How to prevent a real life nightmare at life’s end

A Next Avenue Influencer in Aging urges conversations around death

By Barbara Coombs Lee for Next Avenue


Credit: Thinkstock

Editor’s note: This article is part of Next Avenue’s 2015 Influencers in Aging project honoring 50 people changing how we age and think about aging. 

To my everlasting shame, this boomer spent many of her formative years as an ICU nurse, thoughtlessly pushing tubes down the noses and pounding on chests of dying patients, torturing them with electric shocks, instead of allowing death to come peacefully.

The tragic reality is people who do not communicate their values and priorities for end-of-life care often pay dearly for this failure, by enduring futile, agonizing tests and treatments that only prolong the dying process. It is equally important for people to empower a loved one in writing to be their decision-maker if they are unable to speak for themselves.

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Making communities friendlier for those with dementia

Making Communities Friendlier for Those With Dementia

That’s the goal for the ambitious Dementia Friendly America initiative

By Beth Baker for Next Avenue


Credit: Courtesy of Paynesville (MN) ACT on Alzheimer’s Caption: Volunteers pass out laminated bookmarks with the 10 signs of Alzheimer’s at the local supermarket

Can a strong community network help ease the challenges faced by people with dementia and their families? That’s the hope of a national volunteer-driven initiative known as Dementia Friendly America (DFA), announced at the White House Conference on Aging in July.

“Our goals are to foster dementia-friendly communities that will enable people who are living with dementia and their care partners to thrive and to be independent as long as possible,” says Olivia Mastry, who’s guiding the effort. “The side benefit is that it’s beginning to normalize [Alzheimer’s], to reduce the stigma. It’s created an environment that’s allowed people to talk about this disease.”

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A cure for senior loneliness is within our reach

We can solve the problem of social isolation by thinking differently about senior housing

By Tim Carpenter for Next Avenue


Credit: Getty Images

(Next Avenue invited all our 2016 Influencers in Aging to write essays about the one thing they would like to change about aging in America. This is one of the essays.)

The Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act of 1965 required that packages of cigarettes display the warning “Caution: Cigarette Smoking May Be Hazardous to Your Health.” I wish the Surgeon General would issue this warning: “Caution: Loneliness and Social Isolation May Be Hazardous to Your Health.”

Yes, just like smoking, loneliness and social isolation are deadly. And just like smoking in the 1960s, our society is just beginning to understand the perils of loneliness and social isolation today. A 2015 study published in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science shows that lacking social connections is as damaging to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. The New York Times recently ran a story with the headline “Social Isolation Is Killing Us.”

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Make every day Valentine’s Day

How to survive the holiday and keep romance alive 365 days a year — however long you’ve been together

By Terri Orbuch, Ph.D. for Next Avenue


I always look forward to February and especially Valentine’s Day, but I’m well aware that not everyone does. I love seeing all the red hearts in the stores and enjoy the romantic commercials on TV for diamonds, perfume and lingerie.

It’s hard not to feel a bit overwhelmed by the media barrage to buy cards, flowers and presents.

There’s another way to look at it, however. Valentine’s Day can serve as a useful reminder to practice simple acts of kindness and to show appreciation for the special people in our lives.

While it’s easy to say that every day should be as romantic as Valentine’s Day, we often wind up distracted by all the things we have to do and don’t make time for what I call “relationship upkeep.” Work, routines, kids and other obligations take precedence, and our attention gets deflected everywhere but toward our one and only.

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Want to age better? Join a choir

A groundbreaking study examines the health benefits of making music as we age

By Deborah Quilter for Next Avenue


Credit: Getty Images

Twenty years ago, when academic researcher Julene Johnson wanted to study how music might help the aging process, she couldn’t get funding. Johnson, a professor at the Institute for Health & Aging at the University of California, San Francisco, suspected that music might improve memory, mood and even physical function.

And, she thought, what could be more perfect than choral music? Your instrument is already in your body, and you are bathed in beautiful sound by fellow musicmakers. Singing in a group is fun, so there’s plenty of reason to come back week after week: You get to see your friends and exercise your vocal cords and brain all at once.

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Fighting ageism and unfair treatment in health care

Among the problems: doctors who view depression and anxiety in older adults as ‘normal’

By Terry Fulmer for Next Avenue


Credit: Getty Images

(Next Avenue invited all our 2016 Influencers in Aging to write essays about the one thing they would like to change about aging in America. This is one of the essays.)

Everyone deserves equal treatment — in the broader society and in our health care system. Today, older people are often not treated fairly and do not get the care they deserve, simply because of their age. While one of our great success stories in the 20th century was the stunning gain in human longevity, recent research from The Frameworks Institute, funded by my group, The John A. Hartford Foundation, and others, has found that the majority of us still don’t recognize ageism or its deleterious effects. They call it a “cognitive hole,” a mental blind spot.

