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!
How To Stay Active During a Lockdown
By Tim Johnson
After the first of the year many of us look at our physical selves and realize that the previous holiday season has resulted in a few extra pounds. This observation often jumpstarts the idea that we need to start exercising.
In addition to the holiday gain, living in the COVID-19 world means many of us are staying at home and sitting down more than we usually do. It’s hard for a lot of us to do the sort of exercise we normally enjoy. It’s even harder for people who don’t usually do a lot of physical exercise to begin with.
It is widely agreed that exercise and physical activity are important as we age. Staying active can help us remain independent by preventing loss of physical mobility. Besides keeping your body healthy, research has shown that physical activity also helps the brain and may slow age-related cognitive decline.
We’ve heard it all before, but it bears repeating. The World Health Organization, and many others tell us that “regular physical activity benefits both the body and mind. It can reduce high blood pressure, help manage weight and reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and various cancers - all conditions that can increase susceptibility to COVID-19.” Regular, moderate-intensity exercise has immune-boosting benefits that may help your body fight off infections and many viruses.
How can we start? Walking is a great way for older adults to exercise. Regular walking can build endurance helping each of us walk farther, faster, or even uphill with greater ease.
At The Lake Merritt, our residents are fortunate to have many wonderful walking areas in our neighborhood. The most beautiful areas are the newly renovated walking paths around the lake! Our residents Sam and Pat can be seen out walking once or twice a day. Sam said, “I walk every day because it energizes me. It makes my brain feel good.” Pat agreed adding, “ It’s the best way to exercise. I feel lousy if I miss my daily lake walk.”
The pandemic has also made it very difficult to exercise in other ways we have become accustomed to. With gyms closed, many exercise classes are unavailable. Yet, virtual fitness classes have sprung up online. These allow you to interact with other people in a fun way, which may be just the motivation we need to keep up with our fitness regime.
Our Program Director, Ryan Wilcox, has set up The Lake Merritt’s exercise program online through ZOOM. This allows residents to exercise in their own apartment, or join the group where they can exercise in a way that is socially distanced while wearing masks. I asked some of our residents why these programs are so important?
Cynthia said, “I really miss going out for my Pilates class which is not being held due to Covid. I am so grateful for our ZOOM classes because movement keeps me alive!” Robert added, “the classes for our residents make me more alert and help my whole body.” Pat and Beverly both said that daily exercise helps keep them from “getting stiff!”
Regular physical activity is essential for everyone under normal circumstances. It is especially important during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Although many things feel beyond our control right now, we do have the ability to be creative and to build physical activity and exercise into each of our days. We may even look back on this difficult time as the turning point when we learned new ways to build our physical health and resilience!
Savor the Holidays!
By Tim Johnson
2020 has been an unpredictable year! It is widely agreed that the best thing we can do is look ahead. Yet, deep in this holiday season are treasures! We are reminded of key traditions and activities that we hold dear to our hearts. While some ways of celebrating may look a little different this year, it doesn’t mean we still can’t enjoy our favorite traditions.
It’s the little things that can get us excited about the season. For me, it is things like bundling up for chilly walks, slipping between warm flannel sheets or binge-watching every holiday movie ever made! Some of us appreciate a cool glass of eggnog and others may choose to drink delicious hot apple cider. Mulled wine, a cup of hot chocolate, and sweet baked goods are little treats we can all enjoy.
Viewing Christmas lights decorating our neighbors’ houses, lighting the candles during the eight days of Hanukkah, or enjoying the seven days of Kwanzaa that celebrate family, community and culture - all are all rich traditions we can share.
Let’s not forget the Holiday music! I’m one of those guys who have been listening to Holiday music every day since November 1st!!!
For those of you who have a custom of visiting The Lake Merritt to take a picture in front of our iconic Christmas tree, or like to enjoy an Elf Mimosa in the Terrace Room, we look forward to opening our doors again next year. In the meantime, here are a couple of pictures of our community’s 2020 décor for you to enjoy!
Remember, focusing on friendship and family and the little sensual pleasures of this time of year, and maintaining a positive attitude will help ensure a great holiday season.
Happy Holidays from all of us at The Lake Merritt.
If You Gotta Wear a Mask… Why Not Be Fashionable?
