- Written by Attorney Seunghee Cha; Bulkley, Richardson and Gelinas, LLP; Hadley, MA; 413-256-0002
Despite the legalization of recreational marijuana in Massachusetts since December 2016, with now more than 60 dispensaries throughout the Bay State, the law for medical use of marijuana is still relevant and particularly important to older people.
Under the Massachusetts Act for the Humanitarian Medical Use of Marijuana, in effect as of January 2013, qualifying patients can obtain a physician’s certification if they have debilitating medical conditions for which the potential benefits outweigh the health risks. With age, the proclivity to chronic illness increases, making many older adults good candidates for this treatment, which is used to alleviate symptoms of cancer, MS, ALS, Parkinson’s disease, chronic pain, insomnia, and arthritis, among others. Reports indicate that medical marijuana reduces the use of opioids and other prescription medications. It can even be a cheaper alternative.
For qualifying patients, the law permitting medical use of marijuana provides better benefits than the law legalizing recreational marijuana.
For qualifying patients, the law permitting medical use of marijuana provides better benefits than the law legalizing recreational marijuana. Cardholders of medical marijuana can purchase larger amounts and products with a higher concentration of the psychoactive component of cannabis. They can also cultivate more plants (up to 60 days of supply) for their own use. Furthermore, they do not pay tax; recreational users are charged the normal 6.25% sales tax + 10.75% excise tax (and up to 3% in additional sales tax in some localities). For patients who can verify financial hardship, medical marijuana treatment centers must offer reduced cost.
If you are a caregiver, you must be registered with the Commonwealth’s Medical Use of Marijuana Program in order to accompany a cardholder to a dispensary or to purchase, transport, administer, or cultivate marijuana on their behalf. It is common for family members to be caregivers: you need to be registered for each cardholder—for example, if you are caring for both parents.
Proponents of medical marijuana are advocating to end the persistent stigma of its use, including within the medical profession, and to strengthen the existing law. Currently when certified patients are hospitalized, the institution can deny the patient’s use of medical marijuana within its facility.
Medical marijuana is not without controversy. Research shows a correlation between the use of marijuana and a decline in cognitive functioning. Under federal law marijuana is still an illegal substance. Health insurance companies do not provide coverage, and the cost of medical marijuana does not qualify as a deductible medical expense.
Yet, according to health care professionals and dispensaries, interest is strong among older people. Medical use of marijuana has become a recognized treatment option for managing many debilitating conditions and delivery of palliative care. Understanding the regulation of this burgeoning industry is now an important part of patient education and advocacy.
- Written by Barbara Bodzin, Executive Director
The incredible pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic have laid bare many challenges for older adults in our communities. Social distancing, coupled with safer-at-home policies, has significantly segregated elders and diminished their interactions with their family and friends. Restricted access to community supports, social engagement, and routine medical care have only further isolated older adults.
In light of the loss of many family- and community-based safety nets, we want to take this opportunity to reiterate our role. Adult Protective Services at LifePath is here to serve and wants to partner with you to keep our families and friends healthy and safe. This is a time when caregivers who are experiencing their own COVID-related crises caused by loss of economic stability, increased caregiving demands, or health-related concerns might be prone to escalated abuse, neglect, or financial exploitation of their loved one.
Alarmingly, at this time when older adults are susceptible to more frequent and severe mistreatment or self-neglect, reports to Adult Protective Services are on the decline. With fewer ‘eyes’ to witness behaviors or signs of mistreatment that were typically observed pre-COVID in hospitals, physician’s practices, and at social gatherings, so have waned the opportunities to glean the need for intervention.
Instances of COVID-related anxiety, depression, and substance use are also on the rise across the age spectrum. For older adults, behavioral health issues create greater risks of falls, compromised immunity, and cognitive impairments. Adult Protective Services can offer coping techniques, supportive services, and resources for enhancing health and safety.
We are asking our community of professionals, health and home care providers, neighbors, families, and friends to be extra vigilant and take notice.
We are asking our community of professionals, health and home care providers, neighbors, families, and friends to be extra vigilant and take notice. Systems we have historically depended on to report concerns are disrupted and overloaded. We need new eyes, ears, and voices to come forward so that LifePath can provide interventions to address elders at risk. Please consider situations such as the following:
- You haven’t heard from a friend for whom you usually pick up medicine or take to appointments.
