Staying Socially Active as You Age – Cha Cha Cha!
By Tim Johnson
We already know that staying physically active in your autumn years offers a variety of health benefits, like lessening chronic pain, delaying and preventing certain diseases, and helping you recover faster from an illness or injury.
While physical exercise is important for a high quality of life, the connections we make with others, and the relationships we continue to build, also have a major impact on our overall wellness.
I’ve learned that staying socially active is just as important as remaining physically active. According to the National Institute on Aging, as people get older, they often find themselves spending more and more time at home alone.
Research tells us that older people with an active lifestyle are less likely to develop certain diseases. Participating in hobbies, like taking an art class and other social and leisure pursuits, may lower the risk for developing some health problems and can help to maintain our well-being. Other studies show how participating in creative arts, like music and dance, might help people age as well.
For many, the number one reason to move into an independent senior community is that they have acknowledged the need for a more active and engaged life.
Here at The Lake Merritt - Independent Senior Living, we have a huge calendar of social activities for our residents. Our free exercise classes such as Yoga, Zumba, and Core Strengthening, with our on-site personal trainers, are not only great physical activities but are a great way to socialize as well. Plus, we recently added a ballroom dance class and residents are refreshing their skills with the waltz, foxtrot, and cha cha! They’re loving it!
The Lake Merritt offers lots of programming inspired by our residents, as well as our weekly series of talks designed for older adults, Topics of Merritt. While residents attend these programs in person, we invite the community to join us for free via Zoom. We are particularly excited about an upcoming program on November 4th at 3:30 pm. Passions of a Dancer is an inspirational presentation by former Principal Ballerina, Stephanie Herman. She shares her struggle to make her dreams come true and eventually dances worldwide with ballet legends such as Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov. If you would like to join us for this Zoom presentation, register online at: www.tinyurl.com/passionsofadancer.
Our recent monthly outings included a visit to Oakland’s Compound Art Gallery, a sunny picnic in Piedmont Park, and a trip to the city’s famed pumpkin patch. Residents are looking forward to exploring Oakland Museum’s latest exhibit, Mothership: Voyage Into Afrofuturism, later this month.
Physical activities, cultural outings, and educational programs can all help us stay engaged and socially active. Living in an independent senior community, such as The Lake Merritt, can help support these goals. As our residents say, custom programs and outings, along with dining with new friends, not having to deal with home maintenance anymore, and of course, enjoying a new home right on one of the most beautiful lakes in California, makes life happy and meaningful.
Oakland’s Poets, Laney Students and Our Residents – a Win-Win!
By Tim Johnson
Several years ago I read about a community for older adults in the Netherlands that allows university students to live there rent-free! What a deal! In exchange for a small apartment, the students do a variety of activities with the older residents, including watching sports together, celebrating birthdays and, perhaps most importantly, offering personal interaction and companionship to seniors as their school schedule permits.
Here in the United States, intergenerational programs have become a growing trend within senior living. As we emerge from the confines of Covid-19, we can attest to the value of both intergenerational programming as well as intergenerational living communities. The pandemic forced multiple generations of families to live together, to rely on each other as jobs were lost, school was canceled and younger family members were able to assist their older relatives.
The Lake Merritt - Independent Senior Living is on the leading edge of intergenerational programming. Just last week we hosted a reading by the award-winning young writers from The Oakland Youth Poet Laureate Program. It’s an unprecedented citywide effort to celebrate literacy through poetry and connect young writers to far-reaching opportunities. Two of the program’s finalists, Dara Kashayar and Siara Edmond were participants with us. They read some of their poetry and then were asked questions by our residents and those watching online.
The first question we asked the students was “How has interacting with older adults impacted you and your writing?” We got a quick response from Dara who said, “My grandmother and parents emigrated from Iran. Persian culture teaches children to revere the wisdom their elders can impart. This is part of my identity; it definitely impacts my writing.” Another young Oakland poet, Siara, writes poems about her grandparents. “I appreciate the hard work they did in order to better the lives of their children and grandchildren,” she said.
