Friday, January 22, 2016

Subzero Hero: Peg Ramsey

Peg Ramsey’s Subzero Hero jump is a true act of bravery, since she admits to having “a deathly fear of the water!”
She first got up the courage to take the frigid plunge in 2011 after participating in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s for several years.

Combating Alzheimer’s disease is a mission close to Peg’s heart, as she lost her mother to it in addition to an aunt and grandmother.

What she loves most about Subzero Heroes is, “the camaraderie and the opportunity to support a wonderful organization that offers assistance to families and friends of those who suffer from this heartbreaking disease.”

While many Subzero Heroes put a lot of energy into creating outrageous costumes for the event, Peg prefers to keep it simple, focusing instead on getting in the right mindset for the plunge.

“It takes all I have to prepare mentally for the jump,” she said.

Peg is also gearing up for this year’s fundraising efforts. In past years, she’s come up with creative ways of bringing in donations.

“I usually ask and ask for donations,” she said.Last year, I made and raffled gift baskets as well as sold Alzheimer's keychains for $10. I only paid $3 each.” 

All this is worth the extra effort for Peg, who calls Subzero Heroes, “a wonderful way to support the Alzheimer's Association and show support for those we love.”

Thank you, Peg -- and to all our other Subzero Heroes and Sidekicks -- for everything you do to support the Alzheimer's Association. We couldn't make it without you!

To register, or for more information about the 2016 Subzero Heroes at Berean Park in Highland, visit

Reach Dugan Radwin at or 800.272.3900

Friday, January 8, 2016

Profile of a Subzero Hero: Sean Power

Subzero Hero Sean Power first jumped as a Subzero Hero in 2014. He says he finds it exhilarating.

“It’s exciting, it’s fun. It’s something to talk about,” he said. “I always liked doing weird stuff anyway.”

But beyond the fun and the excitement, he is also passionately devoted to the cause, since his mother suffered from Alzheimer’s disease.  He said she was deep into her disease when he first took the plunge.

Her illness moved him to seek a graduate degree in gerontology from Fordham University. He has also been very involved with the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, serving on a planning committee for the Dutchess Walk last year.

He was doing a Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Westchester when he first saw an advertisement for Subzero Heroes and thought it sounded like fun.

His team, Masters of the Universe, got its name when he decided to dress as Skeletor from the “Masters of the Universe” TV show during his first jump. Though Skeletor was not a hero, he explained, his costume was purple, which seemed like a good fit for an Alzheimer’s Association event. In time, other jumpers on his team continued the Masters of the Universe theme.

The first year Sean jumped, his wife, Tina Power, served as a sidekick. Then last year, she moved up to hero status, jumping as He-Man from “Masters of the Universe,” along with her friend, Carla Pucci, who jumped as She-Ra from the show.

While Sean didn’t initially expect to continue participating in Subzero Heroes, he has kept coming back.

“It’s just a fun, crazy thing to do,” he said. 

Over the three years he’s participated, Sean’s team has raised about $1,500. He said his wife is the main impetus behind the fundraising, “My wife is the money raiser; she’s able to seek out corporate sponsorships.”

Sean is already excited about the 2016 jump, planning to increase participation on his team.

“Hopefully this year, we’ll have five people on the team,” he said.

For anyone considering taking part, he said they should check out the pictures from previous years to get a sense of how fun it is.

He’s glad to help the Alzheimer’s Association, “It’s a great organization. It’s a great platform for people who are affected by the disease and their families. It’s an excellent resource. It’s the whole reason why I went to graduate school.”

Thank you, Sean, and the rest of your team — as well as all the other sidekicks and heroes. Your participation means a lot to us, and we’re grateful you keep coming back!

There’s still plenty of time to register for Subzero Heroes.Tell your friends about it and encourage them to sign up or to donate. Visit today.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Subzero Hero: Brittany Hackett Miller

Brittany Hackett Miller has a piece of advice for anyone looking to get ahead on their bucket list: Become a Subzero Hero!

After all, she says, if you’re going to take the plunge anyway, you might as well do it while helping raise money for a worthy cause.

Taking action against Alzheimer’s is a true passion for Brittany, who lost her grandmother to the disease. Being a Subzero Hero was a way to get involved and do something to help.

“I know what my family and I went through, so I decided to help find a cure,” said Brittany, who’s gearing up for her third stint as a Subzero Hero in February.

Her team, I IZ Incredible, was named after her grandmother, whose name was Isabelle. “We thought it would fit to get her name in there. Everyone called her Izzy, so it just stuck!”

