Build Your Local Playground for Seniors

SeniorPlayground via Xccent Fitness
SeniorPlayground via Xccent Fitness

Helping Ourselves

ElderAuthority was founded as a way for us to share great ideas for getting older with each other.  We know there will not be enough money, social services, or trained professionals to support 78 million baby boomers as we age.  It really is up to us to help ourselves and each other.

Here is a really practical idea–playgrounds for seniors.  It is not expensive, but its impact can be life transforming.

Senior citizen playgrounds are growing in popularity worldwide. Many playgrounds for senior citizens are operated by towns and cities and are incorporated into public parks.

What is a Senior Playground?

ElderPlaygrounds via Tipsy Traveler
ElderPlaygrounds via Tipsy Traveler

Senior citizen playgrounds differ from traditional playgrounds in the choice of equipment and intended use and purpose. They are designed specifically for the older population. You won’t find monkey bars, high slides, or jungle gyms, but rather, you’ll see equipment that is safer for the joints.

A playground for seniors emphasizes core muscle strength and focuses on activities such as walking, building strength, aerobic activity, and flexibility.

Playgrounds for seniors often include stationary bicycles, cross-trainers, sit-up machines, and treadmills.  Some equipment is designed for use by those with limited mobility or those who are wheelchair-bound. However, you might find some traditional items, such as swings or a see-saw.



Image via woodleywonderworks via flickr
Image via woodleywonderworks via flickr

A playground designed for senior citizens offers a variety of equipment and  encourages activity and mobility without risking boredom. Using different equipment tones different muscle groups. Even though the equipment is designed to be less strenuous, it is still possible to overexert yourself if you are using a muscle group that hasn’t been exercised for a long time. By exercising at a senior citizen playground, you are in full control of how much you do.


Having access to free equipment in a senior playground means you aren’t paying anyone for a gym membership, nor do you need to worry about getting your money’s worth. You are free to come and go as you please and can use the equipment of your choosing. The variety helps ensure that you get a well-rounded workout.


Image by ElderAuthority
Image by ElderAuthority

Seniors can become isolated and lonely leading to depression. By visiting a senior citizen playground, you can interact with others who understand and relate to your situation. Building friendships can be easier.

Some equipment is designed for more than one person, fostering socialization, working together, and building friendships in a recreational atmosphere. Getting outside and laughing while making new friends is as important to your health as exercising muscles, building stamina, and increasing flexibility.

While there are reasons reserve a senior playground for the older demographic, there are also good arguments for incorporating a senior playground into a multi-generational park.   The Huffington Post reports:

“At the Midway Safe Harbor Center community learning center outside of Orlando, the playground and adult fitness equipment have brought children, adults and seniors together. According to the Center director Brenda Knight, it is common for grandparents in this community to be the primary caregivers while parents are working. Before the playground and fitness stations were installed, they lacked a common activity space. The Center noted that middle and high school students, who would not typically frequent a play area, are using the adult fitness equipment. A community member also started an adults’ morning exercise program using the adult fitness equipment and there is a local physical therapist who brings her students to the equipment to exercise.”

International Origins

The first senior citizen playground is believed to have been built in China in 1995. China adopted a national law that resulted in a nationwide physical fitness program. This program wasn’t geared toward youth, but, rather,  elderly citizens. After the law was put into effect, parks across China incorporated equipment all citizens could use. As more people visited China from other countries and saw the equipment and increased well-being of China’s seniors, they incorporated similar practices in their own communities.

 Image by Wilson Hui via Flickr
Image by Wilson Hui via Flickr

In 2003, Finland designed a playground specifically for seniors and performed a scientific study to measure the results. By 2004, similar parks were established throughout Japan. They are referred to as Nursing Care Prevention Parks. Barcelona, Spain, currently has about 300 elderly parks.  Parks were later built in Canada and England and then in the United States.

Make It Local

The United States has been slow to take up the idea of senior playgrounds.  It will take some grass roots effort to create a senior playground near you.  I doubt it will happen unless there is a vocal local demand.  The non-profit, KaBOOM! is working with the Humana Foundation to build multi-generational playgrounds.  Fifty-three have been built across the country.  We need many, many more.

I am going to see what I can do about starting a discussion here in gorgeous southeast Michigan.  I want this in my life. Here are some resources to get started where you live.

