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.

The Joys of Dementia

by Jan Simpson Benvenuti

“Wouldn’t it be better if your mother died?” a friend asked over tea when I mentioned that my mother had Alzheimer’s disease. Too stunned to reply directly to her remark, I said simply, “Oh no, it’s not that bad,” and I quickly shifted our conversation to her children.

Die? I should have been outraged by her question, yet I learned long ago that many people consider memory loss to be worse than death itself. Would she have asked that question if I told her my mother had breast cancer?

Say the word “dementia” and the world shudders. Tweeters tweet, media moguls opine, and writers of blogs and books rail about the tragedy of memory loss. Yet most people have never actually lived with someone whose memory is fading, and many find the thought unnerving. My mother lived with memory loss for 17 years and I want to emphasize the word lived. For most of those years, she prepared meals, did the laundry, attended family gatherings, and loved her grandchildren. When my father passed away, one sister and I took her into our homes, concerned that she should not live alone.  During that time, I came to appreciate the benefits of not remembering, of forgetting the day-to-day indignities of aging, of living in the moment.

At the risk of offending your sensibilities, below is a list of five joys of having dementia.

1) You get to live in the moment again, just as you did as a child. Rain and snow, falling leaves and lightning, the best of mother nature becomes a source of wonder and delight. Do you recall when you measured time by the weather and the season and not the clock? Dementia returns you to that season of life.

2) Young children adore you because you’ll watch them play and perform with joy. My daughter and her friends were five when her Nana came to live with us. I still recall one Sunday afternoon when the girls, bejeweled and dressed with boas, tiaras, dresses and bangles, performed The Hungry Caterpillar over and over and over again. Each time my mother enjoyed the performance with fresh eyes.

3) You’ll forget the rules of life and break them. Eat dessert before dinner, why not?

4) You may forget the loss of your loved ones. After 59 years of marriage, my mother should have grieved for a year or more after my father’s passing. But, she forgot he died. She didn’t forget him, of course, she just forgot that he had passed away. “Does Bob know that I’m here?” she would ask. “Yes,” I’d lie, and we’d resume our activities for the day.

5) You’ll remind your adult children just by your physical presence to take care of their health, appreciate their loved ones, enjoy every moment of life, and not sweat the small stuff.

Dementia may rob your older relatives of memories, but it provides the family an opportunity to celebrate your time with them and convey important family values to your children. One Sunday I planned a special family dinner to celebrate my mother’s birthday. “Why are we celebrating her birthday?” my 12 year-old son complained. “It’s stupid, she won’t remember it.”  “Really?” I replied, “tell me what you remember about your first birthday party.”  He stopped complaining.

My son was right, my mother would not remember her party. But he would, and I would, too. It was our last celebration with her.

How do you enjoy time with your relatives who are growing forgetful? Here are 101 activities you may want to try.

I know, first-hand, the chaos that this disease causes for the elder and their extended family. Yet I refute the belief that those living with dementia have little to teach us in their last years. My mother, like many others, retained cognition through the end of her life using strategies I describe in Don’t Give Up on Me! Consider purchasing a copy through Circle of Life Partners; all proceeds are donated to support elders and their families.

©2015 Circle of Life Partners, LLC. All rights reserved.

 

 

Know Your Money: The True Cost of Long Term Care

Calculating the Cost of Care

Calculating the Cost of Care

by Janet Simpson Benvenuti

Recently I asked our financial advisor to do some retirement planning and estimate expenditures through the end of my life. To my surprise, my husband and I both are going to die at age 87 (for the record, I will predecease him), spending $100k/year in today’s dollars for each of the last three years of life. Amused, I wondered where I would find care for $100k in Massachusetts. The last assisted living facility with a memory unit I visited cost $8700/month without hairdressing or a personal care attendant. I’m sure to need both. And only three years of care? Prudently, one would plan for at least six, and with any history of longevity or cognitive impairment, I would plan for 12.

