Cynthia Perthuis leads and owns the Senior Care Authority offices in New York City and Southwest Florida. Cynthia has a passion for helping others and advocating for those that do not have the ability to speak for themselves. Her own personal experience with her parents and her entrepreneurial background has helped so many family members with the stress of helping and caring for aging loved ones.
Frank Samson: Welcome to Boomers Today. I’m your host, Frank Samson. And of course each week we bring you important and useful information on issues facing baby boomers, their parents and other loved ones of course. And we have another great guest and a very important subject matter today. We have with us Cynthia Perthuis who leads and owns the Senior Care Authority offices in New York City and Southwest Florida. Cynthia has a passion for helping others and advocating for those that do not have the ability to speak for themselves. Her own personal experience with her parents and her entrepreneurial background has helped so many families with the stress of helping and caring for aging loved ones. Since Cynthia is someone that I have known for quite some time now and I’m just thrilled to have her on Boomers Today. Cynthia, thank you so much for joining us.
Cynthia Perthuis:Thanks so much Frank for having me today. I want to tell you that I’m very pleased to be a part of the Senior Care Authority franchise and like you said, we help older adults and their families to make life and living choices, like finding the right assisted living or community or helping them find teams to support living in the home.
Frank: All right. That’s wonderful. So, tell us more. We’re going to get on the subject of isolation, which is just such an important subject matter regarding older adults, but first of all tell us a little bit more about Senior Care Authority and what you do in the areas you cover.
Cynthia: Sure. We work with families and I like to say we cover them up with our caring and our love and we become a part of their family to help them make some really hard decisions and help in that transition. As well as help support the families and we’re there from the beginning. I say soup to nuts, we’re there helping them find a place or make some decisions. We help them work with those communities or work with teams in their homes and then we help them in the transition on the other side of it. And it brings us a lot of joy to our heart as well as we make a living.
Frank: Yeah, it is wonderful work. And I know firsthand you do great work for the families you work with. Thank you for what you do. Now I think we can transition to the topic of isolation. Before we begin, can you explain what we mean when we are talking about isolation?
Cynthia: Sure. When we talk about isolation, I want to make sure that we think about that this recording is done in March of 2020 or April of 2020, I guess. Talking about isolation is relevant to our current situation, but it’s also pertinent every day with the elderly. Isolation really has many facets, but it’s mainly about the size of your social network and the ways and the amount of time that you interact with that network. And what’s really important for me to point out here, and I’ll point it out later, is that caregivers can have the exact same symptoms as a patient. Because it’s easy to lose touch with your social network, whether you’re caregiving or whether you’re someone who needs to be taken care of. The shelter in place order has raise awareness about the negative impacts that isolation can have on one’s mental health. And these challenges around social isolation and loneliness, they’re going to continue after the pandemic is abated.
Frank: Let’s talk about the physical impacts that isolation has on older adults and the mental impacts that it has on older adults. I know that’s a lot to ask, but maybe you could help our listeners understand a little more.
Cynthia: Sure. So on the physical side, science has proven that isolation increases the vulnerability to disease. We see this in high blood pressure, higher heart rates, stress hormones, inflammation. And it’s among people who might otherwise not get sick, but it can make them not only sick but sicker. And there’s a popular report, I’m sure you’ve seen it and maybe talked to some of your other guests about it, that came out in 2015 from a neuroscientist and a psychologist at Brigham Young University. I think her name was Julianne Holt-Lunstad.
And she looked at about three and a half million people and it showed that social isolation led to an increased rate of mortality in 29% of those subjects and living alone increased mortality by 32%. And it didn’t matter how old the subject was or what their gender, their location or their culture. And then there were some other studies that show that prolonged social isolation is as detrimental to your health as smoking, I mean get this, 15 cigarettes a day. And it can prompt cardiovascular disease and stroke and obesity. And then, we’ll talk about it in a moment, dementia.
Frank: Yeah. So maybe before you even get into the mental side of it, there’s been all sorts of studies done on loneliness, in which they will ask somebody that’s a little older, “Where do you want to spend the rest of your life?” And every one of them says home. I’m surprised that they come in at 90 some odd percent, why isn’t it 100%? Everybody wants to spend their life at home, but it’s not necessarily always the safest place to be at home, is it?
Cynthia: No, it’s not always the safest place. And I do see those studies that say 90% but there’s also some studies that I like to look at, because you’re talking to me again, a baby boomer. And it says that maybe 90% say they want to, but 60% of the baby boomers, know they won’t be aging at home. Being at home could be lonely and dangerous without help. But home could also mean community. So maybe aging at home also means just being your community and there’s so many other options that are around your community that can be counted as home.
Frank: Yeah, absolutely. So now talk to us a little bit more about the mental impacts.
Cynthia: Sure. On the mental side of it, once again, we’re going to go to science and it’s proven that anxiety from isolation can really mess up your brain’s wiring. In 2018 a study came out from Florida State University College of Medicine that showed that isolation can cause a 40% increase in the risk of dementia. This is for people that need care as well as their caregivers. It indicates that there can certainly be a mental impact on us individually, but it also points to there being a mental impact on our communities as well if individual are isolated and unable to contribute.
