Six Spin-Offs of the Pandemic We Can Be Grateful For

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Six Spin-Offs of the Pandemic We Can Be Grateful For

Now that vaccines are being rolled out in the fight against COVID-19, we’re finally seeing a reason for optimism. In the meantime, while we’re still in the tunnel, it’s important to recognize that there is a flip side to living in a pandemic. Here’s a look at six unexpected silver linings.

1. Geography is No Longer a Limiting Factor

Even if you previously cringed at the thought of using technology to keep in touch with loved ones, chances are good, that now, in 2021, you’ve become enamored by Zoom and FaceTime. Although face-to-face meetings are still the gold standard, a video chat allows for more intimacy than a traditional phone call. Seeing your loved ones’ expressions as they talk (and vice-versa), makes it’s much easier to connect!

Don’t get complacent about your video chatting skills when the pandemic ends, though. Even when the risk of contracting the SARS-CoV 2 becomes low, in-person visits may not be convenient when the weather is bad or schedules get crowded. Plus, now that video chatting is ubiquitous, why not set up a virtual meeting with a long-forgotten relative or friend? Another bonus: you can use video chatting to zoom in on courses, workshops, meetings, music lessons, and exercise groups from around the globe.

2. It’s Easier to See Your Doctor Virtually

Along with impelling people to become comfortable with Zoom, the pandemic has accelerated the use of telehealth. Now, instead of traveling to medical appointments (and sitting in a crowded waiting room full of sick people), you can usually meet with healthcare providers from the comfort of home. Telemedicine can be used for most visits, including regular check-ins as well as visits with specialists, which are often hard to book in-person.

3. Infection Control Has Become De Rigeur

The pandemic has galvanized all organizations—especially those dealing with a healthcare or senior care–to enhance infection prevention. Rest assured that Sunshine Retirement Living communities will continue their rigorous regime of disinfecting and cleaning surfaces, using products geared to the coronavirus as well as the norovirus and the influenza virus. Staff also have an array of infection control tools (like social distancing, mask wearing and limiting group size) they can pull out during flu season, so that there’s no break in the slate of recreational and social activities.

4. We’ve Seen an Uptick in Creativity

From curbside shopping to robotic food delivery, the social restrictions caused by the pandemic have encouraged creative solutions so that people can carry on with activities such as shopping and dining in a modified way. When it comes to socializing, Sunshine’s, staff have had to dig into their ingenuity so that residents could keep active and engaged. They’ve revised blackjack games, conducted socially distanced exercise classes, set up family window visits, and created new holiday traditions, such as Grandparents Day parades.

5. We Have More Time to Reflect

For many, the pandemic has slowed down time, giving people more time to reflect on life and to attend more to self-care, like praying and meditating, taking long baths, going on walks, and doing yoga. This freeing up of time has allowed some people to finally participate in meaningful creative projects, such as playing an instrument, writing their life history, or creating exquisite watercolors.

6. We’ve Rediscovered What is Truly Important

One final silver lining: The social restrictions imposed by the pandemic have highlighted the significance of spending time with people you love and the importance of being connected to others. In some cases, after spending months alone in their homes, seniors have rightly concluded that living with others is vital to their emotional health. Luckily, moving to a senior living community is an easy antidote to social isolation.

Katherine O’Brien is a Toronto-based health writer who specializes in writing about healthy aging and dementia. She understands firsthand the experience of being a dementia caregiver. Have a question or story idea for Katherine? Email us here.

How to Keep Your Spirits Up When the Pandemic Goes On And On

Back in the spring, you may have been able to put on a brave face and gear down for a month–or two–or three–of social restrictions. But now, in autumn where mask-wearing and social distancing is still part of the fabric of life, you may wonder whether pandemic fatigue is inevitable. Although it may be counterintuitive, it is possible to stay vibrant and healthy even during a marathon such as this.

