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Aging Wisely January 2009 - Aging Wisely

Alzheimer’s Disease


I was watching the great PBS special on Alzheimer’s entitled “The Forgetting” today. Although it shows a lot of tough stories and reminds me of the struggles I see clients and their families face, the information on research made me hopeful. Particularly, the advances in imaging are going to make a big difference in advancing the progress of new treatments. It is amazing to think how far imaging has come in general and to be able to see inside some of the innermost parts of the brain which our body so well protects, is remarkable science.

In the meantime, I try to exercise and stay heart healthy which seems to have some protective effects. I think keeping the brain active and social connections are good whether the protective effects are as strong as speculated or not. I’m not always as good as eating my fruits and vegetables as I should be, but generally eat a pretty “Mediterranean diet” and wouldn’t mind eating more delicious Indian food with curry/curcumin in it (there are hints this may help). I’m fortunate to have a good family history of longevity with very little disease at all, and strong mental acuity in to old age– but that’s something that we all don’t have much control over.

Some of my best pearls of wisdom from my work experience would be not to ignore signs and symptoms in your loved one (or self) and to seek a good diagnostic work up. There’s always a tendency to want to bury our heads in the sand, and this is a disease that creates a lot of fear…but being prepared can only help. The medicines can do some good and maybe especially so in Mild Cognitive Impairment or early stages. And, there are a # of things that mimic the symptoms that may be reversible. Though that probably isn’t the common result of diagnosis, when it is surely it is a huge relief.

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Professionals: Listen to Caregivers


I was fortunate to have Carol O’Dell, a favorite author and speaker, agree to be a guest speaker for my Eldercare course last night. As always, it was great to hear her story as a family caregiver to her Mom and have her read some of the excerpts from her book, Mothering Mother. One of the things that always strikes me when I hear her talk, is how those of us who work in this field have to remind ourselves who we’re here to help and why we do what we do. Which means: the great rewards of these jobs and our responsibility to our clients…but also, remembering that purpose in the day to day process. How can we make life easier and help families caring for aging loved ones? How can we make our policies and procedures more flexible or adapted to meet their needs? How can we tailor solutions to each family? What does the person need in the moment-sometimes a listening ear, sometimes reassurance they’re doing the right thing, sometimes a quick answer, responsiveness, an end to “the run around”, permission to be upset or take a break, an offer to make that call or do that task for them rather than adding more to their pile of “to dos”…

I’m lucky to work with a team that keeps this as their every day focus. Carol’s stories are words of wisdom to us all.

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Teachable Moments from Tough Economic Times


I was just at a luncheon where we were discussing the challenges and positives of these economic times (we didn’t want to focus just on the bad) and it was so interesting. Many of us were very fortunate and had a lot to be thankful for, but we also have all felt the realities and had a lot of friends, family, coworkers more directly effected.

We also talked a lot though about the positives, a big theme seeming to be a resetting of values and priorities (i.e. prioritizing spending, distinguishing “needs” v. “wants”) and how this has created “teachable moments” with our children. Hopefully this is something we can carry forward even as times get better (and they will:-). I hope perhaps these teachable moments might also carry forward in a more general way…a better openness about talking about money. Sometimes I have felt this is a more taboo subject than death, esp. amongst family members. It can often lead to misunderstandings, misinformation, and real challenges as family members age and we start a more active role in their care. If my parents have asked me to be their POA and perhaps help with their care needs as they age, I would feel ill equipped if I had no idea of their wants and desires and the reality of their situation. Do they have long term care insurance? What type of health insurance/Medicare have they elected? If they elect to remain at home with care or move to a care facility, what could they afford? Or, if I know they might be struggling financially, I also have a better idea of what is going on and how I might help.

I think its still a tough subject-I covered some points and advice on talking about it in my last enewsletter and I think it will continue to be a struggle for a lot of us. But, I’ll still encourage people to talk it out…

Not everyone is blessed with an ideal family situation so these conversations can be made even more difficult based on family dynamics, so I know its not always so easy. But, perhaps it is another “teachable moment” we can take away.

And, of course, there are a lot more important conversations to have as well. In “times like these” I think we all try to focus on what is important and it really isn’t “things”, it really is family and friends and pulling together.

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Caregiving in Stressful Times


So many of us are sharing the common experience of caring for aging parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. and struggling through this unique and challenging experience. I spoke to 6 different people today facing this situation in their own way. Some have great parental relationships (some not so great or really traumatic), all were trying to balance care and a busy work life (and most, kids, marriages, etc.), all had different financial and physical situations (caring from afar, Mom moving in with daughter, Mom facing worsening eye sight, Dad caring for Mom with Alzheimer’s disease now facing his own health issues).

Right now, it seems like these issues are part of a mounting list of stressful circumstances–or at least a mounting feeling of stress (sometimes just hearing all the concerns about the economy and troubles facing others we know adds a tangible stress even when things are going relatively well). Add to the normal pressures of caregiving the fact that we may be worried more about our own financial circumstances and our parents’, and if we have a good job, we may worry even more about how we balance these things knowing how crucial it is to keep that good job in this economy.

The best place to start is getting good info. So many people worry because of things they hear, which are often untrue. Today I spoke to someone in just that situation and with some basic info., she felt a lot better. Neighbors and friends can be great support systems but be wary of the misinformation they sometimes have (or maybe correct info. that just doesn’t apply to your situation). Almost everyone I know reads several books and gathers a lot of information before becoming a parent–but few do when it comes to eldercare issues. There hasn’t been a lot of great info. out there in the past, but there is a lot now. Read up, and seek out good professional advice. If nothing else, it sure makes you feel a lot better and more prepared.

Right now I’m reading a great, inspirational book about aging…not so much the educational/eldercare kind…but I still highly recommend it: If I Live to Be 100: :Lessons from the Centenarians by Neenah Ellis. A great read! For other books on caregiving, eldercare topics, see recommended reading under resources on

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Payment Concerns
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