An Interview with Ann Wheat of Duet Partners In Health & Aging

A family caregiver sits and smiles, holding the hand of their family member. They are wearing bright peach shirts.

The Executive Director of Maude’s Awards, Marilyn Raichle, was joined by Ann Wheat, Executive Director of the 2021 Maude’s Award recipient Duet Partners In Health & Aging, for a conversation about how Duet’s programming has expanded in scope and impact since winning the award. The conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity. 

Marilyn: Ann, first of all, I have to just say it’s delightful to see you. 

Ann: It’s wonderful to see you too. 

Marilyn: I want to talk with you about Duet’s work. I mean, you have done such incredible things for family caregivers and your work with Dr. Pauline Boss. 

Ann: Duet Partners In Health & Aging is a very precious nonprofit organization, based in Phoenix, Arizona, serving Maricopa County. We actually got our start 42 years ago. The Reverend Dr. Dosia Carlson was our founder, a very caring woman. In her pastoral work, she really recognized the vulnerabilities of aging and developed a deep concern for who she called the “invisible elderly.” She set out to do something about it and founded Duet Partners In Health & Aging. It went by a different name back then; the Beatitudes Center DOAR for Developing Older Adult Resources. But her vision really was for a community where every person ages with compassion, dignity, and hope. And here we are 42 years later still carrying on her mission of serving vulnerable older adults. For the majority of our history, we’ve been primarily serving folks in Maricopa County, Arizona.

The core service areas we focus on are supporting homebound adults, who we call our neighbors. And these are individuals who no longer have the ability to drive. Our typical neighbor is an 85 year old woman living alone with multiple chronic health conditions, living on an income of $1,200-1,500 a month. And we train, background check, and support an army of over 300 volunteers. These volunteers drive them to their medical appointments, take them grocery shopping or bring their groceries to them, help them with handyperson tasks around the home and have friendly visits or friendly phone calls with them. Just an amazing array of support services. Last year we helped support about 393 homebound neighbors to stay successfully in their homes where they want to be, and fostered that sense of connection to other people and community that they wouldn’t have living in isolation. We all know the hazards of isolation. 

Our second area of focus is serving kinship families, primarily grandparents who take on the hard work of caring for grandchildren whose parents no longer are able to be parents. It’s a huge and growing problem in our country, primarily because of the opioid epidemic. But we support these grandfamilies to be able to not just survive, but to thrive, so those children can be with relatives rather than ending up in the foster care system. Last year our tiny team served over 535 individual grandparents and over 800 grandchildren. 

And then our third big area, as you know, is supporting family caregivers who are doing that very difficult work of caring for another person who no longer can fully care for themselves. That’s the area where I started with Duet actually for the first four and a half years of my time with Duet. I had come out of retirement to go back into the nonprofit sector and do something that I was very passionate about, and that was working with family caregivers. So I served as Director of Family Caregiver Services and I’m now Executive Director, but our director and the team we have are amazing. And the program just keeps going and growing. So we’ll be talking more about different aspects of our services, but they run about 25 or more support groups for family caregivers every single month. 

We have a men’s group. We have groups that are specific to caring for someone with Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s and related dementias. We have a group for LGBTQ caregivers who feel safer in a group that’s geared for them. We have a group for adults who are caring for their parents. We really try to meet people where they are. And those groups are flourishing. We run webinars now twice a month, and we open those up to anyone anywhere to join free of charge, as all our services are. We also run programs that are specialized for individuals who are caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia; those family caregivers make up over half of the family caregivers we work with. 

And the number is just growing. So here in Arizona, we have the highest incidence of Alzheimer’s and dementia diagnoses in the nation. 

A family caregiver sits and smiles, looking at a globe with their family member.
Family caregiver. Image courtesy of Duet Partners in Health & Aging.

Marilyn: My goodness.

