Saturday, September 7, 2019

How Not to Grow Old in America

The assisted living industry is booming, by tapping into the fantasy that we can all be self-sufficient until we die. 

Ms. Anand, formerly a reporter for The New York Times, is a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, Graduate School of Journalism.

Assisted living seems like the solution to everyone’s worries about old age. It’s built on the dream that we can grow old while being self-reliant and live that way until we die. That all you need is a tiny bit of help. That you would never want to be warehoused in a nursing home with round-the-clock caregivers. This is a powerful concept in a country built on independence and self-reliance.

The problem is that for most of us, it’s a lie. And we are all complicit in keeping it alive.

The assisted living industry, for one, has a financial interest in sustaining a belief in this old-age nirvana. Originally designed for people who were mostly independent, assisted living facilities have nearly tripled in number in the past 20 years to about 30,000 today. It’s a lucrative business: Investors in these facilities have enjoyed annual returns of nearly 15 percent over the past five years — higher than for hotels, office, retail and apartments, according to the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing and Care.

The children of seniors need to believe it, too. Many are working full time while also raising a family. Adding the care of elderly parents would be a crushing burden.

I know this fantasy well. When my parents, who were then in their 70s, were unable to take care of themselves, I bought an apartment in Brooklyn that was big enough to fit them, in addition to my husband and our two young children. But then my husband lost his job in the Great Recession, and we could no longer afford the mortgage.

The only solution I could think of was to move. I took a job in India, where the dollar goes farther, so I could rent an apartment big enough to fit us all and hire helpers to care for my parents and children while my husband and I worked.Back then, I, too, dreamed about those assisted living facilities. My parents seemed so bored and lonely in my house. And it was hard for us to keep up with their ballooning needs. They grew so enormous that I eventually had to quit my job.

As I struggled to support my parents, assisted living became a private dream for my own old age.

Now that I am back in the United States, I have been thinking about assisted living again. My dad died in 2017, after living with us for nine years, and my 83-year-old mother now lives in New York City with my sister. Would assisted living offer our mother better care and relieve the pressure on my sister, who works full time while raising a young daughter?

Sadly, I’ve discovered the answer is no.

The irony of assisted living is, it’s great if you don’t need too much assistance. If you don’t, the social life, the spalike facilities, the myriad activities and the extensive menus might make assisted living the right choice. But if you have trouble walking or using the bathroom, or have dementia and sometimes wander off, assisting living facilities aren’t the answer, no matter how desperately we wish they were.

“They put their money into the physical plant. It’s gorgeous,” said Cristina Flores, a former home health care nurse who has a Ph.D. in nursing health policy, lectures in the gerontology program at San Francisco State University and runs three small group homes for the elderly. 

But when it comes to direct care, the facilities are often lacking. “The way they market everything is, it’s all about autonomy and independence, which are important concepts,” she said. Families and residents don’t realize that these facilities are not designed to provide more than minimal help and monitoring. Even those that advertise “24-hour” monitoring may have someone present round-the-clock on the premises, but may not have sufficient staff to actually monitor and assist the large number of residents.

“People’s defense against something horrible happening is, ‘Well, they have a right to be independent,” she said. “‘Yes, he did walk up the stairs with his walker and fall down and die, but he had a right to do that.’ That’s a horrible defense. You don’t just allow people to do unsafe things.” 

Most residents of assisted living need substantially more care than they are getting. Half of those residing in assisted living facilities in the United States are over the age of 85, the Centers for Disease Control reports. And this trend is accelerating. The number of people 85 years of age and older in the United States will nearly triple to about 18 million by 2050, according to the Census Bureau.

“When you say nursing home, people say, ‘Yuk,’” said Eric Carlson, the directing attorney for Justice in Aging, a national advocacy group for low-income older Americans. “When you say assisted living, a lot of people say, ‘That sounds good.’ Nobody realizes the system is broken.” When something bad happens to a resident of an assisted living facility, “They just think it was that facility that was horrible,” he says.

Part of the problem is a lack of regulation. Nursing homes are regulated and inspected and graded for quality to ensure that residents receive adequate care. The federal government does not license or oversee assisted living facilities, and states set minimal rules. Nursing homes are required to have medical directors on staff who review patient medications regularly, while there is usually no such requirement in assisted living.

Not surprisingly, complaints against assisted living facilities are mounting in courts around the country.

In June of last year, Claude Eugene Rogers, an 83-year-old retired Marine, suffered from heatstroke at an assisted living facility in Roseville, near Sacramento. He died a few days later. A state investigation said that he had been left on an outside patio in his wheelchair for one hour and 45 minutes or longer that morning, when local temperatures reached 93 degrees Fahrenheit. The state in July moved to revoke the facility’s license to operate, which it is fighting to retain, while denying any wrongdoing.

His family was devastated. They had chosen assisted living when his dementia grew more severe and his wife was no longer able to care for him at home. “We thought it was a nice place and the people there could provide great care and the other residents there would be friends for my dad,” his son, Jeffrey Rogers, told me.

Bonnie Walker, 90, who also suffered from dementia, wandered undetected out of an assisted living facility in South Carolina sometime after midnight in July 2016. According to a lawsuit, her remains were found eight hours later in a pond nearby, and her pacemaker was recovered from inside an alligator that lived on the property.

Her family, after struggling to care for her at home, had taken her to assisted living believing she would be safer. They visited her daily and took her home on Sundays. “My grandma deserved to have us there” when she died, her granddaughter, Stephanie Weaver, told me, “not to go the way she did.”

Ruth Gamba, 96, fell three times during her first month in a memory care unit of an assisted living facility in Fremont, Calif., her family said in a lawsuit against the facility. Memory care units are supposed to provide closer monitoring and care of patients with dementia. But in Mrs. Gamba’s most recent fall, she broke her hip and fractured her toes, her family said in the lawsuit.

Her son, Peter Gamba, a television editor in Los Angeles, told me that he and his sister moved their mother into the facility because it promised round-the-clock monitoring. More than 40 percent of people in assisted living have some form of dementia. Construction of memory care units in assisted living facilities is the fastest-growing segment of senior care. But assisted living, even memory care units, often aren’t the right place for people with dementia. In most states, there’s no requirement that these units be staffed with enough people or that they be properly trained.

Assisted living has a role to play for the fittest among the elderly, as was its original intent. But if it is to be a long-term solution for seniors who need substantial care, then it needs serious reform, including requirements for higher staffing levels and substantial training.

That will raise prices, and assisted living already costs between about $4,800, on average, each month, and nearly $6,500 if dementia care is needed, according to the National Investment Center, a group that analyzes senior housing reports.

