Senior Living

Friendship knows no boundary

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We love having Catherine, Max, Evie and Nora visit us! They were recently featured in the Waukesha Freeman for giving back to the community. Thanks for all the time you spend with us! The article is below or can also be found here in PDF format.

Waukesha family learns the importance of giving back

Last November, Catherine Obermann of Waukesha was thinking about how she could donate her time to help others and teach her three children why it’s important give back. She’s starting them off young. Max is 5, Evie is 3 and Nora is one year old.

“At the time, Nora was four months old so I wanted to figure out what to do with a newborn in the winter. There was a life care community close to my home in Waukesha, so I put in an application to see if they wanted volunteers. I got a phone call back from Grand Hills Castle in New Berlin, and they put me in contact with the activities coordinator. It was only 12 miles away.”

The distance is not exactly a quick trip to help a next-door neighbor. Still, Catherine says the weekly drive with her kids to visit residents every Wednesday is worth it.

“Life Enrichment Coordinator Jessica Haase introduced us to residents. All of us played with balloons and we talked that first day.

“It’s fun to bring the kids and residents together and watch them interact. No matter what age, people want the same thing. They want your attention and someone to love them,” she said.

Grand Hills Castle New Berlin opened in September 2018. The facility specializes in senior care for residents needing assisted living or memory care.

“Catherine and her kids add an intergenerational aspect to Grand Hills Castle,” says Jessica Haase. “Her children have developed really good relationships with the residents. It helps bring back memories of their own families when they were parents. The Obermanns add so much to our community.”

Catherine says the volunteer experience benefits the residents just as she hoped. Her kids are also learning by example. “There was a resident named Anita who has since passed away. We were with her every week for almost a year. One time, we were at the library and found a book and the person’s name was Anita. Evie would say, ‘At the nursing home.’ They know who and where they are going. That is great.”

Waukesha and New Berlin may only be a dozen miles apart, but friendship knows no boundary lines for the Obermanns. They are finding their friends from Grand Hills Castle all around the area.

“We were at the Milwaukee County Zoo before school started and it was Senior Day,” recalls Catherine. “All of a sudden, we spotted a couple of Grand Hills Castle residents there with one of their daughters and she recognized us.

“It’s such a small world that we can see each other outside their facility. We made a connection that day, too. It always puts a smile on their face and ours.”

Meet the Resident – Dale Dent

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This month, Dale Dent celebrates his one-year anniversary living at Birchrock Castle in Mukwonago.

We caught up with him on the patio to find out what he loves about his home and how he became a “caretaker” for the flowering and vegetable plants on the property.

Dale Dent has rarely met a plant that he didn’t like, or saved from premature demise.

While he spent a lengthy career as a machinist for Wisconsin Centrifugal and as a retail store owner in Easton, Dale Dent has been gardening all of his life. At Birchrock Castle, he’s the king of tomatoes, especially this year.

“I can’t believe how well they grow here,” says Dale. “The last three weeks of September, we harvested about 75 tomatoes. We all enjoy eating them fresh and in stews for dinner. With four pots left, there’s about 100 tomatoes that we hope to take in yet this fall.”

Dale took on this additional role one day while watching Birchrock Administrator Candy Mings caring for flowers on the back patio.

“I decided to help Candy, and she said, ‘You’ll get dirty,’ and I said, ‘I’ve been dirty all of my life,’” Dale recalls. “I look after about nine baskets of hanging petunias. I add plant food and water them.”

From three pots outside the door on the patio to gardens on at least a half-acre spread, Dale has produced all of his own vegetables and fruit trees everywhere he has lived.

This Michigan native grew up on a family farm, so he’s no stranger to hard work. Even at 87 years old, not much slows him down. The fall of the year reminds him of when he worked for a potato farmer and developed an incredible skill.

“You take a shovel, go underground and lift up two rows of potatoes. I picked them by the bushel by hand. I had the record there for putting 101 bushels in bags in one day. The farm had 80 acres of potatoes every year. That’s why I have a sore back now.”

