Incarnations and Generations

One of the funnest parts of being around for a long time is the opportunity to work with a second generation of families I’ve known during my career. This has happened to me several times now, and it’s amazing how cool it is, and how gratifying. I’ve advised sons, daughters, nephews, and even a grandchild.  Last night the magic happened again.

I have an abiding interest in health care, which has been a large part of my marketing and consulting practice. I am also the widow of a physician.

Through that interest, I came in contact with a man named Lucas Felt, the co-founder of a startup called The Medical Memory, which provides HIPAA-compliant video recordings of patient-provider visits. His co-founder Robert Porter, MD, a neurosurgeon with world-famous Barrow Neurological Center in Phoenix,  developed the product after his own father was diagnosed with cancer.

Dr. Porter experienced the challenges and frustrations of having to rely on family members to accurately recite complex information about his father’s condition and treatment. The experience had a profound effect on his approach to patient communication in his own practice.

I’ve been informally advising Lucas because I want to see the company succeed. And this may be its year: Medicare does not pay for hospital readmissions anymore, and patients must understand their discharge instructions and comply with them so they don’t have to go back to the hospital. It is in the doctors’ and the hospitals’ best interest to get the patient to comply. And when patients are at a doctor visit, they don’t often remember what is said to them, because they are ill and nervous. The Medical Memory, a video that can be replayed, is a solution for that.

So that’s the entrepreneurship side of the story. The interesting part is that one night last year at Hillstone while having advisory red wine, I found out that I had known Lucas Felt’s mother, who had been an editor at the Arizona Republic when I was in my previous incarnation as a “PR maven.” Both Lucas and I were amused when we discovered that, but we let it drop.

Last night we had another session of advisory drinks, and I realized my knowledge of the workings of the Arizona legislature with respect to health care might be useful to him. We made a preliminary plan for me to time travel back to the days when I lobbied the legislature on behalf of health companies, and then Lucas got a text message.

It turned out that his wife and his mother were in the dining room at Hillstone! We ran into the dining room and Susan Felt and I had a joyous reunion and made plans to see each other again.

That’s part of the joy of spending a long career in the same city. I might have made more money somewhere else, but I feel like I’ve had a bigger impact in Arizona, and at the end of the day, isn’t it all about making yourself useful and helping people? I think it is.


Aging 2.0: More Technology, More Fun

I spent two great days at the Aging 2.0 Optimize conference in San Francisco last week. It was a good conference for Phoenix, because our local Aging 2.0 Global Pitch Competition winner, Silvernest, came in as First Runner Up out of all the global Aging 2.0 chapters. Silvernest also got accepted into the Digital Health track of 500 Startups, and the head of that track, who happens to be a friend of mine, told me that Wendi Burkhardt, its founder, is a kickass CEO. We need to welcome her back to Phoenix after 500 Startups’ Demo Day.


Silvernest is a roommate matching service for seniors and Boomers who want to stay in their homes as along as they can. As a homeowner, you can sign up for the service and make some extra money by taking in a roommate. The roommates, needles to say, are screened carefully.


Because other members of the team are from Colorado, Silvernest has rolled out in Denver first. Once it perfects the model, it will come to Phoenix.


I saw many other interesting companies in the aging services space, including Senssassure, a notification system for managing incontinence. Sensassure’s Smartpatch attaches to the outside of any adult brief, giving caregivers insight into when a resident has or may have an episode of incontinence. It has already resulted in 73% less time in wet briefs for the residents of the three care homes in which it had been tested.


Sensassure had by far the best story of the show, having been founded by six 20-year-olds who actually moved into a senior facility and slept in its conference room for a year to get to know the residents and what their biggest pain points were. Incontinence proved to be the most important, so that’s what they attacked, going so far as to try their own product to see if it worked.


Another startup,  Ekso Bionics, which has produced an exoskeleton to help stroke victims and spinal cord injury victims stand and get moving again.


And I personally pre-ordered Nuheara’s IQBuds, intelligent wireless headphones that take the place of hearing aids for those of us who destroyed our hearing listening to music. Apparently, we’re so unwilling to endure the stigma of hearing aids that it takes most people who have hearing loss ten years to give in. I’m somewhere in that decade, but since I also just received my iPhone 7 without a phone jack I’m going to have to spring for wireless earbuds anyway. These aren’t much more expensive than Apple’s Airpods. I’ll let you know:-)


Another highlight was Dr. Adam Gazzaley, head of Neuroscape, a lab that is testing the extent to which video games and virtual reality can help aging people regain “cognitive control,” by teaching the brain new skills that can be transferable. It’s almost like lighting up the brain again. His newest research, Body Brain Training, which integrates physical movement with cognitive training is probably one of the killer apps for virtual reality.


But far ahead of him in consumer deployment is a company called Rendever, which brings virtual reality headsets into care facilities so seniors can attend their grandchildren’s recitals virtually or tour a museum they always wanted to see.