Perhaps the United States can learn from Japan, which is a few decades ahead of us in grappling with how to care for its rapidly aging population. Japan created a national long-term-care insurance system that is mandatory. It is partly funded by the government but also by payroll taxes and additional insurance premiums charged to people age 40 and older. It is a family-based, community-based system, where the most popular services are heavily subsidized home help and adult day care. Japanese families still use nursing homes and assisted living facilities, but the emphasis is on supporting the elder population at home.

We need to let go of the ideal of being self-sufficient until death. Just as we don’t demand that our toddlers be self-reliant, Americans need to allow the reality of ourselves as dependent in our old age to percolate into our psyches and our nation’s social policies. Unless we face up to the reality of the needs of our aging population, the longevity we as a society have gained is going to be lived out miserably.

As Mr. Gamba told me, “There’s going to be lots and lots of old people dying left and right with nobody attending to them.”

And there’s a pretty good chance, I believe, that among those languishing there will be you and me.

Full Article & Source: 
How Not to Grow Old in America

Florida guardianship laws weakened by elder law attorneys’ lobbying. For some courts, exceptions have become the rule | Special report

By Jason Garcia and Monivette Cordeiro

It’s known as “trolling.”

That’s the practice in which a professional guardian identifies a vulnerable elderly person by visiting a nursing home, sponsoring an “informational” breakfast or getting a call from a hospital. Then the guardian, or their attorney, gets a court to appoint them that person’s guardian, by talking the elderly person into asking for it themselves or persuading a judge to intervene

Five years ago, when Florida lawmakers set out to reform the state’s guardianship laws, they were so concerned about trolling scams that they proposed two major restrictions meant to put a stop to them.

One would have forced judges to follow a rotation when appointing a professional guardian for an elderly or disabled person who had just been declared incapacitated. The other would have forbidden a professional guardian who was appointed to oversee a ward on a temporary or emergency basis from later being appointed that person’s permanent ward, too.

But by the time Republican-controlled Florida Legislature passed the 2015 law, both restrictions had been substantially eased. The reason: Opposition from the elder-law industry.

Elder, estate and probate attorneys who work on guardianship cases -- many of whom earn fees paid with the assets of the person who the court has decided is incapacitated -- threw up a thicket of objections. They persuaded Florida lawmakers to include exceptions to both.

Rebecca Fierle
Rebecca Fierle
Those exceptions have, in many parts of Florida, rendered the two anti-trolling changes almost toothless. They have also created loopholes that help explain how Rebecca Fierle, the disgraced Orlando-based professional guardian who is now under criminal investigation, was able to gain control over the estates of so many seniors and other vulnerable people. Fierle resigned in July from 95 active cases in Orange County alone.

The 2015 legislation underscores the influence that the elder-law industry has in shaping in Florida’s guardianship laws.

“It’s the coyotes guarding the henhouse,” said Douglas Franks, a 61-year-old computer technician from Georgia whose late mother was declared incapacitated and put under the care of a professional guardian in Pensacola. Franks has personally lobbied the Florida Legislature for stricter controls over the industry.

“We need to have a third party -- someone that doesn’t have a vested interest -- to look at this and say, ‘This is not fair,’” Franks said.

Industry advocates say it makes sense that they play a central role in these debates. They know this arcane corner of the law better than anybody -- and they can anticipate how well-intentioned reforms could cause more unintentional problems.

Changes can also impact their livelihoods. Attorney fees are often a major cost in guardianship cases, where assets from the estate of the person who has been declared incapacitated can be spent to pay for lawyers to represent both the wards themselves and the guardian appointed to manage their affairs.

In one case out of Palm Beach County, for instance, the attorneys representing a guardian were paid close to $200,000 in fees and costs over a roughly two-year period -- from an estate worth about $400,000, according to court records. The same attorneys and guardians often work together on multiple cases.

Still, Shannon Miller, who runs the Miller Elder Law Firm in Gainesville, said the attorneys who help write guardian laws prioritize the protection of seniors and other vulnerable people over their own self interests. Miller, who also co-chairs the legislative committee for the Elder Law Section of the Florida Bar, the professional association for attorneys, pointed out that elder-law attorneys have also lobbied for laws making it easier for some people to obtain emergency injunctions or file wills without hiring a lawyer.

“We do advocate for ourselves. But at the same time, our primary goal when we’re legislating is to advocate for the rights of seniors,” she said.
Guardianship law attorneys have influence
There are, to be sure, multiple interest groups who have played a role in writing Florida’s guardianship laws. The stakeholders include judges who preside over guardianship cases and county court clerks, whose offices audit and investigate guardians. Activist groups, such as AARP and an organization known as Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianship, also get involved.

Sometimes the hospital and nursing-home industries weigh in. And professional guardians themselves lobby, too, through a trade group known as the Florida State Guardianship Association.

But lawmakers and lobbyists on all sides of the debate say the people who have historically had the most influence on the process are the attorneys who practice guardianship law. They work primarily through a pair of divisions of the Florida Bar -- the Elder Law Section and the Real Property, Probate and Trust Law Section (which attorneys often jokingly refer to as “the reptiles” because of the acronym RPPTLS.)

Those attorneys leapt into action in 2015 when lawmakers began thinking about imposing rigid controls on how professional guardians get their cases. The Elder Law Section’s Guardianship Committee, which had been meeting every other week, started conducting weekly meetings to better keep tabs on the various bills in play.

The proposal to make judges follow a rotating order when appointing professional guardians was known at the time as “the wheel,” and the lawmakers who initially suggested it said it would ensure fairness in the process.

“It also assures that judges won’t get complaints in choosing the same guardians over and over,” former state Sen. Nancy Detert, a Republican from Sarasota County, said during a hearing on one early version of the legislation. “Because we do have guardians that are frankly targeting wealthy people and not taking cases where there’s no money available.”

But elder-law attorneys said the concept was flawed and unworkable. They warned that smaller counties might not have enough guardians for a rotation. They said judges should be able to consider if a ward required a guardian with a particular expertise, such as the ability to manage a business. And they stressed the importance of the interpersonal connection between a guardian and a ward.
So lawmakers agreed to add an exception to the wheel. Judges can decide not to follow a rotation when appointing a professional guardian as long as they explain their reasons for doing so.

The same thing happened with another provision lawmakers considered in 2015. It would have strictly prohibited a judge from allowing a professional guardian who had been appointed to oversee a ward on an emergency basis to then become that vulnerable person’s permanent guardian, too. The only exception in an early version of the bill would have been for cases in which the elderly or disabled person had chosen someone to be their guardian in advance -- before a court had determined they were incapacitated.

But attorneys said emergency guardians often develop personal bonds with the person for whom they have been made responsible and spend lots of time learning that person’s familial, financial and medical needs. They said requiring a second guardian to come in and do the same thing all over again could be emotionally traumatic and unnecessarily expensive for the ward -- whose estate pays the bills.

