Are you having trouble loading this page? Click here to view a text-only version.

Andi WaismanAndi WaismanAs we reach the end of 2018, many people will be thinking about what changes they’d like to make in the new year. Eating healthier and exercising often top the lists of resolutions. Yet, as we all know, the path between setting a goal and reaching it can be fraught with many obstacles. We struggle with survival needs; we struggle with addictions; we struggle with managing all the demands on our time and attention.

Change is hard, but change is also possible. Here in the Healthy Living program at LifePath, we run programs that are proven to help people take control over their chronic health conditions, in part by exploring ways to make more behavior changes happen. People who have participated in our evidence-based programs over the years generally have fewer symptoms, such as depression, shortness of breath, anxiety, pain, mobility limitations, and have better quality of life, exercise more, and usually utilize health care less. Something in the recipe of these self-management workshops works.

The behavior change principle that underlies many of our programs is the concept of self-efficacy, the belief that we can perform the targeted behavior. How do we enhance people's confidence in their ability to manage their chronic conditions and other aspects of their lives?

Action planning

One of the major tools in our self-management workshop “toolbox” that help to build self-efficacy is the tool of action planning. For about 25 to 35 percent of each weekly session, we each take turns making a specific action plan, sharing it with the group, and brainstorming solutions to the barriers that keep us from accomplishing our plan. It is through action planning that people begin to feel in control of their fate, begin to grow their confidence in their ability to make changes, and see some hope that improvement is possible.

Given a structure and support, all of us usually make good decisions about our health and get motivated to make and complete goals we want to achieve. For this reason, the group leaders and peers never tell people what to do but rather support them in what they choose to do, even when the group or their doctor might have other goals for them. By asking people to make action plans and report on these plans, participants are gently persuaded and supported to try new activities they truly want for themselves.

How does action planning work?

Sometimes it can be overwhelming to think about the changes we want to make or the activities we want to accomplish. They seem too big to work on all at once, which makes it hard to get started. So, action planning asks people to commit to attempting, in front of a group of people, a small, “doable” action step, one that is achievable, specific, and answers the questions of what, how much, when, and how often.

For example, a person who wants to improve fitness might break this goal into several steps over the course of a few weeks:
  1. Research what type of exercise to do.
  2. Find a place to exercise.
  3. Start an exercise program by walking for five minutes, two or three times a week.
  4. Ask a friend to exercise with them.

Each step should be action-specific. For example, losing weight is not an action or behavior, but replacing processed food snacks with fruit between meals is.

Peer support and accountability are important aspects of this technique. The thought of facing their group and having to admit that they blew off their plan is, for some, the motivator to complete it.

We are continually impressed with the action plans our participants commit to and complete. Some of these have been:
  • Taking an art and wine class
  • Keeping an eating journal
  • Walking 20 minutes a day
  • Scheduling regular meals for one week
  • Take a shorter nap during the day
  • Limiting an evening snack to fruits or vegetables
  • Joining a gym
  • Going to sleep by 10:30 on two nights
  • Putting a positive statement on the mirror
  • Doing the shoulder exercises in the book
  • Standing up at least 25 times during the day
  • Drinking a glass of water before eating
  • Calling a parent every day

Sometimes we don’t accomplish our plan. We run into barriers: the weather, a spouse who buys food we don't want to eat, our lack of motivation, or our too busy lives. We then work together to brainstorm solutions to those barriers. We pick a solution to try and start again. I believe it is this restart – this human instinct to set goals for ourselves for our immediate future, to see the possibility ahead – that grows our confidence.

Try action planning

Even if you can’t attend a LifePath workshop, you can still try action planning on your own. Find a friend to make a weekly date with. Support each other to think of a small, specific, doable action plan that you each really want to accomplish over the coming week, and then check in to see how it went. Also, try calling your friend in the middle of the week to remind them of what they wanted to accomplish and express that you have faith in them; see how gratifying that feels.

At this turn of the year, when we naturally are drawn to new year’s resolutions to start fresh with hopes and dreams for the year ahead, know that the folks at LifePath are cheering you on and want to hear about your successes and challenges.

Learn more about Healthy Living workshops.

In addition to the workshops, the Healthy Living Program offers a monthly alumni group where graduates from any of the workshops support each other in making and accomplishing our action plans. The alumni group meets on the first Thursday of the month, from 2:00-3:45 p.m., at the Greenfield Senior Center.

