Creating Moments of Joy: An Interview with Jolene Brackey

Posted on: March 16th, 2015 by Anhtuan Hong

brackeyCoping with Alzheimer’s disease is difficult for both the person affected as well as his or her loved ones. Jolene Brackey, author of Creating Moments of Joy and founder of Enhanced Moments, works to help families and senior care professionals handle the changes that Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia bring.

Jolene’s company, Enhanced Moments, offers various educational and inspirational resources for anyone touched by Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. Enhanced Moments has been featured on Good Morning America and lauded for its message of looking beyond the challenges of the disease and refocusing energy on making joyful moments since people with short-term memory challenges do often live from moment to moment. Thus, rather than asking someone with Alzheimer’s what he had for breakfast (to which he may respond “what breakfast?”), the Enhanced Moments approach recommends asking the individual if he prefers toast or eggs for breakfast, as this pulls on the more accessible long-term memory in terms of taste preferences. You might also consider bringing something like a favorite food to share or an old photo to talk about together – something to trigger long-term memories and create positive feelings.

Jolene’s Enhanced Activity Booklet includes practical tips for engaging someone with a form of dementia, such as the following:

What is their


In the early stages they stop doing what

they love to do because they realize they

can’t do it as well. Give them their stuff back

but simplify, simplify, simplify until it’s EASY.

Can’t make a dress but can pull out a hem

Can’t fix a car but can clean a car part

Can’t make a meal but can snap beans

Can’t make a bed but can stuff pillowcases

Can’t go fishing alone but can go with you

Can’t remember b-days but can sign cards

Can’t make apple crisp but can peal apples

Can’t drive a car but can ride with you

Can’t “go out” to eat but can eat at friend’s


Focus on what they ‘Can’ do

We had the pleasure of asking Jolene some questions about her journey to becoming an expert on Alzheimer’s care.

Q: You left a career in interior design to pursue a passion for caring for older adults with Alzheimer’s. What qualities do you think enabled you to find fulfillment and joy in this position? What qualities have you seen in caregivers (both family and professional) that are able to balance duties and prevent burnout?

An important quality is to be an observer instead of a fixer. When I observe and allow people to be as they are, there is more harmony. Caregivers who are able to find balance are ones who take things lightly, not personally. If no one is physically getting hurt, then let it go. Unfortunately when a caregiver has history with the person they are caring for, there are triggers that cause suffering for both parties. Thus, it is sometimes better to have a caregiver who doesn’t know the person well as they are more likely able to allow the person to be as they are through the changes of this disease. 

Q: Your focus is on “moments” of joy – what do you think that shifting the focus from long-term goals to simple moments when caring for adults with Alzheimer’s allows?

Moment by moment presence is a life lesson that I believe they [the adults for whom caregivers care] are here to teach us to practice. With Alzheimer’s, there is no planning, no figuring it out; if a caregiver tries to figure out what is going to happen next that in itself is insanity. The only thing that is predictable is that it is unpredictable.

Q: If you could summarize what you’ve learned over the years into three key tips, what would they be?

When you allow the person and yourself to feel what you are feeling, there can be a tremendous amount of healing. So cry, get angry, scream, laugh and pause in a peaceful moment.

Express yourself on this journey and allow the person who you are caring for to express himself/herself.

This too shall pass into another moment.

Q: Do you have a favorite caregiving story to share?

My favorite part of any interaction is simply smiling and giggling. Rarely do people understand if I talk but when I smile and giggle and rub their backs, the world goes away for a moment.

For more information on Jolene and her work visit

The Wall Street Journal Dispels the Aging Myth: Reframing What It Means to Age

Posted on: February 19th, 2015 by Anhtuan Hong

Screen Shot 2014-12-02 at 8.40.43 PMThe Wall Street Journal recently highlighted the negative myths about aging that many of us not only frequently hear, but may actually believe. Take this little quiz to see what we mean:

  • True or False: Cognitive decline is an inevitable part of aging.
  • True or False: As we age, our work productivity declines.
  • True or False: Older people are sadder and lonelier than their younger counterparts.

