Be Careful What You Wish For

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Be careful what you wish for. When my parents aged, I found myself praying my father would pass away first. My reasoning seemed sound: like many successful career men at the time, he was highly intelligent. But he couldn’t cook or sew or do laundry well, and if he went shopping, he’d often come back with the “wrong thing.” My mother, on the other hand, was less educated, but practical. Theirs was a traditional division of labor. I figured my mother would do fine, except for the grief, whereas my father would be “helpless.”

In January 2008, my father passed away. Suddenly. Under treatment for cancer, and doing well, he had a stroke. My mother was in a state of shock and intense grief, or so we thought. Pretty quickly we realized another element was complicating the picture: dementia. It wasn’t changing her personality much, at least not yet. But it was affecting her short-term memory and ability to function and focus. Usually the one to pay the bills, she couldn’t understand how to balance a checkbook. Once totally organized, she’d obsessively look for her keys or credit card, even when she had seen them the second before. She seemed lost in the world.

Although my brother lived only 40 miles away compared to my 180, I found myself assuming most of the responsibilities for our mother’s care. He visited, but I did most of the work. Many people assumed it was a male-female thing, but the experts said, “That’s just the way it is in families,” unrelated to gender.

Every two to three weeks, for nearly three years, I took the train from Harrisburg, Pa., to New York City to see her. Much more than visiting was involved. I became a companion, caretaker, tax preparer, banker, shopper, organizer, and walking medical record. I hired and supervised home health aides and case managers, a process that was sometimes excruciating when aides came and went, and filled out long-term-care-insurance forms. I recruited friendly visitors and volunteers and consulted with physicians, physical therapists, nurses, and hospice workers when the dementia was followed by cancer.

When leaving my mother, I was exhausted, relieved, and guilt-ridden. At home, I worried so much I immediately thought of going back. Watching her deteriorate mentally, though she continued to recognize us, was more painful than almost anything in my life. When she died, in November 2010, I could have felt relieved. Somehow, all I could think of was how hard it was to watch her that way.

It could have been worse. My mother could have lived farther away, or somewhere Amtrak didn’t serve. I could have been a single parent or only child or had a husband who pressured me to stay home more often. My mother-in-law could have been sick at the same time, or my kids could have been smaller. But things were tough enough.

There was one consolation. My mother had begged me in the early stages of her illness not to put her in a nursing home. By traveling hundreds of miles on Amtrak and the subway, and stretching myself to the limit, I fulfilled her wish.

