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Holiday Guide for Senior Caregivers

November is Family Caregiver Month, a time to celebrate and acknowledge the tremendous effort family caregivers put into caring for their loved ones around the clock.

November also marks the beginning of the holiday season. For most, the holidays are a care-free vacation away from daily life and work meant to celebrate time honored traditions and to spend time with extended family. For a caregiver of an elderly loved one, the holidays can be an additional stress to an already challenging 24/7 job.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 2 million seniors suffer from some form of depression. The holidays can often intensify these feelings of sadness and despair due to severe health complications or the loss of a spouse or close companion. As a caregiver, it can be challenging to manage the mental, physical and emotional well-being of your aging family member while also trying to relax and enjoy the holidays yourself.

We’ve created a guide to help caregivers navigate and enjoy the holiday season, while including your elderly loved ones in activities that will be special and uplifting for both of you.  

1. Know the Signs of Depression in the Elderly

It’s important to be able to recognize signs of depression in the elderly, especially around the holidays. Although there are many ways to assist and encourage a depressed senior, any form of depression should be assessed and treated by a medical professional. 


  • Emotions:


An elderly person with depression may exhibit signs of irritability, anxiety, inappropriate guilt and feelings of worthlessness, sadness, or helplessness. These emotions may intensify over the holidays, especially if your loved one has recently experienced a decline in their health or the loss of a spouse or companion.


  • Behavior:


Even if your loved one doesn’t tell you how they’re feeling, changes in behavior can indicate that they are depressed. Loss of interest in daily activities, irresponsible behaviors, or a decline in personal hygiene are all red flags to look out for.


  • Physical changes:


Your loved one may complain of fatigue, loss of appetite, weight loss, headaches, backaches and digestive issues, all of which are physical manifestations of depression.

2. Plan Ahead and Adapt Holiday Activities for the Elderly

Including your elderly loved one in holiday activities can help raise their spirits throughout the holiday, especially if they are depressed. Remember to schedule activities with your loved one ahead of time to avoid causing unnecessary stress or confusion. Always leave time for peace and quiet for both you and your senior family members.  


  • Preparation:


Giving your loved one small repetitive tasks within their ability can help make holiday preparation more enjoyable for both of you. Below are a few simple activities you should consider putting on the calendar for your loved one this holiday season:


  • Making cookies
  • Holiday shopping
  • Decorating
  • Wrapping gifts


  • Outings:

Sometimes, as a caregiver, you might assume that your elderly loved ones are too tired or fragile to go on outings, but there are many holiday outings that they could still enjoy.

First, ask whether your loved one has any old holiday traditions that they miss and try to work those traditions into this holiday season. Maybe they used to go to a tree-lighting festival with their spouse or to the ballet with their parents. Tapping into these memories is a great way to share in something that is special to your loved one. If they don’t have any beloved traditions to share, make new traditions such as:

  • Volunteering

Volunteering is a great way for seniors to feel like they are a part of something bigger than themselves during the holidays. As a caregiver, try to find volunteer opportunities that balance contribution and the potential for fatigue. 

Sharing Tree is an Oklahoma City non-profit that serves families in need by providing a “dignified shopping experience at no cost”. Sharing Tree has four branches and a variety of volunteer opportunities, so it’s a great choice for seniors who may be limited in what activities they are able to do. To contact Sharing Tree about volunteering, call Donna Robison at 405-634-2006.

  • Shows

Holiday shows are the perfect outing for seniors with limited mobility who might enjoy an activity in which they can remain seated. Oklahoma City offers a variety of holiday shows including the OKC Ballet’s Nutcracker and Lyric’s A Christmas Carol, both of which offer multiple show times throughout December.

  • Festivals

Oklahoma City offers many options for holiday festivities throughout November and December – options that are fun for the entire family. These outings allow your elderly loved one to connect with the younger generations in your family while celebrating the season. 