You can probably guess where we are heading with this—all of the statements are false but are pervasively touted as true. Aging has been caricatured as a time of increasing loneliness, and decreasing productivity, cognitive health and vitality. However, growing research from leading institutions around the world has dispelled these aging myths.

Contrary to aging being a time of gradual decline and loss of enjoyment, research is suggests that older adults are actually happier than their younger counterparts. Friendships and relationships with others are actually deeper, more intimate, and more fulfilling in older age. While it is true that older adults more often experience losses of close loved ones, it’s also true that older adults report greater satisfaction with life and wellbeing in relationships.

Studies have also shown that far from cognitive decline being an inevitable part of aging, there are functions that develop into older age and even some enhanced intelligence.  Ann Tergesen, who authored the Wall Street Journal piece, said, “Expertise deepens, which can enhance productivity and creativity. Some go so far as to say that wisdom—defined, in part, as the ability to resolve conflicts by seeing problems from multiple perspectives—flourishes.”

See the list below for some of the most common myths about aging that recent research has countered:

  • Depression is more common in older adults (FALSE): Research out of the Stanford Center on Longevity has shown that reported wellbeing actually increases into adults’ 70s, and then it starts to level off. In fact, the emotional “peak” (i.e., one’s happiest times) statistically doesn’t happen until adults reach their 70s.
  • Older adults can all expect their brains to decline steadily as they age (FALSE): While it’s true that structural changes in the brain that occur because of aging (e.g., shrinking of the prefrontal cortex) can have impacts on cognitive processes such as reaction time and memory, it’s also true that (excluding dementia cases) older adults perform better in the real world than on cognitive tests. Even more exciting, recent studies have shown that it’s possible to enhance one’s cognitive function with intentional brain boosting activities.
  • Older adults in the workforce are less productive (FALSE). Stereotypes about the productivity of older workers are especially damaging because they can impact the ability of older adults (who make up 22% of the North American workforce) to find and secure employment. However, empirically there is no relationship between age and job performance. In fact, research has shown that in positions where experience is an important skill, older adults performed better than their younger counterparts.

Check out our past post for more information on dispelling aging myths.

What aging myths are you busting in your own life?


Healthy Eats for Seniors Series: Indian Cauliflower “Sabji” with Peas and Carrots

Posted on: February 9th, 2015 by Anhtuan Hong


My dad is an amazing cook. When I lived in the Bay Area, my husband and I used to go to my dad’s for dinner every week – mainly because it’s fun to hang out with my dad, but also because I got to eat his gourmet meals. The thing with Indian cooking is it can go one of two ways:

1) Really tasty, but super oily and full of fat (curries are made with butter, ghee, oil, cream, etc.)
2) Really tasty with inventive ingredients and spices substituted for the oil – making it healthy and flavorful

The dinners I grew up with at home were more like option #2 above. My dad can make a “sabji” or “bhaji” (vegetable Indian dish) out of pretty much any veggie. It’s awesome. We have “Butternut Squash” sabji, “Collard Greens” sabji, “Beets and Beet Greens” sabji – the list goes on and on. It’s a great way to add a twist on a regular vegetable dish, and it’s not something you’d traditionally get in Indian Cooking.


Total Time: 30 minutes

Yield: 4 servings 

Nutritional Info Per Serving: 111.3 Calories, 2.8 g Fat, 520.4 mg Sodium, 19.9 g Carbs, 6.8 g Fiber, 1.7 g Sugar, 6.1 g Protein 

The Ingredients

  • 2 tsp canola oil
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/4 tsp hing (aka Asafoetida)
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 green chile (like a serrano chile, kept whole, not diced)
  • 1 small potato, diced
  • 1 cauliflower head, cut into florets
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas or 1/4 cup frozen peas + 1/4 cup frozen carrots
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground cumin
  • Cilantro, chopped (as a garnish)

The Directions

Steph 1: Cut the cauliflower and potato into bite-sized pieces and set aside. I like to cut them into a similar size so they cook at the same pace.