Humana Foundation

AAA State of Play in Greenfield, IN  (877-826-2776)
Xccent (Wellness Motion Systems), in Wyoming, Minn (800.933.4748)
Lappset Group (Finland)

via melitta2600


Sisterly Bonding, The Advanced Course

Sisters Bonding with Sisters
Sisters Bonding with Sisters

Family Heirloom Dilemma

Grandmother's Bedroom Set
Grandmother’s Bedroom Set

When we moved out of our Ann Arbor condo in February we did our best to only bring the things we will actually use to our 1200 square foot lake cottage.  Everything else went into the estate sale (see The Transience of Things).   The one exception was a beautiful mahogany chest of drawers that had been my grandmother’s and then my mother’s.  I could not bear to throw or give it away, but had absolutely no space for it.


My sister, Allegra, did some research on possibly shipping it to her home in Santa Fe.  The cost was so expensive that we gave up on sending it to anyone.  Then Allegra suggested she might be able to drive from Santa Fe to Michigan to pick it up.  I loved the idea, especially since I had not seen Allegra in 2 and a half years; but I tried to not get my hopes up since it involved 24 hours of driving.  When Allegra called two weeks ago to let me know she would be coming within the week I was over the moon with delight.

Planning for a Visit that is More Than a Visit

How do you pack two and a half years of catching up into two and a half days?  Not possible.  So I tried to think of what Allegra would enjoy most.  Introducing her to my friends, cafe sitting on Main Street in Ann Arbor, and puppies came to mind.

One of David’s colleagues has two dogs, Kennedy–a gorgeous standard poodle, and Teddi–a large labradoodle.  They had a litter of 10 puppies earlier in the spring.  There were still four left.  When they were born, Larry had just died so I was not ready to look at new dogs.  But when Allegra requested puppies, I was a push over. Arrangements were made to go visit “just for fun”.  David warned me that puppies are very dangerous because they have magical powers that pull you to them.  You cannot walk away from a puppy.  Of course, he was right.

Papa Kennedy with his Daughters
Papa Kennedy with his Daughters

Delayed Motherhood–Its Never too Late

Neither Allegra or I have any children.  Allegra should have had a whole house full of babies.  I was finally emotionally evolved enough to be a good mother by the time I was 50, but it was never a primal need.  Going to see the puppies triggered all our latent oxytocin.  Allegra’s little girl, Becky, found her immediately.  She waddled over to Allegra, climbed on her lap, and settled in.  Becky knew even before Allegra (who had arrived looking for a little boy) did.

It took us about 40 minutes to be able to tell the four puppies apart.  I liked Becky too, but then I found another little girl who had a skip in her step and a twinkle in her.  Mine.  Her name is Lucy.  So the sisters adopted two little sisters and became first time moms together.

Puppies Go To Forever Homes
Puppies Go To Forever Homes

Allegra called and texted throughout her two-day trip home to relate the saga of their journey.  Now she calls to tell me how her child has to be the smartest, sweetest, most evolved being ever born.  She pauses between enumerating the wonders of her daughter to apologize for being such a cliche mother and then plunges back into bragging.  I send pictures, relate doctor visits, and compare weight.  At 13 weeks Lucy was 19.5 pounds and Becky was 15.5 pounds.  They are beginning to become individuals.

It has been three weeks since Allegra’s visit.  My heart has been too full to write about it.  Some experiences are beyond worlds.  As I get older simply sharing experiences reaches the top of the list of “what’s important”.  I will be grateful for the rest of my life for these two and a half days with Allegra.  The decades of relationship seemed to coalesce into a deep, soulful ball of cosmic matter.  We know each other.  We accept our flaws. We love each other.  And now we are bonded at yet another level with the adoption of our two little girls.

I have taken a picture in my heart (see Life memories: Scrapbooks in the Mind) of the happy days of Allegra’s visit.  It will remain with me forever.

Kathy and Allegra at Joslin Lake 2015
Kathy and Allegra at Joslin Lake 2015


George Carlin on Dogs and Cats


Geroge Carlin by Tony the Misfit via Flickr
Geroge Carlin by Tony the Misfit via Flickr

Today is dreary.  My elbows and knees ache.  All I want to do is flop.  No cure for any of it.  Time to reach for extreme laughter from the master, George Carlin (see his “Coping Strategies for Stress by the Best“). Hope “George Carlin on Dogs and Cats” cheers you up as much as it does me.  I sure do miss the man.

