Wednesday, May 20, 2015

"Ask the Doc" on June 18th

Front Porch is a not-for-profit support system for a family of companies that serve individuals and families through full-service retirement, active adult communities, and affordable housing communities.

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Thursday, May 14, 2015

Why I'm Not Buying the Retirement Gloom

In the emerging Unretirement movement, you are your best investment

Gray wave. Age wave. Geezer tsunami. (Pick your favorite — or most hated — euphemism.) Catchphrases like these capture the realization that we’re living longer and that older Americans make up a growing share of the population. As economist Laurence Kotlikoff and columnist Scott Burns say in The Coming Generational Storm: “The aging of America isn’t a temporary event. We are well into a change that is permanent, irreversible, and very long term.”
Living longer should be a trend worth celebrating. But many people believe that America’s boomers can’t afford retirement, let alone a decent retirement. They fear that aging boomers are inevitably hurtling toward a lower standard of living.
And here’s their evidence: We’ve just been through the worst downturn since the 1930s, decimating jobs and pensions. Retirement savings are slim. Surveys show that boomers aren’t spending much time planning for retirement. The prediction that the swelling tab for Social Security and other old-age entitlements will push the U.S. government and economy into a Greece-like collapse seems almost routine.

The Unretirement Movement
Don’t buy into the retirement gloom. I’m not.

Here’s why: The signs of a grassroots push to reinvent the last third of life are unmistakable. Call it the “Unretirement” movement — and it is a movement.

Unretirement starts with the insight that earning a paycheck well into the traditional retirement years will make a huge difference in our future living standards. You — and your skills and talents — are your best retirement investment. What's more, if society taps into the talents and abilities of sixty-somethings and seventy-somethings, employers will benefit, the economy will be wealthier and funding entitlements will be much easier.
The Unretirement movement is built off a series of broad, mutually reinforcing changes in the economy and society that are transforming an aging workforce into a powerful economic asset. Boomers are the most educated generation in U.S. history and they’re healthier, on average, than previous generations. A century-long trend toward a declining average age of retirement has already reversed itself and — it’s safe to say — you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
“Many people aren't slowing down in their 60s and 70s,” says Ross Levin, a certified financial planner and president of Accredited Investors in Edina, Minn. Adds Nicole Maestas, economist at the Rand Corp., the Santa Monica, Calif.-based think tank: “Yes, America has an aging population. The upside of that is a whole generation of people who are interested in anything but retirement.”
Your 'Next Big Thing'

Just ask Luanne Mullin, 60. She has done marketing for a dance company, opened a theater company and run a recording studio. These days, Mullin is a project manager at the University of California, San Francisco, overseeing the construction of scientific laboratories (she does mediation at the school on the side).
“I think there’s more and more of us at 60 who are saying, ‘OK, what’s my next career? What do I want to do that’s fulfilling?’” Mullin told me. “I’m all for what’s my next big thing.”

Mullin loves her work, but she’s also wrestling with the same questions as many of her peers. “What is this aging thing?” she wonders. “Am I living fully? Is this the second half of life I dreamed of, or if not, how do I pull it together?”
When Unretirement is Tougher

For many in their 50s and 60s, the transition to Unretirement is much tougher — especially for those who are involuntarily unemployed, like Debbie Nowak.
She didn’t see the layoff coming. Nowak worked for more than 30 years in customer relations for the pensions and benefits department at Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn., In November 2011, at 58, she lost her job there.
Nowak, who has a high school diploma, let herself grieve until the holidays were over. In the New Year, she got her severance, went on unemployment and began thinking about embracing something completely different from her old job. “I never thought of myself as a risk taker,” she says. “After 30 years, I thought I should take a risk.”
Nowak had a stained glass hobby, making window panes, mosaic trays, and other objects. That led her to the idea of working in the wood finishing and furniture-restoring business. Last year, she got a certificate from The National Institute for Wood Finishing at Dakota Community Technical College in Rosemount, Minn. To pay for it, Nowak took out a loan and the state chipped in from its displaced workers fund.
Today, she has a part-time job at small furniture-restoration company. “It’s a crap shoot, a risk I was willing to take,” says Nowak. “This is also a way to produce additional income in retirement.”
As Mullin and Nowak demonstrate, we’re living through a period of experimentation while redefining retirement. Many people are stumbling about, searching for an encore career, a part-time job or contract work that offers them meaning and an income.
Some find it extremely tough to get hired, cobbling together a job here and a contract there, assuming they’re healthy. Especially vulnerable are less-educated workers who never made much money or never had jobs with employer-sponsored retirement and health benefits.
How Society Will Change

The rise of Unretirement calls for a whole cluster of changes in how society rewards work, creates jobs, shares the wealth and deals with old age. Unretirement will affect where Americans live out their lives, too, as they seek communities and services equipped for them.
Taken altogether, boomers will construct a new vision of their retirement years, which will impact how younger generations will think about their careers.
“People tend to learn from examples or stories handed down from previous generations — but there are few stories to navigate the new context of old age and retirement for the baby boomers,” writes Joseph Coughlin, the infectiously enthusiastic head of MIT’s AgeLab, a multi-disciplinary center. “When there are no set rules you make them up. The future of old age will be improvised.”

Copyright© 2014 Next Avenue, a division of Twin Cities Public Television, Inc.

