All posts by Courtney Pulitzer

Parents Aging at Home

January Doesn’t Have to Be Dry and Discouraging

While “Dryuary” or Dry January seems like a relatively new trend, it’s origins date back much earlier. Even the New York Times showcases the activities around when Prohibition began (Jan. 17, 1920.)

January is also a month where people re-consider their over-indulgences in food and drink then hit the gyms or yoga mats and buy up more lettuce.

But what about our elder loved ones who are left back in their homes, or their assisted living communities? These sorts of social trends don’t affect them as much, and as the darker, colder month lingers, their moods might also be wearing down.

Checking in on our aging parents, or engaging an Aging Life Care Manager who can, is one valuable step to ensure your family members are getting the attention they need to not feel neglected.

In a June 6, 2019 article, Aging Life Care Professional® Jullie Gray, MSW, LIC SW, CMC  wrote how the most surprising secret to aging well can be social engagement. She writes, “Researchers have been studying the impact of social isolation and loneliness on health and wellbeing for many years. Over and over it has been proven that social support acts as a buffer against illness and cognitive decline. Loneliness and seclusion is thought to be as bad as or worse for your health than smoking, obesity or being an alcoholic. Put simply, loneliness breeds illness and early death.”

Isolation Risk

First, is your parent or aging loved one at risk of isolation? Some telltale  signs and risk factors are:

  • Living alone
  • Living at a distance from family
  • Poor hearing and/or vision
  • Memory loss or other cognitive problems
  • Difficulty getting around
  • Significant life change (i.e. recent loss of a spouse/partner or moving to a new home)

If you think someone is suffering from isolation or loneliness, see if you can arrange a visit for yourself, with children, friends or neighbors. Working with an Aging Life Care Professional, perhaps you could arrange for them to participate in faith activities, or social events. Sometimes something as simple as joining a book club (or other hobby) could help.

In today’s age a plethora of technology is available to help fight against loneliness and depression. Setting up your elder loved one with a simple way to engage in video chats or even digital picture frames might help if you can’t arrange frequent visits.

There are many emerging companies’ intent on helping foster relationships between grandchildren through scheduled calls, video visits, or games.

The goal is to help aging parents develop, or maintain, deeper relationships with others.

If you’re ever at a loss on how to coordinate services, a professional can help by developing and implementing a plan. An Aging Life Care Manager can also become your eyes and ears by: making regular visits to check in on your parent and monitor your parent’s health and addressing concerns when they arise.

With the help of an Aging Life Care Manager you can more easily stay on top of your elder loved one’s situation and rest a little easier knowing she or he is not suffering the effects of “Dry January.”

To find help in your area, go to www.aginglifecare.org and click on “Find an Aging Life Care Expert”.

Caregiving is a marathon. Make sure you have the right people in your lifeboat.

Being a caregiver can be lonely. Over time, friends and family may start to fade away or your involvement with your elder can become more and more time consuming. Your world can begin to feel very small. As you encounter tricky situations, you might struggle to know how to navigate them gracefully. This caregiving race is a marathon and not a sprint. Equipping yourself for the long haul is essential. Just as you would never head out to sea alone, you shouldn’t start this caregiving journey alone.

As you get into your lifeboat, you don’t have to float alone. Here are some key players you’ll want with you to ensure a smooth ride:

#1 Elder Law Attorney

Having your legal paperwork in order is essential as a caregiver. An elder law attorney specializes in the complex issues surrounding dementia and end of life planning. They will help you identify the most effective person(s) to make health care and financial decisions on your behalf when you are no longer able to make your own decisions. They will also help you think through important end of life decisions such as, will you want heroic measures (such as a feeding tube, ventilator, or even CPR to save your life when the end of your life is near)? If your family is not on the same page about how to provide care for your family member with dementia or ways to spend the money for care, an elder law attorney can be a helpful resource to navigate complicated family dynamics.

You can find an elder law attorney at the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys: www.naela.org

#2 Aging Life Care Professional

Aging Life Care Professionals are consultations who work with individuals with dementia and other issues, and their families. They are experts in navigating care options, can help you evaluate all your choices, and guide you to the best decision based on your own finances, preferences, and family dynamics. They know what is needed to stay at home, what to keep in mind if you are considering a retirement community and provide you with signs that it is time to make a move. This knowledge will bring clarity to the decisions that you need to make.

