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Seniorgram: Sending a Message on Senior Issues

With spring upon us, longer days and warmer temperatures bring much needed relief from the challenges of winter. This “growing“ season brings with it the opportunity to get outside and interact with nature; an activity that’s not only a joy for the senses but literally healing for the body.

According to the International Journal of Environmental Research, gentle outdoor activity has proven to greatly improve physical functioning, reduce one’s fear of falling and result in fewer depressive symptoms.

Being outside can help increase levels of Vitamin D, which often is low among older adults. Getting sufficient Vitamin D can help reduce your risk of a number of physical health issues, including rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and heart attack. In addition, time in nature may help you recover more quickly from an injury or illness.

“Studies tell us that older adults who take daily outdoor walks report significantly fewer complaints in pain, sleep and other problems when compared to adults who do not go outside daily.”

Research shows that physical activity can lead to a better quality of life as we grow older. Studies tell us that older adults who take daily outdoor walks report significantly fewer complaints in pain, sleep and other problems when compared to adults who do not go outside daily.

Like walking, gardening can also play a positive role in health as we age both physically and mentally. Older gardeners with access to a community garden report increased physical activity over those who don’t garden. They also report better health status, increased physical functioning, reduced pain and other physical benefits. And naturally, gardeners are more likely to eat more vegetables resulting in better diets than non-gardeners of the same age. A 2006 study found that gardening could lower risk of dementia by 36 percent. The International Journal of Environmental Research tracked more than 2,800 people over the age of 60 for 16 years and concluded that physical activity, particularly gardening, could reduce the incidence of dementia in future years.

Bumblebee in a flowerAlong with the physical benefits of time spent in nature, the restorative effects of nature support mental health and well-being. In older adults, studies show that physical activity in green spaces can be linked to better moods, decreased chance of depression, reduced stress levels and improved cognitive function. These benefits extend beyond physical activity. Studies show that the frequency and amount of time spent in nature correlate with feelings of mental restoration. An extra 30 minutes spent in nature increases this restorative effect and can be even more dramatic with individuals experiencing higher stress levels.

Even looking out a window into a garden or forest or viewing pictures of nature can contribute to a reduction in stress and improved cognitive health. These benefits can become especially significant in older individuals suffering from chronic stress or experiencing stressful events such as the loss of a loved one.

Take advantage of the natural, restorative benefits this wonderful season offers!

Barbara Bodzin, LifePath Executive DirectorBarbara Bodzin, Executive Director

Celebrating Older Americans

May is Older Americans Month, and this year’s theme, according to the Administration for Community Living, which leads our nation’s observance, is Connect, Create, Contribute. It encourages older adults and their communities to:

  • Connect with friends, family, and services that support participation.
  • Create by engaging in activities that promote learning, health, and personal enrichment.
  • Contribute time, talent, and life experience to benefit others.

Group of senior women linking armsEngagement promotes wellbeing and fosters the essential role older adults play within our communities. Positive engagement occurs through participation in meaningful activities which support our values and our life goals. This can happen through a multitude of ways to connect with others.

Connections naturally occur through our networks of family, friends and neighbors and expand out into our communities. We can enrich the lives of others when we tell our stories, share our culture, our history, and our wisdom. We can have a voice through grassroots activities, involvement with nonprofit organizations, participation on boards, communication with legislators, or involvement in social and political actions.

Opportunities for enrichment through education, volunteerism, exercise, health enhancement and social engagement are available through area colleges, senior centers, faith communities, and local organizations.

“Engagement promotes wellbeing and fosters the essential role older adults play within our communities.”

LifePath offers evidence-based healthy living programs which help participants improve health behaviors, health outcomes, and reduce healthcare utilization. Participants are motivated by peer leaders and by peer support who encourage one another to make positive lifestyle changes. Participants successfully integrate behavior changes into their day-to-day lives through this effective model. For those who are inspired by the experience and impact, there is opportunity and encouragement to continue on and train as volunteer peer leaders.

Volunteerism is another way to find fulfillment through a sense of connection and a way to give back to the community. LifePath relies on dedicated volunteers who positively change the lives of others. There is a wide range of options available, including delivering Meals on Wheels or assisting at a congregate dining center, visiting and advocating for residents in nursing facilities, leading a workshop in healthy living, transporting to medical appointments, or providing assistance with bill paying, understanding health insurance options, or completing fuel assistance applications. For those who prefer, there are options for working in our offices, acting as a consultant, or assisting with fundraising. Whatever the passion or skill set, there are opportunities available.

Whatever your age, or stage in life, consider ways you might connect, create, or contribute. Opportunities abound to become involved. Call LifePath to explore options at 413-773-5555 or 978-544-2259, or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Barbara Bodzin, LifePath Executive DirectorBarbara Bodzin, Executive Director

The Power of Language and the Negative Effects of “Elderspeak”

Talking down to older adults is not only disrespectful, it can be detrimental.