Violet Oakley Murals at State Capitol

Capitol muralist blended idealism, artistry
By Barbara Trainin Blank

The year was 1905, and Philadelphia artist Violet Oakley made not only art history but general history when she became the first woman in the United States to receive a large-scale public commission.
Oakley was invited by Joseph Huston to create murals for the Governor’s Grand Reception Room of the State Capitol as part of the architect’s dream to create a “Palace of Art.” She painted 14 murals entitled “The Founding of the State of Liberty Spiritual,” which depicted the story of William Penn–a man whose beliefs Oakley fervently admired.
But when artist Edwin Austin Abbey passed away in 1911, Oakley was asked to complete his commission–by creating murals for the unfinished Senate and Supreme Court Chambers. The project encompassed an additional 29 works, revealing not only Oakley’s artistic and illustrative talents but her calligraphic ones as well.
The Senate murals on the front wall, “Unity” and “The Creation and Preservation of the Union”–which subtly criticizes the fact that African Americans were not yet fully free–were dedicated in 1917. For the Supreme Court, Oakley traced the evolution of law as a movement up a musical scale. These murals, dedicated in 1927, are considered the artist’s most allegorical and most reflective of her views about attaining eventual world peace.
“The Capitol commission allowed Oakley to transcend the conventional roles of women artists as either portrait or genre painters and to pursue a successful career in the prestigious, but overwhelmingly masculine, field of mural decoration,” says Ruthann Hubbert-Kemper, executive director of the Pennsylvania Capitol Preservation Committee.
In addition to the Capitol murals, Oakley’s projects included two murals and stained glass work for All Angels Church in New York City–her first commission; a panel for the living room of the Alumnae House at Vassar College; and “Great Women of the Bible” murals at First Presbyterian Church in Germantown. She won a Gold Medal Honor from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1905, the first woman to receive this distinction.
The facts about Violet Oakley and the State Capitol, which won National Historic Landmark status in 2006, are known but not well known enough, asserts Hubbert-Kemper,. Touring the Capitol is a special delight with CPC’’s executive director, whose knowledge of the artist’s work at the Capitol and elsewhere and of the complexities of her life is encyclopedic. Not to enthusiasm that Hubbert-Kemper’s enthusiasm contagious.
There were other sides to Violet Oakley. She was an idealist, who referred to her Capitol murals as “The Holy Experiment.” She was an almost zealous Christian Scientist and elder in that church. A pacifist and defender of disarmament and human rights, Oakley painted the first delegates of the League of Nations and the United Nations. And, for a period of time, she lived and worked with two other women artists, Elizabeth Shippen Green and Jessie Wilcox Smith. The three became known as the Red Rose Girls, named after the inn in Villanova where they resided.
“Oakley was also active in the Oxford Group, founded by Pennsylvanian Frank Buckman and which later became the Initiatives of Change organization,” says Hubbert-Kemper. “She was also a good friend of Jane Addams, founder of the settlement house movement in America and a peace advocate. But once America entered World War II, Oakley threw her support behind the war and visited the troops.”
Under the leadership of its executive director, the Capital Preservation Committee, established in 1982, did much to promote Oakley’s work. In 2005, in anticipation of the Centennial Celebration, CPC oversaw the conservation and preservation of her murals, among many other components of the State Capitol. Hubbert-Kemper lent her expertise and encouragement to local playwright Cindy Dlugolecki, whose play about the artist, Violet Oakley Unveiled, was produced at the Capitol and the Little Theatre of Mechanicsburg.
The Committee published the first book about Oakley. A Sacred Challenge: Violet Oakley and the Pennsylvania Capitol Murals is a beautiful work that contains 200 photographs and revisits not only the artist’s work and legacy but her biography.
A few years ago, the Committee discovered the original studies in oil that Oakley had submitted for approval to the Capitol Building Commission. Because they’re portable, these studies are now available for loan to museums and other outside venues.
Oakley herself wrote a book, which the CPC keeps among its treasures. Called The Holy Experiment: Our Heritage from William Penn, Oakley’s work describes the murals in her Governors Reception Room series and the philosophy behind them.
With her meticulous research; skilled draftsmanship; rich, painterly style; and independent spirit, Oakley created works that are memorable, even haunting. But Hubbert-Kemper also credits Joseph Huston for his support of Oakley. “He wanted to encourage the women of the state and have women’s art represented,” she says.
The artist also received encouragement from her illustration teacher Howard Pyle at Drexel Institute in Philadelphia. Early in her career,Oakley designed covers for such publications as Colliers Illustrated Weekly, Century Magazine and Woman’s Home Companion. She was also part of The Philadelphia Ten, a group of women artists who worked together and produced their own exhibits in the first part of the 20th century.
Because she died in 1961, people still remember Violet Oakley coming to the Capitol to check on her work and to give presentations. For those who aren’t old enough to remember, a talk and walk with Ruthann Hubbert-Kemper is the next best thing.