Aging Life Care Professionals are creative problem-solvers. One of their superpowers is overcoming resistance to help. After building a relationship, they can often talk people that have been resistant to help into accepting this much needed help. Aging Life Care Professionals can often predict what challenges will come next and plant seeds about topics you should be thinking about. They can help you shift from putting out fires (sometimes literally!) to being proactive.

With their support, there will be few surprises along the way. You can even outsource your caregiving “to do” list to an Aging Life Care Professional. Having this outside guide and unbiased expert is often the missing piece of the puzzle to move from crisis to action.

You can find an Aging Life Care professional at The Aging Life Care Association: www.aginglifecare.org.

#3 Financial Advisor

The cost of care for individuals with dementia continues to skyrocket. A financial advisor can work with your elder law attorney and Aging Life Care Professional to help create care plans that are realistic and sustainable given your unique financial situation. They can also make sure you are properly insured and have all your financial documents in order.

You can find a certified financial planner at www.cfp.net

#4 Professional Fiduciary

Just as an Aging Life Care Professional can help take tasks off your plate related to medical coordination and oversight of care, a professional fiduciary can help simplify your financial life. They can assist with bill paying, organizing financial details (insurance payments, medical bills, and long-term care insurance reimbursements), and support you in your role as financial power of attorney. Some fiduciaries can even serve as a power of attorney for finances or as an executor of an estate. Outsourcing these financial tasks to a professional can often save you significant time and money. Having help on the financial side will free up some time and energy to focus on the other demands of caregiving or create some much-needed time for self-care!

You can find a professional fiduciary at the American Association of Daily Money Managers: www.aadmm.com

#5 Effective Medical Provider

Not all doctors are created equal and not all doctors have an expertise with dementia. As the disease progresses, many doctors struggle to have solutions for the complexities and challenges that often come with Alzheimer’s disease. Having a doctor with experience and a strong foundation with dementia is essential. If you feel that your doctor is lacking creativity and tools to manage difficult behaviors, keep looking! A geriatrician is an ideal doctor to work with but can often be hard to find. Aging Life Care Professionals and the Alzheimer’s Association can often provide recommendations for effective medical providers. An informed and patient doctor is an essential part of your team.

You can find a geriatrician at the American Geriatrics Society: www.healthinaging.org

#6 Alzheimer’s Association

The Alzheimer’s Association is an invaluable resource. They can connect you to local resources, provide education about the disease and what to expect as the disease progresses, tips about navigating challenging behaviors, and they have caregiver support specialists who can help problem-solve challenges, without a cost.

You can find the Alzheimer’s Association at www.alz.org

#7 Support group

Being a caregiver can be very isolating, especially as friends and family visit less as the disease progresses. Being part of a community of people who are in a similar situation, can be surprisingly comforting. It can be difficult for those who are not in the middle of caregiving to understand your perspective and to know how to help. Support group members get it. They understand. There is a shared knowing. Their collective wisdom will become invaluable. Although taking the first step of joining a support group can be intimidating, I encourage you to take a leap of faith and dip your toe in the water. I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

You can find a support group at www.alz.org

#8 Professional caregiver

The caregivers I know give 110% to their caregiving role and frequently neglect themselves in the process. Most slowly give up their hobbies and feel selfish if they find themselves craving some time alone. It is not realistic or feasible to be on duty 24/7 and it is not sustainable. If you do not make yourself a priority, your own health and mental health will suffer. Being a caregiver requires that you are your best self and that is not possible without exercise, sleep, and time spent away from caregiving. Getting a break for a few hours 1-2 x/week is essential (at a minimum!). There are many options for getting a break…utilizing family or friends, hiring a professional caregiver, or taking advantage of a local adult day program.

You can find a professional caregiver at the Home Care Association of America: www.hcaoa.org

#9 Creative Engagement

The experience of being a caregiver can be far more gratifying if you know your loved one with dementia is having moments of joy in their life. Many cities around the country are starting to develop more and more programs for individuals with dementia. Here in Seattle, organizations have created Alzheimer’s Cafés for individuals and their caregivers can spend time in local restaurants and coffee shops with other people with dementia. Our local art museum, the Frye, has many art engagement programs focused on dementia. Your local Alzheimer’s Association or Aging Life Care professional can refer you to similar programs in your area. Another great resource for engagement is an adult day program. These are programs that typically run for 4-6 hours/day to provide meals, activities, and respite for family members.

