What terminally ill children taught this doctor about how to live


Dr Alastair McAlpine asked some of young patients what gave them joy and meaning – their answers surprised him

Dr Alastair McAlpine asked some of young patients what gave them joy and meaning. Their answers were surprising and positive.

By Alastair McAlpine

As a pediatric palliative care physician, I spend my days working with children who have life-threatening or life-limiting illnesses and their families.

Although many people think of us as the harbingers of death, in reality, doctors like us aim to maximize quality of life, especially when that life is likely to be shortened. We recognize that these children are so much more than just their illness and that they are part of a family. We focus not just on their medical needs but also on their psychosocial and spiritual ones as well.

Last year, as part of my diploma in pediatric palliative care, I was tasked with evaluating the attitudes of my little patients towards life. I asked some of them what gave them joy and meaning. Their answers were surprising and positive.

In fact, they made me completely re-evaluate my relationships with friends and family. I now spend more time with the people I love and I tell them how I feel about them. I have tried to make kindness a priority in my life.

I decided to share some of the children’s responses on Twitter, to provide some perspective to the fractiousness that is so prevalent there. The response was overwhelming, to say the least (my thread has been retweeted nearly 100,000 times).

The kids were not hung up on “stuff”. What mattered were the things that we all intrinsically know are important, but often forget in the hustle and bustle of daily living. The biggest takeaway for me is that the happiest, most meaningful moments were simple ones that did not require vast sums of money or effort to attain, but instead embraced the importance of human connection. It was also surprising how frequently the so-called small things were the ones that turned out to have enormous significance at the end.

Here are the top six lessons that my little patients taught me about life:

1. Spending time with family and pets is incredibly important.

Whether talking, laughing, playing, or just sharing silence, time spent with loved ones and pets was priceless. Towards the end, the only regret many of the kids had was that they didn’t get to spend more time “with mum and dad and my big brother”.

2. Humor and laughter are vital.

Even though they were squarely facing death, these kids derived amusement from the same things that normal children do: silly antics; clumsy adults; slapstick humor. Laughing is so important for many reasons but key among them is that it reduces pain.

Finding levity in the face of overwhelming tragedy can be difficult, and some of the parents dug into unimaginably deep wells of courage to provide mirth when their hearts were breaking. One dad pulled funny faces through his tears. But it always paid off. And whether ill or healthy, children will always be delighted by farting.

3. Good stories told and read by a loved one offer inspiration.

The written word and vivid fantasies told with basic toys enabled children to create alternate realities away from the often sterile hospital environment. They were sources of inspiration to continue fighting, even when the “battle” seemed lost. After all, if Harry Potter could continue to face Voldemort, then they could defeat their own “monsters”.

Stories also allowed the children to construct a meaningful narrative to explain the often incomprehensible diseases they were so bravely facing. Many believe that our ability to create and share stories is what defines us as human beings, and these kids demonstrated that. Stories inspired, captivated and transported them.

4. Swimming in the sea, playing on the sand and eating ice cream (even on a cold day) are simple, memorable pleasures.

Children vividly remembered the simple pleasures that cost little except the effort of being truly present; the moments that may have seemed small at the time were often, upon reflection, priceless.

5. Children as young as four worried about what would happen to their parents.

Many of the kids had made peace with their fates but wanted to protect mum and dad from additional heartache. This role-reversal is surprisingly common and indicates that children are far more attuned to their bodies than we think they are. Death is the elephant in the room. Part of my job is to encourage honesty and to get everyone talking, even when it’s painful.

6. Simple acts of kindness were treasured and remembered until the very end.

Kindness, whether from the classmate who offered a sandwich or a nurse’s smile, was the virtue that made the biggest impact on the children. They loved kind people and remembered acts of kindness until the very end. The last words I heard from one little girl were: “Thank you for holding my hand when I was scared.”

None of these revelations are new or earth-shattering, but when they come from children who are bravely facing death, an extra level of profundity is added, which has prompted many (including myself) to re-evaluate just what is important with the very limited time we have. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to the beach to eat an ice cream.

Complete Article HERE!


Americans are pack rats. Swedes have the solution: ‘Death cleaning.’


by Jura Koncius

If your family doesn’t want your stuff when you’re alive, they sure won’t want it when you’re dead.

