Immunity Boosters Reverse Brain Aging!

A strong immune system doesn’t just fend off spring viruses—UCLA researchers say it also protects against Alzheimer’s disease!  That’s because your hardworking immune cells act like tiny brain janitors, sweeping away harmful plaque deposits. To shore up your body’s defenses today—and protect your brain health tomorrow…

  • Read a great book.   Taking a 30-minute break each day for an absorbing read will cut your risk of spring colds by 40%—and it will make your Alzheimer’s disease risk plunge by an amazing 60%, report researchers at Kentucky’s University of Louisville.  The magic of regular book breaks? They give you a blissful escape from the daily grind, which cuts your production of immunity-weakening stress hormones in half!

  • Feast on fish.  Enjoy two 6-oz servings of your favorite fish or seafood weekly and your Alzheimer’s risk will drop by 62%.  Plus, if you do develop a bothersome viral infection, you’ll bounce back in just half the time, new research suggests.  Explains study co-author Sandra Kalmijn, MD the healthy fats in fish energize a specific group of immune cells (macrophages) that chew up dangerous brain plaques and invading viruses.

  • Sip a little wine.  Red or white, wine is brimming with immunity-boosting compounds called Polyphenols, and a study in the journal Biological Research suggests that these healing gems can reduce your risk of viral infections—and Alzheimer’s disease—by 58%.  Explains study author Luc Letenneur, Ph.D., 4 oz to 8 oz. daily will give you this great protection, plus it will cut your stroke risk by 30%!

  • Take the sunshine vitamin.  If your not getting 20 minutes of sun exposure daily—which can be tricky in March—taking 3,000 IU of vitamin D-3 is key.  British researchers say D-3, the nutrient your skin makes when exposed to UV light, single-handedly cuts your risk of colds and other viral ills in half, plus it reduces your lifetime risk of Alzheimer’s disease by as much as 55%.  Note: Check with a doctor before supplementing.

                (written by Brenda Kearns for Woman’s World)

HOW TO SHARPEN YOUR MEMORY

  1. GET MOVING.  Long staff meeting?  Take a short, brisk walk right after it to help you remember what was covered, says Terrence Sejnowski, PhD, a professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and a distinguished professor at the University of California, San Diego.  Sejnowski’s research also suggests that regular moderate exercise (elevating your heart rate above 85 beats per minute for 20 minutes) helps maintain the health of neurons in the hippocampus, the portion of the brain responsible for forming long-term memories.  Always misplacing your keys? Do an uncommon gesture (like hopping on one foot) before setting them down to help your brain mark the location, says Nelson Dellis, a four-time winner of the USA Memory Championship and the author of Remember It!
  2. VISIT THE “PALACE”.  Top memory athletes (yes, that’s a thing) use a technique called the memory palace.  Imagine a route through your house in which you visit areas—front door, living room, dining room—in the same order every time, says Dellis.  If you’re recalling a list of errands, imagine your dry cleaning at the door, your checks to cash in the living room, your prescriptions in the dining room, and so forth.  “To recall the list later, think of the memory palace and mentally navigate the same path, picking up the images you laid there,” says Dellis.
  3. MAKE IT WEIRD.    “For the most part, our brains are good at remembering pictures,” explains Dellis.  Instead of trying to memorize day-to-day essentials such as names, to-do lists, passwords, and so forth by brute force, he recommends turning them into pictures you visualize in your mind’s eye.  “The more bizarre or over-the-top the image, the better your brain will recall it,” he says. For example, if you need to remember to pick up milk on the way home from work, don’t just think to yourself, “I need to grab a gallon!” but also imagine something like your car stuffed to the gills with cartons and milk gushing out the windows.  The idiosyncratic image is far more likely to stick and be ready for recall later.
  4. PUT IT ON REPEAT. “Unfortunately, our brains are designed to forget,” states Dellis.  “The best way to hold on to something indefinitely is to review it more than once.”  Say there’s a casserole you make regularly and you want to commit the recipe to memory.  You could try memorizing the ingredient list and cooking instructions in one fell swoop, but a more effective strategy would be to spend a few minutes a day reviewing the recipe over a span of five or six days.  “You’ll spend the same amount of time,” says Dellis, “but you will retain the information much, much longer if you give your brain time to rest and revisit.”
  5. CATCH SOME Z’S.  A good night’s rest has long been equated with memory retention and optimal brain health.  But recent studies show that mere napping can also bolster memory. “Your experiences are consolidated during sleep,” explains Sejnowski.  “While eight hours a night is the standard-bearer, we now know that a nap also has a powerful effect.” A 2016 study from the University of California, Riverside, found that participants who partook in a 90-minute midday nap were better able to retain information and tackle creativity challenges.  But even a quick 20 minutes of shut-eye can send the brain into REM sleep and help preserve memories, adds Sejnowski. Nighty night.

