Gardening for the Greater Good

Sustainable Gardening and Agricultural Best Practices from Santa Barbara’s CEC and Lotusland

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Independent. Credit: Neslihan Gunaydin / Unsplash

The benefits of sustainable gardening and regenerative agriculture took the spotlight at a recent sustainability salon featuring Community Environmental Council (CEC) climate resilience program director Sharyn Main and Lotusland sustainability manager Corey Welles. Here are some of the nuggets they shared at the gathering in Belle Hahn’s beautiful garden on the Upper Eastside.

1) Change Can Happen:  After 32 years at Lotusland, Welles certainly has the dirt on the esteemed garden’s best practices in plant healthcare. “Lotusland wasn’t always a perfectly organic operation,” he admitted. “In the very beginning, it was completely conventional, and they used pesticides. If you were an organic farmer walking in, you would have been horrified.” But the will to become more environmentally sound was there, and they worked to find the way.

“We literally cracked the code; we stopped listening to the conventional minds and started listening to biologists,” he said. “Fertilizers caused 80 percent of the diseases at Lotusland. Once we got the pesticides and chemical fertilizers out of there, we never went back. It was a moment of taking responsibility ​— ​if something’s wrong, you take responsibility for it.” And it worked. The first year, they had a 70 percent reduction in pests, and it increased from there.

2) More than No Pesticides:  A sustainable garden involves more than just getting rid of chemical pesticides. Other key principles include using natural materials such as alfalfa meal, sea kelps, and organic nitrogen sources to feed plants and the soil.

Building up insect ecology is also important. While it may seem counterintuitive, Welles shared that increasing the number and variety of insects in the landscape and providing a habitat for beneficial insects helps control invasions of plant pests. Native plants are especially good for this.

The other key sustainable practice at Lotusland is recycling all of the plant material removed from the garden back in the form of compost teas and mulches that are reused in the garden.

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Independent. Credit: Courtesy

3) Demonstrate the Way:  Lotusland wasn’t yet open to the public when Main was a teenager in the 1970s, but she confided that it didn’t stop her from sneaking in to explore. As one of the first wave of environmentalists working for CEC, Main and her colleagues had an organic demonstration garden at the organization’s first offices on the Mesa in one of the earliest green buildings in the country. They had composting toilets (“the cutting edge for energy efficiency”) and a green rooftop with plantings to help cool the building, and they taught people about organic agriculture and gardening while discouraging the use of pesticides. She even co-wrote a book called BUGS (“Beneficial Urban Garden Strategies”), which was published in both English and Spanish.

“That garden was super important to our program,” said Main. “We talked a lot about the value of using native plants to protect biodiversity and improve soil health as part of an organic food garden.”

4) Regenerative Ag:  One of the ways CEC is working to reverse the climate threat today is by encouraging regenerative, climate-smart agriculture. “These practices ​— ​like applying compost on working lands and planting native plants along edges of fields ​— ​can actually help sequester carbon from the atmosphere. By restoring a natural balance in this way, plants respond by pulling more carbon from the air (through photosynthesis) into the ground, where it’s beneficial to the soil and plants,” said Main.

Carbon farming, a land-based, natural solution to climate change, is a way to transfer excess carbon out of the atmosphere ​— ​where it is causing a lot of harm ​— ​and store it in the soil, where it does a lot of good.

CEC is actively working with ranchers and large landowners, said Main. “If we can apply compost to just 10 percent of our agricultural lands, we could offset the emissions of the entire agriculture sector in Santa Barbara County. So this is doable. This is actually a reasonable thing we can achieve.”

5) Everyone Can Compost:  One of the simplest ways for people to help at home is by making and using compost, said Main. Mow or trim weeds instead of pulling them out at their roots, and compost instead of landfilling yard waste and food scraps.

6) Watch Your Water:  Last but not least on the path to sustainable gardening is the importance of carefully managing water use, a key factor that was mentioned by both Welles and Main. Water conservation is made much easier when pests are under control through the promotion of pollinators and beneficial insects, natural materials are used to feed plants and soil, plant materials removed from the garden are recycled into compost or mulch, and native species are primarily what is planted.

Following sustainable practices includes avoiding polluting chemicals, preserving natural resources, and reducing waste whenever possible. Sustainable gardening is not just about growing plants and maintaining a garden; it’s also about growing a greener future. As Welles said, “You don’t have to sacrifice beautiful, breathtaking gardens to be responsible.”

