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Passion-Led Work: Finding Purpose in Memory Care

Nearly 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, and that number is projected to rise to 13 million by 2050, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
Understanding the signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s can help improve the quality of life for those with it and for those who may be undiagnosed. Read on to learn more about this disease, how memory care can help older adults with Alzheimer’s find joy and fulfillment, and to hear directly from some of the extraordinary leaders at Five Star Senior Living and Ageility who are working in our communities to relate, motivate, and appreciate memory care residents.

What is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurological disorder that causes the brain to shrink and brain cells to die resulting in memory loss, confusion, and cognitive decline.

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia. Dementia is not a disease itself, but is an umbrella term for a group of thinking and social symptoms that interfere with activities of daily living (ADLs) such as using the phone, shopping, cooking, and taking medication. Symptoms can include memory loss, changes in mood and personality, poor judgment, and difficulty completing familiar tasks. Recognizing signs early on can help make a major difference in a person’s quality of life as the disease progresses.

It’s not known what exactly causes Alzheimer’s. However, experts believe it’s not one single cause, but rather a group of several factors that can affect people differently such as age, family history, diet, and alcohol consumption.

Memory Care

Even though Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, there’s a misconception that a person with the disease will have an unfulfilling life. At memory care communities, a person living with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia can live in a safe and warm environment with skilled team members and engaging activities to promote their wellbeing. Learn more about what memory care is.

At Five Star Senior Living, a division of AlerisLife, our approach includes all of this and much more. We’re reimagining Alzheimer’s care with Bridge to Rediscovery (BTR), a Montessori-based approach to memory care that designs a lifestyle focused on each resident’s strengths and abilities.

Memory Care Leaders at AlerisLife

BTR director at the Palms of Fort Myers Heidi Hartsock has dedicated her career to enhancing the quality of life for people with dementia.

“Having quality programming has the potential to slow down the progression of dementia and it helps to keep people with their skills and abilities as long as possible,” she said. “I love being the person that brings joy to everybody.

Physical therapist and clinical specialist manager for Ageility Nicole Lavoie is using her skills to keep people moving.

“My big goal is to allow people to function at their best ability throughout the entire spectrum of the disease and the disease process,” she said. “We have a role in all of our disciples to achieve that so I’m on a mission to make that happen.”

Physical exercise for those with dementia is an exciting field of study for Nicole. Experts have studied how when people exercise their cognition improves. The thought was that when people exercised, their brains were stimulated by reading instructions of following an exercise program. Research now shows that physical exercise can slow the decline of memory, executive function, and all cognitive abilities.

“Physical exercise influences the hippocampus in the brain where memories are created and stored. Moving your body directly impacts your brain,” Nicole said, adding that exercising during middle age is especially important for your brain health later on in life.

Maria Lora, BTR director at The Forum at Tucson, began her career following a personal experience taking care of a loved one.

“It’s very heartwarming to be in somebody’s life and be there for them to help to assist. Some of them don’t have families so I like to be that person they can count on and hug,” she said. “Giving them love or a hug on a daily basis is very important for them.”

Caregiving has its challenges. It can be especially hard for caregivers if they are adult children taking care of a loved one. Caregiver fatigue, a mental or physical state of exhaustion, is very real.

Heidi says that caregivers should make sure they take care of themselves. Alzheimer’s is one of the hardest diseases to care for—it becomes worse as time goes on and each day poses new challenges.

“Be patient with yourself and be patient with your loved one,” she said. “It’s hard, but you’re not alone. Asking for help is important. It’s not selfish—you need to take care of yourself to take care of your loved one.”

Caregivers have lots of options available to them for support like the National Center on Caregiving, National Institute on Aging, and more.
There are ups and downs when you’re a caregiver. Alzheimer’s symptoms include behavioral changes which can be challenging for caregivers to handle, especially when that caregiver is a family member.

“Caregiver burnout is so real. It’s really hard to take care of somebody and understanding the disease can help,” Nicole said. “One thing you can do is breathe. Three deep breaths is all it takes for you and the person with the cognitive loss. It dramatically reduces whatever is their feeling at the moment.”

Deciding to move a loved one on to memory care is no easy decision. Many factors can play a role, but it’s important to remember to do what’s best for your loved one, which can sometimes mean letting someone else take care of them.