By Tim Johnson
The other day I was chatting with Judy, one of the residents at The Lake Merritt - Independent Senior Community. She was wearing a light blue mask with peaches on it. I said to her, “I don’t think I have ever seen that mask before. It’s very nice!” Her eyes lit up and she said, “It’s new. I now have six double-sided masks. That means I now have twelve different looks to select from!”
Last week another resident, Faye, walked by. She was wearing a black mask with white polka dots, a white blouse with black polka dots, a black cardigan sweater and black slacks. Her black and white earrings matched her necklace and set off the outfit perfectly - pure class. I told her so! Her response was, “A fashionable lady knows how to color coordinate!”
The U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) regularly updates its website with ways to help prevent COVID-19. While it has long been suggested mask-wearing primarily protects the “other person,” in the CDC’s scientific brief updated last week on November 10, 2020, the organization cites studies that demonstrate that cloth mask materials can also reduce the wearers’ exposure to infectious droplets through filtration, including filtration of fine droplets.
It’s common knowledge nobody likes or really wants to wear a mask all the time but the science is clear: Mask wearing helps save lives. Since it is likely we will be wearing masks for some time to come, why not look at some fashionable masks that show your personality. That is exactly what the staff at The Lake Merritt decided to do. As it turns out - it’s fun!
As a pet lover Stephanie was happy to find a line of masks that pay tribute to our furry friends. The fact that the paw print is made from rhinestones makes it all the better. Who doesn’t like a little bling?
Krasaundra said, “Wearing a more fashionable mask made me feel good. After the residents started complimenting me the idea became fun. It challenged me to up my game!” She has several different masks but one of her favorites is this elegant black mask trimmed with pearls.
Ryan likes his cat mask because he enjoys “just the right amount of zany on my face.” He likes things that are fun.
Why the sparkles? Ernestine wears masks that glitter and sparkle because they match her personality!
Candi is wearing an “Alice in Wonderland” mask that she designed and made herself. She saw the need for masks early on and began making them for friends and family. Residents noticed her beautiful creations and have been asking Candi to make masks for them as well.
Fashion has always had a way of taking our wardrobe essentials and turning them into statement pieces. It's no surprise then, that the protective face coverings we've been advised to wear to curb the spread of the coronavirus have quickly been embraced and beautified by the fashion world. Since you’re going to wear one anyway, why not join with the residents and staff of The Lake Merritt and consider something with a bit of pizzazz? You’ll have fun doing it!
Lake Merritt - Beneath the Surface
By Tim Johnson
I am thrilled to announce that The Lake Merritt has secured a very coveted speaker for our Topics of Merritt program on Tuesday, November 10, 2020 at 1:00 p.m. Damon Tighe, a Naturalist at the California Center for Natural History and Biotechnology, and Educator at Bio-Rad Laboratories, will present a free Zoom program for us, which is open to all. Based in Oakland, Tighe has become acclaimed for his work documenting the spectacular marine organisms thriving beneath the surface of Lake Merritt. His dramatic underwater photographs and compelling stories reveal the history of these stunning life forms, many from around the world, who have found a home in Lake Merritt.
Did you know that Lake Merritt is not a man-made lake, but a tidal lagoon that formed 10,000 years ago in the Neolithic era? At that time, rising sea levels carried water from the Pacific Ocean inland and a tidal lagoon formed in what is now Downtown Oakland. The lagoon was connected to the bay by a large rivulet that carried a steady stream of saltwater and wildlife inland from the ocean. Fresh water from winter rains runs down our hills through many creeks and into the lake creating a mixed brackish environment suitable for many marine creatures then and now.
Over the decades, Oakland resident, Damon Tighe has kept a watchful eye on the creatures living in the lake. After getting reports over several years in a row from boaters on the lake concerning a beautiful soft blue glow around their oars at night, Tighe investigated. His research resulted in a very compelling article (“Why Is Lake Merritt Turning Blue at Night?”) for Bay Nature magazine explaining the phenomenon.
Here’s what Tighe’s research discovered: During the summer months when the creeks run dry, the salinity of our lake’s water rises to become much more like that of the Bay. Coinciding with this change in salinity, a bloom in marine organisms begins in the shallow warm waters. By late summer and early fall, the microscopic organisms responsible for the blue glow, plankton called dinoflagellates, erupt and multiply.