Step 2: Heat the oil on medium high heat in a large skillet; add the mustard seeds and cumin seeds until they pop. Then add the hing, turmeric, green chile and potatoes. Stir for 15-30 seconds to combine. Then add the cauliflower, carrots and peas and stir again.

Step 3: Add the salt and cumin powder, cover and let cook on medium-low heat for 10-20 minutes (depending on how cooked through you like your veggies). Meanwhile, chop your cilantro.

Step 4: Right before you’re ready to serve the sabji, add the cilantro.


Providing Thoughtful Care: Tips for Seniors and Their Adult Children

Posted on: January 23rd, 2015 by Anhtuan Hong

IwillneverforgetFrom the time you were born your parents kept you safe, warm, clothed, fed. Helped with your homework. Worried when you were sick or broke curfew.

Eventually your parents retired while you raised your kids and similarly fretted about illnesses, curfews and college. They likely still guided you during this time, but at some point older parents may start to have issues with mobility, vision or worse.

You might not believe your teenagers when they promise their room is clean or homework done. But when your mother tells you her dizziness is “nothing” or Dad says his limp is just a muscle strain you probably take them at their word, at least initially.

Your parents may be experiencing medical problems and safety concerns requiring intervention.

I know. I’ve been there.

My mother’s worst year was in 2004. After she buried her husband of 58 years – my dad – in April followed in December by her son – my older brother – I swooped in to protect her, a behavior she resisted.

From I Will Never Forget:
Gradually I took on a more protective role. Apparently I revved up a little too high and into hover mode, as sometimes she told me I was “bossy” and needed to back off.

Depending on the specifics of your situation, consider the strategies below. The first set is intended for the adult offspring of aging parents. The second list is for the senior parents.

Tips For Helping Your Parent

Most parents resist intervention from their adult children. I had to tread carefully to balance the respect my mother deserved with the supervision she needed.

What worked best for me was to identify her specific needs and “offer” to help.

From I Will Never Forget:
I noticed Mom’s sweater was uncharacteristically dirty. As I scratched my finger over the discolored streak, I realized something brownish was sloughing off in my hand—chocolate.

“Mom,” I said gently, “this is a little dirty. Maybe I can wash it for you?”

“Sure. You can do my laundry anytime,” she answered. Steadily I took over her car keys, finances and more.

When her Alzheimer’s advanced creating serious safety concerns, Mom had to be moved into an assisted living facility! The only technique that worked during those tumultuous months was continuing to remind her that I loved her and that I was doing “what was best for her.”

If you’re an adult child, tying to keep your parents safe without stepping all over their autonomy, consider these suggestions:

  • Validate. Tell your parents you understand and appreciate that they don’t want to overburden you with their care.
  • Be Honest. Is your help genuine? Do your parents really need physical assistance? Are you letting them do the things they can and want to do for themselves?
  • Identify. Offer a few areas where you can help and have your parents select one or two (e.g., drive them to appointments, do their laundry, or do the shopping either for them or with them).
  • Delegate. If distance and/or time doesn’t logistically allow for you to help in these direct ways, then hire a house cleaner for them, someone to shovel snow or a professional caregiver to assist them with daily activities.

Tips For Letting Your Adult Children Help

Conversely adult children may start to make decisions for their parents possibly to the point of interfering. My mother felt I was being “bossy” and resisted.