Ann: Yes. It’s because of our senior population. Our older adult population is very high in this state, and so that comes with folks living longer, which leads to more and more folks being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and related dementias. In most states, according to the data I’ve read from say 2021-2025, you might have a 12% to 15% increase in the number of folks diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or related dementia– and in Arizona, that number is projected at a 34% increase. That’s our reality here. 

Marilyn: You sort of take my breath away. It’s astonishing how much you do. It’s so inspiring. 

Ann: I would like to just add that that is due to a really incredible, talented, creative and passionate mission-driven team, but also the backbone of our organization is our volunteers. So while we have 25 staff members, we have well over 400 volunteers who help us do this work. 

Marilyn: Amazing. So you won a Maude’s Award in 2021 for Duet’s Finding Meaning and Hope program. Can you tell us more about that program? And is that stemming from your work with Dr. Pauline Boss? 

Ann: It is indeed. So in 2016, when I was serving as Director of Family Caregiver Services, I had two support groups for family caregivers of persons with Alzheimer’s or related dementias. And one day, one of the members called to schedule an appointment with me, when she usually just dropped by the office. And she said, “I have this book that I think is so important –I think it could really be a game changer for the family caregivers dealing with caring for someone with dementia. And I wanted to bring it to you.” She handed me a book by Dr. Pauline Boss called Loving Someone Who Has Dementia: How to Find Hope While Coping With Stress and Grief

At the time, I was on that very journey. I was a family caregiver for my very precious older sister who, on her 50th birthday, had been diagnosed with a very rare form of dementia called posterior cortical atrophy. That really took years to diagnose because it starts with losing one’s eyesight. It started with brain blindness. And so, after many years of helping to care for her I thought I knew quite a lot. I was pretty adept at facilitating groups. I had learned a lot about the world of Alzheimer’s and dementia, and thought I did a good job working with our family caregivers. And then I went home and I read this book, and I can only say personally for me, it was like a tectonic shift in my thinking. I had this “aha moment” thanks to Dr. Pauline Boss, about understanding my grief journey. Pauline Boss is an emeritus professor from University of Minnesota. She’s 89 years old now and her life’s work has been, first of all, identifying a complex form of grief, for which she coined the term “ambiguous loss” and identifying coping strategies to lower stress and improve caregiver’s wellbeing. 

It can be a physical ambiguous loss. For instance, when the Twin Towers fell, for about half of the folks who died there were never any signs of verification that they had died. And so those families are always living with some ambiguity. So if someone is physically lost, but you have no verification of that, that’s an ambiguous loss of the physical kind. But for family caregivers, who Pauline Boss did a tremendous amount of work with, caregivers of people with dementia, it’s the psychological kind of ambiguous loss. And that is where you’re caring for someone who is physically there, but psychologically absent or missing you. They’re no longer the person you knew them to be. And you as the family caregiver, are slowly becoming a stranger to them. And the research has shown it causes a tremendous stress pile up for that family caregiver. 

Because we as a society pretty much only think about grief as being when a person we love has passed on, and we have all of these rituals that help support people in their time of loss. We have memorial services, we send cards, we go and visit with them and tell stories and share remembrances. We support people when someone they love has died. That isn’t the case with ambiguous loss. These caregivers carry the unresolved grief and profound loss that comes in a caregiver’s journey of caring for someone with dementia. Maybe it’s the day that you realize they got the diagnosis and you’re going to grieve profoundly about that. Or the day that they can no longer drive a car and you have to take the keys away, or they can no longer find the restroom in the house you’ve shared, or you’re grieving when they no longer remember your name. 

These are huge losses and the unresolved stress is what can take that family caregiver down, compromising their health in significant ways, particularly with spousal caregivers who are older and without support. Quite often they will predecease the person they’re caring for. That’s how significant that grief-related stress is. So the beauty of Dr. Boss’s work is that she has identified that ambiguous loss causes, in her theory, profound ongoing sadness, which is very different from a clinical diagnosis of depression. And while some of these family caregivers are facing depression, the vast majority of family caregivers get up in the morning, they put on their clothes, and they go to work, and they are there to help their person. And that does not meet the clinical definition of depression.  And so rather than medication, what they need is community and support. 