Front Porch is a not-for-profit support system for a family of companies that serve individuals and families through full-service retirement, active adult communities, and affordable housing communities.
More information is available at

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Volunteer Puppy Love: Raising a Service Dog

Service groups rely on volunteers to socialize their dogs. Could you be a puppy raiser?
By Debbie Swanson for Next Avenue

Today's new breed of service dogs provides assistance in a variety of ways beyond their best-known role as escorts for blind companions. They retrieve household objects for people with limited mobility, act as ears for hearing-impaired individuals, monitor children with life-threatening food allergies and more. Some researchers are even exploring the role dogs can play aiding adults suffering from dementia.
All of these impressive adult dogs, though, start life much like any other puppy, growing up in a home where they're loved, socialized and taught basic obedience. Volunteers are a critical part of this process. Because of the high demand for service animals, most training organizations rely on outside help to oversee their dogs' early care, usually from the time a puppy is about 2 months old until sometime between his first and second birthday.
"We could not do what we do without our puppy raisers," says Nancy Fierer, director of Susquehanna Service Dogs in Pennsylvania, which has more than 60 puppies receiving early socialization in volunteers' homes at any given time.

Who Makes a Good Volunteer?
An extensive background with dogs is not required to raise a service pup, says Joyce Thielen, board member (and three-time puppy raiser) with Canine Partners of the Rockies in Colorado. If you want to bring some puppy love into your empty nest — and make a difference in your community — becoming a volunteer "puppy raiser" may be for you.

"Puppy raising is an opportunity for someone who is nurturing and interested in the way a puppy learns," Thielen says. "You're expected to give the puppy your time, energy and love and attend regular training sessions."
Agencies ask that everyone in your home be consistent with the training methods and remain mindful that the puppy isn't a permanent member of the household. "Stay flexible, do your best, listen to your pup, ask for help and enjoy the lovely dog you are raising," Thielen says.

Many service-pup hosts are empty-nesters for whom the companionship enlivens otherwise quiet homes. "I received my puppy to train as my youngest child went off to college," Thielen says. "I had wrapped up my career with the public-school system and had just lost a parent for whom I was the primary caregiver."

What's Expected
Once a service dog starts working, he will accompany his future client everywhere, from medical appointments at hectic clinics to raucous family gatherings to quieter work or school environments. Time spent with a puppy raiser in a variety of situations is invaluable training. "The most important part of being a puppy raiser is to work on socialization and house manners," says Carol Nesbitt, who has raised three pups through Susquehanna Service Dogs. "You need to teach the dog self-control, house training skills and crate training."
Since socialization is so important in preparing a puppy for his career, volunteers are asked to take the dogs out as much as possible, even if it slows their routines down a bit. "You'll have the puppy with you most of the time," Nesbitt says. "That means a quick trip to the grocery store may take an extra 30 minutes. Some raisers bring their puppy to work and have a crate there."
Puppy raisers must also attend basic training classes with their charges, typically at the service organization overseeing the dogs or with an approved service-animal trainer. You'll learn how to teach basic obedience skills and will be expected to practice drills frequently. But you don't have to do it all on your own. You'll be supported by an extensive network, including professional trainers and more experienced volunteers. Most organizations also have pre-approved dog sitters on call should its volunteers need short-term puppy care.
Rough Goodbyes
It's only natural that after sharing your home and watching a puppy learn and grow, turning him over can be emotional. "It is very hard," says Donna Travis, a volunteer with Susquehanna Service Dogs who recently completed training a puppy for the first time. "The puppies are so cute and you've bonded."

While there's no easy solution for the pain of separation many volunteers experience, most say they find comfort thinking about the good work the dogs will do for others. "As a raiser," Travis says, "you are reminded always that it is not your dog. They're not pets; they have a job to do."
Travis received Judge, a black Labrador retriever, when he was 8 weeks old. When he was 1 1/2 years old, he began living weekdays at an advanced-training kennel, returning to her home on the weekends. At age 2, Judge left permanently to begin serving his client. Like most such agencies, Susquehanna Service Dogs does not allow puppy raisers to visit with dogs once they have moved on, but it does send Travis photos and updates about Judge's success.

"We know he is loved and cared for and has a fulfilling life," she says. "It blesses us over and over each time we think of how he is helping someone have a life in the community again. You feel very proud knowing you had a part in that.
"It is bittersweet, but we would do it again and again," she says. "You just can't say no. Instead, you say, 'How can I not raise a puppy to be a service dog for someone?'"

Copyright© 2014 Next Avenue, a division of Twin Cities Public Television, Inc.

Front Porch's Peggy Buchanan and Mary Miller talk about their passion for raising service dogs

Front Porch is a not-for-profit support system for a family of companies that serve individuals and families through full-service retirement, active adult communities, and affordable housing communities.

More information is available at


Friday, May 1, 2015

Music and Memories

by Davis Park, Executive Director of the Center for Innovation and Wellbeing

I’m not a devout Connie Francis fan, but there’s something about her song “Among My Souvenirs” that spawns an intensely warm memory. Back when it wasn’t illegal to leave children under the age of six unattended in a vehicle, my parents often would drive into a store parking lot, pop in an 8-track tape, and tell my younger sister and me to wait while they ran a quick errand.

With the dreamy melody of Connie’s voice piping through the car’s speakers, we played inside our Volvo station wagon. The familiar smells in the car and the texture of the soft seats are still so salient in my memory that whenever I hear that song, I’m instantly whisked back to my childhood happiness.

We all have similar recollections of our past conjured by certain melodies and songs—specific and unique to us. These experiences tend to stay with us forever, even as we struggle with cognitive decline through age. Musical recognition, researchers say, is one of the last abilities that we’re able to retain through late-stage dementia.

The Front Porch Center for Innovation and Wellbeing (FPCIW) wanted to research solutions that could support memory care for older adults who are socially withdrawn, non-responsive or anxious. We came across Music and Memory, an innovative yet accessible and simple program built on the premise that individualized playlists can stimulate memories and engage people in late-stage dementia. Backed by many research studies, Music and Memory is an evidence-based approach that harnesses the use of music players, such as iPods or other MP3 players, with personalized musical selections to support memory care and help people age with dignity.

Read article in full at