Unplanned Life Changes
Change is never easy. Even when positive change occurs, it may still force us to say goodbye to a former time and way of life. Unwanted and unplanned changes can bring an even greater sense of loss as they pull us away from our comfortable routines and familiar circumstances. Change is often confusing and disorienting. It can move the ground beneath us. For seniors and their loved ones who find themselves unwittingly faced with an unexpected situation, life may become uncomfortable for a time. We recognize the severity of these life-altering events and hope to approach them with care. We believe there is great comfort in human experience and knowing we are not alone in life’s journey.
Recent events in the world have brought unexpected challenges to countless communities with the spread of COVID-19, widely referred to as coronavirus. The senior health and living industries in particular have been on the front lines of the crisis as they’ve cared for populations most vulnerable to this threat. We are extremely fortunate in our community to have the help of such knowledgeable and qualified professionals as well as access to the best and latest in health technology, excellent facilities, and medicine.
We spoke with individuals who spend their days looking to the well-being of seniors in our community for words of wisdom and encouragement to navigate the often turbulent waters that come with unplanned life changes. Across the board, these caring professionals expressed a sense of compassion, concern, and hope for seniors who face difficulties. Here are their thoughts of encouragement for handling unplanned life changes.
Anticipate Coming Transitions
Many people may not think to look ahead for coming changes, such as an injury or a transition to a senior living community, until the need for change is imminent. This can cause anxiety and panic. On the other hand, anticipating change can help you steady yourself when life does change. Expecting the unexpected may not take away all the pain or difficulty from the situation, but it can ground you. Retirement, relocation, changes in health and physical capacity, and bereavement are common changes everyone—particularly seniors—should mentally anticipate.
Dr. Carla Ericksen, owner of Beyond Vision LNK, believes certain changes can be anticipated and prepared for before difficulties arise. In particular, she encourages people to anticipate changes in their vision and eye health and to seek professional assistance.
“We know our eyes change as we age,” she said. “This does not need to be unexpected. If you are over 60 years old or have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, arthritis, or diabetes, an annual eye exam is recommended.”
Because Dr. Ericksen understands that many individuals fear changes such as losing the freedom of driving, impacts on social life, or even the burden they may place on family members if they need to rely on them more, she recommends talking to family early on if diagnosed with macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, or other sight-threatening eye disorders.
“Discuss plans for changed circumstances,” she said. “What would you want if you were no longer able to drive? If you are moving, discuss proximity to your favorite places and activities and design the interior of your new home with high-contrast colors and minimal clutter. Take advantage of electronic devices that can enlarge images or provide audio assistance, and incorporate them into your activities now so you know how to use them. More importantly, trust your eye doctor to help you. If you notice shadowing, halos, double images, or other vision changes, report them as soon as possible. The earlier we detect a problem, the more successful our treatments will be.”
In regards to the COVID-19 crisis, Dr. Ericksen told us how she is staying informed and helping to protect her patients.
“I have been getting updates from the AOA, CDC, and HHS directly and can relay that information to you immediately, rather than you waiting for a story to hit press and then be wrong. We have implemented telemedicine to lessen ER overload and assist you with basic and emergent eye needs directly from your home.”
Karla Frese, managing partner at Home Care Partners of Nebraska also encourages proactive behaviors, particularly in seniors taking advantage of technology to enhance life and help with many of the changes that come with age. She gave us information on some of the best ways seniors can utilize this technology to improve their lives.
“Innovative technology such as Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, or Google’s Assistant can reshape preventative care through virtual assistants and reminders to benefit those with cognitive challenges,” she shared. “Smart devices can play an integral part in ensuring seniors are safe and functional at home. There are apps that can help with writing challenges through talk-to-text capabilities; reading through voice assistance and audio books; hearing through Hearables with Bluetooth for answering phone calls; seeing through home security cameras and video doorbells; memory through setting alarms and pairing music to routines; fear of falling through the use of wearables, or products worn on clothing to capture and transmit data…and so much more!”