While he likes to keep busy, Dale also appreciates the tranquil, wooded setting at Birchrock Castle and regularly enjoys conversations outside on sunny days. His wife of 67 years, Dorothy, has been a resident for three years now. In fact, he knew everyone on staff the first day he moved here. Dorothy is just down the hall from him, so they see each other every day.

“It’s just like home,” Dale says. “All of the people are nice and I don’t have to cook,” Dale says. “I love the food here. I haven’t had a bad meal since I arrived. They are professionals in the kitchen.

“The personality of the people here…well, they treat you like gold. I’m not exaggerating a bit. If you have a problem, they are right there to help.”

In fact, when Dale recently made a special request of one of Castle’s owners, it was fulfilled.

“Kris Kiefer (vice president of Castle Senior Living) was here one day to talk with Candy and I asked him to play the piano. He said, ‘I’d love to.’ He played five songs and sang, too. Kris can really play the piano well and has a good voice.”

When you meet Dale, you realize he’s not a man who reflects on the painful times of his life. His father died when Dale was young and he could only afford one year of college. When he looks back on the past, it’s with appreciation and joy.

“I’ve had a happy life. My wife and I never smoked. We had four children – two boys and two girls. Our oldest daughter died four years ago. The others all live close to here.”

His family, residents and staff are fortunate to witness the fruits of his labor on the grounds, and Dale is always happy to share bits of gardening advice.

“Pick off all dead flowers everyday so that the plant grows bigger and blooms again.”

One Year Anniversary of the Grand Hills Castle

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Last September, we officially opened the doors to residents at the Grand Hills Castle. It has been an incredible year for us in New Berlin, with many firsts. And while we continue to look ahead to growth and building upon our community of compassionate care, let’s pause for a well-deserved look back.  Enjoy this retrospective of all the planning and hard work that took place at Grand Hills Castle even before move-in day:

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We believe Grand Hills Castle is a blessing. For more than 25 years now, seniors have been our focal point, and we strive to better serve our residents and their families from assisted living to long-term care. It’s gratifying to hear people say that they love it here as much as we do.

Come and see for yourself why there’s tremendous excitement and anticipation of what’s next for our state-of-the-art facility. If you haven’t had the chance to check us out yet, schedule a tour and find out first-hand what makes Grand Hills the place to call home.

Grand Hills Castle: A Q & A with Jessica Haase

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What do you enjoy most about being Life Enrichment Coordinator at the Grand Hills Castle?

The most rewarding part of my job is getting to see the residents light up when we have a fun activity or they have a social connection with another resident. They are the reason I do this job. I like to challenge myself and challenge the residents in what we can do. I also appreciate the trust I have from our owners, Kris and Kevin, and other management here, to create a wholesome activity plan each month and share my ideas of improvement with them.


 Tell us a story about something that happened shortly after you joined the Castle Senior Living team and how it made you realize you were in the right place.

When I first started at the Grand Hills Castle the location had recently opened and we had about six residents. Now, we have grown to almost 40 residents! There are a million stories about the residents that make me love working here. However, an important thing for me was being listened to and valued by my supervisor. My first week here, I asked for a meeting to share some ideas about expanding our knowledge of the cognitive level of our residents, especially in memory care, so I could more accurately create activities suited for them. My supervisor was excited about my ideas and told me to implement them as soon as possible, trusting my knowledge and experience. That was a big move forward for me.


What qualities or special skills do you bring to Grand Hills Castle?

I went to Alverno College and have a Bachelor’s Degree in Art Therapy. Beyond that, I have worked with older adults with dementia, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Multiple Sclerosis (MS), Alcoholism, and physical limitations; at-risk youth at the Mental Health Complex in Wauwatosa struggling with PTSD, ADHD, emotional disorders, depression, and young adults with mental disorders such as Autism and Down Syndrome. I have done art therapy projects (group and one-on-one) with all of these populations. At my past job, I was in charge of cognitive therapy for older adults with dementia, along with creating balanced care plans for all clients. Throughout my life I have always been interested in observing people and trying to figure out how they are feeling and what they need. It is not always an easy job, but I find great value in helping people when I am able.