Stroll (or ride o the canal boats) through Bricktown to see the Canal Lights, visit the Red Earth Tree Fest to discover and celebrate local Native American traditions or check out the Downtown Historic Church Tour to remember the reason for the season. No matter what your loved one’s abilities or interests, there is a local holiday event that you can enjoy together.

  • Workshops

If your elderly loved one is crafty and wants to learn something new, try attending a seasonal workshop together. 

Edmond Fine Arts institute offers a special opportunity for seniors with dementia. “Coffee & Creativity” is an art therapy class offered every first Monday of the month. This event partners with the Alzheimer’s Association to provide art therapy to seniors and a relaxing cup of coffee for their caregivers. 

  • At-Home Activities:

If your loved one is unable to go on outings or would prefer to stay home during cold weather, there are still plenty of ways to connect with them and make the holidays feel special. First, ask about their favorite holiday traditions, memories and stories from their childhood or years past. Often, seniors who are depressed during the holidays are mourning a spouse, family member, or friend that they have lost. In this case, try to engage in activities that celebrate those who have passed, such as scrapbooking, telling stories about them together or preparing their favorite food. Acknowledging and celebrating loved ones who have passed can be comforting and make a positive emotional connection to the current holiday season.

3. Learn How to Talk to Seniors Suffering from Depression

Sometimes the most important way to help a depressed senior over the holidays is simply to communicate with them in a way that conveys empathy, love and patience. Follow these quick tips when communicating with your elderly loved ones this holiday:

  • Listen

One big contributor to depression in seniors is isolation. Seniors spend a lot of time alone. Over the holidays, take advantage of your time together to ask them about how they are doing and actively listen to their emotions, frustrations and stories.

  • Acknowledge their feelings

If your loved one is sometimes confused or irritable, it can be easy to write off their emotions but, steer clear of these assumptions. It is important to verbally acknowledge feelings. If your loved one tells you they are too tired to participate in a full day of festivities, acknowledge that their fatigue is valid and offer a quiet place for them to rest. 

  • Try not to give advice

While giving advice can feel like the helpful thing to do, it may be ill-received by the senior in your life. Instead, listen intently and ask open-ended questions to show that you care. Help your loved one by letting them talk openly about their frustrations. 

  • Be patient and encouraging

Always be patient and encouraging, remembering that the holidays can be stressful and exhausting for seniors. With each interaction, try to lessen the negative emotions that they may be experiencing.

At Grace Living Centers, we recognize that each person in our care is unique. We strive to consider their feelings, hopes and frustrations in everything that we do. We hope that this caregiver’s guide to the holidays helps you enjoy this holiday season with your elderly loved ones while helping them through bouts of seasonal depression. 

Unfortunately, many seniors do no live near their families and are unable to spend the holidays with loved ones. These seniors can truly benefit from the kindness of people in our community. If you would like to make a positive difference in the life of a senior this holiday by donating your time or a thoughtful gift, contact us at Grace Living Centers to learn more about Adopting a Senior.


Stories of Success: Physical Therapy

Most of us take for granted our ability to get out of bed in the morning, walk independently, or manage our own hygiene but, when these small freedoms are taken away, it can be devastating. In the event of an injury or complication that restricts overall mobility and physical function, it is very important to choose a physical therapy program that will support and motivate you or your loved one throughout the recovery process.

Grace’s skilled physical therapists and physical therapy assistants work under the direction of a coordinated plan of care developed for each person they see. Recognizing people as individuals with unique personalities, backgrounds and goals helps to motivate patients, reassure families and – hopefully – improve the potential for success as we strive to meet the goal of returning home with as much independence and mobility as possible. 

We recently sat down with two of our physical therapy professionals to ask them about their most memorable success stories at Grace Living Centers. Their stories are a testament to the incredible work of our physical therapy teams, as well as the unbelievable impact that physical therapy can have on the lives of our patients. 

