Friday, December 23, 2011

What Good are Pets?

Many of us, especially those who have raised children, have had a pet at one time or another.  Now that the children are on their own we think its their turn to enjoy the pleasures as well as the troubles that come with having a pet. Our relationships with animals as members of the family are over.  Some say, “I enjoy seeing them in the wild, but not in the house.  I’ll watch them on TV on nature shows, but that’s my limit.”  The reasons are obvious: the dog walking (if the pet is a dog), the expense of buying animal food, the gnawing of furniture and the inevitable accidents, not to mention the pain of seeing a pet sicken and die. For all these reasons it may seem counter intuitive to advocate pets for seniors. Let’s give it a try anyway.

A good pet is therapy. Who needs it? For seniors who live alone a pet makes the best of companions.  Once you admit you love dogs or cats or birds, the pros quickly outweigh the cons.  If the pet is a small dog you can train them to use newspaper and, of course, a cat has its litter box. What is sweeter than opening the door to your home and having a little creature greet you with unconditional love? You cuddle up with your pet to watch the evening news and make uncontested commentary on the reporting while scratching your pet’s head.  What more can you ask for? It’s this companionship that makes any inconvenience of having a pet worthwhile.

Cons and Pros
Nonetheless, there things to keep in mind:  Where is the nearest veterinarian, how expensive is pet food, is there someone who can keep your dog when you go on vacation or can you take him with you?  Who will walk the dog when it snows? Still there are animals that are companionable yet require less attention, such as fish in an aquarium and birds in a cage.  They’re not completely task free, but require less than a cat or dog.

Are there health benefits to living with a pet?  Pets are known to reduce emotional and physical pain. According to, studies have shown that petting animals can bring down blood pressure and trigger the release of dopamine and serotonin in the brain that elevates mood.  It isn’t surprising that seniors who own pets visit the doctor less often than those who don’t.  Is there a pet in your future?  For the sake of your health, it’s worth a thought!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Tired of being tired?

Have you noticed how often the answer to your question,  “ How are you?” is “ So tired”.
What is this tiredness all about?  You might also notice that people who are happily on the go rarely say they’re tired.  Tiredness might have something to do with not expending energy.  It appears to be counter-intuitive to say the more you move, the more energy you have. If you’re tired, sleep.  Not always.  If you’re tired in the middle of the morning, move. Notice when you lie on the couch how easy it is to fall asleep. Move to generate energy and feel alive!
When you are watching television your body is usually stationary. To generate energy try the following movements, 10 times each.  Begin by raising your arms above your head and stretching each arm.  Next, work your legs, by bending and stretching.  With knuckles facing, move your elbows in a circular motion. Then stand and with feet 10 inches apart swing your arms from side to side.  Raise your shoulders to your ears. Move your head from side to side again the final 10 times. Finally do a super person stretch by clasping your hands behind your back and pulling down, 3 times.  While doing these simple exercises take belly breaths making sure you exhale as deeply as you inhale. And remember there are foods that encourage drowsiness and tired feelings shortly after giving the initial spurt of energy.  Cake, cookies, candy, and of course, caffeine are some major deceivers.

A Little is Very Good

A University of Georgia study randomly selected 36 healthy, young adults who said they had persistent feelings of fatigue.  They participated a in a six week period of moderate, medium and low intensity exercise 3 days a week. The study concluded that effects for symptoms of fatigue were moderated by exercise intensity, with low intensity exercise
producing the more favorable outcomes.  Conclusion, a little exercise is a good way to combat fatigue.

If simple exercise doesn’t restore energy, it may be time to have a conversation with your doctor who will help you pin point the cause of your excessive tiredness. Tiredness may be due to physiological, (hormones) emotional (stress), or lifestyle (quality of sleep) imbalances. Hopefully, moving your body may be all that is needed to shake that tired feeling.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Person-Centered Care

Nursing Homes are focusing on an important dimension to services to elders in their care.  It is called Person-Centered Care.  The concept is not new to Isabella but may be a new way to describe diverting attention away from store-housing elderly, frail people to a renewed commitment to any individual who takes up residence in our Nursing Home.    Isabella’s mission has always been “to provide quality care through diverse programs designed to promote health and independence within and without our walls.”  Person-centered care zeros in on this dedication to physical, mental and emotional health of the individual resident. It is an expression of faithful adherence to the original inspiration for founding Isabella.