One of the things Brittany loves most about Subzero Heroes is the craziness of the heroes. It takes a little wackiness to jump into frigid water in the first place — and the outrageous costumes make it even zanier.

“We are all crazy — but for an amazing cause!” Brittany said. In previous years, she’s worn handmade red T-shirts with black shorts and red leggings, but this year she’s planning to change it up. Exactly how remains to be seen.

Subzero Heroes has become a special shared experience for Brittany with the rest of her family, who serve as her Sidekicks. Sidekicks help the heroes get their costumes on and off, meet the heroes with warm coverings after the plunge and do anything else they can to help out.

Her goal is always to be in the top 30 fundraisers, “And I always succeed!” she added, noting that her family is planning a private sip and paint event in honor of her grandmother. “My grandmother that had Alzheimer's loved cardinals. She always told us that she was going to come back to us as a male cardinal… so we will be doing a painting with two cardinals on a tree.”

Cheers to you, Brittany, your family, and all our other heroes and sidekicks! We’re thrilled to have you all on board and look forward to seeing you on February 13.

For more information about the 2016 Subzero Heroes, visit

Monday, December 21, 2015

Profile of a Subzero Hero: Tonirose Pezzo

Leading up to our next Subzero Heroes on Saturday, February 13, 2016, at Berean Lake in Highland, we'll be posting a series of profiles of the heroes who plan to take the plunge into the icy water. This week's is about Tonirose Pezzo:  

Even moving across the country can't stop some heroes! Tonirose Pezzo recently moved from the Hudson Valley to Mississippi, but she will be taking a special trip up north in a few months so she can again participate in the 2016 Subzero Heroes ice jump. 

When asked what drives her to participate in this unorthodox fundraiser, Tonirose is confident, “I can’t imagine a better way to raise awareness and get the word out for the Alzheimer's Association and​ to encourage people to donate to this incredible organization.”

Fighting Alzheimer’s is a true passion for Tonirose, who has had a grandmother as well as two great-grandmothers who suffered from the disease.  

“Watching someone you love battle Alzheimer’s is an almost unbearable experience,” she said, adding that the word "powerless" enters the conversation. 

However, Tonirose said Subzero Heroes has given her an opportunity to take control and make something good come out of something that was otherwise very hopeless. 

“With Subzero Heroes, I know that I am doing something positive by raising funds and awareness for an organization that is doing its best to help other patients and families who are burdened with this disease,” she said.

We always love to know how our heroes prepare for the jump – whether it’s by taking periodic icy cold showers or by sitting on a dock along the Hudson and soaking their feet in the frigid water.  Tonirose had an answer that was both serious and fun: She motivates and readies herself by talking about the event and raising her money! She knows that with every dollar received, she is that much closer to taking the jump.

In a particularly selfless act (the mark of a true hero!) Tonirose told her family to donate to her Subzero Heroes total rather than purchase her any kind of tangible Christmas gift. 

“I told my family that their donation would mean more to me than any gift,” Tonirose said.

Tonirose, we are extremely proud of you and all the heroes and sidekicks participating in this year’s event!

For more information about Subzero Heroes, visit

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Can someone with dementia sign legal documents?

This column by Certified Elder Law Attorney Bernard A. Krooks recently appeared in The Senior Gazette:

A certain level of capacity is necessary in order to sign legal documents. Someone who is in the end stages of Alzheimer’s disease probably does not have the requisite capacity to sign legal documents. However, a person with a diagnosis of dementia may very well be able to sign legal documents. Generally speaking, capacity is usually analyzed situationally.

That is, the question will be answered differently depending on the nature of the document and the circumstances of the signing. The general rule: the signer has to have sufficient understanding to know what the document is, and the effect of the signing. What kinds of documents might be involved?

There are a variety of contexts in which capacity can be difficult to assess, including (but not limited to):

• Ability to sign a contract -- say to buy a car, or build a home.

• Understanding of a power of attorney, which might give the authority to another person to sign future documents.

• Capacity to sign a trust.

• Capacity to get married (which is, after all, a specialized kind of contract).

• Ability to make medical decisions -- including refusing medication, or either seeking or declining mental health treatment. Each of those situations, and the dozens of others that might arise, will be judged differently, because the nature and effect of the act will be different.

But we can generalize about several of the important rules that cut across different types of documents:

• Minority is presumptive incapacity. That is, a person under age 18 does not generally have the legal ability to enter into a contract, sign a trust (or will), or make medical decisions for themselves.

