Seniorgram: Sending a Message on Senior Issues
- Written by Barbara Bodzin, Executive Director
2021 was a continuation of the pandemic rollercoaster and a year in which we saw the resilience of the human spirit at its best. Continually pivoting, LifePath remained responsive thanks to dedicated staff, volunteers, and caregivers; funding from grantors; gifts from donors; leadership from our board members; support from legislators which built direct funding into the budget; and the willingness to help from members of this community. Because of these cooperative efforts, LifePath continued to make a difference in the lives of those we serve.
Even behind masks and cautiously opened doors, we saw faces brighten and spirits lift because we showed up. Those on our front lines and behind the scenes made sure that resources continued to be shared and available and that community members were safe and healthy and were receiving home care services and proper nutrition. We learned that we can deftly change the way we do things and be successful. Knowing what we’ve accomplished together brings new meaning to the path ahead.
Even behind masks and cautiously opened doors, we saw faces brighten and spirits lift because we showed up.
As we embark on a new year we are going to build upon these successes. The American Rescue Plan Act has provided us with the resources to help develop new programs, as well as help support and expand the current ones. These resources enable us to reimagine care to become a less fragmented and more nimble system with enhanced communication and coordination.
The pandemic has highlighted how important and integral the home care workforce is to providing adequate healthcare, and the need to better support these essential workers in order to enable older adults and individuals with disabilities to stay in their homes. Empowering the consumer and bridging the health care and home care divides will enable seamless care transitions and elevate the workforce by valuing their knowledge and respecting their work within the home. By acknowledging the essential work carried out each day through better pay, more comprehensive benefits, guaranteed hours, job security, career advancement, and training opportunities, we can build a strong and sustainable model of care.
In December, LifePath hosted an event with our state and federal legislators to bring attention to these needs. The responsiveness of each of the legislators demonstrated their sincere investment in their constituents’ well-being and their willingness to continue to actively engage in legislation to better our communities. While the Omicron variant has steadily been taking hold across the globe, new data suggests that having a booster beyond being fully vaccinated has a significant impact on both its transmission and infection rate. If you have not yet been vaccinated or had your booster, I encourage you to do so.
As we have seen in the past two years, worldwide collaboration on COVID-19 interventions has produced faster results, due to the vast amount of data available for research. The most recent research on boosters and the development of new antiviral medications to reduce the risk of hospitalization and death are due to this extraordinary, collaborative effort. Scientists contributing to this rapid response should be applauded for their diligence and tireless efforts to protect the world population from harm.
This is, indeed, a turning point for humanity. The simple fact that everyone around the world is experiencing the same threat has led to a deeper sense of community and caring for one another. It has given people pause to look at their lives and determine what really is of importance. People from all walks of life are finding real meaning in being of service to others, whether it is in their spare time or as a new vocation. Volunteerism is on the rise, and I believe it is a fundamental part of what makes humanity better.
LifePath has more volunteers than staff, and thanks to these dedicated individuals we are able to provide the services we do. If you are newly retired and are in search of a sense of purpose, or have a desire to be more involved in your community, please consider volunteering with us. We have recently brought on an Associate Director of Volunteer Resources to help guide volunteers through training and connect them to the right programs.
Throughout the past year and continuing into the future, LifePath has engaged in much self-reflection and has undertaken a journey toward being an actualized anti-racist organization. We are training our staff to fully understand the implications and repercussions of systemic racism in our society, and how to recognise and attend to the macro and microaggressions which take place in our organizations, and in our communities. By our own definition, at LifePath, we listen first, and must be able to hear and comprehend what it means to be BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) in our community, and in the nation at large.
Our role in supporting well-being, independence, and dignity requires us to work directly to solve health inequities—inequities in which BIPOC experience worse health outcomes than their white counterparts. This role also extends to supporting and being allies for staff, volunteers, and home healthcare workers who experience racism from those whom they are caring for. Our intention is to fully embrace, support, and defend those who are the victims of racism, and by extension any “ism,” and to be allies in the advancement of equity and inclusion.
In this coming year, we want to grow our successes, and capitalize on the pervasive sense of stronger, more supportive communities. By being allies, working together, supporting one another through this pandemic, and continuing to both wear masks and social distance when gathering, we will ensure our well-being and make our communities better for everyone.
