Joan Lunden’s Coast to Coast Caregiving Coverage

NewsletterAdI’ve had the privilege of interviewing Joan Lunden several times over the last few years. She is an inspiration – as a woman warrior battling breast cancer, as a mom of seven (!!), as a successful businesswoman and as a caregiver to her mom whom she lost in  2013. I  first met Joan on the set of a special TV program Joan hosted for RLTV, “Taking Care with Joan Lunden,” where Joan interviewed me as an expert on caring for an older loved one at home.  The following is an excerpt from my book, A Cast of Caregivers – Celebrity Stories to Help You Prepare to Care, which includes Joan’s caregiving story.

Wake Up Call to Caregiving

For 17 years throughout the 1980s and 1990s, she woke us all with “Good Morning America” as co-host of ABC-TV’s national morning show.  But, it was 10 years ago that Joan Lunden, the sunny, blonde, California-born and raised TV journalist received her own wake-up call.

She remembers it like it was yesterday.  In her words, “It 100 percent shook me up.”  It was back in 2005, that her brother Jeff, who had long suffered from Type II diabetes, passed away.  Joan had been caregiving for both her ailing brother as well as her then 87-year-old mother, Gladyce.

While her brother suffered the ravages of diabetes – blurred vision, headaches, operations on hands and feet, etc. – her mother, Gladyce suffered from signs of dementia and had several mini strokes over the years.  For both their safety and Joan’s peace of mind, she had purchased a condominium in the Sacramento, California area where Joan had grown up and paid for them both to live there together.

Meanwhile, Joan lived across the country with her home base on the East Coast where she was raising two sets of twins under the age of 10 with her second husband and playing “empty nest” mom to her three older daughters from her first marriage.  In addition, she had not slowed down since leaving “Good Morning America” in 1997, traveling the country as a spokesperson on healthy living, authoring several books, and managing a growing business focused on healthy living.

Joan was both a Sandwich Generation caregiver – one of the 24 million Americans caring for children and a parent simultaneously and thus, sandwiched between caregiving duties – and a long-distance caregiver.  More than 8 million caregivers care for a loved one long distance – whether they are two hours away or across the country as in Joan’s case.  This makes caregiving more difficult – you are not there every day to see the small things which can be warning signs that something is changing and your loved one needs more care.

Joan and her mother, Gladys

Joan and her mother, Gladys

The Sunrise, Sunset of Alzheimer’s 

Although she mourned her only brother’s passing, it was not his death that rocked Joan’s world.  It was the realization that her mother’s dementia was so much worse than even she knew.

“My mom had ‘sundowners,’ a typical symptom of dementia and Alzheimer’s where the person becomes irritated, irrational and sometimes violent as the sun is setting,” explained Joan.  She also showed signs of paranoia especially after Joan moved her mother into an assisted living facility.

“Mom was afraid to go downstairs and visit with the other residents, they frightened her and yet she could not tell us why,” said Joan.

Joan soon realized that she had been overlooking her mother’s real needs and issues. “It is easy to overlook things when you live far away from your loved one,” says Joan.  “They put on a happy face and they seem fine and you may see small things but you want them to be fine.”

Alzheimer’s disease, which affects more than 5 million Americans today, can also be a sneaky disease.  An older loved appears relatively healthy and fine physically but is suffering from dementia that can cause sudden mood shifts or other emotional problems, especially frightfulness and forgetfulness.  It is only through the activities of daily living that one sees how critical proper care becomes. The long-distance care Joan had ben providing her mom had given her blinders to her mom’s real needs.

Joan encountered what I call “Goldilocks Syndrome” trying out several facilities before finally finding the right environment for her mother’s health needs and happiness. After Gladyce suffered several falls breaking her foot, her rib, then hitting her head and needing staples did Joan realize a specialized care facility would be necessary.

The social worker at the hospital where Gladyce was treated for her falls put Joan in touch with a senior care facility advisor.  The advisor assigned to Joan assessed Gladyce’s needs and then took Joan and Gladyce on a tour of several facilities that she thought would work.  They settled upon a small residential care facility with just six residents in a large home setting.

Press Hat dreamstime_m_11320792 (2)Using Her Journalistic Instincts – Tracking Down Leads

When Joan’s brother passed away, it was left to Joan to decide if her mother could continue living independently with some personal care assistance from an outside agency or a professional.  In addition, Joan needed to go through all the paperwork for her mother that her brother had been handling.  Joan, her brother and her mother had been a threesome as Joan grew up since her father was tragically killed in a plane crash when Joan was only 14.

Faced with a mass of paperwork and a lot of missing documentation, Joan got down to doing what she does best – investigating.  As a journalist you have to be inquisitive and look for clues to the real story.  In Joan’s case she had to search through mountains of paperwork and become an amateur genealogist to be able to help her mother.  She could not access her mother’s bank account, she could not find a social security card or driver’s license, and she had nothing to go on except she knew her mother’s maiden name.

An elder law attorney that Joan had secured advised her to find her mother’s birth and marriage certificates.  This would be verification for the Social Security office to issue her mother a duplicate card since Joan could not find the original.

In addition, Joan would have to have her mother authorize her as a co-signer on the bank account and grant her access to health insurance and other critical information that has privacy protection.  Thank goodness in Joan’s case her mother was still lucid enough to authorize her daughter to help – in many caregiving situations the loved one can no longer provide that authorization and it becomes a costly and time-consuming legal burden for the caregiver to get this done.

“You think you know your parents but then something like this happens and you realize maybe you do not know as much as you should,” says Joan.  This is especially true when it comes to verifying records and making decisions on their behalf.

In retrospect, Joan says, “I wish I had the family meeting before the crisis in care happened but I am typical.  The crisis happened and all of a sudden you have to become an instant expert at so many issues around elder care.”

Joan’s advice to all caregivers, current and future, is to take a page from her long-running morning show career.

“Have the conversation, start the dialogue, do the interview with your loved one,” she advises.  “And, most importantly, don’t stop communicating – talk to your loved one as often as possible, talk to their doctor, ask questions, talk to the facility administrators and health care professionals – stay on it .  It is the most important tool you have – it keeps you connected to your loved one and to the essential care needs they have.”

Joan Lunden People Magazine Oct 2014Joan lost her mother in 2013 but is following in her energetic mother’s footsteps. Taking on a new role as a breast cancer survivor, Joan’s lifelong healthy eating habits now include a non-GMO diet. As the poster gal for 60 being the new 40, Joan says her caregiving experience has given her new insights into the message of “prepare for the worst and hope for the best.”  Her inspirational attitude is captured in a book she co-authored about caregiving stories, Chicken Soup for the Caregiver’s Soul.



