GBO NEWS: Journalists in Aging Fellowships Select 15 Reporters; Menopause Blog Empowering Women’s Health; Alzheimer’s Memories and Chile’s Other 9/11; Positive Dementia Films Beyond Fear of Diagnosis; & MORE
GENERATIONS BEAT ONLINE NEWS
E-News of the Journalists Network on Generations.
September 11, 2023 — Volume 30, Number 10
EDITOR’S NOTE: GBONews, e-news of the Journalists Network on Generations (JNG), publishes alerts for journalists, producers and authors covering generational issues. If you have difficulty getting to the full issue of GBONews with the links provided below, simply go to www.gbonews.org to read the latest or past editions. Send your news of important stories or books (by you and others), fellowships, awards or pertinent kvetches to GBO News Editor Paul Kleyman. [email@example.com]. To subscribe to GBONews.org at no charge, simply sending a request to Paul with your name, address, phone number and editorial affiliation or note that you freelance. For each issue, you’ll receive the table of contents in an e-mail, so just click through to the full issue at www.gbonews.org. GBONews does not provide its list to other entities. NOTE ALSO: Some news links below hit paywalls and are inaccessible without subscriptions, although a number of those do allow free access to the first few stories.
In This Issue: Kylo Ren calls for Yoda to retire–“Out with Leaders Over 800!”
1. EYES ON THE PRIZE: *** Journalists in Aging Fellowships Select 15 Reporters, ranging from Christian Science Monitor to Puerto Rico’s El Nuevo Día, to Forbes.
2. GEN BEATLES NEWS: *** Menopause Matters: Empowering Women’s Health, new blog on Medium by Liz Seegert; *** Jay Newton-Small’s new column for the Albuquerque Journal.
3. THE MOVIEMOBILE: The Other 9/11—Chile’s Sundance winner Eternal Memory on Alzheimer’s, Dictatorship, Heroic Journalism, and Love; *** Five Dementia Films of Living Beyond Diagnosis
1. EYES ON THE PRIZE
*** Journalists in Aging Fellowships Select 15 Reporters — from such news outlets as the Christian Science Monitor, Puerto Rico’s El Nuevo Día, Forbes, and India Currents as Journalists in Aging Fellows for 2023-24.
The program, a collaboration between the Gerontological Society of America (GSA) and our Journalists Network on Generations (publisher of GBONews.org), celebrates its 14th year by bringing to the total number of journalism fellows to 232.
This year’s reporters will attend GSA’s Annual Scientific Meeting in Tampa, FL, Nov. 8-12, to research their wide rangin proposed projects, such as health-insurance challenges for seniors with long-COVID, the environmental impact of retirement, heart health for African Americans, and the high level of malnutrition among those ages 85+.
The huge conference will draw over 4,000 experts in aging from 50 countries, many of whom will present hundreds of presentations and research papers on pretty much every topic under the aging sun. In the coming months, the fellowship program will also present Zoom sessions to both the new and past fellows.
The Fellows will receive a $1,500 stipend plus all travel costs to the conference. To date, the Fellowships have generated more than 800 stories for about 175 news outlets in both mainstream and ethnic or community media. (See our continuously updated list of published fellowship stories here.)
Following is the list of this year’s New Fellows, whose proposed in-depth projects were chosen by a panel of journalists and gerontologists. In addition, the program will bring back several past Fellows to continue their coverage of issues in aging. We will announce them soon.
Kate Ashford, Pelham, NY, Lead Writer on Medicare, NerdWallet. Project: “Long COVID in Older Adults,” health effects on insurance coverage limitations for one in four seniors, who experienced long COVID-19.
Deborah Bailey, Silver Spring, MD, contributor, Afro American Newspapers. Project: “Black Maturity, Diabetes and American Policy–The Perilous Intersection,” a series on the impact of diabetes on Black Americans in post pandemic America.
Katie Scarlett Brandt. Editor-in-Chief, Chicago Health Magazine and Caregiving Magazine. Project: A series on aging and homelessness.
Clara Germani, Laguna Beach, CA, Senior Editor, Christian Science Monitor. Project:“What really is ‘old,’ anyway?” How an aging American is going to change American culture.
Cleo Krejci, Reporter, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Project: Holes in care and worker training at Wisconsin Community Based Residential Facilities (assisted living).