• The capacity level required to sign a trust is generally thought to be similar to the level of capacity to sign a contract.

• The capacity to sign a will is generally considered the lowest level of capacity required to sign any legal document in New York.

• There are few legal ways to determine capacity in advance.

Some argue whether it is a legal or medical determination. Challenges to capacity are almost always initiated after the signing is completed -- and often after the signer has died, or becomes completely and undeniably mentally incapacitated. That means that evidence of capacity (or lack of capacity) is often being reconstructed well after the fact.

It's also important to remember that we are writing here about capacity, and not necessarily about the validity of documents signed by someone with dementia. It is entirely possible that although someone with dementia has testamentary capacity, that they were unduly influenced by someone else when signing their will.

There is a difference between capacity on the one hand, and undue influence on the other. Dementia might make a given signer incapable of signing a document, or their capacity may be sufficient to sign. But that same person might be made more susceptible to undue influence because of their dementia.

This example may help explain what we mean: an elderly widower, living alone, has a diagnosis of dementia. He is nonetheless charming, witty and perfectly able to discuss his wishes. He can recall the names of his three children, and of his seven grandchildren. He can report their ages, the cities they live in and their careers (or status as students) -- and he is mostly correct, though sometimes his information is two or three years out of date. This gentleman's daughter lives in the same city, and is the one who oversees his living arrangements and care. She does his shopping, hires people to check on him daily, takes him to doctors' appointments, writes out his checks (he still signs them) and otherwise helps out. She also talks to him endlessly about how his other two children don't deserve to end up with his house and bank accounts, how she really ought to be the one who benefits from his estate, and how his late wife (her mother) always wanted her to inherit everything.

Eventually he agrees to sign a new will and trust, mostly to stop her constant harangues. Did he have capacity to sign the new estate planning documents? On the facts as we've given them here, probably yes. Was he unduly influenced? Very likely. Was that influence facilitated (and the proof made easier) because of his dementia? Absolutely. When did the daughter's behavior cross the line? The legal system isn't actually very helpful, since the answer is defined in a circular fashion. Her influence was "undue" when it resulted in her wishes being substituted for his. It was not necessarily objectionable (at least not legally) when she told him what she wished he would do, what her mother had wanted, or what was fair. But at some point she may well have turned ordinary familial influence into "undue" influence.

Confused? You’re probably not alone. Although, we hope that this article helps explain this complicated and nuanced area of the law, each case should probably be evaluated based on its own particular circumstances.

Bernard A. Krooks, Esq., is a founding partner of the law firm Littman Krooks LLP and is Chair of the firm’s Elder Law and Special Needs Department. He has been honored as one of the “Best Lawyers” in America since 2007. He was elected to the Estate Planning Hall of Fame by the National Association of Estate Planners & Councils (NAEPC). Krooks serves as Chair of the Elder Law Committee of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel (ACTEC). He is Group Vice Chair of the Elder Law, Disability Planning and Bioethics Group of the Real Property, Trust & Estate Law Section of the American Bar Association (ABA). Krooks has been selected as a “New York Super Lawyer” since 2006. He may be reached at 845-896-1106 or by visiting the firm’s website at

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Caregiver support group facilitator training offers valuable insights

I’m Dugan Radwin, a new member of the Alzheimer’s Association Hudson Valley Chapter’s staff. I’m very excited to be a part of this incredible organization and look forward to helping boost awareness of Alzheimer’s disease, the search for a cure and the many programs the Alzheimer’s Association offers to help families living with this devastating illness.

My background includes several years as the editor of a variety of publications for the Poughkeepsie Journal. In that role, I helped tell the stories of families faced with Alzheimer’s disease and the work being done to find a cure. I’ve also volunteered for the Alzheimer's Association through the years, so I had a deep interest in becoming more directly involved in this cause.

One of my first activities as a staff member was sitting in on a caregiver support group facilitator training. As someone who had made sure the listings for these support groups made it into various calendars at the Journal, I was interested to see what actually goes into becoming a support group facilitator.

The training began with an overview of the organization – how it came into existence in 1980 and grew into what it is today: The leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer’s care, support and research.  

Then we watched the powerful HBO Film,“The Alzheimer’s Project: Caregivers,” which offered glimpses into the lives of several families grappling with the disease in different stages. Watching the film reinforced how critical support groups are for caregivers. The emotional toll the disease takes is so profound that having others to talk to who understand becomes essential.