Research shows that older Americans staying active is the key to good mental health, and overall physical and social well-being. How does Castle help residents achieve that?

Staying active physically, mentally and socially are all necessary aspects of balanced care for our seniors to live long, meaningful lives. Here at Castle, we have many opportunities for our residents to stay active. We have well-balanced exercise every morning, physical activities such as bowling and balloon toss, interactive cooking demonstrations, gardening and days spent outside. We also have opportunities for them to teach us about cooking, gardening and crocheting, along with the activity department teaching them about art and the world every week. I am constantly tuning in to what is successful; what the residents don’t like and in what ways I can make some activities more challenging for those who need it. A goal of mine is to never stop making Castle Senior Living the best place to be for quality of life for our seniors.


Is there an interesting or exciting project you are working on right now with residents at Grand Hills Castle that you’d like to share?

We recently started creating gardens filled with vegetables, herbs and flowers that the residents helped me plant and continue to help me care for. The gardens were a wonderful gift from a resident’s family member in appreciation of all that we do for his mom. Other than that, we will be continuing culture-focused weeks where we experience a new culture with food demos, history, paintings and styles, along with making a special craft representing that culture. This past month, we enjoyed Bastille Days week and Italian week, following the festivals in Milwaukee. Residents here love learning about new things, so we will also host TED talks and art demonstrations every week. We launched this in July. Residents lit up and talked about it for a while with each other after the lecture was finished. That is what I want to maintain here:  excitement, socialization and learning.


What’s the most important thing that you’ve learned at Castle Senior Living in the past few months?

I’ve learned all aspects of what it takes to plan successful outings and activities, create a budget, contact entertainers, recruit volunteers and more. I’m able to manage my own department and share my knowledge with our care staff to make Castle more successful in understanding the thought process of our seniors. Beyond that, I am more aware of the importance of community, teamwork and continuously challenging each other on what we can accomplish. This is the perfect position for me to grow professionally and contribute all I can to this community.


 What are you most passionate about professionally? Personally?

Professionally, I am passionate about teamwork and working towards a common goal. Working with seniors, you must show a passion for life and making people feel valued. You can never underestimate the amount of knowledge and experience our seniors have to share with us.

Personally, I am passionate about painting, music, animals and staying active. I strive to live my best life surrounded by things that I am enthusiastic about and things that challenge me.


You studied abroad for college, (University of Limerick – Ireland). What kind of impact did that have on your life?

Studying abroad had a huge impact on who I am today. Leaving my family and friends for four months made me more independent and confident in myself because I was on my own. I was always the quiet one throughout school and Ireland is where I really broke out of that mold. I started sharing my thoughts more often and fighting for what I believed in. I have a great love for learning and experiencing different cultures. I fit in well in the Irish culture and would love to live there someday.


Do you have any secret talents?

I am not sure about secret talents, but I played varsity tennis in high school and love the game. I also enjoy golfing with my dad on a nice day. I know how to weld, paint, work with clay and make fused glass (learned in college). I always wanted to learn how to play the piano. I tried to teach myself when I was 16. I want to take official lessons so maybe I can play for the residents on the piano at the Grand Hills Castle.


What is your favorite movie and why?

My favorite movies are Good Will Hunting and The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I love them because they deal with real emotional growth and are inspirational. I also love The Greatest Showman because of the music.


If you could exhibit one super power, what would it be?

If I had one superpower it would be to fly so I could travel the world whenever I wanted.

Benefits of Staying Active

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Exercise is always one of the key elements for a healthy lifestyle. That doesn’t change as you grow older. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, almost all older people can benefit from increased physical activity. Seniors who stay active benefit in a number of ways from improving memory to strengthening social relationships, or even preventing depression. This report from the Surgeon General talks in detail about this.

Exercise Improves Mood

Exercising releases mood-boosting endorphins which helps you feel better and can lessen feelings of depression. So if you are experiencing depression or mood swings, exercise may help re-direct negative thoughts and provide support.

