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How to Keep Your Brain Happy, Healthy, and Strong as You Age

Use it or lose it.

We hear that phrase a lot when it comes to keeping our bodies healthy and strong. Use it or lose it is just as true for keeping our brains healthy as we age.

Learn Something New

People used to think that our brains stopped growing once we hit maturity. Science has discovered, though, that our brain changes throughout our entire lives.

Every time we learn something new, we activate or “fire” the neurons in our brain to communicate with one another. As neurons communicate, they create neural pathways that make sense of the learning experience and hold onto it. The neurons are now “wired” together. They are there when we revisit the experience, either to practice a skill or to build upon it.

The more you fire and wire your neurons, by challenging yourself to learn something new, the more networks you create and the stronger they become. That all translates into healthier brain function.

There are endless opportunities to learn something new that can both be enjoyable and help maintain cognitive health. Many of them can be found online or through phone apps.

  • Learn an instrument Think it’s too late to learn a new instrument? Think again! You can learn to play an instrument at any age. The only things you need are some decent instruction and the time and discipline to practice. You can find free beginning piano lessons or guitar lessons all over the internet. If your become more advanced most free programs have a paid option to match your skill level.
  • Learn to code You probably didn’t grow up with computers, but that doesn’t mean you can’t at least try to match wits with the younger generation. There are a ton of online sources for learning how to code for free.
  • Take an online course Many top universities offer free courses  Other good sources for academic courses include the Great Courses and Coursera.
  • Use your hands You don’t have to go the academic route to keep your brain sharp. Skills such as woodworking, knitting, and mechanics use different parts of brain. Vary your learning experiences and you can keep all areas of your brain in fighting shape.
  • Learn a new language Apps such as Babble make learning a new language fun and convenient. In bursts of ten or fifteen minutes, the apps give you daily practice that builds on previous lessons. Local libraries sometimes have access to free language-learning apps.

Keep Your Body Fit to Keep Your Brain Fit

We know exercise and staying active provide a ton of health benefits. Staying active helps you maintain a healthy weight, manage stress, and promote a sense of well-being. What you may not realize is that physical exercise is also good for your brain.

Studies have shown that exercise can have a protective effect on cognitive functioning. Physical exercise can impact the structure of your brain, increasing gray matter and preventing damage to it. Exercise increases bloodflow to the brain which helps prevent age-related cognitive decline and reduces the risk of dementia.

If you’ve been sedentary for a period of time, it’s important to speak with your doctor before increasing your level of activity. Reaping the benefits of physical exercise doesn’t have to mean trips to the gym, or hours on a stationary bike. Do something you enjoy. Take a walk in your neighborhood. Take a bike ride, play tennis, toss a ball around. Check with your local senior center to find out about local fitness classes and online classes for seniors.

Stay Connected Socially

Late adulthood can be a lonely time. We no longer have the structured interactions that happen at our jobs. If we have children, they are busy working and raising their own children. It all adds up to a lot of time alone.

Being alone can be enjoyable, but being alone too much of the time can lead to loneliness. In fact, an AARP Foundation survey found that one in three older Americans reported being lonely. Loneliness is a risk factor for many mental and physical heath conditions, so it’s a good idea to put your relationships front and center.

Staying connected with others can keep cognitive functions sharp and possibly reduce the risk of dementia.  Here are some ideas for staying connected:

  • Schedule a weekly phone call or video chat with important people in your life.
  • Volunteer for something you care about. You can help out at park clean-ups, teach English as a second language, or mentor a young person.
  • Take advantage of social media to correspond with others with similar interests.

Eat Right and Get Enough Sleep

What happens in one part of your body effects your whole body. If you want to maintain a strong healthy brain, you need to take care of the basics. With regards to nutrition, follow the 80/20 rule—aim to make 80% of what you eat nutritious food that will fuel your whole body. Save room for dessert and enjoy the indulgences up to 20% of your diet.

When we sleep, our brain consolidates knowledge from the day and flushes out toxins. Lack of sleep robs our brain of the opportunity to build neural pathways and to create memories. Sleep is essential to concentration, and learning. Be sure to catch enough zzz’s to keep your brain, happy, healthy, and strong.

 

Check out our services at Smooth Transitions.

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How to Manage the Stress of Moving

It’s no secret that moving is stressful.

For one thing, there is an avalanche of tasks that have to be performed in a fairly short time frame.

Then, there is the emotional aspect of moving. Every move involves sifting through belongings to some extent. Whether it’s photos, books, or dishes, the things we have in our home are a storehouse of memories which can bring up a range of feelings.

