Make the Season Brighter

For many older adults, the magic of the winter holidays has nothing to do with presents, but with presence.

Most of us anticipate with a feeling of excitement the opportunity to share the holidays with our loved ones near and far, even if we aren’t there with them.

We celebrate traditions, special meals, holiday treats and catching up with our family members who travel great (or small) distances to be together and reach out to those with whom we can’t be together.

Unfortunately, it is not all moments of cheer for some, often particularly our elder loved ones. Far too many of our seniors find the holiday season to be a time of remembering losses and feeling sad or depressed.

Traditions change as we transition from childhood to adulthood and into elderhood.  We can create new traditions with our aging loved ones this holiday season. Talk together about the feelings they are having. Sharing these feelings and knowing that someone is listening to them can make seniors feel much better.

Why is Mom So Sad?

Not to get you down over the holidays, but to make you aware of what might be happening around you, here are some statistics on depression.

  • 15 out of 100 adults over 65 suffer from depression impacting 6 million Americans over 65
  • 15-20% of older adults who live in our communities suffer from depression
  • 25-35% of older adults who live in long-term care facilities have symptoms of depression, this number has been estimated to actually be nearer 50%
  • An estimated 2 million adults over 65 in the US have a diagnosable clinical depression
  • 25% of those with chronic disease suffer from depression

Depression, however, is NOT a result of aging as many people believe. We can age without becoming depressed.  Depression can happen to anyone, at any time and any age. Many people don’t seek help because they may feel that it won’t help because whatever is causing the depression will continue. Depression can have many causes such as the death of a spouse or close family member, a severe illness or chronic pain, loss in independence, and loneliness.

Untreated depression in the elderly can lead to a variety of problems, including alcoholism, substance abuse, and even suicide. Someone living with severe pain and depression is four times more likely to attempt suicide.

Every 100 minutes an older adult dies by suicide – – the highest overall death rate of any age group.

Family Activities to Keep the Blues Away
  1. We can help keep older adult loved ones from being part of the statistics by helping them fight off depression over the holidays.
  2. Play favorite music and classic movies during the holiday season to bring smiles instead of frowns.
  3. Technology can create connections!  Set up Skype video calls or Facetime with family members who can’t visit for the holidays so that family can connect, and sing, laugh and share stories together.  This is a meaningful gift to give to one another!
  4. Spend one-on-one time with an elder adult. Find fun things to do to occupy them throughout the season and shortly afterward so that they don’t have time to let their mind dwell on sad times or losses they experience.
  • Make cookies
  • Take a nature walk
  • Write holiday cards and notes
  • Play a game
  • Visit a museum
  • Go to a local event like a parade or church choir
  • Take in a holiday movie
  • Drive around the neighborhood looking at holiday lights and decorations
  • Do a craft project
  • Plan the family meal and shop together
  • Get together to watch old comedy shows that bring a chuckle, like I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners or Laurel and Hardy. Many of these shows can be found on the TV, in DVD form or streamed from the internet. Use these programs to open dialogue to engage their mind and relive memories.
  • Get physical! Go for a walk, dance, hula hoop, go bowling, toss around a ball, chase your dog, or any other physical activity your elder adult loved one can safely participate with other family members. Make it a habit, not just one you do during the holiday. Staying physically active will help keep your senior mentally fit as well.

Remember, depression can have real, negative physical effects on older adults, including fatigue, withdrawing from activities, sadness, abnormal sleep patterns, anxiety or irritability, use of alcohol or drugs, or suicidal thoughts. We can help them avoid it, though.

Keeping your older loved one engaged, being observant to signs of depression and seeking help when it is needed will keep the blues away not just during the holidays but all year long!

Jean Garboden, Director of Education & Innovation at Compass Senior Living

About the author: Jean Garboden is an Elder Advocate and Eden Alternative Educator with over 30 years’ experience in not-for-profit and for-profit healthcare organizations. She is honored to lead the mission and values culture development for Compass Senior Living in Eugene, Oregon. 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

Listen up! – Hearing loss – associated with risk of dementia

Hearing loss can have a more negative impact on the quality of life than obesity, diabetes, strokes, or even cancer.

Studies from John Hopkins University concluded that hearing loss is associated with an increased risk of dementia, falls, and depression. It is also a serious contributing factor to social isolation and loneliness.

Why are people so reluctant to get their hearing checked?  Well, like many ailments, hearing loss carries with it the stigma of being old.  It is true that hearing loss diminishes with age,

  • 30 Percent of people in their 50’s have some hearing loss.
  • For people in their 60’s, it is 45 percent.
  • And for those in their 70’s more than two-thirds have a significant hearing loss.