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Independent. Credit: Courtesy

Santa Barbara Independent, May 19-25, 2002. ON THE COVER: Madame Ganna Walska, taken c. 1958. Photo by J.R. Eyerman/Lotus- land Archives. Design by Ava Talehakimi.

Originally published in the May 19-25 issue issue of the Santa Barbara Independent. To see the story as it originally appeared click here.

The Lowdown on Lotusland

Montecito’s Eccentric Garden Paradise Comes to Life in New Book

Underneath the canopy of towering dragon trees (Dracaena draco) is a large, candelabrum-shaped Isolatocereus dumortieri as well as eye-catching clusters of golden barrels (Echinocactus grusonii), which were some of Madame Ganna Walska’s favorite cacti. | Credit: ©Lotusland by Rizzoli, New York, 2022. Image ©Lisa Romerein

Show business ran deep through the veins of Madame Ganna Walska, so when the time finally came to showcase her legendary garden in book form, the pressure was on.

And like the creation of Montecito’s extraordinary 37-acre public garden extravaganza, it took a whole cast of characters to bring the new, 288-page coffee table book Lotusland: Eccentric Garden Paradise (Rizzoli, 2022) — stunningly photographed by Lisa Romerein — to life.

Architect Marc Appleton, a longtime supporter and former trustee of Ganna Walska Lotusland, had unsuccessfully tried to drum up support for a book project for years, but the stars never quite aligned until 2019, when the “Book Committee” — comprised of Appleton, current trustee Dorothy Gardner and former trustees Suzanne Mathews and Alex Morse — was formed.

Lotusland is sited on a gently sloping hill and spans 37 acres. With the area’s coastal Mediterranean climate — and almost 300 days of sunshine per year — the property has been a testing ground for experimenting with new types of tropical and subtropical plants since 1882. | Credit: ©Lotusland by Rizzoli, New York, 2022. Illustrated by Janice Blair

The county permit limits the number of visitors to the garden to just 15,000 people a year, so it’s always a challenge to share Lotusland with as many people as possible

“We raised independent funds from subscribers to establish a publication budget, and we were off and running,” said Appleton. 

“Everyone said yes, which is kind of remarkable and a testament to their relationships. It really was volunteer driven and that’s important to appreciate and highlight,particularly in this town where so many volunteers do so much,” said Executive Director Rebecca Anderson.” 

Curator Paul Mills, Historian Rose Thomas, Jeff Chemnick, Mike Furner, Corey Welles, Founding Trustee Arthur Gaudi, Eric Nagelmann (who designed the cactus garden) and Madame Walska’s niece Hania Tallmadge (who recently passed away) were but a few of the many people involved in this team effort.

The book has a lot of ground to cover — and it does. Anderson explained, “while it’s meant to focus on the garden today and our future, it’s meant to be a garden book. It’s not meant to be a retrospective of how the garden began. But I really appreciate that we were able to get in there the people who created this place because without a little bit of that it’s not a complete story.”

Indeed the dramatic flair and inimitable spirit of of Madame Walska is woven throughout the book and the world-renowned horticultural showplace, which is home to more than 3,400 types of plants, including at least 35,000 individual specimens, 

Another important factor Anderson emphasized is “making sure that people not only have takeaways about inspiration and ideas for design or knowledge of particular plants in that index in the back but also that they understand that this is all done with

organic materials and sustainable practices.” 

With such a large scope of the gardens to be documented, Curator Paul Mills worked with photographer Lisa Romerein and her assistant Dean Courtois to shoot over the span of a year, “to try to catch as many moods and happenings in the garden as possible.” Mills said, “Lotusland really is not a ‘flowery’ garden, it’s more about bold and dramatic presentation of plants. But each season does present different opportunities to capture and I would help guide them to these.”