Creating Home Again
What does a person–centered care approach look like in practical terms?  At Isabella elders can choose to participate in a variety of recreational activities; they receive affectionate attention from staff they encounter during the course of a day. We see this caring in the warm smiles of nursing assistants, and the help a resident receives from staff “going h/her way” to another locale in Isabella. Residents and staff always welcome the many volunteers who want to spend time in the neighborhoods of Isabella. Residents who have outlived their families especially value their visits.

Another way Isabella counters the isolating effects of life in a Nursing Home is the Home Again Ambassador Program. Staff volunteers can become part of the Ambassador group which orchestrates games, song sessions, and storytelling in ways that encourage positive resident to resident interaction.

Isabella fosters the spirit of caring through a Person Centered Care committee composed of staff from different disciplines and job titles. Person Centered Care workgroups have measures by which they keep track of efforts to effect change. Currently a Dining Services project is underway.  New changes in menu items reflect the choices of Isabella residents, delivery of meals in steam tables rather than in institutional type trays and the presence of dining hosts attempt to make the dining experience more enjoyable. Basic to the project are gracious interactions among staff and between staff and residents as together they create a pleasant ambience at mealtimes.   

In all these ways Isabella keeps growing as a home where person-centered care is the number one priority.

By: Angela Menghraj

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Not for Women Only

Let it not be said Nursing Homes are for women only.  Isabella has a wonderfully diverse population.  Of the 700 residents who live at Isabella 219 are men.  So what is happening to make Isabella a comfortable place for men?  Indeed the women of Isabella enjoy quilting, the European Club, and bingo.  Pastimes many enjoyed in their more independent days.

But what brings the men of Isabella together for conversation and fun?  It is the Men’s Group, the idea of Felicita Cruz, (Recreation).  She called on other staff members to contribute their talents to the newly formed gathering of men.  It didn’t take long before volunteers were escorting men from the various Isabella neighborhoods on Wednesday afternoons to one of the community dining rooms. About 15 come together at any one time.

The men began by introducing themselves to one another.  Future Echoes dancer, Ray Centeno (Finance) offered to lead the men in sharing memories of life in New York, jobs and their experiences in wars, civil rights and music of a bygone day.  Jokes and trivia spark conversation.  Sometimes Ray begins with a guided meditation enhanced by a background of Native American music.

There is definitely excitement in the air as Ray sets up percussion instruments of bongos, castanets, and drums.  The residents are delighted to play.  Rebecca Hernandez (Finance) joins Ray and the two twirl and step to the magical beat of trance dance, jazz and Latin rhythms.

At other gatherings Michael Robinson, a physical exercise trainer  (Environmental Services) demonstrates routines. The men flex their muscles as they follow along.  Recruitment for a sports enthusiast has begun so the group can welcome in the baseball season with the excitement it brings.
While this is all going on the men are enjoying refreshments of beer and chips.  Not so bad for a Nursing Home. If a woman attempts to join the fun she is greeted by a resounding, “Men Only”.  The Men’s Group is a good time for male companionship and entertainment.

The idea of having a Men’s Group has caught on and other Isabella communities have begun similar gatherings of men.  The Isabella Men’s Group is an example of how creative thinking fosters person-centered care in innovative and fun ways.


Friday, October 28, 2011

Mind the Mind

George Burns, the comedian who lived to 100 years of age, once quipped, “By the time you’re eighty years old, you’ve learned everything. You only have to remember it!” What Burns may not have known—and what those of us who worry about the effects of aging on the mind may not realize—is that learning is one of the most effective ways to keep memory and thinking skills sharp as we age.

A recent study titled ACTIVE (Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly) found that five years after a group of 3,000 volunteers had gone through eighteen hours of instruction in cognitive exercises, their thinking skills improved. The volunteers, aged 65 and older, underwent a series of trainings focused on memory, reasoning, and speed of processing.

Michael Marsiske, a principal investigator in the study, noted, “What we clearly show is that these short mental workouts improve performance, and that improvement is detectable even five years later.”

Short mental exercises are available to all of us: we can, for example, spend fifteen minutes a day working on crossword or Sudoku puzzles or memorizing foreign words and phrases in preparation for a trip abroad.

Another way to think about aging and cognitive ability is to imagine that the best way to age is to bring a well-exercised brain with us. An article published in the New York Times in January 2007 reported the following: “The one social factor researchers agree is consistently linked to longer lives in every country where it has been studied is education.” 

With this new emphasis on learning and “brain calisthenics,” it’s important to keep in mind that the brain cares for the mind as with a partner. The body, too, needs exercise. Exercise improves blood flow to the brain, which, according to researchers, uses 25 percent of the oxygen that enters the body. Exercise also eases depression, a frequent companion to an inactive body.