For the past five years, The Lake Merritt has initiated an intergenerational program called “Conversation Exchange.” We partner with Laney College students who are learning English as a second language. Students come to The Lake Merritt after classes to meet with our residents and build their English language fluency by conversing on a wide range of topics. This program has been wildly successful and a win-win for both students and our residents.
Our resident Mary met Etta, a Chinese student through the program. Mary said, “I love working with Etta. Our meetings together are valuable to both of us. She is so bright and her English gets better all the time. It’s a good feeling knowing I have had a hand in helping her,” Mary added.
In a world seemingly more divided each day, intergenerational programs offer connective solutions that benefit everyone. According to the California Health Report, intergenerational programming is a solution for two problems at once: kids get the attention they crave – sparking better performance at school – while their elder counterparts enjoy improved emotional and physical health.
Introducing Evan Johnson
By Tim Johnson
The Lake Merritt would like to introduce our new Program Director, Evan Johnson.
Evan comes to us as a theatre maker and teaching artist. He graduated Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre in 2006, and he has worked professionally as a multi-hyphenate performance-maker ever since. His love for community based projects, ensemble creation, and artistic collaboration continue to inspire both his life and work.
Since 2015, he has worked with the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department cultivating an environment of creative risk-taking and playfulness for older adults to boldly express themselves and share personal stories inside theatrical forms. Evan has witnessed firsthand just how profound the act of making and sharing with the senior population can be.
For the past several years he has been working with seniors creating programs sponsored by San Francisco Village. He was instrumental in moving many of these programs to a ZOOM format at the beginning of and throughout the pandemic.
“After being a ‘community explorer’ my whole life, I am thrilled to be a part of the community at The Lake Merritt and I am delighted to be given this opportunity,” Evan said.
We are excited to have Evan join us here as well. Welcome Evan!
Is It Time to Make Your Move?
By Tim Johnson
The other day I took a call from a woman; we’ll call her Susan, who said she wanted to discuss living in a senior community. “When COVID hit I sheltered in place,” she said. “Yet, after all this time I’m feeling like a hermit – I’m so separated from the world.”
“If living through this pandemic has shown us anything,” I told her, “it’s the importance of community and socialization. So many people have felt isolated and lonely.”
After chatting for a while, I asked a number of questions:
Are you tired of being a homeowner? Are you struggling to keep up with housework, the yard, and home maintenance? What happens when you can no longer drive? How much longer do you want to be climbing your staircases?“
“If you are wrestling with these ‘what-if’ questions,” I suggested, “you might consider your options for moving to a more supportive and active community environment.”
She then asked me if I knew what had prompted some of our residents to move into The Lake Merritt – Independent Senior Living, and so I decided to ask some of them!
Sam said, “The thing I like the most is the location. I love to walk and walking around the lake is great. I also like the exercise classes. When you are in a group you are encouraged to participate more.”
Judy told me, “I moved in because of the food. I was sick of cooking and the chef’s weekly menu never disappoints me. His salads are the best!”
Mary Lou told me without hesitation, “I was getting so depressed looking at my backyard. I could no longer take care of it and it got run down. Plus having to get a new hot water heater put me over the edge. In less than a week, after moving, I was so relaxed - like a weight was lifted off my shoulders.”
I decided to call Susan and report back to her what I found out from some of our residents and offered some guidance if she decided to go forward.
Check out each community’s programs and activities. For some, the cuisine is the most important, for others its amenities like game rooms and clubs, outdoor recreation, reading spaces and computer centers. If you are a pet lover, find out if the community is pet friendly. Talk to current residents when you take a tour and meet some of the team members.
Then I told Susan a little secret. I asked, “Wouldn’t it be nice if you could “test drive” a senior living community before making a commitment? The Lake Merritt offers a very limited "try it, you'll like it" option, depending on the apartment homes we have available. The only way to find out about this exclusive deal is to call and ask to take a tour.”
When it comes to senior living communities there is no one-size-fits-all. They all offer attractive amenities, but it’s important to consider how these features will benefit you directly. Stay true to your personal interests and wishes, and you’re sure to find the community to enhance your own way of life.
