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The First Piece of Advice

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Over five years ago when we launched the weekly radio show/podcast for family caregivers, Caregiver SOS on Air, one of our first interviews was with Dr. Arthur Kleinman, a professor of psychiatry and anthropology at Harvard University. He was in the middle of caring for his wife with early onset Alzheimer’s disease who had also gone blind. He was completely overwhelmed, and had only recently discovered he could get help caring for his wife in their home. This advice came from one of his students who saw how exhausted and overwhelmed he had become.

We recently had Dr. Kleinman back on the show. His wife has since passed away after 11 years of receiving care, and he has written a book, The Soul of Care: The Moral Education of a Husband and a Doctor. In the book, he says,” I thought I knew it all. A veil of ignorance was raised from my eyes by my experience as a primary family caregiver.” We asked Dr. Kleinman what the first piece of advice he would give other caregivers, and he responded the way almost all of our guests over the years have responded. Don’t wait to get help.

We often ponder why many of us don’t seek help sooner. Some of us see getting help as a sign of weakness. Some are super-hero material who are determined to do it all themselves. Some believe that they are living through a unique experience with no idea that anyone else is a caregiver too – or that help is available. Some of us simply have no idea where to start or what questions to ask.

We don’t want to wait to get help until we are exhausted with unhealthy eating, sleeping and exercising habits. We don’t want to wait until we are so stressed out that we run off our friends and family, and are not a person who anyone receiving care would want to rely upon. We don’t want to miss out on help that would allow us to continue to have a relationship with the person receiving care, because we have become only the caregiver and nothing else. We don’t want to lose ourselves.

Asking for help is healthy and a sign of strength. Asking for help allows us the energy to do other things. There are many different reasons why people need care. There are many different reasons that we become caregivers. There is no reason for us to go it alone.

What’s the first piece of advice caregivers give other caregivers? Don’t wait to get help.

WellMed Charitable Foundation Executive Director Carol Zernial is a noted gerontologist, radio show host, and emeritus Chair of the National Council on Aging. The non-profit WellMed Charitable Foundation focuses on complimentary programs impacting seniors and family caregivers, including weekly telephone learning sessions, evidence-based classes on stress reduction and more. Find out more at or toll-free at 1-866-390-6491.

Article taken from WellMed Charitable Foundation


Virtual Reality Helps Dementia Patients Recall Memories, Study Says

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Virtual reality (VR) therapy may vastly improve the lives of people with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia, a small new study from the University of Kent, U.K., has found.

Specifically, researchers found that exposing people with dementia to virtual reality environments helped them recall old memories, reduced aggression and improved their interactions with caregivers.

“VR can clearly have positive benefits for patients with dementia, their families, and caregivers. It provides a richer and more satisfying quality of life than is otherwise available, with many positive outcomes,” explains Dr. Jim Ang, PhD, one of the study’s researchers.

How virtual reality therapy may benefit people with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia

The small study involved just eight patients between the ages of 41 and 88, living with various types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease and Huntington’s disease.

The study’s participants used a virtual reality headset to visit one of five virtual environments – a cathedral, a countryside, a forest, a sandy beach. and a rocky beach.

Over the course of 16 sessions, patients were monitored and feedback was gathered from patients and their caregivers.

The patients chose which environment they would visit each time. Some explored several different locales within a single session. Others returned to the same place over and over again.

Among the chief findings: The new stimulation provided by the virtual reality tours helped dementia patients tap into old memories.

According to the researchers, recalling buried memories gave participants positive mental stimulation and helped the caregivers learn more about their lives before. This, the caregivers said, improved social interactions between them and their patients.

One study participant with dementia referred to the VR event as “brilliant,” and enjoyed reminiscing about the experience. He was also inspired to draw a seascape in an art class several weeks later. The researchers suggest this may show a correlation between VR and a positive mood and motivation to engage in the art class.

More research on virtual reality therapy needed

Because the study was small, Dr. Ang points out that larger studies are needed to validate the results, but that the early findings are promising for people with dementia.

As virtual reality videos become easier to produce, the virtual environments could be  customized for individual Alzheimer’s patients, with virtual visits to places, such as their home or favorite place, added the researchers.

Taken from Being Patient.