  • Validate. Tell your children you know they want to help.
  • Be Honest. Acknowledge that there are some things you really can’t do safely anymore (e.g., changing chandelier light bulbs, shoveling snow, climbing or descending the stairs).
  • Identify. Offer some areas in which your children can help you. These can be activities that you honestly need help with or simply dislike doing (e.g., driving over 20 miles or handling insurance issues).
  • Delegate. If you have a child that doesn’t live close enough to take over a physical chore, he or she can help in other ways. Let him or her handle the finances long distance or pay for a housekeeper or caregiver.

Health issues and family dynamics are too complex and varied for one-size fits all solutions. The point is to be honest, genuine and to discuss the options.

If you’re the aging senior, you legitimately need help with some things.

If you’re the adult child, help out but don’t take over.

Read more in the Multi-Award Winning Memoir I Will Never Forget.
“Help Me Help Others. Buy a Book.” I donate to Alzheimer’s from each book sold. or

The Passions Project: Inspirational Images of Older Adults Living with Purpose

Posted on: January 7th, 2015 by Anhtuan Hong

theatreAt Changing the Way the World Ages, we embrace a positive view of aging – one focused on independence, purpose and continued passion. Photographer Heidi Wagner aims to promote this same view through “The Passions Project”.

“The Passions Project” is a series of portraits depicting older adults doing the things they enjoy, whether it be acting, volunteering or spending time with feline friends. This project is designed to honor seniors and inspire people of all ages to live their lives to the fullest.

Heidi’s vision for the project was the result of her time spent with the residents of Frasier Meadows Retirement Community in Boulder, Colorado. She saw these older adults leading active, full lives and wanted to share this positive view of aging, filled with vitality and passion, with the rest of the world. Soon enough, “The Passions Project” was born and the hallway of Frasier Meadows was adorned with portraits of 41 residents engaging in the hobbies and activities they enjoy most.

When Heidi conversed with individuals featured in “The Passions Project,” she did not focus on any potential physical or cognitive deficits, but rather on what made these seniors feel most alive. As participants revealed their passions, they often became enlivened and were eager to share more about themselves. As interest in “The Passions Project” grew, the collection of portraits was moved to the Leading Age National Meeting, an annual conference dedicated to improving the way the world ages. Individuals of all ages who happened upon the collection took interest in it and could connect with seniors who had passions similar to their own, knocking down boundaries of age. 

“It’s inspiring to see people living their life to the fullest, to find their passion, and live a full life,” says Heidi. 

“The Passions Project” also includes images of seniors from Northern Colorado and Iowa. Heidi plans to continue her mission to change views on aging and bring meaning to people of all ages by taking “The Passions Project” to more locations, such as Texas and California. To view some of the portraits from The Passions Project, visit

Maintaining a sense of purpose as we age is one of the many lifestyle factors that contribute to healthy longevity. What are your passions?

Walking Your Way to a Healthier You

Posted on: December 1st, 2014 by Anhtuan Hong

imagesIn the past, we featured the work of Dr. Laura L. Carstensen, professor of psychology at Stanford University, founding director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, and a leading expert on aging and longevity. For more than twenty years her research has been supported by the National Institute on Aging, and she has received numerous awards and honors including the Distinguished Career Award from the Gerontological Society of America. Her research is so revolutionary to how our society views aging and longevity that we felt compelled to share some of her recent findings with our readers.

In a recent study published in the Journal of Psychology and Aging, Dr. Carstensen and lead author Dr. Nanna Notthoff, a postdoctoral fellow at the Humboldt University in Germany, explored the role of positive messaging in promoting walking among older adults. The research was spurred by the realization that despite being one of the most cost-effective and accessible modes of exercise linked with cognitive and physical independence in old age, many older adults do not meet the daily recommendations for walking (the World Health Organization recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity, like brisk walking, 5 days per week).

In line with Dr. Carstensen’s previous research on the age-related positivity effect, this study showed that older adults who were told about the benefits of walking (rather than the negative consequences of not walking) were more likely to walk. Thus, older adults may be more receptive to and motivated by positively framed messages focused on the benefits of a given behavior rather than negative messages focused on the consequences of not engaging in a behavior. The findings are especially important for care providers and family members hoping to inspire loved ones to walk more.