First of all, try to plan at least one activity a day that you can look forward to—something that’s easy to do if you are a Sunshine resident as many communities still offer a full day of exercise classes and other activities . Nevertheless, if you live alone, there are still many ways to keep yourself entertained, such as:

  • Cooking a special treat
  • Giving yourself a facial
  • Knitting
  • Scrapbooking
  • Bird watching—even if only outside your front window
  • Reading your favorite authors
  • Watching a comedy or a Livestream musical concert
  • Taking an online class
  • Singing along with the radio
  • Dancing in your living room to CDs or YouTube videos

What to Do When You’re Feeling Blue

Another piece of advice is to set aside some time to take extra special care of your body. Follow the basics–get enough sleep, eat well, and stay physically active. Although overindulging in TV, smoking, eating junk food, or drinking too much coffee and alcohol may be tempting ways to manage uncomfortable feelings—they only give temporary relief at best. Instead, have a look at these short YouTube videos on how to work with fear, anxiety, and uncertainty during the pandemic. Also, consider taking up deep breathing or meditation. (Meditation apps like Headspace or Calm can help keep you grounded.) Sunshine residents have the option of chilling out in a socially distanced yoga or Tai Chi class or attending online church services in their community’s theater space.

Getting out of yourself and helping others is another way to feel connected. If you live in a Sunshine community, speak to your Life Enrichment Director about on-site charitable projects like cookie drop-offs to local first responders’ stations. Otherwise, your local volunteer center can point you to opportunities like phoning isolated seniors.

You can also beat the blues by interacting with family and friends by using Zoom or social media. (If you’re new to the online world, check out Next Avenue’s Video Chat Services, From A to Z article—or, if you’re a Sunshine resident, on-site staff can help facilitate a video-call. They can even provide a smart device if you don’t have one.)

One more tip: Consider writing down your bedtime and amount of sleep, food intake, exercise, mediation, phone calls, and activities, and noting how you felt afterward. This way you may discover that getting out and listening to the birds in the morning calmed you down while binging on Netflix left you feeling exhausted the next day.

Whether you opt for a health journal or not, please don’t keep your feelings to yourself if you are feeling down. Reach out for support from loved ones, friends, or your healthcare provider. Sunshine staff can also offer a listening ear and, if needed, they can direct you to community resources like 2-1-1. Should your feelings be overwhelming, you may find relief by calling the Disaster Distress Helpline, which is open 24 hours a day, at 1-800-985-5990.

Do remember that the pandemic won’t last forever. In the meantime, though, given the uptick in COVID-19 cases, you really do need to keep socially distancing and wearing masks—but along with this, make sure you prioritize your spiritual, emotional, and physical health.

About the Author

Katherine O’Brien is a Toronto-based health writer who specializes in writing about healthy aging and dementia. She understands firsthand the experience of being a dementia caregiver. Have a question or story idea for Katherine? Email us here.

How Senior Living Can Help Beat Pandemic Fatigue

If you’re the sort of person who thrives in social situations, gratitude may not be top of mind after eight months of social distancing. Nonetheless, if you happen to live in Sunshine Retirement Living, you may have more to be thankful than you realize. “Sunshine residents haven’t gotten hit as hard with pandemic fatigue as some other seniors, as we are all in this together as a community,” says Wellness Director Lauren Dubay.

It’s business as usual for many Sunshine communities–and this means a full slate of social and recreational activities. Residents have the option to exercise daily and attend socially distanced musical entertainment, as well as virtual webinars hosted by outside professionals. On top of this, residents can go on scenic bus drives or participate in activities like Virtual Reality, crafts and decorating, or games and clubs. They can also get involved in a variety of charitable projects like this Elmo drive or this animal shelter drive. When it comes to spirituality, residents can attend live stream church services or bible studies in theater spaces (currently run by resident volunteers), or have phone or Zoom calls with rabbis.

Adjusting Activities for Safety

To keep communities safe, Sunshine limits numbers for group activities, although multiple sessions are held if there is sufficient interest. For example, Garden Way in Eugene, OR, delivers three sessions of Strong Bones and Balance exercise classes throughout the day as well as three sessions of Chair Chi per week.

