November 7, 2017

Roundup on Aging: The Bright Side and the Dark

Americans are retiring later at closer to 67 and dying sooner,

Data released by the Society of Actuaries found that health in the United States is declining and more people are forced to endure shorter retirements.  From 2014 to 2015, mortality rates rose 1.2 per cent marking the first year-over-year increase in the number since 2005. According to a study by journal Health Affairs, people in their late 50s are having the same if not worse ailments than people at those ages a decade ago  At the same time, Americans in the workforce are having much longer careers, forcing the age of retirement to rise. Result: more people are forced to endure shorter, less active retirements.

An 82-year-old man hiked the entire Appalachian Trail. Then he danced a jig
Dale Sanders, 82, stopped to kiss his last trail marker before becoming the oldest person to hike all 2,190 miles of the Appalachian Trail within a year

 Dale Sanders 82 Appalachian Trail

He is, incidentally, two years older than the Appalachian Trail, which was officially “connected” in 1937, meaning people could hike it in its entirety from Georgia to Maine. Sanders hiked it in a “flip-flop” sequence, meaning he did a Georgia-to-Harpers Ferry leg, followed by a Maine-to-Harpers Ferry leg. A naturally gregarious person, Sanders had periods of depression while alone on the trail. He was helped by what he calls “trail angels,” people who recognized him from seeing him on the Internet, who called out his trail name — “Grey Beard” — and hiked alongside him for a stretch. ...His next move?  “I’m done and I’m tired,” he said. “And I can go home."

Dancing Has Greater Anti-Aging Effects On Brain Than Exercising

A new study finds that while regular exercise helps keep us strong physically and mentally, dancing may be the most valuable form of physical activity — so much so that it actually has certain anti-aging effects more substantial than the benefits of general fitness.  ....“In this study, we show that two different types of physical exercise (dancing and endurance training) both increase the area of the brain that declines with age. In comparison, it was only dancing that led to noticeable behavioral changes in terms of improved balance,” says the study author at the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases and Otto von Guericke University Magdeburg.

People Over 60 More Content In Life Than All Other Adults, AARP Survey of 2600  Finds.

80-Year-Olds As Street Smart As 20-Year-Olds, Study Finds

The elderly are just as keen at identifying shady figures or situations as young adults, it turns out. Researchers at the University of Portsmouth recruited 126 individuals — about a third of whom were aged 59 to 91, and the rest of whom were 20 to 28 — for a study on whether one’s age can reliably determine their street smarts — that is, their ability to accurately assess dangerous situations. “The results could encourage older people to recognize they are street smart, that their gut instincts are spot on.”

The Financial Abuse is a different story.

Survey: Nearly 7 In 10 Seniors Targeted By Fraud Campaigns

About two-thirds of elderly Americans have been targeted by a fraud campaign, and more than a quarter have actually fallen victim to such efforts, reports a new survey by at the Cooperative Credit Union Association (CCUA), a trade group that represents credit unions, polled nearly 1,200 Americans, all of whom were caretakers of senior citizens, hoping to learn more about the scams that prey on unsuspecting baby boomers.Correspondence via email was found to be the most common (53 percent) attempt at fraud, followed by telephone (49 percent), text message (16 percent), and postal mail (also 16 percent).

How senior citizens can be victims of elder financial abuse

“Each year, elder financial abuse costs Americans more than $36 billion, and 1 in every 5 seniors — age 65 or older — has been abused financially,” Abuses are often committed by people the elderly person knows, and the abuses are often never investigated. Such abuses include theft of valuables, credit card scams and false shipment, as well as home repair and moving scams. “Just 1 in 44 financial elder abuse cases are ever reported,” according to the National Adult Protective Services Association.

In the New Yorker, a bombshell report.  How the Elderly Lose Their Rights by Rachel Aviv
The stories are horrifying. Strangers get appointed guardians and proceed to sell their assets and control the lives of seniors without their consent and without notifying their families, all to reap profits.

In the United States, a million and a half adults are under the care of guardians, either family members or professionals, who control some two hundred and seventy-three billion dollars in assets, according to an auditor for the guardianship fraud program in Palm Beach County. Little is known about the outcome of these arrangements, because states do not keep complete figures on guardianship cases—statutes vary widely—and, in most jurisdictions, the court records are sealed. A Government Accountability report from 2010 said, “We could not locate a single Web site, federal agency, state or local entity, or any other organization that compiles comprehensive information on this issue.” A study published this year by the American Bar Association found that “an unknown number of adults languish under guardianship” when they no longer need it, or never did. The authors wrote that “guardianship is generally “permanent, leaving no way out—‘until death do us part.’ ”
April Parks Parks drove a Pontiac G-6 convertible with a license plate that read “crtgrdn,” for “court guardian.” In the past twelve years, she had been a guardian for some four hundred wards of the court. Owing to age or disability, they had been deemed incompetent, a legal term that describes those who are unable to make reasoned choices about their lives or their property. As their guardian, Parks had the authority to manage their assets, and to choose where they lived, whom they associated with, and what medical treatment they received. They lost nearly all their civil rights.
in a detailed summary of the investigation, Jaclyn O’Malley, who led the probe for the Nevada Attorney General’s Office, made passing references to the “collusion of hospital social workers and medical staff” who profited from their connection to Parks. At Parks’s grand-jury trial, her assistant testified that she and Parks went to hospitals and attorneys’ offices for the purpose of “building relationships to generate more client leads.” Parks secured a contract with six medical facilities whose staff agreed to refer patients to her—an arrangement that benefitted the facilities, since Parks controlled the decisions of a large pool of their potential consumers. Parks often gave doctors blank certificates and told them exactly what to write in order for their patients to become her wards.

Two documents that can help keep you safe from such financial abuse

A bombshell report in the New Yorker detailed how one woman allegedly took control of strangers' financial and health decisions in Nevada.  Simple documents — like a power of attorney form and healthcare directive — can help you retain control, even if you are no longer able to care for yourself.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:29 PM | Permalink

August 26, 2017

Alzheimer's Roundup: Singing and Dancing edition

“Most people associate music with important events and a wide array of emotions.
The connection can be so strong that hearing a tune long after the occurrence evokes a memory of it.”
— Alzheimer's Foundation of America

Line-dancing is better than a walk to fight Alzheimer's:

Pensioners who learn to line dance, take up jazz or square dancing are better protected from memory loss and dementia than those who walk or cycle, a study shows. Dancing can help fight off the loss of brainpower as we age and brain scans show that it works better over a period of 18 months than spells of cycling or Nordic walking.

....The study’s lead author, Dr Kathrin Rehfeld from the German Centre for Neurodegenerative Diseases, said: ‘Everybody would like to live an independent and healthy life, for as long as possible.  I think dancing is a powerful tool to set new challenges for body and mind, especially in older age.’

Singing and Music have Benefits to those with Alzheimer's

A growing body of research suggests that music — like art and other creative forms of therapy — can stir emotions and memories, enhance enjoyment and self-esteem, and enrich the lives of people with dementia....Music may even play a role in helping to ward off Alzheimer’s. Researchers from Loyola University in Chicago found that retired orchestra musicians who had spent a lifetime of playing musical instruments were less likely to develop dementia in old age.

....Singing as part of a group led to improvements in the thinking and memory skills and boost mood in those with dementia....“These data show that participation in an active singing program for an extended period of time can improve cognition in patients with moderate to severe dementia,” the researchers wrote.

Alzheimer's patients' brains boosted by belting out Sound of Music

The sessions appeared to have the most striking effect on people with moderate to severe dementia, with patients scoring higher on cognitive and drawing tests, and also on a satisfaction-with-life questionnaire at the end of the study....Jane Flinn, a neuroscientist at George Mason University in Virginia, said care homes that did not hold group singing sessions should consider them, because they were cheap, entertaining and beneficial for patients with Alzheimer's.

Choir of Alzheimer's patients sings tunes from memory

They're the songs that get stuck in our heads – and not nearly so annoying when placed in the context of a choir made up of Alzheimer's patients.  "That's where the magic comes in." ...Suddenly patients who entered the room having difficulty holding a thought or stringing even a few words together, belt out tunes from Rodgers and Hammerstein and the Beatles...."We know that music is stored in a part of the brain that's last affected by Alzheimer's disease."

Alzheimer's Disease: Music Brings Patients 'Back to Life'

"When I end up in a nursing home, I'll want to have my music with me," said Dan Cohen, executive director of Music & Memory. ...Personalized playlists, chosen by loved ones, make patients light up. "They're more alert, more attentive, more cooperative, more engaged," he said. "Even if they can't recognize loved ones and they've stopped speaking, they hear music and they come alive."

