America’s financial guru, Suze Orman dispenses expert advice via TV, radio, her books and her Web site on how to manage your money and make it work for you. But when she became a caregiver to her mother, she learned even experts encounter challenges that can cost you. Read Sherri’s interview with Suze Orman appearing on Forbes.com and PBS NextAvenue.org on what you may not know about long term care.
All caregiving can be exhausting, frustrating, overwhelming and stressful but for the caregivers of those with a mental health issue the societal stigma you face creates additional challenges.
According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI), 1 in 4 adults in the U.S. has a diagnosable mental disorder and the average age is 14 for the on-set of mental illness. NAMI is leading the national awareness campaign — the National Mental Illness Awareness Week is October 6-12 – first established by the U.S. Congress in 1990. The campaign also includes National Depression Screening Day on October 10.
Shining a Spotlight on Mental Illness
Oscar-nominated and Emmy and Tony Award-winning actress Glenn Close wants to help lift the veil of mental illness to reveal the myths and eliminate the shame associated with bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health issues through a national public service campaign.
Glenn has become a champion who is shedding light on the dark world of bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia which affects her sister and her nephew respectively. Appearing on the TV morning show, Good Morning America, Glenn said, “I believe we need to be having discussions around mental illness and talk as openly as we do about other diseases such as cancer or diabetes.”
Starring alongside her sister, Glenn launched a public service announcement (PSA) campaign on mental health issues created by BringChange2Mind, the nonprofit organization Glenn helped found to eliminate the discrimination felt by those with mental illness and their family caregiver. Her hope is increased awareness will get more people to seek help.
Caregiver Depression a Slippery Slope
In a study of caregiver health risks, the National Alliance for Caregiving reported 91 percent of those caregivers whose health was in decline reported suffering from depression over caring for a loved one.
In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in May of this year deaths from suicides since 2009 had surpassed deaths from motor vehicle crashes in the U.S. The report also found the increase in suicides were most significant among the baby boomers – for men age 50-59 years old an increase of 47-49 percent and for women age 60-64 an increase of 59.7 percent. One potential cause cited for this increase was caring for an older, ailing parent.
We also know that for those 15 million Americans caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease, the risk of becoming isolated from friends, other family and life’s typical social connections is a common issue based on how loved ones are shamed by their diagnosis.
According to the Alzheimer’s Disease International’s World Alzheimer Report, about 25 percent of people with dementia report hiding or concealing their diagnosis due to the stigma surrounding the disease, and 40 percent say they are often excluded from everyday life.
Sherri’s Other Articles on Mental Health
Read here about caregivers of veterans with invisible wounds of PTSD and TBI
Read here about Catherine Zeta Jones living with bi-polar disorder
October is when we “Think Pink” – everywhere you turn you are reminded 1 in 8 American women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Caregivers are often at greater risk because 23% were found to neglect their annual mammogram after age 50. Read our blogs all month on breast cancer awareness and prevention.
October is National Health Literacy Month. For the nation’s 65 million caregivers, you must be an educated, passionate advocate for your loved one. How health literate are you? Read Sherri Snelling’s “Caregiving IQ” article for PBS Next Avenue to find out…
October is National Mental Illness Awareness Week October 6-12 and October 10 is National Depression Screening Day. More than 61 million Americans — 1 in 4 — suffer from mental illness. And the CDC recently reported suicides among boomers has increased 47-59% over the last three years – one reason cited was caring for an older parent. Caregivers often suffer from depression and feel stigmatized when caring for a loved one with mental illness. Read the interviews and mental health stories all month long:
Interview with Glenn Close – caregiver to a sister with bi-polar disorder
Interview with Catherine Zeta Jones - living with bi-polar disorder
Read the article about caring for a veteran with invisible wounds of PTSD and TBI
Find more information on mental health from the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI)
In the U.S., 1 in 73 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer and 14,000 will die from the disease. Prostate cancer is of the most common cancer for men regardless of race or ethnicity with more than 200,000 new cases and 28,000 deaths each year. Annual screenings are essential to survival rates. Caregivers have reported often neglecting these annual exams. Don’t put it off – get screened today particularly if you have a family history of either disease. Your life may depend on it.
September 22 is the first official day of fall as well as National Falls Risk Prevention Day. It’s a great time for the 44 million caregivers of those over age 50 to brush up on tips to help prevent parents from falling. Check out Sherri Snelling’s article for Examiner.com on seniors and falls prevention.