©2015 Sherri Snelling

The Difference in Caring for Moms versus Dads

African American Family dreamstime_m_4832256 (2)The Sandwich Generation is our focus this week. According to Pew Research,  47 percent of Americans  in their 40s and 50s are caring for both children as well as aging parents. While there are many books to help us understand the difference in raising a boy or a girl, there are not a lot of books which talk about the difference between caring for an aging mom versus an older father.

Read my article for PBS Next Avenue about “The Difference in Caring for Moms versus Dads.”

Holly Robinson Peete – Superstar Sandwich Generation Caregiver

hrp headshotWhen it comes to superstars in this game we call life, Holly Robinson Peete is a top draft pick.  An actress, talk show host, singer, author, passionate advocate, wife and mother, Holly appears to have that perfect existence.  But, even the most perfect pearls are formed by being tossed about in rough seas.

Holly’s perfect life has faced two unforeseen and often devastating blows.  While juggling a thriving acting career, marriage and motherhood, she was also caring long distance for her father who suffered with Parkinson’s disease and simultaneously learned that one of her twins had autism.

The Sandwich Generation of family caregivers – more than 24 million strong according to the National Alliance for Caregiving – is defined as someone who is sandwiched between generational care, caring for a child or children still at home while also providing assistance or full-time care to an older parent.  In Holly’s case, she is Super Sandwich Generation: dealing with a father with a progressive disease of the central nervous system, and raising twins, one who was healthy and active (her daughter Ryan), and the other (son RJ), who was withdrawn and showing the symptoms of a special needs child.

For some people, this double hit would be enough to bring you down before the game even gets started.  But, for Holly Robinson Peete, she learned to fight through to get to the goal line.

From Sesame Street to 21 Jump Street

It was in the 1980s when Holly was still in college at Sarah Lawrence in Bronxville, New York, that her father started showing the early signs of what would be eventually diagnosed as Parkinson’s disease.  He was only 46 years old.

Matthew-T-Robinson-Sesame-street w Big BirdHer father, Matthew T. Robinson, Jr. was a producer and also played “Gordon” on the award-winning PBS-TV children’s program Sesame Street in the ‘60s and ‘70s.  A decade later he went on to become one of the most prolific TV screenwriters for shows such as the wildly popular, The Cosby Show.  Just as her father thrived in TV, Holly came by the acting gene naturally.  In the ‘80s and ‘90s, she decided to give acting a go and was riding high on a career that saw her become a breakout TV star on 21 Jump Street alongside a then unknown Johnny Depp followed by her star turn on Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper.  During this time, since Holly’s parents were divorced, it was up to Holly and her brother to support their father as his disease progressed.

It is estimated that 1 million people are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD) and each year there are 60,000 new cases in U.S.  This neurodegenerative brain disorder is characterized by a progressive destruction of cells in the central nervous system that reduces supply of dopamine causing nerve cells to fire incorrectly and causing patients to lose control of their normal body movements. While later stages of the disease are devastating, early warning signs can be subtle and progress gradually.

Not every PD patient has the same symptoms. Some experience poor balance and frequent falls, rigidity or muscle stiffness, tremors, and Bradykinesia which is the slowing down or loss of movement (shuffling steps, loss of one arm swing when walking, and difficulty or inability to turn the body).

“My first reaction to my dad’s diagnosis was ‘what is Parkinson’s’?” says Holly.  As a young college student she raced to the library to find out everything she could about the disease. “I saw two words in the books I read:  neurological and incurable.  I felt helpless and in a dark place and it was hard, this was in a pre-Google period and there was no Michael J. Fox or Muhammad Ali who had raised awareness about Parkinson’s.”

Double Dose of Devastation

While still providing care to her dad, Holly’s career was taking off and so was her love life.  She had fallen for Rodney Peete who had been a superstar college football player at USC and one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks with a 16-year career playing for the Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins, Dallas Cowboys and Carolina Panthers.  They were married in 1995 and two years later Holly was a sought-after actress, NFL wife and new mom to fraternal twins Rodney Jackson and Ryan Elizabeth.

It was at this exciting time for Holly, that life gave her two blows.  Her father’s illness was progressing to a point where he needed around the clock care and Holly and her brother decided he needed to live in a special care facility.   Since Holly lived in Los Angeles and her father was in New York, this made Holly one of the nation’s 8 million long-distance caregivers.

“The day we moved my dad into the facility was singlehandedly the worst day of my life, to this day I still have regrets about the decision but there really were not a lot of choices,” says Holly with the pain still evident in her voice even though this was almost 13 years ago.  She had her twins, a husband who was on the road for six months out of the year and she was pregnant again.  “The guilt has never really gone away but I don’t hold myself accountable anymore – it was a hard choice but really the only choice.”

cover of autism file magazine Apr 2012It was during this painful period in Holly’s life that her three-year-old son, RJ, was given a devastating diagnosis:  autism.

“I know it’s a cliché but when we were told about RJ, my life just stopped right there in that doctor’s office,” says Holly.  “I call that day the never day – we were told all the things my beautiful baby boy would never do and at first I felt 10 times more than hopeless.”

Holly recalls how the diagnosis of her son was very different from learning about her dad’s disease.  “Even though my dad was young when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, it was totally different to hear that your three-year-old child will never really do anything normal.”

Mars v. Venus

What happened next came out of left field for Holly.  Her husband Rodney had been “my rock while I cared for my dad,” always there to support his wife and the father-in-law who adored him.  But, suddenly with RJ’s diagnosis, Rodney became withdrawn, frustrated and definitely living in denial.

“This was the classic men are from Mars, women are from Venus scenario,” says Holly.  “Men and women just think and do things differently.”

Initially, Rodney was in denial about RJ and as is typical of fathers of special needs children, he distanced himself and was less involved in the daily struggle in part because he was still playing in the NFL which kept him on the road for months.

While it is estimated that 85 percent of parents with special needs children divorce, Holly actually thinks the distance saved their marriage.  “It gave me time to cope on my own without facing Rodney’s different attitude and ideas about RJ,” says Holly.  “Rodney originally thought RJ just needed more discipline, I knew it wasn’t about that at all.”

While Rodney retreated, Holly got to work.  She learned everything she could about autism in the same way she had educated herself about Parkinson’s disease.  Holly learned that autism impairs a person’s ability to communicate and socialize normally with others and often has a physical manifestation of repetitive behaviors.  Statistics showed that one in every 110 children has autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and symptoms can be subtle or significant.  She also learned that there is no cure for autism.

Given little hope by doctors for RJ’s ability to assimilate into normal childhood, Holly refused this dismal outlook for her son and turned to alternative measures.  She found a wonderful autism therapist, she established a gluten-free diet for RJ which had some very positive effects and she brought music into his life which she found soothed her son.

