New initiative tackles topic of Redefining Aging

Series: Redefining Aging | Story 1

Last updated 8/15/2019 at 10:55am

In a September 2015 column, I announced the formation of an ad-hoc advisory board in conjunction with our paper's series spotlighting mental health issues.

Two years later, that advisory board disbanded and gave me one directive: write more about aging.

As we had brainstormed coverage topics over two years, the issue of mental health and aging kept coming up. We discussed the sense of loss many feel as they lose family and friends and their own physical and cognitive capabilities. We talked about the challenges adult children face as they try to help their parents navigate through these changes and how uncomfortable that role reversal can be for both parties.

Write about it, they said.

Time passed. And then two things happened.

Someone recommended I read "Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End" by Atul Gawande. His fascinating look at aging and how our society approaches it really had an impact on me.

And then my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Not long after, she stayed with us for about three weeks while her sweetheart was hospitalized unexpectedly with heart problems. I was able to observe firsthand at just how much her memory and cognitive functions had deteriorated.

At the same time, I found myself significantly involved in the care of her sweetheart, a widower with no children and no one designated as his power of attorney. Until I found myself signing the papers at the nurse's station the day before his triple-bypass and valve replacement surgery.

Things are less chaotic now, I am happy to report, and he and my mom are doing relatively well living on the memory care floor of an assisted living facility. His nephew has taken over power of attorney and is managing his affairs.

But Gawande's book and my own experience reinforced what the mental health advisory board had told me. So I called Greg DiDomenico, president and CEO of Community Memorial Foundation, and asked if he would once again help me assemble a group of professionals to advise us on our coverage of this complex topic. The Healthy Aging Task Force was born.

Now, after months of planning and discussion, we are ready to publish the first story in the Redefining Aging series.

The April 11 article will look at why having an understanding of advance care planning is vital, told through the experiences of former "Saturday Night Live Star" star Julia Sweeney.

Sweeney will share lessons learned through her brother's struggle with terminal cancer and her own diagnoses of a rare cervical cancer in JourneyCare's "Life is A Journey" program from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 9, in Oak Brook. Tickets are still available for those who would like to hear her in person. Turn to Page 21 for details.

A week later a counselor from JourneyCare will share advice on how adult children can talk to their parents about advanced directives in a column.

On April 25, we'll take a step back and take a look at what the term "aging" really means by sharing the perspectives of four individuals at different points on the continuum of that life stage.

In May, we'll write about caring for an aging parent as experienced by Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich. A Conversation with Mary Schmich, presented by The Community House and King-Bruwaert House, will take place from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 1, and includes a seated lunch.

Our coverage of Schmich's talk and our conversation with her afterward will appear in the May 9 issue. To conclude our spring coverage of this topic, a counselor at SamaraCare will pen a column about managing feelings about aging for our May 16 issue. We'll schedule more stories, programs and columns for the fall.

As part of this initiative, The Community House is creating a microsite at to provide a resource for those seeking information about programs and services offered by the charter members of the Healthy Aging Task Force - those mentioned above along with Wellness House, Amita Hospice, Aging Care Connections, Pillars and Plymouth Place.

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The site will be launched at the May 1 event at The Community House and at Aging Care Connections' Aging Well Month luncheon the same day at the La Grange Country Club. Attendees will get a preview of the site and some cool swag, according to Annie Krug, TCH's executive director.

The full extent of the series is to be undetermined, but we do know there are many stories to tell. I also hope, along the way, to share some of the wisdom I found in Gawande's book. I'll close today with one of my favorite passages (and there are many!) from his book.

"All we ask is to be allowed to remain the writers of our own story," he writes. "That story is ever changing. Over the course of our lives, we may encounter unimaginable difficulties. Our concerns and desires may shift. But whatever happens, we want to retain the freedom to shape our lives in ways consistent with our character and loyalties.

"This is why the betrayals of body and mind that threaten to erase our character and memory remain among our most awful tortures. The battle of being mortal is the battle to maintain the integrity of one's life - to avoid becoming so diminished or dissipated or subjugated that who you are becomes disconnected from who you were or who you want to be."

Author Bio

Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean

Email: [email protected]
Phone: 630-323-4422, ext. 104


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