Dogmobile for the Encore Career

Dogmobile with designer Tim Smith
Dogmobile with designer Tim Smith

 Doing What You Darn Well Please

I have written that one of the great joys of turning 50 is you can do whatever you want.  No one cares!  Sometimes you can even pretend you are invisible, just like Harry Potter with his invisibility cloak.  Well, there are also great joys to running your own small business as an encore career.  Again, you can do whatever you want.  You don’t have a boss cramping your style.  You can create your own version of art.  You get to make all the final decisions.  And, you can be as LOUD as you choose.

This week, we finally wrapped our DogWatch van.  We have been thinking about how to do it while we have been saving our pennies to get it done.

Dumb and Dumber (after age 60)

The first inspiration was the MuttCutts van in the movie, Dumb and Dumber.  I didn’t see the movie when it first came out and only caught it by accident when I could not find anything else to watch one rainy Saturday afternoon.  I spent a couple of months thinking about how to turn our van into an actual dog.  I gave up the idea when I realized how difficult it would be to keep a van covered with shag carpet clean.

Dumb and Dumber "Mutt Cutts"
Dumb and Dumber “Mutt Cutts”

Bansky Has Juicy Idea

The next inspiration was a piece of performance street art done by the anonymous graffiti artist,  Banksy.  When I saw the video, I wanted it (or a DogWatch version of it), but I just couldn’t figure out how to make it work either.  The plush animals would not last long, and we could not figure out how to get the sound effects.  Too bad, it would have gotten attention to have a van full of plush barking dogs.

The Drool Bus is Born

Thinking about Banksy’s meat truck did lead to our final idea.  We put together a school bus full of laughing dogs and brought to Tim Smith and Brian Matlock at Signs In 1 Day. They played with it for a few days, and voila!  The DogWatch by Laughing Lab dogmobile–the perfect dogmobile for the enc0re career!

Drool Bus Front
Drool Bus Front
Drool Bus Left
Drool Bus Left
Drool Bus Right
Drool Bus Right
Drool Bus Back
Drool Bus Back

Intimacy and Dementia

Image by bortescristian via Flickr
Image by bortescristian via Flickr

Husband Not Guilty of Abuse

Henry Rayhons, 78, was charged with third-degree felony sexual abuse, accused of having sex with his wife in a nursing home on May 23, 2014, eight days after staff members there told him they believed she was mentally unable to agree to sex.  Mrs. Rayhons was moved to another facility run by the same company, which has a special dementia unit. Her daughter limited Mr. Rayhons’s visits. She died in August 2014 at the age of 78.  He was arrested soon after she died.

In the trial the treating doctor, Dr. Bardy,  was asked,  “Donna is happy to see Henry — hugs, smiles, they hold hands, they talk — would that indicate that she is in fact capable at that point of understanding the affection with Henry?” Dr. Brady said no, calling that a “primal response” not indicative of the ability to make informed decisions.  Dr. Alireza Yarahmadi, a neurologist testifying for the prosecution, said, “They do have feelings, but they don’t have good judgment.”

This week a jury decided Mr. Rayhons had not committed a crime.

Loving Relationship

There is no allegation that Mrs. Rayhons resisted or showed signs of abuse. And it is widely agreed that the Rayhonses had a loving, affectionate relationship, having married in 2007 after each had been widowed. They met while singing in a church choir.

Mr. Rayhons, a corn and soybean farmer, visited his wife morning and evening, sometimes praying the rosary by her bed.  Michelle Dornbier, a social worker at the center, testified Mrs. Rayhons “was always pleased to see Henry.”

Dr. John Boedeker, Mrs. Rayhons’s family doctor, recommendation against having sex but indicated it would not be a problem.  In an interview with a state investigator, Mr. Rayhons said that his wife still enjoyed and occasionally asked for sex.

Who Gets to Decide?

The issue is based on medical and ethical concerns about whether a whether a person with dementia can say yes to sex.  Intimacy and dementia in the lederly popultation is an issue we will hear more about

“It really is a huge issue, and somewhere down the line we’re going to have to confront it,” said Derek Beeston, a social work professor at Staffordshire University in England who has studied sex and dementia.   Gayle Doll, director of the Center on Aging at Kansas State University, said a person with dementia might not assent with words, but with body language or facial expression.

In other facilities, staff members may believe, “It’s wrong. Old people don’t do this, they had spouses in the past, they have family member that would be concerned.”