And the Awards Goes to . . . Fifth Annual CARE-Y Awards℠ – Caregivers on TV
For the last five years I have bestowed my own version of the Emmy® Awards – something I call the CARE-Y Awards℠ that acknowledges both the reel stars and episodes in the past year’s TV programming and the real life caregivers who appear on TV.
With Emmy season just around the corner (the annual Emmy Awards will be broadcast on Sunday, September 22 on CBS), here are my picks for shows and TV champions which put the spotlight on caregiving in America:
“Reel Life” CARE-Y Awards – Playing a Caregiver on TV
Best Caregiving Sons – Pete Campbell – Mad Men and Jack Donaghy – 30 Rock
Reflecting the increase in men as primary caregivers (42 percent according to the latest Pew Research report), we award a a tie to Mad Men’s Pete Campbell (played by Vincent Kartheiser) and 30 Rock’s Jack Donaghy (play by Alec Baldwin). Both men have tense, testy relationships with their disapproving mothers yet step in to care for mom when needed.
In Mad Men, a recently separated Pete takes on the primary caregiving role for his bitingly critical mother Dorothy (played by Channing Chase). She has progressive signs of Alzheimer’s and Pete secures a male nurse, Manolo, for her 24/7 care.
One poignant moment during this AMC period drama set in the late 60s is when Bobby Kennedy is shot. Dorothy wakes Pete to tell him but he responds that President Kennedy was shot years ago and she is confused. The reality is that although dementia sufferers may live in the past, they still have moments of clarity and this was one of them.
In the season finale we learn that Pete’s mother may be a victim of fraud and foul play as Pete is told his mother fell overboard while on a cruise with her male nurse turned Latin lover. This episode is all about loss: Dorothy losing her memory, Pete losing his mother’s love to a male gigolo and finally realizing she may be gone forever as he learns his mother is lost at sea.
In the dark, wry comedy known as 30 Rock Elaine Stritch (cabaret and comedy veteran whose gravel-voice and deadpan humor is pitch perfect here) has played Jack’s fearsome, harpy mother, Colleen Donaghy, for seven seasons, earning an Emmy in 2004 for her guest appearances. Jack describes his mother as “87 years old which is 14 in demon years.”
In this last season of the show, Colleen uncharacteristically tells Jack she only wants him to be happy and then promptly has a heart attack in the New York City hansom cab on their way to yet another hospital visit. Jack finally realizes beneath the fights and frustration and trips to the hospital was true love – dark, twisted love – from the only woman who could foil his oversized ego and make him a caring human.
Best Episode Featuring a Caregiver’s Challenge – Frank Reagan – Blue Bloods
In the CBS drama, Blue Bloods, Tom Selleck plays Frank Reagan, the patriarch of an Irish-American family of law enforcement officers in New York City. In this season’s episode, Greener Grass, Frank struggles with his live-in father, Henry’s (played by Len Cariou) diminished driving skills – one of the toughest conversations caregivers face with an older parent. After several unexplained driving accidents and fender benders, Frank’s attempt to talk to his dad about no longer driving goes horribly wrong leaving Frank frustrated and his father angry and fearful. Ultimately, Erin (played by Bridget Moynahan) talks to both her father and her grandfather and a surprising solution is found.
Best Special Needs Caregiver – Kristina Braverman – Parenthood
NBC’s Parenthood has featured a storyline since its first season about a young son, Max (played by Max Burkholder) with Asperger’s syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction and nonverbal communication. His caregiving mom, Kristina, played by Monica Potter (who also was featured in the PBS caregiving documentary It’s Your Turn), plays a cancer survivor and in real life was caregiver to her father.
In this season’s episode, I’ll Be Right Here, Max with the encouragement of his mom who cannot be there because of a cancer treatment so her sister is her back-up, stands on stage before his entire junior high school and bravely talks about his condition for the first time.
Best Caring for a Veteran – Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs – NCIS
Sometimes caregiving is provided by a sibling or a friend. In one of the highest rated episodes of the top-rated CBS crime drama, NCIS deals with an Iraqi war veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The steely agent with the sensitive side is Leroy Jethro Gibbs (played by star and producer Mark Harmon), who in a two-episode story this season called Shell Shock, helps Marine Capt. Joe Westcott (played by Brad Beyer) retrace his steps to a horrible Middle East incident which helps solve a murder stateside. During the episode it is former Marine Gibbs who understands Westcott’s pain and also helps Westcott’s father and brother understand the challenges of dealing with the invisible wounds of war.
