The Heart of Caregiving: During This Pandemic

Each member of Sound Generations’ Caregiver Support Program is or has been a caregiver to an older adult or adult child, creating a valuable shared experience among Advocates and those who seek their assistance. In this ongoing series—The Heart of Caregiving—our staff, volunteers and others share their personal caregiving stories and the insights learned along the way.

During This Pandemic by Daria Sawochka

During this pandemic, so much has changed. I mean, who would have thought that making the heart wrenching decision to place a loved one in a care facility would mean at worst, no contact at all or at best, highly restricted visits held in a breezy, chilly tent with minimal heat?  Yet this is where many of we caregivers find ourselves these days.

The mind, if allowed to roam freely, comes up with incredible worst case scenarios such as fixating on the debilitating isolation imposed on a loved one, or noticeable declines or the worsening of symptoms. Caregivers question prior decisions-could I have done more? Should I be doing more? What on earth can I do?

And so, we caregivers sit with our questions. Yet there are times when a different view emerges. We have moments when we realize we are doing all that can be done and are learning how to become comfortable with not knowing what’s around the next corner. Spending less time and energy trying to understand life’s mysteries can be helpful.

Then a shift happens.

My highly social Mom who has been living in an assisted living facility for a little over a year now is a case in point. She’s gone from eating all her meals in a dining room filled with other residents to eating all her meals in her apartment-alone. Recently though, staff have begun to sit with her, especially since they noticed she was eating less, not very hungry, and staying in bed far more than this little energetic Virgo had ever done in her 87yrs on earth. She’s always been a doer, a helper, and has always loved being of service to others, easily offering a hand to anyone in need.

My sister and I had established a wonderful routine, visiting separately 2-3 times each week, in Mom’s apartment.  And with Mom’s memory changes, she would always be surprised & delighted when we arrived.  We’d clean up a bit, and look around to make sure she was not out of toilet paper or other personal supplies and do her laundry.  It was a special kindness to be able to care for this woman who so devotedly cared for us throughout our live

Then visits stopped-to protect residents and staff. When one resident tested positive for covid-all residents had to remain in their apartments at all times. The emotional rollercoaster this created was unimaginable. But it also allowed for me again to practice the lesson of letting go and allowing what is. I began to stop thinking EVERYTHING was up to me and under my control.  It was either that, or lose my mind.

Then, last week, I learned something remarkable. The nurse at Mom’s place casually shared in passing that Mom has been spending time each week sitting in the nurse’s office, just hanging out. Mom has always loved to watch and listen to others. A very observant woman indeed. In fact, the nurse went on to say Mom even likes to tidy up her office a bit-which the nurse finds most helpful. And with Mom’s memory not being very reliable any longer-confidentiality certainly isn’t an issue.

I learned something else with this news. My Mom, with her dementia and physically slowing down, is still finding ways to create a fulfilling life for herself. Her kind and gentle ways make her easy to be around, easily redirected. Staff regularly smile when she’s around and seem to enjoy caring for her.

It reminds me, while I may oversee certain aspects of Mom’s care, this is still very much her journey as she continues to create a beautiful and fulfilling path for herself. Mom’s life is a gentle reminder that having purpose, being kind and being of service is truly transformative.

2021 Geriatric Mental Health Specialist Workshops

As of February 2021, Sound Generations has taken on the coordination of Geriatric Mental Health Specialist Workshops. These workshops have previously been coordinated by Karen Kent, LMHC, GMHS and more recently by Terri Haaga, MSW, LICSW, GMHS. These six-hour workshops held once a month provide licensed professionals with the opportunity to earn Continuing Education Units (CEU) and stay up-to-date on best practices in the geriatric mental health field. The classes offered qualify for the 100 hours of training required by the State of Washington for the Geriatric Mental Health Specialist certification. Sound Generations recognizes that maintaining good mental health is a vital part of the aging process and practitioners need to keep abreast of trends and treatment in this field. We want to ensure service providers have access to this valuable information for years to come, so that strong mental health is prioritized among our aging population. Previous workshops have focused on Dementia/Delirium- Diagnosis and Treatment, Alternative Way of Working with Seniors, End of life Conversations, Elder Law and Pharmacology, Caregivers of Older Adults- Conflict and Cooperation, Elder Abuse and Neglect, Older Adult Assessments, Navigating Systems for Elders and more.