Read more “Healthy Living in Community” articles.

Seunghee ChaAttorney Seunghee ChaWith the graying of baby boomers, and an estimated one out of eight expected to develop Alzheimer’s disease, the cost of medical expenses, including long-term care, has become an essential aspect of preparing for aging.

Health Savings Accounts

An emerging strategy is the Health Savings Account (HSA), a medical savings account designed to defray the cost of medical expenses not covered by insurance. It was established as part of the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act and signed into law in December 2003.

To be eligible to contribute to an HSA, you must be enrolled in a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP). Once you turn age 65 and enroll in Medicare, you are ineligible to contribute. Contribution limits in 2019 are $3,500 for single coverage and $7,000 for family coverage, with an additional $1,000 catch-up contribution for people age 55 and older.

HSAs offer significant tax advantages:

  • Funds contributed by an employer’s payroll deposit are pre-tax contributions and not subject to federal income tax (some employers also contribute to their employees’ HSAs).
  • In most states, including Massachusetts, your contributions to an HSA are excluded from your gross income.
  • You can invest the money in your HSA, which grows tax-free, and use it for qualified medical expenses for you, your spouse, and qualifying dependents.
  • Withdrawals for qualified medical expenses are tax-free; withdrawals for unqualified expenses are subject to income tax—if you are under age 65, a 20% penalty applies also.
  • Starting at age 65 you can withdraw funds for non-medical expenses tax-free and without penalty.
  • Funds in an HSA can be used to purchase long-term care insurance (limits apply and increase with age), which is important for taxpayers who cannot itemize deductions—premiums for long-term care insurance paid with non-HSA funds are deductible but only for taxpayers who take itemized deductions.
  • At your death if you name your spouse as beneficiary, the HSA can continue in their own name even if your spouse is not enrolled in a HDHP; alternatively, your spouse can take the remaining funds in a lump sum tax-free (non-spouse beneficiaries cannot continue the HSA in their own name and are taxed on the entire remainder account in the year of your death).

The tax-free advantages, with the enhanced benefits for people age 65 and older, make the HSA a more attractive investment vehicle than a taxable account like a 401(k) for savers who can maximize contributions and invest in long-term investments. HSAs incentivize saving for future medical expenses and can make long-term care insurance more affordable. If you are eligible to contribute to an HSA, start early, and it should be an integral part of a comprehensive plan for retirement and aging well.

The views expressed in this column represent general information. To address your particular and specific needs consult your own attorney. If you need help with referral to an attorney, contact the Franklin County Bar Association at (413) 773-9839 or the Worcester County Bar Association at (978) 752-1311. Elder law resources may be found through the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, Massachusetts Chapter, at massnaela.com or 617-566-5640.

Community Legal Aid (CLA) provides legal services free to people age 60 and older for civil legal matters with an emphasis on access to health care coverage (MassHealth and Medicare) and public benefits as well as tenants’ rights. A request for legal assistance can be made by phone at 413-774-3747 or toll-free 1-855-252-5342 during their intake hours (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. and Wednesday from 1:30 p.m. to 4:15 p.m.) or any time online by visiting www.communitylegal.org.

2018 Share the Love Co Branded Banner Carol Foote Headshot July 2018Carol FooteWe are excited to announce that LifePath is taking part in the Subaru Share the Love® Event.  Since 2008, this annual event has helped deliver nearly 2 million meals to seniors in need.

In a nutshell, those customers who purchase a Subaru now through January 2 will be able to designate a $250.00 donation from Subaru of America to a charity of their choice, including Meals on Wheels. Once the promotion is complete, Subaru and Meals on Wheels of America will award those charitable funds to organizations that manage the local Meals on Wheels programs and participate in the promotion.

We are proud of our Meals on Wheels program that last year served more than 500 elders per day, with volunteer drivers logging 267,372 miles as they delivered a nutritious noontime meal and wellness check to local elders. We are pleased that Subaru of America recognizes the Meals on Wheels program as a vital resource in caring for elders.

MOW America statsIf you’re in the market for a car, consider a win-win purchase - a new car for you and support for Meals on Wheels. Or, if you simply wish to support LifePath’s Meals on Wheels program, visit our giving page or send a donation to: LifePath, 101 Munson Street, Suite 201, Greenfield, MA 01301.

