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.

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.

Got Health? Give.

cycling 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!

c2016 Circle of Life Partners, LLC. All rights reserved.

Walk, Climb or Cycle for a Cause

by Janet Simpson Benvenuti

gu2201[1]An important part of our mission at Circle of Life Partners is to support the many non-profits that provide family services or support research toward finding a cure for diseases that impact seniors and their families. Warm weather brings countless opportunities to run, walk, cycle and raise money for a cause. Join us.

Here are a few upcoming events to inspire you.

April 1st is National Walking Day, sponsored by the American Heart Association

Team up and support the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life or Make Strides Against Breast Cancer.

Walk to support the American Lung Association by joining the Lung Force Walk or the vertical road race, climbing stairs with friends to support the Fight for Air Climb.

Does someone you know have arthritis? Walk to support the Arthritis Foundation and its mission to find a cure.

Step Out and Walk to Stop Diabetes or cycle with the Tour de Cure sponsored by the American Diabetes Association.

Post your favorite walks, runs or cycling fundraisers on our Facebook or LinkedIn Group. Together, let’s continue to improve the lives of our families, neighbors and friends.

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

BOOK REVIEW: The Heart of the Hereafter, Love Stories from the End of Life

by Janet Simpson Benvenuti

The Heart of the HereafterEach month I read dozens of books, articles and research reports about aging and healthcare, looking for tidbits of information that I can share with you, knowledge that will make your family life easier, healthier, more joyful. After 25 years in healthcare, it’s rare that I find a book that makes me pause and reconsider how we care for the dying. The Heart of the Hereafter, Love Stories from the End of Life, is one of those books.

Author Marcia Brennan, Ph.D., is a professor of Art History and Religious Studies at Rice University in Houston, Texas. She also is the Artist In Residence in palliative medicine at the renowned M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Curious about her role, I anticipated that her book would describe anecdotally how art therapy can help a patient cope with their cancer diagnosis. Far from that, Dr. Brennan becomes our guide to life’s greatest transition – death – using art as the language to describe what words cannot.

Dr. Brennan briefly provides context about historical guides to the art of dying called the ars morendi, small printed books widely used in the 14th century to help people understand the dying process and acknowledge the moment between living and death, when an individual is suspended between worlds. “Sometimes when I visit people at the end of life,” she writes, “I get the sense that they are inhabiting multiple worlds at once…their physical appearance changes and they become extremely beautiful.” This state of grace, a moment of sustained peace and comfort, a convergence of the physical and spiritual, is captured through her stories about 10 patients, including a child, who are dying.

In “The Heart,” Dr. Brennan brilliantly demonstrates how she creates a complete summation of each patient’s life in a single poem, words that are transformed by a visual artist into a charcoal drawing. She places their reflection in the context of her deep knowledge about religion and art, centering each story around the different types of love that influence and transform a person’s life. The result is breathtaking, especially as each patient acknowledges the accuracy of her work, comforted by her understanding and a sense of accompaniment when facing the transition between worlds.

The news today is full of stories about how to navigate the last years of life. Housing choices, hospice care, insurance coverage and legal plans are mundane but necessary decisions that distract families from what truly matters: being present with loved ones in the last months and moments of their lives. Dr. Brennan, a stranger to the patients she meets, reminds us that our role is to listen and affirm, to remain open to whatever arises, to acknowledge that “the end of life is all about life itself and the many different types of love that we experience as human beings.” This book is a gift to us, one to re-read each time someone in your life approaches the end of their own.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Click this link to purchase The Heart of the Hereafter: Love Stories from the End of Life

c2015 Circle of Life Partners, LLC. All rights reserved.

BOOK REVIEW: Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

by Janet Simpson Benvenuti

Let’s talk about death, or better yet, dying. Our guide is Dr. Atul Gawande, brilliant surgeon and best-selling author, who weaves a compelling narrative that informs, enlightens and challenges clinicians and senior housing leaders to improve the way our institutions of care impact lives. Unlike his previous books The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science, and Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance, Gawande gets personal in Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, with a perspective enriched by his father’s end-of-life journey. “We are not ageless,” Gawande writes, pushing readers past the denial that afflicts both the physician and the patient. Our goal, he continues, is “not a good death, but a good life to the end.”

The challenge, of course, is how to achieve that goal when only three percent of medical students receive training in geriatrics. While Gawande and his colleagues at Ariadne Labs focus on physician education, Being Mortal provides insights that readers can use with their own families.

My favorite tip was his description of ODTAA Syndrome, the signature way to tell when a patient or loved one is nearing the end of their lives. ODTAA Syndrome is when one experiences “One Damn Thing After Another,” a sure sign that the body is weakening and starting to fail. While the medical community uses clinical markers and checklists for stages of dying, this intentionally amusing name most clearly describes what families experience.

Long before ODTAA syndrome begins, older people with medical concerns face three housing choices: aging in a home setting with assistance, moving to an assisted living community, or moving into a skilled nursing home. While each option has benefits and challenges, Gawande describes resources worthy of consideration.