Madame Ganna Walska picks fruit from the lemon arbor, c. 1958 | Credit: J. R. Eyerman, Ganna Walska. Lotusland Archives

He continued, “Every plant on the property has a story, but I would try to lead them to the ones that are more intriguing for one reason or another – a cycad that is now extinct in the wild and only exists in gardens like Lotusland, a dragon tree that dates back to the 1880’s when Kinton Stevens had his nursery on the property, a cactus that is endemic to the Galapagos Islands and rarely seen in botanical collections. The first shoot was in summer, so the main goal was to catch our namesake plant, the sacred lotus, in all its glory. Winter had to focus on the Aloe garden because that is when those plants light up with their torch-like inflorescences and also on the Japanese garden which really shows that season with the golden carpet of Ginkgo leaves and shapely, dormant maples. I would scout the garden before their arrival but so many times we would just happen across things – a flowering bromeliad, a fern leaf unfurling or the perfect lighting for an overall shot.” 

With 19 distinct gardens to spotlight, choosing a favorite is like choosing a favorite child, but when asked which section of the book he’s most proud of, Mills confided, “I would have to say the chapter on the Dunlap cactus garden. It’s my favorite garden on the property, not only because I was so involved in moving the collection to Lotusland and helping to oversee its installation, but because of the story behind it. Lisa was also very drawn to this garden so it got a lot of attention and amazing photos in the book.”

He continued, “We’d often be on the cart heading to a different garden, passing by the Dunlap garden, and Lisa would shout, ‘Stop!’ because she saw something looking just right. This garden was installed after Madame Ganna Walska had passed away, but the project actually started in 1966, when Merritt ‘Sigs’ Dunlap wrote to her wanting to bequeath his cactus collection to Lotusland. She saw this as something great and accepted. Luckily Sigs turned it into a donation and we moved the collection in 2001 and built the garden in 2003 where he celebrated his 97th birthday. We know Madame Ganna Walska would approve of this garden – she loved cacti and dramatic landscapes and its completion signified the fulfillment of her and Sigs’ wish.”

Credit: ©Lotusland by Rizzoli, New York, 2022

“Making the book happen in the right way was challenging, and there were ultimately a lot of interests to entertain along the way, ” said Appleton, who worked on a somewhat similar project with Rizzoli for Casa Del Herrero in 2009, and wrote the introduction to Lotusland. “But I think the book will have a long life as a fairly comprehensive presentation of Lotusland and  why it is such a special garden. Lisa’s photos are amazing, and capture its magic.”

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Limited spots are available for a Luncheon on the Lawn to celebrate Lotusland: Eccentric Garden Paradise on Saturday, May 21 at 11:30 a.m.  

In addition,Lotusland’s 2022 season is now open to reservations through August. Admission is $50 for adults and $25 for children ages 3 to 17. For more information and reservations, visit lotusland.org.

Lotusland: Eccentric Garden Paradise is available at local retailers as well as through the onsite gift shop and online at lotuslandshop.org

Santa Barbara Independent, May 19-25, 2002. ON THE COVER: Madame Ganna Walska, taken c. 1958. Photo by J.R. Eyerman/Lotus- land Archives. Design by Ava Talehakimi.

Originally published in the May 19-25 issue issue of the Santa Barbara Independent. To see the story as it originally appeared click here.

Active Aging in 2021: How to Live Well into Your Later Years

Santa Barbara is a great place to live no matter your age, but it takes many people a number of years — and perhaps a successful career or two — to start calling our shoreline home. That means there are plenty of people living their best later lives here, which is why we started our Active Aging Guide in 2018 to help navigate the endless options for staying healthy, striving for wellness, and living even longer.

This is the fourth annual edition of this promotional section, in which sponsors suggested trends, techniques, and talented experts from their organizations to our editorial team. Then Leslie Dinaberg took those nascent ideas, put on her reporter’s cap, and turned
them into engaging articles that cover a wide range of topics, from bone, brain, and sexual health to volunteering, nutrition, and even drum circles.

Read on, and age well.

The (Drum Circle) Beat Goes On at Vista Del Monte

Westmont Living’s Nutrition Tips for Brain Health

Step Up to Help Seniors at the Family Service Agency

Borrowing Medical Basics from VNA’s Health Loan Closet

Connect, Discuss, and Explore at Vistas Lifelong Learning

Stimulating Senses to Stimulate Wellness at Villa Alamar and Alexander Gardens

OsteoStrong Builds the Bones of Skeletal Health

Turner Medical Arts Offers Treatments for Inside and Out

Originally published in The Santa Barbara Independent on August 12, 2021. Cover photo by Erick Madrid. To read this special section as it originally appeared in print, click here.