- Written by Barbara Bodzin, Executive Director
This time of year, many of us are focused on nurturing and feeding our loved ones as we celebrate the holidays. LifePath’s Nutrition program staff and volunteers maintain this focus for community members all year long.
Feeding America estimated that 100,000 people in our 4 Western MA counties have struggled with food insecurity this year. That’s an increase of about 25% since numbers were last reported in 2019, and those who directly serve community members contend the increase is actually much higher.
LifePath’s Nutrition program has looked to address this spike in numbers and respond to nutritional needs oftentimes created by pandemic-fueled fear and isolation. As we saw numbers shift, changes were made so that community members could safely access LifePath programs without having to suffer in silence.
Over the last year, LifePath’s Meals on Wheels program served 1,061 consumers and more than 140,000 meals. In an effort to curb exposure but not service, the program moved to delivering the same amount of meals over three days, in place of the traditional five. The ever-important wellness check was changed to a physically distanced “Smile and Wave,” as volunteer drivers continued to be out on their routes without pause. To further reduce the risk of infection through the heating and traying process, chilled meals took the place of hot meals. These efficiencies reduced contact not only between volunteer driver and consumer, but also between kitchen workers. Food was delivered in oven-safe trays, but microwaves were provided to consumers who needed them. We’re excited to announce that hot meal delivery and the classic wellness check will resume 5 days a week starting on December 6.
Also, we are pleased to share that a new cohort of volunteer Meals on Wheels drivers were trained by Congregate and Home Delivered Meal Coordinator Ann Kaczenski and have begun heading out on their respective routes. LifePath requires a certain number of drivers to fulfill the delivery need, but being able to call on a depth of backup and reserve drivers is essential. If you are interested in being a driver, we’d love to hear from you.
Over the last three years, LifePath has earned more than $16,000 from Subaru of America for our Meals on Wheels program.
Right now, through January 3, LifePath is again participating in Subaru’s Share the Love event. Over the last three years, LifePath has earned more than $16,000 from Subaru of America for our Meals on Wheels program. If you are a customer who buys or leases a Subaru, you are eligible to choose a charity to which Subaru will donate $250. Please choose Meals on Wheels so that LifePath’s local program will benefit from this generosity.
During the pandemic we identified a need to add grocery shopping to LifePath’s menu of services. It has become so popular that there is a waiting list of individuals who would love someone to do their shopping! Grocery shoppers are trained, then matched. Every other week, the grocery shopper receives a list with agreed-upon preferences and payment, and returns with the groceries and a receipt. If you love hitting the grocery store, someone in your community would appreciate your assistance. Other grocery resources may be available: call us to find out if we have something to suit your needs.
LifePath began delivering frozen meals to people with disabilities under the age of 60 who are participants in our Personal Care Attendant program. Individuals with disabilities or pre-existing conditions are at a higher risk of becoming sick with COVID-19. LifePath recruited volunteers for this new meal delivery program to keep these individuals safer and healthier during this uncertain time. We were able to add this program, in part, because of the generous COVID-19 Relief Funding we received from the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts. We offer our thanks to those behind the funding who saw our vision, allowing us to provide this new pipeline for nutritional aid.
For older adults who are able to get out, the Grab and Go meals offered at various senior centers have been a wonderful option. This program took the place of congregate meals at these sites, but we are happy to report that select senior centers are again serving congregate meals that offer balanced nutrition with company! These sites include the Greenfield Senior Center, which is serving meals (indoors only) on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays; and the Royalston Council on Aging, which is serving meals (indoors only) on Wednesdays. For more information, please visit our Congregate Meals page.
LifePath prides itself on the programs we run that offer an answer to food insecurity and close other gaps created by life events and the aging process. In addition to the programs mentioned, we offer stand-alone nutrition education and consultation, home care services that may include nutritional support, and the flexibility to provide meals for people with allergies or other special diets.
We encourage you, as you spend time with family and friends, to take special note of their well-being. If you notice changes or hear shared remarks around the difficulties created by the aging process, suggest that your loved one reach out to LifePath, or reach out for them. We are here to foster continued independence at home and in our community.
