Seniorgram: Sending a Message on Senior Issues
- Written by Barbara Bodzin, Executive Director
It is hard to think about laughter in the winter, during a pandemic. But it is laughter, precisely, that will help us overcome winter blues and the stressors of social isolation, and social distancing. Laughter, much like this virus, is contagious and a good hearty laugh is one of the best tools we have to combat stress and its side effects.
- Laughter is an antidepressant. Laughter releases the neurotransmitter serotonin, the hormone that stabilizes our mood, our happiness, and our feeling of well-being. It also enables communication between brain cells and nervous system cells, and helps with digestion, eating, and sleeping.
- Laughter increases endorphin release in the brain. A study reported in the Journal of Neuroscience showed that 30 minutes of watching funny video clips with friends triggered an opioid release in the thalamus which reduced pain sensation, and increased pain threshold. It also increased pleasurable sensations.
- Laughter boosts the immune system. Hearty laughter increases oxygen intake. In turn, higher oxygen intake enriches many organs in the body, which can lead to better functioning. This, coupled with endorphin and neurotransmitter release has an overall effect of boosting the immune system.
- Laughter benefits heart health. By decreasing the body’s stress response through endorphin release, laughter has an impact on heart health by having an anti-inflammatory effect. According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter increases and then decreases your heart rate and your blood pressure, helping your heart and leaving you feeling relaxed.
- Laughing is contagious. If you have been around someone laughing, after a while you end up laughing too even if you don’t know what you are laughing about. An example of this was the very popular segment in the show Laugh In where Goldie Hawn just laughed. As she laughed, viewers at home just started laughing. Or who can’t remember the song I Love to Laugh from Mary Poppins? You don’t need to be physically together to catch laughter, and laughing together builds strong social bonds.
- Laughter flexes the brain. When we hear laughter, our brain goes to work to sort out what kind of laughter it is, where it comes from, where it is directed to, and how to respond to it. According to the National Institutes of Health, all this activity requires inter brain communication, which stimulates neural pathways and thus exercises the brain.
- Laughter is a key factor in strong relationships. Couples who, in conversation, spent time laughing simultaneously ranked high in global evaluations of relationship quality, closeness, and social support.
Last year, the actor Goldie Hawn issued a laughing challenge on social media asking people to post videos of themselves laughing in order to help ease the stress of the pandemic which yielded lots of videos of people laughing. So think about what makes you laugh. Watch some comedy shows or movies, chat with friends, and find ways to make each other laugh. Or, just start laughing, and keep laughing until you have caught a serious case of the giggles. Have a good snort laugh and boost your mood, your friendships, your immune system, and your overall health.
- Written by Barbara Bodzin, Executive Director
Death is an inevitable fact that most people find hard to contemplate and discuss with others. Yet, one of the best inheritances you can give your loved ones is a clear plan of what your choices are. Advanced care planning is about making thoughtful decisions now to ensure others understand your wishes if you’re unable to speak for yourself. Here are five key areas to focus on for having your say in what matters most to you.
One of the best inheritances you can give your loved ones is a clear plan of what your choices are.
End of life care, choosing a representative
The Health Care Proxy is a simple document, legally valid in Massachusetts, which allows you to name someone (an "agent") to make healthcare decisions on your behalf in the event that you are unable to make or communicate those decisions. You therefore need to provide your proxy with clear instructions as to what you do and do not want for end of life care. You can find a Health Care Proxy form and directions at massmed.org.
On the other hand, a MOLST (Medical Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment) form, is a medical document signed by both you and your health care provider, and is effective as soon as it is signed. For patients near the end of life in Massachusetts, MOLST is an official form which lets you discuss and document your choices for "life-sustaining treatments" — based on your own needs, preferences, and what is medically appropriate. It is recommended if you have a MOLST in place to also fill out a Health Care Proxy form to appoint your Health Care Agent.
Legal and financial matters
Bereft loved ones have enough to deal with emotionally and leaving financial matters in disarray puts an undue burden on family and can lead to tensions and disputes. If you pass away without a will, there are laws that may dictate the allocations of your estate. Drawing up a will with an attorney will uphold your wishes for the distribution of your money and possessions. Be sure someone knows where your will and your advance directive documents are located.
Consider donation of your organs to help another person, or help advance medical science. If this is something you want to do, make sure you document your wishes, tell your family, and speak with your primary care provider.
How you would like to be remembered
Are there letters you want to write to loved ones? What would you like people to know before you die? Do you want to finish a family tree, or family album? The time to do this is while you are still able. This is also a perfect opportunity to connect and collaborate with loved ones and pass along family history.
Have you thought about whether you would prefer to be buried or cremated? Perhaps you would like a green funeral rather than a more traditional one. Think about what kind of service you would like, and whether you want more of a celebration of your life rather than a conventional ceremony. What readings or music would you like to have, and who would you like to be there? Write down your preferences and share them with someone you trust, include these choices in your will, or make these arrangements directly with a funeral home.
