Aging

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‘Village’ Movement for Aging Seniors Faces Some Challenges

(Patrick/Flickr)

(Patrick/Flickr)

“It takes a village” is a common refrain.

Now “Villages” — yes, with a capital V — are sweeping the U.S., looking to redefine how people age in their communities.

The Village movement brings together older adults who want to age in their homes independently, but believe it will be too hard to do so, unless they have some support. These virtual villages link independent living seniors together. Members offer support to each other as they are able, and ask for support when they need it through an organized system.

Half of all villages in the U.S. started in the last three years. Because they are such a recent phenomenon, there have not been many studies about their outcomes. Continue reading

Two Women on a Mission to Reform Assisted Living in California

Chris Murphy (L) and Christina Selder (R) of Consumer Advocates for RCFE Reform in San Diego conduct their crusade from a modest home office. (Rachael Myrow/KQED)

Christina Selder and Chris Murphy of Consumer Advocates for RCFE Reform in San Diego conduct their crusade from a modest home office. (Rachael Myrow/KQED)

Many of us dream of starting a revolution. Few of us make it happen. One of the most dramatic stories of the last year belongs to a loose collection of activists, working to reform assisted living oversight in California. Together with lawmakers, these activists launched 17 bills in Sacramento, 12 of which passed, 2 of which have become law, so far.

It’s a big story, but let’s break off one piece, involving a couple women in San Diego with a passion for raw data, strong coffee and home-baked muffins.

About a decade ago, Chris Murphy’s mom was suffering from Stage 4 ovarian cancer. She couldn’t live on her own. Someone suggested Murphy check out an assisted living facility, and so she took a tour.

“This is really a cool place,” Murphy says she thought at the time. “Maybe my mother would like to live here. I would like to live here. I was sucked in by the chandeliers, and by the garden, and by the apparent appearance of the facility.”

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The Assisted Living Reform Bills That Died

By Polly Stryker

Taking some fresh air in the courtyard at Westchester Villa, an assisted facility in Inglewood. (Rachael Myrow/KQED)

Taking some fresh air in the courtyard at Westchester Villa, an assisted facility in Inglewood. (Rachael Myrow/KQED)

Last Thursday, August 14, was the day that bills still in the state Senate Appropriations Committee sank or swam. The Senate Appropriations Committee is where bills costing $150,000 or more go for consideration. If bills make it out of this committee, then bills are still in play and could make it to the governor’s desk, albeit with potential amendments along the way. If not, they die.

Going into the home stretch of this legislative session, 16 bills were on the table that, altogether, constituted the first major overhaul of the assisted living industry in nearly 30 years.

Two have already made it to the governor’s desk. AB1523 mandates liability insurance for all assisted living facilities. Advocates say liability insurance is one of the best ways to improve conditions in the industry. Operators whose violations make buying insurance too expensive will be simply forced out of business. The industry group California Assisted Living Association supported AB1523. AB1572 mandates facility operators allow and support resident and family councils at assisted living facilities. CALA supported that one as well.

Most of the rest of the bills are still swimming. But what about the bills that died?

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Are The Proposed Assisted Living Reforms in California Enough?

CAPTION COMING (Rachael Myrow/KQED)

A “crime book” maintained by the San Diego advocacy group Consumer Advocates for RCFE Reform. (RCFE is short for Residential Care Facility for the Elderly.) This book contains cases of what CARR calls “egregious neglect” at San Diego assisted living facilities. (Rachael Myrow/KQED)

Over the last 25 years, the number of assisted living facilities in California has nearly doubled. The homes are intended to care for relatively independent, healthy seniors, but that doesn’t describe a lot of the people living in them today.

“There’s been a seismic shift in the population they serve,” says Deborah Schoch of the California HealthCare Foundation Center for Health Reporting. Schoch says the system was set up to meet the needs of people who could use some extra help with the tasks of daily living –- and it does. But many of those people need a lot of help.

The system, she says, is caring for people “who are frail, who may have dementia, who may be wheelchair bound, who may not be able to turn on their own in bed.”

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Crime in Assisted Living: What Happens After

Stacy Siriani's father suffered a serious injury while in an assisted living facility in San Diego. (Rachael Myrow/KQED)

Stacy Siriani’s father suffered a serious injury while in an assisted living facility in San Diego. (Rachael Myrow/KQED)

When families place a loved one in an assisted living facility, there’s an expectation that if something goes wrong, there will be consequences. Mistakes will be addressed. If crimes are committed, they will be prosecuted. Or at least investigated by law enforcement.

But that’s not always what happens.

