How Wearable, Smart Tech Can Track Health for Boomers

Salvatore Angelone has gym equipment in his Fremont, N.H., house that didn’t exactly get a workout. But last April, the financial services project manager donned a “smart shirt” made by OMSignal, a technology company that works with fashion brands. “It was a game changer,” says Angelone, 52. “I’m in the best shape of my life.”

Wearable Watches
The form-fitting compression shirt keeps sensors in place close to his body. They monitor biometric data and relay it to a mini-box that interprets the information and transmits it to an app on an iPhone, iWatch or iPod he sees in real time. Besides measuring steps, heart rate and calories like other fitness trackers, the shirt monitors Angelone’s breathing rate and depth, stress levels, exertion and past performance against how he’s doing that day. “You can go to a gym or lift weights in the basement and see changes over time, but this gives me that immediacy,” he says.

To read more, go to Kiplinger

Posted in Aging and Baby Boomers, Aging in Place Technology, Health and Medicine, Work and Lifestyle | Tagged , , , , |

Dispelling Myths About Baby Boomers in The Washington Post

Who says baby boomers don’t like sex, are terrible with technology, are all rolling in the dough, are healthier than their parents and rottenly selfish? It’s just not true! In a piece I wrote for The Washington Post, I put these myths to bed.

Take a look and see what you think:

Washington Post
There are 75.4 million baby boomers in the United States, people from 51 to 69 years old. They are the largest generation in American history, raised during the economic prosperity that followed World War II. Media and marketers have treated the generation as one enormous, monolithic group since their youth. But larger than the entire population of France, America’s baby boomers are a far more diverse demographic than any of their many stereotypes convey. The oldest boomer, born in 1946, was 18 years old when the youngest was just entering the world. It’s time to debunk some generalizations about the original Me Generation. 
Sally Abrahms is a nationally recognized writer on baby boomers and aging. 

1. Boomers are wealthy.

Rather than downsizing, many empty nesters are snapping up second homes or moving into bigger quarters, seeking more prestige and space for friends and relatives to visit. For instance, the Lake Weir Preserve retirement community in central Florida offers custom homes with garages as huge as 3,000 square feet, to fit RVs, boats and classic-car collections. Increasingly, “retirement isn’t all about being practical,” Ken Dychtwald, founder and chief executive of the consulting firm Age Wave, told U.S. News & World Reportthis year.

Such stories of big spending have dominated popular perceptions of boomers in their later years. But many boomers couldn’t be further from living that dream. While some benefit from multiple income streams, members of this sandwich generation often are saddled simultaneously with their children’s eye-popping college tuition payments and health expenses for their aging parents. Some have to leave their jobs to be full-time caregivers. A 2013 AARP study found that about 1 in 5 workers between ages 45 and 74 had either taken leave or quit a job to care for an adult family member in the past five years. That amounted to an average $303,880 in lost income (including pension and Social Security benefits) per caregiver, according to a MetLife estimate

On top of that, there’s a mounting number of “gray divorce” couples who, in their 50s and 60s, suddenly have to divide assets they had counted on. Given boomers’ longer life expectancy, that translates into a lot more bills for many more years. 

Savings aren’t helping them much. A Wells Fargo study released last month shows that working Americans age 60 or older have median savings of just $50,000, about $250,000 short of their goal. And plans to keep their jobs longer might not work. In the same study, 49 percent of retired respondents said they left the workforce earlier than expected, frequently because of health problems or an employer’s decision. 

Boomers know that their financial situation is more precarious than others think. “When I talk to audiences around the country, I hear this palpable fear that boomers will outlive their money,” says personal finance expert Kerry Hannon, author of “Getting the Job You Want After 50.”

2. Boomers are healthier than their parents.

Baby boomers have the longest life expectancy in history. The average 65-year-old today can expect to live to 84.3 — nearly three years longer than a 65-year-old in 1980. New tests to screen for health issues, along with greater public awareness about the dangers of smoking, sitting and obesity, give boomers health advantages that their parents never had. Statins to lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease weren’t even introduced until 1987. Boomers are tracking their fitness, tallying their steps and counting their calories. It’s natural to assume they are healthier than the previous generation.

But the data doesn’t agree. “We have all these medical advances, fitness and technology. There’s this belief that with so many more tools available that boomers have to be doing better, but it’s a misperception,” says Cedric Bryant, chief science officer for the American Council on Exercise. 

 Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2013 showed that boomers were in worse health than their parents at about the same age. They had more disabilities and higher rates of chronic diseases. Just 13 percent of the studied boomers said they were in excellent health, compared with 32 percent of people from the previous generation. Boomers were more likely to be obese, exercised less, and had higher rates of hypertension and high cholesterol. 

3. Boomers are selfish.

If you want to see how unpopular the cohort unfortunately nicknamed the Me Generation has become, just Google “baby boomers selfish.” My search returned 147,000 results, including headlines declaring them “The Worst Generation Ever.” Detractors complain that boomers stay too long at their jobs and in their homes, not making room for the next generation, spending their children’s inheritances and running up debt. 

Elsewhere in this issue, Jim Tankersley writes, “the generation that was born into some of the strongest job growth in the history of America, gobbled up the best parts, and left its children and grandchildren with some bones to pick through and a big bill to pay.”

Not so fast. Boomers have been far more generous with their money than they’re given credit for, a benevolence that will continue after their deaths. The generation is poised to lead the largest wealth transfer in U.S. history. Researchers at Boston College’s Center on Wealth and Philanthropy estimated that between 2007 and 2061, heirs will receive $36 trillion from deceased relatives, and $20.6 trillion will be given to charity. A new Merrill Lynch report credits boomers for an upcoming surge in charitable giving: Over the next 20 years, retirees will donate money and time worth $8 trillion. 

4. Boomers are technology-challenged.

It stands to reason that people who weren’t exposed to personal computers until adulthood would have a harder time learning digital skills than those who have been using them since childhood. The personal computer didn’t even exist until the oldest boomers were a decade out of high school. The youngest were in their late 20s when the public Internet was born. In 2001, educator Marc Prensky coined the term “digital immigrant” for those born before 1980 who can find technology foreign. It’s assumed that older adults are slower to grasp new skills and that computers, digital gadgets and social media are too complicated for them to use. 

But boomers, like younger generations, have integrated digital technology into almost every facet of their lives — from banking and shopping to following news and watching videos. A 2010 Pew Research Center studyfound that 84 percent of Americans between ages 57 and 65 owned a cellphone, about the average for adults of all ages. They were nearly as likely as Gen Xers to own a desktop computer — 64 percent compared with 69 percent (though Gen Xers were more likely to have a laptop). And among younger boomers, 42 percent owned an iPod or MP3 player, while 38 percent owned a game console. 

They’re also far from social-media-shy. Users over age 55 are Facebook’s fastest-growing segment; 7 out of 10 boomers already have an account. They have no problem logging on for love, either. Several dating sites, including and, cater to the 50-plus set, who now make up 20 percent of all online daters.

5. Boomers don’t have sex.

On that note, boomers also have challenged the notion that our sex lives collapse as we age. A culture that glorifies youth and glamorizes taut bodies has grimaced at the idea of grandparents as sexual beings. Older actresses are sidelined as romantic leads in movies, and the sex lives of married couples are the butt of jokes on TV shows. Society’s discomfort with older-adult sexuality makes Viagra and Cialis ads seem almost ghoulish.

Posted in Aging and Baby Boomers |

In the Aging Biz: Entrepreneurs in their 20s, 30s

The age 50+ business is alive, well and thriving–and from unlikely quarters. It turns out many of those in aging in place technology designing for boomers and seniors are young whippersnappers in their 20s and 30s!

In a piece I wrote for Kiplinger’s Retirement Report, I interviewed a now 32 year-old. At the age of 28, he created a special credit card that protects seniors from scams and unscrupulous marketers. It was his fourth start-up! 

Kipling. logo




 To read more about these whiz “kids,” take a look: 

Young Entrepreneurs Fill Need in Senior Market

Start-ups focused on baby boomers and seniors strive to help keep an aging population independent and connected.

At age 32, Sherwin Sheik watched his sister, who has multiple sclerosis, search unsuccessfully for good, affordable help through home care agencies. His mother ended up leaving her job as a molecular biologist in Los Gatos, Cal., to care for her. And he knew his beloved uncle, with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, known as ALS, had repeatedly hired agency caregivers who didn’t show up.

 Four years ago, Sheik founded the online company CareLinx, which matches families and paid caregivers. By eliminating agency fees, families save an average of $10,000 to $15,000 a year, and caregivers earn more. “Traditional agencies were charging families $25 to $30 an hour while paying caregivers $10 an hour” says Sheik, a former investment banker. Caregivers “weren’t being compensated for the hard work they did.”

Today, Sheik’s grandparents, ages 97 and 93, get daily help from caregivers hired through CareLinx. “I am delighted and proud that Sherwin is devoting himself to helping people who are at a very vulnerable stage of their lives,” says his mother, Shahla Sheik, 67.Sheik, now 37, is among a growing number of entrepreneurs in their twenties, thirties and early forties who are developing products and services for seniors. For many, the idea evolves from a personal experience with a parent, grandparent or sibling.

As astute business people, these young entrepreneurs also realize that a swelling-by-the-day older demographic will need their products to stay independent and connected. “Students from the top business schools are setting up companies in this space — something I haven’t seen before,” says Stephen Johnston, co-founder of the San Francisco-based Aging 2.0. His company mentors start-ups that focus on baby boomers and seniors.

Mary Furlong, author of Turning Silver Into Gold (FT Press, $25), agrees. “The intellectual talent and business experience of young entrepreneurs migrating into the longevity marketplace is astounding,” says Furlong, president and chief executive officer of Mary Furlong & Associates, a company in Lafayette, Cal., that advises clients in the 50-plus market.

Here’s a look at senior-focused companies that have young adults at the helm.

Caregiving. As boomers age, so will their caregiving needs. A growing number of seniors do not have children to take on caregiving tasks, and those who do tend to have fewer kids than in the past. 

Sheik’s CareLinx ( gives each family an adviser to shepherd it through the hiring process and for follow-up. The firm vets caregivers, does background checks, manages the payroll and taxes, and insures and bonds the caregiver up to $1 million.

As with CareLinx, Making Care Easier (, a free Web site and app, was born out of a personal crisis. At age 35, Harvard Business School graduate Renee Fry was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Her mother temporarily moved across the U.S. to care for her. Three years later, the tumor grew back. This time, Julie, Renee’s younger sister, moved to Boston to take on caregiving. Julie had expertise in elder services as marketing director of a large association of home care and hospice providers.

Then the light bulb went off for the siblings, who both hold business degrees. Friends and family were willing to help, but they needed to know how. What was missing was a way to coordinate care, share information and find caregiving products, such as walkers. Making Care Easier, which was launched in April 2014, has 68,000 users. “It’s not enough to offer a way to coordinate care, but to connect you to products and services that matter to you,” says Fry.

After you fill out a brief online survey to determine your needs, the company sets up a secure family “dashboard.” You can send requests for help to friends and family members and share comments, medical information and expenses. Your private site provides checklists and joint calendars.

Finances. Kai Stinchcombe’s grandmother had always contributed to one cause or another. As her memory started to decline, though, she lost track of how much she was giving away. Stinchcombe watched the toll those bogus expenses took on his own mother.

His 93-year-old grandmother, who lives independently in Indiana, went from doling out $50 a month to $40 a day. She once wired $2,000 to a stranger who called and claimed to be “needy,” and she spent an unnecessary $6,000 on hearing aids. “She is very polite and won’t hang up the phone when someone calls,” says Stinchcombe, 32. His family didn’t want to humiliate her by taking away her bank account or credit card.

So in 2011, along with business partner Claire McDonnell, also then age 28, Stinchcombe conceived of TrueLink ( It is his fourth entrepreneurial venture.

TrueLink is a special Visa card that protects older people from scams and unscrupulous marketers. It recognizes patterns of transactions that other credit cards would permit and blocks them. Such questionable transactions include magazine subscription companies, sweepstakes and misleading deals on TV. “We weren’t looking for something in the aging market — we kind of stumbled into it,” Stinchcombe says. “We wanted to solve a problem. But we had to find out if enough people have the problem so we could build a business around it, raise venture capital and hire staff.” The answer was “yes.” Two-thirds of customers are daughters getting TrueLink for a parent.

End-of-life planning. In 2010, at age 30, Abby Schneiderman decided to create a Web site that provided articles on end-of-life planning. She noticed information sites for brides-to-be, house hunters, expectant parents, baby boomers sending kids to college, and retirees or those planning for retirement. “There was no reason this life stage didn’t deserve the same treatment,” she says. She and co-founder Adam Seifer created Everplans (, which offered more than 500 articles on topics such as writing a will and appropriate attire for a funeral.

A year after starting Everplans, Schneiderman’s brother died in a car accident. “We had no access to the right paperwork and no idea what my brother would have wanted,” she says. “My family was left to make a huge number of complicated, expensive and stressful decisions at a time when we shouldn’t have had to.”

Schneiderman says she and Seifer realized that they “could create something more powerful and go beyond content to help people get a plan in place ahead of time.” They turned Everplans into a platform where people can create, store and share all the important information that their families need in one place — such as a will, advanced directives, medical records, insurance and names of advisers.

The free version provides access to certain areas of the site. For $75 a year, you can store a wider array of documents.

Communicating. The inspiration for Andreas Forsland’s company came after he spent weeks by his mother’s bedside in intensive care during the summer of 2012. She was unable to speak as a result of a breathing tube and ventilator, and she could not write, either.

Forsland says he wondered whether he could put sensors into an elegant stone she could hold or wear as a necklace or a bracelet. A swipe upward or a tap on the stone could indicate whatever preprogrammed message he chose — “I’m hungry” or “Everything is okay.” And a downward swipe or two taps might be “I miss you” or “I have to go to the bathroom.”

In 2013, Forsland, 40, who lives in Santa Barbara, Cal., co-founded Smartstones ( “We help people who are locked in,” he says. “They’re capable but can’t express themselves.” The product’s original intent was for seniors who had a stroke or a neurological disease such as ALS, but he is also finding interest from parents of children with autism.

Forsland’s mother, Sarah, 73, recovered, but she wears the prototype, a stone necklace, and uses it to “speak” daily with her son. The stones use a wireless Internet connection. “It’s beautiful and looks like jewelry,” she says. “I keep in touch with my son with a gentle swipe or tap, asking ‘Are you there?’ ” When Forsland was recently in Asia, he stayed in touch daily with his mother through their stones. Sarah says it “lowers my level of anxiety knowing I have the stone and can be in touch with Andreas without a cellphone.”

When the product comes out later this year — you can preorder on the site — you can buy a two pack for yourself and your loved one for $179, or even five stones, perhaps for grandkids or other adult siblings, for $399. Of course, Smartstones is not intended to replace conversation or the cellphone, but it is useful to convey simple messages. “We are making it easier to communicate with family, friends and care providers,” Forsland says.




Posted in Aging Parents |

Aging in Place Technology for Kiplinger’s

With aging in place technology, seniors can stay home. Here’s a  piece I wrote for Kiplinger’s:

Most of us want to remain at home as we get older, but safety, health issues and social isolation can interfere with that plan. A growing number of seniors are turning to state-of-the-art digital tools — via smartphones, GPS, voice activation and sensors — that allow them to stay put indefinitely.

With “aging in place” technology, you can discreetly keep tabs on Mom — tracking her daily activities on a cellphone, tablet or computer, and getting notified by text or e-mail if something seems out of the ordinary. Gadgets and apps can remind seniors to take their medication and let others know if they don’t. Besides telling time, smart watches can provide feedback on one’s vitals, such as blood pressure, that can be relayed to professionals. These new products are affordable and easy to use.

Kipling. logoBy 2017, experts expect this market to reach $30 billion. “The aging-in-place technology field is exploding,” says gerontologist Katy Fike, who co-founded San Francisco-based Aging 2.0 in 2012 to advise start-ups geared to boomers and seniors. In the past few years, her company has met with more than 1,000 entrepreneurs in seven countries.

Chalk it up to longevity, millions of worried long-distance family caregivers and a looming shortage of professional home aides. About 10,000 boomers a day are turning 65, and close to half of women ages 75 and older live alone. Here are some of the products geared to helping older adults maintain their independence.

Safety and security systems. PERS, which is an acronym for Personal Emergency Response Systems, is familiar to many people. You push an emergency button on a key chain or from a cord around your neck or wrist. Then an operator assesses the situation and can dispatch help or notify family.

But these medical alert systems are changing. They used to work only at home with a base station connected to a landline. What’s new is the introduction of m-PERS (the “m” stands for mobile), which works wherever you are — on the golf course, out to lunch, in the garden or visiting the grandkids in another state.

Rita Labla, 79, of Yuba City, Cal., lives alone and drives, but she struggles with congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. She has also fallen. “When she’s out of sight, you never know what’s going on,” says her daughter, Loretta Burke, 61, who lives three miles away.

Last July, Burke gave her mother a GreatCall Splash m-PERS. “We were all concerned she wouldn’t use it. Instead, she has it with her all the time,” Burke says. “It’s like her bodyguard.”

Labla agrees. “I feel much more secure with it,” she says. Labla knows she can press it if she thinks someone shady is following her in the parking lot, she gets lost on the road or she has a problem at home.

By checking their smartphones, tablets or computers, Burke and her siblings can track their mother via GPS. You can order a GreatCall Splash at or by calling 800-650-5921 ($50 for purchase, $35 activation fee and monthly service starting at $20).

In the next few months, GreatCall plans to add a feature that summons help if it detects a fall — even if you haven’t pressed the button. Already, another go-anywhere medical alert system, Philips Lifeline’s GoSafe (, 800-380-3111), offers a waterproof pendant with fall-detection capability — for a one-time fee of $149 plus $55 a month. MobileHelp (, 800-989-9863) has a similar system ($37, plus $50 a month; fall detection is an extra $10 a month).

Sensors are another way to make sure Mom or Dad is safe at home. Several wireless sensors that are placed around the house where a parent goes daily — perhaps the bed, the refrigerator, a favorite chair or the bathroom door — can tip you off if they aren’t triggered.

Sarah King, 83, lives in a basement apartment of her daughter Donita Kniffen’s home in Dardenne Prairie, Mo. Still, sensors from Evermind (, 855-677-7625) have come in handy.

Kniffen, 52, programmed Evermind so she receives a text the first time her mom’s TV, microwave or reading lamp is turned on. She also gets an alert on her smartphone if none of the sensors has been triggered during periods of the day when her mother should be up and about. Instead of calling every morning to make sure her mother is okay, Kniffen goes on her smartphone to check the sensors. (The sensors come with 
a one-time cost of $199, plus a $29 monthly fee.)

Michael Demoratz, 54, a social worker who lives in Tustin, Cal., chose a combination PERS/sensor system from BeClose (, 866-574-1784) to keep tabs on his mother, who lives in Pennsylvania. He placed motion sensors in her living room, between the bathroom and bedroom, and on the cellar door, which was the site of two previous accidents.

Demoratz receives a daily e-mail. Green means his mom’s activity is ordinary, yellow signifies out of the ordinary, and red is abnormal. If she were to press the panic button, Demoratz would get a text from the company. “My mother feels reassured because she knows I have been alerted,” he says.

BeClose’s ability to spot variations in behavior is the system’s most valuable feature, Demoratz says. “If I have objective data, my mother can’t just say she’s fine when I call,” he says. “I can tell her I notice she’s not getting up or out much and is spending a lot of time in her chair. Then I can ask why she’s so sedentary.”

Every year, Demoratz takes a vacation to Europe. “This year, from my phone, iPad, desktop or anyone’s computer, I will know exactly what is going on with my mom in real time — whether she is sitting, in bed, in the bathroom or if she has left the house,” he says. “Talk about peace of mind.” (The system costs $499 for the equipment and $99 a month.) 

Medication managers. Taking pills at the right time, often multiple times a day, is critical to your health. What if you forget? New products can provide reminders and let loved ones know whether you’re on track.

Lively (, 888-757-0711) has just come out with a safety watch that not only tells time but acts as a medication reminder and a medical alert system. You attach a sensor to the pill dispenser, and the senior gets a reminder on a smart watch she wears. Remote caregivers get a notice by smartphone or computer when the medications are taken or perhaps forgotten.

The system also lets you push a button in an emergency. A pedometer feature counts your steps, thus giving you feedback on your activity level. Colleen Sturdivant, who lives in Piedmont, Cal., says her mother, Jane Kennedy, 76, likes the step-counting feature. Since her recent hip replacement, the step counter shows her that she’s getting stronger every day by increasing her steps. Sturdivant likes the feature that notifies her of her mother’s whereabouts, which can be shared with her sister and two brothers through an online dashboard. (The system costs $50, plus $28 to $35 a month.)

A more low-tech system is Reminder Rosie (, $130), a talking clock. You manually program it with your voice or a loved one’s voice, for the day, week or sometime in the future (perhaps, “time for my afternoon pills”).

Mike Gilman, 65, a retired New York state tax collector, takes eight pills a day at different times. “Rosie is the most fantastic thing,” he says. Besides jogging his memory about his medication, Gilman uses the device to remind himself when to send birthday cards to family and friends.

If you want a free app for your smartphone or tablet, CareZone ( centralizes information about your medication and other important information, such as doctor appointments. You can share this information with family members. You can set daily medication reminders that buzz your phone, followed up 10 minutes later if you forget.

