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Physical and Emotional Health for Older Adults

Published in Senior Living, Women's Services, Senior Services, Men's Health, For the Health of It Author: CentraCare

Home Health & Hospice Community Outreach Analyst Nola Varilek and Benedict Court & Benedict Homes Director Jessalyn Middendorf talk about health issues facing seniors, the importance of senior health and caregiving, and how to have the conversation with your loved ones on the transition to senior living.

Question: With the increase in older adults, what is CentraCare doing to serve their needs?

Jessalyn Middendorf: In Senior Services, we have a person-first initiative, which adapts to the ever-changing needs of older adults. We offer graceful living where you can age-in-place through our continuum of care, whether it be independent living, assisted living or memory care.

Question: How does Benedict Court or Benedict Homes fit into the continuum?

Jessalyn Middendorf: Many of our residents at St. Benedict’s Community transition from our independent living at Benedict Village to Benedict Court, which is our assisted living, or to our residential memory care, Benedict Homes.

Change is very difficult for everybody. And any time that you make a move, we all want it to be as smooth as possible. By allowing us to offer that continuum of care within our campus, we can meet those essential needs and help in that smooth transition.

Residents and their families relate to that. This is a community and it’s like a neighborhood. It is not as scary because we guide and assist them through the next steps. With services provided in the comfort of their apartment home, we can customize a medical care plan — covering their exact needs — on a short-term or long-term basis. It’s a relationship – everything we do, we do for them!

Nola Varilek: I’m a Baby Boomer and I think it’s difficult for Baby Boomers to admit that we’re reaching the age of being called seniors.

CentraCare is really focused on population health and really looking at ways to keep our aging population healthy.

Question: What are the different types of health concerns when it comes to taking care of older adults?

Jessalyn Middendorf: There’s physical, mental and social wellbeing. Isolation is an issue. Your family might live far away or you lost a spouse, friend or neighbor. Depression is often unrecognized. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 20% of adults ages 55 or better experience mental health concerns.

Nola Varilek: We do have to stop and take a look at what’s happening with older adults in our lives. Don’t wait. We need to be aware and keep an eye out for issues. My mother lived in another state for a number of years on her own. We need to listen and observe.

If families are coming home for a holiday gathering or a birthday celebration, observe what is happening in your loved one’s home. Are Mom and Dad looking like they’re doing well? Are there signs? Is housekeeping going downhill? How is their hygiene? Are their clothes clean? Has their weight changed? How is their mental capacity during your visits?

I think for those of us that are close to family and see frequently, it’s encouraging them to become involved. Ask questions like: Are they going in for regular checkups and appointments? Are they struggling with knees, hips or shoulders and potentially need a joint replacement surgery? I think it’s looking for signs and symptoms, and encouraging them to get the care that they need on a more proactive basis rather than when it gets too late and it becomes a crisis.

I think, especially for Baby Boomers, that we are very proud, and we don’t like to think about the fact that we are aging. And so “Do I really need to go in for that annual physical? Do I really need to seek some of those extra support systems that may be in place?” We all know those seniors who say, “I’m not going to the senior center because that’s for old people.” But if we can have some of those emotionally connecting relationships, we’re all a better society for it. And people age in place better.

Jessalyn Middendorf: Take a proactive stance, instead of waiting for a crisis to occur. Alleviate some of that emotional stress that families often experience when suddenly they realize over Christmas, “Boy, Mom really didn’t look like she was OK on her own.” And then start to feel even more stress and burden. Not sure where to start? Start with day one — today. Introduce your parents to the thought of a robust retirement community that can enhance life socially while meeting health needs right at their doorstep and that you can rest easy knowing they’re in good hands. Open the lines of communication early on and anticipate multiple conversations.

Question: When someone makes that transition to a care center, what is something that they gain?

Jessalyn Middendorf: They'll get a sense of community. Oftentimes people will go knock on their neighbor’s door and ask if they want to go play bingo together or go work out in the garden and see what kind of veggies have grown or sit up on the front of the building and watch the cars go by. They realize that they’re no longer alone and it’s really not as scary of a transition, especially when it’s done proactively versus reactively in a state of crisis. Transitioning to a different part of life and moving from a home where a lifetime of memories was made is a big deal and we want to ensure moving is a positive experience. At St. Benedict’s Community, we have been working with clients and their families for over 40 years.

Nola Varilek: Senior living communities are very vibrant, very active. It really is like living in your own home, but all your friends are right next door.

Jessalyn Middendorf: Many times, we find that a lot of good old friends end up reconnecting with one another. One of the top things that we hear people say is, I wish I would have moved sooner.