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Gardening Therapy for Seniors with Dementia

Tuesday , June 9 , 2020

Gardening Therapy for Seniors with Dementia

Summer weather is here, and many of us are trying to find ways to spend more time outdoors. Gardening is a great way to spend time in nature, and a great way to destress and relax. It’s also an amazing activity for older adults suffering from dementia.

For those living with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, participating in familiar activities, like gardening, can provide a sense of comfort. Other benefits include improved sleep at night, less agitation, better nutritional habits, and prevention of behavioral challenges.

Here’s everything you need to know about starting a garden for someone living with dementia:

Why Gardening?

There are plenty of activities – both indoors and out – that can be appropriate for those living with dementia. So, what makes gardening so special?

Unlike cooking, or aerobics, or even puzzles, participating in gardening is possible at every stage of progression. Whether your loved one is in the earliest phases of dementia, or nearing the end, gardening can be suited to meet their needs.

  • In the earliest stages, many dementia patients retain much of their functional capability and require minimal assistance with everyday tasks. If gardening is in their wheelhouse, it’s likely that they can continue with their routine – from planting, to weeding, to picking.
  • Later, as your loved one enters the middle stage of dementia, they may need some assistance with daily tasks – and depression, anxiety, and irritability may enter the game. Gardening can be a great part of their care plan at this point. Not only does it help ease those uneasy feelings, but it can improve social interactions and provide sensory stimulation.
  • Near the end, when dementia patients enter the final stage of dementia, they experience a great deterioration in their ability to care for themselves. Often, they spend much of the day sleeping. During waking hours, agitation and restlessness are constant companions. Still, they may be enjoy simply sitting in the garden (or even walking the paths, if they are able).

Designing a Garden for Dementia Patients

Whether your loved one would like to grow vegetables, or flowers, or just wants somewhere peaceful to sit, special considerations need to be taken. According to one study, in order for gardening therapy to be successful, it must be adapted to the population living with dementia.

What does that mean?

  • Gardens should include familiar elements that remind your loved one of previous stages of their life
  • Ensure that the garden is accessible – if your older adult is in a wheelchair, for instance, they will need wider pathways
  • Gardens should have an enclosed perimeter to discourage accidental wandering
  • All spaces should include safety features, such as non-slip pathways, to reduce fall risk
  • Use trees or a table with an umbrella to provide shade
  • Avoid growing toxic plants (especially those which may be mistaken for food!)
  • DO grow “snackable” plants, such as berries, snap peas, and cherry tomatoes

Final Thoughts

No matter what stage of dementia your older loved one is in, spending time in the garden can help improve their quality of life. By implementing the tips above, you can help them stay mentally engaged and delay the progression of their disease.

Posted in: Dementia

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Age is Just a Number

Monday , June 1 , 2020

Age is Just a Number

A few days ago, I got this text from a caregiver who has been with us since 2006: “I will be back in Jersey June 4th. Hope u have a job for me. It’s very hot here. I am ok, just very bored.”

Amazingly, this lady is 86 years old!

For the past few years, she has stayed with family in Florida every winter and returns in the summer. I never thought she’d be returning to New Jersey on the same schedule during Coronavirus, but you just can’t keep her in the rocking chair!

This woman is an excellent aide – smart and gracious – and she works harder than many aides a quarter of her age.

Moral of the story? Seniors can help other seniors – and we shouldn’t make assumptions about people’s ability and energy based on age!

Here are some ways we often underestimate seniors’ abilities and strength and what you can do instead:

We Meddle in Decisions

Do you often find yourself jumping into the middle of a situation where you don’t necessarily belong? Much like parents try to shield their children from harm and pain, we often do the same to protect older loved ones.

By making decisions for older adults (whether it’s what they should be eating or where they should live), we rob them of the chance to control their own lives. Don’t forget, seniors have overcome many challenges and difficulties throughout the years, and they’re often much more capable than we give them credit for.

We Don’t Recognize Strengths

Many of today’s older adults did not grow up in an easy environment. They’ve lived through wars, recessions, and social justice movements. They may have had limited resources in the forms of health care and education. If they are immigrants, they may have faced a language barrier or racism.

Even though these older adults are nearing their end of life, they still have a lot of reliance and strength. What you see as “protecting,” they may see as undermining.

We Limit Learning Opportunities

Growing older does not mean that a person is limited in their capacity to learn and grow. In fact, experts say that lifelong learning can help improve brain health!

Despite this, relatives and caregivers of older adults often underestimate the ability of seniors to learn. It is sometimes so bad that seniors are viewed as having child-like abilities, unable to understand simple instructions or comprehend normal adult conversation. Unless there is an underlying mental illness or significant health condition, this is not the case.