                               (written by Caroline McKenzie for Real Simple, March 2019)

5 THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT ANNUITIES

(Income for life is nice, but it comes at a price)

There’s a lot to love about having a guaranteed source of income for life.  It gives you protection against running out of money and a greater ability to ride out the stock market’s ups and downs.  It might even lift your mood: Research has found that retirees with a predictable source of funds, such as Social Security or a pension, are happier than retirees who don’t have a guaranteed income.

Don’t have a pension?  Want additional regular income beyond what you can get from Social Security? That’s where an annuity comes in.  Here are five things you need to know before you buy one.

  1. THEY’RE SIMPLE—AND COMPLICATED.  Stripped to the basics, an annuity is a deal with an insurance company.  You turn over a sum of money; in exchange, you collect guaranteed income to help with your retirement.  The size of your monthly check is determined largely by your age and sex, and interest rates when you buy the annuity.  Now, for example, a 65-year-old man paying $100,000 for a single-premium immediate annuity (also known as a lifetime annuity) could get about $565 a month for life; for the same amount, a 65-year-old woman could receive $542 a month.  (Insurers set women’s payouts lower because of their longer average life span.)

But annuities aren’t all basic.  They come in many varieties—variable, fixed, equity indexed and more.  Some can help defer taxes; others allow people to invest in stocks and bonds while protecting against steep losses.

  1. THEY REQUIRE A COMMITMENT.  As nice as guaranteed income is, you may balk at tying your money up in an annuity.  “The one thing that consumers get about annuities is that you’re handing your money over to someone,” says Jamie Hopkins, director of retirement research at Carson Group, a financial advice firm.  “And the single biggest thing people don’t like is giving up control.”

That 65-year-old man, if he lives to 90, will receive nearly $170,000 over the years in return for his $100,000.  But if he were to die at 70, he would have collected a total of about $34,000, and any heirs would get nothing.

Avoiding that outcome is possible—at a price.  The man could buy a lifetime annuity guaranteed to pay out for at least 15 years, even if he dies before then.  In that case, his beneficiaries would collect for the remainder of the 15 years, but the annuity’s monthly payout from day one would be lower than that of a lifetime annuity without that guarantee.

Even a willing commitment has hazards.  Money spent on an annuity is money you can’t get at, or can access only at great expense, in an emergency.  Steve Vernon, author of Retirement Game-Changers, suggests putting only enough in a single-premium immediate annuity so the annuity and Social Security cover your basic living expenses.  “Invest the rest of your money,” he says, “and draw that down systematically to spend on travel, hobbies and spoiling grandkids.

  1. YOU NEED TO KNOW WHAT YOU WANT.  Annuities are sold sometimes as a source of retirement income and sometimes as a way to invest in the market and manage taxes.  Decide why you might buy. Do you want income now (and thus want an immediate annuity) or later (deferred)? Do you want a predictable payout (fixed income) or payouts that rise or fall with the financial markets (variable)?

