Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Christmas in May (Hospice Volunteer Story)

A hospice volunteer in Detroit nursing homes for many years, I shared a wonderful Christmas in May with my ninety-two year old patient. Sometimes patients needed me to help them solve problems. One day, Inez and I had an especially great visit. I had been thinking about how to find the key for a music box her niece had given her for Christmas. She loved that music box and liked to have it on display, so she would have a good excuse to talk about it. She had never heard it play because the key was missing when she received it. She said her niece had tried to find a key, but with no success.

The music box was a lovely piece of handiwork. A wooden base supported a clear glass container. Inside the container lay a beautiful butterfly resting on a small floral bouquet. Underneath the box was a hidden switch that made the seasonal display enchant with spurts of brightness. Inez said that she often sat and watched the softly glowing scene blink on and off. One night, she and I quietly watched it together. That's when I realized how much this silent little music maker meant to her. Unfortunately, neither of us knew what song it was supposed to play. We imagined the Christmas song we thought it should play and hoped one day we could solve the mystery.

Getting the music box to play became my project, but I knew I would need some help. The next day, I explained the problem to Burton, a teacher at the school where I was principal. He decided to become a part of the solution by checking out some stores that might have the missing key. It sounded like the search for Cinderella's shoe. After looking for two weeks, Burton finally found a matching key at a large toy store. The sales lady was so touched by his story about Inez's "musicless" box that she gave him the key free of charge. We couldn't believe our good fortune which became Inez's thrill maker.

In the second week of May with spring showing off nature's fashion makeover from winter, Inez heard her cherished music box play for the very first time. She picked it up gently and carefully placed it near her hearing aid. The song we had wondered about for months, the song that had driven us to discover its name finally played the sweetest version of "Joy to the World." Just hearing the music box fulfill its purpose felt like a miracle. Inez grinned widely, thanked me, and told me to thank the nice man who found the missing key that made her music box come alive.

The mystery had been solved, and Inez was ecstatic. I thought nothing else that day could outdo the pleasure of hearing the music box play, but I was wrong. After Inez set her mechanical miracle on the window sill, so we could admire it playing and revolving, something wonderful occurred that surprised us: The brightly colored butterfly started moving, slowing creeping up to the opening red flower. Inez and I gave each other eerie "Twilight Zone" looks. Then we shared rainbow smiles about the joy in our own little world.

© Frances Shani Parker (Excerpt from Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Home)

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Gratitude Improves Health (Research, Video 2:07)

Gratitude. Do you know how powerful it is when you extend gratitude and receive it? Psychologists call our declarations of gratitude "other-praising emotions" that build bridges connecting us to people and experiences that promote good feelings. As thankful people praising our benefactors, we create something glorious and special together, something akin to a soul-smacking thanks.

Research on gratitude reveals that gratitude practices are shown to reduce stress and fear, improve sleep, and increase positive emotions and overall well-being. Participants in CaringBridge (CB), a web-based social network online community were engaged in a daily, 21-day brief gratitude practice and were given weekly automated reminders to do their practice. Nearly 70% self-reported engaging in the gratitude practice five or more days each week. Participants reported statistically significant improvement in all outcomes, including stress, gratitude, and social support.

This video shares even more information that can help people with practicing gratitude. It explains specific ways to improve our own attitudes of gratitude, even rewire our brains and be thankful that we did.


Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers.
Hospice and Nursing Homes Blog

Monday, November 18, 2019

Personality and Dementia (Alzheimer’s Research, Video 2:58)

Personality can be defined as the combination of qualities that form our distinctive character. It includes our presence, charisma, persona that define our nature and makeup. Like everyone else, people living with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, have personalities. I have experienced many of their positive and negative personality traits in my role as a hospice volunteer in urban nursing homes and through living life in general.

How is personality connected with dementia? Research on personality and Alzheimer’s disease reveals the following information:

1) Individuals who score higher on conscientiousness (more responsible and self-disciplined) and lower on neuroticism (less anxious and vulnerable to stress) have a reduced risk of developing dementia.

2) With the onset and progression of dementia, there are large changes in personality that are reported consistently by caregivers in retrospective studies and are consistent with the clinical criteria for the diagnosis of dementia.