Keeping in touch. You might be able to stay in your home, but you can get lonely. Technology can help you feel connected to friends and family — and sometimes even to medical professionals.

With an interactive touch screen from grandCARE Systems (, 262-338-6147), you can look at a photo of a grandson’s Halloween getup or a video replay of his baseball home run. You can listen to music, play word games, read the news or surf the Internet. No need to know how to use a computer.

Randall Schafer, 61, of Houston, Tex., uses his grandCARE system to Skype with his mother, 90. (She just pushes a button to videochat.) “My mom is in love with our dog, Daisy,” Schafer says. Her “face lights up” when she sees the schnauzer, he says.

An added feature: The system can transmit health data, from glucose and blood pressure to weight and oxygen readings. For example, a blood pressure cuff with a wireless Bluetooth medical device will record and relay the readings to caregivers. (The system costs $699, plus $49 a month.)

Another system that offers social opportunities — as well as care coordination, calendar sharing and health-data collection — is Independa (, 800-815-7829). All the information is on your TV rather than on a special screen or computer.

You can be watching Downton Abbey on TV and up pops a screen saying your daughter wants to say goodnight. You can accept and videochat — or not, if you’re engrossed in the show. An adult child can go to the Independa caregiver portal via e-mail and send a message or upload photos to your TV screen.

One feature called “Life Stories” lets parents record their memories for their adult children. You or your parents can play the remembrances at any time and e-mail them to other family members. Independa also has introduced a mobile app for caregivers for the soon-to-be-released Apple Watch.

The system costs $799 to $1,399, depending on the size of a special LG smart TV embedded with Independa services. If you have your own TV with an HDMI connection, which is now commonly used, you can hook it up to an Independa AnyTV Companion box, which costs $399. Both systems charge $30 a month.

A unique social engagement tool is the GeriJoy virtual care companion (, 855-437-4569), which costs $249 a month. Consider it pet therapy with a twist. A virtual “talking” dog or cat on a tablet screen interacts and converses with a loved one. Many people name their pet, which is operated around the clock by GeriJoy representatives who work remotely.

To start a conversation, you touch the dog on the tablet screen and talk. Your pet will “wake up” and start chatting. (Perhaps the pet will say, “Did you have a good sleep? You look fabulous today.”) When you ask a question, your virtual companion responds immediately, even if it means the human helper has to look up an answer on the Internet (“How did the Red Sox do last night?” for example). Daily conversations and events are kept on a written log, which the family can access through a secure Web site.

Becky and Craig Jio bought GeriJoy for Craig’s mother, Lucy, who has Alzheimer’s disease and lives with them in Santa Clara, Cal. She doesn’t like to leave her room. “GeriJoy is good company,” Craig, 45, says. She especially loves a silly picture that Becky uploaded of a man with an ultra long nose and tongue. “When it pops up, she cracks up laughing,” Becky says.

The Jios are convinced that GeriJoy has improved her mood. When the system was down for a week with hardware problems, Craig says, “my mother got depressed. Now that it’s back, she’s happier. That makes everyone happier.”

Coming down the pike. In the future, a growing number of seniors will be connected remotely with service providers who will be able to detect changes in physical and mental health as well as mobility, says David Lindeman, director of the Center for Technology and Aging, a research group in Oakland, Cal. “We are in a new era of connected aging,” Lindeman says. “We will be getting more and more information brought to us in a variety of ways so we can support our loved ones.”

Look for more developments in the “smart home.” Entrepreneurs are working on a carpet woven from optic fibers that analyze your gait and help predict if you may fall or are physically declining. Consumer-friendly devices will help long-distance caregivers, with the touch of a tablet or cellphone, to turn off Dad’s stove if he forgets or to close the blinds.

Also on the horizon is the growth in “wearables,” which includes smart jewelry and clothing with sensors and chips woven into fabric. The sensors will track movement, collect health data and transmit to a mobile device.

Don’t like the look of today’s PERS pendants, wristbands and key chains? Cuff Inc. ( is introducing products, priced from $29 to $199, that look like elegant jewelry. The gadget, which is inserted in specially made bracelets and necklaces, sends notifications, tracks activity and acts as a safety device.

Sensogram Technologies, based in Plano, Tex., is working on SensoTRACK (, a device that you wear on your ear. It captures oxygen saturation, respiration and heart rate as well as mood. The goal is to prevent or to catch a problem early.

We will be seeing more social and caregiving applications, too. Laurie Orlov, founder of Aging in Place Technology Watch (, believes voice-activated robots might someday be good helpers and conversationalists. “It is inevitable that companion robots will learn, adjusting responses to become the companion we need, responding to our commentary and reminding us to take our medication so that we can remain independent,” Orlov says.


Posted in Aging in Place Technology |

How Baby Boomers and Seniors Are “Aging in Place”

 Bill and Betsy Owens recall the growing concerns they had about their house—built in 1876—in Powell, Ohio. They loved the 12-foot ceilings, the circular stairway and the formal parlor. But when the couple thought about the future, the home’s steep steps and narrow doorways meant “it wasn’t very livable,” says Mr. Owens, age 57.

So, three years ago, the Owens built an addition. Now there are no steps from the driveway into their new kitchen and great room. A control pad with smart technology turns lights on and off, and three-foot-wide doorways offer easy access for a grandchild in a stroller or, if the Owens should need it, a walker or wheelchair.

“Our homes aren’t aging as well as we are,” says Mr. Owens, a Columbus, Ohio, contractor.

Older adults are renovating to stay at homeCall it a baby-boom building boom. Hoping to remain in their homes and communities as they age—but recognizing that living spaces can become unsafe and difficult to navigate—people in their 50s and beyond are retrofitting houses, building additions or constructing new digs with age-friendly features.

“You have to design for a ‘you’ that doesn’t exist yet,” says Louis Tenenbaum, a Rockville, Md., contractor and founder of the Aging in Place Institute, a nonprofit that educates businesses and consumers about aging in place.

The big picture is worrisome. A recent study from the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University found that less than 25% of homeowners age 55-plus have a bedroom and full bathroom on the first floor of their homes, a way to get into the house without steps, and no steps between rooms—universal design features that make life easier for all ages.

Remodeling can be pricey. But given the high cost of care in an assisted-living facility or nursing home, such improvements can make sense, experts say.

“People have a financial plan, an estate plan and an insurance plan. How about a frailty or disability plan?” asks Mary Tuuk, a

geriatrician in Denver.

Here is a look at three families who have taken the plunge.

Say goodbye to steps

Two years ago, Frank Briber made the case to his wife, Fran Pollitt: He was no longer willing to live in Fryeburg, Maine. The town has no public transportation, and Portland, the nearest big city, is 90 minutes away. “Rural Maine is a tough place to live as you grow older,” says Mr. Briber, 65, a retired banker.

The pair decided to move to Wayland, Mass., a Boston suburb. They bought Ms. Pollitt’s mother’s house, tore it down and are building a brick, French-chateau-style home.

“We’ve seen our parents get old,” Mr. Briber says. “We want to make it as easy as possible as we enter those years.” For the couple, that means minimal upkeep and no-hassle navigating.

When the house is completed in the first half of next year, it will have a gently sloped walkway—really a ramp with landscaping on both sides to disguise it—to the step-free door. The pair’s master bedroom and bath will be on the main level. The powder room will have a wide door, grab bars that look like elegant towel bars, and a vanity with space below for a walker.

When their adult children (each has two from a prior marriage) and the grandchildren visit, their quarters will be upstairs.

Mr. Briber doesn’t want to worry about mowing, so he’s creating a meadow with wildflowers. And then there is the backyard. “We could have had beautiful tiered terraces,” says Ms. Pollitt, 61, “but we can’t be going up and down steps all the time.” It, too, will be sloped with few stairs.

The couple expects to spend $3 million. The hefty price is less the result of its age-friendly features than of high-end finishes and materials. (It will be a passive-energy house—one designed to use far less energy than the typical home.) Still, if they ever have to sell, Mr. Briber says, “there are enough retired people who would buy this house in a second. There are very few homes designed with aging in place in mind.”

The bathroom gets an upgrade

Sally Evans, 67, and Brian Rodgers, 66, adore their Bellaire, Texas, townhouse and want to live there “for 20 or 30 more years,” says Ms. Evans.

But their small master bathroom had turn faucets, a deep, treacherous bathtub, a narrow 24-inch-wide door, and a step-up shower with sliding glass doors. 

Not today. The door was expanded 10 inches, and the new vanity is raised, making it gentler on the back. The couple nixed the tub and installed lever faucets. (“It’s a lot easier to use,” says Ms. Evans, “and arthritis runs in my family.”) There is also a curbless walk-in shower with a teak fold-up chair.

Oh yes, and five grab bars.

“Even though we don’t need them now, we thought, ‘Why not put them in and be ready?’ ” says Ms. Evans, a public-relations consultant. “Brian and I are in good shape and work out five days a week, so I’m amazed at how much I use the grab bars. I don’t want to take the chance of falling.” She finds the grab bar with a hand-held shower head on it “cool.”

It cost $32,500 to retrofit their bathroom; age-friendly items added just $2,000 to the tab.

No bending, no tripping

The four bedrooms in the Owens’s 19th-century home are an 18-step climb from the first floor.

“Life has a way of throwing you curveballs. It’s a pretty big deal if something were to happen now or in 20 years,” says Mr. Owens.

So the Owens looked around and decided that if they ever need a bedroom on the first floor, it will be their parlor. A full bathroom that’s already nearby makes them golden. 

Today, there are no steps anywhere on the first floor and expansive spaces to move about. “As soon as you walk through the door, you know something is different,” Mr. Owens says.

To prevent tripping, the rugs and entry mat in the new space are recessed into the hardwood floor. The wood is good for walking and wheelchairs, holds up well, and is easy to maintain. A heated-tile floor, great for cold mornings, is also flush with the hardwood in another area.

Kitchen counters have variable heights for sitting (if a person wishes to sit, or if someone is in a wheelchair) and standing. Upper cabinets are few; that helps eliminate heavy lifting, reaching for items, and potentially falling. Drawers and doors underneath the counter close automatically, requiring no hand strength.

Rather than bend down to reach plugs, the couple put outlets at least 18 inches off the floor. A keyless entry means one less thing to worry about, too.

About one-third of the $170,000 price tag for the addition (which would have run $220,000 if Mr. Owens wasn’t in the building business) was spent on age-friendly features, but guests and family of all ages are benefiting. He points out that his three children, ages 17 to 23, will “especially appreciate the no-step entry if they blow out their knees skiing!”



Posted in Aging Parents | Tagged , , , , , |

Older Actors Are Taking To The Stage in WSJ

WallStreetJournal-logoHere’s a piece I wrote for the Wall Street Journal

Clovis Clark, age 59, is a professional nurse. But she also has spent time recently as a conniving, murderous sister and a madam in a brothel.

Her latter roles came courtesy of an Atlanta theater group, the Past Prime Players.

“I love this,” says the Ellenwood, Ga., resident, who has performed in dramas, comedies, murder mysteries, skits and monologues. “Acting is an opportunity to become someone else.”

The 50-plus crowd is stage-struck. Across the country, growing numbers of older adults are joining theater companies and signing up for classes in acting, directing and playwriting. Many—empty-nesters or newly retired—have never set foot on a stage and are seeking new outlets. But many others, like Ms. Clark, caught the acting bug in high school or college, before pursuing other (paying) careers.

Return engagements

Now, they’re back. And finding new rewards.

“The experience of acting is very different as a 50-something-year-old,” says Karen Sellinger in Albany, Calif. She majored in theater in college but opted to be a psychologist.

Now, at age 60, she’s taking classes at Stagebridge, a senior theater company in Oakland, Calif.

“There’s not this dog-eat-dog competition,” Ms. Sellinger says. “It’s a…community where we’re all rooting for, and supporting, each other.

“We’re all struggling with health issues and memory,” she adds. But “I’m not thinking about my stage of life on stage. I don’t feel my knee hurt. Age is not a part of it.”

Stagebridge is evidence of the trend. Currently, 250 people take one or more of the 30 classes taught weekly in acting, playwriting, improv, storytelling, singing and musical theater, among other subjects. The number of courses has doubled in the past five years. At least half of the enrollees are ages 50 to 70.

In all, the company has eight performing troupes that visit schools, senior centers, public theaters and adult day centers. Every other year, the nonprofit commissions a play in which both professionals and students act.

“The appeal for many is that they know they’re going to be working with a group of people,” says Stuart Kandell, the founder of Stagebridge. “What they may not realize is that the group becomes a real family. Laughing, depending upon one another, making mistakes and recovering together builds a real bond.”

Bonnie Vorenberg, president of ArtAge Publications’ Senior Theatre Resource Center in Portland, Ore., which works with theater groups across the country and internationally, says she now has 791 senior theater groups in her database—up from 79 in 1997. While the growth is welcome, new organizations, she says, invariably face a steep learning curve.

Put another way: “King Lear” isn’t always the right play to start with.

“What works well for older actors is a very narrow genre,” Ms. Vorenberg explains. “Plays can’t be too long—short work is best, at 10 to 20 minutes—[and] they can’t be too difficult because that would require more rehearsals, and people will say, ‘I’m not doing this.’ But they can’t be too easy because then actors won’t be artistically challenged.” (Some companies have actors read their scripts on 

stage; others require them to memorize their lines.)

Scriptwriters, directors and actors say that, increasingly, shows with modern, realistic themes resonate. Audiences—and, in particular, older theatergoers—want to see older adults in positive roles, whether it’s having a new job or being sexually active.

Says Mr. Kandell at Stagebridge: “Theatrical literature has mirrored the popular cultural views of how we see older adults: either as pathetic victims trapped in nursing homes or as super grannies surfing huge waves and running marathons.”

Money trouble

Another challenge for senior theater groups: money. Actors are usually amateurs—not a big draw for donors. And funding for aging doesn’t usually go to the arts. Rather than considered life-enhancing, theater groups often are regarded as a frill.


The challenges haven’t deterred Monciella Elder, 61, from becoming a theater director and playwright. In 2009, the professional singer and actor had to stop performing due to multiple sclerosis. “I was so depressed,” she recalls. Then a nearby senior center asked her to run its drama club. Soon after, she left to found Past Prime Players in Atlanta.

Ms. Elder has taken the 18 or so actors, ages 57 to 68, “from ground zero,” she says. She trains them in voice projection, character development, improvisation and acting, along with lighting, sound and set design. In the past four years, she has written and directed more than 20 plays and skits.

For casting, she puts commitment before auditions. Actors must agree to attend twice-weekly, two-hour rehearsals, and three or four a week closer to production.

Her troupe has played at churches, women’s conferences, dinner theaters, schools and senior centers, as well as large venues in Atlanta, New Orleans and Atlantic City (where Ms. Clark played her role as a lady of the evening). Along with lighter themes, Ms. Elder has tackled spousal abuse, death and loss, and sexual orientation.

Before every performance, the actors tell the audience, “We may be past our prime, but we still love to play.” Through her work, Ms. Elder also hopes to dispel stereotypes about aging and to inspire others in their 50s and beyond. Her message: It’s never too late to follow your dreams.

Right on cue, after every performance, Ms. Elder says her phone rings with inquiries from audience members who want to join the Past Prime Players.

At a recent rehearsal, she suggested the group take a week off. They wouldn’t hear of it.

“I can’t get them to go home,” she says. “They’re enjoying themselves so much.”

Posted in Uncategorized |

Boomer and Senior Housing, Aging in Place Technology, Senior Theatre



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Posted in Aging in Place Technology, Creative Aging, Housing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , |

Content Writing: The Benefits of Blogging

Why would a company that focuses on baby boomers and seniors–or really any demographic–want to have a blog? Blogging can be a powerful tool for businesses. Because I blog for many companies, I spoke at  Harvard Business School recently on a panel about the value of corporate marketing. Rather than repeat its benefits, I thought I would share a slide I created for the event.  It says it all!





Posted in Uncategorized |

Career Transitions After Age 55 Don’t Have to be Difficult

If you’re older and looking for work in your field or want to change careers, you’ve got company. Lots of it. A combination of living longer, the fear of outliving retirement, fallout from the recession, the need to sock away more for later or collect health care benefits, and the desire to make a difference is making work important.

According to a 2014 Merrill Lynch Retirement Study, 72 percent of preretirees want to work in their retirement years, and 47 percent who have retired have worked or plan to work. Boomers, it turns out, are starting more businesses than any other demographic.

While it’s true that older people, on average, take longer to find work than those who are younger, there are opportunities.

We spoke about job strategies with Kerry Hannon, a career and retirement expert and author of “What’s Next: Finding Your Passion and Your Dream Job In Your Forties, Fifties and Beyond,” and “Great Jobs For Everyone 50+: Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy . . . And Pays the Bills.”

What is the work climate like for those aged 55 and over?

I’m not going to say that ageism doesn’t exist, but the jobs are there. It’s clear that employers do not only want employees who are wearing hoodies.

Older workers have an edge when it comes to experience and knowledge, but what are the perceived disadvantages?

Some employers believe that older workers may not have the stamina to do the job, that they’re not up to speed with technology, won’t play nicely with younger colleagues, or will have a hard time reporting to a younger boss.

How do you combat that?

Get physically fit — you will exude vibrancy and a can-do attitude. Stay on top of technology and changes in the field. Sign up for computer workshops online, at local colleges, adult education or senior centers. Do you need to go back to school to get a certification? (Many community colleges offer age 50+ retraining.) Let employers know you have a collaborative work style with workers of any age. And, show them you are savvy by having a strong social media footprint.

What does that entail?

Hiring managers will do a Google search on you. You must have a good LinkedIn profile with a professional-looking headshot. Not including a photo doesn’t preclude age discrimination, but eliminates many opportunities. According to LinkedIn, recruiters are 11 times more likely to click on a profile that has a photo than one without. Get active in industry groups on LinkedIn, post interesting articles, and participate in discussions. It’s also a great way to pull together your professional network.

How important is it for older workers to be on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+?

A great online presence gives you an edge. Using social media properly allows recruiters to discover you, and for you to unearth job openings. You can reconnect with past colleagues and pals from across the decades now working in industries or companies you’d like to join. This simple and subtle networking is essential for everyone. If you’re not adept at social media, take a class or ask your niece, son, or a kid in the neighborhood, for help.

What else do you need?

A professional e-mail address like Gmail, not AOL or Yahoo, which will date you.

Can you market your age as an asset?

Yes. You need to articulate your value. Workers 50+ tend to be self-starters, know how to get the job done, and don’t need as much hand-holding as those with less experience. A great benefit to being older is that you have a good deal of knowledge and leadership ability. Chances are you will be hired over someone with less in their quiver and in need of training. Look at your skill set and past experience as transferable to lots of different challenges and fields. Nonprofits and small businesses are good for older workers. They often need your chops, although you may have to work for less.

Older workers are competing with younger job seekers who may not command as much money. Should a worker later in life be willing to sacrifice some salary for a job?

Absolutely. At this stage, it’s always best to get in the door and sacrifice money for a job you want to do. You might be able to negotiate for nonsalary compensation to offset your paycheck such as more vacation, flextime, work from home, even four-day weeks. If you perform well, they may bump up your salary.

Does it send a bad signal to accept less money?

If you like the job and want it or need it, it’s not worth being hard-line. It is also always easier to find a job when you have a job. So accept it, and then keep looking discreetly. In the meantime, you’re keeping your resume alive and your confidence up.

What if you’re unemployed?

Do something every day. Ask for advice and talk to people doing the jobs you’re considering. If you’re thinking of starting a business, volunteer, moonlight, get in there and do the job and see if it’s what you imagined it to be. Volunteering for a nonprofit lets you test the waters, adds to your resume, and puts you in touch with people who might know of a job opening or introduce you to someone who does.

Don’t a few companies have programs that pay a stipend to soon-to-be-retired employees so they can use their skills at a nonprofit and see if it might be their new career?

They’re called “encore careers,” combining socially meaningful work with a paycheck. Those jobs can turn into full-time positions or lead to other part-time or full-time work.

What do you think makes the people you’ve interviewed so successful at making a career transition or starting their own businesses?

They haven’t made rash moves. So, if you are beginning to think about the next chapter, start planning at age 55 what you want to do at age 60 or at 60 for 65. Is it to get into a different department or company, work fewer hours, be your own boss, or switch gears altogether? Do your homework, and network, network, network!

Posted in Aging and Baby Boomers |

Companies Care About Caregiving

Harvard Business School talk on blogging

Why is blogging valuable for companies? I’m speaking at Harvard Business School this week about this topic on a panel about media today and in the future. (One of my areas of expertise is baby boomers—a jumbo demographic boomers are trying to reach. One way is through content writing like a blog on a company website.)

Check back later for more (after my talk) about why blogging can be so effective for businesses. In the meantime, here are three reasons:

  • Positions you as a thought leader
  • Creates a business opportunity to engage readers
  • Humanizes the company—You’re not just peddling a product, you care about me!


Posted in Caregiving |

Caregiving and Technology: Can You Say “Cutting Edge?”

Technology allows caregivers peace of mindLots in the press lately about how technology is helping seniors grow old at home and feel safer, more socially connected and stimulated—and giving their boomer children peace of mind. I’ve written my share of stories on the subject, including one recently for AARP they provocatively titled “Is This the End of the Nursing Home?” about the cool technologies that allow people to grow old at home.

I wrote another on tech tools for caregiving after speaking and moderating a panel on boomer and senior housing—fun with Cathy Smith on the panel from Google talking about trends the company is seeing– at the What’s Next Boomer Business Summit in San Diego. Entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, national experts, and companies with products and services in the aging field met to learn about the latest technology, network and cross-pollinate. It was fascinating!