Kim Kelley, Physical Therapy Assistant
Grace Living Center Bethany 

About four years ago, a patient came to Grace Living Center Bethany following a severe stroke that left her completely non-verbal, with no active movement in her body. Kim Kelley, the patient’s physical therapy assistant, admits that upon evaluating the patient, the expected outcome did not look positive. The team feared that the patient would not be able to recover and could end up in hospice care. 

Kim recalls that in the first few weeks of the patient’s treatment, she could barely even make eye contact with Kim and had no motivation to participate in her therapy. The patient’s therapy started out gradually, with goals like sitting up at the edge of the bed, sitting up in a wheelchair, standing balance, and reaching. During those weeks, the patient’s partner visited every day, offering positive motivation, giving her details on their home remodel, and even bringing their dogs to visit on weekends. On one particular visit, the patient’s partner mentioned to Kim that the patient was an avid golfer before her stroke. Kim saw an opportunity to connect with the patient and offered that if the patient completed all of her physical therapy work throughout the week, Kim would visit each Friday to play Wii golf with her. 

Immediately, Kim noticed a difference in the patient’s motivation and attitude. Quickly, Kim was able to focus on more practical exercises like making the bed, getting items out of the closet, and even practicing her golf swing! According to Kim, all it took was “reigniting her passion for something she loved” to give the patient hope that her therapy would pay off. 

Within about eight weeks, a patient who was not expected to recover at all met each of her personal therapy goals. Kim’s patient was able to return home, walking on her own and helping her partner with daily tasks like grocery shopping and cooking. Although her speech and fine motor skills are still slow, her progress is nothing short of incredible. 


Edelyn Conrad, Physical Therapist
The Springs, Muskogee – A Grace Living Center Community

Edelyn Conrad has been a physical therapist for 28 years. Of the facilities Edelyn has worked in, she personally believes Grace is “the company with the highest percentage of patients that actually get to go home.” In her long career, Edelyn has worked with many patients and has seen plenty of them recover and return home. However, one patient in particular stands out to Edelyn, someone who came to Grace with a severe back injury.

A man in his mid-fifties, this patient underwent multiple, painful back surgeries to try to repair a traumatic injury. However, his last surgery caused partial paralysis. Suddenly the patient found himself unable to walk, get out of bed or take care of himself. According to Edelyn, the patient came from a big family that was extremely supportive but all of them worked during the day. They simply could not manage the round-the-clock care that he needed. They were devastated and desperate for a long-term solution that would give him more independence and mobility. 

When this patient first arrived at The Springs, Edelyn sat down with him and his entire family to discuss what the patient wanted to achieve through his therapy. After listening to the goals of the patient, Edelyn mapped out their weekly goals for his specific program and educated both the patient and the family on the therapy process. 

Within two weeks of his arrival, Edelyn received a phone call from the patient’s physical therapy assistant that the patient was walking in the parallel bars by himself. She could not believe it! Less than a week later, he was walking independently with the help of a walker. 

According to Edelyn, the expectation for this kind of injury is about an eight to twelve week therapy program. With the help of his dedicated therapy team and supportive family, this patient was able to go home within six weeks. He is continuing his recovery with outpatient physical therapy which, he feels provides strong motivation to get out of the house on a regular basis.  

Edelyn believes success stories like this one are a team effort, made possible by the collaboration of therapists, nurses, staff and a supportive family that is educated on the process and equipped to help the patient through their recovery. After nearly thirty years of physical therapy experience, Edelyn is still inspired by what she does: “Physical therapy is not a profession. It is a calling. We feel good when we see a success story like that.” 

Choosing the right physical therapy facility can be overwhelming. At Grace, our physical therapists are invested in the well-being of our patients. We tailor our therapy to the individual needs and motivations of the patient and we focus on educating and involving the patient’s loved ones in order to create a strong support system throughout the recovery process. 

If you are seeking a physical therapy center for yourself or a loved one and would like to learn more about Grace Living Centers, call us today.