“Integrating wearables and tracking apps into Telehealth allows vitals to be monitored in real-time, increasing accuracy and helping care teams make more informed health decisions,” Karla continued. “Cardiovascular health, early signs of illness, and other health issues can be gauged and monitored much more easily this way, and patients can access online care. CHI Health Virtual Care is a 24/7 health care service available via phone or video chat. You can receive consultations and even prescriptions for minor illnesses from anywhere, currently for free. Our caregivers can assist clients with calling to request a virtual visit to speak to a live health care provider within minutes. Our team has been helping seniors navigate online grocery shopping apps, and running errands, and telehealth visits for those that feel safer staying home. Home Care Partners of Nebraska is always keeping up on the latest and best ways seniors can improve their lives so we can help them access good resources. We encourage anyone with questions to reach out to us today.”
Clearly, we have a wealth of advanced resources at our fingertips, even with current social distancing practices. Anticipating transitions and utilizing the best and latest resources available can be helpful in preparing for changed circumstances in the future.
Take a Proactive Approach to Life
Doing your research ahead of time and having a plan in place before emergencies arise is an important way to create peace of mind and lessen the stress and burden of difficult times. A proactive approach can also help family members to be prepared for times of emergency so they are able to quickly respond when their help is needed. Even if you are unable to anticipate every difficult circumstance that may come your way, having some kind of plan in place can allow you to focus your energies on immediate needs that demand the most attention, knowing that other things will be okay.
One proactive measure that can benefit people of any age or situation is looking to spinal health. When the spine is not properly aligned, it can cause painful issues with anything from the success of a sports career to a healthy pregnancy to the ability to walk and stand properly. Express Life Chiropractic specializes in neurologically-based chiropractic corrective care for the entire family: pediatrics, pre-natal, athletes, and everyone else. Dr. Troy Hayes and Dr. Ashley Hayes have improved the lives of many through their neurologically-based corrective care. The mission of Express Life is to help the community achieve optimal health naturally, express life, and restore hope through principled chiropractic care as well as encouraging everyone to embrace their non-interfered, God-given, true health potential.
“We understand the power a little chiropractic care can have in bringing people’s lives back to a good place and freeing up energy for achieving greater levels of success and wellness,” Dr. Ashley said. “Proactively looking to spinal health in advance can prevent a host of problems in the future.”
Rick Carney, family service representative for Butherus, Maser & Love Funeral Home shared his thoughts on creating a proactive plan for potential life challenges before a crisis occurs.
“Unexpected changes can mean angst and stress, but if you research the changes you face and find answers about how to best deal with the change, you will be better prepared and more relaxed moving forward,” he said. “There is so much information available at our fingertips and so many people with specific skill sets that are willing to help. It is easier than ever before to find whatever information you may need.”
Rick shared how having a plan in place has brought stability to his own life as he has helped his aging parents navigate unexpected challenges.
“My parents are both in a care facility, and my mother recently had her leg amputated above the knee,” he said. “Certainly they have seen a lot of change, but knowing there are people to help and equipment available to help her mobility has calmed some of our fears.”
Rick told us about ways that Butherus, Maser & Love helps people be proactive in planning for end of life arrangements and why this is so important.
“At Butherus, Maser & Love, we have a list of 125 things that should be considered when planning a funeral service,” he said. “The most common comment we hear when people are making their funeral prearrangements is that they ‘don’t want the kids to have to worry about it.’ There is great satisfaction in knowing your family will appreciate and benefit by the actions you take today.”
Bobby Meyers with Pemberly Place also believes in the power of proactive measures.
“Taking a proactive stance for any life change will definitely decrease the stress that can be associated with life’s unexpected happenings,” she said. “Plan ahead and start downsizing now in preparation for the time you won’t be able to upkeep a big house. Pick the facility you would want to spend time in if you find yourself having to face an expected hospitalization or rehabilitation. You will be glad you did!”
Pemberly Place is one great option for quality senior living with a goal of creating moments of purpose provided by a well-educated team of caregivers who offer personalized 24-hour care. Pemberly is a premier senior living community with three levels of living, including independent living, assisted living, and memory care. They also provide respite (short-term stay) and adult day services in their memory care community. Bobby assured us their team always offers the best care to residents, even during times of crisis such as COVID-19.
“The healthcare community is working diligently to meet the needs of Lincoln’s frail and aged,” she said. “We must continue to support each other in these unknown times. The caregivers working in all segments of long-term care have proven they are unsung heroes.”
Kim Kallhoff, executive director with Carriage Glen, advises seniors to be flexible while making plans for coming changes.
