Play It Again!

“Hang on a second…” We interrupt a conversation because a song we have not heard in YEARS comes on and for at least a few moments, we are admittedly distracted from our current situation while we reconcile the memory this song has generated to myriad factors – where we are now, where we were then, what the song says next, what the song meant then in that context compared to what it means now…Wow. That’s a lot of brain activity happening in response to just a few notes of a melody or a familiar lyric!

Let’s face it, folks. “Itsy-Bitsy Spider” takes on different meanings throughout our lives from infancy through parenthood and even grand (or great-grand) parenthood. It takes a moment to process all of the feelings and recollections that come from hearing it again. That moment is earned. Revel in it. You deserve it. You have invested many moments throughout your life in order to have this one. After all, your brain was made to appreciate sound, rhythm, and poetry presented in melodic voice. In this moment you take for yourself to fully recall and feel the song, your neurotransmitters activate to create an emotional and chemical reaction in you that is undeniable. It is also completely yours.

Music and memory are powerfully tied. Merely reminiscing about songs is somehow insufficient. Hearing the songs makes the impact. Why? Because your brain was made that way. All of your life, the right hemisphere of your brain has been encoding the melodies and lyrics of these songs and registering an emotional response as you’ve attentively listened. Meanwhile, the left hemisphere has encoded the patterns it heard and made some sort of sense of the words to create meaning (whatever that may be to you) so that is was recognizable again. The combination of the two is what creates the individual experience of each song that is meaningful to you when you hear it again. A song does not mean exactly the same thing to me as it does to you because our brains infuse our own personal experiences into that encoding and recall creating something so unique and vivid to each of us.

People, places, and things we haven’t thought of for years are suddenly crystal-clear with full detail in high-definition when we hear certain songs – whether it is the lyrics or the voice or the unique sound of a particular instrument. Music has a way of impacting how we convert vast amounts of information and store memories. Is there a song that always reminds you of a particular time in your life? Your first love? First heartbreak? Senior year of high school? Wedding? Loss? Victory? Is there a song that simply makes you happy for no particular reason? (If your answer is “no,” I highly recommend that you Google, “Happy” by Pharrell Williams. It may not be of your generation or genre, but I’ve yet to meet a soul who did not feel a little lighter after hearing that song.)

What we didn’t necessarily know when we were kids was the impact those songs we heard over and over would still have on us as adults or even as senior citizens. As I write this, I am listening to a random playlist with Whitney Houston’s 1987 hit, “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” ringing in my ears. It isn’t my favorite song from that time in my life necessarily but oh…my…goodness…the memories it recovers in these few moments! These are memories I’d have had no reason to recover today otherwise. Suddenly, I remember watching Whitney dance and lip-sync in the music video. I was a pre-teen thinking she was THE most beautiful woman with THE most beautiful voice. Lovely, happy memories. It also reminds me that I used to have big hair (absurdly big 80s hair) and wore too much frosted pink lipstick for a young woman my age, but mostly, it brings joy to my heart remembering my best friends from that age. A silly pop song instantly transports me back to an entirely different stage in my life when I had no idea who I would become. The innocence and ignorance of that time is quite precious actually. How could I appreciate all of the growth and maturity I have gained if not for my memories stirred about by this song? And what an experience for that part of my brain that had stored those memories, dormant for so many years, as it was flooded with neural stimulation, recall, associations, imagery, emotion!!

Music, when used in positive and encouraging ways, is an effective tool for recovery from physical and emotional stress. As recovery occurs, new brain cells are formed in the hippocampus, which is largely responsible for learning and memory. This increase in neuron formation is correlated to increased capacity to feel positive emotions when a person is presented the meaningful musical stimulus.

Yes, indeed, music is powerful.

This is why our Life Enrichment teams at RUI communities are making technology, including programmable music players and headphones, available to our residents. We are going to work with residents and families to create playlists of a person’s most memorable and meaningful songs or genre. We are creating media stations in our communities to teach and assist our residents in developing their own personalized playlists that evoke the positive neurotransmitters that will not only stir memory but also will create new emotional connections.

