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Alone Versus Loneliness: My Personal Story

December 2020

By Marilyn Fredricks, RN, BS

Marilyn Fredricks, RN, BS

I was born a twin. At 18, I went to college and had roommates. At 21, just before graduating, I met my husband. We were married 49 years until his death. This left me alone.

Having spent 71 years inhabiting with someone, I found myself alone. I thought I would be afraid, especially at night. Not really. I secured my home with cameras, changed the locks, and got a book and slept well. I handled the daily chores. For the last 30 years, I had handled our business and financial responsibilities. Therefore, financial insecurity wasn't a concern. If being alone and finances and budgeting is a challenge, I suggest a financial advisor.

It's been three years. The first time I really felt alone was when I became ill. I had to be hospitalized three times. My daughters have families, so they couldn't be there 24-7.

Between home health services and hiring a helper, I solved the problem of being ill and alone, and not being able to drive. I also subscribed to a satellite health alert system. I felt secure. But I still needed something to look forward to. After my husband passed, a friend suggested a trip to Greece. Yikes. I would have to fly to and from Athens, Greece, by myself. Well, I'd flown to and from the U.S. Virgin Islands many times alone. What would be a few more hours! I met friends and a tour group when I landed. For months before the trip, when I felt sad or alone, I would watch videos on Greece. YouTube is a wonderful source for travel site information.

On my return, I was given a voucher to sleep and eat at a hotel. The maitre d' sat me at a table for one. First time in my 71 years I had ever been one.

I went to the room and cried and cried. I did not want to be one! I read an article and took some hints for when this situation should occur again: Tell the waiter you may be expecting someone, look for someone sitting alone and ask if you can join them, or sit at the bar.

Humans are social creatures. There is a need for a social network. Isolation, recently imposed on us by COVID-19, can affect both mental and physical health. Studies show this can result in serious health conditions, such as depression, malnutrition, and change in blood pressure. It is important to keep doctor appointments or call health professionals if you experience changes in your health status.

Some of my Solutions to Combat Loneliness:

  • Get a pet: If you have the space and the ability to care for one, get a companion animal. Often, caring for or tending to a dog or cat can be helpful.
  • Hobbies: I took up sewing again. I can walk away and come back for short intervals. I also do wood projects in my garage. Scrapbook, or arrange photos in an album.
  • Change your routine: Get up earlier, go for a walk.
  • Be in nature: Go camping when weather allows, visit parks, listen for nature sounds. Start seeds or plant flower starts. Gardening is gratifying, getting into the dirt and the satisfaction of seeing a seed flourish to a flower.
  • Spruce up a room: Paint or rearrange the wall decor. Clean closets and drawers.
  • Focus on yourself: Try writing a journal, an autobiography, or short stories of your family life.

Facing Aloneness During the Holidays

My husband passed at the end of November. Hospice asked me about holiday plans. I was so sad, I told them I was going to skip them. But, the grandkids were planning on coming to grandmother’s Christmas Eve, and my home is log, and has a fireplace; it's called the “Christmas house."

How do you cope and plan for a happy event when your heart is so sad and the loved one that was a big part of “the traditions” is no longer with you?

Let the other family members plan the food, activities, and decorations. Get online and order Christmas gifts. Throw a bow and a name on each box. The whole dinner can be pre-ordered at a grocery store. Get a jar and have everyone put a memory of the departed family member in the “Memory bottle” to be read next year. Go spend the night with a family member, so you won’t be alone Christmas morning. If this isn’t possible, sleep on the couch under the tree. Drive around and look at Christmas lights. Changes are hard, but life goes on, and Christmas is just one day.

Now, here is what happened Christmas eve at my house. One daughter brought a “Charlie Brown Tree." It was a little skinny, poor excuse for a tree! It was tied to a curtain rod for stability and sparsely decorated. One daughter brought Japanese lanterns, and after dinner, seven of us got into a van and drove to Discovery Park. There were 3 inches of snow and it was snowing and blowing. Lanterns were lit. They did not go straight up into the heavens. They blew right toward and into a stand of dry trees. The group all dashed, galloped, and plowed, and slipped through the snow to keep from having the fire department called. Laughing, we reminisced how our departed one would have been yelping at the fire danger we were imposing. The sadness was replaced by a snowy, funny lasting memory.

In conclusion, no one can get you out of the hole of loneliness. Take baby steps; make a commitment, like sewing masks or volunteering in other ways. Call a friend. They may need to hear a friendly voice, too. You will feel needed and have purpose, and happily climb out of the hole of lonely.

Marilyn Fredricks is a retired nurse with education in mental health and experience in caring for and supporting seniors.

