Katlyn Clifton is an Aging Educator and Death Doula in the greater Nashville, TN area. She currently sits as the Executive Director of CT and M, which is an independent retirement campus that strives to add intentional strategy and positivity for a more successful journey of aging.
Frank Samson: Welcome to Boomers Today. I'm your host, Frank Sampson, and of course each week we bring you important useful information on issues facing baby boomers, their parents, and other loved ones. We have another great show for you this week. We have with us Katlyn Clifton. She is an aging educator and death doula, we'll learn a little bit more what that is, in the greater Nashville, Tennessee area. She currently sits as the executive director of CTNM, which is an independent retirement campus that strives to add international strategy and positivity for a more successful journey of aging. Katlyn, thank you so much for joining us on Boomers Today.
Katlyn Clifton: Hi. Thank you for having me.
Frank: I’m excited to learn a little bit more about what you do, and I wanted to ask you something right off the bat. You're an aging educator and a death doula. That might scare a few people. Tell me a little bit more what a death doula is.
Katlyn: Sure. That can be a little bit daunting. But you know, if you really think about it, there's a lot of dignity, and respect, and care, and love placed on the beginning of our lives with birth, and you hear of birth midwives, birth doulas. And I think that just as much attention and just as much reverence and care should be placed at the end of life. So, I try to do that with several different aspects of practice.
Frank: That's great. Give us an example of how you would utilize that expertise.
Katlyn: Absolutely. I love when I meet people in their planning of retirement and I am able to be a source of support and stability, and structure, and planning, and a voice of encouragement and love. All the way from planning retirement and into Medicare, into age, all the way through successfully passing through to their transition. I love a very holistic idea of this journey of aging, which encompasses a lot of ground, but it's a great challenge for me.
Frank: Great. I know you speak, you're an educator. We were fortunate enough to learn more about you through, I guess a conference where you were educating professionals in the senior care industry. So, we were thrilled to learn about you there. But tell us more beside that, what are the types of things that you do on a day to day basis?
Katlyn: I did have a great conference, where I met you and your colleagues. I had a great time talking about all the things that are happening in age. On a daily basis, you can probably find me in CTNM, which I located right off of the greater Nashville area. It is an independent retirement campus. We think so much of age has to do with medical intervention, and hospitals, doctors, and things like that. But you know, there is something to be said for downsizing and intentionally being engaged and being social in an independent setting. And in that setting, we do a lot of planning. I do a lot of Medicare, Medicaid state programs and subsidies planning, and we see really how you can get the best bang for your buck and have the best insurance coverage possible affordably. And that's really it all starts. That's also where you get to blossom this wonderful relationship between friends, family, and staff. I have a fantastic staff that supports me and supports around 200 residents at any time on this campus.
We have a family environment and a really warm feel, and we do all kinds of things. We've been known to zip line. We've been known to day trip. We've been known to have some pretty elaborate concerts.
Frank: Great. Thank you for all you do. That's wonderful. I wish we could spend more time on that subject, but we need to move on. I was hoping you could give our listeners an overview on the term gerotranscendence. Tell us what that’s all about?
Katlyn: It'd be my pleasure. Gerotranscendence is a mouthful and it's a big word, and really what it means and what it looks like is positive, intentional aging. We think about Frank Sinatra and he did it "My Way", he did it his way, and that is the best way. When we can do that successfully and we can save a lot of the hurdles, and we can save a lot of the stress and tension, it can be a beautiful thing. Age is beautiful and it can be done gracefully. I'm thinking about so many clients that I have such a great relationship with that we have done the preplanning. We have done insurance and we have done paperwork. And so they're free to be social and not worry about what's yet to come.
But we all do get there. We all do have health problems, and we all do need certain interventions as our bodies age. And I'm really blessed that this mission of my life allows me to travel with those clients on this journey, whether a person needs assisted living, home care, home therapy, in patient rehab, all the way through skilled nursing care and assistance, and even into hospice care, palliative care, and that's really where the beauty of the doula service lies, is that I can sit bedside with a family that I've known and a client that I've known, and they know me and I know what insurance they have, what it covers, this is their wishes, this is what they want, and we can have an honest discussion about the meaningfulness and the beauty of the process.
Frank: How do you deal with somebody aging and the aches and pains are really setting in and maybe even some depression, and they're realizing that "I'm coming to the end here, this isn't good. It's downhill from here. Here we go"? How do you deal with that?
Katlyn: That is the absolute magic that is gerotranscendence. We say this big word and theoretically what it means is that as we age, psychologically we all are going to reach a point where we look back on our lives and we say did we do the things we wanted to do, did we travel while we had the health, did we fulfill the job and the career that we wanted to do. This is where the idea of the bucket list comes into play. And folks inevitably are going to either come to a decision of integrity or despair. They will feel regret and they will feel a lack of meaning and fulfillment. Or they will be extremely satisfied and ready to go to the next step with just a robust feeling of pride.