Lawmakers once again agreed to add more exceptions. The final legislation gave judges the discretion to let an emergency guardian become the permanent guardian if the ward’s next of kin requests it -- or if the judge decides that the guardian has “special talent or specific prior experience” that warrants it.

Detert, now a county commissioner in Sarasota, said the compromises were brokered by state Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, a Republican real-estate attorney from Naples who has in recent years become one of the Legislature’s leading experts on guardianship law.

"She came to me and she said, ‘I’ve worked it out with the reptiles,’” Detert said. “She did that part, thank goodness. She could speak their acronyms and I don’t.”

Passidomo, who was in the state House at the time, said she ultimately concluded that judges needed to have flexibility when appointing guardians.

“There are some wards that need certain types of care," she said.
Exceptions become the rules
But those exceptions have become rules in many counties across the state. The Orlando Sentinel surveyed the state’s 20 judicial circuits to find out which ones follow a rotation when appointing professional guardians. Ten responded -- and a half-dozen of those said they do not follow a rotation or they regularly go out of order when no one objects.

In Orange County, records reviewed by the Sentinel showed that Orange County judges chose to ignore a rotation and appointed Fierle in at least two-thirds of her active cases at the time of her resignation. The orders typically include boilerplate explanations for why the judge decided not to follow a rotation, such as that Fierle “has professional and business experience relevant to the nature of the services sought to be provided.” There are at least nine more cases in which it appears the judge appointed Fierle as guardian instead of following a rotation but there is no written explanation in the order.

One of the cases in which the judge chose to appoint Fierle rather than follow a guardian rotation: Steven Stryker, the 75-year-old who died at a Tampa hospital when staff was unable to perform life-saving measures due to a Do Not Resuscitate order that Fierle had filed against his wishes and refused to remove. Fierle was appointed Stryker’s guardian during a hearing that lasted less than three minutes, a recording obtained by the Sentinel shows.

After this story was published online, a spokeswoman for the Ninth Circuit, which includes Orange and Osceola counties, said the circuit does not follow a rotation when appointing any guardians.

The reasons judges gave to appoint Fierle and ignore the rotation system are “an offense,” Detert said.

Guardians "are all qualified and they’re all professional,” Detert said. “That’s not a good enough reason, in my opinion.”

Records reviewed by the Sentinel also show that at the time of her resignations, Fierle was serving as the permanent guardian for nine people in Orange County for whom she’d started out as an emergency guardian. The judicial orders for the appointments often provide only vague explanations whey they decided to let Fierle stay on as permanent guardian. In one example, for instance, the order says only that “Rebecca Fierle has the specific prior experience that this guardianship demands.”

Fierle initially sought to become an emergency guardian for Stryker, whose death sparked the statewide scandal that led to her resignation and multiple investigations.

Ninth Circuit spokeswoman Karen Levey said judges in Orange and Osceola counties decide whether to let emergency guardians become permanent guardians on a case-by-case basis.

“Rebecca Fierle appeared that she had tremendous experience and knowledge of promptly qualifying the elderly for their entitled benefits (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid),” Levey said.

Judges in other counties are also using their discretion. In a recent case out of Pinellas County, the friend of a ward challenged a judge’s decision to let an emergency guardian stay on as the permanent guardian because, in part, she had been a case manager for 25 years in the areas of grief, bereavement and crisis intervention; she held a master’s degree and was a licensed clinical social worker, hospice end-of-life counselor and practicing therapist. An appellate court ruled that those reasons satisfied the law.

Detert said there should be consequences for judges who are ignoring the rotation system or waiving the rules constantly for certain guardians.

“We should also have a penalty for judges who are abusing the system or just being lazy,” she said. “If they do it a lot, that should be a red flag.”
Attorneys cultivate influence
There have been other examples of guardianship-law attorneys and professional guardians shaping the state’s guardianship laws. In 2016, the Florida Legislature passed a law creating a new oversight agency, the Office of Public and Professional Guardians, and ordered it to develop standards of practice for professional guardians.

When the agency initially unveiled its proposed standards, the Elder Law section of the Florida Bar sent a seven-page letter raising various objections and concerns. The RPPTL section sent a full red-lined rewrite. And RPPTL lawyers helped orchestrate a lawsuit brought by a professional guardian against the state’s Office of Public and Professional Guardian challenging the proposed standards. The lawsuit was settled.

“A litigant who has standing to contest the rules was required in order to file the court action,” a RPPTL attorney wrote in the summer 2017 issue of the section’s “ActionLine” magazine. The story noted that the attorney who led the RPPTL section’s legislative committee “has worked diligently to submit and manage the court action.”

Sharon Bock, the elected clerk and comptroller in Palm Beach County, said Florida’s guardianship laws have historically favored the industry. Bock has lobbied Florida lawmakers in recent years to give clerks more authority to audit and investigate guardians.

“What we’re doing is interfering with their business model,” said Bock, whose office has been among the most aggressive in investigating abuses by professional guardians.

The elder-law industry builds influence in the political process in a number of ways.

The RPPTL section, for instance, has a pair of political committees that together donate about $180,000 per election cycle to state politicians. While it’s a relatively small amount compared to giant contributors like utilities, personal-injury attorneys and gambling interests, they spread the money widely: 33 of the 40 members of the Florida Senate have received contributions from the RPPTL committees.

Elder-law attorneys and their firms sometimes deliver checks in a bundle. On a single September day last year, for instance, state Rep. Colleen Burton, a Republican from Lakeland, received $3,750 worth of campaign contributions from half a dozen donors tied to the guardianship industry. One day a month later, Passidomo, the Naples Republican who has worked on a number of guardianship bills over the years, got $2,500 from half a dozen elder-law firms. Burton and Passidomo have both received “Legislator of the Year” awards from the Elder Law Section in the past.

The groups also spend on lobbyists. Records show the RPPTL section spent approximately $60,000 on legislative lobbying last year -- with a list of contract lobbyists that included former Senate President Mike Hardiopolos, a Republican from Brevard County. A trade group known as the Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, which works closely with the Elder Law section, spent about $30,000 on a lobbyist.

And they make themselves available as subject-matter experts and go-to resources for the professional legislative staffers who have the job of turning ideas and concepts into actual legislation, said Sam Sugar, an activist with the organization Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianship.

“They have access to the people who actually scribble the words down or type them out in Tallahassee,” Sugar said. “Contrast to that, if you’re an advocate or you are a citizen and you want to see changes placed into potential legislation, you don’t have a clue how that happens.”

The elected lawmakers who are ultimately responsible for passing the laws say they try to ensure that no one person or interest group has more influence than another.

“My philosophy when I file legislation is to open my doors and let anybody who has an opinion weigh in,” Passidomo said. “I take all suggestions, if they make sense.”