We Don’t Value Opinions

The opinions of older adults are often brushed aside as unimportant or trivial. We don’t recognize the importance of their views, even when it comes to their own finances or healthcare. An important first step is to take the time to actually talk to your older adult and find out what’s important to them. This can be a general conversation or about something specific.

Ultimately, whatever decisions you make for your older loved one should occur with their consent, as much as possible. In the long run, having honest conversations leads to better solutions!

Final Thoughts

Respecting seniors and involving them in the decisions surrounding their own lives helps to set the foundation for a honest, open relationship between you and your older loved one.

Posted in: Aging

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Cooking for Older Adults

Tuesday , May 26 , 2020

Cooking for Older Adults

There are many issues that can make it difficult for seniors to get the proper nutrition.

Numerous older adults take medications that make it difficult to taste, which can lead to a general apathy about eating. Changing taste buds can make it difficult to find food they still enjoy. Some seniors have special dietary needs. And many simply don’t like to cook.

Add to that the difficulties of trying to grocery shop during the COVID-19 crisis, and you have a recipe for disaster.

For many seniors, what was once a cumbersome or annoying task may now seem downright impossible.

How to help? As a caregiver or loved one of an older adult, you can make meal time easier by shopping for supplies, finding fun recipes, helping with prep, or even making up some ready-to-eat meals.

Here are a few things to consider when cooking for seniors:

  • Many seniors have dietary restrictions that may prevent common ingredients like butter, high-fat meats, and salt
  • Chewing and swallowing become more difficult as we age, so avoid tough meats and harder fruits and vegetables
  • Use whole grains whenever possible: They are higher in protein and fiber, and lower in carbs, which makes them a good choice for seniors who are pre-diabetic or have diabetes
  • Older adults often struggle to maintain their sense of independence: Give them a choice in what they’re going to eat!
  • Remember that sometimes it’s ok to splurge! Everything doesn’t have to be healthy all the time. Make favorite childhood dishes or foods that evoke memories on occasion, even if they’re not so good for you.

What foods are healthy for older adults?

Choosing the right foods for older adults can be tricky. Many food items that are considered “healthy” for younger people are no longer appropriate for seniors.

According to the World Health Organization, many of the diseases that seniors suffer from are the result of a poor diet. For example, a diet high in sugars can lead to pre-diabetes or diabetes, while too much salt can lead to high blood pressure.

As a caregiver, you want to provide your loved one with diverse and pleasing meals, while also keeping health in mind. Fresh fruits and vegetables are always a good start, and they provide more micro-nutrients than their canned counterparts. In addition, meat and eggs are an important part of an older adult’s diet, because they are one of the primary sources of both protein and vitamin B12.

For those that no longer have teeth or have difficulty chewing, juices and smoothies made of fruits and vegetables are an excellent choice. Just remember: Make them at home! Store bought products are often loaded with added sugars, which can exacerbate many health problems.

Planning meals

When planning meals for an older adult, nutrition should be at the forefront of your mind. A freshly made fruit or vegetable drink is a great way to start any meal, and breakfast, lunch, and dinner should all include a source of protein.

In addition, snacks are an important part of any older adult’s diet. Try to avoid highly processed foods, as they have very few vitamins and minerals and are often loaded with unhealthy additives. Shoot for foods like bananas or oatmeal that are loaded with nutrients and easy-to-eat.

Tip: While milk may seem like an easy way to include calcium and protein in snacks and meals, studies show that the acidity can actually contribute to the development of osteoporosis. Yogurt is a better choice – especially if it’s made with soy or coconut milk rather than cow’s milk.

Foods to avoid

While meat and eggs are essential sources of vitamins and protein, they should be used with the utmost care. Food poisoning from the consumption of undercooked meats and eggs is a common issue, but it can prove deadly for older adults.

Refined sugars should be avoided, as they can lead to the development of inflammation throughout the body, as well as numerous diseases and health conditions. In addition, seniors should also avoid excessive use of caffeine and alcohol.

Oddly, though it seems healthy, grapefruit can also cause a number of health problems. If your older adult is on prescription medications, check for any interactions with the food, as it can cause them to be ineffective. If at all unsure, avoid it and opt for another fruit instead!

Helpful Resources

You may find these resources helpful when it comes to meal planning or finding recipes! Happy cooking!

Sample Menus: Healthy Eating for Older Adults (National Institute on Aging)

Cooking and Nutrition for Older Adults (American Society on Aging)

18 Quick, easy, and healthy meals for seniors (Care.com)

Single-Serving Make-Ahead Meals for Seniors (Ayuda Care)

Posted in: Aging

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