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Tips for Seniors to Maintain a Healthy Blood Pressure

High blood pressure (also called hypertension) is a common issue—and major health problem—among many older adults. High blood pressure can lead to other dangerous conditions in the kidney, the eye, and heart. It can be controlled with medication and by adopting a healthier lifestyle. But what exactly constitutes and causes high blood pressure in seniors?

Blood pressure measures the force of one’s blood pushing against the artery walls. That inflatable cuff and the stethoscope are checking your systolic and diastolic pressure—the first being the pressure caused by your heart contracting and pushing out blood and the second when the heart relaxes and fills with blood. Your blood pressure is typically read and records as systole over diastole; a normal number for adults is under 120/80.

As we age, the chance for high blood pressure increases due to changes in our vascular system. Men are more likely to have hypertension before age 55 and women after menopause.

What’s a normal blood pressure reading?
The American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology now define hypertension for most adults as 130 or higher for the first number and 80 or higher for the second number. There are different kinds of hypertension, depending on which way those systole and diastole numbers go from there. However, everyone is different, so a medical evaluation of one’s overall health and fitness is a good first step in diagnosing and addressing high blood pressure. If you are feeling lightheaded upon standing quickly or are short of breath during light physical activity, you should be checked for hypertension right away.

Conversely, hypotension is low blood pressure (lower than 90/60); it is often caused by dehydration, blood loss, medications, or a medical condition. With the heat of summer upon us, we remind everyone to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. You might not feel thirsty, per se, but your body is feeling it in other ways.

Controlling blood pressure in seniors
There are some ways you can keep your blood pressure in the healthy range:

  • Adopt a low-fat diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean meats. A low-salt DASH diet might also help; it encourages you to reduce the sodium in your diet and eat foods rich in nutrients that help lower blood pressure, such as potassium, calcium and magnesium. Read the labels on all processed foods, which often contain high levels of sodium.
  • Watch your weight!
  • Moderate your alcohol consumption – alcohol can affect blood pressure (and puts on weight).
  • Get some moderate exercise every day, whether it’s walking the halls, taking it slow but steady on the treadmill or exercise bike, taking a Zumba™ Gold class, or doing some chair yoga. (Make sure your physician clears you for exercise before getting started.)
  • Don’t smoke – quitting at any age is better than risking hypertension, heart disease, or stroke.
  • Get enough sleep
  • Relax and manage stress

Also be sure to tell your doctor about any vitamins or supplements you are taking, which could affect blood pressure.

Remember: You could feel absolutely fine but have early signs of hypertension you are not aware of. Therefore, routine blood pressure checks are wise for seniors to do, in order to detect a rise in pressure that may require you to change your diet, engage in exercise (mindfulness & meditation classes can do wonders!), or perhaps take prescription medication.

Keeping our seniors healthy at the JCHC
Residents at the JCHC communities are doing their part by participating in our weekly exercise classes, which include balance, mindfulness & meditation, and physical exercise; residents at Village Apartments and Lester Senior Living are using the equipment in the communities’ fitness centers; and at Jewish Federation Plaza, walking club members enjoy cruising the promenade that connects the buildings. We also encourage everyone who is able to get out during the early morning or late afternoon hours to enjoy a walk in the fresh air and sunshine—it’s good for the body and the soul!

The Benefits of Lifelong Learning for Seniors

In the 1990s, brain research showed that a stimulated mind promotes a healthy brain and helps us retain mental alertness as we age. In fact, scientists discovered that even an aging brain can grow new connections and pathways when challenged and stimulated. It appears that learning new skills or taking up new hobbies can help boost memory and improve quality of life.

  • In 2001, a research study by neurologists at Case Western Reserve University found that seniors who engaged in mentally challenging or intellectually stimulating activities were 2.5 times less likely to have Alzheimer’s disease.
  • A similar study at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School also found that seniors who enjoyed higher levels of intellectual stimulation throughout their lifetimes had a marked delay in the onset of memory problems and dementia-related symptoms.
  • Researchers in the U.K. found that reading lowers stress levels, slows heart rate and eases muscle tension. Reduced stress is significant because it decreases blood pressure, reduces risk of stroke or heart attack, boosts immunity, and lowers levels of depression.

Our retirement years present an excellent opportunity to take advantage of free time to learn about subjects of long-time interest or learn something new. It is no longer unusual for older adults to advance their education by attending and graduating college or pursuing a graduate degree. Enriching and stimulating one’s mind and overall outlook on life is what lifelong learning is all about.