Full Article & Source:
Florida guardianship laws weakened by elder law attorneys’ lobbying. For some courts, exceptions have become the rule | Special report

Goodbye Nursing Homes! The New Trend Is CoHousing With Friends

Nursing homes have been the only real option available for elderly, retired seniors who are unable to live alone anymore but also don’t have family nearby who are able to add them to their household. Despite the fact that this is a common option, nobody likes facing the decision of whether or not to move themselves (or their parent!) into a potentially lonely, unwelcoming nursing home. That’s what makes this new evolution in senior housing such a great alternative! I give you: senior cohousing.

What Exactly Is Senior Cohousing?

This unique kind of senior care is exactly what it sounds like. A cohousing community’s intent is to ensure that every member has privacy and a space of their own. Each member of the community has their own apartment or house, all while also having access to shared spaces. This means that every senior living in the cohousing community would have their own private space while living near friends who share more public spaces like a dining area, library, cinema center, fitness center, garden, and more. (1)

This is a wonderful opportunity for anyone looking for a more comfortable option for senior housing, one with a real community and a better quality of life. Nursing homes can be incredibly depressing for a lot of people. Especially since it is the final destination for a great many seniors before passing on. Loneliness, isolation, and other negative emotions are often connected with nursing homes, leading to poor quality of life. A cohousing opportunity provides many of the benefits that a nursing home could provide without the negative connotations attached! (1)

Benefits of Senior Cohousing Compared to Nursing Homes

Both nursing homes and senior cohousing have their lists of pros and cons. It’s important to consider all of the positives and negatives before making the decision on whether to use either one of them. Every senior has unique needs and requirements, many of which make them better suited for one type of home over another. So do your research, understand your options, and keep in mind the basic pros and cons! Here are a few aspects to consider:

1. Community

The cool thing about both nursing homes and senior cohousing is that both provide community and events for residents to enjoy. Social opportunities are common for nursing homes and senior cohousing. What makes senior cohousing so great, however, is that seniors are easily able to have their own personal friends nearby rather than a hall full of strangers. (1, 2)

2. Privacy

While both nursing homes and senior cohousing offer a private residence, senior cohousing has a little bit more privacy. That’s because residents are not placed in such close quarters with each other. You can have your own house or apartment with senior cohousing, while nursing homes tend to offer smaller rooms much closer together. (1, 2)

3. Expense & Care

An outright con for nursing homes is the expense that goes along with them. Nursing homes tend to be full-time facilities with well-trained staff and plenty of care. However, all of which comes at a price. Senior cohousing airs on the less expensive side of senior living since many of the residents share resources. That being said, nursing homes often have more experienced and attentive caretakers. Both nursing homes and senior cohousing are safer than a senior living alone, but a good nursing home with good staff can be more attentive than an observant neighbor in a senior cohousing community. (1, 2)

Senior Cohousing might not be for Everyone

It is definitely a wonderful opportunity for many seniors. Especially if they find the idea of a nursing home saddening, lonely, or depressing. Senior cohousing allows seniors to maintain some control over what they do, set their own schedules, and maintain their own friendships. It could be the perfect fit for many seniors who don’t need constant care!

Full Article & Source:
Goodbye Nursing Homes! The New Trend Is CoHousing With Friends

Friday, September 6, 2019


5:00 pm PST…6:00 pm MST…7:00 pm CST…8:00 pm EST...

After successfully taking down members of the judicial and legal community, assisting in the prosecution of more than 300 Catholic priests, Kathleen Kane was incessantly attacked with the intention of destroying her career for daring to do her job. Possessing emails from judges who had engaged in sending discriminatory emails based on race and gender, along with pornographic materials, Kane became Judicial Enemy #1 in Pennsylvania. Vowing she would take down the “good-ol’-boys” network that has turned the legal and judicial system in Pennsylvania into a modern day version of Capone’s Mafia….Kane was eventually imprisoned by one of the same judges she had been exposing. Does anyone besides us see a conflict of interest here??

We will be updating on the progress made in Alaska and also on a couple of Wisconsin cases that we are involved in and any other news that pops up today.

And thank you to all of you who have reached out in support of these shows! Thank you for taking the time to send us your thoughts and support!

LISTEN to the show LIVE or Listen to the archive later

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In Lieu Of Guardianship, States Look To Supported Decision-Making

DAMARISCOTTA, Maine — Until last year, Joshua Strong wasn’t in charge of his own life.

Like many other adults with autism, Strong was deemed incapacitated by a judge early in adulthood. Most of his decisions were turned over to a legal guardian — in his case, his father.

If Strong wanted to make a big purchase, he needed permission. If he wanted to alter his medication regimen, he needed his father’s OK. If he wanted to begin a romantic relationship, his dad might have to make a ruling on that, too.

That all changed on June 6, 2018, when Strong became the first person in Maine to dissolve a guardianship in favor of something called supported decision-making. It allows him to create a team of people who serve as sounding boards, but all decisions — about financial matters, about health care, about relationships — are legally his to make.

Strong’s case helped pave the way for a change in the way the state’s courts will treat people with intellectual disabilities. A sweeping overhaul of Maine’s probate code that was approved by the state legislature this year and took effect Sept. 1 adds supported decision-making as an alternative to consider in lieu of guardianship.

In the 15 months since Strong became his own guardian, he said his day-to-day life looks the same. He lives in the same apartment, holds the same jobs and still receives support services through a local agency, Mobius Inc.

But the 42-year-old has a level of independence he’s never had, one that wouldn’t have been possible a few years ago.

“It doesn’t feel any different,” he said while pacing between the living room and kitchen of his tidy, one-bedroom apartment in Damariscotta. “I still need help with things, but I guess I’m not asking for permission as much.”

Asked whether he understands the significance of him dissolving his guardianship — that it’s a civil rights victory for people with intellectual disabilities — Strong shrugged. He knows he has autism, and he understands some of the challenges that come with that.

He still takes medication to manage anxiety. He has trouble making eye contact. He repeats things and sometimes returns to conversations that ended minutes earlier. When he has thoughts that he can’t vocalize, he writes them on pieces of scrap paper scattered around his apartment.

Nell Brimmer, an attorney with Disability Rights Maine who represented Strong during his petition to dissolve his guardianship, said his case was a big deal. For so long it was presumed that people with intellectual disabilities were not capable of making decisions. Only a generation ago, Strong might have been sent to live at an institution. His own original guardianship agreement, filed in 2002 in Knox County Probate Court, labels him an “incapacitated person.”

But Brimmer said Strong is a perfect example of someone with a disability who can live independently, with a little help.

“As a society, we can do a lot more to empower people like him,” Brimmer said.

Strong’s father, Jim, said he never imagined when his son was growing up that he would have this life — his own apartment, multiple jobs and control of his own checkbook.

