Youth and Elders transformed and connected – Music makes Memories!

Isaac, student intern:”Music is an important part of my life,. When I am feeling down, music inspires me and takes me to another place. Giving music to elders is such a small gift of kindness with a powerful impact. Every elder deserves music in their lives!”

Isaac is a sophomore in high school.  He is interested in music and science and is fascinated by the power of music and how it improves his own sense of well-being as he plays guitar or listens to his tunes.    Isaac and I and another student, Bella partnered as student interns for high school credit on a Compass Senior Living project. This was inspired by the documentary Alive Insidewhich features  Olver Sacks, a neuroscientist, studying the impact of music on the limbic brain.

The Administrator and Life Enrichment Coordinator at Sundial Assisted Living in Redding California invited us to partner with them.  They recruited Eli a young volunteer who plays guitar to work with us so that the program could continue after Isaac and Bella left.

Isaac and Bella interviewed elders and worked all evening creating the play lists and downloading them onto mp3 players.  The next day they brought the headphones and the tunes. The smiles and evoked memories continued for days.

Isaac and Billie

Amy, the Business Services Director at Sundial Assisted Living said, “Billie came into my office this morning to tell me about how amazed she is at our brains. She started thinking about all the songs she has stored in her brain and the marvel is that they are all there after all these years. She also shared how much she enjoyed interacting with Isaac. Talking about music made her start thinking about other things… like who the members of the Rat Pack were. She even got into a conversation with another resident this morning about it and he helped her remember the one she was missing. I love it that she is walking around excitedly celebrating the wonder of music and memory and that the interactions of the last couple of days have stirred in her a desire to talk and think more about how music has played a significant role in her life.”

Another Compass Senior Living community in Las Cruces New Mexico, Desert Peaks Assisted Living & Memory Care has begun the process of implementing the Music Makes Memories Program.  Life Enrichment Coordinator, Adriana Garcia prepared this 3-minute video of what they are discovering!  WATCH THIS VIDEO!

The secret key to evoking memory actually emerges in the discussions with the elders AFTER listening to their playlist.

Adriana Garcia, Life Enrichment Coordinator

“Watching the transformations in the elders was breathtaking. Having watched ‘Alive Inside,’ I was already moved by what I had seen; but having it unfold before my eyes, with residents that I spend every day with, sent shock waves of emotion through me. It’s almost as though, just briefly, they were back to their old selves again. They knew who they were, where they had been, who they have known, and it was beautiful. The son of one of our residents who saw the video we made was taken aback. He couldn’t believe that she could remember something that had taken place when he was only 2 years old. His reaction was powerful, and it was incredibly special to be able to share these moments with him. I’m so grateful for this program and very excited to continue on this journey. The next obvious step is involving the families of the residents more and giving them this gift to use at any given time. I would encourage anyone to try this with their loved ones who may be suffering from memory loss. You can’t really appreciate the impact has until you are right there with them.”  Adriana Garcia, Life Enrichment Director

To learn more about the Music Makes Memories program, contact Jean Garboden

About the Author: Jean Garboden is the Director of Education and Innovation at Compass Senior Living, located in Eugene Oregon. Jean is an Elder Advocate and Eden Alternative Educator with over 30 years’ experience in not-for-profit and for-profit health care organizations. She is honored to lead the mission and values culture development for Compass Senior Living. Jean lives in Las Vegas, Nevada where she enjoys the weather and volunteers with the Nevadans for the Common Good, advocating for caregivers and elders in southern Nevada.


Tax Deduction Tips for Assisted Living Costs 2016

Did you know that if you are an elder adult or a caregiver for one, there are ways to get a tax deduction for assisted living costs?  In order for assisted living expenses to be tax deductible, the resident must be considered “chronically ill.” This means a doctor or nurse has certified that the resident either:

  • cannot perform at least two activities of daily living, such as eating, continence care, transferring, bath, or dressing; or
  • requires supervision due to a cognitive impairment (such as Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia).

Elders who are not chronically ill may still deduct the portion of their expenses that are attributable to medical care, including entrance or move in fees.

What is the criteria to claim the tax deduction for assisted living costs?

