We were fortunate enough to have Bill Cohen, CSA, Cohen Caregiving Support Consultants, on the show, and he offered some great insight and #advice for other #seniorcare and #healthcare providers.

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About This Episode:

BILL COHEN CSA
BILL COHEN, CSA

Hi, I am Bill Cohen, Certified Senior Advisor (CSA)®, with Cohen Caregiving Support Consultants LLC in Portland. Originally from New England, I have lived in Oregon for over 30 years with my wife, Lori, and various furballs.

I’ve been a manager, financial advisor, compliance inspector, mentor, and volunteer. Customer service and helping people have been the common thread throughout for life’s milestones, even delivering memorable weddings!

Not all of life’s events are so joyous. My beautiful and loving mother, Sheila, lost her home due to Hurricane Katrina. Then, her health, ability to create art and, ultimately, her life were destroyed by Alzheimer’s disease. I was her primary caregiver. 

Now I am a Certified Senior Advisor (CSA)® and provide Alzheimer’s support and caregiving advice in the Portland/ Vancouver and Salem areas and beyond. I help you handle and manage the caregiving journey with your care partners living with dementia. I speak to organizations and meetings, and facilitate caregiving support groups, in person or virtually. 

I also lead Team Sheila for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s and am a volunteer and advocate for a cure for Alzheimer’s disease.

Full Transcript:

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

This is Valerie VanBooven with the Senior Care Industry NetCast, where leaders with three or more years in the senior care industry share their advice. It’s six questions in nine minutes. So let’s get to it.

In a few sentences, tell us who you are and what you do.

Bill Cohen:

Hi, Valerie, I’m Bill Cohen. I’m a Certified Senior Adviser with Cohen Caregiving Support Consultants. And if you would have told me about 15, 16 years ago, that I’d be sitting here talking to you about this, I’d say no chance. My mom was living in Biloxi, Mississippi back in the mid-2000s and starting to show some signs of something. Confused, anger, paranoia, not taking care of the house, not taking care of the finances. And we knew something was wrong, but we weren’t sure what. We were wondering if my stepfather, who was in hospice care at home, and she was in the caregiver role, if he either passed away or he went into a care community, would she bounce back? We never got that opportunity because what happened this month in 2005 in the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Hurricane Katrina. Their home was completely swept away in the storm surge.

Bill Cohen:

She ended up on the East Coast with a couple of other family members for a couple of years. I was doing the long distance caregiving while doing my full-time job with the State of Oregon. And I started talking to a care community in Southwest Portland, where I live, Portland, Oregon. And I moved her out here in 2008 and five years later, four of which were in memory care, she passed away at the age of 83. It was about a 10 year journey.

Bill Cohen:

Now I didn’t think I was going to be doing anything else. Okay. I’m done with caregiving. Most people do, right? They’re exhausted. They’ve done their thing. Well, I was going to go for a little while to the same support group and maybe help others through it like others helped me. And so I became the facilitator. I’m making a very long story short, and it was not what I was planning, but I had been through the whole process and I had run meetings at work. So I took that over. And then I started getting involved with the Walk to End Alzheimers. I was with the Purple Flower back there and advocacy and fundraising, raising awareness. I thought when I retired from the State of Oregon three and a half years ago, I was just going to do more volunteering. I came across this concept of a caregiving support consultant.

Bill Cohen:

And when I retired, I turned my personal loss, my pain into my passion and my own current career. What I do is I help and support family caregivers on their own journey like I did with my own mom and provide advice and support, the resources and referrals, reduce their stress, I collaborate with all the different service providers to do that.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Very nice.

Bill Cohen:

Like I said, pretty unbelievable story. I wouldn’t have guessed I’d be sitting here talking to you about this.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Yeah. It’s amazing how a challenge in our lives changes the course of our lives, especially when it comes to challenge with a family member, a child or a senior in our lives. And so we’re glad you’re here because we can always use about 500 more of you or a thousand more of you across the country, but we’re glad you’re here and we’re glad you’re doing this. So many people need support and you know that better than anybody that folks are-

Bill Cohen:

I needed somebody like me back in then and [crosstalk 00:03:58].