A family caregiver sits and smiles, holding the hand of their family member. They are wearing bright peach shirts.
Family caregiver Clara. Image courtesy of Duet Partners in Health & Aging.

They need resiliency-based strategies to navigate the journey. And with that support and with that understanding, with having a name for their type of grief and knowing what to do about it, they will be much more successful navigating the caregiving experience. When they navigate that journey better, the person they’re caring for does better as well. So this was a game changer. We ran it first as a book club, and I didn’t even set a certain number of sessions because I wanted to see where the family caregivers would go with it. And they took the deepest dive I’ve ever seen them take. They wrestled with the concepts, they pored over everything, and it was the most engaged conversation I’d ever seen.

And that’s when the idea just hit me: well, we have to bring Dr. Boss to caregivers all over the country. Why not see if she would allow us to videotape her, sharing her messages? So we got a grant from the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust, and with Dr. Boss’ blessing and willingness to take a risk on a little nonprofit out west, she flew into Phoenix and we spent a wonderful two weeks with a professional production company and videotaped her each day, sharing the lessons of her book in the company of a diverse group of five dementia family caregivers.  About 35 caregivers participated over the course of filming the nine sessions that parallel the nine chapters of her book.  And we put together a facilitated discussion manual where we could train volunteers to facilitate sessions, show this 20 minute video, and then engage caregivers together in community, in deep, meaningful discussion to learn Dr. Boss’s strategies and bring them home by learning how to use them within their lives, and support one another doing it. 

And that is Finding Meaning and Hope. The video discussion series has now been taught to well over 300 facilitators. What started as an in-person discussion series in the Maricopa County area now has gone virtual. So we have a lot of new things happening and a lot of amazing ideas and reach that we didn’t initially have. As far as we’ve gotten, we are still just gaining altitude and, and starting to really soar. 

Marilyn: So what are those new things that are happening? 

Ann: Well, the pandemic taught us a lot. Duet has always been an organization that has done everything in person. We are a one-person-helping-another organization. Well, that is not possible when everybody is trapped in isolation and you can’t get together. Fortunately, our Director of Family Caregiver Services is an instructional designer, and in short order, she had turned our support groups into virtual offerings, and she went to work on Finding Meaning and Hope and turned the entire video discussion series into a virtual model that works really well on Zoom. 

So we then started offering it virtually, and we thought we were offering it just to the Maricopa County community. But what we noticed was people found out about it, and pretty soon folks were joining us from other states. We’ve had people join us from Australia, Mexico, and Canada. We don’t even know how they found out about us. And we realized, you know what? We have a responsibility to meet family caregivers where they are. And we all learned a thing or two about the impact isolation has on people. What the pandemic also taught us, and the research backs this up, is that family caregivers, while many of us have come out of the pandemic back into community pretty successfully, a huge percentage of family caregivers have not been able to do so because they simply have no one else to help them. 

And so they are trapped in isolation. Once we started offering the Finding Meaning and Hope series virtually, the family caregivers who joined us started to teach us a lot about what virtual opportunities have to offer. When we surveyed them after their sessions, they told us that their sense of community was very real, even if it was virtual. And they wrote so many wonderful comments, and thank-yous: “if you hadn’t come to us in our homes and virtually, we would have missed out on all of this, and we would’ve never have been able to come to you. Thank you. Thank you, thank you.” So that has inspired us to say, Dr. Boss was kind enough to work with Duet to create this series. It’s the only video series of its kind in the world, and we owe it to dementia family caregivers everywhere to bring this series to them. 