That’s the blunt assessment of yet another self-help author from abroad who is trying to get Americans, who have an addiction to collecting and storage units, to clean up their acts.

The latest volley in the decluttering business comes from Stockholm, where 80-ish artist Margareta Magnusson has just published a slim yet sage volume, “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning.” The book will be published in the United States in January.

While Japanese item-control diva Marie Kondo gave us strict instructions to keep only things that spark joy, Magnusson’s book is straightforward and unsentimental (with a bit of humor). The main message from this mother of five is: Take responsibility for your items and don’t leave them as a burden for family and friends. It’s not fair. Magnusson says you can keep things that evoke good memories; there are no hard-and-fast rules such as folding your remaining T-shirts to stand upright in your drawers, as dictated by the KonMari method.

The concept of decluttering before you die, a process called “dostadning,” is part of Swedish culture. (It comes from the Swedish words for death and cleaning.) Karin Olofsdotter, 51, the Swedish ambassador to the United States, says her mother and father, who are in their 80s, are in the midst of it back home.

“My parents and their friends are death cleaning, and we all kind of joke about it,” Olofsdotter says. “It’s almost like a biological thing to do.” Olofsdotter says part of Swedish culture is living independently and never being a burden to anyone. How you keep your home is a statement of that.

Magnusson, who has moved 17 times, says women often end up doing the death cleaning. After her husband died, she had to declutter their house; it took her almost a year before she could downsize to a two-room apartment. She says that although it felt overwhelming, she is glad she did it herself, as her husband would have wanted to keep everything and her kids would have disagreed about what to keep and what to toss. This way, she made her own decisions. Now she continues to do it on a regular basis.

Magnusson suggests that age 65 is a good time to start death cleaning, but the process is freeing at any age.

A few of her tips: Don’t start with your photos, as you’ll get bogged down in your memories and never accomplish anything. Make sure you keep a book of passwords for your heirs. Give away nice things you don’t want as gifts, such as china or table linens or books, as opposed to buying new items. Keep a separate box of things that matter only to you, and label it to be tossed upon your death. It’s okay to keep a beloved stuffed animal or two.

Magnusson and one of her daughters filmed a video in which she talks about why she decluttered and how it’s not a sad process, but more of a relief. Her daughter asks whether her mom would help her begin death cleaning. They go to a storage locker overflowing with luggage and clothes and blankets topped by a garden gnome.

“Oh, my God. What are you going to do with all this crap?” her mother says in perfect English, taking a look around. They discuss how long it’s going to take.

“You are never ready with your death cleaning because you don’t know when you are going to die,” Magnusson says. “So it goes on and on.”

When you are dead, then it stops, they agree.

“Finally,” Magnusson says.

Complete Article HERE!


Embrace the Reaper: Death and Dying Between the Panels


Super-heroes are meant to die.


Stay with me here: all hero stories should end with a coffin. It’s the only logical ending.

Every single super-hero put on their cape, cowl, or spandex because they were no longer able to accept their world for what it was. They couldn’t turn away from the malice, injustice, chaos, or whatever ominous synonym for “badness,” that seeped into the cracks of their society or personal life.

And tragically, they’ll never conquer that badness. The super-hero is never going to fully vanquish their arch-nemesis once and for all. The hero’s mission will never be finished because that which they chose to fight will always remain. Badness, sadly, is a facet of human nature. The only true ending to this futile struggle is a funeral.

Very doom and gloom, right? Not when you realize the beauty in that futility.

Wolverine has the most complete arc in all of superhero comics. Debuting in 1975, the man we eventually came to know as Logan was nothing more than a wandering savage looking for purpose and to atone for his sins. After a tussle with The Hulk, Professor X approached Wolverine to join the X-Men and Wolvie said, “Why not?”

From there, he found a home within the X-Mansion, dignity as an X-Man, love in the eyes of Jean Grey, and finally, atonement by founding his own school for wayward mutants to ensure that they would never suffer the same mistakes that he did. His story is a complete circle — a journey made whole, as the wandering savage found peace in helping others.

And at the end of that circle was death.