If you’ve ever experienced a “runner’s high,” you’ve experienced how being active can impact your mood and disposition.

Exercise is a Social Activity

Humans are social beings and for many older adults, exercise becomes a social event. A group that walks together regularly gets to chat about the latest news and gossip. A water aerobics class gives the chance to connect with other seniors. Being active in a group provides accountability and helps you stay motivated and engaged. This results in improved health both physically and socially.

Exercise Increases Mental Capacity

Being physically active has been linked to slowing mental decline. An active body receives more blood flow, every part of it, including your brain. More blood flow encourages more cell growth which leads to better mental health and improved cognitive functioning.

Exercise Improves Healing

The older we are, the longer it can take us to heal. Exercise helps with that. Active adults may see wounds that heal as much as 25 percent faster than those who do not exercise. Beginning an exercise program or being active prior to an injury or surgical procedure allows you to benefit from improved healing and a faster recovery.

Exercise Improves Strength and Mobility

Keeping your body strong is one of the most important tasks for an older adult. It comes as no surprise that exercise is the best way to improve both strength and mobility. Seniors who sit around and aren’t active can suffer with difficulty breathing, poor blood flow, atrophied muscles, unsteady balance and more. Even a short walk a few times each day has benefits.

What exercises can seniors do?

  • Aerobic and Endurance Exercises
    • Walking, stationary cycling and swimming
  • Strength and Resistance Training
    • Utilize weights, resistance bands, and Nautilus machines
    • Bodyweight exercises (lunges, sit-ups, leg raises, etc.)
  • Stretching and Flexibility Exercises
    • Yoga, Pilates
    • Helps muscles warm up and cool down gradually, improves and maintains flexibility, prevents injury, and reduces muscle soreness and stiffness.

For those who are more limited in what they can do, consult with your doctor and exercise in an organized and controlled setting. Swimming, yoga and water aerobics are excellent low-impact options that are less jarring to the body.

A few minutes with Howard, a resident of Emerald Castle

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When seniors consider making the move to an assisted living facility, most would agree that experiencing the sights and sounds of what will be their new home is a necessary first step. But 88-year old Howard, a former West Coast resident, came to Emerald Castle in Greenfield in June of 2011 location unseen, putting his trust in lifelong friends from southeast Wisconsin to choose a place for him.

“I have no relatives other than distant ones,” says Howard. “Most of my friends live within Milwaukee area, and they knew I was planning to come to Wisconsin.

“I told them I would like to move closer, so they found Castle Senior Living and escorted me by plane from California. When I arrived, they had a group of people waiting here and hosted a ‘Welcome Home’ party for me.”

Howard says he knew instantly that Emerald Castle was a good fit for him and that there are many benefits to the living space.

“I have a lot of privacy. They leave me alone as much as I like,” he chuckled.

Howard says there are times when he participates in social activities and joins other residents in the common areas, especially to watch old movies. But he appreciates the freedom to retreat to his room and his quiet surroundings.

“Everyone is personable here, but after we share a meal, we break away from the table and each go our own way. I think others are just like me. We enjoy our independence.”

Howard says some of his neighbors have come and gone the past eight years since he moved in, but he’s maintained a strong connection with the Castle staff.

“The caretakers are nice to me, and always cheerful and upbeat. Deb, our house manager, and Iris, a certified caregiver, were here when I first arrived. You get very good personal care. The staff are warm and receptive.

“If I have a question, I’ll ask Iris and she’ll do research if she doesn’t know the answer and present it to me once she finds out about it. I like her for that. If I want to know about something, she does the homework for me.”

When the weather is warm and sunny, you’ll find Howard outside in the Emerald courtyard, with most of the house joining him there. He is fond of the dining service, especially the spaghetti. And Howard has no qualms about moving from the West Coast to the Midwest. He really doesn’t miss the change of weather. When it’s cold, he simply stays inside.

“I was in a couple of different places before coming here and those facilities were not as nice as Emerald Castle. Even before they brought me here, I had a feeling that this would be right for me. I’ve liked it from the very start. I can’t imagine being anywhere else.”