1. The Eden Alternative – As a new medical director of Chase Memorial Nursing Home, Dr. Bill Thomas found that residents were suffering from boredom, loneliness and helplessness. His solution? Admitting 100 winged and six four-legged residents. Gawande shares this hilarious story about the founding of the Eden Alternative; you may find nursing home communities that subscribe to their philosophy here.

2. Assisted Living Communities – As a caution to families, Gawande reminds us that today only 11 percent of assisted living communities “offer both privacy and sufficient services to allow frail people to remain in residence,” the original intent of Dr. Keren Brown Wilson, the founder of the first community for assistance in Portland, Oregon. One of the model organizations recorded by Gawande is Sanborn Place, led by friend Jacquie Carson who provides the kind of passionate advocacy and skilled care all elders deserve.

3. Palliative and Hospice Care – Perhaps the most useful guidance in Being Mortal were the examples of how patients, including his father, weighed treatment options during the last few years of their lives. Highlighting the importance of palliative consultations and hospice care, Gawande used his father’s fear of becoming a quadriplegic to demonstrate those often difficult conversations about care options, conversations that are the focus of the 5 Wishes, The Conversation Project, and the popular card game My Gift of Grace.

Here is an excerpt of the questions a physician trained in palliative care might ask.

1. What do you understand your prognosis to be?
2. What are your concerns about what lies ahead?
3. I need to understand how much you are willing to go through to stay alive.
4. What are your goals if your condition worsens?
5. If time becomes short, what is most important to you?

Unfortunately, until more physicians and health care providers are trained in palliative care, it remains for family members, especially those who are designated as health care agents, to clarify their loved one’s wishes. Being Mortal gives families insight into how to have those conversations. Buy a copy and use it to start the conversation with those you love.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. You may purchase a copy here.Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

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

Nutrition for Healthy Aging: Beef Barley Soup

by Jan Simpson

When my parents reached their late seventies, I began to stock their freezer with home-made soups and casseroles. I used the excuse that it was easier to prepare a triple batch of soup or two casseroles and share with them than to make food for my family alone. One of their favorite soups was beef barley. Laden with vegetables, this nutritious soup provides a warm meal for lunch or dinner during the cool fall days or frigid wintry ones. Preparing a large batch and allocating the soup into containers that could be placed in my parents’ freezer provided them with a quick meal on those days when they felt too tired or too ill to prepare a meal for themselves.

Over the years, I’ve added specific spices and herbs known to support health to my recipes. For example, garlic, onions, and leeks rank high among the most effective foods that inhibit brain, lung, prostate, and breast cancers. Turmeric, mint, thyme, oregano, marjoram, basil, rosemary, parsley, as well as the vegetables celery, squash, and carrots, also have anti-cancer effects as described in an earlier blog post “Fighting Cancer.” I do not add salt nor do I use purchased beef collagen stock with its high salt content because a diet high in salt contributes to chronic high blood pressure, one of the causes of heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and dementia.

This following recipe for beef barley soup is from the kitchen of a dear friend, Mimma Fitzgerald.

Ingredients:

  • 2-3, 1-1½ pound packages of lean stew beef, cut into cubes (½ inch)
  • 1 29-ounce can of tomato puree
  • 1 12-ounce can of tomato paste
  • 1 large onion (or garlic)
  • 7 ribs of celery and 10 medium carrots peeled chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • other vegetables e.g., green beans, spinach, butternut squash, yams as desired
  • 8 oz. (1/2 bag ) of pearl barley, rinsed in a colander to remove excess starch
  • ½ teaspoon of any of the following herbs and spices: parsley, mint, thyme, oregano, basil, rosemary, marjoram, or turmeric.

Directions:

  1. Using a large sauce pan, brown prepared stew meat in 1 teaspoon hot canola oil and set aside.
  2. Chop the vegetables and onion as above and set aside.
  3. Fill a large stock pot with 26 cups of fresh water (or beef stock), add tomato puree, tomato paste, vegetables, onion, herbs, spices, and barley. Bring to a boil and reduce heat. Cover and cook on medium-heat for 30 minutes.
  4. Add browned beef to the soup and let the soup simmer on medium-low heat for at least 90 minutes.
  5. Remove from heat and let cool for 20 minutes before filling pint- or quart-sized containers. Yield is 8 quarts of soup.

Stocking my parents’ freezer with containers of frozen beef barley soup that they could simply warm on their stove top and enjoy with salt-free crackers helped ensure that they would maintain a healthy diet even on days when they didn’t feel like cooking.

Do you have favorite recipes that provide healthy, easy-to-prepare meals for an older loved one? Share one with us to receive a free copy of Don’t Give Up on Me!

©Circle of Life Partners™

In the Sandwich? Seven Favorite Sources of Information

by Jan Simpson

To keep informed, I read, tweet, meet experts, attend conferences, and talk with people who provide medical, legal, financial, housing, and home care services to families. I also spend time with entrepreneurs who are launching businesses to help seniors age in place safely.  Along the way, I’ve accumulated a list of favorite information sources.  Here are seven.

#1 Favorite Blog: The New Old Age: Caring and Coping (The York Times) provides timely stories and electronic links to resources. If your family is actively caring for an older loved one, this site is worth bookmarking. Click here.