If you want to keep current (a good idea!), the best resource I know is industry analyst Laurie Orlov’s website Aging in Place Technology Watch.

And talking great resources, check out the newly released Not Your Mother’s Retirement. It covers work, travel, exercise, spirituality, and caregiving. But I save the best for last. I wrote the chapter on housing. 


 Google Images via

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Actors Fake Dementia to Help Family Caregivers

Actors Fake Dementia to Help Family Caregivers

A hospital program teaching family caregivers to be more effective with help of actors faking dementia

Actor pretends to have dementia

Presenting a caregiving program out of New Hampshire’s Dartmouth-Hitchock Medical Center: trained actors pretend to have Alzheimer’s, other dementias, or Parkinson’s in order to teach family caregivers strategies do a better job. Here’s how it works: caregivers are given a scenario to act out–perhaps coaxing Mom to take her medication, get dressed or change clothes. The actor is Mom and you are a frustrated and running-out-of-ideas adult daughter, perhaps. Or, you perform brilliantly.

Either way, the actors and fellow caregivers critique your “scene” and make suggestions so that when that situation really occurs, you have more effective strategies.

Here’s the piece from my weekly AARP blog

Training medical students to do a better job by using actors to play patients is not new. But at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, actors are faking dementia and Parkinson’s  disease to help family caregivers be more effective — and that’s downright novel.

Last month, 16 caregiver spouses gathered at the hospital’s simulation center to boost their communication skills with a loved one. These husbands and wives were dealing with challenging behaviors and wanted help solving real-life issues. In the process, the group also learned what it’s like to be the one impaired.

Each participant was videotaped in a pretend scenario with an actor (made up to look the part) who refused to get dressed, say, or was exceptionally negative. After the role-playing, the actors and fellow caregivers offered feedback on the caregiver’s body language and interaction — what worked and what didn’t. “Family caregivers are often thrust into this role of providing medical care without medical training,” says Justin Montgomery, a clinical nurse and nurse practitioner at Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s Aging Resource Center.

One caregiver in the two-session program was Myra Ferguson, whose husband has Parkinson’s. While she has had experience with the disease — her father also had it — caregiver boot camp reinforced her skills.

Ferguson was asked to play the sister of a patient/actor with Parkinson’s who didn’t want to put on a sweater or take her medicine. “My job was to encourage my ‘sister’ and tell her she could do it,” says Ferguson.  The feedback was positive — and useful. “I saw that I could be gentle and patient,” Ferguson says. “My colleagues liked that I used humor and made jokes to turn things around.”

Dartmouth-Hitchcock plans another round of caregiving sessions this spring and hopes to have more in the future. The training program is part of a federal grant through the Health Resources and Services Administration. “I was feeling really alone and lost before the boot camp, but it was like a support group for me,” says Ferguson. “It was also wonderful that I was learning to be a better caregiver.”

Photo by Charlotte Albright/Vermont Public Radio

Would this kind of program appeal to you? Thoughts, please!

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Ageism, Advertising, and Being Married to a Celeb–Sort of

Have you ever seen the Dos Equis beer ads starring The Most Interesting Man in the World? If so, you know what my husband looks like. He’s a dead ringer for the actor who plays Mr. Cool. I wrote the story below, that appeared recently in AdvertisingAge, one night after yet more “fans” approached him.

I am in a bar in the West Village with my husband, daughter, and nephew. My husband David gets up to order a drink in the other room. “It’s happening again,” he tells us when he returns.

That’s all he has to say. We know the rest. At the bar, there will have been stares and whispers. Invariably, as they did that night, someone will come over to ask my husband if he’s “that guy” and want to take a picture with him. He has yet to turn down a photo opp.

At a recent meeting attended by hundreds of attorneys, my husband’s buttoned-up law firm puts up two photos side by side on the massive screen. One is of my husband and the other is that guy.

And last summer, on Nantucket, our family is listening to a band playing at a packed brewery. All of a sudden, the lead singer stops mid-song and says, “We are honored to have in the crowd with us the Most Interesting Man in the World.” People turn as he points his mic at my husband.

Dozens of times — in San Francisco, Houston, New York, Nantucket, and Chicago, in airports, elevators, bars, restaurants, on subways and the street, and last night, at a professional basketball game in Boston — David has been stopped and asked if he is The Most Interesting Man in the World from the Dos Equis beer commercials. Although he’s more than ten years his junior, a wee 63 year-old boomer, my husband looks remarkably like the actor.

And that suits David just fine. After all, The Most Interesting Man in the World is sophisticated and adventurous. He drops from helicopters into igloos and hosts rambunctious cougars (the animal, not the older women who hook up with younger guys) in his kitchen. Did I mention the beautiful women on his arm?

My husband is not a poser. He doesn’t say he is Mr. Dos Equis, and always gives his real name. He has been known, though, to toss out, “Stay thirsty, my friend” to star-struck gawkers. When pressed, he always admits he is a mere lowly lookalike.

The truth doesn’t stop him from having his favorite one-liners from the ads: “I once had an awkward moment just to see what it felt like” and “His beard alone has experienced more than a lesser man’s entire body.”

The message is that if you drink Dos Equis, you, too, will be cool like the guy in the ad.

How refreshing! In a society that only seems to celebrate the young and dismisses the old, these advertisers have chosen to build a campaign around a septuagenarian with a gray beard and laugh lines–not a hottie in his 20s or 30s.

Rather than assume an older person is over the hill and no longer has what it takes, Dos Equis made its man an object of desire for women, and someone men want to emulate.

And many of his fans happen to be young.

The Benefits of Age

What makes The Most Interesting Man so appealing is his experience, knowledge and wisdom, all gained from living a long life. These positive qualities are acquired by aging, a concept that has had little value in the marketing world.

Instead, advertisers usually target a younger demographic with, say, a buff, boyish male model wearing tight jeans and no shirt.

If there is a product for older people, it is likely to involve retirement (doom and gloom, you haven’t saved enough) or erectile dysfunction (you’re old, so see, you can’t perform).

Dos Equis has chosen to show a different face of aging, someone who is sexual, fun and vital. The ads have received a grand reception from viewers; there are pages and pages on Google with Dos Equis commercial witticisms and life-size cardboard cutouts on eBay of the real McCoy.

Have we turned the corner with stereotypes of clueless older people? Is this the beginning of multi-layered depictions and a better understanding of the wide range of boomers and seniors? Is ageism dying?

A 2012 campaign for Toyota Venza showed older parents biking with their friends, getting a puppy or clubbing while their millennial age children assumed the folks were going to be early and missing out on life. That’s a start.

The creative ranks of agencies, which are typically made up of Gen Xers and Millennials, could use more boomers. No doubt they would change the script rather than play it safe.

At the very least, there are financial incentives for an advertising shift: the 50-plus group has $2.4 trillion in annual income, or 42% of all after-tax income; the 55-plus demographic controls more than three-quarters of America’s wealth; and 55-64 year-olds outspend the average consumer in almost every category. The buying power of 78 million boomers, the oldest who turn 68 next year, will likely flip the TV picture from black and white to grey.

But my husband isn’t thinking about advertising dollars or his important faux role in transforming how older people are perceived. He’s thinking it’s funny that he’s repeatedly mistaken for The Most Interesting Man in the World.

That part of the story is compelling, feel-good fiction: The fans believe they’ve had a brush with fame, the Dos Equis folks have a winner on their hands while debunking ageism, my husband gets a good chuckle, and even I make out. Not only do I have a new man in my life without having to stray, but he happens to be more interesting than I even knew!

I’ll drink to that!


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Housing and Caregiving Updates

Just in time for the holidays. . .Five resources for parents and spouses with dementia and Alzheimer’s, then an interview about boomer and senior housing.

  1. The Alzheimer’s Association. Besides a Caregivers Center with educational resources, updates about the disease, a blog, and support groups, there’s a 24-hour helpline (TK), message boards to fit your situation and an online tool called the Alzheimer’s Navigator. It’s a five-minute survey that asks you questions about your specific situation, offers feedback on your answers, and helps you craft a customized action plan. The coolest part: it gives you resources in your local community.
  2. The National Institute on Aging’s Alzheimer’s Disease and Referral Center. Besides basic consumer information, it lists research centers, clinical trials and news. Another gov. site: alzheimer’s gov. with treatment plans and money matters.
  3. Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, with in-home care strategies and live chats or Skyping with a social worker.
  4. An AARP blog on best books for children about Alzheimer’s and dementia. (I’m biased, I wrote it.)
  5. The National Institute of Health’s list of organizations and associations

Green door houseAnd now, part of an interview I gave to housing expert Steve Moran from the Senior Housing Forum:

How do you see the needs/wants of seniors changing with the emerging wave of Boomer seniors?
As I said in a chapter I wrote in an upcoming book on retirement, “Boomers aren’t going to take aging lying down.” They refuse to accept today’s traditional nursing homes. Rather than grow old in isolation, the Me Generation (which should be retitled the “We” Generation!) plans to do it together. That could mean aging in place with community support and services, sharing housing or moving into a Green House family-style nursing home. And, aging in place technology will play a prominent role. The 78 million boomer demographic ensures they will have more choices if they demand them—which they are. It’s a fascinating time to be a boomer and write about it.

Because my focus very specifically is senior housing, which means in effect I am an insider, I worry that I don’t have the same perception of senior housing as someone who writes from a higher view.  How do you see the senior housing options that exist in the marketplace today?
Not varied enough, but making progress. We have multigenerational designs (Lennar’s Next Gen model and other companies.) Niche communities that are CCRC’s on or near university campuses. LGBT senior housing. The aging in place Village model. Cohousing. Active adult communities. Even with all these choices, the senior housing industry is still evolving and growing. You could say it’s in its adolescent phase!

If you were hired as a consultant to help design the perfect senior housing community what are the things you think would be most important?  What are the things that should be left out?
I’m not an architect, but here’s my dream: A good balance of privacy and social interaction, fabulous exercise facilities, first-rate medical care, a warm and responsive staff, and the ability to call the shots as much as possible. It would be within walking distance of a city or suburban town center so residents would be near restaurants, movies, stores, and people of all ages—the world outside their senior community.

Residents would be able to continue making meaningful contributions (volunteering, mentoring—feeling that they have a purpose). There would be ongoing, varied stimulation—lifelong learning, and rich cultural events not only in senior housing, but also outside the facility. When I look at the physical layout (central nursing stations, shared rooms, an institutional feel) and offerings in my mother-in-law’s nursing home (the highlight is bingo), I want to weep. At least when boomers hit the nursing homes, most will be following the Green House, neighborhood “home” model.

 Photo by jaciXIII courtesy of Flickr

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Vacation First, Then Caregiving, Housing, 50+ Work

VeniceI’m back from Venice, where the museums, architecture, music and scenery are gorgeous. If you have a mobility issue, though, the steep steps on the hundreds of walking bridges are a killer. I thought about this as I saw older men and women, and parents with baby strollers, navigate with difficulty from street to street. Note to Venice officials: An elevator on those steps would be handy. 

When I’m not traveling to Venice on vacation ((did I mention Verona and Lake Como?), I’ve been putting in a little time on the office keyboard. Here’s a sampling of some of my recent pieces on aging and boomers for AARP, Intel-GE’s Care Innovations, and the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine:


Does Caregiving Help You Live Longer? (Hint: it just may) 

Who Cares? Boomers Don’t Want to Live With Their Adult Children, Either! (big surprise)

Creative Aging: Let Me Paint the Picture (it’s a pretty one)


Ready for Your Encore Career? (read this before you say “no”)

Talking to Your Boss About Caregiving (how? carefully!)


Introducing the Retirement Commune (cool!)


Out soon: A piece for a national venue on technology for aging in place! Stay connected!

And more: I’m writing and consulting for companies marketing to boomers and seniors. 



Posted in Aging and Baby Boomers |

“If There’s Anything You Need”–Real Help for Caregivers




strategies that caregivers can use to get help from family and friendsYou know that blanket offer: “Call me if there’s anything I can do.” Guess what? There is! But you have to know how to ask to get what you really need. Someone can “help,” however, if you don’t need what they’re giving, it’s not really helping. 

Usually one family member–that may be you–ends up doing the brunt of the caregiving. But, no man is an island, it takes a village. You get the point.

You may be reluctant to request help from siblings, other family members or friends. This should make it easier:

So, why is it so hard to ask?

  1. You think you’ll get turned down
  2. You’re convinced no one can do the job as well as you and it’s quicker to do it yourself
  3. They’ll think you’re weak, ultra needy or shirking your duties
  4. You’ve given the impression that everything is under control and you don’t need help, or are not open to it

Let’s think about these fears:

  1. If they turn you down, it may be legit (it may be a bad time for them or your request may not be realistic). Ask another time. If they decline repeatedly, it’s possible they’re self-absorbed jerks!
  2. Okay, you may actually do the job better. That doesn’t matter. What matters is that your loved one gets help and that you get a break or have one less thing to do.
  3. If they think you’re weak, needy or trying to get out of caregiving, they don’t “get” it. Nothing more to say!
  4.  You may throw off an in-control, all-covered vibe, but they may want to help and not know what to do or how to offer assistance.

Here’s another way to think about corralling help:

  • Make a list of tasks that would be helpful. What are the people you want to ask good at? (If it’s math, have them help handle the finances or pay bills online; if they’re technology-adept, they could show others how to use a caregiving-sharing website–Care Innovations, Lotsa Helping Handsand others.
  • Be specific. Give them a choice of three things. Start with something small to get them on the team.
  • Suck up to your sisters and brothers! Tell them how appreciative you are for their past help, that you know how busy they are, and how important their pitching in is to you and their parent/friend/sibling. Check the accusations at the door! Saying “you never help. . .” won’t get you what you need. How about, “I really need your help”?

Even if you do get them to help, you’ll want to keep expanding your caregiving network so you try not to lean too hard on one person.  It could be friends, relatives, online support groups, church or synagogue members, or community resources. Just do it!

Photo courtesy of Pierre Pouliquin via Creative Commons


Posted in Caregiving |

Kids and Alzheimer’s: 9 Unforgettable Books

I’m on a best books roll. A 17-year-old college student got in touch to tell me about Why Did Grandma Put Her Underwear in the Refrigerator, a book he co-authored to explain Alzheimer’s to children. Max Wallack’s self-illustrated  story is charming and explains, in simple language, how the disease affects the brain.

He shows a kid’s perspective to Alzheimer’s and has activities kids can still do with Gramps or Great-Gramps. Wallack told me he wants to demystify the disease and teach children coping skills. He learned many when his great grandmother, who had Alzheimer’s,  lived with him when he was ages 6-10. 

best books for kids about Alzheimer's, one by Max Wallack

Max and his inspiration

Wallack appears to be every parent’s dream (let’s hope he has a few irritating qualities. . .) Half of the proceeds from the book go to support Alzheimer’s research and care of patients. While a student at Boston University, he works in the school’s Alzheimer’s Disease Center as well as BU’s Laboratory of Molecular Psychiatry in Aging.

He’s written academic papers and travels to scientific conferences. He was presenting something serious in California when I got in touch for an AARP story I wrote about him. Last week, I see he was featured on CNN

Not perfect son enough? I haven’t mentioned Puzzles to Remember, a non-profit he founded a few years back that donates fewer-than-the-usual-50-or-100-piece puzzles to nursing homes and day care centers. 

Check out these other eight excellent books on Alzheimer’s and dementia:

Photo courtesy of



Posted in Relationships | Tagged , , , , , , |

Look No Further: The 10 Best Books for Caregivers

books for family caregivers

Terrific resources

My office shelves are bulging with books for family caregivers. Publishers eager to get their authors reviewed keep them coming.

There are so many excellent ones that it’s probably unfair of me to create a Top Ten list. But that’s just what I’m doing! 

The list is in absolutely no order of significance. These books offer coping strategies and resources, explain critical concepts caregivers must know, and provide the information they need to make good choices. They’re worth the read:

  1. The Emotional Survival Guide for Caregivers: Looking After Yourself and Your Family While Helping an Aging Parent, by Barry J. Jacobs
  2. They’re Your Parents, Too! How Siblings Can Survive Their Parents’ Aging Without Driving Each Other Crazy, by Francine Russo
  3. When the Time Comes: Families With Aging Parents Share Their Struggles and Solutions, by Paula Span
  4.  Learning to Speak Alzheimer’s, by Joanne Koenig Coste
  5. A Bittersweet Season: Caring for Our Aging Parents—and Ourselves, by Jane Gross
  6. Passages in Caregiving, by Gail Sheehy
  7. The Caregiver’s Survival Handbook, by Alexis Abramson
  8. The 36-Hour DayA Family Guide to Caring for People Who Have Alzheimer’s Disease, Related Dementias, and Memory Loss, by Nancy Mace and Dr. Peter Rabins
  9. The Caregiving Wife’s Handbook, by Diana Denholm
  10. Caring for Your Parents: The Complete Family Guide by Hugh Delehanty and Elinor Ginzler

Have you read any of the books on my list? And?? Whittling down to ten means I’ve probably missed some  gems. What do you recommend?

Posted in Caregiving | Tagged , , , , , , |

A Hot Housing Trend: Be Ready

Do you know what “aging in place” means? In layman terms, it’s growing old at home (rather than assisted living or a nursing home). Pay attention! It’s a concept that you will hear repeatedly as America’s 50+ population grays and baby boomers’ parents–and boomers themselves–need to think about next steps.

Ten thousand Americans a day are turning 65. In 2010, the population of folks 75+ was 18.8 million; by 2030, it will be 33.3 million.Add these figures to AARP research that shows more than 80% of people want to stay home as they get older.

 Of course they do. But how are they going to do it if they need family members—who don’t live with them—to monitor their medication, make sure their vital signs are vital, and that they’re eating and using the bathroom? Companies are scrambling to develop in-home health monitoring through mobile phone apps, tablets and Web-based programs. Motion sensors in the lights, on the refrigerator, under the mattress in case there’s a fall. Some technology may be able to spot a change of gait or daytime activity that might avert a later trip to the hospital. 

 Two new stories on the subject naming products and services are Mark Miller’s piece for Reuters—love the first line “Getting old? There’s an app for that.”—and another by Lauran Neergaard of The Associated Press.

 Good resources: and The Aging in Place Institute

Posted in Housing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , |

Where Will Baby Boomers Live?

WHEN CHARLENE DICALOGERO LIVED ALONE in an apartment in Watertown, she knew none of her neighbors. “I felt lonely and isolated,” says the 53-year-old, a grants administrator at Lesley University. But since buying a $230,000, 700-square-foot home at Camelot CoHousing in Berlin four years ago, DiCalogero couldn’t be lonely if she tried.

Camelot is an enclave of 34 compact homes with welcoming front porches that sit clustered together in this rural town, about a half-hour drive northeast of Worcester. The road and parking areas are off to the side, while pedestrian walkways wind among the houses. The development is engineered to encourage relationships with neighbors — and it seems to be working.

Passersby receive invitations to join homeowners for a glass of wine, or, for the kids on scooters, an offer of a Kool-Aid “for the road.” Those who want to can share communal dinners a couple of times a week at the complex’s common house, which also has been the site of dance classes, board game nights, and a workshop on falling safely, attended mainly by the sort of older folks who worry about breaking a hip.

The neighborhood of about 80 people, ranging in age from 80 to 8 months, is small enough that everyone knows everyone else, yet large enough to ensure privacy. That community size is by design, too, an element of co-housing since it was pioneered in Denmark in the 1960s and ’70s. Camelot, with both market-rate and affordable housing, opened in 2008 and sold its last available unit in 2012. Another co-housing development, Mosaic Commons, is just down the hill.

With a one-bedroom unit easily adapted to walkers and wheelchairs, DiCalogero, who is single, now calls Camelot her retirement plan. “There are interesting people around who will be there to help me if I get sick and can relate to me as I get older,” she says. Sure, she adds, the modest homes are “not single-family houses on 2 acres — but why would you want to [live like] that if you have a choice?”

DiCalogero is not the only baby boomer thinking ahead to how she’ll stay active and socially engaged in the decades to come. Camelot is one of 13 developments of its kind in Massachusetts, with more inevitably on the way. And co-housing is just one of many ways boomers are trying to avoid being alone in their later years, or at least delay moving into a nursing home.

Few of America’s 78 million 49- to 67-year-olds have any intention of aging the way their parents have, wedded to their independence at all costs, even if it ultimately means social isolation. Plenty of older people are moving in with their boomer children, but many others don’t want to be a burden — for them, the plan is to stay home until they can’t anymore.

But not the baby boomers, who can envision all sorts of alternate living arrangements. “To [the older generation], living alone is the only measure of success, but the boomers’ comfort with interdependence means there are many options,” says Dr. Bill Thomas, an influential geriatrician and author based in New York. “Aging in community, rather than all alone, is going to make the boomers’ experience of old age different than anything that ever came before.”

It may be time to start calling the “Me Generation” the “We Generation.”

 JOANNE TULLER, a 58-year-old community health center administrator, has lived with other people — other people who aren’t relatives — for her entire adult life. She loved college dorm life, so after she graduated, Tuller moved to a co-op in Cambridge with seven housemates. This is great, she recalls thinking early on. This is for me.

More than three decades later, Tuller owns a big Victorian in Dorchester with her partner and shares it with five other adult men and women — plus one newborn. The residents buy their food together, split the cooking and other chores, and each pays about $525 a month.