When RJ recorded his first music single, Holly believes it was a way for him to not feel “judged” as he often did during sports or other activities.  She also maintained as normal a life as possible for her other children, which in addition to RJ’s twin sister Ryan now included sons Robinson and Roman.

During this time, Rodney and Holly admit to a lot of foul plays with each other.  In reflection, Holly says, “I wish I had been more patient with Rodney and respectful of his denial but I was too focused on RJ.”  She credits Rodney for coming up with the winning game plan.

“Rodney had that ‘oh my god’ moment when he realized he could lose his family but he chose instead to enter into the fight and save us all.”  Holly said when she and Rodney got the same game plan going, everything changed.  Just a few weeks ago on Valentine’s Day, Holly and Rodney renewed their marriage vows with all four children as their attendants.

Photo: Christopher Voelker

Photo: Christopher Voelker

Team Peete Scores

Rodney Peete's book on the family's journey with his autistic son.Rodney credits an autism father support group with helping him understand that instead of being dismayed with RJ’s inability to operate in Rodney’s world, Rodney learned to enter RJ’s world.  The result was Rodney’s 2011 book, Not My Boy! A Dad’s Journey with Autism, which he hopes will help other fathers of special needs children who are struggling to understand their situation and create a “new normal.”

Holly co-authored a book for Scholastic with her daughter Ryan who wanted to help other kids learn about her brother’s autism.  The book, My Brother Charlie, gave Ryan a hero’s role in her brother’s daily challenges and won an NAACP Image Award.  MyBrotherCharlie book cover

And, together Holly and Rodney have built the HollyRod Foundation, originally created to support families facing Parkinson’s to honor her father now expanded to also help families living with autism in recognition of the lessons the Peetes have learned from RJ.

Her relief from the guilt she says is inevitable for all caregivers comes from the impact of the HollyRod Foundation that helps families just like her family needed answers and hope.  “At some point, you take your guilt and you move on and I did that by paying it forward,” says Holly.  “Knowing that my family can help others and maybe ease their caregiving journey is the best gift of all.”

Spoken like a true superstar.



Author’s Notes:

Sherri has had the honor to interview Holly several times, watch one of these interview from the red carpet at the Carousel of Hope Ball 2013:

Carousel of Hope Ball 2013 – Celebrity Interviews from the Red Carpet



photo (2)Sherri and Holly were also the keynote speakers at the 2014 Astellas employee event in Chicago







Sherri Snelling interviewed Holly Robinson Peete for her book, A Cast of Caregivers – Celebrity Stories to Help You Prepare to Care.

CastofCaregivers Cover FINAL

©2015 Sherri Snelling

Norman Lear on Longevity, Laughter and Love for America

Recently I interviewed Norman Lear for PBS Next Avenue. The 92-year-old TV producing icon remains sharp – both in wit and wisdom. For September Healthy Aging Month, I share his prescription for a long, happy life that includes tips which many caregivers may find helpful while navigating their caregiver journey.

Read the full PBS interview here: Norman Lear – Longevity, Laughter, Love of America

Norman Lear sandwiched between Sherri Snelling (left) and Alex Witt (right) of MSNBC

Norman Lear sandwiched between Sherri Snelling (left) and Alex Witt (right) of MSNBC

©2015 Sherri Snelling


Sandwich Generation caregivers usher in a new era at work

Career Blocks dreamstime_m_9545288 (2)Labor Day seems like an opportune time to highlight the nation’s largest volunteer health care workforce: America’s 65 million family caregivers. With seven out of 10 caregivers working full or part-time, more employers are having to address a shift in employee lifestyle needs from child care to elder care.

Earlier this year, I spoke at a Boomer Summit conference about employers and the best practices for working caregivers. I started with the famous logo from the AMC series Mad Men (Don Draper in silhouette, cigarette smoldering) with the headline, “The end of an era.”

Yes, the TV drama series based on life in the ‘60s and ‘70s ended its run this spring but we are also experiencing the end of one era and the dawn of another in offices, factories and businesses across the country as the rising tide of Sandwich Generation caregivers juggle life as working moms and dads while now also caring for older parents.

Since the ‘60s the needs and lifestyles of the American worker have continuously evolved and many employers have responded with the types of benefits and services to support those needs.  When women entered the workforce in record numbers in the ‘70s and ‘80s, more child care services became the norm.

Today with women comprising about half of the U.S. workforce and most boomers postponing retirement, workplace issues are no longer about just child care but more often about elder care as well.  Currently, 15 percent of the entire U.S. workforce is performing their first job at their workplace then performing their second job caring for an older loved one when they get home. By 2020, one in five workers will be over the age of 50 – the age of a typical Sandwich Generation caregiver who will help children facing looming college costs while also managing the needs – physical, emotional and financial – for older parents.

“My employer’s program to support caregivers was a lifeline,” said Matthew Skahill, associate director, scientific liaison for Astellas, a pharmaceutical company headquartered in Northbrook, Ill.

Skahill, age 51, found himself with one daughter at college abroad, another daughter gearing up for college applications and an aging and ailing father with Parkinson’s disease who lives in Missouri while Skahill navigates caring from a distance in Colorado.

The program launched by his company last year, includes a robust set of benefits including usage of a professional geriatric care manager to meet with the elder, assess the needs, create a care plan and then walk the family through the options for community services and other help. While this type of service is not new, a care manager network program from UnitedHealthcare has been around for more than 30 years, Astellas included other benefits Skahill found invaluable.

“I was able to access the identify theft protection service for both my daughter in London, who had suspicious activity on her credit card, as well as my younger daughter,” explained Skahill.  He is planning to access the college financial counseling service of the benefit to prepare for his second child entering college soon and to look for additional help with his older daughter, who is pursuing a college degree in London. And, Skahill and his father are discussing having a legal document review to ensure everything is in order based on his father’s latest wishes and ongoing caregiving needs.

According to 2013 Pew Research report, nearly half (47 percent) of all adults in their 40s and 50s  are considered the Sandwich Generation with a parent over age 65 and at least one child under age 18 or an adult child still receiving financial assistance from mom and dad. In addition, the report stated one in seven Sandwich Generation caregivers are providing financial support for both their children and their aging parents.

“We take a long term vision of our employees – they are as important to us as the products we create or the patients we serve with our products,” said Collette Taylor, senior vice president of human resources and facilities management for Astellas. “Our employees are an investment and since our workforce tends to skew slightly older than the national average, we took a holistic view of their lifestyles and our role in helping them be healthy, financially secure and happy. This program is not just a source of pride for us, it also makes smart business sense.”

