Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Front Porch Leads the Pack in Innovation!

Reposted from Life.Bio
For over a decade, has helped tens of thousands of people tell their life stories using our online platform, which guides the user through a series of biographical questions, then allows the individual to create his or her very own book. In addition to serving the consumer, however, it has been the great privilege of LifeBio to assist senior living communities across the nation capture and preserve the biographical information of their residents, which staff and volunteers can use to focus their person-centered care plans to meet the unique needs of each individual.

Recently, LifeBio received some feedback from Front Porch ( explaining how they used the LifeBio tool kit in an entirely new and innovative way! Project Specialist Julie Santos from the Front Porch Center for Innovation and Wellbeing (FPCIW) shared the following:

"Today we had our employee appreciation event. As a nice touch, we incorporated LifeBio Story Cards around the table to enable some engaging conversations we normally would not have with our colleagues. At our table, for example, we had conversations about vacations. Following that we had a question about gardening, and we stuck with that topic for a while.

Then, the conversation turned around when someone talked about how her neighborhood growing up used to be an olive grove. I also heard feedback from another table. They had conversations about their favorite memories of their siblings. There was plenty of chatter in the room!"

Julie also shared these beautiful photos from the day’s events, and the attention to detail that was put into making the occasion extra special for everyone involved is evident:

What a wonderful and creative way to get to know the people you work with! After all, you SHARE over forty hours per week with these folks. Shouldn’t you get to know them? applauds the network of Front Porch communities for thinking outside the box – and for deeply sharing not just with their residents, but with one another, too!

Read FPCIW’s Impact Story on LifeBio!

For more information about
www.LifeBio, our products and services, please contact us at:
Or call 1-866-543-3246
Or visit empowers millions of people to share their life story, memories, pictures, and experiences before it's too late. has the premier online Autobiography and Biography template to use to write and complete a life story that is ready to print. We help people build relationships through life stories.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Wesley Palms: Mid-Century Modern Reimagined

By Ben Geske, Executive Director at Wesley Palms Retirement Community

Wesley Palms Patio Home

When I first started working at Wesley Palms as the newly minted Executive Director, my boss told me, “You’re next Ben.” He was referring to the upcoming campus-wide redevelopment project. 

What he meant was that Wesley Palms would be the next Front Porch community to be “revitalized.” Subsequently, we held a “Visioning Meeting” to determine the direction of the “new and improved” Wesley Palms campus and the wheels were set in motion. 

It was determined that the entire Wesley Palms campus, including its central main building, would be demolished and rebuilt from the ground up. Density was to more than double and all existing trees, (including its iconic palm trees), were to be removed in order to accommodate the nearly 450 new accommodations that were to be built. It was not certain if the name “Wesley Palms” itself would remain after the campus-wide redevelopment was completed. An architecture team was hired and plans were drawn up and submitted to the City of San Diego for approval.  

But then we paused for a period of time and started to rethink our approach …

We asked ourselves just what is it that has made Wesley Palms such a wonderful and unique community for seniors for nearly half a century? Time and again we kept coming back to the openness, the beauty, and the wonderful array of plantings and trees that sets Wesley Palms apart from any other retirement community. If we knocked everything down, we reminded ourselves, then everything that has made Wesley Palms what it is and what it stands for would be lost forever.

Wesley Palm Patio Home Kitchen
So it was at this point that we started formulating “Plan B,” which called for preserving as much of the essence and beauty of Wesley Palms as we could, while at the same time upgrading the community to be a viable, cutting edge community that would be a leader in retirement living for the next century to come. In this vein it was decided that we should capitalize on the original mid-century architecture and celebrate what was all around us – not only on the Wesley Palms campus but in the surrounding Pacific Beach neighborhood as well. The architecture team of M.W. Steele was hired, along with Nuera Construction, plans were drawn up for a campus that would be remodeled in the mid-century modern ascetic.
The project broke ground on April 1, 2015, and as of this writing we are more than half-way completed with this award-winning, awe-inspiring project that is garnering praise from residents, staff, family members, and visitors alike. We are very proud of the campus as it blossoms into a beautiful, modern day showcase of elegance and sophistication, while at the same time paying homage to the relaxed and comfortable feel that is inherent in its mid-century modern design.

I encourage you to come for a visit and see our new patio homes and all the wonderful amenities that go with them.

On Right: Ben Geske, executive director
 at Wesley Palms Retirement Community

Friday, June 9, 2017

Why I Call My Dad Even if It's Not Father's Day

My phone calls to him used to be obligatory, but loss has a way of changing things

By Jill Smolowe for Next Avenue

Jill Smolowe with her father

When I was a college undergraduate, I used to call my parents every Thursday night. The calls were mandatory, the price of college tuition, so to speak. Invariably, my mother would answer, then yell, “Dick! Pick up! It’s Jill.”

Nothing of substance was ever said about my coursework. And certainly I wasn’t going to tell them who I was sleeping with or what I was smoking. So, I remember not one thing about these phone calls beyond this: both of my parents were on the line, I was itchy to get off so I could get back to my life and any parental input pretty much came from my mother.

Our No-Obligation Daily Phone Call

On Father’s Day this year, I, like millions of Americans, will call my dad. But there will be nothing dutiful or obligatory about it. These days, I speak with my father daily. Sometimes I dial his speed number; just as often, he dials mine. Often the conversation begins, “Hi, I can’t remember if we talked today.” We laugh. Then we talk, whether we’ve already talked earlier in the day or not. These conversations are never obligatory and most definitely are never a chore.

To the contrary, I can’t imagine a day going by without speaking to my dad. (Well, unless he’s traveling. He and cell phones — fuggedaboutit.) I talk with him not because I feel I have to, but because I want to. At this point, he’s not just my father. He’s my financial adviser. My friend. The one person in the universe, other than my husband, with whom I touch base daily. I know the details of my father’s days; he knows the details of mine. At 60, I find my relationship with my father widening, our intimacy deepening, our love (always solid) developing still new layers.

Some days, we talk about the markets and dividend reinvesting. Other days, we discuss news developments: the Syrian refugee crisis, Putin’s latest maneuvering, the U.S. presidential campaign. The only topic I try to steer wide of is Israel. (Generational differences. It never ends happily.) All days, we discuss the weather, but only briefly.

How Dad Dazzles Me

Some days, he dazzles me. Last November, for instance, I dropped him at the airport at 6 p.m. for a 9:44 p.m. flight. (He has this thing about getting to airports waaay early.) He was heading home after a visit and should have been walking through his front door at 1 a.m. Instead, when I phoned the next day at 11 a.m., he greeted me with, “I just got home.” Plane problems, followed by flight reschedulings the airline didn’t sort out until after midnight, had resulted in my dad spending the night on a couch in a food court. The guy is 85!

Did he tell me about his aches or the airport chaos? No. Instead, the guy who used to run a women’s apparel business said this about his ordeal: “It made me think about the refugees. All that trekking. This was not planned, very disruptive. I wanted to get back home. Think of those people, losing their homes, their countries, then landing in countries that don’t want them. It rocked me.”