While there are nearly six million Americans living with the disease, it’s important to remember that dementia is not a normal part of aging.

“A lot of people think it might be normal, but it’s not,” Heidi said. “Forgetfulness is normal, but the confusion and everything that comes along with dementia is not normal.”

Our Mission

The decision to move a loved one to a memory care community is not an easy one, but we’re here to help and welcome your loved one as part of our family. Our skilled team members make it their mission to offer the best and most innovative approach to care.

Five Star Senior Living offers small and intimate memory care neighborhoods where your loved one can discover engaging activities and a renewed sense of purpose in a personalized environment that feels just like home sweet home.

We can help you find the right retirement community for your loved one to thrive at this new stage of life.

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Depression in Older Adults – Symptoms, Risks, & How to Get Help

Having a bad day or feeling down once in a while is a normal part of life, but having these same feelings day in and day out is usually a sign of something worse—depression. In older adults, depression is not just being melancholy, having “the holiday blues”, or being upset at the loss of a loved one. It’s a very real, but treatable, medical condition.

In this article:

Senior depression is not a normal part of aging, but older adults are at higher risk for experiencing depression. According to the Centers for Disease Control, depression in seniors can often be misdiagnosed due to healthcare providers mistaking depression symptoms as a natural reaction to illness or other life changes.

While seniors are at higher risk for depression, the vast majority of seniors are not depressed. Additionally most seniors see improvements in their symptoms when treated with antidepressant drugs, therapy, or both.

Here are some tips to recognize depression in older adults and how to get help:

Symptoms of Depression in Older Adults

It isn’t always easy to recognize the signs of depression in older adults— you may notice a plate of empty food or a loss of interest in hobbies that were once pleasurable. One of the biggest tell-tale signs of depression is prolonged feelings of sadness or anxiety that can last for weeks. Older adults with depression may also be experiencing:

  • Feelings of guilt, helplessness, hopelessness, sadness, or pessimism
  • A lack or loss of interest in activities that once brought pleasure
  • Decreased energy
  • Inability to concentrate or make decisions
  • Insomnia or excessive sleeping
  • Overeating or appetite loss
  • Excessive consumption of alcohol
  • Thoughts of suicide and suicide attempts

Common Causes of Depression in the Elderly

The exact causes of senior depression are unknown, but experts believe it may be caused by a combination of factors in a person’s life. While it’s important to know the symptoms of depression in older adults, it’s just as important to know what can put someone at risk for experiencing depression. Each person is different, but here is a list of potential factors that can contribute to depression in older adults:


As adults age, their worlds can feel increasingly isolating. Partners and loved ones can pass away; neighbors, friends, and family may move; and the ability to physically leave home may become more difficult.

Medical issues

Older adults may struggle after a medical procedure or illness. A surgery that doesn’t allow a person to be as active as they once were or an illness like cancer, stroke, or chronic can contribute to feelings of helplessness.

Traumatic or stressful events

Major traumatic events in a person’s life can happen when they’re least expecting it. Seniors can be victims of abuse, experience the death of a loved one, or have financial problems that can all affect their mental state.

Using alcohol or drugs

Certain medications can cause changes in a person’s behavior and mentality. It’s always best to talk to your doctor about how your medications are affecting you or a loved one. Alcohol consumption can also lead to similar emotional changes.

How to Help Seniors with Depression

The good news is that there are plenty of ways to help and support seniors with depression. If you are concerned about a loved one who may be experiencing depression here is a list of ways you can support them:

Talk it out

Communication is key. Having a one-on-one conversation with a loved one is one of the best ways to know what’s going on with them. Sometimes just venting can help an older adult, other times you may find they need help, but are struggling to ask for it. Either way take some time to discuss what is happening in their life.

Frequent check-ins

Moving to a senior living community is a major change for an older adult. One way to make them feel more at home is by making frequent visits or phone calls. Set up a schedule and carve out time to let your family member know you’re there for them. Simple questions like “how are you doing?” and “what did you do today?” can go a long way.

Schedule activities

If you’re able to visit in-person, spend time playing games, going for walks, or venturing out into the local town. Set up an activity like going to a museum, a new restaurant, or seeing other friends and family to give the older adult in your life an event to look forward to.

Accompany them to see a health care provider

Approach this subject delicately, as your family member may be hesitant to seek help. By offering to join an older adult to an appointment, you can show that they’re not alone no matter what they’re going through. This can also be an important step for your loved one to be diagnosed and, if needed, treated.

