The Power of Music Strikes a Chord at the Selfhelp Home

The first strains of a melody or the opening lyrics of a song can transport us back in time, evoking memories and improving psychological well-being. Whether an instrumental piece of music or a favorite song, music can transport us to a peaceful place.

At the Selfhelp Home, an active and engaging not-for-profit senior living community on Chicago’s North Side, music has long been part of the community’s cultural legacy.

At the core of the community are residents originally from Europe who have a strong musical and cultural appreciation, especially for opera and classical music. Frequent concerts are designed to appeal to them, as well as to other residents with a range of musical tastes.

The Selfhelp Home hosts 80 to 100 live concerts each year, says program director Fern Shaffer, making Selfhelp a venue for some of the most renowned local musicians. Top-notch talent performs at the weekly Sunday afternoon music series, including performers from the Lyric Opera, Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Ryan Center for the Musical Arts.

In addition to the Sunday music series, additional concerts are tied to holidays and other events. Fourth of July concerts showcase patriotic music; Jewish holidays feature liturgical music; and New Year’s Eve might feature playful Broadway showtunes.

Mid-week concerts often include performances by up-and-coming young students. In addition to the classical concerts, programming includes some popular music and jazz to attract different audiences.

Music stirs the soul, providing an emotional and cultural connection. “When some people hear the Maxwell Street Klezmer Band, it reminds them of what they grew up with. So it’s an emotional release,” Shaffer says.

“Our audiences are in their late 80s and 90s to 100s, so a lot of activities are not going to be participatory. Music is a way of reaching people and engaging them,” Shaffer says. “Music is lively. They’re tapping their feet and dancing in their seats.”

The concerts give residents a chance to enjoy high-quality performances, all within a convenient setting.

“It’s a crown jewel of the Selfhelp Home as far as I’m concerned,” says resident Donald Davidson, 81. “The Sunday concert series is something special. By and large, it’s hard to beat the talent we get.”

“Many of us were regular concertgoers,” says Davidson, who was formerly associated with the Old Town School of Folk Music and was an amateur folk dancer. “To have the same talent come here, how could you not appreciate it?”

The benefits of music are far-reaching, Shaffer says. And at the Selfhelp Home, the robust musical programming definitely strikes the right note.

Music and Memory

4 WAYS that Music Improves The Quality of Life.

Research has looked at the interaction of music, memories and emotions and has shown that music can improve quality of life.

  1. Music has a strong emotional tie. A 2013 brain imaging study in the journal NeuroImage found that music activated the auditory, motor and limbic (emotional) regions. Music with lyrics (the study used The Beatles’ Abbey Road) showed a stronger emotional correlation than music without lyrics, though both had a strong association.
  2. Music can decrease anxiety, anger, stress and frustration. Research has shown that listening to music is associated with changes in pulse and respiration rates as well as blood pressure levels.
  3. Melody helps embed memories. Learning information, such as the ABC song or Fifty Nifty United States, is made easier when there’s a tune attached to it.
  4. Music can activate the salience network of the brain, which is relatively spared as Alzheimer’s disease progresses. Because of this, individuals with Alzheimer’s may remain very responsive to music from their past, say researchers at the University of Utah Health.



A Standing Ovation to Donna Mayer Volunteer Extraordinaire

On August 30th we honored Donna Mayer- the face of The Selfhelp Home Gift Shop, a role she enjoyed for the last seven years.  An Avid traveler and “networker”, Donna finds treasures wherever she goes and loves fining things that people are happy to buy. “I love the people here, Donna Mayer says, and I respect what many residents have gone through in their lives.” When Donna is around, a crowd gathers, chatting, laughing, trying on scarves and trinkets, exchanging the news of the day. Donna’s dedication to the Selfhelp community is worthy of a Standing Ovation.

View the Gallery of Photos from the Event

Remarks from Austin Hirsch, Board President at the event on August 17.

Donna has created and made our Gift Shop a social opportunity for our Residents and their families to engage.  Beth and I have had the pleasure of purchasing special little gifts and having Donna makes these positive experiences.  On a personal note, my Father of blessed memory, owned a retail store and, the many lessons that he taught me about customer service is exactly the way Donna relates to those Residents and Family Members browsing or purchasing at the Gift Shop.

