Wit and Wisdom Blog for Atria Senior Living

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a new view on growing older

Staying active can decrease depression in those with dementia

Posted on November 6, 2017 by David Troxel

Atria partners with renowned Alzheimer’s expert and author David Troxel, to provide innovative memory care that can help people with dementia continue to live meaningful, joyful lives.

The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that up to 40 percent of persons with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia also experience significant depression. Left untreated, particularly in early dementia, depression can add to confusion and cognitive loss, reduce the person’s ability for self-care and discourage involvement in activities and relationships that support quality of life.

Here are two examples.
• Ruth: living with early Alzheimer’s disease - is receiving excellent medical care and support from her friends and family. She enjoys going to the weekly farmer’s market with her grandchildren, painting water colors to give to friends and family, walking with a supportive neighbor and going to a local early-stage support group sponsored by the Alzheimer’s Association. She is living life to her fullest and her symptoms of dementia remain mild.

• Ruth: living with early Alzheimer’s and depression - acknowledges visits from friends and family but has stopped going out. Her neighbor invites her to walk but Ruth declines. She is still working on the same water color day after day and can’t find the energy or focus to do something she has always enjoyed in the past. Ruth’s untreated depression is impacting her quality of life and her cognition is declining.

My colleague and prominent geriatrician, Michael McCloud, Professor Emeritus, University of California Davis School of Medicine says, “Alzheimer’s disease doesn’t travel alone.” Treatable conditions like depression need to be identified and addressed to help the person be at his or her best.

How can you tell if a person with dementia also has depression?

It’s not always easy; your family member can lose the ability to express his or her needs in words. Mom might not be able to say, “I’m feeling sad or hopeless.”

Instead, behavior communicates a message. Caregivers in Atria Senior Living’s Life Guidance memory care neighborhoods are trained to look for clues and cues and note changes in behavior to assess the situation.

Look for:

• Fatigue, sleeping much of the time.
• Tearfulness or words expressing hopelessness or despair.
• Loss of appetite
• Withdrawal from activities he or she has once enjoyed like music, spending time in the garden or being with friendly pets.
• Loss of humor or joy. Perhaps your mother always laughed when reminded of old stories of growing up on a farm or smiled when given a warm compliment and now her expression is flat.

What should you do if you suspect depression?

Involve your family physician.

The physician can rule out treatable causes (for example, pain, urinary tract infections and medication problems) and speak with the patient while observing their body language. He or she will also want to hear your family’s story; has Mom’s mood and behavior changed significantly? Bring in a short diary or your notes about the person’s behavior that suggests depression. The physician will also consider whether the person is truly clinically depressed or is instead apathetic, a symptom that can come with certain types of dementia and one that doesn’t respond to depression medications.

If it seems that clinical depression is the diagnosis, there are a number of approaches to consider:

Activity and engagement.
With no miracle medicine to arrest or truly slow the progression of dementia symptoms, the best approach is to encourage the person to stay active. Senior living community residents living with dementia are surrounded by neighbors, conversation, music, time outdoors and meaningful activities filled with purpose. Also, they often attend cultural events and volunteer for local organizations. Loneliness, isolation and boredom are all enemies of the brain.

Anti-depressant medication.
In my experience, many physicians will try a round of these medications when they suspect depression and usually with good results. Anti-depressants can help turn the tide, particularly when paired with a supportive approach from care partners.

My good friend and colleague, Dr. G. Allen Power, Geriatrician, Author, and Educator agrees that outdoor time, purpose and relationships are good first steps and may relieve mild depression. But, he adds, “many cases of clinical depression may need drug treatment. Unlike psychotropic drugs, there is better evidence for the safety and efficacy of anti-depressant medications and people living with dementia are no exception.”

Talk therapy.
Studies have shown that traditional talk therapy and group therapy can help reduce depression and anxiety in persons with dementia. I saw this first hand when I had the privilege of speaking this year in Chicago for the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center’s younger-onset Alzheimer’s group, “Without Warning.” The group offers education and support to persons facing dementia at a younger age. Many persons in the group expressed feelings of loss. Being able to talk about their situation was making a world of difference. Check with your local Alzheimer’s Association for resources including early-stage and younger-onset support groups.

In fact, I like the name of Atria’s memory care program, “Life Guidance,” since it suggests that staff provide encouragement and direction to maximize independence – doing “with” versus doing “for.” Encouraging the Life Guidance resident to experience success and have friends builds self-esteem and fights depression.