While the $31 billion a year MetLife and the National Alliance for Caregiving  estimated U.S. companies encounter based on lost productivity is one rationale for companies to institute caregiver support for its employees, impact to the bottom line is not always about productivity, it can also be about flexibility.

Tall Buildings dreamstime_17159364 (2)A study published in the Academy of Management Journal, found companies that employ workplace flexibility such as job sharing, phased retirement of older workers, flex hours, telecommuting and other benefits for caregivers may have some upfront costs but ultimately realize a return on the bottom line. One study tracked the announcement of new work-life balance policies by Fortune 500 companies and found those firms’s stock prices rose .36 percent on days following these announcements suggesting investors believe these policies to be profitable investments.  The White House Council of Economic Advisors Report (June 2014) showed 52 percent of workers said they could do their job better if allowed a more flexible schedule.

LifeCare, a work-life services company that provides the caregiver programs to several Fortune 500 companies with its 61,000 clients, has benchmarked utilization of its caregiver services and found it has almost doubled from 2011 to 2014.

“This increase in using the expertise of a professional geriatric care manager showcases the growing need for working caregivers to receive some support through their employer,” said Bert Wachtelhausen, senior vice president of sales, client services and marketing at LifeCare. “These type of services are investments now in employees which pay off in long-term dividends for a company’s bottom line.”

Another organization that recognizes the caregiving role of its faculty and employees is Emory University. For more than 20 years, this academic institution has offered flexible leave policies, long term care insurance, research and referral services for elder care help, each year adding more to its caregiving services menu.  Today, caregiver workshops and access to a professional geriatric care manager network have high utilization rates among caregiving faculty and staff. The growing demand for caregiver guidance recently led Emory University to add an Onsite Care Consultant.

“Caring for and worrying about an older parent is often hard, especially if they do not live nearby,” said Skahill. “To know my employer not only understood what I was going through but provided services to help me through this time in life, makes a huge difference in being able to manage it all.  I feel like they are sincere in wanting to make a difference in my life.”

Note about the author: Sherri Snelling hosts the monthly “Caregiver Network” webinars for LifeCare’s 61,000 employer clients and recently spoke at the employee launch event of the Astellas caregiver benefit program. [This article originally appeared on PBS Next]

©2015 Sherri Snelling

February Means The Grammy Awards and Music Therapy

FEB Grammy Music Therapy


February means it’s Grammy season and the sound of music is all around. This month we celebrate the caregivers, like our friend Holly Robinson Peete, who are musical stars and caregivers as well as luminaries in the music business such as interviews with Quincy Jones, Smokey Robinson, Alan and David Osmond, of loved ones. On a somber note we share the caregiving story of Casey Kasem, who was known best for his radio show, “America’s Top 40” but in his later years became a case study in how families need to have the C-A-R-E Conversation to avoid conflict and event elder abuse. We’ll also share articles about the power of music to heal – through music therapy or just providing the “food for the soul” all caregivers need.

Here are our articles that show music is a must for every caregiver:

Music Therapy – a 5-Note Plan for Caregiver Calm (originally published on the Alzheimer’s Association blog)

Alzheimer’s App Uses Singing to Boost Mood (originally published on PBS Next Avaenue)

Holly Robinson Peete’s Most Challenging Role – Sandwich Generation Caregiver (Holly’s in-depth story found in Sherri’s book, A Cast of Caregivers)

Catherine Zeta Jones – a caregiver’s self-care mental health plan (who won her Oscar – also happening this month – for her singing/dancing role in Chicago)

Glen Campbell’s Farewell Tour (originally published on PBS Next Avenue)

The Osmond Family’s Greatest Act – Winning the Daily Battle Against MS (Sherri interviewed both Alan and Davis Osmond for her book, A Cast of Caregivers)

Casey Kasem’s Legacy for Caregivers (originally published on PBS Next Avenue)

Music of the Night – 2013 Alzheimer’s Association “A Night at Sardi’s” Event

Stars Take Center Stage to Fight Alzheimer’s disease – 2012 Alzheimer’s Association “A Night at Sardi’s” Event


And, many of the articles on our Caregiving Club site and the wealth of information we provide can be found in our CEO, Sherri Snelling’s book, A Cast of Caregivers – Celebrity Stories To Help You Prepare to Care.

CastofCaregivers Cover FINAL


May is National Mental Health Month

MAY Natl Mental Health Month

According to the National Allliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one in five Americans has a mental health issue and one in 25 Americans has a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or major clinical depression.

Because of the stigma and lack of understanding surrounding mental illness, Glenn Close, whose sister and nephew are challenged by mental health issues, founded Bring Change 2 Mind, to help educate the public on mental illness.

Source: Dreamstime

Source: Dreamstime

In recognition of May National Mental Health Month, read our CEO Sherri Snelling’s article about how Glenn Close is one of the leading voices in helping to change our minds about mental health and support the family caregivers caring for those with mental illness:

Glenn Close wants to change your mind about mental illness

Is Your Depression Situational or Serious?


November is National Diabetes Awareness Month

NOV Diabetes Month

Diabetes is a growing concern for the health of Americans. Today, 30 million people live with diabetes and among those, 1 in 3 seniors over age 65 has diabetes. Yet 8 million Americans remain undiagnosed. Diabetes has many risks for other health problems including the 4.2 million people over age 40 who have diabetic retinopathy impairing eyesight and possibly causing blindness if not treated. Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure and for those over age 40 more than 70,000 non-traumatic amputations of toes, fingers, and other limbs occurs related to complications of diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is the version of this disease that we can try to control with reduced weight, better exercise and nutrition earlier in life.

Watch Sherri Snelling’s celebrity interviews, including George Clooney, Quincy Jones, Holly Robinson Peete, Gene Simmons and Harry Hamlin from the red carpet of the Carousel of Hope Ball – one of the leading organizations supporting children with diabetes:

Carousel of Hope Ball – Celebrity Interviews from the Red Carpet


November is National Hospice Awareness Month

NOV Hospice Month



The great movie, The Bucket List, starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman as two older men facing their own mortality and deciding to live instead of wait to die, jump-started dialogues among families and friends on end-of-life wishes. It is a hard conversation to have, but perhaps one of the most important.

This November as we celebrate and raise awareness for National Hospice Awareness Month, read our CEO Sherri Snelling’s articles on how caregivers can have this end-of-life wishes conversation with loved ones and what resources are available to you:

Casey Kasem’s Legacy for Caregivers (PBS Next Avenue)

I Have a Dream – Helping Loved Ones Achieve End-of-Life Wishes

What We Can Learn From Brittany Maynard’s Death (PBS Next Avenue)

Why You Need to Make Your End-of-Life Wishes Known (PBS Next Avenue)


Caregiving Tipping Points

We are a nation of caregivers – according to the National Alliance for Caregiving one in every three households includes a family member who is caring for a loved one who physically or mentally requires help with some or many of life’s activities. It may start by taking mom or dad to the doctor’s office or physical therapy or helping them pay bills or mow the lawn, but often escalates into more intense caregiving such as feeding, bathing and dressing a parent or loved one who has physical limitations.