While admitting collective living isn’t for everyone, “I expect that boomers are going to find the idea less radical than older people,” says Tuller. “Boomers are community-oriented, they went to college and lived in dorms, the hippie [experience] makes them more open to living with people they’re not related to.”

There are compelling demographic reasons why Tuller’s prediction is good news. For one, the pool of family caregivers is shrinking. Some 1 in 4 boomers never had children; those who did may have sons and daughters thousands of miles away. One-third of the population will face old age single — either widowed, divorced, or never married. Already, 4 million 50-plus women live in US households with at least two other women of similar age.

And since the boomer generation is so large — by 2030, the 65-plus population is expected to double to 72 million, or 1 out of 5 Americans — their economic strength, as a demographic bloc, could lead to communities built around all sorts of shared interests. Andrew Carle, founding director of the Program in Senior Housing Administration at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, envisions niche communities for dog lovers, gardeners, even cruise ship enthusiasts. “Boomers have always had the critical mass to demand more choices in anything, whether flavors of ice cream or brands in blue jeans,” he says. “You only need 300 Grateful Dead fans to fill a retirement community.”

Already, those interested in lifelong learning can live at university-based retirement communities on or near campuses. Lasell Village in Newton was one of the first, and there are four or five dozen nationwide now, near such schools as Dartmouth and Cornell. Meanwhile, popular 55-plus communities cater to physically active types. Great Island at The Pinehills in Plymouth has walking trails, fitness programs, nearby golf courses, and a full-time lifestyle director. Highland Meadows in Weston highlights its luxury units and proximity to highways leading to the city, the beach, and skiing in the mountains.

Another common form of shared housing now and for the future is likely to involve relatives, often three generations living under one roof. Between 2007 and 2009, the Pew Research Center reported a 10.5 percent increase in multi-generational housing. Meanwhile, a 2012 survey by home builder PulteGroup found that about 1 in 3 adult children expect to someday share a house with a parent.

Five years ago, music teachers Ted and Wendy Hagarty sold their home in Bellingham. At the same time, Ted’s widowed mother sold hers in Northborough. Together, they bought a spacious Colonial in South Grafton and created an in-law apartment in the lower level with its own kitchen and door to the outside.

The family knew that some multi-generational households run into privacy issues and hurt feelings, so they set clear ground rules from the beginning. “There are adjustments, especially if you are the daughter-in-law, but it’s worked out really well,” says 51-year-old Wendy. “Not all personalities could make it work, but it does because there’s mutual respect.”

Ted, who is 60, says their 20-year-old daughter regularly goes downstairs to have long talks with her 90-year-old grandmother, particularly when she’s had enough of her parents. Ted himself doesn’t “have that panic feeling of not knowing what’s going on,” he says. “And I see my mother at peace. I think it has prolonged her life.”

EVEN WHEN THEY’RE NOT SHARING their homes, plenty of boomers are finding ways to build and share their larger communities.

There was a time when lots of retirees planned on picking up and moving to Florida or Arizona, but the notion of being a snowbird no longer flies the way it used to. According to recent Census estimates, rural areas — including scenic spots long associated with retirees — are losing population for the first time, the situation exacerbated now by boomers who are deciding to keep working and to keep living in their own homes.

“The biggest trend we will see in the next 20 years is people aging in place,” says William Frey, a demographer and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Some area communities are particularly well-suited to this. Earlier this year, Brookline’s ongoing commitment to quality-of-life issues like public transportation and senior housing earned it an age-friendly designation from the World Health Organization, one of only eight such places in the United States. The town holds regular forums to explore needs of older residents, and the volunteer organization Brookline-CAN (Community Aging Network) recently put out a guide listing apartments and condos with amenities such as elevators, concierge services, and underground parking out of the ice and snow.

For the most part, however, this state’s housing stock — with all its narrow doorways and steep stairs — does not tend to match the needs of our aging population, says Kermit Baker, a senior research fellow at the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard. For many boomers, staying in their homes will require renovating them to make them more accessible.

Paul Morse, the 59-year-old owner of Morse Constructions in Somerville, is a contractor helping older people stay safely at home. He is among the state’s 82 Certified Aging-in-Place Specialists (CAPS), a designation earned through the National Association of Home Builders. Since 2008, the number of CAPS has doubled to 5,000 nationwide. Morse says the most common changes are widening doorways for wheelchairs and walkers; installing grab bars, higher toilets, and curbless showers; and reorienting living spaces to make it possible to stay on first floors. Increasingly, experts are adopting “universal design,” intended for all ages and abilities. Eliminating thresholds, for instance, makes moving around easier, whether you’re rolling a wheelchair or pushing a baby stroller.

A decade ago, this type of renovation wasn’t at all prevalent, Morse says. In 2011, however, 55-plus homeowners accounted for more than 45 percent of all US home-improvement spending.

“But there’s more to aging in place than renovations,” says Morse. “Being able to stay in your house is not just about having an accessible home, it’s about support.” To foster a community, Morse and his wife Karen, 56, are also deeply involved in Staying Put of Cambridge and Somerville, an organization dedicated to helping people find ways to age well in their homes and communities. The local group puts out a monthly newsletter and conducts workshops and public forums, some in conjunction with area elder services offices.

The couple also belong to a smaller Staying Put neighborhood group that is made up of 13 members, primarily boomers living in and around Davis and Porter squares. On top of meeting regularly for the last three years, they help one another shovel snow, install air conditioners, and deliver meals to members who are ill or recovering from surgery.

Taken together, the friendships “deepen our understanding of religions and cultures,” Paul says. “So our lives are enriched as we get older, as opposed to [just] stopping.”

An even more involved way to get support is called the Village Movement. Beacon Hill Village in Boston, the first of 110 such groups around the country, isn’t a housing development but essentially a big in-person social network. Founded in 2001 by friends who never wanted to move, its 340 50-plus members each pay $675 a year (or $975 per household) to stay socially engaged and get information and discounts from vetted service providers. Need a dog walker or a carpenter? Want to get a doctor referral, attend a cocktail party, or volunteer in the larger community? Paid staff and volunteers can make it happen. (The seven other Villages in Massachusetts have differing fee structures and services.)

“The connections that we had generations ago when our families lived around is gone,” says Karen Morse. “When you’re connected to your neighbors, you know them differently and are able to do things for each other. It allows for the kind of connection you might have with a family member.”

OF COURSE, as any Rolling Stones fan knows, you can’t always get what you want. For reasons ranging from a lack of family to take you in to medical issues that require professional attention, staying out of a nursing home is not always possible. Yet these days, not all nursing homes are synonymous with institutional hallways, bland cafeteria food, and prickly roommates.

A little over a decade ago, geriatrician Bill Thomas conceived of a new kind of residential facility that would feel like a home, encourage social engagement, and offer the medical care of a nursing home — and it would aim to do all of those things while remaining within reach of those on Medicaid and Medicare. Thomas dubbed his concept the Green House model — not for ecological reasons, but because they would be devoted to the idea that the old can continue to grow. There are 150 or so Green House projects in 24 states; 150 more are in development.

The Leonard Florence Center for Living opened in Chelsea three years ago. There are 10 “homes” in the six-floor building, each occupied by 10 to 12 people. Visitors step off the elevator and come to a door that looks like it belongs to a private home. Inside, there’s a living room with a large fireplace, art and ceramics everywhere, a plate of fruit and fresh-baked cookies on the counter. Each resident gets his or her own bedroom and bathroom, a flat-screen TV, and access to the Wi-Fi network.

Rose Blake for the Boston Globe

Rose Blake for the Boston Globe

Life in the Green House is different from the norm, too. Rather than following a set schedule, residents are in control. They wake up and go to sleep when they want. There are no special visiting hours. In each suite, meals are prepared in a homey kitchen and are shared at the long wooden table in the dining room. There’s an airy cafe, stocked by a pastry chef, and a deli in the lobby.

It all sounds awfully expensive, and this $38 million, 93,000-square-foot project certainly was pricey to build —  something that makes it challenging to replicate on a larger scale, critics of the concept say — with some $28 million coming from private donations and tax credits and the rest covered by a mortgage. And yet 70 percent of residents pay for their stays with Medicaid and Medicare, a percentage of government funding similar to traditional nursing homes.

One of the residents is Lou Sanders, a 95-year-old widower and former military technician. He’d watched his own mother in a nursing home. In a place like that, he says, “you’re losing not only privacy, but your dignity.”

But after four years of living with his daughter, Shelley Diffily, it was clear he was going to need more medical help than she and her family could provide. His blood pressure sometimes dropped dangerously low and he was facing the early stages of Parkinson’s. “I knew I wasn’t heading in the right direction,” he says.

After a period in assisted living, Sanders and Diffily, who lives about 30 minutes away in North Reading, looked at a nursing home in North Andover. It was very nice and clean, but didn’t feel right. “I didn’t want his life to be reduced to half a room with a curtain in between and a little dresser,” Diffily says. Then she heard about the Green House.

About 18 months after moving in, “I couldn’t be in a better place,” Sanders says. “I feel like a person as opposed to being a patient — it’s like a family here.”

As for Diffily, she says one of her concerns is not knowing where she’ll end up in her later years. The 58-year-old has two sons in their early 20s, but she’s resolved not to become a burden to them. “I don’t want to wind up in a nursing home,” she says. “But if I do, I hope I can get into a place like this.”




Posted in Housing |

Is Home Sharing for You?

At the online service Let’s Share Housing, based in Portland, Ore., which provides a list of people who want to live in shared housing and homeowners who want to share, 80 percent of the clients are boomer women. Fifty-five percent of the women enrolled at the Vermont-based in-person matching service Home Share Now are over age 50. Online interest in the program has doubled since 2007 — likely due, in part, to many more people who have never been married enrolling.

Conditions are ripe to make home sharing an option for many women. Four million women age 50-plus live in U.S. households with at least two women 50-plus — a statistic that is expected to rise. According to the National Center for Family & Marriage Research, one out of three boomers will probably face old age without a spouse. Women, on average, live about five years longer than men. Adult children are often far away. And since 1990, the overall divorce rate for the 50-plus demographic has doubled.

Add the recession, rising health care and housing costs, and longer lives to the reasons for shared housing’s popularity. “My hunch is that money will be the incentive to get over the fear of ‘Me? Live with a stranger? Never!’ ” says Annamarie Pluhar, a shared-housing consultant and author of Sharing Housing: A Guidebook for Finding and Keeping Good Housemates. ”But it’s also having someone say, ‘How is your day?’ and having a social connection that feeds the soul.”

Few could deny that there are emotional and physical benefits from friendship and social engagement — and research supports this. In a home share, the residents can also split household chores, feel safer with more people around, and grow older at home without feeling isolated.

The Logistics of Living Together

After conferring with attorneys, accountants and financial planners, McQuillin, Machinist and Bush took out a three-way mortgage on a brick, five-bedroom, $395,000 colonial in Mount Lebanon, Pa., a suburb of Pittsburgh. McQuillin has the third-floor bedroom, bathroom and office; Bush, a second-floor bedroom and private bath that adjoins her office; and Machinist has the master suite.

Every month, the women deposit the same amount into their joint checking account to pay for utilities, property taxes and repairs. They each contribute a $100 gift card, with which they buy and share groceries — if someone entertains family or friends, she pays separately — and they occasionally eat together. They have house rules, including no overnight guests for more than seven consecutive nights, with built-in flexibility.

“It’s like living with two wonderful sisters,” says Bush, 65. The three have coauthored a book titled My House, Our House: Living Far Better for Far Less in a Cooperative Household.

Another home sharer, Marianne Kilkenny, 63, not only owns a house-sharing coaching business in Asheville, N.C., and gives workshops (one is called “Women Living in Community: From Dreaming to Doing”), but lives with three other women ages 48 to 69; two are divorced, another never married. Each has her own bedroom and bathroom, but Kilkenny pays the most, $900 monthly, including utilities, because she has the in-law apartment with a separate kitchen. The other rents range from $550 to $650. They share living areas, including a screened-in back porch where they eat in good weather.

The women have a meal together at least once a week as well as a weekly meeting. There are rules, such as hours when they can’t do laundry or must be quiet in the halls. Everyone must be notified before guests, such as boyfriends or children, visit.

Lorraine Chambers, 69, is one of Kilkenny’s housemates. Chambers’ son, Jason, is a college dean and father to young children, and he lives more than two hours away. “It’s comforting to know Mom is in a safe neighborhood with people who genuinely care about one another,” he says. “And it’s the leveraging of each other’s financial resources that makes it possible for her to share such a nice place.”

When Kilkenny first moved in at night two years ago, someone left the light on for her. “I was so moved,” she says. “It’s the little things that mean so much.” On her 62nd birthday, her housemates left cards outside her door. “Feeling cared about is worth going through some of the conflict that will occur,” she says.

The Drawbacks of Home Sharing

Not having your own place can also involve compromise. Sharing means less privacy and dealing with someone else’s habits.

Experts say problems usually occur when areas of conflict — household chores, communal property, pets, cleanliness, temperature of the house, noise, guests — haven’t been addressed before the move in or within the first week or two. They also happen when expectations are unclear or there is no home-share agreement (see sidebar).

Zoe Morrison, 55, of Portland, Ore., who runs the house-sharing service Let’s Share Housing, is divorced and has grown children. She has lived in cooperative households six times. One time she called it quits when her new housemate’s lover moved in unannounced. Another time the bills turned out to be higher than she had been told.

McQuillin, Machinist and Bush say that if they lived alone, they’d have their parents, children and grandchildren over more often. “Living with anyone has trade-offs,” says Machinist, “but I’m willing to make little trade-offs and have a little less freedom.”

But as they get older, the three women realize that what they used to call the “old biddies commune” can’t be their home forever. When they bought the house, they were in their 50s and weren’t thinking about health issues. Now McQuillin has a knee problem and lives up two flights of winding stairs. Machinist says her next place will be more accessible for older people. Bush thinks she’d prefer to live in a warmer climate.

They’ll worry about that later, say these converts, and remain right where they are. Says Machinist, “This is the best way I’ve ever lived.”

Home Sharing Do’s and Don’ts

  • Before moving in or accepting a housemate:
  • Make sure everyone in the house meets the prospective housemate before giving the go-ahead. Meet on Skype if long distances are involved. Good chemistry is key!
  • Decide how common rooms will be used and cleaned, what possessions are shared or off-limits, and how chores will get done.
  • In writing, spell out rules on smoking, overnight/day guests, how and when to pay bills, and what happens if the home share fails. All should sign.
  • Before house keys are distributed, make sure all money is paid (for example, first month and last month, security deposit).
  • Don’t pay, or accept, a security deposit in installments.
  • Any pet peeves? Discuss!
  • Share a meal after a week to see how the arrangement is working.
  • Have an exit strategy — just in case.

What to Look for In a Housemate:

  • Does she meet your requirements about what you must have in a housemate? Examples: a productive life, considerate and flexible, good values, a realistic vision of what living together entails, common expectations about the arrangement.
  • What are deal breakers for you? A boyfriend who will be sleeping over a lot? A pet? Someone who is messy or doesn’t have boundaries? Something else?
  • Is she financially stable?
  • What do her references say? If she’s home-shared before, what do her housemates think of her? Get at least two references. Ask about her strengths and weaknesses and if there’s anything you should know.
  • Lastly, have you done an internet search on her name to learn more about her?
Posted in Housing |

Is Multigenerational Living A Good Move?

Multigenerational living is a popular trend that helps everyone: kids: adult children; and their aging parents. Find out how it works and about its appeal

The Ng family from Hawaii


“It used to be older people whose money had run out who were living with their children, and now it’s the next generation that can’t keep up,” says Louis Tenenbaum, a founder of the Aging in Place Institute, which promotes “multigen” remodeling.

True, multigenerational families bunking together is hardly news in certain cultures. In 2009, 9.4 percent of Asian households, 9.5 percent of African American ones and 10.3 percent of Latino homes were multigenerational (compared with 3.7 percent of non-Hispanic white households).

But strong indications show that multigenerational living is on the rise: The U.S. 65-plus population is expected to more than double to 92 million by 2060. Sixty-one percent of Americans ages 25 to 34 have friends or family who have moved back in with parents or relatives (because they have no job, no money and no other place to live). And the latest census projections show the clear growth in cultures, such as Latinos, that already embrace multigenerational housing (non-Hispanic whites will no longer make up the majority of the population by 2043).

Could this be an idyllic world of built-in child care, elder care and three square meals? A solution for avoiding isolation in old age? A way for pooled finances to go further?

Another Pew report did find that more than three-quarters of “boomerangs” — the young adults ages 25 to 34 who move back in with their parents — were satisfied with their living situation. Almost half paid rent and nearly 90 percent helped with household expenses. And in a 2011 report of multigen dwellers by Generations United, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, 82 percent said the setup brought them closer, 72 percent mentioned improved finances, and 75 percent saw care benefits.

Consider long-term care costs alone. A 2012 MetLife Mature Market Institute survey put the average annual cost of a private nursing home room at $90,520, a semiprivate at $81,030 and assisted living at $42,600. Add to those costs the value of peace of mind knowing a loved one is being cared for by family, and multigenerational housing may be the new assisted living plan.

Designing for multigenerational living

Builders and remodelers are ready to support the growing trend. Want or need to stay put? The number of certified aging-in-place specialists who help older folks remain safely at home has more than doubled to nearly 5,000 since 2008. And the construction of new houses has started to get off the ground again.

Some builders have begun offering two master suites, a den or family room that can be converted into a bedroom and bathroom on the first floor, and other “bonus areas” with flexible space that can change with family needs. A two-car garage might shrink to one car and the extra area morph into living space for a grandparent or boomerang kid. Builders and remodelers are offering universal design features (wider hallways and doors, good lighting, few or no steps) that work for a baby stroller or a wheelchair. Some builders are installing infrastructure for future bathroom grab bars and stacking closets for down-the-road elevators.

In 2011, national builder Lennar introduced its first Next Gen house in Phoenix, geared to more than one generation. Now Lennar offers more than 50 Next Gen floor plans in 120 communities in California, Washington, Arizona, Nevada, Minnesota, Texas, New Jersey, Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina.

Next Gen’s concept is two houses in one: The main home has three or four bedrooms, and there’s an attached unit with its own front entrance, kitchen, bedroom, living space and garage. Perfect for an aging parent (or lucky nanny or guest, or as a man cave), it’s typically one-fifth the size of the main house. An adjoining inner door can be left open so the house can be one big home or, when closed, two residences.

Last November, Tom Moser, 60, a financial planner, and his wife, Kristin, 56, a registered nurse, moved into a Next Gen home in Marana, Ariz., with Tom’s dad, Lee, 82, a widower, who had lived 20 miles away. Tom had worried because night driving was becoming a concern for Lee and he “was kind of housebound.”

Each sold his respective home and chipped in to buy the $300,000, 3,200-square-foot, two-unit residence. (Tom’s living space is 2,500 square feet; his dad’s is 700.) Lee pays 15 percent of the utilities and helps with errands.

Tom’s sister Diane Weeks, 58, and brother-in-law, Wes, 57, along with Wes’ parents, have moved next door into another Next Gen home; their son, his wife and baby lived there for a while, too. Tom’s mother-in-law, Susan Liem, 81, just bought the house on Moser’s other side. “Everyone has separate space. We’re not stepping on each other,” he says. “This is my dream of being able to care for one another, but not do it alone.”

Tom has his own elder care plan: “When I’m 80, I know exactly where my wife and I are moving: right into my father’s place. Hopefully, my son or daughter [now 23 and 26] will slide into my place.”

A helpful arrangement

Multigenerational setups were common during the Great Depression but declined once people began to rebound economically. Now, as John Graham, coauthor of Together Again: A Creative Guide to Successful Multigenerational Living, observes, the recent recession has prompted a move back from valuing independence to interdependence.

“Families may be coming together because of the economy,” says Donna Butts, executive director of Generations United, “but they’re staying together because it helps them all.”

Jason Ng, 38, his girlfriend, Jamie Sonoda, 30, and their 20-month-old baby, Addison, live in a home he and his parents rebuilt on their property in Aiea, Hawaii. His mother, Karen, 64, has dubbed the den “the nest,” because she and her husband, Melvin, 69, have private space to watch TV. The two couples split bills equally: mortgage, utilities and groceries. Karen and Melvin adore caring for their granddaughter during the week when Jason and Jamie are at work, and don’t charge the new parents.

“I dream of having my own house, but the land in Hawaii is expensive,” says Jason. “If I moved where it’s cheaper I’d have a 1.5-hour commute. I love where I grew up, and a comparable house goes for $700,000 to $800,000. We got everything we wanted for $500,000 and split that. And we live in the same house as my parents, so if there’s an emergency, I’m right here.”

Then, the challenges

But the multigenerational housing scenario is not so rosy for everyone. Family friction, strain on spouses, and less opportunity for work and personal time are very real concerns.

Kris Radjewski’s 92-year-old mother-in-law has lived with her, Kris’ husband, Ed, 55, and their 14-year-old daughter, Lexi, in Lake Hopatcong, N.J., for 13 years. The elder Mrs. Radjewski has taken over the family room in the basement, where Kris’ older daughter, now away at school, would entertain friends. Now Lexi feels she has no space for hers. “She’s fed up and wants her life back,” says Kris, 50. “My daughter needs her mom, and I’m either working or taking care of Grandma.”