End of life planning will provide you with peace of mind, knowing those you love will be spared the need to make these hard decisions during their time of grief. This deeply personal process will enable you to embrace the life you have lived and ensure your beliefs, values, and choices are honored.
- Written by Barbara Bodzin, Executive Director
Winter is upon us and along with the colder weather and shorter nights comes the winter blues. This winter is a little different as we are in the midst of self-isolation due to a global pandemic. A recent study found that U.S. adults were reporting levels of depressive symptoms at a rate three times greater than an average year. However, the silver lining this year is that there are more and new avenues of support and programs for you. Medical experts are urging us to make a plan now to help keep the blues at bay.
LifePath is here with special supports aimed at helping older adults get through the winter and isolation blues.
When the sun comes out, take full advantage of it by opening up the curtains and sitting in its warmth inside. This will help boost Vitamin D production to help your immune system. When the dark skies abound, use full spectrum light bulbs to brighten your home. Light therapy has been shown to increase positive mood. Create a schedule for yourself that includes making healthy meals, socializing, albeit at a distance or remotely, and being active, both mentally and physically. It is best to create a schedule and stick to it since routine helps keep your mood stable. Within your schedule, create a list of tasks, even small ones like making your bed, and do it every day. Then cross it off the list. This type of activity will foster a sense of accomplishment and success which are mood boosters.
LifePath is here with special supports aimed at helping older adults get through the winter and isolation blues. Take advantage of programs to keep you in touch with others such as our Phone Pals program, through which volunteers call participants to chat. Placing a friendly phone call is an easy and productive strategy to both check on the well-being of someone and have meaningful conversations.
Keeping up connections virtually and by phone can allay some fears that may be causing those blues or increased stress levels. Reach out to someone you care about and put yourself at ease about how they are doing. Also, video calling technology is at our fingertips. Employ this tool to be able to put your eyes on a loved one who you may not be seeing in person in an effort to keep each other safe and healthy. LifePath can help make this happen and assist you in finding ways to increase your use of technology, and access others in the safety of your home through virtual connections.
If you are an LGBTQIA+ older adult, consider joining the Rainbow Elders program, a group which meets via Zoom weekly to socialize and check in. Another option is to consider volunteering for one of our many program opportunities. You can choose to volunteer in ways which don’t require leaving your home, or you can choose to provide vitally needed assistance, such as driving others to medical appointments, assisting with grocery shopping, or delivering Meals on Wheels. We provide volunteers with personal protective equipment and have established processes to keep you safe. You will be helping yourself as you help others, since volunteers have a greater sense of purpose and volunteering is an ideal way to combat depression, stress, and anxiety.
Another excellent way to care for yourself is to enroll in one of LifePath’s Healthy Living programs which teach health strategies for people living with chronic conditions. You can do so either with a computer or a simple telephone. Start your wellness today by visiting LifePath’s Healthy Living Home Workout Playlist on LifePath’s YouTube channel at bit.ly/372R5Xb.
- Written by Barbara Bodzin, Executive Director
Caregiving for a loved one is oftentimes a deeply gratifying and fulfilling experience, yet it can also be a tough job that is regularly overlooked, or taken for granted. During a global pandemic, this role is even more critical and has fallen to many more individuals who have stepped up to care for family, friends, and loved ones. November is National Family Caregivers Month, a time to express our deep gratitude to caregivers, who, because of the pandemic, have gone above and beyond lovingly giving baths, cleaning houses, shopping for, and comforting millions of those in need of care.
Family caregivers, particularly women, provide over 75% of caregiving support in the United States.
Family caregivers, particularly women, provide over 75% of caregiving support in the United States. COVID-19 isolation has forced many caregivers to work 24/7 due to the loss of day programs and necessary restrictions on the number of people coming into homes to maintain a safe environment. Having this responsibility in addition to managing their own lives can be overwhelming. Isolation brings new challenges and pressures for both the caregiver and those cared for, such as anxiety, depression, and a lack of outside stimulation, especially for those with dementia. In the face of all this, caregivers keep caring, and giving of themselves so that loved ones can maintain independence, dignity, and quality of life in the community. As community members, we are thankful for their endurance and strength of spirit.
At LifePath, we strive to help caregivers find balance and attend to some of the responsibilities of being an essential care provider.
- Our Family Caregiver Program focuses first and foremost on the caregiver, so we can support and help them navigate their vital role with a wide range of options.
- Community Options Resource Specialists are available to provide information and support, assisting consumers and their caregivers in developing a successful long-term care plan.
- LifePath facilitates virtual Dementia Caregivers Support Groups, which offer participants a place to ask questions, share experiences, and get answers.
Caregivers oftentimes need to leave paid employment, causing them financial hardship because of this loss of income.