As the training progressed, we were offered helpful tips for facilitating support groups. We discussed hypothetical situations that might be encountered and how as facilitators we would handle them. For example, how would we try to help the disgruntled spouse of an Alzheimer’s patient who shows up at the urging of his children but doesn’t want to talk to the group and seems angry to be there? What would we say to the wife of an Alzheimer’s patient whose husband can no longer work, whose own income is barely able to cover basic expenses  let alone the extra care he will need as his illness progresses? How would we help comfort the wife of a late-stage patient who feels guilt at having placed her husband in a nursing home because he cries and asks to be taken home every time she visits him?

Discussing these hypothetical – yet very real and disturbing – scenarios provided valuable insights into strategies we could use to help. It also reinforced the critical importance of these groups for the affected families.

If you are a caregiver for an Alzheimer’s patient, be sure to take advantage of the support groups in your community. There are more than 50 of them in the Hudson Valley chapter’s seven-county area – and more on the way as trainings continue. Check out the full list of support groups at to find one that’s convenient for you. Some of them offer free respite care for your loved one while you are in the meeting. Preregistration is required; please call 800.272.3900 with questions or to RSVP.

If you’re interested in becoming a volunteer support group facilitator yourself, you can call the same number. The need is only growing as the number of families affected continues to increase.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Mediation smoothes family conflicts during the holidays

The holidays are here. For some this is a happy time, getting ready to be reunited with family. For others, it is a dreaded time, knowing that family get-togethers can inflame tensions that lay dormant or are long-distance the rest of the year.

Susan used to love the holidays. She took over the holiday dinners after her mom decided it was too much work. She lives nearest to her mom and was happy to assume the responsibility. Unfortunately, her mother’s health has been declining in the last couple of years. She has been getting more and more forgetful and disoriented. 

Now, in addition to her job and looking after her own home and family, Susan has been taking on the responsibility for many of her mother’s household chores and her healthcare, the frequent doctor’s visits and her medications. The stress is too much. It is time to consider other living arrangements, or at least an aide. But two of her siblings insist that their mom sounds OK to them. Holidays have become a nightmare. For the last two years, she and her siblings have argued about their mother’s care, and the problems never get resolved. Things always seem to go downhill. Surely this year will be a rude awakening for them since their mom is noticeably and undeniably worse.

Maybe your family is experiencing a similar situation. Or maybe you know a family who is struggling with a similar problem.

For some families, it’s the tension between the adult children and their mom, who is caring for their dad. The emotions make it hard to accept what is happening to their dad, leaving the children to question the decision-making of the parent in charge.

Or the brothers and sisters who get together and question the decisions made by the one who has assumed the role of primary caregiver.

For some, this is the first time in a year that they are confronted with the condition of a parent whose disease has progressed, and it’s a tough reality to face. They can no longer put off the inevitable decisions that need to be made. It’s now a question of safety.

There are so many difficulties that arise when a family member is diagnosed with dementia. Anticipating the future, there are decisions to be made and a continuing need to make decisions as the disease progresses. These decisions often strain the relationships among family members. The fights can go on for months or years without any decisions being made. In some instances, it takes a crisis for the family to act. In fits of anger, a brother or sister might resort to the courts, hoping to gain control of the situation. This is costly, time-intensive, takes a long time to resolve, frays the relationships even more--and ultimately leads to a decision that is dictated to the family. There is a better option.

In recent years, elder and adult family mediation has been recognized as a successful means of dealing with family conflict. It has become an accepted form of conflict resolution. Articles in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal talk about adult siblings who have solved their family problems through mediation.

It is a voluntary, confidential process for resolving disputes. Families get together with a neutral third party who facilitates a conversation to help the parties create an action plan: What needs to be done, who needs to do it and when it needs to be done. There’s no right or wrong: Everyone’s point of view is valid. It’s a chance for family members to discuss the issues in a non-confrontational conversation, explain their concerns and positions and be empowered to make their own decisions. Aside from the fact that mediation is more cost effective than litigation and takes less time to resolve matters, it preserves relationships that will be, in most cases, irreversibly damaged by the adversarial, aggressive legal option.

Mediation is not therapy. It is a problem-oriented process and does not attempt to address deep, underlying problems in sibling relationships. There is no blame, but there is an acknowledgment of each person’s opinions and concerns.

Parents of all ages often lament that their children don’t get along. Parents hope that as their children age, the family stays intact. It is a gauge of success for a parent. Mediation has been proven to help elderly parents witness that unity in their own families. 
--Gail Goodman, Talking Alternatives