And thanks to a grant from the National Community Care Corps, we have now created what we call the Meaning & Hope Institute, which as we envision it is a virtual community of care that can provide wraparound support services to any family caregiver caring for someone with  Alzheimer’s or related dementia, and meets them exactly where they are. Our goal is to remove every single barrier that there could be. Whether that’s geography, living in a remote setting where there’s no services available for caregivers of persons with dementia, whether it’s financial, cultural, class, language barriers, whatever those barriers are. The Meaning & Hope Institute seeks to create a national movement of care for our family caregivers who are struggling on the road of caring for those with dementia. 

And so it can be a support service for agencies who are already offering a lot of other support services by helping them to be able to offer Finding Meaning and Hope, either in person or virtually. So all of those support groups I mentioned that Duet offers, anyone anywhere can get on the Meaning & Hope Institute, click a link and join a meaningful caregiver support group. They can sign up for any of our webinars or our annual caregiver symposium. All of those are virtual. We keep those in a library, so if they miss it, they can get on and watch it. And they can benefit from our peer mentor program, which we’re just trying to get the word out on now. 

We’ve started it locally, but we are looking for family caregivers who have reached a point of stability or maybe are on the other side of their journey, no longer providing direct care. And they are willing to volunteer, go through a little training with us, and then be there to support a new caregiver who’s just starting on this scary journey and has no idea where to turn, to help them discover that it is possible to maintain a relationship with your loved one in a way that is loving and meaningful, even if it is not the same as it used to be. That’s what we’re about. 

Marilyn: My thought is that this is available virtually everywhere, but everybody should know about this. Everybody should be taking advantage of this because the demand is so huge and growing. Are there partner organizations working with you to expand awareness of this program and to help implement it in their communities? 

Ann: Yes, there are. That’s the Duet way of doing things. Our name is Duet Partners In Health & Aging for a reason. We’ve never been that organization that was big enough, or wealthy enough, or mighty enough to just say, “we’re gonna do it all. We don’t need any partners or any help.” That is just not how we approach aging support services. There’s too much need out there. The aging trajectory is enormous all across our country, and we all have to work better, and I think we all work better together. And so that’s our model: we reach out to organizations across the country, and we need all the help we can get in getting the word out and letting folks know that support is available.  

A homebound adult goes shopping with a Duet volunteer.
A Duet homebound adult and volunteer. Image courtesy of Duet Partners in Health & Aging.

We get calls from folks who are referred by facilitators that we’ve trained who shared that the program is great.  If they’re interested in becoming a Finding Meaning and Hope facilitator and they’re associated with an organization, there is a modest fee that helps us cover the cost of the professionally printed materials and training. And then they have access to the Meaning & Hope Institute Hub, which is a portal designed just for the facilitators to give them access to all the videos and the chance to set up their own chat groups with all of their caregivers. But we keep it free of charge for family caregivers, because the facilitators have to agree to offer the series at no cost to family caregivers. 

We’ve trained literally hundreds of facilitators, most of whom are in Arizona, but we now have facilitators trained in 12 states, including California, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. And so we have these partners in all of those states. Some are big partners, like the Department of Veterans Services, who heard about it through our longtime partner Hospice of the Valley, the largest nonprofit hospice organization, I believe, in the country. We have worked with public health departments across Arizona. We’ve trained facilitators in about a dozen of them. The USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology is a really important new affiliate through the Meaning & Hope Institute. Other partners include Phinney Neighborhood Center in Seattle, Washington, the Hub on Smith in Sheridan, Wyoming, Ochsner Health in New Orleans, Mercy Care in Iowa, and United Zion Retirement Community in Pennsylvania. 

The way our model works, you know, it can be a faith community, it can be a living community. It could be an adult day health center, it can be a medical setting. It could be a university, it could be a senior center or a municipality, or a public health department. We have already partnered successfully with all of these and more. What we find that our partners bring is a real understanding of the nuances of their communities and the cultural context of their communities. They can do a far better job than we can reaching out to find those family caregivers of persons with dementia and bringing them in to say, “Don’t go through this journey alone. We’re here to help you…come be part of the journey together with others. And you will find that your stress level drops and you are better equipped with an understanding of what is happening in your life and how to go about coping with it. Because you are a resilient person, and there are things you can do that will lower that stress and bring back meaning and hope in your life,” which is ultimately what we’re trying to do. 

