Advice from an Experienced Family Caregiver

by Janet Simpson Benvenuti

Recently, I spoke with Elizabeth Barge, Norfolk, VA, to glean her insights about caring for aging parents. Elizabeth has spent the last five years supporting the needs of five elders – her parents, step-father and in-laws – in a family of nine siblings in a blended family of adults, a situation that would overwhelm most of us.

Here are her five insights.

First, focus on doing THE NEXT RIGHT THING. This will keep you from being overwhelmed; doing the next right thing will always result in forward progress.

Second, start laying the foundation BEFORE you have to act on it. For example, she called and asked the director of the assisted living facility where her parents were living if she needed to start looking for Memory Care. The director answered an emphatic YES, so she started looking for Memory Care centers close to her home in May. When her parents needed to move from the assisted living facility in September, she was ready.

Third, be conciliatory toward siblings and step-siblings. Sometimes they just want to know someone heard and maybe considered their point of view.

Fourth, accept that you can only work with what you have, therefore NO GUILT. If parents are too private about their affairs and not willing to allow adult children in as confidants, then when the mind goes, said adult children can only do the best they can with the information they DO have. When you do the best you can with what you have, there is NO GUILT.

Finally, the opinion of the guy/gal who does the hands on care for parents gets the MOST weight. Period. In her case, the other eight siblings and the spouses accepted that and thanked her at her step-father’s funeral for taking such good care of him. “In baseball vernacular,” she said, “I was the closer.”

Elizabeth is what I often call the ‘designated child’, the one who does most of the hands-on care for parents. If you’re that adult child in your family, remember that you’re not alone. I hope that you find Elizabeth’s words of wisdom helpful, that you focus on the next thing, without guilt, and that, in the end, your relationships with your family, spouses, partners and siblings deepen knowing that you did the best you could.

Thank you, Elizabeth, for sharing your insights with us.

Where do I find help for Aging Parents?

by Janet Simpson Benvenuti

The scenarios are all too common. A worried daughter lives in Chicago; her aging parents reside in Florida. A son works on the west coast while his widowed mom lives in Virginia. How do adult children find support for their aging parents when they need assistance? Many families elect to find a local professional care manager to help them and their parents navigate the elder care system.

How do you find a competent professional care manager? In five simple steps.

Step 1. Check with your employee benefits group to see if your Employee Assistance program provides help from professional care managers.

Step 2. Get names from the professionals in your parents’ lives. Specifically, ask their physician, attorney and financial advisor for names of local care managers. For example, many elder law attorneys have relationships with professional care managers.

Step 3. Reach out to your parents’ local Council on Aging. Speak with the director or the nurse or social worker on staff. Ask them to recommend a local professional care manager.

Step 4. Search for professionals using one of three national organizations: the Aging Life Care Association, the National Association of Healthcare Advocacy Consultants and the Alliance of Professional Health Advocates.

Step 5. Interview prospective care managers. Email info@colpartners.com for a copy of our interview guide.

The chemistry between your parents and the person whom you’ve entrusted to support them is key to a successful journey together.

Finding the right care manager can take time, but the benefit is having a professional who can provide care advice and information about available community resources over the duration of time your parents need support.

Post any thoughts or questions below.

Food for Healthy Aging

by Janet Simpson Benvenuti

Earlier this summer, leaders in the food service industry met for their Menus of Change annual summit at the Culinary Institute of America’s Hyde Park campus.

Among their initiatives are to show that “changing menus is a powerful, and previously underappreciated, way to drive improvements in our health” and to make “plant-forward” dining mainstream. Plant-forward is a style of cooking and eating “that emphasizes and celebrates…plant-based foods including fruits and vegetables; whole grains; beans, legumes and soy foods; nuts and seeds; plant oils; and herbs and spices.”

These diets are not only good for our health but also for the health of the planet. So, your mother was right, eat your vegetables and get at least some of your protein from beans and legumes instead of meat. Here is an infographic that makes it easy to create a plant-forward diet Principles for Healthy Meals along with a recipe for lentil soup you may enjoy.

$10 LifeTime Pass to U.S. National Parks

Buy a Pass before August 28, 2017
$10 LifeTime Pass to National Parks

Do you know that anyone 62 and older can get a Life Time Pass to all U.S. National Parks for just $10?

If you, your parents or grand parents love to travel and enjoy the beauty of our National Parks, order a pass before August 28, 2017 when the fee increases to $80.

Here’s a complete list of all American National Parks and Forests.

