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Elissa Gargone

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By Elissa Gargone

Elissa Gargone

One of the great pleasures of life is spending time with a beloved family member or friend. But what happens to that quality time when that special person develops dementia? While its inescapable that a certain level of conversation will be lost, by reorienting your expectations it’s still possible for both of you to have a meaningful visit.  

The first step is to adjust to your loved one’s experience and enter their world. Focus not on what they have lost, but what still remains — their personality, their sense of humor, appreciation of their surroundings, or a connection to music. Start your visit with a smile, eye contact and a simple touch — a pat on the shoulder or back, a squeeze of their hand. These simple gestures help bring focus and connection to the interaction. Bringing something tangible with you that can act as an icebreaker — books, toys, photos or a tasty treat — are often helpful. 

Conversations may become less about ideas and storytelling and more about sharing feelings and emotions. If necessary, redirect challenging conversations in gentle, positive and creative ways, commenting on objects in the room, or outside the window. 

Asking your companion for their advice or opinion can make them feel valued and competent. Intellect is often perfectly intact, even if memory is fading. And please remember, you don’t need to correct your loved one’s recollections or assumptions. Empathize and spare their feelings.  

Jefferson’s Ferry’s memory support neighborhood has been designed to help residents and their loved ones enjoy a range of activities and opportunities for connection in a secure environment. While you may not have all of these options available to you, you can adapt some of these ideas to help you  to connect with your special person.  

The memory support neighborhood is set up to allow residents to safely meander through the hallways and visit “lifestyle stations.” These lifestyle stations replicate environments familiar to our residents that provide comfort and a sense of belonging.  Examples of lifestyle stations include a workbench with tools, a desk with computer station and phone, a nursery with baby doll, a sports room with pennants and hats, or a simple kitchen set up for coffee and conversation.

Our common rooms and visiting spaces include plenty of color, art, and textiles on the walls to stimulate the senses. We also have secure outdoor garden spaces.  

And then there’s music. Music is a pathway that can trigger a flood of long term memories and emotions. A body of evidence suggests that music prompts the secretion of dopamine, which spurs the brain to produce feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. Bringing a playlist of greatest hits enjoyed over a person’s lifetime along with a willingness to sing along or dance is a great way to enhance a visit. Playing familiar and well-loved music can also help to settle someone in an anxious or agitated state.

Despite a variety of tools and techniques, there are times when a visit doesn’t go smoothly for reasons beyond your control. Don’t judge yourself too harshly when this happens. 

Few of us are prepared for the challenges that arise when trying to connect to a loved one with dementia. Unless you’re a professional, it’s not as if you’ve been to school to study this. The most you can do is accept the challenges that come with someone in need of memory support and do your best. There will be good times and the not so good times, but you may be surprised at how fulfilling your visits can be. 

Elissa Gargone is the Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Jefferson’s Ferry Lifecare Retirement Community in South Setauket.

This article originally appeared in TBR News Media’s Prime Times senior supplement on 01/25/24.

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By Elissa Gargone

Elissa Gargone

Experts on aging agree. What’s most important for a long and healthy retirement is having a continuing sense of purpose and social engagement. 

Retirement gives people freedom from the constraints of the workplace, but it also changes what for many is a significant part of their social lives—being around others in a shared mission. No matter how young or old we are, it’s important to maintain and pursue friendships and activities. It’s this engagement that gives us a sense of purpose and growth.

As a retiree, you may want to move away from or closer to a city, seek warmer or colder weather, or relocate to be near your children or grandchildren. Many retirees downsize to an apartment or condo, freeing themselves from upkeep for a home and yard.  

Finding the right retirement lifestyle that will stimulate and reward you with a sense of purpose is about asking the right questions. That process starts with a thoughtful assessment of your individual needs and desires. While this exercise can present its challenges, it can be mighty stimulating to imagine a new phase of life that isn’t dictated by a workday. 

Planning is critical

The ideal time to begin this process is while you’re still working. It can take some time to figure out just where you’ll want to be, and what you’ll do there. Too many people approaching retirement fall into some version of a failure to plan, whether it’s having no plan, waiting too long to plan, or thinking that they don’t need a plan.

There are plenty of lifestyle choices out there. The more you learn about those options, the easier that decision will be.  You don’t want to be pressed to make a choice when you unexpectedly have a need.  

Understandably, while this hesitation may stem from denial or uncertainty about the future, one thing that is certain is that our needs will change over time, so it’s important to set to the task and make a plan. It’s not unlike starting a business—you’re setting yourself up for success.  

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Questions to consider  

1. What do I want my future to look like?

2. What do I want to keep doing?

3. What don’t I want to do?

4. What can and can’t I do physically now?

5. What will I not be physically able to do down the road? 

6. What kinds of activities interest me?

7. Where do I want to be — near family, in my familiar community? City, country, suburbs?

8. What kind of people do I want to be with? 

9. What amenities would I like?

10. How much space do I really need?  

11.Will my finances comfortably cover my healthcare costs, should my health change?   

It’s critical to be realistic with your answers. For example, if you have physical issues now, it’s likely you’ll  be more challenged physically in ten years. You have to be honest about the existing barriers to things you want to do now, and strategize as to how you will manage these challenges later in life.  Then look around the house and ask; what is really important for me to keep, and what can I do without?  

Look for more than real estate

If you’re considering buying a retirement home, make sure to consider the services that come with it or are close by. These services will gain importance as time passes.  A 55-plus community that suits your lifestyle at age 60 or 65 may not be able to comfortably support you after age 75 or 80. You’ll want access to a range of people and activities, various transportation options, shopping, quality health services, and other support systems in place.