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Right. It’s impossible, if you haven’t ever been through this, you haven’t worked in this industry, even if you have worked in this industry, it’s really hard to know when it’s your family member, your mom, your dad, what to do. You have walking around with blinders on and it’s an overwhelming amount of information.

Bill Cohen:

Right. And 15 years ago, it was not as readily available because even the internet was really in its infancy. There really wasn’t that much information. Now it’s almost like overload, but how do you decide what’s right? Who’s the best person to work with really quickly? I mean, we met because one of the people I liked to work with Adriana Gavozdea, who you’ve had on recently with Laria Care Finders, I worked with caring, loving, competent, knowledgeable advisors like her.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Yeah. It’s hard to know who to trust. And that’s the biggest challenge too, is knowing who’s trustworthy. So when we do interviews like this, sharing your wisdom helps everybody understand more about what you do and where you come from. And that helps a lot with people knowing who to turn to.

So what is the best thing about serving individuals who care for family members and those senior adults?

Bill Cohen:

I think it’s because if you earn their trust and you’re compassionate and sincere and authentic, not trying to sell them something or take advantage of them, I think they will return that trust very readily. They’re grateful. And that is gratifying to me. That’s the biggest thing. I’m not doing this because, like I said, I’m in my encore career, I’m not doing just for the money. Everything I make, I like to say is like sriracha on the pad thai, it’s extra. But it’s the helping people. It’s the customer service, which is the trends in all my previous careers. And helping those seniors, I work mostly with the care giver. It’s indirectly with the person living with dementia or another chronic illness.

Bill Cohen:

A really good example is right across the street from me. Very fortunately, after we bought our house, a beautiful care community with assisted living, skilled nursing and independent aging in place cottages was built. And that’s where I do one of my support groups. I do a memory cafe. I’ve done caregiving training, and I meet my clients and others there, but many of the people that come to those meetings are the residents, especially of the aging in place [inaudible 00:06:39]. And they are constantly saying, “We learn something new every time. We feel supported. Thank you for what you’re doing. We don’t feel so all alone.” And of course, right now during COVID, everybody feels isolated. But they in particular are vulnerable and scared. That’s really gratifying.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Yes. And this has been a really challenging time, more so than ever for all of us and all of the folks that are caregivers. So I know they appreciate you so much there. And that’s really nice that it’s right across the street. How convenient is that?

Bill Cohen:

Very. In fact, we’re going to start my Walk to End Alzheimer’s because we’re not going in big central places this year. At the end of my driveway, meet me over there and we’ll walk around the neighborhood.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Right. Very nice. That’s awesome. All right. So let’s switch gears for just a minute and talk about online marketing. I know it can be challenging. It’s ever changing.

What has been your experience and your thoughts with getting the word out about your services online?

Bill Cohen:

It’s a really good question. About 15 years ago I was using social media, like LinkedIn, et cetera, more to find a different job. I won’t go into those details. But I ended up using the same skills to first research caregiving support and to then develop it. And then to start marketing, greatly expanding my network both on Facebook, LinkedIn, I started using Instagram, et cetera. And it’s not something to be afraid of. It’s a great tool. I like to say I may be getting old, but I’m not a dinosaur. And a lot of the people that are going into these Zoom meetings for support groups, I’d say the average age that I’m seeing is about 80. If I can do it, if they can do it, I’d say anybody can. And there’s so many tools out there. YouTube how-tos and people will help you do it.

