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Focus on Health

Many seniors are embracing digital technology in this new world of social distancing.

By Linda Kolakowski

Linda Kolakowski

In the wake of the pandemic, many people who had formerly expected to move to a life plan retirement community, assisted living or other type of senior residence now have questions about whether a senior living community is still the right choice for them.

While it’s natural to have a level of uncertainty, even in the best of times, getting educated about the various living options available, what precautions are permanently in place, and what it was like to live in these communities during shelter in place times will help in the decision making process.

People are aging for a much longer period than years ago. In 2030, the expectation is that there will be twice as many 85-year-olds and three times as many people over 100 years of age than there are today, and they’re more active than previous generations. Trends indicate that more people want to be in communities with their friends, who become more like family members, as relatives may live far away. Retirement communities help people hold on to the community relationships we need in order to thrive at every age. Will these trends continue as we cope with the likes of COVID-19?

The Need for Community

One common experience across generations during COVID has been the need to have a community of sorts. Whether they found it through regular Zoom or Facetime calls with family, friends or work colleagues, the majority moved quickly to fill the void from social distancing measures and embraced digital technology. As the weather warmed, outdoor socially distant gatherings — fitness and other classes, bring your own sandwich picnics and other no touch activities became the norm in senior living communities.

While this certainly happened at all manners of senior living communities, it was not necessarily the case for seniors living on their own. Some seniors were able to enjoy the company and comforts of living with family members or had more mobile neighbors and friends to shop for them and otherwise help out. Others who were already isolated had neither the equipment nor technical know-how to connect with family and friends digitally.

Fear of infection closed down many senior centers, limited ride services and at home visits, and made trips to the supermarket and drug store overwhelming, if not impossible. Home maintenance also became a significant issue.

Residents of senior living communities like Jefferson’s Ferry had to curtail their activities, just like the rest of the population, but because of the array of services that come with living in a retirement community, they were able to get takeout meals, groceries, household items, laundry service, and even cocktails to go on the premises. 

Staying Healthy

While there were health concerns, residents of many senior living communities also had ready access to the most up to date health information, as well as greater access to health care. Healthy residents overall remained healthy, thanks to senior living communities’ strict adherence to protocols and directives from local, state, and federal agencies that promote resident and employee safety and reduce the chance of exposure or transmission. 

Feeling Good by Giving Back

Senior community residents across Long Island also came together in the spirit of giving back to make the best of a difficult situation.  At Jefferson’s Ferry, the residents spearheaded fundraisers and made donations to provide free meals to the hardworking staff and otherwise demonstrated their gratitude with thank you notes and small gifts. Some residents made masks for their neighbors; others reached out to fellow residents with phone calls, or left treats and notes outside the doors of their neighbors to lift their spirits.

One Jefferson’s Ferry resident related her experience. “I can’t imagine having lived anywhere else during the ‘life during social distancing’ period. While most of my day is spent in my apartment, I converse regularly with friends by phone. I can have meals delivered, but often take the outdoor route to the Community Center. I’ll meet some masked neighbors along the way, pick up my mail and my takeout dinner in the café. If there is any kind of emergency or special need, I can just ‘push the button’ and a staff member will help me out.”

Another said, “It’s interesting and inspiring how Jefferson’s Ferry has continued to be a caring community, even in the midst of social distancing. We can still laugh at each other’s masks and hairdos, encourage one another when we get down, and remind each other that all the fun things we do together will resume someday.”

It’s Your Choice

At every stage of life, we all want to be able to exercise control and make choices.  Equally important is making sure that access to services and health care remains viable and affordable as needs change over time. Talk to your friends, visit the senior communities in your area and ask a lot of questions. There are many terrific options out there. You will find the one that’s right for you.  

Author Linda Kolakowski is the Vice President of Resident Life at Jefferson’s Ferry Life Plan Community in South Setauket.

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Ketogenic Diet
Making sense of the latest health trends

By Melissa Arnold

Low fat or full fat? Splenda, stevia or cane sugar? Three large meals or six small ones? New schools of thought and trends surrounding healthy eating are cropping up all the time, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed or confused, especially when the advice is conflicting. 

Whether you’ve been using a particular weight loss plan with accurate information is key. Dr. Konstantinos Spaniolas, Associate Director of the Stony Brook Medicine Bariatric and Metabolic Weight Loss Center, has given us his take on three of the most popular diet trends, the Ketogenic Diet, Clean Eating and Intermittent Fasting.

The Ketogenic Diet 

(also known as keto)

The basics: The keto diet uses the body’s metabolic processes to its advantage. In keto, carbs are drastically limited, which lowers glucose and insulin levels. Without glucose to use as its typical fuel, the body enters a state called ketosis, where fat is burned almost exclusively. Lots of unsaturated (healthy) fats, dairy products and moderate amounts of protein are central to going keto. Say goodbye to carbs and sugar, not only in forms like bread and pasta, but also in most fruits and some vegetables.