Meera Kymal, Scarsdale, NY, Managing Editor, India Currents. Project: “Language barriers limit health care access for South Asian seniors.”
Rose Lundy, Portland, ME, Reporter, The Maine Monitor (part of ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network. Project:Impact of limited long-term care at a rural community facility.
Christina Nooney, San Francisco, CA, Producer, KALW public radio. Project: “Why Elders 85+ Lead California Deaths from Malnutrition.”
Marga Parés Arroyo, Reporter, El Nuevo Día, Puerto Rico’s largest newspaper. Project: “Abandonment of Elders in Hospitals” series of articles.
Anjana Rajbhandary, Carmel, IN, Contributor, NepYork, English-language for Nepali-speakers in U.S. (Also, columnist, Nepali Times, Kathmandu). Project: “The Vital Role of Personal Care,” challenges for older Nepali immigrants in the U.S.
Clavel Rangel, Miami, FL, Senior Editor, El Tiempo Latino in Washington, DC. Project: “Navigating Automation: The Future of Latino Adult Workers in a Digital Age,” article series.
Kristen Senz, Bloomington, IN, Contributor, Today’s Caregiver Magazine. Project: “Health Equity Through Innovation: The Promise of Longevity-Focused Tech.”
Cassandra Spratling, Contributor, Detroit Free Press. Project: “TheHeart-Health of Older African Americans: Their Vulnerability and What Research Can Tell Us,” two-part series.
John F. Wasik, Grayslake, IL, Columnist, Forbes Magazine. Project: “Green Golden Years: The Environmental Impact of Retirement,” article series.
Macy Yang, Sacramento, CA, Editor and Publisher, Hmong Daily News digital newspaper. Project: “Hmong Elders Face Invisibility, Depression, and Social Isolation.”
We’re grateful to this year’s nonprofit funders for helping us bring stories of the longevity revolution to so many audiences. This year’s funders includes the Silver Century Foundation, John A. Hartford Foundation, Archstone Foundation, the Commonwealth Fund and the NIHCM Foundation, plus a generous contribution from John Migliaccio.
2. GEN BEATLES NEWS
*** Menopause Matters: Empowering Women’s Health is a blog on Medium by our colleague Liz Seegert. She writes that it’s “a new publication, focusing on a key time of transition for women — before, during, and after menopause.”
Seegert’s most recent post, for instance, is headlined, “Am I Losing My Marbles?” (Sept. 8, 2023), with the Dek: “A common menopause symptom may make you question your sanity.” She writes in part, “ While some women worry that these memory lapses are early-onset dementia, more than likely, your brain is reacting to the fluctuations in hormone levels.”
Unlike much else available online, Seegert promises that Menopause Matters will be “based on facts, reliable clinical studies, expert advice, and which would empower them to take better control of their health. . . We’ll demystify the process, the symptoms, and the treatments — from brain fog to disappearing libido to hormone replacement therapy. We’ll cover the biological, mental, and emotional changes that so many women experience as they transition out of their reproductive years, from navigating stubborn weight gain to navigating hot flashes at work.”
After an editor at Medium invited Seegert to develop Menopause Matters, she told GBONews.org, “I queried friends, family, colleagues on and off social media, it seems like there’s both a strong desire and need for women to have a go-to resource for all things menopause, particularly symptom management, handling issues at work, and treatment options. I found several other writers who blog about these issues on Medium and invited them to contribute — so far, all have said yes. Plus I put out another request for writers on LinkedIn and Facebook and have received quite a few queries and several submissions to date.”
Seegert emailed GBONews that others who’ve signed on as Menopause Matters contributors so far are health journalist Liz Scherer; retired MD, Leslie Girmsheid, who is “working on a book about managing hot flashes and such through Western and Chinese medicine”; Alexandria Jones-Patton, RN, a cardiac nurse, researcher and health freelancer; health writer Renee Tarantowski; and Cathy Goodwin, PhD, “marketer, writer, and standup comic,” says Seegert. She added, “I just bought her book When I Get Old, I’m Going To Be a Bitch: Aging in Sneakers and Running from Stereotypes. She added, “I like her snark.”
A veteran journalist on health care and aging (and proud, sometimes tired grandmother), Seegert freelances, edits the “Aging” blog for the Association of Health Care Journalists, and is the Co-Director of the Journalists in Aging Fellows Program, our Journalists Network on Generations collaboration with the Gerontological Society of America.
