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Seniorgram: Sending a Message on Senior Issues

Questioning our priorities - the crisis in home care

Nationwide, there are approximately 3 million home care workers who provide the much-needed care to enable elders and persons with disabilities to remain in their homes. These vital services are typically delivered by highly empathic workers who offer support, companionship and assistance with tasks such as bathing, dressing, housework and shopping. As the aging population continues to grow, the ever-increasing demand for direct service workers is creating a looming worker shortage, leaving many positions unfilled.

Intrinsic to the direct service worker shortage are low wages, limited opportunities for advancement, lack of respect, physically taxing work, inconsistent hours and meager or non-existent benefits packages. Stagnant wages have left 20% of all home care workers living below the poverty level.

Approximately one quarter of these direct service workers are immigrants. Changes in immigration policy and restrictions under consideration by the White House are further fueling the critical shortage of home care staff. The impact to DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipients who may be forced to leave the United States, travel bans, deportations and termination of temporary protected status of workers from select countries have negatively impacted an already strained industry.

Feb 2019 SG Questioning our Priorities The Crisis in Home Care photoMany of the people who are home care workers are immigrants, and many more people are needed to address the worker shortage in this vital and growing industry.

The loss of valuable home care workers is occurring as:

  • Legal residents of the United States are moving back to their country of origin when relatives are deported
  • Undocumented immigrants, who are a significant part of the “gray market” where clients pay privately and out-of-pocket through an unregulated network of direct service workers are exiting the workforce.
  • Home health training programs for Latino immigrants are seeing reductions in enrollments.
  • Whole communities are feeling targeted with workers oftentimes wanting to limit their activities outside of the home.
  • These dynamics are dissuading program graduates from entering the workforce due to immigration-related anxieties.

“We have a caregiver shortage, and implementing policies like immigration reform is just going to exacerbate that shortage even more,” Carelinx CEO Sherwin Sheik said at a Home Health Care News summit. “We have to recognize who is taking care of our seniors and embrace them, rather than close the door.”

As the number of elders increases relative to the young, so will the growing shortage of workers to provide the care. Our social obligation needs to shift to ensure the security of elders and persons with disabilities through the availability and provision of quality care. Older immigrants should have the option to receive assistance from those who speak their native language. Welcoming immigrants helps grow the home care workforce and enhances the industry with respectful caring attitudes and cultural competencies possessed by workers of diverse ethnic origins.

Only through the development of this workforce and elevation of the status of home care workers will we be able to properly attend to the needs of this population that is expected to soar in the years ahead.

Thriving in place with smart technology

The United States is a graying nation. With it has come a new conversation about aging, namely, the difference between simply getting older versus thriving as you age.

Important work related to the research and development of technologies to help elders thrive in place is taking place worldwide. Falls are a leading cause of injury-related death among older adults and a major reason why many elders become unable to live independently. In response, the University of Maine’s Center on Aging is working to develop clothing that would provide hip protection to help prevent a fracture upon a fall. The University is also working to develop a device to be mounted on an individual’s glasses to help detect edges, such as stairs, curbs, or benches, which could create falling hazards.

Aging in place with smart technology in the home

“Smart” technology can enhance the livability of one’s home too. For example, motion-sensor lighting is not only convenient, but can prevent falls when walking into a room. If you forget to lock the door, your home can remind you and even take care of it for you. With one touch or voice control, you can control just about everything in the home. As you age, your connected smart home can help you continue to live independently, safely, and comfortably.

Health-monitoring and tracking smart devices

Devices that monitor and track your health are becoming more popular among all age populations. Telemedicine and Telehealth capabilities and communications are particularly valuable in rural communities and enable long-distance patient and clinician contact and care, advice, reminders, education, intervention, and monitoring. Health data can be collected through wearable technologies like smartwatches and relayed to your care providers. Activity sensors through the house monitor loved ones who are living unassisted at home. These sensors can be placed in discreet locations: doors, cabinets, windows, beds, etc., to track movement around the house and report back to a caregiver or a loved one. 

“Smart” pill counters alert and properly dispense medications for you. Stovetop technologies will turn the stove off if left unattended for a predetermined amount of time. “Smart” doors that don't require fumbling with a handle – and in some cases, don't swing out, but slide side to side – can assist elders who struggle to get around. “Smart” doorbells help ensure one’s safety at home by allowing a homeowner to see, hear, and speak to someone at their door without having to open it.