These implications of personality research are important for identifying those people who are at greater risk of Alzheimer’s disease and the potential of personality-tailored interventions aimed at the prevention and treatment of the disease.

The following video explains how symptoms of dementia get progressively worse and affect a person’s ability to do everyday tasks. The inability to complete tasks can lead to frustration and affect their moods and behaviors. Certain personality traits can also become more prominent. For example, if people with dementia were always viewed as nice, they may become nicer as the disease progresses. On the other hand, if they were always suspicious, they may become paranoid. Wandering is another issue that is also briefly explained in the video.

Frances Shani Parker
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers.
Hospice and Nursing Homes Blog

Monday, November 4, 2019

Older Adult Senior Online Dating: Ageism, Sexism, Scams (Research, Video 4:35)

Contrary to what some people still believe, many older adults are using the Internet to enhance their lives in ways they never dreamed about “back in the day.” In fact, many of them have considered or actually used the Internet as a convenient place to search for love on numerous websites with a specific focus on meeting their matchmaking needs.

What are some of these online dating websites adding to the old traditions of choosing romantic partners? This older adult online dating research study that examines the visual representations of people on 39 dating sites offers this information:

1) Ageism and sexism were very evident in the presentation of older adults. The majority of men and women were smiling and had a fair complexion, light eye color and perceived ages younger than 60. Older women were presented as younger and wore more cosmetics.

2) The social regulation of sexuality was emphasized with only heterosexual couples being presented.

Conclusion: This ageism and sexism display a narrow representation of older adults in society and imply that older love, intimacy, and sexual activity are for older adults who are "forever young."

Older women are at a disadvantage when it comes to online dating if they seek partners only in their age groups. Not only are there fewer men alive in their age group, many of the living ones want younger women. If you think this makes women desperate to marry whatever they can get, you don't know jack about older women. While they may still be open to the possibility of marriage, many women cherish their lifestyles free of various responsibilities.

Unfortunately, there is one aspect of online dating that everyone should be cautioned about in order to proceed safely. Both sexes can be victimized by online dating scams. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) received more than 15,000 reports linked to romance scams last year. More than half of the complaints involved losses of money, sometimes in massive amounts. The victims are often older Americans trying to get back in the dating pool. This video shares important information including the story of one of the victims who lost roughly $300,000.

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers.
Hospice and Nursing Homes Blog

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Death Tributes After Formal Rituals (Day of the Dead Video 2:04)

Honoring a loved one who has died is not a single act, but a unique personal journey that may consist of many small tributes after the formal death ritual. Various options are available for bringing formal closure to life such as funerals, hospice services, and other memorials. The majority of family members and friends of the deceased do not always attend these traditions. This is not to say that formal death rituals are not appreciated and viewed as significant. But many people rely more on informal grief expressions to help them cope in their daily lives after formal events have been held.

For most people, these informal activities are endearing expressions that sustain them during their long-term adjustment to loss. Death rituals continue to evolve with the passage of time. Choosing how to bring closure to the lives of deceased loved ones becomes more personalized. Increasing numbers of relatives and friends unfasten their earthly connections with loved ones and move forward with informal rituals.

Day of the Dead is a Mexican holiday celebrated on October 31, November 1 and November 2  throughout Mexico and in other parts of the world. The holiday focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember loved ones who have died. In the following video, thousands of people gather in the heart of the Mexican capital to celebrate the first annual Day of the Dead procession. Long ago, many people started believing that once a year spirits of the dead are guided back to the world of the living through offerings of food and candles.

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Socrates Cafes: College-Older Adult Partnerships (Research, Video 3:08)

Memories I have of  great intergenerational experiences include time I spent with my great grandmother. I don’t recall any profound statements she made, but I do know that she listened intently to what I said, and I had plenty to say. Growing up in a Jim Crow world of racial segregation where every day was a reminder of my unimportance to the larger society, I believe her loving listening told me I mattered. She is the reason I have been a strong proponent of intergenerational partnerships during my many years as an educator. 

Intergenerational research on children and older adults reports that benefits of these partnerships are reaped by all ages involved. Among positive examples of impact include children's improved perceptions of the elderly and improved well-being and self-esteem of older adults. But what about research on intergenerational partnerships between college aged students and older adults? Intergenerational research again reports the win-win benefits of both parties.