Often when caregiving is at its most physically and emotionally intense levels, there comes a time in every caregiver’s journey when the ability to “keep calm and carry on” becomes an insurmountable challenge.

Following are the most common caregiver tipping points – they typically fall into three areas: physical challenges, safety challenges and behavioral challenges which all affect the caregiver’s own health and wellness.

Physical Challenges

1. Help walking and lifting


When a parent, spouse or other loved one becomes physically unable to walk without help of a cane, walker and especially if they are in a wheelchair, lifting and transferring becomes a physical challenge for the caregiver. For instance, a wife weighing 120 pounds trying to lift the dead weight of a husband who weighs 200 pounds into and out of bed, wheelchair or a car can result in shoulder, neck or back injury for the caregiver and a possible harmful fall for the spouse.

AgingCare reports 52 percent of musculoskeletal caregiver injuries occur when lifting or transferring. Being trained on a proper lifting technique and avoiding twisting, stooping and bending positions are critical for the caregiver.  Think like a weightlifter – always bend the knees, keep the back straight, ensure you have a firm grip on your loved one and let the leg muscles do most of the work. Alternatively, engaging the help of a stronger family member, friend or home health aide often becomes essential for the health of both the care recipient and caregiver.

2. Incontinence

One of the toughest tasks for caregivers is cleaning and changing the diaper of a loved one who has the inability to control bladder and bowel movements. Often an overactive bladder creates a frequency to urinate and accidents happen because the person is not mobile due to hip or knee surgery or is physically unable to get quickly to the bathroom. It can also be tied to neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s or dementia or other health issues such as diabetes, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis or prostate cancer.  Alzheimer’s patients sometimes forget to follow regular toileting schedules or don’t remember where the bathroom is located resulting in spontaneous accidents.  People who suffer from incontinence are often humiliated by the accidents and embarrassed by the adult diapers required to help with the problem.

“We know 23 million men and one out of every two women over the age of 50 suffer from some type of bladder leakage to more intense incontinence issues,” says Liz Metz, brand director for Depend North America, one of the leading makers of adult diapers. “The social stigma associated with incontinence is one of the issues our latest brand campaign is trying to overcome – this is just another area of our lives where we have to adapt to aging.”

The Depend advertising campaign features celebrities such as actors Harry Hamlin and Lisa Rinna on a red carpet, Cheryl Burke, a professional dancer on “Dancing with the Stars,” and NFL football players Clay Matthews of the Green Bay Packers and Demarcus Ware of the Dallas Cowboys trying on briefs which are stylish and comfortable yet control small bladder leakage to larger incontinence problems.

A resource for caregivers facing this challenge is The CareGiver Partnership, an online shopping and information site featuring an extensive offering of more than 400 products and discounts where caregivers can also request samples to test before they buy product in bulk.  The site also includes comprehensive information for caregivers about incontinence issues and free telephonic customer service support from actual family caregivers who understand the issue.

Safety Challenges

1. Falls

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According to the CDC, every 28 minutes a senior dies from injuries from falling and 2 million older Americans are treated in ERs every year from falling at home. Preventing fall risk is crucial for both caregivers and their loved ones.

In your loved one’s home or living environment, clear pathways for easy access and mobility, remove rugs and other obstacles that may trip a loved one who cannot lift feet or is using a cane or walker, install sturdy horizontal and vertical grab bars in showers and baths. Consider moving a master bedroom from upper floors to the ground floor to avoid stairs. Also, have a loved one’s eyes checked on a regular basis, often vision problems can result in falls and understand certain medications may make a loved one dizzy or disoriented – always ask the doctor of the side effects of new medications.

Caregivers who do not live with their loved one or cannot be vigilant 24/7 should consider some of the latest technology to help prevent falls or alert caregivers in case of a fall.  Products such as 5Star Urgent Response device or smartphone service from Great Call which provides GPS-enabled direct 9-1-1 help, CareLine Home Safety Telephone System from VTech or Philips Lifeline products allow caregivers to have peace of mind their loved one will receive fast response in case of a fall or other safety problem.






2. Wandering

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Most typically associated with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, a loved one who has a tendency to wander is a serious safety issue. Six out of 10 of those with Alzheimer’s have a tendency to wander which can become a risk for death when a loved one wanders in inclement weather and is not quickly found.

Dr. Sally Brooks, vice president of physician and medical development for Kindred Healthcare, who cares for elderly parents, had a scare with her father who suffers with dementia. After her father wandered from the family home a few times and was found by local police, it became essential to find a facility that could accommodate her mother’s chronic depression and limited mobility and help keep her father safe from wandering.  However, the assisted living facility Dr. Brooks found for her parents had a hiccup in safety when it comes to her father’s wandering tendency.

“One day my dad left the facility unsupervised,” remembers Dr. Brooks. “He had his hat and coat on and started a conversation with a doctor in the hallway who thought he was a visitor.  The doctor allowed my dad on the elevator as they chatted and my dad walked right out the front door of the facility.”

Fortunately, her dad was found but the potential for harm still existed.  “I realized that even though I had difficulty managing dad’s wandering issue on my own, I had to remain vigilant with the assisted living staff to ensure they monitored him properly to avoid any future incidents,” says Dr. Brooks. “Even in a secure setting like the assisted living facility, my role as caregiver remains being the person who ensures my parent’s safety through good communication and frequent check-ins with my parents and staff.”

Caregivers of loved ones who wander but want to keep them home and safe can also find help through technology. The Alzheimer’s Associations offers both Medic+Alert Safe Return and Comfort Zone GPS tracking for those with early on-set or advanced dementia.



Behavioral Challenges

1. Aggressive behavior

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Whether it is the paranoia and outbursts associated with sundowning of a loved one with Alzheimer’s or a spouse or parent who has been hurtful or emotionally controlling in the past, managing the emotional strain of caregiving is hard but emotional or physical abuse can become a tipping point for most caregivers.

Many caregivers feel obligated to care for an abusive spouse or parent because they have spent a lifetime coping with the situation.  They feel guilt over their loved one now needing their help because of an illness or other health issue but this is an environment where a caregiver’s own health and wellness is at risk.  Often seen with those with certain mental health issues or with veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), several studies show 50 percent of PTSD veterans commit spousal or family abuse.