- Family members, friends, and neighbors can get paid through our Consumer Directed Care and Personal Care Attendant programs. This allows consumers to hire one or more people of their choosing to help with daily tasks, including bathing, housekeeping, laundry, meal prep, medication management, running errands, and transportation. The consumer gets to decide what their caregiver helps them with, when they want to receive this help, and how they will receive it.
- Adult Family Care (AFC) is another program where caregivers living with a loved one may be able to get paid for the care they are providing. This program is available for those who need assistance with personal care and want to live in the community with a host family, which may be a member's own family.
- Written by Seniorgram Guest Contributor Raeann G. LeBlanc, PhD, DNP – University of Massachusetts Amherst College of Nursing
We can do this together!
During our current COVID-19 pandemic, we have experienced a lot of different messages about how to best protect our health. We know more now about how to prevent transmission of the virus to others. It has not been a familiar practice among the general population to wear masks or use other protective barriers, and there are unique cultural perceptions that can affect our health behaviors.
Think of handwashing as protection before you put on your mask, before you take it off, and after you take it off.
It helps to first be reminded that COVID-19 is highly contagious and is easily spread by person to person to person, primarily through respiratory droplets. People can give it to one another without even having symptoms. Some people get severely ill, some die, some have only minor illness, and others have lingering debilitating symptoms. Cases keep growing and the gravity of spreading the COVID-19 virus is really big and even more complicated because of the persistent high levels of infection across our country and a lack of adequate testing and contact tracing to meet that demand. This does not mean we are without any power to address very basic infection control practices and play an active role in a consistent approach that can influence prevention (social distancing, mask wearing, handwashing, diligence).
Not only do we want to prevent ourselves from getting sick, we also want to prevent spreading the infection to others should we become infected. The recommendations from the CDC and public health experts are relatively clear: frequent hand washing and cleaning of high contact surfaces (faucets, door knobs, counters). Using soap and water OR hand sanitizer (60% alcohol or more) and, importantly, using friction to clean all parts of the hands, front and back, for a minimum of 20 seconds, is highly effective in preventing transmission. The friction of rubbing hands together can mitigate pathogen adherence and is a key part of successful handwashing.
The next important tool to prevent contracting and spreading COVID-19 is personal protective equipment, primarily mask wearing. There is much variability in masks. The general public can use cloth facial coverings. But there are some important considerations. Your mask needs to be comfortable and fit well so you are not touching it or needing to adjust it once it is on. To protect others from you, your nose and mouth need to be covered. The thickness of the mask is important – and a facial mask made of two layers of heavy-duty tight weave fabric with a built-in pocket where you can place a filter, versus a bandana or neck gaiter, is preferred. There is evidence that some materials are better than others. Surprisingly, fleece material can actually be worse than no mask at all.
It is very important to wash your cloth face covering between wearings. Think about what the outer layer of your face covering is being exposed to and to how many people. If you go to the grocery store or ride public transportation, then wash your mask. Ideally, you are still only going out as necessary and still staying 6 feet away. Before you remove your mask, make sure to wash your hands. Then, when you remove your mask, you do not want to touch what it has been exposed to. Ideally, take it off by removing the ear straps and turning the mask inward. In this fashion, you do not have contact with what your mask may have contacted. After you remove your mask, once again wash your hands. You can wash your cloth face covering by hand or in the washing machine, then dry in the dryer or in sunlight if preferred. Disposable surgical and KN95 masks cannot be washed, but you can rotate your masks at least every 3 days, provided the mask is not soiled or damaged. Think of handwashing as protection before you put on your mask, before you take it off, and after you take it off.
Six Feet Apart – Together
Maintain a social distance preventative stance and ask that of others when possible. For the best protection, wear a mask and maintain a 6-foot distance, wash your hands, avoid touching your face, and clean high contact areas. For caregivers and those where close contact is necessary, handwashing and facial coverings offer additional protection. Be mindful of your own symptoms of possible exposure and have a backup plan so you can self-quarantine should you feel sick (cough, fever, change in taste or smell, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, recent loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion, nausea or vomiting, diarrhea) and need to take time away from close caregiving while you get tested and await test results. In Massachusetts, call 211 if you have concerns about COVID-19.
As with many health issues, prevention takes a multi-pronged approach. The effectiveness of our equipment to protect one another depends on how we use it. As careful citizens we want to prevent the spread to others. We can do this! It does take a little more time, being conscious of the importance to humanity, access to a mask and hand sanitizer, commitment, and practice. This extra care is worth it as it is of significant importance to our very existence. The following resources may also help:
- How to Wash a Cloth Face Mask
- How to Care For Your Face Mask
- Coronavirus Face Masks & Protection FAQs
- Face Mask Efficiency
- Handwashing: Clean Hands Save Lives
- Household Materials Selection for Homemade Face Coverings