Look Alzheimer’s in the eye this year.

Over the last few months our Director of Education and Innovation, Jean Garboden, and I have traveled to several of Compass’ senior living communities to conduct training we call Caring is What Makes Us Human: Empathetic communication with those who have dementia. Its evolved into a powerful and engaging series of stories that reflect the more than 10 years we’ve been working to try to understand dementia and finding a better way to care for those who have it. Our employees are required to attend. It’s those that are not required to attend that inspire me.

For several of the trainings, we’ve had elders and family members join us. In one recent session, I was inspired looking out at the elders’ faces that were engaged in the conversation. They were there because they wanted to be. They aren’t afraid of knowing what Alzheimer’s or other dementias can do. And, with their presence, they are facing it head-on. Elders are the ones that may see this daily amongst their peers and wonder, “am I next”? And yet, they were the ones most interested in learning about how they can care, or at least understand, what it means and how to help others.

These elders inspire me because they are engaging in the conversation that most are too afraid to have. They are arming themselves with the knowledge that will help to eliminate fear. They are building understanding that those with dementia are still there and they are whole human beings to be loved, not feared. They are showing us that age, impairments, and change are not to be feared, but understood and accepted. The elders that engage in this conversation are quiet ambassadors to making a better elderhood for the rest of us that will eventually be there.

Like cancer, the movement to find a cure for Alzheimer’s is growing because most of us know, or have known, someone with Alzheimer’s or another dementia. If you haven’t yet, you will. By learning about dementia and how we can still communicate with those who have it, you participate in the movement to change the language around “locked units”. These are not prisoners to be locked away. They are mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, daughters, sons, aunts, and uncles. They are in need of being safe and cared for, yes. But, they are not to be feared and avoided. They simply need us to look them in the eye, sing to them, dance with them, and know they still desire to be heard and understood.

As this new year starts please make a resolution that will make real change with one simple act. Resolve to learn more, participate in conversations, and try to understand Alzheimer’s and other dementias. Follow in these elders’ footsteps and learn what you can do to help just one individual. After all, caring is what makes us human.


About the Author:  

Photo on 9-7-17 at 4.53 PM

Amira T. Fahoum is the Director of Marketing and Director of Operations, Northwest Region for Compass Senior Living located  in Eugene, Oregon. Her path to senior living started when she simply decided to be open to possibilities in life. Possibilities are what led her to what is now a career in serving elders and families. Possibilities also led her into the world of becoming a Certified Eden Associate, Certified Validation Worker, Levels I and II, and a licensed Assisted Living Administrator in Oregon. On her journey with Compass, she has found true reward in working with, and for, the people that care for others.

Our found family is diverse, imperfect, and loving in every single way.

Cultures of Caring

What do you find when you start to look closely at assisted living communities? You find a treasure trove of love, kindness, and caring.

During National Assisted Living Week, I produced a campaign to share the joys, celebrations, and greatness of the people that make up our communities. I asked the administrators of our 20 senior living communities to send me photos, wisdom from their residents, and examples of what living in assisted living can really be like. When we looked at what they were sending and sharing on Facebook–we were overjoyed at the beautiful people caring for one another everywhere we looked.

Employee appreciation day at Sun Oak in Citrus Heights, CA

Caring for employees So often senior living companies call their employees “caregivers”. But, who cares for them? We believe that caring is a reciprocal relationship–that the care team and the elder are in a partnership to care for one another. Where one perhaps benefits from physical support, another benefits from emotional support or wisdom earned through many years of life experience.

PT_grandparents day family photo.jpgCaring for family
Families of elders living in our communities are often providing the hands-on care until mom or dad move into a supportive living environment. That’s when assisted living can really support families–by taking care of the daily needs so they can get back to having a relationship with the elder. Throughout the week, we saw many moments of caring for the families that have become part of our reciprocal care culture.

 

Caring for furry friends

SO_pet daySeveral of the communities recognized the role that furry family members play in our lives through events such as fundraisers to care for homeless pets and bring your pet to work day.  They are the companions that never complain, love unconditionally, and provide that unexplainable emotional care that only a pet can provide.