Remind music app helps Alzheimer's patients bring back memories

After being inspired by the documentary Alive Inside, a group of student designers in Sweden created Remind which allows families to curate playlists that help people with Alzheimer's remember parts of their lives through music .

The design team created a simplified MP3 player that feels like a smooth stone to make it easier for patients with any form of dementia to use.  A smartphone application allows the patient's family to personalize playlists.  Unfortunately, this award-winning design has yet to be produced.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:35 PM | Permalink

February 9, 2017

The Religious Persecution you don't hear much about

Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world, with around 90,000 killed for their faith in 2016, study says.

The Center for the Study of Global Christianity reported around 70 percent of Christians murdered in 2016 died in tribal conflicts in Africa. .... very often they involved Christians who refuse to take up arms for reasons of conscience."The other 30 percent, or 27,000, were killed in terror attacks, the destruction of Christian villages, or government persecution."

12 Worst Christian Persecution Nations; US Makes List for First Time

The United States has for the first time been named among the top 12 nations where Christians are targeted for their faith by a persecution watchdog group in its "Hall of Shame" report for 2016.

"We felt it was very important this year that we highlight three countries where religious discrimination and persecution are deemed unusual but have reached a certain threshold of concern. These are Mexico, Russia, and sadly, the United States," explained in a press release Jeff King, president of International Christian Concern.

"While conditions in the US are in no way comparable to other countries on the list, a certain segment of the culture and the courts seem to be intent on driving faith out of the public square. There have been too many court cases with bad decisions to miss the clear trend line."

CBS Poll: Two-thirds of Democrats Say Islam and Christianity Are Equally Violent

Only one-in-seven registered Democrats in America believe that Islam is more violent as a whole than Christianity, according to a new CBS poll.

 Cbs Poll Violence Islam-1

Rasmussen Poll Reveals Democrats Think Muslims Worse Off Here Than Christians Are In Muslim World

Fifty-six percent (56%) of Democrats, however, believe most Muslims in this country are mistreated, a view shared by only 22% of Republicans and 39% of voters not affiliated with either major party. Fewer Democrats (47%) think most Christians are mistreated in the Islamic world, compared to 76% of GOP voters and 64% of unaffiliateds.

 Christians Isis Beheaded

Christian persecution seen in more locations across the globe,

Open Doors USA said in its new report that some 215 million Christians around the globe are facing some degree of persecution. But that number, it noted, could actually be much higher. “Our report is conservative because it only calculates incidents that are reported and can be validated.” ... “It is likely that there are thousands of incidents that are never reported and nobody knows because Christians are often fearful to tell anyone – even their own family members."

In France: Anti-Christian attacks rise 245 percent

While racist, anti-Muslim, and anti-Semitic attacks have seen a huge fall since 2008, those on Christian places of worship more than doubled in this period of time, France’s interior ministry reported last week.

Who will protect Nigeria’s northern Christians? 

For the outside world, what is happening to the Christians of northern Nigeria is both beyond our imagination and beneath our interest. These tribal-led villages, each with their own ‘paramount ruler’, were converted by missionaries in the 19th and 20th centuries. But now these Christians — from the bishop down — sense that they have become unsympathetic figures, perhaps even an embarrassment, to the West. The international community pretends that this situation is a tit-for-tat problem, rather than a one-sided slaughter. Meanwhile, in Nigeria, the press fails to report or actively obscures the situation. Christians in the south of the country feel little solidarity with their co-religionists suffering from this Islamic revivalism and territorial conquest in the north. And worst of all, the plight of these people is of no interest to their own government. In fact, this ethnic and religious cleansing appears to be taking place with that government’s complicity or connivance.

The moment three years ago when Boko Haram abducted 300 Christian schoolgirls from the north-east and ‘Bring Back Our Girls’ briefly trended on Twitter was the closest this situation has come to catching the world’s attention. But the moment passed. Those girls are still missing and the story of Boko Haram has receded from the headlines. But similar atrocities go on all the time.

One Congressman's plea to the US: Don't abandon Iraq's Christians

Displaced Christians in the region had not received any aid from U.S. aid agencies or the United Nations in two years....Poland and Hungary already have, he pointed out, with the Hungarian government opening an office with a budget of over $3 million euros to aid persecuted Christians.

Where all of the demonstrators were when Islamic State fighters were slaughtering Christians and other minorities in the Middle East?

The Catholic Archbishop of Erbil, Iraq, has denounced the hypocrisy of those protesting President Trump’s recent executive order on immigration, wondering aloud where all of the demonstrators were when Islamic State fighters were slaughtering Christians and other minorities in the Middle East.

From my perspective in Iraq, I wonder why all of these protesters were not protesting in the streets when ISIS came to kill Christians and Yazidis and other minority groups. They were not protesting when the tens of thousands of displaced Christians my archdiocese has cared for since 2014 received no financial assistance from the U.S. government or the U.N. There were no protests when Syrian Christians were only let in at a rate that was 20 times less than the percentage of their population in Syria. I do not understand why some Americans are now upset that the many minority communities that faced a horrible genocide will finally get a degree of priority in some manner.

I would also say this, all those who cry out that this is a “Muslim Ban” - especially now that it has been clarified that it is not - should understand clearly that when they do this, they are hurting we Christians specifically and putting us at greater risk.  The executive order has clearly affected Christians and Yazidis and others as well as Muslims.

A Yazidi freedom-fighter places a cross on a church in Sinjar destroyed by ISIS

 Yazidi Restores Cross

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:07 PM | Permalink

November 8, 2016

“I was my husband’s caregiver as he was dying of cancer. It was the best seven months of my life.”

May God Grant Us Grace to See the Beauty in Our Suffering

“I was my husband’s caregiver as he was dying of cancer. It was the best seven months of my life.” Grant is a deputy managing editor for the newspaper.

The people at PBS News Hour were so moved by her piece that they asked to tell her story in a video essay. (You can watch it below.)

I was my husband’s caregiver as he was dying of cancer. It was the best seven months of my life.  Tracy Grant

Ten years later, I haven’t started a foundation to cure cancer. I haven’t left the news business to get a medical degree. I work. I pay the bills. I try to be there for my sons. I will never again be as good a person as I was when I cared for Bill. I will never again have that high a purpose.  But every day I also try to find and put into practice the person I became during those seven months. I try to be a little less judgmental, a little more forgiving, a little more generous, a little more grateful for the small moments in life. I am a better person for having been Bill’s caregiver. It was his last, best gift to me.

Tracy Grant is a deputy managing editor at The Washington Post.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:20 AM | Permalink

January 25, 2013

'I couldn't take it anymore'

Father-of-seven, 93, accused of killing wife, 95, after 70 years of marriage saying 'I couldn't take it anymore'

A 93-year-old Kansas City man has been charged with stabbing his 95-year-old wife to death, allegedly telling a nurse afterwards: 'I couldn't take it anymore'.

Harry Irwin is accused of stabbing Grace Irwin, his partner of 70 years and mother of his seven children, on Wednesday, before trying to kill himself, according to the Kansas City Star.

Irwin, his wife's primary carer after since she suffered debilitating cancer, slit his own wrists and plunged a knife into his chest after the alleged stabbing.
The paper reports he is also alleged to have told a shift nurse he 'couldn't take it anymore' and saying he killed his wife because she was 'arguing and screaming at him all night'.
Neighbors told the newspaper the family were close with the couple's many children and grandchildren often visiting the home they had shared for 10 years. They were all said to live nearby, mostly within 15 minutes of the couple's Wynadotte Street home.

Why is a  93-year-old man caring for his sick wife dying of cancer 24/7 all alone?  Did none of his children see how burnt-out he was?
Where was the support for this poor old man and his dying wife?

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:16 PM | Permalink

December 3, 2012

The Ex Factor

[M]illions of baby boomers, who experienced record divorce rates in the wake of no-fault laws, are now aging. Men in particular often end up alone and estranged from their children. A current spouse or partner (assuming there is one) friends or siblings may be unable or unwilling to commit themselves to a care-giving role. But for some “exes” their original marital commitment still means what it said.

Caregiving for an ex.  "Till death us do part"

in many cases it did appear to be a selfless act. As we said, many women did it for their children, and it is not uncommon for mothers—of any age, to act so unselfishly when it comes to relationships with their children. There were very few women in our sample who took on the role because of lingering feelings for the ex-husband—or out of feelings that he had no one else who would do this and they felt it was the morally right thing to do. A couple of women noted that they had some guilt about their ex-husbands’ conditions; at least a few noted, for example, that maybe these men would not have ended up in such bad straights had they not divorced them. Most women we interviewed did not regret their choice to provide care to their ex-spouse.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:15 AM | Permalink

May 21, 2012

GPS smart shoe

The GPS 'smart shoe' that can track Alzheimer's sufferers on Google Maps if they go missing

GPS technology can help Alzheimer's sufferers and their carers, with the release of a shoe that tracks the wearer's position and plots their position on Google Maps.  The GPS Smart Shoe embeds a GPS receiver and SIM card to send the shoe's position to a private tracking website - helping to find people if they wander off.