Finding support groups where caregivers can share openly with others who many experience similar issues is one of the best avenues for caregivers getting the help they need to make decisions about their loved one’s care.

“Caregivers have to get over the guilt of not wanting to care for someone who is hurting them emotionally or physically,” says Dr. Diane Denholm, author of The Caregiving Wife’s Handbook. “An abusive relationship will only get worse when caregiving is needed. Caregivers have to remember – safety is paramount – both the safety of their loved one and their own safety.”

2. Failure to communicate

It might be a stroke or Alzheimer’s or result of surgery from throat, lip or other cancer which makes communication difficult and becomes a possible tipping point for caregivers to continue to provide adequate care.

“For the 15 million Americans who care for a loved one with Alzheimer’s, we have to become detectives in looking for clues in behavioral changes and adapting our communication style,” says Ruth Drew, director of family and information services for the Alzheimer’s Association.

Drew explains those with Alzheimer’s often feel fearful which can lead to agitation, frustration, confusion and depression. If a loved one becomes combative or physically distressed, caregivers should check to see if there is a bed sore, wound or other health issue causing the problem.  Also, understanding distractions such as the new face of an in-home care worker or younger boisterous children can cause agitation.  She recommends caregivers seek expert advice, such as the support programs found through the Alzheimer’s Association which provide online and telephonic lifelines to caregivers who are struggling.

“If we could see the world through their eyes we would recognize there is a reason to their distress, but all caregivers can do is try to read the cues and go with the flow,” says Drew. “Caregivers also have to realize they cannot do this alone.  Everyone has a different threshold for what they can and cannot do so don’t judge yourself by others or have guilt over why you’re struggling more than someone else did.”


©2015 Sherri Snelling

The Famous Faces Behind the Men of Caregiving

We think of the typical caregiver being a boomer-age woman caring for her older parents yet according to the National Alliance for Caregiving, men make up 34 percent of the 65 million caregivers across the country.

And those are men who are in primary caregiving roles – it does not represent the husbands, brothers and friends who are providing the support network for other caregivers. Whether it’s giving a sister a break like Patrick Dempsey did for his sisters who cared for their mom with ovarian cancer or providing the much-needed comfort and care for a caregiving wife like Seth Rogen does for his wife Lauren Miller who cares for her mom with Alzheimer’s disease, men are essential to the caregiving nation we are becoming.

This article celebrates our men who are caregivers – heroes all.  Following is a list of men you might know who have all been on the caregiving journey.

To the men of caregiving – we salute you!

Sons caring for parents


Baldwin-BrothersThe Baldwin Brothers – Alec, William, Stephen and Daniel comprise the famous Baldwin brothers – actors and activists all. Yet in their hearts they are mama’s boys – helping their two sisters care for their mom, Carol, who successfully battled breast cancer. Carol is one of the 2.9 million breast cancer survivors in the U.S. according to the American Cancer Society.  She formed the Carol M. Baldwin Breast Cancer Research Fund where all four sons have been actively involved in helping to raise more than $3 million for medical research grants to find a cure.

Patrick Dempsey dreamstime_m_20160433 (2)Patrick Dempsey –On TV he plays “Dr. McDreamy” the brain surgeon eye candy on Grey’s Anatomy. In real life, Patrick has helped care for his mom, Amanda, as she survived two bouts of Stage IV ovarian cancer.  Providing the much-needed support for his two older sisters, Patrick commuted between his home base with his wife and children in Los Angeles cross country to his hometown in Maine where his mom and sisters live.  According to the National Cancer Institute, about 60-80 percent of ovarian cancer patients face a recurrence of the disease. Because of the stealth nature of ovarian cancer, Patrick said in an interview with Web MD, “Be relentless, question information, and double check it. Get a second opinion. Do your research.”








Seth Rogen dreamstime_xs_23106908 (2)Seth Rogen – Star of movies such as Knocked Up and The 40-Year-Old Virgin, comedic actor Seth Rogen is part of the caregiving team along with his wife who care for her mother with Alzheimer’s disease.  Diagnosed at age 55, Seth was shocked at how early Alzheimer’s can strike a family and how little people of his generation know about the disease.  Seth and his wife are two of the 15 million Americans who care for someone with dementia. This star of The Guilt Trip with Barbra Streisand (whose mom also had Alzheimer’s), Rogen realized Alzheimer’s is no laughing matter.  He is now an advocate for the Alzheimer’s Association and has created, along with wife Lauren, the annual “Hilary for Charity” comedy improve event with fellow comedians such as Paul Rudd and Steve Carroll to raise funds and awareness among younger generations for the disease.








Dwayne Johnson dreamstime_xs_23274249 (2) Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson – Playing superheroes, military warriors and loving dads on film and starring in the latest Fast and Furious movie, former professional wrestler Dwayne Johnson has also cared for a mom through lung cancer.  In 2010, Dwayne announced his mom had beaten stage 3 lung cancer where she had undergone chemotherapy and radiation. Dwayne told Jay Leno on his late night talk show, “She fought like a warrior.”  Just this summer. Dwayne purchased a white Cadillac for his mom, who had her car repossessed when he was growing up and she was a struggling single mom, in celebration of her ongoing cancer victory and as a thank you for always being there to support his dreams.

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Rob Lowe – In the ‘80s he was the heartthrob member of the famous Brat Pack and more recently his career has flourished in TV as a star in both dramas and sitcoms on The West Wing, Parks & Recreation and a recent campy turn in the HBO feature on Liberace, Behind the Candelabra starring Michael Douglas and Matt Damon. Rob has also been a caregiver for both is mother and father who divorced when he was still in his teens. He lost his mom (and his grandmother and great-grandmother) to breast cancer and helped his dad through a successful battle with lymphoma. An advocate for both diseases, Rob has been the Lee National Denim Day ambassador for breast cancer and filmed a PSA TV spot for lymphoma about the risk of infection and other side effects of chemotherapy.

Joey McIntyre dreamstime_m_22662550 (2)Joey McIntyre – The ‘90s boy bander is out on the road with his Boston bandmates for a nostalgic tour for the older yet sexier NKOTB (formerly known as New Kids On the Block).  As one of nine kids growing up in Needham, Mass., Joey has also stepped into the spotlight as advocate and caregiver for his mom who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.  When I interviewed Joey at the Alzheimer’s Association A Night At Sardi’s gala event (watch the interview with Joey here), he told me, ““It’s a process and it’s different for everybody . . . it is bittersweet because with my mom, she is still there, she’s got the one liners and she is so funny and she is still a performer but she doesn’t remember five minutes ago . . . it’s tough for the families.”

