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Old People 101

October 15, 2015

“I could never do what you do.”

At least once a day, someone says those words to me. I was raised by a nurse who cared for the elderly and often brought me along to “help.” We lived just a few steps from my grandparents’ front door. Interacting with older people has always been part of my life and has turned into a wonderfully fulfilling career for me. Still, successful relationships with older people can be challenging. Even though not everyone wants to make a career of working with the elderly, most everyone DOES need to know some basics about how to effectively interact and build a relationship with an older person. Here are my top 5 tips for developing positive relationships with the elderly:

1) Smiles mean the same thing to every generation. Older people are magnetically drawn to a friendly smile. Greeting an elderly person with a genuine smile will start your interaction off positively, helping him or her relax with you. (Note: A smile can still be genuine even if you aren’t having a great day. Making an effort to set aside your worries and share a smile with someone will make you both feel better.)

2) Relax about repetition. Older people like to repeat stories. In ancient times, stories shared by parents and grandparents were repeated and even memorized. This tradition preserved the culture of entire civilizations. We as humans have a need to share our experiences with future generations and that need grows in intensity as we age. Learn to see those repeated stories as your elderly loved one’s attempt to share his life with you. There are also the repetitions due to lack of memory. Those with memory loss can set world records in repetition! Listening to a story, even for the fiftieth time, communicates “I care about you. I am interested in you. I love you.” Yes, it sure can be difficult to listen… AGAIN. Vary your responses, ask a different question, and if you’re getting exasperated, change the subject to another happy topic at your first opportunity.

3) Forget about rushing. We once had a volunteer helping residents load onto the St. Francis Villa bus. He exclaimed “This is like herding turtles!” Hurrying isn’t an option for most elderly people. Yes, they’ve often learned the wisdom in “stopping and smelling the roses,” but more often they’re slow by no choice of their own. When you get ready to call or visit an elderly loved one, determine not to rush. Even if you only have 15 minutes to spend, decide to spend 15 unhurried minutes and be realistic about what you can accomplish in the time you have. You’ll have more patience and you’ll honor the elderly person by not asking something of her (such as quickness) that she may be unable to give.

4) Remember that old people are people too. I was brought up to revere and respect older people. I saw my grandmother as a hero, a teacher, a larger than life example. The quintessential southern belle, she wasn’t one to “lose her cool.” I never dreamed she had the same feelings I might have. When I started working with old people I realized that they have the same emotions, fears, and insecurities that are part of the human experience. I also realized they are dealing with weighty issues such as illness, pain, and end-of-life decisions… enough to stress anyone out! I’ve learned to give an older person the grace I’d need myself, knowing she also experiences the same stress.

5) When frustrating behavior happens, remember there may be a deeper cause. Often an older person will nag, complain, manipulate or obsess. He or she may be grumpy or unwilling to participate in special plans, or may seem ungrateful. We all have our bad days. However, I’ve observed that most times an older person is experiencing some kind of pain which surfaces in the form of less-than-ideal behavior. She may be in chronic physical pain. Pain might also be of an emotional nature as she grieves the losses involved in the aging process. An elderly person has often lost the ability to do favorite activities, the ability to “call the shots” over her own life, the ability to remember as sharply or hear as well as she used to, not to mention the loss of friends as her peers age and experience their own physical decline. She may be afraid of a diagnosis or simply worried about her children as any mother tends to do. You may be able to help alleviate her pain, or you may not. Either way, it helps to have an understanding that bad behavior is more often a reaction to some kind of discomfort than it is a personal attack against those trying to care for an older person.

Without a doubt, the benefits of relationship with an older person far outweigh the challenges. When people say “I could never do what you do.” I often tell them how our residents have done way more for me than I have for them. Many many days, an elderly person has lifted my spirits, known just what to say, or given me a reason to keep going. Take some time today to invest in your relationships with the old people in your life.

Finding a Place

July 23, 2014

I bought a house the other day.  It was so easy!  I found this service online that promised to find the best house for me.   They seemed to know all about the houses around my town, so I just went with the house they recommended.

Just kidding!  I would never turn over that kind of decision to an internet service…

…except when it comes to my parents.  There are internet services out there that know all about senior care options and they’ll do all the legwork for me.  They’ll find a place for my parents, since they know my parents so well and can easily tell what’s best for them.