  • The medical expenses have to be more than 10 percent of the resident’s adjusted gross income. (For taxpayers 65 and older, this threshold will be 7.5 percent through 2016.)
  • In addition, only expenses paid during the year can be deducted, regardless of when the services were provided.
  • Expenses are not deductible if they are reimbursable by insurance.

Which Expenses can be deducted?

  • Room and board for assisted living if the resident is certified chronically ill by a healthcare professional and following a prescribed plan of care. Typically this means that they are unable to perform two activities of daily living (ADLs) or require supervision due to Alzheimer’s disease or other conditions.
  • Entrance or move-in fees for Assisted living.
  • Cost of prescription drugs.
  • Personal care items, such as disposable briefs and foods for a special diet or nutritional supplements.
  • Cost of travel to and from medical appointments.
  • Premiums paid for insurance policies that cover medical care are deductible, unless the premiums are paid with pretax dollars. Generally, the payroll tax paid for Medicare Part A is not deductible, but Medicare Part B premiums are deductible.
  • Payments made for nursing services. An actual nurse does not need to perform the services as long as the services are those generally performed by a nurse.
  • Fees from doctors, laboratories, home health care and hospitals.
  • The cost of long-term care in a nursing home or rehabilitation center, including housing, food, and other personal costs, if the person is chronically ill.
  • Home modifications costs such as wheelchair ramps, grab bars and handrails.
  • The cost of dental treatment.

For a full list of allowable medical expenses, see IRS Publication 502. Read about the rules that govern deductions and for more tax tips for elder adults and their caregivers.

My parent lives in my home with me.  Can I qualify for a dependency deduction?

If you care for an elder parent in your home, your parent may qualify as your dependent, resulting in additional tax benefits for you. Once you determine that both of you meet IRS criteria, you can claim your parent as a dependent on your tax return.

To qualify for a dependency deduction, you must pay for more than 50% of your qualifying relative’s support costs. The relative only qualifies as a dependent if he or she meets the gross income and the joint return test. If your relative doesn’t qualify as a dependent because of these tests, you cannot claim a dependency deduction, but you can still claim his or her medical expenses. For more information, read page 20 – 21 (Support test to be a qualifying relative) of the IRS Publication 501 on tax exemptions.

See the 5-minute video below for more details about the dependency deduction.

By nature, tax rules are complex. It’s important to consult a tax attorney or accountant versed in eldercare tax issues about your specific situation before finalizing your taxes. The AARP also offers free assistance and tax tips for elder adults through its Tax-Aide program.

11062337_10206528118188840_645394201235573404_nAbout the Author: Jean Garboden is the Director of Education and Innovation at Compass Senior Living, located in Eugene Oregon. Jean is an Elder Advocate and Eden Alternative Educator with over 30 years’ experience in not-for-profit and for-profit health care organizations. She is honored to lead the mission and values culture development for Compass Senior Living. Jean lives in Las Vegas, Nevada where she enjoys the weather and volunteers with the Nevadans for the Common Good, advocating for caregivers and elders in southern Nevada

It ‘smells’ like a walk in the woods!

 “Smell is so powerful, you know. My grannies would both bake things like shortbreads and cookies. I think whenever I smell those kinds of things it really takes me back to my childhood.” ~ Curtis Stone

I  met with a representative from ScentAir—a company that specializes in bringing scents into a variety of environments. I felt convicted and excited about bringing this new and innovative experience into Carolina Assisted Living Community.

As my representative and I met the second and third times to explore and determine what scent was just “right,” he shared many of his own personal experiences with other Assisted Living communities where he had witnessed the remarkable results of stimulating the residents through the sense of smell.

  • In one Assisted Living, he had returned to remove a unit he had left for one month as a sample. As he came in the door, he saw a large group of residents at one end of the room all huddled around a small space. He thought it a bit out of the ordinary, but continued on to where he had left his unit. As he walked toward that area, he realized these residents were  gathered around the very unit he was coming to remove. They were  drawn to the scent that was being emitted, as it was somehow speaking to them and at some level taking them to a unique and desirous place. They knew that whatever it was, they wanted to be near it, and they wanted to be near one another!
  • In another assisted living, there was a woman who could engage in a clear  conversation, but she had no memory whatsoever of the past…not even what may have occurred just hours or minutes ago. The scent that was being broadcast through this community was “fresh cut grass.” With this scent now in the air, this woman began to speak of her grandfather on the farm. Over the next few minutes and in great detail she shared  memories that were elicited by the mere scent of this fresh cut grass. The caregivers had tears in their eyes as this was the first time they had observed her having a true memory  that she was able to share.