Bryan Cranston, Peter Gallagher, Victor GarberBryan Cranston (AMC’s Breaking Bad), Victor Garber (TV’s Alias, Titanic) and Peter Gallagher (USA Network’s Covert Affairs) – These three sons and TV/film stars have all cared for moms with Alzheimer’s disease.  Peter, who cared for his mom for the more than 20 years she lived with the disease, shared with me at an Alzheimer’s Association event, “An Alzheimer’s diagnosis can be as devastating to the caregiver as to the person diagnosed. Doing it yourself, I don’t know how long you are going to last . . . [but] the more you understand about the disease the better.”  He also said that this disease can be “embarrassing” and “terrifying” but that is why the Alzheimer’s Association is a great place to start to find the help and support needed. (watch my full interview with Peter here)




Henry WinklerHenry Winkler – Even though it’s been 40 years since Happy Days appeared on TV screens, the cool biker with a heart, “The Fonz” is an enduring pop culture icon.  The actor who brought the Fonz to life is also a caregiver.  Henry serves as the ambassador for the Open Arms: Raising Awareness of Upper Limb Spasticity educational campaign with a mission to help those who are impacted by upper limb spasticity and do not know where to turn for help.  Personally impacted by the issue, Henry’s mother suffered a stroke and for 10 years Henry helped care for her she suffered from upper limb spasticity.

Husbands caring for wives

valerie harper and tony cacciottiTony Cacciotti – You may not know his name but you know his wife as “Rhoda” from the famous ‘70s TV show The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Husband of TV actress Valerie Harper who was recently diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, Harper offered in interviews how “bereft” her husband was and that he was having a tough time handling the diagnosis.  At first, he hid the diagnosis from her until they received a second opinion.  Since then the couple are living life fully each day.  Harper has said, “We’re all terminal – it’s just a matter of when and where and how.”

Brosnan, Short, Wilder, MurdockPierce Brosnan (Bond movies, Remington Steele), Martin Short  (Saturday Night Live), Gene Wilder (Willa Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Young Frankenstein) and David Murdock (billionaire owner of Dole Foods) – All four lost wives to ovarian cancer, known as the silent disease because symptoms are often masquerading as other health issues.  Brosnan helped wife Cassandra battle the disease for years until she succumbed at age 42. Martin Short lost wife Nancy Dolman to the disease.  Gene Wilder and David Murdock took the grief of their loss and turned it into centers for helping others and finding a cure.  Wilder, whose wife was comedian/actress Gilda Radner, sought various treatments for her cancer for three years.  In her memory he co-founded Gilda’s Club, now part of the Cancer Support Community. Murdock lost wife Gabrielle at age 43 and invested $500 million in personal wealth to create the leading research institute, North Carolina Research Campus, dedicated to using plant-based solutions to prevent chronic illness such as cancer.

paul-mccartney1Paul McCartney – As one of the famous Beatles, he sang, “Will you still love me when I’m 64?” When it came to love, Paul’s muse and partner for 29 years was beloved wife Linda.  He would have loved her beyond age 64 if she had survived.  Sadly, he lost her to breast cancer when she was only 56. In an interview with the Daily Mail, McCartney admitted to needing help with the loss, “I got a counsellor because I knew that I would need some help. He was great, particularly in helping me get rid of my guilt [about wishing I’d been] perfect all the time.”

mitt romneyMitt Romney – As a 2012 presidential candidate and successful former governor and businessman, Romney attributes much of his success in life to his wife Anne.  She gracefully lives with multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease affecting 2 million people worldwide.

U.S. Open - Round OnePhil Mickelson – The three-times U.S. Masters Golf Tournament pro became a caregiver in 2009 when his wife, Amy, was diagnosed with breast cancer.  He suspended his playing career to help his wife through chemotherapy and care for their young children.

Hal Holbrook, Dixie Carter dreamstime_xs_18921771 (2)Hal Holbrook – Film actor Holbrook (Lincoln, Water for Elephants, Into the Wild) cared for his actress wife Dixie Carter (Designing Women) through her battle with endometrial cancer which she lost in 2010.

Facebook photoMichael Tucker – An early breakout role in Diner led to his best known starring role in TV’s L.A. Law where he appeared on the same screen with wife Jill Eikenberry. They are a great example of a caregiving team caring for Jill’s mom who has dementia.  Mike chronicled their caregiving journey in his humorous book, Family Meals.

Dads caring for special needs children

Montegna, Peete, GorhamJoe Montagena (Godfather Part III, TV’s Criminal Minds), Rodney Peete (NFL star quarterback),  Christopher Gorham (USA Network’s Covert Affairs)All three of these fathers have children on the autism spectrum disorder (ASD).  Joe’s daughter Mia, now in her 20s, was born prematurely and eventually was diagnosed with autism.  Rodney’s son, R.J., was diagnosed at age three and is now a teen.  He wrote a book about his struggles in coping with his son’s diagnosis, Not My Boy! A Father, A Son and One Family’s Journey with Autism and runs the non-profit organization, HollyRod Foundation, he and wife Holly Robinson Peete founded to help families facing Parkinson’s disease and autism. Christopher’s son was diagnosed a few years ago at age 9 with Asperger’s syndrome.  He has talked about getting outside help with everyday tasks such as grocery shopping and housecleaning so he and his wife can dedicate time to the therapies and interventions needed for their son while also caring for two other children.

colin farrellColin Farrell – known for his bad boy behavior and mesmerizing film roles, Colin says his life changed when his oldest son was diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder known as Angelman syndrome.  Characterized by jerky movements, sleeping problems, developmental disability and seizures which can be treated, there is no cure for the disorder.  Colin has said in interviews when your child takes his first steps, you hold your breath but when your special needs child finally takes a step after being told he may never walk, “those first steps take you into a whole different realm.”

John McGinleyJohn C. McGinley –Best known for his starring role on TV’s Scrubs, he’s also starred in films such as Platoon, Wall Street  and most recently 42, John has a teen son with Down syndrome (DS).  A longtime advocate for DS organizations, he currently is on the board of the Global Down Syndrome Foundation.  One in every 691 births result in a child with DS and after age 40, DS adults have a 100 percent risk of Alzheimer’s disease as well.

Brothers caring for a sibling

Jamie foxxJamie Foxx – He’s an Oscar-winning star (Ray) and music artist but Jamie is most proud of his sister, DeOndra, who has not let her Down syndrome hold her back.  As an ambassador for the Global Down Syndrome Foundation, DeOndra has danced onstage with Denzel Washington and appeared with her famous brother in front of millions at the Grammys and even appeared in one of his music videos.  Caring for family comes naturally to Jamie – as he told Entertainment Tonight, “This little lady right here lives with me along with my other sister, along with my father and my mother. So, we’re one big happy family.”