Stories of Success: Occupational Therapy

Bridges at Grace Living Center Brookwood. From left to right: Rita Hinderman, LPN; Christine (Chris) Lewis; Laura Arbetello; and Sylvia Smith, CNA.As our loved ones age, their risk of accident-related injuries, debilitating health problems and surgery complications increase. While it’s impossible to anticipate these occurrences, choosing the right rehabilitation therapy provider can offer an opportunity for the individual to regain as much of the ability they previously enjoyed as possible. At Grace Living Centers, our certified nurses and skilled therapists work with the patient and their family to develop individual therapy goals based on the patient’s abilities and needs. We strive to provide a positive rehabilitation environment that offers our patients motivation throughout the recovery process as they seek an optimal experience and outcome.

What is Occupational Therapy?

Occupational therapy, one of three primary skilled therapies offered at Grace, is focused on boosting the daily living skills and functional independence of our patients. Quality of life is improved as greater levels of function and independence are achieved while individuals participate in any or all of the three skilled specialties:

  1. Occupational Therapy – Focuses on the life skills and daily functions of the patient, including daily living activities, home and financial management, fine motor skills, safety, and patient/caregiver education.
  2. Physical Therapy – Focuses on the overall mobility and physical function of the patient, including strength, balance, cardiovascular health, and patient/caregiver education.
  3. Speech Language Pathology – Focuses on speech and cognition skills, including swallowing, auditory comprehension, oral expression, reasoning, thought organization, time/money management, and patient/caregiver education.

Our licensed occupational therapists and nurses treat our patients with care, respect, and dignity during a time that can often be frustrating and discouraging to individuals who are confronted by sudden changes in their abilities due to the health crisis they faced. Each therapy plan provides goals specific to the individual’s mobility, self-reliance, coordination, fine motor skills, strength, endurance, transfer skills, speech, language, and swallowing. 

What Sets Grace’s Occupational Therapy Apart?

• Positive Environment

As patients and therapists reflect on the therapy experience, they often cite a positive attitude as the biggest success factor in recovery. At Grace Living Centers, we strive to create an encouraging environment where our patients have the opportunity to thrive. One of our stand-out occupational therapy patients is an 84-year-old woman who came to Grace Living Center El Reno after suffering a stroke. According to her occupational therapist, Regina Emmons, the patient was almost entirely immobile when she arrived at Grace, with only minor movements in her right arm. In addition to her immobility, she was apprehensive about her therapy, because of an accident in which she was dropped by her caregivers during a hospital stay. However, thirty days into her therapy stay at Grace, she was sitting up in bed on her own and standing with minimal assistance. Now, the patient can dress herself and uses a walker to help her walk up and down the halls of Grace. 

Emmons was clear that her patient’s positive attitude was the driving force behind her tremendous recovery. “It was so her! She was by far my biggest success story,” Emmons said. 

Following her treatment, Emmons’ patient opted for long-term care at Grace Living Center El Reno, due in large part to the positive environment and care that she experienced throughout her therapy. 

• Therapy Focused on You

Bridges at Grace Living Center Brookwood: Christine (Chris) Lewis.When it comes to skilled therapy, every patient is unique. Individual therapy goals are based on a patient’s distinct abilities and needs, and adjusted based on their response to therapy. Goals are determined by certified therapists together with patients and family members.

Chris Lewis came to Bridges at Grace Living Center Brookwood after a series of seizures that left her unable to walk, stand, sit, or get dressed on her own. Like many of our patients, Chris needed assistance with everything she did. However, unlike most other patients, Chris had a unique need – she is blind. According to Chris’ occupational therapist, Laura Arbetello, blindness can be a huge obstacle in balance training, which was the main focus of Chris’ initial therapy. Chris needed a therapy plan to help her regain her balance and mobility while taking into account the unique challenge of being unable to use vision for guidance. Together, Chris and Laura created a therapy regimen that addressed all of Chris' individual needs. Now, Chris walks with a cane, has regained her mobility and was able to return home following her therapy. On her last day at Grace Living Center, they had a party to celebrate her recovery. Chris still comes back to visit from time to time. To this day, Laura calls Chris her “star patient."


