Cyber Monday Gift Ideas for Seniors

by Pamela Atwood, MA, CDP, CLL

Happy Thanksgiving. In case you haven’t noticed ~ the holidays have started. Negative political ads have been replaced by holiday “needs” in a nearly-constant bombardment of commercials, while Facebook-ers debated whether or not to shop on Thanksgiving. I think shopping for me would be much more pleasurable if I had a good sense of what each person on my list really wanted. As I was thinking last Friday of the “deals” I was surely missing as work trumped Black Friday, it struck me that you might like a list of ideas for those on your list who are elderly or living in Assisted Living or Nursing Homes. For a complete list of ideas and resources, visit and scroll down to “Your Personal Consultant.”

Hobby & Leisure – there are great resources available for everything from adapted puzzles to games and reading. The puzzles should always be age-appropriate (not childlike), and suitable for the current ability – from 4 or 6 pieces to 50 pieces. Magnetic puzzles with stands are great for those with neck problems. For reading, my newest resource is based in solid research from a physician and speech/language pathologist: This product has adapted graphics and photos, plus reading content tailored to various abilities — people with advanced dementia may still be able to read! Games which spark memories, use contrast and easy to manipulate materials are available at, and

Cognitive Fitness – books, activity cards, games and software are available in all shapes and sizes. offers the Whole Brain Workout series. Resources throughout the web offer products such as “Connect: Memory Enhancing Game” which can be used in a number of ways to improve neuronal flexibility for all abilities.

Physical Fitness – being confined to a wheel chair does not mean you should quit being active. Some of the best exercise videos are now available at very little cost. Enjoying yoga, aerobics and stretching and strengthening is now possible in your own living room or day room. Check out, and the award winning PBS special

Quality of Life – No one should have to watch garbage television, wonder where the family is or be isolated because of changes in communication. A communication book, talking photo album or alternative TV program would improve quality of life for all., and can provide ideas for any gift giving budget.

If you order through Amazon, sign up for AmazonSmile and add Hebrew Health Care as your charity: a % of your total will be donated so your gift is twice as nice.  Thank you, and Happy Holidays!


What Should I look for in an Assisted Living Community?

By Joan Carney, Vice President, Hebrew Life Choices and Executive Director,  Hoffman SummerWood Community and Valerie Bartos, Director of Community Relations, Hoffman SummerWood Community

What are Assisted Living Communities and are they alike?

Assisted Living Communities provide rental housing for older adults. In addition to housing, they also provide personalized care and supportive services. Examples of personalized care include assistance with bathing or dressing and medication management. Among the supportive services that are offered are meals, housekeeping, transportation, and activities. In the state of Connecticut, assisted living communities must be registered as managed residential communities (MRCs), with an assisted living services agency (ALSA) providing personal care services. The ALSA is licensed and regulated by the Department of Public Health.

How are Assisted Living Communities different?

Assisted Living Communities can be owned by for-profit organizations or by service-driven entities. Some communities are one of many, while others are unique and one of a kind. Assisted living communities can vary greatly with regard to pricing, amenities, staffing, services offered and overall philosophy. Some communities provide specialized services for memory care. Though most assisted living communities are private pay, some communities participate in a Connecticut pilot project which pays for some of the cost through Medicaid.

How do I know if Assisted Living is right for my loved one?

If your loved one is having difficulty with preparing meals, bathing or dressing, managing medications, shopping or getting to medical appointments, or just having trouble taking care of their home, assisted living may be the answer. Often, the real question is not so much “Is assisted living the solution?” but rather “Which assisted living community is the right one for my loved one?” Here are some helpful tips:

  • Visit more then one community during your search, and on different days, to learn what programs and services are offered at each.

  • Ask what makes the community different from other communities and ask about the longevity of their key staff, as this is a good indicator of level of commitment.

  • Meet other residents who live there and ask to speak with family members of residents; they can be a very helpful resource.

  • Inquire about having your loved one spend an afternoon, dine with the members, and participate in some programs to get a better feel for the community.     