April 2009, Harrisburg Magazine

Raising canine/feline at office brightens environment
By Barbara Trainin Blank

Want to reduce employee stress, improve morale, and delight (most) customers? Bring in an office pet.
CBS News has noted that canines (and occasional felines) are coming to the work place in growing numbers. Along with Bring Your Children to Work Day, some businesses have hosted Bring Your Dog to Work Day.
Here are four examples of office pets in our area;. our apologies to the many others.
Hurray for Hollywood. The reference isn’t to Tinseltown, but to a dog with an flat-faced mug, a fan club, and a perfect attendance record at the advertising firm Pavone.
Hollywood, a four-year-old English bull dog who’s known by staff as “the Director of First Impression,” comes into work every day with his owner and company president, Michael Pavone.
Clients look forward to seeing her. Delivery people bring her biscuits. New employees find her a better “icebreaker” than a pep talk. Hollywood has her own entry on Facebook, and her visage graces the banner outside Pavone’s downtown Harrisburg building.
“When Hollywood comes in to a meeting, there’s immediate relaxation, “ Pavone says. “And she does go to all the meetings, even if she’s just sleeping under the table.”
Hollywood is even part of the company’s brand, which is described as the archetypal “hero-outlaw,” says Pavone.
When he and his wife were looking for a dog, she preferred something smaller. But Pavone was drawn to the bull dog’s frequent presence in school, sports teams and marine logos.
Admittedly, as affectionate as she is, Hollywood isn’t the most energetic of dogs. Sometimes, she’ll greet a visitor enthusiastically (including leaning over his or her lap) but then feel the need for a nap. On walks, she’s likely to plop down in the middle of the street.
But that endears her even more to Michael Pavone. “I’m hyper, and she’s the exact opposite,” he says.
Cecilia Baker hadn’t planned to bring in her dog to work. But in January 2007. her husband was home recuperating from surgery and was unable to walk Blackie, the “spoiled mutt,” in her affectionate words, they had found years ago at the Humane Society.
Not wanting to impose on a neighbor, Baker decided one day to just bring Blackie into Kesher Israel, a Harrisburg synagogue where she’s part-time secretary.
Chaim Schertz, rabbi at the time, was a “dog person” and raised no objections. Pretty soon, board members and congregants looked forward to the toy- and people-loving canine.
“Now I don’t have to go home to walk her at noon and can stay longer if needs be,” says Baker. “it’s been good for the synagogue.”
Blackie’s role in the secretary’s productivity is acknowledged by president Norman Gras, who lays out a cozy cover for her every morning. On lazy days, in fact, when Blackie seems to want to shirk her “duties,” Baker will prod her by saying: “Don’t you want to see Norman and Charley?” Charley is Charley Press, an active synagogue member, who never fails to give Blackie a cookie and as a result, gets followed around whenever he arrives.
Rabbi Akiva Males, current spiritual leader, recalls how young visitors to HersheyPark who came to services kept looking at Blackie–probably unused to a dog in a synagogue, he says.
There are days Baker has second thoughts about an office pet. Blackie, who’s expected to bark when someone comes to the door, sometimes goes on longer than hoped-for. But overall, Baker says, she wonders why she didn’t do this sooner.
The Production Center of Theatre Harrisburg, with its shelves, levels, construction materials and sets, is Cat Heaven. And not just theoretically.
Mau-Mau, a seven- or eight-year-old feline, has lived at the theater most of his life–taking advantage of the good climbing and companionship. Visitors ask for him before getting down to business. Mau-Mau seems particularly fond of Jack Gottschalk, the technical director who feeds him, and of Paul Foltz, costume designer, who takes charge of his medical needs.
“Mau-Mau’s really good with people, except maybe very young kids, who tend to jump on him,” says Gottschalk. “With the cast of Sound of Music, which we did in the fall, we taught the children to lightly pet him around his head and to rub his neck, not his belly.”
The generally accepted version of how Mau-Mau was adopted collectively is that the mother of former staffer Dominique Flicker, who had found him, had to move to a pet-free environment.
Except for an occasional stroll into the shrubs, Mau-Mau stays close to home, where, he’s more attracted to musicals than plays and particularly responds to cat references. “When we did Pirates of Penzance, and were singing the song, ‘With catlike tread,’ Mau-Mau walked out onto the rehearsal space and starting moving with them,” Gottschalk laughs.
His gripes? Sadie, the dog belonging to artistic administrator Diedra Amadiak, comes to work occasionally and wants to play with Mau-Mau when he doesn’t want to. Even worse, she has a tendency to eat his food. But considering the Garfield-like girth of Mau-Mau, affectionately named “Fat Cat,” he seems to be getting his nutrients.
For their 13th anniversary six years ago, Rick Voight bought his wife, Debbie, a bracelet. She bought him a dog.
Debbie Voight-Smith was more of a cat person, but knew her husband had loved his Irish setter, who died years ago. After some thought, Voight-Smith, owner of Smith Custom Framing in New cumberland, decided on a German short hair pointer. (The couple also has a cat, Mikado.)
She was uncertain it had been the “right gift,” but Molly, as they called the dog, with a face the color of molasses. Molly came to the couple at seven weeks and seven lb.., and was a “ball of energy from the beginning,” says Rick Voight. “She came right at me and jumped into my arms. Short hairs are the clowns of the dog world.”
The brown and white splotched dog with a stripe down her nose and a “V” on her back certainly entertains the employees and customers of the framing shop. She seems to walk miles in the course of the day and greets everyone, sometimes going after their used tissues. “She loves children, she loves everybody,” says Smith-Voight.
Of course, there are some people–usually adults–who are either allergic to or don’t love dogs. In which case, Molly is instructed to go into her “house.” After a while she tends to stick her face out as if to ask, is that person gone.
Molly rings a bell when it’s time to go out. Otherwise, she’s happy to run among the clients and workers. “She’s friendly, almost to a fault,” says Smith Voight. “It’s a challenge to have her here, but I can’t imagine not having her here. She has definitely changed the personality of our business. We never had so many pictures of dogs on the wall.”