With 800,000 sufferers in the UK - which is predicted to expand to one million within the next decade, manufacture Aetrex said they wanted to use technology to enable extra support.
The shoes are available for both men and women, with either straps or shoelaces, and goes for around £300 a pair, with a monthly service plan of £30.  The receiver is tucked discreetly into the heel of the shoe.  The transmitter is embedded in the base of the right heel and tracks the user's location in real time, sending that data at specified intervals to a central monitoring station.

When the wearer wanders off wearing the GPS Shoe, their caregiver will immediately receive a geo-fence alert on their smartphone and computer, with a direct link to a Google map plotting the wanderer’s location.  The company is also talking to various Alzheimer associations to explore various partnerships.

If there is a downside to the technology, it is that the battery life of the GPS receiver lasts only two days - so it could run flat if no-one remembers to charge it.  However an email alert is sent to the carer when the battery is low.

This sounds like a godsend, once care-givers get in the habit of charging shoes every night.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:24 AM | Permalink

April 12, 2012

Montessori methods for patients with dementia

Here's a good idea.  Montessori methods could be used for patients with dementia.

Judith Potts writes It's time to give our elderly the sort of care we give our children

The Montessori method was originally designed for children with learning disabilities. Now it is a sought-after form of nursery education for children of all abilities. My own children attended one and I based my method of teaching drama on the muscle memory and five sense techniques. Seeing a reluctant child develop into one who is confident enough to use his or her imagination to create an imaginary object is truly magical. I am sure it would be the same working with dementia patients.

I can see how it would adapt for dementia patients – even those with severe dementia – because muscle memory still works for these patients, making repetition easy for them. Arranging flowers, sorting objects and singing songs are successful exercises that muscle memory holds. Using beautiful objects in a peaceful, warm and caring environment will enable some memory to be re-opened. Recognition skills can be re-established and enjoyment in successful task completion experienced again.
Tom and Karen Brenner are Montessori gerontologists, researchers, consultants, trainers and writers. They work with dementia patients – using the Montessori method – while also training others in the system.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:43 PM | Permalink

October 20, 2011

Crowdsourcing and connecting for caregivers and the chronically ill

Coming to market are a number of products aimed at the chronically ill and their caregivers.

First off, A Shoe for Wanderers, GPS tracking devices embedded in shoes for seniors suffering Alzheimers or dementia.  A boon for adult children who want to know where their parents are.

Springwise looks at A dedicated social network and web portal for the chronically ill that plans to rollout in 2012 after its trial and service to patients with congestive heart failure

The web portal is called Wellaho

By using the Wellaho web portal, patients can connect with a community of people who suffer from conditions similar to theirs, to share stories, thoughts and advice. Meanwhile, a dashboard allows patients to monitor their progress against key statistics given by their physician, as well as enabling them to set goals and note symptoms which can be viewed by their doctor and support network. The software also enables patients to set up emails, texts and phone calls as reminders for medical appointments, or to remind about the correct dosages and times for medications...... Additionally, online resources containing the latest news and information on clinical trials, research, and treatments specific to the patient’s condition are available through the service.

Two other sites noted by Springwise.  The first a web app to tap medical crowds for personalized cancer treatment  The app is Cancer commons.  The second is a medical site that helps patients find the most promising new treatments.   The site is Medify

For caregivers there is Caregiver Village and if you register they will donate $1 to the organization of your choice that supports caregivers.  It's a virtual village where you can play a game and solve a mystery and in so doing learn valuable self care techniques.  There are tip sheets, online training courses and my favorite, book clubs, where you can connect and share with other caregivers.  There are even apps for your iPhone and iPad.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:10 PM | Permalink

Caregiver Gain

We have heard so much about the burdens of caregiving, that this news about the Caregiving's Hidden Benefits is most welcome 

The finding that caregiving brings measurable benefits to your health and brain is so counter-intuitive that

when Lisa Fredman, a Boston University epidemiologist, first saw such results emerging from her study of elderly women, “I thought, what on earth is going on here?” she recalled. “I blamed myself. I thought something was wrong with my data.”

But over several years of studying the differences between caregivers and non-caregivers in four locations (Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Minneapolis and Portland, Ore.), Dr. Fredman and her colleagues found that while caregivers were indeed more stressed, they still had lower mortality rates than non-caregivers over eight years of follow-up.

And greater physical strength.  And significantly better performance on memory tests.

gerontologists and psychologists use the phrase “caregiver gain” to reflect the fact that this role, which often exacts such high costs, can bring rewards. But they’ve typically described those rewards in psychological, emotional and even spiritual terms: growing confidence in one’s abilities, feelings of personal satisfaction, increased family closeness. That caregivers can walk faster or recall more words on a memory test — that’s news.

You can't underestimate the intangibles at play.  Caregivers have a greater sense of purpose.   Caregivers experience greater love in the innumerable acts of service they do every day for another.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:51 AM | Permalink

May 25, 2011

"How can it be that so many people like me are so completely unprepared for what is, after all, one of life’s near certainties?"

Jonathan Rauch in an agonizing story entitled Letting Go of My Father finds himself utterly unprepared to deal with the decline of his parent, a struggle that's shared by millions of middle-aged Americans.

I came to dread the ring of the telephone: it might be my father on the floor, asking me to come over and pick him up, or it might be emergency medical services, summoned by a neighbor or the call button. Once, when I arrived amid a commotion of paramedics and flashing lights, a neighbor, herself elderly, was standing in the hallway, her face flushed with fear, yelling to me, “He can’t live here! You’ve got to move him!” In the midst of it all, my father would be entreating everyone to leave him be.

My professional work all but stopped. Finding doctors for him and getting him to appointments and coordinating escalating medical needs swallowed entire days. I managed until one hot July afternoon. I was at my desk closing a column when Michael called from Costco, where he had taken my father shopping. My father had gone stiff on one side, become incoherent and unable to stand, and didn’t know where he was. I had to get over there, Michael said, in a quietly frightened voice. I jumped up and ran out, but by the time I arrived my father had recovered and did not remember anything untoward happening. “Do you need to see a doctor?” I asked, stupidly. He just gave a dismissive wave of his hand. “I’m okay,” he said. I stood there, in the produce aisle, with no idea what to do, frightened by my incompetence and, worse, furious at my father for putting me in this impossible position.

That was the day I realized that he could not cope and I could not cope and, emotionally, he could take me down with him.
In hindsight, I was ripe for post-traumatic stress syndrome or anxiety disorder or depression. According to the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving at Georgia Southwestern State University, family caregivers face elevated risks to their physical health, mental health, finances, employment, and retirement. I can attest to the mental-health risk. That I managed to keep myself together owes itself largely to a coping strategy of my own—one that brought with it a peculiar discovery.

For whatever reason, and quite against my usual introverted nature, I talked. To almost anyone. A provocation as simple as “How are you?” would educe an answer like, “Bad. I’m at my wits’ end coping with my father.” Out could come the whole story.

The medical infrastructure for elder care in America is good, very good. But the cultural infrastructure is all but nonexistent.
How can it be that so many people like me are so completely unprepared for what is, after all, one of life’s near certainties?
Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:44 PM | Permalink

April 16, 2010

"I felt like a token presence in the world"

During my years volunteering for hospice, I had a patient named Bob.  Bob was dying of ALS, and told me he had been suicidal for more than two years, to the point, he told me, that if he could have gone to Kevorkian, he would have taken the flight.  (He later changed his mind and was very glad he hadn’t committed suicide, a lesson that assisted suicide advocates refuse to acknowledge.)  I asked him why he had wanted to kill himself.  It wasn’t because he was becoming progressively disabled, but rather, he told me.  “First my friends stopped visiting me. Then my friends stopped calling me. Then, my friends stopped calling my wife, and I felt like a token presence in the world.”

I only saw Bob truly distraught once.  I was called by his wife to please come over right away.  When I got there, Bob was beside himself.  Why?  Again, it wasn’t his by now total quadriplegia, but because somebody came over to talk about a concern with his children and acted as if he were a potted plant, not talking to him directly, and when he was involved at all in the conversation, the question was directed to his wife.  That made Bob feel objectified and isolated, leading to profound despair.

Wesley J. Smith on the Importance of Treating Alzheimer's and Other Ill and Disabled People - as People

Here is part of his excerpt of an interview in Der Spiegel about Richard Taylor, a  university professor who has suffered for 9 years with early onset Alzheimer's.

SPIEGEL: And your friends?