Just kidding again!  In reality, there’s no shortcut to finding the best care for our parents.  Just like we’d never leave a big decision like the purchase of a home up to an online service, we’ve got to be very careful when using online services to help with personal care decisions for our parents.  There just isn’t a substitute for doing your own investigative homework, but don’t get overwhelmed yet!  Here’s how to get started:

1)  Educate yourself about senior care options.  In our state there are three basic residential care options.  They are: medical facilities called nursing homes or skilled nursing facilities, residential facilities called “assisted living” that offer assistance with daily needs like meals, housekeeping and personal care, and senior housing apartments which are age restricted and often government subsidized but do not offer assistance with personal care.

2) Find out what is around you. Do a Google search or use the phone book to get a listing of senior homes in your area.  There’s nothing wrong with online senior housing location services, but use them with the knowledge that the homes they recommend are paying them for the referrals.  Ask friends, neighbors and coworkers where they’ve had good experiences when caring for their loved ones.

3)  Get out and take a look in person.  Your own eyes and “gut feelings” will be your best tools for telling whether a place is a good fit for your parent.  Personal visits are perhaps the most time consuming part of the care decision process, but they are necessary.  Online senior housing services haven’t necessarily paid personal visits to the homes they list, but even if they had, you want to see for yourself when it comes to a place your mother or father would be living every day.

It’s not easy to determine or accept that a parent needs extra help, but finding that help doesn’t have to be so difficult.  Once you know your options and set aside a little time to investigate them, you can make a plan that suits you and your parents.  With a little effort, you can find maximum quality of life for your parents and peace of mind for you… absolutely no kidding!

How Do You Measure?

February 5, 2014

I heard this song lately and it inspired me…

February is here.  By this time, many of our New Year’s resolutions have fizzled and we’re back to square one with all our well meaning intents to lose weight, break a bad habit, or increase our savings accounts.  We all have standards by which we measure success and failure.  We’re looking for proof, for growth, for breakthroughs, for documented results, but this year I’m asking myself… how about measuring in love?

There are few things in life as profound and pleasing as love.  Though it often presents itself in ways we don’t expect and through people we may not even know, love exists and is ours to be had if we will participate.  Love may look like the classic 50-year romance or it may be the stranger who lets someone else go first in the checkout line.

More than successful resolutions, I want my life to be measured in love.  In hands held, tears dried, meals fed, pain soothed, smiles shared, jokes told, friends made and hope spread.

I spend my days around folks who have more years behind than ahead.  Perspective abounds as we make the most of each moment.  Assisted living is all about giving residents and families more moments in which to make memories that last, more time to do the things they enjoy with the people they enjoy, more chances to measure in love.

Regular People

January 30, 2014
Lily and Brenda, two wonderful people!

Lily and Brenda, two wonderful people!

My great aunt “Neet” was a “seven months baby.” That’s how she told of her premature birth, adding that she only weighed three or four pounds.  The doctor delivered her and set her aside to die.  He left the house and her mother asked for the baby, held her up to the breast and she nursed.  Aunt Neet always used to say with a smile, “Mama said I slept for three months.  Then I woke up and haven’t shut up since!”

I remember imagining with starry eyes my great grandmother saving her “seven months baby.” There’s something about her self-reliant attitude, mixed with wisdom and resourcefulness that inspires me.  Perhaps my great Granny didn’t mean to be a hero.  Perhaps she picked up that baby out of simple heartache or desperate need.  Perhaps she was a mama like me, feeling scared and hoping not to fail, just trying to do what was best for her babies.  Perhaps she simply followed the instinct built into any healthy mother, and embraced the stubbornness that seems a part of our family’s DNA, resulting in her refusal to believe her baby was hopeless.

Whatever it was, I see glimpses of it every day in the residents at St. Francis Villa.  I see people who remember a time when doctors, politicians and “experts” didn’t always have the last word.  Sometimes a plain ol’ mama from the backwoods of Florida knows just what to do, steps in and saves the day, saves a life.  Sometimes the bravest of heroes are walking around right in front of us, disguised as regular people.  One of my favorite things about assisted living is getting to know those regular people.  I love seeing unexpected friendships blossom.  I love watching a staff member save the day with a simple smile.  I love witnessing the courage of an aging person as she moves forward, day after day, refusing to let anything get in her way. 

I’m sure teachers, ministers, first responders, and anyone who works with people can tell similar stories of the mystifying resilience of the human spirit.  My front row seat just happens to be in assisted living and the stars of my show just happen to be seniors and their families.  In a time when we are bombarded with horrific news and tales of terrible villains, I’m glad I get to see plenty of heroes and heroines every day to prove to me that good people are alive and well and are in the majority.