This is why I am so excited that our own ScentAir units were just put in place. After a couple hours of test “smelling,” we chose “A Walk in the Woods” as our signature scent.

I will be secretly observing and noting any changes in the overall mood and feel in the coming weeks!

“Nothing is more memorable than a smell. One scent can be unexpected, momentary and fleeting, yet conjure up a childhood summer beside a lake in the mountains.” ~ Diane Ackerman

The Faculty of Nursing, University of Technology, Sydney, Australia did an 18-month study utilizing aromas in the following ways– Bath, Inhalation, Diffusion, Massage, Spritzer.  Their findings included specific improvements, including:

  • increased alertness
  • self-hygiene
  • contentment
  • initiation of toileting
  • sleeping at night
  • reduced levels of agitation,withdrawal and wandering.
  • Family caregivers have reported less distress, improved sleeping patterns and feelings of calm.

We have not conducted our own studies yet. Some of us are in the process of becoming certified aromatherapists.  We have anecdotal evidence that indicates aromatherapy is effective.

But I wonder –   Is it effective because of the aromas alone? – Or could it have something to do with the intentional and empathetic manner in which the aromas  are introduced?   Our care teams are studying, investigating, and seeking solutions to meet the needs and desires of the elders.  They are noticing when an elder is demonstrating an unmet need and responding by being present, eye contact, empathetic listening, respect, and tender care.

Whether it is the aromatherapy or the intentional person-centered approach and empathetic communication – or both,  the results matter.  We know we are making connections. We are in relationship with elders in our care, and we are inspired by the opportunity to learn the lessons the elders are teaching us every day.

And some beautiful aromas make the day happier for all of us!

About the Author:  Eileen English is the administrator at Carolina Assisted Living in Appleton Wisconsin.

Eileen has worked with elders for more than 40 years and feels her work is a passion, not a job. She was born and raised in Buffalo, New York, and later became a Coast Guard wife – eileen-wilsonwhich took her all over the country. She has lived in many states but is happy to now be in Wisconsin near two of her grandchildren. In her free time, Eileen enjoys being outside hiking, kayaking, camping, and spending time with her two sons and three grandchildren. (Carolina Assisted Living is part of the Compass Senior Living family)

Empathy – An expression of non-judgemental love

You never really understand another person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it. –Harper Lee

All we need is love ~ especially working in eldercare.  The basic human need for  love and belonging is an imperative to life!

According to the latest neuroscience research, 98% of people (the exceptions include those with psychopathic tendencies) have the ability to empathize wired into their brains – a capacity for stepping into the shoes of others and understanding their feelings and perspectives.

Empathy is a key ingredient of nurturing relationships and can forge loving and safe connections.

Here are some stories of  empathetic communication break-through moments I have observed working with those living with dementia:

Paul is spending the entire morning walking the halls and calling out his wife’s name. “Dolly, Dolly, Dolly!”  A well-meaning care team member says, “Dolly went shopping, she will be back later.”  Paul begins to wail and scream her name, “Dolly, Dolly, Dolly!”   He is looking for her everywhere and is very upset he can’t find her. Another care team member utilizing empathetic communication says, “Tell me about Dolly.  What color are her eyes?  What do you miss most about her?”   After a few minutes, Paul says, “She has been gone a long time, I really miss her hugs.”      

The first well meaning care team member has sympathy for Paul and told atherapeutic lie.  Paul  knows deep inside that Dolly has been gone for 20 years, and he is communicating that he misses her.  He was invited to share and release his deep feelings and heartbreak to  the second care team member who listened with empathy and love.  

