What Does “Getting Old” Mean?

What is the definition of “Getting Old”?  Is “getting old” about a person’s age or maybe it really has nothing to do with the number of years a person lives? 

There are good and bad connotations about “getting old”.  There are true hallmarks of becoming older, such as doing things slower than usual, forgetting more easily, getting wrinkles, and needing more rest than before.  No doubt, age usually begets a breakdown in our physical and mental capabilities; but, does that actually mean we are “getting old?”.  Does “getting old” really have to do with declining health and succumbing to its struggles or is it more about life experiences and the value of what you have to offer? 

Maybe “getting old” has more to do with the characteristics developed after being around for a long time.  After battling through the thicket of life’s circumstances and succumbing to the many bumps along the way, what kind of outlook does an older person develop over the years?  Of course, we are all different and respond uniquely as we journey down the road. 

Those who have aged have a choice of “getting older”.  Maybe “getting old” is when you are absorbed with the loss of what you had before or what you don’t have now?

Or, maybe the choice is to experience the maturity and thoughtfulness of this life.  There is definitely some truth to the saying, “Wisdom Comes with Age”, although this is really determined by the one “getting old”.  Wisdom is about looking through the lens of what really matters; yielding to a backlash of experiences, seeing the forest and not just the trees, summarizing life’s issues, and deriving conclusions by gaining perspective or a well-rounded view of what is important. “Getting old” can be about building tolerance, patience, fortitude, understanding, focusing on what truly matters, having more confidence and feeling a calling or moral responsibility to speak up for the sake of the upcoming generations.  “Getting older” may be a beautiful thing.  What a ripe moment to enjoy life, if you choose to. 

Claudia A. Liljegren, MSW, LICSW

Life as it Could be with COVID-19

As time passes, we become weighed in with the reality of it all.  This virus, as has been the case for so many contagions before us, could last for much longer than we had initially anticipated.  It may become a way of life for a while.  Working on managing the virus with social distancing, wearing masks/gloves, and being home-bound may be the beginning of a long process.  How do we move beyond interrupted anxiety about “what could happen?”; or lingering isolation with deepening loneliness and depression; or ongoing family or relationship conflicts with no individual space; or heightened stress about how to pay the bills or put food on the table?

How do we endure?  How do we use this time as a way to challenge ourselves with what we actually can change?  As well, how can we embrace our suffering so it doesn’t overcome us?  Indeed, it would be quite the challenge to allow ourselves to suffer without being run over by our negative thoughts and fears, much less the certainty of the realness of this crisis.  

What is it inside of us that brings ourselves to a sense of calm when the world is spinning around us?  Of course, it can be denying or minimizing the true effect of the spinning.  But beyond this, what characteristics or values or beliefs or vision does one hold to truly not give way to all of the chaos around us?

Is it a sense of who we are or how we define ourselves that makes a difference, or how we put together the real meaning of life?  Maybe a goal is to have an internal locus of control vs. reacting to what happens outside of ourselves.  Maybe it is redefining our purpose that drives us throughout our lifetime, regardless of the circumstances that befall upon us.  Maybe it is a time to turn in and look at what shapes our own principles or values, and sense of resolve, or true Faith beyond ourselves that gives us resolution?     Maybe that is what will help us endure – coming back to our roots; asking ourselves what life is supposed to be all about.  Maybe that is the way we can challenge ourselves with what we can actually change – a sense of serenity during a time of chaos.

Claudia A. Liljegren, MSW, LICSW

Seniors Facing COVID-19

Putting yourself in the seat of a senior, what would it feel like to be constantly reminded about the fear of contracting COVID-?  While facing the reality that grave illness or death for themselves or their friends may be just around the corner, the curve of anxiety takes a steep turn upwards.  Not only is the mind turning various possibilities of “What if’s”, they are also more prone to constant worrying, sleeping and eating problems, concentration difficulties, increased irritability and frustration, and likely fear the worst-case scenarios – all symptoms of clinical anxiety; and all normal in the face of a pandemic. 