My Rock During Tough Times

These days, we also discuss our personal lives — sometimes in intimate detail. My two brothers and I joke, “TMI.” But for me, actually, there is no too-much-information when it comes to the man we all call Big D. That barrier began to crumble in 2007 after my husband, Joe, was diagnosed with leukemia.

At the time, I was spending long days at the hospital, then coming home to a barrage of voicemail messages I was too exhausted to handle. I needed someone who could relay the day’s medical developments to other family members. My father was hardly the obvious choice, given his family standing as the “ostrich,” my mother’s term for his tendency to put his head in the sand when emotional stuff kicked up. But I knew my father to be a succinct and reliable communicator. I could count on him to relay the often-complicated medical details to my mother and three siblings without spin or distortion.

As the weeks, then months, went by, I realized that I’d come to rely on Dad as my sounding board. He never tried to steer my thinking on difficult medical decisions. Rather, he helped guide me back to information I’d given him previously that might help inform whatever decision Joe and I were facing.

After Joe died in June 2009, I haven’t a clue how frequently I spoke with my father. That period, frankly, was too much of a blur. Certainly, there was an uptick in our phone calls come the turn of 2010. My sister was dying from colon cancer up in Vermont; my mother was dying from age-related complications down in North Carolina. It was, to put it mildly, a very bad time. My touching base with my father, him touching base with me, helped steady both of us.

It was after my sister died in August of that year, followed less than three weeks later by my mother, that I began to call my father daily. Initially I called because I was concerned how he was weathering widowerhood. But in short order, self-imposed obligation became habit became a genuine desire to hear his voice and his thoughts each day, every day.

Our Intimate Relationship, After All These Years

By this time, I’d met online the man who would become my second husband. I wanted my father to venture into the cyber-dating world, too. My mother had pounded him with the message that he should look for a new mate quickly. She did not want him to be alone. Neither did I.

And so, our conversations took a more intimate turn as I helped my father sign up on the same two cyber dating sites I’d used. As he began to venture out, meeting not-Mom women for the first time in some 60 years, he could sound like a giddy schoolboy with his (OK, sometimes TMI) stories.

I’ve loved seeing this social being emerge. And I love the intimacy that has evolved between us as a result. At times, I find myself telling him things I haven’t shared with even my closest female friends. It’s so unexpected. So trusting. So lovely.

Next month, my dad turns 86. He exercises daily, eats a healthy diet and has all his faculties. But I am very aware that he is aging. Very aware that he is slowing down. Very aware that there will come a day when he will not be there to receive a Father’s Day call. I am also keenly aware that I am not at all prepared for this. Every time he doesn’t feel well (which isn’t often), a mantra begins in my head: “I’m not ready for him to go.”

How can I be? At this point in my life, this amazing man is not only my father. He is my friend. My adviser. My ear. My shoulder. My witness. For that, I not only love him. I adore him.

Happy Father’s Day, Big D. I am so grateful you’re my dad.
© Twin Cities Public Television - 2017. All rights reserved.


Thursday, June 8, 2017

Too Old to Learn a Language? Don't Believe It

As an older adult, you have skills that can help — and your brain will thank you

Bill Ward for Next Avenue


Credit: Adobe Stock

Conventional wisdom holds that the older we get, the harder it is to learn a new language. Which is true — except when it’s not.

Turns out that while our brains might not be as quick or deft as in those halcyon days of youth, all that hard-earned experience, knowledge and discipline can come to the rescue.

Using Our Adult Knowledge to Learn a Language

“[Older adults] know more about culture, about how the world works, about how our native language works,” said Lisa Frumkes, senior director of content for Rosetta Stone, an education technology software company that develops language, literacy and brain-fitness software. “So we can build on these things. We also have to have discipline when learning a language, and that is something older people have more of. Knowing how to regulate your schedule, that’s 90 percent of the exercise.”

Other experts agree, pointing to learned skills such as a better grasp of syntax, grammar and pronunciation, plus a broader vocabulary in our native tongue.

Catherine Snow, a professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, has written that older adults are better at intentional learning and literacy skills.

High Expectations

The benefits of learning a language are enormous, but sometimes so are the barriers, starting with busy schedules and self-doubt (thanks in part to that old bugaboo, conventional wisdom).

“As we get older, we have much, much bigger expectations of ourselves,” Frumkes said. “We ask a lot more of ourselves, so we need to cut ourselves some slack. I think Americans also think there is something particularly difficult about learning a language. But it isn’t harder than learning to do anything at an older age, whether it’s calculus or golf. I see older people going out and learning the violin. No one tells them it’s hard to do that, even though they have less dexterity and learning how to read music is hard.”

The Brain’s Resilience

Even for those who have suffered cognitive decline, learning a language can be feasible.

Judith Campisi, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley’s Buck Institute for Research on Aging, said research on “chemobrain” (cognitive loss after chemotherapy) indicates that our brains are more resilient and adaptable than previously believed.

“When there’s a decline, the brain has the ability to call on other parts of the brain,” Campisi said. “We suspect that’s happening in aging, that the brain has more plasticity and we have better ability to draw on other parts of the brain. It could be that people learning a language are calling on other parts of the brain.”

Or, as Frumkes put it, “As long as you’re continuing to work your brain in a variety of ways, you will find things in your brain that you thought were gone that are still there. There’s a lot locked up in our brains that just needs to be shaken.”

Babies vs. Adults

That goes against the prevailing thinking from a half-century ago, which centered around a “critical period hypothesis:” that infants and toddlers effortlessly acquire language and that such learning becomes increasingly difficult after the first few years of life (dubbed “the critical period”).

A research paper called “The Older Language Learner” by University of Michigan education professor Mary J. Schleppegrell, a linguistics expert, put the kibosh on that notion: “Studies indicate that attaining a working ability to communicate in a new language may actually be easier and more rapid for the adult than for the child. Adults learn differently from children, but no age-related differences in learning ability have been demonstrated for adults of different ages,” the paper said.

Besides, as Frumkes noted, “When you learn something as a child, you’re not learning at a high level. It’s not as high a bar.”

Bilingual Benefits Abound

The ability to learn a new language varies — “everything like this is always individual,” Campisi said — and, not surprisingly, those who already are bilingual have advantages.

“It’s just as if you played tennis when you were younger, some other racquet sport will be easier to learn,” Frumkes said. “With bilingual people, knowing that words and phrases are not one-for-one and that word order works differently — that grammar works differently — really helps, because you know what things to look out for.”

Frumkes added that she’s not sure if there are gender differences for learning a language when you’re older. “There’s always been talk that women are better, but that may be more of a social construct rather than how we are biologically,” she said.

Changes in the Brain

Regardless, experts are absolutely convinced that whatever the gender, learning a language improves overall brain functions.

Recent research has found that bilingualism
changes the brain structurally and functionally for the better and helps stave off dementia.

“Like physical exercise, the more you use specific areas of your brain, the more it grows and gets stronger,” said Ping Li, a Penn State University professor of psychology, linguistics and information sciences and technology and an author of
one of the studies.

Enlarging Our World

In the end, immersing ourselves in another language at whatever age expands not only our minds, but our lives.

