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Cold can be dangerous

The frosty air of winter can be invigorating. But cold air can also pose threats to your health, whether you’re indoors or outside. If your body temperature drops too low, it can lead to a serious, sometimes deadly condition known as hypothermia. Learn to recognize the signs of this condition, and take steps to keep yourself and your family warm and safe during this chilly season.

Jan 2018 NIH Halting hypothermia photo WEBOur animal companions can also be affected by hypothermia. Just as with people, care should be taken to protect dogs and other animals from this dangerous and life-threatening condition. Photo by Kate on Unsplash.A normal body temperature is 98.6 °F. Just a few degrees lower – below 95° – can be dangerous, especially for the very young and very old.

“The body is finely tuned to operate within a narrow temperature range inside the body, despite large differences in temperature outside the body. We have all sorts of mechanisms – like adjusting the size of our small blood vessels and shivering – to help us maintain a healthy body temperature,” says the National Institutes of Health’s Dr. Basil Eldadah, who oversees research on the medical care of older adults. “But older adults and young children are more susceptible to the effects of outside temperature changes. When the body’s inside temperature strays beyond that narrow range, body functions don’t operate well.”

Low body temperatures can impair vital organs. When cold affects the body, people may have trouble thinking clearly, talking properly, or moving well. They may not realize what’s happening, or they might not be able to take steps to warm up or ask for help.

Anyone who spends much time outdoors in very cold weather can get hypothermia. But hypothermia can happen anywhere – not just outside and not just in bitter winter weather. It can strike when temperatures are cool – for example, if a person becomes chilled from rain, sweat, or being in cold water.

“Even during the heat of summer, older people and very small children are at risk if air conditioning makes their homes too cold,” Eldadah says. Certain medications and alcohol can also raise the risk for hypothermia.

Left untreated, hypothermia can quickly turn dangerous. Several hundred people in the U.S. – half of them age 65 or older – die from hypothermia each year.

“If you suspect that someone you know or love may be at risk of hypothermia, it’s important to know the signs and symptoms, and take quick action if needed,” Eldadah says. “First get the person out of the cold or wet environment if possible, remove any wet clothes, and cover the person with dry blankets or whatever’s handy.” Offer the person something warm to drink, but avoid alcohol or caffeinated beverages like coffee.

“Also avoid things like a hot-water bath or a heating pad,” says Eldadah. “External heat sources for hypothermia can be risky because of the potential for things like burns, low blood pressure, or irregular heart rhythms. Active rewarming techniques are best used in settings where doctors can closely monitor a patient’s vital signs, so getting professional help is important.”

To help prevent hypothermia in the first place, Eldadah says, “Follow some of the common sense advice that we’ve probably all heard. Dress in layers; cover up with blankets; and if you expect to be out in the wind, rain or snow, wear a jacket with a waterproof and windproof outer shell.”

To keep warm at home, wear socks, slippers, and a cap or hat. Set your heat at 68° or higher when it’s cold outside. To save on heating bills, close off rooms you’re not using.

If you need help paying your home heating bills, you may qualify for an energy assistance program. The Benefits Counseling Program at LifePath can help you fill out a fuel assistance application and find other resources that can help with home heating and weatherization. Contact LifePath at 413-773-5555 or 978-544-2259 for more information and read more online at LifePathMA.org.

Article adapted from the National Institutes of Health December 2015 News in Health, available online at newsinhealth.nih.gov.

MOW banner 2018 6

Lisa Middents headshot 2018Lisa MiddentsAfter 25 years in a row doing anything, it’s never a bad idea to take a step back and ask some questions, such as: “Should we keep doing this?” and, if so, “Should we make any changes?”

Last year marked the 25th annual Meals on Wheels Walkathon: the biggest way our community comes together in one place to make sure elders are not alone, forgotten, or hungry. Walkers gathered at Greenfield Community College on the last Saturday in April and helped raise over $105,000 for Meals on Wheels. Although the Walkathon was a success, challenging times ahead for public funding means we had to take time this past summer to take a good look at how we raise money for Meals on Wheels and make sure we were being as effective as possible.

Jan 2018 Announcing MOW Walkathon photo WEBDarlene Nutter, Jane Severance, Ann Kazcenski, and Karen Lentner of LifePath’s Nutrition Department show their spirit for Meals on Wheels at Halloween last year outside LifePath’s new location at the Greenfield Corporate Center. We took a poll, and here are some of the comments we got:

My family (especially my kids) loves attending the Walk-a-thon. Would be sad if the Walk went away!

It is a great community get-together and something we look forward to every year.

Here is the comment, from Maureen Gamlin, a nurse in the Adult Family Care Program at LifePath, that gave us the “Aha!” moment: Do we have a thank you for the drivers? An indoor gathering for fundraisers, introduce them, give recognition.

We needed to find ways to streamline the event. What if we…

  • hold the Walkathon at LifePath’s new location at the Greenfield Corporate Center
  • keep the focus on the amazing work of the volunteer Meals on Wheels drivers
  • enjoy a light breakfast together before walking around the grounds of LifePath’s Greenfield home base at 101 Munson Street

We are very excited to announce the Walkathon WILL go on in its new form on Saturday, April 28, 2018, from 8:30 to 11 a.m., at LifePath, 101 Munson St., Greenfield. Together we can keep making sure all who need Meals on Wheels can get them in 2018! For more information, contact me at (413) 773-5555, ext. 2225 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Learn to advocate for elders and people with disabilities in a few flexible hours a week with free training

Sept 2017 AVS Linda Ackerman Ombudsman Volunteer photo WEBLinda Ackerman, volunteer Long-Term Care Ombudsman, visits with Richard Boyle, a resident of New England Health Center, a nursing facility in Sunderland.Want to volunteer to make a difference in your community? The next Long-Term Care Ombudsman training is your chance! Volunteers in Greenfield, Shelburne Falls, and Turners Falls are especially needed.