If you’re on the cusp of retirement and your goal is to create a pension-like, guaranteed income, you can ignore the noise and simply buy a single-premium immediate annuity.

If you’re goal is to invest, you have other options. The fastest-growing annuity nowadays is a fixed indexed annuity.  You put your money in and you get a return linked to (though not necessarily matching) the performance of a market barometer such as the Standard & Poor’s 500 index of large U.S stocks.  Generally, your investment is protected if the index declines, while your gains might be lower than that of the actual index.

With a variable annuity, you pick from a menu of stock and bond funds and let that money grow tax-deferred.  You can addon features (called riders) that protect your principal or let you lock in a minimum income, usually with what’s called a guaranteed lifetime withdrawal benefit (GLWB).  And in most cases, your heirs can inherit a death benefit.

  1. SAFETY COMES AT A COST.  The price of this protection can be high and tough to tease out.  Basic fees, plus the cost of a GLWB rider, might add as much as 3 percent annually.  So if you invested $6,000 annually in a variable annuity that returned 7 percent per year before expenses were deducted, you’d have about $75,000 in your account after 10 years.  But with a mutual fund charging, say 0.2 percent annually, the same market performance would leave you, after expenses, with $87,700.

Limits on fixed-indexed (sometimes called “equity-indexed”) annuities are another cost.  If an insurer caps annual returns of an S&P 500-linked annuity at 6 percent, that’s the most you’d earn in a year—even if the S&P gains 19 percent (as it did in 2017).

And if you want to get out of a fixed-indexed or variable annuity, you might pay a hefty “surrender” charge, particularly in the first years after buying it.  

Still, such an annuity with a guaranteed benefit might be a good choice if you can’t stand risk.  “For the person who won’t buy anything other than CDs and bonds, get a variable annuity with a GLWB rider,” Hopkins says.  “The likelihood is that it will outperform CDS and bonds.”

  1. THE SELLER—AND SALESPERSON—MATTER.  Shop for single premium immediate annuities at sites such as ImmediateAnnuities.com or IncomeSolutions.com, which have quotes from various insurers.  Pick an insurer with a high grade (say, rated at least A- by the firm A.M. Best). “All you need to know is the credit rating and payout,” says CPA Mike Piper, author of the Oblivious Investor blog.

Comparisons are tougher for a fixed-indexed annuity or variable annuity, but be sure to understand the fees and surrender charges that you might face.  Both Vanguard and Fidelity offer relatively low-cost variables.

Finally, if a financial adviser suggests buying an annuity, ask what your alternatives are.  “A variable annuity will be the only tool in the shed,” says Breanna Reisch, a certified financial planner in Riverside, CA, “if they only sell variable annuities.”

Written by Ellen Stark for AARP Bulletin, January/February 2019

EMERGING FROM THE COCOON:

Getting older and retiring were not on my radar in 1979.  I was 41, married, with two young children, and my concern was more short term:  What should I do next with my career, which had focused on documentary filmmaking?

That year I took a family trip to visit my in-laws in Delray Beach FL.  My wife Ellen’s mom had managed an employment agency; her dad was a postal worker.  Approaching 70, they had saved money and had Social Security and pension income. They could live their generation’s goal of retirement among friends and peers.  But what I saw at their condo complex surprised me.

As residents played cards and mah-jongg they loudly debated interest rates, taxes, inflation heading for 12 percent.  I wondered, why aren’t they discussing golf, early bird specials, shuffleboard, grandchildren and health issues, as I imagined retired people would?  These people seemed to be cut off from the action, but still focused on it. They had moved to a new stage in life, yet still held on to the old one. This was a story to tell.

Back home, I wrote a story called “Cocoon”.  A cast of retired people worked hard and grew (caterpillar) to be able to have a retirement (cocoon), but instead of changing (metamorphosis) into something beautiful (butterfly), they were stuck.  Searching for a metaphor to deal with the inevitability of leaving their “earthly existence,” I had the characters encounter an extraterrestrial adventure.