FRTA Med-Ride

The Franklin Regional Transit Authority’s (FRTA) Med-Ride Program is a transportation service for people age 60 and older who are residents of certain towns. Med-Ride’s volunteer drivers use their own vehicles to provide curb-to-curb transportation for those who need to travel outside of Franklin County for medical appointments.

Rides must be scheduled at least 48 hours in advance, and arrangements can also be made early, up to a month prior to the date of your appointment.

Drivers may help participants in and out of the vehicle; however, drivers are not authorized to assist with certain needs, such as handling, loading, or securing any health-related equipment or escorting participants directly to and from their homes or medical offices. Those who are not ambulatory or need assistance with walking or transporting equipment should plan to bring along someone of their choice to assist them.

There are no direct fees for LifePath clients. Non-LifePath riders will be charged a fee of 40 cents per mile to help offset the current cost per mile fee (55 cents) that is paid to volunteers.

The Med-Ride Program is available to residents of:

Ashfield, Bernardston, Buckland, Charlemont, Colrain, Conway, Deerfield, Erving, Gill, Greenfield, Hawley, Heath, Leyden, Montague, New Salem, Northfield, Orange, Petersham, Phillipston, Rowe, Shelburne, Shutesbury, Warwick, Wendell, and Whately.

For questions about the Med-Ride Program or to schedule transportation, contact the FRTA at 413-774-2262 or 888-301-2262, Monday through Friday, from 8AM to 4PM.

MassHealth transportation

Those with MassHealth insurance should also contact the FRTA to arrange transportation under a different program. Contact MassHealth at 1-800-841-2900 for more information.

Veteran medical transportation

Veterans and their families may also find assistance with the Montachusett Veterans Outreach Center for travel to the VA Medical Centers in Northampton on Wednesdays and in Worcester or Fitchburg on Tuesdays. Contact 978-632-9601.

Cancer patient medical transportation

Cancer patients should contact the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 and ask about the Road to Recovery Program, which provides travel assistance to medical or treatment appointments related to a cancer diagnosis.

Elm Terrace, Highland Village, Squakheag Village, Stoughton Place & Stratton Manor

Dec 2017 Supportive Housing PP photoRosie is happy to be living in an apartment at the Supportive Housing site in Shelburne Falls. You can watch a video showing her journey online.Rosie lives at Highland Village in Shelburne Falls. “I do like being in here. It’s quiet and peaceful,” says Rosie, adding that she likes that the people are nice, friendly, and helpful. “If you need some kind of assistance that you don't understand, they'll come to your apartment and help you figure it out.”

Highland Village is a Supportive Housing site. Supportive Housing is a program of LifePath that helps people to “age in place.” 

Five sites are located at:

  • Elm Terrace in Greenfield with 108 units
  • Highland Village in Shelburne Falls with 46 units
  • Squakheag Village in Northfield with 20 units
  • Stoughton Place in Gill with 14 units
  • Stratton Manor in Bernardston with 20 units

Susan Manatt, Supportive Housing coordinator, is committed to helping her neighbors in the community live better. “Part of my role is to help residents access services and benefits to which they might be entitled that will help them with the quality of life.”

These services may include case management; adult day programs; assistance with personal care, grocery shopping, and meal preparation; home safety adaptations; housekeeping and laundry; memory loss consultation; personal emergency response systems; supervision and companionship; transportation to medical appointments; a 24-hour emergency hotline; bill paying assistance; medication management; and more.

Residents gather for meals in the community room. In some residences, a weekly exercise class is available as well as educational programs and other social activities such as card playing and board games. Holiday celebrations occur throughout the year.

To apply for a unit at Elm Terrace, submit an application to: Greenfield Housing Authority, One Elm Terrace, Greenfield, MA 01301; to request an application, call 413-774-2932 or visit www.greenfieldhousing.org.

For the other four sites, submit an application to: Franklin County Regional Housing and Redevelopment Authority, 241 Millers Falls Road, Turners Falls, MA 01376; to request an application, call 413-863-9781 or visit www.fcrhra.org.

The Massachusetts Supportive Housing Program, a collaboration of the Executive Office of Elder Affairs (EOEA) and Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), is available in 41 public housing sites statewide for elders and persons with disabilities and serves 6,360 senior residents.

Contact LifePath here.