Let’s Talk Diet, Exercise and Diabetes

November 2020

November is National Diabetes Month and a good time to take stock of our health, whether we have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes or are working to avoid it. Type 2 diabetes is a disease that affects the way our bodies metabolize sugar. According to the Mayo Clinic, there is no cure for type 2 diabetes but it can be managed by self-care, including losing weight, eating well and exercising. Diet and exercise are common themes in most "lifestyle diseases." We asked two of our Senior Center instructors, Jill Boyer and Barbara Smith, to answer some questions about those topics.

Q   Why is exercise important for people age 60+?

Jill   There are countless studies that prove the important health benefits associated with exercise, and it becomes more important as we age. These benefits will help you maintain your independence as you age. The 5 primary benefits are:

  1. Prevents disease, particularly heart disease and diabetes
  2. Improves mental health. Exercise produces endorphins, the feel-good hormone
  3. Improves cognitive function and lowers the risk of dementia
  4. Provides social engagement
  5. Decreases the risk of falls

Q   How often do I need to exercise to benefit from it?

Jill   American Heart Association studies have proven that just 30 minutes of activity each day produces health benefits. This can be done at one time or broken down into “blocks” if that makes it more manageable. For instance, 3 separate periods of 10-minute exercises will also produce results.

Q   What are some exercises I can do from home?

Jill   The most common exercise is walking. A brisk walk outdoors will increase blood oxygen levels as well as strengthen the heart, but indoors will work as well. Or, sit in a solid dining room chair, come to a standing position, sit back down and repeat. This strengthens the leg muscles and helps foster our sense of independence.

Balance is important, so try standing on one foot. Stand near a counter and use it to help you balance. Hold on to the counter, lift one foot, then see if you can raise your hands a few inches. Repeat on the other side. Maintain range of motion by doing high knee lifts, again using something solid for balance. Try turning your head from side to side. Can you get your chin to your shoulder?

There are many free videos available on the internet that can guide you through home exercises, or you can find videos on the Dick Eardley Senior Center site.

Q   I don’t have gym equipment at home. Do I need it?

Jill   A gym is not necessary to make these improvements in our health. Gyms can be intimidating to some people!  Sometimes it is helpful to have a “workout buddy” to go on a walk with us, or just to keep us accountable. Some people exercise better without someone watching. It is just important that you find the style that works best for you and commit to better and lasting health today!

Q   What are some foods that can aid in preventing type 2 diabetes and why are they beneficial?

Barb   Eat more plants! Plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans are naturally low in fat and high in fiber. When we eat high-fat foods, it causes fat particles to build up in our cells which interferes with insulin's ability to move glucose out of our bloodstream. So instead of powering our cells, the glucose circulates in our bloodstream and can lead to diabetes.

Q   I have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Will it always be a problem for me?

Barb   There is good news! In a 2003 study funded by the NIH, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine determined that a plant-based diet controlled blood sugar three times more effectively than a traditional diabetes diet that limited calories and carbohydrates. Within weeks on a plant-based diet, participants saw dramatic health improvements. They lost weight, insulin sensitivity improved, and HbA1c levels dropped.

Q   Is all sugar bad for people with type 2 diabetes?

Barb   Since sugar causes a spike in insulin levels, people with type 2 diabetes should be careful about their sugar intake. Fiber can help counteract a spike in glucose, so instead of drinking fruit juice, eat the whole fruit. According to Registered Dietitian Lauren Simmons, “Having sugary treats in moderation is okay, and pairing treats with your meals will help keep your blood sugars more level than having a treat on an empty stomach." (See this month's Apple Crisp recipe on page 4!)

Q   Are all carbs, such as pasta and bread, bad?

Barb   No! The glycemic index (GI) identifies foods that raise blood sugar. Instead of white potatoes, try sweet potatoes. Instead of instant oats, try rolled or steel-cut. Instead of white bread, try a multi-grain bread. Look for higher fiber content and less processing, and when cooking pastas, al dente is the way to go. The faster your body can digest carbohydrates, the more quickly they are converted to sugar, making them higher on the GI.

Q   Are there foods that are beneficial for people age 60+?

Barb   Yes! Aim for 40 grams of fiber per day. Fiber is only found in plants, so load up your plate with fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans. Not only does a low fat, high fiber plant-based diet help prevent diabetes, it can help reduce your risk for cancer and heart disease.

Jill Boyer has a B.S. in Kinesiology with an emphasis in Exercise Science and is a certified instructor for Active Living Everyday.

Barbara Smith is a certified Food For Life Instructor through the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and the owner of Eat 4 Health LLC.

Little-Known Facts About America's Presidents

October 2020

James Monroe from Library of Congress

As the U.S. presidential election approaches, voters across America are doing their research and weighing their options. Voters today have access to more information than ever before. Included in the abundance of information readily available to us are some tidbits of presidential history worth highlighting.

It is widely known that at age 70, Donald Trump was the oldest person to become a first-term president, but did you know that he was born on the day Nat King Cole recorded "The Christmas Song" for the first time?

