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Seniorgram: Sending a Message on Senior Issues

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.

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.