Seniorgram: Sending a Message on Senior Issues
- Written by Barbara Bodzin, Executive Director
The local impact of COVID-19 has caused us all to assess and fortify our preparedness to care for ourselves and our loved ones, to prevent further spread, and mitigate the risk to the most vulnerable populations, which are those served through LifePath. We take our responsibility seriously to do everything possible to protect the health and wellbeing of the elders and individuals with disabilities within our communities. That means planning, advocating, and providing support and services as best we can, through our own infrastructure, reaching out to professional partners and to the community at large.
Our focus is on responding to the changing needs of those we serve, offering services to new consumers, staying current on any COVID-19 related developments, communicating up to date and accurate information, being a resource for callers, and securing whatever support is needed to continue to do our work.
Training staff and volunteers to keep themselves and those with whom they interact healthy and safe is essential. We have moved most of our administrative functions off site with staff fully equipped and capable to work remote from home. Assessments are occurring telephonically and through the use of video connections to reduce contact with consumers. Our focus is on responding to the changing needs of those we serve, offering services to new consumers, staying current on any COVID-19 related developments, communicating up to date and accurate information, being a resource for callers, and securing whatever support is needed to continue to do our work.
In the face of heightened concern and a growing number of COVID-19 cases in our community, we are having to address real life concerns faced by consumers and those providing support. Volunteers have needed to step away from their duties in an effort to protect themselves and others. Some Meals on Wheels recipients are refusing meal delivery out of fear of having the virus passed over their threshold. There are those who participate in our Personal Care Attendant (PCA) program who are impaired physically to the extent of needing someone they trust to prepare daily meals, help with bathing, and make sure they move safely about their home. Consumers are voicing their concerns about how they will continue to live independently if they find themselves or those who support them needing to be quarantined.
It’s not lost on consumers that without the support provided though LifePath, they will need to relinquish some, if not all, of the independence they’ve come to, well, depend on. Conversely, by letting caregivers and support staff inside their home who may carry the virus unknowingly, consumers are literally risking their lives to survive. There is no truer conundrum than to be acutely aware of the risks and to embrace the potential reality of not being cared for.
At the forefront of our concerns is the impending loss of front-line workers, primarily home health aides, personal care attendants, homemakers and volunteer meals drivers, and the direct impact on those who rely upon their support. These workers and volunteers are some of the most dedicated, hard working, and proud employees in the workforce. It is essential that these care providers who cannot always maintain the 6’ of distance from those receiving care have the proper personal protective equipment, known as PPE, to maintain their safety, as well as protecting those receiving care. We must also consider the vulnerability of the informal caregiving provided by family, friends, and neighbors and how fragile these systems are today.
The silver lining of this pandemic is the generosity of spirit manifesting within our communities. The activation and creation of community-based systems is happening throughout our region with offers of many to step up to care for those in need. This blossoming of community is what will sustain us through these uncertain times and carry us to a better place where barriers are diminished and support is flowing to one another in a more sustainable manner.
We need to consider creative ways to address the inevitable loss of support of family caregivers and direct service workers unable to continue to provide care. It is time to think outside the box and look to nursing schools, to students who have completed training in providing personal care, workers who have stepped away from the field, or simply to a willing neighbor aware of someone who relies upon others for care. Another idea is the creation of a neighborhood watch of sorts to look out for those neighbors who have lost caregivers or whose family members cannot visit because they are quarantined. Though social distancing is a best practice, is there someone you can be responsible to check on within your neighborhood? Or might you be willing to take on volunteer duties with LifePath to serve those who don’t have anyone?
Reach out to your Council on Aging, your local village neighbor group, or to LifePath. We are going strong, and we are here more than ever to support elders, persons with disabilities, and caregivers. Call us with your needs and call us with your offerings. Here is what we need:
- Volunteers - To deliver meals, grocery shop, provide transportation, make wellness calls. You can sign up as a back-up volunteer.