Frank: Right, right. So right now our situation is forcing us to stay isolated. But in a normal setting there are situations where a loved one is sort of self-isolating by staying inside a lot and not really interacting with the outside world. What suggestions do you have in the latter example to families who have that and are in that situation with a loved one to try to make it so they’re not so isolated because you know the negative impacts that could occur.
Cynthia: Well, there’s a couple of ways to look at it. One is to maybe bridge the gap of what’s best for the family and what’s going on today. I don’t mean the pandemic today, I mean just today in general.
You can plant some flowers or get some flowers planted. You can buy some flowers if you get to the grocery store or you can have a florist deliver flowers. I know what flowers do for me when I get flowers from someplace and I know what flowers do for my clients when I’ve brought flowers to visit them in their home or visit them in the hospital and it just lights up people’s faces. So that’s such a simple thing. Send some flowers. Some of the other things that we all talk about probably too much and that everybody knows about is get everybody on digital platforms. So we know there’s zoom and Skype and FaceTime and all these different things and that’s a good short term, but that’s not a sustainable option, since we don’t want people who are alone to become too dependent on technology.
Exercising is another great solution. Exercising from home just got a whole lot easier around here in the past few weeks because the gyms were forced to close and they’re offering low and no cost alternatives all over, whether it’s chair yoga or sitting in a chair yoga or standing behind a chair yoga or laying on a couch yoga. There’s all sorts of things that you could do to keep exercising.
Frank: Yeah, there is so much. So you had mentioned the pandemic and obviously that’s on people’s mind, it’s more reality now. Reality has set in that a pandemic can happen. So let’s talk about the pandemic versus every day life as we’re used to and the importance of isolation relative to both. Do you treat them both the same, it is different, what are your thoughts there?
Cynthia: Well, I’m going to tell you twofold. I think it’s the same, but I think it’s different. So I think what I know I, as an individual, I’m seeing the true, what it’s really like to be isolated. While I may have worked at home most of my career, that didn’t mean I stayed at home most of my career. But the elderly sometimes don’t have a choice about being inside their homes or getting out. So I think that a lot of families are actually beginning to viscerally understand what their loved one goes through every day. I saw some little joke the other day that had all the beginning words of the days of the week crossed out. And so basically we have seven days. There are no more Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, it’s day. And I feel that way sometimes. I’m not sure what day it is. I have to look at my computer to tell me what day it is.
I truly believe that my elderly clients have that every day when they’re isolated because they don’t have any reason to differentiate between the days. So to me it’s the same. On the other hand, there’s a lot more anxiety during what’s going on in our world today that just exacerbates and overlays these items that are happening to our older members of our family. They were already isolated and now they’re confused and they’re afraid and they’re anxious. So it just, I have to believe, I haven’t seen any reports. I have to believe it almost doubles up what they were feeling beforehand.
Frank: What’s your feeling on what’s going to happen? People are isolated for a certain period of time, are they just going to go back to normal? Are they going to consider, families are going to consider other options because of what they had been going through with a loved one being isolated? Any thoughts there on either what’s going to be done now or what’s going to happen after things get to some sort of normalcy, let’s say?
Cynthia: Well, one of the things that I think I sent in your direction was what can we do after life gets back to normal? I don’t know that we know what normal is. I think that our normal, it’s going to be a new normal because I believe that this has changed everything. However, I also believe that it is calling to attention what’s been going on in these lonely and isolated homes of our loved ones that were kind of out of sight, out of mind for this global world we live in, where children and close family members may live 5,000 miles away and they’re going to see that. And there’s so many new communities that are being built, were being built, are still being built for this population. And I just think that people are going to see how beautiful and wonderful it is to not be isolated. Why should their loved one be isolated?
Frank: You said exactly what I was thinking. Having the experience that so many of our elderly are having now, may cause some individual’s adult children to re-think their plan of a retirement home. Do you think that’s going to happen or do you feel that the adult children or other family members are going to want that to happen? Do you have strategies for them on how to get their parent or other loved one to agree to maybe make a move since it would be better for them? I know it’s a pretty open question there, but any thoughts on it.
Cynthia: Sure. Well I think it’s a very broad question and I will, not to be selfish about your podcast, but I would say that that’s a whole topic for another podcast and there’s some work I do around that called finding the right words and I’d love to come back and talk with you about that.
Frank: That’d be great.
Cynthia: One of the things that, when I’m working with families, and I would say 50% of the time when we talk, when I talk with them about social isolation, I don’t think they really get what it is. And I think after this episode we’re in now, they will get it because they’ve lived it. But they will tell me, oh my dad’s never been social. He’s never been social. And what they mean is their dad isn’t kind of person who wants to go in and play cards and doesn’t want to go in and have a book discussion or play Scrabble. But I would posit that social isolation and being social, if you will, is not about playing games and leading a discussion on a recent trip to Europe. That being social may just be sitting down in the lobby reading the newspaper and watching all the activity that’s flurrying around you.
