Category Archives: Healthy Aging with Katherine

Dining That Boosts Your Heart, Brain and Social Health

Once upon a time, when bacon and eggs was a regular Sunday morning ritual, planning food seemed like a simple affair. Now, there are so many new diets flying around it’s hard to know what to put on your plate. Should you scrap your frying pan and dive into raw food eating? Or do you follow the Paleo diet philosophy and ditch grains and processed foods?

Then too, you may have heard about whole-food plant-based eating, which is getting is getting so much good press that it influenced the recent revision of Canada’s Canada Food Guide (a counterpart to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate). In this revision, meat and dairy were downplayed, in an attempt to reduce heart disease and other chronic diseases.

Evidence does seem to be mounting that following a healthy plant-based diet (we’re talking tofu and quinoa, not French fries and cookies) can reduce your risk of heart disease. A major study published in 2017, which examined the dietary data of about 209,000 adults over two decades, found that those who followed such a diet had a lower risk for heart disease than other participants.

Can’t let go of meat, chicken and fish?

If the thought of never again biting into a juicy hamburger makes you despondent, read on. According to Dr. Ambika Satija, who led the above study, you can reap heart-healthy benefits, simply by reducing animal foods. “A moderate change in your diet, such as lowering your animal food intake by one to two servings per day and replacing it with legumes or nuts as your protein source, can have a lasting positive impact on your health,” says Satija, a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, in this Harvard Medical School article.

The article emphasizes the importance of eating more of the right plants, getting rid of unhealthy foods, and moderating the intake of animal products. It also highlights the health benefits of three food plans: the Mediterranean diet, the DASH diet, and the MIND diet. All three of these diets– which are not completely meat and dairy-free–are rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals .This helps lower blood pressure and LDL (bad) cholesterol and reduce the risk of diabetes.


What’s more, by eating a heart-healthy diet, you can also lower your risk for brain problems such as dementia. For instance, the MIND diet trial found that those who closely follow a MIND diet, may reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s by up to 53 percent.

Sunshine Retirement Living was so impressed by the results of this study it decided to base meals at its memory care communities (and increasingly at its independent living communities) on the MIND diet. (If you pop by for lunch or dinner, you’ll likely find dishes based on MIND diet recommended foods like green leafy veggies, berries, nuts, whole grains, beans and poultry.)

But let’s get back to the Canada Food Guide, which espouses some of the same foods recommended by the MIND diet. An interesting side note about this food guide is that it also recommends that seniors eat meals with others as this “may encourage you to eat more of the foods that you need to stay healthy.”

At Sunshine communities, residents would indeed agree that the social aspect of dining is just as important as delicious and nutritious meals. If you’ve grown accustomed to eating a can of soup in front of a TV screen, you might just find that chatting with others over an after-dinner cup of tea can be as good for your spirit as it is for your body.

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.

Worried about your loved one’s aging brain? Brain boosting diet may delay decline

If you’ve ever stood at an open fridge for three minutes trying to figure out if you were heading for an apple or last night’s leftovers, no doubt you’ve noticed the effect of aging on your brain. Anyone over 45 has been there–but is cognitive decline inevitable? Or is there something you can do about it?

Although there’s no sure-fire way to prevent dementia, we think there is something you can do. That’s because of the mounting evidence that suggests that healthy habits may delay cognitive decline. Chief among these healthful practices is eating foods that boost the health of your brain.

Dining program based on top food plan

In fact, chefs at Sunshine Retirement Communities prepare many meals based on one of the world’s healthiest diet, the appropriately named MIND (or Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurogenerative Delay) food plan. Created and studied by researchers at Rush University Medical Center, this diet was ranked among the top five diets by U.S. News & World Report for the fourth consecutive year. (It ranked #4 in Best Diets Overall (tied), Best Diet for Healthy Eating (tied), Best Heart-Healthy diet and Easiest Diets to Follow.)

We chose the MIND diet because of the spectacular results shown in the MIND diet trial. For this study, researchers tested more than 900 older adults, who filled out food questionnaires and underwent repeated neurological testing. They found that those closely following a MIND diet, a hybrid of the highly regarded DASH and Mediterranean diets, may reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s by up to 53 percent. Results, which were published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia in 2015, showed that those who strictly adhered to the food plan had the cognitive function of someone 7.5 years younger. The study also revealed that participants who didn’t rigorously stick to the diet still lowered their risk for cognitive decline by a significant 35 percent.

So, what exactly is the MIND food plan?