You can find an adult day program at the National Adult Day Services Association: www.nadsa.org

#10 Your local librarian

Knowledge is power. The more information you have about dementia and your role as a caregiver, the more empowered you will feel. There are many books available on caregiving, managing difficult family dynamics, or tips for difficult behaviors. Your local librarian is a wonderful resource for finding just the book you need. They might even be able to find you a pleasure book to dive into as you start to expand your self-care time.

The easiest way to find your local public library is through a Google search.

If you take these 10 keys supports in your lifeboat, you will feel far less alone and will be equipped to face the rough seas ahead. You’ve got this!

 Lisa Mayfield is the founder and co-Principal of Aging Wisdom®, an Aging Life Care™ practice in Seattle. Trained and licensed as a Mental Health Counselor, Geriatric Mental Health Specialist, and a Certified Care Manager, Lisa brings over two decades of experience working with older adults and their families. She is currently serving as the President of the Aging Life Care Association board of directors.

Is it Time for Help? Knowing When Your Aging Loved One Can’t Go it Alone Anymore

The holiday season is typically the time when families and friends visit aging loved ones more than during the year. Frequently, this is also the time when they discover troubling changes in health, behavior or physical appearance of their elder loved one. Many will discover their aging loved one now needs more help or attention and can leave them wondering how to approach this development.

This is where an Aging Life Care Professional® can be instrumental. “For many families, the holidays are the first visit they’ve had with an aging relative in a year or longer,” says Kate Granigan an Aging Life Care Professional practicing in Boston, MA. “It’s the first time they can see that their mother’s house is more cluttered than before, that she’s shuffling more down the hallway, or has strategically placed furniture to hold onto for balance.”

Continue reading Is it Time for Help? Knowing When Your Aging Loved One Can’t Go it Alone Anymore

Caring for a Spouse – Navigating the Aging Journey Together

At some point along the path of life, we step into the path of being a caregiver; we expected this as we became parents or as our own parents aged.  But when we married someone, this role was not delineated in our dreams or vision of our vows of “from this day forward!”

Our partners are often the same age cohort as we, so we could both have some physical challenges, making our role even more challenging.  The role “caregiver” could have come on suddenly after a medical incident or serious fall; or it might have come upon the two of you so gradually that you struggled with accepting that you are now responsible for the both of you and, yes, you are “it!”

Literally in some relationships, especially those without children or close family and friends to offer support, the burden can become great when you have no one to share the emotional toll as well as the physical exhaustion that can come with this role.

Those caring for someone with just physical challenges still have a partner to be in relationship with; this doesn’t mean it is easy. It just means you have someone to connect with that you have loved over the years and you usually want the very best for that partner.   However, there are those of you who are caring for a partner that has a serious cognitive issue like Alzheimer ’s disease.  That becomes a place of loneliness for the well spouse because the partner with the cognitive issues loses the ability to understand and partner in a loving relationship as the disease progresses.

You should begin planning for the two of you way before one of you needs care.  However, that almost never happens.  It is usually someone in the circle of care that says to you, “you need help.”  Of course, they don’t know where or who you should seek to be your “navigator.” The answer is a Professional Aging Life Care Expert, formerly called geriatric care managers.

The Aging Life Care Expert is usually a Master’s level prepared professional, credentialed and certified with a background in social work, counseling, psychology, gerontology, nursing or related fields.  They will assess the current situation, project what you might need in the future and connect you to vetted professionals in the fields of law, medicine, socialization, spirituality, stress reduction and financial planning.

That is just their first step – getting you the documents, services and advice that will put you on solid ground.  When it comes to dilemmas with medical issues, they will become your advocate in that area – partnering with you to ask the right questions and get the specialist you and your spouse need now.  They will be your guide to obtain benefits from insurances, entitlements, government services or community services.  They are always available to you.  When you don’t know what you don’t know, they will be your compass, leading the way so you can stay healthy and not become a victim of over caring and burnout.

