Aging Archives – Varsity Branding

Tag: Aging

At our 2nd monthly Continuing Care at Home Roundtable, we all shared our ideas about generating leads, cross-promoting community living and overcoming objections.

Check out the highlights below, and feel free to join us for our next roundtable discussion in April.

Please join our next Continuing Care at Home Roundtable on Wednesday, April 7, at noon ET.

For login information, email DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

 

During our final roundtable of the year, communities shared what they learned in 2020 and how they’re anxiously awaiting the vaccine.

Check out the highlights below, and please join us for our first roundtable of 2021 after the holiday break.

Please join our first roundtable of the year on Thursday, January 7, 2021, at noon ET.

For log-in information, contact DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

Robert Speker, Activities Coordinator at Sydmar Lodge  in Edgware, North London, UK, and his residents have passed the time through lockdown by recreating famous album covers. Posing while wearing similar clothing, makeup and expressions, the residents (and the caregivers as well) have redone album covers by the Beatles, Lady Gaga, Adele, Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jackson, The Clash, U2, Elvis Presley, Madonna and others. And they’re still going.

Robert started this project to keep residents engaged and entertained during social distancing. Rather than passing the time playing bingo or watching TV, he felt they needed something more inspiring to do. It was a huge surprise to all of them when the project quickly went viral on social media and gained international recognition. Robert has done 80 to 100 TV and print interviews, and was gracious enough to talk to Varsity. See his ongoing artistic collaborations with residents at @RobertSpeker on Twitter.

Why did you begin this project?

It was something I’d long thought about, but I don’t usually have a lot of time. However, during lockdown, I had more time to put on different activities with the residents particularly when no family visits were allowed. That was the impetus for me actually starting the project. Once I had explained to each resident what I wanted to do, they got on board really quickly, with great enthusiasm.

What have been some of the highlights of the experience?

There have been many. David Bowie’s widow Iman retweeted it.  It’s just a phenomenal thing to know that the love of his life has seen this project and has liked it.

Midge Ure challenged me to do the Ultravox album cover of Vienna, which was just celebrating its 40th anniversary. So I felt the need to be able to do it. After I sent the photo out, he sent a really lovely message. As a special surprise for resident Sheila Solomon’s 92nd birthday, I’d arranged for her to meet Rag’n’Bone Man backstage before one of his concert. He was really lovely with her. He is a huge guy… he gave her a signed album. It was the one with the tattoo, so I knew that I had to get her doing this cover, complete with tattoo, temporary in Sheila’s case.

Sheila also recreated the Clash cover (a redo of an Elvis Presley album). She’s a real character. There’s not many 94-year-olds that still like going to rock concerts! She’s just waiting for lockdown to end so she can go and see Ed Sheeran. 

How did you choose the residents and carers for the photos?

It was partly on their look, say, if they had a similar hairstyle, but also based on music preference. They had heard all of the artists⎯they might not know exactly the song, but they all know and have listened to all of the different artists. So it was a case of showing them the album covers. It was interesting to discuss different covers and see how the image appears to someone in their 90s, and then it was a case of matching it in that way and taking some photos.

How did you choose the album covers?

I wanted the covers to be ones which were easily recognizable ⎯ the word “iconic” springs to mind. Even if the photo won’t have the name of either the singer or the group, you’ll know almost immediately who that artist is.

What impact has your project had on morale among residents and staff?

Well, they really have loved doing it. And obviously the global response has just been overwhelming. It’s been absolutely awesome, really phenomenal and so positive. They loved seeing the coverage on TV and in the press. For the residents and the staff to receive such warm wishes from around the world is really heartwarming ⎯ especially in this time when we are still in lockdown. Residents are only seeing their families maybe a couple times a week, if that, literally for 20 minutes, at two-meter distances, with masks on. The positivity was really needed. And while I was doing it just to create some smiles, it has also raised awareness of care homes—the people who are living and are working in them.

Did that play a role in changing the perception of older individuals?

It certainly did, because it made people realize that care homes aren’t this stagnant environment where residents just sit around in a circle, either sleeping or watching television. We try to encourage them to do as much as they possibly can. My mantra is: Use it or lose it. So often I say, if you can do it yourself, do it, because you don’t want to get to that stage where you actually aren’t able to do it; so once you can still do something, do it. And with these photos, they were all able to do it, they all enjoyed doing it. So it was that kind of feeling of knowing how care homes are perceived not only in the UK, but obviously in America and other countries, and we’re trying to knock that theory out of the window.

Are there any residents who said, “Hey, I want to be included”?

Yeah, we had a few, and their family members would get involved by saying, “I think Mummy would be good at this.” Or, “Why don’t we use Dad for this?” Then we’ve got residents saying, “What am I going to do? When am I going to be photographed?”

How did people find out about it?

Initially I sent it out on Facebook, to the families, and then posted on Twitter and Instagram. On Twitter, that’s where it went really completely crazy—just to learn who had seen it and how many people had seen it. I said to the residents, over 11 million people have seen these photos. It’s quite unbelievable. 

How were you able to do all the makeup, hair, body painting, photography and editing?

When I’ve got an idea such as this in mind, I like to do it myself, because I know what I need to achieve, rather than trying to explain it to someone else. Also, I didn’t want a lot of people knowing about it, just so that it could be focused on that individual. I could just take them off quietly. There’s no hoo-ha about it. I’d spend 30 minutes or an hour with them. Doing the makeup or the set or the hair.

Can you talk about why you made some of the details in the photos different?

Martin, the gentleman in the Springsteen photo, he’s got his own baseball cap, so I thought, I’m going to use that cap. And I’ve tried to do that throughout, so if there’s an item of clothing that the actual individual has already, then I want that to be in the photo. Sheila had a jumper similar to Rag’n’Bone Man’s, so that’s what I got her to wear. For Hilda and Blink-182 — the model is wearing a red bra, which wouldn’t have been appropriate for her. I showed a lovely red jumper of Hilda’s. Whether it’s an item of jewelry or a piece of clothing, I use things that belong to the residents, to make sure that it’s about them in the photo, not just their body, but also other aspects of their personality.

 Have other communities reached out to you about your project?

Yes. Another care home messaged me and said, “We hope you don’t mind, we saw what you did, and we’ve also tried to have a little go at that.” I think that’s a wonderful thing — especially during this time, when other care homes are in isolation — we need to be sharing ideas. And if this can work in other settings, then I’m all for it. It’s not a competition about who can do the best; it’s about making sure that seniors are engaged and have activities to do.

What has been your favorite thing about the project?

Suddenly, our residents are in the spotlight; they are the main talking point, having done something absolutely phenomenal. They have been able to talk so much about this to their peers, to family, to staff. It’s amazing that it’s still carrying on. Which is a beautiful thing. 

It’s not only just making somebody smile, it’s the fact that residents are talked about. And it’s not about the famous singers, it’s about our residents. It is really humbling personally for me. I never expected the impact and the response. I’m really overwhelmed, and the residents just absolutely love receiving the messages and can’t quite believe that people in America, Australia and all over the world have seen these photos and want to connect with us.

It has been a lovely ride that we’ve all been on. I’ve really shared it, the whole way, with the residents, which is just a lovely thing.

During COVID-19, Robert and the residents of Sydmar Lodge Care Home are helping others by raising funds for three charities: DementiaFriends.org.uk, Alzheimers.org.uk and AgeUK.org.ukYou can join the cause by donating through their GoFundMe page or by ordering a charity calendar they’re creating. Watch Robert’s Twitter page (@RobertSpeker) to see when the calendar comes out and how to order it. 