In exercise classes, group leaders wear face shields, and guests and team members are required to wear masks. Residents have their temperatures checked before each activity and are encouraged to wear facial coverings and to wash their hands before and afterwards. Physical distancing is enforced in groups and all surfaces are disinfected after each activity.

Some games have been modified to avoid the spread of the coronavirus. For instance, only the Life Enrichment Director can touch the cards during blackjack games. Communities have also retired their regular bingo slide cards and now use printed and laminated cards that they can easily wipe down after a game. “We’ve modified everything to fit every community’s state and local regulations,” says Dubay. “It’s a little extra work but our residents are worth it.”

Creating New Holiday Traditions

Although holidays can be challenging when in-person visits are not allowed, Dubay points out that Sunshine has extremely creative teams working to bring new traditions to their communities. This Halloween, some communities held parades in which families, neighbors, schools, staff member’s children, and friends walked around the building in their costumes. For Veterans Day, some Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) cadets or boy scout troops will be coming to honor veterans with a display in front of Sunshine buildings.

For Thanksgiving, Windsor Heights in Beachwood, OH, plans to host a big family video-chat dinner. (Residents will be able to see their families on a large screen in the dining room while a camera will capture residents eating in the dining room.) Over in Bartlett, TN, the Quail Ridge community is putting together a cookbook of family recipes. On Thanksgiving Day, families and residents will make and share these meals via video call. Families of Quail Ridge residents are also being asked to “adopt” a tree in the backyard of the community to decorate for the holidays for a tree lighting ceremony.

Throughout the year, facilitating phone calls and video chats, as well as indoors window or patio visits, is a primary focus for Sunshine communities that do not allow guests.

“I think the hardest part for our residents is not seeing their families, so setting up visits and calls is a high priority for us,” says Dubay. “We are trying to always give them a one extra to make them feel special and a part of our Sunshine family.”

About the Author

Katherine O’Brien is a Toronto-based health writer who specializes in writing about healthy aging and dementia. She understands firsthand the experience of being a dementia caregiver. Have a question or story idea for Katherine? Email us here.

Why Specialized Memory Care Can Be the Perfect Fit for Seniors Living With Dementia

If you love someone with dementia who needs some extra care, you may be on a mission to find them the highest quality support possible. After doing your research, you may well join countless family caregivers in concluding that specialized memory care is hands-down the best alternative.

Unlike nursing homes or assisting living places, which offer a memory care wing at best, specialized communities cater to the specific needs of people with dementia–an incredibly complex condition with effects that can extend far beyond memory loss. Seniors with advanced dementia sometimes have problems walking or eating, get easily frustrated or agitated, or experience depression. Memory care employees receive specialized training so they can meet the diverse physical, emotional, and intellectual needs of these residents. In contrast, the staff of a multi-care place are trained in multiple areas and are expected to care for residents with a variety of health issues.

Another bonus is the person-centered care offered by memory care communities. Staff who follow this philosophy make it a point to treat people with dementia with dignity and respect and provide opportunities for them to engage in meaningful conversations and relationships. They also conduct detailed assessments to understand the history, interests, values and preferences of each resident, and thus design a care plan that meets their individual needs. Staff also tend to check in with residents more frequently and provide extra structure and support.

Activities are another area where memory care communities stand out. Sunshine Retirement Living, for example, designs its memory care activities based on relevant research in cognitive impairment. (Activities include exercise programs, cultural outings, music therapy, aromatherapy or other sensory therapies, and virtual reality therapy).

Physical Details Make a Difference

Building design also plays a role in distinguishing memory care communities from multi-care facilities. Buildings and landscaping on a memory care campus are designed to promote a safe and easy-to-navigate environment. Research shows that certain furniture placements and layouts can alleviate anxiety and improve familiarity for residents with memory impairment. You may not have realized this, but the use of color and contrast can also help orient residents. For instance, contrasting paint colors can help people with dementia distinguish between vertical and horizontal surfaces. (Speaking of color, Sunshine’s memory care communities serve meals on brightly colored plates to encourage residents to eat more and avoid weight loss.) In addition, memory care staff make it a priority to create a calm and soothing environment–too much noise or stimuli can increase anxiety and agitation in those living with dementia. Walls may even be free of mirrors, as people with memory impairment may become disoriented after seeing their reflection.

