Blog

Just a Little Interaction Can Make A Huge Difference

by Johanna Leonard
April 2016

For the past several months, The Lake Merritt and Laney College have partnered to develop a new program we’ve called “Conversation Exchange.” Every Friday, students from Laney College who are learning English as a second language, come to The Lake Merritt to meet with our residents and converse on a range of topics. This program has been wildly successful and a win-win for both students and our residents.

The students from Laney College come from many different countries - Yemen, China, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Sri Lanka and Sudan. They are divided into groups and paired with residents to discuss different topics each week. Some of the topics that have been discussed are about different holidays in different cultures, like Groundhog Day, how to interview for a new job, and giving and receiving directions to another locale. Our residents help Laney students with their English pronunciation and vocabulary choices in friendly conversations.

When I asked one of our residents, Warner, why he participated in our new Friday “Conversation Exchange “Program with ESL students, he said, "Human connection. Isn't that what it is all about?" He went on to tell me that he empathized with the students. “English was my second language as well and I immigrated to the United States from Germany before World War II. I lived and interacted with many refugees coming to this country. They weren't from the Sudan or Vietnam, but we were refugees all the same."

This new program has given students a chance to practice their new language skills, and our residents, most importantly, feel they have a real contribution to make to the lives of these young people. Volunteering has given them enjoyment and a sense of purpose. Most older adults want to make a difference in this world, just as younger adults do. Unfortunately, sometimes older adults have difficulty finding a satisfying role for themselves.

In 2008, a study examined the significance of autonomy and personal responsibility and how it affected the health of older adults in a senior community. In the study, researchers examined how autonomy or perceived autonomy affected 120 older adults from six Manhattan senior centers. The results showed that the ability to make freely self-directed choices in one's life is considered critical to an older person's quality of life.

A sense of purpose is important to everyone, no matter your age. A leader in geriatric medicine, Dr. Linda Fried said it best when she stated “Our negative attitudes towards aging blind us to the fact that millions of people in their '60s, '70s, '80s, and beyond are robust, active, functional, experienced, capable and talented—and that they want to remain engaged and contributing.“

Hats off to Laney College for recognizing our community of residents and their untapped talent. Many wonderful friendships have developed over the past few months.

 



 

4th Annual Bone Health Fair

by Johanna Leonard
March 2016

This month we partnered with American Bone Health to host our 4th Annual Bone Health Fair. This year, in addition to the individual testing that each attendee could participate in, we welcomed Dr. Lani Simpson as our keynote speaker.

Dr. Simpson is a Certified Clinical Densitometrist and Bone Health Expert (A Densitometrist interprets bone densitometry examinations. Densitometry is an enhanced form of x-ray technology that is used to measure bone loss or bone density scanning.). She has written a book Dr. Lani's No-Nonsense Bone Health Guide, and will soon be sharing her expertise on bone health with the PBS audience this June.

She was a great speaker. I personally appreciated her practicality and advice. The top three items that I took away from this event were:

     1. If it is recommended that you have a bone density test, make certain that you go to a location that has well trained staff to complete the testing. Errors in testing are more common than you think. Do your research. According to Dr. Simpson, American Bone Health has properly trained staff.

     2. If you are diagnosed with bone loss, have your doctor check your current medications to make certain that these medications are not affecting your bone density.

     3. Dr. Simpson recommends that in this situation you and your doctor should consider holding off on adding new medications until you rule out all secondary medical concerns, such as thyroid or kidney issues.

There was a lot more information in her talk, but the overall recommendation was to advocate for yourself with your medical professionals. Educate yourself and be persistent. If you want to learn more, you can contact Dr. Simpson directly.  She is based in the San Francisco Bay Area.  You can also watch her on PBS in June.  Please also go to our Alliances & Association page.  

If you want to know more about future events at The Lake Merritt – Independent Senior Living, please sign-up for our e-newsletter on the Home Page.

 



 

New Program at The Lake Merritt Welcomes High School Volunteers

by Johanna Leonard
March 2016

I’m pleased to announce that The Lake Merritt has embarked on an exciting pilot program with students from Oakland’s Bishop O’Dowd High School. I was touring the
school recently with a family member who will be attending high school next year and we discovered that Bishop O’Dowd students are required to complete 100 hours of volunteer service in the Oakland community.

I learned that volunteer requirements are not unique to this one high school, but what was a surprise to me is that each freshman is required to complete service hours by working in a senior community. When I heard that, I immediately thought “Hey, let’s invite them to volunteer at The Lake Merritt!”