Upcoming Workshops

March

Challenging Behaviors in Older Adults living with Dementia

  • Wednesday, March 3rd
  • Instructor: Amy Moss, LICSW-A, GMHS
  • Participants will learn what Dementia is and is not; what normal aging is vs. dementia; how dementia affects the five senses and about right and left brain science and how to use this information to our benefit when helping a person living with dementia. Time will be spent learning Teepa Snow’s Positive Physical Approach and Hand Under Hand techniques for more effective communication with a person living with dementia.  Common challenging behaviors related to dementia and creative solutions to those challenges will be discussed.
  • CE’s: 6 Continuing Education credits for social workers, mental health clinicians and marriage and family counselors.  Case managers and other service providers are also welcome to attend. 
  • HOURS: This class will be held on Zoom. The class starts promptly at 9:00am and concludes at 4:00pm.

April

Chronic Pain Part One: An Introduction to Understanding the Use of Cannabis and its Derivatives with Older Adults (CEs Pending)

  • Wednesday, April 7th
  • Instructor: Jake F. Felice, ND, LMP
  • This course will give the participant the background to help navigate cannabis conversations in a clinical setting. We will describe how cannabis works in the human body as well as look at current research on the endocannabinoid system (ECS) and the perception of pain. The course covers how THC, CBD, terpenes and other cannabinoids work in the human body by stimulating the endocannabinoid system (ECS), as well as other therapeutic approaches to influencing this system. Participants will learn how changes to the ECS occur as one ages, and how these can affect recommendations for older adults.
  • CEUS PENDING: 6 Continuing Education credits for social workers, mental health clinicians and marriage and family counselors.  Case managers and other service providers are also welcome to attend. 
  • HOURS: This class will be held on Zoom. The class starts promptly at 9:00am and concludes at 4:00pm.

May

Chronic Pain Part Two: Managing Chronic Pain in Older Adults through a Mind Body Approach (CEs Pending)

  • Wednesday, May 5th
  • Instructor: Angela Farrar Small (MSW, LICSW, M.Div., M.S.)
  • This course will utilize case studies to discuss the physical, psychological, and social aspects of elders living with chronic pain. We will discuss the thought patterns that decrease the quality of life of those living with chronic pain, and an approach to assessment that builds rapport with clients. This course will cover specific risks related to elders taking opioids for pain, and tools and strategies to help clients manage their pain with fewer medications. Participants will learn a mind-body approach to pain management that they can teach their clients.
  • CEUS PENDING: 6 Continuing Education credits for social workers, mental health clinicians and marriage and family counselors.  Case managers and other service providers are also welcome to attend. 
  • HOURS: This class will be held on Zoom. The class starts promptly at 9:00am and concludes at 4:00pm.

Cost: $115 per class. You can sign up for these workshop here: https://bit.ly/GMHSworkshop

If online payment doesn’t work for you, please email maiam@soundgenerations.org to sign-up and coordinate an alternative payment method.

If you have questions about classes prior to signing up, or are interested in teaching a workshop, please contact Maia McCoy at (206) 727-6258 or via email at maiam@soundgenerations.org. She will be working with Robin Nelson, LICSW, GMHS who is the clinical supervisor for the GRAT team.

The Heart of Caregiving: Thriving

Each member of Sound Generations’ Caregiver Support Program is or has been a caregiver to an older adult or adult child, creating a valuable shared experience among Advocates and those who seek their assistance. In this ongoing series—The Heart of Caregiving—our staff, volunteers and others share their personal caregiving stories and the insights learned along the way.