You don’t want the stress of moving, though, to get the best of you. There are a lot of ways you can ease the stress of moving and make sure you’re taking care of yourself as well.

Stay Focused on Your Health

It’s easy to let moving take over your life.  Sometimes you just want to power through so that things get done. Don’t push yourself too hard, though, or you may pay the price by getting sick.

First and foremost, you have to be vigilant in prioritizing your health.

  • Keep your medical appointments.
  • Make sure you are taking all of your prescribed medications and doctor-recommended vitamins.
  • Continue with your normal exercise regimen. (Exercise relieves stress and helps you get better sleep. A double-whammy you don’t want to miss!)
  • Eat nutritious food and eat enough of it. That will keep your immune system from taking a hit.
  • Take time for relaxation, and continue to do the things that you enjoy.
  • Above all, be sure to get enough rest.

Try Relaxation Techniques

One of the best things you can do for yourself is to learn some relaxation techniques. You can try deep breathing exercises or do some guided meditations.

When we get stressed, we tend to take short, shallow breaths. By slowing your breathing, and doing “belly breaths,” you can slow your stress response.

To do belly breaths, place your hand on your upper abdomen, under your rib cage.  Inhale through your nose and count to four as you allow your belly to expand as you inhale. Your belly will flatten as you exhale. If you do even three rounds of belly breaths, you’ll feel more relaxed.

Apps, such as headspace or calm.com, offer simple guided meditations that you can do in about 10 minutes. Both Headspace and Calm.com have paid versions, but you can do a lot of meditating on just their free versions. Search for ‘guided meditations’ on YouTube, and you’ll find a ton of videos there as well.

Break Large Tasks into Smaller Actions

Moving is a huge endeavor, and it can seem overwhelming if you think of it as one big job.

The way to make it manageable is to break it down into smaller chunks that are doable.

One way to do that is to write a list of all the different type of things that need to be done for your move. Start with larger categories (find a new home, sell my home), and work your way down to smaller tasks.

For example, the category of “sell my home” could be broken down like this:

Those categories are still huge.  Break them down further.  “Get rid of old junk” might look like this:

  • Gather boxes, markers, and tape.
  • Label some boxes: Donate, Keep, Trash, Recycle
  • Schedule two one-hour sessions to declutter kitchen.
  • Ask a friend to come and help.

The idea is to break the jobs down into manageable tasks that you can accomplish in a fairly short amount of time.  You’re still getting it all done, but you won’t exhaust yourself in the process.

A spiralbound notebook or legal pad might be helpful for this.  There are also task-management apps, such as rememberthemilk and Trello that can help keep you organized.

Ask Others for Help

Don’t be afraid to ask others for help.  Start with family and friends.  They can help you think through how to break down tasks, make necessary calls, and start sorting and packing some of your things.

It’s important to have others involved in the process.  Not only can it ease the load of work, but having social interaction is good for your mental health.

You can also work with a senior move manager. A senior move manager can help oversee the whole moving process or help with certain parts of it.  They are invaluable for making the moving process less stressful.

If you’re looking for ways to keep stress down during your move, take a look at our services page, or give us a call at 216-381-7418. We’re here to help!

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How to Search for the Right Senior Living Community for You

Considering moving to a senior living community?  You probably have a lot of questions. How do I find the best situation for me?  Where do I look?  Where do I start?  It’s a big decision and there are a lot of factors to consider.

One thing is for sure, it’s never too early to start planning. Take a look at these tips to help you get started.

Define Your Priorities

Start by defining what you absolutely must have in order to feel comfortable and happy in your new home. This list could include proximity to family members, organized social events, accessible shopping areas, or on-site amenities such as fitness equipment. Keep these ideas front and center as you make your plans. Then, make a second list of nice-to-haves. A scenic view, outdoor seating, or an easily accessible ATM machine may be important but not as crucial.

 

Know Your Options

Most importantly, you want to think about what level of independence and care you want and need, now and in the future. When it comes to senior living communities, there’s no end to what they offer or how they are organized. Here are the most common types of senior living options available:

  • Age-restricted housing Age-restricted housing simply means that in order to be able to rent or buy in the housing complex, you have to be at least a certain age, usually fifty or fifty-five years old. In this type of setting, residents may have entirely separate units, or they may live in a more apartment-like setting. Often, aged-restricted housing offers common gathering areas and social activities. Pricier options can include anything from tennis courts to swimming pools and more.
  • Assisted-living facilities Assisted living facilities offer an array of supports for seniors with a wide variety of needs. Assisted living have staff available around the clock. When needed, they assist with daily living tasks, such as bathing, dressing, and providing meals. In most assisted living facilities, residents have their own room or apartment.