Of course, safety is another hallmark of memory care communities. Individual apartments feature safety mechanisms on stoves and ovens, and elevation changes are avoided to help reduce fall risk. The buildings are also designed to minimize wandering with exits requiring a special code. This concern about wandering also extends to the grounds. At Sunshine’s memory care communities secured walking paths and enclosed gardens encourage residents to walk outdoors without getting lost. (Residents can also wear location-based pendants to provide an extra sense of security for families.)

If you’d like to learn more about specialized care, consider booking a tour so you can see first-hand why a memory care community may make more sense than the one-size-fits-all facility.

About the Author

Katherine O’Brien is a Toronto-based health writer who specializes in writing about healthy aging and dementia. She understands firsthand the experience of being a dementia caregiver. Have a question or story idea for Katherine? Email us here.

How You Can Stay Safe From The Flu During These Trying Times

After eight months of taking precautions against catching COVID-19, you probably don’t want to hear about yet another infectious illness you need to guard against. Nevertheless, now that the weather is getting colder, it’s crucial you do everything you can to avoid getting the flu–especially if you are over 65 or have asthma, diabetes or heart disease. The good news is that there are simple things you can do to try and prevent the flu, like getting vaccinated. (Please delay getting your shot if you suspect you have COVID-19, though.)

Although no vaccines have yet been developed for COVID-19, several vaccines are on the market that can help protect you from catching the flu. Ask your doctor whether you should take a flu vaccine geared towards seniors–either Fluzone High-Dose Quadrivalent, which contains four times more antigen (the part of the vaccine that helps your body build up protection against flu viruses) than regular vaccines, or the adjuvanted flu vaccine. Whichever one you choose, know that studies have consistently found that flu vaccine has reduced the risk of medical visits and hospitalizations associated with influenza.

You may not be aware of this, but some Sunshine Retirement Living communities offer on-site flu clinics. If they don’t offer this service, staff can arrange for transportation to your local pharmacy or medical clinic. As per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, consider asking for a pneumococcal vaccine along with a flu shot, as the flu can sometimes lead to pneumonia. (Other complications of the flu can include heart attacks, or dehydration, which can result in kidney problems or seizures.)

Practicing good public health hygiene can also go a long way to preventing the spread of flu. Both the flu and COVID-19 are spread by droplets or smaller virus particles from infected people or when people touch a surface with viruses on it and then touch their face, according to John Hopkins Medicine. Keep in mind that the measures used to prevent the spread of COVID-19–social distancing, mask-wearing, hand washing and avoiding crowds–can also reduce transmission of the flu.

Is it the flu or COVID-19?

There are similarities between the coronavirus and the influenza virus. Typical symptoms of both diseases include sore throat, cough, a runny nose, body aches, headache, shortness of breath, fatigue, and fever, though some people may not feel sick or show any symptoms. Some people with COVID-19 experience a change in or a loss of taste or smell—but that is not a flu symptom. Although COVID-19 seems to spread more easily than flu and to cause more serious illnesses in some people, the flu can sometimes take a turn for the worse. In more serious cases of influenza, the warning signs are:

  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Persistent dizziness or confusion
  • Seizures
  • Not urinating
  • Severe muscle pain
  • Severe weakness or unsteadiness
  • Fever or cough that improve but then return or worsen

If flu symptoms last more than two days, get tested by a doctor immediately. You can be given antiviral drugs that can treat flu illness and prevent serious flu complications.

A side note on the Norovirus

Another virus you need to pay attention to is the norovirus, which can cause vomiting, diarrhea and stomach pain and is the leading cause of illness and outbreaks from contaminated food in the United States. Although most outbreaks occur in food service settings like restaurants, luckily, the chefs employed by Sunshine Retirement Living are extensively trained in norovirus prevention.

