Two isolated groups join forces via caregiving

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Those of us who have cared for our elders know how advanced age and health issues can lead to social isolation. On the younger end of the spectrum, those with learning disabilities can feel ostracized from their peers. An innovative program in New York brings these two groups together and has created a beautiful sense of purpose for all involved.

Daniel Reingold, the CEO of the Hebrew Home at Riverdale, founded HOPE in 1995, originally as a way to fill job vacancies at the nursing home by employing those born to drug-addicted mothers, The Associated Press reported. HOPE stands for “Health Care Offers Permanent Employment.” Over the years, the program has evolved to include those with autism and intellectual disabilities.

The thread that binds these two seemingly disparate groups is caregiving. The youths assist nursing home residents with daily tasks, and the nursing home residents help the young carers with academic tasks like reading, by giving them real-world history lessons by sharing their life stories, and by being patient as the youths learn to perform caregiving tasks.

It’s a win-win situation. The kids can graduate and work at the nursing home if they choose, or explore other job opportunities. Nursing home residents are energized by the presence of young people, who are eager to show them what they can do on their smartphones and other gadgets.

The kids also learn important lessons on life and death that their peers might miss. Favorite residents die, and the students have to learn how to cope with the loss.

I love to see innovative solutions to social issues that often get ignored, and hope such success stories will inspire others to implement similar programs.

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Ending the caregiver guilt trip

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I think all caregivers end up on a guilt trip at some point, but this blog post from gerontologist Dr. Elaine Eshbaugh is another good reminder to let go of that guilt. She discusses the negative emotions that many family members feel when placing their loved ones with dementia in a nursing home, and why caregivers shouldn’t be so hard on themselves.

 

And then there are people who promise their loved ones that they will never place them in a nursing home. I once had a woman say to me, “My husband and I promised we’d never do that to each other.” I can promise my spouse a lot of things. I can promise I’ll never cheat on him. I can promise I’ll never blow all our money at the casino. I can promise to always take the kitchen trash out when it’s overflowing. (Bill, I promise you the first two–I make no commitment to the third. The third was just an example.) You see, those are things I can control.

via Nursing Homes and Guilt Traps in Dementialand — Welcome to Dementialand

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Holograms of the departed

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I watched an intriguing movie recently that I thought might be of interest to those of you who have lost loved ones. It’s called, “Marjorie Prime,” and is based upon a Pulitzer-nominated play.

The movie is set in the near-future, where there are lifelike holograms that can be programmed to act like the dearly departed, and have the ability to learn via artificial intelligence.  The movie’s central concept is: “What would we remember, if given the chance?”

Marjorie, 86, is dealing with memory loss and chooses to create her deceased husband’s hologram when he was in his prime, which her daughter, played by Geena Davis, finds creepy. Davis perfectly captures the reluctant caregiver role, and I could relate to the mix of emotions she expresses in the movie. Lois Smith as Marjorie was brilliant. For you “Mad Men” fans, Jon Hamm plays Marjorie’s husband in hologram form.

I found the film to be very moving and thought-provoking. While you could label it science-fiction, it’s much more rooted in the human condition than in mechanical processes. The holographic “primes” look like normal people, not some CGI monstrosity. It made me think, wow, if I had the option to create holograms of my parents, would I, and if so, how would I program them? Would I leave out my mother’s traits that annoyed me? If I did, would she be an accurate representation of my mother? I think it would be easier with Dad; I would love to hear him sing Bing Crosby tunes and serenade me on my birthday. Still, Dad’s life stories would be incomplete because I don’t remember all of the details.

The film made me think about creating pet holograms, but would that be as rewarding? So much of an experience with a pet is tactile in nature: petting, hugging, stroking their fur.

After we lose a loved one, many of us think about what would we do if we had one more moment with that person. Sometimes it’s expressing things left unsaid, other times it’s apologizing for regretful actions. “Marjorie Prime” is an intriguing study on what technology could offer to help bridge the worlds between the living, the dead, and our memories of them.

 

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Addressing aging issues, village by village

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While the concept that “it takes a village” has become a platitude in popular culture, there are people out there actually putting the village concept to the test. I’m now following the village concept in earnest, and will be interested in seeing how it develops.

I first heard of the concept through Kay Bransford, who has the excellent Dealing with Dementia blog.  She lives in McLean, Virginia, which is home to an active village community. The village is volunteer-based, and supports the needs of its inter-generational community members, with an emphasis on the aging population and the special needs of those with disabilities.

