Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Dementia and the Holidays

As fun as the coming holidays can be, they can be packed with hazards for people with dementia. It means caregivers and families need to be especially vigilant about the safety.

Many decorations look like food and may even smell like the real thing. For instance, a Christmas tree decoration that looks like a gingerbread man may be even scented with gingerbread smell—making doubly appealing to try to eat. Other small decorations can be choking hazards. Artificial fruits, vegetables and nuts can look very real.

Candles that smell like pumpkin or apple pie can be a fire hazard if tipped over if a person 
reaches into it. Poinsettia leaves, contrary to popular belief, are not poisonous—but they will make a resident nauseated if he or she eats them.

People with dementia need routines—the same activities, in the same place, at the same time. Families should consider this carefully before deciding to take a loved one home for a holiday. The excitement, the car ride, change in surroundings and many people talking can cause the confused person with dementia to become agitated or upset.

Here are some tips for family members planning to take a loved one home for a holiday.


  • Plan ahead. Let the facility staff know several days ahead so they have time to obtain medications and clothes.
  • Allow extra time for everything, don’t rush the person.
  • Try to keep as much as possible to their daily routine.
  • Use ribbon instead of sharp hooks when hanging decorations.
  • Holly and mistletoe can be poisonous and berries pose a choking hazard.
  • Begin new traditions by letting another family be the host but try to go to a place familiar to your loved one.  
  • Assign tasks to other family members so you do not become overloaded and stressed, which in turn causes your loved one to be stressed.
  • Provide a nap before festivities. If you know the day will be long, you may want to attend only the most important part of the event.
  • Plan for a quiet place for your loved one to go to if he or she becomes overwhelmed.
  • Avoid alcohol.
  • Be aware of their diet and diet restrictions. Cut up food into small bites.
  • Let your loved one know who is coming to visit.
  • Have visitors and family call ahead to determine best time to visit.
  • Small groups of visitors or family is advisable. Have them wear name tags as this might help with recognition.
  • Reintroduce yourself as necessary. “Mary, my name is Betty.” And when she asks, “Are you my granddaughter?” say “yes” and shake her hand and act very comfortable about this introduction.
  • If your loved one begins talking about the past, try not to reorient him or tell him he is wrong. Enter his reality and live his truth. Ask about the past memory.
  • Reminisce about the past.
  • Play holiday music familiar to your loved one.
  • Read holiday cards aloud.
  • Stuff stockings, watch a holiday video, look at family slides or pictures or albums, read scriptures, etc.
The Kitchen
  • Monitor your loved one while in the kitchen.
  • Give your loved one task to help with baking or decorating. Try baking cookies, making pudding, folding napkins, polishing silver, etc.
  • Always check the microwave before turning on in case something was put in that is flammable.
  • Check all trash cans before throwing out garbage
  • Don’t leave your loved one in the car or in the front of the store.  If you can’t take them in with you, try to arrange for someone to stay with your loved one.
  • Shop during hours when stores are less crowded.
  • Dress your loved one in a bright yellow shirt which is easy to see if you become separated. Be sure they have a purse or wallet with identification.
  • Shop in smaller stores rather than the mall.
  • People with dementia should never travel alone. Hire a personal care aid to travel if a family member is unable to accompany the resident.
  • Be aware of balconies and other hazards in hotels.
  • Travel may not be appropriate even with a companion if the person has:
  1. Consistent disorientation or agitation in familiar settings
  2. Wanting to go home when away from home on short visits
  3. Delusional, paranoid, aggressive or disinhibited behavior
  4. Problems managing continence
  5. Teary, anxious, withdrawn behavior in crowded, noisy settings
  6. Agitated or wandering behavior
Additional resources for caregivers.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Curried Lentil & Carrot Soup

One of the challenges of living with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) or high blood pressure is maintaining a low sodium diet. Just because you have to limit your sodium intake doesn't mean you have to eat bland, boring food.

Our Pathways Recipe of the Month is Curried Lentil and Carrot Soup from a staff member in our Foundation department. This savory soup takes very little time to make, is very flavorful, and is healthy all around. It's a win-win recipe in my book!

If you have trouble finding red lentils, check your local health food store like Whole Foods, or an Indian market. I found them in Target in the ethnic foods aisle.

Curried Lentil and Carrot Soup

1 tablespoon oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 large carrots, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup red lentils
2 teaspoons curry powder
4 cups low sodium vegetable or chicken broth
1 bay leaf
4 cardamom pods (optional)
3/4 cup coconut milk or evaporated milk
1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 2 tablespoons water

In a Dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat. Saute onion and carrot until onions begin to color. Add lentils, curry powder, broth, bay leaf, cardamom pods, and coconut milk. Bring to a boil and then lower heat and simmer for about 15-20 minutes or until lentils are soft. Remove the bay leaf and cardamom pods (which should be floating on or near the surface).

At this point, you can either use an immersion blender to puree the soup, or you can leave all the chunks. Increase heat under the soup to high and add the cornstarch slurry (or as much as you need to get the soup to the right consistency for you). Top with sour cream if desired.

Serves 4.

By Mandi Cacioppo

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Avocado Salsa, Low on Sodium but High in Flavor!