“But this is something he really wanted and, you know, it’s gone great,” he said. “I can’t think of any downsides.”

His mother, Jaime Strong, said they never set any limits for their son.

“He’s very proud,” she said. “And I think he should be”

Parents Were Determined

Strong long had a goal of being independent, but it wasn’t always easy.

Jim Strong said when he and Jaime had him evaluated at a young age, professionals told them he needed to be institutionalized. Becca Emmons, executive director of Mobius, said that’s something she still hears from virtually every client — they are told they’ll never succeed on their own.

But the Strongs were determined never to institutionalize their son. Early in school, he was in a separate classroom because he was easily overstimulated, but eventually he joined his peers. His parents got him all the in-home support they could.

They later divorced, and their son split his middle and high school years between Maine and Massachusetts, where his mother lived. He graduated from Amherst Regional High School in 1999 at age 20.

He lived with his mother early in adulthood.

“I was always with him so there was no need for guardianship,” she said, “but I started to get afraid and think, ‘What’s going to happen when I die?'”

His father, who is an attorney, petitioned the court in 2002 for guardianship and conservatorship, when Strong was 25. A guardian has decision-making authority for all aspects of a person’s life unless excluded by other laws. A conservator is appointed to protect and manage the money and property of an incapacitated person.

Strong has received support services going back to his childhood from a variety of agencies, but he’s been with Mobius the longest, more than a decade. Mobius provides a variety of services — employment, residential, case management and behavioral health — to 130 clients, mostly in Lincoln County. When Strong first started there, he required around-the-clock care and sometimes two staff members. But through medication and behavioral health support, his anxiety lessened.

His first step toward independence came in July 2011. Janice Warring, his program manager at Mobius, wrote to the court that Strong had made steady progress, which resulted in a reduction of support.

“He is responsible for paying rent and utilities monthly. All accounts are in his name. His Social Security is sent to DHHS, who in turn send it to him for monthly expense,” Warring wrote. “Strong works up to 20 hours weekly. He manages his funds independently with minimal assistance to balance his bank account. It is the belief of Joshua, his father/guardian James Strong, DHHS, and I that Strong is no longer in need of a conservator relating to financial matters.”

A judge granted the petition in July 2012, which allowed Strong to manage his own finances, but his father remained his legal guardian.

Strong continued to become more independent. In an annual guardianship report filed with the court in September 2014, Jim Strong wrote that his son continued to thrive. He managed his own Supplemental Security Income payments, took his medication without supervision and lived independently with daytime support staff of 30 hours per week.

“Joshua continues to reduce his dependence upon SSI assistance and hopes to become totally independent financially in the foreseeable future,” his father wrote.

A similar report was filed the next year. No reports were filed in 2015 and 2016, because Strong’s situation had not changed. In January 2018, Jim Strong wrote: “He has become self-sufficient to the point that it is anticipated that a motion to terminate guardianship will be filed within the next two months.”

Strong’s service provider, Mobius, had launched a pilot program with Disability Rights Maine about supported decision-making. When Brimmer learned about Strong and that he wanted to dissolve his guardianship, she took his case.

The petition for termination of guardianship was filed in May 2018. It took the judge a month to grant it. The order included a brief note: “Joshua Strong is utilizing supported decision-making and is therefore no longer incapacitated.”

His support staff took him to lunch at Applebee’s to celebrate.

Supported Decision-Making

Supported decision-making starts with the decision-maker. He chooses a team of people to help guide him, often a parent or parents, sometimes a caseworker or employer. The decision-maker discusses what sorts of things he might need support with and what he might want to do on his own. Together, they make a formal plan that outlines everyone’s role. Then they sign it.

At least a dozen other states have laws encouraging supported decision-making, including Indiana and Nevada, which, like Maine, enacted laws this year.

Emmons, of Mobius, said supported decision-making has never had the kind of momentum it’s seeing now, but she also knows it may be slow to catch on in Maine.

“Joshua is so engaging and charismatic. It’s easy to get on board with him,” she said. “But how is it going to go for people who can’t self-advocate the way he can?”

Carrie Woodcock of Maine Parent Federation, a federally funded support network for families who have children with disabilities, said parents have been receptive to the idea of supported decision-making, but she recognizes it’s not for everyone.

“Some parents have a little panic or fear about what can happen if they don’t have that protection of a guardianship, often when it comes to medical decisions,” she said.

The probate code change that goes into effect this month doesn’t require anyone to try supported decision-making. It instructs probate courts to consider less-restrictive alternatives — including supported decision-making — before granting guardianship.

Disability Rights Maine, the state’s contracted protection and advocacy agency for people with disabilities, including developmental disabilities and mental illness, has long been looking for alternatives to full guardianship, Brimmer said.

How many Mainers might take advantage of supported decision-making is not clear. The final decisions still rest with probate judges. But hundreds or even thousands of people might be eligible, and Brimmer said judges need to be educated just like everyone else.

The number of adults in Maine who have guardianships is not tracked — those decisions are made through county probate courts. However, as of May, 5,454 people were receiving federal waivers through Medicaid for support services for developmental or intellectual disabilities, and another 1,742 were on a waiting list for services in Maine.

Jackie Farwell, spokeswoman for the Maine Department of Health and Humans Services, said the agency “supports policies that allow adults with intellectual disabilities and autism to live safely in the community with the greatest level of independence possible.”

Part-Time Jobs

Elisha Lowe, Strong’s primary support staff member, has been with him for four years. Lowe helps Strong cook and gives him rides to appointments, the grocery store and his jobs. She said he still looks to her for guidance but rarely needs it.

“He does awesome no matter what,” she said.

Last Wednesday he returned to his part-time job as a crossing guard for the Great Salt Bay Community School in Damariscotta.

He retrieved his yellow vest and double-sided stop sign from his locker, then walked outside to the buses.

“How was your summer, Josh?” a bus driver asked.

“Excellent,” he replied before asking about the driver’s family.

“How long have you been doing this now?” he asked.

“Thirteen years,” Strong said.

“Has it been that long?” the driver asked.

Strong has another job at the local IGA grocery store, where he sweeps and takes out the trash for an hour every day, Monday through Friday. He also does janitorial work at Mobius’ offices.

Once a week he attends a community supper at a local church. It’s a free supper, but he said he tries to make a donation when he can. He watches Marvel superhero movies and “Days of Our Lives.” Sometimes he swims at the Boothbay YMCA.

He has a group of friends he’s met through Mobius, and his social calendar is active. Some of his friends are in romantic relationships, but Strong labeled his current status as “playing the field.”

Strong has a great deal of self-awareness about his diagnosis. Whenever he leaves the house, he has a checklist: Check the stove. Make sure the faucet isn’t running. Turn the computer off. He calls it his “OCD.”

During the course of two interviews, Strong often looked to his direct care worker, Lowe, for guidance when asked questions.

