Aging Today September–October 2019


Two keys that open up resilience: purpose and social support R esilience often is thought of as a formof mental toughness—a qual- ity especially associated with the

resilience by panelists, two of whomwere retirement coach and author, Sara Zeff Geber and Louis Colbert, vice president of operations at the Philadelphia Corpora- tion for Aging. Geber was burned out of her home in the devastating 2017 Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa, Calif. Colbert spent five intense years as a co-caregiver for his mother. Startled awake at 2:30 a.m. by high winds and flames across their street, Geber and her husband were only able to grab their dog and flee, with “the clothes on our backs and one cell phone between us,” she said. They’ve since moved to a safer, more suburban area, yet despite almost two years passing, she said, “It’s not over yet and never really will be. It’s very much an ongoing process, and in some ways you’re never finished.” But speaking as a life coach, she added, “Life goes on, and it’s all about how you deal with it.” When the fire hit, Geber had been pre- paring a book she had written for publica- tion. A month after the fire, she jumped back into the editing process: “It gave me something to focus on, to take my mind off all that I had to do and all that was going on.” But Geber found that the biggest help was her huge social support group. Liken- ing resilience to retirement, Geber said, “Resilience is a similar type of thing [to retirement]—you need a strong social net- work and must have a mission to focus less on the tragedy and more on your val- ue to the world.” She noted that “resil- ience is bolstered in different ways. Some [people] need support groups, some need individual therapy, some just need friends and family.” As for people who are retiring, but not having to also recover from trauma, Geber said the same principle applies. “The key for most of us is staying connect- ed and staying active, which gives you meaning and purpose.” She advises peo- ple to be selective in their choice of volun- teer work, and to match any such work with their values or causes they believe in. Surprised by Caregiving Louis Colbert had been running a care- giver support group in his church for 18

Silent Generation. But it is perhaps more aptly defined as the ability to bounce back after stress, or, according to the American Psychological Association, “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trau- ma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress” ( ). For the Baby Boom Generation, exhib- iting resilience in the face of adversity—or even life-altering changes such as retire- ment—may not come so easily. One of the fundamental areas of inter- est to ASA’s Corps of Accomplished Profes- sionals (CAPs), resilience was the theme of a key session at the 2019 Aging in America (AiA) Conference, held in April. Part of CAPs’ purpose and work is to foster quali- ties and social connections that can sup- port a “good” retirement, especially after professional connections formed across a long career dwindle. Thus, developing re- silience in retirement is critical, as this can positively affect well-being and lead to a happier, more fulfilling time of life. Robyn Golden, director of Health and Aging at Rush University Medical Center, set the stage for the session, describing what is known about resilience. Built over time, and strengthened as people re- spond to stressors across the life course, resilience can be honed, regardless of a person’s socioeconomic background or educational level. There is evidence that people who demonstrate greater resilience have lower risks of depression and mortality, along with more positive self-perceptions of aging well, enhanced quality of life and healthier lifestyle behaviors. Older adults who have strong social support systems also possess high resilience capabilities in the face of mental and physical illness. Shocked into Change To underscore the lessons of learning and maintaining resilience, the April work- shop at AiA featured personal stories of ‘Life goes on, and it’s all about how you deal with it.’ social constructs. A–Z will age well as a reference book, while retaining its value as a snapshot in time of gerontology in the 21 st century. D r. B. J. Miller, a hospice and palli- ative medicine physician at Uni- versity of California, San Francis- co, and Shoshana Berger, global editorial director at IDEO, have co-authored a de- tailed, pragmatic and attitude-changing book, A Beginner’s Guide to the End: Prac- tical Advice for Living Life and Facing Death. Miller underwent a brutal near death experience in his 20s that shaped the rest of his life, which has included years of work at San Francisco’s Zen Hos- pice Project. His joy in life and his appre- Three worthy books for Fall › continued from page 13

years, yet it took a full two years for him to realize that he was caregiving for his mother. “I don’t know if it’s a male thing or a cultural thing … but I had a light bulb moment when I thought ‘Ohmy goodness, I’m a caregiver!’ ” said Colbert. This epiphany piqued his thinking on the in- formation and lessons he had been giving to other caregivers, especially around re- silience—how to take care of oneself, and how to best use available resources. Five siblings and six nieces and neph- ews were involved in caregiving for Col- bert’s mother, who had multiple illnesses, including Alzheimer’s, and was non- ambulatory. She spent time in a PACE pro- Every day, Colbert left work at 4 p.m. to be at her home by 4:30 to meet the van from PACE. One sister took the shift start- ing at 8:30 a.m. and alternated Sundays with another sibling. Another sister did Saturdays. Their brother took care of the bills. This juggling continued for five years. The family struggled to understand the phases of Alzheimer’s, so Colbert re- peatedly reinforced to them that what they were seeing was the disease, not how their mother really felt. But the emotional toll was immense. “There was a whole lot of anger, guilt and sadness,” he said. “When you’re doing caregiving, you don’t recognize or appreciate things as they’re ciation for the journey prior to death shines throughout the book in the sound advice given on each step of that journey, from diagnosis to death. Included are thoughtful yet practical instructions— suggestions such as how to make food taste better for people undergoing chemo- therapy and how to taper off giving medi- cations toward the end of life. Berger, who within a year’s time ex- perienced the deaths of her father and stepfather, wished she had had the ben- efit of a book like A Beginner’s Guide . Her family was unprepared in many ways; and Berger hopes that the Guide can help others more easily navigate the end-of- life process. She weighs in with sound advice on how to talk to kids about death, how to care for oneself as a caregiver, how to tell people at work of your diag- ‘Caregiving gave me a sense of purpose. ’ gram, but her family ensured she was never left alone.

happening, but only after they have passed can you reflect on the different emotional pieces.” The biggest challenge for Colbert, who is a diabetic, was remembering to take care of himself. “I think I’m very good at doing all the things I need to do, but when I looked at my daily glucose readings from that period and how they were creeping up and up, I wasn’t really … tak- ing care of myself.” He was having trou- ble sleeping and concentrating and even felt guilty going on vacation after his mother had died. Looking back, Colbert realized that he would not have traded the time spent with his mother. “It was so rewarding on many levels,” he said, speaking of one of the te- nets of resilience. Adding, “[but some- times] I wondered how am I going to do this all over again tomorrow? But I did get up the next day and went back.” “Caregiving gave me a sense of pur- pose,” said Colbert. “It’s hands on, ex- hausting, meaningful and it felt good. … It made me appreciate family and got me more involved in making sure the family has reasons to come together.” On a sweet endnote to Colbert’s saga, he has adopted his mother’s tradition of gathering the extended family for family birthdays. She began the tradition in her 70s, he said, when “we had a birthday party every month.” The parties are con- tinuing—and this tradition also is con- tributing to Colbert’s resilience. “This is the legacy my mom has left to this generation, and even the next—it’s so, so important,” he said. n nosis and other difficult situations. Berger also offers guidance on how to put end-of-life and post-death affairs in A Beginner’s Guide can help to soften some of the fear surrounding death. order, which is something even the healthiest person can do for their fami- lies well ahead of time. Recommended for people working in the aging services sector, caregivers and families and individuals facing the end of life, A Beginner’s Guide can help to soften some of the fear surrounding death, al- lowing patients, caregivers and families to savor life as much as is possible in the last days of life. n

A Beginner’s Guide to the End: Practical Advice for Living Life and Facing Death

By B. J. Miller and Shoshana Berger New York: Simon & Schuster; $28.00; 544 pages; ISBN 9781501157165

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