Performing or Leading an Event With Elders? Don’t Forget the Conversation

Screen Shot 2015-09-20 at 3.10.19 PMWhen a group performs or conducts an activity for elders, taking the time to make conversation is the most important part of the visit.

Just about all of us have accompanied a group of performers or led an activity for elders — sometimes in a long-term community and at other times in one part of another of a retirement community. Those of who are the leaders of these events usually practice as a group, ensure that each participant understands his or her task, and pay close attention to the transportation details.

After conversations with my parents and several other elders, I’ve learned about one detail that I overlooked when I accompanied groups. The elders with whom I spoke commented about how much they enjoy these events, but they consistently mention one issue that could improve things — more conversation. They note that once the event is over, most of the participants talk among themselves or immediately get ready to leave. Rarely do they move around the audience and talk to the people who watched the event.   Continue reading

Can You Positively Affect Your Cognitive Aging?

Earlier this summer I attended an engaging lecture given by Charles M. Reynolds, III, MD, a professor of Geriatric Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

Screen Shot 2015-09-04 at 2.23.05 PMIn his talk, Brain Health As You Age: You Can Make a Difference, Dr. Reynolds discussed information aging and the changes that occur in the brain. He also highlighted an Institute of Medicine report, Cognitive Aging: Progress in Understanding and Opportunities for Action (available to download as a PDF).

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Cleveland Elder Community Offers Housing to Student Musicians

In March 2015 I wrote Elders and Students Living Together: A Novel Housing Idea, describing how a Humanitas Deventer elder community, in the Netherlands, implemented the concept of “woonstudent,” by designating four apartments for students to live in at no cost. The only requirement? Resident students are expected to volunteer with their older resident neighbors, and together the two groups create an amazing intergenerational community.

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Visit the Judson Manor website,

A May 2015 New York Times article, In Cleveland, Young and Old Keep Tempo of Life, highlights another intergenerational community program, this one in Cleveland, Ohio. The Judson Manor elder community designated three apartments for students at the Cleveland Institute of Music (CIM), offering free housing for as long as each student attends the Institute and expecting each student to perform at least once a month. Read what the description of the program on the Judson Manor blog. What began as an experiment has been a huge success and you can read the a piece about the students at the CIM website.. The students feel they have learned a lot as do the elders. (See a CBS News video below.)                   Continue reading

Music that Heals the Soul

Music by itself cannot heal a disease. No one these days, however, disputes that music can heal the soul, making illness more bearable.

Some time ago I wrote about Alive Inside, a movie that documents the success of therapeutic music programs with elderly participants who have dementia of Alzheimers. The program, started by Dan Cohen, pairs a patient with an iPod music player that contains recording of favorite music from a person’s life. Check out this video clip from the documentary.

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The Gift of Time to Watch a Baby Grandchild Learn

Screen Shot 2015-07-21 at 12.31.53 PMIf you read and write about aging — your own, your parents’ or older adults in general — you often hear people comment that as they get older, they feel that their perspective broadens. Aging adults often describe how, as they age, they have more time to observe, reflect, and  worry less about differences of opinion.

I’ve discovered the gifts of time and observation as a first-time grandparent with my new infant grandson. Although I raised my daughter through the same developmental steps that my grandson is currently passing through, I now have more flexibility to watch the way he learns things. I’m watching a mini-scientist figuring out his life, and I get to observe so many of the incremental learning steps.

Of course, I was aware of the the ways my daughter learned when she was an infant and I was a young mother — but nowadays, I have lots more time because I am no longer responsible for the big things that young parents manage in their lives — work, schools, doctor’s visits, and more. My mother, now 88, tells me that she had the same experience as a grandmother when my daughter was an infant.            Continue reading

Famed Clinicians: Prepared but Not Ready for Death

In Memoriam page at the National Institute on Aging

In Memoriam page at the National Institute on Aging – Click to enlarge.

When we think about dying, about the end of our lives, we may look to the experts for guidance — to those people who have long experience with various aspects of aging and the medical issues that complicate the process of dying. We assume that these people have their own end of life details all worked out.

This week a New York Times article by Alexandra Butler, a poet, helped us gaze into the experience of the well-prepared.

Robert N. Butler, M.D., the founding director of the National Institute on Aging, and his wife, Myrna Lewis, a social worker who specialized in support for older women, had all of the details worked out, and they shared all of this information with their daughter. Their preparations, so well conceived and worked out, assumed that Dr. Butler would pass away before his wife, but this did not happen. Just like anyone else, these two experts were confused at the unexpected turn of events. Moreover, when his wife was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, it became clear that while they prepared and saw to the arrangements for the end-of-life, being prepared for death is a lot different than being ready to die.

In her article, Alexandra Butler writes that despite the uncertainty and challenge of watching her parents die, she was very glad that they had made the preparations for palliative care with no extraordinary interventions.

No one wants to die. Some people handle this by avoiding the topic — and the preparations. Others handle it by speaking incessantly about the expectation of dying. Still others, work hard to ensure that each minute detail is in place, so that family members spend time saying good-bye. Dr. Butler, who is also the individual who coined the term ageism, was prepared, but as his daughter points out, he was not ready.

When Dr. Butler died in 2010, I wrote this post for AsOurParentsAge.

Best Quotes

  • Our deaths are the last message we leave for those we love.
  • In a world where so many of our fellow human  beings live with threats of terror and destruction, if you are lucky enough to imaging you might have any measure of control over how you die, that is a privilege that would not go to waste.

Alexander Butler’s perspective offers support and encouragement to those of us — adult children and aging parents — as we navigate the the final years of aging.