This week, we’re pleased to present a guest post by Lynn Perugini, director of sales and marketing at Meadowood At Home, a Continuing Care at Home (CCaH) program that is affiliated with the Meadowood Life Plan Community in Worcester, Pennsylvania.

For over 20 years, Lynn has provided exceptional service to senior communities and their residents. She’s an expert at giving sales and marketing presentations, and when COVID-19 closed the country down, she embraced virtual seminars immediately.

Today, I’d like to share some practical, common-sense tips for giving virtual presentations. These tips engage viewers and lead them to the next step in the sales cycle.

  1. Prepare, Prepare, Prepare. My biggest tip would be to prepare. The presentation part of it is all of it. Practice your presentation several times before you actually give it. (My family sat through at least four trial runs before I actually gave my first virtual presentation.)
  2. Set the stage. Consider the background you’re sitting in front of, the level of your camera, what’s around your computer. It’s like a stage show, and all the elements are part of a set. The details need to be right.
  3. Remember Camera Etiquette 101. My coworkers laugh, but I even do my makeup differently when I’m going to be on camera. Here are some other tips to help you make that on-camera connection with the audience:
    • Remember to smile—the audience can see you!
    • Use your hands as if you were talking to a friend
    • Wear a bright color (and especially, don’t wear black if you have a black chair, or you’ll appear as a disembodied head)
    • Wear a headset to signal that you’re connected to the video
    • Make sure that your head and shoulders fill the screen
    • Introduce yourself on camera at the beginning, then turn the camera off, so the audience can focus on the presentation
    • Engage the right monitor (if you have more than one monitor, make sure that the right one is engaged; if you don’t, you’ll be showing people your desktop instead of your presentation)
  4. Experiment with platforms. My favorite platform is GoToWebinar. I’ve tried Teams and Zoom, but I like GoToWebinar, because it’s easy for my audience of seniors to use. It’s as easy as one click; they don’t have to set up an account, and they don’t have people calling or emailing them. (Many of them are concerned about security.)
  5. Connect the phone audio. In the demographic I work with, many people have older computers that don’t work well. Now my invitation says, “Click here to see the presentation. Call this number if you don’t have a speaker on your computer.” Give your audience more than one way to experience your presentation.
  6. Help your audience through the process. Younger seniors are computer-savvy, but the folks over 80 may struggle. If they need help, I walk them through the process, and show them how they can easily get online. That drives registration. I’ve even had people call me for help five or ten minutes before the presentation.
  7. Make the presentation visually interesting. Avoid using a logo that sits on the screen. Add motion and life, like animating bullet points. That keeps the audience’s attention and acts as a prompt, so you can speak to each item as it flies onto the screen. You can also invite a guest speaker to add interest.
  8. Mix up the topics. Switch out your presentations and target them to difference audiences. (I change my presentations to target residents who live in 55-and-older communities, people who are interested in long-term care insurance and others.) The world at large has been doing these virtual presentations for four months, and audiences are getting burnt out. We’re all inundated with requests for webinars. And now that the weather is nice, it’s going to be even harder to get people’s attention, so variety is important
  9. Know that live and virtual are totally different. My online presentation is 100 percent different than my live presentation. In the live presentation, the PowerPoint is just a backdrop. In the virtual presentation, the focus is on the slides—the information has to be clear, easy to understand and attention-grabbing.
  10. Avoid too much touchy-feely. During COVID-19, people tend to make virtual presentations too emotional. Don’t show 50 slides of people wearing masks. Too much loses people, unless it’s as a background or a quick mention. I try to focus on relevant data—pricing, statistics and how people are using my program.
  11. Watch other virtual presentations for ideas. I made sure I sat in on at least four or five other, similar presentations; I picked out things that did and didn’t work. For example, one presenter overdid the polling feature—it was a good idea, it just took an agonizingly long time. That experience taught me that it’s best to do a quick poll at the beginning or end. 
  12. Follow up afterward. I send a separate email thanking the audience members for joining the webinar. I also provide them with the financial slides I presented. And I send a link to a New York Times article about Continuing Care at Home programs. When I send that, I tend to get a lot of reply emails.
  13. Make a virtual event a segue to a live event. At a live event, I can read the audience much better, and they can get to know me as well. At the end of my webinar, I encourage the audience to attend an upcoming live seminar (when it’s up and running). It’s a different level of commitment when people come to an in-person event. It’s easier to build personal relationships there.

I hope you’ve found these tips helpful. I think it’s a great idea to continue to do virtual presentations, even after COVID-19. People are comfortable with them now. They see them as less of a commitment than a live event. I think I’m always going to do them. They’re a new and useful tool for sales and marketing.

Even after three days in the steamy summer heat, my excitement about everything I learned at the LeadingAge Tennessee 2019 Annual Meeting & EXPO is just beginning to heat up. The theme was: “What if we helped people find passion and purpose?” The individuals I connected with at the show are doing that in amazing ways. They’re bringing generations together, leveraging strategies from other industries and approaching their challenges with a fresh perspective.

Without further ado, I’m excited to report back to you my top five “what-ifs” at the show:

1. What if we could integrate former foster youth into senior living communities?

While I was walking the floor, I spoke with Rosemary Ramsey, founder of The Victory Lap, an organization committed to matching youth, 18 to 21, who have aged out of the foster program, with open apartments at senior living communities. The community would be paid $900 per month (funded by the foster program in Tennessee) and would be asked to provide a job for the individual (at least 10 hours per week). The program is intended to give former foster kids a boost — with stable housing, employment opportunities and support from caring older adults — while meeting workforce challenges, filling otherwise vacant units and fostering intergenerational friendships. Look for an interview with Rosemary in a future blog post!

2. What if we could bring the principles of doula care to hospice?

A session on creating a doula program for hospice created some serious conference buzz. The program follows the principles of birthing doulas to help guide the individual and family/loved ones through the dying process.

3. What if we could find and retain top talent?

One of my favorite sessions, led by Matt Thornhill, stressed the need for transparency and inclusion when hiring. It was all about finding and retaining top talent. One example Matt referenced was the innovative 30/40 program by LifeSpire of Virginia in which certified nursing assistants are paid for 40 hours but are only required to work 30.

4. What if new residents could feel at home more easily?

I heard several people talking about a unique continuum concierge program discussed by Melissa Ward, vice president of clinical & regulatory affairs at Functional Pathways. The program promotes successful transitions and helps people stay in their current levels of care. Its tools include new resident orientations, resident-driven support groups, physician services, collaboration across the care continuum and more. Stay tuned for a future blog post about this innovative program.

5. What if we looked beyond a prospect’s age and income?

Last but not least, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention our session with co-presenter Robbie Voloshin of United Methodist Communities (UMC). Robbie celebrated her birthday that day! The talk covered an in-depth research study on which we had partnered with UMC. In short, the study shows how going beyond superficial demographics to interests and values can help organizations connect more deeply with the right prospects. Discussion centered around the core aspects of the study — the values statements and how they were ranked.

Have you had any what-if moments of your own? If so, drop me an email at DDunham@VarsityBranding.com. I’d love to hear about them.

At Varsity, we take every opportunity to get into the mind of the mature market, so we thought, “What could be better than using the social media phenomenon, FaceApp, on one of our own, James Schorn, resource manager at Varsity?” I decided to capture a few of James’s reactions to seeing himself aged several decades.

Q. Did seeing yourself aging change your perceptions about growing older?

A. It was refreshing to see myself aging like fine wine, as opposed to aging like milk…All kidding aside, I did feel that my spirit remained resilient, and that confirmed the many experiences I’ve had with older people ever since my first job working in the dining room of a retirement community. I think what I have always enjoyed about the mature market is seeing how happy and active this generation is. I love hearing about their life experiences. Sometimes it seems as if the world classifies our older generations as weak and fragile. Based on my experiences, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Nothing is more inspiring than a couple that has been married for 50+ years and still loves each other, day in and day out.