Donna’s devotion to The Selfhelp Home is a thing of beauty. Many years ago, before she ran the gift shop, she would run errands for the residents, running back and forth to get them the things they needed. She got to know to know a lot of people that way and she was very interested in the stories of the residents. About seven or eight years ago, Donna started running the gift shop. Items came from around the world—Donna would pick them up in her travels with Selfhelp residents and families in mind, and bring them back to Chicago to sell at Selfhelp— lovely things at good prices! Donna also has a wide network of friends and acquaintances in the fashion business who are all too happy to donate some really great items that make our gift shop unique. And, of course, there are the personal family ties, family members who have lived here, including Donna’s husband’s sister, Marion.      

Watching Donna interact with residents reveals just how special she is to them and they to her. Our community gravitates to Donna and when she is present, the Gift Shop is the hub of activity.  

We at Selfhelp know that Donna is very special, and many people came here tonight to celebrate Donna. Thank you all for the donations you have made in her honor. Thank you for your phone calls and emails telling us how deserving Donna is of this recognition. Donna has many very good friends.

In addition to being a savvy shopper, Donna is a master baker. She is devoted to her husband Larry, with whom she shares a love of life and travel. Indeed, Larry is a fortunate person.  Also, Donna’s humanitarian spirit reveals itself in her work with low-income girls can go to their proms in style.  

Thank you, Donna, for all you do to make our home special and to make our Selfhelp Home special and to make the world a better place. You are a friend and part of the fabric of Selfhelp.  If you and Larry could please come up; we have a gift of appreciation.    

Meet the new intern Ella Neumann!

Have you met Ella? She is our new German Intern who just arrived at the end of September. Ella is 18 and is from Nurtingen, Germany, near Stuttgart. She likes to play the saxophone, and enjoys bike riding. She also enjoys singing and has already joined a local choir. In the few weeks that she has been here, she already feels very welcome. She loves the programs is impressed by the political discussions (she didn’t expect that) and is enjoying teaching morning exercise. Ella is especially happy to follow and attend the Jewish traditions at Selfhelp, “I have only learned about them in school,” she expressed , “it’s so different when you see it in real life,” said Ella. We look forward to getting to know her. Ella will be with us until next August, be sure to welcome her as you see her around the house!

For the past 20 years, The Selfhelp Home is a host to a student intern from Germany, a program with Action Reconciliation Service for Peace (ARSP).


by Selfhelp Resident, Les Mitnick

We change as our priorities and needs change. Speaking only for myself, I can emphatically state that in my twenties, thirties, and forties (and even my fifties!), I never gave much thought to what my needs would be in my seventies. However, I’ve always been a “planner”, and I was taught relatively early in life to make decisive decisions.

My decision to make my home here at Selfhelp was based on my personal “time clock”. I pondered the future while still living in the present. I had the good fortune of being able to give bi-monthly musical programs at Self Help since 2010 (while I was in my middle sixties) and was gratified by the enthusiasm of the residents. Moreover, I found the atmosphere here at Selfhelp to be extremely warm, cordial, and wonderfully evergreen and friendly. I found myself establishing a beautiful rapport with many of the residents, all of whom embraced me with enthusiasm.

As the years passed, I began to think of Selfhelp as a home for me when I felt the time would come. I had the opportunity to see a variety of apartments at Selfhelp, and soon realized that any number of them would suit my needs perfectly — and so I began to work towards the fruition of my plan to make my “big move” and to become a permanent resident here at Selfhelp.

Now that my moving experience is behind me, I am thrilled to say that I feel settled, secure, and strangely enough, I’ve not looked back. I enjoy the feeling of community here as well as the sense of “family”. I cherish the associations and friendships I’ve made here and I feel exhilarated by the “extras” offered as well — the theatrical films, the frequent live concerts and recitals, the lectures, etc. I’ve found that dining at a table with cordial people adds a most important component of life that few should live without: the act of socialization.

And so I’ve begun another journey in this odyssey which we can call life. I’ve always said that virtually everyone has sufficient life resources to write their autobiography. Plainly, residing here at the Selfhelp Home can augment that autobiography.