What can you do to foster a better connection with seniors?

By Senior Living

May is Older Americans Month, a time set aside to recognize contributions from generations past to today.

Starting in 1963 with President John F. Kennedy, all chief executives have asked citizens to honor, support and engage with older people in their communities. It’s why there are now ceremonies, events, fairs, and numerous other activities to commemorate Older Americans Month.

This year’s theme is “Connect, Create and Contribute.” One of the ways Castle Senior Living looks to enrich the lives of older persons is by encouraging them to get outdoors. With the arrival of May on the calendar, we’re mostly in the clear for beautiful weather and it’s an ideal time to participate in the following:

  • Gardening/Planting vegetables – Not only is it beneficial to grow your own fruits and vegetables, but the activity is an enjoyable way get some exercise. Seniors can increase their level of physical activity by gardening. It also boosts mobility, flexibility, endurance, and engages all of their motor skills. It can even help prevent diseases like osteoporosis.
  • Birdwatching – Even if older people are not very mobile, caregivers can establish a comfortable environment for birdwatching indoors through an open or closed window. Those who might be wheelchair-bound can easily go outside and be pushed along a path or park by a grove of trees to observe our feathered friends. Escaping into nature calms the body, mind and spirit.
  • Walking – For those who are fully mobile, walking is ideal. Light to moderate aerobic exercise along a path at home or in a park allows seniors to maintain their desired level of fitness. Some activity may include slow walks on a flat surface or embarking on longer hikes, especially for those accustomed to more demanding physical routines.
  • Music – Attending an outdoor concert is a great place to socialize. Engaging in conversation with others seated nearby or even singing along with the music helps seniors improve their speech and self-esteem. Music also provides an outlet for self-expression, boosts mood and memory recall, and can even lead to a better night’s sleep.
  • Short trips and outings – Taking short excursions away from home is important to help older persons enjoy the many entertaining activities where they live. Day trips to sporting events like baseball games, the local zoo or a farmer’s market help to expand their social circles and reduce any feeling of isolation they might be experiencing from the outside world.

While we encourage our residents to go outside every day that has nice weather, we also schedule specific events outside. Every Thursday in May, Castle residents will take part in outdoor exploring, but they won’t have to travel far. Instead, seniors will get their hands dirty in our planters, tucking seeds into the soil to grow seasonings or vegetables for our chefs to use in the kitchen, or raising flowers to add a touch of color to their view.

An “Eggcelent” Easter Egg Hunt

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On April 17, Castle Senior Living hosted an Easter Egg Hunt with Seniors at the Grand Hills Castle. We had numerous residents, volunteers and families involved with over 20 children taking part in the hunt. The children were able to follow the tracks of the Easter Bunny, find hidden eggs and enjoy candy popcorn. Both seniors and children had a great time!


Birchrock Castle: A Q&A with Candy Mings

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We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Candy Mings, the administrator at our Birchrock Castle location, and ask her a few questions. Here is what she had to say.


What do you enjoy most about working for Castle?

 There are so many things that I like about my job. What I love most is knowing that I work for a dedicated and compassionate family-owned company. I admire the sincerity and caring foundation on which Castle Senior Living was built and how it continues to evolve each day.


 What are the qualities or special skills that you bring to Birchrock Castle?

 So far, my life’s journey has afforded me the opportunity to work with seniors in various aspects of my career. I began as a caregiver, then became a nurse and now I’m an administrator.  I continue to learn valuable lessons and glean knowledge from others in the profession. I strive to use my experience to enrich the lives of my seniors, their loved ones and my staff. My compassion for others knows no limits. I believe my most special skill is creating a little sunshine by putting a smile on someone’s face.


What are the trends that you think are impacting senior living services right now?

 One shift is the move toward a more home-like living environment for seniors. Nearly thirty years ago when I started as a caregiver, industry practices were more much institutionalized and restrictive. Now, we ask our residents what they want and our facilities are providing it for them. We know they deserve to have what makes their life more fulfilling and enriching.