Profile, Jane Koppenheffer

To be sure
Finding fulfillment in ‘accidental’ career
Lack of experience might be considered detrimental to success. But for Jane Koppenheffer, President and CEO of The Insurance Alliance of Central Pennsylvania, growing up the daughter of a minister and an English teacher actually worked in her favor in her chosen entrepreneurial career.
“It helped that I didn’t have a sense of hierarchy and went to anyone who had information and knowledge,” says Jane, who put in a quarter-century at Penn National before joining the Alliance.
The Northern Virginia native gleaned other valuable lessons from her father’s ministerial career. She was accustomed to being around older people and comfortable in asking their support as mentors. “My father used to go a lot of meetings, and I sometimes sat there waiting for him or even went into the meetings.”
Jane also honed specialized communication skills in church. When she was in seventh grade, a family friend, the Yountzes—at the time house parents at Gallaudet College for the Deaf—recruited her assistance to interpret services for the hard-of-hearing. When the couple relocated, she took over. “With interpreting, you have to listen very closely. I wasn’t 100 percent fluent, so I had to work hard to substitute other words.”
Still, she entered college—Wake-Forest University—without a clear vocational goal and more “experiential- than career-focused.” The loose plans she had kept changing: in elementary school Jane wanted to be a comedienne like Carol Burnett. Later, it was a child psychologist, who would buy a farm for troubled kids in North Carolina to live on.
Jane ended up majoring in history and minoring in ancient Greek and thought of becoming a college professor or going to seminary. “Then the real world happened. I fell in love, and married my husband right after college,” in 1979.
Penn National hired Fred, a native of Halifax, Pa. For a time Jane was a temporary worker with the State. Then one day her husband mentioned that his company was hiring underwriters and that it “might be a great career” for her. “Not many young people go into insurance or study it in college, so the lack of formal education wasn’t limiting. Also, you can get excellent industrial training, and I took advantage of the training.”
For nearly five years, the couple went to work in the same car, although they worked in different divisions. “The man hiring the underwriters asked how I was going to handle it if we had a fight on the way to work, which is something no one would ask today. I told him we were still on our honeymoon, and we hadn’t had a fight yet.”
Fred and Jane eventually left Penn National, but are both still in insurance—he in a York-based company. “We say we’re the most boring couple,” she laughs. “But it’s fun for us to trade experiences, and insurance has been an interesting path.”
The couple’s two children have chosen different paths. Their son is doing a family-practice residency in Oregon and would like to practice medicine rurally on the East Coast. (Jane’s sister is a professor at a medical college.) Their daughter is in her sophomore year at Wheaton College, majoring in psychology and English with an eye toward a counseling career.
While at Penn National, Jane moved around a great deal to different positions and areas. These included commercial-line underwriting, training, home-office commercial lines, market research, re-engineering, and IT processes. She was a regional vice president for the Harrisburg branch and later CIO—serving as liaison between the business units and automated systems. “Every few years I got a new title, so I didn’t get pigeonholed.”
One difficulty was being a woman—a small minority in the industry. Jane was one of two females out of six people on Penn National’s executive management team. When Microsoft invited her to a CIO summit, only 3 percent of those in attendance were women–and that was as recent as 2001.
Jane found both men and women who inspired her. One was Denny Rowe, who became President. “He was my boss for 10-12 years and was a wonderful mentor. He had a lot of confidence in me and chose me as CIO.” Another mentor was Christine Sears, the company’s CFO. Sears, who sat on the executive management team, “had a wonderful, logical approach.”
Still, Jane, now 54, came to miss the insurance side of her work. An opportunity to return to it occurred after the founding president of the Insurance Alliance, Ken Lloyd, whom she had met while at Penn National, asked if she’d be interested in applying for his position after he retired. “I really loved Penn National, but figured it didn’t hurt to apply. And then I felt I’d be proud to endorse and represent the Alliance.”
In 2004 she made the switch, applying a leadership style she describes as “adaptive.” “At Penn National, things were more structured.” Although the office is tiny—with two full-time and one part-time employee—its impact is much broader. She provides leadership to 10 agencies who comprise the Alliance. “So it’s a more collaborative approach, of building consensus. Each of the agencies is very profitable on its own and everyone has a perspective. I have to try to find a vision and strategy everyone can buy into.”
Another thing she learned from church is that it’s “much harder managing volunteers than employees. All the agencies are committed to the Alliance, but they are all running their own agencies.”
Jane is particularly proud of certain initiatives at the Alliance: “Connection” is composed of events that bring together people from the agencies and the companies they serve. Initially these were trade fairs, but now they are more informal, such as picnics. The Alliance also sponsors the Office Olympics—which raise money for Kids Chance. The organization offers scholarships to kids whose parents were impaired or killed in Workman’s Compensation accidents.
Yet another initiative is Acceleration, a sales contest that names a producer of the month and of the year and agency of the year and incorporates training.
Jane herself has initiated the Pennsylvania Dutch Open for insurance executives to play golf together, and a new LinkedIn group for young people in the industry, Young Insurance Professionals of Central Pennsylvania. “We encourage them to sign up to form a virtual network, but there are also get-togethers such as Happy Hours and baseball games.”
Much as she loves her profession, it has its challenges. The economy, of course, but also the weather. “Whatever you think the cause is, this past year we’ve had a snowstorm in October, a tornado, flooding—a greater number than usual natural catastrophes. This has impacted the rates insurance customers have to pay. More and more are coming back and saying they can’t afford it.”
One of the beauties of the Alliance is that it gives people expert advice “and a lot of options. The considerations are price, coverage and service.”
Off duty, Jane is active in her church—Country and Town Baptist. She is a trustee, chair of the stewardship committee, and a small-group leader. She volunteers for the Salvation Army, and will soon serve on the committee designating for young people to attend summer programs.
Jane enjoys fiction—particularly books her daughter has recommended. A recent read is the Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins, a young-adult science fiction series. “It’s very thought provoking. Fiction stretches your mind.”
Music isn’t big in her life, but golf is. Her favorite partner is her husband, who is “itching” to get out to play even when the weather was still too wintry for her.
The couple also loves to travel. They visit her father in South Carolina and her sister in Virginia, where they have a family vacation home near the mountains. She enjoyed a business trip to Costa Rica last year, but her “all-time favorite” destination was Banff, Canada, which she calls “stunning.”
We meet in the lovely conference room, which has plaques of all the insurance companies that make up the Alliance. Her own office, Jane says, has family photos. Otherwise, “It shows that my mind is more organized that my desk.”
Though she fell into insurance “by accident” and without experience, her mind, heart and desk are firmly planted in it. While some people think agencies will become irrelevant in an Internet world, Jane disagrees. “I’m very excited about the future. Things change, but the basic role of insurance agencies remains.”

