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.



What is a SuperAger?

by Johanna Leonard
August 2015

There is a new trend emerging in the study of older adults. Scientists have discovered a group of people who they are calling “Superagers.” These are people who have exceptionally sharp memories in their 80s, 90s, and beyond. In addition to the ability to think more clearly, scientists believe that Superagers get that way because they are active and deeply engaged with life. They have a keen sense of attention, thinking and memory. They focus better, and this supports their brain and other life functions.

How do their brains stay so sharp? When interviewed, many Superagers say that it is because they are socially active. Time and time again, research points to the idea that the bigger your social network, the healthier you are. That is our experience at The Lake Merritt. Our most active residents over the age of 80 are those with the larger social networks. These social networks keep them on the go, but more importantly, they interact with many different people doing many different activities.

We have a resident who I will call Maggie. Maggie is in her 90s. When we have asked our residents if they would like to live until 100, they generally point to her and say, “Only if I am like Maggie.” She is the person you want to be when you grow up.

We asked Maggie why she thought she was aging so strongly. Her first response was “good luck and good genes,” but after she put more thought into it, she said it was her deep religious faith and good living. Her good living includes walking the stairs instead of using the elevator, participating in our chair yoga and meditation programs, and she has generally followed the Mediterranean diet. She still makes her own yogurt everyday. In her deep faith, she believes that she still has a job to do, despite her age. She tries to be thoughtful and giving to others. Maggie says that “You must help people when you see that they need help, and respect them if they do not want it.”

Yes, the diet, biology, and exercise are a factor, but we do believe at The Lake Merritt, that a very important aspect of Maggie’s “superaging” is her very large social network. She has belonged to her church her entire life, and she still helps out with projects. She is also blessed with a large family, who she visits and they visit her regularly. 

We joke that Maggie is hard to find at The Lake Merritt, because she is so busy. Just the other weekend, I bumped into her at the Rockridge BART station. I was coming home from San Francisco, and Maggie was all dolled up and going to a party in the city.

The evidence shows that lifestyle, overall health, environment and genetics play a role in good brain function. Superaging seems to be a combination of biology and lifestyle, but my experience makes me believe that our social life may well be a more important factor than all of the others. 



The Lake Merritt - Warrior Ground

by Johanna Leonard
July 2015

On Friday, June 19th, The Lake Merritt was the center of the universe. Well, it felt like that as the Championship Parade for the Golden State Warriors basketball team and approximately 500,000 fans surrounded our community as part of their victory parade. As one could imagine, it was a fantastic celebration, and yet there were a few small negatives. The entire staff had to find alternative transportation to the community because we had no ability to use our garage and no street parking was available either due to the barricades for the crowds. Thus, our residents were also “stuck” inside most of the day due to traffic issues - but overall, it was a pretty amazing experience for everyone.

The parade started at 10am at City Hall in the heart of downtown Oakland, right at 12th and Broadway, and concluded near Lake Merritt’s new West end plaza and the Kaiser Convention Center. Because our building’s location was towards the end of the parade route it took some time for the parade to come to us. There were thousands of fans sitting and standing outside our community waiting for our own fabulous Golden Gate Warriors to pass by. They came by around 11-11:30am. I can only say WOW – it was loud!!

Our restaurant, The Terrace Room, was packed with fans. Our guests and some of our staff were standing at the wall to wall windows that face Lake Merritt waving and cheering. I have to admit that the owner, Randy Berger, my son, Mason, and I watched the parade from a very special secret location. We snuck away from the crowds to our building’s roof to enjoy the amazing view, which you can see in the pictures here.

Our community residents really enjoyed the parade! Many of them were taking pictures and videos out of the windows of their homes and sending the shots to their families in real time. Because so many of our residences have lake views, they had some of the “best seats in the house!” A very cool photo of The Lake Merritt was discovered on the Warrior Facebook page.

The Warriors enjoyed a terrific celebration of their first basketball championship in over 40 years and brought the trophy home to Oakland in grand style. This was an experience that no one – residents, staff, and customers - will soon forget.



A Memorable Art Show

by Ryan Wilcox
july 2015

This past Memorial Day weekend, The Lake Merritt’s community room was transformed into an art gallery! Normally, the room’s configuration is constantly changing to accommodate meetings, yoga classes, creative writing classes, and more. On this very special occasion, however, the room assumed a new aura of calm and wonder, even if just for a couple of days.

Barbara Skelly’s Thursday art class for residents attracts beginners, a former art teacher, a former jewelry maker and professional artists (including a renowned miniaturist),. The art works they create in class, usually inspired by Ms. Skelly’s prompts, run the gamut of materials, media and subject matter. All of the class’ participants are sitting on unseen treasures. Some of the luckier pieces have been hung proudly in The Lake Merritt staff’s offices. Above my desk, one of resident Jim Edmiston’s recent creations, a precisely clipped and playful paper art cutouts reads, “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure.” 