Scams on the Rise
By Tim Johnson
I received a phone call from my 80-year-old mother last week. She was distressed because she and my dad had been informed that their furnace had been “red-tagged.” They would not be able to use it this winter until it was repaired. The repairs were going to cost a minimum of $5,000.
How did this happen? My parents received a postcard in the mail that offered a “Free Inspection of Your Air Conditioning and Heating System.” My dad thought this would be a good idea.
The technician showed up and said there was a laundry list of things that were wrong. He took pictures and “red-tagged” the furnace, warning that “The furnace was extremely dangerous and could not be used until it had been repaired.”
Fortunately, my mother thought to ask for a report, copies of the pictures and a written estimate to be emailed to her. It’s been over a week now and the report has not been sent. I told them I felt they had been victims of a scam.
For those of us who are “internet savvy,” we may have been able to do a bit of research with a few clicks and to determine that the company was a scammer or a fraudster. Crooks are constantly upping their game - discovering new ways to trap people.
Residents who live at The Lake Merritt – Independent Senior Living tell me that they are so happy not to have to deal with home maintenance anymore. They are free to pursue their personal interests and are relieved not to be concerned with painting, plumbing repairs and yard work, or having to deal with things that are grimy, heavy, or worse yet, getting up on ladders.
Still, our residents are not immune from the con artists. I’ve read that scammers are increasingly using phone calls and text messages to steal personal information which can put their financial accounts at risk. According to Kara Suro, Vice President of Fraud Surveillance and Investigations at Charles Schwab, “Criminals are doing their homework. They continue to find ways to trick people into providing information via phone or text.”
For example, the scammer sends a text message to the potential victim asking if he or she made a specific purchase. If the victim responds, “No,” the fraudster follows up with a phone call claiming to be from where the alleged purchase was made or the victim’s financial institution and asks for sensitive personal information.
Here are some ways to recognize these scammers and fraudsters. They will often pretend to be from an organization you know or say they are contacting you on behalf of a government agency such as Medicare or the IRS. They may say there is a “problem” such as you owe money. There will be pressure to act immediately and they will tell you to pay in a specific way to eradicate the issue.
Here are some ways everyone can use to avoid becoming a victim of a possible scam:
- Block unwanted calls and text messages.
- Don't give your personal or financial information in response to a request that you didn't expect.
- Resist the pressure to act immediately.
- Know how scammers tell you to pay.
- Stop and talk to someone you trust.
Unfortunately, older adults are the most frequent targets of fraud scams. Targets may be lonely, willing to listen and sometimes can be more trusting than younger individuals. Just keep your guard up and remember what you taught your children: “Be aware of strangers - they may not be looking out for your best interests” and “When in doubt, check it out!”
Let’s Get Going!
By Tim Johnson
I don’t know about you, but I’ve got lots and lots of pent up energy and demand! With the lifting of mask restrictions on June 15 and the fact that vaccinated people can be active both inside and outside, it’s time to get going! Our residents agree! Let’s have some adventures!
Perhaps the most extensive outing we had recently was a visit to Pacifica, with its coastal beaches and ocean breezes. We stopped for lunch at The Ocean View Cafe in nearby Montara, where the owner, a former restaurant manager who worked for our community, made us a fabulous four-course meal. Afterward, we took an easy, paved walk on part of the coastline overlooking famed Devil's Slide. It was great bird watching! We took photos of the ocean as the Pacific showed its power, crashing on the shores below us.
Another outing we enjoyed was a trip to one of the most beautiful, serene and secret gardens in the Bay Area. With its panoramic Bay views, University of California Blake Garden in Kensington is a showcase for unique plantings. We were there for the peak of the spring flower season and were able to stroll the pathways of this 10.6 acre park. Blake Garden is a hidden delight that not many people know about. The home has been the official residence of the President of the University of California, and the garden (now open to the public) is under the management of the UC Berkeley Department of Landscape Architecture.
