Our 1.5K

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of joining my fellow Mount alumnae in a fundraiser for a classmate we lost. It was my first 5K, but to say I “ran” it would be a gross exaggeration: the ’05 ladies and I participated. We strolled through the streets of Essex Fells like we had all the time in the world; after starting late, we did one of three laps and celebrated like we’d actually accomplished something other than a makeshift reunion.

Shortly after my 1.5K, I attended a much-anticipated seminar with the founder of Dementia Village as its keynote speaker. As expected, Eloy van Hal completely blew me away. When describing the community’s unique approach to care, he stressed the importance of individuality and learning as much as possible about each resident. There is, of course, no one-size-fits-all when it comes to this disease or its management.

Eloy affectionately picked on a woman in the audience who, based on appearance alone, was extremely different from him. He made assumptions about her taste in music and pastimes, both of which she confirmed to be accurate. He then described his own preferences. Being a traditional Dutch man, they were obviously nothing like hers. What would happen, then, if the two of them were to be placed in the same nursing home? If he had to listen to pop music on repeat, or do chair yoga between meals? Most likely, he noted, he’d end up a bit restless. Agitated, even.

Eloy’s analogies really stuck with me. His focus was on person-centered care, an approach that has received worldwide recognition and called for a redesign of our own nation’s healthcare system. According to a 2001 report by the Institute of Medicine, we in the US are fragmented and impersonal; we harp on disease and impairment rather than individuality and aptitude.

Person-centered care originates from the works of Carl Rogers and later Tom Kitwood. It emphasizes communication and relationships as opposed to only health and diagnoses. It explains that the environment has just as much of an effect on the brain as the brain has on a person’s abilities. It navigates from the outdated medical model of dementia care and stresses the social piece, instead. Most importantly, it enables encourages people to get involved in how the services they receive are both organized and delivered.

I remember learning about person-centered therapy in grad school. It was one of my favorite approaches, with core conditions that I find so powerful:

  1. Unconditional Positive Regard, or deep, genuine caring for the client as a person no matter what, and
  2. Accurate Empathic Understanding, or sensing a client’s feelings as if they were your own

PCC seems simple enough to implement, but we’ve got quite a ways to go. In the 10+ years following the IOM-necessitated shift, little progress has been made in the United States as compared to other countries. Our move-in packets feature surveys and our activity calendars improved, but we’re coasting. We boast diversity in facilities yet strive for conformity and compliance. We shoot for “home like” and comfy yet solicit input from outsiders (whose homes do we think we’re mimicking anyway?! Not my grandparents’, that’s for sure). We may be on the right track, but we’re still strolling our first lap.

The “How” Part 3: Itineraries

After flights, I am most often asked about my itineraries, especially when trips are off the beaten path or feature unique excursions: Do I use a travel agent? What about Groupon or Expedia – do I book packages? The short answer is no, but the explanation is a bit complicated. It all starts with a flight and a map (Google Maps, in this case):

  1. Honestly, where I go is based solely on price. Some of my favorite places in the world are countries I never imagined I’d travel to. Norway, for instance, was not on my radar, but a flight deal popped up a few years ago and I grabbed it. I book the airline tickets first, then worry about the rest afterwards. If for whatever reason my preliminary research has me doubting my decision, I can always cancel; there’s no penalty if you do so within 24 hours of booking.
  2. Once my tickets are secured, the real digging begins. I find it easiest to have two tabs open simultaneously: one with a map of the country I’m traveling to and the other on TripAdvisor. Note that I specify country and not city because although I’ll only be there for a short time, it is extremely rare that I’ll stay within the city I’ve flown into (unless of course it’s Rome💙). On TripAdvisor, I’m looking for those must-see sites. On Google Maps, I’m pinning each one to see what is doable and how I’ll design my route.
  3. Narrowing down can be tough, but that’s where TripAdvisor comes in handy again. This time, however, my focus is on forums. What can I absolutely not miss in Ireland? I don’t need to kiss Blarney Stone with a thousand other tourists but I do need to sleep in a castle. What are some cool things to do in Scotland? I’m not trying to listen to bagpipes but I would be down with rock climbing along the Atlantic. Open forums are incredible resources; they allow us to ask real travelers questions and get honest, unbiased answers. They also provide tips and insights you may not otherwise come across. Websites like Lonely Planet have forums too, but I’ve found TA’s to be the best, especially when it comes to excursions.
  4. Once I figure out where I’m going, I look into the best way to get there. Nine times out of 10 I’ll end up renting a car through Expedia, but I don’t always return it to the same airport; if I’m traveling far enough away from where I begin, I’ll research quicker means of transportation to my return flight. In Norway, for example, we drove East to West across the entire country, dropped our car off in Bergen (which was our last stop), then took a short flight back to Oslo to catch our plane ride home. & yes, this was all in a weekend!
  5. Finally, I choose accommodations. I’m a huge fan of Booking.com and AirBnB. Booking offers incredible prices and options way beyond a typical hotel. AirBnB allows you to live like a local in someone else’s home. I save this part for last because it’s honestly the least important. Don’t get me wrong – we stay in awesome places, but their location is determined according to what we’re doing along the way, not the other way around. After all, as Ralph Waldo Emerson is famously said to have proclaimed, “Life is a journey, not a destination.”