The idea of a grassroots movement that allows one to age-in-place without heavy government involvement is intriguing. The local, community-based approach makes the most sense to me, because neighborhoods have their own individual challenges and opportunities. We also shouldn’t hold our breath that the federal government is going to address the needs of our rapidly aging population anytime soon, no matter who’s in office.

The village movement began over 15 years ago, and the Village to Village Network was established in 2010. Over 200 villages now exist in 45 states. Members help each other by looking out for one another, making sure those who need help aging in place have access to affordable, dependable services for things like home repairs and running errands. Village communities work with existing government and community agencies to address any gaps in care and resources.

I think about how much a strong village model could have helped my parents as they dealt with medical issues and aging concerns.

What do you think about the village concept?

 

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High-tech invention helping those with dementia reconnect with memories

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It only took 25 hours without power post-Hurricane Irma to realize how much we rely upon technology to manage our daily lives. It’s difficult for me to imagine life without the internet, because of its ability to supply endless amounts of knowledge and connect me to people with similar interests around the world. At the same time, I’ve had multiple people who I consider to be tech-savvy who have asked me about paperback editions of my book, because they prefer the feel of a print book versus the digital format.

I understand that preference, as well as the benefits and consequences of living in a digitally-driven world. One often-heard criticism is that technology can divide us, and make us more isolated. And while that can be true, a researcher has utilized a popular program from tech giant Google to develop a tool that can help bring those with dementia closer to the memories of their past.

BikeAround features a stationary bike placed in front of a screen. In tests of the prototype by Swedish engineer Anne-Christine Hertz, those with dementia are asked about where they grew up. Google Street View is used to create a “virtual ride down memory lane.” The theory is that the physical stimulation from pedaling helps stimulate the brain as well, helping those with memory loss recall details of their past more readily. You can see it in action below, I found the video very moving.

It was powerful to see this invention in action. We know that many people with dementia can recall the past, particularly their childhoods, better than they can the present, but the amount of details the man could remember was remarkable.  I would like to see this or similar devices placed in memory care centers and memory cafes.

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Free books for my fellow bookworms

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UPDATE: Over 170 books given away, thanks for the support! Look for more promotions soon.

This post will be short and sweet, to allow my fellow bookworms to do what they love most, read!

To mark the debut of The Reluctant Caregiver, my caregiving essays collection, I am participating in a free book giveaway via Instafreebie. Not only can you download my ebook for free, you can download a total of 2 dozen books in the memoir and travel genres for free. All you have to submit is an email address.

Instafreebie Travel & Memoirs Giveaway

The promotion ends this Saturday, Sept. 23, so claim your free copies today.

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We are all members of the Caring Majority

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I spent part of this week in Minneapolis, attending Caring Across Generation’s Field Gathering. Family and paid caregivers, along with caregiver advocates from all over the country came together to discuss strategies on how to improve the lives of caregivers and the quality of care for those at every stage of life who needs assistance.

It was inspiring to be in a room full of people who are determined to fight for something so important that has been ignored by many government officials and society for too long. Whether it’s protecting Medicaid funding, pushing for paid family leave on a state and federal level or expanding quality care options and respite opportunities for family caregivers, there are a lot of issues to address.

Some states, like Hawaii, Maine, Minnesota and Washington, to name just a few, are making inroads at the local and state level. Hawaii passed the Kupuna Caregivers Act this summer, which pays family caregivers who work $70 per day to cover the cost of caregiving. Take Action Minnesota is working with cities on securing paid sick leave, and the Maine People’s Alliance is moving forward with its support of a Universal Family Care bill and Universal Home Care ballot initiative. The more programs that are established at the local and state level that are proven to be successful, the more we can move the needle to encourage other states to implement similar programs, and eventually, gain support at the federal level.

Long-term care is one of the core issues that Caring Across Generations is working to address. Many people don’t realize that it’s Medicaid, not Medicare, that picks up the costly expenses of long-term care for our elders once personal finances are exhausted. In addition to protecting this funding, we need to work on making it easier for people to age at home. This will help reduce the cost of care.

These issues should be bipartisan, but sadly, as Americans, we’ve made values like caring for our most vulnerable populations a point of contention. But the Caring Majority is growing. We are all part of it, even if some people don’t realize it yet. Once illness touches your family, you learn very quickly how important good care is, and that it is essential. Everyone alive right now was cared for as a baby, and will likely be cared for again as they grow older. We all have a responsibility to alleviate the financial, physical and emotional burdens of caregiving.

If you are interested in learning more about Caring Across Generations, check out their website or visit them on Facebook and Twitter. If you are interested in sharing your caregiving story or attending next year’s gathering, reach out to me in the comments section below.

 

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