Have you heard about “Girl Gang Craft?” Our residents found them! They are a self-described “female-forward group” that took over the parking lot of Oakland’s Scottish Right Temple in June. GGC was a huge pop-up crafts fair, just a block from our community. Our visit was so much fun! We met Oakland artists and saw lots of arts, crafts, jewelry and custom clothing. We learned that GGC hosts crafts fairs throughout California, and is designed to lift up small creative businesses.
Other recent “let’s get going” outings included a visit to the Berkeley Art Museum to see some of the 3,000 African American quilts it recently received as a bequest, along with visits to Chabot and Redwood Regional Parks, which are always favorites. We loved a lunch outing to a new Oakland Mexican restaurant with a huge outdoor space, where we had great margaritas, tried the tres moles enchiladas and had coconut flan for dessert!
I asked our Program Director Ryan Wilcox, “What makes a great outing?” He said, “Every trip should be refreshing – a breath of fresh air. Something about the trip should give you a whole different window on life in the Bay Area.”
Wilcox continued, “Whether it is a nature walk, art appreciation, mingling with new people or trying new flavors, every month I get together with our residents and we plan for things we want to do and places we want to go. I try to surprise the residents with special little places that I think will delight them – places they might not know about, with gorgeous views or great flavors. We mix in old favorites with something new.”
After over a year of restrictions due to Covid-19, our community members are ready for more outings! Resident Pat said, “I love being out on a beautiful afternoon, just enjoying the woods and the breeze and the sunshine.” Gloria is happy to be making art outdoors, which she hasn’t done since she was young. As for me, croquet anyone?
Meditation: Food for the Mind and Soul
By Tim Johnson
After a year of being cooped up, everyone I know is delighted with this beautiful spring weather we are having! Many of us are going outside and are so happy to increase our activity level to regain physical fitness.
Yet, one of the discoveries we’ve made in a year of staying indoors is that there are ways to develop our inner strength and resiliency. One very popular way we’ve found to restore ourselves in the face of the unpredictable, and to enrich both the mind and soul is through meditation and mindfulness exercises.
Residents of The Lake Merritt - Independent Senior Living community have found this to be true. Many have been practicing mindfulness exercises for years. Meghan Collins, a resident since 2012, has been a Zen practitioner for 45 years and lay teacher for 22 years. She has been leading our meditation group since she moved to The Lake Merritt. “The residents tell me it is very calming and beneficial,” Collins says.
Medical professionals concur! According to the National Institute of Health, there is a beneficial link between mindfulness meditation and measurable changes in the brain regions involved in memory, learning and emotion. Data indicates that mediation can also help improve psychological balance, coping with illness, and may enhance overall health and well-being.
The Lake Merritt’s yoga instructor, Bethany Hobbs, couldn’t agree more. She offers classes of Chair Yoga, Meditation & Relaxation, and Balance Awareness for our community. Her work focuses on breathing, balance, stretching and strengthening the body, as well as the mind, so that older adults can help keep both their minds and bodies more flexible and relaxed.
The Lake Merritt’s newest resident, Wes Nisker, is a Buddhist meditation teacher, author and performer. His books include national bestseller, Essential Crazy Wisdom, as well as Buddha’s Nature and The Big Bang, The Buddha, and the Baby Boom. Nisker has studied Buddhist meditation for over three decades with teachers in Asia and America, and for the past 15 years has been leading retreats and workshops in Buddhist insight meditation and philosophy at national and international venues.
Collins and Nisker were excited to meet one another and have recently joined forces in leading the mediation group at The Lake Merritt. When asked whether they prefer to lead or participate they are in agreement. “When you lead you are trying to experience what you are calling on others to do. You don't let go as deeply into the experience,” says Nisker. Collins added, “As a participant you can just let go. When you lead you have to keep track of the time and things around you. Over the years I’ve learned to do both.”
A major benefit of mindfulness mediation is that it encourages you to pay attention to your thoughts, your actions and your body. Finding time for mindfulness in our culture, however, can be a challenge. We tend to place great value on how much we can do at once and how fast. Still, being more mindful is within anyone’s reach.
Collins stated, "Over the years, it seems the practice of meditation has given me a lot more equilibrium." Given the very turbulent times we have been through recently, it seems like meditation might be just the thing for everyone!