Smart technology for inviduals with dementia

Of note is the positive effect technology is having on improving the quality of life and easing safety concerns for individuals with dementia. Assistive technology is also impactful in lifting some of the responsibilities and anxieties experienced by caregivers.

Sept 2017 World Alzheimers Day photo webThe Alzheimer's Music Project provides iPods with custom playlists to individuals with dementia. You can donate your gently-used iPod Shuffle or iPod Touch by mailing it to: Alzheimer's Music Project, Inc., 138 Harkness Rd., Pelham, MA 01002. Visit The Alzheimer's Music Project website for more information. Photo by Sabri Tuzcu on reminder messages can prompt a person not to open the door or to go back to bed. Those who may confuse day and night can experience altered sleep patterns, which may be disruptive to the household. Clocks designed specifically for those with dementia can hold set routines. GPS tracking and location devices can significantly increase the safety of individuals who may wander. These systems, which can be attached to the person or may be built into clothing or shoes, will alert a caregiver if their loved one has left the home. These tracking devices can also provide emergency personnel with the location of an individual to ensure a timely and safe recovery. For those who cannot remember or identify phone numbers, picture phones with clear buttons where photos can be placed enable the person to simply press the button to quickly call their loved one or first responders.

Music technology through the use of ipods or mp3 players can have a marked impact on quality of life. According to Peter Acker, director of The Alzheimer's Music Project, “Research has shown that familiar and beloved music helps to calm chaotic brain activity in people with Alzheimer’s and they’re more able to focus on the present moment and regain a sense of his/her connection to others. We work with families and caregivers in Massachusetts to create music playlists that are ‘tailored’ for each person – enabling those struggling with cognitive challenges to reconnect with the world through music-triggered memories.”

While no cure exists yet for Alzheimer’s disease and other related dementias, emerging technologies can alleviate anxieties, help establish routines, and offer vehicles for sustaining joyful relationships as well as enable dignity and independence. These investments, and others like them, can transform the aging in place experience. In this season of giving, consider introducing some of these remarkable technologies to a loved one aging in their home. For more information, contact us.

Additional “Seniorgram” articles can be found here.

Generosity is our heritage and a key to our wellbeing

“Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.” ― Henry James 

Generosity comes in many forms, from charitable donations to formal volunteering to helping a stranger to caring for a spouse or a child. What these and other examples have in common is that they involve “giving good things to others freely and abundantly,” the definition of generosity according to the University of Notre Dame’s Science of Generosity Project.

Generosity has its roots not just in our individual development but also in our very biology and evolutionary history; hosts of studies have uncovered evidence that humans are biologically wired for generosity. Many studies point to the positive consequences of generosity for the giver. Giving social support — time, effort, or goods — is associated with better overall health in older adults, and volunteering is associated with delayed mortality.

Other studies have shown a link between generosity and happiness. And even small acts of kindness, like picking up something someone else has dropped, make people feel happy. Generosity is also associated with benefits in the workplace, such as reducing the likelihood of job burnout, and in relationships, where it is associated with more contentment and longer-lasting romantic relationships.

Kindness can be as simple as a smile, a thank-you, or a word of encouragement. It's a way of connecting, even if only for a brief moment, with those we pass in our daily lives. It doesn't have to cost anything or take much time - what's important is that it's an act of genuine care and thoughtfulness for another person.

As the year winds down and the holiday season rolls in, create a kind moment for someone, anyone, even yourself, through a purposeful act of kindness.

A generous spirit is not about giving when it’s easy…. It’s about tapping into your humanity and viewing the world and others before you through your human lens – the one that sees us all as the same.

Older Americans are the fastest growing segment of compulsive gamblers

The long-awaited MGM Springfield opened in August and has become a new destination for area adult communities, assisted living centers and even churches who organize outings to nearby casinos. For most, it is a day of fun and socialization. For some elders who need to limit activities due to health conditions, it is an exhilarating and accessible activity to enjoy. However, for about eight percent, compulsive gambling is an addiction that can cost elders their retirement nest egg, and it is anticipated with the opening of the MGM, our communities will see a spike in numbers.

CasinoWhile gambling is fun for some, for others it is an addiction that can have a negative life-altering impact. Photo by Benoit Dare on Unsplash."About 40 percent of the people we see are over 50," says psychologist Robert Hunter, who directs the Problem Gambling Center in Las Vegas. The number of casinos has exploded over the past few decades, and today casinos operate in more than 30 states. Add state lotteries, Powerball and now Internet gambling sites, and there are plenty of ways to try your luck and lose a little cash.