For me, I love to educate other professionals and I love to talk in this community about the ways that professionals strategically place certain things and certain plans in their lives to ensure that we receive integrity when that process starts. When they get to the end of those questions, do they feel good about it? Are they ready? Are people ready for what's to come? Come what may. That's really beautiful and it works. You can see it, and if you're diligent and you have a higher esteem for the older adults and you bring meaning to the process with an honest, respectful passion, it's magic.
Frank: How do you get that message through to even the adult children? Maybe you're dealing with the senior themselves and helping them through that process, and being positive. What if that adult child maybe isn't so positive? How do you manage that situation?
Katlyn: That happens to us all, unfortunately. It's not always a bed of roses. There are good times and there are hard times, and I find that when you meet those challenges with foresight and forethought, that is how I train my staff. We like to know what's coming as much as possible. We like to not only encompass with a relationship and a rapport, but also to give a little bit of a forewarning. For instance, if you, let's say, have a diagnosis or struggle with macular degeneration, we know that your eyesight's going to deteriorate. So, if we know that that is going to happen in year five, for instance, we can begin working on that and emotionally processing that, and having everything in prep that we may need in year one.
And by being a little bit ahead of the game, being sincere, and honest, and respectful, I feel that people are more prepared to handle the things that life throws. Life doesn't always throw roses. But with a professional that is using forethought and guidance, and sincere care and compassion, clients feel supported and feel that somebody has their side. What we go through may not be pretty, but we're still going to walk through it together. And that's our attitude. And sometimes just having that advocate, having somebody that knows this system, that knows the aging game, makes all the difference in the world.
Frank: Great. I know that you had talked about this in your recent presentation regarding Erik Erikson's psychosocial stages of development. You want to give us a little overview of that and how that fits into this whole equation?
Katlyn: I'd love to. I get fired up about Erikson. Not many people can say that, but he brings a lot of meaning to my practice. Through life, Erikson theorized that we would go through several stages, even from childhood. He talked about childhood development and the things that we go through with learning the language and how we develop, and that carries all the way through age, through life, even into death. And I firmly believe that death is a beautiful part of life, and undue suffering doesn't have to be present. So, to understand the end of that, we go way back to the beginning before people ever think about retiring. Before you think about retiring, Frank, chances are that you will be in a segment of your life that Erikson calls generativity versus stagnation. This is when we see people go through a 40 year itch and they buy the little red sports car, because they want to be relevant. They want to matter. They have to be very engaged and philanthropic.
We see some civic organization. This is really the best time to plan for retirement both financially, and physically, and emotionally, and spiritually, and really start to think about getting the most meaning that you can out of your retirement. That's a beautiful thing.
Frank: Yeah, that is. It's wonderful thing. And he talks about it at different phases of someone's life, right? Tell us a little bit more about that.
Katlyn: He says that this generativity versus stagnation is really when you have the empty nest, when the kids go to college. Usually he says 50s, 60s, somewhere in there. And then after that, once you've been through that, we also call that the decision decade, because you're also making decisions financially and maybe retiring from a career, maybe starting another career. And so, a lot of big things happen in that decade. After that is when you start doing this life review and this idea of looking back and looking for the meaning in the things that you wanted to do. Did I hit everything on my bucket list? Did I get everything I wanted to do done well in my younger years? Are my children good people? Did I leave a legacy? That is this crux that is so crucial for integrity versus despair, and if professionals can place themselves, and be available, and be supportive, and be knowledgeable at this time in a person's life, I firmly believe that we can ensure the result of integrity, which is gerotranscendence, and that is the last stage that when someone is looking at the end of their life, can they say without pause, "I have lived a wonderful life. I have had meaningful relationships. I have no regrets. And this phase of my life will be just as beautiful as those that have come before.”
Frank: That's great. That's wonderful. I know that you work at CTNM, which as we said is more of an independent retirement campus, and we want to all be so fortunate to be able to live in a community like that that's more independent. But unfortunately, that's not going to be the case with many people, or they may need more of an assisted living, memory care, or possibly they may need more medical attention, okay? Even for someone who is more independent, do you think it’s a good idea to be educating that person and the family of what could be coming, just to kind of prepare them? Or is it something you leave up to individual families?
Katlyn: It's interesting you should ask. I firmly believe in my practice, in my belief, that it's not all bad. It's not all bad. It's not all dreadful. And with forethought, these discussions don't have to be dreary. So often our society shies away from talks of age and death because most of what we hear, we dread. And my premise and my challenge to this community and abroad is that it doesn't have to be that way. It absolutely does not have to be that way. So yes, to answer your question, I meet things head on. And I talk to young people, as young as junior, senior in high school about age and what it means, and what they can glean from the older, greater generations. I talk to college age students about becoming professionals and dealing with retirement for yourself and for your customer service in any of your chosen business fields.