MIND emphasizes foods linked to improved cognitive function like kale, berries, fish and beans. In addition to recommending 10 groups of food to eat, the diet discourages five kinds of food that have an unhealthy effect on the brain like butter, fried foods and red meat.

At Sunshine’s memory care communities and, increasingly, at our independent living, you’ll see dishes based on vegetables (especially green leafy veggies), berries, nuts, olive oil, whole grains, beans, and poultry. Our chefs avoid or limit ingredients such as butter and margarine, cheese, red meat, fried food, and pastries and sweets. “The MIND Diet has proven to be exceptionally beneficial for overall brain health and our culinary team has ensured that the dining program is not only healthful and nutritious but also delicious,” says Luis Serrano, CEO, Sunshine Retirement Living. “At all of our senior living communities across the country, we are continually researching and implementing advanced new programs and services that aim to improve the health and wellbeing of our residents.”

Our chefs work to accommodate each residents’ various desires and dietary restrictions. In addition to creating meals that foster brain health, our chefs also offer gluten-free and vegetarian options. Dining programs at our communities always offer residents several menu choices as well as a selection of fresh and healthy mid-morning or mid-afternoon refreshments.

Although the effects of aging are unavoidable we believe that eating brain-healthy food, exercising moderately and participating in our Memory Care programs, will keep memory issues at bay for as long as possible.

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.

Five Simple Tips to Take the Stress Out of Long-Distance Caregiving

Have you been troubled since your last trip home to visit mom and dad? When, say, it dawned on you that your father was increasingly unsteady on his feet or that your mother could no longer shop alone. Although the exact scenario may differ, the point is you now realize they need more support, and you are the logical one to provide it—even if you live 800 miles away.

Yes, you may soon be joining the ranks of the estimated five to seven million long-distance caregivers in the U.S. Luckily for you, we’ve come up five tips to guide you through what might be challenging times ahead.

1. Increase Your Contact

As your parents grow older and frailer, they will surely appreciate some extra attention from you. Check in with them regularly by phone or Skype at least a couple of times per week and be prepared to fly home if their situation takes a turn for the worse. You should also set up periodic conference calls with your parents and other siblings to discuss important decisions like finances or end-of-life care wishes.

2. Talk to Your Employer

If you work outside the home, let your employer know about your situation as you may need to miss work, rearrange your schedule or cut your hours should your parents’ needs increase. Informing your boss beforehand may help smooth the process should you need future accommodation.

3. Collect Health Info

Like any family caregiver, you’ll need to know as much as possible about your parents’ health. So, ask them for details about their medical conditions, their prescriptions and their insurance coverage. Also ask them to email any relevant medical reports as well as contact numbers for their GPs and specialists.

4. Invest in Technology

Although caregiving from a distance can be nerve-wracking, technology may allow you to breathe easier. For instance, a personal emergency response system (PERS) can ensure your parents get help in an emergency while smart homes go a long way towards keeping your parents safe. Smart technology includes stoves that automatically shut off when there’s no one in the kitchen, sensors that control climate and detect fire and flooding, and motion sensors that can prompt you if mom or dad has stopped moving. Also talk to your parents about wearable devices like watches, smart activity trackers and smart clothes, which can record heart rate, blood pressure or stress level, automatically alerting you if their measurements get out of whack.

5. Seek support

Sometimes it takes a village to help with caregiving. Don’t be shy in contacting the local Area Agency on Aging to find out about community resources like Meals on Wheels. As well, the non-profit organization Caring from a Distance can provide support and resources. And tap into to local family members, friends or neighbors who could take mom and dad shopping or to medical appointments and the like. Bolster this support by hiring a home health aide or a geriatric care manager, who can evaluate your parents’ needs and begin a plan of care.

Has your parents’ needs increase, though, aging in place might become untenable, making assisted living the logical option given that it offers individualized care round the clock. For an extra sense of security, some senior living communities, including those at Sunshine Retirement Living, regularly check in on residents, notifying family if they feel anything is amiss. For example, staff are trained to notice if regulars are missing from breakfast or from other daily routines. Some Sunshine communities have even set up a resident buddy system (also known as a “Resident Ambassadors” program), where residents check on each other. (Families are also welcome to call Sunshine communities daily if they like, and staff will check on their loved ones).

Of course, not all older adults need (or even want) a lot of assistance. Luckily, senior living offers communities that meet every lifestyle. The truth is many older adults who don’t require a high level of care choose this option, because they love being surrounded by people and having activities galore to choose from.

For more information:

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 caregivers can let go of the burden of guilt Senior living: A guilt-free way to get your life back

You’ve always been a woman of your word. So, when you told your mother you’d take care of her when she grew old, you meant it.