Marilyn: So at the beginning of this conversation, you talked about the number of facilitators that you had trained.  Your impact must be far greater now given your reach into all these communities.  They’re training facilitators, are they not? 

Ann: That’s our model, because the facilitators know all the folks in other regional agencies who may be interested. I know in Seattle the first facilitator we trained then rounded up about nine other folks. And they were all trained as well, across Washington State. So you could see the multiplier effect. We may not be the fastest at the front end, but I would put our model against any other as being the most sustainable, the most cost effective, and ultimately the best community to community. Because we’re not trying to be all things to all communities. We’re trying to be a support to each and every community to provide them with something that they can then take and share with those family caregivers who they’re trying to serve. We also want to lift up our partner agencies’ services, and will soon launch an interactive map linking family caregivers to these agencies and their support services for family caregivers.

A Duet volunteer assisting a homebound adult with a ride.
A Duet volunteer with a homebound adult Image courtesy of Duet Partners in Health & Aging.

Marilyn: It’d be interesting to know, because you’re leaving the door open for everyone to adapt this to their needs and how their community works. Are you seeing real adaptations, or are they staying pretty close to the model? 

Ann: We require that they stay close to the model. It’s all scripted. That is a very standard way that many workshop series are put together where you want to make sure that the key lessons to be learned are shared and discussed in a consistent way. The other thing about our model is we do not require our facilitators to all be therapists or social workers or counselors or experts in those arenas, because we brought the world renowned authority, Dr. Pauline Boss, to the caregivers. Dr. Boss is the expert in the room. She just happens to be conversing via video. And that allows us to train a much more diverse group of facilitators. Some are family caregivers not associated with an agency. They’re all volunteers for Duet.

But by having it scripted, there are ways that they can put their own spin on it. They can paraphrase the cultural context around certain concepts that work for their communities. I’ll give you two great examples. The entire Finding Meaning and Hope discussion series has now been translated into Spanish. It’s been voiced over in Spanish. It’s been subtitled in Spanish, and it’s been subtitled in English for folks who are hard of hearing. We have some amazing partners, like one here locally, Unlimited Potential, that has very successfully brought the Finding Meaning and Hope workshop series to refugee and immigrant Spanish-speaking women from all over the world who have found their way to Arizona. And they are family caregivers of persons with dementia. And across all of that, the different sorts of cultural nuances, they are very successfully running that program. So we do believe it’s very important that the facilitator is a match for the family caregivers who are gathered. 

Another one that we’re really excited about now is we have a new partner called the So Tsoh Foundation, founded by a woman named Valerie Tsosie, who’s Navajo, and lives on the Navajo Nation. She has started her own nonprofit to support family caregivers. And she also supports family caregivers from surrounding tribal communities. Both Valerie and another colleague have been trained as facilitators. This past Valentine’s Day, Valerie launched the very first session of Finding Meaning and Hope to Navajo family caregivers on the Navajo Nation. 

And within the next several months, after she runs her first full series and really understands the cultural nuances that she needs to build in, she will be heading up and voicing over the entire video discussion series in Diné, and then will really be able to help her community of family caregivers who only speak their native language. And she said there is such a need there. That is an example of how the Meaning & Hope Institute has crossed barriers of remoteness. There’s no place much more remote in our nation, even with limited access to Wi-Fi or internet connectivity. She knows how best to do that, and we are supporting that as well. 

In meeting people from their cultural context, we don’t want them to change for the program. We want the program to work for them. Dr. Boss’s work is used all over the world, and so it has already been tested to work well across diverse cultures. I think it is a real plus of her work and our model, that it can be adaptable. 