Sex and Alzheimer’s

Sex is one of the most ambiguous areas in the scientific understanding of Alzheimer’s. While there are established methods of measuring memory, reasoning and the ability to dress, bathe and balance checkbooks, no widely used method exists for assessing the ability to consent to intimate relations.

One problem is that dementia’s symptoms fluctuate. Patients may be relatively lucid in the morning and significantly impaired in the afternoon.

Yet desire may survive long after names and faces are forgotten. Physical intimacy can benefit dementia patients, experts say, calming agitation, easing loneliness and possibly aiding physical health.

“Touch is one of the last pleasures we lose,” said Daniel Reingold, chief executive of the Hebrew Home at Riverdale, in the Bronx, which pioneered a “sexual rights policy” for residents in 1995. “So much of aging and so much of being in a long-term care facility is about loss, loss of independence, loss of friends, loss of ability to use your body. Why would we want to diminish that?”

Several experts described intimacy as an almost primal instinct, like eating. “Wanting to have sex is a bit like being hungry or being thirsty,” Dr. Beeston said.

Is Preventing Sex Elder Abuse?

Unless people are in a “vegetative” state, said Patricia M. Speck, a forensic nurse at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Nursing, “there’s a lot of things they might not be able to do like money and time and recognition of children, but they have the capacity for self-determination and intimate relationships.”“Most of them are embarrassed by sex,” Dr. Speck said. “Older persons are not considered to be sexual.”

“I’ve definitely had family members who have gotten very aggressive opposing our position in encouraging intimacy,” Mr. Reingold said.  But staff members will tell family members, “Look, Dad is happy. Why would you want to deprive him of this?”

Dementia can cause some people to become sexually disinhibited, so facilities like Hebrew Home monitor patients to prevent situations that threaten or make other patients uncomfortable, such as patients masturbating in public rooms.

Mr. Rayhons son, Dale, declined to comment, but soon after the arrest, his family issued a statement saying in part: “Accusing a spouse of a crime for continuing a relationship with his spouse in a nursing home seems to us to be incredibly illogical and unnatural, as well as incredibly hurtful.”

The Legal Argument

Minneapolis-based attorney Mark Kosieradzki, who has tried several cases of sexual abuse in nursing homes, commented that the jury may have concluded that Donna was able to consent, despite her Alzheimer’s, or they may have decided that prosecutors hadn’t provided enough evidence that Rayhons had sex with his wife after being told not to.

“The legal question doesn’t change. It should always be a matter of consent of the patient,” Kosieradzki said.

The conclusion of the trial is unlikely to end the national conversation the case launched about sex, intimacy and dementia.

A Mom and Dad Story

My father had Alzheimer’s but he still wanted to have sex.  It cracked me up when Mom confided to me, “We still have sex every day and enjoy it very much.  The only problem is that your Father forgets that we already had sex during the day and wants it again.  I can’t have sex all day.  I have other things that I have to get done.”

You have got to giggle.  We should all have such a problem!

Lida and Gene-- Last Christmas
Lida and Gene

Longevity Factors in Blue Zones

Red Wine in Sardinia via
Red Wine in Sardinia via

How Blue Zones Inform Us

In 2004, Dan Buettner teamed up with National Geographic and the world’s best longevity researchers to identify pockets around the world where people live measurably longer better. In these “Blue Zones” they found that people reach age 100 at rates 10 times greater than in the United States. The team identified five Blue Zones.

  • Sardinia
  • Okinawa, Japan
  • Loma Linda, California
  • Nicoya peninsula of Costa Rica
  • Ikiaria Greece

Dan and National Geographic took teams of scientists to each location to identify lifestyle characteristics that might explain longevity.

Common Factors in Blue Zones

The National Geographic team found certain factors appeared across the blue zones.  Beans were a mainstay of all diets.  Other longevity factors in blue zones are as follows:

  • People are active, moving every 20 minutes or so.  It is natural movement.  Part of life.
  • Most blue zones are sunny.
  • Hard water (may help strengthen bones for longevity)
  • Family focus
  • People eat a light dinner.  They stop eating when 80% full.
  • Most blue zones have a dry climate
  • People in blue zones have strong social networks as a part of their culture
  • Physical work is enjoyed
  • People have a sense of purpose and of contributing to the greater good.
  • Positivity reigns

Best Food for Longevity

Blue Zones vai bluezones dot comThe people in the Blue Zones tend to get 95% of their caloric intake from plants.  They may eat some eggs, fish, and meat, but those foods are the exception, not the mainstay of their diets.  Common foods include the following:

  • Beans and chickpeas
  • Tofu
  • Yams
  • Oatmeal
  • Fennel
  • Tomatoes
  • Almonds
  • Goat’s milk and sheep’s milk
  • Barley
  • Dry flat bread, made from durum wheat
  • Sourdough bread
  • Milk thistle
  • Dry red wine
  • Nuts
  • Greens
  • Water, tea, coffee

What is most encouraging about this diet is that it is affordable for anyone.