#2 Favorite Physician Leader #1: Dr. Atul Gawande whom I call the Justin Bieber of medicine, is a surgeon, writer, and an advocate for change in the way hospitals deliver care. He is considered a thought-leader, someone to follow if you have an interest in peeking behind the quality problems in hospitals. Caution: you may never leave a loved one alone to navigate hospital care again. Read his latest article here.

#3 Favorite Physician Leader #2: Dr. Servan-Schreiber turned his own experience with brain cancer into a campaign to help others prevent cancer or a relapse. If you have an hour, listen to his story here. Dr. Servan-Schreiber has teamed up with the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas to finance scientific studies that will evaluate the benefits of specific foods and activities such as yoga on cancer care. Neither the government nor the pharmaceutical companies will fund this research, so he is asking for donations from individuals and foundations. Watch this short video to learn more.

#4 Favorite Foods/Spices for Healthy Aging: Blueberries, Celery, Parsley, Turmeric and more. Click here for a full list.

#5 Favorite Book about Health Care: Overtreated by Shannon Brownlee explains how Americans are being subjected to unnecessary medicine in many parts of the country.  After you read Overtreated, reflect on the advice of gerontologist Dr. McCullough (author of My Mother Your Mother)—embrace “slow medicine”— and you’ll know how to support older loved ones.

#6 Favorite Radio Network: I have found podcasts on the Aging Smart Radio Network helpful. Here is one about long-term care insurance. Click here.

#7 Favorite Way to Find Information: Twitter

If you’re not on twitter, check it out. It’s simple to use and easy to find tips, resources, news, and people on a myriad of topics. Or, just follow me at @colpartners and I’ll do the research for you.

Do you have any favorite information sources?

©Circle of Life Partners™

Fighting Cancer

by Joan DiGiovanni.

My dad is always giving me books to read. Whether political, historical or health related, he hasn’t given me one yet that I haven’t enjoyed or found worthwhile (wait a minute, I take that back, he once gave me a book about survival and it made me anxious so I never finished it). The most recent book he passed on was Anticancer: A New Way of Life by David Servan-Schreiber. As I mentioned in a prior blog, my mom has been undergoing treatment for bile duct cancer so I wasn’t surprised by the title…what I was pleasantly surprised about as I made my way through it, was the fact that it’s a great book for everyone whether they have cancer or not. It’s a book about healthy living with practical, commonsense ways to help ward off cancer.

David Servan-Schreiber is a physician who, at the age of 31, discovers he has brain cancer with his own brain-scanning equipment. He chronicles his journey through his initial treatment, his relapse and then the creation of what he calls, ‘anticancer practices’. Seventeen years later, he now finds himself cancer free.

As Dr. Servan-Schreiber writes, all of us have cancer cells in our bodies but not all of us will develop cancer. With certain life adjustments, we can discourage the growth of these bad cells. Are you aware of the foods that can slow down and even prevent cancer or a relapse? Do you know that refined sugar, bleached flour, and vegetable oils directly fuel the growth of cancer? Amidst his personal story, Dr. Servan-Schreiber discusses a 3-pronged approach to combat cancer cells. He addresses nutrition, the environment and the mind-body connection.

  • Relative to the foods we eat, some are cancer ‘promoters’ whereby they fuel cancer growth while others, the ‘anti-promoters’, block the mechanism that cancer cells need to grow. Getting to know which foods are anticancer foods will help you on your journey to staying healthy. The book provides a quite handy section detailing various foods that will benefit your diet. You may find those foods here.
  • Environmentally, we have drastically disrupted our surroundings with toxic chemicals whether they are in the air we breathe or in the foods we eat. Starting in our home, eliminating harmful chemical household cleaners and insecticides will reduce our daily exposure to cancer causing substances. Get to know which foods in the produce section at your local grocery store have significant pesticide residue and buy organic instead. Reheat food in glass or ceramic containers and always avoid plastics made with PVC.
  • Lastly Dr. Servan-Schreiber emphasizes the importance of a mind and body connection and its role in promoting a healthy immune system. Incorporating mediation, yoga and ‘mindfulness’ into our lives has been shown to help keep our body functioning harmoniously and healthfully. While I was reading the book, I even felt compelled to download a guided mediation of mindfulness to my laptop. I can now incorporate this quiet time into my life in an easy, practical way as my laptop is never far from my fingertips; I even have the benefit of selecting the duration of the meditation (3, 10 or 20 minutes) depending on what’s going on in my life on a particular day.

As you can see, Dr. Servan-Schreiber’s advice is practical and by making gradual changes to our lives with his anticancer practices, we can effectively keep cancer cells in our bodies at bay. His practices promote healthy living. If you are living with cancer, Dr. Servan-Schrieber does not advocate that his methods should be used in lieu of conventional treatment like radiation and chemotherapy; they can be used to complement traditional approaches. To become and remain healthy, eating right, controlling our environment as best we can, and connecting our mind and body are life adjustments from which we can all benefit.

If you don’t have time to read his book, you’ll find much of Dr. Servan-Schreiber’s advice on his website (click here).

Keep the books coming dad!

©Circle of Life Partners™