Many months later, I am happy to report that our community will shortly have students volunteering with us at The Lake Merritt for the spring semester. This school-wide effort is part of a larger volunteer philosophy where freshman work with older adults, sophomores work with disadvantaged youth, and the juniors and seniors work with a combination of these populations, as they choose. This program has been in existence at the school for about a decade, and has been quite successful.

There are many young people who have little to no exposure to older adults, which results in our youth believing in many stereotypes about people who are getting older. It is wonderful to find a partner who is helping us battle ageism in our society and especially awesome that Bishop O’Dowd is starting this battle with young people of such an impressionable age. Stay tuned for an update on this program and how it is working at The Lake Merritt!

 



 

Relax A Little

by Johanna Leonard
January 2016

I heard a story on the radio recently that really surprised me. There is a growing field of evidence about older adults and their weight. I decided to follow up on this idea during this time when we make our annual New Year’s resolutions. The most common of which is: “Lose Weight.”

The source of the news was a major report in Britain’s well-regarded daily newspaper The Guardian. Professor Leon Flicker, who was been described as “one of the world’s most eminent specialists in geriatric health,” was cited. He found that “overweight older people are not at greater mortality risk than those who are normal weight.”

Professor Flicker explained that he wasn't sure why excess weight protected older adults, but speculated that the extra weight could give older people reserves to recover from stresses such as surgery or pneumonia. “If you develop an illness, a little more reserve gives you a greater chance to recover from that illness,” he said.

Before you go eating that extra piece of pie and adding two scoops of ice cream, I found two important cautions. Professor Flicker reported that "Women who do not take exercise are twice as likely to die as women who get regular exercise, regardless of their Body Mass Index (BMI). The same effect is seen in men, but to a lesser degree: a sedentary lifestyle was associated with a 28% increase in death among men."

Our location makes it easy for our residents to stay active. There are three miles of walking and biking trails right outside the door and a complimentary personal trainer on staff. We also know healthy eating makes a big difference and meals in our Terrace Room Restaurant offer delicious, nutritious food to fuel their activities.

Professor Flicker’s caution made an impression on me. More exercise is a resolution I can make! It’s also a resolution many of our residents at The Lake Merritt – Independent Senior Living can make. So given all my research, I’ve decided that I’ll have that piece of apple pie, but will hold the ice cream. Then I’ll say, “Lets all go for an after-dinner walk!”

 



 

Something Wicked Comes This Way

by Johanna Leonard
December 2015

The Lake Merritt has an incredible 18-20 classes or activities each week! These activities are generally weekly, bi-weekly, and monthly. Our programming is resident driven, so it changes as new residents move-in and express unique interests. This keeps our programs fresh!

We are excited to announce the first of many seasonal seminars at The Lake Merritt. Starting this month, The Lake Merritt presents a four-week course entitled The Art of Battling Giants. The classes are based on Malcolm Gladwell’s international bestseller David & Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and The Art of Battling Giants. During the four weeks, participants will discuss whether ordinary persons have any prospects for making their voices heard. We will look at how individuals can demand change so that they are less vulnerable, and even how they might be able to exercise something resembling equal power in politics and society.

We are proud to announce that our facilitator is David Peritz. David Peritz (PhD, Politics, Oxford University), is the Chair of the Politics Department at Sarah Lawrence College in New York, and also teaches as a regular visitor at Dartmouth, Cornell and University of California, Berkeley. He has been offering seminars at premier retirement communities in New York City for the last 15 years.

By bringing in guest speakers to facilitate a class or discussion group, The Lake Merritt offers new activities to meet our resident’s interests. Our programs of seasonal seminars will be four to six weeks long and will change in topics. One of the many benefits of residency are special programs like these.

Our next series of classes will be a four-week reading and discussion of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. My first thought was that this was a pretty heavy choice, but our Programming Director, Ryan Wilcox, tells me that our residents chose this play. “Something wicked comes this way…”

 



 

Acclaimed Industry Veteran Appointed New Executive Chef

by Johanna Leonard
November 2015

We are very pleased to announce that The Terrace Room Restaurant & Bar at The Lake Merritt has appointed Louis Le Gassic as our new Executive Chef. While bringing a fresh vision to the restaurant's menu, he is maintaining the venue's hallmark focus on New American cuisine prepared with seasonal, often locally sourced, sustainable, organic ingredients.

Randall Berger, the proprietor of The Lake Merritt commented that "I saw in Chef Louis the ideal combination of experience and inspiration to take our menu, quality, service and value to a new level and we have given him nearly carte blanche to do so.”