Q. What are your responsibilities at Varsity?

A. I’m in charge of quotes, scheduling and planning of projects. Through my career, I have overseen hundreds of projects of all different scopes. This has allowed me to use knowledge from past initiatives to ensure that our future projects run efficiently while giving our clients the best possible return.

Q. Are there any myths that still need to be debunked about aging, and the senior living industry specifically?

A. The overall perception of senior living needs to change. From my visits to communities, I have seen personally that they are built on friendship, trust and care. From residents to staff members, everyone looks out for one another. This generation is made up of strong individuals, and they should be respected for their impact on this world.

 

Two very different leaders have just reached the halfway point of their journey in the LeadingAge PA Fellows in Leadership program. For all those who aren’t able to attend, we wanted to share ten unexpected things they’ve learned about leadership along the way.

Brian Mailliard is the CFO at St. Paul’s. Sakkara El is the Director of Personal Care at Masonic Villages. As they hit the halfway mark of their journey, here are 10 invaluable insights Sakkara and Brian have gained about leadership so far:

  1. Shake up your thinking. “I came into the program with my own ideas on leadership, much of which was inculcated during my youth,” said Sakkara. “Now I realize that there’s so much more to it. My overall thinking has expanded.”
  2. Be aware of your impact on others. “The program is teaching me to be more aware of myself, and how my actions and reactions can have an impact on those I’m tasked with leading,” Brian said.
  3. You don’t have to have all the answers. Brian has been amazed by the sheer volume of leadership information that is out there. “It’s not always about knowing all the answers,” he said, “but having resources to reach out to and learn from other individuals that are experiencing similar situations.”
  4. Praise your team. All of the Fellows underwent a DISC profile, a test that assesses personality styles. “It was eye opening reading page after page about my leadership style,”  Sakkara said. She has made a conscious effort to implement some of the leadership suggestions that came from the profiles, such as praising the team she directly manages more often.
  5. Be an advocate. The Fellows visited the Capitol Building in Harrisburg to gain a deeper understanding of the importance of advocacy, including interacting with government officials and their office staff.
  6. Execution is key. Sakkara found one presentation on the work of leaders enlightening. “The lecturer explained the importance of crafting a vision, building alignment and championing execution,” she said.
  7. Look outside yourself. Both Sakkara and Brian were inspired by a visit to  Messiah Lifeways in Mechanicsburg. The community is very innovative and 100% resident focused,” Sakkara said.
  8. Look inside yourself. “”It has been an introspective journey in terms of continuing to learn, grow and evolve in my leadership style,” Brian said.
  9. Build relationships. Current fellows, past fellows and LeadingAge PA staff attended a mixer at the LeadingAge PA offices. “Meeting new people you can learn something from is always a plus,” Brian said.
  10. Don’t wait to be a better leader. What would Brian tell people who are thinking about participating in Fellows in Leadership? “The sooner you can do it, the better.”

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One major myth about older adults and technology is that they don’t use it because they don’t understand it. But that idea is as outdated as a flip phone. From social media to online banking, older Americans are adopting tech at the speed of light.

Recent findings by the Link-Age Connect 2019 Technology Survey of Older Adults Age 55-100, also featured in Senior Housing Forum, bear that out. Smartphone use in particular has been skyrocketing. Among people ages 70-74, it shot up from 54 percent to 81 percent. That’s in just the past three years.

Unexpected  Choices

What’s even more surprising than the speed at which older adults are adopting new technologies? The reasons why some are unplugging from tech completely. Or at least using it less. Seniors often make this change, not because they’re confused about technology, but because they’re making a conscious choice to live offline. Here are some of their very smart reasons:

    1. Older adults prefer human connection. As smartphone penetration spikes ever higher in people of all ages, we’re all on our phones, all the time. Even when we get together, we’re logging on to check social media or our daily step count instead of talking to one another. Older Americans have the wisdom of knowing that time on this earth  is precious. It’s important to spend it with family and friends instead of glued to a device. One quote from the study proves the point. “I think technology is taking over people’s lives and it takes away from relationships with people.” – Female, age 95-99.
    2. They’re simplifying their lives. Older adults often have a desire for minimalism that goes hand in hand with human connection. The survey states, “As people age, they simplify their lives, allowing more time for personal interaction and less time for things that ‘busy’ them or take them away from time with family and friends.” Another quote adds,“It isn’t necessarily about teaching older adults to use a technology. It very well could be that they have used it and walked away from it because they do not want it in their lives any longer.”
    3. They’re watching their budget. Those on a fixed income struggle to pay for technology. For instance, only 25% of affordable housing residents have in-home WiFi , compared to 90% of the greater population. Even when older adults can afford to spend more, they follow the principle: “If it works, don’t fix it.”  Sure, marketing campaigns are persuading other generations that they need to spend hundreds on the latest Smartphone. But older Americans often aren’t interested in updating just to get the latest bells and whistles. If it’s a “want” instead of a true need, they’ll keep the device that still works just fine.

 Personality Trumps Age 

The study also found that technology adoption relates more to personality than age. Comments from two different survey participants underscore that point: “I L-O-V-E technology.” – Female, age 84. “I prefer to use it when I want to and not be run by it or tied to it.” – Female, age 95-99. At Varsity, we’ve expressed our opinions before about not lumping everyone 65+ into one category. This new research has driven home, once again, that people of ages need to be seen as individuals — when it comes to technology or anything else.

This past week, I attended the LeadingAge Colorado 2019 Annual Conference and Exhibition in Vail, Colorado. One of my most profound experiences there was hearing a presentation by keynote speaker Jonathan Fanning. In his speech, Fanning challenged us to “happen to the world.” Our speaker’s assumption was that too many of us don’t happen to the world.  Instead, the world happens to us.

To me, his message had personal meaning. You see, in our business, we often allow life to simply happen to us. This is true not only at work, but too often in our personal lives as well. When we allow life to just happen to us, we usually find ourselves in a place where we feel less in control of circumstances. Perhaps, we even feel  victimized by life’s events.

My Early Travels
Fanning’s talk brought me back to a time early in my career, when I had begun traveling for work. Throughout my career, I’ve continued to have many opportunities to travel across the country and the world. (That’s why my agency, Varsity, ended up creating Flat Wayne,  my alter ego, an intrepid traveler who shows up in cities all over and is always the life of the party.)

Today, I’m as gregarious as “Flat Wayne,” but early on, I would spend most nights huddled around my paperwork within the four walls of the hotel. My work was always the most important task for the evenings, along with a lonely dinner.

Thinking Differently
One of my mentors challenged me to think differently about my travel. He tasked me with doing two things: One was to always find something unique about the area I was visiting and to go see that place or event. The other challenge was to never dine alone. Although a bit more difficult, the effort to always find a dinner guest, regardless of the time zone, allowed me to make life happen.

These small changes in my travel habits have helped me foster more meaningful relationships. That  brought me greater work-life balance over time. I now have a greater sense of so many local cultures, and stay in learning mode.

Making Life Happen
Most of us spend so much of our day with activities centered around work. When I learned how to make life happen through intentionally engaging with the people and environments around me, good things happened. I found fulfillment in relationships and learned so much more about the world. Life had more meaning and purpose. I now look forward with anticipation to opportunities to learn during my travels. More importantly, I  connect with people and break bread together. No longer does life just happen. I make it happen.

As leaders in our category, what are we doing daily and weekly to “happen” to our world? What’s our purpose in life? Why are we here? Who matters to us and why?

