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What I need isn’t another day off – Celebrating Labor Day in the midst of COVID-19

Written by Kelly Klund, LPN
Resource Nurse, Empira

In normal times many American’s look forward to the first Monday in September as a paid day off of work. We celebrate by spending a long lazy weekend at the lake, having a picnic or BBQ with friends and family or enjoying a community parade.

Just a Little History


Labor Day was first celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City and was created to celebrate the achievements of American workers. On June 28, 1894, Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday.

Another Day Off


In the age of Covid-19, with nearly 25 million Americans unemployed, 2020’s Labor Day looks and feels much different than past years. With astronomical numbers of Americans currently out of work, this crisis has likely touched all of us in one way or another. We may be unemployed ourselves, have a loved one who has suffered a job loss, or we may see the effects of unemployment in our communities. In light of the wide reach and reality of the number of people out of work, we must face the mental health impact that unemployment can cause. According to the Journal of Labor Economics, this reality includes people self-reporting feelings of worthlessness, uselessness, feelings of despair, inability to find enjoyment, and an increase in the number of people being diagnosed with depression or anxiety.

I believe, that if we take a deeper look, we will find that unemployment is just one facet of the struggle that people are having and that by identifying a sense of purpose in our daily lives we can ease some of this despair. Having a sense of purpose means having an anchor that influences our behavior, helps shape our goals, offers us a sense of direction, and gives meaning to our lives. Studies show that identifying a sense of purpose in life may help people deal with early onset stressors and maintain overall quality of life. People who attach their sense of purpose and contribution to their employment, may be struggling with questions such as “Why should I wake up?” or “What difference am I making?”

Finding Your Purpose


If this resonates with you, your next question is likely, “How can I find my purpose?” I recently came across a Ted Talk that can help to answer this question with five simple self-reflections.

  • Who are you?
  • What do you do?
  • Who do you do it for?
  • What do those people want or need?
  • How do those people change or transform as a result of what you give them?


Let’s break it down a little further with an example:

Who are you? Say your first name. It’s as easy as that.

I’m Kelly.

What do you do? What do you love to do? If there are too many options. Change it to, what is one thing that you feel supremely qualified to teach other people?

I teach people how to have fun parties.

Who do you do it for?

I do it for my friends and family.

What do those people want or need?

They want to laugh and have fun.

How do they change or transform as a result of what you give them?

They make memories.

I’m Kelly and I’m a memory maker.

My purpose can be part of my work day, but it doesn’t have to be defined by it. This Labor Day I challenge both the employed, who are appreciating in a much needed day off, and the unemployed, who may be struggling with one day blurring into the next, to identify their sense of purpose by asking themselves these questions. Who are you? What do you do?

After you answer those questions go do more of that thing that can fill your soul and give you a reason to wake up! As for me, I’m headed off to plan a virtual birthday party for my mom!

References

Farré, L., Fasani, F., & Mueller, H. (2018). Feeling useless: The effect of unemployment on mental health in the Great Recession. IZA Journal of Labor Economics, 7(1). doi:10.1186/s40172-018-0068-5

Historic unemployment weekly claims | Unemployment data. (2020, April 17). Retrieved July 17, 2020, from https://usafacts.org/visualizations/weekly-unemployment-claims/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=ND-Jobs&gclid=CjwKCAjwx9_4BRAHEiwApAt0zrJ0PclPnhmsB4LdPsk9eDu3E47rdPHwR40x-2UjXNYREkGBunEYxBoCGXUQAvD_BwE

History of Labor Day. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.dol.gov/general/laborday/history

Leipzig, A. (2016, August 7). How to know your life purpose in 5 minutes | Adam Leipzig | TEDxMalibu [Video]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=om-XLTeQee0

Yeung, P., & Breheny, M. (2019). Quality of life among older people with a disability: The role of purpose in life and capabilities. Disability and Rehabilitation, 1-11. doi:10.1080/09638288.2019.1620875

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Physical and Mental Well-being for Older Adults

Written by Brittni Peterson, RN
Resource Nurse, Empira

When it comes to setting goals, never say never. With an outstanding time of just under four hours, Harriette Thompson became the oldest woman to run a half marathon in 2017. Can you guess her age when she crossed over that finish line? 94. People tend to believe the older we become, the more fragile our body becomes… but that doesn’t have to be the case.

Exercise for older adults is just as important as exercise is for children, adolescents, teens and adults. There is no doubt that the older we get the more our body starts to have aches and pains, which may make it more difficult to get up and get moving. However, according to the Better Health Channel, regular exercise may help decrease some of those aches and pains by strengthening the bones and muscles in our body. Individuals over the age of 65-years-old should spend approximately 20 minutes/day on aerobic exercise or 10 minutes/day anaerobic exercises.