Warm in Winter

January 27, 2014
Snow at St. Francis Villa

Snow at St. Francis Villa

Old man winter gets a bad rap sometimes.  Cold weather is often blamed for aches and pains, and depressed moods, especially on rainy, gloomy days.  There is conflicting research about whether weather actually does anything to alter moods, worsen depression or cause arthritis pains.  I think everyone can agree that a cold, rainy, gray day makes one want to curl up inside under a warm blanket for a nap. 


So what can we do to reverse the cold-weather coma that tends to settle over us?  Here are a few ideas for cold weather fun to enjoy with your family and friends:


1)  Old fashioned hot chocolate.  I’m not talking about packets of powdery stuff and hot water.  If it’s cold out, take the time to get out the old saucepan, heat up some milk, dissolve cocoa powder and sugar and sprinkle little marshmallows over the top.  Sure, the old fashioned way takes a little extra time, but you can’t beat the taste and richness that warm you through and through.  Here’s a recipe:


2)  Chili!  Hearty, warm chili is the perfect cold night supper.  Popular with kids and adults alike, chili tends to bring everyone together around the table.  The varieties of chili are endless:  over a bowl of Fritos and topped with cheese, with cornbread on the side, over a hot dog, and so on.  Chili is such a simple dish to make, easy for kids or the kitchen-challenged!  You can add extra meat or tomatoes as your tastes prefer. Our family loves to eat chili on cold winter nights, and recently I shared my simple, easy recipe with St. Francis Villa’s kitchen and the residents loved this hearty style of chili:  


(Made for a family of 5)

2 lb ground beef, browned and drained.

4 cans dark red kidney beans

2 cans crushed tomatoes

2 cans diced tomatoes

2 cups water

2 packets McCormick mild chili seasoning


Place beef in the bottom of a dutch oven, add all other ingredients.  Bring to a boil and then simmer for 30 minutes.  While simmering, shred cheese or make cornbread to go with this delicious, heartwarming dinner.


3)  Quilts!  Many families have heirloom quilts, some even handmade by a mother or grandmother.  Blankets and quilts tend to carry stories, often given as wedding or baby gifts.  Cold, dreary days are perfect for getting out those heavy quilts and sharing those family stories. 


4)  Seed starting.  Cold days when most gardens can’t be in beautiful bloom are the perfect days to be busy planning for warmer, more garden friendly weather.  What a great way to fight cold-day gloomies!  All you need is some potting soil, a few small cups, and your desired seeds.  Plant the seeds, water them, and place them in front of a sunny window.  Spend the next few weeks of cold weather caring for your seedlings, then transplant them to your garden as the weather starts to warm, or even give them away to a friend.


5) Rest.  We so often forget the many natural patterns and rhythms that work together to bring about balance.  I recently read about a small farm that considers the months of December to February their “Sabbath” during which people, plants and animals rest from the work of growth and life. Sometimes cold weather and dreary days prevent us from getting out and doing things we want to do.  Consider taking advantage of slow days and use that time to catch up on reading, writing notes, and even taking some extra naps.  Though it’s currently in fashion to be as busy as humanly possible, it’s really OK, even beneficial, to slow down and rest.


Today, we are preparing for a rare occurrence of “wintry mix” weather in New Orleans.  We may even see some snow!  As the winter months go on, and more folks bemoan the gloomy weather, I hope you’ll take the cold temperatures as an opportunity to share flavors, memories, and good times with those you love.  Though it’s cold outside, make sure your heart stays warm!



“If your children ask me what to get you for Christmas, what should I tell them?” 

This was the question I posed to residents around St. Francis Villa.  Almost 100% of our 80 to 90 somethings answered the same way:  TIME.  One lady said “You know at our age, there really isn’t anything we NEED.  We want quality time with our families and friends.  It’s more precious than diamonds or gold.”

Though there are plenty of seniors in our society who have needs and would appreciate material gifts, most assisted living residents have what they need.  They often are that “person who has everything” on the family Christmas list.  It can be frustrating to hear an older person say “I just want my family around me,” especially since you know you can’t say “Ok, Grandma, it’s Christmas and we’re all here. Since you said that’s what you wanted, none of us got you a gift.”  So how do you give the gift they really want: the gift of TIME?  Here are a few ideas:

1)  Family Photo Session.  Give mom or dad a gift certificate noting the date and time of a family photo session.  Get everyone together and take multigenerational pictures.  This gift will be enjoyed by the whole family!

2)  Theatre.  Check local theatres for plays your mom or dad might enjoy.  Get tickets for both of you and give them for Christmas, with a note telling your parent you’ll be his or her date for the play.  Most theatres are very accommodating when it comes to mobility issues, and can help you find the right seat for your parent so he or she will be comfortable.