Finding Meaning 
Wrestling with the above questions, though challenging, can reveal answers that raise incredible considerations for each of us. We can work to promote meaning for our life and for others. Having a clearer understanding of our answers helps us act with more intention. We can control more of what goes on in our lives and how we create opportunity for meaning  purpose for those who’ve entrusted us with their well-being.

 

 

Soon, older adults will have access to a breakthrough new tool to improve their quality of life. Mohammad Mahoor, PhD, director of the computer vision and social robotics laboratory at the University of Denver, has spent the last decade working with his students to create and refine an amazingly lifelike, socially assistive robot named Ryan, which can provide deep social interaction and companionship to people living alone.

Designed to address challenges of aging — like dementia, depression and loneliness — this “companionbot” can recognize faces and emotions, express feelings, hold conversations and remember individual comments for future interactions to build a relationship over time. Ryan’s face is expressive and lifelike; she can turn her head to react to voices and movement, and her torso contains a screen for playing music and games, watching videos, looking at photos and doing other activities. Ryan’s next iteration will also have active arms so she can coach people in light exercises to improve their physical fitness.

In a pilot study, six residents at Eaton Senior Communities in Lakewood, Colorado, had 24/7 access to Ryan in their apartments for a period of 4–6 weeks. Ryan was customized for each participant, with photos for an album, daily schedules, favorite music and topics of interest for YouTube video searches. Participants could call Ryan by the name of their choice.

Observations, interviews and analyses revealed that the residents established rapport with the robot and greatly valued and enjoyed having a companionbot in their apartment. They also believed that the robot helped them maintain their schedule, improved their mood and stimulated them mentally. One user shared that, “She [Ryan] was just enjoyable. We were SAD to see her go.”

After the staff at Eaton Senior Communities told me how thrilled the residents were with their experiences with Ryan, I spoke with Dr. Mahoor about his invention.

 

 Wayne: Why did you create Ryan?

Dr. Mahoor: We wanted to address the needs of older people living with dementia, loneliness and depression. There is a shortage of caregivers, and care is expensive — Ryan is a great form of companionship. She can help seniors lead better lives at home.

 

Wayne: Can you talk about the testing process?

Dr. Mahoor: The first round of testing, in 2016, was a six-month, piloted study at Eaton Senior Communities. All of the features were not ready, the cognitive games were simple, and the speech recognition had some glitches — but we received very positive feedback. After making changes, we did two more pilot studies this year. One focused on how Ryan can help people with dementia through cognitive behavioral therapy. The second pilot study was totally autonomous. Users had half an hour of interaction with Ryan for 3–4 weeks to test the emotion recognition technology.

 

Wayne: Were there any surprises when people first began interacting with Ryan?

Dr. Mahoor: At first, we had a fear that people wouldn’t like Ryan. But even in the early stages, they reacted very positively. We noticed that the more time they spent talking with Ryan, the more they enjoyed it, and they wanted her to tell them more stories and jokes — even gossip! When we took the robot away from one of the residents, he literally cried. The bond was so strong that he was very sad. It was really surprising for me that a robot could make such a huge impact on people’s lives. I didn’t expect that much of a connection between machine and human.

 

Wayne: What challenges did you face when test-driving Ryan?
Dr. Mahoor: One of the challenges is that you have to be patient because multiple people cannot talk to Ryan at the same time — you have to take your turn so that she can listen and understand you.

 

Wayne: What kinds of results have you had?

Dr. Mahoor: When we measured mood and depression before, during and after phase one of our study, we found that Ryan significantly improved users’ moods and lessened their depression.

 

Wayne: What’s next for Ryan?

Dr. Mahoor: We received a National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant for phase one, and now we are in transition to phase two. NIH has approved our next grant from a scientific perspective. Now it just needs to approve the budget. Phase two would be a grant of over a million dollars to help us study Ryan’s impact on the progression of dementia.

 

Wayne: How unique is Ryan?

Dr. Mahoor: There are other robots out there, but this is the first one developed with features customized to help with depression and dementia through social conversations, games and other interactions.

 

Wayne: When will Ryan be available on the market?

Dr. Mahoor: We are very close; I’m hoping by the end of the year. We’ve started working with investors to begin production. Users love Ryan, the feedback has been positive, and we’ve made improvements. It’s time to go to market to fulfill our mission of helping the health care industry.

 

Wayne: How much will she cost?

Dr. Mahoor: Manufacturing each Ryan costs thousands, so to make her more cost-effective, we have a subscription-leasing plan in mind. The cost would be about $400 per month for individuals, but if a corporation wanted to lease multiple Ryans, the rate would adjust. One Ryan can be reprogrammed to serve multiple residents.

 

Wayne: What would you say to people who worry that robots will take over the world?

Dr. Mahoor: Ryan is going to complement the time and support of caregivers and help make their lives easier — not take over and replace them.

 

Wayne: Are you surprised at where you are today?

Dr. Mahoor: Yes. When we first started several years ago, I didn’t think we’d be in a position to commercialize the invention; I didn’t think we’d be a startup meeting with investors. I’m so happy about our progress. For us to be in a position to bring a robot to market that’s going to improve health care and impact people’s lives for the better is amazing.

 

Learn more about Dr. Mahoor’s companionbot, Ryan, at Dreamfacetech.com.

 

 

Once in awhile at Varsity, we view current entertainment through the filter of aging services marketing. This past weekend, I binged out on “The Kominsky Method,” a trending Netflix series starring Michael Douglas as Sandy Kominsky, a former Hollywood A-lister turned acting coach, and Alan Arkin as Sandy’s longtime agent and best friend Norman Newlander. Produced by sitcom sultan Chuck Lorre (“Two and a Half Men”), the show also features a star-studded cast, including regulars Danny DeVito, Nancy Travis and Lisa Edelstein, with guest appearances by Jay Leno, Ann-Margret and Patti Labelle.

The eight episodes I watched dealt with death, drug addiction, ageism and cancer and still managed to be laugh-out-loud funny — at least I thought so.

One reviewer wasn’t so enamored of the show. He thought the jokes were tired and that there was too much focus on peeing habits. Sandy’s need for frequent urination, including watering the hedge in his date’s yard, dominates more than one episode.

The reviewer makes a valid point, although for me, the humor somehow works. The portrait of Michael Douglas’ character with an enlarged prostate is a refreshing contrast to the usual list of invincible aging male stars jumping from planes in action movies.

One mystery the show did clear up for me is why some men I know frequently pee in hedges and bushes, as well as behind large trucks in parking lots. I always thought it was a macho need to “mark your territory,” but it turns out that it’s just a male health condition that worsens with age.

During the hedge scene, I picked up the phone and called my Uncle Tony (who has been dealing with a slow-growing prostate cancer) and asked him to tune in and give his opinion. He binged through all eight episodes. My uncle’s favorite part? Sandy and his lack of steady flow had him laughing out loud.

Beyond the humor, Uncle Tony explained, it was great to see an important subject being given prominent attention. In a lighthearted way, the show drives home the point that even famous people aren’t immune to this health issue, which impacts 50 percent of men over 50 and 90 percent of men over 80 and can be associated with prostate cancer. Every time the great Sandy Kominsky makes another trip to the bathroom, it underscores the need for diagnosis and treatment of prostate conditions. Sandy’s reluctant visit to his urologist is funny, of course (imagine a white-coated Danny DeVito wielding the power of a rubber glove), but a more serious message clearly comes through: If you’re having symptoms, get checked.

Other serious themes are also cloaked in humor, including the ever-prevalent issue of ageism. One example: Norman’s assistant comments that it’s great for him to be back at his job running a talent agency after his wife’s death, comparing him to her grandpa, who keeps his mind active by doing the daily crossword.