B Magazine

Caretaking, near or far, holds special challenges in dementia
By Barbara Trainin Blank

Dementia, a friend of mine commented, is worse than cancer. And indeed, that seems to be the general perception. A recent study by AARP found that people over 60 fear diminution of their minds more than tumorous growths.
Certainly, finding out that my mother’s lapses of memory and repeatedly asking the same questions was dementia (probable Alzheimer’s) rather than aging or emotional loss was one of the worse moments of my life. Especially since it was only a month or so after my father’s death a year ago, and I live 180 miles away from her.
Since my mother is 88, we may not have to go through the most-extreme mental and physical deterioration that the later stages of Alzheimer’s can bring. The way her neighbor is going through with her husband, who has wandered off and no longer recognizes her. Still, there is a decline–slow but steady. And it’s painful to watch.
I’ve “compared notes” with an acquaintance whose experience with Alzheimer’s was almost the diametric opposite of mine: Her mother is still alive and well, and both parents are living in the same house with her and her family. Her child is young, while I was juggling two teenagers at the time of my father’s death and mother’s diagnosis. On the other hand, her father was stricken about 10 years ago, at age 62..
“My father doesn’t recognize who we are, only that we’re familiar,” says Stacy Winter (not her real name). “He has no memory of having had a family at all.”
Still grieving for my father, I’m not yet ready to do so for my mother, and yet, I know I must begin. Winter’s experience has been very different. “I did a lot of grieving a few years ago,” she says. “I feel as if I said good-bye to the person I knew and grew up with. My mother isn’t ready to say good-bye. But now it’s more about caregiving.”
After her parents lived in their “dream house” in another state for five years, it made sense to Winter to move them nearby, to the Harrisburg area. About two years ago, she made a further decision: for them, her, her husband and young son to live together.
“My mother felt she was too young and would decline if they moved into an assisted-living facility,” Winter says.
One day a week Winter’s father goes to adult day care to give her mother respite. But the family knows that may have to be increased, or they may need to turn to a professional aide or hospice worker as time goes on. Winter is grateful she and her husband work fairly close to home, so they can drop in during the day if needs be.
When my mother was first diagnosed, a few people suggested moving her into assisted living, either here or in New York City. But aside from the question of expense, my brother (who lives much closer to her) and I decided-and the doctor backed us up-that it would be better for her to remain in her own apartment with an aide. Fortunately, though it sometimes takes its toll on her, one of my daughters is now living with my mother for a few months, so the aide comes in only most days.
According to Jane Gross, health writer for the New York Times, living out their lives at home is the “overwhelming preference” of the elderly and their adult children. But, she notes, it can cost at least $150,000 (this varies regionally, of course) for someone who needs round-the-clock assistance. And if it is custodial, rather than medical, care, Medicare won’t cover it. We would probably be forced to make a totally different decision if not for my parents’ long-term-care insurance-an expensive blessing!