In fact, infection prevention is of utmost importance to Sunshine Retirement Living. Staff is rigorously trained on proper cleaning techniques and cleaners regularly disinfect surfaces, using cleaners/disinfectants geared to the norovirus, the coronavirus or the influenza virus. Check in with your retirement community to learn what their virus prevention is—and rest assured that keeping you safe and healthy is top of mind for us.

About the Author

Katherine O’Brien is a Toronto-based health writer who specializes in writing about healthy aging and dementia. She understands firsthand the experience of being a dementia caregiver. Have a question or story idea for Katherine? Email us here.

Virtual Reality Program Allows Memory Care Residents To Transcend Their Environment

In 2020, now that travel has become increasingly restrictive (at least for the short-haul) it’s refreshing to learn that seniors living with dementia at Sunshine Retirement Living communities can now tour the world via virtual reality (VR). Their virtual adventures have included everything from swimming with sharks to going on an elephant safari to visiting the Louvre Museum in Paris or attending an opera for the first time.

Not only is VR therapy a stimulating and enjoyable way to spend the afternoon, but it also seems to unlock memories in people with dementia. Through VR, residents have had memory breakthroughs and recalled experiences from their childhood and important family memories that were previously lost because of their dementia, says Sarah Peters, Sunshine’s Director of Marketing. Although some residents choose simple virtual experiences, like walking on a beach or through a forest, that too often helps them connect to memories of family camping trips or other past events, she notes. In addition to its VR Bucket List program, Sunshine offers a weekly group VR program, which also has therapeutic benefits, she says.

Helps residents feel more connected

The timing of Sunshine’s virtual reality initiative could not have been better, given that its communities have had to temporarily halt outside recreational trips and family visits to prevent the spread of COVID-19. VR therapy has helped relax and alleviate the anxiety of some residents, says Peters, adding that in a time of social restrictions, feelings of isolation and seclusion can be a big danger to residents. “Virtual reality allows the residents to get experiences away from the community. The group VR setting also gives them that sense of a shared adventure.”

This cutting-edge therapy integrates real-time computer graphics, body tracking devices, visual displays and other sensory inputs that resemble real-life situations, giving users the sensation of being in a different place than their actual physical environment. In a VR session at Sunshine, residents wear headsets while the Life Enrichment Director guides the experience with a handheld device. If families give permission, the hardware can be connected to a display for other residents to also watch and follow along in the experience.

Sunshine has expanded VR therapy to all assisted living, transitional assisted living and personal care communities as well as to some independent living places, with a goal of rolling it out to every community. “The response from residents and family caregivers to VR therapy has been fantastic,” says Peters.

Promising research on VR and dementia

Although research about the benefits of virtual reality on people with dementia is in the early stage, a 2019 study by the University of Kent indicates that it has huge potential. “It provides a richer and more satisfying quality of life than is otherwise available, with many positive outcomes,” said one of the researchers, Dr. Jim Ang, in this press release.

In the study, eight patients living with dementia used a VR headset to virtually visit a cathedral, a forest, a sandy beach, a rocky beach, and a countryside scene. One key finding was that VR helped patients recall old memories by providing new stimuli. For example, one patient recalled a holiday after seeing a bridge that reminded them of that trip. At an art session, some weeks later, one patient was inspired to draw a seaside picture.

To get a sense of just how exciting virtual reality can be, check out this video and article about the VR program at Sunshine’s Azalea Gardens Assisted Living and Memory Care in Tallahassee, Florida. In the video, resident Bobye Townsend virtually experiences a space shuttle ride and re-experiences a SCUBA adventure on the Great Barrier Reef from decades ago. She absolutely beams with joy as she describes her VR excursions: “It was the most amazing thing that’s ever happened to me, and I’ve done a lot of things and been a lot of places,” she is quoted as saying.