Taylor: They stopped calling too. I phoned them and asked how come we hadn’t had lunch in months. They said they didn’t know what to say to me anymore. I said, “just say ‘hello.” To which they replied, “but what would we talk about?” And I said, “why don’t we talk about George W. Bush, world peace, global warming, or your relationship with your wife or whatever we used to talk about?”

SPIEGEL: What did they say to that?

Taylor: “I didn’t know you were still interested in things like that.” They already see me as fading away. They expect me to evaporate in front of their eyes. But I’m still all an ocean.

It is absolutely heart-breaking and his conclusion that we have to increase our capacities to love our neighbor are absolutely right. 

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:17 PM | Permalink

December 5, 2008

Learning to Speak Alzheimer's

Jane Gross of The New Old Age says the best self-help book for family members caring for one of their own with Alzheimer's is

"Learning to Speak Alzheimer's: A Groundbreaking Approach for Everyone Dealing with the Disease" (Joanne Koenig Coste)

The book preaches a counterintuitive approach she calls “habilitation,’’ which is a fancy word for entering the topsy-turvy reality of the cognitively impaired person rather than trying to force them into a world they no longer understand.

More such common-sense and compassionate tips can be found in Ms. Koenig-Costes’s book and also in a recent interview she did with In the interview, she says that of all the things she wishes she had known when her late husband was diagnosed, none would have been more useful than the value of lying.
“The secret is to focus on one thing at a time. That’s all an Alzheimer’s person can do

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:22 AM | Permalink

September 16, 2008

The General and his Daughter

This is the most admirable thing I've ever read about Charles DeGaulle. 

 Anne De Gaulle

The lovely photograph above of Le Général and his youngest daughter comes from an article by Michael Gerson on America's "4-month-old civil rights leader" —
Trig's Breakthrough. Mr. Gerson:

The family struggles of political leaders can be morally instructive. Contrast the attitude of Joseph Kennedy with that of Charles de Gaulle, who treated his daughter Anne, born with Down syndrome in 1928, with great affection. The image of this arrogant officer rocking Anne in his arms at night speaks across the years. After her death and burial at age 20, de Gaulle turned to his wife and said, "Come. Now she is like the others."

From the Western Confucian who has collected lots more about the General and his daughter. Via Tea at Trianon

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:09 PM | Permalink

July 28, 2008

Contented Dementia

For those caring for a parent with Alzheimer's or dementia, Oliver James, one of Britain's leading clinical psychologists has a  new book that explains a revolutionary way to care for them, Using the Past to Sense of the Present

He observed the work of his mother-in-law, Penny Garner.

"The SPECAL method works, irrespective of the cause," says Garner. "It provides the key to communicating with the person and managing care in a way that vastly improves the quality of life."

As life expectancy increases, more people will develop dementia during their last years. The defining feature is generally described as short-term memory loss, but not by Garner. "The key factor for me is that people are no longer able to store new facts about what has just happened, while continuing to store new feelings. I use the analogy of a photograph album. What SPECAL does is to make a present out of the past."

Dorothy died in 1984, when Garner was busy raising her three daughters. In 1990, however, Garner began working at Burford Hospital, Oxfordshire, with a group of day patients. Talking to them and their carers she refined her methods so that now, in the course of a two-hour interview, she can show the family how to keep the person contented. This involves identifying a familiar theme from the relative's past which gives them a link to established routines and a sense of independence.

SPECAL also teaches carers to avoid asking questions, because that means the person with dementia has to search their recent memories - and that can distress them. Carers are taught to supply reassuring information if the person with dementia asks questions. What the carer says is less important than the feelings their remark generates. The third rule is never to contradict, because that will also cause upset.

The book 24 hour Wraparound Care for Lifelong Well-being is available in England, but not yet in the United States.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:17 AM | Permalink

July 14, 2008

Car Key Conversation

No, it's not your teen-agers, it's your parents.  From a new blog in The New York Times called The New Old Age comes The Car Key Conversation.

Now I learn that the “car key conversation” is the one that caregivers dread most. Thirty-six percent of adult children polled by the Web site and the National Safety Council said that talking to their parents about the need to stop driving would be harder than discussing funeral plans (29 percent) or selling the family home (18 percent).

Gradually persuading our elderly parents to stop driving, rather than one day having no choice but to take away their car keys, is one of’s primary topics. Among the site’s online
instructionals: “How To Know When Your Parents Should Stop Driving.” “What To Do If Your Parents Refuse To Stop Driving.” “How To Approach Your Parents With Concern About Their Driving.” “Why Giving Up the Car Keys Is Such A Loaded Issue for Your Aging Parents.” And the list goes on.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:53 PM | Permalink

June 11, 2008

21st Century Romeo and Juliet

A difficult, touchy subject about elderly parents in a nursing home. 

Who controls the intimate lives of people with dementia?

An Affair to Remember. 
She was 82.  He was 95.  They had dementia.  They fell in love.  And then they started having sex.
Gerontologists highly recommend sex for the elderly because it improves mood and even overall physical function, but the legal issues are enormously complicated, as Daniel Engber explored in his 2007 article "Naughty Nursing Homes": Can someone with dementia give informed consent? How do caregivers balance safety and privacy concerns? When families object to a demented person being sexually active, are nursing homes responsible for chaperoning? This one botched love affair shows the incredible intensity and human cost of an issue that, as Dorothy's doctor says, we can't afford to go on ignoring.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 6:58 AM | Permalink

April 14, 2008

Renowned oncologist changes position on euthanasia after contracting cancer

For many years, the renowned European oncologist Sylvie Menard was a supporter of euthanasia.  Now that she's contracted bone cancer, she's changed her mind.

Menard told the magazine that she always believed that each person should decide his own fate, but ‘when I became ill, I changed my position radically.”

“When you get sick, death ceases to be something virtual and becomes something that is with you every day,” she said.  “So you say to yourself: ‘I am going to do everything possible to live as long as possible.”

Menard, who is married and has one son, acknowledged, “Today anything that means a new chance at life is valuable to me.”
She said that those who promote euthanasia do so for two reasons: they don’t want to suffer and they don’t want to lose self-sufficiency, thus becoming a burden for others.

She agreed that people who are ill “do not want to experience pain” and that “they have a right to alleviate it”. She also emphasized that “pain therapy has advanced considerably in recent years.”

“Even if you do not have complete use of your faculties and you cannot get up because you are confined to bed, but you still have the affection of your family members, in my opinion, even in those conditions, it’s worth it to keep living,” she said.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:34 AM | Permalink

March 8, 2008

Roundup of Good News on the Health Front

One of the biggest problems in caring for old people who live on their own is making sure they take their medicine.  One in three adults fail to take their prescribed medication.

New technology may help where nothing else does.  The Magnetrace.

Sensor necklace records when pill is swallowed and prompts patient when it is time to take another.

"Forgetfulness is a huge problem, especially among the elderly, but so is taking the medication at the wrong time, stopping too early or taking the wrong dose," said Maysam Ghovanloo, assistant professor in the Georgia Institute of Technology's School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. "Studies show that drug noncompliance costs the country billions of dollars each year as a result of re-hospitalization, complications, disease progression and even death."

There's a lot more going on in our guts than we know. 

Diabetes may be disorder of upper intestine: Surgery may correct it.

Dr. Rubino, who is a professor in the Department of Surgery at Weill Cornell Medical College and chief of gastrointestinal metabolic surgery at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell.... "When we bypass the duodenum and jejunum, we are bypassing what may be the source of the problem,

Those gut feelings we have?  Researchers at Leeds have reviewed the literature and say  Go with Your Gut
intuition is the result of the way our brains store, process and retrieve information on a subconscious level and so is a real psychological phenomenon which needs further study to help us harness its potential.

Researchers have found a protein in embryonic stem cells that inhibits the growth and spread of malignant melanoma, the deadly skin cancer.

And Training in the Arts Makes People Smarter.

“A life-affirming dimension is opening up in neuroscience,” said Dr. Gazzaniga, “to discover how the performance and appreciation of the arts enlarge cognitive capacities will be a long step forward in learning how better to learn and more enjoyably and productively to live."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:00 PM | Permalink

February 23, 2008

Music after a stroke

Listening to music after suffering a stroke is a great idea because the act of listening probably helps the patient recover from brain damage.

Why music could be a tonic for stroke sufferers.

It is the first time such an effect has been shown in humans and scientists believe it could be a cheap, simple way to get stroke patients on the road to recovery.

Researcher Teppo Sarkamo of Helsinki University helped carry out the study.

He said newly diagnosed patients are often left on their own for large parts of the day, yet the first few months after a "brain attack" are ideal for rehabilitative training.

He said: "Our research shows for the first time that listening to music during this crucial period can enhance cognitive recovery and prevent negative mood, and it has the advantage that it is cheap and easy to organise.