“Elderspeak” occurs when an older adult is spoken to as if they are a child or a pet with limited understanding. This phenomenon is not uncommon in interactions with health care workers, service personnel, neighbors, or even family members. In a recent article in the Chicago Tribune, Anna I. Corwin, an anthropologist and professor at St. Mary’s College of California in Moraga, noted that elderspeak “sounds like baby talk or simplified speech” and is, in fact, a symptom of how older adults are often perceived.

According to Corwin, elderspeak includes characteristics including “a slower speech rate; exaggerated intonation; elevated pitch — raising your voice as if everything is a question; elevated volume; simplified vocabulary and reduced grammatical complexity; diminutives, like calling people ‘dear’ or ‘sweetie’; pronoun substitution like using the collective pronoun ‘we’; and lots of repetition.”

“Speaking to an elder should be no different than speaking to any other adult.”

“Americans tend to view and treat older adults as no longer productive in society. And that’s how we define personhood, as an adult who is a productive member of society,” Corwin said. Corwin’s insights were the result of a study of the linguistic communication that contributes to successful aging which included spending seven months in a Catholic convent infirmary where the nuns, noted for more successful aging than secular peers, did not engage in elderspeak. The caregivers instead used conversational tones, made jokes, told narratives, and essentially treated the care recipient as a “meaningful [person] whether they could understand them or not.”

According to Becca Levy, a researcher on a study on the effects of elderspeak at Yale University, the practice “sends a message that the (elder) is incompetent and begins a negative downward spiral for older adults who react with decreased self-esteem, depression and withdrawal.” Elderspeak has also been shown to increase the likelihood of challenging behaviors in those with dementia and is correlated with poorer health outcomes is general.

In its guide "Communicating With Older Adults," the Gerontological Society of America says you don't need to change your vocabulary to use simplified words. As a general rule, older adults maintain their existing vocabulary or continue to improve it. They have no greater problem understanding complicated words than do members of other age groups.

The solution is straightforward: speaking to an elder should be no different than speaking to any other adult. Word choices matter. Instead of ‘honey’ or ‘dear’, elders want to be addressed with a title and their last name: “Ms. Smith” or, with permission, by their first name. Often times people are unaware of behaviors and style of communication; taking time to reflect on speech will enhance and foster respectful and empowering relationships.

Barbara Bodzin, LifePath Executive DirectorBarbara Bodzin, Executive Director

Celebrating women and aging

March 8th is International Women’s Day, a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. This day has been celebrated for over a century and also marks a call to action for promoting gender equality.  

It is a time of reflection, and there is much to celebrate, in particular for older women. There are more women over 50 in this country today than at any other point in history, according to data from the United States Census Bureau. Furthermore, women are healthier, are working longer and have more income than previous generations.

This growth in the over-50 population is creating modest but real progress in the visibility and stature of older women. Historically, older women have struggled to remain relevant and feel heard and have had to combat feelings of invisibility. Women over 50 bring a unique set a skills, wisdom and informational context. Older women are embracing opportunities, desire to stay in the workplace, and aim to find their way into more leadership roles.  

Nearly a third of women aged 65 to 69 are now working, up from 15 percent in the late 1980s, according to recent analyses by the Harvard economists Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz. Some 18 percent of women aged 70 to 74 work, up from eight percent.  Interestingly, working longer is more common among women with higher education and savings, according to Jessica Bennett, author of “I am an Older Woman. Hear Me Roar.”

Older women are finding fulfillment in work and in all aspects of their lives.  “Contrary to the cultural scripts that say women are old and useless and in the way — diminished versions of their former selves — in reality older women are the happiest demographic in the country,” writer Mary Pipher says. In her article, “Want To Be Happy? Live Like A Woman Over 50,” she cites research from the University of California, San Diego, along with census data from the United Kingdom, suggesting not only that people become happier as they age but that “the happiest people are women aged 65-79.”

There are many theories about why women fare better than men. One is simply that women tend to be healthier and more active. Women are more likely to have close relationships with family and friends and know how to engage in intimate conversations about deeper emotions with others. 

Mary Pipher goes on to say, “Part of what allows us to deeply appreciate our lives and savor our time is our own past despair. In fact, it has great value as a springboard for growth. There is an ancient and almost universal cycle that involves trauma, despair, struggle, adaptation, and resolution. This is a deepening cycle that prepares us for whatever is to come next. It opens our hearts to others and helps us feel grateful for every small pleasure.”  

This is an exciting time in our history with the emerging strength and presence of older women in roles of prominence. Women are influencing our courts, our legislation, our media, our workplaces and our homes like never before. If you are a women over 50, I encourage you to take some time to reflect on and acknowledge your own accomplishments and the goals you still want to achieve. And, everyone, please join me in taking a moment to think about an older woman who has had influence in your life, and celebrate her for how she enriched your life and the lives of others.

Barbara Bodzin, LifePath Executive DirectorBarbara Bodzin, Executive Director

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.