Companies like Rendever focus on another common problem of aging, social isolation. I guess this is what I have to look forward to: either I’ll be in a care home with nobody to visit me, or I’ll be at home without my car keys.


Thank goodness the windup keynote was from Jennifer Haroon, Head of Business Operations for Google’s Self-Driving Car Team, who gave a demonstration of how autonomous vehicles will provide mobility solutions (one day) for seniors. Not quite yet, however.


In the meantime, we can all use GoGoGrandparent, which allows seniors without smartphones to call Uber, Postmates, and all those other on-demand services. Acting as a senior concierge, is another way for seniors to stay mobile and engaged, or at least to order food delivery.


12 Steps to a Better Quality of Life

I used to think I wanted to live forever. And then I began to see what it takes and where the very elderly often find themselves (institutionalized.) From what I’ve read, the best way to extend your life span is to eat very, very few calories. That idea, however, originated during the Renaissance and we can assume it grew out of a way to look at the good side of famine. The study I cite above, from 2007, is one of the only ones to recommend this process, and Wikipedia has a section about calorie restriction called “Confounders,” which I assume means there are plenty of studies that DON’T think calorie restriction helps. Anyway, eating less is out of the question for me. I just won’t.

Now I believe what I’d like to do is simply keep my quality of life as high as I can while I am here. So here’s what I  do to make that happen:

1)Keep a puppy in my life so I am sure to walk 10,000 steps a day. Yes, it doesn’t have to be as large a puppy as B2, but he’s the one who presented himself to me.buppy2) Have your joints replaced when necessary so you can continue to move around relatively painlessly. I had a hip replacement ten years ago.

3)Practice yoga so you can maintain enough flexibility to get up off the floor if you do happen to fall. Also so you can tie your walking shoes. I practice about five days a week.

4) See a cardiologist once a year to make sure you don’t have cardiovascular problems that go undetected.

5) Have all those shots they recommend for the “elderly”: flu, shingles, pneumonia.

6)Have your cataracts removed so you can read and continue to drive.

7)Learn to moderate your intake of alcohol. A glass of wine with dinner.

8)See a podiatrist every once in a while to keep your feet in good shape, and in between visits, have regular pedicures so your feet don’t hurt while you’re doing those 10,000 steps.

9) Go to the dentist, and make sure you have enough teeth to eat fresh fruits and vegetables.

10) Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables — emphasis on the vegetables. I became totally plant-based about five years ago.

11) Control your blood pressure and blood sugar so you don’t have a stroke or get diabetes.

12) Be present to your friends. What you do for a living not only doesn’t matter, but isn’t even discussed in most other countries. Who you love and who loves YOU matters.

There are others, like travel as much as you can, keep up with technology and innovation, and live life with a spirit of giving, but they are the overlays rather than the basics. And I forgot to mention sleeping 8 hours a night, which is a basic, but would push this post to 13 steps, which might be unlucky.

Good luck getting all of this done. It’s pretty time consuming. If you are over 40, it’s your new work:-)






Where Are All the Grandparents?

storks-movie-2016-trailer-posterI took two of my grandchildren to see “Storks” over the weekend, because it was dad’s ( my son’s) turn to have them, but dad was working. The kids are two and five, and while the five-year-old watched the movie in between requests for popcorn and candy (unfulfilled), the two-year-old took the opportunity to wander around the theatre and jump over seats and up and down stairs.

I tell you this only so you know I might have some of the plot details of this movie wrong. But I’m not reviewing it — just telling you what it reveals about the culture we live in, especially in the US. The movie was okay; both Parker and I could watch it, and that’s all a kid movie has to offer. It moved quickly, was visually appealing, and I could identify with it.

The two parents in “Storks” work in real estate. They work at home, and they sit at computers facing each other, answering phones and typing all day. They never talk to their child, who lives a rich inner life without them because he has to. This child apparently has no friends and doesn’t go anywhere for a social life. His parents are so busy working all day and all night, that they don’t have time. He reminds them repeatedly that in a flash his childhood will be over and he will be gone, but mostly they don’t listen.

No wonder he decides he wants a little brother and asks the Storks to bring him one. But when he tells his parents he has asked, they inform him that storks no longer deliver babies.

And indeed they don’t. In this movie, the storks have pivoted to delivering packages for the on-demand economy, and they’ve been reduced to the status of drones. Their factory is automated, and they have enterprise politics and a leader far removed from what the storks actually find fulfilling (which was delivering babies).

The plot is extremely complicated here, and I was running around the theatre, so I lost the thread of how we get to the happy ending, but after about an hour of near-misses and gentle conflicts between good and evil, the good wins out (PG rating) and a baby sister gets delivered to the little boy who wanted a brother. I do know that the child coerces the father up on the roof to adapt the chimney for a stork and that the father rediscovers his own childhood in manual work. The mother also gets converted, although more slowly.

And the parents learn that it is fulfilling to actually interact with their child.