“It is so important to plan, but to be flexible,” she said. “Have a general ‘road map’ of the places or goals you may want to reach, but know that the route may change along the way due to unforeseen circumstances. Knowing you can adjust for those things can reduce your stress as well as the stress of those around you.”
Kim understands that a balance between being proactive and flexible enables people to have certain things in place, even if some plans may change because they can’t completely foresee what’s coming.
“You and your family don’t know when life may throw a curveball at you,” she said. “I always encourage those that tour with me to really think about making a move sooner rather than later. It is less stressful and people can make these transitions more thoughtfully and feel more in control. One excellent option for senior living is Carriage Glen—a great community filled with very involved, vibrant people!” she said. “We pride our community on offering various types of education to keep our residents safe and healthy, including daily and weekly activities for residents. Whenever and wherever they make a move, seniors need to be gentle with themselves. Change can be hard, but it can lead to so many good things. Have a road map of what you would like to accomplish, but know that it may take a while to get there and it may take a few different paths.”
When life doesn’t go the way we want it to, it is a very natural reaction to dig in our heels and fight back, refusing to accept a new reality. The challenge this brings, especially if it is prolonged, is a lack of progression. Choosing to not accept a new situation is like taking the key from the ignition and sitting in the car. You won’t be able to get very far. Perhaps a period of time is needed just sitting in that car, working through your thoughts—that’s okay!—but know that sooner or later, you will need to move forward and accept the new life ahead of you with all its new challenges and opportunities.
Tracy Haefele, senior living advisor at Legacy Estates of Legacy Retirement Communities, advises seniors to ease their difficult situations by accepting what is.
“Know that even though it is hard, change is inevitable,” she said. “We cannot always stop change, so learning to embrace it and not fight it can make it a little easier. Grant yourself grace and allow yourself to take a little time every day to try and find something good in a part of the change. As in the Serenity Prayer, ‘Change the things you can, and accept the things you cannot change.’ I would bet if they looked back at their lives, seniors would recognize they have lived through and even flourished after life changes. There may have been expected or unexpected challenges and sometimes even tragedies, but eventually people ‘find a new normal.’”
Tracy explained that one common benefit of acceptance is a sense of gratitude, which brings with it a host of other positive side effects.
“Many positive psychology studies have shown the benefits behind practicing gratitude, such as fewer physical symptoms, increased sleep quality, lowered depressive symptoms, and more,” she said. “Levels of gratitude are also significantly correlated with vitality and energy. Our residents believe in good health, the company of others, the pursuit of knowledge, and doing good in the community. With these qualities in mind, Legacy Well-being is a program customized to our residents, allowing them the freedom to make choices and challenging them to stay involved through a variety of learning opportunities while also encouraging them to serve others.”
List the Reasons You are Grateful
As Tracy shared, research has proven time and time again that grateful people are happier, healthier, more able to cope with challenges, and less prone to mental health struggles such as anxiety, depression, and suicide. One study even found that people who practice gratitude experienced decreased levels of physical pain.
Robbie Nathan, transition consultant with Bridge to Better Living, shared her thoughts on using gratitude to find the hidden gems in life, even during difficult times.
“We all need to remember there is so much to be grateful for,” she said. “It’s not what we don’t have; it’s what we still have. Age may decrease hearing, vision, or agility, but the memories seniors have, the life events they’ve experienced, affect how others’ lives evolve. Each person of age should feel valued and certainly know ‘this, too, shall pass.’ Do not hesitate to ask questions and do not stop until you have an answer. Be confident there are support groups and experts who will guide you through the complex navigation of aging. You are not the first and you will not be the last to hit a speed bump in life. Bridge to Better Living finds seniors to be inspirational and believes there are others who are in agreement. Let us help.”
With the current crisis of COVID-19 present in the community, Robbie assured us helpful people are still doing their good work for others.
“Coronavirus does not stop people from caring,” she said. “Bridge to Better Living has the latest technology and will continue to serve seniors and their loved ones. We are able to conduct consultations and tours virtually and are open for business. Placement with Passion® continues through this pandemic and beyond.”
Bridge to Better Living helps seniors navigate the complex world of senior living options by offering a no-cost-to client service to navigate the complexities of senior living options. They help find the most appropriate fit.
