What Florida Seniors Need to Know About Hurricane Evacuations

In Florida, hurricane season runs from June 1 through November 30. During this period, a storm can hit at any time, causing massive destruction. It’s important to plan for storm season in Florida. If you’re in a storm’s path, you may be ordered to evacuate your home and seek shelter in a safer location.

To help Florida seniors understand how to stay safe and comfortable when evacuating during a hurricane, we sat down with Keith Kotch, acting emergency manager for the Orange County Office of Emergency Management.

Here are his tips on building a hurricane evacuation kit, finding a shelter that suits your needs, and staying informed during a storm.

Q. What do Florida seniors need to know about evacuation orders?

A. They’re not technically “orders.” It’s kind of a misnomer. When an evacuation order is issued, we can’t force you to leave your home or property, Kotch said. But he advises Florida seniors to heed the instructions of local authorities, especially if you live in a manufactured home or other potentially vulnerable structure.

Q. What should Florida seniors pack in their hurricane evacuation kit?

A. The most important item in your hurricane evacuation kit is drinking water, Kotch says. Specifically, he recommends having one gallon per person per day for seven days. Do not forget your pets, Kotch said. They will need water, too. Other supplies to have include canned goods and a manual can opener, battery-powered flashlights and radios, and extra batteries.

Q. When should Florida seniors start building their evacuation kit?

A. Don’t wait until you’re in a storm’s path to start building your evacuation kit. The stores will be crowded and supplies will go quickly. Kotch recommends stockpiling in advance. Purchase a gallon of water and a shelf-stable food every time you go to the store until you have the recommended supply.

Q. What about important paperwork?

A. When evacuating, Kotch recommends Florida seniors take copies of important papers like deeds, birth certificates and insurance policies. Before leaving, he suggests taking photos of your home and belongings in case you have to make an insurance claim.

Q. Should seniors bring medications with them when they evacuate?

A. Yes! Have at least two weeks’ worth of all medications, supplies and medical equipment. Talk to your doctor about getting a paper copy of all your prescriptions as you may not be able to use your regular pharmacy after a storm, Kotch said. If you’re a caregiver, you’ll also want to bring copies of your loved one’s medical information, including diagnoses, physicians and prescribed medications.

Q. What can Florida seniors expect from a hurricane shelter?

A. It’s an emergency shelter, not housing. In Orange County, Kotch said the shelters don’t provide cots, and seniors should bring their own blankets, air mattresses and bedding. Should the shelter become full, you can expect to have 20 square feet of space, he said. If the power goes out, the shelter won’t have air conditioning. Many also don’t accept pets. When a storm is approaching, check your county’s website to see which shelters are open near you.

Q. Are there hurricane shelters for Florida seniors with special needs?

A. If you have a medical condition that requires assistance, such as oxygen, dialysis or insulin injections, Kotch recommends evacuating to a special needs shelter. He says each county in Florida is required to maintain a special needs registry and suggests signing up. This will help emergency management teams ensure they have the staff and supplies necessary to provide you with care. According to Kotch, caregivers, families and even domestic pets are allowed to accompany the person with special needs. In Orange County, if you are on the special needs registry, Kotch said, you will get a call prior to a storm to see if you need help getting to the shelter. You can learn how to register for your county’s special needs services by visiting their website.

Q. Are there any other evacuation options for Florida’s seniors during a hurricane?

A. Seniors can reach out to friends and family members who live in a safe location to see if they can weather the storm there. You might also be able to book a hotel room in another city. Seniors and their caregivers can also arrange for a respite stay at an assisted living community. At Sonata Senior Living, all of our emergency management plans are approved by the county and city. Our communities are also powered by backup generators, and we provide a week’s worth of food and water for each resident. Whatever your evacuation plans, make sure your car is fully gassed and your tires are in tip-top shape.

Q. How can Florida seniors track a hurricane’s status?

A. In addition to a battery-powered radio, Kotch suggests downloading your county and city’s emergency management apps. For example, Lake County offers an app called AlertLake, which keeps residents informed about dangerous weather. The National Weather Service also offers an emergency notification alert app.

As part of a statewide notification initiative, each county in Florida offers its own emergency alert service. Visit https://apps.floridadisaster.org/alertflorida/ to learn how to subscribe for notifications in your county.

Learn how to stay safe during storm season in Florida. During a hurricane, staying informed is the top priority, Kotch said. Your phone can help you stay connected to the world.

To learn more about arranging a respite stay during a hurricane or other weather emergency, contact us today.

For more information on Sonata’s senior living communities, call a community near you today to schedule a visit →

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Three Fascinating Ways Music Makes You Smarter

When it comes to music’s effect on our emotions, the research is in. Music has been proven to ease anxiety, evoke positive memories, and fill us with awe and joy, even when the brain has been damaged by Alzheimer’s or dementia.