After reading an article about Tighe in The Oaklandside this past July, I was intrigued by some of the other discoveries Tighe has made and his process for doing so. The citizen scientist knows the lake and its environs well. He steps around picnickers, turns over rocks on the shore, and even wades through the water, his eyes alert for the smallest marine critters. To date, more than 600 species have been identified at Lake Merritt, including non-native life forms and some that are so unique that they have not been found anywhere else on Earth.
The Lake Merritt - Independent Senior Community sits directly across from the lake. I have spent many an hour walking along the lake noticing the plants and wildlife, but never imagined what was under the water! To hear more, we invited Damon Tighe to present a program for us. You’re invited to learn about what’s going on under the surface and the ever-changing ecology of our beloved Lake Merritt.
Does Bone Health Really Matter?
By Tim Johnson
When I think of the word “skeleton” I often imagine something creepy - like a Halloween decoration eerily perched on someone’s front porch. Why am I thinking about skeletons you ask? The Lake Merritt - Independent Senior Living is hosting a free educational webinar next month about bone health and I realized this is a topic I do not know a lot about. So, I decided to do a little research!
Did you know our skeleton is an active organ? It’s made up of tissue and cells in a continual state of activity throughout a lifetime. Just like any other organ or tissue, bones need to be maintained. Not only do our bones support us and allow us to move, but they also protect our brain, heart, and other organs from injury. Our bones also store minerals such as calcium and phosphorus and release them into the body when we need them for other uses.
Every day our body breaks down old bone and puts new bone in its place. Yet, as we get older it is normal to lose some bone as we age. Many people have weak bones and don’t even know it. That’s because bone loss often happens over a long period of time and doesn’t hurt. For many people, a broken bone is the first sign that they have osteoporosis, a condition in which bones weaken and become porous. People with osteoporosis most often break bones in the wrist, spine, and hip.
The good news is that it is never too late to take care of your bones.
According to the National Institute of Health’s Osteoporosis National Resource Center, there are lots of things you can do to keep your bones healthy and strong. Eating foods rich in calcium and vitamin D, getting plenty of exercise and leading a healthy lifestyle all contribute to your bone “bank account” in a positive way.
There are certain risk factors you can control that can help promote healthy bones. These include a healthy diet and physical activity, as I mentioned before. Body weight is a risk factor because being too thin can lead to osteoporosis. Smoking cigarettes can keep your body from using the calcium in your diet. People who drink a lot of alcohol are more likely to get osteoporosis. In July of this year Dr. Timothy Bhattacharyya, a researcher with the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, released the results of a 40-year study that found an association between lowered rates of hip fractures and decreases in smoking and heavy drinking.
Plus, there are the risk factors you can’t control that can predispose one to osteoporosis such as age, gender, ethnicity and family history.
If I have confused you or caused any undue worry, then you will want to join us October 22, 2020 at 11:00a.m. for our free Zoom program, Freedom From Fractures. The national organization, American Bone Health will lead our presentation and teach us how to build and keep strong and healthy bones for life with practical and up-to-date resources.. The program will help you better understand more about your skeleton, so you can know your risk and do something about it. To reserve your space please RSVP by calling 510-903-3600.
Food For Thought
By Tim Johnson
I recently came across an article in a professional trade magazine, published in May of this year, which discussed fighting coronavirus with food. Their position is that proper nutrition can help you fight the coronavirus. Eating healthy helps you fight all diseases more effectively – not just COVID-19. It improves your mood and energy level, and reduces anxiety and depression. Every little bit of healthy eating helps your body fight disease more effectively.
According to the World Health Organization, eating a healthy diet is very important during the COVID-19 pandemic. What we eat and drink can affect our body’s ability to prevent, fight and recover from infections. While no foods or dietary supplements can prevent or cure COVID-19 infection, healthy diets are important for supporting immune systems. Good nutrition can also reduce the likelihood of developing other health problems, including obesity, heart disease, diabetes and some types of cancer.
This got me thinking how fortunate we are here at the Lake Merritt - Independent Senior Community. First of all, we have an amazing executive chef, Michael Cook. For 18 years, Cook was the executive chef at the very popular and trendy restaurant À Côté in Oakland’s Rockridge district.
For his part, Cook has embraced his role at The Lake Merritt. His philosophy is to incorporate, whenever possible, local and regionally grown foods. He is extremely conscientious about the nutritional needs of our population. Cook said, “I love cooking for the residents and they must love it too because they keep coming back for more!”