On top of this, seniors, as is the case for most Americans, are authorized to isolate themselves or practice social distancing during the course of this virus.  Overall, seniors struggle significantly more with isolation compared to the general population.   As isolation persists as a constant, loneliness oftentimes begets depression.   Being alone can be debilitating, with a high suicide rate among those over 65, noting that 18% of all suicide deaths are from the elderly population.  Depression among the elderly oftentimes shows itself with common symptoms, including staying in bed and sleeping too much or too little, not eating well, losing interest in a usual routine, having little energy to do even pleasurable activities, postponing contact with others, and of course isolating.  Actually, if you have visited your area nursing home or senior living facilities, it is evident that there is an epidemic of loneliness among its residents.

On the flip side, not only do seniors isolate themselves when depressed, the truth is that they are isolated as a forgotten generation while the rest of the world stays busy with all its distractions.  Their isolation comes from within as well as in a large part, prompted by the reality of being left behind as an after-thought or one of the last “things to do” on their adult children’s “to do” list. Isolation is a daily reality for most seniors, and likely much more so with the COVID-19 virus.

As we all face being home-bound, missing our friends and those family members not living with us, isolated in a sense from normal living, let’s pause and empathize with those seniors that live like this as a matter of routine.  Reach out and connect.  Seniors need the support, comfort, and alliance during this difficult time.  They are a special generation of people with strong values and faith, hardy by history, and have been our leaders and role models for the generations after them.  They are next in line as the lost generation.  Let us respect, appreciate and value their worth, and keep them in your thoughts and prayers.  Now that life hurriedness has taken a stop with quarantine for most of us, let us take time and reflect on what really is important.  Reach out and virtually touch a senior, including those that are isolated as well as those more vulnerable and are especially dealing with heightened anxiety and depression.  If you were sitting in their seat, isn’t that what you would want?  

Claudia A. Liljegren, MSW, LICSW

Mental Health Professional

St. Williams Mental Health Services

What About the Kids?

How are kids dealing with the CoVid-19?  Being locked down is a difficult proposition, but especially for our kids.  Kids are used to playing with their friends, being active, going to school and not necessarily focusing on world events as their parents are.  I mean, it is their parents’ job, right? Not there’s.  However, don’t be fooled.  With Co-VID-10, those of smaller stature have experienced their worlds as having been turned upside down these past few weeks.

First, they are home-bound.  They have limited access with their friends and only through electronic means.  Their only companions are their siblings which in reality can be quite skirmish and combative.  They are limited to their back yard, if they have one and it is not snowing and cold.  The news of the virus is on nearly 24/7 on many channels.  The resounding “Breaking News” numerates many times a day, and oftentimes parents are glued to the updates to prepare for the next surge of action.  But “what about the kids?”. 

Even when parents try to fake it, kids feel it in their bones when their parents feel anxious, frustrated, belabored or depressed.  That is the nature of kids.  Their connection to their parents is intuitive.  It can’t be seen or heard, but it is there.  They feel what their parents feel.  They may express it or react differently than their parents, but kids feel there is definitely something in the air! They watch their parents watch the news and the tension draws deeply inside them.  They watch their parents, the leaders of their world, struggle.

Kids also have their own reaction to the crisis besides dealing with their parents’ reaction.  They are out of their element.  Instead of playing or doing homework after school while supper is being made, they are at home all of the time.  They can no longer be distracted by reality.  They have nightmares or feel that zombies are living in their basement.  They may regress and act younger than they are.  They may be clingier, or cry more, or have more outbursts.  It’s their way of saying that they are not doing well.  Expressing their fears verbally is just not their nature at their young ages.

What do kids need?  Lots of love, and patience, and understanding, and reassurance, and a walk-through of their fears to help them better understand that things will eventually return to normal.  They need guidance and leadership.  They need a parent who will help them pick up the pieces and encourage them to be resilient, look at positives, and allow their parents to handle the burdens.  What about the kids?  Their mind is not yet developed and their understanding of this crisis is warped by the emotion of it all.  Be there for them.  Help them know that this will soon pass.  Give them hope.  Give them your attention.  Having kids stay at home could be a hidden blessing as they are around their most influential people to help them get through this crisis.