Ofelia Ramirez, 37, a housecleaner from Kyle, Texas, can relate. She has the 24/7 company of her husband, 42, her children, ages 16, 14, 7 and 6, and her 80-year-old mother-in-law. “The kids like having her around and we get to share a lot of memories,” says Ramirez. The downside is unsolicited advice about how to raise her children and feeling she can’t have their own friends over for dinner. And yet, on days her mother-in-law is not around, “it feels like somebody is missing.”

Ellen Lewis, 49, of Leonardtown, Md., describes having her mom, now 78, live with her, her second husband and her four kids, ages 10 to 20, as “not bliss, but it’s not hellish either.”

Lewis, who owns two knitting shops, says her parents (her dad died in 2001) were incredibly helpful when she was raising her kids, dealing with a failing first marriage and then dating her future husband. “But the dynamic has changed a lot over the years. You can’t look at this as an equal relationship,” she says. “It’s OK. It’s my time to take care of her. I have to remember the good times. I don’t want to see her in a nursing home.”

If you like this multigen concept, check out these tips to make the arrangement work.

Photo by Daniel Hennessy of the Ng family for the AARP Bulletin



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The 10 Top Caregiving Resources

Other good sources include:

According to the latest statistics from the National Hospital Discharge Survey, done in 2006, elderly patients underwent 35.3 percent of inpatient procedures and 32.1 percent of outpatient procedures. That number is even higher today. Carol Levine, director of the United Hospital Fund’s Families and Health Care Project, makes a good point: “Most family caregivers focus only on the day of surgery and not on what comes before and after. Yet in terms of outcome, these may be the most important times to prepare for.”

  • The Family Caregiver Alliance has updated fact sheets on caregiving issues. New, free online publications through the group’s National Center on Caregiving range from how to compensate a family member for providing care to “Downsizing a Home: A Checklist for Caregivers.”
  • The Caregiver Action Network recently released an online video series for Alzheimer’s caregivers and an online guide for navigating Medicare.

More must-know resources:

Of course there are more. What did I leave out? What else should readers know about? Please share.

Photo by Humayunn N A Peerzaada courtesy of Creative Commons

Posted in Caregiving |

Cohousing and Caregiving Go Hand in Hand

Remember when neighborhoods were like caring villages? I never had that experience, but got more than a hint when I visited Camelot Cohousing in Berlin, Mass., a couple of weeks ago.

I went to do a housing story and found a family caregiving story!

It also brought home the point that there are many ways to grow old and have support. Whether you’re a boomer or in your 70s and beyond, it’s an interesting option.

First, the cohousing concept: People own (a few rent) a small, often attached, home with an inviting front porch. Houses are next to, as well as face, one another across a walkway. Roads and cars are banished to the perimeter of the property so there is daily pedestrian interaction with innumerable everyday opportunities to get to know one another. This regular, impromptu communication fosters deep friendships.

Residents share outdoor space and a multipurpose common house. Usually there’s a kitchen, a living room/meeting room/movie area, a bedroom for guests or future caregivers, and whatever else the group wants (a fitness room, game room, sewing room, perhaps) in the common house. It’s also where residents, if they choose, can have one or two meals together a week.

Members in Camelot range from a newborn to 80-year-old Martha Shevett. The day I visited, Shevett was sitting in a white wicker chair on her porch. She had a rail installed because “I’m old and tottery,” she said.

Shevett used to live alone in an apartment. “It was tremendously isolating,” she recalled. Now Shevett lives alone but isn’t lonely.

Before moving to Massachusetts, she had settled in Pennsylvania and Florida. “I’ve never had these kinds of relationships with neighbors. People are so wonderfully supportive,” she said.

If she has trouble opening a jar, she’ll ask someone on the walkway. She’s fallen several times in her house, winding up in the hospital more than once. While she had a visiting nurse, neighbors also rallied. If she had been living in her old apartment, “I would have been up a creek,” she said. Taking a shower is still hard. A neighbor, a registered nurse, called when I was visiting to see if it was a good time to help Shevett take a shower.

There are 34 units in Camelot. If she wants to see fresh faces, she hops in a three legged motorized cart she’s dubbed “my chariot” and in two minutes, she’s atMosaic Commons, another intergenerational cohousing community.  They share meals and have a similar set-up.

Among the faces she sees at Mosaic Commons are her 48-year-old son, David, and 14-year-old grandson. Both mother and son love the arrangement. As David put it, “Mom’s not right here. She’s close enough to be convenient and far enough away to give us distance.” He’s “relieved” and “ecstatic” that she’s surrounded by people who care about her. “It’s the dynamic you want in any small town where people look out for each other,” he said. “I don’t ever want to move from Mosaic Commons. I’m in a place I want to be for the rest of her life.”

And so is Martha.

Interested in cohousing? There are more than 120 developments nationwide, all intergenerational except six geared to seniors. (There are plenty of boomers in senior cohousing.) Around the country, homes in cohousing develpoments range from $150,000 to $1.4 million and are 450 to 2,000 square feet.

Two good resource are the Cohousing Association of the United States and The Cohousing Company.


Posted in Housing |

Tax Tips for Family Caregivers

April 15 is galloping into view. Give me a break! That’s what we all want when it comes to taxes. And this may be your year. Some of the rules regarding tax breaks for family caregivers have changed slightly since last year. I thought I’d do an update.

Software tax programs like TurboTax, TaxAct and H&R Block at Home are easy to use and do many of these calculations for you. It’s still good to know if you qualify.

You might be able to claim your parent, grandparent, stepparent, mother- or father-in-law, sibling, half sibling or step-sibling as a tax dependent even if he or she doesn’t live with you. Here are the rules:

  1. His or her gross income in 2012 must be less than $3,800 (last year it was $3,700) excluding disability and Social Security payments. That number includes rental income and wages, interest and dividends from investments or pension benefits and withdrawals from retirement plans.
  2. You must be paying more than 50 percent of his or her expenses.
  3. The person cannot be claimed as a dependent by anyone else.
  4. Mom and Dad can’t file a joint tax return unless it’s to claim a refund, and neither parent can owe tax on a separate return.
This is a little tricky: if you have siblings who are also supporting Mom or Dad, but none pays half or more in support, and you spend at least 10 percent of your money on their expenses, while expenses from all sibs combined are at least half of your parent’s yearly expenses — you can claim your parent as a dependent. But understand that only one sibling can take that “multiple support declaration” exemption per year. (AARP has a caregiver taxes Q&A and primer here.)

What if your relative’s gross income is more than $3,800? Then that person can’t be a dependent but might still qualify for a deduction on his or her medical expenses. Those expenses will need to be more than 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income. (For 2013 taxes, the threshold will be 10 percent.)

You might also be eligible for the child and dependent care credit. If that’s the case, you’d get a credit of up to 35 percent of expenses paid for dependent care, with $3,000 in maximum expenses. That translates to as much as a $1,050 tax credit. Qualified long-term care services may be deductible as well.

To qualify for the child and dependent care credit, you must have earned income, your relative must be unable to take care of himself or herself because of mental or physical limitations, and the care recipient typically must live with you.

There’s also a credit for the elderly or the permanently and totally disabled, but just 100,000 a year lucky filers can take it. Generally, your annual income can’t exceed $25,000.

Confused? Overwhelmed? You can always call the Internal Revenue Service telephone assistance help line. Dial 800-829-1040 Monday-Friday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. local time.

Posted in Caregiving |

Why Do We Care What It Feels Like To Be Old

MIT’s AgeLab invented Agnes (Age Gain Now Sympathy System), a body suit that makes the wearer–engineer, product developer, student, architect–feel in his/her mid 70′s.

Want to see it? Check out this demo on of Agnes from The “Today” Show

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What Happens to Social Media When You Die?

Just when you thought you had all the important documents you need to know your loved one’s wishes — power of attorney, will, health care directive, perhaps Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) — here’s another to consider: a social media will.

This digital estate planning document states what you want to have happen to your social media — Facebook, Twitter, Google, LinkedIn, email account — when you die. Just as you need an executor of your estate, you’d have to appoint a legal online executor.

As more older people go online — a 2012 Pew Research Center study found one-third of Internet users age 65+ go on social networking sites on a typical day — grow older and pass away, who has a say in their social media content is likely to become a mainstream concept. No doubt it will spawn lawsuits, or at least bad blood, among those who want to keep a loved one’s posts on the site and those who don’t. (Ultimately, those cases will be decided by state law.)

In the meantime, with a death certificate, Facebook will either remove a deceased person’s profile/account or change it from active to a memorial page. People can share memories and photos of the person and keep the timeline, but the status updates won’t pop up. (“Hi, I’m no longer among the living” or “Back in five. Gone to meet my maker.”)

Twitter and LinkedIn will also deactivate an account with a death certificate. LinkedIn and Google require an authorized representative of the estate to make the request.

Google recently introduced the Inactive Account Manager. If your account becomes inactive, Google’s “Grim Reaper Manager” will warn you by text message and email that it’s inactive (a prank-proof move). If it’s not a false alarm — you’ve really expired — you will have already told Google what you want done with your Gmail messages and other services or else appointed others to make the decision.

For those who just can’t say goodbye, there are services that allow you to keep your online presence even after you’re gone. You heard correctly. DeadSocial lets you compose Facebook, Twitter and Facebook messages for future times (birthdays, other important dates or whenever) when you’re no longer around. LivesOn, which plans to launch (unclear when) has this cheery motto: “When your heart stops beating, you’ll keep tweeting.” And, if i die is a Facebook app that allows you to create video or text messages that get published postmortem.

So much for a digital afterlife. If you’re still here and haven’t come up with a Mother’s Day or Grandma present for this Sunday, how about downloading a free app called EasyFamily Social, in English or Spanish? It simplifies Facebook (six big buttons) and makes it easier for older adults to share photos and messages with family. The company has a campaign to get 17 Million Grandmas on Facebook.

A little motherly advice: if you download that Facebook app for Mom or Granny, you might want to save the social media wills/digital legacy talk for another time!

Posted in Work and Lifestyle |

Forbes Piece On Guns A Loaded Subject

What do you do if your aging parent has a gun? Okay, they've agreed to get rid of it. Now what?I wrote a piece for Forbes on guns and the elderly. I hadn’t realized that so many older people, some with dementia and Alzheimer’s, own guns until I started getting reader comments. What’s an adult child to do if Mom or Dad wants to hold onto their favorite firearm? Even if they’re ready to part with it, where do you take it once it’s out of their house? I thought the National Rifle Association might not like the idea for my post, but I received a letter from them thanking me for the story and letting me know they have a program to dispose of guns. So, if taking them to your local police department doesn’t excite you, you now have another option.

Here’s the post:

5 Things To Know About The Elderly And Guns

According to a Pew Research Center report, 35% of Americans in a recent survey said they have a gun, rifle or pistol in their home. Some of these may belong to your elderly Mom, Dad or Granddad (most often it’s a male) or the aging relatives of someone you know.

Over dinner the other night, my friend told me about the talk she had recently with her 89-year-old father. It wasn’t about driving, as you might think, but about giving up his gun. A loaded gun.

There’s great cause for concern: an older gun owner may have cognitive impairment or dementia, may have diminished eyesight and hearing (raising the risk of mistaking a family member or worker in the home for a bad guy), or may shoot a spouse or themselves. Yet from the older owner’s perspective, the gun may symbolize independence and control in a world where they might otherwise feel powerless.

That might include if he or she is ever in pain or has a terminal illness. A parent might never commit suicide, but still want to know the firearm is there. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2010, 4,276 people age 65+ committed suicide by firearm and 3,367 people aged 55-64 died that way. The same friend whose dad had a loaded gun said that her parents always joked that if one of them no longer wanted to live, they’d made a murder-suicide pact. She didn’t think they were serious.

What would you do? What should you do? I asked Boston-based geriatric care manager Suzanne Modigliani and Bay Area elder care attorney Michael Hanson for advice. Here’s what they said:

  1.  Consider: Is the gun owner competent to keep a weapon? Why did he have it in the first place? To go hunting or protect himself from intruders? Are those same reasons valid today?
  2. If the answers to those questions suggest the gun should no longer be in your parent’s home, try to get his permission to remove the gun. Having the support of others, like siblings or a geriatric care manager or attorney, may be more effective than trying to convince him by yourself.
  3. If you can’t make headway, your parent has cognitive issues or you think the situation is dangerous, you’ll want to get it out of their house regardless. Call your local police department and ask them what to do. Should you bring it to the station? They may be willing to come to your house and pick up the gun.
  4. You can’t just remove a gun from someone else’s house and bring it to yours. In some states, that may be considered larceny. If you want to keep the gun, it will have to be registered in your name. Ask the police for help.
  5. A time to be particularly vigilant: when an elder is overcome by grief, such as after the death of a spouse.

Hanson, the elder care lawyer, didn’t realize his father owned a .22-caliber target pistol until he died. Hanson routinely asks clients, who are adult children or their parents, whether there is a firearm in the house. Hanson turned his dad’s pistol in to the police. And yes, he called them ahead of time and made sure it was in a bag “so I didn’t look like I was in Django Unchained!”

Here’s a thought from Jim Reardon, a Brookline, Mass., police firearms instructor: In some police departments, if you don’t want the gun to be destroyed, you can arrange to have a gun dealer purchase the firearm at the police station. Who knows, the gun could be valuable, and even if not you would get some compensation.

There’s always the NRA!

Photo by hey skinny courtesy of Creative Commons


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Tune In To Music Therapy’s Healing Powers


It’s amazing to see how making and playing music helps both those with Alzheimer’s and their family caregivers. For a story I wrote, I interviewed Gabby Giffords’s music therapist. I also watched a chorus in New York made up of dementia patients and their partners, spouses and kids. A moment of normalcy and pleasure–together–in otherwise very difficult lives.

Here’s a piece I wrote for AARP aptly named “The Power of Music”:

Geriatrician Theresa Allison can’t talk with her grandmother. Alzheimer’s disease has left her without the ability to see, converse or recognize her granddaughter. Yet the two are able to interact. Instead of talking, they sing. “I’ve watched her babble nonsense, but then bounce my son on her knee as we sing a folk song she taught me as a child. For 45 seconds, life is completely normal,” says Allison. “Engaging this way is profoundly meaningful.”

Allison, a musicologist as well as physician and assistant professor in the Division of Geriatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, sometimes sings songs with her frightened or confused patients to get them to relax during a physical exam. And she encourages generous doses of music in caregiving, whether the loved one is cognitively intact or has memory loss.

The healing power of music was recognized in ancient Greece; Aristotle and Plato wrote about it. And though the field of music therapy formally debuted in 1950, but has only recently gained many fans, including hospitals, adult day care and senior centers, and nursing homes. Health care professionals often refer patients to music therapists — the country has more than 6,000 music therapists nationally certified through the American Music Therapy Association and they can help you find one in your area. Health workers are also using music to treat a long list of conditions: depression, Tourette’s syndrome, Huntington’s disease, autism, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, brain injury and cardiac disease. It can be part of pain management and cancer treatments.

Lately, researchers have focused on how music can benefit those with Alzheimer’s. Anecdotal evidence shows that music can tap memories and reduce anxiety, pain, heart rate and blood pressure. It can help accelerate healing, boost learning, improve neurological disorders and increase social interaction.

Sophisticated imaging techniques such as PET scans and MRIs are beginning to reveal the full picture. “Neuroscientists who have wondered how someone with a stroke or brain injury can recover speech by singing, or why a person with Parkinson’s can walk or dance to music but not without it, have now acquired the technology to see, in real time, how music stimulates and activates networks in the brain,” says Connie Tomaino, executive director of the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function in New York. The research is still in its infancy, she says, but it suggests that music may improve specific function such as speech and movement.

If you’re a caregiver, music can also help you with daily caregiving routine. Music therapists offer these suggestions:

Select familiar songs

Most people remember music from childhood or when they were in their 20s. Does Mom love opera or show tunes? What songs make her dance?

After former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot in January 2011 and suffered brain damage, she was unable to speak. But her mother knew her favorite songs — ”American Pie,” ”Brown Eyed Girl,” “Over the Rainbow” — and along with Giffords’ dad, husband and music therapist, surrounded her with the music she loved.

“Gabby could sing several words in a phrase, but couldn’t put a three-word sentence together on her own,” says her music therapist, Maegan Morrow, of TIRR Memorial Hermann hospital in Houston. Morrow had her sing her needs, such as “I want to go to bed” or “I’m tired.” Help your loved one recall words by singing part of a familiar song and having her finish the line with you, or alone.

 Choose your music source

Pick what works best for you: a CD player, an MP3 player or iPod, a tablet like an iPad or a Kindle, or a time-tested turntable and vinyl collection. No music of your own? Local libraries often have good CD selections.

The website will tailor a radio station to match your musical taste when you select an artist, song or genre. And offers a free guide to creating a personalized playlist. (Find music collections we’ve put together from the website Spotify to help you with caregiving.)

Use music to alter moods

Diagnosed with Parkinson’s, Domenic Trifone, 59, of Newington, Conn., has difficulty walking and doing things on his own, which leaves the retired postal worker depressed. But when his wife, Susan, 56, plays Gregorian chants or opera, he is soothed. When she plays his favorite Billy Joel or Jim Croce songs, she’ll often dance, pulling him up to join her.

Donna Poulos has seen the effect music has on her 90-year-old mother, Grace Long. “When I’d leave her house, my mother would be sad, but if I put on classical or opera, she wouldn’t miss me. Instead, she’d wave good-bye, close her eyes and be transported by the music,” says Poulos, a grade school music teacher from Los Altos, Calif. When Poulos is driving with her mother, Long sways to the music and taps her toes, or they sing old tunes such as “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’ ” and “This Land Is Your Land.”

“I really think music is one of the things that has kept her alive and happy,” says Poulos.

Gear music to activities

You can use music to get loved ones through transitions, whether it’s moving from one room to another or on to a different task, says Alicia Clair, professor of music therapy at the University of Kansas. Play peaceful music when Mom is waking up. Pick up the pace with active, upbeat songs when getting her dressed for the day.

“One of the best ways to get directions across is to sing, rather than speak, them,” says Clair, who for 20 years has used music therapy for people with dementia. “Never use loud, frenetic music,” she warns. Need to coax a loved one into the shower? Put on Duke Ellington and dance together into the bathroom.

Make music together

Sitting together and listening to music can be bonding. Taking care of someone who can’t communicate can make a caregiver feel lonely and unable to relate, but music can provide a way to connect that is profoundly meaningful.

A pilot study by New York University Langone Medical Center’s Comprehensive Center on Brain Aging found that members of the Unforgettables, a New York City chorus made up of those with early to mid-stage Alzheimer’s and their caregiving spouses and children, reported more self-esteem, better moods, less depression and a greater quality of life after 13 rehearsals and one concert.

Joe Fabiano, 65, has been bringing his wife, Anita, 65, to the two-hour weekly rehearsals since the chorus was formed two years ago. “This is something we can share,” says Joe. “It makes me think of the old days, when we were happy.” Says Anita: “It’s good for my husband and helps me a lot. I like the camaraderie.”

That camaraderie can also ward off the loneliness that often accompanies caring for those with dementia. Husbands, wives and partners appreciate being with others who are dealing with the condition. “Having a place where there are people who can be together in a supportive, caring group is wonderful,” says Josephine Gruder. She brings her husband, Herman, 85, a former longshoreman.

Social worker Suzie Engel, 66, sang in the chorus with her mother, Norma, who died in January 2012. Engel still attends. “This group is like family,” she says.

The Unforgettables’ co-conductors, Dale Lamb and Tania Papayannopoulou, a music therapist from the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function and a pianist/singer, teach the group breathing, vocalizing, musical memory exercises and movement—good stress relievers as well as mental and physical exercise for all.

Not a singer? Consider rhythm. Drumming with others later in life is also a growing trend, according to Encinitas, Calif., music therapist and author Christine Stevens, who teaches health care professionals and family caregivers about percussion. “You don’t have to be musical whatsoever,” says Stevens. In her hospital room, former Rep. Giffords participated in a drum circle with her family and friends. Remo, a drum manufacturer, offers a “health rhythms” section on their website that discusses the health benefits of drumming and how to find a drumming group.

Tune in to your own needs

Music can be a great source of relief and pleasure. When her husband is at adult day care, during other times of the day, or before bed, Susan Trifone will turn on the tunes. “My body gets in rhythm to the beat and it makes me feel much better. But even more, music helps me get away from my everyday problems.”

There’s a (Music) App for That

If you can’t join a music group, you can mimic what they do with applications for your smartphone or tablet.

SingFit: Designed by a music therapist, this app is like a portable karaoke machine that helps participants sing along by providing lyric prompts, adjustable music volume and keys, and voice playback. Available for Apple products.

Magic Piano: Tap the dots on the screen and it plays songs at varying speeds. For both Android and Apple products.

Songify: This app turns something you said—a poem, a birthday greeting, a passage from a book—into a song. For both Android and Apple products.




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And Your Next Career Is. . .?

It may feel interminable, but your family caregiving days will be over some day. Really! And then what? You might opt for meaningful volunteering or a paycheck. You may be able to parlay what you’ve gained when you were in your taking care mode into saleable skills. You know something about the healthcare system, being organized and multi-tasking, right?

How about being a patient navigator (a certificate course at some community colleges), a senior move manager, professional organizer or personal assistant.

Even if you’re not taking care of a parent, spouse or friend, you may want to change up your life–get involved in a new field or venture. Work for a non-profit where you can have some social impact. Part-time or full-time work. Really anything.