Aerobic vs. anaerobic

The word aerobic means “with oxygen”. The amount of oxygen intake, while performing an aerobic exercise is adequate enough to fuel the physical activity. Running, brisk walking, cycling, or swimming are all examples of aerobic exercise. Your body is burning the carbohydrates and fats that are stored in your body to fuel your muscles while increasing your heart rate and breathing. Since your body is slowly burning the carbs and fats, aerobic can be done for a long time (like a marathon) because energy is slowly being released and the demand for oxygen is not high.

The word anaerobic means “without oxygen”. For this type of exercise, regular oxygen supply is not adequate enough to fuel the activity, so the body needs to rely on other means of fuel like carbohydrates, amino acids and lactate. Anaerobic exercise cannot be done for a long time because of the limited supply of energy. Some examples of anaerobic exercise are weight lifting, sprints and box jumps.

Benefits of physical exercise for aging adults

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2017, approximately 3 million older adults were seen in the emergency department due to injuries that were sustained from a fall and more than 95% of hip fractures are caused by falling. When we become older, our bone density decreases, as well as, our muscle mass. How can we change that? Simple. Exercise.

Weight bearing exercises, like walking or lifting weights, helps to improve balance by strengthen your bones and increasing your muscle mass. This will help decrease falls and bone fractures by providing your body with strength and stability. Exercise will also benefit your joints by keeping them in regular use. Physical activity can also help improve the function of your heart and lungs. Aerobic exercises help to strengthen your heart which will help decrease your risk for illnesses like heart disease, hypertension and diabetes.

Let’s do an overview on the benefits of exercise.

  • Improves our mood and sleep while reducing stress and anxiety by releasing those feel good chemicals.
  • Increases stability and balance by strengthening our bones and increasing muscle mass.
  • Improves our health and lowers our risk for diseases like hypertension, heart disease and diabetes by strengthening our heart and lowering bad cholesterol.
  • Decreases joint pain by regularly moving and keeping them from stiffening
  • Improves brain function by reducing inflammation and extending the existence of new brain cells.

Is physical activity the only type of activity we need?

When we think of exercise we typically only think about how it helps our bones, muscle, heart, and lungs… but what about our most essential muscle, the brain? Just like any muscle in our body, the brain can lose its muscle tone, making it more susceptible to memory loss and decreased cognitive function. This may make it difficult to independently perform activities of daily living that mean that most to you, upholding conversations and can even make it more difficult to learn new skills.

Author Heidi Godman, writes that exercise helps the brain directly by reducing inflammation and promoting growth of new brain cells, blood vessels in the brain and extending the survival of new brain cells. Exercise helps the brain indirectly by improving mood, sleep and by decreasing episodes of anxiety and stress. When we get our body moving and increase our heart rate, our brain releases good chemicals known as endorphins and serotonin.

Here are some inexpensive ways to exercise your brain:

  • Word games help improve word association and memory recall.
  • Board games integrate problem solving skills and create opportunities for socialization.
  • Jigsaw puzzles incorporate fine motor skills.
  • Crafts promote autonomy for creativeness while combining fine motor skills.
  • Cooking utilizes critical thinking and helps improve memory (recipes) while encouraging creativeness.
  • Gardening stimulates the brain with planning and provides sun exposure, a great source of vitamin D.

Integrating meaningful activities in nursing communities

An F-number, called a tag number (F-tag), corresponds to a specific regulation within the Code of Federal Regulations that governs long term care facilities. F-tag 248 states that ”the facility must provide for an ongoing program of activities designed to meet, in accordance with the comprehensive assessment, the interests and the physical, mental, and psycho-social well-being of each resident.” This F-tag is overseen by federal regulations with the hope of providing residents with activities that fit their individualized interest to provide them with purpose and increase their overall well-being. There is even a federal regulation that emphasizes the importance of both physical and mental activities for residents.

How do we know which activities will spark interest in residents? I’m glad you asked. Empira’s fourth signature program, ResoLute, helps by supporting “residents and loved ones as they embrace the process of aging with purpose, determination and an unwavering commitment to uphold what matters most in the late stages of life.” Supporting the resident is done with meaningful conversations to determine what matters most to them. By asking those important questions, we can begin to plan focused activities around their personal goals. Purposeful living has already been linked to other aspects of well-being, like a longer life, lower risk of disease, better sleep and healthier behavior.

I’m not saying everyone has to be like Harriette and run a marathon to live a purposeful life, but if you can find what sparks your resident’s joy, you will make their world a better place to be.

References:
Better Health Channel. (2020). Physical activity for seniors. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/HealthyLiving/physical-activity-for-seniors

Boren, C. (2017, June 4). At 94, Harriette Thompson becomes the oldest woman to run a half-marathon.