Finding a way to get my story out to an audience did not come easily.  I heard 51 “nos” before a “yes”. Among the rejections were many who deigned to read a few pages and said things like, “This is a wrinkle story,” and “Old people don’t go to the movies.”  

It took five years to get a movie made, with a script by established screenwriter Tom Benedek and direction by Ron Howard, in 1985.  

The positive reactions to the story said to me that I got most of it right.  The movie won two Oscars, and critics called it “feel-good” and “uplifting”. My novel was published after the movie.  Cocoon was a New York Times best-seller and became a brand of sorts, and I went on to a new writing career.  

Now 81, I’m similar in age to the characters I created.  But life in 2019 is different than in 1979. I have purpose.  I’m working on new Cocoon projects—possibly a streaming TV series, new feature films or maybe even a stage musical.  And so I’m rethinking my premises. The questions I face in writing a 21st century Cocoon are many:  Must we, because of economics, continue to work past some so-called retirement age?  If we must, can we find that work? Have we financially, emotionally and physically planned for this period of life?  We are statistically living healthier and longer, but are we spending this gift of extra years stuck in our cocoons rather than pursuing new growth and experience?

What I see among my contemporaries in that those who have stopped working and have no vital interests or purposes of value punch a faster ticket to that inevitable end of earthly existence.  But I also know that this part of life’s journey can be more relevant, uplifting, active, exciting and celebratory today than the one I observed 40 years ago.

For example, I live in a suburb of New York City and note that many older homeowners have chosen to remain in their current homes or move to something smaller while staying in the area.  Some now travel all over the world. Several, past 75, are still working because they want to, while some I know continue to work because, financially, they must. Of course, there are still communities for residents over 55, here and in the warmer climes of Florida and Arizona, but the residents I know maintain active, year-round lives and travel.  The trip that I took to Florida four decades ago was primarily to bring our children to see their grandparents. Now grandparents do the traveling to see their families. I’ve got to consider all of this.

If my story has taught me anything, it is to never settle into my own cocoon.  For me, no matter how old I grow, retirement is not an ending or even an option, but rather a rewarding, fulfilling, ongoing series of beginnings.
(written by David Saperstein for AARP Bulletin, January/February 2019)

Put an Egg on It

Cooked
sunny-side up, this add-on improves most any dish!

Seems every
restaurant is getting in on the “top a dish with a fried egg” craze.  It’s also an easy, delicious trick to enjoy
at home.  Try some of these combos:

TIP: 
Fry your eggs sunny-side up in extra-virgin olive oil for better health
and flavor.

Breakfast:  
Whole-grain avocado toast

                     Roasted or home-fried
rosemary potatoes

                     Southern-style grits

                     Whole-grain pancakes, crepes or waffles

                     Corn bread

Lunch:         Turkey burger

                     Grilled portobello
mushrooms

                     BLT sandwich

                     Sauteed white beans &
kale or other greens

Dinner:        Polenta with Parmesan

                     Vegetable Pizza

                     Whole-grain linguine with
pesto

                     Stir-fried shrimp

                     Chicken chili

HOME WARS

(Older community association members who fall behind on fees face increasingly harsh treatment)

Leah Lally, a 51-year-old homeowner in Tampa, FL learned the hard way that dealing with a HOA (Homeowner Association) can escalate into a costly and years-long legal battle.

In 2015, Lally got nearly $700 behind on the $135-a-month association fees on her five-bedroom home.  She explained to the association’s management that she faced financial hardship while caring for her sick parents, and asked to work out a payment plan.

The management company that contracts with her homeowners association told her it would take the issue to the association board.  But two months later, as Lally waited for a response, she got a letter from a law firm saying that a lien had been filed on her home.  

Lally decided to fight.  More than three years later, Lally’s HOA claims she owes nearly $15,000—about $10,000 of that from attorney fees, interest and other charges.