That same day, I spoke with a different financial advisor whose 91 year old client has Alzheimer’s disease. He and his spouse reside in Connecticut and spend a more typical $15,000 a month for assisted living with an aide for additional support, $180,000/year. When I reminded that advisor that home care for someone with Alzheimer’s disease is tax deductible as a medical expense, she expressed surprise, unaware of IRS Publication 502.

What’s going on here? Why are financial advisors so ill-informed about the true cost of care?

Quite simply, few people, including financial professionals, understand the extraordinary cost of long-term care and the options available to manage expenditures wisely in the last decade of life.  Effective financial planning requires more than just the skills to create an investment portfolio or project future expenses, but integrated knowledge about finance, elder law, insurance, health care and inexpensive community resources for aging in place. It’s why I founded Circle of Life Partners.

I’ve been guiding families through the aging journey for years, yet I still find the numbers shocking. Recently, I received a call from a family of three adult children who were growing concerned about their mother’s ability to care for their father safely at home. He was three years past his initial diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and the family felt he might be best served by moving into an assisted living facility with a memory unit although he did not have long-term care insurance. I calculated the price tag for nine years in a highly-regarded memory unit and subsequent skilled nursing care, $835,000- $1.25 million. Using an adult day health program or a part-time companion suddenly seemed a much more reasonable option.

Last week, I wrote about the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) launch of a new initiative on long-term care led by former Senate Majority Leaders Tom Daschle (D-SD) and Bill Frist (R-TN), former Congressional Budget Office Director Alice Rivlin, and former Wisconsin Governor and Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson.  BPC’s Long-Term Care Initiative will propose a series of bipartisan policy options in late 2014 to improve the quality and efficacy of publicly and privately financed long-term support services. Read the white paper here to learn more and follow their work @BPC_Bipartisan.

Let’s hope they can get their arms around this issue. Until they do, I’ll continue guiding families to the resources they need, until I need the same support, at age 84.

©2014 Circle of Life Partners, LLC. All rights reserved.

ARTZ: Artists for Alzheimer’s

by Jan Simpson

Recently I attended a forum in Boston where I met Dr. John Zeisel and Sean Caulfield, co-founders of ARTZ, an organization that hosts community events for people living with memory loss and their caregivers. Drawing on the support of artists and cultural institutions such as the Louvre in Paris, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the National Gallery of Australia, the Big Apple Circus and the Tribeca Film Institute, ARTZ has enable thousands of people living with Alzheimer’s and related dementias to have access to arts and culture.

Standing before an art exhibit, John spoke passionately about how art experiences can significantly enhance the lives of those living with dementia. The evidence surrounded him as the room was filled with paintings and photography created by people living with Alzheimer’s disease. I could feel the joy they all must have felt as they created their paintings, many perhaps beyond the point where they could express themselves with words. While some paintings were detailed and colorful, my eyes were drawn to one that appeared rather simplistic, a Star of David and a rectangle with colored bars. “That person,” John said, “could no longer speak but he was telling us, ‘I’m still here.'”  When his family saw the painting, they began to cry. Their father was a Holocaust survivor and his drawing captured his memory of that experience. “Alzheimer’s doesn’t take away memory, your memories are all in there. It’s as if you put the memories in the glove compartment and you lost the key; the art unlocks it,” said John.

ARTZ does more than encourage artistic expression.  By creating interactive, educational programs in partnership with museums and theaters, it allows elders to enjoy an outing that is stimulating and therapeutic. Art experiences have been shown to significantly reduce psycho-behavioral symptoms often associated with dementia, such as anxiety, aggression and agitation, and to optimize remaining capacities.

On December 15th, I’ll be volunteering in Boston at “Meet Me at the Coolidge…and Make Memories” an interactive film program for people with memory loss and their partners. The film event was designed specifically to encourage audience discussion and reminiscence. The program will show short clips from classic films from the 1930’s to the 1960’s. Tickets are free. If you have a loved one living with dementia, consider bringing them to the program.  Click here to learn more about ARTZ and all of the programs it sponsors.  If someone you love is experiencing memory loss, consider adding art to his or her activities.

Do you have stories to share about the arts and your older loved ones?

©Circle of Life Partners™