19 Mar 2015

Carrots or cookies

When I was a kid, my mother taught me a lesson about appetites and hunger. An hour before dinner, when I asked her for a snack, she offered me carrots.

“But I’m not hungry for carrots,” I whined, “I’m hungry for a cookie.”

She replied, “If you’re not hungry for carrots then you’re not really hungry.”

Now that I am all grown up, I know eating a cookie an hour before dinner will spoil my appetite. But why do I want one?

My answer is stress.

Stress is my reaction to life’s demands. It results in me staring at the ceiling at 2 a.m. or renders me unable to recall the words “paper towel” in a conversation or instigates my yelling at the toaster when the bagel gets stuck.

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5 Mar 2015

Been there myself

Readers of this column know that I often write candidly about family situations and experiences.

Just last month I trekked to cold and snowy Boston to care for my sister. She is ill with a chronic disease. There is much I’d like to write about her situation.

For example, there’s the financial impact of a disease whose treatment requires a drug that costs $3,000 per month. Or the dynamics of living with a condition that forces the patient to be homebound, prompting other family members to assume new roles. Or the critical reliance by the patient on an array of medications, despite a desperate wish to be off all of them.

I want to write that column— but I’m hindered by the feeling that my sister would be embarrassed. I

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19 Feb 2015

Seven facts about old age

Think you know a lot about the senior population?

The social change website for young adults, www.dosomething.org, has an “11 Facts About . . .” series on topics as diverse as cyberbullying, blizzards, recycling and even old age.

Now, before you visit the site to see a few of these answers, let’s test your knowledge about old age.

True or false?

Eighteen percent of people over 65 live in nursing homes.

False. The actual percentage of people over 65 living in a nursing home is very small

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5 Feb 2015

When the doctor won’t talk to you

doctorRecently my niece Sammie, a freshman at USC, contracted mononucleosis, better known as “mono.” Five days after her diagnosis at the campus infirmary, and after taking all of her meds and beginning to feel better, Sammie relapsed and headed back to the clinic with excruciating pain in her throat and difficulty swallowing. Sammie’s mom, my sister Paula, called the infirmary, very worried about her daughter. What happened next was a surprise— she was told the doctor could not talk to her because Sammie is 18 and had not turned in the form to permit the doctor to give medical information to her mother. Somehow that form, among the multitude of forms filled out during registration, never made it to USC. Being the organized mom my sister is, she found the original form signed by Sammie, scanned it and sent it over to the infirmary. Now the doctor could fill my sister in on Sammie’s condition. That was good news, but it didn’t prepare us for the next step in Sammie’s journey. I should...

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22 Jan 2015

Hoping ‘Still Alice’ inspires action

still alice 2Movies about human afflictions make for juicy acting roles and great returns at the box office; but movies about disease can sometimes do an amazing job of changing the national conversation. Tom Hanks’ character in the movie “Philadelphia” gave us a window into the social stigma of living with AIDS. Dustin Hoffman’s portrayal of Raymond in “Rain Man” highlighted a time when institutionalization was common for those with autism. Eddie Redmayne’s portrayal of Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything” painted a vivid picture of the physical and emotional struggles of those living with ALS. In advance media and the press following each movie, there was heightened awareness of the disorders showcased. Whether it was around the water cooler, at the dinner table or in the halls of Congress, dialogue ensued and consciousness was raised. Those of us that work in the field of dementia care are hoping “Still Alice” (out in general release since Jan. 16) will do the same. The movie is...

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1 Jan 2015

The expanding role of pharmacies for family caregivers

pharmacyAs a family caregiver, my local pharmacy has been a great resource for me in the care of my aging loved ones. Besides stocking a cornucopia of items I never thought I’d be searching for—liners for adult diapers, oral rinse for dry mouth, compression stockings—my pharmacy offers a valuable service I never knew existed. While caring for my dad, my mother and I took advantage of CVS’s “brown bag” review of prescription medications. At one time, my father was taking 13 different medications at eight different times during the day. We gathered all of his prescriptions as well as his over-the-counter medications and brought them to his CVS pharmacist. She reviewed the prescriptions and doses and checked for any possible interactions. Since my father has a chronic health condition (Parkinson’s), is being treated by more than one physician and takes over-the-counter medications, it was really helpful to have all of his medications reviewed as a whole. For example, we learned one of the...

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10 Dec 2014

Person-centered care

emailiconCIBDLast week I met my new neighbor’s 4-year-old daughter. I was with my dog, Rolo, and the little girl explained to me that her brother, just 22 months, was “obsessed” with dogs. It was a big word for a 4-year old. Her ability to recall the word and use it correctly was impressive. At 4, this little girl may make more decisions and verbalize more about her emotions than many seniors with Alzheimer’s disease. For example, she most likely gets to choose what book she wants to read, what she wants for breakfast, what television program she wants to watch and what play activity she enjoys. “Want” is the operative word here. In this child’s daily routine she is given choices that allow her to express her autonomy and independence. In turn, whether she knows it or not, she receives joy and satisfaction. One of the main challenges in caring for a person with early to mid-stage Alzheimer’s is allowing the person’s “wants” to be verbalized and fulfilled. When we choose a person’s clothes,...

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29 Nov 2014

Training senior care providers

senior careWhen I was in corporate America, the companies I worked for invested a lot of money in employee education and development. Part of the reason this is on my mind right now is because I saved all of my training manuals and just had the opportunity to go through them. I can see how training for senior and family caregivers may be even more important than training for employees was in my past career. Growth in the senior industry is causing lightning-fast change. It can be challenging to keep up, whether as an industry professional or as a senior or family caregiver. Those who don’t work in the senior care industry may not be aware that in our community we have dedicated professional organizations taking on the valuable role of training and education. Moving Seniors Forward (www.movingseniorsforward.org) is a Ventura County and San Fernando Valley network of professionals (one representative per profession) offering services, products and information for seniors and their families....

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13 Nov 2014

Testing for Alzheimer’s

alzheimers scrabbleI know many people who worry about getting Alzheimer’s because a grandparent, parent or sibling suffers from it. When keys are lost, eyeglasses are misplaced, or things historically recalled are forgotten, family members of those with Alzheimer’s or other dementias often wonder if they, too, have the disease. But according to the Alzheimer’s Association, the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease is not genetics, it’s age. Alzheimer’s disease presents itself primarily in those age 65 or older. Statistics show the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s doubles about every five years after age 65. After age 85, the risk reaches nearly 50 percent. Because so many people are living longer, we’re seeing a significant increase in the numbers with the disease. It’s predicted that by 2050, as many as 16 million Americans will be living with Alzheimer’s. One tool—memory screenings performed by qualified medical professionals—may help in determining if there’s been a decline in memory...

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30 Oct 2014

Nominate a caregiver-friendly workplace

happy office workerA recent article in the Los Angeles Times titled “The Caregiver’s Dilemma” chronicled the author’s struggle to care for herself as she looked after her mother, who has dementia and was in a rehab facility with a broken hip. As I read the article, I could feel the author’s exhaustion. When she concluded that she could not take care of both herself and her mother at the same time, stating, “It’s one or the other, one at a time,” I completely understood what she meant. So many of us are becoming unpaid family caregivers, and the toll is not just on the caregiver. People are astonished when I tell them that family caregivers provide 80 percent of the long-term care services in this country and those services are valued at $577 billion—more than the total cost of Medicare. Yes, caregiving is a silent epidemic. Those caring for loved ones are often thrust into unexpected roles that are complex, costly and stressful. It’s not just a social issue; it’s a workplace issue too. According...

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