“I refuse to bend because it’s not right,” says Lally, whose court case is ongoing.  “It’s cruel that they are aiming to put me out of my home.”

There are more than 345,000 community associations in America today, compared with just 10,000 in 1970.  Almost 1 in every 4 Americans belong to a CA, according to the Community Associations Institute.

The volunteer-governed organizations, which regulate everything from holiday decorations to grass height, enforce rules and protect residents’ property values.  

While members have long bridled at CA restrictions and fees, an industry survey shows that as many as 85 percent of residents are neutral or positive about their association.  But homeowners who wind up in conflict with their CA say the organizations have a dark side.

In a trend that has grown recently, when homeowners are late paying assessments or fines, their accounts are turned over to law firms.  In these cases, legal fees can quickly outpace the size of the original debt. In the worst cases, homes are lost to foreclosure, sometimes sold at auction for little more than the outstanding debt.

Michael Greenwald, a Boca Raton FL attorney, says law firms typically charge HOAs no money, but pass on legal fees to the homeowner.  That’s an incentive for the firm to escalate charges. A single missed payment can add up to thousands of dollars in a few months, Greenwald says.

Lawyers are expensive and stakes are high.  Many homeowners just pay up, even if they think the charges are unfair, he says.

Attorneys who represent homeowners say in many cases the law firms for community associations are more aggressive than the Cas themselves.  In 2014, for example, Kay and John Wynne lost their home in Lexington SC to foreclosure over a $3,800 homeowners association debt. Brian Boger, an attorney in Columbia SC defended their right to keep their home.  The judge vacated the sale. But Boger says homes are often lost for good. “It’s insanity is what it is,” Boger says.

Sawn Bauman, a senior vice president at the Community Associations Institute, says she thinks this type of problem is rare.  But Bauman says associations have an obligation to collect because assessments fund maintenance and other costs of day-to-day operations.  As for turning cases over to attorneys or collections agencies, “That typically would happen when a resident is just not responding or just will not pay,” Bauman says.

Attorneys who represent homeowners disagree.  They say bills are being passed on to law offices  more quickly than ever.

In Philadelphia, Jeffrey Greenspan, 64, filed for bankruptcy after running up more than $55,000 in assessments and legal fees in a battle against his condo association.

In Houston, the foreclosure prevention project at Lone Star Legal Aid has filed lawsuits on behalf of 27 older homeowners who faced foreclosure from unpaid fees since 2010.

In Phoenix, attorney Jonathan Dessaules has seen a sharp rise in foreclosures.  Senior are hit hardest. “Many of them are on a fixed income,” Dessaules says. “They can’t afford the attorney fees that keep going up and up.”

(written by Joe Eaton for AARP Bulletin, January/February 2019)

Wow, April 2019

Wow, April 2019…. I think about how one third of the year is gone already…..how does this happen?   (I know how, but whey does it seem to go faster all the time?)

I came across an interesting questionnaire that made me ponder the following questions….which, when I read them, made me reflect back on my life so far…. Thought I would share some of the most interesting questions with you….. maybe you could provide some feedback.

  1. What is your biggest regret?
  2. Have you read an inspirational blog post?  Why did it inspire you?
  3. Do you meal plan?  Share what you are cooking this week.
  4. Share some little-known facts about you.
  5. What are your favorite movies?  Why?
  6. If you could have lunch with one person, who would it be?  Why?
  7. What is your favorite restaurant?
  8. What is your fitness routine?
  9. What things can’t you live without?
  10. Do you have a music playlist you can share?
  11. What books are on your shelf?
  12. Did you have role models growing up?  If so, who were they and why?

Active Retirement Communities

Active retirement communities are a bit larger. These communities are designed for those couples or individuals who want to be around other people their age who are also active and engaging. Most often, these locations will offer some key benefits. For example, you’ll live in a single family home, condo, townhome, or even an apartment. The key here is that everyone in that space with you is looking for things to do to remain active.