“Learning a language is about learning a culture,” Frumkes said. “It can take you in so many directions: literature, travel, learning to understand the news of the day or just being able to be in contact with people in other cultures. Once you think about these things, they change the way you see the world.”

© Twin Cities Public Television - 2017. All rights reserved.



Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Veteran Voices: An American Santa in France (Part 2)

By Richard "Dick" Cotton, resident at Casa de Manana Retirement Community

Sixty-nine years after Corporal Cotton served in World War II, his son, Guy, visited France, retracing his father's journey from the Cherbourg Peninsula to the small town of Dauendorf in Eastern France.

Before Guy left for Europe, he asked me if I had any memorabilia. I gave him a newspaper clipping from the Port Huron Michigan Times Herald titled “Medal Winner is ‘Santa Claus’: Toys From Port Huron Bring Joy To French Family.” Here is how I became known as Santa Claus in France. 
When Guy arrived in France, he hired a tour guide to show him, and his family, the places my battalion had backed up the infantry as we took the city of Cherbourg. The tour guide asked if Guy had any memorabilia from me.

Guy showed the tour guide, Geert Van Des Bogaert, my newspaper clipping from 1944 and it sparked an interest. The guide suggested sending the newspaper clipping to one of his friends, Jacelyne Papelard, who worked on stories related to WWII in the Alsace Lorraine area.

Joselyn requested I return to France in December 2014, 70 years later. I was invited to meet one of the children I had given a toy to all those years ago. The time and energy Joselyn put into setting up the whole trip, was nothing but phenomenal.

There were five memorable highlights:

The first, and most important, is the fact my two sons and three grandsons were able to join me on my journey. Traveling with them, made the trip much more special and meaningful.

Second, our visit to the Epinal American Cemetery and Memorial was very moving, as I remembered the 5,255 military dead buried at the cemetery, who lost their lives in campaigns across northeastern France to the Rhine and beyond into Germany. Remembering those fallen soldiers, I felt the desire to kneel and honor them.

Third, we were asked to attend a luncheon meeting at a hotel in Lutzelbourg. The luncheon was held in the hotel’s restaurant, which is considered one of the finest restaurants in all of the Alsace area! During the time the Nazi’s were in control, Hitler was known to dine there. We were greeted at the door by the owner Marc Carriger. He escorted my family and me inside, where we were welcomed by the Mayor of Lutzelbourg, council members, the military and the media! The media asked me and four members of my family to come outside and wave an American scarf that looked like a flag, while they took pictures!

Fourth, I was finally reunited with a lady who was one of the three children in the family that I had given the toys to all those years ago. Maria Martz had been four years old, and I was a 19-year old soldier the first time we met. Meeting Maria after 70 years, gave me satisfaction that everything I did as a soldier, was incredibly worth it, and at that moment, I believed my mission was completed, as "Santa Claus had returned to France.”

We were all swarmed by national and local media, who asked questions about our feelings of the reunion. The mayor of Dauendorf was also present! He had a great smile, so I told him I liked his smile and that he had my vote! He got a big kick out of this!

Later that evening, I was invited to address the City Council of Dauendorf! Once we arrived at the council building, it looked dark from the outside, but once we proceeded in and opened the door, there stood some members of a high school band. I was met with nothing but excitement. I walked up the steps, surrounded by a French high school band playing music. There were many people there; council members, celebrities, children and adults dressed in French costumes. I got to the podium and addressed the mayor of Dauendorf, council members, the military, the media, and the people of Dauendorf!

In my speech, I closed with the following words:

“In closing, Mr. Mayor, council members, people of Dauendorf and the Alsace area, I want you to know that I consider it an honor to be among you. I certainly admire the way you handled the German occupation, believing always that right would win out. My prayer is that God will bless each one of you and that our two countries will remain governments of the people, by the people, and for the people. From the bottom of my heart I say, ‘Vive le France.’”

Lastly, we returned to Paris and visited the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Arc de Triomphe, and the Eiffel Tower. We attended a mass at the Notre Dame Cathedral and I couldn’t help but feel incredibly blessed. I thanked God that I had the opportunity to have spent my time as a soldier; helping people that were a defeated nation, come back to life again.

These moments of time that I spent in France are memories that I will never forget as long as I live.

Read PART 1: A Hero's Journey.

Veteran Voices: A Hero's Journey (Part 1)

by Richard "Dick" Cotton, resident at Casa de MaƱana Retirement Community

I enlisted a day after I graduated from high school. I chose the Army because I knew if I went in the Navy, I would get seasick. My vision wasn't good, so flying was not for me. I believed enlisting was the responsibility of anyone physically able to serve his or her country.

Joining the Army was an opportunity to get away from my hometown and see what the rest of the world was like. Thankfully, my parents were very supportive. When I was in combat, my dad sat down every night and wrote me a note. It was tough when the mail came, especially when we received the mail in combat. I received so much mail, but some of my buddies did not even get one letter.

I don't think I would call my time in the service "fun" but what I learned about life was really worthwhile. Throughout the rest of my life, I learned that I needed to handle someone's instruction and not try to fight it. Being a team player was more important, and you learn to accomplish more than being solo.

My first combat was on June 12, 1944, in the Cherbourg Peninsula in France. Our battalion had landed on Utah Beach with our artillery guns to help the infantry in its move forward to take the city of Cherbourg.

I reported to the field artillery forward observer officer and my job was to radio back information he gave me to the field artillery. This made it possible for the artillery to effectively aim their guns where the Germans were located. 

On Oct. 21st, 1944, I was awarded the Bronze Star medal for heroic achievement in action against the enemy and the Purple Heart for wounds suffered at the time. The citation reads … “with complete disregard for his own safety he traversed an open field under intense machine gun fire in order to rescue two soldiers lost from the main body of troops. Although he received a painful leg wound, he continued his mission and successfully guided the two lost soldiers to their proper areas. The courage and devotion duty displayed by Corporal Cotton reflects great credit on the armed forces of the United States.” 

The German machine gunner shot me in the calf of my right leg. The bullet entered and exited the fat part of the calf. The medics were able to patch up my leg and then I was able to go forward and rejoin the infantry company.
Sixty-nine years later, my youngest son, Guy, and his family, traveled to Europe for vacation. They were interested in the places I was involved in WWII, so they traveled to France - their first stop was the Cherbourg Peninsula.

Find out about how Corporal Cotton became known as "Santa Claus" in the French town of Dauendorf in Part 2 of this blog.




Monday, May 1, 2017

Dementia: A Learning Journey

A Son's Journey to Understand Dementia Continues After Father's Passing

By Rich Barger

I’m Rich Barger and this is a story about my dad. My dad was a resident of Villa Gardens  Retirement Community. He spent his final months at the Summer House memory care neighborhood at Villa Gardens. My dad passed away on January 17, 2016 from late stage Parkinson ’s disease, which is one of the common dementias.

My dad’s final chapter took almost three years to write. During those three years, I learned much about the behaviors associated with each stage of the disease that I knew would eventually take his life. I know now that managing his dementia was more than seeing his doctors and filling his prescriptions – it was about maintaining my dad’s dignity, managing expectations, and making certain that the last years, months, weeks, and days of his life were as fulfilling as they could be. Fortunately for me and my family dad used that time to his advantage.