The Benefits of Finding a Community

Moving to a senior living community can also have numerous benefits for an older adult with depression. Communities like Five Star Senior Living offer a welcoming atmosphere that brings older adults together to make new connections and stay active with a suite of programs and activities.

AlerisLife and Five Star Senior Living communities believe a person’s quality of life is ageless. At Five Star Senior Living communities, we offer a wide range of senior living options built with a high level of service and sense of community.

Contact us to find a senior living community near you.

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The Top 5 Best Dogs for Seniors

Dogs make great companions for seniors. With their fun, loyal, and cute personalities, dogs are a joy to share a home with and provide many health and emotional benefits to their owners like lowering blood pressure while raising “feel-good” serotonin chemicals in the brain. Plus, being a pet parent in retirement provides plenty of perks for the dog by having an owner with a more flexible schedule and the ability to be at home most of the day. But with so many different dog breeds to choose from, how can you know which dog is best for older adults?

With so many dog breeds that come in all shapes and sizes it can be a challenge—and important—to know which dog is the best dog for you and your living situation. Luckily, certain dog breeds have traits that fit perfectly alongside an older adult’s golden years.

Overall, the best dog breeds for seniors have lower energy levels and are smaller in size. This is especially true for seniors that may have downsized their lifestyles to live in a home at a senior living community. To find out the best dog for your lifestyle we’ve compiled our top picks for the best dogs for seniors:

The 5 Best Dogs for Older Adults

Pugs — The Best Dog for a Quiet Retirement

An ancient dog breed once favored by Chinese Emperors, a pug will leave you feeling like royalty when it’s by your side. Pugs are small dogs that weigh between 14 to 18 pounds, can live for up to 15 years, and have either light brown or black fur. Known for their loyal and loving temperaments, pugs are an easy dog to take care of and require no special grooming. Pugs are great for older adults because they don’t need a lot of exercise, love to cuddle on the couch, are easy-going, and gentle. This dog is great for someone who likes to relax at home and enjoy a quiet retirement.

Greyhound — Best Dog for Older Adults Who Love Big Dogs

Being the fastest dog breed by a country mile, greyhounds may not be the first dog you think of when it comes to companions for older adults. Greyhounds are a large breed that can weigh up to 70 pounds and live up to 13 years. Greyhounds come in a variety of colors such as tan, brown, black, and red. Ironically, gray is the rarest greyhound color and is referred to as “blue.” While their size and racetrack reputations are no joke, greyhounds are one of the most calm and gentle breeds around. They are not the high energy dogs many think they are. A greyhound is a great dog for older adults because they enjoy walks as much as they enjoy lounging on the couch. This dog is perfect if you want a breed that is large but easy to handle.

Miniature Schnauzer — Best Dog for Active Seniors

The Miniature Schnauzer is a German breed of small dog bred by farmers. The breed can weigh up to 20 pounds and live for up to 15 years. The breed comes in black, salt and pepper, black and silver, and in rare instances red. With a strong, outgoing, and energetic personality, miniature schnauzers are great for a senior who is more active and would enjoy frequent walks or trips to the park. As an added plus, this breed is low-shedding and hypoallergenic, but they have a double coat of fur which requires regular brushing or professional grooming.

French Bulldog — Best Dog for Seniors Who Love to Have Guests

Cute, humorous, curious, and playful, the French bulldog hits all the marks when it comes to a great canine companion for older adults. This breed is small, but can weigh up to 28 pounds and live for up to 12 years. Equipped with distinct bat-like ears and an even disposition, seniors looking for a dog that will entertain them as well as their friends and family should look no further. Their adaptability and easy trainability make them a perfect fit into any living situation.

Pomeranian — Best Dog for Apartment Living

At three to seven pounds, the fluffy Pomeranian is an ideal dog for older adults who live in more compact quarters. These puffball pets are loveable, sweet, and make for the perfect dog to sit in your lap. Pomeranians are also known for their long life spans which are up to 16 years. Seniors who enjoy grooming their dog will find joy in brushing the Pomeranian’s furry coat. An all-around adaptable dog, this breed is active, but can be exercised with both indoor play and outdoor walks. Highly intelligent, the Pomeranian will master tricks and commands before your eyes with ease.