One real-world example of this positive framing of walking comes from the Columbus, Ohio office of international leading home care provider Home Care Assistance. Last winter, the office launched an innovative and successful campaign called “Walk to Okinawa,” which invited registrants, who all received free pedometers, to track their steps each day as the entire group made its way from Columbus, Ohio to Okinawa, Japan in a 7,500-mile virtual walk. The “destination” — Okinawa — was chosen because it is home to the healthiest and longest-living people on Earth. Home Care Assistance’s Balanced Care MethodTM seeks to capture some of the lifestyle factors that go toward creating such long-lived and healthy people including regular physical activity, healthy eating, mental stimulation, socialization and purposeful activities. All of this information was shared with the community with the aim of promoting healthy independence and encouraging participants to strive for optimal quality of life by adopting healthy lifestyle behaviors like regular walking.

Combining Drs. Notthoff and Carstensen’s research described above and the aforementioned Home Care Assistance campaign can be the key to truly effective and lasting heath behavior change: positive messaging coupled with incentives and tools (e.g., pedometers) to track the healthy behavior target can really motivate older adults to make a commitment to incorporating a healthy exercise regimen into their daily lives.

What would help to motivate you to stay active and fit with daily walking?

Pumped for Pumpkin

Posted on: November 24th, 2014 by Anhtuan Hong

punkinThe plethora of pumpkin-containing products on grocery shelves, and in coffeehouses and restaurants has become akin to the Fall Punxsutawney Phil (Mr. Phil is, of course, the beloved groundhog who, according to tradition, is a harbinger of Spring if he doesn’t see his shadow after emerging from his little hole in February) —it’s a sign that Fall is upon us!

While it’s true that some of these products are laden with added sugars and oils not conducive to a balanced, healthy diet, pumpkin itself is indeed a super food! What exactly are the benefits of Fall’s hallmark squash?

  • Aids weight loss. In addition to being low in calories, pumpkin is rich in fiber, which helps slow digestion so you feel fuller longer. Just one cup of pumpkin puree contains about 7.1 grams of fiber – more than you would get from two slices of whole-grain bread.
  • Supports eye health. Pumpkin contains almost double the recommended daily amount of vitamin A, which aids vision, especially in dim light. It also contains lutein and zeaxanthin, two antioxidants that are thought to help prevent cataracts and macular degeneration.
  • Protects the skin. The carotenoids in pumpkin may help keep skin wrinkle-free. Vitamin A also promotes skin elasticity.
  • Boosts immunity. Pumpkin is packed with iron, zinc, and vitamins C, E and A, which help the body fight infections, viruses and infectious diseases.
  • Supports heart health. High in fiber and the antioxidant beta-carotene, pumpkin helps reduce the risk of heart disease.
  • Fights cancer. Beta-carotene and other antioxidants in pumpkin are great for your eyes and skin, but studies also show that a diet rich in beta-carotene is associated with a reduced risk of developing some types of cancer, including prostate and lung cancer.

It’s important to note that pumpkin as a whole food carries all these health benefits, but isolated supplementation of beta-carotene (the carotenoid present in pumpkin) does not! The Carotene and Retinal Efficacy Trial (CARET) actually found negative effects associated with the beta-carotene supplementation.

This finding adds to the literature emphasizing that the best way to reap the benefits of superfoods is to eat them in their naturally occurring, whole form. Nutrients are described as acting “synergistically,” so trying to isolate them from natural sources can have unintended and unpredictable consequences.

While many of us think of pumpkin pie and other desserts incorporating the squash, there are many healthy ways to incorporate pumpkin into your diet. Add chunks to a stew or vegetable medley, sprinkle seeds on your salad, roast seeds for an easy snack, or use pumpkin puree in soups, smoothies or as a spread. Canned pumpkin puree is available year-round, but we recommend taking advantage of fresh pumpkin while it’s in-season. Organic pumpkin puree can be found at Trader Joe’s and most other grocery stores.