Staying active in a number of ways—thinking about new subjects, playing challenging games, taking daily walks—seems to be the right way to shore up our minds for a fulfilling future. If we do so, we improve our chances of beating the odds as George Burns did and give ourselves the opportunity to live, learn, laugh, and remember for years to come!


Friday, October 21, 2011

If not you, who? Write your story now

While this generation is busy text messaging in techno speak to family and mostly friends, there are other stories to be told, stories begging to be captured.  Who is telling your story?  Who really knows your story?  No one but you.  Where can you begin?

When actress, Liv Ullman, wrote her memoir, Changes she didn’t write a chronological history, rather she chose events, or those moments of realization significant in her life journey.  This might be the least complicated way to write your own story.

The first step might be to get good equipment:  a smooth writing pen that glides across the page and a fresh notebook or journal.  Or if you prefer, use your computer.  Then choose a time of day when you are least likely to have interruptions. You might want to set a time limit, but no need to stay with it if you get on a roll.

Besides expressing your feelings about things that happen there are practical reasons for keeping a journal.  For example: when did you last see your Aunt Mary? Or what could you have possibly said at the bridal shower that upset off the mother of the bride?  There it is in black and white, in your journal.

The good thing about journaling is that you don’t need to worry about spelling or grammar as your write.  Just write whatever comes up.  It is probably better not to critique your thoughts.  No one else will read them.  Of course make sure to secure your journal in a safe place since it’s for your eyes only…for now.

Include the Times

As you write your journal include stories of your family and the times you are living in should they come to mind.  Somewhere down the road there will be someone who will wonder about things that took place in the 20th and 21st centuries.  For instance, if you lived through WWII you might remember the victory gardens in your neighborhood or the air raid warnings, or the food rationing books, or life before PCs.  Today, you are living in a time in history of momentous happenings that call for your opinion or reaction.  Presidential elections, wars, recession to name some.  How are you and your family affected ?  All this is part of your valuable life experience.     

Be creative.  Draw pictures, collages whatever comes to mind.  Your journal is yours, so have fun with it.  It might be helpful to think about family members and friends whose  stories you would have loved to have known from their point of view. If only they had written it down! Your journaling can prove to be a wonderful gift to those who someday will wish to read your story, in your words.


Friday, October 14, 2011

The Elephant in the Room

You’ve worked hard and in retirement you are satisfied with the nest egg you’ve squirreled away to make the future just the way you want.  Then Surprise!  Your adult child comes to you in tears, in financial need.  Your question is “Where did I go wrong?”

You’ve set a good example.  You’ve saved, set up IRA’s and 401K’s.  You’ve paid yourself every payday.  Now the unexpected shows up in the face of your dearly loved offspring. Guidelines may be in order, not for love, but for loving our adult children in a way that encourages their financial health while keeping your own.

You know your savings account is not a sweet treat to be dispensed liberally without caution.  And the time for early conversation with your child about budgeting is well passed.  Now what?

Here are some things to consider when talking with a grown child about finances:

  • If she has lost her job offer your home until she can re-establish herself in new employment.
  • Examine the urgency of the present need.  If there is no urgency suggest she save for what she wants. (Remember that?)  If there is some urgency create a workable understanding on how she will repay the loan.  
  • Suggest sharing an apartment with a roommate.  

We are living in challenging times for young people.  So it is not surprising to hear of parents paying medical insurance or college loans to ease their child’s burden.  An important question to pose to the adult child is, “How will you manage your finances going forward?”

Draw the Line Together

We live in an age when commercial advertizing, especially on the internet and television lures people of any age to spend beyond their means.  Life style adjustment may be needed.  Like cooking meals on week-ends, having people over for pot luck suppers, going out to eat only once a month.  Young people don’t like asking parents for money, but making some basic changes in how they spend money can make a difference.  There is no one easy answer.  Each family can talk through the situation and come up a solution that works for everyone, parents included.  For example, if the problem is credit card debt, don’t take out a home equity loan to take care of it. If cutting up the credit card and creating a reasonable budget doesn’t work it may be time to consult a debt counselor to help her out of the hole. It will require swallowing some pride but there is a way out from under this money elephant. And what a relief when it’s gone!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Stressed by Requests

Are you stressed by too many requests for donations? We can limit the amount of solicitations that fill our mailboxes and waste trees, time and money. This can be stressful all year, but most especially at the end when many charities make a final effort to finance their humanitarian programs. It’s not too late to take charge of how much charity mail we receive.


