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Seniorgram: Sending a Message on Senior Issues

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.

Dementia awareness: You can make a difference

We've all misplaced keys, blanked on someone’s name, or forgotten a phone number. When we’re young we tend not to pay much mind to these lapses, but as we grow older sometimes we worry about what they mean. While it’s true certain brain changes are inevitable, major memory problems are not one of them. That’s why it’s important to know the difference between normal age-related forgetfulness and symptoms which may indicate a developing cognitive problem.

The following chart can help make that distinction:

Normal age-related memory changes Symptoms that may indicate dementia
Ability to function independently and pursue normal activities despite occasional memory lapses Difficulty performing simple tasks (paying bills, dressing appropriately, washing up)
Able to recall and describe incidents of forgetfulness Unable to recall or describe instances where memory loss caused problems
Need to pause to remember directions but doesn’t get lost in familiar places Gets lost or disoriented in familiar places, unable to follow directions
Occasional difficulty finding the right word but no trouble holding a conversation Words are frequently forgotten or misused, repetition of phrases or stories in single conversation
Judgment and decision-making ability intact Trouble making decisions, may demonstrate poor judgment or behave in socially inappropriate ways

The brain is capable of producing new brain cells at any age, so significant memory loss is not an inevitable result of aging. Similar to muscle strength, you have to use it or lose it. Your lifestyle and daily activities have a huge impact on the health of your brain.

Here are ways to improve cognitive skills:

Stay social

People who aren’t socially engaged are at higher risk for memory problems than people who have strong social ties.

Exercise regularly

Exercise protects against dementia by stimulating the brain’s ability to maintain old connections as well as make new ones.

Stop smoking

Smoking heightens the risk of vascular disorders which can cause stroke and constrict arteries that deliver oxygen to the brain.

Manage stress

Cortisol, the stress hormone, damages the brain over time and can lead to memory problems. Even before that happens, stress or anxiety can cause memory difficulties in the moment.

Get enough sleep

Sleep deprivation reduces the growth of new neurons in the hippocampus and causes problems with memory, concentration, and decision-making.

Watch what you eat

Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and drink green tea as these foods contain antioxidants, which can keep your brain cells from “rusting.” Foods rich in omega-3 fats (such as salmon, tuna, trout, walnuts, and flaxseed) are particularly good for your brain and memory.

September is World Alzheimer’s Month

Alzheimer’s Disease International aims to raise awareness and challenge stigma surrounding dementia. Please contact us to speak to a resource specialist to speak to a resource specialist who can provide dementia-related information and resources.

Local elders are hit hard by the opioid crisis

There is an epidemic in our communities impacting people of all ages regardless of class, race or education level: opioid abuse. And elders are particularly vulnerable.

A growing number of older Americans are becoming addicted to prescription drugs such as OxyContin and Vicodin, both of which are classified as opioids. Elders have an increased likelihood of experiencing pain and physical illness and are prescribed these highly addictive pain relievers more frequently than younger people. Now recognized as a serious issue in the medical community, organizations including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are working with healthcare professionals to consider safer pain management options for elders in particular.

Addiction to opioids is only one of many ways in which older adults are impacted by the opioid epidemic.

The increasing number of grandparents raising the children of parents who are addicted or supporting an adult child or grandchild who is addicted can be directly attributed to this epidemic. There has been an observed rise in elder abuse and financial exploitation also associated to the opioid crisis as more adult children with addiction issues are moving back in with their parents, who can then become targets for financial, physical and emotional abuse. Over the last five years the number of elder abuse reports in Massachusetts has increased by 37% due in no small part to this epidemic.

Elders are unwittingly supplying those seeking easy access to opioids as well. Medication theft by individuals seeking opportunistic situations has, not surprisingly, escalated significantly in recent years. Caregivers and family members alike are targeting older adults, who often have supplies of opioid painkillers in their medicine cabinets. We know that most incidents of prescription theft are committed by someone the victim knows well and who has easy access to the home.

We want to encourage elders in our community to educate themselves about the medicines in their home, to properly dispose of any opioids no longer being taken and carefully secure those in current use. Speak with your physician about your medications. Inventory your medicines. Lock or otherwise secure your home and your medications to reduce the risk of medication theft.

Our rural communities have dedicated significant resources targeted towards tackling this problem. Locally, the Opioid Task Force can be credited with spearheading initiatives, raising awareness and looking at the underlying causes contributing to this epidemic. Guidance and resources are available. Please contact us and ask to speak with a resource specialist. We can steer you in the right direction to get assistance for yourself or someone you know.