But, now, your words are coming back to haunt you.

If truth be told, back then you had no idea how fragile your mother would become or how much support she would need. Or that looking after your mother’s house, health and finances, would cut into your own health, career and family life so much.

Before your own life unravels something’s got to change. And luckily, amazingly, you’ve hit upon an answer you both can agree on–namely, moving your mom to a senor living community.

There’s just one problem. Instead of feeling relieved, you feel twisted inside after listening the self-critical voices that are screaming: You didn’t do enough. You’re letting her down. You’re asking Mom to leave her home, make new friends and trust new caregivers, when she’s at her most vulnerable.

If this is where you’re heading, put a brake to the self-condemnation now.

Guilt helps neither you nor your mother, and the consequences of indulging in it can be devastating to your health and your life. (For starters, studies have found that feeling guilty can lead to a decline in concentration, productivity, creativity, and efficiency, according to this article from psychologist Guy Winch in Psychology Today.)

So, how can you rid yourself of guilt?

There’s no magic solution to absolving yourself of guilt, but a good start is to recognize that you are only human. Try to forgive yourself for your imperfections. And, as the Family Caregiver Alliance advises, consider changing guilt into regret. For instance, reword “I feel guilty over my impatience” to “I regret that I am impatient sometimes, like all human beings.” Remember that providing elder care is such a demanding, complex job, Mother Theresa herself could not do it perfectly.

It also helps to know that you are not alone. Try talking about your feelings with supportive friends or book a session with a counsellor. Attending an online or in-person caregivers support group can also provide huge relief as it allows you to talk with people who understand and empathize with your situation. (Check out the Family Caregiver Alliance’s Caregiver Connect page, which provides links to support groups as well as caregiver stories.)

You can also counter guilt by taking actions that boost your physical, emotional and spiritual self. Try walking in a park, taking an aerobics class or practicing yoga poses. Other activities include meditating in the morning or journaling about troubling feelings like guilt or fear.

Focus on the positive

As well, it’s crucial to remember the many benefits that a move to senior living will bring. For starters, think of all the social contacts your mom will make (which can especially boost her spirit if she has lost a partner) and the many activities she can enjoy on-site. Not only that, at a community, like those offered by Sunshine Retirement Living, you can rest assured that your mother will receive three nutritious meals each day plus round-the-clock individualized care, if needed. To top it off, she (and you) will no longer have to deal with home maintenance, and time will be freed up that you can devote to your much-neglected family and career.

What’s more, at Sunshine Retirement Living, you can get involved at your mother’s community, an enjoyable way to support her and to see for yourself the advantages of independent and assisted living. You could help with daily activities like museum trips, art classes and exercise programs or you could share your special skills or knowledge with residents at a special workshop.

Furthermore, whether your mom plans to move to independent living or assisted living, Sunshine’s “Easy Move Program,” provides advice on downsizing, moving companies, even loan applications. Additionally, the community’s move-in coordinator will ensure your mother knows where the dining room, activity room, movie theater and other community amenities are located and has everything she needs to feel at home. The community’s resident ambassador will also make sure she has a special place to sit with other welcoming residents in the dining room for her first week.

No one’s saying senior living will erase all your ugly emotions, but if you give it time, you and your mom may be surprised at how sweet the transition can be.

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 To Help Your Elderly Loved One Keep Socially Connected. Growing Old Doesn’t Have To Mean Growing Lonely

Ah, loneliness, an emotion so painful the very thought of it may make you squirm. Nevertheless, when you are a caregiver of an elderly loved one, it’s one condition you may have to look square in the eye.

The fact is that older adults are often susceptible to isolation. When someone is 80-plus, chances are good they have lost lifelong friends and relatives. And when you add in the loss of a beloved partner, they may be left feeling alone in the universe.

What is more, declining health can also play a role in loneliness. For instance, if your parent has dementia, or hearing or vision loss, it may be harder for them to connect with others. If they suffer from a chronic condition like arthritis, the associated pain and fatigue could throw a wrench into their social life. And, if they need a mobility aid, the logistic issues that come along with this could also hamper their socializing. Indeed, simply losing the ability to drive is enough to keep some seniors homebound, especially if there are few transportation alternatives in their area.

The profound impact of loneliness

Although the affect of loneliness can easily be downplayed, the reality is, it’s no small issue. It may be no surprise that isolation is associated with depression, but did you know that it can harm one’s physical health? In fact, one meta-analysis of research into loneliness found that people who were socially isolated have a higher mortality risk than those who are obese or inactive. On top of this, loneliness is linked to decreased resistance to infection, dementia, and increased emergency admission to hospital, according to this review of research on seniors and isolation.

