or family photos
    • Laugh about your own situations and remember, laugh and the world laughs with you
    • Surround yourself with friends that make you laugh and/or lighten your spirit
    • Be aware of what is not funny or may be at the expense of others.

Taking care of yourself during these trying times doesn’t mean “me first,” it means “me too!”