“Am I saying things right?” he asked at one point.

“There’s no right or wrong, Joshua,” she said.

He’s continually setting goals for himself. He recently started riding a bicycle, with the goal of riding it to work and appointments. So far, he’s only been in his driveway.

He has friends who drive, but Strong isn’t sure that’s for him. One day maybe.

He knows his limits.

And even though his father is no longer his guardian, Strong said he’s “still in the habit of asking him for approval.”

“Structure is important,” Jim Strong explained. “He still calls every night, and getting that phone call in is an important part of his day.”

He paused for a moment before adding, “Mine too.”

Full Article & Source:
In Lieu Of Guardianship, States Look To Supported Decision-Making

Florida A.G. Moody’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit Arrests Individuals in Senior Exploitation Sweep

TALLAHASSEE, Florida, Aug. 8 -- Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody issued the following news release:

Attorney General Ashley Moody's Medicaid Fraud Control Unit conducted an exploitation sweep this week that resulted in the arrest of four individuals who exploited seniors and disabled individuals. The sweep involved three separate investigations based on referrals from the Florida Department of Children and Families Adult Protective Services. All defendants used exploited funds for personal benefit, ranging from a down payment on a house to cruise and airline tickets. Authorities arrested the following individuals as a result of the Attorney General's sweep: Alex Bellamy, Kalonya Bellamy, Willie Mote, Jr., and Robin Stapleton.

Attorney General Ashley Moody said, "I am proud of the work my Medicaid Fraud Control Unit is doing to bring criminals to justice. Scamming and exploiting others are horrible crimes, but to specifically target vulnerable Floridians is absolutely unconscionable. I want to thank all of our law enforcement partners for their work in protecting seniors from exploitation and their quick action in these cases."

In one of these cases, the Attorney General's MFCU and the Washington County Sheriff's Office arrested Alex Bellamy and Kalonya Bellamy. The defendants owned and managed a group home for adults with disabilities. Kalonya, the group home manager, allegedly used more than $10,000 of a victim's personal funds to pay for Carnival cruise tickets, home furniture, cell phone bills, driver's license renewal, utilities, vehicle insurance and more. Alex Bellamy, the group home owner, acted as a principal to exploitation by aiding or abetting Kalonya Bellamy. Kalonya faces one felony count of exploitation of an elderly person or disabled adult of $10,000 or more, one felony count of criminal use of personal identification information of $5,000 or more, and one misdemeanor count of criminal borrowing or pledging resident funds. Alex faces one felony count of principal to exploitation of an elderly person or disabled adult of $10,000 or more, and one misdemeanor count of criminal borrowing or pledging resident funds.

In a separate case, the MFCU and the Quincy Police Department arrested Willie Mote, Jr. for embezzling more than $20,000 of a victim's money on purchases that benefitted himself while serving as the victim's power of attorney. Mote faces one felony count of exploitation of an elderly person or disabled adult of $10,000 or more.

Finally, the MFCU and the Santa Rosa County Sheriff's Office arrested Robin Stapleton for exploiting two elderly persons while employed as an assistant business office manager at a nursing facility. Stapleton used the victims' funds to pay off personal debts and to pay for a down payment on a house. Stapleton faces two felony counts of exploitation of an elderly person or disabled adult, and one felony count of organized scheme to defraud.

* * *

The Florida Attorney General's Medicaid Fraud Control Unit investigates and prosecutes providers that intentionally defraud the state's Medicaid program through fraudulent billing practices. Medicaid fraud essentially steals from Florida's taxpayers. Additionally, the MFCU investigates allegations of patient abuse, neglect, and exploitation in facilities receiving payments under the Medicaid program.

Full Article & Source:
Florida A.G. Moody’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit Arrests Individuals in Senior Exploitation Sweep

Augusta woman granted bond in elderly exploitation case

A woman accused of exploitation of elderly adult and credit card fraud for allegedly stealing $57,000 from her stepmother was granted a $30,000 bond Friday.

Elizabeth J. Arangilan, 51, was arrested July 24 after her stepmother discovered the money was missing from her trust fund, said Assistant District Attorney Klaxon Wilson. She also discovered more than 200 unauthorized transactions on a credit card. Because the victim did not oppose bond, the prosecutor took no position.

Judge John Flythe granted Arangilan bond on the condition she cannot contact the victim.

Full Article & Source:
Augusta woman granted bond in elderly exploitation case

Thursday, September 5, 2019

76-Year-Old Veteran Denied Care, Commits Suicide In VA Parking Lot

By Lakeisha Ethans

Some of our veterans gave their lives in defense of this country.


veteran takes his life

veteran takes his life

veteran takes his life

Full Article & Source:
76-Year-Old Veteran Denied Care, Commits Suicide In VA Parking Lot

Nursing home fined after rape inquiry

Officials at the nursing home could not be reached for comment.

Full Article & Source:
Nursing home fined after rape inquiry

Ohio woman found guilty of swindling tens of thousands from 89-year-old Korean War vet

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- A judge found a Strongsville woman guilty of felony theft charges Thursday after she was accused of swindling an elderly war veteran out of tens of thousands of dollars before his death earlier this year.

Latasha Wisniewski, 38, used the false promise of romance to gain the trust of Charles Bauer, an 89-year-old Korean War veteran and widower, then looted much of his life's savings in a matter of months, prosecutors said.

Common Pleas Court Judge Shannon Gallagher on Tuesday found Wisniewski guilty of two counts of theft from an elderly person, which could land her behind bars for more than a dozen years.

Wisniewski and her boyfriend, Daniel Scholz, are also charged with additional felony charges of misuse of credit cards in a separate case. Gallagher will impose her sentence on the theft charges against Wisniewski after that case is settled.

Wisniewski's attorney, Marcus Sidoti, declined to comment on the case.

Wisniewski's conviction was based in part on the testimony of her aunt, 39-year-old Lisa Dotson. The two were charged in connection with this case in October. Dotson was a home health aide charged in a separate case that accused her stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from elderly and disabled clients. She pleaded guilty to charges in both cases in August and agreed to take the stand during Wisniewski's trial.

Dotson also faces a maximum sentence of more than 12 years in prison.

The scheme that played out from late summer 2017 through September 2018 is told in both civil and criminal filings in two Cuyahoga County courthouses.

Bauer, a U.S. Army veteran of the Korean War and longtime Lake County resident, was the first 50-year employee at Bailey Controls in Wickliffe, and missed just five days of work in his career, according to his obituary. He was a 48-year member of the Erieside Church on the Boulevard in Willowick.

He battled depression in 2017 after the death of his longtime wife and began attending support meetings. That's where he met Wisniewski, 50 years his junior, who befriended him and convinced him that she was in love with him and wanted to marry him, according to court records.