3)  A Year’s Worth of Outings.  Purchase a calendar and set aside one day per month to do something with your mom or dad.  Visits or outings don’t need to be expensive, since the gift is your time.  Vary them or do the same thing each time. For example, set aside the first Sunday afternoon of each month to have ice cream or coffee with mom.  Mark the calendar (and your own!) accordingly and give it as a gift.  Keep the dates with your parent and he or she will have a gift that lasts the whole year.

4)  Recipes.  My grandmother went to heaven with many favorite recipes that only she knew.  If your parent is a famous cook, or even if he or she still remembers old family recipes, a cookbook or recipe file can be a great gift.  Your loved one will likely need assistance writing down the recipes or would love to just show you how.  Purchase a recipe box with cards, or a notebook.  Give it as a gift with dates and times that you’ll be spending with her to record and learn favorite recipes.  Then, next year you’ll have a family recipe collection to give to everyone!

5)  Pampering.  Every lady loves a manicure or pedicure and this gift is perfect for moms and daughters.  Buy a gift card for a spa day and give it with the knowledge that you’ll be going with her for a day of pampering.

6)  Restaurant or coffee gift cards.  My grandmother and I had a weekly outing to her favorite restaurant for over a year.  She loved gift cards to “her” restaurant, and loved the time she spent there with us.  Give a gift card to your mom or dad’s favorite place, noting the date and time you’ll be bringing her or him.  This is a versatile idea for whatever your loved one enjoys, like ice cream, pizza, dessert, coffee and beignets, or even fast food.  The priceless part of the gift will be the togetherness when you “spend” the gift card.

7)  Movies.  This gift can be a multigenerational time opportunity, since most seniors enjoy a good clean PG movie as much as the kids do, so grandkids and great grandkids can be involved.  Purchase a gift card for a movie and plan to bring grandma and the grandkids.  Theatres have special seating for those with mobility issues, and are usually very accommodating.  If your parent doesn’t enjoy a movie theatre, buy a DVD of his or her favorite movie and plan a movie night at home together, complete with popcorn and candy!

Really and truly, the best gift you can give an older person is a slot on your calendar.  Even family members who see parents every day don’t always take the time to do fun things.  If you’re not quite sure what to get your parent for Christmas, try one of these gifts of time.  In the process, you’ll be giving yourself a gift as well.

I ran across this article and I’d like to share it for those of us who try to do way too much, and in that trying forget to do what’s most important.

Try Being A Half-Assed Caregiver

My favorite line: 

“Love twice as much. Do half as much.”

May we all remember that this holiday season!!


Thanksgiving Memories

November 27, 2013
Chef and Turkeys

Chef shows off the Turkeys for St. Francis Villa’s Thanksgiving

Up early this morning to bake sweet potatoes for my casserole, I started thinking about Thanksgiving memories. I always get emotional around the holidays, especially since my family is far away. So I throw myself into making way too much of my Granny’s cornbread dressing, my mama’s sweet potato souffle’ and green bean casserole with beans from my daddy’s garden. My husband wants his childhood favorites too, so our table also holds oyster dressing, seafood stuffed merlitons, and creamed cauliflower. We always say we’re going to have a quiet day, but it always builds into a crowd of other people who don’t have family around and I like it because quiet days give me a little too much time to miss my mom and dad, my sister and my brother.

 I remember my granny making such a huge pan of cornbread dressing that my dad had to stir it for her, and my husband remembers his grandpa shucking oysters all day for his grandma’s oyster dressing while he and his brother roller skated around the garage. I wonder what the fond memories will be for my kids when they are grown. I hope they’ll remember the good tastes I grew up with and keep making those things for their kids. But more than that, I hope they remember the love we have, the time spent together, and the people we share our table with this Thanksgiving.

I find myself caught between an ache for home and what used to be, and an enthusiasm for making happy memories for and with my own little ones. So this year, I’ve decided to fill my Thanksgiving with stories and hugs, songs and memories. I’ll tell stories to my little ones about things I did as a kid, about my Granny and her ways, about my cousins and our antics. We’ll talk about Granny’s big pan of dressing for the big family gathering in her Florida orange grove and about little Dwayne roller skating around as his Grandpa shucked oysters for a New Orleans Thanksgiving. We’ll talk about everything we have to thank God for, most of all each other.

Cooking up good memories at St. Francis Villa

Cooking up good memories at St. Francis Villa

I hope your Thanksgiving is happy, full of good food, family and friends. I hope you find time to talk about special memories of Thanksgivings past and make new memories for your family to treasure. Top of my list this year and always is the love of my friends, the residents and staff at St. Francis Villa Assisted Living. They truly are my home away from home, my family away from family. For their friendship and trust, and for the memories we make every day, I’m so grateful.