Many Aging Life Care Experts run support groups for spousal caregivers or know where to find one – that might be your first step in getting on the right path.  This is a journey that requires a trusted coach, a guide navigator.  You would not venture on a voyage without one.  Find an advocate for yourself; it will impact the quality of both of your lives.

To find a Professional Aging Life Care expert is easy – just go to the website (www.aginglifecare.org) and put in your zip code.  Call at least 3 of the people listed in your area; ask about how long they have been doing this type of work, not how long they have been a care manager.  Ask about certification – you want a certification approved by the Aging Life Care Association – that gives you peace of mind that they have the skills and expertise you need.

About the Author: Linda Fodrini-Johnson, MA, MFT, CMC, is an Advanced Professional Member and Fellow of the Leadership Academy. You can find her at www.eldercareanswers.com.


This blog is for informational purposes only and does not constitute, nor is it intended to be a substitute for, professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Information on this blog does not necessarily reflect official positions of the Aging Life Care Association™and is provided “as is” without warranty. Always consult with a qualified professional with any particular questions you may have regarding your or a family member’s needs.

Trip Tips for Older Travelers with Health Considerations

Trip Tips for Older Travelers with Health Considerations

By Amanda Lewis, BA, CMC, Certified Care Manager, Aging Wisdom, LLC

Summer is a wonderful time for traveling. Neither age nor health should keep you from going on a vacation. With some thoughtful planning, a trip to visit with family and friends or to visit specific destinations can be a joy.

As Aging Life Care Professionals®, we can assist individuals and families in planning for travel success and use our experience to help clients anticipate and address potential obstacles.

Here are some ideas for planning ahead that will help ensure you or an older loved one is ready for an adventure:

  1. Consider your strengths and interests and let those be your guide.
  2. Have a written, shareable itinerary and make sure that others have it too.
  3. Take breaks and enlist help.
  4. If you take medication, have a pill organizer (some refer to it as a medi-set) filled and in your carry-on baggage. Include instructions.
  5. Have an ID card with emergency contact and health information.
  6. If traveling internationally, make sure you have an international call plan for your phone. Also, you may want to look into overseas coverage on your insurance.

 

Focus on strengths and interests in planning a trip. What do we mean by strengths? Too often, people will dismiss the idea of travel based on mobility limitations or concerns about cognitive changes. We take a strengths-based approach in advising clients. We acknowledge the health concerns, but also believe that engagement can take many different forms and offer advice accordingly.

 

Have an itinerary. Plan ahead. Whether traveling by car or air, an itinerary is essential and helps guide the trip. Don’t pack too much into a day. Recognize that time differences, new surroundings, and too much activity can play havoc on sleep patterns, appetite, and your sense of well-being. Best to specifically tailor your travel with intentional down time. Be flexible. Not everything will go according to plan, so roll with the punches. A good sense of humor helps too.

 

Take breaks. Enlist help. When traveling by car, plan regular stops along the way. Frequent breaks are important to stretch your legs, use the facilities, hydrate, and nourish the mind, body, and soul. If flying, make sure that you have an escort at both ends if the older adult is traveling alone. If someone has health concerns, you can arrange for a traveling nurse as an escort.

 

Medication management. A few simple steps can ensure that medications aren’t an impediment to travel. Pill organizers are inexpensive and can help enormously. Or, you can also arrange to have your pills prepackaged through your pharmacy. Make sure to have the organizer or packs in your carry-on luggage in case your other luggage goes missing. In addition, a written prescription list and instructions, packed along with the organizer, can help others in assisting. Make sure you know of pharmacies at your destination too, just in case.

 

ID card with emergency contact and health information. We routinely create this document as a way to provide added support for our clients. If, for some reason, the individual has a medical emergency or is unable to communicate, the emergency contact information card is a quick reference to help connect with family, support and medical professionals.

 

International travel considerations include having an international calling plan for your phone, so you’re not surprised by extra charges when you return home. And when traveling overseas, look into global medical insurance coverage as well for extra peace of mind while traveling.

Still not confident about traveling with health considerations? Call an Aging Life Care Manager for a consultation. We can work with you to make sure that everything is organized, reviewed and ready for you to have a successful trip.

To find your own professional advisor, go to www.aginglifecare.org and click on “Find an Expert.”

