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Is it time for a career reinvention?

Posted by BJ Roche February 5, 2013 12:14 PM

I'm teaching my career prep course to graduating journalism majors again this spring, and, anecdotally, anyway, there seem to be more opportunities this year for seniors with the right mix of journalism and technical skills. In five weeks, we work our way through readings and exercises that help them determine their skills, values and goals for the--hopefully, anyway--50-year work life they have ahead of them.

Each year when I teach this class, I also take a look at the job scene for those of us at the other end of the demographic spectrum: people who (also, hopefully), have another ten, 15 or 20 years left in the workforce. If you believe this story, it doesn't look pretty for a lot of Fiftyshifters:

These Americans in their 50s and early 60s — those near retirement age who do not yet have access to Medicare and Social Security — have lost the most earnings power of any age group, with their household incomes 10 percent below what they made when the recovery began three years ago, according to Sentier Research, a data analysis company.

But really, when is it ever pretty? In some careers, like journalism, it's never been great. If you're looking to find a job or keep that career going, you have got to be constantly pro-active about technology, skills building and entrepreneurship. I'm seeing and hearing a lot of stories, particularly for women, about reinvention, rejuvenation and the career pivot. And that's a good thing. Here are a few resources.

Career Coach Kathy Caprino is a must-read expert on the midlife pivot; I've been following her for a few years now and watched her pivot from one career into a new life as a career consultant and blogger at She's one of the best. Here's her post on The Top Six Actions That Promote Career Success. She also has an e-news letter that always has some interesting material.

Two great companion pieces in this month's More Magazine address the need for midlifers to stay pro-active to stay employed. Lisa Mundy writes about steps you can take to stay employable.

And take a look at Kate Ashford's piece: 10 Ways to Get Your Job Skills In Shape.

Dorie Clarke, who lost her reporting job after 9/11, and later worked as a press secretary for then-Labor Secretary Robert Reich, knows all about career reinvention: her new book, , Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future, published by Harvard Business Review, comes out in April.

This book can be invaluable if you're ready to take a hard look at where and who you are, and make some changes, either for a new career, or to "rebrand" yourself within your company. Here's her chart of who can benefit from a bit of reinvention. As you'll see, it includes: Just. About. Everybody.

reinventiongrafic copy.jpg

In 11 chapters, Clarke walks you through the process, beginning with a self-evaluation, including, as your starting point, doing your own "360 review" by talking to your "focus group," people who you know and work with, about how they perceive you on the job.

Now this is not a quick and easy process. And it can be scary stuff. But it's not half as scary as being unemployed. And it can be the first step to something better.

The oldest lady in the (conference) room

Posted by BJ Roche December 29, 2012 06:44 PM

I am heading out west for a conference this week, and though I'm excited about the lineup of speakers and the material we'll be covering, I'm a little afraid this one will be like the other half-dozen I've attend in the past five years. At all these events: conferences and workshops at the intersection of blogging, business, journalism education and technology, I've been one of the oldest ladies in the room. (For the record, I'm north of 55.)

I'm not sure why this is. But it can make you wish you'd stayed home. If you've been struck by your increasing invisibility in other places, imagine what it's like being in a crowd of 20-and-30-something tech afficionados.

At first it was disorienting (where is everybody? when did I get this old?). Then I'd find myself scanning the place for other people with gray hair. Then it became downright irritating. Those BlogHer conference organizers should have told me ahead of time that the bulk of attendees would be mommy bloggers in their thirties, and a good number of them would be bringing their babies along for...why? I don't know why. A weekend at a hotel in New York City, and you're bringing your baby with you?

Never mind. If you're in your fifties or sixties and trying to stay relevant in your job for another ten or 15 years, you're crazy not to be upgrading your skills and understanding of technology and social media. So it's good to get out to these events and dive in, meet new people and learn some new things.

Here's what I've learned. Before you go:

Update your professional presentation. Make sure you've got good business cards with a LinkedIn address (and be sure your profile is up to date). A lot of people are now using QR codes to direct the user to their websites from a smartphone. If you're in a hurry, Vistaprint can deliver them pretty quickly, and has a service that you can order online and pick up the next day at your local store.

Does your tech make you look old? If you don't have a smartphone or tablet, yes. Just go buy one. Everybody will probably be Tweeting (another conference irritation these days), so you should probably take a crash course on Twitter if you don't know how it works. I had to join and figure out Google Plus for this workshop, and now I'm looking forward to using Google Hangout in my online classes.

I've had my iPad for a year, but haven't done much with it; this conference pushed me to upgrade to some useful apps, like Evernote, Dropbox, and a few from this post from The Daily Beast. And hat-tip to the folks for putting together this great list of useful apps. If you're really feeling techalisciously ignorant, check out, which offers all-you-can-eat online video training for a pretty low monthly rate.

Update your physical presentation. Get a good haircut and figure out the makeup. As Fernando used to say on Saturday Night Live: "It is better to look good than to feel good."

Once you're there:
Don't bother to be polite to impolite people. They won't notice anyway. At one conference I found myself seated at a lunch table with two younger guys who were deeply immersed in conversation about their iPads. I didn't have to ask whether I was chopped liver. In my younger days I would have feined interest until the subject changed. This time, I picked up my tray, scanned the room for another table with an empty chair, and plunked myself down in a new spot, where pleasant conversation ensued.

