Karen Kelleher

Karen Kelleher is an End of Life healthcare professional specializing in the fields of Geriatrics, Alzheimer’s and other forms of Dementia. She holds a graduate degree from the California Institute of Integral Studies in Counseling Psychology. She continues her education in the field of Geriatric Brain Function at Stanford University. Karen worked for nine years as Director of Day Treatment Program serving mentally ill adults at Crestwood Behavioral Health Center in Vallejo.

She has worked since 2007 as Director of Traditions Memory Care Center at Reutlinger Community for Jewish Living (RCJL) in Danville, California. She provides regular on-going education and training for caregivers and the family members of those suffering from degenerative brain illnesses and is currently implementing innovative art and music programs to reach those she serves at RCJL. With RCJL Art Director, Betty Rothaus, Karen has coordinated Tradition’s participation in the Art with Elders project at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, California.

Passare Expert Series | Karen Kelleher

Welcome to the latest entry to Passare’s Expert Series, a forum that allows our End of Life planning and management experts to speak directly to you. Today we welcome Passare expert partner Karen Kelleher, an End of Life healthcare professional specializing in degenerative brain illnesses like Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Karen is Director of Traditions Memory Care at Reutlinger Community for Jewish Living (RCJL), a long-term care facility in Northern California. She provides education and training for caregivers and families by implementing innovative therapeutic programs.

Passare: Welcome Karen. Please tell us how you became involved in End of Life healthcare and education.

Karen: I became concerned about End of Life healthcare and planning after watching both my mother and grandmother suffer from Alzheimer’s. The suboptimal care they received sparked my passion to help make important changes in End of Life healthcare. I began by asking myself, “How can I serve in a better way than treating someone as a bed or room number? How can I better support people on their End of Life journey?”

Passare: Why is End of Life healthcare planning so important?

Karen: There seems to be a taboo in much of Western culture about planning for – and even talking about End of Life. Society has real fear and denial about this topic. An example would be taking a trip and not packing or planning where to go. The less we plan, the more crisis-oriented the process becomes.

Our culture’s focus on diversion and entertainment doesn’t help us plan for End of Life or to think about it in a meaningful way. When we are faced with our own fragility, we are often unprepared to cope.

Passare: What End of Life healthcare planning issues should people consider?

Karen: It’s important to look at the practicality and feasibility of End of Life healthcare. Elders are living longer today. Modern medicine and treatment is making this increasingly the case. Many of my residents now need very long-term care. The longevity issue makes End of Life care planning more important than ever. You or a loved one could need long-term care much longer than your elders did.

Deciding about End of Life treatments is also increasingly important. Asking questions like: “How will I manage End of Life care?” and “Where do I draw the line between preserving life and prolonging dying?” are necessary.

Passare: What trends do you see in long-term care?

Karen: Quality of life is an important trend in End of Life healthcare today. Our facility strives to make each day for each person as valuable, useful and enjoyable as possible. We no longer view Dementia as the end of quality of life. We view it as an End of Life transition where people become a different version or extension of themselves. We address long-term care and End of Life in increasingly compassionate, expansive ways. We strive to balance relaxation, stimulation, security, personal care and emotional grounding needs daily.

Passare: Describe how your programs promote value to those in your care.

Karen: The brain learns art and music in a way that enables it to be retained differently than other information it receives. I currently facilitate two programs to better reach our residents. One employs art and the other music.

We work with residents to create an art project starting with a blank canvas. We provide photos and other visuals for inspiration. Residents respond to the imagery while our on-staff artist helps them express that. After seeing the resulting creation, one of our residents said she never realized she was an artist! Once a door to that talent is open, it’s as though a new person has emerged. To witness that motivation and enthusiasm, at any age, is very inspiring. Our recent “Art with Elders” show at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco was very exciting.

Our other project is musical. We record soundtracks for each participant onto iPods. Each resident has special and meaningful music from their own life. And they respond! We see remarkable changes in mood and behavior once music is introduced.

Passare: How does Passare align with your goals to help people manage End of Life?

Karen: Passare offers a “roadmap” to a very important part of the life experience: End of Life. Up until now, people haven’t had many resources to learn and gain confidence about End of Life planning. Too much was left to chance. Passare is helping people make intelligent choices with trusted resources.

It’s like having a wise relative sit down with you and say, “Don’t worry. There’s a way to go through this that isn’t frightening or overwhelming. I’ve done the research and reflection and I have the experience. I’ve talked with experts who are willing to share their wisdom with you. You’ll find the answers to the questions you have here.”

Passare opens that End of Life dialogue that is so essential. This is an important way not only to manage End of Life, but also to enrich life as you are living it. “A life well lived” is more than a phrase. It is true for those who are thoughtfully addressing End of Life.

Passare: Thank you for your expertise Karen. We look forward to learning more about your perspective on End of Life healthcare.

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