Mitigating the loneliness factor

So, is there anything you can do to lessen your loved one’s seclusion? The answer is, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. In the best-case scenario, it might simply be a matter of encouraging your mom or dad to volunteer for a cause, sign up for a class, or join a book club. Likewise, adopting a pet might provide much needed companionship–and taking a dog out for a walk is an almost surefire conversation starter. (if your loved one has health and mobility issues, a robotic pet that doesn’t need any feeding, toileting or walking might do the trick.) Another step would be increasing your in-person, phone or Skype contact with them, though you’ve got to make sure you’re not already giving more than you’ve got.

When your loved one needs more support

If your loved one does need more social engagement than you can offer, you need to look at other alternatives. For instance, consider an adult day care center, which provides transportation, meals and social activities, ranging from group conversations to movies and stretching. Many adult day programs operate within senior centers, medical centers or in senior living communities such as Sunshine Retirement Living.

Finally, if your loved one wants to be surrounded with like-minded companions on a more regular basis, moving to a retirement community might be the most attractive option of them all. Senior living would allow them to live in a community where they can regularly mingle with peers over meals or in common areas, a natural way for friendships to develop. These communities typically provide special social events as well as group activities, all of which offer excellent opportunities to bond with others. Sunshine’s retirement communities, for example, have daily calendars that include activities like games, social hours, outings to parks and restaurants, Tai Chi and other exercise classes, and more (These programs are either included in the resident’s monthly rent and free or low cost to the public).

Although living alone is trending in America, the truth is, humans are very social animals and living with a community of people might add years to your loved one’s life.

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.

Simple Tips And Tricks To Ease The Angst Of Financial Caregiving

Does the idea of dealing with mom and dad’s finances send you into spasms of anxiety? Afterall, financial caregiving is a delicate undertaking, especially if your parents are private about their affairs and fiercely independent. Luckily, for you, we’ve come up with a few guidelines to help smooth the process.

Don’t put off the discussion about money

Before taking over your parents’ finances, you must, of course, initiate a talk with your family about money. Yes, the conversation might be awkward but too much is at stake to let to let it slide (think unpaid bills or financial fraud). To excel in the financial caregiving role, you must understand how your parents think about money and what their wishes are.

Another pointer: Don’t presume your family will get everything settled in one big discussion—it can be more peaceful to have several small conversations over time. And never wait until your parents are in a crisis and your hand is forced. If you see signs of cognitive decline, act swiftly–it’s far easier to put processes in place when mom and dad can still sign a power of attorney (POA) for property document. This piece of paper is crucial if you want to make financial transactions on behalf of your parents. (If your parents haven’t planned their estate, find an estate planning lawyer who can draw up a POA for property as well as a health care advance directive and a will.)

Get a grasp on your parents’ finances

Once the POA is in order, gather up relevant financial documents, like bank and credit card statements, bills, tax returns, pension statements and insurance to find out your parents’ source of income and expenses. (Also check whether your parents have long-term care insurance, an additional income source should they require care– “regular” health insurance plans don’t cover the cost of senior living with round-the-clock skilled nurses on staff.)

Your next step: Create a net worth statement that clearly shows the difference between what your parents own and what they owe. After that, set up a budget that includes expenses such as mortgage payments, heat, electricity, telephone, Internet, cable TV and car payments.

Make sure you keep clear, detailed and accurate records of all financial transactions, especially those that involve expenses incurred by you or your siblings on behalf of your parents. And to save yourself time, set up online banking including automatic deposits for income and automatic withdrawals for regularly recurring bills.

Think about the future

You also need to size up your family’s financial resources and make a plan that takes into account future healthcare costs. Even if their health needs are low now, keep in mind that someone turning age 65 today has a 70 percent chance of needing some type of long-term care services and supports, according to the Administration on Aging. If mom or dad loses mobility, it can be costly to renovate a home or pay for home care. (The average cost of a full-time home health aide is about $4,000 per month, according to the Genworth Cost of Care Survey 2018.) Of course, senior living is another viable option (it costs about the same as a full-time paid caregiver) especially if you and your siblings live long distance and mom and dad can no longer drive.

One final piece of advice: don’t forget to ask your siblings to share the caregiving load and do contact a financial planner if you’re in over your head. Although helping your parents may be top of mind, don’t block out others when you need support yourself.

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.