In spite of the stereotypical perceptions of those around them, the older characters forge ahead as contributing, working members of society — even if they’re sometimes reduced from their former glory. (For instance, Elliott Gould, in a hilarious guest turn as an erstwhile movie icon, accepts a cheesy commercial hawking reverse mortgages.)

Whether you find the humor funny or not, “The Kominsky Method” definitely takes on some important issues. Is a season two renewal in its future? Stay tuned! In the meantime, you can learn more about prostate cancer detection and treatment by visiting the Prostate Cancer Foundation.

During 2018, we have undertaken an ongoing blog series in which we take a look at the opportunities and challenges faced by the diverse groups of Boomers and seniors being served by today’s aging services providers.

For our first article in the series, we examined a rapidly growing population in the United States — Latino Boomers and seniors. In our second article, we looked at the changes that LGBT seniors are driving in the marketplace. For our third piece, we talked about America’s largest-growing ethnic demographic: Asians.

Now, for our final article in this series, Wayne Langley is considering the challenges faced by African-American seniors in today’s society.

Over the last decade, the African-American population in the United States has celebrated some amazing strides, while also being forced to come to grips with incredible lows. From the high of electing an African-American president, to facing racial violence in American cities, to challenging relationships with the police force, African-Americans are still struggling for equality in many ways. Unfortunately, one of the areas of continued inequality is income while aging.

In January of this year, Bloomberg published a report about the retirement crisis facing African-Americans. Its analysis showed that the average Caucasian family has more than $130,000 in liquid retirement savings, such as cash, retirement savings accounts and IRAs. Startlingly, the average African-American family has less than one-sixth of that amount saved (or about $19,000) — and this isn’t a new trend. The racial wealth gap has been growing since at least the 1960s and isn’t showing any signs of slowing. As retirement living options become increasingly more expensive — and more luxury-focused — the ability of African-Americans to move into such residences is slimming.

Ashton Verdery and Rachel Margolis studied some of the risk factors facing African-Americans in retirement. They published their findings in October 2017, and the outlook was grim. Their report notes that African-Americans have a much higher instance of life-altering illnesses, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer. Obviously, this leads to the need for increased acute care as this population ages. Within the African-American community, it can be a cultural expectation that family members will step up to the plate and help take care of aging relatives; however, there is an increasing trend in older African-Americans aging without any relatives to provide this support, especially in light of the trend of “grey divorce,” which has steeper rates of occurrence in the African-American demographic.

Verdery’s report specifically touches on the implications for long-term care based on the findings. “Having family members come in and check, or someone double-checking what doctors are doing, is a beneficial thing,” says Verdery. “We may need to have more programs that check on people, particularly those without family.” As aging services marketers and providers, we know the importance of an involved family; not only do they help loved ones make good decisions, but they also act as watchdogs to ensure that proper care standards are being maintained. Without a family member or advocate network, aging African-Americans could be at greater risk for neglect.

Another point relating to aging African-Americans and retirement living is the rate of homeownership. The Washington Post reported that the rates of African-Americans who own their own home are at the lowest in recent memory. In fact, in 2015, the rate of African-American homeownership was the same as it was nearly 50 years earlier! In our space, it is common knowledge that most potential residents will need to leverage the sale of their home to be able to afford to make the move to a Life Plan Community. If one doesn’t own a home, a Life Plan Community could be terribly far out of reach.

Aging services providers who value diversity and inclusion may need to rethink some of their financial models if they want to appeal to and include a larger African-American population in their communities. Certainly, this is going to be a vibrant market in the coming years, and the provider that figures out how to best serve it could stand to reap major rewards. Yet our fear is that unscrupulous organizations, aiming to make a quick dollar, will look to provide seemingly affordable solutions that fail to cover the minimum standards. This, in turn, could lead to African-American seniors being placed into an especially precarious position as they age.

Sources:

https://www.bloomberg.com/diversity-inclusion/blog/retirement-crisis-facing-african-americans/

https://www.nextavenue.org/old-black-alone-grim-forecast/

http://www.pnas.org/content/114/42/11109.full

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/get-there/wp/2018/04/05/black-homeownership-is-as-low-as-it-was-when-housing-discrimination-was-legal/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.ee67dce46d2b

It’s summertime. You’re visiting your favorite community pool or, perhaps, a waterpark. You choose to take your family to these places because they have trained, supervised lifeguards. Sure, sometimes they are a little young, but it’s an extra layer of safety. As you dip your toe into the water, you look up to the lifeguard’s tower where you find a surprise waiting for you: In the chair, where you would normally find a tanned and lean teen or 20-something sits a woman who could easily be your own mother. She’s obviously in good shape and is keeping an eye on the water, ignoring the shocked look that you surely have on your face.

Water recreation centers around the country are embracing the “grey wave” that has come into their labor force.

A recent article from the Washington Post provides some excellent insight on this topic, but the facts it cites shouldn’t be a surprise. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, fewer teenagers are seeking employment, with only 35 percent of people 16 to 19 holding down a job. That’s down from 52 percent only 20 years ago. The jobs that have been traditionally held by teens are now being subsumed by adult workers — whether they are just trying to make ends meet or are looking for a little extra cash on the side.

If you look at the challenge from the employer side, hiring older adults to fill these positions makes good business sense. They are generally more reliable. They usually have their own transportation. They can work through a whole summer season and don’t need to quit early to return to school. Swimming is also a popular exercise method for older adults, as it is easier on the joints. This means that many older adults are capable swimmers, making them prime candidates for lifeguarding roles. This change from teens to seniors in water safety roles serves as an interesting example of how the labor market is adapting.

Today, teens and 20-somethings are being pulled in many different directions. Where once they were expected to hold down a job, now schools and recruiters are looking for a more diverse extracurricular portfolio. Sure, having a part-time job is important, but don’t forget to play at least one (if not more) sports, participate in student government, engage in some kind of educational activity (such as tutoring younger students) and more. All of these extra activities add up, leaving the student workforce both harder to engage and harder to rely on during peak times.

This is where the older adult workforce is really finding a niche. As younger workers choose to concentrate on schooling or career-building, entry-level service jobs are getting tougher to fill. Older workers are prime candidates for these positions — whether they are unskilled and trying to make it through retirement or are well-off and looking for something different to do after spending 30 years in a fast-paced career. Lifeguarding is just one avenue that Boomers and seniors are taking. At Varsity, we believe that other industries are going to start experiencing a wave of older workers. If they choose to embrace it, it could be great for business. Should they choose to ignore it, they might be drowning in their own shortsightedness.

It’s no secret — I love comic books. I collect everything Batman-themed and find myself inspired by the art and the story of superhero fiction. If you’ve participated in one of our branding presentations, you’ve experienced my passion, as we use Superman and Batman as examples of brand archetypes. I proudly take credit for that analogy!

“But, Rob, what do comic books have to do with aging?” you may ask.

Our favorite superheroes are timeless and never seem to age. Batman and Superman have managed to stay young forever, even though they debuted when my grandparents were children. Recently, however, some comic book writers have begun toying with the idea of what would happen if some of the most well-known superheroes got older.

Let’s start with my favorite superhero of all time: Batman. In “The Dark Knight Returns,” Frank Miller’s classic four-part miniseries, we meet a 55-year-old Bruce Wayne, who comes out of retirement to fight crime. The story may seem a little familiar, as the writers admit to being inspired by the “Dirty Harry” film “Sudden Impact,” released in 1983. Frank Miller has also noted that the story is a reflection of his own experiences with aging. In the book, Batman has to deal with the limitations that aging have caused, all while trying to guide and mentor younger heroes looking to take up a mantle similar to his. So influential was “The Dark Knight Returns” that it has been credited as one of the driving forces that created the Dark Age of Comic Books, characterized by a grim, seedy version of comic realism.