What it’s like: Tom Walheim, Sr., a 56-year-old engineer from Mullica Hill, N.J., started to search for a diet plan in 2018 when he acknowledged he wasn’t feeling as good as he did when he was younger. After trying other diets, he chose keto because it was easy to implement and would fit in well with his lifestyle. All three of Walheim’s children have celiac disease, so their home was already gluten free.

“Having already eliminated carbs, I had already separated myself from the things that would be tough for a lot of people to give up,” Walheim said. The first 15 pounds came off quickly, and within about six months he’d lost 40 pounds. Ultimately, Walheim has maintained a ketogenic diet for more than two years and plans to continue. 

“I love to grill, and I’ve rediscovered cooking through learning different keto recipes, like Instant Pot chili. And I’ve never felt deprived — I will occasionally have a cheat day when celebrating a special occasion with my family. For example, I enjoyed the cake at my daughter’s wedding this fall.”

Pros: Weight loss can be significant and quick, especially early on. Lovers of fatty foods can enjoy plenty of their favorites — keto is sometimes nicknamed the “butter and bacon diet.”

Cons: It takes time for the body to adjust to going keto, and you may feel moody, groggy, constipated or just unwell. The body can rebel when you begin to transition off of keto as well, causing gastrointestinal issues and even weight gain.

Dr. Spaniolas’ take: “In the keto diet, there’s an introductory week that is very low calorie, and that can be a problem for some people. With any diet that restricts certain foods, you can expect a period of adjustment, but most people tolerate it well. It’s important to stay well-hydrated to minimize risk of constipation and boost your overall wellbeing.

Clean Eating 
Paleo Diet

(also known as the Paleo Diet or Whole30, among others)

The basics: Generally speaking, eating clean is about sticking to foods that are in their natural, whole or unprocessed form. According to the Paleo Diet’s official website, this healthy eating strategy emphasizes foods eaten by our hunter-gatherer ancestors. That means lots of veggies, fruits, meat, eggs and some fats and oils are in, whole grains, dairy, processed foods and refined sugars are out. Different plans will vary their lists of acceptable foods.

What it’s like: As a captain in the U.S. Air Force, Gemma Fiduk works hard to ensure she remains healthy and fit. When it comes to dieting, she takes a balanced approach of eating well-rounded, nutritious meals along with occasional treats.

“In 2015, I was stationed in Little Rock, Arkansas. I was a physical training officer at the time, so I was trying to take a lot of courses on fitness and nutrition to better support my airmen,” said Fiduk, who’s now stationed in Fairborn, Ohio. “The gym on base offered a lot of different seminars and workshops, and one of them was about Whole30.”

Armed with information from the seminar and the official Whole30 book by Melissa Hartwig Urban, Fiduk said she was excited to give the program a try. 

“The program doesn’t hide that it takes discipline, but they prepare you well for the experience and I love a good challenge. Besides, it’s only 30 days,” she said. “I came away with a better understanding of my own body and the foods that were and weren’t best for me.”

While she didn’t weigh herself after completing Whole30, Fiduk noted a definite reduction in bloating and positive changes in her figure. After the initial cravings passed, she loved the sense of physical wellbeing and accomplishment that came along with cooking at home.

She admits that it can be easy to fall into eating the same meals repetitively or feeling bored with the menu, but said it’s easy to find a wealth of clean recipes online for those willing to look. The Whole30 website offers meal planning and grocery delivery services for a fee.

Pros: In the case of Whole30, the diet has a defined start and end date.

Cons: Lots of advance planning and shopping is required, and finding compliant ingredients or condiments can be tricky in regular grocery stores.

Dr. Spaniolas’ take: “The idea with clean eating is to take yourself back to the most basic nutrients. It’s less about weight loss than it is about overall wellbeing, and in the case of Whole30, it’s not meant to be a forever plan — you take it on for a set period of time and then return to eating normally.

Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent Fasting

(Also known as intermittent energy restriction)

The basics: Fasting is as simple as it sounds — not eating anything for a set period of time. By restricting the time spent eating, the body is said to better regulate blood sugar and increase the ability to burn fat. Options abound with fasting, including daily fasts of 12 to 20 hours, restricting eating hours only on certain days, or not eating at all for one or two days each week. During eating periods, a normal diet is consumed — calories are not restricted.

Pros: You can eat whatever you want — there are no forbidden foods. Fasting requires little preparation and can be started and stopped as your lifestyle requires.

Cons: Getting used to hunger pangs can be tough, and social situations might be hard to deal with if you’re the only one not eating.

What it’s like: Jeena Rudy, 26, of Setauket, was a college athlete and swim coach in her native California before becoming a missionary three years ago. She admitted her work with college students can make it too easy to make unhealthy food choices or overeat.