Bill Clinton is well known to be the only Rhodes Scholar ever elected president. It's a lesser-known fact that despite having one of the most famous of all presidential pets—a cat named "Socks"—he was allergic to cat dander.

John Adams thought the president should be referred to as “His Highness.”

James Monroe was the first president to wear pants instead of breeches.

John Quincy Adams was the first president to be photographed.

John Tyler disliked England so much that he refused to cross into Canada for a better view of Niagara Falls.

Andrew Johnson didn’t learn to read or write until adulthood.

James Garfield worked his way up from janitor to president of Hiram College.

Grover Cleveland's daughter Ruth is namesake of the Baby Ruth candy bar.

Woodrow Wilson is the only president buried in Washington, D.C.

Warren G. Harding's dog "Laddie Boy" had his own chair at Cabinet meetings.

Gerald Ford worked as a model for a time, even appearing on the cover of Cosmopolitan magazine.

Ronald Reagan is credited with saving 77 lives as a lifeguard.

George W. Bush had both the highest and lowest approval ratings in U.S. history.

Facts about each of the U.S.'s 45 presidents can be found at the University of Mary Washington's website: https://www.umw.edu/news/2018/02/19/45-little-known-facts-americas-45-presidents/

Staying Social is a Boost For Brain Health

September 2020

September is World Alzheimer’s Month, a campaign started in 2012 by Alzheimer’s Disease International to raise awareness of the most common cause of dementia. Currently, an estimated 5.8 million Americans age 65 and older are living with Alzheimer’s disease.

According to Alzheimer’s Association, remaining socially active may support brain health by improving cognitive function and possibly delay the onset of dementia. Socializing can also improve quality of life, reduce loneliness that may contribute to cognitive decline, and delay memory loss.

Being socially active can be challenging at a time when social distancing is encouraged, but there are ways to remotely participate in social activities. Here are some suggestions:

  • Plan regular phone calls with family members and close friends
  • Take a walk around the neighborhood and greet (from a safe distance) any neighbors you see
  • Explore social media, such as Zoom and Facebook
  • Try a video chat
  • Attend a live online SilverSneakers exercise class at www.SilverSneakers.com
  • Attend an online church service or virtual Bible study group

Senior Center staff and our partners in the community have collaborated in recent weeks to introduce new programs that offer local seniors the opportunity for social connection. Some require the use of an electronic device such as a laptop or tablet, and some use more traditional methods. This month's newsletter includes information about the following programs:

  • Phone Buddies: We'll help you connect with local seniors who want to chat by phone once or twice a week (page 1)
  • Highway 61: This audio-only program offers multiple opportunities to socialize each week (page 6)
  • Pen Pals: Exchange letters by mail or email with students of social work at Boise State (page 1)
  • Virtual programs: Food for Life classes and this month's Medicare 101 are live via videoconference (page 5)

We are available by phone M-F from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Give us a call if you have questions or want to sign up for any of these programs, 208-608-7580.
If you or someone you know struggles with signs of Alzheimer’s, there is help available locally. Contact the Alzheimer’s Association: Great Idaho Chapter at (208) 206-0041 for information on local resources, caregiver support and upcoming classes.

SOURCES:

Alz.org
anthemmemorycare.com

Some Inspiration by people older than you

August 2020

We’re all aging at the same rate—one year every 365 days, and oh how quickly those days go by—but some people seem determined to prove that “getting old” is optional. In recognition of National Senior Citizens Day this month, we’ve rounded up a few stories about people doing note-worthy and inspirational things in their 90s and beyond. Enjoy!

  1. Nola Ochs of Kansas made national headlines when she graduated from college at the age of 95. At the age of 98, she earned a Master’s Degree and continued taking classes until she was 100. Nola began taking classes as a way to keep busy.
  2. Former pilot Fred Mack of Pennsylvania celebrated his 100th birthday by skydiving from 13,000 feet. He first tried skydiving when he was 95. He was also a competitive skier in his 70s and continued to ski into his 90s.
  3. John and Charlotte Henderson of Texas were declared the world’s oldest married couple in 2019 by Guinness World Records. He was 106 and she was 105. They had been married for 80 years, having tied the knot on Dec. 15, 1939. The hotel room for their honeymoon cost only $7.
  4. Harry Bernstein of New Jersey published his first book, The Invisible Wall: A Love Story That Broke Barriers, at the age of 96. He began writing as a way to combat loneliness after the death of his wife, Ruby. They had been married for almost 70 years. Harry went on to write three more books before he died at age 101.
  5. Harriette Thompson of North Carolina was the oldest woman ever to run a marathon. She attracted global attention in 2015 at a marathon in San Diego when she crossed the finish line at the age of 92. Her time was 7 hours, 24 minutes, 36 seconds. Earlier in life, Harriette was a Carnegie Hall concert pianist and a cancer survivor. Olympic medalist and long-distance runner Meb Keflezighi said of Harriette, “She has proven what music and exercise does for the body and soul.”