Bauer's family, and prosecutors, say in court records that Wisniewski was preying on a vulnerable, heartbroken man with modest wealth whose health was declining.

She moved into Bauer's Parma Heights bungalow and convinced him within months of his wife's death to withdraw thousands of dollars from his bank accounts at give it to Wisniewski, records say. She bought herself jewelry and furniture for the house, records say. She then used his information to open joint bank accounts in both of their names, and transferred money from his savings account into the accounts, the records say. In a period of eight months, Wisniewski opened and closed eight different bank accounts in their names, prosecutors say.

Wisniewski pretended to be Bauer's granddaughter to access his accounts. She also recruited Dotson to help her carry out the fraud on Bauer, records say. The two used another elderly man to pose as Bauer in phone calls to banks to liquidate his assets, according to court records.

When Bauer's adult children questioned his relationship with Wisniewski, she manipulated him into distrusting his children and turned him against them, records say.

She convinced Bauer to sign a quitclaim deed adding her name to the deed on his home, then took out a $30,000 loan against the home in December 2017, according to court records. In August 2018, she took out a $4,000 loan with a 400-percent interest rate against Bauer's 2012 GMC SUV, according to court records.

By that time, Bauer had been diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer and elected to forego treatment, records say. His family on Sept. 1, 2018 confronted Wisniewski, who signed a handwritten agreement on notebook paper agreeing to return all of Bauer's property by the day's end, records say.

Three days later, on Sept. 4, 2018, Wisniewski and Scholz applied for a marriage certificate, according to Cuyahoga County Probate Court records.

Cuyahoga County prosecutors obtained an indictment charging both Wisniewski and Dotson in November 2018.

Bauer died on Feb. 3, 2019, his obituary says.

Full Article & Source:
Ohio woman found guilty of swindling tens of thousands from 89-year-old Korean War vet

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

“They’ve Killed Her” – Retired Alabama Schoolteacher Dies under State Guardianship

By Terri LaPoint

“She’s gone.” The call came in Monday from Nancy Scott regarding her mother, Marian Leonard, who had been taken from her family and placed onto hospice care against her will. Nancy was in tears when she told me that her mother died on Saturday, August 24, but nobody bothered to notify her until Monday.

Marian Leonard died in a nursing home that she was forced into by a judge in early 2018. Last month, her court-appointed guardian Sidney Summey restricted her from having any visitors except a token hour and a half visit twice per month from her daughter – the woman that Mrs. Leonard had designated as her chosen power of attorney, not just once, but 3 different times over a 30 year period.

She died alone. No family or friends were permitted to be with her in her final weeks. The guardian had even taken her away from her roommate, whom Nancy viewed as her mother’s “guardian angel.”

Nancy, who has been fighting the court since custody of her mother was seized by the state, is devastated.
It’s like being in the middle of a horror story.
All her mother’s planning to ensure that she would live out her elderly years on her own terms vanished with the stroke of a judge’s pen, at the request of social workers from the Alabama Department of Human Resources (DHR) and St. Vincent’s Hospital. The simplest request, that her only daughter be with her at the end, was denied.

Nancy’s voice cracked as she cried:
I couldn’t save her. I tried so hard to get her out of there.Marian Leonard was known to her former English students as “Mrs. Gregory.” Yearbook photo provided by family.
Under Judge Alan King, Marian Leonard was forced onto hospice care, though there was never any diagnosis of terminal illness. The only “diagnosis” was typed into the records by woman later convicted of felony Tenn-Care fraud.

Lisa Fuller apparently posed as a nursing home nurse, and ER nurse, and ambulance service worker, as evidenced by her signature on documents from all three in Tennessee. Her notes in the records sent to St. Vincent’s Hospital in Birmingham, later obtained by Nancy Scott, are the only record stating that Mrs. Leonard had Alzheimers. Other medical records show that, just the year before, she had been pronounced by medical doctors to be free of any dementia or signs of Alzheimers.

“Murdered by Hospice”?

Since her mother was taken from her family, Nancy Scott has complained that her mother was being drugged. She was increasingly being given psychotropic drugs and strong pain-killers, against her previously stated wishes and against the wishes of her daughter, the person that she wanted to be in charge of her care. Yet, the strangers appointed to care for her ignored her pleas to see her daughter, to go home, and to get out of the nursing home. Why would they pay attention to her thoughts on being drugged?

Before being forced into Diversicare of Riverchase nursing home in Birmingham, Mrs. Leonard’s typical go-to medication for occasional flair-ups of arthritis pain was a single Tylenol. Recently, Nancy learned that hospice was giving her mother morphine.

We also learned through a source who asked to be unnamed that Mrs. Leonard was being given morphine much more frequently than every 6 hours. The source explained that dosage every 6 hours is what is given for pain, but when it is given more frequently than that, it is designed to be “part of the dying process.”

Marian Leonard, who was not dying, was being given drugs to “assist with the dying process.” The only “incurable condition” that Mrs. Leonard had was simple old age. She was 103. Nancy says that her mother’s age has been used many times by many people involved with her mother’s case to justify the treatment that her mother has received under state care.

Full Article & Source:
“They’ve Killed Her” – Retired Alabama Schoolteacher Dies under State Guardianship

Ex-guardian Rebecca Fierle violated laws in handling of ward who died, state agency concludes

By Jeff Weiner

Rebecca Fierle, the former professional guardian currently under criminal investigation, violated state laws and guidelines in her handling of incapacitated clients, a state agency determined in late July, according to public records released this week.

In a pair of letters to Fierle dated July 29, four days after she resigned from all cases statewide, the state’s Department of Elder Affairs wrote that she had “failed persons served by guardianship and the families who entrusted their loved ones to [her] care.”

Because Fierle is no longer a guardian, the agency doesn’t plan to take any action against her.

Among those the agency found Fierle failed was Steven Stryker, the 75-year-old man who died in a Tampa hospital after staff said they were prevented from attempting to save his life due to a “do not resuscitate” order the Orlando guardian filed against his wishes.

In a letter concerning Fierle’s guardianship of Stryker, Elder Affairs found several violations:
  • She violated state law by “not allowing persons who were determined to be incapacitated to be treated humanely, with dignity and respect, and to protect them against abuse, neglect, and exploration.”
  • She violated another statute by “not acting within the scope of the authority granted by the court and as provided by law, and by not acting in good faith.”
  • She broke with guardianship standards by “not knowing the extent of [her] powers and the limitations of authority granted ... by the Court" and “by withholding or withdrawing medical treatment against the Ward’s expressed wishes.”
  • She also “failed to gather and document information and seek the court’s order or direction when the best interest of your business were in direct conflict with the ward’s wishes.”
“Your conduct negatively impacted the integrity of the Florida Guardianship System and you defamed good and ethical guardianship and the honest, skilled, and compassionate public and professional guardians throughout the state of Florida,” the agency wrote.