Step Up to Help Seniors at the Family Service Agency

Providing a voice to the vulnerable is the role of the Long-Term Care Ombudsman representative, a volunteer program of the Family Service Agency (fsacares.org).
Through regular visits to Santa Barbara County’s 14 skilled nursing facilities and 119 assisted-living facilities for the elderly, Ombudsman representatives get to know the residents and advocate to improve their quality of life.

The program covers the entire county, from Carpinteria to Santa Maria, with more than 5,000 people under its watch. “We are the extra pair of eyes and ears who help them and advocate for them,” said Marco Quintanar, who started working in elder care as a kitchen worker in a long-term care facility 30 years ago. Today, he is a leader in senior care and advocacy as the supervisor for the Ombudsman program, visiting facilities himself as well as providing training and support to volunteers.

Retired aerospace engineer Mike Leu would be considered a “super volunteer” by any measure. “I was looking for a way to stay active and reapply my skills to something that was new and useful,” said Leu, who stumbled on a newspaper article about the program
(run by a different agency at the time) about 10 years ago and thought it looked interesting. He reached out, was trained, and jumped right in, enjoying the work so much that he now covers 23 different facilities and puts in about 70-80 hours a month in volunteer time.

But both Ombudsman superstars caution that prospective volunteers should not be intimidated by Leu’s level of work. Volunteers can commit a little time, or a lot, depending on their interest and availability. “Part of the beauty of the Ombudsman program is you can scale it up or you can scale it down pretty much as far as you want,” said Leu. “If you only want to put in a few hours a week at three or four small facilities, you can. And then, if you’re like me and you’re out of control, you put in a lot!”

Today, there are just seven volunteers covering the entire county, so Quintanar hopes to double that number at his next Ombudsman volunteer training this fall. “You have to be wanting to help other people,” said Leu of what they’re looking for in volunteers, which
also includes being self-motivated, comfortable in communicating with people, and then ready to solve problems in complex situations. “The reward in this thing is you’re demonstrably improving somebody’s quality of life.”

In his 30 years, Quintanar has seen a wide range of residents and issues. “Nowadays,
because of the advances in technology and everything, people are living longer,” he said, which means caregivers have to deal not just with aging but with advanced mental illnesses, like someone living for 20 years with Alzheimer’s. “That makes things harder because … they have some behavioral challenges. It is hard on the families, and it is hard on the resident and hard on everybody who is around them. It’s not their fault, but they need care. So that’s why we are there.”

Both men agree that this work is very rewarding. “If you make a difference in the life of someone, even just listening to that person, that makes you feel very good,” said Quintanar. “And you don’t need anybody to say thank you.”

To learn more about becoming a Certified Ombudsman volunteer, or other ways to support Family Service Agency’s programs for seniors, call Marco Quintanar at (805) 922-1236 or visit volunteer4seniors.org.

Originally published in The Santa Barbara Independent on August 12, 2021. Cover photo by Erick Madrid. To read this special section as it originally appeared in print, click here.

The (Drum Circle) Beat Goes On at Vista Del Monte

People of all ages benefit from music therapy, with especially positive changes for people with autism; visual, motor, emotional, hearing, or cognitive disabilities; or high stress levels. With these benefits in mind, the residents and staff at Summer House —which is the memory-care unit at Vista del Monte retirement care community (vistadelmonte.org)
— regularly participate in drum circles.

“The sound waves and the sound of the drums and the feel of the drums are very
powerful for those who have cognitive issues,” said Helene Hellstern, the life
enrichment director for Vista del Monte, where residents gather in a common area called The Alcove every Tuesday and Thursday. “When we tell people we are doing a drum circle, they are very willing to come to that activity, and we typically have at least a dozen
people if not more.”

First are exercises to warm up their hands and get energized. Then Hellstern uses a 70-inch computer screen to broadcast images of nature or from a particular country or culture that’s especially stimulating. “Then we start the drumming,” she said, explaining that groups are typically led by Karen Rojas. “We’ll just do different rhythms, and we’ll have the residents repeat those. And we always incorporate having the residents do their own little rhythm, and so it’s just one person doing their rhythm, and we all repeat it.”

The music, the exposure to community, and the physical activity are all beneficial. “A lot of our residents have mobility issues or are non-ambulatory, so we tend to just use hand movements — although if people want to tap their feet, that’s definitely encouraged,” said Hellstern. “The movement of the arms or the drumming itself is a really good movement. It energizes the whole body and the sound waves, because the drum is on their body—they really feel it as well as hear it.”