Chef Le Gassic is a native of rural New Jersey who has fond memories of growing his own vegetables beginning at age five. A self-taught cook, he subsequently relocated to the Bay Area, learned butchery at Enzo's Meat Market in Oakland, and in 1997 began working at the famed BayWolf Restaurant where within two years he was promoted to Executive Chef. Later travels in France reinforced his longstanding love of Mediterranean inspired cuisine. Now a resident of Berkeley, he enjoys building and riding bicycles when he's not in the kitchen.

We are very excited to have Chef Le Gassic join our team at The Lake Merritt.

 



 

Tips for a Great Family Visit

by Johanna Leonard
November 2015

Each year we look forward to the holiday season, although often with trepidation when we consider the number of things we need to do to get ready.

Psychology Today has found that the holiday season can be stressful for many of us, but it can be an especially difficult time for older adults. The wonderful memories of past holidays can often bring up bittersweet memories of lost friends and loved ones; the past can outshine the present. We believe it is important to prepare for the potential of increased support that your parent or grandparent may need to ensure his or her mental, physical or emotional needs are met during the holidays.

If your parents or loved ones will be visiting you, the first step is to evaluate whether your home has any physical obstacles. Older adults often have balance issues and you want to avoid any trip and falls during the holidays.

The second step is to plan ahead. Does your mother or father tire easily? Does he or she need quiet time? If your parent is visiting, be careful of over scheduling their time. You know them best, but if they nap in the early afternoon, don't schedule visits during that time. If their routine at home is relaxed, don't expect them to be able to participate in 5 or 6 activities in the same day. Watch for over stimulation. He or she may well need quiet time to unwind.

Step three is to be inclusive. For example, if your uncle can no longer do certain tasks, don't let that stop him from participating. If he used to help decorate the tree, but he can no longer stand for too long, set a chair near the tree, and have him take the decorations out of the box for you or your children to place on the tree. If your mother loved to cook and she can no longer complete an entire meal, give her smaller more manageable tasks so that she is still involved in preparing the meal. Another way to be inclusive is to maintain several holiday traditions that are important to the history of your family and invite your parent to be in charge of that tradition.

If you notice that your grandmother seems downcast or despondent during this time, try to keep her occupied with positive activities, such as:

     * Stroll down memory lane. It is okay to talk about past holidays, but be certain to include present as well as the future holidays.
     * Get out of the house. Visit friends or volunteer. Take her shopping for gifts.
     * Take your granny for a drive to see the holiday decoration and lights.
     * Exercise, even though it is winter. Talk a walk. Get some sun. Don't forget that some people suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder).
     * Reach out. Schedule family time with your parents. If you do not live nearby, call your parents on the phone or Skype with them.

Remember that it is okay to talk about feelings. Acknowledge that you know the holidays can be difficult for everyone. Include your parents in activities, and encourage them to be participants, not observers. Your mother, father, aunt, uncle, and/or grandparents are an important part of your family. Make certain that they know it.

 



 

Loving Someone Means Checking Out Their Refrigerator

by Johanna Leonard
November 2015

As the people we care for age, it is only natural to worry about their health and well-being. How do you decide what they need? When is it time to seek help? If you plan to visit your parents this holiday season, or if a special loved one is visiting you, be prepared to evaluate how well your parent(s), aunts, uncles or grandparents are managing their lives.

As your parents age, they may begin to struggle with daily tasks that we do easily. Evaluating these tasks can help you determine whether your parents may need some additional help to maintain their independent lifestyle. A visit to your loved one’s home is one of the best ways to evaluate this.

     • Inspect the refrigerator – If you find a lot of frozen food or little food in the refrigerator, they may not be getting the proper nutrition or necessary calories that they need. Have you found expired or stale food?
     • Inspect their work area – Are you finding lots of mail scattered around? Have you found unopened mail ? Have you found notices of past due bills?
     • Inspect the bathroom – Are their medications in several different locations? Do they use a weekly pillbox to organize their tablets, but then forget to take their medicine?
     • Overall inspection – Has the cleanliness of the household declined? Is there extra clutter? Look for signs of neglect: newspapers or magazines piling up, dead plants, or are there household repairs that need tending?
     • Inspect your loved one’s hygiene and appearance – Do you notice any odors? Does the person's hair and makeup look all right? Are their clothes clean?
     • Inspect their vehicle – Take a drive with your mother behind the wheel. Are there any new dents or scrapes on the vehicle? Does your mother show signs of tension, preoccupation or being easily distracted when she drives? These can be signs of changing abilities.