In the second letter, Elder Affairs listed other violations, including that Fierle had mishandled a ward’s special needs trust account and purchased “large dollar amounts of gift cards” against the ward’s interest. It was unclear which of Fierle’s hundreds of wards the letter was concerning.

The letter also didn’t make clear what the gift cards were used for.

Elder Affairs’ findings were based on investigations by the state’s Office of Public and Professional Guardians, which handles complaints against guardians. The agency was “unable to substantiate” allegations against Fierle in three investigations it concluded after Stryker’s May 9 death, records show.

“Your conduct negatively impacted the integrity of the Florida Guardianship System and you defamed good and ethical guardianship and the honest, skilled, and compassionate public and professional guardians throughout the state of Florida,” the agency wrote.

The investigations by OPPG are separate from criminal probes of Fierle currently being conducted by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the state’s Office of Attorney General.

“During the course of the investigation, your state registration was voluntarily revoked, which is tantamount to a permanent revocation. You are no longer registered as a professional guardian, therefore, the OPPG considers this administrative matter closed,” the late-July letters said.

The scandal surrounding the Orlando-based guardian, which has embroiled the state’s guardianship system and led officials including Gov. Ron DeSantis to promise changes, began with an investigation into Stryker’s death by the Okaloosa County Clerk of Circuit Court and Comptroller.

That agency, which was investigating on the behalf of OPPG as part of the Clerks’ Statewide Investigations of Professional Guardians Alliance, found Fierle violated standards requiring wards to be “treated humanely, with dignity and respect, and to be protected against abuse.”

The agency also cited criminal statutes, including aggravated manslaughter of an elderly person or disabled adult and neglect of an elderly person or disabled adult.

Fierle is not currently facing any criminal charges. 

She and an attorney representing her did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Full Article & Source:
Ex-guardian Rebecca Fierle violated laws in handling of ward who died, state agency concludes

Reminiscence Therapy for Dementia: 4 Ways to Bring Joy and Comfort

Reminiscence therapy helps seniors with dementia

Reminiscing, or sharing memories from the past, is an enjoyable way to connect with someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

With dementia, people typically lose short-term memory, but are often still able to recall older memories.

The goal of reminiscence therapy is to help seniors with dementia feel valued, contented, and peaceful by recalling happy times from their past.

The positive feelings gained from sharing pleasant memories can decrease stress, boost mood, reduce agitation, and minimize challenging behaviors like wandering, anger, and more.

To help stimulate memories and meaningful conversation, we share 4 wonderful activity suggestions to help your older adult reminisce over past memories in pleasant, relaxed ways.

We also explain the benefits of reminiscence therapy, how it’s different from remembering, what to do if a painful memory comes up, and how to set the activity up for success.

The benefits of reminiscence therapy for dementia

Reminiscence therapy can give seniors with dementia a feeling of success and confidence because it’s something they’re still able to do. 

It gives them an opportunity to talk and share something meaningful rather than just listen to others speak.

Talking about happy memories of the past also brings joy, which is especially helpful if your older adult is having a hard time with everyday life – it helps them cope with stress.

There’s a difference between reminiscing and remembering

Reminiscing is not the same as asking someone to remember something from the past.

Remembering something specific, even from long ago, can be stressful for someone with dementia because they’re likely to feel pressured or put on the spot. 

In contrast, when a pleasant memory floats up and they share it with you, they’ll feel good.

For example, your older adult might not remember or know how to answer when you ask a simple question like “Where did you grow up?” That could make them feel embarrassed or angry.

But if you’re looking through old photographs, they might spontaneously say “Oh look, there’s my house. My mom baked my favorite cookies every Saturday – chocolate chip.”

What to do if reminiscence brings up painful memories

You never know which memories will come up when reminiscing about the past. Sometimes a painful or unhappy memory will surface. 

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s important to respond with kindness and understanding.

You know your older adult best, so if something negative comes up, you’ll have a better idea of whether it’s best to listen and offer support or if it’s wiser to gently steer them toward a happier memory so they won’t get stuck in a sad, distressed state.

How to make reminiscence therapy successful

The goal of reminiscence therapy for dementia is to enjoy time with your older adult and set the stage so they have a chance to talk about any memories that might come up.

For best results, plan for a time of day when they’re most interested in activities. For many older adults, that tends to be earlier in the day. 

Next, choose a quiet, comfortable location where they’ll be able to hear and see you well.

If your older adult doesn’t recall any memories during the activity, that’s absolutely fine – maybe nothing came to mind at that moment.

4 gentle reminiscence therapy activities

Memories can be associated with different parts of the brain, so it’s helpful to try activities that stimulate different senses. 

Use these 4 ideas to spark your imagination and think of additional ways of reminiscing that are specific to your older adult’s interests.

1. Listen to their favorite music
Music helps people reminisce and relate to emotions and past experiences. 

That’s why it’s often recommended for people with Alzheimer’s or dementia. And it’s even been shown to reach seniors with advanced dementia.

You can play their favorite songs, have a little sing-along, or play music on simple instruments like shakers, bells, tambourines, or a DIY drum.

2. Look at photos, keepsakes, or magazines
Pictures or keepsakes that bring back memories are another excellent way to reminisce. Photos of family, friends, and important life events are wonderful choices.

Photos of things that remind them of favorite hobbies are also great. 

For example, someone who loves to garden might enjoy looking at a gardening magazine or plant catalog.

And someone who loved to cook might like a gourmet magazine with beautiful food photos. The same goes for sports, crafts, historical events, etc.

3. Smell familiar scents and taste favorite foods
Smell is a powerful way to access memories. 

You could create scent cards or jars using spices or essential oils to remind them of favorite foods or places – like fresh-baked cookies or a pine forest near their childhood home.

Taste is another wonderful way to evoke fond memories. 

Maybe your older adult always made a special dish for holiday celebrations. Now, you could make it for them and reminisce while eating it together. Or, recreate a favorite snack or treat they made for you when you were a child.

4. Enjoy tactile activities like painting, pottery, or other crafts
Touch can also remind someone of the past. Familiar tactile activities like drawing, painting, pottery, knitting, sewing, or other crafts can spark old memories. 

Even if they can’t participate in these hobbies anymore, doing things like touching paintbrushes, swirling watercolors, scribbling with drawing chalk, squeezing yarn, or playing with fabrics can evoke strong memories.

Another way to use touch is through objects. Maybe wearing or handling favorite pieces of jewelry or accessories (like a watch or a necklace) would bring up memories of significant life events. 

Other ideas would be to bring out a significant piece of clothing (maybe a dress or suit) that they use to love or wear to important events.

Full Article & Source: 
Reminiscence Therapy for Dementia: 4 Ways to Bring Joy and Comfort