Active retirement communities are designed to give you plenty to do if you want to do so. You can tour various cities on bus tours together. You can engage in a wide range of programs at the location as well. Because they are active communities, they offer a location for people to come together and to enjoy a higher quality of life. Many offer clubhouses or spaces for people to meet and talk to each other. This type of environment is ideal for anyone who may be retired but still wants to enjoy a high quality of life.

55+ Senior Communities

Within a 55+ community, the goal is to live around people who are over the age of 55. These communities restrict individuals from living in your home who are younger than this. The benefit is that there are likely to be like-minded people living around you. Many times, these communities are single-family homes where you will own the home outright. However, other options exist as well. You may choose to live in a community that is made up of condos or townhomes.

When it comes to choosing this type of environment, individuals should take into consideration what their goals are. Each community offers different features and activities for seniors. Most provide a wide range of ways for seniors to communicate, participate in programs, and to enjoy social activities.

Seniors by the Numbers

In a 2010 report by The Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics called “Older Americans 2010: Key Indicators of Well-Being,” we found the following statistics that may interest you:

  • People who reach age 65 will live another 18.5 years verses just 4 years longer in 1960.
  • From 2006 to 2008, 74.5% of those 65 and older reported being in good to excellent health.
  • About 22% of seniors reported regular physical activity.
  • Seniors 65 to 74 report doing 7 hours of daily leisure activities; watching TV account for 4 hours.
  • The housing burden cost for seniors increased from 30% to 37% between 1985 and 2007.
  • Forty percent of seniors in 2007 had one or more of the following housing issues: “housing cost burden, physically inadequate housing, and/or crowded housing.”

What’s Right for Me?

This is a big question for many seniors and worth careful consideration. The answer may take weeks, months and even years of thought. To start, take an inventory of your life now that you’re retired. Here are some basic questions to ask:

  1. Are you happy in your home and neighborhood?
  2. Do you dread doing yard work in the summer heat?
  3. Are the four bedrooms too much to clean?
  4. Do you live close enough to family?
  5. Do your friends still live near you?
  6. Would you rather live close to the water, mountains, in the country or in a city?
  7. Financially, are you secure in your present home?
  8. Do you need to downsize?
  9. Are property taxes too much? Would you rather live with other active seniors?
  10. Do you enjoy living in a mixed-age neighborhood?

Physical Activities

You’re healthy and don’t want to sit around and watch TV. Now what? For starters, in order to stay healthy, you should make regular exercise part of your day. You’ll have more energy; your mood will improve; and daily activities will become easier. Plus, exercise benefits people with arthritis, heart disease, diabetes or high blood pressure. Consult a doctor before starting any new activity. Here are some options:

  • Walking, jogging
  • Swimming, aqua aerobics
  • Cycling
  • Yoga or Pilates
  • Strength training
  • Stretching
  • Cross country skiing
  • Tai Chi
  • Line dancing, square dancing, ballroom dancing
  • Golfing

Other Activities

To help balance your physical activities, here are some leisure activity suggestions:

  • Become a volunteer. What are your interests? People? Animals? Art? History? The environment? For every interest there is an organization that needs your help.
  • Join a book reader’s group. This is a great way to meet new people, socialize, and keep your mind engaged.
  • Put that wisdom to good use: Mentor a child. These programs are often run through libraries, churches and organizations like Big Brothers, Big Sisters.
  • Work in a community (co-op) garden. You’ll get your hands into the soil. Meet new people. And get to eat the fruits (and veggies) of your labor.
  • Get involved in civic activities like voter registration, campaigning, etc.

MEDICINE CABINET CHECKLIST

While the end of the year brings many people’s attention to reflecting on the year that was as well as the holidays, it also provides an opportunity to take inventory of your prescription medications. Are there drugs in your medicine cabinet you aren’t using anymore? What about ones that are expired? Are you storing them properly? Here are 5 things to do about your medicines by the end of the year.