After hours of sorting, selecting, matting and mounting pieces (sometimes two or three times due to unreliable adhesive), we finally stepped away from the uncertain grind of preparation to see the big picture. Some fragile mix of flexibility, skill, creativity, hard work, luck and about 20 critical eyes had created an art show that felt cohesive and beautiful. Moving around the room, you could sense that the exhibition had a flow, because the pieces—quirky collages, still life sketches, fused glass pieces, abstract watercolors, ceramics and dioramas—complimented and drew attention to one another. The carefully arranged array of art commanded the audience’s attention and imagination.

At the opening reception, the artists proudly showed off their pieces and bragged about each other’s work. The crowd lingered, slowing down to soak in the unexpectedly bold, whimsical, vulnerable expressions of people who most of the audience knew, but didn’t know in this way. The glow of the show came from the discovery of the unseen: this overlooked art bespoke the overlooked depths of the artists. It is easy, whether you know an individual or community well, or you’re just operating on cursory information, to miss the many facets that we all possess. The residents, staff, friends, family and other (many) outside dining guests who came to the show and packed four long pages of the guestbook, seemed to revel in the show’s unique perspective.

The Lake Merritt’s first resident art show not only elevated the stature of their creations unseen works, but also the spirits of those who saw and crafted them.



A Day in the Life of a Pampered Pet

by Johanna Leonard
May 2015

K.C.’s day starts out pretty early. He takes his owner for a walk outside and they both often admire the view of Lake Merritt. On his way back, he stops by the Concierge desk for a special treat (He actually gets his treat twice per day). As he walks away, he thanks the Concierge with a smile and a wagging tail.

K.C is a King Charles Spaniel, and he is King of this castle. He has the most handsome brown eyes you have ever seen. He belongs to one of our residents. K.C. is currently the only dog that lives at The Lake Merritt, but he is one of many companions in our community. We have a lot of purr-fectly pretty kitties.

The Lake Merritt is a pet friendly community, as we believe in the healing power of companion pets for older adults. There have been many studies on this issue, and claims promoting the benefits of companion animals are many, but just to name a few:


  • Pets help lower blood pressure and pulse rate
  • Older adults with pets can have lower rates of depression
  • Pets fight loneliness; decrease feelings of isolation
  • Pets can make seniors more active
  • Pets can ease the loss of a loved one
  • Pets offer affection and unconditional love
  • Pets help increase social interaction

We love our pets.  Our residents love our pets too.  K.C. is a wonderful companion for his owner, but he positively affects many other residents in our community.  K.C. cannot walk down a hallway without a resident (or employee) stopping to pet and coo at him.  Some of our residents even volunteer to walk K.C. in the afternoon.  K.C. is one lucky pooch, but our residents, his owner, and our staff are truly the lucky ones.



Making a Difference - Have a Heart

by Johanna Leonard
April 2015

One person who is making a difference is Elisa Reutinger, who leads our art and crafts program. Elisa received her AA in Fine Art from the College of Marin and has continued her passion for art ever since. She taught art at a charter school and had classes for her daughters and friends in her home. Professionally, Elisa has worked as an activities director in East Bay senior communities and today enjoys working one-on-one with older adults for her newly founded craft a-la-carte business.

The Lake Merritt persuaded Elisa to create art with the residents of our community twice a month. Participants have learned creative book making, felting, sculpting with clay, and even paper making.

One of my favorite projects Elisa developed was "Have A Heart.” Elisa wanted to use art to make a statement on Valentine's Day, which can be a lonesome time for some older adults. She was able to get ten different older adult communities in the East Bay to participate and many residents enjoyed creating hearts out of clay, felt, paper mache, and yarn. Each community then hung the hearts on nearby bare trees. The idea was to acknowledge our older adults and to showcase their art to the world at large.

Elisa's ultimate goal was to promote awareness of seniors in our society. Many people feel that ageism exists because there is a lack of social contact with older adults. Elisa's project was a huge success and illustrates that if you spend time with older adults, especially those at The Lake Merritt, you will see that older adults are intelligent, fun, interesting, and appreciative. 



Beer Me!

by Guest Blogger Ryan Wilcox
Programming Coordinator
April 2015

Beer connoisseur Chris Chaplin, one of my best friends, was set to begin his presentation.  Next to the serving tray stood fifteen bottles of the finest craft brews we could find. “We’re in heaven,” I told the audience.

Chris’ unique presentation, part of The Lake Merritt’s weekly lecture series, Conversations at The Lake Merritt, that features thought-provoking talks by authorities in their fields, was half-master class and full-sensory massage. As an accomplished home brewer, Chris had us smell, taste and touch a variety malts and hops as we learned about their zythological applications. (One of the many things we learned is that “zythology” is the study of beer).