My dad’s final chapter would have had a far different ending if it weren’t for the excellent care he received from what had quickly become his extended family at Villa Gardens. I am now paying forward that excellent care and find myself in a very different place than I believed I would be – learning about caregiving, supporting the members of the memory care community, finding ways to assist the staff, and educating myself.

Dementia is just now being understood. There are more than 80 different forms, and the chemistry that causes dementia is a new science for most of the medical community. What I found was that caregiving takes on a new meaning when it involves taking care of a loved one that has been diagnosed with an affliction that will eventually take his or her life. My behavior would certainly have been different during my dad’s final chapter if I had the knowledge and understanding that I have now.

I’ll share more as I learn more. I’m hopeful that many of you will take that learning journey with me and support our Summer House memory care community.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The 5 Exercises You Should Do Every Day

Credit: Thinkstock

Improve your range of motion and balance in less than 10 minutes

Rashelle Brown for Next Avenue

Balance and mobility training can benefit us at any age, but it becomes more important as you reach and pass the age of 50.

Maintaining joint range of motion allows you to move naturally and helps to combat the postural problems that cause neck, back, shoulder and hip pain.

Far from only preventing stumbles and falls,
balance training is extremely important for everyone because it makes us better at every physical thing we do. Having a keen sense of proprioception (the sense of where your body is in space) makes all movement more efficient. When combined with fluid joints that allow for a full range of motion, this puts you at your functional best.

Here’s a short sequence of five exercises you can do every day to improve and maintain your balance and mobility. Done in a slow, controlled fashion, you can finish the whole workout in under 10 minutes:

Balance Stands

With balance training, the goal is not only to improve proprioception, but also to improve your body’s reaction mechanics so you can quickly move to re-establish center of mass and recover to a normal body posture.

As I tell my clients, balance training is most effective when you are almost falling, so it’s important to challenge yourself every time you do this exercise. Once you’ve mastered a simpler version of the Balance Stand, move on to a more complex version.

At its most basic level, this exercise simply requires you to stand on one foot for 30 seconds. For some, this will be easy the first time, while others may need to stand close to a wall or in a door jamb to put out their hand to re-establish balance every few seconds.

Once you can balance on each foot on a stable surface for 30 seconds, it’s time to make it harder. Try looking up at the ceiling while you balance. Once you’ve mastered that, move to a less stable surface, such as a thick rug, a bath towel folded in quarters, a foam balance pad, an inflatable balance pod or a rigid wobble board.


This exercise works wonders for the hips and spine. The movement should be slow and small at first, progressing to a slightly deeper twist and bend with each successive repetition. Start by standing with your feet in a wide-legged stance and extend your arms straight out to the sides, in a rendition of da Vinci’s
Vitruvian Man.Take in a deep breath and engage your core muscles. Exhale as you slowly hinge forward at the hips and slightly twist, bringing your right hand down and across your body toward your left knee. Rather than moving at the shoulder joint, aim to make all of the motion happen in your hips and trunk.

Also, be sure you are bending forward at the hips and not from the lower back. You may not come anywhere close to touching your knee, and that’s fine. Listen to your body and stop when you feel any tension in the backs of your legs, your hips or your back.

Return to the starting position and repeat on the left side. Do a total of 20 slow repetitions, 10 on each side, alternating as you go.

Jumping Jack Arms

This exercise loosens up the shoulders, stretches the spine and works out all those kinks we get from sitting with less than optimal posture. Stand with your feet in a wide-legged stance, arms down by your sides. Engage your core, making your spine long, and slowly raise your arms out to the sides and as far overhead as you can, in what is essentially the arms-only movement of a jumping jack.

Don’t let your arms travel out in front of your body — imagine your body stuck between two large panes of glass, not allowing your arms to move outside of that space. If you can’t reach all the way up overhead by staying inside the imaginary panes, just stop where your lateral motion ends and return to the start position. Do 30 repetitions.

Pendulum Swings

This exercise loosens up the entire hip socket and stretches nearly all of the leg muscles. Stand in an open doorway with about five feet of clear space on either side of the door. Hold the door jamb with your right hand and face forward, as though you are walking through the door. Lean onto your left foot, engage your core and slowly start swinging your right foot forward and behind you several inches.

As you begin to loosen up, make the swinging more exaggerated, but still keep the movement relatively slow and controlled. Do 20 to 30 swings with the right leg, then switch sides.

After finishing the forward/backward swings with both legs, turn sideways so you are facing the door jamb. Hold the jamb with both hands for stability and step back so you’re holding the jamb with fairly straight arms. Lean onto your left foot and slowly swing your right leg from side to side in front of the left leg, mimicking the motion of the pendulum in a clock.

Be sure to start with very small movements and increase the range only when the motion feels free and easy. Try not to swivel at the hips by rotating your spine, but keep the movement isolated within each hip socket. Do 20 to 30 swings with the right leg, then repeat on the left side.

Lunge Walk to High-Knees

This complex exercise combines balance with mobility, giving your legs and core a real workout! You’ll need a clear walkway, such as a long hallway or open space outside.

Starting with your hands on your hips, take a long, lunging step forward with your right foot. Keep your left knee straight, so you feel a mild stretch at the front of your left hip as you stride forward. Transfer your body weight onto your right foot and prepare for a balance challenge as you bring your left foot forward and drive your knee up high into the air, as though you are stepping up and over a small obstacle.

Continue the motion of your left leg forward and go right into a lunge, this time keeping your right leg straight behind you. Transfer your body weight onto your left leg and bring the right leg forward and up into a high-knee step.

Continue in this fashion until you have done a total of 30 or 40 steps — about 15 to 20 with each leg, alternating as you go. If your balance isn’t up to the challenge of this exercise yet, try doing it in a hallway with one hand on the wall to steady yourself as you go.

© Twin Cities Public Television - 2017. All rights reserved.


Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Way It Is

The Bird's Eye View From Ninety

By Jeanne Warnke, resident at Wesley Palms Retirement Community

Since my sky diving adventure, friends and kin have praised me for being courageous. I don't see it that way. Yes, I am of a "certain age" as they say, but every resident at Wesley Palms knows about being "courageous" in so many ways. We all have reached a stage in life where we experience things that require a great deal of strength — struggle daily through pain of body and pain of losses. It takes effort. It takes courage. If you are a senior, you know what I mean. We all are here at a lovely retirement community for some reason or other. Yes, we miss our old life, and our new one requires much of us, which includes situations we never dreamed we'd have, and it isn't always easy. To those much younger who ask about the right life-style to survive to old age, I admit I don't exercise as I should; I love junk food, and don't care if the early bird gets the worm. I give in to pain sometimes and upset family and bore others by giving "blow by blow" accounts of it all!