In the subtly titled mini-series “Death of Wolverine,” Logan meets his end after he loses his healing factor and ends up encased in a tomb of adamantium en route to finally finding the scientist who laced his bones with the mysterious alloy in the first place. The series felt mundane to me until the last four pages. This scientist, realizing he is about to be all sorts of stabbed, asks a murderous Wolverine — who has a coating of smoldering adamantium hardening on his person — what made him a hero? What had he ever accomplished?

Before Wolverine answers that question, the audience is gifted a stunning, heart-wrenching, two-page splash of Wolverine’s finest moments — right before Logan makes his final kill. Then he kneels down, accepting the adamantium grave, and gruffly answers that question by saying, “Enough.”

“Enough,” meaning that Wolverine finally realized all the pain he suffered, blood that he spilled, and death he brought was worth something.

“Enough,” meaning that the sum of deeds helped make the world around him better.

“Enough,” meaning he had lived his purpose and his journey was at its end.

And “Enough,” meaning that he finally atoned for the man he was and was at peace with the man he became.

It’s a perfect death. We were given the opportunity to go on one final adventure with a character we love. The character is given literal and existential threats along the way, suggesting that the audience ponder the meaning of his life. And ultimately, the character and the audience are meant to find closure and meaning from the character’s journey, just as the grim reaper comes for his due.

But Wolverine is a comic book character.

And just like every major comic book character since 1992 (thanks in some part to the wild critical and financial success of “The Death of Superman”), he died and is now being resurrected via plot-chicanery. And so this begets the age-old question: What is the point of death in super-hero comics?

That’s simple. Death in super-hero books is no longer an ending. It’s a plot device. It’s just another story.

A super-hero’s battle will never end. Batman will never rid Gotham of random violence and chaos. The Flash will never be fast enough to stop all the tragedies in Central City from happening. Daredevil will never bring justice to Hell’s Kitchen.

But they’re not meant to. Their battles and stories are meant to be anecdotes and parables that inspire us to make ourselves and our world better.

That message though invariably gets muddled amidst all the plot contrivances, retcons, and reboots of any given hero’s character history. We as an audience often spend more time trying to keep all the details in check. We care more about what the Speed Force can do or what color Kryptonite is getting tossed around. And we stop paying attention to what the super-hero’s story is trying to say.

This is why we need the reaper.

The reaper can tear away all the plot contrivances around a super-hero’s story to distill the very essence of that character’s message. When the Flash famously ran himself to death to stop the Anti-Monitor in Crisis on Infinite Earths, did you care about the specifics of how it happened? Were you concerned about every detail of Doomsday’s origin did as you watched Superman have his ill-fated boxing match with him to protect Metropolis? Did it bother you that Wolverine had bone claws under his adamantium skeleton as the cocoon was hardening around him?

No, you felt that Barry would knowingly die to help as many people as he could. You remembered that Clark is a farm-boy, who taught you to stand up to monsters. And that Logan was just a man who didn’t want people to suffer the way he did.

Super-hero deaths are often telegraphed and advertised to readers for the sake of marketing. No matter how final it appears or how long it takes, they will always be reversed. They may be clichéd, melodramatic, and whatever that guy from your comic-shop said — but: when they’re used effectively, they can definitively epitomize and enshrine a hero’s message.

There is no better way to celebrate the life of a super-hero, than by watching their death.

Complete Article HERE!


Taking Over Your Aging Parents’ Finances


When to step in — and how to guide their financial future


In the year 2011, the Baby Boomer generation started turning 65. Over the next 13 years, 10,000 Boomers will reach retirement age every day.

For the adult children of the Baby Boomers, these are not abstract statistics but real-life turning points that can provoke uncertainty and anxiety. But consider the advice of certified financial planner and author Lise Andreana:

“There is no time like the present to begin preparing for your aging parents’ financial future. Being proactive can help minimize a great deal of stress and uncertainty down the road — for your parents, yourself, and your entire family.”

The Simple Dollar is here to help you begin the journey of guiding your parents through this stage of their lives. We’ll cover how to approach the conversation, documents you’ll need, costs to consider, and more. Let’s get started.