Citing the value of her “intergenerational” arrangement, which her husband called “the ethical and moral thing” to do, Winter still says “it’s definitely hard. I wonder what it will be like in the future. There’s no real physical decline yet, but my father seems to be changing a little. He’s more confused. For the most part he makes sense–even has moments of real clarity-but at other times, he jumbles words together.”
It’s hard watching someone with Alzheimer’s up close, and hard monitoring care from afar. People with dementia can’t be expected to give an accurate accounting of what an aide does or doesn’t do and may have moments of hostility, even “paranoia.” Winter says her father remains “pleasant” and overall, so does my Mom (except for her obsessiveness), but personality change can certainly occur in dementia. You have to have implicit trust in the aide, and that’s hard to achieve even if you’re able to visit more often than I am (which is about twice a month).
There’s so much to look for in an aide: honesty; empathy; reliability; competence; clear-headedness; patience; and flexibility. And-this may be the hardest to find-someone willing and able to give mental stimulation to the dementia patient that may stave off decline for a while and add quality of life. If, as in my mother’s case, the dementia seems to come on quickly, you may not have time for comparison shopping.
There are many possible sources of referrals for aides, aside from agencies that place them (and which some families might be most comfortable with): other social service and family agencies; houses of worship or clergypersons; elderly family members or neighbors; or hospitals and nursing homes. We found my mother’s aide through the woman who used to run my mother-in-law’s independent-living senior building.
But finding a good aide is only part of the problem. As Catherine Murphy, a nurse who has been a caregiver to both parents, writes in the online magazine, being a long-distance caregiver “has a unique set of problems”-including the fear when the phone rings. But, says Murphy, both primary and long-distance caregivers share the same emotions: guilt, anger, frustration and isolation. Only the roles differ.
I can relate to what Murphy says about guilt, that she had to “struggle with the guilt” of not being there all the time, of never being completely comfortable that proper care was being provided on a regular basis. I can relate as well to the “fragmentation” of families that often results between those who are close and those who are far away, those who are emotionally involved and those who are less so.
One emotion Murphy did not mention is self-pity. Admittedly, I wallow in it sometimes. Sometimes it seems the world is divided into those dealing with a parent with dementia, and those who are not. And there’s fear. Both Winter and I are afraid of the future. It’s not the same as having the breast cancer gene, exactly, but her grandfather and aunt died of Alzheimer’s. My mother’s younger sister seems to be exhibiting signs of dementia, and my grandmother started repeating herself not long before she died (of something else). It’s a terrifying thought to not only have to deal with this in a parent but to think you might be imposing it on your children. One can only hope Alzheimer’s research goes far before we age.


Try to remember: preserving memory into old age
By Barbara Trainin Blank

Until recently, Luette Graybill didn’t know what a mouse was–the electronic kind, that is. Louise Reese had previously taken a computer class. But both octogenarians found it beneficial to participate in the eight-week Posit Science program offered at their assisted-living facility, Traditions at Hershey in Derry Twp.

Prior computer experience isn’t necessary for the audio-based program, which claims to speed up brain function, improve accuracy and strengthen the recording part of the brain. Exercises–such as identifying which of two sounds is higher or distinguishing between two words that sound alike–are performed on a computer. Participants are equipped with headphones, so they can proceed at their own pace.
“I really enjoyed the class,” Reese, 86, says. “We had to use our brains to remember things and do tasks faster, to be on our toes. I got a lot out of it.”
While she did better on some tasks than other, Reese says “anyone with interest can do Posit Science.. You just have to concentrate.”
Columbia Cottage, the chain of assisted-living facilities that includes Traditions at Hershey, is offering the program its four communities on a rotating basis, according to Orla Nugent, vice president. “We’re thrilled with this new partnership with Posit Science,” she says. “With our aging population and the high incidence of dementia in this population, we are excited to be able to give our residents the opportunity to participate … “
Posit Science is part of a growing trend for senior centers and assisted-living and nursing-care facilities to offer brain-enhancement programs. But the concern about preserving memory affects young- and old-elderly wherever they live.
For many of us, memory is almost synonymous with personality–a perception underscored by the fact that about half of Americans over 85, the fastest-growing segment of the population, have some form of dementia, principally Alzheimer’s disease.
So it’s no wonder memory aids, computer-based and otherwise, are proliferating. The market for “neurosoftware” is expected to hit $2 billion by 2015, according to one market researcher.
“Consumers are seeing the growth of a new industry of brain health products, especially with Baby Boomers entering their sixties,” says Linda Rhodes, former Pennsylvania Secretary of Aging and ‘Our Parents, Ourselves” Patriot-News columnist. “Many are designed for computers and hand-held devices that stimulate visual and thinking skills that are interactive and fun. I think it’s a great new development.”
But working to preserve the brain doesn’t have to mean high tech. Reese does crosswords daily, and Graybill, 81, is a big reader despite poor vision.
“One of the best ways to keep your brain physically fit is to ‘exercise’ with word and math games such as crossword puzzles nd Sudoku,” Rhodes says. “Playing checkers, chess and card games also causes you to tap a variety of cognitive skills, all of which can help keep you in shape.”
While much remains to be discovered about how the human brain works–and doesn’t–a glimmer of knowledge is beginning to form. Research about memory preservation seems to indicate that there are ways to protect yourself against its loss. One is exercise–particularly aerobic. Group therapy might help prevent memory lapses due to psychological stress. Since both depression and anxiety affect memory adversely, keeping up one’s spirits is also helpful.
A Dutch study that recently appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association stated that dementia can be slowed significantly by treatments that reset the body’s natural clock–including using brighter daytime lighting. And in another study, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found evidence that elderly people who have an active social life may have a slower rate of memory decline.
There may be good news. A study published recently in Science Daily indicates that the rate of dementia has actually declined from 1993 to 2003 in Americans 70 and older, probably because of higher education and socioeconomic status and better health care for such risk factors as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking.
“We do know that the more formal education people have, and the better off they are economically, the less risk they have of developing Alzheimer’s,” says Camp Hill-based psychologist Pauline Wallin.
But there’s another playing field that’s equal. Wallin’s review of the research literature indicates “something very simple–that if you stay involved and engaged with people and activities and focus on the positive, it helps. Social stimulation may be even more important than intellectual stimulation. I’ve told my own mother to call two people every day.”
Graybill at Traditions at Hershey believes a side benefit of Posit Science and similar activities is that “they give us something to get up for.” Which can be done in a group.
Rhodes agrees. Most of the research in the field, she says, “clearly identifies remaining socially active with family and friends as one of the best defenses against memory loss. People who volunteer, talk on the phone every day with family and are visited often stay alert and engaged–all good for the mind and spirit.”
While we all may tend to lose memory with age, it’s not inevitable. Some scientists are even suggesting that taking longer to remember something because your brain has more to sift through isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“Nothing works for everyone,’ Wallin says. “There’s on so much we can do to protect ourselves. It’s not a science. But we do know that we’re born with a certain number of brain cells and yet have seen neurons grow (later in life) in mice. It’s not so clear-cut. Maybe stimulation can make neurons grow in humans as well.”
Causes of memory problems (other than dementia) include:
Adverse reaction to medication
Thyroid disease
Strokes or ministrokes
Benign brain tumors
Viral or bacterial infections
Ways to improve memory:
Carry a notepad to write down names, dates, appointments and errands.
At the end of each day, review the day’s events.
Avoid rushing into new tasks; be deliberate–think and plan before acting.
Be patient with yourself. Getting angry only makes it harder to remember.
Get enough sleep.
Do mental exercises
Be sociable and involved with people.
Live a healthier diet, low in fat and high in fiber and antioxidants.
Use relaxation techniques or meditate.
Don’t smoke; drink only in moderation.