Chris illuminated the booming world of beer making and consumption with heady stories and fascinating factoids. Did you know that beer is the third-most popular beverage in the world, behind only water and tea, or that beer was being brewed in Mesopotamia and Egypt at least 3,900 years ago?

After learning the differences between ales and lagers, discussing the base styles of beer and how a few familiar brands are made and distributed, we got to the payoff. The tasting was an eye-opener for many in attendance—and maybe the most fun I’ve had during a Conversations program.

We started with two refreshing, light brews: the Weihenstephan, from the oldest brewery in the world in Bavaria and the Bavarian-style Hefeweizen beer, which was a big hit with its smooth yeasty taste and hints of banana.

Our taste tour took us from Europe to the Americas and back again. We savored Anchor Porter and Deschutes Fresh Squeezed IPA—both mighty fine West Coast beers. We finished the day with two knockout Belgian beers. You know it’s good if it comes in what looks like a champagne bottle. The Saison Dupont Farmhouse Ale won us over with its creamy, fruity flavor. Finally, the Lindeman’s Lambic changed our idea of what a beer could be. Several residents remarked that they didn’t think they liked beer that much, but they loved this. That might be because drinking the low alcoholic peach lambic is a little like drinking an extremely delicious juice. This was both the climax and the conversion moment for many in attendance.

Guests and residents stayed long after the talk had finished to chat with Chris and sneak another taste. All in all, it was a singular treat (and a free event) that you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere, let alone in a senior community!



Inside the Wonderful World of Marching Bands

by Johanna Leonard
February 2015

Ryan Wilcox, an energetic University of California Berkeley graduate, The Lake Merritt Independent Senior’s Program Director and self-confessed ‘band nerd,’ presented an exclusive audio-video presentation on America’s distinctive marching band tradition and an inside look at the Cal Band last Thursday. His presentation featured a special appearance and live music from Cal’s acclaimed Straw Hat Band.

As part of his program of photos and video clips, Ryan showed us how America is crazy about its marching bands which pervade our culture both today and in yesteryear. Whether it is the famed song “76 Trombones” leading the big parade in The Music Man, (a musical about the importance of band music in our country’s heartland), or our love of national drum corps competitions (and the many championships of Concord’s famed Blue Devils Drum and Bugle Corps), there are band lovers around the country.

And, Ryan Wilcox knows his band! For the entire four years he attended Cal he was part of the Cal Band and moved up into its leadership. He fell in love with marching band while playing alto sax in his high school’s ensemble. Later he enjoyed much camaraderie and built many friendships as a member of Cal’s band. “I was on quite a few committees during my four years in the band. My duties included teaching members how to march (and not crash into each other), designing field shows, directing and organizing performances and writing musical arrangements,” he said.

When the 20+ members Cal Straw Hat Band members took the stage to perform on Thursday, they played traditional and pop songs and also show off some of their zany props. 




My Favorite Memories of 2014

by Johanna Leonard
January 2015

This is the time of year when we often reflect on the previous year to hopefully improve ourselves for the New Year. In the past week or so, I began to think about the top five experiences that I had at The Lake Merritt in 2014.

There were so many amazing events that I considered for the slots two through five. Our fabulous Oscar Night; the Chinese New Year party; a reading by Oakland's Youth Poet Laureate; the publication of our community's first compilation of fiction and non fiction from our residents, Writers of Merritt; and presenting the top seven City of Oakland mayoral candidates in September and October. I could go on and on!

But there is no question in my mind of the top experience I had at The Lake Merritt in 2014 was a conversation that emerged from our weekly discussion group “Topic of the Week.” This group of residents chooses to discuss a variety of topics, but we mainly converse about politics and current events.

Several months ago, we read an article from the New York Times about the difficulties that America’s women's colleges were having with the concept of transgender students. There were so many questions they had to consider. For example, how would the college administration handle it when a woman student or faculty member was transgendering to become a male or if a man was transgendering to become a female? Should a women's college accept a women transgendering to male? It was a very thought provoking article and generated a lively discussion! The group empathized with both the women students at the college and those were transgenders. But this was just the background for my favorite experience of the year. During the discussion, one of our residents, a gay man, noted that he was so pleased to be having this discussion. He said that he did not know many places where this topic could be so thoughtfully discussed. He told me that in all of his years he had never lived in a community where he felt so accepted for who he was. He is 65 year old. I left that conversation with a huge smile on my face thinking how lucky I was to make a difference in someone's life.

(Of special note: “Of the nation's 119 single-sex colleges for men or women, Mills College in Oakland is apparently the only campus that explicitly lets applicants choose a gender and be considered for enrollment - if that choice is female.” - San Francisco Chronicle – 8/21/14.)