With inspired spirit and commitment, our staff and volunteers have made extraordinary things happen for those in need of sustenance. In this time of celebration, reflection, and feasting, please know LifePath is here to provide and nourish. Whether it is for yourself or a loved one in need of service, call us at 413-773-5555, Ext. 1230 or 978-544-2259, ext. 1230 to speak with a Resource Consultant.
- Written by Barbara Bodzin, Executive Director
The National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care designated this year’s theme as “Reclaiming My Rights, My Home, My Life” to acknowledge the impact of this past year on residents and highlight the need for residents’ rights to be recognized, recovered, and reasserted. It emphasizes the recognition of the long-term care facility as the residents’ home, and the importance of residents reclaiming their own lives.
Residents' Rights Guarantee Quality of Life
The 1987 Nursing Home Reform Law requires each nursing home to care for its residents in a manner that promotes and enhances the quality of life of each resident, ensuring dignity, choice, and self-determination. All nursing homes are required "to provide services and activities to attain or maintain the highest practicable physical, mental, and psychosocial well-being of each resident in accordance with a written plan of care that . . . is initially prepared, with participation, to the extent practicable, of the resident, the resident's family, or legal representative." This means a resident should not decline in health or well-being as a result of the way a nursing facility provides care. The 1987 Nursing Home Reform Law protects the following rights of nursing home residents:
- The Right to Be Fully Informed
- The Right to Complain
- The Right to Participate in One's Own Care
- The Right to Privacy and Confidentiality
- The Right to Safe and Appropriate Transfers and Discharges
- The Right to Dignity, Respect, and Freedom
- The Right to Visits
- The Right to Make Independent Choices
Trevor Boeding, LifePath’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program Director, works with a team of dedicated volunteers to promote residents’ rights, assist residents with complaints, and provide information to those who need to find a long-term care facility. Early in the pandemic, nursing facilities were forced into lockdown as the residents and staff were ravaged by COVID-19. As Trevor reflected, “. . . mandatory visitor restrictions severely curtailed Ombudsman activities within nursing homes and rest homes. Unannounced weekly tours of the facilities screeched to a halt. Residents’ Rights presentations to residents and staff ended. Gone were the live, in-person, face-to-face interactions between the Ombudsman and the residents. Gone were the exchanges that foster strong, comfortable, and trusting relationships.”
As the population of older adults in need of long-term care services rapidly rises, the time is ripe for reform and innovation.
Because of COVID-19 restrictions, residents were not allowed to see their loved ones. As the pandemic persisted, Trevor looked to attend to the impact of boredom and isolation by sending activity and engagement booklets to residents and organized an effort to shower long-term care residents with greeting cards. Community members near and far responded with immense generosity and many home-made cards, filled with good wishes for every long-term care resident in the LifePath service area. Nursing facilities opened their doors once again to visitors and the Ombudsmen resumed face-to-face visits with residents in April 2021.
To date, over 186,000 nursing facility residents have died from COVID-19. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 31% of all the deaths in the US in the first year of the pandemic were among nursing facility residents. Most Americans want to age in place and President Biden’s plan for a $400 billion investment in home and community-based care will help build a more robust infrastructure to enable people to remain at home. However, the need for nursing facilities will continue for those who require more support than can be provided at home.
As Michelle Cottle of the New York Times observed, “American nursing homes are creatures of the last century. As the name suggests, they take a highly medicalized approach to aging, and, by design, are reminiscent of hospitals.” There has been a shift towards smaller, unconventional models such as the Green House Project, created by Dr. William Thomas in 2003 in Tupelo, Mississippi, where the focus is put on person-directed care, dignity, and well-being by encouraging/utilizing:
- Autonomy-residents have private rooms and freedom from any imposed scheduling,
- Green living within the natural world with lots of plants, sunlight, and outdoor access,
- Intimacy by creating clusters of 6-10 residents per home instead of large institutions,
- Smart technology, including adaptive devices, computers, and ceiling lifts,
- Warmth as a core value, by encouraging social activity and choosing decor that provides comfort.
According to the AARP, Green House residents are less likely than residents in traditional facilities to require hospitalization, to wind up bedridden, and to develop pressure ulcers or need catheters. Studies show lower turnover among the staff and higher levels of satisfaction among aides, residents, and residents’ families. It is of no surprise that Green House residents and staff weathered the pandemic significantly better than traditional facilities.