Best Caregivers of Those with Mental Illness – Lifetime’s Call Me Crazy – A Five Film
Last year Lifetime presented the groundbreaking A Five Film production featuring well-known directors and actors in stories of breast cancer. This year they put the spotlight on the mental health. The National Institute of Mental Health reports one in four U.S. adults have a diagnosable mental disorder yet the stigma of mental illness forces patients and their family caregivers into the shadows.
This two-hour program of five inter-locking stories, Call Me Crazy – A Five Film starred Jennifer Hudson, Lea Thompson (real life caregiver to her mom with Alzheimer’s), Octavia Spencer and Melanie Griffith in short stories directed by Ashley Judd, Bryce Dallas Howard and Bonnie Hunt. The emotionally moving stories show us the real drama behind being a caregiver of a loved one battling bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia and PTSD.
Best End-of-Life Caregiving Conversation – Meredith Grey – Grey’s Anatomy
For nine years Grey’s Anatomy has featured two ongoing storylines about Alzheimer’s disease which affects 5.4 million Americans. Meredith Grey (played by Ellen Pompeo) lost her mom to the disease and was tested to find out if she carries the “Alzheimer’s genetic marker” in this season’s The More You Genome episode.
In its quirky drama-comedy style of writing, the 30-something Grey talks to her husband Derek Shepherd (played by “McDreamy” Patrick Dempsey real-life caregiver to his mom who battled ovarian cancer) and her best friend Cristina Yang (played by Sandra Oh) about her end-of-life wishes once she starts to experience memory loss.
Best Caregiving “Reality” Show – Ruth and Erica – WIGS Channel on YouTube
Not all the best programming is on traditional TV networks or even cable as this year’s Emmy nods to Netflix original series such as House of Cards demonstrates. We follow suit by giving an award to Ruth and Erica, a 13-episode series on the WIGS drama channel on YouTube starring TV stars Maura Tierney (The Good Wife, ER) as daughter Erica and Lois Smith (True Blood) as mom Ruth.
A cast of TV veterans, including Steven Weber, Michael C. Hall and Jane Kaczmarek are featured throughout the series as Erica struggles to be a caregiver for her parents – feisty, independent Ruth and her Alzheimer’s stricken father Harry, played by Philip Baker Hall (Modern Family). Neither will admit their frailty and increasing needs as they age. It is stark reality wrapped up in brilliant dramatic acting that is our choice for award-winning online viewing.
Our Caregiving Champions Hall of Fame – the Showrunners
This year, I wanted to give special recognition to the creators and showrunners of some of our best TV programming who have integrated a caregiving storyline into their shows. These champions have not just done lip service or a “fly by” on the challenges of caregivers – they have made it a central part of their show’s story. Here is my shout-out to those who are delivering TV to help not only entertain us but to educate us.
Shonda Rhimes – Grey’s Anatomy
She is the queen of the night at ABC when it comes to creating “must watch” TV these days with her debut of Grey’s Anatomy nine seasons ago followed by Private Practice and the watercooler/Twitter following phenomenon of her “gladiators” on Scandal. It is her dedication to the Alzheimer’s storyline on the long-running Grey’s Anatomy which places her in my hall of fame. Starting with the struggle of Meredith Grey (played by Ellen Pompeo) and her mom, Ellis (played by real-life Alzheimer’s Association champion Kate Burton who also appears on Scandal) to Dr. Richard Webber (James Pickens, Jr.) who cared for a wife, Adele (played with brilliance by Loretta Devine) with early on-set Alzheimer’s to the latest season where Meredith decides to be tested to see if she carried the Alzheimer’s genetic marker and has to have the “end of life wishes” talk with her husband, Derek “McDreamy” Shepherd (played by Patrick Dempsey), Rhimes and her writing team have never waivered from showing us the daily struggle and challenge for those with dementia and the toll it takes on their family caregivers.
Jason Katims – Parenthood
Jason Katims has been the driver of Parenthood since its debut in 2010 and from the beginning he focused one of his story lines on the Braverman family coping with their special needs child, Max, who has Asperger’s syndrome. Katims knows the role of special needs father well. His son lives with autism making Katims one of the 17 million Americans who care for a special needs child. We see the challenges in the family dynamic – mother, father, sister, aunt and the bravery of a son trying to be normal and how difficult that daily struggle is making viewers more aware and more compassionate.