Thriving-by Daria Sawochka

We’ve now made it around all four seasons, full circle. Mom has been living in an assisted living facility for a little over a year. What a journey this is.

Slowly, very slowly we all began to adapt, to change. I’ve actually begun to embrace “visiting” with my Mom again. We have established a wonderful new routine. I enjoy this new role of overseeing her care, looking for any gaps or unmet needs and finding ways to address them.

I am learning how to let go of trying to control everything as I did when Mom lived with me. I am mastering many lessons in working with an array of staff and administrators at her facility. I adapt when staff changes and have developed a special appreciation for my favorite people.

I began to purposefully look for the things done well by others. I try to begin any correspondence I have with staff by mentioning this first. It’s a good reminder for me, that when noticing something not being done as I was told or thinking it could be done better, there were also things going well at the same time. I would talk of my appreciation for all the staff do. When I did this, I noticed a partnership forming. Not us vs them but we. We all began to work together. We all needed one another to be successful with our overall mission of providing quality care to Mom. I had to admit to myself that I needed them. I had already tried to do it all on my own and had begun to drown. I realized Mom’s care needs are growing not shrinking at this stage of her life.

Then a worldwide pandemic hit and everything changed. Just when we caregivers thought life couldn’t get much harder, it did. Caregivers are learning you can keep a loved one at home to ensure you’ll remain in one another’s daily lives or choose placement and risk the possibility of not seeing your loved one or touching the warmth of their hand. Sometimes it’s a choice and sometimes it is a necessity. Either way, challenges remain.

This road, to say the least, has been bumpy. The place Mom resides has fared better than most at keeping Covid-19 exposures at bay, most of the time. They have had a few along the way, with a recent one resulting in a complete lockdown with no visits for over a month. Then, just this week, I got to see Mom again. The night before the visit, I woke up in the middle of the night, worrying what she’d be like. Would there be clear signs of decline? Would her memory issues have worsened? Would the cruelness of her isolation be visible to me?

We ended up having a delightful visit amidst a breezy, drizzly day under a tent that Mom thought would surely fly away at any moment. We laughed and held hands and remembered. Mom actually looked peaceful, content. I was reminded how much resilience and inner strength this woman possesses for this journey that is her life.

Driving away that day, I realized something. She was thriving without me. This truth jarred my ego a bit. I have long held the belief that no one cares for a mother like we daughters, but devoted staff come remarkably close, especially in the midst of a pandemic. Perhaps it takes a pandemic to bring out the stark and vivid reality that each of us decides what we will and will not do, and how these decisions effect not only ourselves, but the well-being and lives of others too. The staff make choices in their everyday lives that have a direct impact on the residents they care for. And when I am able to visit with Mom indoors again, I shall keep this in mind, for that is the kind of team member I am too.

Ballard NW Senior Center Overcoming Challenges

Ballard NW Senior Center is known to the community as “the friendly center.” Today, it continues to uphold its nickname, providing friendly service and limited programming for its members.

When the senior center locked up for COVID-19, only staff were allowed in the building. This meant that all volunteer duties had to be swapped around. All building-related volunteers like the kitchen crew, receptionists, fundraising helpers, and more were reassigned as lunch delivery drivers, phone friends, mask makers, and more.

ballard nw senior center building

Carlye Teel, Executive Director of Ballard NW Senior Center, recalls the early days, “This pandemic had turned everyone’s world upside down and the center’s world has turned upside down, too. We were having a great first quarter, marching along, offering our multitude of services, getting ready for our $pring for $eniors auction when the virus arrived, and everything ground to a halt. We had the challenge to quickly take stock and decide what and how we could safely provide what services we could.”

She goes on to say, “As the weeks wore on, we were able to add additional services and programs. Protocols were written for everyone’s safety, plexiglass shields were added, wipes and sanitizer stationed all over the building, distance markers both inside and out were established, and everyone was trained for proper safety processes.”

