Jeannette Franks on volunteering, activism and her new book, Intentional Aging – 7 Practical Actions to Live Well and Minimize the Risk of Dementia

Jeannette Franks author photo by Joel SackettI first connected with Jeannette Franks through her work with Weed Warriors, which she founded in 2003 and remains an active participant of the organization. Up until recently, I had no idea that Jeannette wasn’t just an environmental volunteer, but she’s also an activist, a Ph.D, an expert on aging, and an author.

Jeannette obtained her first B.A. in the 1970s in Communications from the University of Washington and began her first volunteer work with Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) teaching youth and adults to write, edit, print, and publish community newspapers. Her early career goals focused on writing and journalism, including a position as a by-line reporter for the Kuwait Daily News. She later obtained another B.A. and M.A. in English Literature from UW. She continued her volunteer work through the Peace Corps, working in the Dominican Republic providing rural education in health, nutrition, and vegetable production.

When she returned to the Seattle area, she took a position as Director of Volunteer Services and Community Education with Community Services for the Blind. Working with the blind, especially older people, set Jeannette on a whole new pathway which eventually led to a position as Director of the UW Retirement Center, Office of the Provost, where she worked closely with retired faculty and staff. As she told me, the combined experiences felt like a “calling” to Jeannette and she knew in “her heart” that she needed to pursue a career in aging. While she continued her career at UW, she took advantage of their educational programs and obtained a Certificate in Aging from their Institute on Aging and a Ph.D in Social Welfare.

Over the course of the next two-and-a-half decades, Jeannette has taught courses on geriatrics and gerontology, spoke at seminars and conferences, wrote multiple publications on topics surrounding aging, including ethics, grief and loss, and served on the boards of many public service entities that serve senior and disabled communities. In addition, she’s volunteered for several Bainbridge Island organizations, as well as organizations in the greater Kitsap and King County areas helping to educate on aging and the resources that are available to older members of the community. She is also the author of three books: To Move Or To Stay Put: A Guide For Your Last Decades, Washington retirement options:  The statewide guide to independent and assisted living communities*, and her most recent, Intentional Aging – 7 Practical Actions to Live Well and Minimize the Risk of Dementia.

Intentional Aging CoverIntentional Aging is based on several talks Jeannette has done over the years, called “7 Actions to Take to Stay Out of a Nursing Home” and is a compilation of her decades-long research into aging, retirement and living options, and everything in between as it pertains to a healthy path to growing older, minimizing your risk of dementia, and living your best life to the very end.

The seven chapters focus on Universal Design, which discusses how to make your home the optimal place to live while you age; Death with Dignity, and Finances, for the most part these subheadings speak for themselves, but you’ll find a great deal of additional information we often don’t consider; chapters four and five discuss Social Support (including governmental agencies), and Dementia Prevention and Mental Health.  The final two chapters discuss Meaning and Purpose and Action and Activism—after reading these chapters, I felt they went hand-in-hand—being able to identify the things that give your life purpose and joy as you age, whether it’s knitting caps for newborns, continuing your education and sharing that knowledge with others, or like Jeannette, advocating for a better tomorrow through environmental activism, these chapters are filled with important information and inspiration to living well as you age.

Why this book? Jeannette says it best on page 16, “There are many excellent books on home modifications for aging in place. There are books and more books on end-of-life issues. There are books and books and books on exercise! So why read this particular book? Read this book because it brings together these most important issues in a concise, useful way. Why get four or five books on these seven topics when you can use just this one? I have worked to bring the most relevant current information to you in a succinct, readable way.”

When we’re younger, we don’t often think about our lives in retirement outside of saving through 401K plans and other investments. However, many of us, at some point in our lives, will experience the needs of a family member who is aging and requires assistance. Intentional Aging is not only a guide to assisting your loved ones as they age, but it’s also a proactive guide regardless of your age or stage of life.

Aside from Jeannette’s impressive knowledge on aging, she practices what she preaches through her activism, volunteerism and active lifestyle. She’s always been a self-described “tree hugger”, but when she and her late husband, Dr. Dick Baker, moved to Bainbridge Island more than two decades ago, their new home was overrun by noxious weeds, which they removed and replanted with native species, spurring her to create Weed Warriors to repeat that process throughout the island. In addition to Weed Warriors, Jeannette is an active volunteer at IslandWood and Sustainable Bainbridge and an active member of the Bainbridge Island Senior/Community Center.

Jeannette Franks trekking in Bhutan to the Tiger’s Nest Monastery—at 10,000 feet!Her volunteer work keeps her busy (the sections of her CV that discuss her “selected” volunteer and public service activities are more than a page long), but she also manages to make time for herself through travel to far-away places, such as Nepal, where she recently hiked through the Himalayas. She has more adventures coming up and plans to keep on going and exploring the world around her. Although she acknowledges that not all retirees are in a position to travel, she notes in Chapter 5 that there are many programs available through local senior centers and other organizations to help you stay active, both physically and mentally.

When Jeannette was finalizing the book, she tapped Elderwise, a “Spirit-Centered Care” program for frail elders and those with dementia. Elderwise’s ArtFull Dementia program encourages and nurtures art therapy. She chose a piece by Elderwise artist, Patty Harrold, titled “Blue Spiral on Light” for her book’s cover art. Her author photo was taken by local photographer Joel Sackett.

If you’re interested in having Jeannette talk about her book in a group setting, such as a class room, book groups, or other interested groups, contact her at

Intentional Aging by Jeannette FranksAlthough Intentional Aging is available on Amazon, Jeannette strongly encourages support for local bookstores, just ask them for the title and reference the IngramSpark ISBN: 979-8-218-11728-3.

For more information, visit her website: Jeannette Franks, PhD – Gerontologist, Author and Activist

* To Move Or To Stay Put: A Guide For Your Last Decades can be purchased via Amazon, click here for the link.  Washington retirement options:  The statewide guide to independent and assisted living communities is currently out of print.

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