Madeline starts pacing at 4:30 every afternoon to go home to her children. “I want to go home! I need to get home to my children!”  A well-meaning care team member  says, “Sit down. Everything’s OK.  Let’s go  have a cookie.” Madeline  gets more and more nervous, agitated, and upset.Another care team member utilizing empathetic communication asks Madeline, “What is the worst thing that will happen if you can’t get home?”  Madeline expresses her vivid memory of having left her children alone. Her fears are expressed to a trusted empathetic listener, and her painful feelings are diminished. 

The first well meaning  care team member has sympathy for Madeline, and she usedre-direction to try to calm Madeline’s fears.   Madeline is reliving a vivid memory of leaving her children alone at home.  She needs to express her fears to an empathetic listener who is willing to enter Madeline’s reality to relieve her fears.

Listening with empathy builds trust, reduces anxiety and restores dignityPainful feelings that are expressed and acknowledged  by an empathetic listener will diminish.

Painful feelings that are ignored or suppressed will gain in strength. The power of empathy to connect and to relieve pain that is pent up inside can bring peace of mind to those living with dementia.  

Empathy is an expression of non-judgemental love and a connection to another human being.  Yes, indeed, love does belong in the workplace! 

If these 8th graders, below, can define and act with empathy, we are all capable of acting with empathy. Listen to the wisdom of these children.

Words are but the vague shadows of the volumes we mean. Little audible links, they are, chaining together great inaudible feelings and purposes. –Theodore Dreiser

11062337_10206528118188840_645394201235573404_nAbout the Author: Jean Garboden is the Director of Education and Innovation at Compass Senior Living, located in Eugene Oregon. Jean is an Elder Advocate and Eden Alternative Educator with over 30 years’ experience in not-for-profit and for-profit health care organizations. She is honored to lead the mission and values culture development for Compass Senior Living. Jean lives in Las Vegas, Nevada where she enjoys the weather and volunteers with the Nevadans for the Common Good, advocating for caregivers and elders in southern Nevada

FIVE really cool gifts to buy for Grandma and Grandpa!

Black Friday  is at the end of this week after Thanksgiving.  What to get for grandma and grandpa?    The lists of things to buy are usually lotions, and socks, and slippers, and grocery gift cards – all which are good!   But I was thinking…. what do elders really want?

My grandchildren say I am ‘really cool’ because I stay connected with them on Facebook, Instagram, texting, phone, and Snapchat.   I don’t know about cool, but I am grateful that in my elder years I can continue to be part of the greater community and my family even when the day comes that I cannot travel as I can now. So I asked the elders I come in contact with around the United States What do you want?   And their answers were the same as mine!

  • To spend quality time with friends and family.
  • To have a purposeful life.
  • To maintain independence in choice.
  • To  continue learning and growing.
  • To have joy and spontaneity.
  • To have peace of mind.

The greatest gift you can give is a way for your loved one to stay connected.   You might be surprised how savvy elders can be with a quick tutorial on tablets and iPads and smart phones.

There are some things that are important to consider, if you are thinking about technology gifts.

  • Wi-fi must be set up in the senior’s home.  If living in a senior housing community, most have free wi-fi.
  • It is important to have someone to to tutor and  build a relationship during the learning process to navigate the device.  Grandchildren, friends, or if in a Senior housing community, the Millennial care-team members and their volunteer teams are great resources.


  1. TABLETS AND IPADS: These all-in-one devices are in many ways perfect for seniors with their touch-screen technology and large print options.   The touch screen allows the elder to access apps easily with a tap of the finger.
  • Facebook–  In our senior housing communities, I have seen the joy on the faces of elders who are connecting with Facebook website on computer screengrandchildren and long lost friends.  One of our Millennial care team members showed an 87 year old elder how to do a video chat on Facebook with her son.  It made her day!   The next morning, when I came into the community, she told me, “I got 8 likes last night!”  Friends she had not connected with in 40 years had found her and connected!
  • Learning and researching–  I talked with a 92 year old man  sitting in the living room with earphones and the tablet watching youtube videos about how to care for plants, as he advised us on the landscaping.  He told me, “This has opened a world of new information to me!”
  • Google earth– Want to ‘walk down the street’ of your childhood home, or visit places in the world?  Some of our teams have hooked a laptop or a tablet to a computer and taken a tour of the world. One woman, who was born in France was able to virtually visit her home town!
  • Cost: Tablets cost between $129$300 depending on the brand.