Table of contents

Broaching the subject
Power of attorney
Document checklist
Long-term care costs
The sibling situation
Additional resources

The Talk: How to handle a sensitive subject

Every family is different, and yours may have its own quirks or hangups about money. Although no size fits all, here are some suggestions on having The Talk with your parents:

When is the right time?

Many senior care experts recommend following the 40/70 Rule. As you approach 40 and your parents approach 70, it can be the most opportune time to discuss financial issues, as well as long-term care, estate planning and other relevant topics.

It’s better to address the situation proactively than to wait for a crisis to unfold, which could force your family into making decisions on the fly.

Are my parents already having trouble?

Be on the lookout for warning signs that your parent may be struggling to manage his or her finances, which can include:

  • Unpaid bills
  • Bounced checks
  • Calls from creditors
  • Unusual or frivolous purchases

What’s the right approach?

To help prevent conflict with your parents when you talk about finances, consider the following.

  • Keep the circle small.
    Discussions involving a few key people can be less intimidating than a full-blown family meeting that could leave your parents feeling like you’re ganging up on them.
  • Focus on positives, not negatives.
    Don’t frame your concerns in terms of physical or mental decline. Keep the focus on a bright future for the entire family.
  • Treat them as peers and equals.
    Help your parents understand that you’re trying to look out for them, not look after them. Invite them to join an ongoing conversation.
  • Find an ally.
    Your parents might be more receptive if your family attorney or financial planner joins the discussion in the role of an objective third party.
  • Make a show of solidarity.
    This subject presents an opportunity to do a thorough check of your own finances to see that everything’s in order. This way, your parents might not feel that you’re singling them out or passing judgment.
  • Avoid fighting words.
    Certain words and phrases — including always, never and nothing — have a tendency to put people on the defensive and shut down communication. It can happen in any kind of personal relationship, including parent-child.

When in doubt, preserve your parents’ dignity. Be aware of the potential for wounded pride — speak respectfully and tread lightly.

Expert opinion

“Start the conversation early. Put in place a plan your family can follow when your parents can no longer make decisions on their own. … It’s important to ask questions and help your parent come to a decision on his or her own terms.”

Terri Rasp
Director of Sales, Analytics, and Training

StoneGate Senior Living, LLC

Power of attorney

A power of attorney, also called a POA, is a legal document that grants a person or organization (known as the agent or attorney-in-fact) the authority to act on behalf of someone (the principal) in specific financial, legal and health-related matters.

A POA with you as the agent and your parent or parents as principal could play an integral role in helping you protect their financial well-being. With a power of attorney in place, you will be able to act quickly if a parent suffers a medical emergency, for example, or experiences a steep decline in mental competence.

Should I use a lawyer for a POA?

The answer is, most likely, yes. You don’t necessarily have to go through an attorney, but it’s probably the wisest course of action. The power of attorney process can vary from state to state, and trying to go it on your own could result in a costly oversight.

Unless you’re an attorney or a financial adviser, you may not have the expertise to navigate these waters. Also important is the fact that a professional often brings some much-needed objectivity to a situation where emotions can cloud the issues.

Can I get a POA on my own?

Some legal advice websites let you download a printable version of your state’s POA form. However, bear in mind that you’re dealing with the complexities of legal documents and contracts. There’s no shame in seeking the advice of your family attorney, your financial adviser, or both to help you craft a POA that addresses your family’s specific needs.

What’s the best time to get a POA?

The key factor in a child-parent power of attorney is obtaining it proactively, before the parent loses the ability to manage their own affairs.

What kind of POA should I get?

A lot depends on the current status of the parents and when the family wants the POA to take effect. An attorney may recommend a durable power of attorney, which contains a durability provision to ensure it remains in effect if the principal’s condition changes. The change in status could be a sudden medical issue that leaves the parent debilitated or a deterioration in mental capacity.

A power of attorney covering financial affairs differs from a health care POA, which means you’ll need to address those issues separately.

What if my parent has dementia or Alzheimer’s?

Depending on the laws of your state, getting a POA for a parent who has dementia or Alzheimer’s disease may require a letter from a physician affirming that your parent understands what the POA means and can legally consent. If a parent is deemed unable to meet that standard, another option may be for the child to become an adult guardian or conservator instead — a process that would require a judge’s approval.

