My Favorite Time of Year…

This time of year has always been one of my favorites. It’s a time when things slow down a bit, allowing more time with family and friends – time to catch up, celebrate cherished rituals, and enjoy favorite foods and one another’s company. But while this can be a wonderful time of year, it can also be challenging, particularly for older adults.

For some older people, the end of another year can be a powerful reminder of how many years have already passed. Traditions like lighting the menorah candles or decorating the Christmas tree may bring to mind family and friends who are no longer with us. For some older adults, health problems can make it difficult, or perhaps impossible, to travel to traditional get-togethers with relatives and old friends. All of these things can contribute to the “holiday blues” or, more seriously, depression.

In colder parts of the country older adults may face other challenges. Older people run higher risks of injuries while shoveling snow, for example, and are more likely to develop frostbite and hypothermia –  a life-threating condition in which your body temperature drops to dangerous levels. Snow and icy weather can also put older adults at risk of falls and fractures.

The good news, however, is that there are many things older people, and their caregivers, can do to help address these problems. And you’ll find them on healthinaging.org – the source of a wealth of easy-to-read health information for seniors that’s reviewed by leading experts in elder health. These include:

You’ll also find 10 Healthy New Year’s Resolutions for Older Adults on healthinaging.org. I recommend it for adults of all ages. In fact, I’ve resolved to make a few of the ten my own this New Year.

Here’s wishing you and yours a happy season!

The Conversation Project

It’s not easy to contemplate the end of your life and consider what kind of care you do, and don’t, want when that time comes. And it’s equally difficult to talk with a loved one about the kind of end-of-care care he or she would prefer. My guess is that discussions like these are particularly difficult for us in the US, where we tend to shy away from discussions about death in general. “We Americans don’t like limits, we don’t like boundaries, (and) death is the ultimate boundary,” the journalist Bill Moyers recently pointed out. “So why talk about something we don’t want to happen?”

The answer to that question is this: As uncomfortable as discussions about what we and our loved ones want at the end of life may be, these are among the most important conversations we will ever have. Deciding in advance what care we do and don’t want, while we are able to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of our options and share and discuss our choices with those we love and our healthcare providers, can make the difference between a good death and one that is less so.

Encouraging these essential conversations—with both your loved ones and your healthcare providers—is the focus of The Conversation Project, an important new initiative of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. I hope you’ll visit the initiative’s website, and encourage others to do the same.

The Conversation Project was the inspiration of Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Ellen Goodman, who conceived of it after her mother’s death. “My mother and I talked about everything,” she  explained in a recent interview. “But when she was no longer able to make her own decisions, I realized we hadn’t talked about her wishes for the end of life. I understood only after her death how much easier it would have been if I had heard her voice in my ear as these decisions had to be made.”

Among other things, The Conversation Project website includes an extremely thoughtful and thought provoking feature, “Your Conversation Starter Kit.” It begins with some truly attention-getting statistics about what people tell pollsters they want at the end of life and, in contrast, what many of us actually get. It also includes thought-provoking questions that can help you clarify what you want, what roles you’d like your loved ones to play at the end of your life, and what your healthcare providers need to know. It also helps you figure out with whom, when, and where you want to have The Conversation, and tips for introducing the subject in a non-threatening way. Just as important, the site urges readers to take time to make these decisions, formulating them over the course of many, not one, conversation. I encourage you take a look at the starter kit and let it help you find where you want to go.

Blogging for National Healthcare Decisions Day: A Rally for Our Loved Ones and Ourselves

NOTE: In honor of National Healthcare Decisions Day (NHDD), April 16, I’m taking a break from blogging this week and spending my writing time with my loved ones.  I hope that this guest post, by Nathan Kottkamp, Founder and Chair of NHDD, will inspire you to think about the conversations we should all be having with our own loved ones about an uncomfortable but important topic – planning for when we die.


Are you one of the 80% of Americans who haven’t completed an Advanced Directive yet? We’ve all struggled with how to get started on this topic – and there are plenty of reasons why we resist:

  • Fear
  • Uncertainty
  • Not sure how to start
  • Don’t know what’s legally binding
  • Worried I’ll hurt someone’s feelings
  • Just haven’t had the time to do it

That’s why we recognize April 16 as National Healthcare Decisions Day (NHDD) – a movement designed to inspire, educate, and empower the public and providers about the importance of advance care planning.  Put another way, NHDD is a day for all adults to mark their calendars, have the talk, and document the talk with an advance directive.

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