Here’s a festive Pumpkin Soup recipe from the Mayo Clinic:

Makes Four Servings


  • 3/4 cup water, divided
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin puree
  • 2 cups unsalted vegetable broth
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup fat-free milk (or Almond milk)
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 green onion top, chopped


  1. In a large saucepan, heat 1/4 cup water over medium heat. Add onion and cook until tender, about 3 minutes. Don’t let onion dry out.
  2. Add remaining water, pumpkin, broth, cinnamon and nutmeg. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in the milk and cook until hot. Don’t boil.
  3. Ladle soup into warmed bowls and garnish with black pepper and green onion tops. Serve immediately.

Nutritional analysis per serving

Serving size: About 1 cup

  • Total carbohydrate: 14 g
  • Dietary fiber: 4 g
  • Sodium: 57 mg
  • Saturated fat: Trace
  • Total fat: 1 g
  • Trans fat: 0 g
  • Cholesterol: 1 g
  • Calories: 77
  • Protein: 3 g
  • Monounsaturated fat: 1 g
  • Sugars: 0 g

Happy fall! What are your favorite pumpkin recipes?

Company Spotlight: Home Care Assistance and Wish of a Lifetime Celebrate the Legacies of Seniors

Posted on: November 11th, 2014 by Anhtuan Hong

HCA_CTM_Shoot_Export-0185At Changing the Way the World Ages, we are thrilled to see so many companies busting aging myths and honoring seniors. Two such companies are Home Care Assistance and Wish of a Lifetime.

Wish of a Lifetime is a non-profit organization dedicated to enriching seniors’ lives by granting lifelong wishes they would not be able to experience otherwise. They have already fulfilled wishes for over 950 seniors across the United States! One wish recipient, Tom, had always been fascinated by cultures around the world, but was unable to travel because of his end-stage COPD. His wish was to visually “visit” various countries through postcards; he received nearly 3,000 postcards from all 50 states and more than 90 countries, which he said gave him the “courage to go on”. A year and a half later, he is off of hospice and doing well. Wish of a Lifetime founder Jeremy Bloom explains, “Our belief is that growing older doesn’t mean you have to stop dreaming and living a life of purpose. By granting lifelong wishes to seniors who have overcome tremendous challenges in their own lives, our foundation is able to spread its inspirational stories of hope.”

With a similar focus on fostering a positive, appreciative view of aging, Home Care Assistance, a leading provider of in-home care for seniors, has a mission to change the way the world ages. Because they have aligned goals, Home Care Assistance has partnered with Wish of a Lifetime and will be sponsoring one wish for a very deserving senior in the coming year. To nominate yourself or loved one, complete a Wish Application Form. The deadline for submissions is Tuesday, November 25th, 2014 at 5pm Pacific/8pm Eastern; the Wish Recipient will be announced toward the end of December. Visit for more information.

As another way to foster respect and appreciation for seniors, Home Care Assistance recently launched its Honor Your Living Legend campaign. Honor Your Living Legend provides a platform for family members and friends to recognize the lifetime accomplishments of their aging loved ones. Living Legends can be well-known and acclaimed, or individuals who have positively impacted their families or communities in less high profile ways. Stories and photographs are featured publicly on and its associated social media pages, Instagram and Pinterest. Submissions are also entered for a chance to win prizes valued from $50 to $1000; drawings are held on a regular basis. To nominate your loved one, visit

Seniors have provided countless contributions to our society through their service, wisdom and love. Many are a source of inspiration for their communities and younger generations. Celebrate your senior loved one by submitting his or her story to Honor Your Living Legend or Wish Possible today.

Do you know any other organizations working to change the way the world ages? Share them with us!