There is no true answer to the question; everyone has their own way of dealing with the Golden Years even when they are a bit tarnished. Sometimes I find it annoyingly necessary to reach for my cane on what I refer to as "my bad day," but it is needed for balance. I hope for wisdom of my years, and the courage to face whatever life now presents. Whether good or bad, this is the "now" and better if we can call it just another adventure in living. Funny, but high places always scared me. Perhaps, subconsciously, I took a sky jump to prove something to myself and it did give me a good feeling to conquer that fear. I rejuvenated myself. I'm pleased that I just dumped wise advice and gave in to the urge to see beauty from a bird's eye view. It is similar to the urge that recently had me buying paints to learn about putting happy, bright colors on a canvas. I wish I could ride a horse again—my mother and sister did in their eighties—but I couldn't get a leg up no matter how much I feel that urge. There are things I realize I can't do, and fears I haven't conquered like jumping into the deep end of a swimming pool.

The most important thing is to keep trying to squeeze every bit of joy out of life. So...any one ready to start a Wesley Palms Sky Diving Club?


Thursday, March 16, 2017

Making a Memoir a Reality

At 87, she wrote her life story and created a family treasure

By Edmund O. Lawler for Next Avenue

When my mother was a teenager, she got to meet the most famous athlete of the 20th century.

It was 1947. Babe Ruth, by then stricken with throat cancer, granted my mom and her sister a private audience in the beautiful Manhattan apartment he shared with his wife, Claire. The girls, accompanied by their mother, were awestruck as the now-retired Sultan of Swat autographed photos and chatted amiably with them about baseball in a painfully raspy voice. My mom didn’t have the heart to tell the Babe, who would die a year later, that she was a fan of her hometown Chicago White Sox.

My mom was celebrating her recent high school graduation with a train trip from Chicago to New York where she rode the coasters at Coney Island, beheld the Statue of Liberty and dined at the Stork Club. The visit with Babe was a complete surprise — arranged by her businessman father and one of his confidants in New York City.

This memorable trip is among the many delicious moments captured in a self-published 2011 memoir written by my mom, Jean Oliver Lawler, for her 12 grandchildren. In good health at age 87 and calling a senior living center outside Chicago home, she titled her 115-page book How Do You Eat an Elephant? (One Bite at a Time). It’s an aphorism she often summoned to buck up her six children when facing a daunting challenge — and a motivational mantra she relied on to persist in the writing and publication of the memoir.

Her Memoir: a Challenging Endeavor

Mom was a nurse, a teacher and a homemaker, but never a writer. She didn’t use a computer. Still, she had a life story to tell.

Not long after my father died, she enrolled in a creative writing class at the community center near her home. The instructor’s feedback on her initial drafts was blunt.

Memoir writing was first and foremost personal, he told her. Facts are important, but what makes them interesting is how you feel about the facts. Her initial drafts lacked in this area, he admonished.

For further guidance, Mom read several memoirs, including some written by her friends. She found she was bored by autobiographies that unfolded chronologically, much preferring memoirs featuring vividly poignant vignettes from throughout the writer’s life.

One day, she bumped into a lifelong friend in a diner. Lorraine had just written her own memoir and had a copy in her car. She encouraged my mom to press on in her quest and offered to transcribe any handwritten material. Mom was inspired, and Lorraine made good on her offer.

In addition, Mom was coached and critiqued by her granddaughter (my niece) Moira Lawler, a gifted writer and editor. She implored my mother to write, write, write.

Mom spilled a series of engaging hand-written vignettes on to legal pads over the course of a year. But at some point, the project stalled. She was getting frustrated and feared her grandchildren would never get to read her memoir.

As a professional writer and editor, I’m an old hand at wrangling copy to get an article or an entire publication into print or online. So I stepped in to help.

A Natural Writer

As with any project, there were loose ends — in this case, computer files of transcribed chapters and a stack of handwritten chapters I needed to transcribe and edit. But I was struck by how well my mother expressed herself on the written page. Her writing was lovely and simply stated. She had an innate sense for plot. My role as an editor was minimal.

The memoir’s tone was largely celebratory — featuring vignettes of wonderful vacations, great friendships, a 57-year marriage and the achievements of her children. There were expressions of gratitude as well as stories about her grandparents and parents. It was filled with family lore that was new — not only to her grandchildren — but also to me. Interspersed throughout the pages were more than 70 photographs that illustrated her life’s special moments.

One chapter was titled “The Aunt and Uncle You Never Knew.” Sadly, it recounted the deaths of two of her children: an infant named Eileen Mary and 19-year-old son Danny, who died in a car accident. I’ve always admired Mom’s and Dad’s fortitude and faith in the face of the staggering loss of two children. The memoir, a family treasure, ensures that memories of her beloved Eileen Mary and Danny will live on in the next generation.

In the memoir’s conclusion, my mother offers some final advice for her grandchildren. “Top of my list is prayer,” she wrote, “God is there to guide you through life, if you ask.”

In reading and editing my mother’s memoir, I learned things about her life I never knew. She is inspiring me to write my own for the benefit of my two sons. Too much in life goes unsaid. A thoughtful and honest memoir can resolve some of the mystery.

Despite having made a living by writing — and almost always about someone other than me — the thought of penning my own memoir is daunting. But thanks to Mom, I know what to do. She taught me how to eat an elephant: one bite at a time.

© Twin Cities Public Television - 2017. All rights reserved.


Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Achieving Your Dreams After 60

The authors of 'Senior Wonders' on the 3 P's for Triumphant Aging
By Karen L. Pepkin and Wendell C. Taylor for Next Avenue

Credit: Thinkstock
The media abounds with negative views about the impact of aging on physical, cognitive, and financial well-being. In fact, there are entire industries that have emerged to counteract the effects of aging — nutritional supplements, hormone treatments, surgical improvements, lotions, potions, and the like. They all seem to underscore Bette Davis’ famous quote, “Old age is no place for sissies.”

What if there were another point of view? What if aging brought about, not decline but our greatest accomplishments? What if we looked at aging as Dr. Christiane Northrup does? She tells us that “getting older is inevitable, but aging isn’t.”

Our book, Senior Wonders: People Who Achieved Their Dreams After Age 60 profiles 23 individuals and two groups who not only survived into old age, but achieved their greatest 
successes. As we wrote our book, we looked for emerging themes. Were there any commonalities among these people? Although their accomplishments were in a variety of fields (arts, sciences, social causes, entertainment, etc.), several themes became apparent. We think of them as the 3 P’s: Passion, Perspective on Life, and Persistence.

Passion, by definition, is any compelling emotion or feeling. These individuals either had a strong belief in what they were doing, or in the case of those with an artistic bent, they couldn’t help creating, whether it was writing, painting, or acting.

Perspective on life emerged as a theme when we noticed that several of our seniors commented that they couldn’t have achieved their success at an earlier age. Having lived a long life enabled them to learn from failures and successes, establish a clear focus, and develop a unique perspective.

Our last P is Persistence. This theme became apparent when we observed that many of our seniors faced daunting obstacles and accomplished their goals by sheer will and determination; they did not give up.

Author Harry Bernstein and humanitarian Clara McBride Hale are two who exemplify these themes.