Life-Changing Care at The Selfhelp Home

Not only has resident Jeffrey Korman touched almost every part of The Selfhelp Home and its levels of care, but The Selfhelp Home has also touched him.

In 2017, at the age of 62, Korman suffered three strokes several months apart. During that frightening time, he was in and out of the hospital and rehab, sometimes having frustrating experiences with healthcare. After the third stroke, he was not in good shape. “I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t stand. I couldn’t swallow. I was being tube fed, and I had no idea what was going on,” Korman says.

He needed good rehab care. So Korman’s sister in Boston set out to research properties and saw that U.S. News & World Report had ranked The Selfhelp Home as a top-performing rehab and skilled nursing facility.

Korman was disoriented when he entered Selfhelp. But even then, he could tell that it was a different kind of place, a caring place, he says.. Under the care of the sixth-floor skilled nursing and rehab team, he began to improve.

Being only 62, Korman was in good shape before the strokes. Young, and active, it was important for him to get back to functioning quickly.

“I say that I’m the first person to come in here horizontal and leave vertical,” he jokes.

Yet, it was hard. Even seemingly simple tasks like swallowing or maintaining his balance were tough. “All these things our body does are really complicated. Standing and swallowing seem so basic, and I couldn’t do either,” Korman says.

Depressed, he remembered what a friend told him: “Just when you’re depressed that you lost the ability to do something, be positive because you’re really close to finding your way through the door.”

After that mystical moment, Korman began to keep his balance for a second or two, and then longer. He became well enough to start doing physical, occupational and speech therapy. And, again, he felt the caring Selfhelp difference.

Talk to Korman and he’ll start rattling off the names of the people who helped him at various points along his path – Justin, Chorda, Eric, Paul, Jody, Emily, Bridget, Megan, Benna, Laura, Liza, Sofie, Bernard, Kalvin – and he’ll circle back several times to add the names of others. The staff helped him to regain his functioning after the series of strokes.

“At some point, I said that I didn’t want to be good for 62 or good for a stroke victim, so they pushed me,” he says. “I guess it might be routine for them, but to me it was extraordinary. Every single person knew what they were doing. All across the board, the sixth floor [skilled nursing] was good as it could be. I felt everybody cheering me on.”

After close to 2 months in skilled nursing, Korman was getting better and it was time for him to move on. When he suffered his three strokes, he was moving into an apartment with two of his adult children. But that was no longer an option, and he had nowhere to go, with no furnishings readily available.

So the staff involved in his care came up with an idea: The Selfhelp Home set up a furnished apartment specifically for Korman’s needs, with a hybrid of independent living and some transitional care.

Korman thrived and, now back in good shape, gave back to the community, using his technology background to consult on the building’s new wifi system and starting a Scrabble night on Tuesdays.

He took the opportunity to really appreciate Selfhelp’s unique culture. Korman was touched by the stories of fellow residents, especially the stories of Holocaust survivors. He soaked up their life experiences, learning from their philosophy of surviving and thriving. And he was the recipient of what he calls “the real loving care of the residents who saw me have an adventure getting to the dinner table when I was first here.”

Having the strokes – a “slap in the face about my mortality” — and meeting the other residents made Korman realize what he takes for granted in his everyday life.

“You would never have a stroke on purpose, but to have a stop at 62-63 years old and hear the story of 90-year-olds and what their life’s been, fleeing Austria and then going to South America and finding their way to Chicago,” he says. “You hear the stories of everybody here — what an education and perspective on life, our path and spirituality.”

While usually people increase their level of care at senior facilities (independent living to assisted living to skilled nursing), Korman was doing it in reverse, moving from skilled nursing down to independent living.

“I think I was like Frankenstein at the beginning, and now people are afraid because I almost knock them over,” he says.

But now at 63 years old, he wasn’t ready for retirement living – not yet. So in July he was given the all-clear to be on his own. Korman bought a condo in Evanston and made arrangements to leave Selfhelp and go back part-time to his former computer systems job.

Overall, Korman is grateful for the healing and support he received at The Selfhelp Home, both from the caring staff and from the loving residents.

