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That Time of Year Again – Tips for Navigating the Holiday Season Rebecca Crichton, Executive Director, Northwest Center for Creative Aging We are already starting to gear up for the holiday season. For many, the period from Halloween through year’s end causes dread. The shortening days...

Good oral health is essential for healthy aging Yet, Medicare does not cover dental care By Jeff Hambleton, MD Many people are keeping their teeth longer than ever before due to better dental care and water fluoridation. But here’s a surprise for many pre-retirees. Medicare does...

Listen to your heart and it will tell you what it wants in matters of love, family and profession.  Listen closer and you'll learn that it needs exercise, healthy foods, and stress control to thrive. Nurture your heart and it will power your body for...

-Painting by Joan Dolan The Artist Within exhibit, featuring 51 artworks created by 43 different artists ages 60-101 opened at the Harborview Medical Center Cafeteria March 10, 2016 after garnering rave reviews at the Anne Focke Gallery during January and February. The thought provoking and profoundly...

If you're reading this blog chances are you're a professional or family caregiver. You know how difficult holidays can be. They impact both the caregiver and the one needing care differently but each usually feel added stress. Planning ways to ease the stress is as important as planning a holiday meal or gifts to exchange. This year, as 12% of Washington families prepare to celebrate with someone who has dementia or a serious illness, helping organizations are gearing up to guide families in ways to make the holidays easier and more inclusive for loved ones in their care.
Are you a family caregiver? I am. In fact, With A Little Help's average staff age is 51 so several of our professional caregivers and office staff members also have family caregiving experience. Understanding both situations strengthens empathy for the natural differences in perspective of client and client's family. I originally conceived of this blog, featuring the challenges and coping mechanisms of four family caregivers, because I was curious about the issues other people encounter in family caregiving and I hoped to gain understanding that would help all readers caring for a loved one. What I found was that these narratives helped me as much in my professional caregiving career as they have in the care of my own mother. I hope you enjoy these four honest and inspiring stories. andrewAndrew Cohen, of Coho Accounting, provides care for his mother. His biggest challenge was preparing emotionally for her journey into dementia. A bright, resourceful and independent spirit, his mother learned she had Parkinson's 12 1/2 years ago but kept it in abeyance for 9 years during which Andrew was able to prepare himself for Parkinson's inevitable physical progressions.  Not all Parkinson's patients develop dementia but when Andrew's mother started experiencing symptoms it put added stress on their ability to negotiate her care and, at times, strained their communication. Where does he turn for support? "I try to remember the good times," Andrew told me. He also receives important guidance from a dear friend who is a hospice nurse and talks to friends about their own family caregiving situations...his "ad hoc support group."  Most remarkably, he founded his business, Coho Accounting, as a result of his experience with his mother's need for fiduciary support. He works now with client families going through situations similar to his own. What has he learned? Three main things: Really listen. Don't disagree with your mother (or with anyone experiencing dementia). Be willing to have difficult and honest conversations.
More than 800,000 people in Washington  are family caregivers. Nationally that number is 65 million according to the Caregiver Action Network. Yet these big numbers don't tell the whole story. Caregiving has changed. Advanced medicine and better treatments for chronic illness means that loved ones are experiencing longer lives and richer programmatic opportunities which, in turn, requires sustained caregiving lasting 5 to 10 years or more. Caregivers are being asked to manage complex medical maintenance or navigate the long term care system while simultaneously trying to keep their own lives stable and balanced. It can be overwhelming. One of the strongest caregiver support programs available nationwide is called Powerful Tools for Caregivers. "I'm one of Powerful Tools' biggest fans," social worker and Powerful Tools facilitator Carin Mack confessed. "Powerful Tools is a 6 week free intensive program that offers family caregivers the opportunity to learn new strategies for self care within a caring community," she said. Classes, held once a week, enhance caregivers' self-care, emotional balance, coping skills, and confidence. In particular, Mack noted, "The group offers ways to handle some of the most difficult emotions experienced in caregiving such as guilt, depression, anger, frustration and grief. It offers new
monica-headshot"My work as a therapeutic harpist is a service and not a performance. I don't expect any kind of recognition," multi-talented Seattle musician Monica Schley explained when she sat down to discuss her experience as a Certified Clinical Musician. Most of Schley's musical roles, such as her chamber-pop band, The Daphnes, or role in the experimental pop opera, "Now I'm Fine," involve performance and entertainment but through her service as a therapeutic musician, she says, she's found "soul purpose" and improved aspects of her musicianship. Schley began her journey with the harp at the age of 14. Since then she's gained mastery of her instrument and acquired a wide repertoire of music which will  soon debut on her first full length album "Keep the Night Dark." Her experience spans classical, chamber, rock, jazz, improvisation and avant garde. She teaches, composes, and has collaborated with dozens of musicians. Three years ago she did something different. She enrolled in a course in clinical musicianship accredited by the National Standards Board for Therapeutic Musicians. In addition to the coursework she served an intensive internship playing roughly 40 hours in hospitals and kidney dialysis centers and 20 hours in hospice. This is the first year she's been practicing with full certification. As a therapeutic harpist, Schley says, her ability to memorize music has improved and "It really opened up my ears to how I connect music and sound."
345,000 people in Washington struggle with hoarding disorder according to Governor Jay Inslee's proclamation for Hoarding Disorder Week, October 18-24. Inslee presents the case for lifting awareness and understanding family members and neighbors who hoard. What is hoarding disorder? What causes it? Who is at risk? What can we do about it? Are you or someone you know living with hoarding disorder? HOARDINGHoarding disorder is marked by a major difficulty letting go of possessions, the inability to organize them, and the acquisition of so many belongings that much or all living space becomes impeded or unusable thereby causing distress. Hoarding disorder exists on a spectrum from the sensational cases seen on television or in news to isolated incidences that grow more out of control with time. It shows up in young adulthood but can intensify in later years when age related problems interfere with functionality, memory or motivation. Hoarding disorder is a complex stand alone or co-occurring psychiatric disorder with public health implications. It isn't eccentricity or laziness and people with the disorder aren't gross or simply unmotivated. Those are myths of the past. It's distinct from collecting or cluttering. Collections are ordered and usually have a designated place. Clutter is disorganized yet doesn't block movement or overtake necessary spaces such as a stove or a bed. Neither have a major drive to collect stuff or major difficulty letting it go. Hoarding is much more complex. So, who are hoarders? Society is just beginning to understand. In the video below you'll see a profile of a former business woman in Orange County. She and her family talk about their perspectives on her hoarding disorder as they try to understand. She's the subject of her daughter's documentary, "My mother's garden."

I first encountered "Dotty's Ten Tips for Communicating with a Person Living With Dementia" when it was published within a blog at The Art of Alzheimer's in July of this year. Authored by Dorothy DeMarco and originally appearing at the Alzheimer's Reading room Dotty's Ten...