Bernstein was born in Stockport, England in 1910 and began his education as an architect. But when his teacher discouraged his career choice, he decided to pursue a writing career and moved to New York to accomplish his goal. Although he made a living as a writer, his wife, Ruby, had to work as a school secretary to subsidize the family income. He did have one novel published, but it wasn’t successful. Undaunted, Bernstein continued to write, penning more than 20 novels that were never published.

In 2007, at age 97, he wrote an autobiographical novel, The Invisible Wall, which received critical acclaim. The book poignantly described the “invisible wall” that separated the Jewish and Christian sections of his home town. At age 98, he published, The Dream, which told the story of his family’s move to America. Because these two books were so successful, he was awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship at age 98 to pursue his writing.

At 99, he published the third book in the series, The Golden Willow: The Story of a Lifetime of Love, about his marriage to Ruby and later years. His novels have been translated into several languages. Bernstein stated: “If I had not lived until I was 90, I would not have been able to write this book…It could not have been done, even when I was 10 years younger. I wasn’t ready. God knows what other potentials lurk in other people, if we could only keep them alive well into their 90s.”

When her husband died, Clara McBride Hale had to support herself and her three small children. Not wanting to leave her children unsupervised for extended periods of time, she opened a day care in her Harlem neighborhood. Many of the children in her care stayed overnight because their parents worked as domestics. She then decided to become a foster parent and raised 40 foster children, all of whom pursued a college education. At 64, after 28 years, she retired from the foster care system. Soon after, her daughter referred a drug-addicted mother and baby to Hale for help. Before long, she was caring for all this mother’s drug-addicted children.

As the word spread throughout New York City, more and more drug-addicted babies were left in Hale’s care. During the first year and a half, her family provided financial and other support to keep her mission going. Then, the Borough of Manhattan president, Percy Sutton, arranged public funding. Also, John Lennon left provisions for support of Hale House in his will.

In 1975, Hale House moved to 122nd Street where it remains today. After successfully reuniting hundreds of families, only 12 children had to be placed for adoption. At age 85, Clara McBride Hale was honored by President Ronald Reagan for her humanitarian work. She stated: “I’m not an American hero, I’m just someone who loves children.”

“Triumphant aging,” as exemplified by Bernstein and Hale, is a counter perspective to the pervasive negative beliefs about aging. Do you, your relatives or friends have untapped potentials or abandoned dreams? If so, consider what George Elliot said: “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.”

© Twin Cities Public Television - 2017. All rights reserved.


Thursday, March 2, 2017

5 Ways Tech Products Will Help Us Age Well

A visit to CES 2017 turned up caregiving robots and vital sign 'tattoos'

One of the many helpful robot prototypes at CES using voice recognition to assist humans with daily tasks

It is the year 2025 and I have just celebrated my 85th birthday. I still live at home. This afternoon, I got into my self-driving car and went to my great granddaughter’s house for a visit. She introduced me to a group of her friends over lunch and I heard every word they said. I was a part of the conversation.

Two weeks ago, I fell in the bathroom and within minutes, my son’s voice came over my watch to ask me if everything was ok. Last night, I sat in my massage chair, and asked “Alexa” to play the top musical hits from when I met my wife in college. I closed my eyes and it brought back wonderful memories.

And although I technically live alone, I have one of the greatest companions I have ever had in my life — Tina, my personal assistant robot. Life ain’t bad.

Back to 2017 now: I recently returned from the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas — the largest, electronics show in the world where the most innovative cutting-edge technology products are introduced each year. Nearly 200,000 people attended and wandered through some 2.47 million square feet of exhibit space.

I was invigorated by the energy and innovation that I saw. Whether these products will materialize or not, I applauded each one — even the “smart” hair brush which helps make those critical decisions about how to comb your hair.

While I don’t really want a hairbrush that is smarter than I am, I can note five consumer electronic trends with great potential to help us be more independent, safe, purposeful and productive as we age. Most products are not ready for prime time yet. But if you are like me — planning and thinking about how to be as vital, productive and non-burdensome as possible as our bodies and brains start to fail — these innovations and trends represent some encouraging news:

1. Put down that mouse and talk to me. Thirty months ago, voice recognition software would get one out of every four words wrong. Today, “machines” are on parity with how we hear each other as humans. Over the course of the next couple of years, expect an explosion of voice-activated things you can do — order groceries, send your son an email, turn up the heat in your home, turn on the lights when you have to go to the bathroom at night. You get the picture. Lately, much to the dismay of my spouse, I have been spending a great deal of time talking to Alexa, Amazon’s disembodied voice that lives in the company’s Echo cylinder. It is quite remarkable what she can do today, and I feel certain that Alexa will only get better.

2. Let your car do the (autonomous) driving. If you have been lucky enough to be with your parents as they age, you will know that one of the hardest things to get them to do is give up the keys to the car. The car is independence. Freedom! Well within the next decade, however, you’ll be able to keep your car, tell it where you want it to go and not have to worry about your eyesight or reflex time. It will be like having your own personal chauffeur.

3. I can hear you now. As we age, we all lose some capacity to hear and to distinguish certain sounds. One statistic I heard at CES was that the average person waits seven years before he or she does anything about a loss in hearing. Speaking from personal experience, we spent thousands of dollars on hearing aids for my parents, which they seldom wore. Why? Well, in addition to adding to what they perceived as a social stigma, hearing aids were often buggy — whistling and uncomfortable with constantly-dying batteries. And with little competition in the marketplace, the product has improved only slightly. However, a recent decision by the FDA has opened the floodgates to tech innovators who will be able to sell some amazing new products to help people cope with age-related hearing loss without going through doctors or audiologists. Even better? These products won’t break the bank in a way hearing aids can today. (For more information about hearing loss and how to treat it, please visit Next Avenue’s hearing loss guide.)

4. I am 80 and getting a tattoo. A Chinese company at CES introduced a product that looked and worked a bit like a fake tattoo (just press on your skin and peel off, leaving something looking like a tattoo) but actually functioned like a computer sensor that monitored vital signs. Reports from the “tattoo” could then be generated and sent over the Internet to medical professionals or families and caregivers. The wearable monitoring device trend was ubiquitous at CES this year.

5. My son moved out, but my robot moved in.
Remember Rosie from The Jetsons? Robots resembling her were everywhere at CES this year, with companies introducing them as “babysitters” and “elder care companions.” While not yet fully realized, these first-generation companions, I predict, will be great friends to many of us as we age. (If you’re having a hard time envisioning what I mean, watch this video of a companion robot in action.)

Neither I nor Next Avenue endorse any product mentioned here. It is not what we do. What we do is hope to open doors and windows to your world for you to walk through and explore.

I am feeling pretty good about what is coming our way from a remarkable generation of innovators who are creating tools and products that will make us live fuller and more independent lives (even if they are doing it so they won’t have to take care of us)!

© Twin Cities Public Television - 2017. All rights reserved.


Friday, February 24, 2017

Want to Age Better? Join a Choir

A groundbreaking study examines the health benefits of making music as we age

Credit: Getty Images

By Deborah Quilter for Next Avenue

Twenty years ago, when academic researcher Julene Johnson wanted to study how music might help the aging process, she couldn’t get funding. Johnson, a professor at the Institute for Health & Aging at the University of California, San Francisco, suspected that music might improve memory, mood and even physical function.