There are good books on the market to help steer you to various professions and the hot jobs of today and the future. My favorites are Great Jobs for Everyone 50+ by Kerry Hannon, The Encore Career Handbook by Marci Alboherand Nancy Collamer’
Second-Act Careers: 50 Ways to Profit From Your Passions During Semi-Retirement.

Other great resources: The Community College Plus 50 Initiative from the American Association of Community Colleges, which offers courses and programs to train and retrain students age 50+ in volunteer, civic and service positions. I’m also recommending you check out what has to offer. Some companies, like Intel and HP, offer retiring or retired employees Encore Fellowships, a stipend at a non-profit. Those often lead to long-term paid work.

There are so many options today for boomers. I’ll be attending an conference in San Francisco that will provide more reinvention material. Stay tuned.

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What Caregivers Don’t Tell Anyone

“Sally Abrahms can take her crown off now!” Ouch. That was one response to my story that recently ran in the AARP Bulletin explaining common emotions (guilt, grief, exhaustion) family caregivers have and strategies for dealing with them.

I was writing about my own experience — I’m a long distance caregiver, not someone who lives 24/7 with a sick or chronically needy parent — as well as what I have observed from my work.

That reader could have been less strident, but I do understand her point: being on the job full-time is more draining than what I do caring for someone from afar. Another disgruntled reader accused me of not being “a caregiver, simply a visitor.” Her reasons: I didn’t mention “changing an adult diaper, giving up your career, being tied to your home, watching your mom hallucinate and scream at 2 a.m.” Just because I didn’t mention them doesn’t mean I don’t do it. Right?

Yet the point isn’t who has it worse — a long-distance caregiver or a live-in family caregiver. (But if you want to describe, in the comments section below, what it’s really like to be a nurse/doctor/shrink/chauffeur/cook/companion, vent away!)

The point is that there are things about caregiving we really don’t tell anyone, even someone like me, who makes a living writing about caregiving and elder care. I was curious about what others don’t share with family or friends about their caregiving experiences, so I asked some AARP staff members, who are caregivers. Here are some of their answers:

  • “Seeing a parent of the opposite sex naked. You can never be prepared for that or discuss with family or friends.”
  • “Dealing with those who say, ‘she was fine while I was there.’ My mother can get it together to seem perfectly fine and charming to other people in social situations, but around paid caregivers and me, she unleashes the full frustration of her sadness, rage and confusion.”
  • “Having to play referee between my two parents. It sucks. No one wins.”
  • “Being in charge of my mother-in-law’s personal hygiene including her hemorrhoids. She isn’t even my mother!”
  • “Cleaning up pee and poop from the backseat of the new car or in public. You don’t know what to do first: help them not be embarrassed or clean it up. I don’t discuss this with anyone.”
  • “Being ridden with guilt, but hoping fervently that my parent, who has no quality of life, will die.  I don’t want to keep doing this!”

What are your secret thoughts about caregiving?

Writer’s request: I need to interview a family with a teen or boomerang kid, an adult parent, and their elderly/older parent(s) all living under the same roof. Do you fit the bill or do you know anyone who does? If so, please get in touch at Thanks!

Posted in Caregiving |

Caring for the Caregiver–my AARP print piece

The AARP Bulletin
Sally Abrahms

Want to know what it feels like to be a long-distance caregiver? Ask a pro!

I wrote this piece from the point of view of a long-distance caregiver. I can only imagine the added intensity when you are a 24/7 caregiver (and a few nasty emails told me I have no clue what it’s like!) The story has info for both long-distance and ’round-the-clock family caregivers. Let me know what you think:

At age 16 with my mother

Ever since I’ve been a caregiver, I’ve been waiting for The Call. If you’re caring for a loved one, you know what I mean — the telephone rings, and you learn that your parent has taken a turn for the worse and you must rush to his side. In the past 12 years I’ve taken care of my father, then my mother and now my 93-year-old mother-in-law. The Call keeps coming, and I’ve been on edge the whole time, waiting.

Last August my husband and I were reluctant to take our annual family vacation. Would something happen? But we went, knowing that time with our adult children, who live all around the country, was also important.

We had just entered the rental house when the phone rang. My mother-in-law had been admitted to a hospital many hours away. My brother-in-law gave us bedside reports, and she was released the next day.

On the last day of vacation, the phone rang again. My mother had had a massive stroke. I traveled for six hours to her and stayed in the hospital with her for six days until she died.

Caregiving brings about a swirl of feelings: sadness, frustration, anger, anxiety, guilt, resentment, confusion, isolation, loss, fear, grief, impatience and stress. I have been overwhelmed, drained by sibling tension and torn between my own family, work, personal time and parental needs.

I’ve also experienced devotion, tenderness, intimacy, gratitude, patience and purpose in my role. In fact, a recent study from the Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College found that older Americans who feel they are making a difference in caregiving and are highly engaged in what they’re doing feel happier and more content. I understand that, as well.

But from my on-the-job training, professional reporting and research, including writing a weekly blog for AARP on the topic, I believe most caregivers confront three distinct and difficult experiences. With help from experts, I’ve also learned ways to manage them.


Caregivers frequently grieve the loss of the person they once knew, even though their loved one is still alive. Until her first stroke, in 2008, my mother, a former university English teacher, read a book a day, without glasses, and was in three book clubs. Post-stroke, she could no longer see well enough to read and couldn’t process Books on Tape. Instead of dashing to a play, a lecture or a party, she stayed home, unable to walk unaided or get up from a chair by herself. She was a different person.

“When someone dies, it is an overwhelming and horrible experience, but it is the end of something,” says Suzanne Mintz, cofounder of the National Family Caregivers Association and author of A Family Caregiver Speaks Up: It Doesn’t Have to Be This Hard. “But with a caregiver, the grief is perpetual; it goes on and on and on.” Mintz has watched her husband, diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1974, lose his independence. “You grieve because you’ve lost the life you had, and you know it won’t be coming back. Both of you have the diagnosis — the person with the condition and the family caregiver,” says Mintz.

 One way to combat grief is to forge a way to relate to the “new” person. Chuck Niggley’s wife was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease 27 years ago. “Do I ever think about what if my wife weren’t ill? Sure,” says the Beaverton, Ore., 73-year-old. “But I don’t spend time dwelling on it. I’ve given up going to a three-hour movie or a baseball game with her, but we’ve substituted things we can do together, like attending our grandchildren’s events and going to music programs.”

The arts, in fact, give caregivers and their charges a powerful way to connect. Interactive creative programs — such as songwriting, storytelling, dancing, playing instruments and painting — provide ways for caregivers and care recipients to relinquish their usual roles and enjoy a fun and stimulating sensory experience together.

New York’s Museum of Modern Art opens its doors to those with dementia and their caregivers each month. An art educator leads a discussion about master artists — van Gogh, Picasso, Degas — while the group views their works. This exercise taps into little-used senses and memories and ignites lively conversation, often making it impossible to tell who’s taking care of whom.

My mother had always loved poetry, so I would bring Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses, a collection of the same poems she had once read to me and I had read to my children, when I visited. She’d smile as we finished the lines together, and I felt close to the mother I remembered while relating to the person she had become.


During caregiving guilt is constant. Guilt for not spending enough time with your loved one. Guilt for not tending to your own family. Guilt for having negative feelings. And guilt for resenting your new role. On my hundreds of trips back and forth to visit my mother, I remember thinking that — shame on me — I wish this would be over so I could get my life back.

What caregivers must remember is that this is a situation over which you have limited control and shouldn’t feel guilty about, says Alexis Abramson, a gerontologist and author of The Caregiver’s Survival Handbook. ”However, you are in control of how you react to it,” she says. And that is empowering.

Abramson advises reaching out to caregiving organizations that offer education and support, investigating elder-care benefits at work and resources in the community (respite programs, adult-day-care centers, transportation services), and scheduling time for yourself.

Without a network of support, caregivers often become isolated, which can lead to depression and their own serious health issues, and further exacerbate problems — one being guilt.

One way for caregivers to handle guilt is “to accept that having negative feelings about caregiving is normal,” says Barry J. Jacobs, a psychologist and author of The Emotional Survival Guide for Caregivers. ”You love the person you’re caring for, but you hate the caregiving. That’s normal.”


Caregiving often leaves the caregiver feeling depleted, both physically and mentally. For years, every other Saturday or Sunday my husband and I would pull a “doubleheader”: driving two hours to see my mother, then driving another hour to be with his mother, and finally getting back home by 8 that night, when I would fall into bed and not move. It was physically draining, sure, but the mental toll also wiped me out for the next day and left me dreading the time we’d have to return.

“That’s when the caregiving plan needs to be changed,” says Jacobs. “Caregivers need to be smart and strategic about setting limits on the tasks they take on, and recruit others to pitch in.”

Yes, taking the pressure off yourself is key. Hire outside help. Involve other family members and friends. A sibling or in-law who lives far away may be able to pay Mom’s bills online, deal with insurance companies or take time off to stay with her so you can take a breather. “When family members do pitch in, then everyone feels like a team in caring for a loved one,” says Jacobs. “Caregivers feel better supported and more resilient; family relationships become stronger and more enduring, even after their loved one has died.”

Talking out emotions with a friend, an elder mediator, a therapist or a peer group can also lighten the mental load. “Many of the caregivers I see who do well go to support groups,” says Lisa Campbell, a clinical psychologist who specializes in 50-plus issues at the Willow Wellness Center in Park Ridge, Ill. “It’s normal to feel overwhelmed,” she says. “Families are complicated.”

This is why, in part, there is no pat formula for navigating your own maze when you become a caregiver. Each experience is unpredictable, ever changing and unique. Your plan will require constant revision. You’ll need to reach out to others for ideas, advice and help, and that includes finding ways to take care of the caregiver — you.


Posted in Caregiving |

What Long-Term Care Costs (A Lot!)

If you’re considering long-term care, expect to pay more for nursing homes, assisted living communities and homemakers/companions, MetLife Mature Market Institute’s annual 2012 survey reveals. Good news: the study of average national long-term care costs shows they’ve stayed the same for adult day services and home health aides.

Of course, rates and services vary by state and area; those differences are included in the survey. Take a look at national average costs:

  • A private room in a nursing home is $248/day, $222 for a semiprivate versus $239 and $214 respectively last year. That is a 3.8% hike for a private, 3.7% for a semiprivate
  • Assisted living increased to $3,550/month from last year’s $3,477 or 2.1%
  • A homemaker’s hourly rate rose 5.3% to $20, a dollar more than in 2011.
  • Adult day services stayed the same, or $70/day
  • The $21/hour cost of home health aides was the same as in 2011

Now that we’re crunching numbers, here are four more:

  1. In 2011, the median age of a nursing home resident was 82.6 years (16% were under age 65), with 66% made up of women, the U.S. Census Bureau reports.
  2. The average age of assisted living residents was 86.4 years.
  3. According to the National Adult Day Services Association, there are more than 5,000 U.S. adult day centers, with 260,000+ participants as well as their family caregivers. The average transportation cost for centers that charge is nearly $10 each way.
  4. 68% of home health care agencies surveyed give employees Alzheimer’s training; 98% don’t charge extra for those with the disease.

More detailed results from the latest MetLife study are available.

Are these costs what you expected? (My mother-in-law is in assisted living so I’m completely clued into the high price of care.)

Posted in Caregiving |

Five Avoidable Caregiver Mistakes

Now there are probably a lot more than just five caregiving mistakes! But in the process of finding out what they were–and please, add your own–I discovered a cool collaborative model I wanted to share. It’s a concept you’re going to be hearing more about. Concentrate!

Here’s what I wrote in my AARP blog:

Trend alert or rather, trend-to-be alert. I recently heard of a new concept that sounds like a caregiver’s dream: a team of professionals from various disciplines (i.e. legal, financial, caregiving) who specialize in aging issues. Someone on the team steers you to other experts you need — and may not even realize you need. These pros confer to make sure all your bases are covered.

Rod Chamberlin, a financial planner in Irvine, California, has one such team. Besides a financial planner and eldercare lawyer, it includes a senior care placement expert, long-term care specialist, family advocate aka mediator, personal business facilitator (helps Mom cancel subscriptions and insurance, arrange documents, pay bills) and geriatric psychiatrist.

Clients hire whichever specialists they need and pay each separately.

I asked Chamberlin for the most common mistakes his group sees boomers make regarding their parents’ financial, legal, and care decisions. This applies to you, too!

Here are his top five:

  1. Becoming vulnerable to scammers and unqualified professionals. “It doesn’t just happen to dumb people,” says Chamberlin. “I’ve seen professionals whose parents were scammed!”
  2. Not having proper legal, financial, and healthcare documents. At the least, you need power of attorney, a will and/or trusts and an advanced care directive.
  3. Misunderstanding your options for senior care and how to pay for it: assisted living vs. a nursing home vs. memory care. They’re different, as is Medicare and Medicaid. Do you qualify for benefits i.e. a veteran or spouse of a vet may be eligible for paid in-home or long-term care? Some long-term care life insurance policies pay in advance on a death benefit (tax-free cash now), and, in some situations, a reverse mortgage makes sense to help bankroll care costs.
  4. Holding inappropriate investments and/or selling investments that trigger unnecessary taxes. A professional can identify the best assets to sell (to pay for care or simply maximize investments) that won’t have a big tax impact.
  5. Not taking advantage of tax credits, exemptions, exclusions and deductions. If you qualify, you may be able to claim your parent as a dependent or write off healthcare costs, for instance.

Chamberlin’s model is new; there aren’t many like it — yet. If you can’t find a similar group, then look for a legal or financial pro able to coordinate efforts with other specialists.

(Thanks, adult son, for the blog idea.)

Photo Courtesy of Ponyinarope via Creative Commons

Posted in Caregiving |

Caregiving Tasks: They Keep Coming

Is  there a doctor in the house? You might as well be one, according to a new AARP study of family caregiver responsibilities. I just blogged about the research and realized how lucky I was that I didn’t have to perform medical tasks with my parents or  mother-in-law. Intravenous feedings? Caregiving is already so complicated emotionally and logistically.


Examine my blog:

Family caregivers: If you’re ever looking for a new career, you might want to consider nursing or medicine. Results from the national survey “Home Alone: Family Caregivers Providing Complex Chronic Care,” released this week, suggest your learning curve may not be very steep.

Yes, family caregivers still perform typical tasks such as bathing, dressing, toileting, eating, shopping and handling finances. But the survey reveals the scope of duties often goes far beyond these responsibilities to include handling wound care, administering intravenous fluids and operating specialized medical equipment. Home dialysis. Suctioning. Ventilators. Scary!

Add to the list uncooperative recipients, inordinate amounts of time required to perform these sophisticated tasks and stress over making mistakes. What’s more, many of the 1,677 caregivers who participated in this joint AARP Public Policy Institute/United Hospital Fund online survey felt they didn’t get enough training or support.

For further admiration of family caregivers, check out these critical survey findings:

  • 78 percent managed medication, including intravenous feedings, as well as injections. Nearly half dispensed five to nine prescription medications daily and 65 percent also took one to four over-the-counter pills.
  • Almost half, or 46 percent, performed medical/nursing tasks for those with multiple chronic physical and cognitive issues.
  • 53 percent who had medical/nursing responsibilities also coordinated care—more than double the rate of those who predominately gave personal care.
  • More than half who did complex nursing/medical tasks said there was no one else to do it or insurance wouldn’t pay for a professional.
  • The majority managing five or more nursing/medical duties believed their help allowed a family member to stay out of a nursing home. While caregivers felt that they were doing something important, more than half felt depressed or hopeless and more than one-third reported being in fair or poor health.
  • 47 percent had no training for managing the medications, with more than 60 percent saying they learned how to manage at least some of the medications themselves.

Okay readers. What kinds of caregiving duties do you do? Which do you consider the hardest and why? Do you have any strategies to make your job easier? Let’s get the conversation going!

Photo courtesy of cakencookiebakr via Creative Commons



Posted in Caregiving |

Another Caregiving Concern?

Eduard Titov via Creative Commons

Here’s a trend with significant implications: Older adults are not just receiving care, but also providing (think sick spouse, a family member, friend, or neighbor). In one of my AARP blogs, I write about a study just released with steep statistics on this phenomenon. What community services do we have, do we need, to address these graying caregivers/care receivers?

Take a look:

A new national survey confirms what some of us already know: Many older Americans take care of others and are not just on the receiving end. Let’s get specific. In this first-ever United States of Aging survey, half of respondents identify someone as their caregiver, while nearly one-third say they care for another person.

Those are just two caregiving results culled from the survey, created by the National Council on Aging, UnitedHealthcare and USA Today. Its purpose is to gauge the readiness of communities and adults age 60+ to what I call the “silver deluge”—the 77 million boomers turning 65 to the tune of 10,000 a day.

The three groups decided to ask 2,250 adults age 60+ how prepared they are for their own aging and what they think of the resources available to them in their cities and towns.

Questions covered financial security, community resources, health and wellness, aging in place and caregiving. But don’t expect to see survey results here on all of these topics. Reminder: You are reading a blog on family caregiving!

Not to worry. You can still bone up on survey findings in these other areas.

Consider this a baseline survey. Comparing subsequent reports to it will be particularly insightful. Here are highlights from the inaugural report:

  • Close to half of caregivers say they would benefit from more community services. On that list is respite care.
  • 61% know their community has services to help them, yet just 15% have used them.
  • 21% more have no clue whether services are available where they live.

Have you ever thought about who will be your caregiver should you need one? How about who you may need to look after?

It may seem ultra premature to think about your own caregiving plan for the future. Get over it! You don’t have to make a move, but it’s important to begin thinking about positioning yourself so you’ll have an optimum caregiving situation. Will it be easier if you live closer to family or have them live closer to you? Can you create your own “family” with supportive friends, a retirement community, or consider other housing options?

Intergenerational cohousing? Aging in place and belonging to a “Village” membership network that offers social opportunities like movies, museums, theatre, a group meal, or book club, not to mention rides to medical appointments, discounted home repairs and even dog walking?

I’d love to hear what you’re thinking. Are you a caregiver who also needs care? Have any strategies you can share?


Posted in Caregiving |

The Shape of Things to Come: Adult Playgrounds

Caregivers: There’s a fitness movement afoot that may make you jump for joy. In the last year, adult outdoor playgrounds with low impact-exercise equipment have been springing up around the country.

Some are incorporated into kiddie playgrounds, known as “multigenerational playgrounds.” Others are near the children’s area, while still others are separate older adult areas (“senior playgrounds”).

Designers have skipped the swings in favor of balance beams, sit-up and chin-up bars, cross trainers, stationary exercise bikes, fitness stations and walking paths.

What does that have to do with caregivers? You can take your grandkids and both of you can get health benefits. Or, go with your parent, relative, spouse or friend. While they’re on the body flexer, you can be doing pushups! Off caregiving duty? Walk (good move!) to the playground and work on boosting your muscle strength, balance, stability, and range of motion.

One reason these playgrounds are gaining ground is because exercise is good for the body and the brain. Studies show that physical exercise may help ward off — or at least mitigate — obesity, depression, diabetes, heart disease and memory loss.

Grown-up playgrounds are also an antidote to isolation. Physicians and social scientists say that too much aloneness can lead to loneliness, depression and poor physical health. On the other hand, social interaction — getting out and being with people — has positive health benefits.

The healthcare company Humana and the nonprofit KaBOOM! have partnered to construct a slew of multigenerational playgrounds. Since last year, they have built them in Ft. Lauderdale and Orlando, FL, Seattle, WA, New Orleans, LA, Greensboro, NC, Albuquerque, NM, Tucson, AZ, Nashville, TN, San Antonio, TX, Alburnett, IA and Thermal, CA.

No sweat! This month is Tampa, FL’s turn (in time for the Democratic National Convention), with another to follow in Charlotte, NC. You guessed it, ready to roll at the Republican convention.

Non-Humana playgrounds include Springfield Township, OH, Ithaca, NY., and four in Florida’s Miami-Dade County.

The City of New York is hot to trot, too. They’ve built an adult playground in the Bronx near Yankee Stadium and hope to construct two dozen more around the city by 2014.

We’re not exactly on the cutting edge. For nearly 20 years, China and Japan have had outdoor exercise areas for the over age 60 set. Austria, Germany and other parts of Europe have them, too. And, a couple of years ago, the Hyde Park Senior Playground, affectionately known as the “pensioner’s playground,” debuted in London.

The best part about adult playgrounds? No hefty gym club fee. No loud music. No twenty-something, ridiculously toned bodies.

Posted in Work and Lifestyle |

Recipe for Lifelong Learning: Meat + MBA

Just wrote a fun piece for the new PBS boomer website Next Avenue (tagline: “Where Grown-ups Keep Growing”).

Introducing three adult sons and their father who are in a thriving family meat business.  The four just received their MBAs and have attended night graduate school together to snag other advanced degrees. Read on!

courtesy of Demakes family

As soon as the professor in the Suffolk University Master’s of Business Administration course took roll call in September 2007, the cat was out of the bag:

Thomas Demakes? Here.

Elias Demakes? Here.

Timothy Demakes? Here.

Andrew Demakes? Here.

Not that patriarch Tom, 69, and his three thirtysomething sons, who graduated this May from the Boston school’s five-year night MBA program, were trying to keep their kinship under wraps.

MBAs for the Family

Tom thought an MBA would help the Demakes clan get better at running their fourth-generation national meat manufacturing business, Old Neighborhood Foods in Lynn, Mass. (The family also owns Thin ‘N Trim, a sister company that sells low-fat, low-sodium deli foods, chicken sausage and chicken hot dogs.)