As the population of older adults in need of long-term care services rapidly rises, the time is ripe for reform and innovation. We can each have a voice in affecting positive change for nursing facility residents and staff. Consider becoming an advocate by contacting your legislators or joining Dignity Alliance Massachusetts, which was formed in 2020 in response to the COVID-19 crisis in nursing facilities and “is dedicated to transformative change to ensure the dignity of older adults, people with disabilities, and their caregivers.” For more information, visit dignityalliancema.org.
- Written by Barbara Bodzin, Executive Director
This year, the world has seen even more extreme weather events. In Western Massachusetts and the Northeast, we have not had to experience the devastating forest fires that are still burning, or natural events such as earthquakes, that have happened in other parts of the U.S. and the world. While we are fortunate in that way, we’ve still seen severe storms that have done major damage, interrupted service, caused flooding, and have even taken lives.
Floods are often underestimated, and have killed more people in the United States than other types of severe weather. Flash floods are fast and unforgiving, and can move boulders the size of cars, rip out swaths of trees, and destroy buildings and bridges. A flash flood is a rapid rise of water from heavy rain, snow melt, dam failure, etc., which travels along low areas damaging everything in its path.
Flash floods are fast and unforgiving, and can move boulders the size of cars, rip out swaths of trees, and destroy buildings and bridges.
With any weather event, it is always important to be prepared. Here are some tips from weather.gov regarding flooding, hurricanes, tornadoes, microbursts, and severe storms:
- Are you in a low area with greater flood potential? If so, be extra alert for flood watches and warnings.
- Make sure that your homeowners’/rental insurance covers flooding or water damage.
- Store important papers and personal information in a fireproof safe or safety deposit box.
- Create an evacuation plan before flooding happens, which includes having a safe place to go as well as a planned evacuation route.
- Determine a meeting place should members of your household get split up.
- Make sure your evacuation route has accounted for potential flooding on the roads.
- Keep your car fueled up and have an emergency auto hammer inside to break the windows in the event you need to escape.
- Store drinking water in food-grade containers as there may be service interruptions, or contaminated water supplies.
- Get a NOAA weather radio/battery powered radio to keep on hand as well as backup batteries. Check the websites of your local National Weather Service office and local government/emergency management office to find out what type of emergencies could occur and how you should respond.
- Buy supplies before the hurricane/storm season and keep a stock of food which can be easily transported and doesn’t require cooking or refrigeration, such as nuts and protein bars.
- Keep first aid supplies on hand, as well as necessary prescription medications.
- Have a charged battery pack for your phone as well as a charging cable, along with a flashlight.
- Purchase emergency supplies ahead of time, rather than waiting for the pre-storm rush.
During a hurricane:
- If you are not ordered to evacuate, take refuge in a small interior room, closet, or hallway. Put as many walls between you and the outside as you can. Stay away from windows, skylights, and glass doors.
- If the eye of the storm passes over your area, there will be a short period of calm. Remember that at the other side of the eye, the wind speed rapidly increases to hurricane-force winds coming from the opposite direction.
During a flood:
- If you are advised to evacuate, do so immediately, bringing necessary supplies and personal documents.
- Do not venture through flooded waters on foot or in a car as the rate of flow can be deceptive and debris carried in the flood can be hidden below the surface. Vehicles can be swept away in 18-24 inches of water.
- Move to higher ground.
Many of us are fortunate, where we live, to not be impacted by severe weather events very often. Still, it is always a good idea to be prepared, as recent storms have proved. It’s helpful to have a disaster supply kit ready, just in case. Here are some items to include:
- Water supply: 1 gallon per person per day
- Food that won’t spoil, and doesn’t need refrigeration or cooking
- One change of clothing per person
- One blanket/sleeping bag per person
- First aid kit
- Prescription medications
- Emergency tools
- Battery powered emergency NOAA radio
- Portable radio
- Flashlight & extra batteries
- Extra set of car keys
- Cash & credit card
- ID & important documents
- Map of the local area
- Battery pack and charging cable for mobile phone
- Mobile phone
- Pet supplies including water, food, a pet carrier, and any medications
Other ways to be proactive include removing clutter and other tripping hazards from walkways, stairs, and doorways in the event that the power does go out and you need to exit the home in the dark or with a flashlight. Older adults might consider taking a balance class which can help with the ability to evacuate in an emergency.