Bill Cohen:

So what I’ve done is, LinkedIn is a different kind of platform. That’s more for my professional brand, my image, getting information out there, but I’ve built a huge network internationally, which is really cool. And on Facebook now, I’d like to say I was prescient back in September, October, that a pandemic was coming. No, I’m not that smart. But I’m glad that I did, because when we started going virtual online in March, when everything started shutting down, I said I can leverage this Facebook group and reach more people. And I started a monthly support group and now I’m up close to 500 people on six different continents, which is really cool, because it’s able to reach so many more people than just my neighborhood, my community. And that works for the clients as well.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Yes, it’s amazing what you can do in a private Facebook group or even a public one with going live, and Facebook is trying to make it easier to be able to have more people on the screen and do all those kinds of things. So the technology is changing as COVID has rolled out… All these platforms are trying to accommodate us and be safe and be better. And you’re right, I think a lot of our aging adults, we underestimate how smart they are and how willing they are to adapt. And I think one the things that we’ve talked about previously on the show is that we’re talking about some form of the greatest generation and their children and they’ve been through some hard times.

Bill Cohen:

[inaudible 00:10:25].

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

They’re way tougher than we give them credit for. Way tougher than us.

Bill Cohen:

We’ve even done my mother’s family. We’ve done an average about 16, 18 people in five different Zooms. And again, I think the average age is about 80.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Yeah. They can adapt. They’re very adaptable. They’ve been doing it their whole lives for different reasons. So I think that we underestimate their power and their voice. So I’m glad, I’m glad. And the platforms have tried to make it easier to get on the phone, on the app and on the iPad and all those things. All right. So now let’s switch back a little bit and talk more about your wisdom and what you have learned all these years. So I would imagine there have been other successful leaders or organizations in your life that have had some meaning to you, or you think, wow, they really do a great job.

Is there anybody you’d like to give a shout out to?

Bill Cohen:

I can think of a lot of people, but I think I’m going to have to choose an organization. And it goes along with this being on my chest, the Alzheimer’s Association. When I think back when I first started attending that support group, if that facilitator and that group hadn’t been so supportive and made me feel not alone, not so helpless, and getting advice and perspective, I might’ve walked away then. And again, I wouldn’t be sitting here today. It ended up being, especially when I became the facilitator, the training, the support of the organization, especially the leadership under Tracy Morgan here in Oregon and Southwest Washington. And then when I got involved with the walk and the other fundraising and awareness things and Advocacy in the Capitol it’s part of the thing that made my turning this into my passion. So much easier and inspiring. They’re just wonderful to work with.

Bill Cohen:

And they’re doing great work here in Oregon. You and most of your listeners or viewers should know if they don’t, the support groups, the education program, the research to find a cure finally, for this horrible disease and the advocacy. They’re just doing wonderful work locally and nationally.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Absolutely. We need to support them with everything we have to try and find a cure for this. They say that the person who is cured of Alzheimer’s disease is alive now. I don’t know if that person is one day old or if they’re two years old, but whatever the case, whoever that is, we all look forward to in sometime in our lifetime or our children’s lifetime eliminating this disease, because it is-

Bill Cohen:

Which will be represented by a white flower.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Yes. Yes.

Bill Cohen:

Purple is for you lost a loved one.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Yes. I believe that that person is alive today and I hope that in our lifetime or in our children’s lifetime, we find that cure.

Bill Cohen:

I’m encouraged that we’re in a historic period in terms of research and what is the cause, how can we diagnose it and hopefully a cure or treatment at least.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Yeah. It’s so complicated and crazy the things that they find. I’m not that smart, but I do follow the research. And if the Alzheimer’s Association, they do these wonderful research updates and it’s so nice to know how far we’ve come and the new things that we’re finding. And so those are always great to watch. Or if you can’t watch them in person right now, I’m sure they record them all. So it’s a great organization, definitely worth getting involved.

Bill Cohen:

I make sure I let people know, watch out for misinformation. There’s a lot of people are trying to sell stuff, which may not be true. But I do talk about self-care and prevention, not only for your loved one, you might be able to slow down the progression, but also if there’s any chance that you can get it, you could probably delay the onset or slow the progression by taking better care of yourself-

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Yes, be healthy.

Bill Cohen:

… in terms of what you eat, keeping socially active, physically active, mentally active. One of the first things I usually say, “Stop eating junk.”

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Right. McDonald’s isn’t on the menu if you want…

Bill Cohen:

Very bad. Get yours clean, cut down on the sugars.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

All right.