“Like I said, who would’ve purposefully had this experience?” he says. “But my recovery, the support in my recovery and just living here has just changed my life. I’m changed for having been here, even if I had no health problem.”

“You would never have a stroke on purpose, but to have a stop at 62-63 years old and hear the story of 90-year-olds and what their life’s been, fleeing Austria and then going to South America and finding their way to Chicago,” he says. “You hear the stories of everybody here — what an education and perspective on life, our path and spirituality.”

While usually people increase their level of care at senior facilities (independent living to assisted living to skilled nursing), Korman was doing it in reverse, moving from skilled nursing down to independent living.

“I think I was like Frankenstein at the beginning, and now people are afraid because I almost knock them over,” he says.

But now at 63 years old, he wasn’t ready for retirement living – not yet. So in July he was given the all-clear to be on his own. Korman bought a condo in Evanston and made arrangements to leave Selfhelp and go back part-time to his former computer systems job.

Overall, Korman is grateful for the healing and support he received at The Selfhelp Home, both from the caring staff and from the loving residents.

“Like I said, who would’ve purposefully had this experience?” he says. “But my recovery, the support in my recovery and just living here has just changed my life. I’m changed for having been here, even if I had no health problem.”



Keep, Toss or Donate? 5 Ways to Start Decluttering Before You Move

Even the best senior living communities offer smaller apartments than the homes or apartments most seniors are used to living in. This often means people must downsize and declutter before they move in. Certainly not a chore that anyone really relishes, but the end result can be life enriching.  Most of us accumulate a lot of “stuff” during our lives, and for an elderly person, the process of deciding what should go and what should stay can be daunting.

However, if we approach the process with a positive attitude, the act of sorting through our things and giving away possessions can also bring a sense of calm and freedom from the things that bind us to our current situation.  In fact, Marie Kondo, a Japanese organizing consultant wrote a book about it called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. Kondo’s book takes a straight approach to tidying…put your hands on everything you own, ask yourself if it sparks joy, and if it doesn’t, thank it for its service and get rid of it.

Sounds simple, but it takes time and having a family member or close friend help with the sorting process may make the process easier or at least more enjoyable. If you don’t have someone close by to help out, you may want to consider hiring a senior moving expert, relocation specialist or organizer to help with the process. Fees vary across the country and a real estate agent may be a good referral source or ask for recommendations from friends, seniors’ residences or senior centers.

The moving expert can help with:

  • sorting and decision-making
  • packing
  • arranging the move
  • arranging for charity pick up, garage sale, estate sale or working with consignment shops
  • unpacking boxes and arranging your new home

If there is time, and your move is down the road, think about starting the decluttering process six months or more ahead of time.  Here are 5  ways to get started today:

  1. Get rid of the junk – Shred old documents, toss, or give away clothes or household items that are no longer being used or needed. In other words, start with the easy stuff first.  Leave the mementos and prized possessions for later.
  2. Make three piles – One for garbage/recycling, one for donating and one for keeping.  Start writing a list of mementos that you want to give to specific people. Create a file for important documents (tax information, social security documents, titles, wills, etc.) so everything is gathered in one place and easily accessible.
  3. Get a floor plan for your new place – Decide where the major furniture will be placed such as your bed, dresser, couch, TV, bookshelf, table and chairs, etc. This will help whittle down the larger items you can take with you. If a piece serves multiple purposes, even better!
  4. Identify the special items – Select and set aside those personal items that will make your new home feel like home.  Family photos, artwork, select knickknacks – limit the amount you choose and make sure you keep the items you treasure most.  Space is at a premium, so choose the things that are most meaningful to you.
  5. Reduce, reduce, reduce! You will only need a small amount of dishes (not serving pieces and a set of 12 plates or wine glasses) and a few pots and pans in your new home. Kitchen items should be kept to a minimum.  One of the best parts of living in a senior community is being able to enjoy delicious meals that you don’t cook yourself!  Go through room-by-room and spend an hour or so per room.  Be quick with your decisions – remember, if you don’t love it or need it – get rid of it!