Another hero that everyone knows — and that I enjoy — is Wolverine, of X-Men fame. In 2008, he got his very own aging story, entitled “Old Man Logan.” In this tale, superheroes have been wiped out, and Logan has remained under the radar, hiding his famous claws and superpowers. But, after some urging from Hawkeye, who is now blind, Logan sets out on a cross-country adventure to deliver a package to the new capital of the United States, under the rule of the Red Skull. Throughout the series, Logan and Hawkeye encounter other aged superheroes, struggling to find their place in a world that is only looking to destroy them. It’s another gritty tale that weaves the aging process into a broader story.

The previous two stories posit the question, “What if a superhero aged?” But, in 1996, DC Comics asked a much larger question — one that is suddenly pertinent to the aging services space: What is the “succession plan” for superheroes? The story starts with the Justice League stepping down from their roles as superheroes after the general public endorses a new hero named Magog. Magog isn’t afraid to kill in the name of justice, thus violating the unwritten superhero code of ethics up to this point. This blurring of morality leads to “heroes” causing wonton destruction. Superman and the Justice League return to service to corral the out-of-control heroes, putting the team in conflict with Batman. During Superman’s decade-long absence, Batman has been training the next generation of heroes. The manner in which the now aging Batman and Superman go about training the next generation is a focal point of the story, with both sides making blunders along the way. If you’re going to pick up one comic book series to read, I highly recommend snagging the collected edition of “Kingdom Come.” It’s a fantastic story, with truly outstanding art.

At Varsity, we pride ourselves on having a fresh perspective on aging. Personally, I find it fascinating when unexpected mediums deal with the topic of aging. Yes, sometimes their depictions can be a little cliché, but other times — such as in the comics I mentioned — we get a different look. All of these varied viewpoints keep me refreshed and excited as I take on the challenge of creative development for our clients across the country.

Excelsior!

During 2018, we have undertaken an ongoing blog series in which we take a look at the opportunities and challenges faced by the diverse groups of Boomers and seniors being served by today’s aging services providers.

For our first article in the series, we examined a rapidly growing population in the United States — Latino Boomers and seniors. In our second article, we looked at the changes that LGBT seniors are driving in the marketplace.

In this, our third article, we talk about America’s largest growing ethnic demographic – Asians.

If you were to walk into an average not-for-profit Life Plan Community in America, you would likely not find a large population of Asian-Americans. They are conspicuously absent on most campuses, even as other ethnic groups grow and prosper. Many Life Plan Communities now openly celebrate and welcome diversity, yet we continue to see low numbers of Asians moving to senior living communities. This leads us to wonder: Why is this the case, and what could a smart aging services organization do to tap into this market?

According to the latest Pew Research numbers, the Asian population in America has grown by 72 percent since the year 2000. That growth rate is faster than any other ethnicity, including Hispanics. However, as Westerners, we need to remember just how diverse the Asian population actually is. China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam are the most well-known countries of origin, but the largest growth is coming from lesser-known nations, such as Nepal, Burma, Laos and Bhutan. The cultures of these countries are incredibly diverse, yet in America, they all get lumped into one category: Asian. Aging services providers need to keep this in mind if they wish to tap into this market. Becoming educated about lesser-known Asian cultures — especially those who are providers in or near large cities — could create a profitable niche market for communities.

Of course, there are other challenges that a study of geography and culture can’t address. For instance, it is widely known that Asian families place a great deal of value on children caring for their parents as they age. Children are expected to welcome their parents into their homes if need be, or to stay with them if they require additional attention and care. Culturally, this is what is expected of the family, and there can be great shame placed upon a child that does not appropriately fulfill his or her filial duties.

Obviously, this is in stark contrast to the types of living options offered by retirement communities, making it a hard sell for many Asian families; however, cultural expectations and perceptions are changing. In China, for instance, nursing care is becoming more common because of the one-child-per-family policy. It is very difficult for a single child to care for two aging parents. The focus is shifting away from being personally responsible for caring for one’s parents to planning and funding their care by others. In this case, the child is still fulfilling his or her duties by providing for the parents — even if not by doing it him or herself.

This model is important for western providers to keep in mind as they market to the Asian population. There are still strong culture mores in place surrounding parents and aging. If your organization can find a way to creatively address this issue and reach into the Asian market, you’ll be way ahead of your competitors. This is exactly what Aegis Living is doing in Seattle.

In 2017, Aegis realized that there was a huge, untapped market for senior living services that catered to Asians. Its new community, called Aegis Gardens, sits at the epicenter of the Asian population in Washington, with more 90,000 Asian Americans living within 25 miles of the campus. Aegis is designing the community with Asian aesthesis in mind, including hiring a feng shui expert to help in the planning. The community is going to be a high-end marvel, dedicated to reaching a niche market that is being underserved.

This idea will not work everywhere, however. In today’s market, there is great value placed on luxury branded products. While the Seattle market might be able to support a luxury Asian-inspired community, most Asian-Americans cannot afford luxury. According to a 2017 Huffington Post article, Asian-Americans are roughly 1.5 times more likely to be classified as poor than are their Caucasian peers. Between 2009 and 2014, just as the Asian population was booming, so, too, were their poverty rates — which shot up 40 percent in this five-year period. This is why affordable housing developers are also eying the Asian market.

Not far from the luxury Aegis community in Seattle, a nonprofit named Kin On is expanding its presence. Kin On also focuses on Asian-Americans, choosing affordability and care over luxury. The community has existed for more than 30 years and now has a thriving population of Asian residents. Kin On ensures a mix of staff members that can speak Asian languages and provides Asian-inspired meal choices and activities that specifically appeal to the culture. As a not-for-profit community, Kin On concentrates on providing great care to residents that may not have other culturally appropriate options.

We don’t expect aging services providers to go out and develop completely new model communities that cater to a small niche population — especially if their locality doesn’t have one — however, just as with our other articles in this series, we think it behooves providers to get educated about diversity and provide more than the just the base level of cultural understanding.

 

Sources:

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/09/08/key-facts-about-asian-americans/

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/25/what-other-cultures-can-teach_n_4834228.html

https://www.voanews.com/a/asian-americans-turn-to-retirement-homes-for-elders/2955452.html

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/elderly-asians-almost-15-times-more-likely-to-be_us_589ccaa5e4b061551b3e089a

Let’s face it: Instagram is generally considered a young person’s game. Certainly, the demographics of the platform would agree, as only 15 percent of all Instagram users are over the age of 45. If one looks at users 55+, that number plummets to a measly 6 percent. There was a time when Facebook had similar user statistics, but today, it is a platform embraced by all ages. Just as Facebook “matured” by adding older users to its base, so, too, is Instagram.

On the vanguard of this maturation are fashionistas, such as Lyn Slater. She operates an Instagram account named “Accidental Icon,” where she shares her latest fashion finds. Today, she has more than 500,000 followers who look to her for inspiration, in both fashion and aging. Her photos are what you would expect from a trendy social media star, but with a twist. Slater embraces her grey hair, making it a key part of her style. She doesn’t shy away from her age; rather, she welcomes it. And she’s not alone.

There is an increasing trend, both on Instagram and other platforms, of women who have stopped trying to fight aging and have learned to love it. Iris Apfel serves as another great example of this movement. While she may be nearing her 100th birthday, her fashion choices belie her age. Apfel spent her life in the fashion industry and sees no reason to tone down her avant-garde personal style. With her signature glasses, round and large on her face, she continues to drive fashion forward as she shows others that age isn’t a factor in her happiness.