Relieve the Burden

What follows are some suggestions from the Federal Trade Commission and people who have figured out how to dispense with an unwanted paper stressor:

·   When you choose to donate to a charity include a note asking that the charity not rent, sell or exchange your personal information and donation history.

·   You can ask a nonprofit organization to limit donation requests to once or twice a year.  If the organization fails to do this, you may wish to find a different charity. 

·   If an unsolicited request includes a postage paid stamp and you want to stop future mailings, write a note on the slip that contains your name and address asking that your name be removed from their mailing list. Mail it back to the organization. You can also print out slips with your name and address and send it to the charity with your own stamp.


When Feelings Are Involved

·   Some charities elicit an emotional response with pictures of people suffering hardships.  As worthy as a cause may be, your feelings of guilt may transform into resentment when you find yourself dipping too deeply into your own pockets to support an unsolicited cause.

·   Be aware of charities that send gifts such as note pads, clothing, pens, etc.  They may be well intended but you might wonder why donations are used to fund promotional items you may not want. You may also feel guilty if you don’t send a donation for a “free” gift.  Include a note with your donation asking that instead of receiving gifts you would like your donation to be used for the fine programs you support.

Consider choosing a few legitimate, worthy causes for your giving dollars. To make sure a charity is on the “up and up” research it with these organizations:

BBBGiving Alliance:
American Institute of Philanthropy:

Finally there is always the refuse bin for unwanted solicitations.  This works in the moment, but may not stop future unsolicited requests. 

Be charitable and give, but on your terms!

A. M.

Monday, October 3, 2011

It's Breast Cancer Awareness Month - Get Involved

This October, Isabella Geriatric Center is proud to sponsor National Breast Cancer Awareness Month—a time to promote regular mammograms and increase early detection of breast cancer. About 1 in 8 women in the United States will get breast cancer. Other than skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common kind of cancer in women. Mammograms can help find breast cancer early when there is the best chance for treatment.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, breast cancer is the number one cause of cancer death in Hispanic women. It is the second most common cause of cancer death in White, Black, Asian/Pacific Islander, and American Indian/Alaska Native women.
  • If you are age 40 to 49, talk with your doctor about when to start getting mammograms and how often you need them.
  • If you are age 50 or older, call today to schedule your mammogram.
These are general guidelines. Talk to a doctor about your risk for breast cancer, especially if breast or ovarian cancer runs in your family. Your doctor can help you decide when and how often to get a mammogram.

Get Involved: 

Isabella is gearing up for Breast Cancer Awareness Month by hosting its annual bake sale in support of the American Cancer Society's "Making Strides Against Breast Cancer" Event. The Bake Sale will be held on October 7th at 515 Audubon Avenue, New York, NY 10040.  

We are also encouraging community members to join the Isabella team on October 16th at the American Cancer Society's Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk at Central Park.
Call (212) 342-9548 for additional information.

Isabella is a nonprofit, nonsectarian organization serving the elderly of New York since 1875. Our mission is to provide quality care through diverse programs designed to promote health and independence within and beyond our walls. To learn more about Isabella visit


Thursday, September 29, 2011

13 Going on 60

Tech giant Google was born 13 years ago this week, in the burgeoning late 90s economy and “tech boom” that took the digital world by storm. This nation’s millions of 47-65 year-olds born in the “baby boom” era have now done the same. According to a report on, baby boomers now make up nearly 30% of total internet users. Add that to the fact that they are responsible for over half of consumer spending and you have an impact you cannot ignore.

            “Boomers” represent 80% of all leisure travel by Americans. A Cornell University Center for Hospitality Research survey found that the typical person 55 and over is dining out 51 times a year. Earlier this month, Google bought Zagat, the popular restaurant review guide that has grown to include hotels and shopping. Google plans to incorporate it into its maps and search. Bringing new features into its web products while keeping them intuitive for a wide range of users is something they have done for over a decade. Possibly without realizing it, Google and other companies have made the internet more accessible to baby boomers.

            In the last two years, the number of baby boomers on social networks has grown by 60%. They are not just using Facebook and Twitter; they are joining sites like, a social network for people over 60. Studies have shown that having close social circles helps extend life. With more seniors and baby boomers becoming active on the internet, fewer of them will lose touch with friends.

Google might just be 13, but as it ages, it has to continue adapting to the trend of baby boomers using the internet. Much of the innovation online has been aimed at younger users, but there is a sizeable group of older internet users that can gain a lot from it all.