The Light at the End of the Tunnel
By Tim Johnson
The other day I saw the U.S. Surgeon General, Vivek H. Murthy interviewed on television. Though he stressed the need to continue following CDC guidelines, he was happy to point out that because of the COVID vaccination successes, “we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel getting brighter and brighter.”
Talk like this gets me excited to think about life getting back to “normal,” though this looks quite different now than it did only a year ago. I know many people are wondering: Are senior living communities, including assisted living and independent living, safe to explore again in this “new normal?”
In answering this question, it appears that early data shows that the highest quality senior living communities adapted quickly and responsibly to COVID-19. They spent the last year implementing prevention measures and determining what healthy socialization looks like for their residents. Some of these plans included new opportunities for indoor exercise and dining, special learning activities, integrating entertainment and providing innovative ways for face-to-face engagement for residents and staff.
If you’re not certain that now is the right time to consider a community, ask yourself what has this past year been like for you and those you love? Many older adults have become more isolated because of the necessary precautions that were put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Today, more active older adults are making the move to senior living communities as a lifestyle choice. They want to be active in their retirement, relinquish daily tasks and home maintenance, and want to take advantage of the social aspects, custom services, amenities and opportunities created just for them.
Researchers have found that older adults who report the highest levels of well-being and happiness are those who socialize, work or volunteer and exercise with others. If you visit an independent living community or an assisted living community, you’ll find residents participating in many different activities, programs and committees. You’ll also find that each community’s culture is shaped by the residents who live there.
Diane Broch is the Community Relations Director here at The Lake Merritt - Independent Senior Living community. She has been getting a lot of calls from people who tell her they have been feeling so isolated these days and are more curious than ever about community living. “We are able to reassure them that our residents interact with each other on a daily basis and are fully vaccinated as are all newcomers to the community,” she explained. Broch continued, “It is a much healthier lifestyle to have a community of fellow residents and staff you can engage with, versus being alone in your home. We follow the CDC guidelines as they are released and really care about each other. Our residents are happy that they can engage with everyone here.”
With the light and the end of the tunnel getting brighter, all of us will have an opportunity to reassess our many options for what’s next. As for me, I know I am joined by our residents who are thrilled to be fully vaccinated and who can plan for a more active and involved future.
A Taste of Spring
By Tim Johnson
March 11 marked the one-year anniversary of the World Health Organization’s declaration of COVID-19 as a global pandemic. Although the seasons have changed four times since then, I feel as though we have experienced a year-long winter. Winter is often viewed as a time of waiting and the pandemic has forced us into a time of stillness and a slower pace.
With vaccinations, the sharp decline in COVID-19 cases has resulted in our lives slowly returning to normal. It seems to me that we are experiencing a fresh new beginning. In this extra-long transition from winter into spring, there are “green shoots” representing new and positive changes everywhere - if you look for them.
These changes are noticeable here at The Lake Merritt - Independent Senior Living community. Our residents, now fully vaccinated, are free to walk around mask-free within our community. They are able to engage with one another with ease and I can once again see the smiles on their faces. Following current CDC guidelines, our exercise teachers, art instructor and choir director have all returned, vaccinated and wearing masks. We had our first live music performance for residents in over a year and masked-up families and friends are visiting again. It feels great!
The biggest and most welcomed change is in our beautiful restaurant, The Terrace Room. No longer restricted to having only two persons per table behind a plastic barrier, residents are happy to sit together in small groups and socialize. One resident said that “along with enjoying the great food here, being able to share a meal with others completes the perfect dining experience.”
Executive Chef Michael Cook said, “The timing for the change couldn’t be better. Our favorite produce company’s sales rep, Ric, always says ‘asparagus is the harbinger of spring’ and I couldn’t agree more. It’s always great to incorporate locally grown fruits and vegetables into the menu, so I look forward to spring.”
