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Seniorgram: Sending a Message on Senior Issues

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.

Self-neglect: balancing rights versus risks

According to the National Institute of Health, “self-neglect in older adults is an increasingly prevalent, poorly understood problem.” Common situations of self-neglect include issues regarding nutrition, health, hygiene, unmet medical and medication needs, excessive use of alcohol or other substances, home safety, clutter and cleanliness concerns. These manifestations happen at all stages of adult life and may be attributed to loss of financial resources or family supports, social isolation, trauma, declining physical or emotional health, or cognitive impairment. Other times, situations of self-neglect are a result of choices made by the individual associated to values such as independence, culture, privacy, and right to refuse care.

As adults with capacity to direct our own lives, we have the right to fail and the right to make poor decisions. We have the right to choose gratification or self-determination over our personal health and safety. Why should elders be entitled to anything less? LifePath honors the right to self-determination and seeks to provide interventions to mitigate health and safety concerns and improve quality of life. Our goal is to work to understand the unique qualities of each person we serve, consider their values and desires, and look to assess the causes of risk in a person’s current life situation. It is essential to engage in discussion to be sure the elder understands the risk issues at hand and assess the person’s capacity. We need to allow the elder to set the pace for intervention and validate their life decisions.

There are situations where an individual is deemed incapacitated or incompetent and a substitute decision maker, such as a power of attorney, health care proxy or guardian, is needed to intervene. However, the individual’s wishes must remain central in any decisions made on the elder’s behalf. The best interest of the elder must always be taken into consideration when their preference is known or expressed.

Whether it is to the elder, or a substitute decision maker, LifePath provides guidance and assistance to reduce or eliminate health and safety concerns. Change often requires time and incremental steps to work towards alleviating the risks at hand. We work to build respectful and productive relationships in partnership with the elder and their community supports. Success is often achieved through the provision of available resources and services, and in keeping the goal of wellbeing and independence of the elder front and center.

Contact us if you or someone you know would benefit from our services.

June is LGBT Pride Month - and community efforts to show pride all year abound

Nearly 50 years ago, at the end of June, 1969, in what came to be known as the Stonewall riots, a group of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning individuals joined together to riot in protest of a police raid of the Stonewall Inn.

At that time in our nation’s history, LGBTIQA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer, questioning, aromantic, asexual, agender, and allied) persons faced a starkly repressive culture and justice system. The stories of the struggles people endured may come as a surprise to younger generations of LGBTIQA people, whose own unique challenges today may make an impression on those who were young themselves in 1969.

Bringing together the stories of many generations of this important group of people is part of the work of the Rainbow Elders of LifePath.

Rainbow Elders offers opportunities for LGBTIQA elders, as well as their allies, to build connections and find resources. The group helps people build relationships, give and gain support, grow in knowledge and cultural competence, and advocate for human rights so that everyone can live and age with dignity.

Each year in the spring, Rainbow Elders partners with area nonprofits and business supporters to host an intergenerational gathering of LGBTIQA people of all ages. Over dinner, guests mingle and get to know one another over ice-breakers and deeper conversations about what is means to be LGBTIQA today, what it meant yesterday, and what the future could hold.

Rainbow Elders also hosts other annual social and educational events. The next picnic takes place in July, and an educational presentation will be offered in the fall. A team of elder panelists is available to speak with community groups, and Rainbow Elders also offers information, referral, and opportunities for advocacy.

Several other organizations exist here in Western Mass to support LGBTIQA people. You can meet many of them at the upcoming Franklin County Pride event on June 23, right here in Greenfield.

Here is a partial selection of local offerings, as featured in the Rainbow Elder’s quarterly newsletter, available by free subscription to your email inbox (sign up online):

  • Pioneer Valley OLOC (Old Lesbians Organizing for Change): Meets twice monthly in Northampton; films are open to all ages; visit their website
  • Gender-Role Free Contra Dances for the LGBTIQA Community & Friends: Seasonal; meets in Montague; visit their website
  • Rainbow Supper Club: Meets for dinner on the first Wednesday of each month in Holyoke; contact WestMass ElderCare: 413-538-9020 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • Transforming Parents: A support group for parents of transgender, gender non-conforming or questioning children, teenagers, and adults; meets monthly in Northampton; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • G Cha Cha: A Queer Latin Dance Night: “for the dance-serious and the dance-curious”; meets the second Thursday of every month from 7 to 10 p.m. at The Boylston Room East at Keystone Mill in Easthampton.
  • Journey: A social and support group for people of all ages who identify as trans women, trans men, and non-binary individuals and their friends, family, and partners; meets monthly in Northampton; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • Rainbow Seniors: offers a “Talk & Listen Group” for confidential conversation and monthly “fun” meetings in Pittsfield, Mass.; visit rainbowseniors.org
  • Franklin Hampshire PFLAG (Parents, Family, Friends and Allies United with LGBTQ people): reach Jane at 413-625-6636 or by This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or find events on Facebook

LifePath’s many services for elders, people with disabilities, and caregivers are open to and affirming of people of all identities. If you need a helping and welcoming hand, please don’t hesitate to reach out for support. Find us online and a phone call away at 413-773-5555 or 978-544-2259.