What the Blue Zones Teach Us

Genetics is only about 20% of the reason for how long we live.  About 80% is dictated by lifestyle and environment.  We should eat less, eat better, move more, and connect socially.

Dan Buettner says learning from the Blue Zones is a “silver buckshot” approach.  It is 20 or 30 little things you can transplant from these into your personal life and lifestyle.  Dietary changes, a healthy amount of moderate exercise, and lifestyle changes can lead to a much longer life.

Larry Journeys on to The Rainbow Bridge

Larry at Joslin Lake
Larry at Joslin Lake

Sadly, DogWatch by Laughing Labrador founder, Larry,  took his last car ride yesterday April 11th.   Larry journeys on to The Rainbow Bridge where we hope to one day to all be reunited.  He will be forever missed.

Larry entered our lives as a former Detroit street rescue saved by the heroes at Waggin’ Tails Dog Rescue.  They billed him as a “Silver Lab” but we suspected more of a Chocolate Lab mix with Weimareiner.  He had clearly lead a hard life before his rescue.  He definitely was a hunter as he too frequently demonstrated early on in his clear desire to catch and eat Kathy’s Maine Coon cat, Jack.  Fortunately for all, our DogWatch Big Leash remote trainer quickly changed that behavior in Larry along with some other bad habits of his. Over time Larry and Jack became cautious if not cordial friends, hanging out together along with Kathy and me, with Jack oddly establishing himself as the alpha between the two.

Larry and jack
Larry and Jack

Larry was big, strong and handsome.  At  110 muscular pounds, veterinarians would pull colleagues aside to admire his sculpted physique that was highlighted by his unusual silver coat that seemed to change with the light.  Larry was also hard-headed and demonstrated early on that he wouldn’t hesitate to snap and bite in certain situations we learned to avoid.  In his earliest days with us, Larry pulled Kathy over while on a leash sending her to the emergency room with $6000 in facial injuries.  But over time with continual training Larry generally minded very well, walked calmly by our side and was anxious to please.  Always wanting to keep me within sight, he never once ran off and he came when called, except when he saw me with a hose in my hand intending to give him a bath.  That sent him off hiding in the woods.

We all learned to live peacefully together in our log cottage in the woods on Joslin Lake.  Of course, Larry had a DogWatch hidden fence so he got to explore and enjoy the entire wooded lakefront property while staying safely confined.  No more bringing home dead turtles the size of Thanksgiving turkeys he found along the neighbor’s lake front though.  He was my constant companion.  If I was up moving or doing anything, Larry was by my side, sometimes comically so.


Larry always seemed to carry a heavy sadness.  He wore reminders of what must have been ghastly physical injuries from his youth.  He wasn’t naturally trusting and didn’t understand play.  He didn’t have a waggy tail and when he allowed our affection he always had this look of wonder and surprise that we were being so kind and gentle with him.  One Sunday morning when he was on his back enjoying a belly rub with a big happy smile on his face, Larry appeared to us both like a laughing Labrador which inspired our company name: Laughing Labrador, LLC.

But despite his new comfortable circumstances, joy seemed to escape Larry.  Within just the last three weeks something occurred that threw his mental health into a sharp tail spin.  He would snap when his head was even lightly touched.  Surprising us so, it took a while for us to realize he was seemingly recoiling in pain and snapping in response.  A broad range of veterinary tests showed that he was in prime physical health but many of his behaviors changed dramatically, and not for the good.  He began to sometimes stumble while getting his feet under him and recently took an awkward fall onto his back out of the car rather than his usual graceful leap from an open tailgate.  Something was clearly out of kilter.

Dr. Jared B. Galle
Dr. Jared B. Galle

His neurologist, the marvelous Dr. Jared Galle of the Dogwood Veterinary Referral Clinic in Ann Arbor, told us that Larry most likely has had a brain tumor for several years that had just recently gone on the rampage within him.  He nailed it when he asked me if it seemed as though someone had stolen our dog and left an identical but different one in its place.  Yep.  What happened to our Larry?