Amanda Lewis, BA, CMC, is a Certified Care Manager at Aging Wisdom with over 5 years of experience in care management. She assists clients living with severe chronic medical conditions optimize their health and quality of life.


This blog is for informational purposes only and does not constitute, nor is it intended to be a substitute for, professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Information on this blog does not necessarily reflect official positions of the Aging Life Care Association™and is provided “as is” without warranty. Always consult with a qualified professional with any particular questions you may have regarding your or a family member’s needs.

Aging Well: Lifestyle Choices Enhance Brain Health

Courtesy Frye Art Museum. Photo: Jonathan Vanderweit.

By Keri Pollock

Lifestyle choices are some of the most effective and easiest ways to enhance brain health. What we eat, how we spend our free time, how much physical activity and social enrichment we engage in, all play a part. And anything positive you do for your heart will also benefit your brain.

Last week (July 14-18) the AAIC 2019 – Alzheimer’s Association International Conference – took place in Los Angeles. There, over 5,000 dementia researchers, students and faculty from around the world came together to share their discoveries.

This year, as in previous years, several presentations focused on Alzheimer’s prevention and the common thread of these research studies show how adopting a healthy lifestyle may offset environmental and genetic risks of developing dementia, as well as support brain health.

As Aging Life Care Professionals®, we are always on the outlook for how to weave healthy lifestyle practices into our clients’ lives (as well as our own).  Cognitive stimulation and social connection through arts engagement programs are some of our clients’ favorite activities and are rich in benefits. Clients’ lives are enriched by music (including visits to the symphony or opera), dance, garden walks, Alzheimer’s cafes, art gallery talks, movie discussions, and hands-on arts programs. They open doors to creativity, new friendships, a renewed sense of purpose, and often, improved mood, reduced anxiety, increased appetite, and better sleep.

Let’s take a look at some of the healthy lifestyle habits that researchers found contribute to brain (and heart) health and may decrease the risk of cognitive decline and dementia, as well as slow the progression of dementia:

 

  • A healthy diet. “This would include eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, and plenty of fish and non-processed foods,” says El?bieta Ku?ma, PhD, a research fellow at the University of Exeter Medical School and presenter at AAIC 2019. The Mediterranean diet, which stresses the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, fish, seafood, and extra virgin olive oil, is often cited as a good model for brain health nutrition.

 

  • Stop smoking. If you are a smoker, quit. As a former smoker (30 years smoke-free), I know how difficult this is. But the benefits of quitting are overwhelming. Many health care systems and hospitals offer smoke cessation programs and support groups. Not only is smoking a financial drain, but it is also a drain on health. Here are some smoke cessation ideas from the CDC that you may find helpful.

 

  • Engage in regular exercise. Optimal exercise is defined as regular physical activity of at least 150 minutes of moderate activity per week or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week — or an equivalent combination. Find something you love to do — walking, hiking, bicycling, dancing, swimming – and do it regularly. Find classes or friends with whom to engage in regular exercise, as it will help with encouragement and accountability.

 

  • Cognitive stimulation. Engaging in lifelong learning seems to be key. The brain is constantly building new neural pathways. Read, take classes, learn new things. Our brains our hungry to intellectual nourishment. Here’s a recent story about how research is showing great benefits of learning new things and the positive impact on thinking and memory: Want to keep your brain sharp in old age? Go back to school

 

  • Drink alcohol in moderation. Excessive consumption of alcohol can contribute to a myriad of health challenges, adverse effects on the nervous system and can be a factor in falls and other preventable accidents. If you do drink, do so in moderation. A recent study defined moderate consumption as the equivalent of two glasses of wine a night.

 

  • Stay socially engaged. More and more research students show a tie between social isolation and loneliness and poor outcomes for cognitive and physical health. When we engage in conversation and community with others, our moods are positively affected, we tend to make more healthy choices, and it contributes to cognitive stimulation. Community and senior centers, faith communities, neighborhood gatherings, alumni associations for schools and workplaces are some of the places to get connected.

 

  • Follow medical advice for managing chronic conditions that affect the brain such as hypertension and diabetes. Both of these conditions are leading contributors, unchecked, to cognitive impairment.