2.  SMART PHONE: Phones are not only important for keeping the social connection, and necessary for quality of life — but also give elders peace of mind. Many smartphones  offer large buttons, speed dial, visual rings and more.

  •  Samsung Jitterbug is available on for $60.
  •  If your family has a a ‘family plan’ with your provider, you can add grandma or grandpa for $20 – $40  a month, and purchase the phone on an installment plan.
  • Several residents and care team members were chatting with Mrs. Jackson who had just received  a new iPhone from her family.   Jasmine, a care team member,  talked about ‘Face time’, so  we asked Mrs. Jackson if she had her grandson’s phone number in her phone.  She did, and Jasmine showed her how to make a Facetime call.  When the grandson answered he saw faces of  of his grandma and all of her friends and  care team members  excited about the connection!
  • Add ear phones to the gift, and show grandma or grandpa how to access their favorite music too!

3. DIGITAL PHOTOS:  With most of our photos on social media these days, we don’t often take the time to print photos.

  • Digital photo frames are available from $34 to about $110 (which also supports video), depending on what size and capacity you want.
  • Another nice option is to use Shutterfly, where you can upload your photos from Facebook or other social media, or directly from your phone or computer to create a traditional photo album with captions. The photo book  can be mailed directly to your grandpa and grandma to enjoy.  Depending on the size of the book, the cost can be $25 – and up.

4.  IPOD OR MP3 PLAYER & HEADPHONESStudies have proven that music has a powerful therapeutic benefit for all people, and particularly elders.

  • Purchase head phones for $15+ depending on the quality.
  • Purchase an MP3 player or iPod shuffle.  The cost is between $20-$50.
  • Download a song list of music you know that your grandparent loves.

If you haven’t seen the documentary ‘Alive Inside’, it is available on Netflix, and we have seen the power of music to alleviate depression, improve memory, and enhance life!

5.  AMAZON ECHO DOT: Cost  $50.   This is my newest best friend, and I have one in my home office.    In the morning I can say, “Alexa good morning, what is the weather like today?”  She gives a weather forecast.  I can ask what the time is.  I can ask Alexa to play my favorite music.  I can even order through my Amazon Prime account.  “Alexa, add sugar to my cart”.    I can also say, “Alexa, tell me a joke” (they are not very funny!), or “Alexa, what’s in the headlines today?  or  “Alexa set a timer for 10 minutes”.   This week, as I was experimenting with this, I thought this might  be nice for an elder to have in his or her home, especially if visually impaired.  If you have a ‘smart home’, you can also say, “Alexa, turn on the lights in the living room”, or  “Alexa, lock the front door.”

I found a funny video of elders learning to talk with Alexa.

I had to add this  to my “Cool list” today

Technology is here to stay, and the elders I talk with are excited about the possibilities of leading a more vibrant connected life in this new era.  Yes, some say, “I am too old for this.”   But as soon as a connection is made, it is amazing to see how purpose, connection, spontaneity, and joy is evident in their lives!

Another documentary available on Netflix I have been following is ‘Cyber Seniors”  watch the trailer here.   Happy Holiday Shopping!

11062337_10206528118188840_645394201235573404_nAbout the Author:    Jean Garboden is the Director of Education and Innovation at Compass Senior Living, located in Eugene Oregon. Jean is an Elder Advocate and Eden Alternative Educator with over 30 years’ experience in not-for-profit and for profit health care organizations. She is honored to lead the mission and values culture development for Compass Senior Living.  Jean lives in Las Vegas, Nevada where she enjoys the weather and volunteers with the Nevadans for the Common Good, advocating for caregivers and elders in southern Nevada.

Elder wisdom from the perspective of the Maintenance Director

I am the Maintenance Director at Woodland Palms in Tucson, Arizona. I collect old cars including a 61 Pontiac Tempest, a 65 Dodge Stepside and a 66 GMC pickup.

1961 Pontiac Tempest
1961 Pontiac Tempest

Mr. Johnson is a resident here, and he is extraordinarily mechanically talented, but is feeling without purpose, and like he is obsolete. Little did either of us realize that he would be able to share his knowledge and wisdom with me, and both have our needs met!