*** The Ever-Inventive Jay Newton-Small has returned to journalism as a columnist for the Albuquerque Journal. The long-time political writer for Time Magazine and Bloomberg News, whose 2016 book Broad Influence: How Women Are Changing the Way America Works was a New York Times bestseller, diverted her energies in recent years to a very different kind of storytelling in the aftermath or her father’s struggle with Alzheimer’s disease.
First, Newton-Small founded and serves as CEO of MemoryWell, a media platform for connecting family members with loved ones in memory care and similar long-term care units with professional writers. The reporters craft concise, illustrated life stories for media platforms, such as iPads. The aim is to help care providers develop more empathetic and personalized care for their patients by knowing more about them.
As an extension to MemoryWell, in 2022, she also launched PlanAllies, to assist health plans, brokers and Accountable Care Organizations to improve their outreach to older clients through more effective use of technology, including artificial intelligence.
Heady and techie as all that entrepreneurship is, Newton-Small could not for long resist the siren call of the keyboard. Also, she relocated from the madness-vortex of the nation’s capital to Santa Fe, NM, a couple of years ago — and got married. Life and love, including of political journalism, proved irresistible.
Her initial column (Aug. 31, 2023) – featured on the Albuquerque Journal’s front page — broaches the looming conundrum of this election season, headlined, “An Age of Aging Leaders.” Newton-Small posted on Facebook, “I have a new side gig as a columnist for my new hometown paper. This is the first one. It’s fun to be back writing again! This one if about: How old is too old when it comes to our elected officials?”
One source she quotes is Bob Kramer, founder of the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care and Nexus Insights, a think tank focused on the future of aging services. He told her, “Right now, the issue of age and feeble- mindedness or dementia is used as much as a ‘gotcha’ for politicians whose views one does not like and is a shorthand for saying ‘he or she is unfit for the job’ rather than just saying, ‘I disagree with what he or she says or stands for and don’t want them in office.’”
Newton-Small adds, “Kramer and other advocates for older adults say the public would be better served by learning how to recognize signs of cognitive impairment, encouraging screening, and advocating for democratic mechanisms for responding when an official is no longer able to serve.”
3. THE MOVIEMOBILE
*** As this editor screened the new feature documentary, Eternal Memory, by Maite Alberdi, it occurred to me that the director of the delightful 2021 Oscar nominee, The Mole Agent, about a real-life mystery in a Chilean nursing home, might have subtitled her new production, The Mind Agent.
Filmed over four years, Eternal Memory, won the 2023 Sundance Film Festival’s Grand Jury Prize for World Cinema. The film (84 minutes in Spanish with English subtitles) converges the deepening stages of Alzheimer’s disease with the memory quest of the film’s central figure, broadcast journalist Augusto Góngora. That aim has been to urge his people keep present in mind Chile’s national trauma of its brutal dictatorship in order to instill an era of truthful reconciliation.
As provocative as those disparate elements are – one man’s fading mind against the preservation of a nation’s memory — it is the unusual warmth and humor pervading this film that place it in rare company. Eternal Memory is among the few productions in recent years that embrace the trials of dementia within the reality that life and love don’t end with a diagnosis.
Memory After Chile’s Coup
For Chileans, the date of September 11 chisels a different historical meaning than it does in the United States. It was on that date in 1973 – exactly 50 years ago – that Captain General Augusto Pinochet led the bloody, US-backed coup against the democratically-elected government of President Salvador Allende. In the streets then and in the 17 years that followed were the dashing Góngora and his colleagues of the secret media group Teleanalisis. Their clandestine documentaries would, we learn in the film, preserve the only ground-level audio/visual archive of what was happening to the Chilean people in those years.
As the Los Angeles Times’ Robert Abele noted in his glowing review, “During the years of Pinochet’s dictatorship, Augusto had been a valuable underground journalist bravely covering citizens’ hardships under the regime; after democracy arrived in 1990, he segued to cultural programming on public television as a respected director and presenter.” In the post-Pinochet era, the handsome on-air producer headed all the cultural programming at Televisión Nacional de Chile.
Political grievance, though, is secondary in Eternal Memory to its story of love in the devotion of his wife, famed Chilean actress Paulina Urrutia. The prevailing role of memory in this film goes beyond how a country may hold on to its past together. Most strikingly, it demonstrates how we may sadly embrace one’s sense of loss, at the same moment as we lovingly enfold our arms around the real life before us.