Is a power of attorney the same as a living will?

No, there’s a difference. A living will expresses the signer’s wishes regarding medical treatment in the event he or she loses the capacity to make decisions (for example, whether extraordinary measures should be taken to preserve their life or resuscitate them). This kind of document is sometimes called an advance health care directive.

As with a power of attorney, state-specific versions of living wills are available online. Still, it’s wise to consult an attorney about the specifics of your situation.

Obtaining power of attorney: 3 key steps

Expert opinion

“Prior to cognitive decline, I advise my clients to help their parents establish the proper paperwork. This includes the creation of a will, durable power of attorney, health care power of attorney, and advanced directives. The power of attorney forms are very powerful documents that should only be in the hands of somebody your parents trust. Whether that is a family member or a professional, it is up to them.”

Nate Byers

JBC Wealth Advisors, LLC

Financial document checklist

Here’s a list of important documents for reviewing a parent’s finances. These records will help you get a better idea of income and financial obligations. Double-check this list with your financial adviser to see if anything needs to be added.

_ Bank accounts
_ Credit card statements
_ Monthly bills (utilities, rent/mortgage, subscriptions, etc.)
_ List of loans and other debts
_ Social Security statements
_ Social Security benefit verification letter
_ Pension, 401k and annuity documents
_ Tax returns (for three to seven years)
_ Investment documents (savings bonds, stock certificates, brokerage accounts, etc.)
_ Insurance policies — life, health, and property
_ Vehicle titles
_ Property deeds
_ Dues-paying memberships (HOA, AARP, clubs, etc.)
_ Birth certificates and marriage licenses

Don’t forget …
_ List of their usernames and passwords for online customer portals
_ Combination/keys to their safety deposit boxes

Expert opinion

“The first thing that children should do is to start aggregating information on the parents’ financial information. Help your parents consolidate their holdings. Fewer bank accounts can save you tons of time.”

Scott W. Johnson
Owner, WholeVsTermLifeInsurance.com

Long-term care costs

When looking at long-term care solutions, be aware that private insurance and Medicare have some limitations. While Medicare and insurance do provide coverage for medical treatment and prescription drugs, custodial care such as long-term care facilities and home health care may be a different story. As a 2013 study points out, Medicare:

  • Pays only for “medically necessary care in a skilled nursing facility” — which is not the same as an assisted living center.
  • Pays for home health care “under very limited circumstances and for brief stretches of time.”

In some unfortunate cases, coverage gaps in Medicare and private insurance can lead to families exhausting financial resources (known as “spending down”) until their parents qualify for Medicaid. To help prevent this worst-case scenario, you may want to consult a financial planner about some proactive options such as:

Long-term care insurance (LTCI)

Expenses covered by long-term care insurance generally include assisted living, nursing home, adult day care, Alzheimer’s care facilities and hospice. The key is encouraging parents to buy coverage early, before they develop health problems.

Pros and cons include: LTCI can be pricey, although it could cover some expenses that Medicare or private insurance do not.

Long-term care benefit plan

This option involves converting a life insurance policy into funding specifically for long-term care. These insurance conversions are also called life care assurance, Medicaid life settlement, or life care funding. It’s commonly used as part of a spend-down strategy to receive Medicaid eligibility.

Pros and cons include: This strategy can provide an immediate source of funding. However, the family will lose the death benefit that an unconverted insurance policy would have provided.

Reverse mortgage

Some aging homeowners turn to reverse mortgages (also called home equity conversion mortgages) to turn their equity into cash while still retaining ownership.

Pros and cons include: Although it can provide a cash infusion, using a reverse mortgage to pay for senior care is a potentially risky, “last resort” type of move. Not everyone will qualify, and defaulting could lead to loss of ownership.


Unlike Medicare, Medicaid is jointly administered by the federal government and individual state governments. As a result, eligibility requirements and other rules vary from state to state.

In general, though, Medicaid recipients must have low incomes and assets with very low value. The program is intended to benefit the poorest Americans, so many middle-class families likely don’t qualify.

To get more information, check with the agency that manages Medicaid in your state. You can also contact an elder law attorney in your state or visit these websites:

Claiming your parents on your tax return

To claim a parent as a dependent, your financial support for them must be substantial — at least 50% of the total cost for housing, food, medical care and other items. Also, the parent can’t earn more than the personal exemption for that tax year (which was $4,050 in 2016).