“A ‘Plan B’ is best formulated before unexpected changes occur, not when,” Robbie said. “Bridge to Better Living visits with families every day regarding the importance of knowing the choices available. Many people believe all retirement communities are the same. We show them how senior living communities may seem to offer the same amenities and services, but they are all offered in different ways.”
Bridge to Better Living’s services provide assurance and stability for seniors facing the transition of moving to a new community.
Find the Silver Lining
Christy Merritt, executive director at The Waterford Communities, shared her thoughts on finding the opportunities in new living circumstances for seniors.
“If you’re moving to a new community, look at this as a new chapter in which the focus can be on your health and connecting with friends and family,” she said. “Many of the things that once took up your time are done for you. Take advantage of the assistance and amenities that are offered and look forward to the gift of time that a new community can offer. I think it’s easy for us all to say what we would do when we haven’t walked in someone else’s shoes. That being said, no matter what your age, you can rarely change what happens to you, but you can control how you respond.”
Christy explained what the Waterford Communities offers that makes transition to a new community so comfortable for residents.
“The Waterford Communities are smaller communities with a higher number of staff per shift that really allows us to take an individualized approach to care,” she said. “We are able to accommodate special requests and unique situations in a small, home-like environment.”
Small in comparison to many senior living communities in the area, the Waterford Communities is prized for its size, with their largest assisted living community having only 41 apartments. Residents appreciate the smaller community that offers a more small-town feel that many consider to feel more like a home than a facility. The lower resident numbers also enable the Waterford staff to really get to know their residents and customize care for each person as they help them make the most of their new home.
In response to the community situation surrounding COVID-19, Christy offered this assurance:
“These are uncharted waters for all of us, but the good news is that healthcare workers come into contact with unknown illness each and every day,” she said. “They are trained to look for changes in conditions in their residents and trained on infection prevention. If you have a loved one who is quarantined in any type of eldercare setting, understand they are being cared for by some of the most compassionate and loving individuals possible. If you have a loved one at The Waterford Communities, we are committed to helping our families maintain connections with their loved ones.”
Picture a Happy, Healthy Life
Making big life changes such as moving to a new community or learning to live with physical limitations will test anyone’s strength of character and ability to live a happy life. The good news is that, with practice, any person can create a vision for a happy, healthy life and project it into the future.
Jeff Madsen with Right Foot Forward Fitness shared his experience of working with seniors to create a new vision moving forward after experiencing a setback.
“My clients who have experienced the most success following physical setbacks take the long view but also get busy today with the business of making themselves better and stronger,” he said. “It’s a balance between understanding the journey back to health and vitality might take several weeks or months, but also that the journey needs to start today! For some, daily goals may be quite modest in the beginning, but, nonetheless, making steady progress daily is the key to regaining a healthy lifestyle.”
Jeff explained how people working toward goals can create momentum and energy by celebrating their successes: “I think one of the biggest keys to happiness when facing physical challenges is to celebrate your victories. Many people focus on their shortcomings and downplay their victories. My encouragement is to re-channel that energy into action TODAY! Then when the changes and victories start to happen, however small they may seem, celebrate them—with yourself and with other people. You’ll be amazed at how this change of perspective empowers you and creates motivation for further achievement! We love to celebrate with our clients as they achieve new things.”
Jeff explained what Right Foot Forward Fitness offers to people looking to improve their lives.
“We specialize in personal training that is designed specifically for our client’s ability level,” he said. “All exercises can be made appropriate, safe, and, most of all, doable. We focus on designing programs for clients to move toward their goals in a positive and supportive atmosphere.”
Find a New Sense of Purpose
Aubrey Paulsen, senior living advocate with Tabitha, encourages seniors to find a new sense of purpose after exiting one phase of life and entering another.
“Whether it’s volunteering, serving on a committee and sharing your expertise, or working part-time focusing on something you’ve always been passionate about, find your purpose,” she said. “We all need a purpose—it gives us optimism, energy, and guides us to what matters most. It can uplift us when there are setbacks and life is stressful. Studies show that when you lead a purpose-driven life you are more fulfilled and even live longer. You lean in and make the most of each day because you know who you are, where you’re from, and where you’re going.”
Aubrey shared that Tabitha’s purpose is to “empower people to live joyfully, age gratefully.”