Marilyn: You say that Dr. Boss’ work is being implemented all over the world. Are you working in tandem with any of those groups? 

Ann: A lot of the international work is in disaster relief. For example, the International Community of the Red Cross years ago adopted her work with survivors of natural disasters. For the tsunami in Japan, her work was used there. In fact, she was there working with them. She’s currently working with therapists in Turkey to help survivors after the traumatic losses from the earthquakes there. And that’s one of the blessings of Dr. Boss– she has always had her arms wide open, working with other organizations. Dr. Boss is 89 years old now, and while I don’t think that she will ever be fully retired, she is starting to lay down some of the heavy responsibilities, and I’m very proud to share that she named Duet as one of just a few organizations to carry on her personal commitments to family caregivers. So we’re very proud to do that through the Meaning & Hope Institute. Dr. Boss still continues to work with us. She’ll be coming out for about a week here at the end of April to do some further video sessions with us. And she serves on our National Advisory Council for the Meaning & Hope Institute. 

Marilyn: You fill me with such hope.

Ann: It helps fill me with hope each and every day. And we need it, don’t we? 

Marilyn: Yes, we do. When you started to talk about homebound adults, how many of those people that you’re doing such good work with are living with dementia? And what do you do with people who are living alone with dementia who don’t have a family caregiver? 

Ann: For people living alone with dementia, we do not do as much work as you think we might, because our volunteers haven’t gone through the added training of providing that in-home help. What we do is work with many homebound neighbors where it’s a couple, and one of them has dementia and the other is the family caregiver, without the ability to drive. That is a place where our volunteers are able to provide more meaningful support. We also help connect them with in-home respite help where they don’t have to pay for it. 

We’re still carrying a wait list now of about 80 homebound people waiting for services. And we are working very hard to get people back to volunteering. The numbers went down significantly during the pandemic, and we are making headway, but building volunteer numbers is one of the most challenging things we’re doing right now.

Marilyn: So tell me–is there anything new coming up from Duet that you would like to share with us? 

Ann: Yes, and we’re excited about this. Through a connection that was made years ago by Dr. Boss, I connected with a woman who lives on the East Coast, Connie Steward, who works with a nonprofit called Lifespan Research Foundation. And Lifespan Research Foundation was founded by Dr. Robert Waldinger and you probably have heard of him; he’s the director of the longest running study in the world on happiness, run by Harvard University. It’s a study of successful aging and why some people thrive and others do not. And it all comes down to relationships. Having meaningful relationships in our lives trumps everything else that all the research shows. Well, Dr. Waldinger cares deeply about sharing the results of this work with regular folks across the country who need to know what will help improve our happiness, because there’s things all of us can do to help ourselves be happier and more engaged with others, and have more joyful, meaningful lives with lower stress. 

It’s all very much tied to successful aging and the epidemic of isolation, and even facing the challenges of life and doing it with hope and resiliency. So he started two workshop series, very much like ours, where he shares lessons via video, and then there are trained facilitators who facilitate group discussions. They’re all done virtually. And we have been building a relationship with them. He loves our work through the Meaning & Hope Institute with family caregivers, and he cares deeply about family caregivers. He has a workshop series for adults 50+ called The Next Chapter in My Life. Through a pilot project with Lifespan Research, we flew in their senior facilitator, to train four Duet facilitators, and we are now starting to offer that series to family caregivers who’ve completed the Finding Meaning and Hope series. And they are loving it. He also just wrote a book called The Good Life, a national bestseller. So we are very fortunate to have this connection made and for him to entrust Duet with this very important work. After we finish this pilot, we hope to be able to offer it more broadly through the Meaning & Hope Institute, and family caregivers will be able to access that series as well. 

Marilyn: It strikes me that it’s as important for people who are living with dementia as well as for their caregivers to find happiness. 