Choosing the right produce is an important part of healthy eating for older adults, and Chef Michael knows what to look for. He said of the abundance of newly-grown spring greens, “You can't eat enough of them. They provide you with a seriously useful amount of vitamin C to support your immune system and vitamin K to build bone strength. Don’t forget about fresh fruit, especially strawberries,” Michael added while holding up a plump, dark red berry. “These little guys are known to protect your heart, lower your blood pressure, and are filled with antioxidants.”
For many people, food is a source of joy—and one that can help us live life at its fullest. Resident Judy couldn’t agree more, as she said: “Tuesday is my favorite day in The Terrace Room. It means a new lunch menu for the week and a special salad creation. Last week we were treated to a Chef Michael original: poached salmon on a bed of quinoa with cucumbers and asparagus with a Meyer lemon aioli dressing. It was outstanding! I can’t wait to see what he does next.”
As we slowly emerge from this year-long winter, I know we will continue to see positive changes. No matter how long the winter, we can celebrate the coming of spring knowing that family, friendship and good food are sure to follow.
Our Covid Heroes
By Tim Johnson
As the Executive Director of The Lake Merritt – Independent Senior Living, I realized that I wanted to be very proactive about securing Covid-19 vaccinations for our community members. With a limited supply in California, it seemed like a daunting task, but if you’re like me, I got in touch with my determination. Beginning in December of last year, I began “working” the phones. Even though we are an independent living community, many of our members are vulnerable to illness due to aging, and some, if not all people, are at risk for serious illness resulting from the pandemic.
For those of us in the Bay Area and beyond, who have wanted the vaccine from the beginning, the distribution efforts have been painfully slow. When I learned that a limited supply was going to be available in Alameda County I reached out and began an effort to stay in touch with two tireless local government officials: Dustin and Andrew, who co-lead the Alameda County Health Department’s Covid Task Force. These two heroic and overwhelmed fellows were very, very helpful and absolutely supportive of my mission to vaccinate those of our community members at The Lake Merritt who wished to get the injections.
Because of everyones’ efforts, diligence and can-do attitude, I am happy to announce that we held our first vaccination clinic here at The Lake Merritt in mid-January and every single one of our residents chose to be vaccinated! We will be receiving our second dose in just a few days from now.
This is also due, in part, to another local hero of mine: Pharmacist Sudhir of Clayworth Pharmacy. This community pharmacy is dedicated to serving the health needs of our area, along with Castro Valley and San Leandro. Clayworth Pharmacy partnered wholeheartedly with our county administrators and are currently on a mission to vaccinate as many people as they can. As one of two small community-based pharmacies, they jumped in right away to help in this emergency; Clayworth brought their staff on-site to The Lake Merritt and vaccinated our residents here. Their daily task while on-site here (and I’m sure at other locations), was three vaccinations every five minutes!
Our residents gave careful consideration before getting vaccinated. Husband and wife residents Robert and Gloria said they felt ambivalent about the vaccine in the beginning since there seem to be so many unknowns. Yet, they agreed to take it, because it seems to offer long-term protection.
Resident Cleo reminded me that vaccine hesitancy in her community can be traced directly to a history of improper medical testing in addition to negative experiences with healthcare systems. Cleo stated, “As an African American and a retired R.N., I feel it’s my responsibility to my neighbors at The Lake Merritt, and to my surrounding community, that I receive the vaccine.”
As our residents were leaving the on-site clinic after their first injections, I asked some of them what it meant to them to get vaccinated. Pat said, “To me, it means freedom!” Cynthia agreed saying, “It means I can travel again.” Gloria added that taking the vaccine means “getting to see my grandchildren and spending time with my family again.”
My advice to everyone is don’t get frustrated with your search for the vaccine! Persistence works! First of all, reach out to your medical provider. Another option is the California Department of Public Health at www.myturn.ca.gov for up-to-date registration and information. City agencies or county health departments may also know about new avenues and can recommend the best way for you to sign up for the vaccine. If you are not certain if taking the vaccine is right for you, before choosing not to, consider a visit to the CDC’s website and read their current information. https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/covid-19/index.html.
These are very trying times, but I’m confident that we will get through them by taking care of ourselves and each other! Stay well and stay safe!