And there’s science as to how this helps people with memory issues. “They have
determined that music in particular sets off most areas of the brain,” she said. “And not just drumming, but other music often triggers their long-term memory.”

The drums have become a therapy tool beyond the circles as well. “Sometimes, we will just get the drums out if whatever we have planned isn’t quite working — everyone responds really well to that,” she said. “A truly holistic healing approach, group drumming breaks down social barriers, promotes freedom of expression, nonverbal communication,
unity, and cooperation.”

See vistadelmonte.org.

Originally published in The Santa Barbara Independent on August 12, 2021. Cover photo by Erick Madrid. To read this special section as it originally appeared in print, click here.

Westmont Living’s Nutrition Tips for Brain Health

Diet and exercise is the key to good health at any age, but particularly as you grow older. Current research says a brain-healthy diet encourages good blood flow to the brain, is low in fat and cholesterol, and includes vibrant foods rich in antioxidants. Like the heart, the brain needs the right balance of nutrients to function well. To be most effective, a brain healthy diet should be combined with physical and mental activity and social
interaction.

Peter Do, senior director of Culinary Services at Westmont Living (westmontliving.com), which owns Mariposa at Ellwood Shores in Goleta, says there are a variety of foods that help to maintain brain health. He recommends:

· Eat in moderation; increase intake of protective foods that may reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke and protect brain cells.

· Avoid artery-clogging saturated fats and cholesterol that can put you at higher risk for Alzheimer’s disease. “Remember to stay away from trans-fats, and stick with mono- and polyunsaturated fats such as olive oil or avocado oil that are very good for you,” said Do. “The preferred preparation is to bake or grill and not to fry. But if you want to fry something, then use canola oil, which is cholesterol-free. Also, when eating something like chicken, it is okay to grill it with the skin on to keep the meat moist, but remove the skin before serving and eating it.”

· Eat dark-skinned fruits and vegetables, which have the highest levels of naturally occurring antioxidants. These include kale, spinach, Brussels sprouts, alfalfa sprouts, broccoli, beets, red bell pepper, onion, corn, and eggplant. “Celery is also a great
source of antioxidants,” said Do. “Garlic also plays an important role in healthy eating. Chinese dishes have a lot of ginger and garlic, both of which makes them more healthy.”

· Choose vibrant, antioxidant-rich fruits such as plums, prunes, raisins,blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, oranges, red grapes, and cherries.

· Cold-water fish containing beneficial omega-3 fatty acids are the best. Some
examples are halibut, mackerel, salmon, lake trout, and sardines.

· Eat nuts, such as almonds, pecans, and walnuts, which are a good source of vitamin
E, an antioxidant. “Nuts can be a good substitute for people who need omega-3
but do not like the taste of seafood,” said Do.

When asked about nutritional supplements, Do explained, “Not all food experts mention supplements because they are focused on a healthy eating program. However, we know that there are supplements which are especially supportive of brain health such as vitamin E, or vitamins E and C together, vitamin B12, and folate. All may be important in lowering your risk of developing Alzheimer’s. A brain-healthy diet will help your body use these vitamins effectively. Remember, for the best absorption, always take vitamins with food. You should check with your medical provider about which vitamins and how much are
safe for you.”

Westmont Living communities such as Mariposa at Ellwood Shores customize their dining program and take advantage of seasonal produce. “Santa Barbara has great
local produce, and we work with many local companies,” said Do, who frequently offers
salmon and fresh fish from nearby waters. “Our residents enjoy the trout and halibut
and love tuna. There are also more vegetarian options such as tofu and eggplant dishes.”
The facility’s Dine Your Way program connects culinary directors with residents
on a monthly basis. “So there are no one-size fits-all menus,” said Do.

See westmontliving.com.

Originally published in The Santa Barbara Independent on August 12, 2021. Cover photo by Erick Madrid. To read this special section as it originally appeared in print, click here.

Borrowing Medical Basics from VNA’s Health Loan Closet

The concept of helping patients get the services, assistance, and equipment they need during an illness or injury is so simple. But as anyone who’s ever navigated our health-care system can tell you, the reality can be incredibly complex and frustrating.