Options include: Life plan retirement communities like Jefferson’s Ferry, which enable residents to age in place with independent living, assisted living and skilled nursing services available on one site; assisted living facilities that help you manage the tasks of daily living in a community setting with apartments and shared or private rooms; independent living 55+ communities; condominiums, and shared space with family members.

Most of us need people around us to thrive. That’s not limited to those who’ll provide care, but others who will engage our interests as our friends and companions. Having more time to do the things you like, trying new things and enjoying the company of friends and family is the key to a long and happy life.   

Elissa Gargone is the Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Jefferson’s Ferry Lifecare Retirement Community in South Setauket.

This article originally appeared in Prime Times, TBR News Media’s senior supplement, on July 20.

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By Elissa Gargone

Elissa Gargone

If there’s one thing we’ve gained during this prolonged period of sheltering in place and social distancing otherwise known as the pandemic, it’s a deep appreciation for human interactions. Whether brief and in person as you say hello to your letter carrier, or digitally through a Zoom call with family or friends, these contacts make us feel good. They perk us up, stimulate our hearts and our brains and can brighten almost any day.  

Human beings are social creatures.  From the beginning of time, our connection to others has enabled us to survive and flourish. Spending too much time alone can leave us vulnerable to social isolation and loneliness, not to mention related health problems such as cognitive decline, depression, and heart disease. Fortunately, even at this time, there are ways to counteract these negative effects.

During the warmer weather, few of us hesitated to get outside for socially distanced get-togethers or walks, but winter’s chill presents another challenge.  While we can still bundle up for a walk or chat outside, most of us are more confined overall. Even so, getting out occasionally to be in the semi-distanced company of strangers can be invigorating.

Fortunately, our experience during COVID-19 has taught us some valuable lessons by further opening our minds to the great world at our fingertips through our keyboard, key pad and remote control device. At Jefferson’s Ferry Life Plan Community, we’ve strengthened our friendships and our resolve to stay in touch with the people in our lives, even if we have to step outside of our comfort zones.

While some people had an initial resistance to the digital world, most have come to eagerly embrace it and become adept and enthusiastic users. We’ve also adapted to using a number of the limitless apps available, from Zoom meetings to ordering take out, and from downloading podcasts to accessing art performances and information. We even have our own Jefferson’s Ferry app for the added convenience of fitness classes, entertainment, food and more from our devices.

Wherever you reside, social and digital media can introduce us to a whole new world of teachers, friends and entertainers. For many, Zoom, YouTube, FaceTime and TikTok have been a lifeline, keeping us connected with family, friends and even next door neighbors by providing laughs, new ideas, visits to nearby and faraway places and endless how-to videos. 

For the uninitiated, Zoom and FaceTime allow people to connect in real time video to socialize, hold meetings, go on a video excursion, and take classes. If you haven’t seen a loved one in a long time, FaceTime and Zoom are akin to a miracle. YouTube offers a vast compendium of content from performances to cooking and fitness classes of every description, and so much more. 

Your local library is a remarkable resource to entertain, educate and elevate emotional well-being. You can connect with fellow readers, travelers and lifelong learners through Zoom meetings and access an endless array of programming.   A phone call to the library or a visit to its YouTube channel can help you get online and get going to enjoy hours of fabulous programs and opportunities. 

Visit www.livebrary.com to access eBooks and Audiobooks (all you need is a Suffolk County library card) and go to your library’s website to explore its many offerings from the comfort of your home or bundle up and get out to experience nature, history and your overall environment in person on a beautiful winter afternoon. 

Either way you’ll experience a no or low-contact adventure in your own backyard. While we may be living through a time of more “at home time,” a whole world awaits at our fingertips. Make sure you take advantage of it. 

“Adventure isn’t hanging off a rope on the side of a mountain. Adventure is an attitude we must apply to the day to day obstacles of life.” — John Amat

Elissa Gargone is vice president of sales and marketing  at Jefferson’s Ferry Life Plan Community in South Setauket.

This article first appeared in TBR News Media’s Prime Times supplement on Jan. 28, 2021.

Elissa Gargone

Jefferson’s Ferry, a not-for-profit Life Plan Community in South Setauket, has promoted Elissa Gargone to Vice President of Sales and Marketing. In her new position the Miller Place resident will be responsible for developing and implementing marketing programs, touring and counseling potential residents, and tracking occupancy in independent and assisted living. Jefferson’s Ferry President and Chief Executive Officer Robert E. Caulfield made the announcement.

“Elissa is an integral part of the Jefferson’s Ferry community and a valuable resource to our senior management team,” said Caulfield. “She consistently demonstrates an outstanding level of commitment and care to our residents, and to those who are considering Jefferson’s Ferry.  We are especially fortunate to have her in this position during a time of significant expansion that is our Journey to Renewal.”   

Journey to Renewal is an ambitious, multi-year expansion and renovation of the Jefferson’s Ferry campus that will enhance the lifestyle and experience for current residents while anticipating the desires and needs of a whole new generation of Long Islanders who are planning for retirement.  

The expansion calls for the construction of additional independent living apartments, a new assisted living building specially designed for memory care, a state-of-the-art rehabilitation center, along with expanded homelike common spaces in assisted living and skilled nursing. Amenities including dining and fitness options will also be given an upgrade during the Journey to Renewal.

Gargone first joined Jefferson’s Ferry in 2010 and in that time has grown with the community as it has matured and evolved in an ever changing marketplace.  She most recently served as Director of Sales & Marketing.

“Over the years that I’ve been here, I’ve not only learned from the example of my outstanding colleagues; I’ve seen firsthand what this community does for our residents. They thrive in an environment that provides stimulating companionship and activities while freeing them from many of the tasks and stresses of daily living. I’m excited for the challenges and rewards that my new position will offer during this exciting transition.”