So, unless your parent has a very low income and you pay more than half the cost of keeping them cared for, they probably wouldn’t qualify as a dependent. If the parent does qualify, you could receive tax benefits such as the Dependent Care Tax Credit and reduced taxable income.

To get definitive answers, ask your tax preparer. You can also call the IRS or make an appointment at a local Taxpayer Assistance Center.

Expert opinion

“When budgeting for an aging parent, Medicare costs need to be factored in. They pay a monthly premium for Medicare Parts B and D for life and then also a Medigap or Medicare Advantage plan to pay for the things like deductibles and coinsurances that Medicare doesn’t cover.”

Danielle Kunkle
Co-founder, Boomer Benefits

The sibling situation

Among adult siblings, the care of aging parents has the potential to spark conflict like few other subjects. Handling parents’ finances is no exception.

It’s not uncommon for someone who takes the lead as caregiver to feel overburdened and resentful toward a sibling taking a less active role. Fortunately, a personal care contract or caregiver agreement can help ensure that the sibling who makes the most sacrifices is at least financially compensated.

Under this type of agreement, parents or other family members agree to reimburse the family member acting as caregiver. Compensation options include:

  • Direct payments (the income will be taxable)
  • An estate plan, or additional consideration in the parent’s will
  • Transferring homeownership to the caregiver
  • A life insurance policy with the caregiver as beneficiary

An elder law attorney can help you draw up a caregiver agreement. As for the form that compensation takes, families should think carefully about options that could lead to future conflicts between siblings (specifically, an estate plan or home transfer).

About those conflicts…

Even if you have a financial arrangement in place, don’t forget that sibling caregivers often have emotional needs in addition to financial ones. Expert tips on how to defuse conflict and increase support include:

  • Stay in communication, even if it’s just a weekly call
  • Arrange for someone else to step in every now and then so the caregiver can have time off
  • Ask for outside help (family counselors, social workers, clergy, etc.) when conflict becomes unmanageable

Expert opinion

“Personal care agreements are valuable for two very different reasons. One is emotional, for the family caregiver to feel as though they have a ‘real’ job and have at least a written record of what they need to do. Many have to cut back on work or stop working during a period of caregiving. The agreements can also serve as a record of the work done for siblings.”

Michael Guerrero
Senior Benefits Adviser

Elder Care Resource Planning

Complete Article HERE!


Learning To Advance The Positives Of Aging


By Judith Graham

What can be done about negative stereotypes that portray older adults as out-of-touch, useless, feeble, incompetent, pitiful and irrelevant?

From late-night TV comedy shows where supposedly clueless older people are the butt of jokes to ads for anti-aging creams equating youth with beauty and wrinkles with decay, harsh and unflattering images shape assumptions about aging. Although people may hope for good health and happiness, in practice they tend to believe that growing older involves deterioration and decline, according to reports from the Reframing Aging Initiative.

Dismal expectations can become self-fulfilling as people start experiencing changes associated with growing older — aching knees or problems with hearing, for instance. If a person has internalized negative stereotypes, his confidence may be eroded, stress responses activated, motivation diminished (“I’m old, and it’s too late to change things”) and a sense of efficacy (“I can do that”) impaired.

Health often suffers as a result, according to studies showing that older adults who hold negative stereotypes tend to walk slowly, experience memory problems and recover less fully from a fall or fracture, among other ramifications. By contrast, seniors whose view of aging is primarily positive live 7.5 years longer.

Can positive images of aging be enhanced and the effects of negative stereotypes reduced? At a recent meeting of the National Academies of Sciences’ Forum on Aging, Disability and Independence, experts embraced this goal and offered several suggestions for how it can be advanced:

Become aware of implicit biases. Implicit biases are automatic, unexamined thoughts that reside below the level of consciousness. An example: the sight of an older person using a cane might trigger associations with “dependency” and “incompetence” — negative biases.

Forum attendee Dr. Charlotte Yeh, chief medical officer for AARP Services Inc., spoke of her experience after being struck by a car and undergoing a lengthy, painful process of rehabilitation. Limping and using a cane, she routinely found strangers treating her as if she were helpless.