Claudia A. Liljegren, MSW, LICSW

Psychotherapist

Hunkering Down with the Coronavirus

Here we are, hunkering down at home for a while.  Who would have thought?  How do we survive with each other during this time of crisis?  This in itself can be quite the stressor unless we practice some good strategies. 

Here are some of the mental health practices oftentimes reviewed in the literature that you can install in your home to make the time go smoother for everyone during the lockdown period.

Have a routine – Grab onto some structure.  Most of us are accustomed to some kind of structure, be it work duties at our jobs or school assignments at school.  Now, with chaos arising at the home-front, having a routine is a good thing to incorporate; sleeping and eating schedules, exercise times, social distancing contacts, designated chores or duties, selected fun time with new and creative activities, and school and work time slots with designated breaks.  It doesn’t have to be a prison for everyone, but it surely doesn’t have to be WWIII!  Studies have shown that having a routine can help reduce boredom, reduce anxiety and depression and lead to more healthy patterns of coping.  This format at home can then allow more energy to deal with other more important things that need to be tended to. 

Don’t stop exercising because the gym is no longer open – Physical exercise is synced with good mental health.  Get that heart pumping, build those muscles and make that body move.  Cramped quarters can be a problem, but figure out how you can make it work – even if you have to have a shared group exercise program in the living room, or if you can find some exercises that allow you to stay in one place.  It doesn’t take a genius.

Spend time in nature – even if it is through a TV channel, video or internet.  It is calming to your soul and it definitely helps your body relax.  There is much research that has found time in “green” and “blue” space is associated with a reduction in anxiety and depression as well as helps reduce the risk of chronic health issues.  Being out in the sunshine, breathing air outside (with good social distancing) is a good habit for both your body and mind.  In fact, some studies indicate that the chemicals released from the trees; phytoncides” can increase the immune cells that help keep the body healthy.

Re-arrange, clean out or organize your home – It makes you feel productive, you gain a sense of control over times of uncertainty, and gives you time to focus on something else besides the news flashes and all the media clips about the Corona-Virus. 

Give yourself some time to breathe, be quiet, and meditate.  It helps your body calm down, have better insight as to what is happening, and maintain a sense of internal control and confidence that this too shall pass.

Continue with your support team as you maintain social distancing – We are social creatures and need each other; that is how we were made.  Take time to reach out and connect.

Keep your empathy at the forefront – While experiencing the sense of being home-bound, you now can realize what so many people regularly experience throughout their much of their lives.  Reach out. – but don’t touch – at least not yet.    Empathy is a great experience that makes you feel good all over.  Doing acts of kindness and thinking of others before yourself all have huge mental health benefits.  It provides you with a sense of purpose.  It also helps you the opportunity to climb out of yourselves and give a bit of support and kindness to someone else that also needs it. 

Be thankful – Recognizing your blessings, being grateful, trusting in a spirit greater than yourself can be hugely beneficial to mental health.  Practicing thankfulness with others not only improves your mood, but those recipients of such grace.  Don’t judge.  Realize that we are all likely doing the best we can with what we got.  Sit back and relax.  We will get through this.

Claudia A. Liljegren, MSW, LICSW

Psychotherapist

How Are We All Doing?

Well, the sun is still shining.  Spring is on its way-….and, we are nearly homebound as we continue to face CoVID-19. 

So much is happening:

  • You may be infected or a carrier, or know someone that is
  • You may be home-bound, either voluntarily or by government order
    • Restricted from going to bars, restaurants, or any entertainment venues
    • Home with the kids and likely in charge of helping the children understand why the crack-down, facilitating home-schooling options, making entertainment opportunities in the house, dealing with siblings’ conflicts, rule and chore enforcement, and household management
    • All alone and isolated
  • You are not able to see those that are vulnerable and elderly in nursing homes, assisted living, and those in senior living due to the risk of exposure
  • You are either unemployed and receiving unemployment compensation or engaged in your employment, exposing you to the risk of infection or a carrier of such
  • You are aware of many small venues closing their doors with their own financial losses due to a lack of customers
  • You have lost much of your retirement or monies held in the stock market with a look at what life may now be like without that added cushion.
  • You realize that life will not be the same once this has all passed.