That’s what I miss in my social isolation. I live alone and I have all of the computer pieces and technology and I could go to an exercise class every hour and I have a lot of people who call me and FaceTime and we discuss things. But there’s something about just sitting at a restaurant and watching the activity around you that increases your ability to fight off inflammation and to keep your brain active.
Frank: Yeah, I mean like both of us, between us, we have visited many senior living communities and I have visited many smaller residential care homes, literally probably in the thousands now. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen older adults maybe just sitting on the porch or in the lobby and they’re not participating necessarily in any activity. They’re just observing. That’s an activity for them and they’re pretty happy doing that versus sitting alone. And I’m sure, I know I have had people on the show and I’m sure you have statistics that or you may have them, but I know they’re out there, that suicide rate is up amongst older adults. Certainly depression is up amongst older adults. And I think so much of it relates to isolation.
Cynthia: I do, I do. And again, while I’m in the baby boomer age because I’m stuck in my home, my day surrounds itself around what’s my next meal and when do I get to go to bed? And I know that my adult children would, they bear with me to let me do a FaceTime occasionally, but they don’t want to FaceTime with me all day, every day. And I have to find ways to keep myself interested. And there’s only so much bad TV that I can watch at night. So again, it’s not just about what’s going on with the older adults, it’s what goes on with us as well. Now I think we’re feeling what they were feeling.
Frank: Yeah. So moving in that direction, do you have any recommendations about how someone may begin to have that conversation with their parents about their living situation in retirement?
Cynthia: Sure. The way I look at this whole business that we are in and this whole step-by-step of moving someone is that I look at it and I try to explain to my clients, it’s like that old statement of “Do you know how to eat an elephant?” And the answer to that is “One bite at a time.” What my team and I like to do is divide the process up into manageable pieces so as not to overwhelm our client.
We usually start by suggesting they do some research and let’s get an expert to help us figure out the where. And know that just like you said, it’s not about a conversation, it’s about conversations. So it’s about if you think about it with your kids, it’s teachable moments. It’s having tiny little bite size conversations about what are going to be the next steps because there’s such a danger that people who have been isolated may remain isolated after all this passes and it’s time to reevaluate what’s best for our lives in general, what’s best for our world we live in and what’s best for our families. And begin to have maybe more broad umbrella discussions.
Frank: Right, right. And I think that, we didn’t even discuss this and I think it’s important, that still there is this perception that if someone doesn’t live at home, they’re going to be going into this “Old folks home.” Can you just take a moment or two because I could talk to you all day but we only have a few minutes, but maybe just talk about the options that are out there for people.
Cynthia: Sure. So the thing that I also like to make sure people understand is that this is not what I would phrase. I always use this phrase, it’s not your grandmother’s nursing home. This is not where people live now. They’re living in places with their peers, where they can commiserate and they can celebrate things that happen in their age group. They can show pictures of their grandkids. They can talk about the jobs that they did. There are people that are in assisted living communities that get out and go to work every day. They may go to work volunteering at the hospital, they may go to work as a paralegal in a legal office. They may go to work reading to kids in a school, but they walk out the door every day and live the same life that they were living in their home.
But someone made their breakfast, someone’s making up their bed and cleaning their apartment while they’re gone. And if on the days they don’t work, there’s an activity planned for them and they just don’t have to worry about anything. And that’s what community living is these days. Now that’s assisted living. There’s also memory care where your loved one is safe. You don’t have to worry about getting the phone call in the middle of the night that they’re going to the grocery store with their pajamas on and barefooted. And there’s activities that keep them engaged and really are reaching into their reality of where they are at that point.
And that’s the beauty of these communities. And the beauty of these communities is also is to figure out when and that when is not when it’s a crisis, you want to figure out when before there’s a crisis so that your parents can go and develop a social network in their new place. And I will tell you, nine out of 10 of my clients, when they go into a community, they find out there’s a lot of people there that they already know. They didn’t realize that that’s where they were living. And so they can pick up their life and just start it again someplace where they’re safe and warm and healthy and fed.
Frank: Yeah. Thank you. Thank you for that explanation. I appreciate it. So unfortunately we’re kind of out of time, but why don’t you share with everybody how they can get ahold of you and your website. Anything you’d like to share with our listeners.
Cynthia: Sure, sure. Thanks again Frank for having me. I really appreciate it. My website is www.scanyfl.com. So that’s SCA like Senior Care Authority, NY like New York, and FL, like Florida. And there’s a resource tab there and it has other podcasts and blogs and books and webinars and a variety of things that’ll help make your journey easier. I can refer them and I can help them. They can also send me an e-mail at [email protected].
Frank: Perfect. Cynthia, thank you so much for joining us on Boomers Today. I really appreciate it. And I want to thank everybody out there for joining us. Please, please be safe and we’ll talk to everybody real soon.