“I would come home feeling terrible about myself,” she said. Decorating her cane with ribbons and flowers turned things around. “People were like ‘Oh, my God that’s so cool,’” said Yeh, who noted that the decorations evoked the positivity associated with creativity instead of the negativity associated with disability.

Implicit biases can be difficult to discover, insofar as they coexist with explicit thoughts that seem to contradict them. For example, implicitly, someone may feel “being old is terrible” while explicitly that person may think: “We need to do more, as a society, to value older people.” Yet this kind of conflict may go unrecognized.

To identify implicit bias, pay attention to your automatic responses. If you find yourself flinching at the sight of wrinkles when you look in the bathroom mirror, for instance, acknowledge this reaction and then ask yourself, “Why is this upsetting?”

Use strategies to challenge biases. Patricia Devine, a professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who studies ways to reduce racial prejudice, calls this “tuning in” to habits of mind that usually go unexamined.

Resolving to change these habits isn’t enough, she said, at the NAS forum’s gathering in New York City: “You need strategies.” Her research shows that five strategies are effective:

  • Replace stereotypes. This entails becoming aware of and then altering responses informed by stereotypes. Instead of assuming a senior with a cane needs your help, for instance, you might ask, “Would you like assistance?” — a question that respects an individual’s autonomy.
  • Embrace new images. This involves thinking about people who don’t fit the stereotype you’ve acknowledged. This could be a group of people (older athletes), a famous person (TV producer Norman Lear, now 95, who just sold a show on aging to NBC) or someone you know (a cherished older friend).
  • Individualize it. The more we know about people, the less we’re likely to think of them as a group characterized by stereotypes. Delve into specifics. What unique challenges does an older person face? How does she cope day to day?
  • Switch perspectives. This involves imagining yourself as a member of the group you’ve been stereotyping. What would it be like if strangers patronized you and called you “sweetie” or “dear,” for example?
  • Make contact. Interact with the people you’ve been stereotyping. Go visit and talk with that friend who’s now living in a retirement community.

Devine’s research hasn’t looked specifically at older adults; the examples above come from other sources. But she’s optimistic that the basic lesson she’s learned, “prejudice is a habit that can be broken,” applies nonetheless.

Emphasize the positive. Another strategy — strengthening implicit positive stereotypes — comes from Becca Levy, a professor of epidemiology and psychology at Yale University and a leading researcher in this field.

In a 2016 study, she and several colleagues demonstrated that exposing older adults to subliminal positive messages about aging several times over the course of a month improved their mobility and balance — crucial measures of physical function.

The messages were embedded in word blocks that flashed quickly across a computer screen, including descriptors such as wise, creative, spry and fit. The weekly sessions were about 15 minutes long, proving that even a relatively short exposure to positive images of aging can make a difference.

At the forum, Levy noted that 196 countries across the world have committed to support the World Health Organization’s fledgling campaign to end ageism — discrimination against people simply because they are old. Bolstering positive images of aging and countering the effect of negative stereotypes needs to be a central part of that endeavor, she remarked. It’s also something older adults can do, individually, by choosing to focus on what’s going well in their lives rather than what’s going wrong.

Claim a seat at the table. “Nothing about us without us” is a clarion call of disability activists, who have demanded that their right to participate fully in society be recognized and made possible by adequate accommodations such as ramps that allow people in wheelchairs to enter public buildings.

So far, however, seniors haven’t similarly insisted on inclusion, making it easier to overlook the ways in which they’re marginalized.

At the forum, Kathy Greenlee, vice president of aging and health policy at the Center for Practical Bioethics in Kansas City and formerly assistant secretary for aging in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, called for a new wave of advocacy by and for seniors, saying, “We need more older people talking publicly about themselves and their lives.”

“Everybody is battling aging by themselves, reinforcing the notion that how someone ages is that individual’s responsibility” rather than a collective responsibility, she explained.

Underscoring Greenlee’s point, the forum didn’t feature any older adult speakers discussing their experiences with aging and disability.

In a private conversation, however, Fernando Torres-Gil, the forum’s co-chair and professor of social welfare and public policy at UCLA, spoke of those themes.