“This concise, uplifting statement is why Tabitha exists and serves as our compass to guide us to what’s next and remain steadfast in caring for and about seniors first,” she explained. “Tabitha offers a continuum of services including results-driven rehabilitation, accessible at-home health care, innovative living communities with life enriching programs, and compassionate hospice services. We are industry experts, and my role as a senior living advocate exists to ensure seniors and their families are guided in the right direction. We will listen, learn, and provide expert guidance to best fit your unique situation. Starting with Tabitha will ensure you make informed decisions, and our strong continuum allows us to seamlessly work alongside you as your needs evolve. You can call Tabitha experts with any question, free of charge or obligation. We’ll find the right answer for you, even if that means utilizing a resource other than Tabitha.”
Enjoy the Beauty of the Here and Now
One potential obstacle in finding a sense of purpose in a new life is the realization that often these transitions separate us from certain beloved aspects of the past—things/people/places we once loved and enjoyed that are no longer a part of the new present reality. While this may hurt, the truth is that the present also holds beautiful people, places, things, and opportunities that were not available in the past.
Jennifer Knecht, vice president of marketing and sales for Immanuel Communities, understands this challenge as well as the transformation that comes into seniors’ lives when they discover the gift of the present.
“Most of us envision retirement as an easy, peaceful period in our lives,” she said. “In reality, it’s full of transitions like redefining our role in the lives of our now grown children, finding fulfillment without a nine-to-five, seeing friends come and go, or even experiencing the loss of a spouse. The transitions can be difficult, but what we’ve learned in working with thousands of seniors in all stages of aging is that you never know what amazing gifts are around the corner. New friends, passions, new outlooks on life are all there if we continue to be open to learning and welcoming them.”
Jennifer has witnessed the positive results residents experience when they embrace the beauty of their new circumstances.
“At Immanuel, we’ve heard amazing stories from residents who found incredible friendship late in life, and even love after loss,” she shared. “When we experience change, the tendency is to close off and retreat into our environment, but staying active is really important for physical and mental health. Get out there, join groups, be active, and connect socially to find those enriching experiences. The beauty of retirement living is that those experiences are already happening just steps from your door. The social aspect of senior living is a benefit that’s truly priceless, especially during difficult times. Immanuel is deeply committed to ending the senior loneliness epidemic through services and amenities that help seniors thrive.”
Don’t Try to Do it Alone
Whatever transitions seniors might face, it is important they don’t isolate and try to cope with everything all alone. The loneliness, lack of support and resources, and absence of outside insight caused by this isolation would inevitably compound whatever problems are already present. If seniors are timid about reaching out for help, they can take comfort in knowing there is an abundance of available resources for whatever they may be going through. Even if they don’t initially feel this comfort, they can plant the seeds for peace in the future by remembering that others have gone before them; life eventually returns to a normal state for most people, even if some adjustments are necessary. Having the companionship of friends and caregivers to offer this reminder can be a great source of comfort and stability.
Natalie Leon, owner and executive director of Visiting Angels, shared insight into some of the challenges seniors face and the benefit of seeking companionship.
“Talk through your fears with a trusted loved one or friend,” she said. “One of the top reasons people fear growing older is they don’t want to lose their independence. Companion care provides a great balance between independence and isolation. Here at Visiting Angels, our caregivers not only meet your basic and advanced needs, but our caregivers offer a listening ear and a social connection.”
Visiting Angels provides companion care and personal care services with specialized programs to foster independent living and enhance quality of life. Their home care services are designed to provide assistance with those activities seniors need help with in order to safely stay at home and still maintain dignity.
“Here at Visiting Angels our services are desirable because of the client’s ability to remain autonomous by choosing their own hours and by choosing the services that they want,” Natalie explained. “At Visiting Angels the client is in charge and we are on your schedule. It is our job to adjust to your schedule and see that you remain comfortable in your home. Our care program is flexible and the client can change the plan of care as different needs arise. We also work along with any home health agency and hospice agency that may be assisting your loved ones after a recent hospital stay.”
Visiting Angels offers a personalized approach to home care services, treating each client with the utmost respect as they establish a unique, comprehensive care plan.