Quality assisted living facilities provide numerous opportunities for residents to socialize and engage in enriching activities that benefit their physical, emotional and cognitive health. Residents have individual care plans for each resident. They place a premium on the rights of their residents to self-determination. They encourage residents to have a say in their care plan while also involving family members in the process. Residents are free to accept some services offered, but opt out of others.

  • Nursing homes Often confused with skilled nursing facilities (which provide short-term acute care following a hospital stay), nursing homes offer long-term care daily living and medical care for elders with significant physical or cognitive impairments. Some specialize in certain health conditions, such as dementia, while others do not. Nursing homes are staffed by nurses, aides, and attending physicians, with 24-hour nursing care. Most offer on-site physical and occupational therapy.
  • Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs) CCRCs encompass a range of independent living and care options, all in one general location. They have independent living options, assisted living and nursing home facilities that provide a continuum of care if and when a resident needs them.

People often choose a CCRC because they know their needs will be addressed with a minimum of change thrust upon them and their families. Living in a CCRC gives some people peace of mind to know where they will be if they ever need increasing care.

Do Your Research

Once you have an idea of what type of community you are looking for and where, it’s time to do some research.  This is true, especially if you are looking at options that include daily living support services. You want to be sure you are comfortable with those who will be offering you care.

There are a multitude of resources you can use to find reviews, rankings, and accreditations for senior living facilities. There are so many that it can be overwhelming. To keep it simple, start with the following:

  • Word-of-mouth

No one has the skinny on what it’s really like to live in a senior facility than the residents who live there. If you know someone who already lives in the type of facility you need, and it’s in the location you want, ask them what their experience has been. Ask: Is the facility clean? Do you enjoy living there?  Are the people who provide services kind and upbeat?  What are the downsides of the facility? Ask your doctor if they have any recommendations.

  • Research the accreditation process in your state

We agree, this sounds like a royal pain in the backside. Not exactly how you want to spend an afternoon, but it’s worth taking a look at which agency in your state (this is not done federally) is responsible for monitoring the quality of senior housing.

This resource from After55.com gives a state-by-state breakdown of the agencies you can contact in your state. Once you have an idea of who’s in charge and what accreditation means in your state, you can look for facilities that meet the highest level of accreditation. Some states don’t require accreditation at all, but quality facilities often go through a voluntary process, indicating their commitment to higher standards.

  • Your local senior center or veterans’ affairs officer

These are probably two of the most underappreciated civil servants you have access to in your community. Senior centers (sometimes referred to as the Council on Aging) have helped countless people navigate the process (and paperwork) of senior housing. The VA is available to assist vets in everything from applying for disability benefits, to applying for financial assistance for senior housing and pointing you in the direction of a good elder care lawyer.

If your local council on aging or veterans’ affairs officer doesn’t have an answer you need, chances are they’ll research it for you, or at least refer you to someone who can help.

  • View websites of facilities

Of course, everyone is going to try to put their best foot forward on their web page. Take a look, though, at some places you are considering. You may be able to take a virtual tour, or at least see photos, to get a lay of the land.

More importantly, take a look at the “About Us” section or their mission statement. These can tell you a lot about their philosophy and whether you would be happy in their facility.

Schedule Some Visits

After you’ve done some research and you have an idea of what you’re looking for, schedule a visit with at least a couple of facilities. Grab yourself a three-ring binder and keep notes on your visits. The facilities will give you a lot of standard paperwork and some of their own, and a binder helps you keep track of it all.

Be ready with your criteria and questions. Some of the things you’ll be looking for are:

Is the facility clean?  Is it bright and cheerful or dark and drab?

How do you like the people you meet?  Are the staff members warm and welcoming?  Do they seem like they genuinely enjoy working with the residents?

Does the staff demonstrate respect for the residents?  Do they encourage resident’s independence?

Does the staff look holistically at their residents’ well-being?  Do they concern themselves with mental and emotional well-being as well as physical health?

If you meet other residents, what do they have to say about the facility?

Do you see people gathering in common spaces?  

Are safety protocols easy to observe—fire extinguishers, proper exit signage, well-lit hallways.

Are individual units spacious enough for your comfort?

What range of services are available?

Don’t Go It Alone

When you are ready to look at alternatives to your current living situation, don’t go it alone. Call on friends for advice. Enlist family members to take on specific tasks—online research, making calls, etc. Take advantage of the services you are entitled to as a senior. Finding the right senior living situation is worth the effort.