The all-around best dog for seniors

For older adults looking for one breed that checks just about every box, the pug is our number one pick. With its relaxed temperament, charming looks, and easy trainability, this breed will make a great addition to any senior’s home. Want to go for a walk in the morning? Want to relax on the sofa and watch a movie? The pug can do it all at your pace.

Finding a Dog-Friendly Senior Living Community

If you live at a senior living community, make sure to check if pets are allowed. At Five Star, we welcome your pet with open arms!

Many of our pet-friendly communities offer trails and other green spaces for you to enjoy the fresh air with your furry friend. Plus, if you’re out on a community excursion or outing, we allow dog walkers to access our buildings during the day.

Love dogs, but not ready to make the full commitment? We’ve got you covered! Five Star’s exclusive Lifestyle360 programming includes pet therapy activities so you can enjoy cuddling with a therapy dog to add a little extra joy in your life.

Enjoy Retirement With Man’s Best Friend at Five Star Senior Living

Studies show that spending quality time with animals can be good for your health by lowering blood pressure and adding joy and purpose to each day. Five Star is reimagining aging for older adults. With senior living communities in 28 states, Five Star offers a quality of life that’s ageless.

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How to Stay Active – 7 Tips for Seniors

Maintaining an active lifestyle is important at any age, but it can be especially important for older adults and seniors in retirement to help boost health and wellbeing. Staying active has scores of health benefits, from strengthening bone health and improving blood pressure to lowering the risk of diabetes and supporting neurocognitive function.
It’s vital to keep moving as you age, and it’s not uncommon for older adults to lose their strength and balance which unfortunately can result in falls. In fact, 1 in 4 older adults report falling every year. For some seniors, healing from an injury can take longer. A sedentary lifestyle without regular exercise and active movement can lead to more frequent falls, injuries, and pains.

But don’t think you have to hit the gym weights everyday. While focused physical exercise is a great way to stay active, it’s not the only way to have an active senior lifestyle. Many senior living communities offer fun activities throughout the week that are catered to your abilities to keep you living your best life.

Here are seven great tips that will inspire you to maintain a healthy and active senior lifestyle:

7 Ways to Maintain an Active Senior Lifestyle


Exercise classes/groups

What better way to lead an active retirement than to break a sweat? Many senior-living communities offer a plethora of exercise and fitness classes like tai chi, weight training, and walking groups. At Five Star, we partner with Ageility, an AlerisLife operating division that focuses on rehab and fitness classes for older adults. Classes and groups are often on a set schedule. Communities make signing up a breeze so you can get to work and even meet some new friends.


Put that green thumb to work by digging into the joys of gardening. Spending time tending to homegrown fruits and vegetables is a perfect way to not only get you off the couch, but also outside. Gardening is also easy to weave into any routine, as plants usually only need to be tended to once in the morning and once in the evening. Many senior living communities offer garden clubs or resident gardens where you can get started. Zucchini, lettuce, and tomatoes are a few great options for beginning gardeners. Herbs like chives, oregano, parsley are also great options and can be grown inside with ease!


As one of the best exercises out there, swimming is an excellent exercise for active older adults. The resistance of the water makes you use your whole body, keeps your heart rate up, and helps build endurance. There are a lot of Five Star communities that have swimming pools inside the community grounds, but if there isn’t one, be sure to ask your community’s team members if there are recreation centers nearby that you could use.

Senior Clubs

Staying active in retirement isn’t all about weight lifting and cardio. Senior living communities like Five Star have many activities including clubs, which are a great way to have fun both on and off your feet. Channel your inner thespian with theater groups or lead great discussions at book clubs. There’s also social clubs like men or women’s clubs, tea time, and game clubs. Each community offers different activities, but you’re guaranteed to find a club that you’ll look forward to attending.

Classes for older adults

If you love to learn, signing up for a class offered at your senior living community is a great way to stay active. Classes can range from poetry writing and charcoal sketching to learning a new language and dancing. With set times each week, classes can be a great workout for your mind, body, and soul. Check out your community’s monthly activities calendar to see what classes are available or ask your Lifestyle 360 director for more information.

Playing video games

You read that right. Believe it or not, with systems like the Nintendo Wii and the Nintendo Switch, you can go bowling with a friend, compete in olympic style games, and dance to music all at your own pace. Many communities come equipped with gaming systems that are easy to use and make for hours of fun. The best part is you can set your own schedule because staying active with video games is as easy as pressing on the power button.