What piece of advice would you give to senior care providers out there?

Bill Cohen:

I’d say, and of course I’m coming from a personal perspective. Not everybody went through the personal experience. Some people are well-trained professionals, et cetera, but there’s only so much you can learn out of a book or a manual or a training course. Even take the snow, right? Is be empathetic. Be compassionate. Treat that person like it was one of your family members. Learn about them. That person is still inside. Listen to their stories, get to know them. They still are thinking, they just can’t make a decision or communicate it as well or as quickly as they used to. So keep those things in mind when you’re working with them and just be calm, patient, engage with them positively. We talk about in the caregiving classes all the time. Those factors, because it’ll help you. Because you can’t fix it. You can’t change those behaviors. It’s how you react to it, and how you manage it to some extent. Like the repeated questions for instance.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Just be kind.

Bill Cohen:

Be prepared for them. Just know that you’re going to get that question over and over again. How you react is the key. You either have a ready answer or don’t react at all.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

[crosstalk 00:16:28] Yeah. Being calm and sensitive to their anxiety and positive. There’s moments. Everybody has moments and sometimes that doesn’t necessarily work, but being a positive influence and someone they look forward to seeing, or they sense that you’re trustworthy, they sense that you’re happy or that you’re safe. Those are the things that matter, I think.

Bill Cohen:

If we have time, really quickly, I like to do a takeoff on a Maya Angelo phrase and say, “It’s not as important that they remember your name or remember your exact relationship. How did you make them feel?”

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Yes, that’s right. It’s how you make them feel. And if they feel safe with you, even if they don’t know your name, they’ll still feel happy with you.

Bill Cohen:

Yeah. My mom never went, “Aah, who’s this?” It’s aah, there’s some recognition. Somebody in here who love her.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Somebody who cares about me, somebody who is safe and happy. Yeah. Okay. My last question is a fun one. Supposed to be a fun one. When you have a win in life. Now, when I say a win, that could be anything. This means that we have something to celebrate. It could be a new baby in the family, could be a wedding. It could be a graduation. It could be that you just know in your heart you made some caregiver’s light bulb turned on and they found solution for whatever their challenge was that day.

How do you like to celebrate?

Bill Cohen:

Well, two things. One is gestures. I like to give back a lot. I do a lot of volunteering and donations and things. But my wife and I love… Well, we have a beautiful area here. We have a lot of wineries. We have great brewpubs. We have great food carts. The Oregon dining scene, Portland dining scene is very well-known. By the way, things aren’t as dangerous here as you’re hearing, it’s a very isolated area. We like to go out for happy hours, for a nice meal and enjoy a nice beverage. Because we have one of the best summers in the country. It’s not too hot, not too much bugs. It’s a little darker and rainier in the winter, but we do okay. I’m a native New Englander, but I’ve been here 35 years and I [crosstalk 00:18:48].

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Got you, so you’ve seen it all. You’ve seen the season changes. I’m in the middle of the US so I get the 100 degree heat, 10 below zero and all the season changes and the humidity and the dry and the hot. You just got to acclimate to where you live and if you’re going to stay there. So I don’t think I could do a hundred percent hot all the time. So I’m with you there, with a little bit of milder weather once in a while it makes me happy.

Bill Cohen:

Well you enjoy your variety, we’ll enjoy ours.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Yes. Yes. I totally agree. To each his own for sure.

Bill Cohen:

So, cheers.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Yes. Thank you. All right. Well thank you for doing the show. Thank you for sharing your wisdom with us. And thank you for talking to us about what you do, because there’s so many people out there that could use some help like this. We’ll make sure your website is with this video and we’ll get it out to as many people as possible. So thank you.

Bill Cohen:

Okay. The most important thing is they’re interested in the virtual is a Facebook group, dementia support group for caregivers with Bill Cohen. We’d love to have you.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Great. Okay. Well they can reach out to you and then you can give them directions to that Facebook group, because I’m sure you’ll have lots of interest there. Thank you so. much. I appreciate it.

Bill Cohen:

Thank you, Valerie.