To learn more about residency or to schedule a tour of Azalea Gardens, contact our friendly team today.

Reimagining Celebrations During COVID-19

Are you down in the mouth because your plans to create the best 80th birthday bash ever for your mother have gone up in flames? If so, there are two reasons you shouldn’t let the temporary kibosh on gatherings, crowds, and parties, prevent you from honoring Mom on her special day. One: In a time of social distancing, your loved one may need a little festiveness to pick up her spirits. And two: Yes, it is quite possible to celebrate without risking the spread of the COVID-19 virus—it just takes a little inventiveness.

You may already have read about the countless drive-by birthday parades that are popping up across the continent– cars decked out in balloons and signs, with drivers joyously honking their horns to birthday boys and girls of all ages including nonagenarians. (In one drive-by parade, well-wishers used crutches and broomsticks to extend gifts to a California teen.) In some cases, friends park in front of their friend’s home and party from inside their vehicle. Then too, some folks stand outside the homes of their friends and neighbors—six feet apart, of course– singing happy birthday or holding up birthday signs and balloons, as they did earlier this spring for a 95-year-old.

A practical and fun way to celebrate

Still, stand-by or drive-by parties might not be realistic in your case. Luckily, Zoom can come to the rescue! (At Sunrise Retirement video chats are among the most popular ways for family members to connect. If your loved one is not comfortable with technology, ask our Life Enrichment Director to facilitate a video-call, and keep in mind that your loved one doesn’t need a smart device, as all our communities have iPads.)

If you chose to go with a video-call, keep in mind that a birthday chat is a little different than an everyday call. Before the video-chat, remember to do your hair and to choose a nice dress or shirt and pants instead of sweat pants and a T-shirt. Pay attention to the background as well. Hang some balloons and display some photos of your loved one as well as other family photos in the background. Make your virtual time together special by adding a creative activity. Perhaps you (or your kids) could compose and read a birthday poem, or create and display a watercolor or drawing, or, better yet, serenade Mom with favorite songs.

You can also go one step further and arrange to eat dinner together over Zoom. Ideally, organize it so that you are both are eating the same meal. Perhaps you could cook Mom’s favorite food (including special dessert) and drop it off to her community. Another alternative: Pay a local restaurant to deliver her a delicious meal and scrumptious dessert. Back at your place, make sure to do the meal in style—pull out the good china, nice napkins or tablecloth, and arrange a vase of flowers.

Create a virtual theme party

You could also bump up the celebration by organizing a Zoom birthday party, perhaps based on a theme, like your mother’s favorite era. Then, ask her best friends and family members to don their swing dresses or tie-dye skirts when they come on the call to pay tribute to her. Don’t forget to ask your loved one to sign on a few minutes later than others so the party-goers can sing happy birthday to her. Another reminder: make sure to ask invitees to bring their own cake!

Remember, on special days the most important thing is honoring and connecting with your parent. With a little bit of planning, coordination and creativity you just might be able to create a celebration your Mom will remember for years. Just because we’re in lockdown doesn’t mean we have to put a lid on festivities.

*This blog was first published here: Sunshine Retirement Living, April 2020.

How You Can Keep Fit While Keeping Home

In a world where social distancing has become the norm you may wonder how to keep healthy and active. The good news is that you can find a plethora of YouTube exercise videos, making home workouts easier than ever. Not all videos are created equal, though, so we’ve scoured the Internet to find excellent videos geared to seniors who want to get or stay fit.

General exercise routines

Our first recommendation is the National Institute for Aging’s sample workouts of varying lengths. Other fitness resources include:


Strength training is one of the most effective things you can do to stay active and independent as it can ward off age-related muscle loss and keep bones and joints strong, all of which and help prevent falls. Here are a few resources that will show you how to build strength safely:


Incorporating balance exercises into your routine can also help prevent falls. One of the best ways to add a little balance into your life is to take up Tai Chi, a gentle exercise practice that can enhance mobility as well. Here’s two good introductory videos: Easy Nine-Minute Daily Practice and Tai Chi for Seniors. Also consider the Discover Tai Chi For Balance and Mobility Scott Cole Wellness Series, which can be purchased on Amazon.