Choosing the right occupational therapy facility can make a tremendous difference not only in the quality of care a patient receives, but also in the outcomes they can achieve. At Grace, we combine the highest quality care for the individual with a positive rehabilitation environment in order to give our patients their best opportunity at regaining independence following an accident, injury or stroke.

To learn more about our occupational therapy and skilled therapy services at Grace Living Centers, call us today.


The Difference Between Skilled Nursing and Long Term Care

What is a Skilled Nursing Facility? 

When a loved one is hurt or injured, helping them find the right care can be a difficult task. Addressing their current state of health takes precedence, and the next steps can fall from the forefront of a caregiver’s mind. 

The term “skilled nursing facility” is common, but the meaning isn’t always understood. Families often have many questions about what differentiates skilled nursing facilities from long-term care, who needs a skilled nursing facility, and what to look for when choosing a skilled nursing facility.

Skilled nursing facility vs. long-term care

“The first differentiating factors between skilled nursing facilities and long-term care are the duration of a patient’s stay and the services they need,” said Brian Kremeier, RN, marketing director for Grace Living Centers. 

“Skilled nursing facilities focus on rehabilitation and specialized nursing to help patients get back to their prior level of function when possible. Their stays can range from one to 100 days, although an average timeframe is less than 30 days.”

At skilled nursing facilities, skilled nursing and therapy staff strive to help patients meet their goals to improve or maintain their current conditions. The types of skilled nursing staff are registered nurses, licensed practical and vocational nurses, physical and occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, and audiologists. 

“Long-term care is for patients that can no longer live independently at home or in an assisted living center,” Brian said. “These patients typically need nursing care for 30 days or more.”

Who needs a skilled facility and why?

“Skilled nursing facility patients commonly have suffered from a fall, congestive heart failure, or other heart-related illnesses,” Brian said. “Those who have had a qualifying acute stay in a hospital and are covered by Medicare or private insurance with skilled benefits may qualify for skilled nursing facility services.”

A qualifying hospital stay is three consecutive stays in an acute hospital setting while being treated for a medical condition, according to Medicare.

What to look for in a skilled nursing facility

A patient or caregiver should consider many things when choosing a skilled nursing facility. Brian suggests looking at the following before deciding:

  • Location. Do patients need to be close to where friends and family live or work so they can visit frequently?
  • Ratings. Use Oklahoma Health Care Authority or the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to compare facilities. 
  • Provider. Is the skilled nursing facility a hospital provider?
  • Amenities and services. A patient’s needs determine if they require physical therapy, occupational therapy, or speech-language pathology
  • Room selection. Do they offer private or semi-private rooms? Some patients have a medical need for a private room, others might have a personal preference for private rooms, and some might prefer semi-private rooms for socialization during recovery.

“It’s recommended to tour prospective facilities or to meet with facility liaisons prior to admittance so that any questions can be answered,” Brian said. “These liaisons can also give assistance with admittance to the facility once a decision has been made.”

Choosing the right skilled nursing facility can be quite a task. Learning the differences between skilled nursing facilities and long-term care, who needs a skilled nursing facility, and what to look for when choosing a skilled nursing facility can help family members and caregivers make informed decisions. 

To learn more about Grace Living Centers facilities and skilled nursing facilities, give us a call today. 


The Benefits of Speech-Language Pathology

When a patient is referred to a speech language pathologist at a Grace Living Center or a Bridges at Grace skilled therapy center, some are confused, thinking, “I can speak just fine.” The misconception is that speech-language pathology – the field of expertise where clinicians evaluate and treat communication disorders – is often viewed as a help strictly for speech difficulty, possibly after a stroke, when in reality, it offers patients much, much more. 

To better understand how our therapy teams at Grace Living Center and Bridges communities help patients strive for an improved quality of life, we’ll discuss the variety of rehabilitation therapy services available and specifically, the role speech-language pathology plays in a patient’s recovery. 