- Personal Protective Equipment - we need hand sanitizer, face masks and gloves
- Donations - Funding is a balancing act at LifePath. As a private, not for profit organization, the gaps we experience, especially in uncertain times, are particularly real as we look to expand the types of support we provide to the community. Revenue streams are at risk of being disrupted and in order to keep our systems going, we need your support more than ever.
- Written by Barbara Bodzin, Executive Director
There are celebrations across the nation throughout the month of March, commemorating over 45 years since the establishment of the Meals on Wheels Program. Locally, this program was built on, and is sustained by, the commitment and dedication of LifePath staff and volunteers and is made possible through the support of businesses, sponsors, funders and donors. Meals on Wheels provides a vital nutritional lifeline and social connection to elders within our communities.
The elder population is growing exponentially. Today, 1 in 5 Americans is 60 or older with 12,000 more turning 60 each day. We’ve learned a lot about health risks associated with aging and have developed a range of preventative responses to many of these risks. More recently we’ve gained important insights into the connection between isolation, depression, nutrition, and associated risk factors which can have a dramatic impact on one’s health and wellbeing.
Here are some sobering statistics, according to Meals on Wheels America:
- 9.5 million elders are threatened by hunger, with nearly 5.5 million experiencing food insecurity.
- Food insecurity in the elder population is driven by the high numbers of elders living in poverty in this country. Specifically, 7.1 million elders have a retirement income of $234 a week or less making it extremely difficult for these retirees to pay for all of their basic needs.
- 1 in 4 elders live alone and of those, 20% report feeling lonely. Social isolation is, in and of itself, a risk factor for poor health. Combined with the impacts of food insecurity and malnutrition, this cohort is at great risk of experiencing multiple chronic health conditions.
- 83% of elders who are low income and food insecure are not receiving the meals they need, and those in need of improved nutrition report fair or poor health, not having enough money to buy the food they need, and screen positive for depression.
Area Agencies on Aging, such as LifePath, and Councils on Aging, are making a difference in the lives of these elders every day. Congregate Meals programs often located at Senior Centers provide excellent opportunities for making new connections and socializing with friends and neighbors.
It is not unusual for the meals driver to be the only contact for an elder all day.
The Meals on Wheels program provides healthful daily nutrition, a wellness check, and socialization, intended to both improve nutrition and reduce isolation and depression. It is not unusual for the meals driver to be the only contact for an elder all day. LifePath is committed to providing Meals on Wheels to each elder in need of this essential service. This program is fiscally dependent on volunteer drivers to deliver meals throughout our rural communities, regardless of how remote the location might be.
- Written by Barbara Bodzin, Executive Director
During the winter months, many people struggle with feeling down. If you find yourself feeling this way, please know you’re not alone. Whether it's due to the cold weather, shorter days, the holidays coming to an end or reminders of missed loved ones, seasonal sadness can often creep in during this time of year. Here are some action steps you might wish to consider for increasing your sense of wellbeing:
During the winter months, many people struggle with feeling down.
1. Brighten Your Home - The vitamin D from natural light can help to improve your mood. Make it a daily routine to open your window coverings including blinds and curtains.
2. Anticipate an Event - Invite your grandchildren or a friend over for a visit, plan an outing with a loved one or buy yourself a special treat.
3. Stick to a Schedule - If you prepared dinner at a certain time every day, try to stick to that same schedule. If you typically attend Saturday or Sunday services, don’t skip it this time of year.
4. Eat a Balanced Diet - Eating a balanced diet is essential for older adults and is a natural way to boost your mood and energy.
5. Stay Active - Exercise, while important all year round, can be vital to lifting you up during the winter months. You can exercise indoors or dress in layers and take your exercise outdoors for some fresh air, if the temperature isn’t too cold.
6. Accomplish a Goal - If you've been putting off a task, whether big or small, now is the time to tackle it.
7. Stay Active and Engaged - Take up a new hobby, join a group of your liking, take a class, learn something new. Get together with friends or family, get out to a movie or cultural event or share a meal with others. Activities like crossword puzzles, scrabble or sudoku are great ways to keep your brain alert. Take time each day to exercise your brain.