There is plenty of competition out there with big, beautiful facilities, but what I always impress upon families is to take a look inside and consider the level of care first. Make sure it is where they want it to be and that there are good people taking care of their loved ones. Birchrock is a smaller senior living community, but I know what we have here is a gold mine. I don’t take it for granted.

Recruiting and retaining good employees is important to maintain a high level of care, so I demonstrate to my employees the joy they can find in this career. One of my favorite moments is when I’m mentoring my caregivers. Rules and regulations are necessary, but at the end of the day I always ask my team to bring their thoughts and ideas to me. If someone has a better idea, let’s work through it together.


What’s the most interesting project or idea you are working on right now?

 My community was acquired by Castle Senior Living within the past year and it’s been a tremendous opportunity to be part of that transformation. I’m working on several projects to ensure that Birchrock Castle will remain one of the best assisted living communities in the area.


What’s the most important thing that you’ve learned on the job?

 I believe it’s staying true to myself and to never forget why I choose a career in healthcare. To me, it’s about making a difference in the lives of others, to demonstrate kindness and show empathy to those in need. I want to teach the next generation of caregivers how this profession is truly life-enriching.


What are you most passionate about at work?

 I would say it’s my role as an advocate for the seniors in my community. They deserve to live their life to the fullest regardless of age, diagnosis, physical or mental status.  Seniors have the right to be heard and I am honored to be their voice of support.


What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

 I enjoy relaxing and spending time with my family, including my son, Toby, and his wife, Christi, my daughters, Summer and Sundae, and my puppy, Daisy. I am excited that spring is here. I’m a gardener. I love planting flowers and creating bright, beautiful beds of blooms.


If you were stranded on a desert island, what would be the one thing you’d want to have with you and why?

 If I were stranded on a desert island, there is only one thing I need: Blake Shelton. Sun on my face, sand between my toes, the warm ocean breeze and a tall beautiful country singer. I’ll take a one-way ticket please!

When is it time for mom and dad to give up driving?

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Driving and freedom. These words are paired together from the very first day you get your driver’s license. And that’s why this conversation is one that adult children dread – asking mom or dad to consider giving up their sense of independence and the car keys for their own personal safety and that of others on the road.

Studies show that cognitive decline in older adult drivers can lead to their becoming disoriented and getting lost while in control of a motor vehicle.

If you have concerns about how a parent is handling him or herself behind the wheel, AAA says there are some common warning signs you should look for:

  • Working the pedals – How are they handling their legs, feet and toes when using the gas and brake pedals? If they’re confused or lifting their legs to move from the gas to the brakes, it could mean a loss of leg strength.
  • Road rules – Are they sliding through or not even braking for stops signs or other traffic signals? Are they weaving in and out of lanes or drifting in traffic? Do they use their turn signals when changing lanes or check side and rearview mirrors for other drivers?
  • Speed up, slow down – Is your parent using the horn or passing other drivers when traffic is slowed down? This could mean they are having trouble keeping up with driving conditions that require quick decision-making.
  • Tickets and accidents – An increase in traffic violations or fender benders is a cause for concern. Listen if neighbors witness any driving incidents or if your children riding with grandma and grandpa notice they are having problems behind the wheel.

If you recognize one or more of these signs, experts say prepare for a conversation with mom or dad with several key points in mind.

First, be calm and supportive during the discussion. Giving up driving privileges is a loss of freedom for many older adults and may be difficult for them to accept. Second, keep a positive tone. Share alternatives to driving such as cab or Uber rides, or a senior car service. No matter what, assure your mom or dad that they can still maintain their active lifestyle while leaving the driving to someone else. Sometimes a change in perspective is needed: having someone drive them isn’t taking away a freedom, the act of doing the activity they are traveling to is the freedom.

No matter what this can be a difficult conversation. Take time to assess the situation and talk it over with siblings, friends and other loved ones, but avoid an intervention. A candid, private conversation is the best way to start. And be confident that the safety of your parent and others is at the heart of this decision.