"We suggest that everyday music listening during early stroke recovery offers a valuable addition to the patients' care."

It could be helping more general mechanisms of "brain plasticity" - the brain's ability to repair after damage.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 6:07 PM | Permalink

"A bloody good rollicking"

After being told that her newborn son had died during a traumatic birth, the mother suffering from blood poisoning, fell into a coma.  Yvonne Sullivan was only 28 when she was taken to intensive care where her husband kept vigil for two weeks.

Two weeks in a coma is just about how long you've got with the U.K.'s national health insurance.
The doctors told the husband they might have to switch off the life support machines.

That's when Dominic started berating his wife,

When the doctors told me to think about turning off the life support I got angry," he added. "I grabbed her hand and began shouting at her. I gave her a bloody good rollicking.

You start fighting, don't you dare give up on me now. I've had enough, stop mucking around and start breathing. Come back to me."

"I'd already had to explain to Ryan that his brother Clinton had died, and that his mummy might not survive.

"He said he'd be cross with the doctors if they let mummy go to heaven. I kept telling her to pull through. Then I left the room to get some air." 

Two hours later she started breathing on her own, five days later she recovered consciousness.

"I can't remember exactly what he said but I never liked getting told off by Dom," she recalled.

"Something inside me just clicked and I began to fight again.

"I had been on 100 per cent life support and I was deteriorating, but within two hours of him ordering me to get better I'd regained 5 per cent of my breathing.

"When I first came round I'd thought he'd been gone a few minutes, then he told me I'd been out for two weeks. It's a miracle really. I owe him so much."

Coma woman woken by husband's 'rollicking' as doctors were about to switch off life-support machine.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:22 PM | Permalink

October 2, 2007

Brain Atrophy

Adults caring for their elderly parents are sometimes embarrassed by a parent's racist remarks that appear completely out of character or a sudden penchant to travel to Indian casinos to gamble too much.

Bet you never thought of brain atrophy of the frontal lobe.

Brain Atrophy Leads to Unintended Racism, Depression and Problem Gambling
As we age, our brains slowly shrink in volume and weight. This includes significant atrophy within the frontal lobes, the seat of executive functioning. Executive functions include planning, controlling, and inhibiting thought and behavior. In the aging population, an inability to inhibit unwanted thoughts and behavior causes several social behaviors and cognitions to go awry.

In a study appearing in the October issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science, University of Queensland psychologist, Bill von Hippel, reports that decreased inhibitory ability in late adulthood can lead to unintended prejudice, social inappropriateness, depression, and gambling problems.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:54 AM | Permalink

September 29, 2007

Men as caregivers

Dr. Helen focuses on Dutiful Sons who are "quietly and without complaining" taking care of their parents.

Then she quotes Mark Penn, author of "Microtrends: The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow's Big Changes"
According to a 2004 study by the National Alliance for Caregiving and the AARP, nearly 40 percent of the 44 million people in America who provide unpaid care to infirm adults are men. That's about 17 million sons, sons-in-law, nephews, brothers and husbands caring for loved ones in their "spare" time. Throughout the 1990's, the fastest-growing group of relations providing care to chronically disabled adults was sons.

The book gives various reasons that sons are caring for parents, and it makes several interesting points. Male caregivers more often help other men--35 percent compared to only 28 percent of caregiving women who do. Male caregivers tend not to suspend or cut back on work, and they are much more likely (60 to 41 percent) to be working full-time, and the men often choose their situation, moreso than women. Almost two-thirds say they had a choice in the matter, compared to fewer than 3 in 5 women.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:25 AM | Permalink

July 13, 2007

Families in the ICU

We all need our advocates who understand us when we're sick and in the hospital.  We also need people who love us.    So this is good news.

ICUs' New Message: Welcome, Families  (Wall St Journal, link for subscribers)

For decades, hospitals tried to keep visitors out of intensive-care units for more than a few minutes at a time. This year, Emory University Hospital here went the other way: It began inviting family members to move into the ward and take a hand in the patient's care.
A wave of recent studies shows that critically ill patients may benefit from having families present. There's even a case to be made, researchers say, for having loved ones present for resuscitation, brain-catheter insertions and other life-and-death procedures.

Earlier this year, the Society of Critical Care Medicine, the largest international society representing intensive-care professionals, recommended that ICUs offer open visiting hours and increase family involvement. "Why would we presume that we can dictate how often or who is allowed to visit during the patient's most trying moments on earth?"

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:01 AM | Permalink

July 9, 2007

Foreigners or Nuns

When the family tree becomes a beanpole, there's no one left to take care of the old folk.

So, Italy's Aged Turn to Foreigners for Care

Marzano is one of a swelling number of Italians entrusting themselves to an army of foreign workers from eastern Europe, South America, Asia and Africa who are doing what families here are increasingly can't or won't do - take care of their elderly.

Long life and low birthrates have conspired to change family life, which long had been the one institution Italians could count on while history rolled past, with its parade of conquerors and short-lived governments.

Italy's demographics - and Europe's as a whole - give new meaning to the term "Old World."

Twenty-four of the world's 25 oldest countries are in Europe, noted a joint report by the European Commission
"I would have thought I would have lived with my son; I would never have thought that it would be like this," said Marzano.

The alternative solution in Italy is to send the old folk to be cared for by nuns, many of whom have converted their former  schools into rest homes.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:07 AM | Permalink

July 3, 2007

Becoming the Parent of your Parent

In a 5-part series,  USA Today and ABC news collaborate on Role Reversal, Your Aging Parents and You the story of millions of Americans caring for elderly parents and maneuvering "the murky worlds of medicine, law, hospitals, nursing homes, guilt, fear and family ties"

Some facts
• 41% of baby boomers with a living parent are now providing care for them
• 37% of those not providing care expect to do so in the future.
• 34 million Americans are unpaid caregivers for other adults

Day One
The burden and the costs of elder care,  tips on selecting care, resources and the legal documents you need (durable power of attorney for finances and health care proxy)

Day Two
The emotional toll of coping with an elderly parent.

Day Three
Navigating sibling relationships

Day four
Pros and cons of long-term care insurance
Alzheimer's and dementia

Day Five
Readers' stories
Planning ahead for retirement and elder care

via The Boomer Chronicles

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:51 AM | Permalink

February 5, 2007

Where's Pop?

A good round-up in the New York Times of the technological tools that allow older people to live on their own yet  still under the watchful, loving eye of their adult children.

That's a lot of people, some 19 million Americans who are caring for someone over the age of 75.

Remember the old public service spot, It's ten o'clock, Do you know where your children are?

Today, Barry Jacobson has a button on his browser, Where's Pop?, to track the whereabouts of his father with Alzheimer's.

In Elder Care, Signing On Becomes a Way to Drop By

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:44 AM | Permalink | TrackBack

January 12, 2007

Virtual Family Dinner

  Virtual Family Dinner

Technology to serve up virtual family dinners for elderly, caregivers.

It sounds like a pretty good idea

The technology consulting company Accenture is developing a system called "The Virtual Family Dinner" that would allow families to get together — virtually — as often as they'd like.

The concept is simple. An elderly woman in, say, California, makes herself dinner. When she gets ready to sit down and eat, the system detects it and alerts her son in Chicago. The son then goes to his kitchen, where a small camera and microphone capture what he is doing. Speakers and a screen — as big as a television or as small as a picture frame — allow him to hear and see his mother, who has a similar setup.

"We are trying to really bring back the kind of family interactions we used to take for granted," said Dadong Wan, a senior researcher in Accenture Ltd.'s Chicago labs.

"To physically eat with others, to be able to do that, there are not only social benefits, but health benefits," said Dr. Julie Locher, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, who specializes in eating issues among older people.

When a prototype becomes available, possibly in about two years, it likely will cost $500 to $1,000 per household

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:21 AM | Permalink | TrackBack

January 11, 2007

Webcams and sensors for sole seniors

Sue Shellenberger is following three trends she says are gaining momentum, just in time to counter the discontented more people feel with their work-life balance

Reasons to Hold Out Hope for Balancing Work and Home (Wall St Journal subscription only.

Some you might expect - more job flexibility, more telecommuting, fewer transfers and flex hours.

But this surprised me.  Overseeing Mom or Dad from afar will get easier.

Two vendors are about to begin marketing in-home electronic monitoring systems to consumers. The systems track a resident's movements through wireless sensors mounted on walls, switches, doors, medicine cabinets or appliances, and alert 24-hour emergency-response workers of irregular activity patterns. Caregivers can monitor the systems via the Internet or request notification of irregularities via email, phone calls or text messages.

