Campus Alert: You Forgot Something, Mom. The HIPAA Release

eos_yale_firstsession015by Jan Simpson Benvenuti

Whew. What a summer. Your son or daughter is now settled into their dorm, engaged with classes and ready for the year ahead. You’ve celebrated their high school graduation, savored their last summer before college, checked off the list of items for the dorm. You found those extra-long sheets, fresh towels, and a small fan; you met the roommates and unpacked the clothes; you lingered at the door, hesitant, nostalgic, wondering where the years went, praying that you’ve done enough, that the next four years will transform your child from a capable adolescent to a competent young adult.

You’re excited for them, but you’re worried, too. You follow the news. You combed through the Department of Education’s Campus Safety and Security website, noting the number of Criminal Offensives, Rapes, Robberies and Assaults reported on campus for the last three years. You know that freshman and sophomore girls are particularly at risk. You’re aware of the binge drinking statistics, and that the collective IQ of testosterone-laden adolescent males decreases in packs. You’ve heard that 20% of young adults, one in five, will experience mental health issues like anxiety or depression. You know these things, but you also know that you’ll be there for him or her, whatever transpires, just as you’ve supported them for 18 years. In fact, you’re making plans to revisit the campus soon.

But you forgot something. Your child is 18, and at 18 they become legally responsible for their own medical decisions. That’s right. Even their pediatrician, someone you’ve known for 18 years, can no longer disclose their medical information to you. It’s illegal to do so. So if your son is taken to the emergency room or your daughter seeks mental health counseling, the physicians and psychologists have no legal right to discuss their health with you. They may not even contact you.

Fortunately, the solution is a simple one. You don’t need to contact an attorney, just have your teen sign a HIPAA Authorization Form. Reply to this post or send an email to We’ll send you a copy of the form with instructions. Bring it to campus. Have them sign it. Put a copy in University Health Center and keep a copy for yourself. Call this preventive medicine. Hopefully, the accident won’t happen, the call won’t come, they will navigate the college years without incident. But should they need your help, you’ll be able to quickly support them, just as you’ve always done.

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

Why Do Men Die First?

by Janet Simpson Benvenuti

Women outlive men by six years. Heart disease in some men begins at 35. Like you, I never questioned why until I read Why Men Die First by Dr. Marianne Legato. Dr. Legato, professor of clinical medicine at Columbia University, has been studying the differences in health between the sexes for decades. Her research found several ways to help men avoid premature death, summarized by Don Fernandez at WebMD.

Here are five suggestions to lengthen the male lifespan.

1. Speak candidly with a physician. Although men are inherently more vulnerable than women genetically, their cultural conditioning encourages them to take risks, deny pain and show no weakness. Those social pressures make them reluctant to seek medical help and speak frankly to their physicians. Mothers, spouses, sisters and friends play an important role in helping men reach out for help before a medical condition worsens.

2. Men are biologically predisposed to infection. Boost the immune system with proper diet, exercise and sleep. Avoid infections by using condoms and keep immunizations, including tetanus shots, up to date.

3. Treat depression. Like in women, depression is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke, and older men are more likely than women to become suicidal and take their own lives.

4. Watch young adolescent males whose lifestyle make them vulnerable to injury or death.

5. Assess the risk for heart disease and take steps to lower risk factors. Some men, especially those in stressful jobs like firefighters and police officers, show evidence of heart disease as young as 35.

For more insights and guidance, listen to this 30-minute video posted by Second Opinion, an informative discussion about why men age more poorly than women.

Together, let’s help our sons and spouses, brothers and nephews lengthen their lifespan.

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

Sleepless in Boston: From Stress or Reading in Bed?

by Jan Simpson Benvenuti

Recently, several Circle of Life supporters joined me at a luncheon sponsored by the Women’s Health initiative at Brigham and Women’s Hospital where we learned about the gender differences in our natural sleep cycles.  At my table were women juggling careers and children, aging parents and teenagers, each challenged to maintain their own health and the health of their loved ones. We listened as Diane Patrick, the First Lady of Massachusetts, spoke eloquently about her own struggles with insomnia years ago, a symptom of depression that was successfully treated.

Women are two to three times more likely than men to suffer from insomnia and simple changes in bedtime routines can lead to a more restful night. Here are 12 simple steps to improve sleep (12 steps). I was aware of some of the recommendations, like establishing good bedtime routines and sleeping in a cool room. Yet having switched to reading from a tablet at bedtime instead of a hardcover or paperback book, I have unwittingly increased the likelihood of disrupted sleep.

Do you read from a tablet before bed?

© Circle of Life Partners


by Jan Simpson

“Depression is not a normal or necessary part of aging,” writes Melinda Smith in her extraordinary article, “Depression in Older Adults and the Elderly.”  While citing the causes of depression that include loneliness and isolation, medication, and recent bereavement, Melinda distinguishes between normal grief and depression and provides insight into depression clues in older adults who may not fit the typical picture of depression in a younger person. For example, according to the author, these behaviors can signal major depression even without feelings of sadness:

  • physical complaints that have worsened,
  • anxiety or irritability,
  • constant hand wringing or pacing,
  • and lack of interest in personal care.

If you suspect that your parent or older loved one may be depressed, I recommend that you read this article. Professional help should also be pursued.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), about 6.5 million Americans age 65 and older suffer from depression. Older women are twice as likely as men to become seriously depressed in part because biological changes may make older women more vulnerable while the stresses of caregiving for an ill loved one and children elevate the risk.  According to NAMI, some conditions such as a heart attack, stroke, hip fracture or macular degeneration and procedures such as bypass surgery are associated with the development of depression. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to get professional help for a depressed loved one, especially one who resists treatment. And suggesting treatment to an older parent may be perceived as overstepping boundaries in your relationship.

In the Wall Street Journal this past September, Elizabeth Bernstein offered some guidance in “A Way Out Of Depression: Coaxing a Loved One in Denial Into Treatment Without Ruining Your Relationship.”

While there are 15 million American adults with a depression disorder, “50% of people with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia don’t believe they are ill and resist seeking help; people with clinical depression resist treatment at similar rates.”  This isn’t just the result of general stubbornness or pride—there’s actually a scientific reason, too: Anosognosia, an impairment of the frontal lobe of the brain, which governs self awareness, is common in depressed adults and leaves a person with an inability to understand that he or she is sick.

Xavier Amador, a clinical psychologist and author of “I Am Not Sick. I Don’t Need Help!” has developed strategies for helping schizophrenics  comply with treatment using an approach that may also work with a depressed parent.  Instead of demanding that those sick seek treatment, see a psychologist, or start taking medication, the key is to find common ground.  He says to L.E.A.P:  Listen reflectively; Empathize strategically; Agree on common ground; and Partner on shared goals.

“It’s the difference between boxing and judo, says Dr. Amador. “In boxing you throw a punch and the person blocks you. In judo, a person throws the punch and you take that punch and use their own resistance to move them where you want them.”  As the brother of someone living with schizophrenia, Dr. Amador writes with empathy and reflects decades of personal experience dealing with resistance to care.  I found his advice pragmatic and actionable.

In my own family’s experience, we discovered that my parents’ internist was less skilled in managing depression and anxiety than a geriatric psychiatrist who finally prescribed the right medication and care. Unfortunately, we only found that psychiatrist after a distressing emergency hospitalization. We didn’t know then about NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, who have local branches that provide support and information about resources and care.

Do you have a loved one who lives with depression? If so, please consider sharing any resources you found to be helpful.

©Circle of Life Partners™