In addition to keeping brains more nimble, certain lifelong learning activities keep the body active, such as creative arts or mindfulness programs. Lifelong learning programs also offer opportunities to socialize, whether those happen during discussion groups, educational field trips or arts presentations with like-minded individuals.

Community colleges, senior centers, and others offer many classes for seniors, who can explore topics of interest through survey courses and seminars. Lucky for our residents, the JCHC also offers a variety of enriching educational and enrichment programs right in our senior living communities. These include:

  • Creative arts classes – poetry and memoir writing, fine arts, and floral art
  • JCHC University – this past semester, courses were taught by college-level instructors who covered politics and government, literature, the arts, critical thinking, and family dynamics in the Torah
  • Art appreciation lectures and cultural presentations
  • Field trips to area museums and attraction
  • Lifelong Learning – a program run by the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest’s Joint Chaplaincy Committee in partnership with the JCHC

Lifelong Learning was conceived and launched in 2011 by Jay Murnick, a past president of the JCHC board of trustees, to provide continued Jewish learning to our seniors on a variety of Jewish-themed topics. The weekly educational program, which changes every year, is taught by community teachers, rabbis, and cantors. Every year; participating seniors study Jewish texts and discuss a variety of topics that interest them.

In addition, our communities offer discussion groups about current affairs and other areas of interest, and various clubs that enable our residents to broaden their horizons or participate in activities they’ve long enjoyed. From mindfulness to knitting to walking, we’re always finding ways to keep our seniors active in mind and body at the JCHC.

Eat Your Peas & Carrots! The Importance of Good Nutrition at Every Age

Even the most active of older adults may find it difficult to keep up with creating and eating nutritious meals. There are many reasons, such as trouble chewing, decreased sense of taste or smell, dietary restrictions due to physical conditions, medication side effects, mobility issues (hard to shop or cook), or feeling isolated or lonely. However, as we age, a well-balanced, varied and nutritious diet is vitally important to help maintain not only physical health but cognitive health as well.

Eating fresh fruits and vegetables is the key to getting all the important vitamins and minerals; B vitamins, Vitamin D, calcium, and potassium are especially important. Fresh produce is more nutritionally beneficial than canned or frozen counterparts (although those will do in a pinch), can be seasoned in countless ways, and adds wonderful color and fiber to meals. Including a variety of high-fiber foods every day (whole grains are in that category) also helps you improve digestion, maintain a healthy weight, and reduce your risk of heart problems by moderating blood pressure and lowering high cholesterol.

There are several health maintenance nutritional programs recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

  • For people ages 50 and older, the USDA food patterns suggests eating 1.5 to 2.5 cups of fruit (such as a two-inch peach or 1/4 cup of dried fruit) and 2 to 3.5 cups of vegetables (this is measuring uncooked leafy vegetables) every day.
  • The USDA Food Guide MyPlate Plan offers tips for building a healthy, balanced diet, which include making half your plate fruits and vegetables.
  • The DASH Diet is designed to help reduce blood pressure and emphasizes foods that are heart healthy. It recommends daily serving amounts of 2 to 2.5 cups each of vegetables and fruit.
  • Avoid high-calorie/low-nutrient foods such as chips, cookies, soda, and alcohol (of course, an occasional treat is always fun).
  • Pick foods that are low in cholesterol and fat (especially saturated and trans fats).
  • Eat together. Make meals a social event you look forward to. Research suggests that people eat better when they are in the company of others. Whether at an Oneg Shabbat, dinner, or lunch with friends or family, social meals are happier meals for everyone around the table.

In cold weather, vegetable soups are a great way to fill up with good-for-you ingredients, and adding legumes, beef or chicken for protein makes for a well-rounded meal in a bowl. (At Lester Senior Living, our homemade soups are so popular, we stock them in our General Store so residents can enjoy them any time in their apartments.) Working with a nutritionist can help provide easy-to-follow guidelines to ensure you’re getting what you need to stay healthy. Some physical exercise is also important, whether it’s walking at a comfortable pace for some distance, chair yoga, or working out in the gym.

If you’re thinking of a retirement community and want to sample the dining options at Lester Senior Living, we invite you to contact David Rozen about our Friends & Neighbors weekday program or take advantage of a short-term respite stay in our assisted living residence. These both enable guests to sample delicious, glatt kosher meals with residents in our elegant dining rooms. Contact David at (973) 929-2725 or davidr@richardc95.sg-host.com.

Lester Senior Living is located at 903-905 Route 10 East on the Alex Aidekman Family Campus of the Jewish Federation in Whippany. The distinctive retirement community offers independent and assisted living as well as memory care options for seniors, ages 62+. For more information visit www.jchcorp.org.