Aaron Sorkin – The West Wing
Although the Emmy-winning The West Wing has not been on NBC since 2006, the series can still be viewed on Netflix and has a cult following on Twitter with several of the show’s main characters tweeting about current world and political events (not connected to the original show’s writing team but fan-based). I give a shout out to head writer and executive producer, Aaron Sorkin, who not only created some of the best TV programming ever but gave his main character, President Josiah Bartlett (played flawlessly by Martin Sheen), multiple sclerosis, a degenerative, non-curable autoimmune disease that affects more than 2 million people worldwide. We watch how someone on the world stage deals with such a weighty secret with the help of his loving caregiver, wife Dr. Abigail Bartlett (played by the brilliant Stockard Channing). Sorkin blends disease, dignity, denial, defiance and duty into an ongoing storyline which shows us the vulnerabilities and strength in dealing with a chronic illness.
Special Recognition Awards
Best PSA Campaign
Mark Feuerstein (“Hank Lawson”), Ben Shenkman (“Jeremiah Sacani”), and Paulo Costanzo (“Evan Roth Lawson”) of the USA Network drama Royal Pains, which airs in the summer months teamed up for a PSA encouraging all to participate in the Alzheimer’s Association’s “Longest Day” Campaign on June 21 to honor the strength, endurance, and passion of those facing Alzheimer’s every day.
Best Advertising: Depends starring Harry Hamlin and Lisa Rinna
Kudos to Programs That Show Ability Rather Than Disability, Disease or Disorder:
The wonderful guest actor Michael J.Fox on CBS’s The Good Wife who plays a cunning lawyer with Parkinson’s disease – which Fox lives with in real life. MJF will star in his own show, The Michael J. Fox Show, on NBC this fall.
“Real Life” CARE-Y Awards – Caregivers on TV
Best Caregiver of a Morning Show Host – Sally Ann Roberts, sister to Robin, co-host of Good Morning America
Robin Roberts, co-host of ABC’s Good Morning America who beat breast cancer five year ago was hit again – this time with MDS (myelodysplastic syndrome), a type of pre-leukemia that attacks the blood and bone marrow. In an emotional message, she told viewers she would be undergoing a life-saving bone marrow transplant and that the donor would be her sister, Sally Ann. Both Robin and Sally Ann talk about the importance of organ donation and encourage everyone to sign up for a donor registry such as bethematch.org. The transplant took place on September 20 and I wish Robin and Sally Ann swift, successful recoveries.
Best Caregivers Who Are Lead Actors in a Drama Series – Peter Gallagher and Bryan Cranston
This is a tie between Peter Gallagher, who plays Arthur Campbell, head of the CIA on Covert Affairs on USA Network and Bryan Cranston who plays Walter White on AMC’s Breaking Bad. Both Peter and Bryan cared for mothers who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and are Alzheimer’s Association Champions. (See Caregiving Club’s interview with Peter Gallagher from the Alzheimer’s Association A Night at Sardi’s event).
Best Caregiver Who Is a Lead Actresses in a Drama Series – Madeleine Stowe
Best Caregiver Who Is a Talk Show Host – Katie Couric
Heading into season two of her highly rated afternoon talk show for ABC, The Katie Show, longtime news anchor, Katie Couric, cared for her husband who died of colon cancer. Her sister also passed away from pancreatic cancer. Couric has been a tireless advocate for colon cancer screenings and education and supports the Entertainment Industry Foundation’s (EIF) Stand Up 2 Cancer campaign.
My special thanks to the writers, directors and producers who help shed more light on caregiving in their programming. And, special thanks to those real-life caregivers who help the 65 million caregivers across the country know they are not alone when these high-profile celebrities talk of their own caregiving experiences.
If you have a nomination for a reel or real life caregiver, send me your suggestions at email@example.com.
More than 36 million people worldwide have Alzheimer’s disease including 5.4 million Americans. September 21 is World Alzheimer’s Day. Read Sherri Snelling’s article for the Examiner on the latest research presented at the UCI Mind and Alzheimer’s Association Dementia Conference.
A senior dies every 29 minutes from a fall at home. Learn more about preventing falls for your older loved one in Sherri Snelling’s article for Examiner.com on seniors and falls prevention. Also check with your local senior center or the National Council on Aging events for activities, information and more.