Pathways is starting a recipe of the month post on our blog to promote a healthy living lifestyle. Each month will feature an original healthy recipe from our employees. To start us off, I am presenting a recipe titled "Se├▒ora's Avocado Salsa".

You will need the following ingredients:

1 package (16 oz) frozen corn, thawed
1 can (15 oz) black beans (look for low sodium)
1 medium sweet red pepper, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
3 fresh tomatoes, chopped
3 garlic cloves, diced
1/4 cup lime juice
3 tablespoons cider or white vinegar
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon or less salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
4 medium ripe avocados

In a large bowl, combine corn, black beans, red pepper, onion, cilantro and tomatoes. In a small bowl, whisk together the garlic, lime juice, vinegar, oregano, salt and pepper.

Mix well. Pour over corn mixture and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Just before serving, chop avocados and stir into salsa. Serve with low sodium tortilla chips or as a side dish. Yield about 7 cups. Tip - if you place the avocado pit into the salsa, the avocados won't turn brown.

This is delicious. I was hesitant about a salsa with no spicy peppers in it, but this is really tasty. I tried it in tacos and it's great because you also get all the healthy benefits of the tasty veggies in the salsa. Next time I would add a bit less garlic because it was really strong, but that depends on your preference. I also added green onions because I prefer them in my salsa instead of a regular onion.

By Mandi Cacioppo, Sr. Marketing & Communications Coordinator at Pathways Home Health and Hospice. Recipe credit goes to my cousin Lynn Fors.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Living the Low Salt Life as a Heart Failure Patient

When you have heart failure, it is important to decrease the amount of sodium in your diet. Salt acts like a sponge, making your body hold on to extra water.

Eating too much of it can cause weight gain, increased blood pressure, make legs and feet swell and cause water to go to the lungs.  This makes your heart work harder and worsens heart failure systems. 

Check with your doctor to see how much salt you can have in a day. Most doctors recommend less than 2,000 milligrams (mg) or salt each day.

How much salt in a teaspoon?
  • 1 teaspoon of salt = 2000 mg of sodium
  • 1 teaspoon of baking soda = 821 mg of sodium
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder = 339 mg of sodium

Read food labels to help figure out how much salt is in the food. A good rule of thumb is to choose foods with less than 250 mg of sodium per serving.

Remember, a serving size is not necessarily an entire container of food. If a can contains 3 servings and you eat the whole can, multiply the sodium per serving by 3.

Read the Label - Serving Sizes

  •  A can of soup has 300 mg of sodium per serving
  • The can has 2 servings.
  • You eat the whole can, or 2 servings.
  • So you would have 300 mg x 2 or 600 mg of sodium.
Compare salt (sodium) in foods you eat often, especially processed foods like soup, lunch meat, cheese and frozen meals.  Sort the foods into higher or lower sodium groups.

To lower your sodium intake, stop adding salt to food during cooking. Try taking the salt shaker off the table and add other seasonings to add flavor such as lemon juice, onion or garlic power, or herbs.

Avoid high sodium foods like canned foods, hot dogs, cheese and cheese spreads, deli meats, bacon,  ketchup, soy sauce, salad dressings, barbecue sauce, and frozen meals that are high in sodium.

Replace high sodium foods with fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, low fat milk, reduced sodium cheese and cereals low in sodium. When you go out to eat, choose food on the menu marked “healthy choice” or “low sodium”. Ask for sauces and salad dressings “on the side” and ask the waiter for low salt recommendations.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Pathways participates in SVGives May 6th Campaign

Pathways Home Health & Hospice is participating in the one-day SVGives campaign. You should start seeing social media promotions from numerous non-profits that serve residents in the San Francisco Bay Area about this event. SVGives is scheduled for May 6th.   

Here is a brief video that explains what SVGives is and how through the power of coming together, we can bring services and comfort to those who need it the most in our communities.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Tales of Love and Loss: Sharing the Past with Jeannine

"With calm conviction, and a touch of regret, she looked me in the eye and declared that everyone has a story to tell. She felt that such a significant task as preserving that knowledge should never be delayed until it is too late."

Hospice volunteers often listen to patients and their stories. One Pathways volunteer, Christy Yuen, chronicled the story of Jeannine. 

This week is volunteer appreciation week. Pathways would like to formerly applaud all of our volunteers who help our patient’s tell their stories. Thank you for giving your time and attention to other human beings when they need it the most.

Jeannine, an 89 year-old French lady, knew her days were numbered. More than anything, she wished to put her memories down on paper. I visited her three times before she suddenly passed away. During those special hours as I typed, her accented voice whisked us back into history… 

Like the children in C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, I found myself in a world of adventure and war, love and loss. Pausing occasionally to clarify the spelling of a French name, Jeannine spoke for hours about her ancestors and their lives in France. She told stories of war, including her time as a resistance fighter in World War II, and of her father, a pilot, crossing over enemy territory on dangerous missions. She told stories of tragedy; stillborn babies, deaths from tuberculosis and pneumonia, and widows and orphans left behind by war. She remembered how elderly folks were forced to sleep on hard wooden floors in the wintertime while invading soldiers occupied their homes.