Fear of Public Speaking

Fear of public speaking

Be still, shaking legs: How to overcome fear of public speaking
By Barbara Trainin Blank
Do you get jittery when you speak before an audience?
If so, you’re in good company.
According to the Book of Lists, fear of public speaking ranks number one for many people. There is even a word for it—Glossophobia, or speech anxiety.
Even people in an environment used to greater threats can succumb to it.
Maureen Riggs, a civilian with the U.S. Department of the Army at Carlisle Barracks, used to get so nervous when speaking publicly that her legs shook.
“I’m a teacher by trade, and didn’t have that reaction when I student-taught, took driving lessons or gave CPR,” says Riggs, a member of the Army War College Class of 2012. “Yet, standing by myself in front of a group of peers scares me.”
Kelly Gibson, a civilian working for the Marine Corps but now at the Barracks’ Senior Leadership Development program and in the same class, didn’t have disabling nerves when addressing large groups. Yet, each time she spoke, even if she knew her subject matter, it took her a while to relax.
Formal training and positive thinking can help. Both Riggs and Gibson and are taking a special public-speaking elective course at the War College
“I’ve learned that I have to plan,” Riggs says. “I may think I know what I’m talking about, but I have to put the plan in place—to have important sound bites ready and to repeat the key message.”

While men may also get anxious when they speak, women tend to wear their emotions on their sleeves more, so their fear may be more noticeable, she adds.
David Bennett, who teaches the War College course and was a long-time member of a Toastmasters Club in Carlisle, is “not convinced” that fear of public speaking is greater than other fears, but agrees it is significant. “People are afraid of embarrassment, of not conveying their message effectively, “ he says.
Still, no matter how powerful the anxiety is initially, there are antidotes. Taking a class is one. Being prepared is another. Comfort levels increase when people “know” the audiences and the location, so it’s advisable to find out as much about the demographics and dynamics of the listeners and check out the venue ahead of time.
A third component is to “know your material,” and to practice several times until you’re familiar with it. It’s better to write down key words or a brief outline than the entire speech, because maintaining eye contact with the audience is critical and flipping pages is awkward. “If you do memorize the opening and conclusions of a speech, it shouldn’t look like you’ve memorized it,” Bennett says.
Lots of practice can be obtained by joining a group like Toastmasters International. The global nonprofit organization has helped more than 4 million people improve their speaking and leadership skills through attending one of the 13,000 clubs in 1116 countries. During group meetings, which can be weekly, biweekly or monthly, members evaluate each other’s presentations.
Since stage fright is probably related to glossophobia, people with fear of public speaking sometimes turn to acting teachers for help. According to Anne Alsedek, education director of Open Stage of Harrisburg and a long-time actor and director herself, about 60-70 percent of adults who take classes at the theater are not interested in performing. “They do it for personal development,” she says.
Open Stage draws on the Sanford Meisner technique, which trains people to take their attention off themselves and place it on their “partners”—the other actors or the audience. “Once you do that, the self-consciousness disappears,” Alsedek says. “Once you choose to be connected to the audience, the fear goes away.”
Since stage plays are all about achieving goals, if you listen to your partner and pick up his or her vibes, “you know how to change tactics if it it’s not working,” she adds. This applies to a speech as well, if you sense an audience’s lack of interest.
Personalization and humor are important, says Bennett. “You have to be sensitive and relevant to the audience. Use an anecdote to connect. Basically, even though it’s organized and structured, a speech is just a conversation—which means pace, tone and delivery are important. Take pauses to catch your breath, glance at your notes, or let the audience reflect on what you’ve just said and absorb it.”
In all, Bennett and Alsedek agree, people don’t really “conquer” their fear of public speaking. As with stage fright, they simply “manage it.” If you’re not comfortable, make sure the audience doesn’t know it is good advice.