Attend the next free volunteer training for the Long-Term Care Ombudsman program on February 26 and 27, 2018, from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and February 28, from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., with breaks for lunch, in Holyoke, Mass.

With questions or to apply, click here. Even if you can’t make it to this training, you can still reach out to be added to the list for a future session.

“An Ombudsman is someone that they can feel at ease with, laugh with, and talk to,” says Annmarie Newton, a recently retired volunteer with the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program at LifePath, who visited residents of a local nursing home for nearly a decade. “My goal is to make people feel comfortable, good about themselves, and happier or more content.”

Annemarie began her visits in the common room, where people are “hearing music, watching a movie, playing cards,” and spoke to everyone, asking how things are going.

“You are the advocate of the residents,” says Allen Ross, also a volunteer ombudsman. The focus is on confidentiality, listening, and establishing relationships with each resident, as well as helping to identify concerns. “The role of ombudsman really gave an opportunity to respectfully enter the lives of these individuals,” to offer support, listen, says Allen, and “assist in helping them find their voice.” For those individuals who feel unable to address a situation on their own, Ombudsmen will act as advocates on their behalf with facility staff. Quality of life and quality of care for the residents are the common goals.

Linda Ackerman, another volunteer, believes others would enjoy becoming volunteer Ombudsmen as well. “Anyone going into it, they don’t have to worry about having a medical background,” she says. “You’re always learning.”

Before it all begins, new volunteers receive in-depth Ombudsman basic training from the state, which covers topics like nursing facility regulations and negotiating, along with field training from Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program Director Trevor Boeding. “The mentoring experience was extremely important to me,” says Ombudsman Robert Amyot. “Otherwise, I would not have been able to start doing Ombudsman work on my own as effectively and with enough confidence in myself.” 

Allen agrees. “You’re not thrown into the job, but gradually move into the position.” New volunteers go along on visits with Trevor, who checks in to make sure each volunteer is ready before venturing out on their own. “It’s very thoughtful assistance in building one’s confidence to go ahead and do it independently.”

Interested volunteers must successfully complete the application process, which includes CORI, reference checks, and an interview with the program director, before attending the training. Volunteers are reimbursed for their mileage to and from the facility to which they are assigned.

Are you the caregiver of a loved one living with dementia? The Savvy Caregiver Program is a popular and free six-session training for family and friends who are active caregivers for those living with Alzheimer’s or related dementias.

The planning for the 2018 season of workshops has begun, and waiting lists are filling up for the local workshops. To request a workshop in your area or to be added to a waiting list, leave your contact information at 413-773-5555 x1190 or 978-544-2259 x1190. You can also learn more and connect with the program online.

Jan 2018 Savvy Caregiver photo WEBTaking care of a person living with Alzheimer’s or related dementia is specialized work. To do this work successfully, caregivers need special skills, knowledge, and a positive attitude that helps them to care for themselves.Savvy Caregiver will help you:

  • Understand the impact of dementia on both you and the person in your care
  • Learn the skills you need to manage daily life
  • Take control and set goals
  • Communicate more effectively
  • Strengthen family resources
  • Feel better about your caregiving
  • Take care of you!

Karen recently completed The Savvy Caregiver Program course. “I came into Savvy not knowing anything about dementia,” says Karen, whose mother has dementia. “When I finished the course, I felt pretty confident that I had a very good understanding of what was going on, and I feel like I am a lot more helpful to my mother now. I’m a lot more empathetic toward my mother. I’m a lot more patient with her.”

Funding for this program was provided by a grant from the Administration for Community Living in collaboration with the Massachusetts Executive Office of Elder Affairs and Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley, along with the Healthy Living Center of Excellence.

These workshops require preregistration and are not open to professional caregivers.

LifePath offers many support options for caregivers.

Voluntary Probate

Pam OddyAttorney Pamela OddyMany relatives wonder if it is worth probating the estate of a relative who passed away owning no real estate and with only modest personal property. In fact, there is a short form of probate called a Voluntary that is specifically designed to simplify settling such an estate if assets in the estate are owned and titled in the deceased's name alone. It is significantly cheaper and faster than a standard probate.

The following requirements must be satisfied before a Voluntary Probate can be used:

  1. The Petition cannot be filed until 30 days from the date of death have expired.
  2. The total value of the assets excluding the car cannot exceed $25,000.00.
  3. It can be used only for personal property.
  4. It cannot be used for real estate, even if the value of the real estate is less than $25,000.00.

I find that the most common assets which are required to be probated after a person has died and which qualify for a Voluntary Probate are stock (often the result of the de­mutualization of the company, i.e. MetLife) and a car (providing the deceased did not leave a spouse).

When settling the estate of someone who has died, it is always worthwhile to ascertain whether or not the estate can qualify for a Voluntary Probate.

The views expressed in this column represent general information. To address your particular and specific needs consult your own attorney. If you need help with referral to an attorney, contact the Franklin County Bar Association at (413) 773-9839 or the Worcester County Bar Association at (978) 752-1311. Elder law resources may be found through the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, Massachusetts Chapter, at massnaela.com or 617-566-5640.

Community Legal Aid (CLA) provides legal services free to people age 60 and older for civil legal matters with an emphasis on access to health care coverage (MassHealth and Medicare) and public benefits as well as tenants’ rights. A request for legal assistance can be made by phone at 413-774-3747 or toll-free 1-855-252-5342 during their intake hours (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. and Wednesday from 1:30 p.m. to 4:15 p.m.) or any time online by visiting www.communitylegal.org.