The examples that Slater and Apfel are setting aren’t just being viewed and applauded by the fashion scene. Women are being inspired by their posts and taking action to make themselves feel better. If you search #AccidentalIcon on Instagram, you’ll find dozens of pictures of regular, everyday women who are trying out new fashion choices, changing up their hair styles and reimagining who they are. They aren’t conforming to the age-based stereotypes that society is imposing on them; instead, they are making choices that make them feel good and reflect their personal values, interests and beliefs.

As a marketing and branding agency that specializes in working with older adults, we see huge potential in movements like this one. Communities all over the country want to show that they are “active and vibrant.” Slater and Apfel are the epitome of this idea, but women like this exist in every community. We bet that you can think of at least one woman in your community right off the top of your head who is an “accidental icon.” Don’t just try to use your #AccidentalIcons for marketing; raise them up as proud members of a greater community that is actively changing the way the world looks at age and beauty. Their success, fulfillment and happiness will do more to market your community than any advertisement will.

Sources:

https://www.statista.com/statistics/248769/age-distribution-of-worldwide-instagram-users/

https://www.thestar.com/life/2018/06/20/instagrams-glamourous-grandmas-are-taking-on-aging-with-audacity.html

In recent weeks, we’ve written about how “Roseanne” opened up a new dialogue around aging. In reading these pieces, I was struck by how another show has also been portraying the aging process — the dramedy, “Grace and Frankie,” available on Netflix.

For those unfamiliar with the show, it stars some big names that many Boomers will immediately recognize: Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Sam Waterston and Martin Sheen. Fonda stars as Grace, while Tomlin portrays Frankie, the title characters in the series. Grace is a retired cosmetics mogul, while Frankie is an aging art teacher. They become best friends and roommates after their husbands Robert (Sheen) and Sol (Waterston) announce that they are gay, in love and plan to get married. While this is a stressful situation for everyone, the quartet tries to remain friendly and work through their feelings and struggles. In a way, it’s a “Golden Girls” for the modern age.

The show is now in its fourth season and has started featuring storylines on aging. Grace and Frankie are vibrant, independent and have been operating their own business, but some of their behaviors have begun to cause concern for their children — with good reason. Incidents include driving a scooter while under the influence and hitting a police car in the process; getting lost on the road and following a truck on a whim, with an infant granddaughter in the backseat; and being swindled out of a large sum of money by a contractor. The culmination of these circumstances results in Grace and Frankie being pressured by their children to move into an assisted living community. The children know that they won’t go willingly, so they use duplicitous reasoning to get them to agree. Grace is told that Frankie needs the care of an assisted living community but won’t go without her friend. Alternately, Frankie is told that Grace is in need of greater care but won’t make the transition without Frankie. For this reason, they both agree because their care and concern for one another is tantamount.

As one can imagine, these two independent and vital women are not mentally or emotionally ready to move to such a community. The characters struggle with life in their new home, feeling like they just don’t belong there. After all, how can you possibly make frozen margaritas when your blender and every other small appliance has been confiscated and locked up in a storage room? When friends come to visit, they feel even more depressed because their peers have remained in their homes, with active lives, while they have to rush off to the dining room at 4:30 so they don’t miss dinner. The season ends with Grace and Frankie “breaking out” of their community and trying to return home, only to find a “sold” sign in the front yard, creating a cliff-hanger ending for the fourth season.

While “Roseanne” has dealt with the day-to-day issues of blue-collar aging, “Grace and Frankie” has dialed in on a different part of the process: the decision to move to a senior living community and how family and friends can influence that decision.

These interactions are great fodder for comedic plotlines and may be a bit exaggerated, but they are rooted in real-life challenges that people are faced with every day. Senior living sales & marketing professionals can all tell a story about pushy family members trying to get their loved one to move to a community before he or she is ready. They can also speak to individuals who do need the assistance a community can provide, but who move in kicking and screaming — sometimes literally. A move to a community can be a traumatic experience if not properly planned and handled appropriately — and if control is taken out of the person’s hands. “Grace and Frankie” finds a way to depict in a humanistic light, with a touch of humor, that this is the reality that many aging services providers face today.

We, at Varsity, applaud “Grace and Frankie” for taking a look at how families make decisions regarding their aging relatives. It’s a topic that is hard to portray accurately and in a way that doesn’t feel overly dramatized. While we don’t agree with the methods used by the children to get Grace and Frankie to make the move, the emotional toll it takes on the characters is realistic.

I encourage you to check out “Grace and Frankie” if you haven’t already. It’s an excellent show that looks at aging from a fresh perspective — just how we like it.

Two weeks ago, on a whim, I wrote an article discussing how the reboot of the show “Roseanne” has been addressing issues related to aging. Since writing that article, another episode has debuted that touched on an issue that many Baby Boomers are struggling with — aging parents. Specifically, we’ll be reviewing season 10, episode 6, entitled “No Country for Old Women.”

In the show, Roseanne and her sister, Jackie, are confronted with how best to assist their aging mother, Beverly. Neither daughter wants to take full responsibility for her, as they are both leading complicated lives that leave little time for caring for an aging parent. It also doesn’t help that Beverly has a challenging personal outlook and worldview. Eventually, the sisters decide on “joint custody,” with the mother alternating where she lives every week. As one would suspect, Beverly isn’t very happy with this situation. After Jackie catches her mid-coitus with an older gentleman in Jackie’s apartment, Beverly half-heartedly threatens suicide. This moment helps Jackie to see the challenges her mother faces and how the whole situation makes her feel unwanted. Jackie concedes, and Beverly takes up residence with her.

In less than a half hour of television, this episode struck at the heart of a growing crisis in American families. As people live longer, their retirement funds are drying up, and their need for extended medical care grows. Families once took care of aging relatives at home, but that was usually for just a few years. Now, an aging parent might live for a decade or more, requiring additional care that children and grandchildren just aren’t able to render. Of course, the children don’t want to feel guilty by placing their parent in a community that the parent doesn’t want to go to. It’s a rock and a hard place, for sure.

In 2016, The Atlantic published an article called, “What Aging Parents Want From Their Kids.” In the piece, several families are interviewed about how they are handling aging, from both the children’s and parents’ point of view. It’s fascinating how the roles have reversed, with parents feeling the stress of being checked up on and feeling as though their life is under constant scrutiny. This can lead to parents trying to hide age-related health issues, such as memory lapses and difficulty with daily activities. On the other side of the coin, adult children are often afraid of their parents getting hurt, further encouraging their protective behavior. Welcome to the new normal for many families.

“Roseanne” adroitly manages to take a serious topic and find the humor in it. Yes, Beverly is a prickly individual that is hard to like, but she’s still a human being with feelings that can be hurt. Just because she’s aging doesn’t mean that she is bereft of value. Jackie and Roseanne are forced to confront their own behavior and how it impacts someone they love.

This issue is becoming all too common in our space. As caregivers to the aging, we must also care for a resident’s family, who can be just as scared as a new resident. The services that communities provide are felt well beyond the resident, and our ability to put the family at ease is often even more important than the direct care a resident might get.

Source:
https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2016/03/when-youre-the-aging-parent/472290/

On March 27, 2018, ABC aired the first episode of “Roseanne”’s 10th season. To say there was an appetite for the relaunch of this program is an understatement; more than 18 million people tuned in to watch the show, which was renewed for an 11th season within three days of the airing. Sure, nostalgia is driving interest in the production, but the stories being told are resonating with viewers, especially in the 18 to 49 demographic.

You might be wondering why we’re discussing a television show that is popular with an age group that doesn’t qualify as the “mature market.” It’s certainly a pertinent question! To answer that query, we point to season 10, episode 3, entitled “Roseanne Gets the Chair.” While every episode of the season touches on aging issues, this one brings them to the forefront.