Show Me the Money

It’s no secret that senior citizens can be preoccupied with money. They worry not only about what they have, but where it’s kept, who can access it, and how it’ll be distributed once they’ve passed. Those fears can heighten tenfold with dementia.

I never really got it; money is of course important, but I couldn’t relate to the fixation (…or so I thought). Recently, while volunteering in the Philippines, I caught a fraudulent charge from Sprint on my credit card. When I saw the $816, I lost it. I was on a paid-off trip with a $30k credit limit, money in the bank, and Chase promising me I wasn’t responsible for the charge, but I was beside myself. Long story short, I trolled Sprint’s Facebook page like a crazy ex girlfriend and they paid me back in full. I eventually got over it, but to say it was an eye opener would be an understatement.

My loves are billed monthly to live in our community and the rates are basically all-inclusive. They don’t need as much as a dollar on them, yet the money struggle is real. They’re constantly panicked about it in some capacity, whether they’re convinced it’s been stolen, determined to change their Will, or simply needing to know what’s left. I learned very quickly that assuring them they don’t need cash is useless, just as Chase’s words to me fell on deaf ears in January. Actually, I learned that any degree of rationalizing is impractical. Here’s what I do instead:

  • If a nonna is convinced money has been stolen, I “review the tapes.” We have cameras everywhere and I’m calling a detective. Whoever took it will be terminated and maybe even jailed, but not before that money is returned. It will never happen again. Did she need me to loan her some in the meantime? What is she up to today; did she have shopping plans? I’ve made the mistake of swearing that the cash didn’t exist in the first place, that it had not been taken. Not only was I not helpful – I became the culprit.
  • If a nonno is convinced and angry that his kids are spending his hard-earned money, I’m “going to call and give them a piece of my mind.” The audacity! It’s not theirs to spend! How many kids does he have again? Is everybody local?
  • If a nonna wants it just in case and feels better knowing that it’s there, I grab it from the safe. I “keep everyone’s money locked up in my office.” I even hold IDs! For those who need more reassurance than my words can offer, I have backup: Amazon sells double-sided play money that has been an absolute lifesaver, as has my iPhone camera for fake ID photos. What a pretty picture, by the way! I look so silly in mine.

I’ve heard countless opinions on this matter. Some say not to reassure them, not to lie. Everyone is different and no advice is one-size-fits all. The recurring theme is that I validate their feelings, and I follow up with redirection. Kudos to my CC company for doing just that as they talked me off the ledge. As for Sprint: thanks for the lesson, but I still hate your guts.

Little Mamma

As if it wasn’t already evident from previous posts (and my Instagram bio), I am a huge dog lover. I worked through undergrad and grad school at the most incredible kennel, and I grew up with Shepherds and Labs. I’ve always hoped to somehow combine my love for dogs and seniors – to do meaningful work that involves both. This weekend, I took the first step toward doing just that: I rescued a three-month-old puppy. I know, I know…I work 65+ hours a week, I’m never home, and to say I travel often would be an understatement. I promise there is a method to my madness.

It’s no secret that the effects dogs have on people of all ages are immense. Within an instant, they can make us feel happy, loved, and safe – simultaneously excited and calm. Physically, they keep us active and in turn help our hearts. Dogs reduce stress (except during the housebreaking stages perhaps) and teach us lessons. For seniors especially, they can be pivotal in decreasing loneliness and improving mood; dogs live in the here and now. They don’t worry about tomorrow, and according to Dr. Jay Granat, tomorrow can be very scary for someone who is elderly:

“Having a pet helps the senior focus on something other than physical problems and negative preoccupations about loss or aging.”

And focus on them they do. That goes for both physical impairments and cognitive ones. Individuals with dementia (particularly in earlier stages) tend to be extremely stressed, and understandably so; they recognize that something’s wrong but can’t necessarily distinguish it from what is right. They’re not only confused, but also frightened and embarrassed. Here’s where my little mamma comes in:

“I sort of think that anybody with Alzheimer’s could benefit by a friendly little dog. Somebody they can play with and talk to – it’s kinda nice to talk to a dog that you know is not going to talk back. And you can’t make a mistake that way. … My dog knows things about me before I know them myself. … The one thing I know is that the dog is with me, and when she’s with me I at least have some solace, even if I don’t know the way.”