This evaluation may well give you the heads up that you need to begin preparing for the possibility that you may need to have greater involvement in your parents’ lives. If you are beginning to see struggles, you can start your research into care options available in their community. These options may include a few hours of help each week, but you also might research daily care or begin discussions with them about joining a retirement community. It is best to be prepared for any eventuality. If your parents are so lucky as to never need care, this research will at least give you peace of mind.

 



 

How to Keep Your Mind Sharp at The Lake Merritt – Independent Senior Living

by Johanna Leonard
October 2015

 I came upon a blog recently that was not groundbreaking, but it was full of practical advice on “How to Keep Your Mind Sharp.” It recommended ten activities that older adults should incorporate into their lives to help “keep the mind sharp and brain nourished.” As I was reading it, I realized that The Lake Merritt has all ten of these activities for our residents.

    • We Exercise several times per week with our senior fitness specialist, Lance Velasquez. Lance’s classes work on strength and flexibility, and he concentrates on balance for one hour each week.
    • Our residents Read a Book at least once per month for our Book Club. Many of our residents participate in book clubs from outside of our community as well.
    • We encourage our residents to Eat Right with our special Resident Menu, which changes on a weekly basis. This menu is features choices that are low fat and low sodium for residents with dietary restrictions.
    • It is easy to Maintain Good Posture in Exercise Class and/or work on your alignment in Chair Yoga.
    • After our Meditation class, we do believe that you will Sleep Well.
    • Our residents can Paint, Draw or Doodle in our Arts class or our Crafts class. The Lake Merritt has an amazing array of artists who are residents in our community from watercolorists to potters, jewelry makers, and miniaturists to name a few.
    • You can Listen To Live Music multiple times per month. We have regular trips to Hertz Hall at UC Berkeley for classical music. We have free live jazz performances in our restaurant, The Terrace Room, on Thursday and Friday nights. Our monthly Coffee Café series hosts a diverse group of musicians ranging from Indian music, classical artists to those performing the great American Songbook. Our own Programming Coordinator, Ryan Wilcox, a saxophonist himself, has even been known to perform.
    • Our residents Do Puzzles and other brain teasers in Brain Aerobic class.
    • Our residents Write, and boy do they write in our Creative Writing class. Last year, our talented writers published their first compilation Writers of Merritt.
    • In the end, we encourage everyone to Learn Something New. We have a beginning Spanish class plus a weekly lecture series featuring experts and professionals in their respective fields who inform our residents of what is going on in the world today.

Our goal is to keep our residents engaged and we are very proud that they can stay sharp at The Lake Merritt.

 



 

Fall Prevention Workshop - A Huge Success

by Johanna Leonard
September 2015


On Tuesday, September 22nd, The Lake Merritt - Independent Senior Living, in partnership with the Alta Bates Summit Medical Center, welcomed over 50 attendees to our free 2nd Annual Fall Prevention Workshop.  Our guests enjoyed a fact-filled interactive presentation by keynote speaker Kathryn Orsini,MSW who is an oncology social worker at the Alta Bates Summit Comprehensive Cancer Center. Over a decade ago Kathy began learning about falls among older adults and discovered that many falls can be reduced by simple interventions.

After Kathy’s talk, our guests participated in several mini-workshops to present different prevention strategies and exercises that
 could help to increase or maintain one’s balance.   Bethany Hobbs, the yoga & meditation facilitator at The Lake Merritt, discussed how important posture and alignment are to balance.  Friedbert Weimann, a teacher of Tai Chi, discussed the role that flexibility brings to balance.  And Lance Velasquez, the fitness facilitator at The Lake Merritt, discussed how important strength is to balance.  In all, workshop attendees left with the knowledge that balance is not about just one thing; it is a combination of alignment/posture, flexibility and strength.  As we age, all three of these skills will decline if we do not work on maintaining each of them.

Our event was a huge success in large part due to the overwhelming enthusiasm and interest of our participants. As one attendee emailed after the event, “Kathy’s presentation, which covered both the physiological and social impacts of falls, how to work with one’s medical team, and precautions to prevent falls, was very insightful. The classes were fun and enlightening. I learned more about strength bearing activities, yoga & Tai Chi exercises."

The Lake Merritt is proud to be part of educating older adults on how to prevent falls and offers its own custom Fall Reduction Program for its residents.

If you missed our free Fall Prevention Workshop this year, stay tuned for the 3rd Annual event in 2016. Sign up for our e-newsletter for announcements about other events open to the public as well.