Not only do we have delicious food, we also have in our possession one of Oakland’s best kept secrets. The Terrace Room is known to many as a little gem, tucked inside our community with its panoramic views of Lake Merritt. In the 1930s and 1940s the Terrace Room was the city’s trendy hot spot, featuring great cocktails and dining along with dancing and Big Bands, including the famed Count Basie.
I mention The Terrace Room because it has been beneficial in helping us fight off social isolation. During this pandemic we have been following CDC recommendations, including wearing masks and social distancing. However, it is important to remember that mental health also cannot be overlooked. Such a “Catch-22,” but that’s where our “little” gem comes in.
The Terrace Room is over 4,000 square feet! It has high ceilings, great ventilation and windows that open directly onto the lake. It can seat 300 people! Because of this large space we are able to spread the dining tables out and distance them eight feet apart. Thus, we have created seating for all our residents who can dine at a distance from each other and yet they are still able to socialize. This beautiful restaurant allows us to meet the nutritional needs of our residents as well as allowing us to maintain socialization (with social distancing) that helps them stay emotionally, mentally and physically strong.
We look forward to the day when we can once again invite guests to join us in this lovely and historic restaurant. Until that time, everyone is grateful to have the opportunity to live here at The Lake Merritt where the food is delicious and residents don’t have to worry about feeling isolated.
Easy Walking Trails in Oakland – Our Secret Spots
By Tim Johnson
There aren't many major cities where you can drive from the grocery store to the middle of a redwood forest in five to ten minutes, but here’s a little secret: You can in Oakland! Residents of The Lake Merritt - Independent Senior Living have been exploring our wonderful local parks in a safe and distanced way. The City of Oakland boasts nearly 6,000 acres of parks and trails, many of which connect to larger park networks. The East Bay Regional Parks features nearly 125,000 acres and has a very good website that is continuously updated with COVID-related closures and other information. We also use alltrails.com to search for easy hikes and read user reviews about trail width and busyness. You could walk for days without retracing your steps!
Recently, our residents enjoyed a great presentation by Stan Dodson, the founder of Oakland Trails (oaklandtrails.org) as part of our weekly public speaker series, “Topics of Merritt.” (This and our other Zoom programs are free and available to the public, so call us or register online). Dodson knows his local trails! He is a recipient of the Parkland Steward Award from Oakland Public Works, and the Anne Woodell Community Award, Oakland’s highest honor for community service in parks.
Dodson recommends visiting Oakland's gorgeous parks in the afternoon on weekdays to avoid crowds. He also recommended some easy and accessible trails within the Oakland City Parks system just for us.
On the Eastern side of Joaquin Miller Park there is a nearly flat maintenance road that can be accessed from a parking pullout on Skyline Boulevard near the Big Trees Trailhead. This road takes you through the redwood forest toward the Sequoia Horse Arena. This trail is wheelchair accessible and peaceful. Also within the nearby Sausal Creek watershed, Dodson recommends entering the Dimond Canyon Trail at El Centro Avenue. There you will find a flat, wide trail that attracts families and is suitable for nearly all abilities.
In addition to these spots, The Lake Merritt residents have several favorites to share with you. David particularly likes the Montclair Railroad Trail, the steepest part of which is a gentle ramp to get onto the trail (behind the Montclair Parking Garage). David says “the trail is not too crowded. It's very wide and paved and it’s flat. I could do one of those walks every day.”
Another series of trails we’ve visited more than once are in Redwood Regional Park. This gorgeous woodland features wide, paved trails, as well as an impressive network of dirt paths. We usually enter through Redwood Gate and explore the Stream Trail. Our resident Jusy says "there are times when I come back from our nature walks feeling almost ecstatic."
If you’d like to do even more research on area walks and trails you can view Dodson’s two short films through Oakland Trails. This all-volunteer organization is dedicated to promoting, maintaining and enhancing the City of Oakland’s wildland parks and trails. Trailhead is Dodson’s first film. It provides an overview of Oakland’s largest wildland trail system that connects neighborhoods to redwood forests. Old Survivor, Dodson’s second film, highlights the only remaining old-growth redwood tree in the East Bay hills and tells the story of Oakland’s resilient, ecologically amazing and now-protected redwood forest. Both documentaries can be viewed for free and are found at oaklandtrails.org.
It is possible for older adults and families to enjoy easy and immersive nature walks in Oakland. They are food for the soul. Get out and enjoy the rest of the summer.