 

  • Get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation can impair cognitive function. Six to eight hours a night of quality sleep is what is recommended. If you have sleep apnea, or are concerned about this condition, check with your health care provider for testing as heavy snoring and sleep apnea are tied to cognitive decline. Adequate, consistent sleep is restorative, healing, and necessary to supporting brain health. Sleep is the brain’s way of cleaning house.

Need extra encouragement? Consider this: according to the Alzheimer’s Association, reporting from the AAIC 2019, “One study reported that participants who adopted four or five low-risk lifestyle factors had about 60% lower risk of Alzheimer’s dementia compared with participants who did not follow any or only one of the low-risk factors.”

RESOURCES

About the author: Keri Pollock has worked in the field of aging for over 25 years and directs marketing and communications for Aging Wisdom, an Aging Life Care™ practice in Seattle. She serves on the Alzheimer’s Association, Washington State Chapter Discovery Conference Planning Committee, and the Creative Aging Programs Advisory Committee at the Frye Art Museum. Follow Aging Wisdom on FacebookTwitter, LinkedIn and SoundCloud.

This blog is for informational purposes only and does not constitute, nor is it intended to be a substitute for, professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Information on this blog does not necessarily reflect official positions of the Aging Life Care Association™and is provided “as is” without warranty. Always consult with a qualified professional with any particular questions you may have regarding your or a family member’s needs.

life insurance

Creative Planning: Life Insurance Policy Can Help Pay for Care

By Lisa Rehburg

Healthcare and long term care expenses can be significant as we age.  An article in the May edition of  The CPA Journal explained that “50% of individuals over age 85 will need assistance with daily functioning because of medical problems (both physical and cognitive), and chronic care at home, in an assisted living facility or in a skilled nursing home, can cost anywhere from $60,000 – $180,000 per year.”  In addition, a sample survey of ALCA membership indicates that 50% of clients can afford $2000/month, 30% can afford $5000/month, and 20%+ can afford $10,000/month for products and services related to long term care. Clearly, funding for care is a major issue. But, what is the solution?

One solution that very few people think of is their life insurance policy. Life insurance is an important financial planning tool. Many times, especially as we get older, the reason we purchased the policy 5, 10, 20, or even 30 years ago, is no longer an issue. The house is now paid off; the person has retired and no longer needs the income replacement; a policy purchased for estate tax purposes is no longer needed due to tax reform; a term policy is coming to an end; a business or other asset has been sold; or the policy has become too expensive. Whatever the reason, the policy is no longer needed or wanted.

Life insurance policies can be sold, just like a house. There are investor groups willing to purchase these policies for a lump sum in cash. This process is called a life insurance settlement, and can be an additional healthcare funding source for clients. A life insurance settlement generates, on average, 3 – 5 times the cash surrender value of the policy. Yes, even term policies can be sold!  And, life insurance settlements are highly regulated by Departments of Insurance across the country.

An Insurance Studies Institute survey estimates 500,000 seniors a year lapse their life insurance policies, walking away with little to nothing. 90% of surveyed seniors indicated had they known about a life insurance settlement, they would have considered it. Life insurance settlements convert an asset that a client no longer needs or wants, into cash, which can be used for anything…including the cost of care.

 

About the Author: Lisa Rehburg is a life insurance settlements broker and has been in the insurance industry for 30 years.  She can be reached at (714) 349-7981 or lrehburg@aol.com.   More information is also available at www.rehburglifesettlements.com.


This blog is for informational purposes only and does not constitute, nor is it intended to be a substitute for, professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Information on this blog does not necessarily reflect official positions of the Aging Life Care Association™and is provided “as is” without warranty. Always consult with a qualified professional with any particular questions you may have regarding your or a family member’s needs.

 

 

Caring for the Caregiver: Emotional Support After a Loved One’s Dementia Diagnosis

By Linda Fodrini-Johnson, MA, MFT, CMC

When a parent or spouse can no longer do what they did yesterday, it becomes another transition for the primary caregiver and for the extended family.

These transitions catch us off guard and an overwhelming sense of loss and grief is experienced by the primary care provider.  They often don’t label this as a grief process, but it is about loss – however slow – still has the power to stop us in our tracks.

If you are caring for someone with progressive dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, you most probably have had a similar experience.  I think of a story of a spouse who called me one day in tears and said, “Linda, I thought I had accepted this disease and today my wife could not remember how to get toothpaste out of the tube. I could not even help her; I just had to go into the other room and cry.”

