All too many times overwhelmed caregivers are physically and emotionally depleted and need to take time to rest and care for themselves. Believing in a holistic approach to caregiver stress and a strong commitment to helping our members find the right solutions, we created this blog to help you connect with others who, like you, may be facing the same eldercare issues and challenges. Feel free to comment, ask questions, and submit articles. Please forward the blog link to your family and friends. They'll be glad you did.
founder & CEO
Aging with Grace
Thursday, September 30, 2010
photo courtesy of Michael Chehkov Association
Recalling a simple life in Brooklyn
by Dale Russakoff
Jessie Singer Sylvester moved anonymously through old age in Brooklyn in the 1970s, absorbing one loss after the next — her job of 59 years, her beloved sister, her friends, her sense of security, her sharp mind. Still, she soldiered on, attending to her sister until she died, cooking and cleaning for herself, going to classes at the local senior center and visiting parks, museums and what she called “the Botanical.”
It sounds so ordinary and unremarkable, which is exactly why Ms. Sylvester, 22 years after her death, is experiencing a rebirth of sorts as Every Elder. A film of her life, “Beautiful Hills of Brooklyn,” has won awards at film festivals from Los Angeles to Moscow, and will be shown on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan.
New York City’s commissioner for aging, Lilliam Barrios-Paoli, is showing it at senior centers across the city as a teaching tool to sensitize staffs to the inner lives of New York’s elderly. Schools of social work are using it in courses on aging.
“It really drives home the point that life is not made up of great big events. It’s an accumulation of little things that happen every day that can make or break you,” said Ms. Barrios-Paoli.
Ms. Sylvester’s story came to light when Ellen Cassedy, her great-niece, discovered a diary she had kept faithfully from 1976 through 1979, following her retirement from the Society of Automotive Engineers, where she worked as a secretary until age 77.
Ms. Sylvester died at age 89 in 1988. She willed her dresser to Ms. Cassedy, who came upon the diary in a recessed drawer of its pull-down desk. Ms. Cassedy said that her great-aunt must have turned to keeping the diary as “a secretarial impulse — keeping a record.” It was written by pen in immaculate Palmer method script.
“I sat down on the floor and started to read it and could not put it down,” said Ms. Cassedy. “It was this extremely spare, unemotional, very functional, daily record of her life, but I was mesmerized and I saw a real poetry in it. It was precious to me to know that even after all the losses, she continued to find her life meaningful.”
Using her great-aunt’s own words, Ms. Cassedy, a writer and founder of 9 to 5, a national working women’s organization, wrote a one-woman play about Ms. Sylvester, which became the basis for the film. The actress Joanna Merlin played Ms. Sylvester in both.
Besides Jessie, the heroine of the story is a staff worker identified only as “Sunny” at the Jay Senior Center on Ocean Avenue. Ms. Sylvester writes with joy about Sunny’s classes and discussion groups. “Sunny’s on vacation,” she wrote one day. “Nobody can take Sunny’s place.”
At Sunny’s poetry hour, Ms. Sylvester is introduced to Walt Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” which links the unsung individual to the majesty of all humanity. (“Very nice,” Ms. Sylvester wrote of it.) Ms. Cassedy interspersed soaring, celebratory lines from the poem with such factual, mundane phrases from her aunt’s diary as: “Rested a while. Got an apple. Had supper. Washed the dishes. Then to bed.” The title of the film and play, “Beautiful Hills of Brooklyn,” is drawn from the poem.
Ms. Cassedy tracked down “Sunny,” Sondra Brandler, now an associate professor of sociology, social work and anthropology at the College of Staten Island, part of the City University of New York. Dr. Brandler remembered Ms. Sylvester as a lonely woman and energetic volunteer; she was shocked and thrilled to learn of her impact on the older woman’s life.
This is why Ms. Barrios-Paoli wants the city’s senior center staffs to see and discuss the film. One discussion it inspires, she said, is whether life is better for today’s Jessie Sylvester. Ms. Barrios-Paoli said that these days the city could have provided Ms. Sylvester with a home health aide and meals, perhaps allowing her to remain longer in her home — if someone were to inform social services of her decline. The senior center might have provided more opportunities to get out and enjoy the city.
It was the crime wave of the late 1970s that ultimately drove Ms. Sylvester from Brooklyn. A Social Security check was stolen. Elderly neighbors were mugged and robbed. “The situation in our neighborhood becomes worse every day. We are all in it,” she wrote.