Are men and women different when it comes to dealing with the stress of caring for an older parent? Read Sherri Snelling’s article for Huff Post 50 on how men and women can learn from each other in managing the stress expectations of caregiving.
David Murdock, CEO of Dole Foods is a billionaire, a titan of business but he is most interested in healthy living to help us live longer and better. His reasons are personal. In the 1980s Murdock lost his beloved wife Gabriele to ovarian cancer at age 43, his second great loss of his life after watching his mother succumb to the same disease at age 42 when Murdock was then an impressionable young man of only 17. As with many successful entrepreneurs and business innovators I have interviewed, Murdock has turned his private pain into a passion to find a cure for the chronic illnesses that shorten our lives.
David Murdock, at age 90, has the look and vitality of a man at least 25 years younger and believes his healthy practices will help him reach age 125. He attributes his longevity and vigor to the healthy lifestyle habits adopted while searching for a cure for the cancer that eventually took his wife.
Putting His Money Where His Heart Is
Back in the early 1980s, Murdock bought Castle & Cooke, a leading real estate development company of which Dole was part. Since then he has made Dole Foods Company, the world’s largest producer of fruits and vegetables. According to Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Murdock’s net worth is $2.3 billion of which he has poured more than $500 million into creating the North Carolina Research Campus where eight universities participate in research to find the health benefits of plants that can lead to longevity and aid in avoiding the wrath of diseases like cancer.
Through his acquisition of Dole, Murdock began focusing on the benefits of a mostly vegetarian diet to prevent chronic illness including diabetes, heart disease and especially cancer. In 2006 Murdock added to his healthy living empire and opened the California Health & Longevity Institute (CHLI) in Westlake Village, California. About a 40-minute drive from downtown Los Angeles, guests, including corporate executive groups, stay at the luxurious Four Seasons hotel housed in the same building as CHLI to receive services at the state-of-the-art medical suite, spa and nutrition demonstration kitchen.
Following Murdock offers some insights on caregiving and the business of aging well:
It’s never too late to adopt healthy nutritional habits, according to Murdock who created his own new diet and discipline in his 60s. While Murdock eats approximately 20 servings of fruits and veggies every day – he blends most into 2-3 smoothies which includes the food’s outer skin. Avoiding vitamins and supplements, he advises that anything the sun touches including banana peels and orange rinds should not be tossed but blended in for full nutritional value.
In addition to an abundance of fruits and veggies, Murdock includes seafood, beans, legumes and egg whites into his diet to get an adequate balance of protein with his carbohydrates. And he avoids fatty empty calories – in an interview with the New York Times, when the waiter delivered butter to the table, he pushed it back saying, “Please take death off the table.”
“We take care of our vehicles – we’re careful to put the proper kind of gasoline in the tank, put air in the tires, change the windshield wiper blades and brakes; but how many of us pay that much attention to what we put into our own bodies?” says Murdock. “We have developed a culture in which we eat with our taste buds – not our brains. It is never too late to change the way you eat and once you do, your body will thank you with a longer and healthier life.”
Murdock advises that exercise should not be viewed as “optional” but should be a daily routine just like brushing your teeth. He advises on three key elements of an exercise program:
1) Don’t make it routine – mix it up. One day Murdock rides horses, another he does yoga and strength training.
2) Get outside. He believes that being a gym rat becomes boring and is one of the reasons people do not stick with daily exercise.
3) Make it fun. When I first met David Murdock, he spoke at a UCLA Longevity Institute Conference I attended. He captivated me with his story about caring for his wife but I was also fascinated by his comments to use “fun” to engage society in consistent exercise.
Murdock’s example was from the Volkswagen Fun Theory program where metro train station stairs in Sweden were transformed overnight into piano keys – each step corresponding to the keys on a piano with actual sounds. Miraculously where the day before almost 100 percent of travelers took the escalator, once piano stairs were installed, almost everyone was curious enough to take the stairs. Watch Piano Stairs on YouTube.
Murdock knows firsthand the stress and physical, emotional toll caregiving can take. His advice is much like his approach to business and healthy living.
“Don’t give up,” urges Murdock. “Exercising and eating properly will build your physical and mental strength to endure a stressful situation.”
©2013 Sherri Snelling
September is National Emergency Preparedness Month. It’s important t have the family conversation and plan ahead to weather through any storm — whether a natural or man-made disaster. Read our blogs this month about how to prepare for potential emergencies as a caregiver of older loved ones – whether they live in their home or a facility.