Ann: Exactly. You know, you never reach a finish line, right? Right. There’s always another door to be opened. Every door that opens is exciting because it’s important and precious and meaningful, and it will lead you to other connections through other doors. And so we are already starting to think about that through the Meaning & Hope Institute and how we can be a support to the entire family system. We believe in supporting the family caregiver on a healthy path of providing care where they make time for themselves, they have meaning and hope and joy in their lives, and they have a more meaningful relationship with their person who has dementia. That is really a critical starting point. If you stay tuned, we are looking at new types of technology, for connecting with people and how it might also be useful in a virtual context with individuals with dementia. 

Marilyn: Yes. Again, we work hand in hand, you know? 

Ann: Exactly. We’re making some headway in other areas. We look at the Meaning & Hope Institute as a virtual community of care for dementia family caregivers by family caregivers. So my whole team, not only are they amazing professionals, but many have experienced family caregiving, or are on that road of family caregiving. And we think that makes a real difference. We also have other family caregivers contributing. There’s a beautiful series of essays by a family caregiver named Gerald Wood, who participated in filming the Finding Meaning and Hope series, now available on that site. They get published every couple of weeks, and we are going to be carrying writings, artwork or anything like that from other caregivers. We’d love to work with Maude’s Awards or any agency that might help get the word out about this.

Marilyn: Well, certainly we want to help. Looking very, very broadly ahead, are there changes that you would like to see in dementia care? I mean, if you had your druthers, what would you see changing? 

Ann: If I could wave my magic wand, I would shore up the system for every family caregiver with the in-home respite care that they need so that they can get their breaks, they can recharge, refresh, and renew. I would make sure that all of them, from that first moment of getting a diagnosis when it feels like the floor has just fallen out from under you, that someone would take them by the hand and say, “there is help for you out there. Let me just help you take the first step.” That doesn’t happen nearly enough. We still know about 50% of the folks who have dementia never got a diagnosis. So I would wish that the whole system worked together in a holistic manner, and that the funding was there to help these families navigate in their homes where they want to be. It’s the most affordable option. 

And I also think that it’s time that we all recognize that this is not an arena for turfiness. We have all got to figure out how to put our best ideas forward and work together. The Arizona Department of Public Health is going to be funding and running a family caregiver summit in the fall. And there will be a particular emphasis on family caregivers of persons with dementia. They are bringing experts from all over the state together. They’ll probably bring in national experts, and they see this as vitally important to our state government. It has a huge role to play at a local level, at a county level, at a state level, and at a national level.  And I am heartened to see much more discussion around how we care for family caregivers who are the backbone of our healthcare system. Period. 

Marilyn: Period. A friend contacted me a while ago who said that his wife had just gotten a diagnosis of dementia. And I said to him, “Okay, the first thing I want you to know, there is absolutely every reason to believe that she can live with joy and purpose and meaning.” And he said, “You’re the only person who has said that to me.” And I said, “Well, it’s true.” And then he said, “Now what?”

Ann: Right. 

Marilyn: Right. It’s a message of hope. And then –

Ann: “Now what do I do?” Government does have a huge role to play. Because nonprofits are wonderful, but I never want cost to be a barrier for anyone. I guess that’s my personal thing. I’m not opposed to folks paying for services that they need if they have the resources to do so. But when it becomes a barrier between haves and have nots, that to me is just unacceptable. It’s just wrong. 

That’s where the government can be an amazing help. If they recognize that the nonprofit sector oftentimes does things better, more efficiently with a focused mission and passion that really is so person-centered. And by providing support for them in a way that isn’t just, “here’s a year or two of funding, now you’re expected to figure it out and keep it all going and growing.” You know, I think we’re going to get to a point where hopefully the nonprofit and the public sectors, and even the corporate sector, are all starting to come together and say, this is bigger than all of us. Let’s figure out how to be smarter about it. Let’s start being intentional about not leaving folks out. We really have a huge gap in technology that is only going to make the divide greater if we don’t figure out how to use that technology to be a bridge.

