The Healing Power of Nature for Elders and Caregivers

IMG_0731Nature heals.  Being in nature, or even viewing scenes of nature, reduces anger, fear, and stress and increases pleasant feelings. Exposure to nature not only makes you feel better emotionally, it contributes to your physical wellbeing, reducing blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones. It may even reduce mortality, according to scientists such as public health researchers Stamatakis and Mitchell.

I was able to retreat to the Colorado Rockies recently after leading a dementia training in the Denver area.  The further I drove from the city traffic the more relaxed I became, as the mountains surrounded me and hustle and bustle subsided with each mile closer to my destination.

Research done in hospitals, offices, and schools has found that even a simple plant in a room can have a significant impact on stress and anxiety.

I’m excited to see that more care communities are integrating raised beds, gardening activities, serene courtyards and interspersing scenes of nature in their decor.  Not only is it helping residents but care partners also are benefiting from the restorative power of nature.

According to research by the University of Minnesota,  we are genetically programmed to find tress, plants, water and other nature elements engrossing, thus we are absorbed by nature scenes and distracted from our pain and discomfort.

This was demonstrated in a classic study of patients who underwent gallbladder surgery;  half had a view of tress and half had a view of a wall.  According to the physician who conducted the study, Robert Ulrich, the patients with the view of trees tolerated pain better, appeared to nurses to have fewer negative effects, and spent less time in a  hospital.

In another study in Mind, 95% of those interviewed said their mood improved after spending time outside, changing from depressed, stressed, and anxious to more calm and balanced.  Other studies by Ulrich, Kim and Cervinka show that time in nature or scenes of nature are associated with positive mood, psychological well being, meaningfulness and vitality.

With a mission to transform aging for our elders and those caring for them, we are constantly seeking tools that will enhance lives.  To know that a simple plant can have such healing effects is truly amazing and should be an inspiration for all of us to take steps to integrate nature into our daily lives.

We don’t all have access to the mountains, but a garden stroll with an elder can change one’s mood, reduce stress, pain and enhance engagement.  It is an activity that can be shared with families and other care partners.  It’s simple person-centered care at its best.

Senior Care Professionals – Are you a Passionate Leader?

PASSION trumps all.  I was recently told this by a well respected CEO of a very successful company in the senior care industry.   As I witness the growth of our business I can attest to the fact that many of the clients we work with are passionate in their drive to go above and beyond in serving their residents, customers, families and communities.  Those who work in and with our company have a passion in improving lives for older adults and their care partners.

Merriam-Webster defines passion as: a strong feeling of enthusiasm or excitement for something or about doing something.

Passion turns a job into a life calling

Passion calls us to fulfill a dream, change lives and improve the world

Passion draws other passionate people to a mission

Passion drives people to work through challenges and difficulties

Many companies in the senior care industry (AGE-u-cate® included) have been created by founders who in some way were personally changed through an experience of caring for an aging loved one.  The complexities of a changing healthcare landscape,  growing choices for aging in place and within a community setting, and meeting the emotional, physical and spiritual needs of the explosive numbers of families caring for loved ones have created opportunities at every juncture of the senior care spectrum.  If there was every an industry to draw passionate, caring individuals it is in senior care.

 Leaders who are passionate attract passionate people who want to further a mission with meaning. 

According to Certified Executive Coach Nozami Morgan “This is in large part because people want to follow a passionate leader. Someone who cares about not only the cause for which he or she is working, but also the other people who are involved in the effort. Passion for the projects, for the company and for the people involved are key to successful leadership.

In a more tangible sense, this essentially comes down to an attitude or mindset when working on projects. The people who are passionate about their work don’t do it for the sake of “doing stuff.” They aren’t the types who sit in their office and try to look busy until 5 pm. They’re driven by curiosity and the motivation to learn about the world around them.

Here’s to welcoming in a New Year of Passionate Leadership!

The Urgent Need for Airlines to Become Dementia Friendly: A Case in Point

Interior of airplane with passengers on seats waiting to taik off.

As we all know society is aging… fast.  Aging people travel- more than ever, as do aging people who are living with dementia.  Airlines listen up – this trend is not going to slow down.  The question is, how are you going to better serve your aging customers and improve the flying experience for all of your passengers?