What therapy services does Grace Living Centers offer?

At Grace Living Centers we offer our patients physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech-language pathology services. From building and strengthening muscles to improving balance, developing fine motor skills, improving cognition, and more, our team works to build the right program for each patient’s particular needs.

Our therapy services are offered at all Grace Living Center communities including our Bridges Skilled Rehabilitation units located at Altus (Plantation Village), Bethany, Brookwood, Clinton, Muskogee (The Springs), Norman and Tahlequah East Shawnee. “Our team works with patients that have undergone serious events — such as a stroke, dementia, surgery, or accident — and need to gain mobility, speech, or other aspects of their life back,” said Elizabeth Scully, MACCC SLP. 

One portion of that therapy is our speech-language pathology department, which works with patients, family members, and caregivers. 

What is speech-language pathology?

Speech-language pathologists, known as SLPs, work with patients to assess, diagnose, and treat speech, language, cognitive-communication, social communication, and swallowing disorders in both adults and children, according to the American Speech-Language Hearing-Association

What does speech-language pathology treat?

Patients in need of help from SLPs typically have trouble with speaking, thinking, writing, reading, listening, and even swallowing. 

“We work with our patients to get them to the level of abilities they were at before. Were they leading a Bible study? Did they cook their own food? We create a strategy tailored to them to get them back to a sense of normalcy,” Elizabeth said.

Speech-language pathologists will develop a comprehensive plan for disorders that includes identification, assessment, counseling, collaboration, education, and more. 


Speech disorders, or spoken language disorder (SLD), occurs in those with autism spectrum disorder, intellectual and developmental disabilities, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, traumatic brain injury, psychological or emotional disorders, and those with hearing loss. Patients with speech disorders have difficulty producing speech sounds or have problems with voice or resonance. Although speech is associated with the verbal form, typically an individual will suffer from written language disabilities as well. 


Written language disorder occurs in those with spoken language disorder, intellectual and emotional disabilities, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, deafness or hearing challenges, and autism spectrum disorder. This disorder is associated with difficulty with receptive language and expressive language such as thoughts, ideas, and feelings. 

Social Communication

Social communication disorders occur in all individuals with autism spectrum disorder, learning disabilities, language learning disabilities, intellectual disabilities, developmental disabilities, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or those that have suffered from traumatic brain injuries. This disorder causes difficulty with speech style and context, rules for linguistic politeness, emotional competence, understanding emotions, communicative intentions, body language, and eye contact are addressed. 


Although cognitive-communication disorders can be hereditary, these can usually occur after a patient suffers from a stroke, traumatic brain injury, or dementia. This disorder causes difficulty with memory, organization, attention, perception, and verbal and nonverbal communication. 


Dysphagia, commonly known as a swallowing disorder, typically follows after a patient has a stroke, brain or spinal cord injury, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease), muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer in the mouth, throat, or esophagus, injury involving the head or neck, and decayed or missing teeth or ill-fitting dentures. Solutions include exercises and strategies to improve swallowing and determining specific food or liquids that are easier to swallow for patients. 

Although speech-language pathologists work extensively with patients to improve their skills, they also work to educate the patients and patient caregivers about how to maintain or enhance a patient’s overall function after completing therapy at our facilities.  

“The skills we often take for granted are the ones we work towards with our patients,” Elizabeth said. “Imagine not being able to communicate your feelings or say what you’d like to eat or drink. It’s a rewarding part of our job when we see patients go from limited to no speech and then when they leave our facility, they’re speaking in full sentences.”

Interested in learning more about educational requirements for a speech language pathologist?

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, job growth for speech pathology is forecasted to increase by 21% from 2014 to 2024. For those interested in becoming Speech Language Pathologists, follow this link to learn more about the educational path you must follow to achieve your goal: Speech Language Degree Programs

To learn more about our speech therapy services at Grace Living Center communities, call the admissions coordinator at the location closest to you.