Take Advantage of Available Resources
One of the great advantages of living at this point in history is the availability of so many excellent, comprehensive resources. Kyle Johnson, owner of Care Consultants for the Aging, talked to us about their ElderCare Resource Handbook for families researching their options. The online edition of their Lincoln handbook is available for free, and physical editions can be ordered for just a few dollars. “Our mission is to provide the elderly and their adult children with assistance in achieving a continued independent living style,” Kyle noted. “We seek to find and refer caregivers and other professionals that provide support services. To help families walk through each aspect, Care Consultants has designed a free, simple, one-page task sheet to lay out key considerations. These include a handy list of services from medical care, to food and nutrition, companionship, and mobility assistance to help families identify their priorities. As a free service, Care Consultants hopes to refer families to professionals who can meet their individual needs,” explained Kyle.
Oasis Senior Advisors is another source of free and important information for seniors. The mission of Oasis Senior Advisors is to positively impact families during a difficult time in their lives. This is done by providing a free, personal, and compassionate service to help families find the right place for their loved ones. Whether the need is for assisted living, independent living, memory care, skilled nursing, or hospice, Oasis consists of dedicated and compassionate advisors with an extensive knowledge of qualified senior living options in the Lincoln area and outlying communities. Oasis functions on a core set of principles, based on confidentiality, honesty, and a belief in everyone’s right to dignity.
Services like those offered by Care Consultants for the Aging and Oasis Senior Advisors are invaluable for seniors who are searching out their living options. For many seniors, a change in living circumstances becomes necessary at some point. Fortunately, there are so many excellent options for senior living in the Lincoln area. Seniors in Lincoln are not lacking a variety of choices for the years ahead!
One senior living provider that offers a wide variety of highly-rated accommodations among their various communities is Hillcrest Health Services. Hillcrest has been providing senior care and senior living since 1967, and is now a leader among providers of aging-related services in eastern Nebraska. Their integrated system of services offers a full continuum of care, including assisted living, memory support assisted living, outpatient therapy services, adult day services, skilled home health and personal care, inpatient rehabilitation, respite care, hospice, and compassionate end-of-life support.
Gramercy Hill is another wonderful option for seniors looking for independent living and assisted living services. Celebrating their 35-year anniversary, the community invites residents to enjoy comfort and relaxation while taking advantage of exceptional services. Gramercy offers residents a vibrant lifestyle that encourages health and independence through innovative recreational, educational, health, and wellness programs. Spacious apartments provide peace of mind with thoughtful safety features while also offering residents sought-after amenities and privacy.
Sumner Place works hard to create a living environment that continuously enriches each resident’s life, whether it’s through organizing in-house activities or social engagements within the community or offering daily spiritual services. At Sumner Place, they focus on personalized care. Services at Sumner Place include their restorative program, therapy programs, full time dietician, daily spiritual services, morning rounds by their medical director, social outings in the community, and their Dream Weaver partnership. Sumner creates a living environment that radiates love, dignity, and safety while encouraging personal independence.
If a senior is in need of rehabilitation and medical care, Lancaster Rehabilitation Center offers both a short-term rehabilitation program and long-term care. The rehabilitation program is designed to promote recovery and help resident patients regain a full range of functional abilities while preventing complications. Lancaster Rehabilitation works with you to develop the right plan for long term success. Their long-term care offers 24-hour health care and assistance with daily tasks, including certified nursing assistants, culinary services, social services, beauty and barber shop services, and attending physician and therapy services.
If your senior loved one is in need of ongoing care for any number of ailments or health challenges, Hospice Community Care offers compassionate and skilled services. They promote dignified end-of-life care that allows patients and their families to live life richly, deeply, and meaningfully for as long as it may last, and to pass on with dignity in the setting of their choice. They offer assistance for patients to find comfort and aid in their final moments of life. Knowing that their loved ones are in good hands also brings peace and comfort to family and other caregivers.
Whatever changes lie in your future, anticipate that challenges may come your way, determine how you would best like to respond to these challenges, and capture a vision of a balanced, full life in which you are able to navigate challenges with grace and strength. Inspiration is everywhere along with kind people to offer a helping hand!
Remember that there are helpful, grounding practices that can make unplanned life changes more smooth and painless. Most of all, remember to seek the assistance of the caring professionals who dedicate their lives to helping seniors live happy, healthy lives—even during times of transition.