If you do not have an iPod or mp3/mp4 player and headphones/earbuds, GET THEM and reap the benefits! You can go as extravagant or low-cost as you wish and still get the same general effect. Go to a local store or order online. Use your computer to download your favorite songs or artists from iTunes or Amazon (and who knows how many others).

Just do it. Be good to yourself.

As a person with background in both Psychology and Speech-Language Pathology, I lie awake at night thinking of how to help people use their brains to their advantage for communication and memory. I implore you to make this modest investment into your memory, brain health, and emotional well-being. Your brain will feel nourished in a starved area when you hear one of those special songs you have not heard for years. It will be worth every penny.

We’d love to hear from you what song takes you back to a very special memory. Just click on one of the links below to our community Facebook pages and leave a comment.

Aarondale Community

Ashleigh Community

Bay Lake Community

Heatherwood Community

The Hidenwood Community

Paul Spring Community

The Towers Community

 

Let’s go do some good.

-               Julie

8 Steps to Brain Health in 2017

As 2016 draws to a close, it is human nature to reflect on the occurrences of the year coming to pass – the highs, the lows, the joys, the heartaches, the accomplishments, and the regrets. For most of us, we look back and shake our heads with jaws dropped in astonishment at just how different some things turned out in 2016 than we had anticipated. That is the beauty of living life!

No matter how much we attempt to control circumstances and influential factors, life has a way of knocking everyone off his/her feet at some point. Some of us resign ourselves to our new “fate.” Some of us deny any change at all. However, the healthiest and happiest people, despite their hardships, are those who accept, process, and then adjust their plan to grow in a positive direction.

So what does all of this have to do with brain health? Aging is inevitable. Physical growth is limited. However, personal development and new life experiences are limitless so long as we commit to making simple practices into daily habits…and keeping your brain healthy impacts every aspect of your health and well-being – mind, body, soul. So the steps I recommend for brain health in 2017 are…

1.  Hydrate, hydrate, HYDRATE!!!

Water is your body’s friend. You are composed primarily of water. It impacts every single organ of our bodies. As we age, our instinct that tells us we are thirsty diminishes though our need for hydrating fluids does not. Dehydration is one of the primary reasons older adults find themselves in the Emergency Room, and it is often due to an event such as a fall, weakness, infection, or delirium that occurred because of dehydration. Therefore, we must be ever vigilant and intentional about our consumption of fluids, keeping in mind that caffeinated beverages and alcohol do not count as they actually dehydrate you.

 

2. Consume a balanced and colorful diet (and no, red meat does not count!)

Food is nourishment. Choose wisely. Just as a car cannot run without fuel, your brain cannot function without the proper amount of glucose and nutrients circulating in your blood. Think of the colors of the rainbow – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet – how many foods do you eat of those colors? Healthy diets for most individuals consist of a colorful variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and adequate intake of fiber, lean protein, and calcium. Aim to eat something that is naturally of each color and you are off to a great start! Do not worry about number of servings needed per day in the beginning. Just keep an open mind to trying new foods and expanding your color wheel when it comes to meal times. People often feel discouraged when trying to make drastic diet changes. Just get started, find what you like, and then seek the balance in number of servings per day that works best for your body.

 

3. Get your heart going!

We all know that our bodies need exercise to best function, but we often become bogged down with all of the details – How much exercise? What type of exercise? What is my target heart rate for it to count? So let’s make it simple. Strive to do some type of activity for at least 20 minutes a day that increases your heart rate and breathing rate just enough that you notice the change. If you are so out of breath, you cannot carry on simple conversation with the person next to you, you are working too hard. If you can still sing a song (even if out of tune), you should increase the effort level somewhat. The goal is to increase circulation throughout the body, strengthen the heart to work more efficiently, increase oxygenated blood flow to the brain, and trigger the release of endorphins that improve physiological function and mood. Studies have shown that people who complete at least 20-30 minutes a day of some type of cardiovascular exercise as described here are at significantly lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease. Your activity can be whatever gets your heart beating to that level of effort without excessive challenge – walking with a friend, chair exercise with some type of resistance or weight training, dancing (Zumba, anyone?), and even some forms of housework.