Getting a pet

It would be hard to list all the benefits of having a pet, but let’s just say there’s quite a few! Having a pet keeps you active as you nurture and care for your four-legged friend. Most Five Star communities are pet friendly so you can enjoy your pet, as well as your friend’s pets. Having a pet like a dog can give you a great reason to get up and go for a refreshing walk in the morning to start your day.

Join Other Active Seniors at Five Star

When it comes to active senior living, Five Star communities have you covered. Every Five Star community has a Lifestyle360 director and a robust activities calendar that offers new and regular programs, events, and activities each month. Be sure to check out your community’s calendar or join the resident council to voice your thoughts on what the calendar should include.

Take Steps Toward an Active Retirement Today

AlerisLife and Five Star communities believe a person’s quality of life is ageless. At Five Star communities, we offer a wide range of senior living options built with a high level of service and sense of community. Contact us to find a senior living community near you.

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AlerisLife’s Five Star Senior Living and MIT AgeLab announce OMEGA scholarship recipients

Five students from across the country were each awarded $5,000 toward their college tuition as part of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology AgeLab’s OMEGA scholarship, an annual program sponsored by Five Star Senior Living, a division of AlerisLife.

What is the MIT OMEGA Scholarship?

The OMEGA scholarship—which stands for Opportunities for Multigenerational Exchange, Growth, and Action—recognizes students for their impeccable leadership efforts in their local schools and communities to foster intergenerational connections. Additionally, each of the five scholarship recipients will receive an extra $1,000 to support their programs.

2022 OMEGA Scholarship Winners

Through their efforts, each scholarship recipient has made a positive impact on older adults, some working directly with Five Star Senior Living communities. The 2022 OMEGA scholarship winners are:

Maya Lall, senior, Holton-Arms School in Bethesda, Md. Maya founded and serves as executive director of “Students Supporting Seniors,” which provides older adults with technology support through video demonstrations, virtual and in-person troubleshooting, and technology courses at local senior living communities, including Five Star Premier Residences of Chevy Chase.

Cora Funk, senior, Valor Collegiate Academy, Nashville, Tenn. After attending a 2020 OMEGA Summit at Five Star’s Fieldstone Place, Cora developed “Students Connecting with Seniors,” a club connecting local high school students with older adults in the Nashville community. SCS primarily partners with FiftyForward, a local nonprofit organization.

Maya Joshi, senior, Walter Payton College Preparatory High School, Chicago, Ill. Maya is the president and founder of a chapter-based nonprofit “Lifting Hearts with the Arts,” which connects older adults and youth for arts-based one-on-one activities as well as group programming including trivia, art lessons, and tai chi.
Steven Yang, senior, Wayzata High School in Plymouth, Minn. Steven is founder and president of “Zenith,” which trains high school student volunteers to teach tai chi classes in local residential and assisted living communities.

Michael Wilson, now a student at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, Terre Haute, Ind. Michael coordinated a local chapter of the Arizona Old Time Fiddlers Association. His program, “Bridging the Gap through Music” fosters intergenerational interactions through acoustic music jams and performances. He is also a lead speaker, singer, and mandolin player in an intergenerational band “Six Gal ‘n Hat,” which often plays music for older adults in local events.

Creating opportunities for Students and Seniors

Sponsoring the OMEGA scholarship is one of the many ways AlerisLife and Five Star continue to provide services to the lives of older adults.

“At AlerisLife, and at each of our Five Star communities, our mission is to enrich and inspire the journey of life, one experience at a time,” said Zehra Abid-Wood, Senior Vice President of Strategy and Transformation at AlerisLife. “This exceptional group of students has displayed great empathy, respect, and leadership by spearheading initiatives in their communities to better the day-to-day lives of older adults. Their innovation and commitment to building intergenerational friendships is admirable and consistent with our company’s mission and values. We are proud to support the MIT AgeLab’s OMEGA scholarship awards program and look forward to following each of these students’ continued success.”

Explore Senior Living Options with Five Star

AlerisLife and Five Star communities believe a person’s quality of life is ageless. Our Five Star senior living communities offer a wide range of senior living options built with a high level of service, sense of community, and true independence.

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