Living Independently Group, New York, plans this month to start targeting working caregivers with cable-TV ads for its QuietCare system, says George Boyajian, executive vice president. The system will be priced at $199 to install and $79.95 a month thereafter. Lusora, Austin, Texas, also expects in the first quarter to start marketing its "Lisa" personal-security system, for $249 to install plus $50 a month, says COO Scott Gurley.

Marguerite McCullough, 67, who lives alone in a Florida retirement community, had QuietCare installed after she spent five hours one night alone and helpless in her bathroom, disabled by a bad case of stomach flu. The system, which is set to alert her four children or a neighbor of any problems, "does give you peace of mind," she says.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:13 AM | Permalink

December 31, 2006

Caring for Parents

More than 15 million Americans, mostly middle-aged, are caring for their parents.

“There is a myth out there that families abandon their frail elders,” said Dr. Robert L. Kane, a geriatrician at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. “Instead, across the income spectrum, children are sacrificing to care for their parents to the limit of their means and sometimes beyond.”

Elder Care Costs Deplete Savings of a Generation

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:34 AM | Permalink | TrackBack

November 25, 2006

Worry Sandwich

When 60-year-olds take care of 92-year-old parents and 16-year-old kids, it's a worry sandwich.

Middle-aged women are less likely to be happy.

The bleak scenario doesn't surprise Deb Rubenstein, a social worker who counsels "sandwich generation" women, those who have children at home and aging parents, at IONA Senior Services, a social-service agency in Washington, D.C.

"I've had women burst into tears in my office. They say 'Not only is my father in the hospital, and they're calling me at work saying, "Figure out where he's going next because he's not going home," but the school's calling to say my learning-disabled child has developed another problem.' "

Typically, when emergencies with aging parents hit, "these women already have their plates 110% full," she says. Women do about 70% of the caregiving for elderly relatives with chronic illness, national studies have shown.

Middle-aged women are racked by worries about aging parents and relatives and other family members and are less happy than the average American reveals a recent poll commissioned by the New York Academy of Medicine and the National Association of Social Workers.

What Women Worry About

• Concerns about rising health care costs: 70%
• Concerns about an aging parents care or well-being: 65%
• Worry about not having enough time to help, support a family member: 59%
• Difficulty managing stress: 55%
• Fears about terrorist attacks or war: 44%

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:39 AM | Permalink | TrackBack

October 30, 2006

Jitterbug cell phones for elderly parents

I haven't been posting as much as usual because I've been taking care of my mother who just had major surgery to remove cancer from her colon.     

Like many older people, she doesn't have a computer or internet access.  Yet as she recovers, she realizes that she'll need a cell phone if she plans to drive again, just in case of an emergency.

Jitterbug is what she's looking at.  They have made cell phones easy-to-use for  the technologically-challenged.  With big buttons, bright screens and no unnecessary features, it looks great for the elderly who want something just for an emergency.  Best of all, there's an operator always standing by to help out.

Has anyone had experience with them?

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:17 PM | Permalink | TrackBack

August 23, 2006

Nana Technology

You've heard about nano-technology, but nana technology is technology for Grandma

Technology that will make her life easier, safer and healthier like lifeline pendants, smart pill dispensers, mailbox alerts, balance boosters, tracking systems and more.

Smart technology and good design works for everyone, so I wouldn't be surprised to start seeing  trickle-down to other niches.

You may not know that Good Grips, the widely popular kitchen tools, started out marketing to the disabled.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:51 AM | Permalink | TrackBack

August 12, 2006

My Elder Advocate

10 tips for talking to your aging parents via My Elder Advocate which continues to expose cases of nursing home abuse and give advice on handling dementia.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:41 AM | Permalink | TrackBack

July 26, 2006

Brooke Astor and Elder Abuse

Brooke Astor, now 104, inherited millions from her husband, Vincent Astor whose father died in the sinking of the Titanic.

Astor  is a noted philanthropist, giving away millions to the New York Public Library, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Carnegie Hall and the Museum of Natural History as well as many smaller projects and for which she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998.

No matter how rich, no one is immune from the perils of old age and incapacity.  Her legal guardian is her son from her first marriage, Anthony Marshall, 82, a Broadway producer. 

Her grandson, Philip Marshall, has filed papers in court alleging "elder abuse" and requesting that his father Anthony Marshall be moved as Brooke Astor's guardian.

Despite the $2.3 million Anthony Marshall pays himself yearly as his mother's guardian, he cut off Astor's access to expensive medication, reduced her doctors' visits and ordered her staff not to take her to an emergency room or call 911 without contacting him first. 

Relative says N.Y. philanthropist abused.

Philanthropist Brooke Astor, the 104-year-old society queen who gave away nearly $200 million to city charities, is now sleeping on a filthy couch in torn nightgowns while her son withholds money and proper medical care, her grandson charged in court papers.

The papers also claim that Astor has been denied many of the staples of her high-society life. Her Estee Lauder face creams were replaced with petroleum jelly and her French chef was fired, they said. Nurses had to use their own money to purchase hair bonnets and socks for Astor, the papers say.

It is appalling how some children treat their aging parents.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:50 PM | Permalink | TrackBack

July 25, 2006

Will pill cure Alzheimer's?

Human drug trials start next week for a once-a-day pill that may cure Alzheimer's. 

New hope from Down Under.

Many scientists accept amyloid is a major cause of Alzheimer's as the protein is thought to cause the brain to "rust".

Prof Fink said the drug could significantly prevent Alzheimer's developing or delay the on-set of the brain disease for many years.

Early clinical testing has confirmed the drug is fast-acting. Levels of amyloid dropped by 60 per cent within 24 hours of a single dose.

It found also that PBT2 suppresses the impairment of memory function.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:19 AM | Permalink | TrackBack

June 28, 2006

Caring for Elders and Alzheimer's

If you're caring for an older adult, you should bookmark Jack Halpern's new blog, My Elder Advocate as he tracks matters of concern for elder care.

Getting more concerned about Alzheimer's is Robert Essner, Chairman, President and CEO of Wyeth, Inc. says Open the Door to Curing Alzheimer's

He says we should be as serious about the coming epidemic of Alzheimers as we are about the possible pandemic of avian flu. We need to give priority status to drugs for Alzheimer's, the way we did with HIV-AIDS.

It will claim one in 10 baby boomers, create a personal and fiscal nightmare for their families, and drain -- if not bankrupt -- state and federal health-care budgets. Medicare now pays one-third of all its health-care funds for some 4.5 million Alzheimer's patients. Are we ready for three times that number?
If we don't do these things, the projections are staggering. Within the next five years, nearly a half-million new Alzheimer's cases will be diagnosed annually, as 78 million baby boomers reach age 65. Given those numbers, most of us will either become an Alzheimer's patient, care for one in our home or know a patient in our extended family.

Meanwhile, the Wall St Journal reports that PET Scans are being used to discover early Alzheimer's using very small amounts of radiation that can distinguish between dementia and Alzheimer's enabling those who are diagnosed to start medications that can slow the progression.

"If it were me I would want to have the scan -- I would want to know," says Gary Small, director of the Center on Aging at the University of California in Los Angeles. "I would want to plan my estate, get on medications and plan for my future."

Three new resources for caregivers from Kelly Green at the Wall St. Journal (subscribers only). Here they are:

The Alzheimer's Association introduces Carefinder with sections on planning ahead, care options and support and resources. Especially useful is the interactive tool to generate questions to ask while screening care providers and facilities.

From Met Life, the "Since You Care" guides, all in pdf form, including Becoming an Effective Advocate for Care.

From the National Senior Citizens Law Center, a guide to 20 common nursing home problems and how to resolve them

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:53 PM | Permalink

June 12, 2006

Gladdening one heart

One of my favorite quotes is from Henri Frederik Amiel.

Life is short and we have never too much time for gladdening the hearts of those who are traveling the dark journey with us. Oh be swift to love, make haste to be kind.

Justine did just that as you can read in Caregiver proves how every day counts.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:37 PM | Permalink

May 11, 2006

Moving Seniors

A whole new business has emerged that helps seniors relocate from longtime homes to smaller spaces.

In Moving on Down, The Washington Post features this senior move service offering help with the physical task and the emotional strain.

"For someone who has a lifetime's worth of accumulation, think of the volume and physical task of doing it. There are the emotions of our things: a woman giving up dining room furniture that she has served holidays meals on, her china closet with all her pretty things," said Martinko. "A lot of the losses are revisited. Often they have lost a spouse, they have lost their mobility. Maybe they are giving up driving, losing their vision, their hearing, their home."

Sometimes it is easier to let a stranger take charge.

National Association of Senior Move Managers here

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:59 AM | Permalink

March 25, 2006

Caring for Aging Parents

If there ever was a niche crying to be filled, it's the need to help boomers care for aging parents. Using the model for child care won't work says the New York Times in As Parents Age, Baby Boomers and Businesses Cope.