Recently I ran into a snag with a cone type inline fuel filter, which also doubles as the seat for the needle valve on the carburetor. I broke the housing and it was pot metal so nearly impossible to weld, and even more impossible to find a replacement.

I shared my dilemma with Mr. Johnson, and he told me exactly how to bypass it and get it working! I was very grateful for his knowledge.

As we looked for solutions together he asked me questions about how to read schematic diagrams. He did not have this resource when he was a young man working on cars. He relished learning about schematics from me, and was impressed. If you know how to read schematics, you can pretty much fix anything! Mr. Johnson has two-lifetimes worth of experience and is always willing to let me pick his brain when needed. The act of sharing knowledge with one another was great  for both of us.

I believe that elder wisdom should be sought more often and that elders should be respected for their legacy and experience to make our country better for future generations. They are living reservoirs of history.  Ever since 1991, when I saw the movie “Fried Green Tomatoes,” I have always longed to hear and learn from the stories of the elders.  Now I get to do that every day!

I am blessed to work in a place surrounded by wise elders – where I can tap into one of the greatest untapped resources of our society.  All of us can not only learn from them, but we can provide an avenue for them to find the purpose and meaning in life that they deserve.

“The purpose of human life is to serve, and to show compassion and the will to help others. ” Albert Schweitzer

About the Author:  Zach Pettit, Maintenance Director, Woodland Palms  Assisted Living in Tucson, Arizona (Woodland Palms is part of the Compass Senior Living family.)

Zach is a Tucson native – born and raised in Tucson, Arizona. His father was a zach-pettitlocal contractor in Tucson, so Zach grew up learning the building trades from a very young age. He was a card-carrying journeyman for the Carpenters Union Local 1506 for many years. He is also an officer for the Loyal Order of Moose which is involved in many charities that benefit elders and orphans. Zach began in the assisted living industry in the 1990’s doing volunteer maintenance work at Molly’s Christian Care Home. He later went on to supervise the maintenance of four different assisted living communities before finding his home  at Woodland Palms Assisted Living. He has a great passion for helping elders and a love for being around them.

So much to Give! Elders giving, loving, living – and thriving

Think volunteering’s just a nice thing you do for others? Think again. A growing body of research has pointed to the social, emotional, and even physical health benefits of volunteering.

Now a recent study, published in the journal The Gerontologist, zeroes in on the particular benefits volunteering offers older adults, and reveals how we can remove the three plagues of loneliness, helplessness, and boredom by providing a sense of purpose for those elders living at home or in a senior housing community.

We are working with elders who are looking at life in a new way as they grow older.  It is an intentional practice that involves harvesting the wisdom of their lives, and  finding ways to transmit that wisdom as a legacy to future generations, and giving back through service.

See the short video below produced by the residents and care team at Sundial Assisted Living in Redding California.  The elders and the care team are disrupting society’s concept of aging, and are making a difference in the city of Redding,  and in the world!   The care team is inspired and motivated to service by the example and wisdom of the elders they serve.

We are grateful for their example and their service!  This holiday season and every day is an opportunity to spread kindness in a spirit of goodness and love.  It is amazing how giving can really make YOUR day!

About the author:

11062337_10206528118188840_645394201235573404_nJean Garboden is the Director of Education and Innovation at Compass Senior Living, in Eugene Oregon.  She is an Eden Alternative Educator, and Elder Advocate.  Jean is dedicated to supporting the care teams and the elders to grow, learn, and be the best they can be in this  celebration of elderhood. It is a journey where reciprocal care and teaching can allow close relationships, joy, and passion into the workplace and into the lives of elders and their families.  Elders have much to teach us, and  and we are open to learn and grow alongside them.

“It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.” ― Mother Teresa

Pat Monahan led a pop tabs project in partnership with Ronald McDonald.  She saw a need and decided to see if her friends and family could help fill that need.  After decades of giving this elder feels like she has just begun to give!

As a life enrichment director of an assisted living in Redding California, it was a life-changing epiphany to realize that my job was not to entertain our elders, but to create avenues to bring purpose to their lives. I have the privilege of working with the most generous and sacrificial generation.