Don't worry about looking stupid. Sometimes at these events it seems like everybody wants to be the smartest person in the room. But you know you're not. This is so freeing. The nice thing about being older is you can just stand there and say, "Oh, really, tell me more about that," and soak it in. This is a time of tsunamic change in most professions, and anyone who claims to know it all is deluded or lying. So don't be embarrassed about what you don't know.

Be open to unexpected opportunities to have fun. After that lonely day at the BlogHer convention, I finally gave up and took my free drink tickets to the hotel bar. So glad I did that, because I ended up seated next to Liz Dolan, one of the wonderful Satellite Sisters, and a total peep, who regaled me with stories of the Sisters and working for another old broad named Oprah. We were joined by a forty-something cable television exec who was also feeling oldish, and who blew off a planned field trip to Martha Stewart Living to have a few glasses of wine with us.

We stayed at the bar long after the mommy bloggers had gone up to their rooms to breastfeed. An excellent time was had by all.

Join the conversation over at the Facebook page. Find links to stories of interest by following us on Twitter and read other stories about midlife

A father reminds us, we've been here before

Posted by BJ Roche December 16, 2012 10:27 AM

It's hard to believe now that there was a time when the word "shooting" or "rampage" rarely appeared in the same sentence as "school."

It was before December 14, 1992, when a student named Wayne Lo went on a rampage at Simon's Rock of Bard College in Great Barrington, severely injuring several people and killing two, including 18-year-old Galen Gibson of Gloucester. The death toll might have been higher if his rifle had not jammed.

During the trial, reporters and jurors retraced the route Lo took that night, from the guard shack at the edge of campus to the library foyer where Galen was gunned down, one more random victim. It was tough stuff. But the most emotional moments came at the trial's end, when families of the victims read their impact statements to the court.

The most eloquent of those words that day came from Galen's father, Greg Gibson. Over the past 20 years, Gibson has written toughly and elegantly about our crazy gun culture and violence from the perspective of a parent who has suffered an unfathomable loss. Through his book, Gone Boy: A Father's Search for the Truth in his Son's Murder, interviews, and essays, he conveys what happens after the cameras have left town and the struggle to figure out why.

What we learned at Lo's trial is what can happen when a lonely, unstable adolescent has easy access to a gun and ammo. But as a nation, we seem to have done remarkably little about it.

I thought of Gibson when I heard about the Connecticut shootings, and realized that it was 20 years later, to the day. Unfortunately he's had many opportunities to comment on school shootings. I put some of them together here.

This New York Times piece, part of a 2000 series about "rampage killers," details Gibson's experiences in communicating with, and trying to understand, his son's killer.

But nobody gets off the hook with Gibson, including himself. Gibson wrote this piece, called "Our Violent Inner Landscape," after the Columbine shootings in 1999.

I've got a feeling this problem is embedded in our culture, way beyond bad movies and cheap guns. It is as transparent as the air we breathe. It's in our history. It's in the myths we tell ourselves about ourselves. If we see it at all, we celebrate it. We relax to it. We've made industries of it.

On Amazon's book review page, Gibson critiques what he calls the school-shooting "porn," inherent in Howard Fast's "Ceremonial Violence: Understanding Columbine and Other School Rampage Shootings."

I researched my account of the Simon's Rock shootings from 1992 to 1999, and by the end of my work I probably knew as much as any layman about such events. I can tell you with absolute certainty that there is nothing in Dr. Jonathan Fast's book that adds materially to what we knew about school shootings and their causes in 2000. School shooters were bullied. Many may have suffered abuse. They were unhappy kids who felt themselves to be outcasts. A not-surprising number of them wore thick glasses or dressed in black. They were all narcissists - "Drama Queens" (Dr. Fast's term) - and they all exhibited suicidal ideation. Fast's theory proposes a scenario in which "the candidate gets the idea of turning his suicide into a public ceremony." He lays this theory out in three pages in his Introduction, and then we're off to the races. Thirteen "SR" shootings later we've had about as much as we can handle. "I was raised in a family of storytellers," Fast tells us (he's the son of novelist Howard Fast). Perhaps he means it as a warning. There isn't much here except the stories, and the stories are unrelievedly, hair-raisingly grotesque.

On the day after the Connecticut shootings, he published this New York Times op-ed piece.

In the wake of Galen’s murder, I wrote a book about the shooting. In it I suggested that we view gun crime as a public health issue, much the same as smoking or pesticides. I spent a number of years attending rallies, signing petitions, writing letters and making speeches, but eventually I gave up. Gun control, such a live issue in the “early” days of school shootings, inexplicably became a third-rail issue for politicians.

And this from a blog post on Fast's book, that also laments the public fascination with school shootings:

In 2007, when the reporters wanted me to talk about "murderabilia," I asked them where they were when I wanted to talk about how easy it was for crazy people to get guns in America.

They had no answer for that one.

We still don't.