Ashton Kutcher dreamstime_xs_21212521 (2)Ashton Kutcher –Starring on one of TV’s highest rated sitcoms, Two and a Half Men, Ashton is a loving twin brother to Michael who was born with cerebral palsy and cardiomyopathy requiring a heart transplant at age 13.  As the family anxiously waited for a donor heart, Ashton said he actually contemplated suicide just so he could save his twin brother’s life.  Michael told a People magazine reporter, “Ashton never left my side,” talking of his brother’s devotion. “He showed me the love one brother has for another.” Michael currently serves as a spokesperson for the Reaching for the Stars Foundation that helps children with cerebral palsy which his brother also supports.









Tommy Hilfiger dreamstime_m_16272164 (2)Tommy Hilfiger – Fashion designer Tommy has been a 22-year supporter of the Nancy Davis Foundation Race to Erase MS event mostly to raise awareness and funds for a disease his sister has lived with for more than 40 years.  His sister Dorothy, now 61, has lived with multiple sclerosis since her teens.  Her one-year-older brother, Tommy, one of nine children, told WebMD, “When you see someone’s life change as a result of a disease, it really hits home.”

Friends and Lovers

both-of-us-ryan-oneal-farrah-fawcettRyan O’Neal – He was the tragic star of the ‘70s movie Love Story in which he lost his love and soul mate (played by Ali MacGraw) to cancer.  But film turned to reality when he cared for long-time love Farrah Fawcett as she battled  and lost her life to anal cancer.  He chronicled their love affair and those last three years trying new therapies and traveling to Germany for experimental treatments to find a cure for her cancer in his 2012 book, Both of Us: My Life with Farrah.

 CastofCaregivers Cover FINALThese stories excerpted from A Cast of Caregivers – Celebrity Stories to Help You Prepare to Care

©2015 Sherri Snelling

3 Gears of Seniors and Driving – How Caregivers Can Help Loved Ones Make the Shift

One of the toughest issues caregivers face with older parents is the dilemma around seniors and driving.  We’ve all seen the news with tragic tales of older drivers who accelerate when they are supposed to brake or drive the wrong way on the highway – putting everyone at risk sometimes with fatal results for others and themselves.  The dilemma is how do you know if mom or dad should not drive anymore?  How do you have the conversation around driving retirement?  How do you take away the keys without taking away complete independence and mobility for your older parent?  Adapted from my book, A Cast of Caregivers, here are the three gears caregivers need to know and how to shift through them when it comes to senior driving safety and mobility:

  1. Driver Assessment
  2. Driving Retirement
  3. Alternative Transportation

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Today, 10 percent of all drivers are over age 70 – and by 2030 one in every five drivers will be over age 65. Among these older drivers; between 23-40 percent will have macular degeneration creating vision-related problems for driver safety according to the Macular Degeneration Partnership. The Automobile Club of America states men over age 70 outlive their safe driving ability by six years and for women it is 11 years. But those are just numbers. When it comes to driving, skills and judgment are more important than age.

Following are several warning signs that are the most common cause for concern about your parent’s driving ability. You want to look for patterns not just one incident. Keep in mind some of these issues are minor, others more serious.

1. They have become fearful, nervous or anxious about driving.

2. There are ongoing scrapes and dents to their car – and they confess they hit the mailbox or curb – again and again and again.

3. They have difficulty staying in lanes.

4. They have trouble following road signs or street markings.

5. They have a slower response time to basic driving skills like braking or accelerating.

If you’ve noticed the signs as well as taken a ride with your loved one, and felt like you were on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride at Disneyland, it’s time to do two things: look into adjusting things in your loved one’s car for better vision and mobility, and think about a driving assessment to determine your loved one’s real driving performance.

WrenchThe Adjustment Bureau

Sometimes a quick adjustment to seats or steering wheels can make a big difference. Remember, we shrink in size as we age. In fact, the Harvard Health Letter says after age 40 we lose ½ inch every decade – ultimately decreasing in size by about three inches in our golden years. In addition, arthritis or osteoporosis may make our driver’s seat position, our flexibility and our reaction time different from 10-20 years ago. The MIT AgeLab recently conducted tests and found between the ages of 30 and 70 we lose 20-30 percent in our range of motion and develop poor neck rotation that can double the risk of an accident.

One test comes from AARP, American Society on Aging, Auto Club of America and the American Occupational Therapy Association who collaborated on a 15-minute, 12-point assessment for senior drivers at car dealerships, senior centers and other locations called CarFit to ensure drivers have the right car settings for their safe driving needs. Three out of 10 senior drivers who have taken the test had at least one problem – such as space between the steering wheel and chest or line of sight over the steering wheel – needing adjustment.

You can also work with an occupational therapist to assess your loved one’s driving. These experts are called driver rehabilitation specialists. In the same way you would seek rehabilitation therapy for your loved one after an accident or surgery, these specialists assess your loved one’s driving skills and prescribe a rehabilitation program or alternative transportation options. Your loved one’s physician can refer you or the American Occupational Therapy Association will have these experts listed in your local area. Your loved one can also take an online driving assessment test from the Automobile Club of America called Roadwise Review or from AARP called the Driver Safety Program. There is also a wealth of information for caregivers on a site created by a former Ohio State Highway patrolman, Keeping Us Safe.  It includes a senior driver self-assessment, a workbook for caregivers and their older driver, a binding contract if families decide to have an older loved one commit to not driving when the time comes and more.

In addition to driver assessment courses, there are also ways to hone driver skills from the safety of your loved one’s living room chair – all he needs is a computer. Posit Science® has a software product, , Drivesharp, which is a suite of brain fitness exercises recommended by AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Numerous studies show that drivers who train for just 8-10 hours, process visual information faster, see more of the roadway, and react faster in situations where split seconds matter. In fact, reaction time improves by the equivalent of 22 additional feet in stopping distance at 55 mph. It has been embraced by several national auto insurers because it actually cuts crash risk in half for older drivers. It is not a driver education or assessment, but rather a brain fitness software program that sharpens the brain. Studies show the benefits extend beyond driving to improvements in standard measures of quality of life, including functional independence, confidence, mood and overall health.

Before asking for your parent’s car keys – consider Step 1 these driver assessments.

Click here to read Gear 2 – Driving Retirement and How to Have the Conversation.

Click here to read Gear 3 – Alternative Transportation Plans.


©2015 Sherri Snelling

Caring for Those with Invisible Wounds

Military CaregiverFollowing is Sherri Snelling’s article that was originally published on Huff Post 50 about the caregivers of veterans with PTSD and TBI – the homefront heroes of those with invisible wounds.


Caring for Those Heroes with Invisible Wounds