So, how are most of us trying to deal with all of this?

  • Stress is the new normal, for all of the reasons above
    • Fear and worry about your health and the health of loved ones
    • Sleeping and eating changes
    • Difficulty concentrating
    • Increased use of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs
    • Panic reactions
    • Catastrophizing further than what is warranted
  • The sun is still shining; this too shall pass

So, what kinds of things can you do to support yourself:

  • Taking care of yourself, your friends, and your family can help you cope with stress. Helping others cope with their stress can also make your community stronger.  Of course, this is limited to phone, social media platforms or any other non-direct efforts
  • Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can cause further anxiety and panic.
  • Take care of your body. Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep, and avoid alcohol and drugs.
  • Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy.
  • Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.
  • Call your healthcare provider if stress gets in the way of your daily activities and you are having difficulty functioning
  • When you share accurate information about COVID-19 you can help make people feel better.
  • And, remember; the sun is still shining.

Claudia A. Liljegren, MSW, LICSW

Cover That Cough! Stay Safe with These Flu Prevention Tips

When was the last time you had the flu?

The flu is no fun, but fortunately for most people, it isn’t life-threatening, it’s just really annoying.

This changes as we age, however. Our immune systems lose steam and our bodies take longer to fight off common viral infections. The flu is extremely dangerous for the elderly, especially those who live in close quarters with others, like in a nursing home or senior living center. 

There are a few things we can all do to help prevent the spread of these diseases. Stay safe this spring with these flu prevention tips.

Cover That Cough

If you’re suffering from a cough, always cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. According to the CDC, the proper way to cover a cough is by using a tissue to cover your mouth and nose while you cough. 

Immediately discard the tissue and use a brand new tissue when you need to cough again. If you can’t find a tissue, cough directly into the upper part of your sleeve. Never cough or sneeze into your hand. Hands are the worst place to spread germs.

Photo by Brittany Colette on Unsplash

Practice Good Hand Hygiene

You may not realize it, but almost everything you do on a daily basis involves using your hands. This makes them the perfect breeding ground for collecting and passing along germs. Hand hygiene is the most effective way to prevent contracting the flu. 

Proper hand hygiene starts with hand washing. Here’s the right way to wash your hands:

  • Wet hands with warm, clean water. 
  • Apply soap and rub hands together to work up a good lather. 
  • Scrub for at least 20 seconds, getting the backs of the hands, between the fingers, and under the nails.
  • Rinse hands with clean water and dry them using a clean towel or an air drier.  

Always wash your hands after you sneeze or cough, even if you use a tissue. Wash your hands after you use the restroom and after changing dirty diapers. Also, wash hands before you eat anything or prepare food. 

Leave Your Face Alone

Germs get into our bodies through our faces, including the eyes, nose, and mouth. Be conscious of how often you touch your face and make an effort to touch your face as little as possible. 

If you do need to touch your face, make sure to wash your hands or use a hand sanitizer before you do. This is especially important if you’ve been around someone who is ill. 

When In Doubt, Stay Home

If possible, stay home when you believe you’re getting sick. This tip is especially important when it comes to keeping elderly family and friends safe from this dangerous disease. Skip your weekly trip to the nursing home if you have any symptoms of illness or have been around anyone who’s sick.

Follow These Flu Prevention Tips for a Clean Bill of Health!

By following these easy flu prevention tips, you can seriously reduce your risk of contracting and spreading the flu. And that’s what we call a win-win situation!

At St. William’s Living Center, we take flu season seriously. Our facility consistently receives a 5-star rating from Medicare’s Nursing Home Compare program. This rating includes criteria for flu prevention measures. 
Call us today if you have any questions about the flu prevention tips we’ve outlined here.

Prevent Falls with These Senior Exercises for Balance

Did you know that falls are the leading cause of injury for older adults?