Our morning ritual included a walk together into the hilly woods across from our driveway.  Yesterday we walked a slightly longer, different path looking for fresh deer tracks and new smells.  My heart was heavy knowing this would be our last walk together.  It was a perfect spring morning.  Although there was still a chill in the lifting morning light fog, bright sunshine passed through the still leafless forest like spotlights upon our narrow dirt road, Homewild Drive. I stood watching Larry off down the road while savoring the memory.  He was smelling something of interest but immediately turned and started toward me when I said, “Larry, come!”.

Larry and David's Last Walk (4/11/2015)
Larry and David’s Last Walk (4/11/2015)

And that is how I want to always remember Larry; galloping toward me through the sunlight that passed through the trees with a big open-mouthed grin and his tongue flopping.  In those moments he was a very happy dog running toward his master and best friend coming in from a perfect walk in the woods.

So rest in peace my friend.  You taught us a lot, steered us toward a perfect new business and loved us the best that you knew how.  We will miss you forever. So will Jack.  And please say hi to Malcolm, Harry, Shanna, Klinker, Tony and Trigger for me.  We’ll see you again at The Rainbow Bridge one day.

Rainbow Bridge via
Rainbow Bridge via

Larry at Home

H.O.P.E. for Alzheimer’s Act = Senators at Work


Jennifer Howard, Executive Director, MI Great Lakes Chapter Alzheimer's Association, and Senator Debbie Stabenow
Jennifer Howard, Executive Director, MI Great Lakes Chapter Alzheimer’s Association, and Senator Debbie Stabenow

I am surrounded by good people.  Last week David made his annual pilgrimage to Washington D.C. to Advocate for Alzheimer’s research and funding.  He returned home full of praise for Michigan’s senators.  The H.O.P.E. for Alzheimer’s Act = Senators at Work.

Thank you, Senator Debbie Stabenow!

Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Susan Collins (R-ME) have introduced bipartisan legislation to support people living with Alzheimer’s and their families. The H.O.P.E.  (Health Outcomes, Planning, and Education) for Alzheimer’s Act would provide Alzheimer’s patients and their families with much-needed information about the disease and possible treatment options.

Senator Stabenow wrote the following OP-ED piece in the Detroit Free Press this week.

Bill would empower Alzheimer’s patients, families

By Debbie Stabenow, Detroit Free Press guest writer, March 31, 2015

At age 61, Pam White was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s – the same age that her mother Miriam was diagnosed with the disease. Pam had hoped to create a permanent record of her mother Marian’s life by writing a book – but a year into the project, Alzheimer’s had already begun to erase the memories Pam would need to finish that book.

Pam’s story was turned into a documentary by her son Banker White, called “The Genius of Marian.” In one especially heartbreaking moment, Pam is telling her son how his grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s, and it is apparent that Pam has forgotten her own diagnosis. Her son has to remind her, and we see the dread in her expression. She denies it’s true.

It is hard to face an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. It is a grueling disease, not just for the person diagnosed but for his or her family. It makes us feel powerless to watch a loved one become increasingly confused and disoriented, losing memories that should have lasted a lifetime.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, an estimated 185,000 people from every corner of our state are living with Alzheimer’s disease — and five million across the country. And yet that still doesn’t capture the full scope of the disease, because today there are some 15 million people serving as their caregivers.

In “The Genius of Marian,” Pam White’s husband heroically accepts that role, along with other family members. The film captures how incredibly demanding that is.

A recent report showed that the medical community often withholds an Alzheimer’s diagnosis from a patient and family, in part because there is a sense that nothing can be done to stop it.

Senator Debbie Stabenow--Image via U.S. Dept of Agriculture
Senator Debbie Stabenow–Image via U.S. Dept of Agriculture

I believe that we must do more to empower doctors, patients and families. We may not have a cure for Alzheimer’s, but we can do more to help Americans cope with the disease.

So I have introduced bipartisan legislation — the HOPE for Alzheimer’s Act — to help combat Alzheimer’s disease and support those suffering with this terrible illness.

If the bill becomes law, it will ensure that patients with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis — and their families — have access to a care-planning session with their doctor. In that session, to be funded through Medicare, the doctor will have the opportunity to explain the diagnosis, offer details about treatment options available and describe what medical and community services and supports are available to the patient and family.