8. Volunteer Your Time - Whether it is an hour a week, or a daily routine, opportunities abound for ways you can give back to your community. Experience Volunesia - which is defined as “that moment when you forget you are volunteering to change other lives, because it is changing yours.”
- Written by Barbara Bodzin, Executive Director
Like all older adults, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) elders are a growing population in the U.S. in need of enhanced care and resources to support their health and quality of life. Though people over 65 years are less likely to identify as LGBT compared to younger cohorts, according to research completed by the Williams Institute, there are up to 4 million older Americans who identify as LGBT, and that number is likely to double by 2030.
The National Resource Center on LGBT Aging notes that LGBT older adults are twice as likely to age as a single person, twice as likely to live alone, and three to four times less likely to have children to support them.
The National Resource Center on LGBT Aging notes that LGBT older adults are twice as likely to age as a single person, twice as likely to live alone, and three to four times less likely to have children to support them. Many LGBT older adults instead have "developed important social networks of partners, friends, ex-partners, neighbors and others.” These networks are often referred to as families of choice. Being a member of both a chosen family and a family of origin creates situations where an LGBT person may become a primary caregiver for a spouse, domestic partner, a close friend who is also LGBT, or an aging parent or other relative—sometimes simultaneously.
According to AARP’s 2018 survey, Maintaining Dignity: A Survey of LGBT Adults Age 45 and Older:
- 83% of respondents say they live in at least a somewhat LGBT-friendly community including many in smaller or rural areas. Survey responses suggest that community size is less important than LGBT-friendliness when it comes to living in a supportive community.
- As few as 10% of rural and small town residents say they have access to LGBT senior services in their community.
- Survey respondents living in what they describe as very un-friendly communities were seven times more likely to report recent experiences with housing discrimination due to their LGBT identity.
- When asked if they are worried about having to hide their LGBT identity in order to have access to suitable housing options as they age, 34% of all LGBT survey respondents reported being at least somewhat worried, as did 54% of transgender and gender expansive* participants.
Lynn Faria, the chief officer for external affairs at SAGE, the country's first and largest advocacy group for older LGBTQ (the “Q” often stands for queer or questioning) adults, calls this situation “double jeopardy,” because without strong family and social support networks, older LGBTQ adults are more reliant on outside care providers as they age, but that same system of care is not equipped to meet their needs.
Sixteen years ago, Massachusetts became the first state in the country to legalize same-sex marriage, and its reported LGBT population is second in the nation when measured as a percentage of the state’s overall population. However, members of the LGBT community still face widespread discrimination, are twice as likely to suffer from depression, and are at greater risk of homelessness and food insecurity.
According to Boston Spirit magazine, “There is one benchmark that is gaining momentum as a true indicator of a city’s commitment to the full life span of its LGBTQ community: affordable senior housing that is designated as LGBTQ friendly. When the Massachusetts Special Commission on LGBT Aging did listening sessions across the state in their first year of legislative work, the number one concern echoed in every single community was “where can we go when we get older?”
There are over 20 cities that have designated LGBTQ-friendly senior housing buildings across the country. Massachusetts has lagged behind in housing; however, the first LGBTQ-friendly senior housing facility in Boston’s Hyde Park was just approved last month.
Locally, supports and services for LGBT older adults continue to grow. Historically, cities were perceived as the meccas for LGBT support as there tends to be strength in numbers. However, over the years with the growing costs of city life, especially in the LGBT neighborhoods, as well as seeking a different lifestyle in retirement, communities such as the Pioneer Valley have been an attractive area to settle in for many LGBT elders.
Messaging as an open and welcoming organization began at LifePath through our work with the LGBT Aging Project, where we initiated our efforts with a LGBT cultural competency training for staff. In home direct service staff, employed by our contracted vendors, also receive training to ensure LGBT elders in need of care feel safe and comfortable inviting workers into their homes.