But while music can help us FEEL better, can it also help us THINK better? In honor of Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, here are three exciting areas of research that explore the connections between music, memory and intelligence.

#1 – “The Mozart Effect”

Perhaps the most striking argument for the connection between music and intelligence is what researchers have dubbed “the Mozart Effect.” According to a study in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine published by J.S. Jenkins, MD FRCP, people who listened to a Mozart sonata for just 10 minutes showed significantly better spatial reasoning skills than those who listened to a guided relaxation and those who sat in silence.

Our spatial reasoning skills, which describe our ability to create an image in our mind and rotate or transform it, are vital to success in the classroom and at work. These are the skills we would tap to put together a puzzle or solve a complex math problem.

Many scientists have attempted to explain exactly how the Mozart Effect works. In studies conducted by researchers B. E. Rideout and C.M. Laubach, listening to Mozart resulted in enhanced neural synchrony, a process considered essential for the nervous system to process information. Another study published by Taylor and Francis showed that listening to music resulted in greater beta power, often associated with a higher state of active mental engagement.

#2 – Instruments and IQ

While listening to music can improve our ability to process information, learning to play an instrument has the power to physically change the shape of our brain and increase our IQ.

That’s because when we learn to play an instrument, we strengthen the areas of the brain that control our hearing, motor skills and information storage. In time, these areas become larger and more active. Changes like these don’t only help us learn how to master our scales on the piano, they spill over into our everyday life.

Researchers have shown that musicians are better at multitasking, making decisions and problem-solving. Some even say learning to play an instrument can increase our IQ scores by up to seven points!

You don’t have to be a concert pianist to enjoy these brain-boosting benefits. One study showed that people over the age of 65 experienced strong changes in their brain chemistry after playing an instrument for just an hour a week. 

#3 – The Connection Between Music and Memory

The most exciting research developments involve the science of music and memory. In addition to helping reduce feelings of irritability, depression and agitation, music therapy has also been proven to help reverse declines in memory and cognition in people with dementia.

In a study published by the Translational Neurodegeneration medical journal, it was suggested that listening to “Spring” from Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” can lead to improved autobiographical memory. Singing along with a song or playing an instrument at the same time has also been linked to improved scores on the Mini-Mental State Exam (MMSE), a test designed to measure an individual’s mental ability. And when people were asked to commit a chunk of text to memory, they experienced much better recall when they sang it compared to reading it aloud.

These exciting studies and others like them are the inspiration behind special programming at Sonata Senior Living’s Memory Care Communities. To learn more about the power of music on memory, call a community near you today to schedule a visit →

For more information on Sonata’s senior living communities, call a community near you today to schedule a visit →

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What to Say When Dad Won’t Stop Driving

Thanks to our warm weather, low cost of living and preponderance of retirement communities, Florida is currently home to more than 3 million seniors. In the coming years, that number is only expected to grow. By 2030, the state’s population of adults age 65+ is expected to hit 7.7 million!

That means the number of older drivers on Florida’s roads is expected to almost double in the next decade. While many seniors are fantastic drivers, health factors like decreased mobility and impaired vision can lead to problems behind the wheel.

Statistics show the crash rate per miles driven starts to increase for people once they turn 70. Of all age groups, drivers age 85 and older have the highest fatal crash rates.

Florida law requires drivers to pass an eye test every six years after they turn 80. The state has also a launched a program called Florida GrandDriver to help the growing senior population assess their skills and find local driver refresher courses.

But there comes a point in every person’s life where it’s no longer safe for them to be on the road. Often it’s the driver’s friends and family members who have to initiate this emotional conversation.

Don’t Feel Guilty — But Do Have Empathy

The prospect of this conversation may fill you with guilt, but you are doing the right thing. You’re not betraying your father, instead you’re protecting him — as well as other drivers, pedestrians and bikers — from potential harm.

Here are four tips to help you have an honest and productive conversation about his health, his driving ability and whether it’s time to hang up his car keys.

#1 – Have “The Talk”

If your father is getting more traffic citations, having difficulty seeing road signs or understanding directions, or you notice other warning signs his driving skills are impaired, it’s time for a talk. That said, for the talk to be effective, it’s important to empathize with the emotions your father may feel during the conversation. Losing one’s driver license can feel like a major blow to the ego.

#2 – Have a Plan in Place

Your father may have concerns about losing his independence when he stops driving. How will he buy groceries, visit friends or go to the doctor’s office?

That’s why it’s important to have a plan in place before the conversation begins. Research and suggest viable alternatives to driving, including:

  • Getting rides from friends and neighbors
  • Using rideshare programs like Uber and Lyft
  • Taking public transit
  • Signing up for grocery and prescription delivery services
  • Moving to a Florida senior living community

Senior living communities in Florida offer residents services like scheduled transportation, on-site amenities and entertainment, and plenty of opportunities for meaningful interactions with family and friends — no car required.

#3 – Make It a True Conversation

Unless the situation is extreme, don’t approach the conversation as if a final decision has already been made. Instead, consider it more of a discussion. Use open-ended questions to facilitate a healthy dialogue about your father’s health and abilities. Offer to give the new arrangements a trial period, after which everyone regroups to discuss how to overcome any issues that came up along the way.

#4 – If Needed, Involve a Third Party

If the discussions don’t go well, consider bringing in a neutral third party. This could be your father’s doctor, a therapist or a lawyer who specializes in elder care. If you’re seriously worried about your father’s safety and the situation needs to be escalated, the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles also offers concerned friends and family members the opportunity to report an unsafe driver anonymously.

For more information on Sonata’s senior living communities, call a community near you today to schedule a visit →

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Alzheimer’s and Men: What the Research Says

Two-thirds of the more than 5 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s are women, prompting even the National Institutes of Health to call the disease a “women’s health issue.” Stats like these may leave men believing they’re less at risk of developing Alzheimer’s. But when you dig deeper into the data, you see that the headlines tell only half the story.

In honor of Men’s Health Month, we’ve compiled some important facts about men and Alzheimer’s, plus tips on what men can do to reduce their Alzheimer’s risk.

Understanding Men’s Alzheimer’s Risk

Despite the disproportionate amount of women affected by the disease, recent studies suggest that sex does not affect one’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Instead, the disparity could be attributed to the fact that women have a longer lifespan than men. Women also tend to consult with their general practitioners more often than men, which could increase their rate of diagnosis.

One recent study about gender risk showed that the incidence rates of Alzheimer’s were the same for men and women in the United States.

Alzheimer’s Risk Factors

While there hasn’t been a direct link between Alzheimer’s risk and gender, men are more likely to engage in behaviors that could increase their chance of developing the disease, including:

  • Smoking

Compared to women, men are more likely to smoke cigarettes. Smoking increases the risk of vascular issues like strokes and bleeding in the brain, both of which are risk factors for dementia. One study suggested that as many as 14% of Alzheimer’s cases worldwide could be potentially linked to cigarettes. Other studies indicate the chemicals in cigarette smoke can cause inflammation and increased oxidative stress, which have both been thought to increase one’s Alzheimer’s risk.

  • Binge Drinking

Men are almost twice as likely as women to binge drink. Nearly a quarter of men say they binge drink (defined as consuming five or more drinks at once) five times per month, downing, on average, eight drinks per session. Binge drinking has been linked to the development of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Heavy drinking can also lead to brain damage, which may increase your risk of developing dementia.

Men and Alzheimer’s: More Risk Factors

Men are also more likely than women to experience the following health conditions, which may increase their Alzheimer’s risk:

  • Early Onset Heart Disease

The heart is responsible for pumping nourishment-rich blood to the brain. Damage to this important organ has been linked to an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s in both sexes. And men generally develop heart disease at a younger age than women.

  • Head Injuries

Over the course of their lifetime, men are more likely than women to experience a traumatic brain injury. Severe head trauma has been linked to increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s, especially among older adults. Even repetitive mild injuries have been linked to the development of cognitive issues later in life.

Alzheimer’s and Men: Reducing Your Risk

This Men’s Health Month, consider engaging in the following healthy habits, all of which may help decrease your Alzheimer’s risk:

  • Quit smoking. There is evidence that shows giving up cigarettes reduces your Alzheimer’s risk to the same level as a non-smoker’s.
  • Protect your heart. Work with your doctor to develop an exercise routine that will help keep your heart and vascular system strong. Eat heart-healthy foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
  • Protect your head. Reduce your risk of head trauma by always wearing your seatbelt, motorcycle helmet and fall-proofing your home.
  • Stay engaged and connected. Maintaining strong social connections and staying mentally active have been linked to a lower risk of cognitive decline as we age.

Senior living communities in Florida offer programs and activities designed for staying active and engaged. Along with healthy dining options, fitness classes and social opportunities, congregate living is an excellent choice for men’s health.

For more information on Sonata’s senior living communities, call a community near you today to schedule a visit →

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20 Technologies to Help Seniors Stay Safe at Home

The past 10 years have brought a flood of technological advances, from apps that let us video chat with people around the world to light bulbs we can turn on and off from smart phones.

Countless new smart phone applications and smart home technologies have been embraced by younger generations and elders alike. A “smart home” features a variety of technologies that make life easier in a home that may not be suitable for those with disabilities. Lighting, speakers, cameras, thermostats, doorbells, door locks, appliances, cooking devices, vacuums – the number of smart home devices is only growing, fully integrating technology into the home setting and making aging in place a safe and viable option for seniors.

This is only the beginning. A recent White House report identified a number of new and pending technologies that will not only make our lives easier and more connected, but will also help us maintain our independence late in life.

In honor of National Safety Month, here are 20 innovations that will help Florida seniors feel safer, more confident and more empowered as they age.

Aging in Place

Gerotechnologies serve a crucial role in the aging‐in‐place process and have potential to not only extend lives, but save them. As we age, mobility becomes more challenging and results in more accidents and falls in the home, as well as isolation, depression and other risk factors. New technologies have been specifically designed to increase safety at home.

  1. Telemedicine/telehealth advancements eliminate the need to travel to doctor appointments, including fitness trackers and devices that monitor vital signs, glucose levels and more.
  2. Emergency fall devices like smartwatches and emergency pendants worn around the neck will automatically alert family members and first responders, potentially saving lives.
  3. Electronic pill counters that will alert and dispense medications electronically, taking all the guesswork out of the equation.
  4. Transportation has never been easier largely due to on-demand apps like Uber and Lyft, making disabled seniors less dependent on caregivers and public transport.
  5. Delivery apps have radically shifted how we think about shopping and immediate delivery of anything from groceries to medicine make aging in place easier.

Better Hygiene, Better Health

Feeling clean and comfortable is vital to our physical, mental and emotional well-being. But activities like bathing and grooming can be difficult for seniors with limited mobility, putting them at increased risk for falls as well as the complications that occur when personal hygiene is neglected. For those with wounds or conditions that require extra care, it can be even harder to keep up with a daily wellness routine. Several new technologies will take hygiene and health to the next level:

  1. Showers that turn on automatically and self-adjust the water pressure and temperature to match the user’s preferences
  2. Toothbrushes that can account for the needs of people with limited vision, hearing and coordination
  3. Bandages that administer medication, monitor a wound’s condition and notify a doctor if an infection is detected

Computers in the Kitchen

Preparing delicious, healthy meals is difficult when our eyesight and cognitive abilities have been affected by age. That could all change. Among other helpful kitchen aides, according to AARP, there are new apps that assist the visually impaired using audio rather than visual input.

We’re hopeful the following innovations will give seniors more confidence to navigate their kitchen with ease:

  1. Meal prep services that bring fresh, whole foods and ingredients to your doorstep, eliminating the need to travel or cook
  2. Robots and appliances that can make potentially dangerous tasks like chopping vegetables or working with an open flame easier and safer

Innovative video magnifiers and apps that make it easier for people with impaired vision to read labels

Developments in Dementia Care

Brain research has led to some innovative technologies designed to help manage the symptoms and behaviors Alzheimer’s or dementia. Hundreds of products and apps have been developed specifically for people with memory loss, including GPS bracelets that can assist in locating a lost  individual. In addition to remote monitoring physiological risk factors such as high blood pressure and glucose levels, technology is also helping improve quality of life for those living with memory impairment:

  1. Voice-activated assistants can be programmed to provide useful reminders, set alarms, read books, answer questions and even turn lights on and off
  2. Music players that come pre-loaded with music to stimulate memory
  3. Computer-assisted cognitive retraining software that help people with memory loss engage in cognitive rehabilitation at home
  4. Augmented reality devices that help people with memory loss recall names and navigate their homes and neighborhoods with more confidence

Staying Connected

Aging in place can cause isolation and loneliness, a very serious health risk. No one, at any age, enjoys feeling lonely. But in older adults, social isolation can lead to depression, insomnia and increased risk of mortality. Tools like these may help seniors enjoy more meaningful interactions with friends and family, whether they’re in the same room or on opposite sides of the country:

  1. Hearing aids that connect to smartphones and microphones
  2. Affordable mobility robots that help people move around their homes and neighborhoods, empowering them to enjoy easier and more interactive visits with friends and family
  3. Assisted mobility devices that help people with reduced strength or impaired balance do everything from get in a loved one’s car to hold their lemonade at lunch
  4. Socially assistive robots that look after you in the home and provide emotional support, including a robot that asks you how you feel and a seal that snuggles
  5. Remote monitoring with GPS and video conferencing keep seniors in constant contact with loved ones so movement and signs of health deterioration can be identified early and emergency assistance can be deployed if necessary 

Assisted living communities also help seniors avoid social isolation and offer research-based programs and technology to help older adults maintain their independence longer. Yet many Florida seniors will choose to age in place, ultimately placing themselves at higher risk of falls, injuries, isolation and other serious health risks. As a result, technology is quickly evolving to help them feel safer, more confident and more connected as they age.

For more information on Sonata’s senior living communities, call a community near you today to schedule a visit →

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The Easiest Ways to Keep Fit in Florida at 70+

Florida is one of the top destinations for retirees. And for good reason. The cost of living here is relatively low and there are no state income taxes.

But we have a sneaking suspicion that what draws most seniors to the Sunshine State is our wonderful weather.

Down here, you can enjoy the great outdoors almost any time of year (okay, except for maybe a few steamy days in August). This makes it easy for seniors living in Florida to enjoy all of the benefits that come from an active lifestyle, including reduced blood pressure, decreased risk of developing many diseases and conditions, and increased balance and flexibility, just to name a few.

In honor of National Senior Health Fitness Day, here are the best ways for seniors to stay active while enjoying all of the options for independent living in Florida.

The Best Ways to Enjoy Active Senior Living in Florida

  • Swimming — Swimming improves our cardiovascular health. It has also been associated with lowered blood pressure, improved circulation, and reduced risk of heart and lung disease. In Florida, active seniors have plenty of options for practicing their breast stroke, whether it’s a few laps in the community pool or a dip in the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Weight training — As we age, our bodies naturally lose some muscle mass. Regular weight training can make us less prone to falls, improve our balance and increase bone density. Talk to your doctor to see if bringing a few light dumbbells on your afternoon walk is a smart idea.
  • Tai chi and yoga — Many cities and towns in Florida offer free community yoga and tai chi classes in their parks and recreation areas. Consider dropping in on a session to enjoy benefits like reduced stress, increased balance and strength, and lower blood pressure.

Mental Benefits of Active Senior Living

An active lifestyle isn’t just good for the body. Numerous studies have shown that the prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex (the parts of the brain that control memory and thinking) have greater volume in people who exercise.

To further improve your mental fitness, consider adding a few brain-boosting exercises to your workout routine. Studies have shown activities like crossword and sudoku can help the mind resist the effects of aging by stimulating the nerve cells to produce more nutrients.

How to Enjoy All of the Active Senior Living Options in Florida

One of the easiest ways to stay mentally and physically fit while enjoying the great outdoors is to sign up for fitness and wellness classes at your senior living community.

Many independent living communities in Florida offer regular group walks, outdoor aerobics classes, and excursions to nearby attractions and sites.

At Sonata Senior Living, the Live It Up wellness program makes it easy to make new friends while improving your physical, mental and emotional strength. This proprietary wellness program, developed exclusively for Sonata residents, includes everything from museum visits to pool parties to group card games. We also help residents develop a physical routine they’ll actually enjoy.

Whether it’s National Senior Health Fitness Day or a regular Tuesday, at Sonata we believe the best way to embrace active senior living is to make working your mind and muscles easy — and fun.

For more information on Sonata’s senior living communities, call a community near you today to schedule a visit →

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Protect Mom From Falling in the Home

Falls in the home are one of the leading causes of injury in older adults, with one in four Americans age 65 and older experiencing a painful fall each year.

Women are especially susceptible to falling. According to The Society for Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine, senior women are 50% more likely than men of the same age to trip or stumble when multitasking.

This Mother’s Day, consider going beyond the typical presents of flowers and chocolates to give your mom the ultimate gift: the tools and support she needs to navigate her home with confidence and ease and safely age in place.

The Painful Consequences of Falling at Home

In Florida, there are nearly twice as many women age 60 and older who live alone, compared to men of the same age. This puts them more at risk of not receiving immediate help should they fall in their home.

Even with immediate assistance, the consequences of a fall can be serious.

  • One out of five falls results in a critical injury, including head trauma or broken bones.
  • More than 95% of hip fractures are caused by falls.
  • Most traumatic brain injuries are the result of a fall. These can be very serious, especially if your mom is taking medications like blood thinners.

If a fall doesn’t result in a serious injury, your mom may develop a fear of falling after taking a painful tumble. This fear may lead her to become less active, resulting in muscle weakness that can increase her risk of falling in the future.

Protecting Mom From Falls at Home

There are three steps you can take today to help your mom feel safer and more confident in her Florida home.

  1. Make an appointment with her doctor. Less than half of the millions of older Americans who experience a fall each year tell their doctor. If you worry that your mom’s sense of stability or balance has decreased, have an honest conversation with her healthcare provider. He or she may be able to prevent future falls by evaluating the prescriptions and over-the-counter supplements your mom is taking and, if needed, running blood tests and other diagnostics. It’s also important that older adults get their eyes checked at least once a year.
  2. Suggest an exercise outing. Tai chi is a gentle, low-impact way to strengthen the muscles in the legs, which can help improve balance. These classes are offered in many Florida gyms, community centers and YMCAs. If you’re local, consider tagging along. It’s a great way to spend quality time together while reducing stress and improving your stability.
  3. Fall-proof her home. Make Mom’s home safer by installing grab bars and railings in spots like the bathtub and stairway. Offer to rearrange furniture or move items that can easily be tripped over, and help Mom pick out new, brighter light bulbs to use in dim rooms and spaces. Experts also recommend removing throw rugs that can cause Mom to trip and fall.

If Mom is still experiencing falls at home, it may be time to consider professional caregivers to help you both feel more confident and secure. Falling is one of the telltale signs that your mom may need the robust care offered by a Florida assisted living community to continue maintaining her independence and quality of life.

When it’s time for that conversation, rest assured that there are more options for assisted living in Florida than ever before. You and your mom have a choice in how she will receive the care and support she needs.

For more information on Sonata’s senior living communities, call a community near you today to schedule a visit →

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The Difference Dementia Certification Makes in Florida

Florida has strict requirements for those who work directly with people who have dementia and Alzheimer’s. But there are some Florida memory care communities that see the state’s extensive training requirements as merely the starting point for providing the highest level of care.

In honor of National Nurses Week, today we salute the Florida caregiver communities that go above and beyond to help their residents — and the people who love them — feel more secure, comfortable and empowered.

Florida Dementia Care Options

In addition to the high training standards for providing dementia care in Florida, some specialized communities, including Serenades by Sonata, provide training on Teepa Snow’s acclaimed Positive Approach™ to Care, which has attained the highest national certification for the treatment of dementia.

Credentials offered by the National Council of Certified Dementia Practitioners recognizes the highest national standards in Alzheimer’s and dementia education and is founded in research.

The Difference a Dementia Certification Makes

After completing the National Council of Certified Dementia Practitioners’ rigorous training, nurses and caregivers have a deeper understanding of how dementia affects the brain.

Compared to those who only undergo the required Florida dementia care training, they’re more empowered to ensure every resident receives the highest, most compassionate level of care. They also realize that each resident has unique needs based on the parts of their brain that have been impacted by the disease.

If a resident demonstrates undesired behavior caused by dementia, these knowledgeable nurses and caregivers don’t react or take the actions personally. Instead, they understand that dementia can damage the nerve cells in the frontal and temporal lobes — which control behavior and personality — and respond to the resident’s distress with more compassion and efficacy.

If a resident refuses to speak, Certified Dementia Practitioners understand that the parts of the brain associated with speech have likely been compromised. They’re aware that this can cause a sense of embarrassment about being unable to find the right words to say. Professional caregivers with extensive dementia training are empowered to interact with the resident in the kindest and most empathetic way to ease their stress and discomfort.

Certified Dementia Practitioners are also knowledgeable of how the disease continues to change the brain as symptoms advance. This allows them to be proactive in helping each resident remain independent for as long as possible.

“This training gives caregivers a deeper awareness of what’s happening to each resident to provide a more detailed and personalized level of care,” said Julie Fernandez, CALA, CDP, CADDCT, CPT, the director of team development and training at Sonata Senior Living.

Better Dementia Care for Florida Families

Residents aren’t the only ones who may benefit from this research-based approach to specialized memory care for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia in Florida.

When your loved one is in the care of a Certified Dementia Practitioner at a memory care community, the needs of the family are addressed with the same level of expertise and empathy.

Certified caregivers take the time to share their deep knowledge of the brain to explain why symptoms of memory loss and confusion persist. They share tips on how to interact with your loved one in the most effective manner to ensure each visit is as meaningful and positive as possible. They’re also there to remind you that you’re doing everything right.

When you are caring for someone with dementia, each day may bring a completely new set of challenges due to the unpredictability of the disease. Certified dementia care experts have developed a practical guide for managing the negative symptoms of Alzheimer’s and dementia at home to help Florida families and those in their care arm themselves with essential knowledge and support that professional caregivers use in everyday practice.

“Often, families think they’re doing something wrong or they feel powerless to watch how the condition is changing their loved one,” said Fernandez. “When they speak with someone who has a deep knowledge of dementia and Alzheimer’s, the guilt starts to dissolve. It also opens their eyes. They see Mom’s still Mom, she’s just different now, and they learn to adjust their expectations and actions to have more meaningful interactions.”

For more information on Sonata’s senior living communities, call a community near you today to schedule a visit →

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Parkinson’s Diagnosis in Florida: 7 Important Questions to Ask the Doctor

A Parkinson’s disease diagnosis can often blindside a family, especially because symptoms can vary widely and a definitive test for the disease doesn’t exist.

“There are other syndromes with similar or overlapping symptoms, and about 35% of Parkinson’s patients never even experience tremors,” said Anissa Mitchell, LCSW, Advisory Board Chair for the Parkinson Association of Central Florida.

If you or your loved one has received a diagnosis, it’s important to ask the doctor the right questions to ensure the next best steps.

Since it’s such an individualized disease, no two Parkinson’s diagnoses are the same. So while the answers to these questions will vary by person, let’s review what to ask and what to keep in mind when you get those answers.

1. Should I start medication?

Whether someone should start taking medication will depend on their particular situation and their doctor’s advice, of course. However, a general rule of thumb is:

If symptoms are interfering with quality of life and activities of daily living, it’s probably time to consider medication.

Some patients delay taking medication because they fear its effectiveness will eventually wear off. This is a myth. The medicine doesn’t stop working simply from taking it for too long. The reality is that dosage must be increased over time to continue seeing benefits since Parkinson’s is a progressive chronic disease.

“Sinemet, a combination of levodopa and carbidopa, is a commonly prescribed medication,” said Mitchell, whose mother lives with Parkinson’s. “It’s important that the drug be taken on an empty stomach or with a non-protein food source because protein will compete with the medication for absorption in the body. That’s something not everyone is aware of, but it’s important to note if you or your loved one is prescribed it.”

2. What should I do in the event of a bad reaction?

If the doctor does prescribe medication, it’s critical to understand next steps if that medicine triggers a reaction before your next scheduled appointment. Some questions to ask:

  • If I call the office, can I reach you directly? If not, who do I talk to?
  • What if I notice a reaction after office hours?
  • Should I stop taking the medication right away?
  • Do I need to wean off the medicine gradually?

Of course, how certain people react to certain medication varies, but it’s important to have a plan in place so you’re prepared if a negative reaction occurs.

3. How else can I manage symptoms and improve quality of life aside from medicine?

There are several non-pharmacological ways to help manage Parkinson’s disease depending on a person’s abilities and pre-existing conditions.

A key to proactively managing quality of life is physical activity.

Ask the doctor the best exercise to be doing given your or your loved one’s symptoms. Also ask what types of physical activity are safe and which are unsafe. There’s a reason an active lifestyle is central to a quality assisted living community, especially in Florida.

Another major factor is eating a healthy and balanced diet. Constipation is a common early symptom of the disease, and it can become troublesome over time.

“A high-fiber diet is typically advised for those diagnosed with Parkinson’s,” said Mitchell. “Specifically, we see the Mediterranean diet recommended often, but it’s critical to ask your doctor what’s best for you or your loved one’s particular situation.”

4. What symptoms should I look out for that you, as my doctor, would want to know about?

Again, because every Parkinson’s diagnosis is different, symptoms can vary — and it’s difficult to predict what may come next. However, you should ask the doctor if there are particular symptoms or red flags they would want to know about right away.

Generally, some major symptoms worth noting include:

  • New or worsening pain or rigidity
  • Increased depression and/or anxiety
  • Changes in thinking or memory loss
  • Difficulty sleeping or changes in sleeping habits
  • Hallucinations or hearing things that aren’t there
  • Abnormal obsessive behaviors (compulsive shopping, unusual sexual behavior, etc.)

5. Should I be evaluated for therapy?

Physical therapy, occupational therapy and/or speech therapy may be appropriate for certain Parkinson’s diagnoses.

Some people may experience swallowing issues or vocal changes as a prominent symptom early on, but they may write it off as something unrelated. That’s where a speech therapist can help.

Physical therapy can also be a proactive approach to strengthen weaker muscles and help mitigate changes that have already started to occur. Occupational therapists can help with self-care tasks and other activities of daily living, including assisting with adaptive equipment, as needed.

There has been significant success with LSVT programs in people with Parkinson’s, so therapy is definitely a worthwhile consideration. Some larger neurology centers in Florida have therapists on staff, but if your doctor’s office doesn’t, ask if they would recommend a referral to therapy as a next step.

6. Where can I get more information and support?

Doctors often don’t have time for extensive patient education, so a crucial next question is: “What are reliable resources where I can learn about my disease?”

Like any chronic disease, knowledge is power — both for the patient and their caregiver(s).

Someone with Parkinson’s may only see their doctor every few months, so it’s important for them and their caregivers to understand the disease, what to look for and how to communicate changes to the doctor. Ask your doctor for recommendations to classes, organizations and support groups in your community.

“It’s not just about education. Social support is vital, too,” said Mitchell. “This tends to be an isolating disease, because symptoms can make the person feel self-conscious, they may have trouble speaking, and they often suffer from anxiety and depression. All of this can lead them to withdraw socially. Support groups can help combat this negative cycle.”

There’s a positive difference in those with Parkinson’s who engage socially — both with their existing social network and others living with the disease — because they don’t have to explain themselves, they’re accepted, and they can learn from each other.

7. Are there opportunities to get involved in research or a clinical trial?

Participating in a clinical trial or other research-based treatment could not only help a person diagnosed with Parkinson’s feel better, but it could also contribute to better treatment or even a future cure. Plus, not all clinical trials are medication-based. A lot of the research being conducted right now is focused on early stages of the disease, before patients get heavily involved with medications.

Caregivers must be involved from the very beginning

Those who receive a Parkinson’s diagnosis may initially be hesitant to involve their partner, child or another family member or friend because they may think, “This is my problem to handle, and I don’t want to drag them into it.”

But it’s so important to have that caregiver engaged from the onset so that they can understand how the disease will affect them, learn the medications and know what the doctor is recommending. This Parkinson’s Awareness Month, consider how you can educate, support and encourage your loved one and others living with and affected by Parkinson’s disease in your community.

For more information on Sonata’s senior living communities, call a community near you today to schedule a visit →

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Volunteer Opportunities and Ideas for Seniors in Florida

One of the joys of retirement is the opportunity to volunteer your time and give back to the community. If you’re an older adult in Florida who wants to make a difference, there are a number of ways you can get involved.

Volunteering ideas for older adults and retirees

There are numerous ways to get plugged in and start volunteering in your community. Organizations like Volunteer Florida and VolunteerMatch can help you discover specific opportunities near you.

Another great resource is the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) through Senior Corps, one of the largest volunteer networks in the nation for older adults.

According to the organization’s website, “RSVP volunteers choose how, where, and how often they want to serve, with commitments ranging from a few hours to 40 hours per week.” If you’re interested, you can contact their Florida office directly.

Here are some other ideas to consider:

  • Becoming a foster grandparent — Senior Corps also offers a Foster Grandparents program. Volunteers serve as role models, mentors and friends to children in their community with exceptional needs.
  • Dog walking — Your local Humane Society or animal shelter is likely in need of volunteers to walk their dogs. This is a great option for staying active and enjoying the outdoors while giving back!
  • Providing a hot meal — Homeless shelters and food banks get a lot of attention around the holidays, but they need help year-round. Whether it’s cooking, serving a meal or organizing supplies, there are plenty of opportunities to serve the homeless in your community, from the Orlando area to Broward County to Palm Beach County and beyond.
  • Schools — Some schools are open to volunteers helping with play time, reading and other activities. This could also be a great option if you have a group looking to volunteer together. At Sonata West, a senior living community in Winter Garden, Florida, residents regularly volunteer at a local preschool to craft and read books with the students.
  • Museums — Many museums are free to the public and all of them rely on private donors and volunteers. Check with your local art, science and history museums to see if they’re accepting volunteers. Zoos often need help, too!
  • National parks — If you live near one of Florida’s national parks, you could volunteer your time in a variety of ways from behind-the-scenes to front-line positions.
  • Hospitals — Many Florida hospitals accept volunteers, including “cuddlers” who cradle babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). You may also be able to volunteer in administrative roles or to provide companionship to patients undergoing treatment.
  • Volunteer from home — There are ways to volunteer “virtually” without ever leaving the house! For example, you can sew and knit blankets for organizations like Warm Up America and Binky Patrol, or send letters of encouragement to people undergoing cancer treatment through Chemo Angels.

The benefits of community service: 4 reasons to volunteer in retirement

Not only is community service a way to help others, but it’s good for you, too! There are numerous benefits to volunteering:

  1. It keeps you active — Volunteering can get you outdoors, promote mobility and encourage daily activity that keeps you moving. Even if it’s just walking around the library or museum, this added light exercise can help you stay healthy as you age.
  2. Improved happiness — According to the National Institute on Aging, studies have shown that volunteering decreases depression and improves overall happiness. “The researchers found it improved the volunteers’ cognitive and physical health” and “researchers think [volunteering] might also have long-term benefits, lowering the older adults’ risk of developing disability, dependency, and dementia in later life.”
  3. Reduced dementia risk — Volunteer activities can keep your brain sharp and foster creativity. According to a recent University of Calgary research study, older adults who volunteer consistently reduce their risk of dementia. “We found that the people who did volunteer work for at least one hour a week on a regular basis were 2.44 times less likely to develop dementia than the seniors who didn’t volunteer,” said the study’s lead professor.
  4. Mentor and learn from younger generations — Community service goes beyond the tangible work you do. It’s an opportunity to share your experiences with younger generations (and perhaps change their misconceptions about yours). At the same time, it’s also an opportunity for you to learn from them.

Volunteering truly is a win-win. Don’t miss out one of the greatest joys of retirement: sharing your time, experience, skills and passion with others. When you volunteer, you receive more than what you invest.

For more information on Sonata’s senior living communities, call a community near you today to schedule a visit →

5 Tips on Moving your Loved One to a Senior Living Community in Florida


There’s no place like home, right? For many seniors, this is absolutely the case.

Even when you know — and they know themselves — that the time has come to move to senior living. But that doesn’t make it any easier to leave.

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