Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Depression a Financial State or a Mental State?

We're hearing the word "depression" bandied about a lot these days. Wall Street and the President are trying hard to convince us that a financial calamity worse than the Great Depression is on our doorstep - just minutes away.

Investors are bouncing from panic to opportunistic buying sprees, keeping the stock market so volatile that many of us simply choose not to watch our own investments leap and then plummet. It's too easy to buy into the panic mentality and feel the fear that, perhaps, our political leaders are hoping we feel.

It may, in fact, be real. We may be facing a financial breakdown like we've never seen before.

But my money is on us. I believe that we can weather this storm, and that, while we may feel some pain, we'll find ways collectively and individually to assure that our parents continue to receive good quality care in the retirement or care communities where they live, and that, as we eek our way toward our own retirement, we have plans and support networks to get where we need to go.

In a recent article from Newsday.com, seniors shared their memories of living through the Depression. They recalled living very frugally, and simply accepting that everyone couldn't have everything. "If you didn't have the money, you did without," commented one person interviewed for the story.

That's so dramatically different from today's "no payment for 12 months" approach to purchasing. There's no reason why anyone needs to go without anything, including new furniture, new cars, new TVs and more. Don't have the money today? No problem - get it anyway.

Maybe it's a good thing to take a look at how we live. Maybe, like those who lived through the Depression, it's time to only purchase what we can afford. To save up for the future. To pay off our homes. To learn to value life because of the friendships we have, not the possessions we lug around.

If times get tough, I'm betting on the fact that we have a resilience and a creativity that will get us through. We'll look to each other, and find ways to contribute toward a greater common good. Maybe my role will be to train people to provide care for your parent, while you supply the food from your garden to feed both our loved ones.

It may become a time of financial depression, but it will not, in my view, demand a mental depression in response. We have too much strength; too many talents; too much promise.

We've got what everyone in the world envies: the American spirit.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Vote with your Heart and Mind

It's election season. Bills, measures and initiative for improving the quality of care abound. Some propose additional staff training, others increase the regulations of senior care in a variety of settings.

As a senior care professional and a member of the sandwich generation (that's the place where you're smushed in the middle of two generations: your kids and your aging folks, spread liberally, as one person put it, not with mayo but with Ben-Gay), improving the quality of care of our nations elderly is a personal and professional priority.

While we're at it, we have to look down the road to make sure our own retirement savings and investments, not to mention Social Security, are managed as well as possible.

How do you know how to vote in a way that will actually result in real benefit?

Look at who is sponsoring the bill. Read the fine print. Listen to your local politicians, and ask them questions about their positions on social security, senior care and other vital issues.

Bottom line: get involved.

My daughters and I have been regular participants in the Race for the Cure event in our home town. The turn-out, until recently limited to women only, is third largest in the country.

When we participate in this event we look around us and see how strong we can be - what a difference we can make - when we all come together for one focused purpose.

I think on election day we might get a better perspective of our power if we all turned up at a voting center within the same 2 hour period. OK, I agree - it would be a logistical nightmare. But we'd get a different - and clearer - understanding of how powerful we are when we put our minds and our voices together for a cause.

Don't miss out on our own personal power trip this year. Get involved. Vote!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Crossroads in History, not Just in Caregiving

I titled this blog "Caregiving at the Crossroads" because I believe passionately that the choices we make and the actions we take TODAY will have long term effects on caregiving in our families, our communities and within our nation.

But we face more than just a crossroads in caregiving; we face a crossroads in our country on a much bigger scale today.

When I was a new social work grad there was a theme among social workers, designed to get people to understand what social workers are really about (this, in an age where my mom freaked out about my going to social work school, thinking all social workers were bra-less, Birkenstock-wearing liberal "nut-jobs" - oh wait, people still think that today...):

"Wherever you go, whatever you do, say you're a social worker."

I've proudly worn my social work creds throughout my work as a business developer, manager, consultant and entrepreneur. It's important to who I am, and to what I value, no matter what I'm doing professionally.

And at a time when I see caregiving - and many, many other issues - at a crossroads in our country, it's time to stand up and say what I believe. It's not a time to be politically correct, or overly sensitive to our differing opinions.

That doesn't mean I don't believe in agreeing to disagree, or discussing things civilly. It does mean, though, that I can't stay silent on topics that mean so very much to me. Topics like:

Health care. It's embarrassing to live in a country where basic health care is not affordable even to many hard-working wage-earning individuals. I truly believe that we not only CAN figure out a solution to universal health care, but that we MUST come up with a solution. We're not getting any younger, you know - we baby-boomers will tax this system beyond its ability to bear if we don't come up with a solution. If other developed countries in the world can do this, certainly WE can do it.

Women's Issues. I'm a professional woman with three daughters. I know something of what it takes to run a business, work long, hard hours, and raise daughters who make responsible choices. I believe that some of the most important work we do as women is in the raising of our children; children who choose to make a difference in the world, who make responsible choices in every aspect of their lives, and who we trust to make the tough choices personally as they grow and develop. As a mom, I have always parented from the perspective of teaching my children the right way to live, and doing my best to model that in my own life. And then giving them the freedom to make their own choices, knowing that I've given them tools to make good choices. (The proof is always in the pudding, as my mom would say!)