  • A generation who gave through coming together and surviving the Great Depression.
  • A generation who served and defended our nation through World War II.
  • A generation who created a stable and thriving economy through hard work and ingenuity after the war.
  • A generation  who  ran households and who created and grew businesses.
  • A generation of war heroes who deserve to live with purpose and joy.

In retirement, though many of these elders enjoy and pursue hobbies, interests. and other goals time now allows; they still innately love and desire to share a legacy and a spirit of generosity to give with purpose.

As this epiphany of bringing purpose to the forefront began to sink in, we began to intentionally create opportunities for our residents to give, and our residents came alive in ways we had never seen.

Residents who did not usually participate in our games, parties, or activities, would come to events centered around helping others.

  • We gave 25 backpacks to local children in need.
  • We adopted a kindergarten class in a local elementary school for whom we threw monthly parties and gave lots of hugs.
  • We raised enough money to give 35 families turkeys for Thanksgiving.
  • We collected the largest shipment of pop tabs used to raise funds that the Northern California Ronald McDonald House in Sacramento has ever received.

This was all accomplished by a group of 45 elders, their families, and our Sundial Assisted Living team. This generation does not see elderhood as a time just to sit back and receive after decades of hard work. They want to continue giving and growing through helping others and passing on this spirit of generosity to following generations.

About the guest author:  Holly Heleniak, Community Relations Director, Sundial Assisted Living, Redding California

holly-head-shotHolly says, “I consider myself truly blessed to have a job which allows me to spend time having fun and creating memories with incredible people.” Previously, Holly was a part of an international Christian ministry for ten years, traveling around the United States and abroad. She is a graduate of Texas Tech University and proudly hails from the state of Texas. Outside of work, Holly enjoys traveling, interior decorating, sports, being an aunt, and very soon a mom for the first time! . She also enjoys being involved in her local church. And of course, a great joy is singing and entertaining  residents with other Sundial team members!

The power of storytelling to connect us all!

In 2006, I was working as an administrator in an Assisted Living community while simultaneously working on my Masters degree. I had finished all of my class credits, and in order to complete the degree I had to write a thesis. This seemed a daunting requirement, and I had no ideas for a topic let alone how to even begin. I found myself floundering and wondering if I would ever finish the degree.

Then one day from my office, I overheard a 98 year old talking about what it was like when he was a boy working on their family farm. I was captivated by his stories that day as he recalled things I could have never known since I was 65 years younger than him! As one of humans’ most basic and effective forms of communication, storytelling connects us all, and I certainly made a connection that day.

With little more than the beginning of an idea, I began to research storytelling and oral history in hopes of finding a suitable thesis topic. During this research, I came across the quote that would not only help me complete the thesis, but from that moment on filled me with the passion to preserve the stories of elders everywhere. The quote is attributed to an African Proverb:

“Every time an old person dies, a library burns to the ground.”

For reasons obvious to anyone who works in our industry, this quote resonates deeply. We are surrounded by elders every day, all with wonderful stories and recollections of their past that they so willingly share. I began to think that if we somehow saved those stories, we could save their library!

My dreaded thesis ended up being one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life. I spent hours interviewing and recording one special elder: my grandmother, Irene Hosteter, who raised seven children on little more than faith. Together, we saved her library for those 7 children, who have grown to also include 15 grandchildren, 33 great grandchildren, and 2 great-great grandchildren!

Yes, the thesis project was big, but what I learned along the way is that preserving the wisdom and stories (their legacy!) of our elders is easy!

  • All it takes is a recording device (found on most smart phones these days)
  • a willing storyteller
  • an engaged listener
  • and a little bit of time.

That’s when the magic of the story takes over, connecting the storyteller and listener, allowing both to find aspects of themselves in each other while preserving the storyteller’s legacy forever.

Grammie died a few years ago at the age of 95, but her legacy remains with us. We can still listen to her stories, in her voice, anytime. As the holiday season approaches and families gather, consider sitting down with one of your cherished family members, start the recorder, and ask them to “tell me about that time when….”

You will have created a priceless keepsake.