The Loan Closet — owned and operated by VNA Health (vna.health) and serving Santa Barbara County since 1908 — is the exact opposite of most health-care hassles. Staffed
by David Moorman and Megan Cameron, with support from VNA’s COO Dusty Keegan and administrative assistant Susi Torres-Cruz, this warm and welcoming crew serves more than 4,000 residents each year with free short-term loans of basic medical equipment such as wheelchairs, crutches, knee scooters, walkers, shower seats, and more.

While appointments are preferred, Moorman explained, “We welcome walk-ins. You never
know when trauma is going to occur. We never turn anyone away. If someone shows up with a broken ankle, we try to help them. We take care of everyone. The benefit of an appointment is that we can make sure we have the equipment that they’re looking for
and have it ready for them.”

Getting things ready includes sanitizing and repairing an impressive array of equipment to make sure it’s all in tip-top shape to be ready to loan out. “We really try to make sure that when people get equipment that it’s up to snuff,” said Moorman, who does most of the
repairs himself. “They’re not just feeling like they’re coming down here and getting something for free and it’s junky. We actually take time and put a lot of money into our supplies to make sure that the things are refurbished.”

Fitting the equipment and training people on how to use it — including sending them home with written instructions — is also an important part of the service, which is
completely supported through private donations and contributions.

In fact, people don’t always know exactly what they need until they come in, like understanding the difference between wheelchairs and transport chairs. “You can
be pushed in either, but wheelchairs are for people that are strong enough to be independently mobile and are much heavier to move in and out of cars,” said Cameron. “It’s 20 pounds versus 50 pounds.”

That means asking the right questions. “There’s not one cookie-cutter answer for everyone, so we try to nail that down and get to the bottom of it,” said Moorman. Added
Cameron, “Often we have them try out what’s going to work at home, and they can see all the different shower chairs and benches and work with the walker and be able to figure out what really works before they purchase it later on.”

As a free community service, the Loan Closet is open for anyone. “We get Hope Ranch; we get Montecito; we get the Eastside; we get the Westside; we get the entire community,” said Moorman. “We try to take care of everyone to the best of our ability.”
See vna.health.

Fun Facts about the Loan Closet

Most commonly borrowed items: commodes, shower seats, and walkers

Most surprisingly useful items: grabbers, sock aids, and leg lifters

Hardest to come by and often requested item: “Bed rails are gold.”

Unusual items: Hoyer Lifts, which help those with mobility challenges get out of bed or the bath without the assistance of another person; and U-Step walking stabilizers, which are designed to prevent falls for neurological conditions like Parkinson’s

Surprising item that’s always needed: tennis balls, to put on the bottoms of walkers.

Originally published in The Santa Barbara Independent on August 12, 2021. Cover photo by Erick Madrid. To read this special section as it originally appeared in print, click here.

Stimulating Senses to Stimulate Wellness at Villa Alamar and Alexander Gardens

An innovative sensory stimulation program — involving nature, scents, sounds, and colors to constantly provide pleasant sensory stimuli that promote wellness — helps assisted-living and memory-care residents at Villa Alamar (villaalamar.com) and Alexander Gardens (alexandergardensal.com) maintain their high spirits and positive outlook.

Developed by owner/partner/administrator Mitch Leichter, this Sensory Integration Program for the Advanced Stages of Dementia is seeing great success.

“Our staff is consistently engaging the residents in a proactive manner, where in the past it was reactive,” reported Leichter. “The staff has learned how to interpret body language
from nonverbal residents and have implemented appropriate reminiscent and redirection opportunities predicated on sensor stimuli criteria. In many incidents, an increase in medication has not been needed for some residents experiencing behavioral situations, and in other cases, medications have actually been decreased.”

Leichter explained more about the program to me below, and what follows is a portion of our conversation, edited for clarity and length.

Do you use the sensory integration techniques for both memory-care and senior assisted-living patients? We’ve really focused a lot on Villa Alamar, which is our memory care. It’s a translucent theory that can apply to anyone, but I’ve had more success in the implementation with memory-care dementia residents in the years
that I’ve rolled it out. This is really nice to see the effect.