Then in 1979, she came home to find her apartment ransacked. Her niece in Great Neck found her an apartment there, and although Ms. Sylvester had resisted moving before, she signed for it. Ms. Cassedy said her aunt never recovered from the move. She later moved to a nursing home, where she died.
Ms. Sylvester’s diary stopped when she left Brooklyn. She reported her last day, like all the other days, without sentiment. Her niece had told her to make out a final rent check for $120.94. “I did as she suggested,” Ms. Sylvester wrote. So ends the diary, the play and the film.
But now Ms. Sylvester lives on, at film festivals, senior centers and universities. The film had its worldwide premiere in Moscow last year at the International Zolotoy Vityaz film festival. “I have to wonder what on earth my aunt would have made of it all,” Ms. Cassedy mused. “I hope, like Whitman, she would feel she contained multitudes.”
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
That's how Cathy Hicks of Windsor Heights described what happened to her 94-year-old mother. A man who identified himself as a "certified senior advisor" held a meeting at the senior community where her mom lives. He was informing elderly veterans and their spouses about a special benefit to help pay for medical and assisted-living costs.
By the time Hicks got involved, the man had all her mom's financial information and a plan: Move her assets to make her appear to have less money and be eligible for a monthly government check. Read more....
Monday, September 27, 2010
Keeping Us Safe has dedicated itself to improving the mortality rate of older drivers and drivers with certain disabilities. They accomplish this by working one-on-one with the older driver, and by developing and delivering education programs to older drivers and their families, geriatric professionals, and the public in general.
To learn more about Keeping us Safe or to order Beyond Driving with Dignity, a workbook for families with older drivers please visit - http://keepingussafe.org/index.html
Saturday, September 18, 2010
Millions of families of wartime veterans are failing to take advantage of a little-known benefit that could help pay for long-term care.
The Department of Veterans Affairs' so-called aid-and-attendance benefit pays a maximum of $1,949 a month to married veterans who qualify. Single veterans and surviving spouses may be eligible for smaller payments.
To qualify, veterans must have served at least 90 days of active military service, including at least one day during a war, and not have been discharged dishonorably. (The rules are stricter for wartime veterans who entered active duty starting Sept. 8, 1980.) They also must meet certain thresholds for medical need and financial need.
Almost 105,000 veterans were using the benefit as of last year, along with a large number of widows, according to the VA. But the pool of potential recipients could be much higher: 2.3 million veterans who served in World War II still are living, according to VA estimates, plus another 2.6 million who served in Korea and 7.7 million in Vietnam. Read full article..
Friday, September 17, 2010
Hatboro, PA – Rita Files, partner and chief operating officer of Aging with Grace, has been designated an Accredited Claims Agent by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. As a VA Accredited Claims Agent, Ms. Files can help veterans and their families apply for VA benefits, including often under-utilized long-term care benefits.
The VA accreditation program ensures that claimants for VA benefits receive qualified assistance in preparing and presenting their claims. To earn her accreditation, Ms. Files underwent a comprehensive character review by the VA and passed a written exam. Read more...
Those momentary memory lapses that typically accompany aging may not be so normal after all. A new study links common forgetfulness in old age to strokes and Alzheimer's disease.
Researchers at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago studied the mental acuity 354 Catholic nuns, priests and brothers for 16 years. Autopsies conducted after their deaths revealed that brain lesions caused by abnormal proteins and neurofibrillary tangles were present among all the participants who showed even mild or moderate mental decline during the study. These proteins and tangles are hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease. Researchers also noted evidence of stroke in all those with mild or moderate mental decline.
The good news, according to researchers, is that the mild memory lapses associated with old age did not predict the development of Alzheimer's. They also did not correlate with dementia at the end of the study. Also, not all participants had the same level of lesions. This suggests there could be other causes for mental decline in the years before death. The report appears in the Sept. 15 issue of the journal Neurology.
Monday, September 13, 2010
Friday, September 10, 2010
"Indoor and outdoor falls are both important," senior author Marian T. Hannan, a senior scientist at the Institute for Aging Research, said. "But people at high risk for indoor falls are different in many ways from those at high risk of outdoor falls. Failure to separate the two can mask important information on risk factors and may hamper the effectiveness of falls prevention programs."
The study, published online in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, finds indoor falls are associated with an inactive lifestyle, disability and poor health, while outdoor falls are associated with higher levels of activity and average or better-than-average health.