In addition to utilizing  Hoffman SummerWood Community ( as a resource in your search for assisted living, The Connecticut Assisted Living Association ( and the Assisted Living Federation of America ( offer a wealth of information for the consumer.

Helping Others with Their Bucket Lists

How many times have you seen the bumper sticker “I’d rather be fishing” or “A bad day of fishing is better than a good day of work”? – well, I need to find one for a wheel chair…

Four years ago, our CEO, Bonnie Gauthier said, “I had a thought…”  I know that means I should go running from the office, but for some reason I stayed. She gave me the opportunity to manage our recreation department, which would split my attention from my passion of dementia care, but would help the organization with some needed culture change. I knew I could do the job (my first job in health care was in recreation), but my heart was torn. I came up with my pros/cons and shared my ideas with Bonnie. In her usual “go, go, go” fashion, she met all of my conditions (which makes it sound like I really did harsh negotiating… yeah, right). The first suggestion I had was to change the name of the department from recreation to Life Enrichment. Knowing the team of therapeutic recreation directors (TRDs), I knew that’s what they did, what they do – it’s not just about games. It’s beyond bingo. They enrich the lives of the residents, even if those people prefer solitude. Life Enrichment is more than activities – the therapeutic part isn’t always about physical challenge or cognitive fitness. Our clients are mostly over age 80, and they’ve done so many things in their lives. So how can we really enrich their LIVES (as opposed to their life in the moment)? Sometimes it’s about therapy for the soul. We’ve discovered that when we help people with their “bucket lists” (current slang for doing the things one wants to do before he/she “kicks the bucket”), we truly enrich lives.

Enter “Theo” (not his real name). Theo was a rich man – not in wealth but in love. He had many people who cared for him over the years, and he cared for many. He was a Hebrew Health Care volunteer before he became a resident. He is a volunteer still – he helps other residents, his nurses, his aides. He’s a special man. He asks for nothing – he’s a simple person with basic needs. And he’s never been fishing — not ever. He grew up in the CT River Valley and never fished, but always wanted to.  Yesterday, he checked off one more thing from his bucket list, thanks to Rob from Plant Operations.

Rob approached us in early spring asking if we would ever think of going fishing. At this point, we are all females in the department and I’m the only one who has ever baited a hook. Sounded like a good idea to us though! Dawn and Marina (two of our TRDs) worked with Rob and a male certified nurse aide and they planned for weeks – they scoped out an appropriate fishing hole, got fishing licenses for all the residents and staff who were going, they rearranged appointments, planned early breakfasts, lunch at a terrific greasy spoon, and we all brought in our extra rods/reels. I even picked up crawlers and worms on my way to work (I had a meeting, so I was dressed for work… got some odd looks… let them wonder).  After several days of rain, the sun was shining (fisher-folks will know that’s not ideal conditions for fishing), and out they went yesterday morning. Theo and four other male residents headed out in our bus to a secret fishing spot with a handicapp accessible dock.

After an hour of nibbles, stripping the hooks, guess who caught the first fish? You bet! Theo caught the first of several fish, all of which were tossed back to nibble on another hook tomorrow. On my way out of the office yesterday I saw one of the other gentlemen and his daughter sitting in our garden. He was telling her about his day. She said, “He’s 100 and I’ve never seen him happier” as he told her how big his fish was… “thiiiiiis big.” 

But the best part was the joy among the staff!  It is intensely rewarding to help someone with his or her bucket list items. I’m convinced there are few greater joys in life. And I’m pretty sure that Rob, Dawn, Darnell & Marina (the staff who coordinated and went on this outing) slept peacefully last night. They brought such delight to the guys with this trip. It was a lot of work to plan, some anxiety beforehand, but it went off without a hitch, with the best outcomes possible – ear to ear smiles on the faces of five men who have given and worked and shared all their lives. That’s the essence of job satisfaction. And that’s Life Enrichment. (Thanks team – you’re wonderful!)