How to prevent a real life nightmare at life’s end

A Next Avenue Influencer in Aging urges conversations around death

By Barbara Coombs Lee for Next Avenue

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Credit: Thinkstock

Editor’s note: This article is part of Next Avenue’s 2015 Influencers in Aging project honoring 50 people changing how we age and think about aging. 

To my everlasting shame, this boomer spent many of her formative years as an ICU nurse, thoughtlessly pushing tubes down the noses and pounding on chests of dying patients, torturing them with electric shocks, instead of allowing death to come peacefully.

The tragic reality is people who do not communicate their values and priorities for end-of-life care often pay dearly for this failure, by enduring futile, agonizing tests and treatments that only prolong the dying process. It is equally important for people to empower a loved one in writing to be their decision-maker if they are unable to speak for themselves.


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Making communities friendlier for those with dementia

Making Communities Friendlier for Those With Dementia

That’s the goal for the ambitious Dementia Friendly America initiative

By Beth Baker for Next Avenue

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Credit: Courtesy of Paynesville (MN) ACT on Alzheimer’s Caption: Volunteers pass out laminated bookmarks with the 10 signs of Alzheimer’s at the local supermarket

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), announced at the White House Conference on Aging in July.

“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.”


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A cure for senior loneliness is within our reach

We can solve the problem of social isolation by thinking differently about senior housing

By Tim Carpenter for Next Avenue

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Credit: Getty Images

(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.)

The Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act of 1965 required that packages of cigarettes display the warning “Caution: Cigarette Smoking May Be Hazardous to Your Health.” I wish the Surgeon General would issue this warning: “Caution: Loneliness and Social Isolation May Be Hazardous to Your Health.”

Yes, just like smoking, loneliness and social isolation are deadly. And just like smoking in the 1960s, our society is just beginning to understand the perils of loneliness and social isolation today. A 2015 study published in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science shows that lacking social connections is as damaging to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. The New York Times recently ran a story with the headline “Social Isolation Is Killing Us.”


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Make every day Valentine’s Day

How to survive the holiday and keep romance alive 365 days a year — however long you’ve been together

By Terri Orbuch, Ph.D. for Next Avenue

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I always look forward to February and especially Valentine’s Day, but I’m well aware that not everyone does. I love seeing all the red hearts in the stores and enjoy the romantic commercials on TV for diamonds, perfume and lingerie.

It’s hard not to feel a bit overwhelmed by the media barrage to buy cards, flowers and presents.

There’s another way to look at it, however. Valentine’s Day can serve as a useful reminder to practice simple acts of kindness and to show appreciation for the special people in our lives.

While it’s easy to say that every day should be as romantic as Valentine’s Day, we often wind up distracted by all the things we have to do and don’t make time for what I call “relationship upkeep.” Work, routines, kids and other obligations take precedence, and our attention gets deflected everywhere but toward our one and only.


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Want to age better? Join a choir

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

By Deborah Quilter for Next Avenue

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Credit: Getty Images

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 musicmakers. 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.


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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

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Credit: Getty Images

(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.)

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.


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Learning to swim at 80

Tackling a lifelong to-do can be really enjoyable

By Louise Jackson for Next Avenue

Credit: Getty Images

Credit: Getty Images

Every Thursday night, I drive to the gym, wriggle into a swimsuit that does nothing to hide my bulging belly or my wrinkled, sagging underarms, put on swim goggles that make me look a bit like someone from outer space, grab my cane to help keep my balance while walking from the dressing room into the pool area and slowly ease down the steps into water smelling of chlorine.

I’m 80 years old and taking a swim class for the first time in my life.


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Art is Ageless® call for entries underway

Basic RGBParsons Presbyterian Manor has issued a call for entries for the Art is Ageless juried exhibit to be held March 13-14. Entries of artistic works will be accepted from any area artist who is 65 years of age or older to exhibit and/or compete for an opportunity to be featured in the 2018 Art is Ageless calendar.

Artists may choose to enter the exhibit only. For the competition, works are to have been completed in the past five years (since January 2012). There are nine categories, as well as designations of amateur or professional. Works to be entered for judging need to be at Presbyterian Manor by March 10.

The Art is Ageless program encourages Presbyterian Manor residents and other area seniors to express their creativity through the annual competition, as well as art classes, musical and dramatic events, educational opportunities and current events discussions throughout the year.

Local competition winners will join winners from 16 other Presbyterian Manors of Mid-America communities to be judged at the systemwide level.