Senior sketching a drawingYou Don't Need Talent to Benefit from Art

July 2020

July is World Watercolor Month, a celebration to raise awareness of the importance of art and creativity in the world. Some of the benefits of art are obvious—it adds beauty to our surroundings and brings pleasure to those who participate in it—but there are numerous other benefits that are not as easily observed.

Studies have shown that people who participate in art can benefit in a variety of ways, including:

  • Enhanced brain function
  • Raised levels of serotonin, a chemical in the brain that contributes to a sense of well-being
  • Reduced depression and anxiety that are often symptomatic of chronic disease
  • Enhanced fine motor skills
  • Increased emotional balance and self-esteem
  • Reduced boredom

“We know that, in general, exercising our creative selves enhances quality of life and nurtures overall well-being. We all are creative—not just a select few,” said Dr. Barbara Bagan, a board-certified art therapist.

Even those who feel they have never been artistic or talented can still experience the benefits of participating in art. “It’s the process, not the product,” according to Megan Carleton, an art therapist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.

Beneficial art is not limited to that which is made with paints and brushes. “Expressive arts, including visual arts, music, dance/movement, writing, and poetry, are empowering tools that can assist in the aging process,” Dr. Bagan said. And, one does not necessarily need to create art to enjoy the benefits. Observing expressive arts can have some of the same positive effects on the brain.

There are many ways to participate in art for little to no cost: Listen, sing along, or dance to music on the radio; visit an art gallery or museum online; paint with a children’s watercolor set; sculpt with modeling clay; sketch with pen, pencil or chalk; use colored pencils or crayons in an adult coloring book; write a short story or poem; create a collage or mosaic with colored paper or small tiles; reproduce your favorite painting using pieces of recycled household items.

Sources:

Men’s Health Month: Let’s Focus on Nutrition

June 2020

There is a saying that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. From a nutritional standpoint, there’s wisdom in that. A healthy diet is one way to fight and even reverse heart disease, according to the American Heart Association.

The Senior Center’s Food for Life instructor Barbara Smith, who teaches classes on cooking and eating for optimal health, offered some advice on men’s health. She encourages a diet that is centered on limiting processed foods and animal products and adding more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans. “These foods are rich in nutrients and antioxidants without containing saturated fat and cholesterol.”

Q: Why plant foods? What about “good fats” like salmon?
A: Plant foods can meet all your dietary needs for protein, fat and carbohydrates without adding saturated fat and cholesterol which are detrimental to heart health. Plus, plant foods are your source for fiber which helps to keep your digestive system running smoothly. Even “heart healthy” salmon contains high amounts of saturated fat, so your intake should be limited. Walnuts, Brussels sprouts and ground flax seeds are excellent sources of Omega-3 fatty acids.

Q: What are some other benefits?
A: A plant-based diet has been clinically proven to reverse heart disease. Other benefits include lower blood pressure and decreased obesity, cancer and diabetes risk as well as decreased erectile dysfunction. New studies are showing that a plant-based diet may help prevent Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia.

Q: How do dietary requirements change as we age?
A: As we age, our metabolism slows down, meaning our bodies require less calories. It is especially important to make sure that you are including nutrient-dense foods into your diet, especially those containing calcium and protein such as beans and greens. Consider taking a supplement to be sure you are getting enough vitamin D and B-12, and don’t forget to drink plenty of water.

Q: What are some dietary needs unique to men over the age of 60?
A: Men should consider limiting salt, alcohol and saturated fat and boosting their intake of fiber and iron-rich foods such as beans and legumes (peas, lentils). Eating a variety of plant-based foods will meet all these requirements.

Q: Are there “good-for-men” foods?
A: Men who consume two or more servings of tomato sauce per week have 23 percent less risk of prostate cancer, compared to those having tomato sauce less than once per month, according to data from the Harvard’s Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts also offer protection.

Q: What are some simple ways to incorporate plant-based foods in the diet?
A: One of my favorite quick and easy meals to make is chili using a can of black beans and a jar of salsa. Pasta with marinara sauce is also another regular at our house. Some snack ideas include whole grain crackers with hummus or fresh fruit. If you are not eating at home, try to fill up half your plate with veggies. I also try to eat a green salad every day.

Q: What advice do you have for “meat and potatoes” men?
A: If you want to make changes to your diet, think about “adding in” instead of eliminating. Studies show a 5 percent death reduction for every serving of fruits and vegetables you add into your diet! Every step you take toward a healthier diet counts.

Barbara Smith is a certified Food for Life instructor and has a certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition from the Center For Nutrition Studies through eCornell.

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