Why your fortieth class reunion is way more fun than your tenth

Posted by BJ Roche November 11, 2012 09:04 AM

In the list of Life's Strangest Moments, few rank higher than pulling out of the driveway of your childhood home to go to your fortieth high school class reunion. Weren't you just sitting there a minute ago listening to "Riders on the Storm" on the radio with whatsisname?

I'd had trepidations about attending, like many others, it turned out. Though I love my hometown now, I couldn't get out fast enough after high school. I hardly know these people anymore, right? And we're all different people now, anyway. Thank God.

But I took a chance--we all did--and here's what happened: we had a lot of fun. This was in part because the hard work of Judy and Bea, and if you have two well-organized, hard working women like that in your class, you know what I'm talking about. Every class needs the sparkplugs that get things going and keep them up and running.

But another reason is that the passage of time softens things considerably. So if you've received your invitation to a reunion and you've been dithering about whether to go, here's my advice: pull on your Spanx, brush in some eyebrows (you too, ladies), and go. Here's why.

You're still here. What the heck? At the tenth reunion, you're certain you'll live forever. At the fortieth, you know you won't. Our reunion included a candle-lighting ceremony for more than a dozen classmates who had passed away. Life is short: why not reach out?

At your tenth reunion, you're ready to eat the bear. By your fortieth, the bear has eaten you. Even the guy most likely to succeed has lost something: hair, a waistline, a marriage, a job, a spouse, a child, a fortune. Or he's gained something he hadn't counted on: an underwater mortgage, 50 pounds, a mother-in-law who needs a GPS chip because she tends to wander out of the house in the middle of the night. These things make you humble, and except for the pathological crumb-bums, most people are nicer at 58 than they were at 28.

At your tenth reunion you can't get enough: White Russians, bong hits, whatever. By your fortieth, you've had enough. By this time most people have totally stopped or significantly reduced their consumption of filter-eroding party enhancers. So they no longer need to explain why they, unbeknownst to you until now, slept with your boyfriend after the Thanksgiving football game. Or how they rigged the class presidential election. Also, it's just way easier to have a conversation when people aren't crying.

When you're 28, 18 doesn't seem so young and you're still right about everything. When you're 58, well.... Once you've been a parent, or worked with young people in any way, you understand just how despicable teenagers can be, and you view your adolescence in a whole new light. "I was an xxxhole," said one former Catholic school classmate as an opening greeting. (And he never had seemed like a bad guy to me.) "Me too!" I said. In fact, while thinking about my high school days in the months preceding the event, I had considered wearing a button that read "I'm sorry." It turns out I could have sold them at the party. One comment I heard later was that people who hadn't really spoken much to one another in high school had ended up in some great conversations. How often does that happen anymore?

Facebook, Facebook, Facebook. Our class got "together" way ahead of time on a fantastic Facebook page (thanks again, Judy). And we are still connecting, posting pictures and sharing--not just memories of the past, but who we are today. In the olden days my advice would have been to call your old friends and make sure they're all going, so you'll have a posse to hang with. Facebook makes this easier than ever.

Of course, some moments you can't plan. Toward the end of the evening I found myself in the tiny ladies' room with four other classmates, and, bam! we could have been back at high school between classes in 1970. (What is it with women and restrooms?)

Only this time when the chatter started, it was something about Depends, or the sausage-skin quality of today's bodyshapers, or Sister Ellen, or Mrs. Burridge, a.k.a. "The Matron," the short, hen-like old lady who policed the high school girls' room by pushing the door of the smoke-filled lavatory and bellowing: "Giiirrrls! I hope there are no cigarettes in there!"

Whatever it was, we got laughing so hard that the five of us filed out of the ladies room with tears streaming down our faces.

"What was going on in there?" someone asked, with a look of alarm on his face. Had some long-ago rift been revealed? It's okay, I told him, we were just having a laugh.

Joking in the girls room. Really, the important things just don't change.

So when your invitation arrives, just send your money in and go. If it turns out to be a mistake, you can always leave. But if it's not, it could be the beginning of some beautiful new old friendships.

What's your advice for attending class or family reunions? Share over at the Facebook page. Find links to stories of interest by following us on Twitter and read other stories about midlife

How to winterize your parents

Posted by BJ Roche October 4, 2012 11:56 AM

grannysnowball.jpgWhen you’re a parent, autumn brings homework checks and a return to a regular schedule. But if you’re caring for your own elderly parents, it’s also time to plan for the challenges of winter. With a bit of planning, you can make the season safer for your aging parent, and less stressful for you.

Rule number one: ask for help. The saying, “it takes a village” applies to aging parents as much as children. Enlist your siblings and other family members, and connect with the free and reasonably-priced resources in your community. When mom complains about spending money on her care (and trust me, she will), just say this: “Mom, I love ya, but this is why you saved all these years.”

Jim Reynolds, CEO of Caring Companion Home Care, a Boston-based home care agency, urges his clients to start with a realistic assessment of the parent, particularly if you see him or her every day. You might not have noticed the subtle physical or mental changes that can have an impact on winter well-being, like loss of balance or cognitive abilities. If your mom and dad are still driving, this may be the time to make other arrangements.

“Look for changes,” says Reynolds, “Realize, that person’s status may have been consistent for nearly all the time you’re known them, and you’re used to looking at them in a certain way. So you really need to be observant.”