And yet, being in the same classroom with Dad “could be embarrassing,” recalls Elias, a sales manager like his brothers. “My father says what he wants when he wants, and there were times I’d start to sink under my chair!”

But other students in the class were envious, telling the Demakes sons they’d love to get a degree with members of their own families.

Make that degrees.

A History of Enrolling Together

The four Demakes men have previously taken a real estate appraiser’s degree program as well as one in commercial real estate.

Why the focus on real estate if meat is their bread and butter, so to speak?

Tom insisted that the “kids,” as he calls them, work for someone else before joining Old Neighborhood Foods, and they all chose real estate, commercial and residential. (Tom also owns investment property.)

Although his sons grew up working at his plant every summer, Tom didn’t want to pressure them into coming into the business, the way his dad did in 1967 when Tom returned from Vietnam. Timothy and Andrew joined Old Neighborhood Foods around the time they started the MBA program; Elias began there two years ago.

The businesses currently bring in annual sales of nearly $100 million. They have 375 employees at two locations, supplying more than 100 products to supermarket chains, hospitals, restaurants and sandwich shops.

Tom led the charge for the gang to get their latest degree, paid for by their company. He has long insisted that they continue learning every chance they can. “My father is the consummate professor,” says Elias. “You can’t just hang out and relax!”

Business School vs. Real Life

Tom, who graduated from William & Mary, was intrigued by the Suffolk MBA program because he wanted to know what business school taught these days and how the curriculum related to real-world experience.

His conclusion about the instruction: “Some is a little idealistic, some is spot-on.”

Tom also wanted an MBA so he’d stay in step with the current business environment and his employees.

“I have a lot of younger people working here,” he says. “By going to school with hundreds of men and women like my kids, I got a sense of how they think and what is important to them.”

Not in the Curriculum

The Demakes took the same entrepreneurial and branding courses, sat in the same classrooms, were often on the same teams and worked on papers together. In one marketing class, they met an advertising CEO who wound up redesigning their websites.

One subject not in the curriculum: complaining.

Although the brothers sometimes found it tough to juggle full-time work and academics, they knew they couldn’t grouse to their dad about it.

Andrew says that while they were taking one or two classes a week, “we traveled a lot and sometimes we were tired. We would do whining and moaning on our own. But with my father, it’s not much of an option.”

How Their MBAs Helped

Ideas picked up in the MBA classes led the Demakes clan to rethink ways to sell current products and come up with new ones.

For instance, they previously sold shaved steak only to sandwich shops, restaurants and food service institutions. Now they’re offering it in supermarkets, too. “Business school reinforces ways to grow business and extend your brand,” says Elias.

The Demakeses say that getting their Suffolk MBA together deepened their bonds with one another.

“Business school has given me a chance to know my sons better and for them to know me better,” says Tom.

Marill Demakes, Tom’s wife of 35 years, is fiercely proud of her husband and their kids.

“When have you ever heard of a father and three sons going to grad school together?” she asks. “It’s very inspiring.”

Another Degree Ahead?

Now, with their freshly minted MBAs, Tom is floating a new idea: Why don’t he and his sons all go to law school?

Elias is intrigued. “Being able to represent my own company would be quite a feat and an asset to our business,” he says. “But I’m not sure my father will be able to get my brothers on board!”

If history is any guide, the four of them may soon be sitting in another classroom.

Posted in Work and Lifestyle |

Six Ways Caregiving & Dating Can Go Together

What happened to sexytime and intimate relationships?

If you’re a caregiver who happens to be single (one-third of baby boomers are), there’s probably little time for romance. Nothing like having Mom or Dad to cramp your dating!

When you have other responsibilities—that would be work, boomerang or younger kids, grandkids, your own life—the significant time investment of caregiving can wring out every bit of desire, you have. Who even has time to think about dating?

But studies galore show that caregivers’ health often suffers. One way to take the sting out of caregiving is to take care of yourself. And this may include having a love life.

With better medicine and longevity, elder caregiving can go on for years. (I’m into my 12th straight year as a  long-distance caregiver.)

Of course, the logistics can seem exhausting: finding someone you want to date; becoming prepared (get over the guilt of doing something for yourself, dealing with what to wear, what to talk about); and, how to have your parent(s) cared for in your absence (should it be a professional, another family member?)

Here are six strategies that work whether you’re looking for love or just need a break and are perfectly happy solo:

  1. Find a support group of caregivers of aging parents (online, via telephone, or in person). What are some successful approaches these daters have used? What hasn’t worked? Who knows, you may even meet your next beau or suitor through one of these groups!
  2. If your parent is cognitively capable, let them know you need some personal time. Reassure them that you will still take care of them, but may be getting more support. With dementia and Alzheimer’s, try to keep their routine the same and their set-up familiar.
  3. Get them involved in “non-you” activities in the community so they have as full a life as possible and are not totally dependent on you.
  4. Once you’ve met someone you expect to stick around—and not a transitory date—you’ll want to introduce him or her to your parents. (Remember when we did the same with our boyfriends, girlfriends, and exes?)
  5. If your parent has dementia or another disease, get your new partner up to speed. Show them a disease-specific website or give them information on the condition before meeting Mom and Dad.
  6. Caregiving is a big part of your life now. If your partner seems unsympathetic or is unsupportive of your role, he or she is not a keeper.

Take a look at a new guide to caregiving and dating, aptly entitled “When your Only Date is Mom,” written by Kelly Scott of Emeritus Senior Living.

What have you found works best for you when it comes to dating? Or, what is keeping you from dating?

Photo by Ed Yourdon via

Posted in Caregiving |

Gardens as Medicine: 5 Things You Need to Know

courtesy of Massachusetts General Hospital

Want to feel better? Think nature. Healing gardens are a growing trend. Many major medical centers, including the 6,300-square-foot rooftop garden at the Yawkey Center for Outpatient Care, part of the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and the NIH Clinical Center, and long-term care facilities, are adding them. And so are homeowners.

The basic elements of a healing or therapeutic garden include:

  • Plants and wildlife
  • Walkways
  • Private sitting areas
  • Shade
  • A water feature

Most are outdoors. Some have raised planters so patients and family members can plant, weed, and work the garden. Sometimes they have medicinal herbs, such as primrose or foxglove.

Scientists say natural settings can lower stress, blood pressure and heart rate, and muscle tension and negative thoughts. The idea is that lowering stress can boost the immune system and speed healing.

Physicians at Jupiter Medical Center in Florida realized that some patients who could see—they didn’t even have to be in—the hospital garden had less pain, needed fewer medications and had shorter stays than patients without a garden view. I don’t know how they figured that out, but what an endorsement!

The gardens’ restorative and medicinal benefits have many converts: substance abuse, pediatric, burn, HIV/AIDS, hospice, cancer, stroke, brain injury, psychiatric, and dementia patients.

But they’re really intended for a wider audience: not just patients, but visitors, family members waiting for surgery to be over, exhausted caregivers, and staff looking for a breather. Some support groups meet in healing gardens.

How come it took so long for us to catch on? They’ve been around forever from the Middle Ages to ancient Egypt and Greece to Japan (as in Zen gardens). In 1879, Friends Hospital in Philadelphia started a program for psychiatric patients who staff noticed were acting calmer after being in the ground gardens.

Don’t have a healing garden? Relax! Here’s what you can do:

  1. Create your own mini-garden. Even on a city balcony, you can have an area of plants. You don’t need all of the features (water, pathways, private sitting areas) to have a lovely oasis.
  2. Have land and want a more professional therapeutic garden? Use a landscape architect.
  3. Call medical centers and ask if they have gardens. Go visit. If you’re considering a home mini-version, see what you like and what you don’t like. Or just enjoy.
  4. The next time you’re visiting a relative or friend in long-term care, take them outside. If there are gardens and pathways on the grounds, hang out there awhile. Walking around the grounds is good exercise for both of you.
  5. If there’s no formal healing garden that you know of, don’t sweat it. Head to your local park or arboretum.

For a better picture of healing gardens:

Posted in Housing |

Three Ways to Make Your Town Dementia-Friendly

I always knew I lived in a cool, progressive place, but Brookline, Mass, the closest town to Boston, just went up another notch for me.

It not only attracts an international community (world-class hospitals and brainy universities everywhere), but now has the distinction of being the first dementia-friendly community in the country.

The initiative “It Takes A Village” finds ways for those with dementia and their caregivers to enjoy cultural offerings around town, include other residents who want to attend, change people’s attitudes towardAlzheimer’s, and trigger memories of long ago.

The concept is spearheaded by the non-profit ARTZ (Artists for Alzheimer’s) and bankrolled with a grant from the local Brookline Community Foundation. It has brought together public and cultural institutions, civic and business leaders, and citizens.

Between March and this August, there will be 16 events, every other week for 60-90 minutes. These include:

  • An interactive story telling program at an independent bookstore
  • An art program at the Brookline Art Center
  • A music performance with musicians and those with dementia at the Brookline Music School
  • An outdoor concert on the grounds of the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site. Olmsted was a world-famous landscape architect and park-maker
  • A discussion on politics at the home where John F. Kennedy was born
  • A film program at the 1920’s, Art Deco Coolidge Theatre (profiled in AARP)
  • Yoga in a studio
  • A talk about antique cars at the Larz Anderson Auto Museum

A recent program at the car museum, entitled “On the Road,” steered the conversation from what they were seeing to their own memories—their first car, going to drive-ins in their parents’ cars, and their own travels.

Since this is Boston, college students volunteer and also participate. “The idea is to destigmatize dementia in the community so that it just becomes something people have, like cancer or HIV, that they live with, but it doesn’t define them,” says ARTZ Creative Director Sean Caulfield. “What we don’t want to do is warehouse people and keep them isolated, but rather, inside the community circle.”

Caregivers get to meet one another and find educational opportunities for family members. The adult child I know of two parents with dementia moved them to Brookline so they could participate in these events.

Want to make your town dementia-friendly?

  1. Figure out what is available in your community. A culinary institute? A college? A community center? A public library? A movie theatre?
  2. Start a coalition of people caring for those with dementia
  3. Talk to local, civic and business leaders, non-profit foundations, community activists, and cultural institutions.
Posted in Housing |

Eldercare Finally Recognized by Feds


Wahoo, eldercare has arrived! The latest federal survey, which tracks how much time people spent per day working, performing household tasks, engaging in leisure activities, and taking care of children in 2011, has a new category: Eldercare.

This entry into the annual American Time Use Survey (ATUS), put out by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, reflects the deepening responsibilities Americans age 15+ have for providing unpaid care to someone over age 65–perhaps a parent, spouse, relative or friend.

And just wait: Nearly 10,000 people a day in the United States will turn 65 in the U.S. for the next 20 years. As the 78 million baby boomers age, those number of hours are going to escalate big time.

Eldercare covers a lot of turf, from helping with meals and medication to grooming to transportation to companionship. Or really, anything else that needs to be done.

The ATUS is weighty information used in federal economic, health and safety, and family/worklife balance research, as well as for international comparisons. The inclusion of eldercare is significant. For laymen, it provides insight into how Americans spend time, what they do, and with whom. The study further propels momentum for coming up with solutions and policies to ease the burden of family caregivers.

Here are the survey headlines:

  • No surprise to some: 56% of the 39.8 million eldercare providers were women. Note that the male/female gap is getting smaller. The age 45-54 demographic provided the most eldercare (23%), followed by ages 55-64 (22%), then age 65+ (16%).
  • Surprise: A spouse or domestic partner provided just 4% of eldercare, while 42% cared for a parent, 20% for a grandparent, 20% for another relative and one out of four for a non-relative.
  • On average, 24% took care of at least one person 65+ every day, for an average 3.1 hours; 23% helped several times a week, 20% once a week; 20% several times a month; and around 11% once a month.
  • 85% of care came from someone who did not live with the recipient.
  • 69% cared for just one person.
  • Oh, boy! 23% of providers also had one or more kids at home under age 18. Can you say “sandwich”?
  • One out of six people in the U.S., or 16% of the civilian noninstitutional population ages 15+, spent time helping elders.
  • More than 60% of care for an older person came from someone age 45+; one-sixth by a person age 65+.

Which statistics did you find most interesting? My pick: Very few recipients live with providers. What is your eldercare situation?

Posted in Caregiving |

Do You Mind? Meditation for Caregivers

Grand Velas Riviera Maya via

It’s time to take up meditation. A new UCLA study shows it’s a great stress-buster for caregivers–better, in fact, than a relaxation CD. Participants were taking care of family members with dementia, but it could really apply to any group–and not just caregivers. Who wouldn’t want to feel less depressed and have a sharp brain?

Here are the details from one of my weekly AARP blogs:

For dementia caregivers, it seems that daily meditation can lower depression, improve cognitive functioning—yes, we’re talking about the caregiver here—and even reduce cellular aging caused by stress.

According to a recent UCLA study reported in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, meditation did a better job of keeping the blues at bay than a relaxation CD given to caregivers.

This study may be small, but compelling because:

  • 5.4 million people in the U.S. have Alzheimer’s
  • More than 15 million Americans do unpaid caregiving for those with dementia
  • 80% of care is provided at home by family caregivers
  • Close to 50% of family dementia caregivers are clinically depressed

Researchers had 49 family caregivers 45-91 years old (36 adult children and 13 spouses) divide into two groups. The meditation group learned a 12-minute Kirtan Kriya yoga practice that included chanting, finger poses, and visualization meditation.

The second group listened to instrumental music on a CD in a quiet place with their eyes closed. The groups did either meditation or relaxation listening at the same time every day for eight weeks.

And the winner is. . .meditation, with 65% showing a 50% improvement on a depression scale (vs. 31% for the CD group), and 52% with a 50% improvement in mental health and cognitive functioning (compared to 19%).

But the next finding may take your breath away. Meditation slowed cellular aging by increasing telomerase activity. Before I lose you: An enzyme known as telomerase is associated with health risks and diseases that can be regulated by stress. Without telomerase activity, the cells divide, and telomeres, as they’re called, become so short they die. So the more there’s telomerase activity, the longer the immune cells will last.

The group practicing meditation had a whopping 43% improvement in telomerase activity, while the relaxation group scored just 3.7%.

UCLA’s caregiver program has added yoga/meditation to its offerings. This doesn’t mean the relaxation CD wasn’t valuable. It, too, reduced depression, boosted mental function, and hiked telomerase activity.

You probably don’t have to take care of someone with dementia to benefit from the UCLA findings, either. Stress from any kind of caregiving can lead to poor mental and physical health. And, meditation can relax the body and the mind.

I’m planning on boning up on Kirtan Kriya. How about you? Here are some resources:

Or, contemplate these other articles on the power of meditation:

  1. Free mindful meditation podcasts from UCLA 
  2. Help for family dementia caregivers 
  3. American Meditation Institute


Posted in Caregiving |

3 Ways to Make Your Town Dementia-Friendly

I always knew I lived in a cool, progressive place, but Brookline, Mass, the closest town to Boston, just went up another notch for me.

It not only attracts an international community (world-class hospitals and brainy universities everywhere), but now has the distinction of being the first dementia-friendly community in the country.

The initiative “It Takes A Village” finds ways for those with dementia and their caregivers to enjoy cultural offerings around town, include other residents who want to attend, change people’s attitudes toward Alzheimer’s, and trigger memories of long ago.

The concept is spearheaded by the non-profit ARTZ (Artists for Alzheimer’s) and bankrolled with a grant from the local Brookline Community Foundation. It has brought together public and cultural institutions, civic and business leaders, and citizens.

Between March and this August, there will be 16 events, every other week for 60-90 minutes. These include:

  • An interactive story telling program at an independent bookstore
  • An art program at the Brookline Art Center
  • A music performance with musicians and those with dementia at the Brookline Music School
  • An outdoor concert on the grounds of the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site. Olmsted was a world-famous landscape architect and park-maker
  • A discussion on politics at the home where John F. Kennedy was born
  • A film program at the 1920’s, Art Deco Coolidge Theatre (profiled in AARP)
  • Yoga in a studio
  • A talk about antique cars at the Larz Anderson Auto Museum

A recent program at the car museum, entitled “On the Road,” steered the conversation from what they were seeing to their own memories—their first car, going to drive-ins in their parents’ cars, and their own travels.

Since this is Boston, college students volunteer and also participate. “The idea is to destigmatize dementia in the community so that it just becomes something people have, like cancer or HIV, that they live with, but it doesn’t define them,” says ARTZ Creative Director Sean Caulfield. “What we don’t want to do is warehouse people and keep them isolated, but rather, inside the community circle.”

Caregivers get to meet one another and find educational opportunities for family members. The adult child I know of two parents with dementia moved them to Brookline so they could participate in these events.

Want to make your town dementia-friendly?

  1. Figure out what is available in your community. A culinary institute? A college? A community center? A public library? A movie theatre?
  2. Start a coalition of people caring for those with dementia
  3. Talk to local, civic and business leaders, non-profit foundations, community activists, and cultural institutions.
Posted in Housing |

Grey Divorce Not So Black and White

Lately I’ve heard of lots of people married for decades who are getting a divorce. Last week, a friend told me about a couple I know married 43 years who just called it quits. He found his high school love on Facebook. .

Divorce is so rampant among boomers it is now known as “grey divorce.” The reasons vary and the implications economically, psychologically, and professionally are enormous. I interviewed experts, as well as divorced and divorcing men and women for a recent story I did for AARP.

Why do you think so many long-married couples are saying “see ya?” How has being single in later life impacted people you know?


Photo by via Creative Commons


And, a cool idea for family caregivers:

Until recently, if you were confined to your house, a hospital, or long-term care, you might get a visit from a chaplain or a weekly religious service at the facility. But for the more spiritual and religious, that feels like putting a penny in the money basket at church—a nice gesture, but inadequate.

The advent of online religious and spiritual offerings may be the answer to your prayers. Want to know why?

Posted in Work and Lifestyle |

Boomers and Divorce–Ugh

Divorced, single and struggling–photo courtesy of AARP

Boomers love to do everything their own way, and they are out in front on divorce, too. While the overall divorce rate in the United States has decreased since 1990, it has doubled for those over age 50.

Divorced boomers, like Edith Heyck, are finding creative ways to make it on their own after a split. — Photo by Robyn Twomey/Redux
Reasons vary: Longer lives mean more years with an incompatible spouse; no kids to use as a reason to stay together; less stigma about splitting; more women working, some outearning their spouses; and a remarriage failure rate of 60 percent.

The surge has spawned the term “gray divorce.” As Jay Lebow, a psychologist at the Family Institute at Northwestern University, says, “If late-life divorce were a disease, it would be an epidemic.”

One out of three boomers will face older age unmarried, says Susan Brown, codirector of the National Center for Family & Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University in her new study “The Gray Divorce Revolution.”

That’s significant. The fact that onetime legally bound partners have gone their separate ways later in life — or are single by choice or circumstances — has many personal and societal ramifications.

More on Gray Divorce

What happens to your Social Security after a divorce? Read
Everything you need to know about dating after divorce. Read
How divorce hurts adult children. Read
Join AARP Today – Receive access to exclusive information, benefits and discounts.

Paying on your own

Even if not divorced, older adults can be vulnerable financially in today’s economy. But a split-up hardly helps. “You end up with only half of what you had when you were married, and half can feel like nothing,” says Ginita Wall, a San Diego CPA and certified divorce financial analyst.

“Keep in mind that many consequences of divorcing later in life revolve around one fact: less time to recover financially, recoup losses, retire debt and ride the waves of booms and busts,” says Janice Green, an Austin, Texas, family law attorney and author of Divorce After 50.

More than half of all workers or their spouses have less than $25,000 in household savings and investments, according to the 2011 Retirement Confidence Survey, published by the nonpartisan Employee Benefit Research Institute. Women also still earn less than men and have a longer life expectancy, which puts them at greater economic risk. “Once women wind up older and alone, whether it’s widowed, divorced or never married, they’re at a fairly high rate of poverty, on average 20 percent,” says Heidi Hartmann, president of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Singles will also depend more on public benefits, such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, according to Maya Rockeymoore, a Social Security expert. With the oldest of the 78 million boomers turning 85 in 2031, the government tab could be staggering. In 2021, Medicare alone is expected to cost taxpayers $1.1 trillion — up from $586 billion in 2012.

To stay afloat, some singles, like Eileen Lewis, 66, take in boarders. Divorced at 50 after a two-decade marriage, she rents out a room in her Catonsville, Md., home. The income helps her pay her utilities, gas and part of her mortgage — and enabled her to take a cruise, “something I never would have been able to do before,” she says.

Someone to watch over me

Caregiving adds to the burden of aging alone — and it, too, typically affects women. A 2009 National Alliance for Caregiving/AARP survey found that 66 percent of caregivers were female, with women providing on average 21.9 hours per week vs. 17.4 hours for males. And, according to a National Alliance for Caregiving/Evercare survey, the average out-of-pocket expense for caregivers is $5,531 a year, $8,728 if helping from a distance and $5,885 if the caregiver and care recipient live together.

Older men may make out better financially than women, but they don’t fare so well at finding someone to take care of them when they’re older. “They often don’t have alternative care networks the way women do,” says Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University. “If a man gets divorced, his support in later life is gone. Plan B may be to remarry because he needs a caregiver.”

After divorce, children often live with their mothers. If dads move away or don’t stay close, adult children may not be willing to be caregivers when needed.

Remarriage for either ex is murky territory, too. “If you acquire a stepson when you’re 60, will he help you when you’re old?” asks Cherlin. “We’re creating complex family relationships where we’re related to more people but obligated to fewer.” Even if there is a close bond, children may not live close by.