 

4. Practice the rule of 7s for at least 7 days.

· Take 7 minutes by yourself (preferably outdoors).

· Take 7 deep breaths.

· Name (mentally or verbally) 7 things for which you are grateful.

· Smile/greet at least 7 people a day.

I recommend this practice for multiple reasons. Taking 7 minutes to change your scenery and the sensations that come from stepping outdoors activates different neural pathways as you take in a different visual scene, begin to notice the change in temperature, the feel of the wind against your face, the sound of passing cars or birds chirping, the smell in the air. Taking 7 deep breaths not only brings more oxygen into your bloodstream, and thus your lungs, but it also lowers stress hormones and has the ability to push a “reset button” for heart rate. Focusing on 7 things for which you are grateful is a powerful cognitive-emotional exercise to help keep life in perspective, even when times are hard. Admittedly, this step is more challenging on some days than others, but it IS possible – every day. Finally, greet at least 7 people a day with eye contact and a smile, even if you have to fake it. A positive chemical reaction occurs in our brains when we see someone smiling at us. We typically smile back, which then reinforces both people with positive endorphins. We were created with the ability to communicate in order to connect with others. Social connection is essential for brain health. Try the rule of 7s for 7 days. You will not regret it!

 

5.  Keep your brain fresh to live purposefully.

Brain fitness is about challenging the brain, of course, but in order to build and strengthen neural pathways, you must change up your cognitive exercise routine and find work that feels meaningful and purposeful. In other words, if you are phenomenal at word search puzzles, take up Sudoku. If you are brilliant with crossword puzzles, take a class on a new topic with which you have limited or no experience. If creative vision is your gift, join one of our arts and restoration classes to further develop those skills and interact with others of similar interests. Accept that some cognitive tasks will come easier than others and resist the urge to judge yourself. Just as your brain experienced a learning curve as you progressed through your school years with new knowledge, your brain will experience this same curve now. Stimulating various parts of your brain with learning new information or using a different cognitive process promotes overall brain activity and health by increasing blood flow and strengthening pathways within your brain that are not typically stimulated. It may seem frustrating at first. Do not let that discourage you! Your confidence will soar when you conquer the problem or learn the new skill, and your brain will flood you with rewarding neurotransmitters in thanks for your perseverance.

 

6. Sleep at least 8 hours a night and do not apologize for it!

We have morphed into a culture that prides itself on doing more and relegates sleep as the necessary evil to which we must submit in order to get back to doing more again the next day. Sleep is a VERY powerful and necessary aspect of life for all living beings. During sleep, we do not simply rest our bodies. We also allow for cell repair throughout the body, information processing, and the cognitive filing away of the multiple stimuli we have encountered. We experience phases of deep sleep during which the brain directs all of the organs to clean up the clutter we have generated and left behind in a given day. Sleep is essential to optimal cognitive functioning. So be good to yourself and catch those ZZZs.

 

7.  Seek variation in your sensory experiences.

· Try aromatherapy. Scent is a potent tool for recall and mood regulation.

· Try new foods and flavors. Even if you do not like them, stimulating your palate to new flavors forms a strong emotional response for most people and activates the brain as it tries to categorize that flavor.

· Take 30 seconds to look closely at a very familiar item in your home and try to find something you have not noticed before. Look at pieces of art and decide what it says to you. Watch a sunrise or sunset and appreciate how quickly the view changes right before your eyes.

· Take a moment to actually touch and take notice of the different textures you encounter in a day. From the crunchiness of fall leaves to the softness of new grass to the scratchiness of a brick wall…they all speak volumes to your brain as it registers and differentiates those textures.

· Stop and LISTEN. Listen to music from different time periods in your life. Go outside. Do you notice the rustling of the leaves? Do you hear the bus pass by? On TV, do you notice the sound of a whistle reminding you of sports you used to play? Even if your hearing is impaired, use all of your other senses to help you hear when you step outside to practice your rule of 7s. Intentionally, use that sense and you might be surprised what your brain still detects.