 Happy Thanksgiving!


A stressed-out daughter told me the other day “They should offer classes on caring for parents in high school and college!  You wouldn’t think finding care would be this hard!”  This lady was at her wit’s end trying to figure out what is available and appropriate for her parents. So, what IS out there?  When you’re looking for help with an aging loved one, what are your options?  Here they are, in a nutshell: 

1)  Do it all yourself.  Most families begin with this choice, especially when care needs are few.  Care becomes more difficult when a parent needs assistance with several daily activities like driving, laundry, housekeeping, cooking, bathing, and paying bills.  Doing all care personally may eventually require nearly 100 percent of your time and effort, or may require that you live with your parents or they live with you.  Burnout and stress are common pitfalls, and older adults who spend most of their time at home often lack age-appropriate socialization and experience loneliness. 

2)  Hire help at home.  Sometimes a family friend or neighbor is willing to take the job, or you may find an individual with good recommendations.  There are also caregiving agencies that will supply you with a caregiver, some handle background checks, call-ins, and other issues for you. Hiring in-home care can be one of the most costly and time intensive options.  Socialization for the older adult is often limited to one-on-one interaction with the hired caregiver. 

3)  Assisted Living:  Assisted living residences generally provide an apartment, along with additional services such as meals, housekeeping, laundry, and personal care.  Transportation is usually available, along with activities designed to encourage social interaction.  Assisted living can give a parent and child a level of privacy and peace of mind, while allowing both to maintain some independence. Older adults can regain a feeling of autonomy since they aren’t “at the mercy” of family and friends to meet their needs. Lonely seniors benefit greatly from the peer socialization that naturally occurs in an assisted living environment.  Often, assisted living is significantly more affordable than hired in-home care. 

4)  Residential Care Homes/Dementia care.  Residential care homes provide care for 5 to 8 people in a house.  Some dementia care can be done through a residential care home, or an assisted living.  Precautions are taken for residents who wander, including security codes and fenced outside walking areas.  These smaller homes offer limited activity and socialization opportunities. 

5)  Nursing Homes.  Nursing homes are medical facilities that provide nursing care around the clock, and most offer rehabilitation services such as physical and occupational therapy.  While nursing homes are covered by Medicare and Medicaid to some extent, private payment at a nursing home is costly.  

6)  Sliding scale housing/community services. Area Council on Aging organizations set up senior centers, sometimes providing a noon meal, organized activities, and limited transportation for seniors, often at little to no charge. Sliding scale housing developments provide low-cost rental housing, are age and income restricted.   

Choosing the best care option or combination of options takes time, good communication, and plenty of flexibility.  Don’t be daunted by the overwhelming amount of information, but keep persisting until the right solution emerges for you and your family.

Our “Homemade Happiness” week finished on a high note with our homemade cookie contest and then happy hour featuring homemade Cherry Bounce made by residents

.Chef Brigtsen with Maria

Chef Frank Brigtsen with cooke contest winner, Maria Cangemi Ledet

Mrs. Maria Cangemi Ledet won our cookie contest.  Her original recipe, the product of years of trial and error, produced the most amazing chocolate chip cookie I’ve ever had.  Chef Frank Brigtsen agreed, and declared Maria the winner!  Best of all, we had a wonderful time sampling and sharing ALL the cookie submissions.  There were smiles on every face!

So… Cajun Cherry Bounce.  This concoction was brought up by some of our residents as they shared memories of childhood and young adulthood.  We’d never heard of cherry bounce and decided to do a little research.  To our delight, cherry bounce is relatively easy to make, just takes time and a little attention.  A few ladies gathered together, measured out cherries, sugar, and bourbon, and our kitchen staff helped to store and turn the jar as it aged.  We let ours age for a month, but some of the recipes we found call for three or even six months of storage in a cool, dark place before serving. 

Ann and Nitsie making cherry bounce
Ann and Nitsie making cherry bounce

We served our cherry bounce over ice cream or over ice as a cocktail.  Residents LOVED the smooth taste and the memories brought up were evident as they shared stories and laughter.  Our cherry bounce recipe was as follows:

2 lb fresh cherries (we recommend pitting the cherries though no recipe we found instructed us to do so)

2 cups sugar

1 fifth of bourbon

Combine all ingredients in a glass container, store in a cool, dark place for one to three months, turning the jar upside down every other day or so to mix ingredients and help dissolve sugar.