Elder participating in the Relay for Life in Florence, Oregon at Shorewood Senior LivingCaring for the community
It never ceases to amaze me at how much energy the elders and employees have for giving back to their communities. Alzheimer’s Walk fundraisers, homeless pet fundraisers, school supply drives, Boys’ and Girls’ Club support–the list goes on and on for the causes that our communities support to not only stay connected but care and love the communities that have loved them.

Caring for eldersouting at Carolina Assisted Living in Appleton, Wisconsin

And, of course, we can’t forget the elders that are at the core of what we do. During this week, the demonstrations of love and care for the elders that we learn from and feel loved by was overflowing. And, our teams gave back as much as they could through massages, parties, happy hours, dances, and recognition that we make up this family brought together by a common circumstance. And, have become much more than that.

Thank you to everyone that makes every day a culture of caring day!

Take a look at the week in review here.


About the Author:  

Photo on 9-7-17 at 4.53 PM

Amira T. Fahoum is the Director of Marketing and Director of Operations, Northwest Region for Compass Senior Living located  in Eugene, Oregon. Her path to senior living started when she simply decided to be open to possibilities in life. Possibilities are what led her to what is now a career in serving elders and families. Possibilities also led her into the world of becoming a Certified Eden Associate, Certified Validation Worker, Levels I and II, and a licensed Assisted Living Administrator in Oregon. On her journey with Compass, she has found true reward in working with, and for, the people that care for others.

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.

 

Disrupting Aging

Slow down….and listen. They said. Turn your cell phones on. They said. Share with the world what is happening. After 110 performances on Changing Aging’s Disrupt Aging live theater event, held recently in Eugene, Oregon, its hard to imagine this formula not working to get people’s attention. The message: its time we change how we think about aging.

Changing Aging attendance group 2JPG
Compass Senior Living crew attending the Changing Aging event (from left): Amira, Kory, Beth, Jean, Becca, Niki. (Catherine and Mary not pictured)

The day started with a small group lunch with Dr. Bill Thomas, geriatrician and founder of The Eden Alternative. The group of about 20 were all there for various reasons–from AARP representatives to an elder currently living in a senior community. Dr. Thomas has started what he calls #AskDrBill– an egalitarian way of answering everyone’s hardest questions about aging (for which he specifically asks).

I asked the hardest question I knew about aging: aging comes with loss, how do you ‘be okay’ with not being able to do everything that you used to be able to do? To which Dr. Bill gave his words of wisdom based on his experience, “Change comes with loss, not just aging. If you looked at your checkbook the same way, you’d only record the expenses but not the income. And, that’s not an accurate picture of what your finances look like. Pay attention to the ‘other side’ of the ledger book. We pay attention to the loss and not what is to be gained with the change.”

Gain with the change. The biggest ‘aha’ moment as he said this was not the metaphor of the ledger book–although that is a great metaphor for how one can look at what life throws at you–it was that aging is just change. And, we have lots of change in our lives. So, why is this change so different from the others? It needs flexibility, resiliency, thoughtfulness, and planning. Like any change that life throws our way. Its all between our ears in the way the change is framed.

Disrupt Dementia–The Momentia Movement. The afternoon transitioned into a “non-fiction theater” event as the Changing Aging crew calls it. The group performed two simultaneous tales of a Ugandan refugee and those living with dementia. The Ugandan refugee, Samite (pronounced SA-me-tay), performs the music that he composes as his journey inspires him and life’s challenges, and changes, come his way; as he rebuilds his life. Similarly, the stories told by the elders living with dementia, in their own words, tell the tale of changes that come to them, but how they are inspired to continue on their journey as life throws these particular changes into their own paths. It’s a heart-wrenching, but necessary, truth about how those living with dementia are doing just that–living— and it is up to us to help them adapt and keep living.