- You have observed a disturbance at a home where an elder is present and there is alcohol, drugs, or violence involved, but you aren’t sure how/if it’s impacting the elder.
- An older adult you are aware of who lives alone, and only had contact with social supports through their Council on Aging or other now-cancelled social activities, responds in a way that makes you feel nervous when you check on them.
You can make an Adult Protective Services report online, via this web form, or call in a report to (800) 922-2275.
To discuss a specific situation or learn more about reporting in general, you may call LifePath at 413-773-5555 and ask for a “Protective Services Supervisor.” Video chats are available upon request. LifePath has many programs and services for older adults and people with disabilities. Visit our website to learn more, or call to speak with a Resource Consultant.
- Written by Nour Elkhattaby Strauch, Age-Friendly Program Manager
LifePath is embarking on an exciting new initiative with the aim of making communities in Franklin County and the North Quabbin region more age-friendly. Unlike many of our direct service programs, this project will target long term, policy and systems level change to both the built environment and the social environment. So, what does it mean to be more age-friendly? Why is it important to do this work now? And how can you take part in transforming your community?
Due to the tremendous advances achieved in technology, modern medicine, and public health over the past century, people today are generally living much longer and healthier lives. This unprecedented jump in life expectancy, coupled with a decrease in fertility rates, means that we are witnessing new trends in what the population looks like. By the year 2035, people aged 65 and over in the United States will outnumber those under the age of 18 for the very first time. This shift will happen sooner in Massachusetts and has, in fact, already happened in Franklin County (Figure 1). 1
These changes in the demographic makeup of our region are bringing forth new sets of opportunities and challenges. As we grow older, we are gaining momentum and building up valuable experience and collective wisdom, and we have more time to contribute to the success of our communities. At the same time, our needs and priorities are also changing in significant ways, while our public policy and infrastructure have not kept pace to account for these changing needs. That is why it is very important to recognize and celebrate the services provided to older people in our region by Senior Centers, Councils on Aging, local governments and nonprofits, and to continue identifying more ways to combat ageism and make our communities work better for everyone, no matter their age. One of these ways is by joining the Age-Friendly Communities movement.
Initiated by the World Health Organization, the Age-Friendly Communities movement aims to help both urban and rural communities transform in ways that respond to the needs of the most vulnerable.
Initiated by the World Health Organization, the Age-Friendly Communities movement aims to help both urban and rural communities transform in ways that respond to the needs of the most vulnerable. AARP (formerly called the American Association of Retired Persons), which administers the program in the United States, believes that these communities “should provide safe, walkable streets; age-friendly housing and transportation options; access to needed services; and opportunities for residents of all ages to participate in community life.”2 Indeed, communities that approach planning with older people in mind, and at the decision making table, tend to be more accessible and work better for everyone else too.
AARP has also identified 8 domains of livability that can be used by communities as a framework to organize their work and prioritize their most urgent needs while on their way to becoming more age-friendly (Figure 2). 3 This framework offers a lot of flexibility for towns to focus on all or just some of these domains, combine them when deemed appropriate, or even add a new domain.
So far, there are hundreds of municipalities and six states across the US that have joined the Age-Friendly Communities Network, including Massachusetts. Within our state, almost 70 municipalities have received the designation, although Deerfield remains the only one in the Franklin County and the North Quabbin region to do so. Getting enrolled in the network is only the first step toward achieving liveability, and represents the town’s commitment to actively work to increase the age-friendliness of the community. The full process takes 3 to 5 years and includes 4 major phases: enrollment, conducting surveys to assess needs, creating an action plan, and implementation.
The good news is that LifePath has received a grant to initiate and coordinate Age Friendly work in our service area. Moreover, we will be integrating dementia-friendly work in this project to ensure that our age-friendly efforts also meet the needs of people living with dementia and their caregivers. This means that LifePath will play the role of a catalyst, convening and connecting different stakeholders in our communities to form action teams that will lead the project. Stakeholders will include local officials, Councils on Aging, the business community, civil society organizations, and any interested residents that want to help shape the direction and future of this project. In order to be successful, it is vital that we create diverse and multisectoral teams that are plugged into different facets of life in the region, so that we can generate accurate assessments of needs and effective action plans addressing them.