Safety is the overriding issue, says Reynolds: scan your parent’s living quarters, with a particular eye for fall risks, like coffee tables or throw rugs. With shorter days and declining eyesight, lighting can be a real problem, so upgrade dimly-lit areas like stairs or hallways. Many elderly cut back on heat to save money, so check the thermostat when you visit. The few dollars they may save won’t seem like much if they develop pneumonia.

Older people can get isolated in winter, which can lead to depression and even hoarding, says Reynolds. If your parent is still living on her own, make sure family members are stopping by, and call on members of her faith community to visit. Most towns have a Council on Aging that operates a Senior Center, where seniors can socialize and have meals, or take classes. Many even offer van pickups by reservation.

And when your mother says, “I’m not going there because I’m not old,” (trust me, she will), Reynolds says, tell her this: “Mom, it’s a free movie!”

Consider hiring a part-time home care aide to take dad out for groceries, check on medications, clean, or check e-mail. A good agency will match your parent with the right person, and you may be surprised at the difference it makes for everyone to have a non-family member helping with some of these duties.

Holidays, with their traditions, drama and family logistics, can be tough, so don’t leave much to chance when there’s an elderly parent in the mix. Reduce expectations, simplify the meal, spread out the duties, and do some advanced planning, so everyone can have an enjoyable day.

“Assign someone the specific task of watching dad or mom,” says Reynolds. “Because they can get overtired and overstimulated, they don’t want to be a bother, or admit they don’t have the stamina they once had.”

And don’t be afraid to offer up an excuse to get mom or dad home.

“Plan for someone who’s going to say, ‘I’ve got to stop by the office and dad lives nearby,’ whatever it is, have a plan to get them out of there if you need to.”

If you’re traveling by air, get to the airport extra early. Everything is likely to take longer—from getting through security, to getting the gear into the overhead. Even if your companion doesn’t use a wheelchair, reserve one for the long trip to the gate. And if your mother doesn’t want to use it, (trust me, she won’t), say this: “You must do this or we’re not getting on the plane.”

Or something like that.

Finally, says Reynolds, you need to keep tabs on your elderly parent over the winter months in ways that you hadn’t before. There are all kinds of devices, from a sensor that can monitor the temperature in mom’s house, to GPS devices for parents who tend to wander. Caregivers can update family members using the web (see resources, below).
In all the stress of caring for an aging parent, it’s easy to forget to have fun. But that’s a mistake. “At every stage of life, you can make a difference in the quality of life,” says Reynolds. “You can always make a day better or not as good.”

And it’s not so hard to make a winter day better. You just call your mother and say: “Hey ma, what are you up to? Feel like going to Friendly’s?” (Trust me on this, she probably will.)

These resources can help you with eldercare year round
Your local Council on Aging offers lots of free and low-cost services and activities, like trips, classes, social events and performances. Many serve regular meals for a nominal fee, and have outreach workers who can help home-bound individuals. If you’re just beginning a caregiving plan, it’s a good place to start. You can find it listed on your town’s website.

The Home Care Alliance of Massachusetts
is a non-profit trade association of care agencies. They can help you find a home care aide.

800AgeInfo, a joint effort between the Mass. Executive Office of Elder Affairs and the Mass. Home Care Association, this site offers information on caregiving, and resources for Massachusetts residents. offers a free portal that enables families to share information about their elderly parents.

Denise Brown’s offers a wealth of resources and ideas for all types of caregiving, including a free e-book, The Working Family Caregiver.

Share your eldercare experiences and suggestions on the Fiftyshift Facebook page. And stop by our Pinterest page.

Guest post: When the nest empties

Posted by BJ Roche September 18, 2012 10:38 AM


When you spend time on a college campus, where small electronic devices are basically a fifth limb, it's hard not to overhear student conversations with mom. Sometimes I smile at the care I'm imagining coming from the other end of the line, and sometimes I cringe at the nasty way students talk to their moms.

Other times, I wonder whether mom might have a little too much time on her hands. When I busted a student last spring for texting during class, she responded, "But it's my mom! She worries when she can't get in touch with me!"


I asked UMass Amherst Journalism student Rose Mirandi for her advice for moms who are struggling with an empty house now that the school year has begun. Rose is from Amesbury, and she's helping me on my site, where this post also appears. You can read her food blog here.

Before writing, she called her mom.

Here's her take:

When I first moved into college I was only concerned with myself. I didn’t ask my parents how they felt. I didn’t notice my mother’s shaky voice when we said goodbye. It probably would have taken me about 30 years to realize what my mom was feeling that day, but when I was asked to write a piece on “empty nest syndrome,” I learned a lot sooner than I had expected.

She told me that soon after I went to school--I was the last of three children--she finally realized her life had changed and there was nothing she could do about it. We talked on the phone for a long time. Here are the four rules she now lives by.

No matter how much you miss them, never let your children know.

I’ve seen it with my friends a couple times: it will be Friday night and we’re all getting dressed to go out when someone gets a phone call from her mom. Ten minutes later she comes into the room all sad telling us how she feels bad her mom misses her so much. Being a grown woman, you should be able to handle your emotions and know not to ruin your child’s night by making him or her feel guilty about being away.