If Tai Chi does not appeal, Feldenkrais, which uses gentle, mindful movements, may be a better fit. Check out Seven Balance Exercises You Need to Know | Feldenkrais Style.


Any exercise routine should include stretching, as this keeps muscles strong, flexible and healthy, increasing range of motion as well as circulation and blood flow. The National Institute for Aging has produced a nice playlist of stretching videos. You can also improve your flexibility by practicing yoga, as many poses emphasize stretching. Here are some yoga picks geared to seniors:

The ELDOA Method, a series of precise exercises, is another practice that can boost flexibility as well as posture. These exercises, which also provide pain relief, create space within a precise segment of the spine, using myofascial tension and muscle contraction. Cornerstone Pilates has a great beginner warm-up video as well as one that targets L5-S1 on the lower back.


Finally, don’t forget cardiovascular exercise as this can reduce your risk for chronic diseases like heart disease and dementia. Walking is one of the best cardio choices for older adults–although, in times like these you may not feel safe going outside. Fortunately, walking at home videos like this one can provide the same benefits.

Other cardio options includes aerobics geared to seniors or fun dance workouts like Quarantine Dance Party, Line Dances for Seniors and Beginners and Low-Impact Salsa Dance for Beginners. You can even learn ballet at home—an amateur dancer and her 70-something mother have created a website for “beyond 50s” and beginners.

These are just a few of the many ways you can keep fit (and have fun!) while you’re cooped up in your apartment. Bear in mind that it’s especially crucial to keep physically active during troubling times, as exercise can boost your emotional well-being as well as your physical health.

Related Links

Tips on staying fit and mobile as you age.

About the Author

Katherine O’Brien is a Toronto-based health writer who specializes in writing about healthy aging and dementia. She understands firsthand the experience of being a dementia caregiver. Have a question or story idea for Katherine? Email us here.

Easing the Anxiety About Senior Living

Learn more about Sunshine’s Easy Move Program for more ways to make moving easier on seniors

How you can support your parents during the tricky transition phase

Congratulations if you’ve talked about downsizing with your parents and they’re on board with moving to a senior living community. But don’t be doing a victory dance quite yet! Although one set of uncomfortable conversations may be over, downsizing is a huge deal, so don’t be surprised if the process brings up yet more pesky little emotions–like fear, loss, and anxiety–in your parents.

In fact, the real question is not whether mom and dad will have feelings about the impending move, but how can you best support them during this transition.

The biggest mistake you can make is pretending that nothing is happening when you see signs that your parents are feeling upset. Instead of avoiding the issue, offer your parents a listening ear. Give them your full attention as they spill out their anxieties, validating their feelings and acknowledging their concerns. If your parents tend to clam up about their feelings, wait for a calm moment, then initiate a conversation. Let them know the signs you have noticed, and, if they seem open, ask how they are feeling about the transition.

Familiarize them with their options

On a more practical level, ease your parents’ anxiety and help them make an informed decision by asking them about their needs and preferences and involving them in decision making. Help them out by researching senior living options and setting up visits with the various communities. In addition to viewing apartments, drop by for lunch and chat with other residents (be sure to ask them what they like–and don’t like–about the community.) Keep in mind that some places will allow your parents to partake in a recreational class and others can arrange short-term temporary stays, which will allow mom and dad to get a real sense of the community.

When your loved one has dementia

If your one or both of your parents has Alzheimer’s disease, moving into an unfamiliar environment can be even more anxiety-provoking. Unless their dementia is advanced, talk to them regularly about the move, involve them in the planning and include them in visits to the various senior living communities.

Closer to the move, talk to staff about your parents’ background, medical history, and preferences. You can also reduce anxiety by booking the move during their best time of day. Another tip: Try and recreate the home environment in their new apartment as much possible.