Disrupt Aging. As the evening progressed, a second performance blended myth and science; challenging us to re-frame aging. Dr. Bill asks “what if?” What if everything we knew about aging was wrong? Accompanied with music, storytelling, and, yes, audience participation games, we learned that there is no such thing as a “senior moment”. We all simply have a “filing cabinet” and, as we get older, the filing cabinet is more full–and more messy– and it just takes a little longer to find what we are looking for. What’s more, older brains have the power of gist. Older brains have the power to see patterns and pull from past experience to understand what is being explained and, well, you get the gist. Dr. Bill challenged us to stop perpetuating the myth of the senior moment. “Social change starts between the ears,” says Dr. Thomas. Just like racism and sexism, ageism persists when we tacitly agree to ageist comments and jokes by not saying anything. When we let it go, we imply that its okay to perpetuate myths on aging and see elders as declining. The Changing Aging tour is challenging us to perceive aging as a vivid and enlivening process that presents us with extraordinary risks, and rewards. 

We are all getting older and will be considered old, if we aren’t already. How will you approach this change?

 

Related posts and resources:

I have a 20-year old brain in an old body

Elderhood–what do we want to do with another 30 years?

Human connection–at the core of everything that matters in the world

My shrinking world

Featured image photo courtesy of Changingaging.org.


About the Author: Amira T. Fahoum is the Director of Marketing and Director of Operations, Northwest Region for Compass Senior Living located in Eugene, Oregon. Her path to senior living started when she simply decided to be open to possibilities in life. Possibilities are what led her to what is now a career in serving elders and families. Possibilities also led her into the world of becoming a Certified Eden Associate, Certified Validation Worker, Levels I and II, and a licensed Assisted Living Administrator in Oregon. On her journey with Compass, she has found true reward in working with, and for, the people that care for others. She lives in Eugene with her husband, Michael, where they enjoy golf, travel, and volunteering.

Is loneliness affecting you? Part 2

In the first part of this post, we learned that loneliness affects nearly half of all adults over the age of 50–resulting in real health consequences. This week, we’re looking at ways that you can stay connected and help those around you stay connected to prevent isolation and loneliness.

Loneliness is normal, right? So, how do I know if I’m at risk?

Everyone is sure to experience loneliness at some point in their lives, yes. But, chronic isolation can lead to loneliness that causes severe health effects. The AARP Foundation’s initiative Connect 2 Affect has created a simple online assessment tool to help you identify if you or someone you love is at risk of isolation. Try it out for yourself here.

How do I prevent isolation and loneliness?

Examine these three areas of your life to see where you could be more connected:

  1. Social activity: Close relationships are formed and strengthened by the frequency with which you see other people. Weekly, or more frequent, interactions will help form these relationships that provide a sense of connection which alleviates the feeling of loneliness. Try volunteering, attending regular religious services, or senior center activities weekly.
  2. Nurture relationships: Relationships can be tough sometimes, especially with family. Focus on the positive aspects of your relationships and try to relate to your friends and family in a way that makes everyone happy with the interactions.
  3. Examine local resources: Socialization can be hampered by one’s inability to access social opportunity. Visit your doctor about physical ailments that prevent you from participating in activities, look into transportation services, cleaning services to help prepare your home for guests, and libraries and senior center calendars for an array of classes or group sessions. No one wants to leave their home of many years, but access to daily, spontaneous, and serendipitous interactions along with basic services can allow you to function at a higher level, engage more frequently, and alleviate the lack of resources to maintain a home and higher level of activity in your life.

I know someone that may be lonely–what can I do?

Starting the conversation is the hardest part. Keep in mind, however, that they may appreciate that you recognized that they may be lonely. Connect 2 Affect has created a great poster to remind yourself about what you can help do including:

  • Treat health issues: Fall prevention programs increase balance, strength, and the confidence to go out more often (Read more about how yoga can help in older adults!)
  • Provide support through major life transitions: Support groups to help someone feel connected while coping with significant change
  • Address societal barriers that exclude older adults: Policy changes that support retraining and retention of older workforce
  • Ensure availability of services and support tailored to the needs of diverse communities: Home-sharing models that make aging in place more affordable for all including senior living communities
  • Create opportunity for affordable and accessible transportation: Volunteer transportation services that make it easier for older adults to get around their community

With so many adults in our country facing this plague of loneliness, it is up to us to raise awareness and ensure that those we love (including ourselves!) have the ability to lead healthy, happy lives! Start by reaching out and making a connection.