- Written by Janis Merrell
Join LifePath’s intergenerational “Inclusion Showcase” by creating a piece of art that will stimulate dialogue and reflection about racism and inclusion within our community, inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. Participants of all artistic levels, ages, races, identities, orientations, cultures, and backgrounds are strongly encouraged to participate. Questions for reflection: Have you ever experienced or witnessed racism? Do you know someone who has? How could Western Massachusetts be a more inclusive community?
By October 5, artists should respond to the Committee Leader, Diana Balmonte, and clarify what type of art they wish to present and if they are presenting as a group or an individual.
There are two ways to participate!
- Any group or organization may work together to create an original piece of artwork. The virtual group may create a play, musical piece, mural, or use another medium of the group’s choice based on the theme of “inclusion.”
- Individuals may create and submit via email an original, individual piece of artwork (a video; an image of their drawing, sculpture, painting, etc; an essay or a fictional work with a 3,000 word limit; or an audio file) based on the theme of “inclusion.”
By Monday, October 5, artists should respond to the Committee Leader, Diana Balmonte, and let her know what type of art they wish to present and if they are presenting as a group or an individual. On Friday, October 16, the finished art piece should be submitted to LifePath’s Black Lives Matter Community Leadership Committee for review and curation. LifePath will present and host the Inclusion Showcase on Wednesday, October 28, at 2 p.m. via Zoom. The event will be recorded and made available via our website and social media.
Each finished art piece must be suitable for viewers of all ages. Please refrain from using profanity. LifePath’s Black Lives Matter Community Leadership Committee will review all submissions prior to the Inclusion Showcase and reserves the right to suggest alterations or reject any artwork that they deem inappropriate for the event.
All contributing artists will have their names, organizations they may be affiliated with, and their biographies displayed on LifePath’s website. Selected artwork will be featured in a future edition of The Good Life, which appears in both The Greenfield Recorder and Athol Daily News.
- Written by Janis Merrell
Have Your Steps Counted Toward the 2.5 Million Statewide Step Goal
LifePath is celebrating Falls Prevention Awareness week and we’d love for you to join in! In an effort to raise awareness on falls prevention, the Massachusetts Executive Office of Elder Affairs would like to invite you to participate in the second annual 2.5 Million Steps to Prevent Falls.
One in four Americans aged 65+ falls each year.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
- One in four Americans aged 65+ falls each year.
- Every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall; every 19 minutes, an older adult dies from a fall.
- Falls are the leading cause of fatal injury and the most common cause of nonfatal trauma-related hospital admissions among older adults.
- Falls result in more than 2.8 million injuries treated in emergency departments annually, including over 800,000 hospitalizations and more than 27,000 deaths.
- In 2015, the total cost of fall injuries was $50 billion. Medicare and Medicaid shouldered 75% of these costs.
- The financial toll for older adult falls is expected to increase as the population ages and may reach $67.7 billion by 2020.
Falls, with or without injury, carry a heavy quality of life impact. A growing number of older adults fear falling and, as a result, limit their activities and social engagements. This can result in further physical decline, depression, social isolation, and feelings of helplessness, according to the National Council on Aging.
However, falling is not an inevitable result of aging. Andi Waisman, M.S. Ed., Healthy Living Program Manager at LifePath, explains, “Everyone knows balance is important and it seems to decrease as we age. What everyone does not know is we can improve our balance by using it. If you don't use it, it gets worse and you increase your risk of falls.”
Our attitude affects our ability to prevent a fall. When we have attitudes like, “I can’t do much anymore,” or “I am better off just staying still than risking a fall,” it sabotages our efforts to prevent falls. Our fear of falling can be a self-fulfilling prophecy if we let it keep us from challenging our balance.
Managing medications, having our vision checked, clearing our house of fall hazards and avoiding risky behaviors like rushing to the phone or door or wearing shoes that don’t fit us well or offer little support are other important steps in preventing falls, but exercise is one of the most important tools.
Remember, most falls can be prevented—and you have the power to reduce your risk! Please join LifePath in supporting Falls Prevention Awareness week by improving your balance while counting your steps.