And, she thought, what could be more perfect than choral music? Your instrument is already in your body, and you are bathed in beautiful sound by fellow music makers. Singing in a group is fun, so there’s plenty of reason to come back week after week: You get to see your friends and exercise your vocal cords and brain all at once.

Fast forward to 2010, when Johnson won a Fulbright scholarship to study the impact of singing in the quality of life of older adults in Finland.

Why Finland?

Because there, children study arts, but they don’t stop when they get older, as so many people do in the United States. They keep singing or making music throughout their lives. In fact, in one city (population 125,000) there were more than 50 choirs — six of which were dedicated to older adults. Because of its emphasis on cradle-to-grave musical expression, Finland seemed the perfect place to study the effect of music on aging.

Music as a Force for Good

In Finland, Johnson saw the effects up close, including how making music together can build group cohesion toward a common goal.

Vocal music even played a pivotal role in Finnish history, Johnson notes. “Music was used as a political force,” she says. When Finland was ruled by Russia, citizens would meet and talk about politics. They planned how to change the future at singing festivals, which eventually led to the country’s independence.

When Johnson returned to the U.S., she was determined to learn more. So when the National Institutes of Health called for proposals to identify novel ways to promote independence and well-being in older adults, she applied for, and receive, a grant founding her Community of Voices study, the largest of its kind.

Johnson hypothesized that music participation is a cost-effective way to promote health, independence and well-being to help an increasingly diverse population of older people remain active and independent. Other studies have found that older adults who sing in choirs tend to have high rates of well-being and mood, but they didn’t address whether those effects can be attributed to choral singing or to the self-selection of the participants.
The Community of Voices Study

Johnson’s study — large, rigorous and randomized — would really put the hypothesis to the test. Involving 390 participants from 12 senior centers in the San Francisco Bay area, the Community of Voices study is unique in a few ways.

For starters, it is the first to test the effects of an arts-based intervention for older adults on improving key measures of health and well-being: cognitive health, physical functioning, emotional well-being and social connectedness.

Another difference is the deliberate recruitment of ethnically-diverse older adults. By 2030, nearly half of people over 65 are expected to come from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds.

After participants were recruited, they were screened and given assessments that would be remeasured at six and 12 months. Participants needed to be 60 or older and have adequate vision and hearing and fluency in English or Spanish. People with significant cognitive impairment were excluded. Of the nearly 400 participants, 55 percent had not sung in a choir as an adult.

Serious About Singing in a Choir

The Community of Voices program also was different from the passive singalong approach to choruses that you might expect to see in senior centers because it was designed to include physical, social and cognitive components as well as performances.

Professional choir conductors and accompanists designed the musical program. Directors made certain adjustments for age, such as changing the key to allow for aging voices to sing without strain. But the 90-minute rehearsals involved learning new songs, paying attention to the conductor and synchronizing personal singing parts with the rest of the choir. The repertoire included Latin, African-American and Filipino music, show tunes that were tailored to each choir.

Rather than sitting the whole time, choir members stood or moved to different parts of the room. A 15-minute warm-up at the beginning of each session included vocal work, breathing and stretching movements. There was also a 10-minute refreshment break.

Measuring Outcomes

Each choir met once a week for a year, and performed three to four times in public. The average age was 71, females represented 76 percent of participants,and two-thirds were non-white. Researchers collected data about falls and the use of health care services every three months, and focused on three primary outcomes:

  • Cognitive function: Attention and executive function were tested.
  • Lower body strength: Participants were given a timed sit-to-stand test to assess their ability. 
  • Emotional well-being: Participants were rated on the frequency of depressive symptoms including feeling down, having little interest in things, trouble sleeping, being tired, having poor appetite, feeling bad about themselves, having trouble concentrating or moving slowly. 
Participants were also tested for verbal learning and memory, social engagement, social support, loneliness, walking speed, balance and falls. 

Another key attribute was measured — self-efficacy — which Johnson defined as “people feeling like they have the power to do things for themselves.” In addition to literally building strength to sing louder, Johnson notes that singing can help people find their voice metaphorically speaking.

“The voice is a way of self-expression,” she says. “They can speak up to their landlords.”

The last Community of Voices choir is soon to finish its run for the study, and the data is still being collected and tabulated. One thing is for sure, though: The choirs were a hit. Once they finished participation in the study, all the previous choirs have continued to sing.

© Twin Cities Public Television - 2017. All rights reserved.


Thursday, February 16, 2017

Fighting Ageism and Unfair Treatment in Health Care

Among the problems: doctors who view depression and anxiety in older adults as 'normal'
By Terry Fulmer for Next Avenue

(Next Avenue invited all our 2016 Influencers in Aging to write essays about the one thing they would like to change about aging in America. This is one of the essays.)

Credit: Getty Images

Everyone deserves equal treatment — in the broader society and in our health care system. Today, older people are often not treated fairly and do not get the care they deserve, simply because of their age. While one of our great success stories in the 20th century was the stunning gain in human longevity, recent research from The Frameworks Institute, funded by my group, The John A. Hartford Foundation, and others, has found that the majority of us still don’t recognize ageism or its deleterious effects. They call it a “cognitive hole,” a mental blind spot.

As 10,000 of us turn 65 each day, it is critical that we shine a bright light on this insidious prejudice. It is a matter of simple fairness and justice. It is a way to honor the priceless and irreplaceable contributions that older adults make every day to enrich our society and culture. And for those of us at The John A. Hartford Foundation, it is critical to the broader effort to improve care for older people.

The Dangers of Ageism

Research during the last two decades has implicated ageism in the under- and over-treatment of older patients, as too many clinicians mischaracterize organic medical conditions as normal aging. Others ignore pain, anxiety and depression as unavoidable as we get older or unconsciously view older people as less worthy or less important than their younger counterparts.

A classic example is the under detection of elder mistreatment, when, for example, clinicians ascribe bruises to anticoagulants instead of making an effort to ensure there is no family violence. Another — the assumption that all older people become confused and forgetful, when, instead, a brain tumor may be the real problem.

These negative and inaccurate views of older people consistently hamper our ability to recruit nurses, doctors and other health professionals into geriatrics and gerontology. The result: our health care workforce often lacks the knowledge and experience to treat a group of patients who make up 35 percent of all hospital stays and 27 percent of all doctor’s office visits. And though nearly four in 10 older people take five or more medications, clinical trials generally exclude older patients with multiple chronic conditions, so we may misjudge drugs’ efficacy (and even dangers) with this important patient population.

Even our own views of aging can have important influences on health and well-being. Researchers note people with more positive expectations about aging live longer, experience less stress and have a greater willingness to exercise and eat better. Conversely, negative perceptions of aging — inadvertently supported by unhelpful and negative stereotypes in popular culture and the media — can reinforce self-defeating behaviors that make us more vulnerable to disease and disability.

Developing an Age-Friendly Health System

During the last century, our health care system has consistently demonstrated an impressive ability to adapt and to find innovative solutions to challenging problems. Looking ahead, we need an intensive effort to create an age-friendly health system where all older adults and their families feel that the care they receive is the care they want and that they feel respected in the process.