Below is one of Grammie’s stories.  She would be honored if you decide to create one of your own!  Help us save the libraries and preserve the legacy of all elders!

About our guest Author:  Carrie Gallahan, Director of Operations – Midwest Region, Compass Senior Living

carrie-headshotCarrie lives in Peru Indiana.   She is the founder of  Saving Libraries, and she has partnered with Compass Senior Living to create a signature program entitled Tiny Stories, which is a legacy collection of elder stories  in print, recorded and video formats.  Stories have power. They delight, enchant, touch, teach, recall, inspire, motivate, and challenge. They imprint a picture on our minds. Not only do people love to tell stories, people love to hear stories!

Tough Choices~Great Choices

“When your values are clear to you, making decisions becomes easier.” Roy E. Disney

In 2012 my son brought his paternal grandmother home to live with his family.  At the time, she was in a less than desirable relationship, which required some changes be made. That was a tough choice, but turned out to be a great choice.

Grandma had fun attending activities at the senior center
Grandma had fun attending activities at the senior center

During the course of the next three and a half years, things on the home front were good. Grandma improved significantly as my daughter-in-law watched grandma’s mental and physical health issues closely, taking her to physicians when necessary, and keeping up with her daily regime of prescribed medications as well as supplements. Grandma was happy and my son’s family was happy as well.

Starting at the end of 2015, something changed. Grandma was still getting great care, but needed more stimulation from people of her age. While she loved being around the family, something was missing. She hired a companion to take her to some senior activities and was continuing to attend monthly Red Hatter’s meetings. Grandma had so much fun attending the activities at the senior center, but was reluctant to move. Tensions were starting in the household, as grandma was not very tolerant of her two grandsons running around the house. She stayed in her room resting a lot. Still, both she and my son and daughter-in-law were reluctant to start looking at alternative living for grandma.

During my visit in December 2015, I broached the idea of assisted living with grandma, my son, and daughter-in-law. The seed was planted, but after I left grandma was not happy that I talked with them about it. During the first months of 2016, my daughter-in-law decided to take grandma around to show her assisted living and independent living communities. To her surprise, grandma was open to the idea. They looked at several communities and grandma decided she wanted to live in a smaller one because the bigger ones would make her feel like she was living in a hotel. She made the decision to move in April of 2016. Tough choice~great choice.

Grandma and two grandsons in her new home
Grandma and two grandsons in her new home

While it took a just a little while for grandma to adjust, she now loves her new home. She is participating in activities, loving the meals, and making new friends. She is more lively and enjoying her time with her family, as they visit several times a week. They can now be in relationship as a family again and not caregivers to their elder grandma. Once again, tough choice~great choice, and the best choice she could have made for herself at this time in her life, at the young age of 87.

I work in eldercare, and see families and elder adults struggling with the same tough choices as my family.  We all have basic human needs to live purposeful lives, and to be part of a social structure that allows us companionship and the opportunity to continue to extend care to others.   For my children’s grandmother, the tough choices were made with the primary goal to do what would result in a happy decision for all. Good choice! 

When it comes to  broaching the  “assisted living” conversation, experts like Stella Henry, R.N., author of The Eldercare Handbook  (HarperCollins, 2006) say “this is probably one of the hardest discussions a child  or grandchild will ever have to make.”  Many seniors unrealistically believe they can take care of themselves for the rest of their lives.  And that’s where their children or other family members can be instrumental in identifying the challenge and instigating a conversation.

No matter what the age of your parent,  experts say now is the time to begin communicating about the future. If you open the lines of communication early on, words like “assisted living” lose their sting later on, and the elder can be empowered in the decision making for his/her future.

About the guest author:   Candis Willis, Director of Operations – Western Region Compass Senior Living

img_0434Candis lives in Redding, California. She says, “The  best part of this work is connecting with residents and seeing them flourish when they thought life would be over because of leaving their homes.”   Candis loves having the opportunity each day to give back to elders a portion of what they have given to  many others.    Candis believes everything happens for a reason, and even though life isn’t always easy, we have the opportunity to learn and grow from each and every experience. Playing with her grandchildren, enjoying the outdoors, yard work, and hiking are her favorite pastimes with her family.