Because of the stigma of hearing loss, the average older adult waits seven to ten years to get a hearing device.

The right side of your brain processes sounds and the left side of your brain processes comprehension.  Those with hearing loss may say, “Could you repeat that?”  The brain of someone with hearing loss may hear you, but after years of hearing loss, may not be able to comprehend or understand what you said because of the loss of brain function to translate the sound.

Only 20 to 30 percent of all adults who could benefit from a hearing solution end up getting one.  This only makes the matter worse because the longer a person has an uncorrected hearing loss, the greater the risk to the brain of losing the ability to translate the sound of someone talking into comprehensive speech.

AARP, as part of their effort to disrupt aging, is working to end the stigma of hearing loss and use of hearing aids.

Let’s all take care of one another!  Go and get a hearing test, and take someone you love with you to do the same!

Watch this 2-minute video summarizing the John Hopkins research about hearing loss and cognitive decline – and learn the GOOD news that hearing loss is correctable, and you can maintain a healthy brain!


Jean Garboden, Director of Education & Innovation at Compass Senior Living

About the Author: Jean Garboden is an Elder Advocate and Eden Alternative Educator with over 30 years’ experience in not-for-profit and for-profit healthcare organizations. She is honored to lead the mission and values culture development for Compass Senior Living in Eugene, Oregon. 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


Wisdom from Annie – Give life a second chance

Annie G lives at Peachtree Village Retirement Community in Roswell New Mexico and is our guest author today.

Annie teaches us that hearts can bloom suddenly bigger, and that love can open like a flower out of even the hardest places.  Annie is a beautiful woman who has experienced trials, struggles, loss and has found her way out of the depths.  It’s about overcoming obstacles; that’s the key to happiness.

Giving Life A Second Chance: Believing In Yourself And The Power Of Love – Annie G.

I often think about how I got to where I am today and how somehow everything that has happened, big or small in my lifetime has made me a better, happier, wiser and stronger person.

Now, this is coming from someone who’s lost a parent, struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts among a boatload full of other things. If you have ever heard the saying, “you can learn and grow from every experience,” I want you to know that this is indeed true.

When I look back to some of the hardest moments of my life, I can tell you that honestly each of these experiences has taught me some of the most important things you’ll ever learn:

  • Love can heal.
  • There are good people out there if you allow them in.
  • Memories of loved ones live on forever.
  • You cannot love anyone until you love yourself.
  • You alone are good enough.
  • Words can kill.
  • Friendship is sometimes bitter sweet.
  • You cannot please everyone.
  • And most of all, never settle or give up because life is a journey full of roadblocks and failures but the best comes when you refuse to let one closed door break you down and acknowledge that there is a purpose for everything.

When people ask my age, I say, “I’m 14 turning 15 in September!”

Whenever I tell people my story, they often ask me “Why are you so resilient? How can you be so strong?  What makes you so positive?” I usually laugh or smile in response. The truth is sometimes you don’t have a choice.

When you fall into really bad situations, you cannot waste a second feeling sorry for yourself. You have to survive, build a wall around yourself and push on.

Whenever people ask me, “How did you get through losing your dad at such a young age?” I always say “Sometimes you don’t get through it.” There were so many days when I couldn’t get out of bed. I was a mess always breaking down and other times I felt nothing at all. Grief spiraled me into so many different directions. Sometimes I felt like I wasn’t living, just floating around like a lifeless fish.

For me, I found peace and happiness through the kind hearts of friends, teachers, counselors and other who kept me going.

Even though I still struggle with grief and many insecurities, I find so much joy in knowing that I have a purpose. I am meant to do amazing things, not just because that’s what my dad wanted, but because I know that I am good enough.

I want anyone out there who may be at a bad point in their lives or have been through similar experiences to know that life isn’t all a dark cloud.

There is light at the end of every tunnel and sometimes the rainbow you were looking for was right in front of you all along. Never ever give up on yourself because I promise you that there are people out there who care.

You are meant to be who you are. So never give up on your dreams or your goals.

Picture this – all of the hard stuff you’ve gone through is not what powers the stove. They are rather minor parts of the elements on the stove top that allow you to run smoothly. Their experiences do not define or dictate who you are. Never forget your past or where you came from but use them as motivation to be a better person.

Thanks to the Author:

We are grateful for the wisdom of Annie and the gift of her life-lessons.

In ancient times, the Elders carried the wisdom of the tribe. In today’s world that tribe is fractured and dispersed, as families are more transitional, and may not have elders to call upon.  The world needs the wisdom of our elders more than ever!

I have discovered a nonprofit organization named ElderWisdomCircle™ that was made possible in part through a generous grant from Google.