Lessons from The Mandalorian (and Baby Yoda)

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The opportunity to stream new entertainment on televisions and computers is a game changer that allows most of us to find something interesting and fun to watch any time of day or night—a real bonus for caregivers. For those who are not familiar with Star Wars, and my heart goes out to you, The Mandalorian is a new series streaming on Disney+ that tells the story of a Mandalorian named Mando, a bounty-hunting warrior who wanders the stars looking for work. He is somewhat of an outcast, but others respect him.

How does a story from long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away relate to caregiving? Well, caregiving is a universal issue, right? So here are a few lessons I’ve learned on my intergalactic travels:

Lesson One: Don’t worry about how we look

Caregivers shouldn’t hesitate to go out and about on a bad hair day or with no makeup. Apparently, in some parts of the galaxy, it’s okay to just put on a big helmet and cover everything up. Mandalorians always wear a helmet and never show their faces to another living being. If you don’t have a full helmet, you can take comfort knowing you still look better than most life on other planets.

Lesson Two: Taking our time builds character

One of the things I love about The Mandalorian is that the story goes at a slow pace with plenty of time for character development. One of our caregivers said that she got up every day and took the time to plan a good day for both her husband for whom she was caring and herself. These are wise words that sound a bit out of this world. Imagine yourself planning ahead and doing something enjoyable every day, no matter how small. It could change your entire outlook on the universe around you.

Lesson Three: Cute and playful wins the day

Normally, I don’t think that green is a good color on many things, but Baby Yoda is adorable. I’m not the person who instinctively tries a winning smile when things go south, but Baby Yoda teaches all of us that we can make new friends and stand a better chance of survival if we go for cute and playful versus mean and grumpy.

Lesson Four: We never really know who will come to our aid

The Mandalorian gives us excellent instruction on friendship. We never really know our friends until times get tough. Sometimes they stand with us. Sometimes, they let us down. Sometimes, we get help from the most unexpected people (or droids) – people (or droids) we didn’t trust and thought were working against us. With a noble mission, and caregiving is very noble, we can find help along the way. We just have to let someone know that they need to cover us or watch our backs.

Lesson Five: We’ve done this before

Mando has been a bounty hunter for years, and he knows exactly what he needs to do. Of course, he is thrown in a completely new and unexpected situation where he becomes a caregiver, of sorts, to Baby Yoda, and that throws him for a loop. It’s the same for us when we suddenly become caregivers. While we don’t have laser blasters, we do have all the skills and talents that we had before we were caregivers, and we will learn some new ones.

For caregivers – this is the way.

WellMed Charitable Foundation Executive Director Carol Zernial is a noted gerontologist, radio show host, and emeritus Chair of the National Council on Aging. The non-profit WellMed Charitable Foundation focuses on complimentary programs impacting seniors and family caregivers, including weekly telephone learning sessions, evidence-based classes on stress reduction and more. Find out more at or toll-free at 1-866-390-6491.

Taken from WellMed Charitable Foundation

Glenner Town Square

Why a ‘Memory Town’ Is Coming to Your Local Strip Mall

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Glenner Town Square

On August 13, a brand-new town in Southern California welcomed its first residents. They trickled through the doors of a generic beige warehouse on a light-industrial stretch of Main Street in Chula Vista, a San Diego suburb. Then they emerged in Town Square®—a 9,000-square-foot working replica of a 1950s downtown, built and operated by the George G. Glenner Alzheimer’s Family Centers. Unlike the businesses around it hawking restaurant supplies and tires, Town Square trades in an intangible good: memories.

The imitation town (which I wrote about previously in The Atlantic) is the biggest U.S. investment so far in what eldercare specialists call reminiscence therapy. In reminiscence therapy, caregivers encourage people with dementia and age-related cognitive impairments to talk about past events and their own life experiences, often aided by old photos, music, and other prompts that stimulate memories. Studies have shown that reminiscence therapy has positive effects on the mood, cognition, and communication level of dementia patients.

Our strongest, most enduring memories tend to be the those formed in adolescence and early adulthood, from roughly the ages of 10 to 30. Reminiscence therapy targets this age range, and for those Silent Generation members now in their 70s and 80s, that means the 1950s. (A person who is 80 in 2018 would have been 12 in 1950.) So the design of Town Square is intended to evoke the years between 1953 and 1961. It’s decked out with touches like a rotary phones, a 1959 Ford Thunderbird, a classic jukebox, portraits of period Hollywood stars, and vintage books and magazines. As the years go by, these will be replaced by more recent, period-appropriate prompts.

Read More at City Lab…