She also told stories of the human spirit, recalling how her uncle, a chef, made piping hot French fries for hordes of hungry children who waited on the streets for their parents to return home from working late. She described independent wives who rejected their alcoholic, skirt-chasing husbands in favor of raising their children alone and successfully running their own businesses. 

 Humor was frequently woven into her stories, such as the young woman who duped her boyfriend into marrying her, and a village that fooled the occupying enemy soldiers by playing a trick involving a sacrificed pig.

Interspersed throughout her monologues were heartfelt remarks about today’s world. She spoke with ease and fluidity about changing gender roles, the difficulty of learning a foreign language, intolerance towards homosexuals, and the importance of understanding cultural differences. She lambasted the government with characteristic poise and clarity in one breath, while bemoaning the loss of children’s innocence in the next. She remarked on the lack of opportunities for “kids to just be kids.” 

When she spoke about the physical, social, and psychological devastation of ongoing wars, her wise eyes would become rimmed with sadness. “We have not learned the lessons of the past,” she would say, slowly shaking her head.

Unfortunately, Jeannine and I did not get to finish her memoirs. I often remember something she told me at our first visit. With calm conviction, and a touch of regret, she looked me in the eye and declared that everyone has a story to tell. She felt that such a significant task as preserving that knowledge should never be delayed until it is too late.

For the privilege of sharing in her memories, for the insight she dispensed with such wit and character, and for all the reminders of what is truly important in life, I would like to thank Jeannine. Merci Beaucoup.


Thursday, March 20, 2014

A Hospice Volunteer Breaks Barriers with Bubbles

by Sherry Rayner, Pathways Hospice Volunteer

Pathways Volunteer Sherry RaynerThe most heart wrenching yet fulfilling cases I’ve had as a Hospice volunteer has been with Pathways KIDS. During this time, I have learned that flexibility is the key and there is always a way to communicate.

My last case was with a Vietnamese family in East San Jose. Their youngest son, Jefferson Vu, was a 4-month-old patient who had a rare genetic disease. My job was to entertain his energetic 3-year-old brother, Truman, so their mother, Tam Vu, could get some much-needed rest and tend to her baby without interruption.

My initial contact by telephone was with the father, Ho Vu, who spoke English fluently. I knew he would be away when I visited each week. My concern was how I would communicate with the patient’s mother and brother, as I knew their English was limited.

As my first visit approached, I felt both anxious and excited. I carried a huge canvas tote bag filled with lots of toys, books and videos. Upon knocking on the front door of their condo, I was greeted by a sweet, smiling young woman and her active and excited 3-year-old son, Truman. Leaving my shoes at the door with families, I was graciously welcomed in.

I was then introduced to their precious baby boy, Jefferson. He was lying very still on a pink satin pillowcase in the middle of their big bed. In direct contrast to the rambunctious Truman, Jefferson was very still, tiny and fragile. He sounded like a wounded baby kitten when he cried. When he opened his eyes you saw big brown eyes looking back at you. His face would light up with the most radiant smile when spoken to softly.

Meanwhile, Truman anxiously eyed my canvas bag to see what I’d brought. Not being able to contain his curiosity any longer, we opened the bag. Out came a small nerf ball and a suction – cupped basketball hoop to put on their closet door. Truman was soon animation in action as he jumped and leaped trying to make a basket. When he made a basket, his Mom and I would clap with joy. During this time, Jefferson, the baby, slept soundly. There were two completely different worlds going on in one small bedroom.

Each week Truman would discover a new item in the canvas bag. Soon, he was helping me carry the bag up the stairs. The biggest hit of all was the “Bubble Machine.” Truman and I would go outside to the porch and play with a battery-operated bubble machine. At the flick of a switch, hundreds of tiny iridescent bubbles filled the air. Soon an excited little boy, ran, jumped, and squealed with joy. The smile on his face was only outdone by the sound of his giggles. He’d race around trying to catch every bubble, breaking it or holding it, letting them crash into him with glee. Needless to say he was hooked on the bubble machine and caught me by surprise when in English he’d ask for bubbles every visit.

One particular week, we were lying looking through his English/Vietnamese Kids Picture Dictionary when he focused on the medical page. He quickly pulled up his pant leg and showed me his scratch. I then showed him a scar I had on my leg. Much to my surprise he leaned over and kissed my “boo boo.” Tears welled up in my eyes as I held him and said, “Thank you, it’s all better now.” I was no longer worried about how we would communicate.

We played together for six months and in January 2007 Jefferson peacefully passed on, at home, in his mother’s loving arms with his brother and Daddy close by. What a cherished journey, never to be forgotten. I’ve learned there are always ways to reach out, but never imagined a bubble machine would be one of them.

About Sherry Rayner

Sherry Rayner has volunteered with Pathways Hospice for over 20 years. With her art teacher education and professional graphic design experience, Sherry is known for the creativity that she brings to her volunteer work. She began volunteering with Pathways after raising a family, care giving for several family members and volunteering with several other organizations. Known for brightening the days of patients of all ages, Sherry has recently specialized in the unique concerns of Pathways KIDS and their families.