We are learning more about how to manage the disease, to slow its progression, ever so slightly. And that care-planning session can be the start.

I am pleased that the bill has earned the support of the Alzheimer’s Association, which was a valuable partner as this legislation came together.

The HOPE for Alzheimer’s Act takes a critical step toward helping millions of Americans by encouraging diagnosis of Alzheimer’s so it can be treated effectively and compassionately.

As always, I am proud to work alongside the scores of Alzheimer’s advocates in Michigan and around the nation who are raising awareness about the disease and whose support will be critical to making the HOPE for Alzheimer’s Act become law.

Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat from Lansing, represents Michigan in the U.S. Senate.


Debbie Stabenow
United States Senator 

United States Senator Debbie Stabenow - Michigan

Thank you, Senator Gary Peters!

Freshman Senator Gary Peters (D-MI) agreed to submit a letter to the ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee requesting to increase by $300 million the National Institute for Heath’s  funding pertaining to Alzheimer’s research.  He also agreed to co-sponsor the H.O.P.E. for Alzheimer’s Act.

Senator Gary Peters Alz Forum 2015 with MI Advocates
Senator Gary Peters at Alzheimer’s Forum 2015 with MI Advocates

Some of our lawmakers are actually working for us after all!  Nice to know.

Boundary Events, or “Why Did I Come In Here?”

Doors by Umair Mohsin via Flickr
Doors by Umair Mohsin via Flickr

Why Did I Come In Here?

This has turned out to be a pretty stressful month.  We downsized, moved, had an estate sale, sold our condo, exhibited at a three-day home and garden show, and began the spring work season for DogWatch, our hidden dog fence company.  We know that selling a home and moving are in the top five life stressors, so I am not surprised that I find myself in a room wondering why I am in there.  I don’t think it is early onset Alzheimers or even short-term memory loss (see How Memory Works), but it gives me pause when the incidents increase.  It was relief when my friend, Cindy, sent me the following email:

Doors and Memory

Do you ever walk into a room with some purpose in mind — to get something, perhaps? — only to completely forget what that purpose was?  Turns out, doors themselves are to blame for these strange memory lapses.

Doors by basykes via Flickr
Doors by basykes via Flickr

University of Notre Dame Psychology Professor Gabriel Radvansky suggests that passing through doorways is the cause of these memory lapses.  He has discovered that passing through a doorway triggers what’s known as an “event boundary” in the mind, separating one set of thoughts and memories from the next, just as exiting through a doorway signals the end of a scene in a movie. Your brain files away the thoughts you had in the previous room, and prepares a blank slate for the new locale. Mental event boundaries usually help us organize our thoughts and memories as we move through the continuous and dynamic world, but when we’re trying to remember that thing we came in here to do… or get… or maybe find… they can be frustrating indeed. “Recalling the decision or activity that was made in a different room is difficult because it has been compartmentalized.

The Event Boundary Study

The study was published recently in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology.

Conducting three experiments in both real and virtual environments, Radvansky’s subjects – all college students – performed memory tasks while crossing a room and while exiting a doorway.

Virtual Environment

Athangudi Palace  by Koshyk via Flickr
Athangudi Palace by Koshyk via Flickr

In the first experiment, subjects used a virtual environment and moved from one room to another, selecting an object on a table and exchanging it for an object at a different table. They did the same thing while simply moving across a room but not crossing through a doorway.

Radvansky found that the subjects forgot more after walking through a doorway compared to moving the same distance across a room, suggesting that the doorway or “event boundary” impedes one’s ability to retrieve thoughts or decisions made in a different room.

Real-World Setting

The second experiment in a real-world setting required subjects to conceal in boxes the objects chosen from the table and move either across a room or travel the same distance and walk through a doorway. The results in the real-world environment replicated those in the virtual world: walking through a doorway diminished subjects’ memories.

Environmental Context

The final experiment was designed to test whether doorways actually served as event boundaries or if one’s ability to remember is linked to the environment in which a decision – in this case, the selection of an object – was created. Previous research has shown that environmental factors affect memory and that information learned in one environment is retrieved better when the retrieval occurs in the same context. Subjects in this leg of the study passed through several doorways, leading back to the room in which they started. The results showed no improvements in memory, suggesting that the act of passing through a doorway serves as a way the mind files away memories.

So don’t panic if you have to ask, “Why did I come in here”.  It is only a boundary event, not dementia.