A Few More Details:
Annual and lifetime Senior Passes provide access to more than 2,000 recreation sites. The passes cover entrance and standard amenity (day-use) recreation fees and provide discounts on some expanded amenity recreation fees. Traveling companions can also enter for free. The Senior Passes admit pass owner/s and up to three adult passengers in a noncommercial vehicle. Children under 16 are always admitted free. Also, at many sites, the Senior Passes provide the pass owner (only) a discount on Expanded Amenity Fees such as camping, swimming, boat launching, and guided tours.

How can I purchase a Senior Pass?
Senior Passes can be purchased at any federal recreation site, including national parks, that charges an entrance or standard amenity (day-use) fee. Proof of age and residency is required. Passes can also be purchased online or through the mail from USGS; an additional $10 processing fee will be added to the price.

Happy Trails!

Got Health? Give.

by Janet Simpson Benvenuti

Our mission at Circle of Life Partners includes supporting the leaders of non-profit organizations that improve the health and well-being of older people and their families. This summer, many of us plan to walk, run, cycle or golf for a cause; there is no better way to improve our own fitness with friends and family while helping others. Below are links to a few of our favorite events. Feel free to post other local or national events in the comments section or on our Facebook page. We want to support your favorite causes, too.

Most families have someone living with heart disease or cancer, respiratory illnesses, arthritis or diabetes. In August, join the annual Pan-Mass Challenge bike-a-thon. Nationally, check out the Team for Cures events for Multiple Mylenoma; join the Fight for Air Climb in skyscrapers across the country to support the American Lung Association; or ride with Tour de Cure for the American Diabetes Association.

Because half of the caregiving dollars in America are spent supporting someone living with cognitive impairment, walk or ride for the Alzheimer’s Association or join local golfers to support the DKJohnson Foundation. Other neurological illnesses such as Parkinson’s, ALS and Multiple Sclerosis also consume caregiving resources and benefit from our engagement. Remember the Ice Bucket Challenge? Funds from that campaign helped scientists identify NEK1, a gene that may cause the disease, so your support to these, and other campaigns, matters.

Mental illness afflicts millions of Americans and NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is among the organizations that provide ongoing support and guidance to families. Join one of the NAMI Walks and let’s make mental health an equal priority for all.

To your health!

c2017 Circle of Life Partners, LLC. All rights reserved.

Mother to Mother, On Mother’s Day

by Janet Simpson Benvenuti

I am a mother and a motherless child, an aunt to 19, three of whom lost their mother last year. Until my own mother passed away, I never associated Mother’s Day with loss but the holiday raises mixed emotions of joy, sadness, gratitude, and love.

Mothering is defined by Webster as the act of “bringing up a child with care and affection,” but that definition doesn’t begin to capture the ethos of a mother: one who cares for her child, her friend’s child and the community around them. Those of us raised by loving mothers or aunts, older sisters or grandmothers know the quiet touch and backbone of steel that mothering requires. We celebrate each other’s joys, we mourn each other’s losses, we comfort those in need.

Recently I read “From Mother to Mother, Having a Child with Substance Abuse Issues,” a poignant essay in which the author, Cathy Miles, conveys how her daughter’s addiction changed her personal celebration of Mother’s Day. What caught my attention was the phrase “from Mother to Mother,” the code all mothers use to signal honesty, empathy, awareness and action. Cathy is a mother with an ill child who openly shares her fears and depression, dreams lost and life changed; one who shares her story so others may not feel alone in their own child’s journey with addiction. Cathy is the mother of a daughter but she is mothering us as well.

On this Mother’s Day, it’s important to remember that you are not alone. Not alone with a disabled child, an ailing parent, or an aging body. Not alone as a teenage mother, a widowed elder or a mentally ill adult. As long as your world is filled with women and men who embrace mothering, they will notice and support your needs.

A few weeks ago a neighbor and the mother of four visited a homeless shelter. Through a quick email to a gaggle of friends she solicited 850 pair of new underwear without fanfare or fuss, overwhelming the shelter with her generosity and waiving off the gift, as mothers do. Linger a moment on her request. Underwear? Only a mother would think about new underwear and the importance of that gift to a homeless person, a gesture of kindness and a reminder of their value as a human being.

Now, just for a minute, think about the outcome if that email went to a gaggle of men.

Happy Mother’s Day to the mothers among us and to all who enjoy mothering.

c Circle of Life Partners, LLC. All rights reserved.