In the end, having a positive attitude and approaching this life change as a new adventure will make the all the difference.  Having someone help with the process can keep you on track and make the decisions about what to keep easier.  You will be amazed by the sense of freedom and lightness you feel once the process is complete and you settle into your new home!

For information on senior living visit The Selfhelp Home online

9 Foods to Eat for a Healthy, Aging Brain

Keeping our bodies and minds healthy as we age can be challenging.  Many of us worry that the slightest lapse in memory could be the start of something more serious like Alzheimer’s disease.  But there are ways to help slow the cognitive decline that can come with aging. Researchers have identified certain foods that can help keep both your body and mind healthy. Foods that are rich in antioxidants, good fats, vitamins and minerals provide energy and help protect against brain diseases.  Below are some foods to consider adding to your diet or increasing the amount you consume:

  1. Oil-based salad dressings:  Along with seeds, nuts, peanut butter and whole grains, salad dressings are high in vitamin E and this may help protect neurons or nerve cells from dying, which can lead to cognitive deterioration.
  2. Dark green leafy vegetables:  Use that oil-based salad dressing on kale, collard greens, spinach and broccoli as all are also good sources of vitamin E as well as folate.  Both vitamin E and folate help protect the brain.
  3. Avocados:  Avocados are another source of vitamin E and vitamin C.  Foods rich in these two vitamins are associated with a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease.
  4. Fish:  Fish are rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids so including salmon, mackerel, tuna and other fish in your diet and reducing or eliminating red meat and other artery clogging proteins are important to keep neurons functioning normally.
  5. Nuts: Peanuts, peanut butter, almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts and sunflowers are all good sources of vitamin E and are considered “healthy fats.” Nuts may help keep both the heart and the brain healthy and functioning properly – a two for one!
  6. Dark chocolate:  Dark chocolate is full of flavonoids, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.  Flavonoids can help lower blood pressure and improve blood flow to both the brain and the heart.
  7. Red Wine: If you are going to consume moderate amounts of alcohol, the best choice is red wine.  Studies have shown that people who drink moderate amounts of red wine and other types of alcohol may be at a reduced risk for Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia.
  8. Berries:  Keep eating those blueberries, strawberries and acai berries to help slow down age-related cognitive decline. Dark berries such as blackberries, blueberries and cherries are a rich source of anthocyanins and other flavonoids that may boost memory function.
  9. Whole Grains:  Grains rich in fiber are an integral part of the Mediterranean diet, which is also full of fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, olive oil and wine.  This type of diet may reduce inflammation, oxidative stress and other vascular risk factors such as high blood pressure.  All of these factors may play a role in increasing the risk for brain and heart diseases.

In addition to a healthy diet, finding ways to reduce stress through meditation, a regular exercise regimen and memory enhancing exercises such as crossword puzzles, Sudoku or even just challenging your brain by trying to memorize your grocery list, learning to play a musical instrument, doing math problems in your head or taking a new way home.  Experts recommend a little “brain training” daily to strengthen brain function through everyday activities that offer novelty that helps to engage your brain in new ways. Getting enough uninterrupted sleep is also an important part of staying healthy and giving your brain a chance to recharge sufficiently. Keeping our brains functioning well requires us to feed it healthy foods, keep it engaged and challenged and then allow for sufficient rest and relaxation.  That’s the recipe for successful brain health!


The Benefits of Choosing a CCRC Retirement Community

Everyone ages a bit differently.  We all have unique needs, personalities, interests and preferences.

As time goes on, people require varying levels of assistance in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle and engage in activities they enjoy as part of their everyday lives. Sometimes, it is the children, relatives or friends that begin to notice it is getting more difficult for a loved one to do the things they once did, or that their health is beginning to decline.  Regardless of where the nudge comes from, the time may come to consider moving into a community that offers independent retirement apartments, assisted living, rehabilitation and/or skilled nursing care.  For many people, the decision to find a community that offers all of these services is often the best choice.