Engage at Every Age

Older Americans Month (OAM) has been observed for the last 55 years to recognize older Americans and their contributions to our communities. This year’s OAM theme, “Engage at Every Age,” emphasizes the importance of being active and involved, no matter where or when you are in life. You are never too old (or too young) to participate in activities that can enrich your physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

Remaining socially engaged can improve the quality of life for older adults. LifePath offers many opportunities for community engagement through a variety of volunteer opportunities. Whether it is volunteering to deliver Meals on Wheels, helping a person with bill paying, assisting with SNAP (food stamps) or other public benefits applications, providing health insurance counseling as a SHINE (Serving the Health Insurance Needs of Everyone) counselor or leading an evidence-based workshop to help individuals manage chronic conditions, you will be giving back to your community through volunteering, mentoring and learning, leading and engaging.

Spring also brings the time of year when advocacy is top of mind. Legislative priorities for the state budget include increased investment in the workforce so that direct care workers and staff working in home and community-based settings are sufficient to meet a greater need for services. Elder nutrition and Protective Services are also high on the list to meet the growing need for these services. Elder Protective reports have increased 11% from a year ago.

The federal fiscal year budget passed in March, following several continuing resolutions. The good news is that Older Americans Act programs did receive increased funding. Supportive services were increased by 10%, nutrition services saw a 7% increase, funding for support to caregivers increased by 20% and evidence-based programs to help people manage chronic conditions saw a 25% boost. SHINE had $2 million restored from the $5 million cut in 2017. These increases signal that Congress heard from constituents about the importance of home and community-based services. While Older Americans Act funding has not kept pace with the number of elders and demand for services, we are grateful for these increased funding levels.

“Engage at Every Age” and make a difference through volunteerism and advocacy.

Malnutrition and elders – the need is now

RoseannMartocciaHeadshotRoseann MartocciaThe Massachusetts Malnutrition Commission began its work in February following the passage of S.2147. The Commission will study the impact of malnutrition on Massachusetts seniors across care settings and investigate effective strategies for reducing malnutrition. The Commission will look closely at the impact on healthcare quality indicators, costs and outcomes. The Malnutrition Prevention Commission will focus on study and recommendations regarding strategies for public awareness, ways to improve data collection and analysis to identify malnutrition risk. They will also assess the risk and measure the incidence of malnutrition occurring in various settings across the continuum of care and impact of care transitions. The Commission’s work will conclude with a report to the Governor and Legislature.

At LifePath, here’s how we describe the positive impact of providing nutritional support to elders though our Nutrition Program, which oversees Meals on Wheels as well as dining centers and luncheon clubs:

  • Meals are nutritionally balanced and meet one third of the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) requirements. The meals are low salt and low fat. Therapeutic meals are available when prescribed by the person’s physician.
  • Meals served at senior centers and community sites offer an opportunity for a meal and the company of others.
  • As the programs are donation based, they do not strain monthly financial resources for many who are on a limited and fixed income when other basic needs such as food, housing/energy and health-related costs, including medication, are competing for each dollar.
  • Meals on Wheels provides a hot noontime meal, a check-in from the driver who delivers the meal and peace of mind to caregivers who are at work or living at a distance from their loved one.

According to research conducted by Meals on Wheels America (“Hunger in Older Adults,” February 2017), malnutrition and its impact on health is significant: “Malnutrition results when the body does not get the right balance of nutrients and calories to stay healthy. Malnutrition can be found in a nursing home, hospital or one’s own home or community. There are estimates that up to 50% of older adults may be malnourished, and that up to 33% of older adults admitted to the hospital may be malnourished. Malnourished older adults are likely to have higher levels of healthcare utilization, such as more frequent hospital admissions and longer hospital stays.”

There is an urgent need to combat malnutrition for elders through research and action.

Thank you for the opportunity to connect with our readers monthly. The Seniorgram will continue! Barbara Bodzin, executive director of LifePath, will commence writing the articles in May. Franklin County and the North Quabbin are caring communities. It has been a pleasure to work in and serve these communities. I look forward to when our paths cross again. See you at the Meals on Wheels Walkathon on April 28 at 101 Munson Street, Greenfield.