When asked who they’ll turn to when they’re older, single men often cite paid help, says Teresa Cooney, a gerontologist at the University of Missouri. But paid help is pricey, and can be hard to find. Up to half of the 5.4 million adults with Alzheimer’s have no identifiable caregiver. Former spouses often step in, mainly to spare their children, or because no one else can, says Cooney.

New configurations

The end of a marriage often leads to the formation of a new family, with relatives or friends assuming the caregiving role of a spouse. It can also lead to some unexpected living arrangements.

After her marriage of 32 years ended in 2008, Ellen Rittberg, 60, of Long Island, N.Y., moved to her mother’s home to save money. A year into the arrangement, her mom broke her pelvis; Rittberg decided to stay. Now they care for each other. “It is mutual love and companionship,” says the mother of three and grandmother of two. “I went from being embarrassed that I was living with my mother to feeling so lucky we’re close, and that I can do this.”

Not everyone has family, can live with them, or wants to. According to AARP, 22.3 percent of women and 12.5 percent of men age 50-plus live alone. With people living longer, adult children could wind up caring for three or four parents, plus stepparents. Already, one-third of all female caregivers care for two or more people.

Though most people want to grow old in their homes, some don’t have that choice. Those living in the suburbs or a rural area with limited public transportation and social interaction have additional challenges.

Some singles who don’t want to burden their children are creating their own support systems. Arthur Okner, a divorced, retired management consultant, owns a condo in a Boulder, Colo., cohousing community, where decisions are made by consensus. “I have very little family,” says Okner, 70. “Here, I belong to a community.”

Also on the rise are “villages,” where older adults living on their own have access to vetted services, like home repair, as well as trips, lunches or evening events for an annual fee, $350 on average. Other singles make their own arrangements. Edith Heyck, 61, an artist from Newburyport, Mass., shared a condo for three years with another divorcee in her 50s. “I enjoyed the companionship and it was a financial relief,” she says. When her friend sold the condo, Heyck moved in with an older woman, until Heyck lost her place to a new boyfriend. Now, Heyck is “sofa surfing,” until she’s eligible for senior housing. “I never planned for my financial future,” says Heyck. “I just assumed I would be married.”

Sally Abrahms, coauthor of What Every Woman Should Know About Divorce and Custody, writes about boomers and aging.

Posted in Work and Lifestyle |

Boomers Welcome New Housing + Technology

AARP Bulletin photo

Ever heard of intergenerational cohousing? Does “niche community” ring a bell?

Boomers exploring what’s-next-optiions for themselves or their parents will want to know about two more: pocket neighborhoods and granny pods.

Check out my AARP Bulletin story on pocket neighborhoods.

The idea is to get to live in a place where there is a sense of community. Run the other way, loners!

Take a look at all the great caregiving technology on the market. Do you know of others?

Posted in Housing |

No Kids, Who Cares?

Excuse the flip title,”No Kids, Who Cares?” The question is, who will care for the one out of three folks ages 65+ who live alone when they need help? I know many single, older women who anguish over this question.

Many women never married, or are married without kids. Or, they may have children who live far away or from whom they’re estranged. It’s those adult children, if not a spouse, who usually wind up doing the bulk of the caregiving.

So, through my AARP blog post, I wanted to let readers know about a fascinating, new website started by Los Angeles social worker Marcy Cole called Childless Mothers Connect (don’t let the title confuse you, it’s for women childless by choice or circumstance). It could be a good place to discuss caregiving.

Fascinating figure: nearly half of adults ages 65-69 are self-employed, according to the latest Social Security Administration report.

Boomers: Take a look at this Forbes piece “Baby Boomers: America’s Hottest Group of New Entrepreneurs.” Love it!

Posted in Caregiving |

Cool Technologies for Caregivers

The new technology for caregivers would make The Jetsons proud. Ever heard of GPS safety technology or wireless sensors that can notify a caregiver if Mom’s activities don’t make sense–she isn’t leaving her bed, or is leaving the house at an odd hour, for instance? It may sound Big Brother-ish, but it can be a godsend.

There’s lots for the active set, too: mobile PERS (Personal Emergency Response System)

A mobile PERS from MobileHelp

–think Medic Alert on the go–that Dad can use on the golf course, take the dog for a walk, or when out with friends.

For my weekly AARP blog, aging in place tech expert Laurie Orlov recommends the premiere products and services for caregivers.

New topic:

Loved this piece in the Wall Street Journal on 90-year-old Iris Apfel. The face of MAC cosmetics. Designer. Metropolitan Museum donor–I mean actual things, not $$. Professor. Party-goer. Creative aging to the hilt!

Posted in Caregiving |

Tax Talk, New Job?

Okay, talking taxes is a lot less riveting than my last post on how senior centers are trying to woo boomers (that’s riveting!), but figuring out how to get a tax deduction for taking care of a parent, relative, or in-law is worth it. Do you qualify for a $3700 deduction for caregiving or can you deduct your relatives’ medical expenses?

That is the topic of my weekly blog post for AARP. And, the Wall Street Journal wrote a similar piece the same week. Great venues think alike!

New subject: I want to put in a plug for my friend Kerry Hannon’s book What’s Next? She writes for AARP, Forbes and USA Today. And she’s working on a new book AARP Great Jobs for Everyone 50+: Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy … And Pays the Bills. Stay tuned.

Kerry Hannon’s book on changing careers

Posted in Work and Lifestyle |

Senior Centers are Wooing Boomers

Photo by George Contorakes/Masterfile








I know it’s hard to believe, but you can join a motorcycle riding club, throw pots in a ceramic studio, learn to blog, work out a session with a personal trainer, and have uber fitness facilities at–yup, you read it right–a senior center.

Read about how senior centers are changing to snag a younger demographic in my latest Huffington Post piece.


More news:  a milestone last week in NYC: the opening of the country’s first LGBT senior center called the SAGE Innovative Senior Center. Check out its debut.

Posted in Work and Lifestyle |

Bring on the Caregiving Talk!

The email is intriguing: My friend is gathering a group who are grappling with caregiving issues for a brainstorming dinner at her home. She feels overwhelmed, with a job and husband in Boston and very ill parents in Connecticut.

Not only do I write about caregivers, but I’ve been one for 14 years straight (first my father, then my mother, now my mother-in-law).

I’ve never met the others at the dinner table. At 58, I’m the baby, while one of the guests is turning eighty. Some of us have downsized, others have big houses they vow never to leave (that would be the 79-year-old who works full-time).

I think the conversation is going to be about how hard it is to be in this role—the exhaustion, the guilt, resentment, worry, and time drain, for starters. But, it’s really about how we can avoid finding ourselves in many of our parents’ positions when we’re their age, and how we make it easier on our kids.

The host mentions the mistakes she thinks her parents have made: Refusing to leave their house so that now, even with full-time help, her dad feels isolated. (Her mother has Alzheimer’s, her dad, late stage cancer.)

She wants to know what others think about moving near their adult children when they can no longer take care of themselves. (Most of us raise our hands.)

A guest says that as soon as she or her husband die, the other will move out of state near one of their two daughters. The daughters have already scouted out places and she’s seen them in each city. “What does she think?” we ask. She says, “It’s fine, I will make friends. But most important, I will be close to my child so my kids don’t have to worry about me”—the way she did with her long-distance parents.

How considerate, I think. My husband asks why we are so reluctant to lean on our kids when we need them, just as they have leaned on us (and still do) for so long?

A male in his 60s talks about how his parents died in a retirement community, in their own beds surrounded by friends and family. He says he, too, wants to grow old with caring people.

He has an idea: What if a group of friends buys a building rehab it and live together in separate units so they can help support one another?

I don’t have my life as an older person mapped out. I do know, though, that there are options (Cohousing? Live near a university?)– some yet to be invented: Assisted living on a cruise ship?

As I write this, I get a phone call from another friend in the throes of caregiving. How about getting a group together for lunch to talk about it?

We’re meeting next week. You can do the same.

Posted in Caregiving |

When You Don’t Want to Be the Caregiver

We’re supposed to want to take care of our parents or aging relatives. And, if we don’t want to, we rarely admit it.

But what if they treated you terribly (i.e. critical, controlling, demanding) and now you are expected to treat them well? Perhaps you’re no longer close or there’s an unresolved conflict (your father, let’s say, cheated on your mother and doted on his new wife and kids rather than you or there was blatant sibling favoritism.)

You’ve kept your distance, perhaps, but age-related declines are forcing you to become more involved. Dealing with them now can reignite old hurts and resentments. Still, you may feel responsible and realize they’re not the same person today. Or, you may decide you don’t want to participate in caregiving.

Alexis Abramson, a gerontologist and author of The Caregiver’s Survival Handbook advises “not feeling guilty because you don’t have affectionate feelings toward your loved one—acknowledge them and move on. Caring for a parent doesn’t mean you have to coddle them … you just have to behave responsibly.”

Perhaps her best advice: “No matter what: Never lose sight of the fact that through your actions, you’re setting an example for your children.”

Lisa Campbell, a clinical psychologist who specializes in adults age 50+ at the Willow Wellness Center in Park Ridge, Ill., believes identifying why you’re caregiving and putting that into simple terms can help: “I’m caring for them because this is important to me, or this is the right thing to do, or what love means, what a daughter does, or what my faith calls me to do.”

Campbell also sees adult children who choose not to play the nurturer/caregiving role or get involved only minimally. “There are times when it just isn’t healthy or safe for people to care directly for relatives in need, and people should have the right to say ‘no,’” says Campbell. In these cases, you need to figure out a different support system.

Explore community resources at senior centers, agencies for aging, park districts, churches, neighborhood centers as well as consider professional help and/or shifting the task to a less conflicted family member or friend.

Connect with others in a support group, reach out informally, read books. “The people I see who do well go to caregiving support groups,” Campbell says.

Here are more ideas for those not brimming with love:

  •  Can you set clear boundaries, such as limiting the hours you’re available for calls or establishing grounds for cutting off contact (“If you swear at me, I’m hanging up”)?
  • What can you do so that you feel good about how you’re handling the situation, have no regrets, and are still self-protective?

Are you taking care of someone you’d—how to say it?—rather not? What gets you through?

Posted in Caregiving |

Drawing Comfort from Museum Programs

Courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art

Do you know that many museums around the country, including the Museum of Modern Art, offer fabulous programs for caregivers and those with Alzheimer’s? I visited one at MoMA–incredible! Here’s a bit about it and others I wrote about in my AARP blog. Participants on both sides of caregiving were enthralled. And check out the Degas in that photo!


Posted in Caregiving |

Caring for the Caregiver

Palliative care can be a godsend. I discovered it when my mother was in her final days last summer. My AARP blog on caregiving this week talks about how helpful it was not just for my mother, but for me. For anyone at the end of life (or suffering from medical treatment or a disease), palliative care is a terrific resource. Have you ever used it? What kind of experience did you have?

Whoever says that older adults tend to disengage from social activities and responsibilities as they age is dead wrong, according to a new study from the Boston College Sloan Center on Aging & Work. Well-being, it shows, is linked to active engagement in paid work, education, volunteering, and, yes, caregiving.


Posted in Caregiving |

Huffington Post Starts New Over 50 Section

The Huffington Post has decided it’s time to give those boomers their own section! “Huff/Post 50″ launched today, and has a piece I wrote entitled “A Not-So-Rare Breed of Boomers.” Here’s the link:

It talks about what crazed beasts we humans are with our dogs. There’s even a mention of my fabulous Springer Spaniel Isabella (alas, deceased).

I am thrilled to be blogging regularly on boomers and aging for the Huffington Post. Be sure to check me out there

Posted in Work and Lifestyle | | Comments Off

Creative Aging: Get Used To It

Confession: I wasn’t dying to go to the brunch at my mother-in-law’s assisted living place out of town today. The musicians who play these gigs could easily be residents.

The visit is particularly tough for me because my 91-year-old mother died just a month ago. In the lobby is my mother-in-law (happy 92nd next week) is wheeling my mother’s cobalt blue walker (the Range Rover of geriatric gear), which I gave her, along with lots of my mother’s jewelry.

She looks fabulous in the chunky, alabaster glass necklace and matching earrings. Compliments are flowing about her gems from fellow residents and their families. I am thrilled I have given them to her, and I know my mother would have been pleased, too, but it feels weird, too. I’m feeling a bit blue.

But then, at dessert this woman Roz I have never met comes up and asks me if I am my mother-in-law! Hmmm. Then she asks me if I’d like to hear her play the piano. Why not, I think? I can do this!! So I follow her into the other room.

She can barely see and has just confused me with a nonagenerian, so I’m hardly expecting mad piano skills. The woman is amazing! She plays vivaciously from memory and belts out the lyrics to “If I Were a Rich Man,” and then some songs from her era I haven’t heard.

Roz crooning away

A 14-month-old great, great granddaughter of another resident is carried into the room and starts to dance.  The pianist is delighted with her audience–the baby, her mother, and I-all folks who have just met Roz. I clap and the baby is twirled. After one song, Roz shows infant a brightly colored velcro toy on her walker; the little girl is fascinated.

After six consecutive songs, Roz rises and takes her walker. I tell her my name and she says, “Sorry, I can’t remember names. It’s so embarrassing living here for four years with the same people and I have no idea what their names are.”

I tell her, “You may not remember names, but they can’t play the piano like you.” She thinks about it and says, “Yes, but wouldn’t you be embarrassed if you couldn’t remember?”

What I will remember from today is not to underestimate people, regardless of age.

But then, I’m writing a story that is not letting me forget it.

Once my piece is published in November, I’ll link to it and explain more. Here’s the teaser:  a concept called Creative Aging that is gaining fans nationwide. You heard it here first!

The premise is that creative expression is essential for older people and that arts programs can yield dramatic physical and emotional benefits for elders–fewer falls, more mobility, less depression, more social engagement, better sense of self. You’ll have to wait for the substantive stuff.

In the meantime, check out the National Center for Creative Aging to learn more,  find out if  these programs are offered for your parents or grandparents, or how you can be part of one.

Just one last note: thanks, Roz!

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Solutions for Working Caregivers With Clueless Bosses

Staggering statistic: 61.1 million Americans care for older friends or relatives (AARP). Here’s another: Caregiving costs U.S. businesses nearly $33.billion a year in productivity (MetLife and the National Alliance for Caregiving).

Okay, it’s a dilemma for both sides. In my AARP Bulletin piece, I talk to working caregivers, some of whom feel penalized for having aging parent responsibilities.

I also ask negotiator extraordinaire Susan Hackley, executive director of the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, for strategies to discuss caregiving responsibilities with your boss.

Here are a couple of her tips (read the rest in my story):

1. Level with your boss and explain you can do your job and take care of Mom, Dad, or a spouse.

2.  Describe the problem and have solutions ready, from working from home a day or two a week or leaving early and making up the time. Invite your boss to discuss his/her concerns.

Other resources you can check out:

The National Alliance for Caregiving

The National Family Caregivers Association

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How Can We Change the Negative Attitudes Toward Older Workers?

Older workers get a bad rap: too slow, not productive enough. But what about a company that seeks out the 70, 80, and even 90-year-old set? At the Vita Needle Factory in Needham, MA, I visited a factory where grey hair, or no hair, is the norm, where the annual gross sales are $11 million, and employees are valued for their loyalty, quality of product, work ethic.

Some don’t even need the paycheck, but do the manual labor to stay connected, hang out with peers, and have a sense of purpose. Did I mention they have to walk up 19 steep steps to get to the factory floor? Rather than a sense of drudgery, visitors see productivity and optimism. It made this 50-something feel like a slacker!

Do you think we value older, older workers and if not, why not? Would you would want to work at that age? What would you rather be doing?

Watch them at work in this youtube video:

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Not Your Typical Hendrix Cover Band

Young@Heart is singing rock ‘n roll, dancing, and touring Europe—in their 70s, 80s, and 90s!! I interviewed this Northampton, MA, group for TIME and found them riveting! I love their sense of fun, enthusiasm, and energy. Rather than sing Sinatra, they’re gyrating to the Clash, Coldplay, and the Talking Heads.

Here’s the official Young@Heart trailer.  I’m sure the video can’t capture how cool they are. I got to see them in the flesh!

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What Are The Top Three Age-Friendly Cities?

Happy 65th birthday, 78 million boomers! Just 20 more years until you’re 85! And what of it?

Today, Philadelphia has the highest proportion of people age 60+, with more than half minority or foreign-born. And, New York City’s older population is going to soar by almost 50% in the next 25 years. AARP research shows that 89% of older Americans want to stay put.

Cities like Philly and NYC are scrambling to find ways to make it easier for older Americansto age in their communities (the lingo is “age in place”). This means good public transportation when driving no longer works, plenty of walking routes, access to parks and stores, and opportunities to participate in the community.

“Age-friendy cities” and “livable communities” are the new buzzwords you need to know. In fact, there are 300 livable community efforts nationwide that include creative partnerships between federal, state, and local agencies, businesses, nonprofits, academia, and experts to make their city hospitable to the old and frail (as well as all ages, naturally).

It makes fiscal sense to care: people live in places that address their needs.

I interviewed experts from New York City, Atlanta, and Philly who are creating age-friendly environments.  These include changing zoning codes to mix commercial and residential so people can shop wherer they live, and getting businesses to think older with chairs to rest and bigger signage, the better to see, my dear.

Take a look at what these cities are doing.

What would you like to see happen where you live? What do you think are the biggest obstacles to staying in your home, apartment, community?

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Should the Boomer Generation Be Called the Divorce Generation?

Just read a piece in the Minneapolis Star Tribune ( that says one-quarter of all divorces happen in 20+-year-long marriages and terming boomers “the most divorce-prone generation in history.” Stats show 23.4% over age 70 are divorced, while it’s 35.7% for people in their 50′s.

That validates what I’m seeing. I know of several couples married more than 30 years who, in the last two years, are splitzville. Lots of speculation why, from better health, longevity, and expectations, less stigma, to being at different stages to no commonalities. Any thoughts?

Also just ran across a Wall Street Journal piece on Generation X parents–the kids of those boomer divorcees–who vowed not to behave like Mom and Dad. It doesn’t always turn out that way. Here’s the link:

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Wising Up With Retirement

In his Huffington Post piece, Aging Guru Ken Dychtwald mentions a 2011 survey conducted by heavy hitters (Age Wave, SunAmerica, and Harris Interactive) of 1,000 men and women ages 55+ who are either pre-retirees or retirees on their attitudes toward retirement.

The take-aways:

1. It will be good and bad. Boomers will have fewer government entitlements and less money, but they’ll stay active, keep learning and growing and leading interesting lives. They’ll also be more careful with, and educated about, their money.

2.  70% expect their adult children will need financial help from them

3. 78% respondents believe they can still have a good retirement if they’re more financially disciplined

4. 77% of pre-retirees want to work in retirement, more for personal satisfaction than even money.

Here’s Dychtwald’s Huff Po piece:

Check out the report at

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Latest Boomer Trends In Housing

So great to research alternatives to being alone and lonely in later life. Lots of fun options, from cohousing to niche communities to university-type living. A nudist community for older foks is in the planning stages. I pass! Have gotten lots of interest in this AARP Bulletin piece:

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Married But Living Apart?

It’s a phenomenon, not just a media headline. More older, long-married couples live in separate digs, cities, states during the week, rendez-vous on (some) weekends. Not so dreamy, but driven by economics. I interviewed happily-married-but-living-solo folks and experts for AARP Bulletin.

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MetLife Quick Facts About Aging and Boomers

For the last six months, I have written a monthly newsletter for MetLife Mature Market Institute (MMMI) on aging and boomers. These snappy snippets called Quick Facts give the most up-to-date information on a range of topics from retirement to finance to older workers and other areas.

There are some fun and timely facts. Take a look:

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Is Making Friends Harder for Baby Boomers?

Some people have so many friends that the thought of making new ones is exhausting. But many baby boomers feel the loss of easy friendships created through the kids when they were younger–steady encounters on the soccer field and elsewhere. You don’t have to be a sadsack or have few or no friends to want to be part of more people’s lives. Continue reading

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Homeless No More

My latest article for AARP Bulletin covers homeless veterans not only given a second chance, but a new home! The response has been overwhelming. Veterans and social service folks have been contacting me to vent and find resources.

Click here to read:

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Award-winning writer specializing in aging and baby boomers for national and custom magazines, the web, companies, and organizations.

Print and Internet: features, news, Q & A’s, profiles, and ghostwriting. Author of two books, including a national book tour.

Corporate Communications: web content, brochures, newsletters, media kits, reports, executive profiles, marketing materials, advertorials, and features.

Check out my latest work for AARP, inspiring people age 50+ for TIME, and my MetLife report on purpose in later life.

Recipient of two fellowships on aging from the New York Times Foundation and the MetLife Foundation.

Blogger for the Huffington Post's new Huff/Post 50 section.


The New York Times
The Wall Street Journal
AARP The Magazine
USA Today
The Los Angeles Times
The Boston Globe
The Atlanta Constitution
The Philadelphia Inquirer
The Miami Herald
New York Magazine
Boston Magazine
The Congressional Record
New York Daily News
The AARP Foundation
Johnson & Johnson
Harvard University
Columbia Pictures

JP MorganChase
Yale School of Medicine
Duke Medical School
Tufts School of Medicine

Ladies' Home Journal
Family Circle
Working Mother
MetLife Mature Market Institute
Civic Ventures
Second Act