Only 1 percent of their companies subsidized any elder care benefits last year. And only 3 percent offered the emergency backup care — subsidized or otherwise — that experts say saves money by keeping workers at work.
Guiding the decisions of an elderly parent also requires mastery of arcane legal, financial and medical matters.

"It's a new and very confusing skill set," said Maureen Corcoran, a vice president at Prudential Financial. "You don't just give people a list; you lead them there. Otherwise they spend hours upon hours figuring it out themselves."

For both employees and employers, the costs of elder care are enormous, according to studies by the MetLife Mature Market Institute,
"Everyone I know is dealing with this," said Ms. Galinsky, who recently stayed at the bedside of her 98-year-old mother for the last two months of her life. The institute allows unlimited sick leave for such family emergencies. But even with that leeway, Ms. Galinsky said: "I was on another planet. It's like no other experience. I barely have words for how hard it is."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:38 PM | Permalink

December 2, 2005

The Daughter Track

American women who leave their jobs and exit their careers to take care of elderly parents may find that the needs of ailing parents can offer "cultural shelter" and an "excuse to pull away and look inward" in the words of Arlie Hochschild, professor at UCal, Berkeley.

From The Daughter Track: Trading Career for Caring.

Until February, Mary Ellen Geist was the archetypal American career woman, a radio news anchor with a six-figure salary and a suitcase always packed for the next adventure, whether a third world coup, a weekend of wine tasting or a job in a bigger market.

But now, Geist, 49, has a life that would be unrecognizable to colleagues and friends in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York. She has returned to her family home near Detroit to care for her parents, one lost to dementia and the other to sorrow.

Geist sleeps in the dormered bedroom of her childhood and survives without urban amenities like white balsamic vinegar. She starts her days reminding her father, Woody, a sweet-tempered 78- year-old who once owned an auto parts company, how to spoon cereal from his bowl.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:45 PM | Permalink

November 18, 2005

Web Cam Saves Mom

Here's the Internet enabllng care-giving from a distance.

Sons rescue mother on the other side of the world.

A web camera in a Norwegian artist's living room in California allowed her sons in Norway and the Philippines to see that she had collapsed and call for help, one of the sons said Friday.

He said the family was on the verge of tears when they watched on the web camera as ambulance personnel assisted their diabetic mother, who is recovering in the Desert Valley Hospital in California.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:17 PM | Permalink

November 11, 2005

Transpersonal Gratitude, a Great Fullness

From An attitude of gratitude for the deeply forgetful,
From the deeply forgetful we learn that love — not cognitive capacity — is the deepest human need and reality. In our aging society, an attitude of gratitude for those who have lost in large measure the very story of their lives is a necessity. Stephen Post

An attitude of "trans-personal" gratitude goes far beyond the routine everyday. It is to be grateful for the universe as it appears and for everything just as it is.

Care-givers who practice such gratitude maintain a positive state of affect and protection against depression. Emotional distress was predicted by those of self-reported low or no religious faith.

Cultivating the spiritual intelligence of care-givers then seems to be one of the highest priorities, especially for those dealing with Alzheimer's patients.

In my mother's circle of now elderly nurses, it's a given that hospitals with nuns as nurses give the best care. Mother Theresa is the exemplar.

Brother David Stendal Rast says the practice of giving thanks, of seeing all that is given as gift, is gratefulness, the mystical counterpart of gratitude. Gratefulness leads to Great Fullness and Great Aliveness.

"Gratefully Embracing All That Is" is the tagline for, a network for grateful living.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:09 PM | Permalink

October 31, 2005

Music and Art Engage Minds Thought Lost to Dementia

Minds damaged by dementia can be engaged by art. No one knows why. The New York Times explores The Pablo Picasso Alzheimer's Therapy.

Why did Willem de Kooning become more productive, almost maniacally so, as he descended into Alzheimer's? Why does frontotemporal dementia, a relatively rare form of non-Alzheimer's brain disease, cause some people who had no previous interest or aptitude for art to develop remarkable artistic talent and drive?

"Certainly it's not just a visual experience - it's an emotional one," said Oliver Sacks, the neurologist and writer. "In an informal way I have often seen quite demented patients recognize and respond vividly to paintings and delight in painting at a time when they are scarcely responsive to words and disoriented and out of it. I think that recognition of visual art can be very deep."
Besides improving patients' moods for hours and even days, the tours seem to demonstrate that the disease, while diminishing sufferers' abilities in so many ways, can also sometimes spark interpretive and expressive powers that had previously lay hidden.....If you met these people back where they lived on an ordinary day, you simply would not see them being this articulate and this assured," said John Zeisel, the president of Hearthstone, who conceived the program with Francesca Rosenberg, the Modern's director of community and access programs.
More than four million Americans suffer from Alzheimer's disease, and the number is expected to rise as the nation's overall population ages. With no cure on the horizon, caregivers are increasingly exploring art as a way to help manage the disease, and they take encouragement from the results with music. Dr. Sacks noted that exposure to music can even result in lowered dosages for patients being medicated for cognitive and emotional disorders.
One avenue of thinking about both music and art, he said, is that it engages parts of the brain that remain intact long after the onset of dementia....

Museum and Alzheimer's care officials say that at the very least, they see temporary but palpable, and moving, improvement in the small group of people who have participated in the tours. Hannah Goodwin, the manager of accessibility at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, recounted watching an elderly man react to a Stuart Davis painting. "Very spontaneously, he just starting talking about the painting and about the time period in New York," she said. "He was talking about jazz and improvisation and everything. It was very beautiful and unexpected. There was this absolute clarity and connection that I think was really sparked by the painting."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:01 AM | Permalink

October 13, 2005

The Green House

Long term nursing care modeled on the idea of healthy human development? What a concept and long overdue. Makes sense too with the right people, the ones actually doing the care-giving, in charge.

Small World, The Green House, AARP Bulletin, Oct 05 and not available online.

"The Green House: It looks like home and feels like home. It's a new way of living when you need long term care"

A reinvented nursing home, developed by geriatrician William Thomas, and centered on the idea of healthy human development, a Green House creates small, intimate environments instead of large, impersonal institutions. Rather than long halls, there are small family-sized homes with 10 residents or fewer, each with private bedrooms and baths around a common area, each a "warm, loving, nurturing sanctuary."

In charge are the nurse's aides, usually the most over-worked, underpaid and disrespected, each of whom has been transformed with 200 hours of additional training into "shahbaz" (powerful falcon in Farsi) who blend the roles of caregiver, homemaker and friend. Before their jobs were too small for them, now they, like their patients, are blooming.

A Green House costs about the same as a regular nursing home, but exceeds on every other metric traditional nursing homes in the analysis of a study made on Tupelo Mississippi's Green Houses with traditional nursing homes by Rosalie Kane, a long term care expert at the University of Minnesota's School of Public Health.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:55 AM | Permalink

September 24, 2005

Parents of Disabled Resort to Extremes

There was a story this week in the Wall St Journal that just broke my heart. Needing Assistance, Parents of Disabled Resort to Extremes . -- Two years ago, Blake Misura, a single father, moved out of the A-frame house that he built and shared with his 21-year-old autistic son. His new home: a used camper 150 feet away. Mr. Misura now sleeps and eats in the cramped trailer, cooking on a two-burner hot plate, or the gas grill outside. Then he walks over to visit his only child, Andy, who still lives in their family home. The arrangement was set up so Mr. Misura could get the state to provide someone to stay with Andy while he worked an overnight shift at the local water-treatment plant. The state said people with disabilities who live alone get top priority for in-home help. "I'm allowed to go over there," says the 47-year-old Mr. Misura, who has been taking care of Andy since he and his wife divorced a few years ago. "I just can't live there." Faced with the difficulty of getting scarce help for their mentally or physically frail children, some parents are resorting to measures they once considered unthinkable. A Chicago mother dropped off her adult daughter, who has the mental functioning of a 7-year-old, at a shelter, after being told only the homeless or orphans could get into a supervised group home. A couple in Georgia, raising four other children, went to court and let their autistic son become a ward of the state in a bid to get him into therapeutic foster care. Caregivers are the most unappreciated workers in our society, earning often little more than minimum wage, yet always in demand. We have got to figure out a way to support and help parents who do want to take care of their disabled children. Using every incentive to encourage families to take care of their own family members at home will, in the end, prove far less expensive that forcing them to abandon their adult, disabled children to state care.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:07 PM | Permalink

August 7, 2005

Our parents will become our children

What Are We Going to Do with Dad by Jerald Winakur in the Washington Post.  A sobering piece.

My only sibling, an architect, asks me every time we are together....."What are we going to do with Dad?" As if there must be a definitive answer, some fix -- say, putting a grab bar in the bathroom or increasing the width of the doorways.