From there, our focus broadened to community engagement and reaching out to LGBT older adults through educational and social gatherings. Thanks to the efforts of the Rainbow Elders Group which was formed as part of LifePath in 2012, opportunities and raised awareness regarding LGBT issues continue to blossom.
For over a year a well attended LGBTIQA luncheon has been held at the South County Senior Center in South Deerfield. There are also special events, including a summer picnic and an intergenerational dinner with LGBTIQA youth, organized by the Rainbow Elders Steering Committee. Preliminary discussions are occurring regarding development of LGBT friendly housing options in the area. Rainbow Elders also offers a panel presentation for senior centers, churches, and other organizations wishing to learn more about being inclusive of the LGBT community.
*According to the LGBT advocacy group PFLAG, "Gender-expansive people feel that they exist psychologically between genders, as on a spectrum, or beyond the notion of the man/woman binary paradigm.”
- Written by Barbara Bodzin, Executive Director
Many of us get into our vehicles each day to drive to work, go to a medical appointment, visit friends and family, run errands, or travel a distance for vacation. We take for granted the independence and freedom associated with our ability to drive.
Frequently, older drivers have a lifetime of driving experience behind them and deeply value the flexibility and mobility that driving provides. Driving abilities do change with age, and reducing risk factors can certainly extend our time behind the wheel. It can be particularly difficult to determine whether or not our physical or cognitive capacities are no longer adequate to safely navigate the roads. Limiting or curtailing driving is a complex and emotionally charged decision, and having that discussion with a loved one when there are safety concerns is challenging. Preparing for the conversation with “We Need to Talk,” a free online seminar developed jointly with the Hartford and MIT AgeLab, can help guide you through the steps to take.
Factors such as vision, hearing, reflexes, and physical coordination are prime among issues which can hinder an aging driver from being efficient and alert when heading out onto the road. The National Institute on Aging (NIA) provides older drivers tips and suggestions for optimizing health and safety.
Limiting or curtailing driving is a complex and emotionally charged decision, and having that discussion with a loved one when there are safety concerns is challenging.
According to AARP and other sources, the following are some of the warning signs of unsafe driving:
- Delayed response to unexpected situations
- Becoming easily distracted while driving
- Decrease in confidence while driving
- Having difficulty moving into or maintaining the correct lane of traffic
- Hitting curbs when making right turns or backing up
- Getting scrapes or dents on a car, garage or mailbox
- Having frequent close calls
- Frequently getting lost in familiar areas
- Driving too fast or too slow for road conditions
- Reduced back/neck flexibility that limits an aging driver's ability to turn their body to more fully see and gauge oncoming traffic or other hazards near and around the vehicle
There are numerous resources available to assist in determining our capacity to safely navigate the roads including having skills checked by a driving rehabilitation specialist, occupational therapist, or other trained professional. Taking a defensive driving course and passing the class to reduce risk may even result in a lowered auto insurance rate. And finally, ask your physician if any of your health problems or medications might be impacting your ability to drive. Together, you can make a plan to help keep you on the road and decide if the time comes when it is no longer safe to drive.
Our region, similar to many rural communities, is comprised of high proportions of elders, persons with disabilities, and individuals living on limited income who often are isolated in their homes due to limited options for getting around. Barriers to transportation can negatively affect one’s health as a result of missed or delayed medical appointments or limited access to needed medications. Access to viable transportation resources through a more integrated approach is essential, especially in our rural area where public transportation is limited and walking is typically not a feasible option to get to our destination.
However, growth in resources and positive strides in safety technology are happening. Vehicle technology is available with features such as assistive parking, blind spot and crash warning mitigation, drowsy driver alerts, and lane departure warning systems, to name just a few. Ride sharing options and increased availability of taxi-type services are accessible through Uber and Lyft. FRTA has expanded their menu of transportation offerings as well. Volunteer ride services are available through Councils on Aging and are becoming increasingly more available through local “neighbors” programs and LifePath’s Rides for Health program.