The senior center continues to provide take out lunches, which is an important time for people to catch up and say hi while remaining six feet apart. Additionally, the senior center is offering a few outdoor programs with a limited capacity of less than five people.

A member of the senior center writes, “I love this center. I never realized how much until I couldn’t take my favorite class, or sit with my friends at lunch, or… hear Carlye say, ‘This is the best Tuesday so far this year,’ and we all yell, ‘Until next Tuesday!'”

As for the future of Ballard NW Senior Center, Teel is optimistic and says, “I predict a rosey future for Ballard NW and all the centers. We do so much for so many, and as there is a vaccine or proven treatment, we will be able to reopen more fully and welcome everyone back. That said, we will also continue to offer virtual things as we have seen, and understand that this is a way to serve those that are more isolated. Things have changed, and we have changed too, and that will continue. We will just continually add what we can, and hope that sometime this fall we can move to the next stage, but it could be early 2021.”

Contact Ballard NW Senior Center

For updated information on Ballard NW Senior Center, visit their website or call 206.297.0403.

LinkAge: Connecting Senior Citizens to Today’s Generation

LinkAge is a student-led organization founded by Keerthana Pilla and Suhani Arora, two seniors at Tesla STEM High School, that aims to work with senior communities in the Seattle area and connect them to teenagers.

In the 21st century, the generational gap is larger than ever before, and they believe that this gap can be reduced simply through communication. With seniors’ experience-filled stories, along with this generation’s young and creative minds, they are confident that they can knit the two communities closer together and create strong bonds.

Statistically, more than 40% of senior citizens older than 60 regularly experience loneliness and isolation. This feeling of separation and disconnection from others may predict serious health problems and even death. Social isolation in seniors can cause emotional issues like depression and loneliness, as well as physical fallouts such as heart disease and immunodeficiencies. LinkAge believes that they can make a change by reducing these feelings of isolation and improving senior health.

LinkAge envisions working with senior citizens and centers by launching different activities/programs over time.

At the time of this article, everything is planned virtually because of COVID-19, but they would love to expand and hold in-person activities after the pandemic. For their first program, they plan to launch a pen pal program, where teens and seniors would write emails or handwritten letters to each other. For their second program, they plan to launch virtual meetings over Zoom or phone calls, where both the seniors and teens can talk and get to know each other better.

Overall, how the seniors and teenagers want to communicate is up to them and the ultimate goal is to create long lasting relationships!

In addition to the pen pal program, LinkAge hopes to involve younger children as well by getting them to make handmade wellness cards, which will have a small inspirational or positive message and illustration. All the cards will be mailed to a senior center or retirement community, so they can be distributed among the seniors!

How To Get Involved

LinkAge logo

If you are a senior or teen who is interested in the pen pal program, please apply today! Both seniors and teens can apply through the LinkAge website, which can also be found in the contact section below. The application asks for some personal information and a short paragraph about themselves, to match participants based on their interests.

If you are a senior center or retirement community/facility looking for a new activity or program to engage your seniors in, please contact LinkAge through email or social media. LinkAge will work with you to find a process that is open and flexible, accommodating individual comfort and preferences. They are open to new ideas and activities, so don’t be afraid to share what works best for you.

Contact LinkAge

Contact the LinkAge team at linkagewa@gmail.com or view their website, application form, and social media here.


Article by LinkAge

The Senior Center of West Seattle, Now and in the Future

the senior center of west seattle building, seen from street view

Located in the heart of the West Seattle Junction lies the Senior Center of West Seattle. Members are longing for the day when the senior center returns to normal, but with COVID-19 health and safety regulations in place, that day may have to wait.

Just four days after the appointment of the senior center’s new Executive Director, Amy Lee Derenthal, the team at the Senior Center of West Seattle made the difficult decision to close the facility on March 5th, for the sake of the health of its members. On June 29th, the senior center had their modified reopening, and they are currently providing limited programming, while monitoring that the few individuals that do come are wearing masks and are temperature checked. The majority of members are continuing to stay at home and for those that need it, meals, prescription delivery, and social worker support or available.