Take the case of Stacey Siriani of San Diego County. Her experience with assisted living began four years ago when she got an awful phone call from Houston. Her father was involved in an auto accident that left him brain damaged.

“It was very tough,” she recalls. Siriani is an only child; her father is a widower. There was nowhere else to turn for support.

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Online Information About Assisted Living Facilities Hard to Come By

Lorchid Macri, 70, says she couldn't find any information online when she had to find an assisted living facility for her mother in California. (April Dembosky/KQED)

Lorchid Macri, 70, says she couldn’t find any information online when she had to find an assisted living facility for her mother in California. (April Dembosky/KQED)

Lorchid Macri wasn’t sleeping. Her elderly mother was wandering out of the house in the middle of the night, forgetting to turn the stove off. Macri had to keep watch over her 24/7.

“Dementia is a cruel disease,” Macri says.

She says the stress of caring for her mother was overwhelming. It wasn’t until she landed in the hospital herself — losing the sight in her right eye for 10 days — that she was ready to confront the fact that it was time to place her mother in assisted living.

“It’s gut wrenching to put someone that you love and who has cared for you in a facility with strangers,” she says. Continue reading

A Walk Through Assisted Living Facilities in California

TV lounge at Westchester Villa, an assisted living facility in Inglewood, near Los Angeles. (Rachael Myrow/KQED)

TV lounge at Westchester Villa, an assisted living facility in Inglewood, in Los Angeles County. (Rachael Myrow/KQED)

This week, lawmakers in Sacramento get busy on 15 bills that together constitute the most comprehensive overhaul of assisted living facility regulation in three decades. But for many Californians, it’s not even clear what an assisted living facility is. People often ask if assisted living is the same thing as a nursing home. It’s not.

In nursing homes, people get round-the-clock medical care from licensed nurses. Assisted living comes in because not everyone who needs help also needs that level of care. Sometimes that assistance doesn’t even involve a facility. Sometimes people can receive assistance and remain living in their own homes.

Say you’ve noticed your mother is walking with a new shuffle and dropping things, or that dad is mixing up his medications — and getting argumentative when you bring it up. Something is going on that must be addressed, even though your parent is still physically healthy and wants to be independent. Continue reading

Clues to Dementia Often Missed in Vulnerable Older Adults

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Dr. Anna Chodos, a UCSF geriatrician, has worked with many seniors who lived in dangerous situations due to lack of awareness and early screening for dementia. (Ryder Diaz/KQED)

Editor’s Note: As Californians live longer, the number of dementia, a disease that destroys not only memory but also critical-thinking skills will grow. As part of our ongoing series on health, called Vital Signs, we hear from Anna Chodos, a physician specializing in geriatrics. She says that social services can often keep people with dementia safe in their homes, but many older adults aren’t getting the diagnosis they need. 

By Anna Chodos

To diagnosis [dementia] early is to give people a chance to be a part of planning for the future in a very meaningful way. And that’s exactly what I’m not seeing. I’m seeing people stuck in situations where they now don’t have the ability to engage with you in complicated decision making and they’re not making safe decisions for themselves.

Dementia can affect your ability to remember to pay bills. It affects your ability to comply with your medical plan. Continue reading

How 6 Fabulous British Women Age — With Style

By Rachael Myrow

A great Friday story if ever there was one!

This British documentary looks at aging through the lens of six women in their 70s, 80s and 90s. But not just any women, these women are Fabulous Fashionistas who dress “with style and panache that belies their advancing years,” according to the film’s website. Check it out:

How a Video Game Can Make an Aging Brain Young(er) Again

By Angela Hart

Who knew playing video games might be good for you?

A provocative new study from researchers at UC San Francisco shows that playing a specially designed video game increased the ability to multitask for people in their 60s, 70s and 80s.

Adam Gazzaley of UCSF’s Neuroscience Imaging Center led the study. He recruited 174 people over 60 to play NeuroRacer, a custom-built game that forced participants to navigate winding roads, quickly turn left and right, go uphill and downhill — and then click a button whenever a distracting green sign pops up. Take a look:

The participants played the video game three times a week for a month and improved cognitive functions of the brain, not only in multitasking but also in paying attention for longer time spans. In fact, they improved so much that they reached the level of an untrained 20-year-old. This is the first time this kind of improvement has been demonstrated, the researchers noted in their study.

Gazzaley explained more on KQED’s “Forum” recently. He said the idea is to identify the brain’s “plasticity,” meaning its ability to change even as it ages — a concept that brain researchers haven’t always thought possible. Continue reading