And that is what we need to do with this type of pain – express it, find someone to discuss it with and move on.   What this gentleman said to me a few weeks later is, “I just put the toothpaste on the brush and then she knows what to do and soon I’ll probably have to help her brush as well. And, when that happens, I’ll probably have those same feelings all over again. But, today we are enjoying our backyard and watching the birds at the feeders with great pleasure.”

The answer is yes if you can learn to have your feelings, express them, find a coping mechanism, preserve the dignity of the person with the dementia and then move on to what you can enjoy together to make this a less painful journey.

The moment is all each of us has.  However, we feel pain at little losses as well as big ones and it is essential to do the grief work and not let it eat at your inner soul.

Aging Life Care Professionals can assist spouses and other family members to move through these transitions with grace and empathy – one needs a coach and mentor in order to preserve one’s perspective.

To find an Aging Life Care Professional near you go to the Aging Life Care Association at www.aginglifecare.org.


About the Author: Linda Fodrini-Johnson, MA, MFT, CMC, is an Advanced Professional Member and Fellow of the Leadership Academy. You can find her at www.eldercareanswers.com.

This blog is for informational purposes only and does not constitute, nor is it intended to be a substitute for, professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Information on this blog does not necessarily reflect official positions of the Aging Life Care Association and is provided “as is” without warranty. Always consult with a qualified professional with any particular questions you may have regarding your or a family member’s needs.

Nurturing the Nurturer: The Use of Doll Therapy for Older Adults

By Miriam Zucker, LMSW, ACSW, C-ASWCM

As Aging Life Care Professionals®, when we are asked to assist with securing placement in a nursing home, there are many questions we ask beyond the physical and cognitive conditions that are prompting the move. Primary among those questions is: what was mom or dad’s occupation? Those families who have parents in their mid-eighties and beyond often reply by giving dad’s occupation and the fact that mom was a homemaker.

Reembraces of livelong professions can be retained long after actual employment or the responsibilities of raising a family have ceased.  Take Gene, a retired fireman who had been diagnosed with dementia.  On the day he arrived at the nursing home, being the conscientious firefighter he once was, he spotted a fire extinguisher and was headed straight to his job. Fortunately, his daughter positioned herself to block his access.

For mothers and wives of this era the role of family nurturer is often rooted in the person. This is not to say that fathers have not played prominent roles, but for mothers or other women that have been employed in caregiving roles, it is not a job that finished at five. In later years, should there be cognitive loss accompanied by agitation we, as Aging Life Care Professionals, look to guide the family in ways to lessen the anxiety their loved one may be experiencing. Nonpharmacological approaches are preferable. One such method is doll therapy.

Doll therapy is just what it says. It is providing a person with a doll, that she/he can hold, cuddle, talk to, even dress and undress.  The latter helping with finger dexterity and hand eye co-ordination. The doll can give a person a sense of comfort and purpose with the goal being redirecting the anxiety and bringing a parent to a sense of calm and contentment. Beyond this, a doll can be a starting point for reminiscence, asking a parent to recall their days as a new parent, bearing in mind that it is the long-term memory that is most vivid.

Research studies have shown both increased happiness and increased social interaction using doll therapy. But doll therapy is not without controversy. Some feel the dignity of a parent is compromised using a doll.  Other concerns are that dolls are demeaning and infantilize older adults. A passerby may look at a person with a doll and remark that the senior looks “cute” holding a doll. Not the way a relative wants their spouse or parent to be perceived.

As Aging Life Care Professionals, our approach is a person-centered one. To each client, we bring a toolbox of suggestions, techniques and resources. While the use of doll therapy is one such example, we customize the guidance, recognizing the unique needs of each client while working together with families to ensure practical and realistic outcomes.


About the Author: Miriam Zucker, LMSW, ACSW, C-ASWCM, is the founder of Directions in Aging based in Westchester County, New York. For over two decades she has assisted families in customizing plans of care and developing effective strategies to meet the needs of senior adults.

This blog is for informational purposes only and does not constitute, nor is it intended to be a substitute for, professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Information on this blog does not necessarily reflect official positions of the Aging Life Care Association® and is provided “as is” without warranty. Always consult with a qualified professional with any particular questions you may have regarding your or a family member’s needs.