“One of my brothers is two years older than I am, and a few years ago he mentioned that his cholesterol was too high,” Rudy said. “I started to gain a little weight once I wasn’t swimming 40 hours a week, and I didn’t want to end up developing health issues. That conversation really motivated me to try intermittent fasting.”

Rudy fasted daily for 16 to 20 hours over a period of several months. She ultimately lost some weight and said she became more mindful about what she was eating.

“Fasting changed the way I think about food. I learned more about what foods help me to feel my best, too. Like right now I need to eat breakfast and could just grab a bagel, but making eggs would be a better, healthier option for me. I’m planning to take up fasting again in the future.”

Dr. Spaniolas’ take: “Again, staying hydrated will help you in fasting because it can quell hunger pains by keeping something in your stomach. I tell people to aim for at least 64 ounces a day, and if they can get closer to 100 ounces, that’s even better. Very low caloric plans, where people consume 600 calories a day for extended periods of time, should only be done under medical supervision, especially if you have health issues.

The best dietary plan is the one that works well for you. But just because a particular plan works well for one person doesn’t mean it will be the right one for someone else. For some people, giving up carbohydrates is easy, while others can’t give up fruits or go longer periods without eating. It’s about finding what fits best with your preferences, habits and lifestyle, and ultimately whether or not you can stick with it. 

Try something out for a week or two and see how you like it, but don’t combine diets. For some, dieting isn’t the best way to lose weight. If you’re having difficulty losing weight on your own, checking in with a physician to consider more targeted options can help. Remember to stay active as well, aiming for at least 10,000 steps a day or 30 minutes of exercise several times a week.” 

Remember to talk with your doctor before making any significant changes to your diet or exercise routine.

 

Those living in older homes should be especially cautious about asbestos. Stock photo

By Charles MacGregor

Last year, Congress passed bipartisan legislation to amend the Toxic Substances Control Act, giving the United States Environmental Protection Agency a few new tools to help better regulate chemicals and protect human and environmental health. Among those tools was a requirement to have ongoing risk evaluations for chemicals to determine their risks to people. When the agency released its list of the first 10 chemicals slated for review, it was a parade of hard to pronounce names that would leave the average person scratching their head, but the list also included a common name with a long history in the United States.

Fifty years ago, when it was in its heyday, asbestos was found in products throughout the home. Vinyl flooring, furnace gaskets and cement, roofing shingles and even crock pots and ironing boards were all known to contain the mineral. Asbestos performs well when it comes to resisting heat and was often included in products used in applications where a lot of heat would be generated. But the material also carries a dark secret in that it’s capable of causing several awful diseases, including asbestosis, a chronic lung disease, and mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer affecting the lining of the lungs.

Mesothelioma is an especially awful cancer because it’s often aggressive and displays symptoms that could be mistaken for a variety of illnesses. By the time it’s actually diagnosed, however, mesothelioma is usually in its later stages when the prognosis is extremely poor and there aren’t many options for treatment. Unfortunately, for many people battling the disease, they weren’t exposed recently, but rather decades ago while working in manufacturing, mining or in the military. Invisible asbestos fibers can become airborne when products are damaged and pose a significant threat of inhalation or ingestion.

When the TSCA was signed into law, asbestos was heavily regulated and its usage has since steadily declined. But when the EPA tried to finally put an end to asbestos in 1989, the final rule banning the material was overturned by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals two years later due to a lack of “substantial evidence” despite tens of thousands of pages accumulated during a 10-year study. After the colossal failure to ban asbestos, the EPA didn’t attempt any additional bans using the old TSCA rules.

The reason the asbestos evaluation matters so much is because these amendments to the TSCA are supposed to ease burdens and make it easier for the EPA to react swiftly to regulate and ban chemicals that are too dangerous for people. It matters because there is proposed legislation known as the Regulatory Accountability Act that would, in essence, resurrect some of the same barriers intentionally removed from the regulatory process. In the case of asbestos, this could delay a possible ban by years while the agency sifts through red tape and challenges from industry lobbyists. A massive cut in funding to the EPA would severely cripple the agency and force it to do more with less, when it can barely keep up with the work it does now. And President Donald Trump’s (R) “2-for-1” executive order, which forces agencies to remove two rules for every new one added without any additional costs, is a direct assault against our health. It forces agencies to pick and choose what rules get enforced and puts the balance sheet above our safety.

The EPA is under a lot of stress, but we also need to understand that the failed asbestos ban nearly 30 years ago is a cautionary tale. If there’s any hope of seeing the material banned, the stars have to align. There’s still an air of cautious optimism, but the deck is heavily stacked against it.

Visit www.mesothelioma.com for more information.

Charles MacGregor is a Community Engagement Specialist with the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance. He works to raise awareness about environmental policies related to the continued use of asbestos.