Socrates Cafes are examples of effective intergenerational experiences that include social connections. They are facilitated discussions suited for bridging generation gaps and inviting self-expression. They can be held anywhere people gather and share perspectives. In a researched Socrates Cafe approach used with college students and low-income older adults, findings included reduced ageism and stereotyping from students, the formation of relationships between students and older adults, and a recognition from older adults that they had valuable insights to share with younger generations. In the Socrates Café video blow, Christopher Phillips explains the magic of Socrates Cafe gatherings. 

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers.
Hospice and Nursing Homes Blog

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

LGBT End-of-Life, General Healthcare Discrimination (Older Adult Research, Video 4:41)

America’s population continues to age, and that includes more older adults dying. Across the country, there are more than 2.7 million LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) adults ages 50 or older living in our communities. Unlike many heterosexual and cisgender (sex assigned at birth) counterparts in their age groups, discrimination greatly threatens their health, wellbeing, economic security, and social connections, leaving them vulnerable to serious barriers in terms of support in meeting their end-of-life and general healthcare needs.

While the end-of life care of LGBT persons is understudied, we do know that in the absence of legal marriage or protective legal documentation which many LGBT people do not have, their problems increase. Researched articles on LGBT end-of-life barriers render the following information:

1) Discriminatory laws (e.g., prohibitions against same-sex marriage) and policies

2) Lack of decision-making capacity

3) Lack of knowledge regarding patient wishes

4) Lack of visitation rights

5) Challenges from biological next of kin

6) Discrimination and psychological distress.

Increased research on transgender persons, bisexual persons, and providers of end-of-life care is needed. Clearly, they need a supportive healthcare system that is educated to meet their unique end-of-life needs.

In this video, SAGE Care and the Center for Consumer Engagement in Health Innovation asked LGBT older adults and care providers why being "out" to healthcare providers is so important. The main thing we learned from them is that they want to be treated with respect based on who they are.

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Dementia Day Care Benefits (Research, Video 5:08)

Through the years, I have noticed a reluctance by several caregivers to enroll a loved one in a dementia day care program. They usually defend their positions by saying statements such as, “No one can take better care of him than I can,” or “I’m sure she won’t like it there. She would rather stay at home.” Having visited and participated in several dementia day care programs, I know that a daily routine focused on dementia-oriented activities, balanced hot meals, supportive caregivers and loving friends is far better that sitting at home in a limited environment that too often includes mostly watching television, eating and sleeping.

Nowadays, I suggest to caregivers that they and their loved ones living with dementia visit a day care program for just one day and see how they like it. So far, no one has stopped going back. On one first day trip, the person with dementia did not want to leave when all her new friends walked her to the door, hugged her and said good-bye. And the caregivers still say they wish they had gone sooner. They especially appreciate the quality respite time that they can enjoy, while knowing their loved ones are in good hands at the dementia center.

The best part of day care is that both caregivers and those with dementia benefit. A research study examined the effects adult day care programs had on individuals with dementia and their caregivers from the perspective of care providers at such a program.The care providers identified several benefits. These benefits followed two themes including the role of care providers and the time to breathe. 

The following video demonstrates activities of the San Diego, California Alzheimer's Day Care Center (Glenner Town Square) where a 1950’s memory village has been created. The video explains information about Alzheimer’s disease and what caregiver providers and those living with dementia can do at the village to stimulate minds and improve their sense of purpose.

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Love and Healing – By the Numbers

Today I am pleased to have my friend, Peter Lichtenberg, share with you his unique story of love, healing and numbers. We often think of widowed people as women. But numerous widowed fathers are raising children alone while carrying their own burdens of spousal loss and grief. Healing uplifts their spirits. Future marriage presents new possibilities. Welcome to a revealing and unpredictable journey inside one man’s mind and heart.

Love and Healing - By the Numbers

By Peter Lichtenberg

Twenty, two thousand, thirty-five, and one. Numbers.

Numbers have always been important to me as a way to mark significant parts of life and living. When I was growing up, Hank Aaron was my favorite player while everyone else loved Willie Mays. I kept close track of his batting average and home runs. When my hometown Philadelphia Phillies were awful, I tracked Tony Taylor’s best season—could he end up hitting .300? He did and batted .301. When I had an All-Star baseball set and played constantly, I had season averages, lifetime averages and an assortment of other statistics always in my mind. During my first year of graduate school while walking to class, I would count the number of days I would live in West Lafayette, Indiana. When I became a researcher, I began to count my numbers of publications. First, because it was a marker for promotion and then because numbers just stay with me.