Thinking about all the times my friends have felt the need to drop everything and go home to visit their parents makes me so grateful that my mom doesn’t cry into the phone every night – or ever. I know she misses me as much as I miss her.

Get started on that bucket list.

Since my mom is a teacher, she gets out of work a couple hours before my dad every night. I think she originally told herself she was going to use that time to prepare dinner and do house chores, but I’m presuming that got old pretty fast.

This year, she and a friend began crossing things off their bucket lists. They’ve helped out at the local soup kitchen, stomped grapes at a close-by vineyard, taken knitting and scrapbooking classes as well as chocolate tours. I’m pretty jealous of everything she’s doing and I know she feels better about filling her days with things she’s always wanted to do.

Find just one show to keep up with every week.

My mom started watching "The Biggest Loser" religiously since I left. She’s obsessed with it, so much so that everyone in the family knows not to call her on Tuesday nights because there’s no way she’s going to pick up. She says it’s her one little guilty pleasure, well, that and a nice hot bath. Keeping up with a show seems to make the weeks go by quick and its great to have something to look forward to!

Start a new hobby.

My mom’s a Family and Consumer Science teacher, which means she loves to cook and sew. However, she has had the same old-school sewing machine since before I was born and it’s rusted over in the basement. A couple years ago she finally went to the store and bought a machine, cleverly forgetting to tell my dad how much it cost. Ever since the purchase she has made so many things around the house, which she has always talked about doing. She tries to work on a craft everyday. From seat cushions to baby clothes to curtains, she is all about homemade projects.

These are a few things that seem to have worked for her since being left with no children to feed or soccer games to chauffeur.

Share your empty nest experiences and suggestions on the Fiftyshift Facebook page. And stop by our Pinterest page. (Rose is helping me figure it out. Gotta love that reverse mentoring.)

Time to have the drug talk...with your parents

Posted by BJ Roche August 8, 2012 10:30 AM

First. The irony. Could it be that it's now our parents who have a drug problem?

Maybe this crosses your mind as you plunk mom's meds into her little pill daily pill boxes each week. (And maybe the stress of caregiving makes you want to take a couple of those little pills yourself. Remember: this would be very wrong.)

Seriously, though, it's not your imagination. The average older American now takes four or five prescription drugs and at least two-over-the-counter medications, notes Bill Hogan, a journalist and co-author, with geriatric pharmacist Armon B. Neel, Jr., of the Ask The Pharmacist column for the AARP Bulletin; in nursing homes, he notes, it's not unusual for patients to be taking as many as 20 or more medications.

Of course, many meds are helping people live longer, better lives. But many are not, and the side effects and interactions can often be worse than the conditions they're supposed to be curing. Some drugs are prescribed "off label." And lots of drugs shouldn't even be taken by older people.

All this over-and-mis-medicating has a cost, for the patients, but also in healthcare dollars.

Hogan and Neel, a geriatric pharmacist have just published a new book "Are Your Prescriptions Killing You?" and it's an eye opener, both for caregivers, and for babyboomers approaching older age. The authors trace the rise of polypharmacy and what they call "prescription cascade" that is actually harming older people. (Here's the first chapter.)

Neel, a fifth-generation pharmacist, found some shocking trends in his work monitoring prescriptions at nursing homes in his native Georgia. Lots of ineffective meds were still being prescribed for patients, and some meds had side effects like dizziness and unsteadiness that resulted in falls. He also found a number of patients suffering from side effects were misdiagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer's.

It's all in the math, as the authors point out:

A person taking 10 medications, for example, has 44 possible drug interactions that need to be analyzed. A person taking 15 medications has 104 such possible interactions.

In a phone interview, Hogan cited one troubling example.

"Older women who have persistent urinary tract infections, where it's not treated correctly, the dose of antibiotics are not correct, they can get a potassium deficiency that causes a fog and confusion that can be mistaken for Alzheimer's," he said. "Who would think of that? How many people get that kind of expert workup before they are put on these drugs?"

Not many.

There are lots of reasons for this. One surprising fact the authors point out is that the Food and Drug Administration doesn't test drugs on older patients. (This, despite the fact that people 65 and older account for more than a third of all reported drug reactions.) Secondly is our cultural belief--spurred on by billions in big pharma advertising and "educational websites" that pills can cure everything.

Hogan advises caregivers to get pro-active in managing medications. Now is a good time to take a look at your parents' prescriptions, since the time to change their Medicare Part D plan will soon be upon us.

A geriatric pharmacist can look at your parents' medications, and discuss their health with you. Here's a list of resources to get you started.

Take a look at the Beers Criteria, a list of medications that are inappropriate medically for older adults. If you really want to go crazy, you can even download an app for your Iphone with the criteria.

If you see a big change in lifestyle or behavior, ask first whether the drugs might be the cause, rather than aging or dementia, says Hogan: "It was shocking to me to see how many false diagnoses of Alzheimer's were due to mis-medication."

All this is important for babyboomers as well: it's worth the price of the book for information in the chapters on proton pump Inhibitors like Prilosec and Nexium, and osteoporosis drugs. But that's fodder for another post.