There are many considerations to take into account in finding the right community.  For instance, couples often have different needs.  One spouse may be younger than the other or in better health and may not require much, if any, assistance.  However, his or her spouse might require some help every day and as the spouse ages and his or her disease or condition progresses, might require more assistance as time goes on.  In other instances, people want to remain active and engaged, but living at home alone is isolating and they begin to feel disconnected from the world. Having people to socialize with, engaging activities such as cultural entertainment, movie nights, exercise classes, book clubs, and homemade kosher meals can make all the difference in the world.

What is a CCRC?

Moving into a vibrant community, where the person can move in and live independently and have services added as they need them, makes for a smoother transition for most people.  This is the lifestyle offered by a continuing care retirement community (CCRC). Finding the right CCRC means that instead of making a series of decisions and moving to a different location when needs change, the person can stay within the same community to get the help they need to be as independent as possible.

Some CCRC’s also have comprehensive rehabilitation services, so if surgery is needed at some point and the person requires rehabilitation afterward, they can recover in the rehabilitation center onsite and then return to their apartment after rehabilitation is complete.  The same is true for skilled nursing services and often memory care or hospice services as well. Receiving care from people you know in an environment that is familiar and comfortable reduces the stress that can come with increasing health needs.  Most people will tell you they want to remain at home as long as possible.  When “home” has all the services you might need for the future, a huge burden is removed, health care decisions become easier and you can live life to the fullest.

Where you live influences how well you live.  So, choose wisely, ask questions and take the time to think about what will make you happiest in the long term. For more information about senior living talk to a retirement counselor at [email protected] or call us and ask for Laura Zellhofer, 773-271-0300.

Honoring Leni Weil with The Lifetime Achievement Award

Leni Weil has been a force of nature at The Selfhelp Home for more than 60 years, first as a volunteer teaching English to other refugees like herself, and later as a member of the Board of Trustees and its treasurer.

Fleeing Hitler’s Germany Leni landed in Chicago in 1939, working her way up from babysitting to singlehandedly running an office. As luck would have it, she reconnected here with an old friend from Stuttgart, the late Dr. Rolf Weil, her husband of 72 years.

The two were fiercely determined and equal partners; Rolf rising to the presidency of both Roosevelt University and The Selfhelp Home and Leni, the gracious and exceedingly smart “first lady,” whose support made it all possible.

Leni’s warm and generous nature has won her a bevy of admirers, foremost her adoring children and grandchildren. We at Selfhelp are proud to be central in her circle. It is a privilege to honor Leni with our Lifetime Achievement Award.

The Selfhelp Home Awarded Joint Commission Nursing Care Center Accreditation and Post-Acute Care Certification

Today, The Selfhelp Home announced it has earned The Joint Commission’s Gold Seal of Approval® for Nursing Care Center Accreditation  and Post-Acute Care Certification by demonstrating continuous compliance with its performance standards. The Gold Seal of Approval® is a symbol of quality that reflects an organization’s commitment to providing safe and effective patient and resident care. The Selfhelp Home underwent a rigorous on-site survey in early 2018 to meet the criteria and achieve this honor.

During the review, Joint Commission expert surveyors evaluated compliance with nursing care center standards related to several areas, including assistance with activities of daily living, coordination of care, and staff education and training. Surveyors also conducted on-site observations and interviews with leaders and staff of the organization.

“Joint Commission accreditation and certification provides nursing homes with a framework for the processes needed to improve the care patients and residents receive,” said Gina Zimmermann, MS, executive director, Nursing Care Center Accreditation Program, The Joint Commission. “We commend The Selfhelp Home for its efforts to become a quality improvement organization.”

“The Selfhelp Home is pleased to receive accreditation and certification from The Joint Commission, the premier health care quality improvement and accrediting body in the nation,” added Sheila Bogen, Executive Director of The Selfhelp Home. “Staff from across the organization continue to work together to develop and implement approaches and strategies that are geared for providing the highest quality and best possible care for our patients and residents.”

Established in 1966, The Joint Commission’s Nursing Care Center Accreditation Program accredits more than 1,000 organizations that offer nursing home and other long term care services. The Post-Acute Care Certification award was launched in 2013 by The Joint Commission to recognize nursing homes that demonstrate advanced competencies in the provision of post-acute care to patients and residents recently hospitalized.The accreditation and certification programs are awarded for a three-year period.