The Most Surprising Secret to Aging Well: Social Engagement

The Most Surprising Secret to Aging Well: Social Engagement

by Jullie Gray, MSW, LICSW, CMC

Ask anyone for their top advice about living a long, healthy life and you’ll probably hear tips about the importance of eating well, stopping smoking, exercising and getting regular medical checkups. Don’t throw those good habits out the window, but it may come as a shock to learn that connecting with others could be the single most important ingredient for aging well.

It’s true! Researchers have been studying the impact of social isolation and loneliness on health and wellbeing for many years. Over and over it has been proven that social support acts as a buffer against illness and cognitive decline. Loneliness and seclusion is thought to be as bad as or worse for your health than smoking, obesity or being an alcoholic. Put simply, loneliness breeds illness and early death.

How to spot problems

How can you tell if an older adult is at risk of isolation? There are telltale signs that may indicate a need for extra support:

  • Living alone
  • Family living at a distance
  • Poor hearing and/or vision
  • Memory loss or other cognitive problems
  • Difficulty getting around (trouble walking, unable to drive or access transportation)
  • Significant life changes such as the recent loss of a partner or moving to a new home

Protecting health by connecting

Why is being around others so important to wellbeing? Social connectedness increases resistance to disease. Older people who regularly interact with family, friends and participate in social activities report better emotional and physical health and show improvement performing some mental tasks. Those with strong social ties require less pain medication after surgery and recover more quickly. They also fall less often, are better nourished and have a lower risk of depression.

Contact with others can feed the spirit by bringing meaning and purpose to each day. It’s reciprocal – both parties benefit. Regardless of one’s age, when we are around others we give and receive support as well as hands-on assistance.

Tips for connecting

There are numerous ways older people can connect. Here are just a few:

  • Visiting children, grandchildren, friends and neighbors
  • Participating in faith activities, services, studies and social events
  • Signing up for trips sponsored by local community centers
  • Volunteering at schools, hospitals or local non-profit organizations
  • Taking classes or attending lectures at local libraries, schools and other community venues
  • Joining a book group or social club

These activities can help older adults develop deeper relationships with others who have similar interests and passions. They can expose them to new people, projects and ideas, and help foster confidence, and direction in their lives. If your dad becomes involved with a cause that is important, it helps him keep life in perspective and reminds him that he has a lot to offer the world.

What if your mother-in-law can’t get out anymore? Bring activities to her. Set up a schedule of visitors made up of family, friends or paid companions. Modify activities to match her abilities. Reach out to a professional to help design an individualized program if you don’t know what to do or have trouble implementing a plan.

Is there a downside?

Even though there is an undeniable connection between having robust social ties and good health, no single type of support is uniformly effective for all people and all situations. Unneeded or the wrong kind of help may reduce an older loved one’s sense of independence and self-esteem. Preventing them from doing things on their own can lead to a state of “learned helplessness” – loss of confidence and less willingness to try things independently. 

Working with an expert

Aging Life Care Professionals (also known as a geriatric care managers) are trusted advisors who can thoroughly evaluate an individual’s situation and provide you with expert guidance about how to help:

  • reduce social isolation
  • provide just the right kind and right amount of help
  • arrange individualized activities and companion services
  • overcome barriers such as resistance to change
  • open doors to possibilities you may never have imagined

An Aging Life Care Manager can also become your eyes and ears by:

  • making regular visits to check in on your parent
  • monitoring your parent’s health and addressing concerns when they arise

With the help of an Aging Life Care Manager you can more easily stay on top of your mom’s situation and rest a little easier knowing she is getting the vital support she needs.

To find your own professional advisor, go to www.aginglifecare.org and click on “Find an Expert”.


Jullie Gray is a Fellow of the Leadership Academy and has over 30 years of experience in healthcare and aging. She is a Principal at Aging Wisdom in Seattle, WA. Jullie is the President of the National Academy of Certified Care Managers and the Past President of the Aging Life Care™ Association.

This blog is for informational purposes only and does not constitute, nor is it intended to be a substitute for, professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Information on this blog does not necessarily reflect official positions of the Aging Life Care Association® and is provided “as is” without warranty. Always consult with a qualified professional with any particular questions you may have regarding your or a family member’s needs.