In The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/early-lead/wp/2017/06/04/now-94-harriette-thompson-is-trying-to-become-the-oldest-woman-to-run-a-half-marathon/

Cirillo, A. (2019, June 24). Nursing homes and assisted living activities. In Nursing Homes. https://www.verywellhealth.com/nursing-home-and-assisted-living-activities-197763

Empira. (2020). Our signature approaches. http://empira.org/programs/our-programs

Godman, H. (2018, April 5). Regular exercise changes the brain to improve memory, thinking skills. In

Harvard Health Blog. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/regular-exercise-changes-brain-improve-memory-thinking-skills-201404097110

MacMillan, A. (2017, August 16). People age better if they have a purpose in life. In Time. https://time.com/4903166/purpose-in-life-aging/

Sun Health Communities. (2016, July 7). 7 exercises for older adults.
https://www.sunhealthcommunities.org/resource-center/articles/7-brain-exercises-older-adults/

World Health Organization. (2020). Physical activity and older adults. In Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity, and Health. https://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/factsheet_olderadults/en/

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Moai: It’s written into our DNA!

Written by Heather Johnson, RN
Resource Nurse, Empira

Would you agree that we live in a world consumed by convenience and technology?

With a global population nearing 7.7 billion people, one would like to think that there would be no loneliness, no lack of human contact and certainly plenty of opportunities for social connectedness in our world. Yet, social isolation, loneliness and lack of social connections are the stark reality for many, especially older adults in the United States.

Recently, in an article that I read, an 80-year-old woman refers to herself and those in her age group, as glass people. She explains that she feels invisible even though she resides in a senior apartment building and is constantly surrounded by others. She shared that, even in a complex that brings people in close proximities to each other, there is a lack of social connection, a nonexistent sense of community and a stigma about productivity in elders. She’s not alone in her thinking.

Social connectedness is defined as the feeling that you belong to a group and generally feeling very close to other people. In fact, scientific evidence strongly suggests that social connectedness is a core psychological need, which is essential to feeling satisfied with your life. As humans, we have a drive to connect with others, it’s embedded within our DNA and it begins at birth with our connection to those who cared for us. This same relationship exists throughout our lifespan. Studies often conclude that when a person is well cared for as a child they are more likely to have healthy and happy relationships as they get older.

In recent months, I have been researching more and more about the multiple blue zones that exist across the globe. Blue zones are areas identified by experts as having environments and traditions that support one in living a much longer and happier life. Five such zones are identified and they include:

  • Okinawa (Japan)
  • Sardinia (Greece)
  • Nicoya (Costa Rica)
  • Icaria (Greece)
  • Loma Linda, California (USA)

Teams of experts have found nine common denominators, often referred to as the power of nine, among blue zones and they include the following:

  • Move naturally: People live in environments that nudge them to move
  • Purpose: In Japan it’s known as “Ikigai” which translates to why I wake up in the morning
  • Down shift: Taking time each day to slow down (praying, meditating, resting)
  • 80% rule: In Japan this is known as “hara hachi bu” which means to stop eating when you feel your stomach is 80% full
  • Plant slant: Beans and plant sources are the cornerstone of your daily diet
  • Wine at 5pm: Drinking 1-2 glasses per day with friends and/or with food
  • Belong: Be a part of a faith-based community or organization
  • Loved ones first: Families are put first and a priority in one’s life, invest time with your partner and time with children
  • Right tribe: Being part of a group of 5 or more people that are committed to one another for life, cultivating a strong social network, this group is known a your moai

Do you notice that four of the nine definitely involve social connectedness?

Elders in Okinawa, Japan, one of the original blue zones longevity hotspots, live extraordinarily better and longer lives than almost anyone else in the world. Moai, one of their longevity traditions are social support groups that start in childhood and extend into the 100s. This term originated hundreds of years ago as a means of a village’s financial support system. Originally, moais were formed to pool the resources of an entire village for projects or public works. If an individual needed financial resources to buy land or take care of an emergency, the only way was to pool money locally. Traditionally, these groups of five or more children were brought together with the expectation that they would be committed to one another for life. Today this idea has expanded to become more of a social support network, a cultural tradition for built-in companionship and is often known as one’s “second family.”

Half of the Okinawans population still participates in the moai traditions and some belong to more than one. Statistics show that when people share similar values, healthy habits and life goals, they are much more likely to experience less stress, are happier and live longer. The average life expectancy in Japan is 86.3 years of age, while here in the United States; average life expectancy is 78.9 years of age.

What can we learn from Japan?

Research and life stories confirm the value of being socially connected. Take inventory of your life for social connectedness. Take notice of the social connectedness of those you care for and about, no matter what age. Understand and appreciate that a person can still feel lonely, useless and like a glass person in a crowd. Then take measures to enhance those lives by helping to find meaningful ways to really connect.

Resources:
Blue Zones: retrieved from bluezones.com on January 4, 2020
Buettner, D.B., (2012). The blue zones (2nd edition): 9 lessons for living longer from the people who’ve lived the longest. National Geographic Partners LLS.
Weil, A., (2005). Healthy aging: A lifelong guide to your physical and spiritual well-being. Knopf.