There are no grandparents in “Storks.” There is no community until the end. And it’s a representation of the best of our current condition. Actually, more often than not, the family doesn’t even have two parents who work too hard to pay attention. Just one. And the grandparents live in another city or another country. A majority of my own grandchildren and step-grandchildren are not in Arizona.

What’s the solution? “Adopt” some grandkids to give your life extra meaning. I was happy to spend that afternoon seeing “Storks,” and I learned something about our culture.



How to Open a Generational Conversation

0 Last night Susan Brooks, founder of Cookies From Home, whose successful exit in 2010 after a quarter century in business was envied by a community still reeling from the Great Recession, came and spoke to my Digital Media Entrepreneurship class at Cronkite. Susan, who is now a consultant to woman business owners, and her husband Barry, who is a Zumba teacher, are soon celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary.

Do the math.  It’s enough to show you the difference between aging in the past and aging in the future.

Above is a photo taken by one 70+ woman of another 70+ woman. The first woman, the professor, is a user of Snapchat, an app for the “younger” demographic. The second woman, the entrepreneur, has the fiery red hair and the high energy that propelled her into a nationwide success from baking cookies, offers her experience.

As I said last night, we’re at an inflection point in our treatment of aging and ageism. We still have ageism ingrained in the culture, but more and more there’s a cognitive dissonance between what younger people consider as old and what “old” really connotes. We need a new word for this: perhaps you are not “old” until you are terminally ill? Or infirm? Or unwilling to participate in the pace of change around you?

We began to get into this question in my Digital Media Entrepreneurship class, where one of the students has a business idea that could span three generations and open up the conversation among them. I hope she gets the company launched; she could really change the dialogue. It would be fantastic if a journalism student defined one of the 21st century functions of journalism!

The Chart is Not the Patient

Oh, my God,” he cried, the wet films hanging from the light board as I hastily got dressed. I thought he was going to tell me I had a breast cancer.

My husband, a radiologist, was giving me my annual mammogram when he made that exclamation. But no, it wasn’t cancer.

“You have the worst degenerative disk disease I’ve ever seen,” he’d said, looking past my breasts at my spine.I didn’t care about that. I didn’t have breast cancer, and I was pretty damned healthy. I ran 50 miles a week, had run 8 marathons, and in my early fifties I was only concerned about breast cancer.

“I have no pain,” I said. “You will,” he said ominously. “And when you do, don’t have an MRI of your back. Because if you do, they will try to recommend surgery. And back surgery never works.”

A couple of years later, he himself died of cancer.

I forgot about that mammogram until one day I tried to get out of bed and couldn’t straighten up. In terrible pain, I hauled myself out of bed on to the canal bank to meet my running buddies for our usual run. As I struggled, my back loosened up, and I felt better. But that wasn’t the end of it. Day after day I awoke frozen, ran to “warm up,” and re-froze when I sat down.

Finally, I started seeing orthopedic surgeons, starting with one of our friends, and I had the MRI. “You’ve got to have something done,” he said, or you will be in a wheelchair without bowel and bladder control.” That alone was enough to scare the piss out of me. I got a second opinion, and then I went to the famous Barrow Neurological Institute, then the best place in the city for back surgery.

The famous surgeon Volker Sonntag kept me waiting for thirty minutes as he did his rounds accompanied by his epigone. Uncomfortable while I waited (I couldn’t sit either), I picked up a pamphlet about back exercises and lay down on his office floor to do them. When he came in, he said the same thing everyone else did and, cowed, I scheduled surgery.

But the idea of surgery (I had never had any, and even my childbirths were natural) terrified me. My own mother had come out of an anaesthetic for routine surgery demented. And I was a mind worker — a widow with foster children to support and kids still in college. The surgery was the kind where they put a metal cage around your spine and screw everything in place. Sonntag said in six months I’d be good as new.

I came into the Biltmore gym in tears, and talked to my trainer, Chip Bohlman. He said to me, “why don’t you try yoga. It helps some people. And we have a class here at the hotel.” The only reason I went, because of course twenty years ago Type A people scorned things like yoga, was because the thought of surgery was so terrifying and the pain was so intense.

At the first class, Mary Bruce put us into a forward fold, and I couldn’t straighten up. But I kept going, and eventually the pain subsided. I postponed the surgery. Mary Bruce, my savior, left the Biltmore, and I followed her to a new yoga studio opening near me. I practiced at least three times a week, got certified as a teacher, and went back six months later for a followup to Sonntag. “Well, ” he said.” You’re one of the lucky ones for whom conservative treatment worked.”

Just like that. I remembered what my husband had said: “surgeons sell surgery.”

Fast forward twenty odd years. Volker Sonntag retired last year. I still haven’t had surgery. MRI still looks dreadful, and every time I see a doctor, he or she gasps. I still practice yoga.

The chart is not the patient.

How to Age Well and Stay Healthy