Let’s Help End Alzheimer’s: Move for Minds

by Janet Simpson Benvenuti

Save the Date: June 4, 2017. Join thousands of women across the country at Equinox Sports Clubs to help end Alzheimer’s disease, a disease that disproportionately impacts women. Maria Shriver @mariashriver and the Women Alzheimer’s Movement @WomensAlz have teamed up with Equinox to host the annual Move for Minds event in seven cities nationwide.

Get your sisters, daughters and girlfriends together and register below for this fun-filled fundraising event. All monies raised are donated to researchers on the cutting edge of a cure.

Just click on the city below to register NOW.
In Washington D.C.
In Boston, MA
In San Francisco, CA
In Dallas, TX
In Orange County, CA
In Miami, FL
In Los Angeles, CA

c Circle of Life Partners, LLC. All rights reserved.

You Can Avoid Alzheimer’s Disease

by Janet Simpson Benvenuti

Getting Alzheimer’s disease is not inevitable with age. In a recent TED talk, Dr. Lisa Genova, neuroscientist, Massachusetts native and author of several books including Still Alice shared five ways you can avoid cognitive impairment.

You likely know the first four.

1. Get a good night’s sleep;
2. Follow the Mediterranean diet;
3. Exercise several times a week; aerobic exercise is best with strength training to enable fitness; and,
4. Lower your stress levels through prayer, yoga, or meditation.

What often surprises people is the fifth preventative: Learn something new. Exercising your brain through new experiences builds synaptic capacity. Lisa referred to the now famous Nun Study, research that followed the lives of 678 nuns who generously agreed to allow their brains to be autopsied upon their passing at ages 75 to 107. To their surprise, the researchers found that several nuns’ brains had the telltale Alzheimer’s lesions yet these women displayed no evidence of cognitive impairment while alive. Why? Their brains had ample capacity because of a lifetime of learning.

Watch the video. Share this post with your friends and family. Then join me in learning a new language using an app like Duolingo. Au revoir und auf wiedersehen.

c Circle of Life Partners, LLC. All rights reserved.

Eldercare: How to Avoid Sibling Discord

by Janet Simpson Benvenuti

Recently I teamed up with geriatrician Dr. Leslie Kernisan to share how to minimize family conflicts that arise even in the closest of families when a parent or older relative becomes ill and needs support. Dr. Kernisan is a practicing geriatrician with an active interest in educating seniors and their adult children how to achieve Better Health While Aging.

Sibling conflicts arise from a lack of clarity about roles and responsibilities that change as a parent’s or older relative’s needs increase. Geographic distance, job demands, financial strain and even denial will elevate stress and tension. In this podcast, you’ll learn the key roles relatives play and the four actions that insure successful aging. Learn, too, how a quick sketch of a family tree helps identify and fill gaps in support long before assistance is needed.

Like you, I often listen to podcasts on walks or when commuting. I listened to our edited podcast on a rainy day while chopping vegetables to prepare beef barley soup. Here is the recipe and the podcast.

c Circle of Life Partners, LLC. All rights reserved.

The Legacy of a Gifted Educator

For Blogby Janet Simpson Benvenuti

Last week I learned that Lorraine Ward, one of my son’s teachers, had passed away. From the fourth through eighth grade, he was fortunate to attend the Fenn, an all-male middle school that encourages boys to explore academic, athletic and artistic activities outside their comfort zone and develop a worldview that is respectful, empathetic and loving. Brilliant and erudite, Lorraine left an academic position at Wellesley College to help her husband, the headmaster, build an exceptional academic program. At Fenn, she loved, mentored and supported hundreds of students as if they were one of her own three sons while educating parents in how to raise competent and caring young men.

As I stood with dozens in the cold for more than two hours to attend her wake, I reflected on the powerful influence a single teacher or educator can have on hundreds of lives and generations of families. Even while on leave for cancer treatment and the ten year battle that followed, Lorraine continued to lead by example and through her prodigious writing, penning an Op-Ed in the New York Times, championing the benefits of single sex education. Among her inspiring messages and conversations with parents and faculty, she said:

“Let’s let our boys be young and unencumbered for as long as we can, to promise them that no matter where they land academically, socially, artistically, or on the playing field, they are loved and cherished beyond words, that this is the time in their lives to love and enjoy themselves and their friends fully, to feel each day to be one worth living no matter what the challenges or disappointments, to burden them less with our own need for a certain kind of success for them. They will not disappoint us in the long run, I can assure you. And what you get in return is more than you could ever hope for.”

In a world full of toxic cultural messages for boys, she was truly a leader among men. Thank you, Lorraine. Rest in peace.

c Circle of Life Partners, LLC. All rights reserved.