We don’t have a cure for Alzheimer’s yet, but we know how to make a difference. The brain loves company and socialization whether practiced at Atria, a local day center or in your own home with a lively set of friends and family.

Category: Dementia & Memory Care Tags: , ,

Gaining Perspective and Hope For Those With Dementia – Atria Senior Living Blog

Gaining Perspective and Hope For Those With Dementia

Posted on June 13, 2017 by Tom Alaimo

This year, the summer solstice falls on June 21, which makes it the longest day of 2017. This also marks the date of the Alzheimer’s Association’s annual mid-year event – dubbed ‘The Longest Day’ – to raise awareness of the issue as well as funding to support research.

As a provider of care, services and living accommodations for seniors, our caregivers and staff members at Atria Senior Living communities across the U.S. are well aware of the challenges associated with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. We see the toll it takes on individuals and their families, on caregivers and society as a whole. And, we support research and fundraising efforts in hopes of finding a cure.

We also believe that we should consider what can be done now, today, to help individuals with dementia continue to live engaging, meaningful and joyful lives.

  • Physical Activity – Decades of research point to the health benefits of social connection and regular exercise for seniors, including the potential to limit cognitive decline. A study published in 2016 in Neurology, the official journal of the American Academy of Neurology, found that regular exercise may slow mental decline by a decade.  At Atria, we encourage exercise twice a day including walks, stretching and chair yoga, dance, and working with weights; activity is good for the brain!
  • Social Connection – A 2009 study funded by the National Institute on Aging and published in the journal Evidence-Based Mental Health found that having a larger social network and consistent contact with family and friends are associated with reduced dementia risk. These findings make a strong case for the value of communal and shared living space.
  • Engaged Programming – What’s good for people living with dementia is what’s good for all older people: engagement. For example, music-based programs show increasing promise in keeping those with dementia engaged because musical appreciation is among the last abilities to be affected by memory impairment. Research shows that music can improve mood, reduce stress and agitation, and create focus and interest, among other benefits. Atria’s own music program, Legato®, is offered daily in our memory care environments and encourages physical activity and social interaction, all set to music.
  • Thoughtfully Designed Spaces – Environmental factors can greatly influence quality of life and behavior among people with dementia by allowing them to maintain a sense of independence. Atria applies careful and deliberate thought to the design of its memory care environments, or Life Guidance® Neighborhoods, which are designed to maximize awareness and orientation. This extends to interior design, lighting, artwork, safety features and many other aspects.
  • Individualized Care Approach – Everyone’s journey with dementia is unique. Recognizing this, we apply principles of Virginia Bell and David Troxel’s “Best Friends” approach, which encourages use of the individual’s life story, preferences and relationships to help them feel safe, secure and valued. This allows caregivers to develop a care plan tailored to that person’s specific needs.

There’s a growing recognition that dementia isn’t only the responsibility of those directly affected, but society as a whole. A great example is the global movement to make more cities and towns “dementia friendly” by educating citizens and working to improve the safety and quality of life for those with dementia. Let’s hope this attitude of compassion and accountability continues to grow in prevalence.

We believe life does not end when dementia begins. Ours should not be a language of despair, but instead, one of possibility and hope found in incremental progress, one life at a time.

Category: Dementia & Memory Care Tags: , , , , , ,

Women Are at the Center of the Alzheimer’s Crisis - Atria Senior Living Blog

Women Are at the Center of the Alzheimer’s Crisis

Posted on July 31, 2015 by Kacey Roby

Women are disproportionately affected by Alzheimer’s and the reasons remain unclear. According to the Alzheimer’s Association Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report:

  • Women make up almost two-thirds of American seniors living with Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Among those aged 71 and older, 16 percent of women have Alzheimer’s and other dementias, compared to 11 percent of men.
  • At age 65, women without Alzheimer’s have more than a one-in-six chance of developing the disease during the remainder of their lives, compared with a one-in-11 chance for men.
  • Women in their 60s are about twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease over the rest of their lives as they are to develop breast cancer.