Memory Banking: An Innovative Approach to Improving Mental Health in Older Adults

Posted on: October 14th, 2014 by Anhtuan Hong

StorytellingMany of the most interesting and innovative research studies to emerge in gerontology are focused on non-pharmacological, behavior-based interventions to improve quality of life. At Changing the Way the World Ages, we love to highlight this research because it is in line with our mission to embrace the journey of aging, and find meaning and a sense of purpose at each of stage of life.

In this quarter’s peer-reviewed Journal of Aging and Health, a group of American researchers, headed by the University of Maryland’s Faika Zanjani, explored a novel intervention to promote improved mental health in aging adults: Memory Banking (MB). MB is described as a “life story development intervention” in which participants map out their “future dreams, aspirations, plans, and decisions.”

The MB project stemmed from a realization that despite a consistently increasing lifespan, “…as a society, we have a hard time identifying with our aging selves…” The authors attribute this disconnect partially to ageism, which paints a less than ideal picture of aging, contributing to anxiety rather than excitement about growling older. The authors also feel that there is a lack of promotion of reflection and planning for the future in terms of managing the types of roles and activities that can come with increasing age, such as being grandparents, retirees, caregivers and/or care recipients.

MB is built on research that has found that individuals who take the time to engage in “narrative life history interviews,” essentially talking about and sharing stories about their lives, are more personally satisfied and exhibit better mental health outcomes than their counterparts who do not participate in the same social reminiscence. The mental health benefit is in part attributed to the socialization factor – emotional support from others reduces stress, depression and loneliness. The MB program as utilized in this study involved asking participants to share stories related to the following eight life domains:

  • Family/friends
  • Work/volunteering
  • Spirituality
  • Place/home
  • Education/learning
  • Leisure/hobbies
  • Health
  • Historical contexts

Individuals not only shared their life stories to date, but also future dreams, aspirations, plans, and decisions related to these specific life domains. It’s not hard to imagine why the innovative program contributed to improved mental health outcomes in individuals who participated; avoidance of important topics such as health and family as they relate to aging can lead to increased anxiety and distress as well as a feeling of being ill-prepared when changes do occur. Being reflective about ones’ past and mindful about one’s future can promote mastery and confidence.

What do you think of the Memory Banking (MB) approach to mental health? What are some of your future goals and plans?

How to Care for Aging Parents: An Interview with Virginia Morris

Posted on: July 11th, 2014 by Anhtuan Hong

morrisThere are certain books that become emblematic of specific life stages, and as such are passed from friend to family member to neighbor, referenced in conversations and housed in the libraries of all those experiencing that life event. Just as Murkoff and Mazel’s What to Expect When You’re Expecting has been the ultimate guide for expecting parents, Virginia Morris’s How to Care for Aging Parents: A One-Stop Resource for All Your Medical, Financial, Housing, and Emotional Issues has been the go-to resource for adults caring for their aging parents for almost two decades. Originally published in 1996, the book has won the Books for a Better Life Award and has been lauded as “an indispensable book” by the AARP, ”a compassionate guide of encyclopedic proportion” by The Washington Post and “the bible of eldercare” by ABC World News. The praise from the countless families that book has helped in navigating the elder care landscape is equally glowing. Combining personal experience in caring for her own parents with expertise in healthcare, Morris addresses all facets of caregiving including the legal, financial, medical, emotional and logistical issues as well as preventing burnout and promoting healthy aging. Morris has been featured on national media including Oprah, TODAY, NPR and Good Morning America. 

We were thrilled to have the chance to ask Ms. Morris some questions about her book and role as a preeminent resource for families everywhere coming to terms with caring for aging parents. 

Q. Your book, How to Care for Aging Parents: A One-Stop Resource for all Your Medical, Financial, Housing, and Emotional Issues is now in its third edition and has been a best-seller since its initial release. What spurred you to write the book and did you have a sense that it would be so well-received?