You can find more weather preparedness information here.
- Written by Barbara Bodzin, Executive Director
Break the silence, build a better community.
September is World Alzheimer’s Month, and more specifically, September 21 is World Alzheimer’s Day. This designation was created to break the silence about dementia in an effort to bring greater awareness and to dispel associated dementia myths and misconceptions.
When people affected by dementia stand up and speak about their experience, they open windows of opportunity for support, research, best practices, and understanding.
According to Linda Puzan, Clinical Services Supervisor at LifePath, “Worldwide, there are nearly 50 million people living with dementia and most of them have loved ones who are markedly impacted. Here in our corner of the world, LifePath knows there are many caregivers who oftentimes become isolated and families who struggle with how to relate to, interact with, and care for their loved one as the dementia progresses.”
By breaking the silence, the stigma of dementia can be lifted. When people affected by dementia stand up and speak about their experience, they open windows of opportunity for support, research, best practices, and understanding. Communities can begin to face dementia together with dementia-friendly planning and services.
"Many communities across Franklin County and North Quabbin are recognizing the need to prepare for an increasingly older population through creating age- and dementia-friendly communities, and World Alzheimer's Month is a great opportunity to shine a brighter light on the impact of Alzheimer's Disease and what we can do individually and collectively. Challenging the stigma that continues to surround Alzheimer's Disease and other forms of dementia, while emphasizing the importance of early detection, is one way to make our communities better informed and safer for those living with dementia," explains Nour Elkhattaby Strauch, Age-Friendly Program Manager.
Nour is tackling this head on by engaging with communities in Franklin County and the North Quabbin area to weave age and dementia planning into town initiatives. A dementia friendly community is a town, city, or county that is informed, safe, and provides supportive options which foster quality of life, making it possible for the person with dementia to remain in the community, to be engaged, and to thrive.
Transportation, housing, public spaces, business, and communities of faith are all domains in the day-to-day life of individuals with dementia, their caregivers, and loved ones. Modifications to how information is presented and adjustments in communications enable civic participation and engagement, with community support. For example, a dementia-friendly restaurant might offer a simplified menu with fewer choices and larger font, a table in a quiet area with little glare, and a server who makes direct eye contact, and speaks directly to the individual with dementia in a calm and clear manner. Memory cafes, frequently sponsored by the Alzheimer’s Association, are welcoming places which provide a venue for socialization for both the individual with dementia and their caregiver. Making age and dementia-friendly adjustments to infrastructure and outdoor spaces and buildings creates more liveable communities for everyone, not just those affected by dementia.
Caring for someone with dementia has its unique challenges. LifePath offers educational opportunities to better understand the progression of Alzheimer’s Disease and other types of dementia and the impact the diagnosis can have on the whole family. Caregivers learn that they are not alone and they cannot control the disease. They can, however, gain skills to help manage stress and find joy in caring for their loved one.
- Our Elder Mental Health Outreach Team (EMHOT), meets with elders in their homes, or another location of their choice, to discuss problems which impact their emotional well-being. Team members work with elders to help arrange for ongoing community support.
- LifePath also offers Support Groups facilitated by experienced practitioners who create a welcoming place to give and receive emotional support, share ideas and stories, and get needed resources and educational materials. Check our schedule of events to see upcoming group meetings.
- The Savvy Caregiver Trainings presented by LifePath are seven-week sessions designed for caregivers who assist family members or friends with dementia. It is a unique approach to caregiver education. Caregivers are encouraged to learn, develop, and modify approaches they can use to lessen their own stress and improve their particular situation.
- Our Dementia Coaching program offers one-on-one sessions through home visits, and telephone and video conferencing. Caregivers gain knowledge specific to their loved one’s dementia diagnosis, get tips for handling changes in behavior, and receive suggestions to help cope with the progression of the disease.
This month, and throughout the year, I encourage everyone to break the silence around dementia, to reach out to a neighbor, friend, or community member who is affected by dementia, and to listen first and show them support.