Here’s a summary of my recent experience that supports our call to action:

On a recent trip from Florida, the plane was delayed due to fifteen people in wheelchairs who had to pre-board.  As I was one of the last to board, I chose a window seat next to two ladies.  One of the passengers was 97 and traveling with her daughter.  Being a dementia educator and passionate advocate for the elderly, I was especially keen to the conversation between them.  Throughout the flight, mom would ask her daughter to call people and the endless loop of questioning “how much longer” never ceased.  The daughter was patient but I could certainly sense frustration brewing.

Across the isle was a women with  Parkinson’s disease.  Somehow her husband managed to keep her occupied by playing cards despite the fact that she was constantly in motion.  Again, I observed a patient husband as long as status quo remained intact.

I was not able to observe the other 13 people who had pre boarded, but I’m assuming the scenario played out similarly.

When we landed, the lady with Parkinson’s attempted to reach up and get her bags.  Not one person assisted, so her husband switched places with her so he could reach them.  In doing so, she fell on the floor of the empty row across from her.  Only then did the flight attendants come to assist as the front of the plane yelled “She fell!”I felt a tinge of embarrassment for that couple.

The 97 year old lady woman was attempting to get up and several passengers squeezed around her almost knocking her down.  I finally interjected asking the other passengers to PLEASE giver her a chance to get out.  Again, a flight attendant finally came to assist.  The daughter very gently stated that her mother needed a wheelchair to which the flight crew member responded, “Well I’m 55 and I don’t need one”.  I’m still not quite sure what the meaning of that statement was supposed to be, but it was neither respectful or kind.

Dementia avoidance, lack of knowledge and communication skills  from airline employees and the flying public is creating havoc on the ground and in the air, and diminishing those living with dementia (and their families) as second class passengers.

Airlines, like other customer oriented businesses need to invest in training employees to better understanding aging, dementia and how to properly communicate with their aging consumers.  In doing so, they will gain a unique competitive advantage.  Even more importantly, they will be doing the right thing – showing kindness, compassion and respect for our elders.

What is your training plan for this year?

Senior Care Education Leaders: Online vs. In Person Training

learning concept with education elements

Digital, online and virtual learning have changed the landscape of training alternatives for the senior care workforce.  Flexibility, minimization of spacial barriers and simplicity of delivery are certainly valid reasons why training programs must include some components in training curricula.

The question we must ask ourselves is the intrinsic value of integrating in-person training to enhance the effectiveness and application of knowledge for our increasingly diverse and younger workforce? shares 10 most significant breakthroughs that recent research has made on the science of learning.  I want to talk about 2 of these 10 breakthroughs.

The brain needs novelty.  Researchers have found that novelty causes the dopamine system in the brain to some activated, sending the chemical throughout the brain. While dopamine is often regarded as the “feel good” chemical, scientists have shown that it actually plays a much bigger role, encouraging feelings of motivation and prompting the brain to learn about these new an novel stimuli.  This breakthrough has led to some major changes in how we think about learning, and has motivated man schools to embrace learning methods that cater to our brains’ need for new and different experiences.

Learning is social.  Peer collaboration offers students access to a diverse array of experiences and requires the use of nearly all the body’s senses, which in turn create greater activation throughout the brain and enhances long-term memory.  Group work, especially when it capitalizes on the strengths of its members, may be more beneficial than many realize.

Face-to-face learning creates a dynamic relationship between the student and teacher (or trainer) and between students.   These relationships combined with the personal element of a workshop enhance the dynamics created when passion, gestures and language are fluid and real.   There is less room for miscommunication in on-site training vs. virtual since teachers and fellow students can openly discuss issues at hand.

The cost effectiveness of online training must be weighed by the retained learning taking place by the student.  When crunching the numbers, if you pay twice to retrain staff or the value of training is not sufficient to empower the participant to improve job skills, the cost of turnover is exponentially higher than investing in quality training to enhance one’s ability to do their jobs with greater skill and efficiency.

As we look at the challenges of training a growing and diverse workforce to care for our elders, we are encouraged by the training  leaders who embrace the  value of integrating onsite experiential education that is effective, research-based and innovative.

Person-centered care is  a term that has been around for quite some time.  Creating an organization where person-centered thinking is a core culture model cannot be achieved without innovative training that changes everyone within the organization.  We challenge leaders to embrace the innovation available in  experiential learning that transforms attitudes, actions and thinking!

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