What are some of the different impacts with people in memory care? The whole focus of sensory integrations is to rethink traditional care. If you try to create a traditional
activity program with a resident that has dementia, you’re making poor assumptions. You can’t assume they are cognitively able to do it, for example, if you say “move right; stand
up; sit down.” We have a huge, beautiful courtyard at Villa Alamar, and we let nature be our program. We have wind chimes, bird feeders, fountains, gardens, our furniture is multicolored for sensory pickup, and we also have classical music playing. The theory is you want to create a Zen moment for your dementia residents. If Mrs. Johnson is sitting down by the fountain and she’s watching the birds eating out of the bird feeder, you want to create that Zen moment, and then you want to perpetuate it. Even at lunch time. Rather than stop her from getting in the moment, we work together, and we allow that moment to perpetuate. And we’ll bring lunch to her and not upset what we tried to do to begin with.

By doing that, we can decrease the behavioral medication, because we’re not moving them around. The staff has been taught to be part of the program, not depart from the program. We let nature do the work, and it’s just magnificent.

That sounds like a very humane approach. Does it help everyone? I have incredible employee retention across both of my properties. Because if you walk into a place that smells good and sounds good and looks good, and the staff realizes that I’m not a corporation — we’re independently owned — they know that we’re focusing on a wellness program. And it’s not just a wellness program for residents; it’s a wellness program for the employees as well. And it works.

It’s the same philosophy in a different situation that we use with the residents, and also when the families come in. It basically slows your cadence down. It slows your heart
rate down, it slows you down, and that’s the whole theory of sensory integration. The term I use is “holistic modalities,” and the fact is that we can reduce the amount of behavioral medications by modifying our program. It works wonders.

Is there anything else we should know? When a family has to place a loved one in memory care or assisted living, there’s a lot of guilt and anxiety. Our job is to provide the
sensory integration approach so that they can calm down and also feel good about their choice. It’s been remarkable at both of our properties — we get the comments all the time. “What’s that smell?” And “Oh my gosh, look at that bird feeder, and that wind chime sounds magnificent. When can I move in?” So I hear that and I’m thinking, “Okay, good, it’s working.” [Laughs.] We want to be holistic in our approach and not force medication onto anybody unnecessarily.

See villaalamar.com and alexandergardensal.com.

Originally published in The Santa Barbara Independent on August 12, 2021. Cover photo by Erick Madrid. To read this special section as it originally appeared in print, click here.

OsteoStrong Builds the Bones of Skeletal Health

My mother was taller than me when I graduated from college, but now I tower over her.
Not because I had a twentysomething growth spurt, but because she’s been plagued by osteoporosis, which literally means “porous bone.”

This horrible condition, which causes the bones to become more porous and fragile, greatly increasing the risk of painful and often disabling broken bones, is a tough one to treat and an impossible one to cure. They think my mom’s osteoporosis was caused by chemotherapy, but genetics and aging are factors too. So naturally I was intrigued when I wrote about OsteoStrong (osteostrong.me) for last year’s Active Aging guide. But at that time, because of the pandemic, the wellness studio was closed to the public, and I wasn’t able to try out the machines for myself.

This year, I finally got to check out the rather novel bone-building exercise approach designed to stimulate bone growth through delivery of high-intensity loads. A franchise operation owned by Yvonne and Jim Parsons, the OsteoStrong program uses special exercise machines that deliver intense bone-stimulating loads through four nearmaximal
isometric exercises.

“The most important thing is that you compress the bone and the axial,” explained
Yvonne of how it works. “And if you noticed, when you were doing each piece of equipment, nothing moves. We get into position and it’s robotic in that sense, but once you get on, nothing moves except you, and it’s the compression of the bone that stimulates the adaptive response.”

The circuit itself takes only about 10 minutes, which is certainly efficient. I didn’t work up a sweat because, as Yvonne explained, “It’s only about the adaptive response. A good
analogy is that it’s like if you walked into a dark room and your pupils expanded. You go
to a gym to get your muscles strong, but you go here to get your skeletal strength.”

The machines work on the principle of “osteogenic” loading. These super-resistance
machines cover every section of the body—a chest press, leg press, core pull, and skeleton stressing vertical lift—and they resemble weight machines with feedback monitors. Clients come in once a week, stand on vibration platforms to warm up, then exert 30 seconds of all-out force at each workout station.

All in 10 minutes! Seriously, I saw at least three people cycle through as I interviewed
Yvonne.

Although my one session at OsteoStrong was not enough time to report any results,
nothing hurt afterward, and the people I saw come in seemed to be all smiles with
a little extra spring in their steps. There are certainly loads of happy customers, as their video testimonials attest to (osteostrong.me/video-gallery).