For my country, all I ask is that legislators respect me and my fellow women enough to let us make our own choices about some of the most personal - and life-changing - events in our lives. Legislating this choice says that we don't respect our fellow women enough to let them make choices for their own lives - and I profoundly disagree with that.

Money. Ah, the hard part. Many people in the suburb where I live plan to vote from their pocketbook alone. I admit, higher taxes will pinch, if it affects me personally. At the same time, I'm so proud to live in a community that is safe to walk in, day and night, that provides a public education to rival most private schools, and that has good roads, parks and libraries. I'm willing to pay my fair share to ensure that we continue to have these assets. And I'm also willing to contribute to the work of caring for those who don't have the advantages I have. I remember the words from that good book, "To whom much has been given, much is expected." I know that my family has been richly blessed. I believe it is my responsibility to share these blessings, and so I will pay my taxes and work hard to make sure that the money is well spent.

Today I wear heals and a suit most days (and a bra, mom), but I'm still a social worker. I'm still committed to making a difference in my own small world, and maybe, if I'm lucky, in the larger scheme of things as well.

In the weeks ahead we all have a choice to make. Consider carefully your values when you make that choice. We're at a crossroads. Your choice - and your vote - is vital for ensuring that we take the road that leads to a better future.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Celebrating Assisted Living Week

This week ends National Assisted Living Week. You probably were completely unaware of this week of honoring assisted living, especially since we also honored and remembered events that changed our world with the 9/11 tragedies.

But while most of us missed the party, for millions of seniors and their families throughout the U.S. the celebration took place quietly and in an everyday sort of way. It is a celebration nonetheless of a kind of care that wasn't even available just a few years ago.

Less than a generation ago, seniors who needed care had fewer options. Most either went straight into a nursing home or remained at home with family caregivers.

The family caregiver pool diminished dramatically with the growth of women in the workforce, and nursing homes were clearly not the best environment for many seniors who didn't really have medical needs.

And so a new level of care developed that offered support for daily living tasks but minimal nursing care. It was developed on a model, too, that specifically and intentionally feels and looks more like home (or, in many cases, a nice hotel) than like an institution - another aspect that set it apart from nursing homes.

Today families have options for care that range from in-home care (one of the fastest growing segments of elder care today) to assisted living communities to nursing homes that now incorporate many of the values of person-centered care that assisted living has made the norm.

As a society facing an aging population and a potential crisis in care options, we have many reasons to celebrate assisted living this week. Here's my personal word of thanks for all the folks who provide this care, from the investor and developer to the care staff who give so many families a good night sleep knowing their loved one is in good, caring, compassionate hands.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Michael Jackson Had It Right

Michael Jackson turned 50 this year - a milestone many of us have already passed. I admit, I've tended to think of Jackson more as "Wacko Jacko" recently than as someone who changed the world, albeit in his own small sphere.

Maybe because of the milestone birthday, or simply the youngsters' desire to revitalize some of my generation's "oldies," but Michael Jackson's music has become popular again.

Twice this summer I saw dance performances set to his song, "Man in the Mirror," and it's gotten stuck in my head. The message in this Michael Jackson song got it exactly right:

If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make a change.
In my small corner of the world, I'm working hard to make the world a better place for frail, dependent elders. I remind myself often that making the world a better place starts with what I do, every single day.

As a colleague and I were discussing yesterday, if we want to change the world of senior care, we've got to change the way we train the folks who actually deliver the hands' on care.

So today, join me in looking at the person in the mirror and making a decision to change the world.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Moving Day - Getting the Folks into Retirement Housing

Last weekend, over the Labor Day holiday, we moved my husband's parents out of their home of 55 years and into a retirement apartment.

We all worried about them that last night in their home. Would they feel remorse over the sale and decision to move? Would they be grief-stricken at the thought of actually moving out?

As the family converged early Saturday morning - kids, grandkids, aunts and uncles - we were met by two busy, scurrying people, laughing and working hard to pack the last few things in the house. Both were clearly eager to move on with their lives; neither showed any sign of sadness.

I usually get elected to have the heart-to-heart with the folks to make sure they're really coping OK. As I took my mother-in-law aside to check in with her, she was beaming. "I can't wait to be as happy as all of those other people living there," she said. Clearly, she was ready to make the move.

Later, I asked my dad-in-law how he was doing. He started reciting a list of repairs needed to the house - roof, electrical, plumbing - ending with a big sigh. "I don't have to worry about any of those things now - I couldn't be more relieved."

The move went smoothly. The stuff they couldn't part with was pretty much crammed into their new 1 bedroom apartment, but they were smiling and happy. As the entire family sat down for lunch together in the retirement community's dining room, we all felt a sense of accomplishment and a hope of the promise: tomorrow will be better. We won't have to worry about them being alone and isolated in their house. They don't have to navigate stairs, mow the lawn and climb up on ladders anymore.

A couple of years ago when this whole process began I had a conversation with my mom-in-law about moving. What I said then, and believe today, is that where you live is much less important than how you live. I believe that this move will make a qualitative difference in the HOW of my loved ones' lives.