Entry forms and information can be picked up at Parsons Presbyterian Manor or by contacting Sharla Hopper at 620-421-1450 or shopper@pmma.org. Or go online to ArtIsAgeless.org to view rules, download an entry form or enter online.

Surprise!

shutterstock_95337937By Wayne Mason, Harry Hines Memorial Hospice chaplain

“Surprise!” The shout from the crowd of well-wishers startles the new arrival and makes him wonder – do I come in and be embraced or turn around and run?

I am a person who likes to plan ahead and see things coming. I come close to dreading that word that seems to thrill others: “Surprise!” I like the security of knowing who is around the corner, what situation I am walking into, and what will be expected of me. Surprises can make you feel alone, isolated, in the spotlight. I like knowing someone is on my side, that there is someone I can depend upon, and that there will be someone standing next to me and watching my back.

I am not naïve. I know that surprises come to all of us whether we want them or not. They can be joyous occasions (like a birthday party), or a more frightening time (like a change of health). What I have learned is that we can prepare for the surprises of life by recognizing the supportive resources we have all around us.

I start with faith in God. I know this moment in time, with its joys and its sorrows, will not change my eternal future. My faith in God has already settled my future – I know where I’m going when I leave this life (John 14:1-6).

I add in good friends who will stand beside me no matter what the surprises in life might be. Whether the surprises are joy-filled or life-threatening, I have people who care and will stand with me to listen and support.

Ecclesiastes 4:12 says, “A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.”

Prayer: “Lord, we thank you for the security you provide us in the surprises of life. Keep us firmly aware that you will never leave our side and will carry us to our ultimate destination. Amen.”

Art and intergenerational relationships

shutterstock_561624577It’s been proven how beneficial the arts are to seniors, and it’s also been proven how interacting with those in different generations can benefit both young and old. So when the two are combined, beautiful things are bound to happen.

“My class last year wrote poems in several different styles that were inspired/based on the barn quilt watercolors created in Joan Allen’s class. The idea had its nexus in the fact that Sharla and I share a commitment to creating opportunities for interactions between generations,” said Barney Pontious, fourth grade teacher at Parsons Elementary. “She is a strong believer in the benefits of this and approached me about this project. I immediately accepted this chance because poetry is a large element of the fourth grade curriculum here in Parsons, and it ties in well with my style of writing instruction.”

The project was a huge success, and students embraced the opportunity with passion.

“My students quickly grabbed on to this chance for them to be ‘professional poets.’ Each student chose a picture to use as inspiration for their poetry. Luckily we had already written numerous styles of poetry, and I allowed the students to choose any style that they felt comfortable with. Some chose free verse. Some chose to use rigid rhyming schemes. Some even chose to use shape poems along with many other styles,” said Barney. “In short the students really embraced this and took a chance to develop some pride in their writing. Many of them invited their families and friends to see their poetry displayed at the exhibit. This gave them a chance to see their work displayed and really inspired some to continue writing poetry.”

While it was obvious that the students were excited about the project, there were some surprising reactions.

“The students who excelled and embraced this project were probably the most surprising part to me. Many tough little boys really reached out to another part of their personalities to work on this project. I saw a side to a number of young men that I hadn’t seen much previously. I was also impressed how the self-efficacy of my students increased with respect to writing on this project. Some students who had considered themselves to be less-able writers really did well on this project. The feeling that they got seeing their writing in a frame and talking to the other artists at the AIA fair was fun to watch.”

This year, the project has been expanded to include Sami Pontious’ third-grade class (Sami is Barney’s wife) and Hope Smith’s sixth-grade class. They will be exhibiting poems and stories describing “colorful selfies” painted by Joan Allen’s watercolor class.

“I am happy that my wife has been selected to do this project this year. She is a strong writing teacher and really has a good heart for collaboration with the outside community in her classroom. I anticipate a wonderful finished product from her kids as well,” said Barney.

Who knows? Perhaps this combination of art and intergenerational relationships will spark a nationwide movement. It’s certainly a powerful project.

“One main point that I made to my students with this idea is that art can bridge the generations. We talked about how many things actually make up ‘art.’ During this project we saw many examples of how art can speak to people of all ages and how it can be a lifelong pursuit as well. Watching my students interact with the artists, the community and other residents at the manor showed that some of the major objectives of my teaching were being met. Aside from the poems the students were effective communicators and good 21st century citizens during this project. They embraced the chance to speak with the public about their poems and, in sharing them with the public, made connections that they will always remember.”