I talk to professionals about the absolute right to our older, elder population for high esteem and absolute reverence and responsibility. And I talk to our retirees about ways to shake it up, ways to fight the tendency to feel negatively about the retirement stage of life. I don't like the word old, if I can say that.
Frank: That's okay. That's good.
Katlyn: I think that's subjective, I really do. It's relative, it's subjective. It's really, you're kind of as old as you act.
Frank: You're right.
Katlyn: And if you choose the negativity and you choose to stop and to quit at retirement, then that might be what's in your future, but it doesn't have to be that way, because there are those of us that are shaking it up and making it quite fun.
Frank: You mentioned it before, about holistic care. You seem to be pretty passionate about holistic care for the elderly. Talk to us a little bit about that and why you think that is maybe a better approach, and maybe that's being done medically or in other ways by the medical profession. Share with our listeners your thoughts there.
Katlyn: Let me tell you how I got here. You'll love this. This is wonderful.
Katlyn: About 10 years ago, the "aging professions" really had to push for companies to be continuum care facilities, meaning if you moved into independent retirement, you could stay with the same campus, the same company, move then to assisted, then to skilled, then to hospice as your needs progressed. And that was really a big push. That really was on my mind about 10 years ago. I thought, "This is where the industry's going. This is where the need is going to be." And I really was stopped in my tracks when I realized that most of that intervention was medical. What determines the amount of care someone needs in a CCRC or continuum of care? And it's medical.
So, I began doing research and education, and we expanded in more of a social, psychological social work turn. We expanded in sociability. We have an onsite Medicare advisor. We have onsite certified senior advisors, gerontology students. We have interns. We have all generations of people that love age. And really, that is leadership at our campus. And to be honest, that caught on. It caught like wildfire. So, soon we started adding to our [inaudible 00:23:16], and to our staff, and to our numbers, and we are able to offer that consultation to any senior in Sumter County that just needs somebody to talk to. Because it's not always medical. What if it's just a question? What's the difference in Medicare and Medicaid? Who do you go to ask those questions? You need a trusted advisor.
Frank: Right. I agree with that. I mean, as you know, I have been in the field of more on the assisted living and memory care, and I can tell you quite often you get a family member that says, "Doesn't Medicare cover all this?" And it's more frequent than not. So, a lot of people really need to be educated on that. So, I commend you for that. I agree.
Katlyn: Thank you.
Frank: Tell us maybe a little bit more on how people could not only get ahold of you, but I know you're in Nashville. Are you providing assistance to just the Nashville area? Can you provide assistance to others from around the country? Share with us a little bit more on that.
Katlyn: We would be happy to. We try to give as much time and consideration to anybody who calls in that needs a minute of our time. That is absolutely not too much to ask. I will tell you that I do try to limit my practice as best I can to the Tennessee state area, mostly because that is where my scope of practice is with Tennessee programs. I'm not as familiar with other states and what benefits that they may offer. I can tell you that a lot of programs for 62 plus really it's predicated one on income and two on geographic area. So, I will say that there are other people like me and my staff around the country. And you alluded to the certified senior advisors. You can find us at CSA.us. You can find a geriatric or gerontological advisor in your area.
You also are welcome to reach out to us. I'm happy to answer emails or phone calls, or just be a support system if you and your family need it. I'm happy to do that.
Frank: Great. We've got just about maybe, not even a minute left. And I know time flies. I could talk to you all day about this subject matter. Any just words of wisdom that you could give to families, or individuals, as their parents start to age? Any words of wisdom that you could give to those families that are being confronted with that situation right now?
Katlyn: I'd like to think that I know a thing or two. I have so much to learn, but I do have a lot of experience and I will tell you in dealing with other family members, siblings or other care givers, it's important to remember that everyone grieves and perceives completely differently. Everyone has a different perspective and it's a concept of rose colored glasses. Everyone has on a different set of glasses and they may not view your parent like you do. They also have the right to be wrong. If that is how they perceive the situation, then that is how they are navigating through the journey. And it may be that your differences really point to how you all either were raised, or grew up, or just life experiences in general.
So, I challenge everyone to, instead of being defensive, try to play offense in aging.
Frank: Great point. Great point. Katlyn, thank you so much for joining us on Boomers Today.
Frank: Katlyn Clifton. Thank you so much. Hopefully we'll have you back in the near future. A lot of great information.
Katlyn: It'd be my pleasure.
Frank: And thank you, everybody, for joining us on Boomers Today.