Get rid of leftovers

You shouldn’t have prescription medicine that you don’t need any more hanging around. Some drugs, like antibiotics, are prescribed for a short period of time and the instructions are to keep taking them until the bottle is empty, even if you feel better. When you’ve recovered from your ailment, get rid of any excess pills safely and properly. Many drug stores will take unwanted medications off your hands. Many drug chains, including Walgreens, have a safe medication disposal kiosk in a number of its stores. You can also get rid of medication in the trash, though you must mix it first with substances that can mask it, such as dirt, coffee grounds or cat litter. Flushing your medicine down the toilet is not advised because it could potentially end up in the water supply.

Can I take an expired pill?

Medication is still effective and safe to use even after the expiration date. An FDA study found that about 90% of more than 100 drugs examined, both prescription and over the counter, were okay to use well after the expiration date (Exceptions include insulin, some antibiotics and nitroglycerin). If you question the safety and effectiveness of any drug, ask your pharmacist. Pharmacists are great resources and can tell you what you need to know about your medications.

What’s this drug for?

Does that bottle look vaguely familiar but you can’t quite remember what it was prescribed for? Call your doctor or take it to your pharmacist and ask. Some medicines are fine to keep on hand and use when needed. But others aren’t. A good example are opioid medications. If you were prescribed them, your pain has gone away and still have pills left, don’t keep them around. This is because of the addictive nature of opioids as well as preventing them from falling into the wrong hands.

Humidity is not your pill’s friend

Most people store their medicine in a bathroom cabinet, but the heat and moisture from your shower, bath or faucet may damage your medicine.  In the bathroom, your medicines can be become less potent or expire before the set date. They can degrade and literally fall apart. Store your medicine in a cool, dry place like a dresser drawer, but away from children.

Keep out of your grandchildren’s reach

If you have young grandchildren that visit, you need to take precautions to keep your medicines out their reach. Too many children go to the emergency room every year because they got their hands of medications that weren’t secured.

To keep children safe, pick a spot in your home to store medicine up high and out of sight. You might also think about purchasing a medication lockbox. Also, make sure the safety cap is always on the bottles and put away your medicine after each use. Treat your meds with respect, they are powerful and need to be safeguarded. 

Suzanne Robotti is founder and president of MedShadow Foundation, the independent non-profit organization that informs the public about the side effects, risks and benefits of drugs.

THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES

In a re-created 1950s town, men and women with dementia rediscover their comfort zone.

Mary Patterson bounds through the entryway of Glenner Town Square with a giant smile.  Since Mary’s shoulder surgery in 2014, she hasn’t been the same. She forgets anything five minutes after you tell her, says her husband, Ray.  Normally sweet and even-keeled, Mary, 87, is now “like two people”—one the woman he’s loved for most of his life, and the other an angry, sad and lost soul who sometimes fails to recognize her husband.

“It’s hard,” says Ray, 81, who cares for Mary full time.  “Very hard.” But since Glenner Town Square, a state-of-the-art dementia day care facility, opened in August, Patterson says he’s been able to take care of the bills again, read books, breathe.  And when Mary comes home from Glenner, she is in a better mood and easier to be with. “She doesn’t have her memory back,” he says. “But there’s a difference.”

Located in an industrial building along a nondescript boulevard in Chula Vista, Calif., just south of San Diego, Glenner Town Square is a 9,000-square-foot indoor replica of small-town USA, where Eisenhower is still president, Buddy Holly sings over the PA System and old movies like Rear Window play in 15-minute clips in the movie theater.  An American flag with 48 stars flies in side city hall, near the shiny black 1959 Ford Thunderbird and across from Rosie’s Diner, where pictures of Elvis, Audrey Hepburn and James Dean hang from walls the color of cotton candy.

A GROWING FORM OF CARE

The creators of Glenner Town Square hope to revolutionize dementia care through the use of reminiscence therapy, a palliative treatment for patients who have cognitive decline but whose long-term memory remains at least somewhat intact.