Falls happen at all ages, but as we grow older, we lose muscle tone and our balance suffers. This leads to a higher risk of falling. Fortunately, balance, like any physical ability, can be improved with regular practice and exercise.

In this article, we’ll go over four senior exercises for balance that, if done regularly, can help prevent falls and keep your body strong and healthy for years to come.

The Tight Rope Walk

Start by standing with your feet hip-width apart and your arms straight out at your sides, parallel to the ground. Pick up one foot and place it in front of the other to form a line, like walking over a tight rope. Pause for a second or two to make sure you’re balanced and then repeat with the next foot.

See how far you can go across the room with this exercise. It’s a great exercise for helping your brain and feet coordinate and developing strength in your feet and ankles. And, as an added bonus, you’ll develop strength in your arms and shoulders by holding them out at your sides.

Tree Pose

Tree is an ancient yoga pose that’s known to help improve balance. There are many variations of this pose, so you can adjust it to your skill level and increase the difficulty as you improve.

Stand with feet hip-width apart, arms at your sides. Pick up your right foot and balance on your left, holding your right foot just above the floor. If you have the ability, turn your right foot in, placing the sole of your right foot on your left inner calf to form a triangle wiht your right leg.

Once you’ve mastered this, pick your arms up and raise them straight out at your sides, fingers stretched wide to mimic a tree leaf. Then reach your arms up over your head and touch your palms together.

Again, if you can’t do this on the first go, it’s okay to only do a portion of this pose to start. Finally, hold the pose for several seconds, then repeat on the other leg.

Sit, Stand, Sit

This simple exercise can make a big difference in your leg strength over time. Your legs are the base for your body, so the stronger your leg muscles, the more steady your base and the less likely you are to fall.

Start by sitting in a chair facing a wall. Leave enough space between your legs and the wall to allow you to stand up comfortably.

Touch the wall with your palms to steady yourself. Then rise up out of the chair to a standing position. If you need to, you can place your hands on the arms or seat of the chair and use them to help push you up.

Once you’re standing, sit back down in the chair and repeat the process 10 times, or as many times as you’re comfortable.

Mountain Pose

Mountain is another ancient yoga pose designed to help with balance. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your hands down at your sides. Face forward and close your eyes.

Mentally check in with your feet and legs. Feel your feet root to the ground to form a strong base for your body or “mountain”. Stand like this with your eyes closed as long as you like.

This seems like a simple exercise, but it’s very important for keeping your mind connected with your feet. The more aware you are of your feet and legs, the less likely you are to fall when you’re caught off guard.

Try These Senior Exercises for Balance

These senior exercises for balance are a great way to improve your balance from home. However, if you have a history of falls or recurring injuries, you should talk to your doctor about physical therapy to help with balance.

At St. William’s Living Center, we have a physical therapists on staff to help you with all of your exercise needs. Contact us today to learn about how physical therapy can help you recover and prevent falls in the future.

What Is Hospice Care? 5 Facts to Know

Did you know that 1.5 million Medicare beneficiaries receive hospice care annually? And that number is increasing with each passing year.

End-of-life care isn’t an easy subject for most of us to think about, but it is something that’s important to discuss with your loved ones. Many people don’t understand the many benefits of hospice care.

If you find yourself asking “What is hospice care?”, we’re here to help. Here are five facts to know about this special type of healthcare.

1. Hospice is Supportive Care

Rather than treating the underlying illness, hospice care focuses on supporting the patient through day-to-day life. Symptom control is the number one priority. By treating the symptoms of the disease, hospice caregivers make patients more comfortable so they can live their final days to the fullest.

A care plan is established for each patient by hospice professionals. This care plan is tailored to the needs of the patient and offers 24-hour support.

2. Hospice Helps with Daily Life Activities

Hospice is more than just healthcare. Care professionals help the patient with simple tasks like bathing, preparing food, doing laundry, and cleaning their home. They can also help family members learn how to do these activities so they can support their loved ones during difficult times. 

3. Hospice Care Includes Emotional Support 

It’s not uncommon for terminally ill patients to suffer from high levels of anxiety and even depression. Hospice care workers are specially trained to offer emotional support to those dealing with a terminal illness. They can even offer spiritual guidance if that is what the patient needs.