 

 

Related posts and resources:

Elders find joy in Yoga practice!

Human connection ~ at the core of everything that matters in the world

Elderhood – What do we want to do with an extra 30 years?

Connect where you live! Find a senior living community near you.


About the Author: Amira T. Fahoum is the Director of Marketing and Director of Operations, Northwest Region for Compass Senior Living located in Eugene, Oregon. Her path to senior living started when she simply decided to be open to possibilities in life. Possibilities are what led her to what is now a career in serving elders and families. Possibilities also led her into the world of becoming a Certified Eden Associate, Certified Validation Worker, Levels I and II, and a licensed Assisted Living Administrator in Oregon. On her journey with Compass, she has found true reward in working with the people that care for others. She lives in Eugene with her husband, Michael, where they enjoy golf, travel, and volunteering.

 

woman looking worried

Is loneliness affecting you? Part 1

Isolation and loneliness are getting more attention these days from groups such as the AARP Foundation and their newly formed organization Connect 2 Affect. While its important to understand that isolation is the objective lack of social access and resources and loneliness is the subjective perception of one’s well-beingthey are not mutually exclusive. Studies have shown that loneliness and social isolation have serious health affects.

The National Social Life, Health and Aging Project is supported by the National Institute on Aging, the National Institutes on Health, and the AARP Foundation. Together, they examined existing data on the frequency of loneliness in older adults and produced A Profile of Social Connectedness in Older Adults.

According to the report, social isolation is a bigger problem than you may know:

  • Nearly 1 in 5 adults over age 50 is at risk for social isolation
  • Subjective feelings of loneliness can increase risk of death from 26% to 45%
  • The health affects of prolonged social isolation are equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day
  • Nearly half of older adults in the U.S. experience some degree of loneliness

Dr. Bill Thomas has, for years, led a culture-change movement to identify, understand, and combat what he calls the three plagues: loneliness, helplessness, and boredom. After taking a position as the medical director of a nursing home, he realized that people were not dying of disease or physical ailments, but diseases of the heart. Anecdotally, he’s known this to be true in his own experience. But, more and more, we’re seeing empirical evidence that these “plagues” contribute to physical ailments and age the body faster.

Take, for example, this study with findings published in The Guardian where researchers found that loneliness was twice as unhealthy as obesity. Tracking more than 2,000 people over the age of 50 found that the loneliest “were nearly twice as likely to die during the six-year study than those that were least lonely.”

There are still more questions to be answered such as why there is no apparent difference in levels of loneliness based on education, work/retirement status, or whether you care for a dependent, but income does appear to affect levels of loneliness. Or, as the AARP Foundation asks, if loneliness is a cause of poor hearing or other physical impairments or if loneliness is the result of the impairments?

More studies are needed to understand and help prevent loneliness in older adults. In the meantime, we’ll share some ways that you can build bridges to social connectedness for you and the older adults in your life. Join us next week for Is loneliness affecting you? Part 2.

Related posts and resources:

6 reasons to break a sweat in 2017  – Your Brain will love it!

Elderhood – What do we want to do with an extra 30 years?

I have a 20-year old brain in an old body

Connect where you live! Find a senior living community near you.


About the Author: Amira T. Fahoum is the Director of Marketing and Director of Operations, Northwest Region for Compass Senior Living located in Eugene, Oregon. Her path to senior living started when she simply decided to be open to possibilities in life. Possibilities are what led her to what is now a career in serving elders and families. Possibilities also led her into the world of becoming a Certified Eden Associate, Certified Validation Worker, Levels I and II, and a licensed Assisted Living Administrator in Oregon. On her journey with Compass, she has found true reward in working with the people that care for others. She lives in Eugene with her husband, Michael, where they enjoy golf, travel, and volunteering.

 

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)