Marilyn: And the summit that you’re having in Arizona could be huge. It could be a great step towards that.

Ann: It could be. We are finding here at Duet that we are spending time and effort and some funds on getting expert guidance on the latest and greatest technology solutions around aging being developed all over this world. People recognize the trajectory and there are very smart minds coming up with very amazing solutions to help us all do what we do better. And we here at Duet are never going to be the ones designing that stuff. We just need to know what’s out there and figure out if it has applications and partner with organizations to help make it worthwhile to bring it in. I’ve been talking with a woman who developed an app used broadly now, to help shore up bridging that divide for those who have always been left out of healthcare. And just one aspect of this app she’s developed is that there’s 25 languages programmed into it. So the individual who needs the help, it’s customized for them and their needs and their language as well as for the person who’s providing support, like a community health worker or a social worker or a nurse, and they, by texting or talking into it, it instantly translates verbally in that other person’s language. Can you even imagine?

Marilyn: Absolutely. So for anybody who’s interested in applying to Maude’s Awards– do you have any advice for them? 

Ann: Yes, I do. Based on little Duet: Partners In Health & Aging being a recipient of Maude’s Awards for a big idea we had– believe in yourselves, believe in your idea, and work hard at it and get it far enough along where you really have enough to show and apply on behalf of your organization and the people you serve. That is not self-serving, that is serving others. I would really encourage it. 

Maude’s Awards was the first recognition and the first investment that anyone made to growing the Finding Meaning and Hope program through the Meaning & Hope Institute, and launching that big idea of a virtual community of care. That was our starting point. Most of us are all fairly small in scale as nonprofits. And we need that support, and we need that community, and we need that boost of being a winner.

Marilyn: Oh, that’s such a wonderful thing to hear. So I have another question for you. If someone’s interested in learning more about Duet, where should they go? 

Ann: That is easy. We’re a very easy-to-reach organization! Our website is, and you can reach us through that and find all our contact information there. We have one phone number, (602) 274-5022. You can ask for me, Ann; you can ask for Janet, director of Family Caregiver Services; or you can ask for Justin who manages the Meaning & Hope Institute , and their website is It’s that simple. So reach out to us. We would love to talk to you. We would love to talk to anyone who would like to bring the services of the Meaning & Hope Institute to their communities or is interested in becoming a Finding Meaning and Hope facilitator. Thanks to a recent generous donor, we have a scholarship fund for folks to become facilitators who don’t have an agency to sponsor them. We don’t want any barriers for good volunteers wanting to help spread the word and bring Finding Meaning and Hope to dementia family caregivers, wherever they may be. 

Marilyn: Well, I can guarantee you anyone who contacts Duet will feel better. It’s amazing. 

Ann: It’s my blessing to be with Duet. Not only did I benefit from having meaning in my life as I was going through a difficult caregiving experience with my sister, where I did feel very isolated. I did feel alone initially and it gave me a community. It gave me meaning and purpose. I would recommend that too, for any family member who’s provided care. When you reach the other side and you feel stable and you’ve taken time to refresh and renew, pay it forward if somebody has helped you out. There’s loads of people who could use a helping hand to get started and to be told, “Your person can have a joyful, meaningful, good life. And you too can find joy and meaning in your experience despite the challenges.”

Marilyn: I would just like to thank you. I would like to thank Duet. I’d like to thank your entire team. The work you’re doing is not only extraordinarily needed, but the work you are doing is inspiring.

Ann: Thank you. And any ideas you ever have for us, we are happy to always hear them and, um, figure out the next thing going. And I think that’s one of the things that keeps this team so energized is it’s like, okay, everybody, go be you and bring your own lens to this and your own creative thinking and ideas, and let’s just scheme and see where it takes us. 

Marilyn: Thank you so much, Ann. This has just been wonderful. Well, I feel so much better. Thank you. 

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