Unfortunately, your loved ones may still be reluctant to move when the time comes; in fact, they may be out of sorts for the first few weeks or longer as they adjust to their new living arrangement. During this phase, try to be patient and visit your parents often, encouraging friends and family to do the same. Extra care and attention can go a long way.

Focus on the positive

Finally, no matter your parents’ medical condition, don’t forget to remind them that senior living will improve their quality of life, especially if they can no longer drive and feel isolated. Here is a short list of some of the benefits of senior living:

  • Companionship
  • A wide array of recreational activities
  • Healthy cooked meals
  • Less house and yardwork meaning more time to focus on other meaningful activities
  • No costly repairs to worry about

It may take some time, but once your parents feel part of their senior living community, they may discover that community living suits them even better than home ownership.

About the Author

Katherine O’Brien is a Toronto-based health writer who specializes in writing about healthy aging and dementia. She understands firsthand the experience of being a dementia caregiver. Have a question or story idea for Katherine? Email us here.

Take the Tension Out of Talking to Mom and Dad About Downsizing: Simple Pointers About Broaching Sensitive Topics Like Senior Living

Learn more about Sunshine’s Easy Move Program for more ways to make moving easier on seniorsIf you’re an adult child of aging parents, you may dread talking about downsizing, secretly hoping things will somehow work out if you leave the topic alone. But’s that a risky approach to take, given that an estimated 70 percent of people aged 65 will require some form of long-term care during their lives. It’s a far wiser course of action to discuss downsizing while they are still healthy–otherwise, you may be forced into making a rash, sudden decision when mom or dad has a health crisis, like breaking their hip or developing dementia.

The good news is that talking about downsizing doesn’t have to involve tension, anxiety and family friction, not if you address it the right way, that is.

Aim for a long and slow process

For starters, you may want to change the way you think about “having the conversation.” Instead of viewing it as one marathon session, look at it as a long-term event made up of many micro-conversations. Do aim for a family meeting, but initially, keep the conversations casual and look out for openings that allow you to slip in a few words about downsizing. For instance, you could broach the subject if you notice your parents struggling while walking up stairs or preparing dinner. The time might also be ripe for a small discussion if one of them expresses concern about their living situation. Don’t pester your parents, just keep gently bringing the topic up when the timing feels right.

Always keep in mind the delicate nature of these conversations. Your parents may see downsizing as a loss of independence or control. They may feel scared or angry about changing circumstances and heartsick about leaving a home filled with memories of backyard barbecues, holiday celebrations, and family dinners. They may also worry that they will lose touch with friends and neighbors.

Of course, moving into a senior living community can help ease the pain of leaving a much-loved home and neighborhood, but now may not be the time to highlight the social benefits (like the chance to live in a community of peers, to partake in recreational activities and healthy dining that allow for easy socializing). First, allow time to listen to your parents’ concerns, validate their feelings and give them emotional space.

Your approach needs to empathetic and compassionate. Be sensitive and respectful–never argue, wheedle, cajole or push mom and dad. Speak to your parents with an edge in your voice or saying hurtful words may damage your relationship and you want to avoid doing that at all costs.

Enlisting help

Even if you suddenly realize your parents’ yard is looking unkempt or there are stacks of unopened letters on the kitchen table, avoid forcing conversations. Although you need to be alert and responsive to changing circumstances, a conversation fueled by panic will only aggravate the situation. If you do believe your parents’ health and well-being are compromised by their living arrangement and they are resistant to acting, consider asking a respected family friend or relative or other neutral third parties to speak to them about the consequences of inaction. Sometimes it takes an outsider’s view to shake the illusion that they are coping alright.

While we can’t promise that talking about the sensitive topic of downsizing will exactly be relaxing, it doesn’t have to be a tense scenario if you get a little support and alter your approach.

About the Author

Katherine O’Brien is a Toronto-based health writer who specializes in writing about healthy aging and dementia. She understands firsthand the experience of being a dementia caregiver. Have a question or story idea for Katherine? Email us here.