As Roseanne has aged, her knees have gotten bad. Throughout the season, she quips about her joint pain and the challenges she faces getting around as she ages. To help this situation, Roseanne’s caring husband, Dan, installs a chair lift in their home stairwell to help Roseanne with her mobility issues. Dan says he got the lift from a neighbor who passed away, implying that someone much older than Roseanne up to this point used it. Naturally, Roseanne is resistant to using the lift because, in her words, “It makes me feel old.” At one point in the show, Roseanne gives in to using the lift, taking a seat and riding it up the stairs. As she does so, her granddaughter bounds up and down the steps, running past her, making her feel even more feeble and vulnerable. This interaction illustrates a point that is hitting close to home for that 18 to 49 audience — namely, the adult children that are now looking to care for their parents.

In real life, Roseanne is 65 years old, and it can be presumed that her character is roughly the same age. In the show, she and Dan struggle with keeping track of their prescriptions and dealing with age-related pain, as well as the challenges of living with their children and grandchildren all under one roof. Let’s face it: This is a common story in America today, which may be why the show has struck a cord.

People 18 to 49 are young enough to remember when “Roseanne” first aired, with a young, vibrant cast dealing with blue-collar issues. Now, that cast has aged alongside them and is facing the same life stage challenges as their families are. Adult children are watching as their parents endure joint replacements, manage medications and fight to stay active, even as their bodies begin to decline. This is especially apparent within blue-collar families, who may not be able to afford a retirement community and choose to stay in their own homes, depending on family care and resourcefulness.

In its own way, “Roseanne” is generating discussion and insight on the aging process in a manner that no other show is doing today. Rather than exaggerating the issues of aging for sport, the show reacts to them in a real way. This reaction is something that many adult children are facing as they watch their own parents age into their mid- to late-60s and early 70s. The desire for this group to remain active is routinely challenged by health, leading to adult children taking on caregiver roles — whether they are equipped or not.

Through our work with aging services providers, we know these challenges all too well. Previously in this blog, we’ve discussed the lack of middle class senior living options. Instead, our industry is bookended with affordable housing and luxury brands, leaving the middle class with few places to turn. We must ask ourselves: Where will the Roseanne’s of the world live in the next 10 years, and is our industry ready for those opportunities?

In the meantime, we will continue to tune in to “Roseanne” and laugh along with America — even as we look deeper into the aging issues that the show brings to life.

Welcome to the month of May!

It’s a time when we welcome blossoming flowers, warmer temperatures and the observance of Older Americans Month. In the next few days, aging services providers across the country will tip their hats to this annual event — perhaps going so far as to plan a promotion around it — yet we find that most providers don’t understand the history and true purpose of the celebration.

Older Americans Month was established in 1963 to support and recognize the small population of Americans aged 65 and over at that time. Fifty-five years later, if Older Americans Month were a person, it could join AARP and would probably start getting mailers about your communities and services. The impetus for the creation of the observance came from the National Council of Senior Citizens who worked with then-president John F. Kennedy to establish Senior Citizens Month, which has evolved over time into the annual event we know today. Starting with JFK, every president since has issued a formal proclamation, asking that the nation pay tribute to older Americans in some way — whether through a ceremony, a fair or some other activity.

The program is now under the purview of the Administration on Aging, in partnership with other agencies and entities. Each year, a theme is determined, with supporting materials provided to help community leaders recognize older Americans for their lives and service. The theme for 2018 is “Engage at Every Age,” which aims to emphasize that you are never too old (or too young) to take part in activities that can enrich your life. Specifically, the program is shining a light on mental and physical wellness this year, including traditional exercise-based ideas, as well as more unusual ones, like establishing a mentoring relationship.

We encourage you to explore the website for Older Americans Month and make use of all of the resources provided. The outline great ideas for programs that can help energize your residents and team members, as well as the greater community that your organization serves.

Click here to visit the website for OAM.

Remember: If you are posting about Older Americans Month on social media, use the hashtag #oma18! to share all of the great things you are doing!

This article is a guest post by Rebecca Evans of GeriatricNursing.org. As we approach Older American’s month, we thought it was an appropriate time to discuss one of the most challenging diseases that an aging adult might face – Parkinson’s. We thank Rebecca for her input and we hope you enjoy the piece!

I can hear you wondering: How is it hard to diagnose Parkinson’s Disease? After all, aren’t the characteristic symptoms rather distinctive?

Well…yes and no, unfortunately.

Yes, Parkinson’s disease symptoms are rather distinctive (for the most part, anyway; there are a few diseases and drug reactions that can mirror Parkinson’s symptoms)…but they take time to develop. In the early stages of the disease, in fact, it can be incredibly hard to diagnose.

After all, there are no precise tests for Parkinson’s. As often as not, it is mistaken in its early stages for another disease—which in turn delays appropriate treatment.

Most common diagnosis difficulties

For instance, there’s data that actually suggests that as many as 25% of Parkinson’s patients are misdiagnosed. That is, they may be receiving treatment for Parkinson’s, and not actually have Parkinson’s. Or they may be receiving treatment for something else, and actually have Parkinson’s disease.

A big part of this goes back to the fact that there is no precise test for Parkinson’s, and different diagnosing doctors treat different indicators differently. For instance, some of the most common tests given to potential Parkinson’s patients are CT scans, blood tests, urine samples, and more. None of these tests are definitive, however (remember, no precise test?), and so it is up to the doctors reviewing these tests to decide what to make of them.

For some doctors, inconclusive test results may cause them to lean toward a Parkinson’s diagnosis. For other doctors, those same inconclusive results may cause them to lean away.

So what are more accurate predictor tests?

In particular, because Parkinson’s is a neurological disorder, you probably want systematic neurological assessments to play a role in your diagnosis. For instance, neurologists familiar with Parkinson’s will know to test your reflexes, balance, muscular strength and responsiveness. Additionally, it is not uncommon for a neurologist looking at the possibility of Parkinson’s to say they aren’t yet sure. They want to run more tests, or want to run more tests in the future to see if your symptoms develop further. Parkinson’s is not an easy diagnosis to make. As such, neurologists familiar with the disease will likely not rush into such a diagnosis.

Similarly, there are a whole range of neurological disorders that can present many of the same symptoms as Parkinson’s. As a result, a neurologist may want to be careful to eliminate or rule out some of those other neurological disorders.

As a general rule, the more careful and thorough your neurologist is in testing you,  the more comfortable you can be in their diagnosis.

Please do note, however, that you can always get a second opinion from a neurologist you trust if you don’t feel comfortable with your original neurologist.

Why is appropriate and early diagnosis so important?

Quite simply, because it is the key to better treatment. When earlier caught, treatment can begin earlier, and adjustments can be made to help preserve independence and a high quality of life. This might mean developing an early exercise routine that works, finding the pharmaceutical regimen that gives best results, and determining what level of physical therapy works best for you and your current symptoms.

What diseases are most often confused with Parkinson’s disease?

In particular, if you suspect you or a loved one may have Parkinson’s disease, these are some of the other diseases that may regularly be confused with Parkinson’s. You will want your neurologist to rule them out in testing:

Benign essential tremor
Brain tumor
Huntington’s disease
Multiple sclerosis
Multiple system atrophy
Striato-Nigral degeneration
Supranuclear palsy

Other diseases may also be confused with Parkinson’s, obviously, but the above list is some of the most common.

So ask your neurologist to be thorough. It’s more important that you are appropriately diagnosed, so you can get the care you need, than that you are diagnosed quickly.

Multiple Sclerosis – An infographic by GeriatricNursing.org