The researchers examined 765 men and women, age 70 and older, from randomly sampled households in Boston -- including a baseline falls assessment, a home visit and clinic examination. Falls were reported monthly. During a nearly two-year period, 598indoor falls and 524 outdoor falls were reported.
The study finds older adults who fell outdoors were somewhat younger than those who fell indoors, more likely to be male and better educated, and had lifestyle characteristics indicative of better health. Those who fell indoors had more physical disabilities, took more medications and had lower cognitive function than those who fell outdoors.
Monday, September 06, 2010
When Samara Howard recently dropped off her elderly mother Johnnye Jennings at a three-day camp for people with Alzheimer's and other types of dementia, it was the first night she'd been away from Jennings in seven years.
"Normally, I only sleep maybe two hours a night because she wakes up and she wanders and she turns on the stove," says Howard, who eventually had to quit her job to take care of her mother full-time. "I haven't slept through the night in years."
You hear these stories of exhaustion and frustration often from the families of the roughly 5 million Americans who have Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia. Confusion, wandering and agitation are common with dementia, and usually any break in the daily routine only increases those reactions.
Not Remembering, But Feeling
But things are different at the Camp for Caring, a weekend sleepover camp at a woodsy conference center outside San Francisco. The retreat, sponsored a few times a year — funding permitting — by the nonprofit Family Caregiver Alliance, brings together 18 to 20 people who have dementia for a refreshing, engaging weekend of music, dance, reminiscing and other activities that emphasize strengths instead of losses.
The campers typically don't remember details of the retreat, says Caitlin Morgan, the gerontologist and social worker who directs the camp. But the experience significantly lifts their mood.
"It's all about the feeling," Morgan says. "By the end of the retreat, [they say] 'whatever we did, it feels like something good has happened here.'"
Tapping Into Emotion
Post-camp surveys of family caregivers indicate that the "good feeling" lingers, and it even can improve daily functioning. Though there is still no cure for Alzheimer's or a treatment for it that significantly slows its progression, experts have learned in recent years that by tapping into emotion — using techniques like those employed by the Camp for Caring — it is often possible to tunnel through the mental fog of dementia and engage people who are pulling into themselves.
Here's a sampling of the communication tips experts say can help make the illness easier on everyone:
1. Acknowledge the elephant in the room.
People newly diagnosed with Alzheimer's say being able to admit their memory gaps and other lapses to trusted family members and friends can be a relief — and helps everyone feel less alone.
2. Listen between the lines.
As dementia progresses and syntax and word finding falters, "listen with your ears, eyes and heart," the Family Caregiver Alliance advises. Keep your conversation unhurried and simple, and watch for nonverbal clues and body language to find the meaning underlying the words.
3. Set a calm, positive tone.
Limit noise and distractions as best you can during conversation. Look your loved one in the eye with affection and respect, and use calm, relaxed body language. Keeping choices simple and offering visual prompts — "Would you like to wear this shirt or that one?" — can help when words fail.
4. Offer stimulating, meaningful activities.
Light exercise helps everyone sleep better, and outdoor walks, reminiscing with old friends and singing or dancing to familiar tunes engage the body and mind. Activities don't have to be complicated to be meaningful. "I hear over and over again from people with Alzheimer's that they want to be useful," Morgan says. "If somebody wants to wash and rewash the dishes, what's wrong with that?"
5. Don't needlessly confront or contradict misconceptions — validate and redirect, instead.
If your grandmother thinks she's 8 years old and late for school, don't correct her, experts say. Fib if you have to — tell her today's a school holiday. If she insists on sleeping on the floor, put down a mattress to make her more comfortable. Dehydration or a medication side effect may be behind a hallucination. Check with the doctor.
6. Keep your sense of humor.
A shared laugh is good for everyone. "People who have Alzheimer's can make the most brilliant sense in the world," Morgan says. "If you validate where they're coming from and truly listen, you're going to find a lot of truth, and you're going to find a lot of sense in the middle of it."
Related NPR Stories
Wednesday, September 01, 2010
2011 Medicare Benefits include a 50% discount for covered brand medications for those in "doughnut hole"
Koh told seniors at the John Baran Senior Center about preventive care services that will be available through the new healthcare reform law. Fraud prevention was another key topic.
The visit comes one day after the announcement from HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that her department had issued more than 1 million checks worth $250 to Medicare beneficiaries who had fallen into the Part D prescription drug coverage gap this year.
Next year, those who fall into the doughnut hole will receive a 50% discount on covered brand name medications while in the doughnut hole, according to an HHS release.
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