“People love it,” said Yvonne. “It’s fast, it’s very safe, and it’s so efficient. It seems like it’s not real, but it really is. We can’t say that we cure anything or anything like that, but we have many members who come in and they’ve had their T-score [a measure of bone density] measured, and they come in, and the next year when they get it again, the T-score has improved and bone density has improved. … When your bones are stronger, you’re not having that fear of fracture if you fall. It’s like when you walk off of a curb, people go, ‘Oh no, I don’t have any problem with that anymore.’ Their balance and agility has improved.”

Check it out yourself for free. Call (805) 453-6086 or email santabarbara@osteostrong.me to set up an appointment. See osteostrong.me

Originally published in The Santa Barbara Independent on August 12, 2021. Cover photo by Erick Madrid. To read this special section as it originally appeared in print, click here.

Connect, Discuss, and Explore at Vistas Lifelong Learning

Learning new things and maintaining a vibrant social life are two of the key pillars that experts say will keep our brains sharp and healthy. This is exactly what the nonprofit Vistas Lifelong Learning (vistaslifelonglearning.org) offers to the community.

This volunteer-run organization, which started in 1999, is dedicated to keeping aging brains nimble with ongoing educational programs on a wide variety of topics. Recent
courses included Foods That Changed the World (exploring foods that have changed the world in profound and delicious social, political, and economic ways); Unpacking
the Dementia Epidemic (current thinking about the causes of dementias, dementia management, and how to stay on top of new developments); and Politics and
Religion in Verdi’s Operas (with audio and video extracts from modern performances of the operas).

The depth and variety of the programming is impressive, but the social component of Vistas is equally important to its success. “I think of all the connections that people find through Vistas,” said President Jim Hemmer. “There are two book clubs; there’s a short story class; there are memoir writing classes. And in our in-person programs — which moved to Zoom during the pandemic and will resume in the fall — there’s always a 20-minute coffee break in the middle so people can socialize and see old friends and meet other similarly situated people.”

For Hemmer, who retired from a career as an attorney in Chicago and moved to Santa Barbara with his wife, Francine, in January 2017, becoming part of Vistas has been a great way to engage his brain and find a community. Though it’s not a requirement, many of the Vistas presenters are members as well.

A longtime history buff, Hemmer found his way to the organization through a presentation on the Silk Road that he made to a luncheon group called The Cosmopolitan Club (sbcosmo.com). A Vistas member suggested he present to that group, and the response was so positive that Hemmer ended up teaching three different courses on the journey of the historical Silk Roads through China’s current efforts to reinvigorate them today.

“Vistas really attempts to satisfy this desire to learn things, and being a presenter is a wonderful way of doing that,” said Hemmer. “Taking other people’s classes is also great. I find that because I’m busy preparing presentations, I don’t have time to take all the classes I’d like to. I’ve been very busy during the pandemic, and it’s just great.”

Vistas is a small group, explained Hemmer, fluctuating between 300 and 400 members, and is not affiliated with any college or other institution. Programs are open to the public for a small fee, and the fees are less for members. (Annual membership fees are $40 per person for email-only communications and $50 for snail mail, with individual classes averaging $9 per session for members and $14 for nonmembers.)

“It’s a really varied and interesting group of people,” Hemmer says. The mostly retired members come from very diverse careers, ranging from former judges, teachers, and
docents to social workers, librarians, and secretaries, just to name a few.

Upcoming programs in the fall include a reprise of the Silk Road series; the short history of cryptography; the writer James Baldwin; climate change and the impact on the Great American Waterways; criminal procedure; economic issues; and the social safety net in the U.S., with additional courses and details still being finalized.

“We have a very, very wide palette. There’s somebody for everybody,” said Hemmer. “It’s a wide variety of programs on science, history, current events, music and fine arts, and so on.” Research suggests that humans learn better in social environments. “The brain is triggered more through discussion and questions than from solitary activities such as
independent reading,” said Hemmer.

“So it turns out that Vistas’ cooperative spirit that we’re all in it together and we get our ideas from other members is particularly beneficial in the case of seniors.”

See vistaslifelonglearning.org.

Originally published in The Santa Barbara Independent on August 12, 2021. Cover photo by Erick Madrid. To read this special section as it originally appeared in print, click here.