We need health care suffused with aging expertise, devoted to person- and family-centered care, and able to provide coordinated services in the hospital, clinic and the community. This work is neither simple nor easy. Raising awareness about, and addressing, ageism throughout the health care system — and throughout our society — will be critical to delivering the care all of us want and deserve as we get older.

© Twin Cities Public Television - 2017. All rights reserved.


Friday, February 10, 2017

Making Communities Friendlier for Those With Dementia

That's the goal for the ambitious Dementia Friendly America initiative
By Beth Baker for Next Avenue

Volunteers pass out laminated bookmarks with the 10 signs of Alzheimer's at the local supermarketCredit: Courtesy of Paynesville (MN) ACT on Alzheimer's

Can a strong community network help ease the challenges faced by people with dementia and their families? That’s the hope of a national volunteer-driven initiative known as Dementia Friendly America (DFA).

“Our goals are to foster dementia-friendly communities that will enable people who are living with dementia and their care partners to thrive and to be independent as long as possible,” says Olivia Mastry, who’s guiding the effort. “The side benefit is that it’s beginning to normalize [Alzheimer’s], to reduce the stigma. It’s created an environment that’s allowed people to talk about this disease.”

Mastry comes to the issues from personal experience. She and her husband cared for her mother-in-law, who had dementia, the last four years of her life. “That’s given me deep context and understanding of what this takes,” she says, “The caregiver role is so big it can be made easier by an entire community coming together.”
A New Initiative

DFA next month will make live a web portal that offers communities a roadmap to create a dementia-friendly environment in many sectors of life, from churches to banks, government agencies and supermarkets.

“From a pure business perspective it makes a lot of sense for us to do this kind of work,” says Frank Fernandez of BlueCross/BlueShield Minnesota (BC/BS Minnesota), which insures many older adults. “Beyond that, the work aligns with our mission, which is to make a healthy difference in people’s lives.”

BC/BS Minnesota, one of 50 organizations on the DFA national council, is offering educational brown bag lunches to its employees and training its customer service representatives to better equip them to talk to people with dementia and their caregivers. It also contributed $750,000 to ACT on Alzheimer’s, a statewide initiative on which DFA is modeled.

Mastry adds that DFA will help communities find local funding to launch such efforts. But even without funding, she stresses, organizing can begin.

“If there is a champion in the community, you can do it,” she says. “Communities can really move this. So we’re trying to encourage them to take that first step.”

Here is a sampling of what communities around the country are doing to become dementia-friendly:

Minnesota’s first dementia-friendly canine
Credit: Courtesy of Paynesville (MN) ACT on Alzheimer's

Rural Challenge: Identify Those Who Need SupportIn 2014, Paynesville, Minn., population 2,400, launched an ambitious multi-pronged effort to reach out to an estimated 200 local people who have dementia. “The most difficult challenge we have is finding the people,” says Linda Musel, co-chair of Paynesville Area ACT on Alzheimer’s.

They began by surveying residents. “We went to every faction we could think of — bankers, lawyers, caretakers, government, teenagers — and we surveyed them,” says Musel. Some 90 people showed up at their first organizing event, a big turnout for a small town. The group decided to focus on educating the public and assisting caregivers.

They offer a class called “Dementia Friends,” which helps people overcome their fears and uncertainty about communicating with folks who have dementia. They also provide classes to emergency medical personnel and firefighters, who requested specialized training.

To reach young people, the group purchases relevant books for school libraries and teaches classes at the high school.

“We were surprised in our survey that the teens said, ‘That’s my grandma. Mom and Dad whisper about this, but they don’t tell us what’s going on.’ They want to help too,” Musel says.

Advocates also faithfully go to the town’s only supermarket on Wednesdays: senior discount day. They assist with shopping to relieve caregivers and pass out literature, including bookmarks with the 10 signs of Alzheimer’s, and let people know how to find support.

For their part, local ministers organized an Alzheimer’s Awareness Sunday. Caregivers often feel their loved one is not welcome at church, Musel says, and part of their educational effort is simply to remind people to smile and be welcoming.

Denver: Entrepreneurs Develop Technology for Connecting

One unusual dementia-friendly initiative is in Denver, Colo., led by Amanda Cavaleri, 27. Denver is one of DFA’s pilot communities, along with Tempe, Ariz.; Santa Clara County, Calif.; Prince George’s County, Md.; Knoxville, Tenn. and the state of West Virginia.

Cavaleri (see her TED Talk), whose expertise is new technology for older adults, has brought together key players who are interested in dementia-friendly efforts: Prime Health, made up of 1,000 health care administrators, physicians, entrepreneurs, investors, technologists and academics; the Colorado Technology Association; Catalyst, a digital health consortium; Jiminy Wicket, which promotes intergenerational croquet for people with dementia and Cavaleri’s nonprofit Connect the Ages, an intergenerational digital storytelling program.

“We wanted to see if there was interest from the entrepreneurial community and there was,” she says, including many who had family experience with dementia. “We chose to focus on the ‘extreme user’ — someone who is home alone, with dementia.”

Such individuals face many challenges, she explains — changes in depth perception, vision and cognition.

“We’re trying to figure out how we can help entrepreneurs so they can partner with home health organizations or communities,” says Cavaleri. “How can they receive funding and help them be successful and lower health care costs and improve quality of life?.”

Cavaleri works to create opportunities for elders, including those with dementia, to tell their stories. “Reminiscing is a really good tool to help people with dementia feel safe emotionally and have more stable behaviors,” she says.

Students meet face to face with people in retirement communities who have dementia, and capture their oral histories. Another pilot project that engages students is the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress.

Cavaleri hopes DFA will eventually spark monthly coffee shop gatherings where caregivers, people with dementia and students can go to interact with each other, to participate in storytelling and reminiscing.

“We’re able to pass down these older adults’ knowledge and experience,” she says. “For both older and younger, it’s an avenue to systemically reducing isolation and building purpose — and hopefully attract some young talent for the longevity workforce.”
West Virginia – Statewide Pilot

Of DFA’s initial pilot programs, West Virginia is the only statewide initiative. “As I learned more about the work in Minnesota and the experiences with the medical community, it seemed like a natural fit for West Virginia,” says Helen Matheny, with the Blanchette Rockefeller Neurosciences Institute in Morgantown, who is leading the effort.

The initiative builds on partnerships already in place with AARP, the Alzheimer’s Association and other groups related to senior care and healthy lifestyles, she says. Phase one will be to raise awareness statewide and build capacity for doing dementia-friendly work in many sectors. In 2016, they hope to begin implementing programs in local communities.

“First we’re going to educate our citizens about the prevalence and the economic impact of dementia,” she says. “In addition we’re going to target four specific areas: faith communities, legal and financial services, businesses and emergency response personnel.”

They also will use social media to connect people with local resources.

“The idea is not to reinvent the wheel,” Matheny says. “We have a lot of resources readily available, so we want to be a convener and help facilitate getting residents to the right resources and tools that they need.”

© Twin Cities Public Television - 2017. All rights reserved.