1. Remember that as embarrassing or even humiliating not doing well during a speech is, it isn’t the end of the world.
2. It is crucial to believe in what you’re saying. Belief leads to passion.
3. The trick to public speaking is confidence.
4. Speak to each person individually, no matter how many are in the audience.
5. Know your subject.
6. Join an organization such as Toastmasters International, or POWERtalk International or consider course in public speaking or acting. To find a Toastmasters chapter near you or found one, visit
7. There are also tons of books and other materials addressing the issue, such as A Speakers Guidebook (Text and Reference), used by the War College;
8. Practice, practice, practice. Recall how King George VI overcame stuttering.
9. Gently move your eyes around the audience, so people have the impression you’re speaking to them.
10. Don’t let them see you sweat: Don’t slouch or wave our arms around, or fiddle with your rings. Develop hand gestures that seem natural.
Additional Books:
In the Spotlight: Overcome Your Fear of Public Speaking and Performing, by Janet E. Esposito.
How to Vanquish Your Fear of Public Speaking Forever, by Brian Tubbs,

Pet Therapy

Pet therapy, Hershey Medical Center
Dogs put smile on patients’, staff’s, faces
By Barbara Trainin Blank

He has a badge and a business card, and access to virtually every patient area of Hershey Medical Center. He is greeted with warm smiles. No one even looks askance when he climbs in bed with some of the patients.
“He” is Denver, a four-year-old Beagle who is part of the Pet Therapy program.
Named for singer John Denver—his business card explains why—the beagle is one of seven dogs (three others also part of the program) belonging to Cindy Wilson, coordinator (as a volunteer) of the program and a participant.
Formally, “pet therapy is a therapeutic intervention that provides comfort and emotional support for hospitalized patients and is also beneficial to families, visitors and staff.”
Not to mention bringing lots of smiles.
The med center program started in 2005 with a few volunteers one night a week. Now it is daily, with 20 individuals—and several dogs participating.
“Hershey holds us in high regard,” says Wilson “We are on call. I get e-mail special requests for a visit every day.” (Call her, 319-1136, for a request.)
All Pet Therapy dogs, identified by their Hershey ID badges, are certified through KPETS (Keystone Pet Enhanced Therapy Services).
Visits occur in all inpatient adult units–including intensive-care but not cardiovascular—and even in the ER. (The Children’s Hospital has a separate program.)

“That’s very unusual,” says Wilson. “In most institutions pet therapy stops at the ER door.”
She credits Christopher DeFlitch, M.D., vice chair for the Department of Emergency Medicine and Chief Medical Information Officer, for the open-door policy.
One of the patients Wilson and Denver visit in the ER is Chase Gotshall, a 17-month-old, and his parents. The toddler, whose family has two big dogs, laughs when Denver climbs up on his bed and spreads out at his feet.
A five-year-old, Nicholas Harrington, is with his parents, Michael and Nicole. “It’s wonderful,” says Michael. “It cheers patients up just to see a dog’s face.”
Shane King, waiting with a patient in another ER room, calls the program “awesome.” She reaped its benefits during a month and a half in the maternity ward.
Yet another patient, Marsha Sweigart, tells Wilson, “It’s a wonderful thing you’re doing.”
The staff seems to benefit as well. Kristin Conforti, an emergency room nurse, believes the Pet Therapy program has a “huge impact.” “This is a very stressful environment, and the dogs add fun and a calming effect,” she says.
Sue Lessi, another nurse, asks a colleague to take a smartphone picture of her with Denver, so she can send it to a friend.
Wilson considers herself lucky, finding that volunteering with her dogs keeps her “grounded.” She didn’t have to train any of them for the testing Pet Therapy canines undergo. They just were comfortable with people.
Pet Therapy dogs have to be retested every three years for certification.
It’s been shown that pet therapy improves immune system function; relieves stress; provides mental stimulation; lessens depression and anxiety; provides a non-threatening physical contact or “touch”; lowers blood pressure, respiratory and heart rates; and makes patients feel “emotionally safer” and therefore open to better communication with staff, among other benefits.
More convincing are those bright, spontaneous smiles.