Despite early challenges, the senior center continues to pivot their services to best serve their community members. It takes a well-oiled team to coordinate deliveries, manage people, and communicate updates. Derenthal continues to state, “We pivoted immediately to providing essential services to seniors in their homes and had to figure things out pretty quickly…. it was [about] making adjustments and changes, while not being sure how long we would be closed…. Now, we’re in our ‘new normal’ and everyone is comfortable with their roles… “

One of those roles in the “new normal” is making sure that the senior center is thoroughly clean and sanitized. For Community Dining Chef, Francisco Briseno, this means limiting the number of helping hands in the kitchen and deep cleaning and disinfecting cooking utensils and surfaces before meal prep work begins. Briseno states, “…having a crew of four everyday to having one volunteer a day… big changes.”

stop'n shop thrift store volunteer at the register inside the senior center of west seattle

Stop ‘N Shop Thrift Store Manager, Aylene Kandappu, echoes these changes stating, “I modified the layout of the store, did a thorough cleaning and set up a new system in accordance with governmental regulations…. We also have shorter hours [and] make sure that we are able to work far apart and we have adequate cleaning stations.”

As for the senior center’s limited programming, Derenthal states, “Now that we’re open, I can say the people who are comfortable coming to our programming are really happy to be back. Many of them live alone and the opportunity to come to a safe place, to see friends and have community is very much appreciated. Also, with the libraries closed, the people who needed internet access and a computer lab are also very happy. Of course, there are more programs people want to have us start up again that just aren’t safe and that includes dancing, exercising and card playing in particular.”

While we wait for clearer skies and a vaccine ahead, the Senior Center of West Seattle isn’t sitting back. They’re spinning this situation into an opportunity to revamp their programming and give the senior center a new, fresh interior that optimizes the space they have for the community they serve. Derenthal envisions the senior center becoming a place for all generations to come together to create lasting friendships and positive change.

Contact the Senior Center of West Seattle

Do you want to get in contact with the Senior Center of West Seattle? Visit their website or call the senior center at (206) 932-4044.

Shoreline-Lake Forest Park Senior Center Staying Safe & Healthy

Shoreline-Lake Forest Park Senior Center serves the aging community in northern King County. Home to more than 56,000 residents, with at least 15% counting toward the “senior” population, Shoreline-Lake Forest Park Senior Center has its work cut out for it.

“Our current challenge is a matter of people resourcing… As people are called back to work or need to stay home with kids for distance learning, we needed to find new people and train them up on how to best reach an already isolated client base, ” states Jarrod Wright, Administrative Coordinator for the Shoreline-Lake Forest Park Senior Center.The staff continue to work together to find safe and effective ways to best serve the individuals that depend on services offered by the senior center.

Safety is their number one priority, for staff and limited visitors alike. The senior center has reinforced this by providing disinfecting stations throughout the senior center, having visitors temperature checked and logged for contact tracing, and providing a digital space for virtual activity participation.

Wright continues to say, “We speak with members daily, regarding lunch status, class registrations, tutorials on using Zoom and what services we are offering while the facility is locked. They all miss seeing each other and want to get back as soon as possible, but also understand how our facility could become a vector.”

In the meantime, members are doing their best to stay connected over the phone or in video calls. Members recognize the efforts put forth by senior center staff and have been sending pictures and notes praising the to-go meals’ chef, Donnie, and the virtual exercise instructors, Toshiko and CeCe.

Ultimately, Shoreline-Lake Forest Park Senior Center is opting to host most activities and programs online, aside from in-house foot care, which still requires masks among other COVID regulations. “Essentially, we are being flexible to the shifting regulations and keeping our community safe while they are staying connected.”

Contact Shoreline-Lake Forest Park Senior Center

If you would like to get in touch with Shoreline-Lake Forest Park Senior Center staff, you can visit their website for current virtual activities or call them at (206) 365-1536.