Maximize the brain stimulation and recall possibilities triggered by your senses – smell, taste, seeing, touching, hearing. The saying is true – USE IT OR LOSE IT.

 

8. Don’t accept obstacles. Determine who can help you find the pathway to success!

If you experience an obstacle in implementing any of these steps, do not give up! Speak with your physician, pharmacist, therapist, best friend, family, or friend. There IS a way to achieve these goals, and it does NOT have to be overwhelming. Ask for help and make your plan.

· Choose three steps you wish to start in January. Practice them intentionally until they become habits.

· Choose three others you wish to implement in February and add them to your growing repertoire of brain health strategies. Feeling better yet?

· Add one more in March and pursue step #8 if you experience obstacles in implementing steps 1-7.

 

Where there is a will, there IS a way…at any age. Your team here at Retirement Unlimited, Inc. and your RUI community team members are here to help you achieve these goals in 2017! Please visit the community site tabs on our website to learn what we can offer you in 2017. You can also find us on Facebook, where we post regular updates of the purposeful living we share with our residents. We wish you a wealth of new experiences and personal growth.

 

Let’s go do some good.

 

-               Julie

Go Purple With a Purpose

November is National Alzheimer’s Awareness month. This year’s theme is “Go Purple With a Purpose.” I “go purple” all year round for this purpose because Alzheimer’s Disease impacts every day of the year for the fighters and people like me – family members, caregivers, healthcare professionals, researchers, friends, advocates. As a Speech-Language Pathologist for the last 15 years, I have been in the trenches, so to speak, battling against this disease and its every attempt to steal the most beautiful parts of a person with dementia…and here is what I’ve learned along the way.

Anecdotally, I am not convinced that dementia truly steals away memories and recognitions, rather I believe it buries them deep within a person’s brain, road-blocking the neural pathways so deeply they seem irretrievable. But then…there are the unexpected moments of lucidity when ”lost” memories and emotions are vivid again. After 15 years in this field, those moments still never fail to leave me awestruck, humbled, and grateful. The human brain and the human spirit do grow weary from the battle, but they do not stop fighting the disease process because there is something so powerful about the human experience that it simply cannot be denied.

I have seen non-verbal and seemingly, non-responsive, residents with dementia make eye contact and smile when one of our staff members has talked to them and treated them with tenderness. I have felt their grip on my hand or their touch to my face as they innately remembered how to express appreciation or affection, even if they could not remember my name. I have seen a man, who appeared to have retreated into a world of his own and rarely spoke or made eye contact with anyone, look at his wife sitting next to him, recognize her, and spontaneously say, “I love you.”

I am reminded of my own grandmother during a large family ice cream party last summer. She smiled and hugged and posed for pictures (even selfies!) with every one of us. She was clearly enjoying all of the love and attention she was getting (not to mention the strawberry ice cream, her favorite). Then she leaned over to one of her adult grandchildren and asked, “Do I know all these people?” That story brought laughter to all of us when we reunited at her funeral last month. Even if she could not remember our names or why exactly she was comfortable enough to spend the afternoon with us, she knew she was there was a familiarity to this love and kindness, and it brought her joy.  My family and I will always treasure that ice cream party and seeing her smile. No, Alzheimer’s cannot steal everything.

Now, as a Certified Dementia Practitioner and Corporate Director of Life Enrichment for RUI, I have had the honor of naming and developing our Memory Care program, Inspiritás, which means “to infuse spirit and enliven quite so.” Inspiritás will provide innovative and person-centered approaches for our residents with dementia to continue to explore, experience, and express themselves in the ways that make each one unique. I am so proud to be a part of it. This has been my life’s call, and it is why I “go purple” every day in some way. In fact, I wear a bracelet with a single purple bead to remind me every day of my own purpose. Maya Angelou famously said, “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” That quote always resonates with me and will be at the heart of Inspiritás as it launches at our communities in the coming months.

Please follow us on Facebook and share with us why YOU choose to Go Purple With a Purpose this month. Retirement Unlimited, Inc. is honored to be on the journey with you. Let’s go do some good.

-          Julie

 

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