The nation's $40 billion a year gambling industry aggressively targets older customers, as they have accumulated wealth and are especially vulnerable, experts say, to wagering more than they can afford.

Rachel Volberg, a UMass researcher who studies gambling trends in the state, found a quarter of those she polled who have gambling problems said they’d like to get help. However, most do not seek out support. "Internationally, we know that problem gambling is associated with a great deal of stigma and shame,” says Volberg, “and people much, much prefer to try and manage it by themselves.”

In 2013, for the first time, the American Psychiatric Association officially recognized compulsive gambling as an addiction (rather than a personality disorder), acknowledging that it shares many features with alcoholism and drug addiction. However, “we consider it the hidden, or invisible, addiction,” said Marlene Warner, who runs the Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling. “You don't come home with track marks in your arms. You might come home a little bloodshot, because you've been at the casino several days, but it's just not revealing itself in the same way that another addiction would.”

Compulsive gambling is linked to a range of serious health problems, including obesity, heart disease, intestinal problems, fibromyalgia, migraine, depression, insomnia and other stress-related disorders. "The worse the gambling disorder, the worse the chronic health conditions we typically see," says University of Iowa Psychiatry Professor Donald M. Black, M.D., one of the country's leading experts on compulsive gambling.

Older people with dementia are at especially high risk because they are unable to recognize limitations or use appropriate judgments. Psychologists also suspect that people are more likely to run into problems if they turn to gambling for the wrong reasons – to escape loneliness, depression or even chronic pain.

Warning signs of gambling addiction include:

  • social withdrawal
  • borrowing from friends and family
  • gambling with money meant for food, rent, or medicine
  • gambling on credit
  • already struggling with some form of addiction
  • lying about or hiding gambling

To find help, contact the Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling at 1-800-426-1234. They aim to reduce the impacts of gambling disorder and strive to make gambling healthy and safe for the people of Massachusetts.

Resource specialists at LifePath are available as well to provide support and information. Call us at 413-775-5555 or 978-544-2259, or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Read past articles in the Seniorgram column.

When you need a little extra support, our new Elder Mental Health Outreach Team is here

Oct 2018 Seniorgram EMHOT photoSometimes, life situations are complex and hard to manage on our own. For people over 60 like Emily who may be experiencing painful feelings loneliness and isolation, or the challenges of depression, addiction, and other concerns affecting their emotional well-being, a new program at LifePath offers resources to help.Emily, who is 82, often feels lonely and isolated. Many of her friends have died. Although her family regularly calls, they live out of the area and aren’t able to visit often.

Miguel is worried that he is going to lose the house he has lived in for the last 50 years. The repairs are too much, and the bills are piling up. He’s becoming depressed as the worry weighs on him. He has a hard time getting out of bed in the morning.

Ivan is returning to his home after a brief stay in the hospital. He’s struggled with substance use in the past but is committed to staying sober for his grandchildren. He was participating in groups at the hospital and is looking for support in the community.

Fortunately there are resources to help!

Elder Mental Health Outreach Team

The Elder Mental Health Outreach Team (EMHOT), a program coordinated by LifePath, serves elders ages 60 and older, whose problems are impacting their emotional well-being. Outreach staff meet with elders in their homes or another location of their choice to discuss their concerns and to think through options, come up with solutions, and identify resources to help. The program is free for all elders living in Franklin County, Athol, Petersham, Phillipston, and Royalston.

Sometimes one or two visits may be needed. Other times, a team member may work with an individual for longer periods of time or help arrange for ongoing community supports. In addition to addressing emotional well-being, the team may help the individual access other services such as housing, fuel assistance, money management, or other programs to assist with day-to-day needs. Support groups are being scheduled throughout the region on such topics as Aging with Vim and Vigor, Enhancing Social Connections, Grief and Loss, and Caring for the Caregiver.

To create enhanced community impact, LifePath is convening an extended community team to increase awareness of mental health issues and available resources. The goal is to create a coordinated community response integrated with other initiatives and efforts. The team includes representation from mental health providers, peer support organizations, emergency response, faith communities, councils on aging, and others working to address behavioral health needs and well-being. The first community team meeting took place in September at LifePath. For more information about attending a quarterly meeting, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The program is one of five pilot projects funded across the Commonwealth through the Massachusetts Council on Aging in collaboration with the Department of Mental Health and the Executive Office of Elder Affairs.

To find out more or to make a referral, contact us.