Hospice care workers are also a great source of companionship to the patient and their family members. They can provide some needed time off to family members who take on the brunt of the caregiving responsibilities.

4. You Can Receive Hospice Care in a Nursing Home

Most people believe that a loved one must be at home to receive hospice care, but that’s not true. If your family member lives in a nursing home, they too can receive hospice benefits. 

Nursing home residents that opt for hospice care will receive regular visits from hospice nurses that are specially trained in end-of-life care. They’ll work with the nursing home staff to ensure that the care plan is working as it should and they’ll offer suggestions for therapy and other care procedures that can improve the resident’s quality of life.

5. Hospice is for the Entire Family

Hospice can be a benefit to the entire family, not just the patient. The hospice service will provide access to counselors during the illness and even after death, to help family members cope. 

They’ll keep family members in the loop during the entire process and ensure that everyone’s wishes are respected. Daily meetings with hospice caregivers can offer family members hope and stress relief during these trying times. 

What Is Hospice Care? It’s Your Choice

Hospice care is an excellent choice for those who are looking to live a more comfortable life during their final days. Talk to your loved ones about choosing hospice care when the time comes. 

At St. William’s Living Center, we understand the difficulties surrounding end-of-life care decisions. Call us anytime to discuss hospice care options in Parkers Prairie.

Healthy Brain 101: How to Keep Your Mind Sharp as You Age

Eat your fruits and vegetables. Get your daily exercise. Don’t neglect your annual physical.

As we age, these statements get drilled into our heads by our doctors, our family members, and by the media. We must take care of our bodies to live a long, happy life. 

While it’s true that taking care of your body is important, it’s also important to take care of your mind. Life is so much more fulfilling when your body and your mind are strong and active. 

Keep reading for some healthy brain tips to keep your mind sharp as you age.

Read, Write, Repeat

Reading and writing are important at every age, but they’re especially helpful later in life when our brain function starts to naturally lag with age. The act of reading does several different tasks within our brain. 

First, it continues the process of learning. It also connects and coordinates various brain functions. Reading uses your eyes to see, your mind to comprehend, and your memory to retain information. 

Writing does something similar. It allows you to express creativity while exercising the fine motor skills associated with picking up a pen or typing on a keyboard. Writing also helps manage stress and anxiety. 

If you don’t already do so, start a habit of reading when you have a few minutes of free time. Keep a journal handy so you can write down your thoughts throughout the day. And repeat this process every day to keep your mind sharp!

Get Out and About

Yes, exercise is important and it’s something you need to do every day to keep your body healthy. But exercise is also really great for your mind. 

Getting out of the house for a walk brings fresh air into your lungs. It gets the blood pumping in your veins. And this fresh blood and oxygen is fuel for a healthy brain. 

Another important part of getting out and about is socializing. Keeping up good relationships with our friends and family is so important for strong mental health. 

Visiting with family and friends gives our brains a type of mental gymnastics. The act of carrying on a conversation makes you think about your words and helps the coordination between thinking and speaking. Plus, socializing with others releases all sorts of happy hormones into your system that can brighten your mood.

Puzzle, Play and Perform Often

Keep your mind sharp by puzzling it… often! Brain games and thought puzzles are an excellent way to get your mind moving. Plus, they’re a ton of fun!

Playing physical games is also great for your health. Join an age-appropriate sports league, like a local tennis team, a curling club, or a racketball group. This type of exercise is great for your body and also makes you think and strategize. It’s a win-win situation!

Consider learning how to play a musical instrument. Music is a wonderful way to calm your mind and make you think at the same time. And performing in front of others will get you out of your comfort zone, which is a very healthy activity for a sharp mind!

Healthy Brain = A Healthier Body

Your brain and your body work in tandem to make you the beautiful person you are. Without either component working at full capacity, your quality of life will suffer. So get to work on your healthy brain today! Start implementing some of these tips now.
At St. William’s Living Center, we have a department dedicated to improving mental health. Visit our website today to learn all about our mental health services.