– Cary Henderson, Partial View

Rosie, that’s your cue. Introducing the newest member of our team and family:

 

The impact this little girl has had on our residents in three short days is immeasurable. I’m completely blown away. I have no doubt she will continue to amaze me. She is, after all, a dog ❤ one of the only beings that will ever love us without condition or complication. Mamma, we are so thankful for you already.

The “How” Part 2: Packing

I don’t consider myself to be an expert in much, but I can confidently say I am an expert-level packer. Frequent trips coupled with my disdain for airport lines and checked bags have forced me to become pretty creative over the years; although I travel light by most standards, I’m still an over-packer!

I’m often asked how I manage to travel overseas (and change outfits an excessive amount of times) with just a backpack. While my bag of choice is pretty big (find it here on Amazon), I’ll usually try to condense my carry-on further (Marshalls, I love you for this one). How I do it is simple: I fold my clothes so they’re as tiny as possible, then stuff them into packing cubes to maximize the small amount of space I have. When I say “stuff”, I really mean it – think a pair of Spanx so tight you fit into a dress half your normal size stuffed.

More on how (and how much) in the video above. 🙂

2017 Travel Recap

If I had to sum up 2017 in one word, it would be rollercoaster. Between job changes, weekend trips, a health scare, a bittersweet move (miss you terribly, Westmill </3), countless virtual chair travel programs, a CALA certification, and everything in between, I feel thankful yet so happy to be leaving this year behind. It’s insane to see how much change 12 short months can bring. 2018, please be gentle.

Below is a recap of my 2017 weekend getaways. Here’s to bigger dreams and more bucket list cross-offs.  ❤

January: Philippines for LIG Marian Rose Mission Trip

February: Weekend in the Veneto Region of Italy

March: Weekend in Denmark & Sweden

April: Toms River, New Jersey, perhaps my most important *trip* of the year as my April weekends were spent earning the title of Certified Assisted Living Administrator

May: Weekend on Lake Como, Italy

June: Weekend in Scotland

July: Weekend in Puglia, Italy

August: Weekend in Vittorio Veneto, Italy for my 3 year anniversary (already?!)

September: Weekend in Sicily and on the Amalfi Coast, Italy

October: Weekend in Cuba

November – December: Landed in Italy for the 30th time on my 30th birthday.

#30for30!

Thoughts on Aging by a Girl Who Works With the Aged

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It may be the psych major in me, but I’ve always found it interesting to think about the things that stick with you from childhood. I have a distinct memory of a conversation with my mom about birthdays: she was indifferent about them then, but she’d admittedly had a really hard time with turning 30. Parting with her 20s made her sad – depressed, even. An impressionable kid, I held on to that. I’ve dreaded the big 3-0 to the extent that I booked a trip alone (at least initially) as to not have to acknowledge it. The only party on the agenda was a pity party, and there’s obviously only room for one on that guest list.

Ma perché?! The more I think about it, my apprehension is not only silly but irrational. I’ve dreaded 30 not because of its consequences (which, by the way, are nonexistent – you don’t even need a new license) but because that’s what I inadvertently learned you’re supposed to do. So much so, in fact, that I f’ing ran from it.

Working in the senior care field these past few years has been nothing short of incredible. It’s insanely difficult at times, heart-wrenchingly sad at others, but always, always fulfilling. If there’s one thing my loves have taught me, it’s to embrace every single day. Our body is like a vessel; it simply transports us through life. Yes, it grows old – there’s no denying that (we put it through a lot!) but that’s the only thing that really changes. The “growing up” we talk about? The part when we’re supposed to suddenly feel like responsible, accomplished, brave, composed adults? That’s the myth. Nobel Prize winning novelist Doris Lessing said, “The great secret that old people share is that you really haven’t changed in 70 or 80 years. Your body changes, but you don’t change at all.” The famous “age is just a number” adage is corny but so, so true.

My loves have taught me (both outright and indirectly) that doing anything short of all you’ve ever dreamt is ludicrous. To wait for better timing or less responsibilities is dumb. To take risks when you feel more courageous is an oxymoron; courage, after all, is not an absence of fear but rather doing what you’re afraid to do. Things will work out as they should – they always have:

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
– Eleanor Roosevelt

The point is, who we are inside is not what changes, not at our core. Only our bodies do (speaking of, when does the good stuff happen..? Like no more pimples, for instance?!?). We’ll never feel like we’ve learned it all or that we have it completely together, or that we’re ready for whatever it is we’re scared of. The emotional constraints of growing old are self-imposed and the limits we set for ourselves the real tragedy, not our actual age (even if it’s the dreaded 3-0).