Integrated Into the Caregiver’s Life
From its first moments in their bedroom, the affection of Augusto and Pauli for one another is surprising, as she climbs up on their bed and reminds him that she’s not a stranger but, to his delight, his wife of 20 years. Among the key scenes videoed by Urrutia in their home, this moment captures the couple’s exceptional relationship that caught the attention of Maite Alberdi. The director initially observed them while visiting the university where Pauli, who headed the theater faculty, was directing a play.
Alberdi recalled watching Pauli during a rehearsal: “While she was doing a presentation, I noticed Augusto in the room. He already had Alzheimer’s by that point, and I saw how she made it part of her work and her life, he wasn’t just sitting at home. He was accompanying her at work, and she let him participate, interrupt, she was not ashamed, she even enjoyed having him there. I had never seen a person with dementia so integrated into a caregiver’s life. She seemed to really enjoy having him there.”
Góngora, who died at age 71 this past May, was diagnosed with dementia four years earlier. Ironically, over the subsequent filming, including through the COVID-19 pandemic, the living present increasingly became the couple’s thread to memorializing the past, both in their relationship and for their country. Even in their most anguishing hours together, when Augusto cannot remember who Pauli is to him, their eyes remain adoringly fixed on each other.
Pauli, who also served in recent years as Chile’s Minister of Culture, tirelessly insists that Augusto know who he is and his role heroic role in preserving the truths essential to keeping their troubled nation fighting for its freedom.
The film includes a clip of Augusto speaking some years ago, on the publication of his book, about documenting life during the Pinochet dictatorship. He advocates, “It is very important to reconstitute memory, not to remain anchored in the past. . . It is always an attempt to see oneself, to know the problems, to know our weaknesses in order to be able to overcome them and to be able to generously face the future. . . I believe that Chileans also need to reconstitute our emotional memory, precisely because these years have been so hard, so traumatic, so full of pain.”
Identity, Values, Love
Some, especially those who have experienced the sorrow of dementia in a loved one, may find it difficult to reconcile the distressing personal passages of The Eternal Memory with the joy that also suffuses this film. One prominent critic, Glenn Kenny, in his otherwise informative review for RogerEbert.com, found the film wanting in its episodic shift between family, caregiving and history: “We’re left with the question of what a person can hang on to when everything about their identity and values leaves them.”
Yet, the answer in The Eternal Memory for this reviewer clearly hangs on the essential hook of the abiding love between this sparkling couple, and in the devotion with which Paulina engages Augusto in normalizing the activities of their days. Perceived only as a rare instance of true love, some may discount the abiding gaze between them as an isolated and privileged exception.
But the model of their mutual adoration under stress, may also hold for many a reminder that calm, patient and loving care also has the power of wresting kindness from the most despairing moments.
Pauli’s focused attention on Augusto, even through tears, returns them both from the forlorn to a new mood, just as dementia experts have long advised caregiver to do in stressful moments: eye contact, calming words of another action, happier time, favorite food or song, another place.
In his case, at some moments of the film, that place is in video clips of a younger Gustavo reporting on television and his fascination at her insistence — that’s who you were. Their identity and values are exactly what love has to do with it. States Pauli in the film, “Without memory, there is no identity.”
Reporters can access more about the film, the press kit and images, including upcoming screening locations around the country are at: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/gjdjr2p8cvjfpuz/AABIQu7Wo84QoeSsfWajtBkya?dl=0. (Let me know if you have tech problems with it.)
*** Five Dementia Films of Living Beyond Diagnosis
As important as it is to represent the frustration and anguish of caregiving for someone with dementia, which is shown in poignant scenes of Eternal Memory, the depiction of dementia only as unrelentingly distressing has long been criticized in gerontology as skewing the discussion – and funding – toward fear and away from approaches that can assure so many that life with dementia is still a life well worth living. Following are some other films that offer a more holistic view. GBONews would love to hear of others our readers would recommend. Most of these films are available on standard streaming services, such as AppleTV and Amazon Prime.
* Keys Bags Names Words: Hope in Aging and Dementia Is a new documentary receiving wide praise. While this editor is yet to screen it, I was touched by interview on KALW public radio with its producer-director Cynthia Stone. They were featured on the Sept. 5 broadcast of KALW’s “Your Call” with host Rose Aguilar. On the program with Stone was the film’s principal figure, Jill Harmon, who movingly described how, as her husband Don’s caregiver for 14 years, she found ways to connect meaningfully with him, even when he no longer recognized her, and found it possible to live a high quality of life after diagnosis.