He asks me this question not just out of fear and frustration, but because he figures that his older brother, the physician, should know the answer. I do not know the answer. I do not have a pat solution for my father or yours -- neither as a son, a man past middle age with grown children of his own, nor as a specialist in geriatrics who is also a credentialed long-term care medical director.

In the United States today there are
35 million geriatric patients -- defined as over the age of 65. Of these, 4.5 million are older than 85, now characterized as the "old old." Yet the American Medical Directors Association, which credentials physicians in long-term care, has certified only 1,900 such doctors in the entire country; only 2 percent of physicians in training say they want to go into geriatric care. As we baby boomers go about our lives, frozen into our routines of work and family responsibilities, a vast inland sea of elders is building. By 2020 there will be an estimated 53 million Americans older than 65, 6.5 million of whom will be "old old." Many of you will be among them. America will be inundated with old folks, each with a unique set of circumstances, medical and financial.

It's rarely talked about, but hospitalizations are the most dangerous times for the elderly. Even if they have never manifested any signs of disorientation, it is in the hospital -- in a strange and threatening environment, under the influence of anesthetics, pain pills, anti-emetics and soporifics -- that many elderly will meet their match. Add to this the treatment mishaps (caused by the "normally expected" side effects and complications of standard medical procedures) and the human errors (mistakes in drug dosing, the right medication given to the wrong patient), now multiplying in our modern hospitals like germs in a Petri dish, and it is almost a miracle that any elderly patient gets out relatively unscathed.

Every night, I slept in the reclining chair by my father's bed. I got up when he did; ran interference with bedrails, side tables and IV poles; guarded his every move to the bathroom; looked at every medication and every fluid-filled bag plugged into his arm. Yet each day, my father descended deeper into paranoid confusion. He was restless, and intermittently unsure of who I was. At first I could calm him with my voice, talking about the old days, reminding him of our fishing trips on the Chesapeake Bay when I was young. Then he needed the physical reassurance of my hand on his arm or shoulder at all times. Finally, so that he could get some rest, I got in the bed and held him, comforting him as he once -- in a long-ago life -- did me.
At first, my mother didn't believe that my father was demented. Most of us do not recognize the reduction in the mental capacities of our spouses or parents unless something unexpected happens. My mother continued to see his stubbornness and withdrawal as purposeful acts of belligerence against her -- until the day she realized he could no longer figure out how to unlock the front door by himself..

From my years as a geriatrician and now as the son of an "old old" man, I recognize that there is one inescapable truth: Our parents will become our children if they live long enough. Perhaps if we looked on our elderly in this way, we would be kinder to them.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:30 PM | Permalink

June 21, 2005

Preparing to care for your parents

Elinor Ginzler has written a guide for AARP titled, Caring for your Parents. 

Families also should make sure they have medical, financial, insurance and investment documents assembled in one place that everyone knows about to facilitate the decision-making, she said.
"There's often an array of services you don't know about because you haven't been thinking about it," Ginzler said in a
MarketWatch article by Kristen Gerencher.
Among the resources families can tap for information are and the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging's site at, she said. Visit the AARP. See the AAHSA site.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:33 PM | Permalink

May 20, 2005

Past Divorce, people need each other

More and more ex-spouses are carrying for their former spouses, often because there is no one else.    Past Divorce, Compassion at the End
I despised what he had done to me," said Ms. Hayes, who, despite it all, became her ex-husband's caregiver when he developed Alzheimer's three years ago. "There is nobody else."

Her efforts are part of an emerging theme as the country ages.

In scenes exhibiting a vivid range of feelings - acrimony, compassion, rekindled love, abiding friendship - sick and dying Americans are being cared for by former spouses.

Hospice workers, academics and doctors say they are seeing more such cases, a development that is not surprising given the nation's changing demographics in the last 30 years.

The number of older Americans who have divorced and are not remarried has risen more than 60 percent in the last decade, according to the census bureau.

In 2003, the most recent year for which the census reports statistics, there were 2,726,000 divorced Americans older than 65 compared with 1,718,000 in 1994.

Bitterness, like that felt by Ms. Hayes, often is not the prevailing emotion. Often a person feels deep ties to a former husband or wife, or feels a responsibility borne of common experience and child-rearing.

"They are acting more like a brother or sister, or cousin or extended family member, or sometimes they have the joy of being grandparents together," said J. Donald Schumacher, chief executive of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, a public policy group representing hospices. He said the presence of former spouses at the hospital or deathbed, isn't uncommon anymore.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:37 PM | Permalink

May 12, 2005

I'm sorry Mom

Sometimes people just don't know what to do or how to take care of a sick mother.  They resent what they are called upon to do, especially if they are young with their character still mostly unformed.

Jeff Harrell tells the painful story, one of guilt and still burning shame.   

Funny, how character is formed, how the gold is uncovered, the dross burned off in fire. 

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:49 AM | Permalink

February 14, 2005

Valentine sacrifices

From the Saint of the Day, I learned

Valentine was a priest in Rome during the 3rd century, at a time when the Emperor Claudius II forbade the practice of Christianity and executed any who disobeyed him.  But Valentine ignored the law, and he comforted persecuted martyrs and may even have married Christian couples.

Arrested, he was brought before Claudius, who demanded Valentine renounce his father and accept the pagan gods of Rome. Valentine refused to comply.

It is said that Claudius had him imprisoned by a magistrate, whose daughter happened to be blind. Valentine cured her, converting the magistrate and his entire family to Christianity.

Enraged, Claudius had Valentine beaten, stoned and beheaded.

Legend tells us that he sent the girl a farewell note, signing it "from your Valentine".

Most of the Valentine stories you read are about passion and romance.  Here's one about devotion

Woman wakes from coma after husband's bedside vigil.
A woman has awoken from a coma in China after her devoted husband stayed by her hospital bedside for four-and-a-half years. 

Li Zhongqiu has lived in a Shanghai hospital and cared for his wife Jin Meihua since she suffered brain injuries after falling from her bicycle.  Doctors held out little hope of recovery but retired soldier Li, who married Jin in 1967, refused to leave her side.....He once refused treatment for burns when he scalded his foot carrying boiling water because he did not want to spend a night away from her.
Li's devotion was rewarded when his wife eventually woke and smiled and nodded at her husband, . She can now move the left side of her body and communicates by nodding.
Li said he never gave up hope: "After serving in the army for 29 years, I was able to stick to what I believed in," he told South China Morning Post
Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:25 AM | Permalink

November 2, 2004

Cruise Ship Care

In large cities, you can expect to pay upwards of $40,000 for a year in an assisted living facility.
By contrast, living in a dedicated cabin aboard the Royal Caribbean's Majesty of the Seas costs only $33,260 a year reports The Economist in Till death us do part

    Luxury liners offer many of the same amenities as old folks' homes: meals and housekeeping, laundry and hair-dressing services, and even an escort to dinner. They have handgrips in the toilets and walk-in showers. And they also provide plenty of things that land-based facilities do not—such as premium-grade ozone, nightly entertainment and round-the-clock access to medical care.

    “Cruise ships could be considered as a floating assisted-living facility,” says Lee Lindquist, a geriatrician at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. She first took a cruise last year and was struck by the untapped potential. She has now proposed a new model for old-age living, which she calls “cruise-ship care”, to be published in November's Journal of the American Geriatrics Society

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:37 AM | Permalink

July 1, 2004

Caring for Seniors in Their Homes -

Light housekeeping and meal preparation by an outside provider may be all that's needed by many older Americans to stay in their homes instead of retiring to a nursing home. That service is arguably the hottest segment in franchising says Julie Bennett in Caring for Seniors is a Lucrative Franchise

Entrepreneur magazine's most recent annual survey, released in January, found that the seven leading senior-care franchises had grown almost 39%, adding 370 new units between fall 2003 and fall 2002.

President of Home Instead's Paul Hogan says the average franchisee is only 40 and one-third of the system's 463 franchises are owned by men who once held positions such as attorneys, restaurant managers or salesmen.

    For 10 years, Michael Melinger sat at a computer in the Chicago suburb of Skokie and sold tons of cold-rolled steel. These days, he's still in front of a computer in Skokie, but his product is compassion, and his inventory is composed of people -- 75 caregivers he schedules 24/7 to help elderly clients with basic tasks such as light housekeeping and meal preparation.

    One client, a charming 90-year-old woman who lives alone, led a visitor through her sprawling ranch home in a Chicago suburb, filled with her collections of antique porcelains and glassware. "How could I take all this into a senior facility?" she asks. "I'm very independent and could never ask my neighbors to run errands or take me to physical therapy. Thank God there's a well-run business that can help a person like me."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:12 PM | Permalink