Category: Dementia & Memory Care, News In Aging Tags: , , ,

Questions to Ask Alzheimer’s and Memory Care Senior Communities

Questions to Ask Assisted Living Communities About Alzheimer’s and Memory Care, Part 3

Posted on March 3, 2015 by Peter Berkowitz

Part 3: Staff Training & Education

If you’re considering care for a family member who is living with the challenges of Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, one of the most important factors to consider is the training and education provided to their caregivers. (more…)

Category: Caregiver Support, Dementia & Memory Care Tags: , , ,

Questions to Ask Alzheimer’s and Memory Care Senior Communities

Questions to Ask Senior Living Communities about Alzheimer’s and Memory Care, Part Two

Posted on December 23, 2014 by Katy Miller

Part Two: Engaging Activities

If you’re considering care for a family member who is living with the challenges of Alzheimer’s or another form of memory impairment, the items at the top of your checklist are likely related to finding a safe and healthy living arrangement where your family member will not just live, but live well. When you visit a senior living community, take every opportunity to ask questions about their memory care program.


Category: Dementia & Memory Care Tags: ,


Questions to Ask Assisted Living Communities about Alzheimer’s and Memory Care Part 1

Posted on October 22, 2014 by Katy Miller

Part 1: Living Environment | Alzheimer's and Memory Care

When you’re making a personal visit to an assisted living community, take every opportunity you have to ask questions about Alzheimer’s and memory care.

It may be helpful if you divide your questions between a few main topics: Living Environment, Engaging Activities, Staff Training and Education and Quality Assurance.

In this installment of a three-part series, we’ll help with things you should look for in a living environment that will help your family member live well.

Look at the Surroundings

First, take a look around the community and observe the residents. Are the residents engaged in elementary activities, or are they living full, enriched lives in an environment that encourages grown-up engagement? Are they well-groomed and dressed neatly? They should be.

Walk the Community

Take a moment to walk the community. Is the space welcoming, vibrant and purposefully designed to accommodate residents with memory impairments? Residents with memory impairments may wander to help relieve stress, boredom, relieve discomfort or pain. An ideal design of a memory care environment would include opportunities for residents to walk within the secured environment and access to outdoor space (during appropriate weather).


You want to feel confident that your loved one is safe, and also that they are free to move about with exposure to sunlight, plants, birds and other things that make them happy. You want to feel confident that your loved one is safe, and also that they are free to move about with exposure to sunlight, plants, birds and other things that make them happy. You should get the sense that your loved one will feel free and relaxed, rather than confined and anxious.

To this end, consider whether the staff greets and welcomes you with open smiles. That’s a pretty good indicator of a positive environment. If there is tension in the air, you can generally see it on staff members’ faces.

Safety, of course, is of utmost concern. It’s easy to see the signs of a safe neighborhood:

  • Do the doors promptly re-secure when you enter or exit?
  • Are all doors secured to prevent wandering in unsecured spaces?
  • Are there handrails in the hallways to aid in balance?
  • Is there enough space for the number of residents who live there to comfortably participate in activities and physical exercise?
  • What about power outages or plant emergencies, such as a fire? Is there a defined evacuation plan? How are the residents protected during events such as these?
  • Are windows secured – specifically, are the windows in each resident’s apartment secure?

Ask questions about the community’s call system and the staff’s ability to respond timely to your family member’s needs. Staff carry pagers and/or radios with them as means to communicate with each other. Pagers alert staff when something unusual happens (a door opens that generally shouldn't, a door leading out to the courtyard or an alert button/pendant).

Another safety feature is systematic and routine checks on residents to be sure they are okay. The need for status checks and their frequency are based on each resident’s service plan. Certainly, basic cleanliness is worth considering as well. Are all of the rooms and open areas clean? Are there any lingering odors? What about the dining room? Is it clean and comfortable?

A supportive community will always promote independence by offering their residents choices. Simple choices work best for those with memory impairments. For example, a choice between a blue shirt or a yellow shirt versus choosing any shirt from their closet. We pride ourselves on offering our Life Guidance residents the same dining experience as in Assisted Living. Pay particular attention to the dining experience, the quality of food the community offers and if they adjust their menu selections to accommodate the changing needs of the residents. Stay tuned for Part Two of the series, which will focus on Engaging Activities and their role in the lives of residents with memory impairments.


Category: Dementia & Memory Care Tags: , , , , , ,

Five Brain Foods That Boost Memory – Atria Senior Living Blog

5 Brain Foods That Boost Memory

Posted on August 1, 2014 by Beatrice Huston

Culturally speaking, we place a great deal of emphasis on physical health and the actions we take to keep our bodies healthy. But what about our brains?  As some of us age, we experience a decline in cognitive ability, memory loss and a general lag in mental processing. So, it is important to focus on not only how we keep our bodies healthy, but also our brains.

A simple place to start is with your diet. (more…)

Category: Dementia & Memory Care, News In Aging, The Atria Kitchen Tags: