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Seven Tips for Living Healthy with Diabetes

April 27, 2017

More than 29 million Americans have diabetes, according to an estimate by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). That’s approximately 9.3 percent of the U.S. population, a number that has been increasing over time.

“When you have diabetes, it’s important to manage your blood sugar,” said Heather Yoder, VMRC’s Wellness Center program manager. “It’s your barometer on how things are going.”

Diabetics experience dangerously low blood sugar levels when they haven’t eaten in awhile. They may feel clammy, dizzy and confused and are at higher risk of passing out and going into a diabetic coma. On the other hand, they often don’t know when they have dangerously high blood sugar levels because they don’t experience immediate symptoms; however, chronically high blood sugar can lead to long term problems with hands and feet.

Tip #1: Exercise

Do at least 150 minutes of cardio exercises per week to help regulate insulin and lower blood glucose levels. Try swimming, cycling, brisk walking or jogging. It’s ok to spread out the 150 minutes over multiple workouts per week. Then add in some strength training twice per week plus daily regular stretching, and you’ll feel even better.

“Find something that you enjoy doing so that you will keep doing it,” said Heather. “Check out your local wellness center or yoga studio for facilities and class offerings. Don’t be afraid to try a new activity, but if you are new to exercise, ramp up your exercise efforts gradually to give your body time to adjust.”

Tip #2: Eat and Drink Mindfully

Moderate your carbohydrate intake, especially for sodas, candies and other sweets. Eating too many carbohydrates elevates your blood sugar and contributes to weight gain, thus exacerbating diabetes complications.

Avoid saturated fats and eat moderate amounts of unsaturated fats. “Healthy” unsaturated fats - such as olive oil or vegetable oil - tend to be liquid at room temperature and help transport nutrients throughout your body.

Make sure you get enough protein in your diet. Proteins help level out blood sugar levels. If you don’t eat enough protein, you will have more spikes in your blood sugar.

Consume coffee and alcohol in moderation. Too much of each negatively impacts blood sugar levels.

“Talk to a registered dietician or nutritionist who can help you figure out exactly how much of each food or beverage you should or should not be consuming,” said Heather. “They can get very specific based on your gender, weight, activity levels and what has been happening with your blood sugar.”

Tip #3: Manage Your Stress

Stress increases blood sugar, so it’s important to find ways to relax and keep your stress levels in check. Practices like meditation, deep breathing, mindfulness and doing activities you enjoy can help you calm down in both the short and long term.

Tip #4: Quit Smoking

Smoking is extra risky if you have diabetes because it hardens and narrows blood vessels, which is especially important considering that diabetes increases the risk of heart disease.

Interestingly, in the short term, quitting smoking can actually increase the risk of diabetes and worsen its symptoms - primarily due to the weight gain that often comes with quitting smoking. However, in the long run, quitting smoking will help those with diabetes stay healthier.

Tip #5: Care for Your Feet

You may experience poor circulation and neuropathy - common consequences of diabetes - which means you can’t feel your feet well and are less likely to notice cuts and sores on your feet. Something as simple as an untreated ingrown toenail can quickly turn into the loss of a foot or limb. Visually inspect your lower limbs regularly so that you promptly address any problems.

Tip #6: Manage Your Medication

Sometimes lifestyle changes aren’t enough to control diabetes. Medication may be needed. Work with your doctors to monitor any diabetes medication you are taking, especially its timing - your doctor will tell you when you need to change the amount and/or timing your doses.

Tip #7: Keep Learning

Six-week long Diabetes Self-Management classes are regularly offered through VMRC’s Wellness Center and are free to the public thanks to funding from the Valley Program for Aging Services. Contact VMRC’s Wellness Center for more information about local class offerings.

Learn More About Depression: Signs and Treatment

April 11, 2017

Depression affects people of all ages, but older adults, especially those with chronic health conditions or limited mobility, face an increased risk. According to The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), between 1% and 5% of older adults living in the community are affected by depression. Rates rise to 11.5% in older hospital patients and to 13.5% in older adults who require home healthcare.

“A big factor in depression is the experience of loss,” said Rowland Shank, a psychologist who treats VMRC residents on its campus. “As you age beyond a certain point, you will suffer losses of friends and family members, physical abilities and memory.”

Typical signs of depression and the length of depressive episodes, whether they occur just once or recur, are consistent across all ages. You might be depressed if several of the following apply:

  • You feel less energetic.
  • You have less motivation.
  • Your sleep is disturbed.
  • Your appetite is disturbed.
  • You have trouble concentrating.
  • Your libido changes.
  • Your mood is depressed.
  • You become tearful more easily or more frequently .
  • You no longer experience pleasure in activities that you used to enjoy.
  • You have less self esteem.
  • You have suicidal thoughts.

Intensity and frequency of occurrence of depressive symptoms may vary by season. Many people have more difficulty with depression during colder, darker winter months.

“The good news is the success rate for treating depression is very high. It’s probably one of the most treatable conditions that people can have,” said Shank. “Unfortunately, sometimes people don’t seek treatment because they feel like there is a stigma associated with doing so. But just because you are depressed doesn’t mean that you are crazy or have a character defect.”

Shank recommends that depressed older adults begin therapy as soon as possible. “Don’t wait because the further you go into depression, the more difficult it is to treat. Early detection and consistent treatment yield better outcomes.”

Depressed individuals should also consult with their family doctor - medication will help in some cases.

When left untreated, depression can have lasting or even permanent effects on the body and behavior. Research has documented changes to brain structure and function and metabolism. Untreated depression also increases the risk of heart problems and dementia.

VMRC residents with depression have access to resources for treatment and support and are encouraged to talk to their Resident Services Manager or Social Worker for a referral. Not only can residents now make an appointment to see Dr. Shank for treatment on campus, but there are also several support groups for residents who lost a spouse or who live separately from a spouse due to the need for different levels of care.

Learn more about depression on the CDC website.

Thorpe Guides Innovative Approach to Nursing Home Care

March 30, 2017

There is no typical day for Betsy Thorpe. When she arrives on VMRC’s campus each morning, she never knows what her job will entail. Six months ago, Thorpe became the Guide for Woodland Park, an innovative community for providing complete living care to older adults.

“What I like most about my role is the opportunity to spend time developing relationships with people, including residents and caregiving staff,” said Betsy. “I deal with whatever is happening each day and offer support, tools and education as needed. I’m like a coach who is helping VMRC pioneer this kind of care in Virginia.”

In each Woodland Park home, 10 or 11 residents, each with their own private room, live together in a home. They are cared for by shahbazim, who provide nursing care but also serve as homemakers preparing meals, doing laundry and cleaning. Woodland Park homes operate according to the Green House Project® - an initiative which intentionally transforms the physical environment of a nursing home into a residential environment to create meaningful life for those who live and work there.

Following in the footsteps of a father who worked as the CEO of a retirement community, Thorpe has spent her career in the same field, building her experience through various positions in dining and marketing departments.

“Woodland Park is the future of nursing home care. It’s very different than your traditional nursing home setting,” said Betsy. “Residents like that it’s quiet - no bells or alarms. They like the opportunity to get to know their caregivers. Because the staff work in the same homes every day, it’s the same people, the relationships are deeper. There is more of a family feel.”

Woodland Park consists of three such homes, with another five under construction and planned to open this fall. And while the Green House® approach is spreading quickly nationwide, VMRC is the only official such provider in the state of Virginia.

Three core values comprise the Green House® model: Meaningful Life, Empowered Staff and Real Home.

“The Real Home principle removes the institution from the setting and mindset,” said Betsy. “Woodland Park homes have a living room, sun room, front porch and kitchen which is the center of each home - things we all like to have in our homes. Staff cook meals in the kitchen and then sit down with residents around a farmhouse-style table where they enjoy those meals together. That’s where good old-fashioned conversation happens, fostering a greater sense of connection.”

The principle of Meaningful Life intentionally brings choice, control, autonomy and close relationships to residents and encourages late-life development, an essential component to the human life cycle. Staff take the time to engage with residents in a variety of activities.

“Per the Empowered Staff principle, the shahbazim become the closest people to the residents,” said Betsy “They get to know them well and offer more than just basic physical care. They also get the autonomy to make decisions about how each home is run.”

It takes a team of 10-12 shahbazim to provide 24-7 care for a house for full of residents 365 days per year. Three occupy a house on a given day with two doing direct Meaningful Life care and one preparing meals.

Find out more information on Woodland Park.

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