As 10,000 of us turn 65 each day, it is critical that we shine a bright light on this insidious prejudice. It is a matter of simple fairness and justice. It is a way to honor the priceless and irreplaceable contributions that older adults make every day to enrich our society and culture. And for those of us at The John A. Hartford Foundation, it is critical to the broader effort to improve care for older people.

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Stewart named director of social services

NPM-2017jan-LauraStewartLaura Stewart, LBSW, has been named Director of Social Services as of January 2017, replacing Helen Brown in this management team role.

Helen says, “After much thought, reflection, and prayer, I have made the decision to step down as Director of Social Services. This position has been a positive experience and one for which I am deeply grateful. Due to my belief that the director position–with its numerous responsibilities–requires and deserves a person who can work full time, I feel that I am no longer able to fulfill those obligations while working part time. I will retain my part-time position as a licensed social worker here.”

Laura began her career at Presbyterian Manor in the activities department. She has been a social worker for Haury Place and our PATH guests for the past 15 months. She has a bachelor’s degree in social work from Bethel College.

Learning to swim at 80

Tackling a lifelong to-do can be really enjoyable

By Louise Jackson for Next Avenue

Credit: Getty Images

Credit: Getty Images

Every Thursday night, I drive to the gym, wriggle into a swimsuit that does nothing to hide my bulging belly or my wrinkled, sagging underarms, put on swim goggles that make me look a bit like someone from outer space, grab my cane to help keep my balance while walking from the dressing room into the pool area and slowly ease down the steps into water smelling of chlorine.

I’m 80 years old and taking a swim class for the first time in my life.

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Goerings prove love at first sight is real

NPM-2016jan-goerings-2Love at first sight may be a myth. But for Delores and Leonard Goering – better known as Dee and Len — it didn’t take long to realize they were meant to be.

Dee had the good fortune to be sitting in front of Len’s brother and his girlfriend at a Bethel College basketball game versus McPherson College when Len came over to visit. There was no room next to his brother, so Len sat in the empty spot on the bleachers next to Dee, who played trombone in the Bethel pep band.

“It seemed like there was something there. We just connected right then; it was funny,” Dee said. “We both had to admit later on, we both felt that way. He had such an outgoing personality, and he was so friendly and nice.”

Len’s feelings were similar, “I was drawn to her smile and fun personality.”

With regret, Dee assumed she would never see the young man from McPherson again. Then, at Christmas break, she got a letter from the brother’s girlfriend asking if she would like to double date with them and Len for New Year’s Eve. The boys’ parents were having a party. “We just had a grand time at their house,” she said. “He has 15 brothers and sisters, so he was kind of worried I’d be overwhelmed with all these people. But it didn’t bother me a bit.”

After that, the two couples double-dated every time Len came to Newton. “We had so much fun; the four of us just really clicked,” Dee said. They dated for about two years and were married in September 1955.

Len became an elementary school teacher, and the couple had four children – three sons and one daughter, the youngest. They have lived in Newton for most of their marriage. They moved to Newton Presbyterian Manor about a year ago. “We just love it here. It’s been a really good place to be,” Dee said.
The Goerings celebrated their 60th anniversary with an open house in the fall of 2015. They now have eight grandchildren, and their third great-grandchild was just born on New Year’s Day.

Dee said their relationship has succeeded in part because she and Len shared many of the same values, as Mennonites. “It was always important to give and take. Really we just had a very happy marriage,” she said. “Our kids always say we gave them a good home.”

Who knows? Maybe love at first sight is real after all.

In the end, empty

shutterstock_562181935By Jerroll Martens, Newton Presbyterian Manor chaplain

“I worked so hard but came up empty,” Solomon seems to say in Ecclesiastes 2:11. The word “labor” occurs 24 times and the word “vanity” (empty) appears 37 times in this short book, more than any other book in the Bible. The picture is that of hard work and wisdom accomplishing great things, yet leaving one empty. The writer, now in later life, seems to give his own testimony.

Wealthy, he could have all. Enjoyments of all kinds left him empty. He noted that a poor daily working man sleeps better at night than the wealthy. Now reality hits. He will die and take nothing more than he had at birth. He will leave all to someone else who has not worked for it as he has. Will he be wise or foolish with it? A theme in the book is that a man may work hard and accomplish much, but if God is left out, life will come up empty—both now and in the next life. Having God’s perspective can help us enjoy the fruit of our labor. Let us serve God and not come up empty.