Jean Garboden, Director of Education & Innovation at Compass Senior Living

The Elder Wisdom Circle is an online inter-generational program pairing advice seekers with a network of seniors (“Elders”) who provide free and confidential advice on a broad range of topics.  Their mission is:

  • Provide an opportunity for all seniors to utilize their life experience and wisdom to help others.
  • Offer thoughtful and helpful advice to younger generations.
  • Elevate the value and worth of our senior community.

I encourage you to ask advice of the elders around you. If you work in senior housing, you have a lot of opportunities to learn. Or you may meet an elder at the supermarket or in your church. Most are willing to support your growth.  You may be surprised to learn that elders are still growing, and learning and evolving…just as we all are!

If you are an elder, I invite you to share your wisdom as a True North Elder in this forum as well.   You may contact me by email to submit a story.

Knitting Boosts Brain Health, Happiness

My daughter Kelly saw a knitting tutorial on Facebook, and it reminded her of the first time she had tried knitting when she was 8 years old.  She decided she might as well give it a try again! So she found a local fabric shop and signed up for a knitting refresher class.

Here is her experience in her own words:

When I got home from my first knitting class, I found myself forgetting all that I had just learned and I kept making mistakes. I had another full week before my next class and was frustrated that I would have to put my knitting aside. It suddenly occurred to me that I live in a building with 300+ other people, many of them over age 60, and I have an email list to the women’s social group in the building.

I sent out an email to the “Bunco Babes” and asked for help. I told them that I had just started knitting and I wondered if any of the “Babes” could help me get unstuck. Within ten minutes I had several replies, some offering to help and the majority telling me that Gladys is a master knitter!

Kelly's first knitting project with the support of 80 year old Gladys
Kelly’s first knitting project with the support of 80 year old Gladys

I emailed Gladys and found out she lives just across the hall. She told me she was 80 years old and had been knitting since age 12, a master knitter indeed.

That afternoon I brought my knitting over to Gladys. She was ready for me with some of her masterpieces laid out… a cashmere shawl she had made with her daughter while traveling by train around Italy; an intricate green sweater that she’d made for herself on her 70th birthday; a baby blanket she was making for her great grand-daughter. She was quickly able to spot and solve the problem areas on my simple scarf and we sat together for the next two hours… knitting and sharing stories.”

Kelly, who is a high energy person and has lived with anxiety for most of her life, found that the process of knitting actually began to relieve her anxiety. She noticed that if she was in a high anxiety state, picking up knitting for 10-15 minutes would subdue if not eliminate her anxiety.  Kelly mentioned that her social anxiety has nearly vanished in the last month. Instead of the usual waves of anxiety that come on before leaving the house for a meeting or social event, she busies her mind and hands with knitting.  The knitting works as a relaxation exercise, keeping her calm and centered and keeping the usual anxiety at bay. She also noticed she was sleeping better, and she had an overall sense of creative satisfaction as she made items for family and friends. Additionally she and the  “Bunco Babes” have developed a friendship. A new multi-generational social community formed because of her interest in knitting!

An additional benefit for those taking up knitting and crocheting, or other crafting projects is brain health!  Watch this short news feature from CBS!

Crafts such as knitting and crocheting are no longer viewed as a pastime for the elderly. In fact, they’re popular among all age groups, from 18 year olds to those over 65.

Perhaps most exciting is research that suggests that crafts like knitting and crocheting may help to stave off a decline in brain function with age. In a 2011 study, researchers led by Dr. Yonas E. Geda, a psychiatrist at the Mayo Clinic and published in the Journal of Neuropsychiatry & Clinical Neurosciences, found that those who engaged in crafts like knitting and crocheting had a diminished chance of developing mild cognitive impairment and memory loss.

Four Benefits of Knitting:

  1. Alleviates Symptoms of Anxiety, Stress, and Depression:  Herbert Benson, a pioneer in mind/body medicine and author of The Relaxation Response, says that the repetitive action of needlework can induce a relaxed state like that associated with meditation or yoga.

  2. Staves off a decline in Brain Function:   A 2007 paper looked at the neurological basis for how activities and hobbies like knitting relate to well-being and health.  they found that engaging in these activities stimulates the mind, and slows cognitive decline.
  3. Helps prevent arthritis and tendinitis: Dr. Barron, in his book titled The Creativity Cure: Building Happiness With Your Own Two Hands, said that knitting “can be a great workout for the fingers, hands and forearms.”
  4. It puts you in the present: The great thing about doing activities that we enjoy is that they put us directly in the present moment. All of a sudden, your thoughts disappear, your mind quiets down, and you are simply focused on what you are doing in that moment.

Let’s learn from the wisdom of our elders, and practice some brain health activities together!  I am going to give it a try myself!

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.