A Chance to Plant the Seeds for Future Generations of Our Seniors

With the calendar year ending and tax planning on many people’s minds, it’s a good time to remind our residents, their families and our supporters about JCHC’s Circle of Life legacy giving program.

This philanthropic opportunity enables anyone to make an after-lifetime gift to the JCHC that will support our future residents’ needs and enrich their lives for generations to come.

Making a pledge now to the Circle of Life is a beautiful way to create a lasting legacy and reflect how our communities have touched lives. Your pledge plants the seeds of meaningful tzedakah and anyone of any means can do so. There are several ways in which to make a legacy donation, including:

  • Bequest in your will
  • Designation from a life insurance policy or retirement plan
  • Charitable remainder trust
  • Estate or business interest

To date, 20 individuals have pledged to our Circle of Life with planned gifts in excess of $50,000. Pledging any amount to the JCHC’s Circle of Life legacy program will help us fulfill our mission to always provide high-quality senior housing with services that enhance our residents’ lives. You’ll be making a lasting impact with your testamentary gift and by donating to the JCHC, a non-profit organization, your estate will be making a charitable tax-advantaged contribution.

As you sit down with your tax or estate planning professional, we invite you to discuss how becoming a Circle of Life legacy donor can make a difference to your estate and our residents and support what is important to you. To learn more, visit www.jchcorp.org/legacyprogram or contact Harold Colton-Max at haroldc@richardc95.sg-host.com or (973) 530-3961.

The Benefits of Music for Individuals with Dementia

Music has so many benefits for people of all ages and abilities. It makes us smile, sing along, and sometimes, cry. It is undeniable that music triggers emotional and often, physical responses in us in ways few other modalities do.

Think of how music affects you. Do you find yourself tapping your toes or swaying to your favorite tunes? Do upbeat songs from your youth bring a smile to your face? Do those sad songs bring a tear or feeling of melancholy (which can be cathartic)?

In addition to these healthy responses, music is used in retirement communities and long-term care settings in other ways. Of course, there’s the fun of musical entertainment and singalongs, with everyone joining in on treasured show tunes or songs from yesteryear. Entertainment aspects aside, music has also been found to be highly beneficial for older adults with dementia.

Music & Memory at Lester
MUSIC & MEMORY® is actually a non-profit organization that brings personalized music into the lives of the elderly or infirm through digital music technology, which has been shown to vastly improve quality of life. The Music & Memory program at the Lester Senior Housing Community follows the model set out by the organization: to create and provide personalized playlists using iPods/MP3 Players and related digital audio systems; this enables those struggling with dementia and other cognitive and physical challenges to reconnect with the world through music-triggered memories.

This highly personalized form of music therapy has been of great benefit to residents in our Memory Care Suite, who have been enjoying some of their favorite music on mp3 players. The curated playlists bring smiles, promote socialization and reconnection, and spark a sense of joy in residents; they also offer opportunities for conversation about the songs, which provides additional recreational enjoyment and therapeutic benefit. It has been demonstrated that many people with Alzheimer’s disease—even those in advanced stages—can remember and sing songs long after they’ve forgotten names and faces.

Music can help maintain some cognitive functioning and tap into deep memories not lost to dementia. A documentary called Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory, was created in 2012 and shows a number of people with dementia who were reawakened and even became quite animated by listening to music genres and artists they preferred, illustrating the direct benefits.

Music therapy
As noted in a prior post, music therapy is also a delightful way for those with memory issues to have fun and gain the benefits of memory enhancement among other positive outcomes. Music therapy is also a great way for nonverbal individuals to express themselves. We schedule frequent music therapy sessions at Lester with certified music therapist Coleen Shanagher; these sessions are enjoyed by assisted living and independent living residents as well as those in our Memory Care Suite.

According to musictherapy.org, this clinical, evidence-based practice provides opportunities for:

  • Memory recall, sensory and cognitive stimulation
  • Positive mood changes
  • Great sense of awareness of self and environment which increases attention
  • Stress/anxiety reduction
  • Management of pain and physical discomfort
  • Social interaction and emotional intimacy with caregivers and family members

Our monthly drum circle program (“Rhythm and You”) is also popular with residents. These therapeutic drumming sessions promote a feeling of calm and enhance our residents’ focus. In addition, playing rhythms may help control chronic pain and lower blood pressure.

If you’d like to donate an iPod or similar device that you no longer use, and help bring the gift of music to a senior with dementia or other memory-related issues, please contact Marlene Glass at (973) 929-2700.