Here's a link to AARP's web series Inside E-Street, with another report on Neel and Hogan's work.

What do you think about medications and seniors? What's your biggest complaint about managing your parents' meds? Join the conversation at the Facebook page, follow us on Twitter, and now, check in on Pinterest. (I'm just figuring it out, but my reverse mentor tells me all the old ladies are on it.)

Honoring a child who has passed away

Posted by BJ Roche July 18, 2012 08:59 AM

I spent a Sunday awhile back digging up hundreds of daffodils in my garden, and in the evening we had dinner with friends who had lost their son a few years ago. Their world is still raw, and it seemed totally laughable when I mentioned my problem: too many daffodil bulbs and no place to put them. But then the kismet kicked in: they were making a daffodil field in their son's honor, and they sure could use a few.

This is what happens when a friend loses a child: you want to do something to fix it, turn back the clock, rewind the tape, anything to void this life-changing catastrophe. And yet, there you sit, not knowing what to say or do. And a lot of times, people just do nothing. That doesn't feel right, either.

I hadn't seen my friends in a long time, yet they had given me a gift: a way to help them keep their son's spirit vibrant and visible. A field of yellow in early spring. To me, the real definition of heaven is how we remember those who are gone, and it's hard not to be awed by the way the people choose to honor their children who have passed away.

The family of Allie Castner, who was struck by a car while crossing the street in Marblehead a few years ago, funded a scholarship at Marblehead High School that honors her sense of compassion and positive energy. They call the recipients "Allie's Army."

Emily List of Amherst, who died last Thanksgiving at age 26, is memorialized in a Performing Arts Fund that carries on the huge work she did, even for someone so young.

Her mother, Karen List, is a colleague in the UMass Journalism Program; we travelled a tiny step of the family's road while Emily received her treatments over the years at Mass. General. It's not easy for co-workers to be in such a near-but-far position; what we learned is that sometimes it is enough just to be present and try to keep the ship moving forward.

Karen has written an essay about life after the loss of her daughter.

I hope you will read it.

Karen also wrote this piece about the family's Mass General experience a few years ago, which ended up in the Congressional Record in honor of the Emily's fellow patient, Ted Kennedy.

Do you have a story on this topic to share? Share your thoughts, readings and resources on this topic at the Fiftyshift Facebook page.

To have it all and to have not

Posted by BJ Roche July 1, 2012 11:24 AM

At UMass Amherst in the early 1970's, a smart and funny economist named Jane Humphries taught a class called Women and the Economy, and for a bunch of 20-year-olds raised on Young Miss and Seventeen magazine, it was the beginning to a lifelong discussion.

The nub of it was this: Could women ever really have true economic equality under a capitalist system, or did we needed to come up with something new for everyone to move forward? And what would that system look like?

That question was always a subset of the feminist movement, but then came the 1980's, and sisterhood wasn't so powerful anymore, even though more women than ever were entering the workplace. We ended up with rampant consumerism, competitive parenting and the kind of careerism that had women wearing floppy bow ties and subjected to Don Draperesque ads like this one:

I thought of that ad, and the very expression "having it all" (which I hadn't heard in a long, long time), when I saw the recent cover of The Atlantic magazine, with its big story by former State Dept. official Anne-Marie Slaughter about how even high-achieving women with terrific husbands and a good support system have a hard time raising a family while getting to and staying at "the top." Hadn't anyone told her that "having it all" thing was bunk?


Not only is the term retro, it's grammatically cumbersome, leading to heinous sentences like the following, from an AP story on the controversy.

Is having it all in reasonable balance doable while more mothers in the U.S. wait out reforms that would make their lives better? Things like flexible hours, working from home or working part-time while raising kids and keeping careers on track? Is having it all worth having until then?


And, about that cover. It's an incomplete picture. They're only babies for a short time (as someone at work has, no doubt, told you). In no time at all, they become 22-year-olds with $40,000 in school loans and a video poker addiction and they won't move out of your basement. And where's the 92-year-old mother-in-law with dementia running around in her bathrobe?

Slaughter's story--like the way each of us manage work and family-- is rambling, complicated and personal, a mix of economic class, race, luck, personal choice, beliefs, ambition and work. Each of these variables can make for easy fodder, and the exchanges can feel like a cat fight across the web, and on the Atlantic site itself.

If Slaughter was working 80-hour weeks before, she's doubling down now to respond to the responses.

Media companies are finding they can get back in the game encourage a national shoutfest dialogue by running stories by women about their personal choices and then letting readers get judgy on them. The Atlantic got record web traffic and media coverage on this piece. (When was the last time you read The Atlantic?) Time magazine got its big bump when it published this cover story, giving the younger generation a turn to bash one another about their child-rearing practices, including breastfeeding into toddlerhood.


Talk about judgy: My 19-year-old, former foster daughter, the mother of two, thinks these breastfeeding moms are crazy; she and her friends think it's gross to flout their "girls" in public. And she's not talking about her babies. She asks a perfectly logical question: "If breastfeeding is so good for babies, why did they give me a big can of powdered formula when I left the hospital?")

