Diane Rehm advocates for choice at end of life

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Diane Rehm speaks at Argentum's 2016 Senior Living Executive Conference.
Diane Rehm speaks at Argentum's 2016 Senior Living Executive Conference.

Like many Americans, Diane Rehm and her husband, John, hoped to age in place in the home that they loved, the National Public Radio host told those attending Wednesday's general session at the Argentum Senior Living Executive Conference in Denver.

As John's Parkinson's disease progressed, however, they moved from their home of 40 years, where they had hired someone to help John during the day while Rehm worked, to a condominium. And when that living arrangement wasn't sufficient for his needs, John moved to an assisted living community.

Rehm said she mainly relied on recommendations from friends and friends of friends and toured several communities before choosing Brighton Gardens of Friendship Heights in Chevy Chase, MD, a Sunrise Senior Living community. “After I had gone several times, I took John over and showed him the room,” she said.

Once he agreed to move there, Rehm said, she quickly decorated the apartment for her husband, trying to make it seem like home, but the first few weeks were a “terrible” time of adjustment for him. As his condition worsened and he no longer could perform activities of daily living, John decided that he wanted to die, but the only option available to him was self-starvation and dehydration. Once his began that journey, it took 10 days for him to complete it, Rehm said. They had been married for 54 years.

But Rehm was just beginning a new journey. “I really have become what many have called an advocate for the right to die,” she said. “I call myself an advocate for the right to choose. ...I am here urging everyone I can to honor choice at the end of life.” Rehm also encouraged attendees to discuss their end-of-life preferences with loved ones before a crisis occurs.

Rehm's remarks, presented as an interview with veteran broadcast journalist Ann Compton, were a highlight of Wednesday's programming at the meeting, which also featured educational sessions and exhibits. Rehm signed the book she wrote about her experiences, “On My Own,” in the exhibit hall before the general session.

Several awards presented

Loren Shook, Argentum board chairman, told session attendees that a record-setting 300 companies had booths in the exhibit hall on Tuesday and Wednesday.

PointClickCare won the Fast and Furious competition, during which 11 companies each had three minutes or less to pitch their best ideas and solutions to senior living challenge. The winner was chosen by audience members attending the event in the exhibit hall.

Also at Wednesday's  general session, Vickie Conner of Greenfield of Woodstock, a Greenfield Senior Living community in Woodstock, VA, received Argentum's 2016 Senior Living Community Leadership Award.

Presentation of the Argentum's 2016 Best of the Best Awards, which had begun at Tuesday's general session, was completed on Wednesday. Over the course of both days, the following companies and programs were honored:

  • The Consumer Choice award went to Gardant Management Solutions for its Speaking Out for Supportive Living program. The program provides each of Gardant's communities with a detailed guide on conducting a multidisciplinary, year-round political advocacy effort for affordable housing in conjunction with Gardant.
  • The Quality Care award went to Pathway Senior Living for VIVA! Legacy. Through the program, staff members are trained to cover a variety of topics with residents, from advance care planning to cultural and spiritual guidance to understanding the difference between palliative care and hospice care.
  • The Workforce Development award went to Brookdale for its Culinary Arts Institute Roadshow. The training and development program offers one-day events with experts from hotel and culinary schools such as the Culinary Institute of America discussing and demonstrating approaches to home cooking, healthful dining for older adults, Brookdale's Better and Different philosophy, quality assurance programs and safe food-handling skills.
  • The Memory Care award went to Belmont Village Senior Living for its Circle of Friends program. Developed over eight years, the program is designed for assisted living residents who have mild cognitive impairment, mild dementia and moderate dementia. Structured, planned activities for eight hours per day, seven days per week, led by a specially trained staff of enrichment leaders, have enabled residents to live in the least restrictive environment of assisted living possible and to continue to enjoy social life in the dining room.

The meeting concludes on Thursday.

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