I started this work in 1991 when there were very few resources for caregivers and, if you can imagine it, no Internet. So this was a response to an obvious need. And because most caregivers don’t have the time to read a full book, I wrote it so that they could easily find the parts that applied to them — How do I stop him from driving? How do I handle siblings? How do I find a decent nursing home? etc., etc.

I had no idea it would be so well received. The joy for me has been and continues to be  the comments I get from individual people rather than the number of readers or the publicity,. It’s an amazing feeling to know that you helped someone you never met. That is my reward and it is what pushes me to keep at this.

Q. The new edition includes several new chapters, including one on fraud and one on “aging in place” technologies. Why did you choose to include these?

Fraud and exploitation are enormous issues for the elderly and their families. This population is extremely vulnerable. Even smart, capable parents who seem impenetrable are at risk. Elderly people are targets because they often have money saved away (which they might part with), they are often alone and lonely (and willing to let strangers into their lives), they have fears that make them vulnerable (such as being put in a nursing home, running out of money or being abandoned), and they may have poor judgment about financial matters. Not only are they the targets of large-scale scams (phishing, sweepstakes, investments, and the like), but they are exploited by repairmen, “new friends,” caregivers — and yes, very often, their own families. Some people set out to scam the elderly, but often a person just slips into the role. A caregiver might convince herself, or himself, that any gifts and bonuses and checks, or perhaps a revision of a will, are deserved. Suddenly siblings discover that Mom has given everything away and has no money to pay for her own care. It’s heartbreaking. Caregivers and their parents need to know about these scams and protect themselves.

“Aging in place” technologies are a growing market. They run the gamut from electronic pill dispensers and medical alert buttons, to GPS trackers (for someone with dementia), to health monitors, motion detectors and fall sensors. The options are growing every day. But honestly, some of the most useful “technologies” that allow someone to remain at home are the simplest ones — double handrails, grab bars, even lighting, lever handles, clear pathways, night lights, and the like. 

Q. You are hailed as the preeminent expert on caregiving in “sandwich generation” circles; what do you think has contributed to your work becoming the go-to resource for this demographic among the sea of other books and guides?

Well, thank you for the kind words. First of all, I work very hard to be sure my work is accurate. There is a lot of misinformation out there, and the Internet, while helpful, has set off an avalanche of bad advice. I also try to keep it “real,” if you’ll pardon the expression. I don’t want to just tell you that this or that device or organization exists; I want to tell you what real life caregivers actually find useful. I don’t want to just say what you should or shouldn’t do, because sometimes you have to break the rules to survive. There are trade-offs. That’s the reality.

Most important, I try to be reassuring. Caregiving — whether it’s 24/7 or occasional, whether from near or far — is hard work. Very hard. The worry alone can flatten a person. We feel helpless. We feel guilty that we’re not doing enough, and sometimes resentful that we have to do so much. Parents and siblings trigger a cascade of old hurts and frustrations. And then we have more guilt. It’s complicated. My primary goal in this book is to take the pressure off caregivers. I try to give people clear, honest information, but also to let them know that they are doing a good job, that they are not alone, and that they must take care of themselves. 

Q. What was the most difficult part of writing How to Care for Aging Parents? What was the most rewarding? On how much of your own personal experience did you draw?

Interesting question. The most difficult part was organizing all of this information so that people could easily find what they need. I did not want frazzled caregivers digging around in frustration for an answer. It had to be simple and clear. 

As for my personal experience…. I started the first edition in 1991 when both my parents were alive. I lost my dad while finishing the first edition and then cared for my mom while writing the second and most of the third. She died when I was writing this last edition. Yes, normally the experience comes first and the book second, but I was glad I did it somewhat in reverse because my work wasn’t colored by my personal experience and emotions.  

For more information on Virginia and her work visit

You can download excerpts from the book and a convenient caregiver organizer from Virgina’s website here