We also used to say that "the personal is the political." But after reading, now, what must be tens of thousands of words on this topic in the past few days, I'm not sure this is always true. Slaughter's piece, along with the work diaries of other women in the blog posts and articles demonstrate an insane level of busy-ness that can sound like brag-plaining. The personal becomes a distraction, and it makes it easy to dismiss the larger discussion about women, family and work--and the ability for women to break through to the leadership levels of companies and government.

So, back to Jane Humphries' question: What kind of a system do we need? Certainly one that makes the job of caregiving--from birth to grave, a bit easier, and that values that job. Anything we do in those arenas--which are largely female--will help. UMass economist Nancy Folbre writes a lot about this topic.

Lots of good ideas have been around for awhile--can we talk about them again? For our daughters, let's get universal pre-school back on the public agenda. It's a two-fer: proven to be valuable longterm for all children (and society), while also professionalizing, and better compensating, early childhood educators and caretakers, who are mostly women.

At the other end of the lifecycle, let's get some help for all the women who are caring for their elderly parents. Another twofer.

Job-sharing was one of those 1980's trends that disappeared, largely because of the cost of health benefits. Can we take another look at that?

Let's make public schools colleges better and more affordable so people don't need to work five jobs to get their kids through.

The response to Slaughter's piece suggests there's enough momentum to launch our own Tea Party. We should probably stop comparing to-do lists and find ourself a working woman's version of Grover Norquist, a go-to talking head who holds politicians feet to the fire on the issues that matter to us.

Anybody got the time to take that on?

Making that big career change at midlife

Posted by BJ Roche June 13, 2012 04:05 PM

Friends and readers of much-loved Springfield Republican columnist Tommy Shea were shocked recently to read that he was leaving western Mass. this summer for a job on the foreign desk at The National, a daily English-language paper based in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates.

"It's an adventure," says Shea, who will be 57 next month. "It's a startup newspaper in a time when so many newspapers are dying ... it just seems like a fun, challenging time. I don't see any downside to it."

If there's a motto for your 50s, it should probably be, "If not now, when?"


The high mileage marriage

Posted by BJ Roche May 31, 2012 04:47 PM

Click and Clack, the Car Talk Guys, got something started last weekend with a call from Dan:

Dan took a look at his family, with 5 brothers and sisters, and parents who've been married for more than 50 years and he drew this conclusion: People who keep their cars longer are less likely to get divorced.

This guy is on to something. It might relate to whether a partner is lower maintenance and what the customer satisfaction is overall on the original deal. How many times have you wanted to "trade your wife in for a new model"? Or have you ever considered a marriage "tune-up"?

Maybe, as the Sheryl Crow song goes:

It's not having what you want. It's wanting what you've got.

Read more about the theory over at the Car Talk site. It's worth a read for the comments.

Painfully straight talk about caring for aging parents

Posted by BJ Roche May 22, 2012 09:35 PM

For a long time, it seemed like the costs and stresses of senior caregiving was one of those huge silent burdens being shared by women of a certain age.

Well, it wasn't really silent if you got talking to someone -- a co-worker or friend who was in the same boat. A friend who works in the counseling field tells me that much of her clientele are women trying to manage the emotional and financial stresses of caring for their moms.


Our number's up: saving for retirement when you can't afford to retire

Posted by BJ Roche May 11, 2012 12:03 PM
number graphic.jpg

Remember the first time you heard you'd need to have a million dollars to retire?

I do. I thought: You have got to be kidding me.

Then I thought: How is this going to work? We gajillion baby boomers can't all become millionaires can we?

Of course not.


Fifty things to know by 50. With a lot of help from my friends.

Posted by BJ Roche April 27, 2012 10:31 AM

A friend emailed me this post from Glamour Magazine that lists all the things you should know by your 30s. (I see there is no mention of dental care or the Spanx-vs.-Flexees debate in this list. Those were the days.)

Then she asked: What are the 50 things you should know by your 50s?

Damned if I know. I'm almost 60 and many days, it feels like I haven't learned a thing.

So I did what any other lazy social-media-savvy blogger would do. I "crowdsourced" the topic with my friends on Facebook. This was a win-win, because it turns out they are way smarter than me.


College game plan, Part 2: Student loan debt

Posted by BJ Roche January 5, 2012 10:30 AM

One of the biggest issues facing graduating seniors these days is just how they'll manage the debt they've accumulated over the previous four years. It's quite a chunk of change for a lot of students. According to The Project on Student Debt, the average 2010 college graduate left school with more than $25,000 in loan debt.

That figure is slightly higher in New England, because of the large number of private liberal arts colleges and the higher cost of public higher education, says Kevin Fudge, an advisor for American Student Assistance, a Boston non profit that helps students and alumni manage debt. You can check out the average debt at Massachusetts colleges here.

How'd we get here? It's partly the higher than inflation cost increases year after year; my students don't believe it when I tell them what I paid for a semester at UMass in the 1970's. But it's also the way aid is distributed.


Helping your college senior develop a game plan, Part 1

Posted by BJ Roche January 5, 2012 10:23 AM

It's a bittersweet time if your offspring are entering their final semester of college. Sweet, because the end of tuition checks is in sight. Bitter, because your daughter's entering a sketchy employment situation and you have turned her bedroom into your yoga studio and now you may have to give it back. This spring I teach my Launchpad Workshop for graduating seniors in my program at UMass, and here are a few tips I'll be sharing.