Twenty! In ten days, September 18, 2019 will mark the 20th anniversary of my marriage to Susan. I have journaled and written about Susan so often, (including my own short book, “Grief and Healing: Against the Odds,” of being widowed twice at 25 and 55). How miraculously she came into my life and allowed me to begin living fully—for the first time since the death of my first wife Becky who died suddenly at age 25 from an arrhythmia while jogging. Susan was not only my wife; she was my colleague, my best friend, my tennis partner, my hiking partner, movie critic partner, parenting partner, and my partner in noticing and reveling in the small things in life. Susan once wrote to me that “being married to you is the easiest thing I have ever done in my life”—wow!! How would I not celebrate and mark the 20th year?

Two-thousand! Two thousand days ago, Susan died. Her heart gave out after battling Stage IV breast cancer for 44 months—enduring all sorts of treatments. It was sudden, her death, and it was a blessing that she did not know she was going to die that day. She grieved so the idea of leaving me, of leaving her children and step-child ages 21, 12 and 9 behind.

One Thousand. I took a long walk on the 1,000 day after she died and reflected on how much grief I had experienced and how much hurt remained. I also reflected on how much I kept Susan close to me and how her spirit enabled me to heal and to continue living with a zest for experiences and joyful moments. At two thousand, I am back to the regular rhythms of day to day life. Happily remarried for eight plus months and so relieved to see my children doing so well and finding their day to day rhythms, too. Susan is everywhere in our home, and her smile and laughing, joyful and beautiful pictures give me energy and pride—I’m so proud that Susan chose me to be her one and only.

Thirty five! In two months and six days, it will be 35 years since Becky died. I just had brunch in Chicago with her college roommate (and my friend, too) Mary. We each reflected on how grateful we are that Becky graced us with her love and friendship. Mary had shared with me letters Becky had written her when we first moved in together, and on this trip, she told me of her last call with Becky and the loving things she said about me and about our marriage. I was always in awe that Becky chose me. She was the funniest, the most spirited, the smartest, and the most capable person in any room.

In Chicago, I stayed two blocks from where we spent the first days of our marriage. As much as my mom loved Susan, and boy did she—Becky was the daughter she never had (had 4 sons). I cried more during the five years after Becky died than I ever thought possible. Grief was overwhelming and lonely. Nevertheless, I survived and grew, and Becky’s influence on my life and her presence at key times of my life have been amazing. She handed me to Susan.

One! Despite being married to Debbie for slightly over 8 months, we finally moved in together only one month ago. We each had sons who were seniors in high school, and we knew it was so important to keep them in their respective routines and graduate from their respective high schools. Then, like a whirling dervish, Debbie pulled off the impossible. She got her house packed up and ready for sale and sold it within a few weeks. Watching her was exhausting and intimidating. How could someone be so organized and so effective with things!!

She (and her three young adult children) moved into my house, since Sophie was just about to enter high school and wanted to stay put. Debbie has been an incredible blessing not only to my life, but to all three of my children’s as well—and I think among them especially Sophie! It is my life that Debbie has impacted most. She is my best friend, my hiking partner, my dining out partner, and my business partner. I wake up next to her, make us coffee and breakfast, and cannot believe that once again I am blessed with such a happy home and such a healthy relationship. She has done the impossible in other ways, too. Whereas Susan accepted and embraced Becky, Debbie has embraced Becky and Susan and Susan’s children.

I will never be able to make sense of what has happened to me. I miss Becky, and I miss Susan—Susan especially, as we went through so much and went so deeply together. I cry at the drop of a hat—commercials, comics, and any sentimental scene I see. I hurt. I long for. I am grateful, too 
for all the joys of my life and Debbie’s gift of love, and a life to lead together strikes me as the most unlikely joy of all. Twenty, two thousand, thirty-five and one—there are stories behind the numbers.

Peter A. Lichtenberg
Farmington, Michigan
September 8, 2019

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers.
Hospice and Nursing Homes Blog