Torres-Gil contracted polio when he was 6 months old and spent most of his childhood and adolescence at what was then called the Shriners Hospital for Crippled Children in San Francisco. Back then, kids with polio were shunned. “It’s a real tough thing to be excluded,” he remembered.

His advice to older adults whose self-image is threatened by the onset of impairment: “Persevere with optimism. Hang in there. Don’t give up. And never feel sorry for yourself.”

Now age 69, Torres-Gil struggles with post-polio syndrome and has to walk with crutches and leg braces, which he had abandoned in young adulthood and midlife. “I’m getting ready for my motorized scooter,” he said with a smile, then quickly turned serious.

“The thing is to accept whatever is happening to you, not deny it,” he said, speaking about adjusting attitudes about aging. “You can’t keep things as they are: You have to go through a necessary reassessment of what’s possible. The thing is to do it with graciousness, not bitterness, and to learn how to ask for help, acknowledging the reality of interdependence.”

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Disney and Pixar films present opportunities for parents to discuss end-of-life with children


By Bert Gambini

Bambi’s mother, Mufasa from “The Lion King” and Elsa’s and Anna’s parents in “Frozen” represent some of the characters who die in Disney and Pixar animated films, and these potentially shocking moments for young audiences provide critical opportunities for adults to discuss end-of-life issues with children, according to a new study by a University at Buffalo researcher who specializes in end-of-life communication.

“These films can be used as conversation starters for difficult and what are oftentimes taboo topics like death and dying,” says Kelly Tenzek, a clinical assistant professor in UB’s Department of Communication. “These are important conversations to have with children, but waiting until the end of life is way too late and can lead to a poor end-of-life experience.”

Starting the end-of-life conversation with children early allows the dialogue to continue and develop throughout their lives, and the deaths in these film can actually help children relate to and understand death in ways that otherwise might be very challenging for them.

“We believe that Disney and Pixar films are popular and accessible for children and adults so that a difficult conversation can begin in a less threatening way earlier in life,” says Tenzek.

Tenzek and co-author Bonnie Nickels, a visiting lecturer at the Rochester Institute of Technology, analyzed 57 Disney and Pixar movies in which 71 character deaths occurred.  Four themes emerged from their analysis, each of which can serve as a platform for adults to discuss end-of-life issues with children.

The results of their research appear in Omega-Journal of Death and Dying.

Tenzek says the current study uses categories from research conducted in 2005 on end-of-life depictions in 10 Disney and Pixar films. That earlier research distinguished character’s status, such as antagonist or protagonist (Tenzek and Nickels added side characters to this category); cause of death; whether the death was presented on film or implied; the reactions of other characters; and if the death, within the context of the film’s plot, was permanent or a reversible, fantasy occurrence.

With that template and their expanded list of 57 films, the new analysis yielded four general opportunities, or themes, on which to base an end-of-life discussion:

“First, some of the portrayals of death are unrealistic, such as when the character returns or returns in an altered form,” says Tenzek. “But this is a chance for a child to better understand the difference between fiction and real life.”

Tenzek says managing the end of life, or the emotional response to death, could be helpful for children and adults.

“How the characters portray their responses to dying can help children understand the nature of expressing emotion,” she says. “‘Big Hero 6’ (2014) and ‘Inside Out’ (2015) specifically address emotional responses to death and dying which were not present in earlier films.”

The third and fourth themes dealing with intentions to kill and transformation and spiritual connection, with its moral sub-theme, are more complex. Religious and spiritual content are not always overly present in Disney and Pixar films, however, Tenzek says, the films can still serves as opportunities to discuss religious beliefs and end of life.

“We acknowledge that a child’s psychological development is important when considering these discussions,” says Tenzek. “It’s not our intent to have these conversations with a 3-year-old, but as children mature, then the films fit naturally into that growth.”

Many of the possible benefits arising from these films extends from parents’ power to engage children, according to Tenzek. The films can be a tool to help explain the difficult end-of-life process to children and help them make connections that lead to better understanding.

“I teach end-of-life communication,” says Tenzek. “My goal is to educate and help people become more comfortable with the end of life.

“One way to do that is through these films,” she says.

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