Glenner Town Square is designed to capture the years between 1953 and 1961, when the average dementia patient was between ages 10 and 30 — the time of life during which, research indicates, many of our strongest memories are formed.  Senior Helpers, a national organization that provides Glenner’s trained caregivers, is working with George G. Glenner Alzheimer’s Family Centers to create another Town Square outside Baltimore. The goal is to build 100 more Town Squares nationwide by 2021.

Each of the 14 storefronts within the Town Square represents an iconic place that participants might have visited in their past—the library, the bar, the barbershop, even the opera house.  Guests are guided from one nostalgic scene to another in groups of five, staying in each for about 45 minutes, not unlike a high school schedule. Aides play cards with them, help them paint, tell stories and, in one particularly poignant moment recently, had them copy inspiring messages on Halloween cards for sick children at a nearby hospital, and sign them with “I love you.”

A RESPITE FOR CAREGIVERS

The concept of reminiscence-therapy villages grew outside Amsterdam, Netherlands, with a small “town” that’s actually an assisted living facility called Hogewey.  A report in the Journal of Dementia Care noted that residents of Hogewey settle easily and, as a result, may need less medication than those living in traditional homes.

Glenner is different in that its participants (don’t call them patients) go home at the end of the day. “We’re creating an extra step between being at home and being in assisted living,” says Scott Tarde, CEO of George G. Glenner Alzheimer’s Family Centers, which operates two traditional dementia care centers in the San Diego area in addition to Glenner Town Square.  

And research indicates that reminiscence therapy helps those with Alzheimer’s and other forms of cognitive disease feel better in the moment, often calming their agitation, a painful hallmark of the condition.  It can also, according to some research, bolster cognitive ability and reduce depression.

“When I first heard about reminiscence therapy about 10 years ago, I was skeptical,” says Richard Isaacson, MD., director of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medicine and New York-Presbyterian in Manhattan.  “But my mind has changed. Being in this kind of comfortable and safe environment where you are offered a structured way to remember the past may boost chemicals in the brain without side effects, and that boost could have a ripple effect.  It means you could sleep better, and if you sleep better, you’re more well-rested, and memories are consolidated during sleep so you might have better cognition. This doesn’t reverse Alzheimer’s, but it does have a symptomatic benefit that extends long beyond the hours a patient spends inside a place like this.”

Caregivers—husbands, wives and children—benefit as much from Glenner Town Square’s setup as the participants.  Take, for instance, Joey Tennison, a 37-year-old San Diego deputy sheriff whose mother, Susie, moved into the home he shares with his wife early last year.  “It strains every aspect of your life, but it’s brought our family closer,” Joey says, recalling the days when he would be at work and his mother would call 20 times in one hour, asking the same questions.

He enrolled Susie, 70, in Glenner when it opened in August, happily paying the $85 a day ($425 a week) for care from 8:45 am to 5:15 pm.  While that’s some 20 percent higher than the average cost of adult day care, Joey—who has visited several nursing homes and assisted living facilities—says it’s well worth it.  Private care averages around $20 an hour nationwide, so he sees Glenner as a savings. Plus, Joey says, “This is not just a bunch of old people sitting around a table,” like he’s seen in many other homes.

Susie had a tough time during her first days at Glenner: She was agitated and uncomfortable and called home constantly, Joey remembers.  And yet, he says, she seemed comforted by the portraits of Eisenhower and Roosevelt on the wall, and the music. “I don’t think she thinks she’s in the 50s,” he says.  “But it all feels familiar to her—and safe.” To ease Susie’s agitation, Glenner caregivers tapped into what they knew about her—she used to be an accountant, so they printed spreadsheets for her to fill out and gave her a desk to work at.

“I’m not saying my mother is getting better,” Joey says. “But she has a purpose now.  She even asked us to buy her new dresses because she wants to look good. She got her dignity back.”

(by Jennifer Wolff for AARP Bulletin, December 2018)