Thank you for not sharing

Posted by BJ Roche January 2, 2012 01:51 PM

"Privacy is highly overrated," a student pronounced after class one day last semester; she was following up on a discussion about the professional costs of exposing oneself too much online.

My first response was: how would you even know it's overrated? You've never experienced it. But when you're an old(er) person working with, and teaching about, technology you're always taking your own temperature. Was she right? Is it passe, or even bad advice to a young person building a career to suggest that you hold back a piece of yourself from the great digital maw? Does privacy matter any more?


Shorter days offer time to slow down

Posted by BJ Roche December 20, 2011 02:38 PM

Years ago I was doing some last-minute Christmas shopping at a garden shop in Amherst when I came across an unusual loyalty program: For every $30 purchase, customers got a free Thich Nhat Hanh poem. This is not the kind of thing you’d see at, say, Banana Republic, and the cynic in me loved it. It’s kind of rich, right? There’s the irony of spending thirty bucks to get a quote about mindfulness. Only in western Mass., kids! Plus, Zen master has a Facebook page. How Zen can that be? I could go on all day.


Don't get old; get active

Posted by BJ Roche November 29, 2011 05:13 PM

Where would we be without Mehmet Oz? In this month's AARP magazine, he's got a piece called "24 Hours to a Longer Life." It's a day that begins with yoga, ends with lights out at 10 p.m., and includes a few hits of astragalus at 3:30 p.m. Hey, I can do that.

Go figure: the world is going to hell, and baby boomers will read, pay or do anything to stay in it just a leeeettle bit longer.

What if we transferred a little of that energy into preserving the place for our grandchildren and their kids? After all, when was the last time you said to yourself, "Hmmm, wonder how wonderful it's going to be around here in 2050"?


Raging against the Black Friday machine

Posted by BJ Roche November 18, 2011 04:37 PM

Let me get this straight. I have to pass through the Christmas decorations aisle to buy my Thanksgiving turkey. I'm supposed to clean my house like a white tornado and organize a re-enactment of the invasion of Normandy plan, shop, and cook a meal for 14 people, clean up after this meal, dispose of a puppy-sized turkey carcass, and then, after having barely slept off the Pinot, get up and head out before dawn for a deal on a new flatscreen?

Are you kidding me? Who comes up with this stuff?


We were so much older then

Posted by BJ Roche November 7, 2011 10:47 AM


We tend to fall in and out of like with magazines, but I remain in love with, (and pay for), New York magazine for a lot of reasons, the latest of which is its cover story on the creation of Ms. Magazine in the 1970s.

If you came of age at that time, run, don't walk, to this oral history of the magazine and the accompanying reprints of articles.

It's startling to see how far we have come and how backwards we've gone in 40 years. It was a radical act at the time to announce publicly that you'd had an abortion, which was then mostly illegal. Today, abortion is a legal medical procedure undergone by about one third of American women under the age of 45. But what public (or private) figure would risk such an admission these days?


What to cook when it's just you and the cats. Or that cute little dog.

Posted by BJ Roche November 2, 2011 06:00 PM

Have you lost your cooking mo? I have. I used to love to cook; now there's always something more interesting or important to do.

Time is one factor: weeknight commuting takes a lot out of you, and when there are no kids around to feed, a big meal seems like more labor than it's worth. Can you say Kentucky Fried Pizza Bell?


No pictures, please.

Posted by BJ Roche October 20, 2011 03:45 PM

"That picture of you looks terrible," said my mother, a split second after a painfully long, over-the-phone process in which I finally managed to get her over to this blog.

"Yup, I know, ma," I replied. I took the picture myself, using my laptop in a Thai restaurant waiting for my friend Jackie to arrive for lunch. I shot six, picked one and sent it off. They wanted it then and I didn't have time for anything more than that. In the year that followed I had a lot of other things to do than pose for a picture, and when I had the time I looked terrible. What are you gonna do?

In the old days, if you were a writer, it didn't matter much what you looked like. In the social media age, everything matters what you look like.


Managing the sometimes mean mom. Or dad.

Posted by BJ Roche August 29, 2011 05:54 PM

It's perhaps fitting that Candice Bergen, whose career took off when she became a single mother in the sitcom "Murphy Brown," earned a second wind as Dr. Cuddy's nasty elderly mom on "House" last season. Baby boomers are moving on from child care to elder care, and she's surfing the zeitgeist with a delicious flair.


Paring back the Great Big Life

Posted by BJ Roche June 2, 2011 12:52 PM

My husband and I celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary this summer, and to honor the occasion, we are cleaning the house. You have to clean the house once every 25 years, whether it needs it or not.

You know what I'm talking about. A pretty big dig. Cellar. Closets. Pantry. Shed. The bins in the front hallway. (Bins. This is where the trouble begins.)

It's like an archeological excavation. Maybe you're familiar with the stuff classifications:


About the author

BJ Roche is a writer and teacher who lives in Western Massachusetts. She’s a senior lecturer in the Journalism Program at UMass Amherst, where she teaches writing, new media and More »

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