* Complaints of a Dutiful Daughter: This 1994 Oscar-nominee (feature documentary), directed by Deborah Hoffmann, with cinematographer Frances Reid, is a virtual classic. Doris Hoffman, recently widowed at 78, moved from New York to live with Deborah in the Bay Area, soon exhibiting a bizarre obsessiveness. In one scene she eats one banana after another without realizing she’s just had one. When she was eventually diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, daughter Deborah recalled later, “I was constantly looking for a way to connect, and a way to know what she’s thinking and what she’s feeling, and what I should be doing. But it was more like interpreting dreams.”
As described on the website of POV, which aired the documentary on PBS in 1995, “Their former relationship irretrievably obscured by memory loss, the two women forge a new friendship, based not on a shared past but on an abiding love that transcends long-forgotten particulars. ‘She is the ultimate of living in the moment,’ Hoffmann says proudly of her mother in the film’s closing monologue. ‘She’s sort of the ultimate enlightened person.’”
* América (2018, 75 mins., Spanish with English subtitles) is the debut documentary by US directors Erick Stoll and Chase Whiteside. During a vacation to Puerto Vallarta, the pair befriended a quirky and artistic trio of brothers, whom they discovered were caring for their dementia afflicted grandmother, age 93, in nearby Colima, Mexico.
Often amusing, always charming, this tender film finds loving care may carry across generations even where impoverished young family members innovate to survive, with one becoming a circus performer, and another leading yoga sessions for American tourists. This film is so well made that on first viewing it, I was sure it was a scripted family comedy. Yet Stoll and Whitehead found universality in a living drama located in a remote corner of another country and a language other then their own.
* What They Had (2018, 101-minute drama), by writer-director Elizabeth Chomko, starring, , , and. Opening with the mother (Blythe Danner) wander into Chicago streets during a blizzard, this film provides a winter snowglobe view into one family’s intergenerational responses to an older parent’s onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Mother’s dementia takes a supporting role in this insightfully written and directed drama, which deserved better than mainstream media’s positive but oddly tepid reviews, especially given so many fine performance by this all-star cast.
Foremost during this compact film are the years-long estrangement of a controlling father (Robert Forster in his final role) and stubborn son (Michael Shannon), a successful daughter’s (Hilary Swank) midlife crisis over her flagging marriage, and overall, a sharply realized portrait of a working-class family in urban America. The story, drawing on Chomko’s experience with her grandmother’s 17-year battle with Alzheimer’s, resolves, perhaps too softly for Hollywood, into a difficult but loving conclusion. This film, though, is far more well-crafted and deeper than a typical Lifetime cable movie. This filmgoer looks forward to seeing more by Chomko.
* The Rest I Make Up—A film about Maria Irene Fornes (2018, 79 minute documentary) byMichelle Memran. Shot over two decades, this delightful feature doc only turned to one brilliant woman’s adaptation to dementia’s challenges in her final years. Now regarded as one of America’s great playwrights, the innovative Cuban-American dramatist earned the enduring respect of colleagues Edward Albee, Lanford Wilson and other mostly-male members around the legendary experimental drama scene at New York’s Off-Broadway mecca, the La Mama theater.
Known in the arts world as the ex-lover of social critic Susan Sontag, Fornes emerges through the film as a relentless discoverer of creative possibilities in every moment. She allows at one, as she watches a river boat, imagining a scene on board, that her lifelong penchant for dramatizing acts in every moment is well suited to her Alzheimer condition; memory never played much of a role in her Avant-Garde style of stage craft.
Fornes and filmmaker Memran are seen traveling to Fornes’ native Havana for the first time in decades, as well as toMiami and Seattle, exploring the playwright’s relationships with family friends and—cautiously in homophobic Cuba—loves. Fornes, with infectious verve, embodies the alternative reality possible for some, that time may slip at the same time creative vitality may continue little abated.
The Journalists Network on Generations (JNG), founded in 1993, publishes Generations Beat Online News (GBONews.org). JNG provides information and networking opportunities for journalists covering generational issues, but not those representing services, products or lobbying agendas. Copyright 2023 JNG. For more information contact GBO Editor Paul Kleyman.
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