- Written by Andi Waisman, M.S.Ed., Healthy Living Program Manager
LifePath’s Healthy Living Program has offered in-person workshops for over a decade to help people with chronic conditions feel more empowered to manage their health conditions. This summer, due to COVID-19, we started providing remote workshops through video conferencing and the good old-fashioned telephone. We learned; we connected; we had fun.
For some, the prospect of spending hours in front of a computer makes them anxious or angry. “I can't see the screen on my work computer half the time because of trifocals, tiny fonts and glare. I get angry at all the confusion. Where did I put my phone? What's my password? Where did I put my charger? I am losing my short term memory for real life from all the screen time. Why am I getting ads about men's underwear? Doesn’t anyone talk on the phone anymore?” said a 60-year-old LifePath staff member.
“Rather than an obstacle, this platform brought us together while staying in the comfort of our homes.”
Despite the anxiety that many of us feel adjusting to online communication, our first Zoom and phone workshops were a pleasant surprise. One of our Chronic Pain Self-Management leaders describes how “folks navigated the technology well, despite some having had little or no experience using Zoom. For some, it eliminated the difficult and sometimes impossible obstacle of getting to and from an in-person meeting and sitting through a 2.5-hour program in hard chairs. A couple of folks sat in their comfy recliners while another lay on her couch. We ‘met’ their pets. Most surprising and gratifying was the connection, support, and warmth that was shared. None of us seemed to want to sign off after the last session! Rather than an obstacle, this platform brought us together while staying in the comfort of our homes.”
For others, it has been an opportunity to rise to a challenge, or a welcomed change. “I found it to be fun, a needed challenge which I haven’t had enough of lately. I was nervous at first. I thought I would have to dress up and my daughter reassured me that people only see you from the waist up. Every week, the workshop leaders sent me a link for the class, so it was easy,” said an 81-year-old Healthy Eating workshop participant.
Stepping into the virtual world can be frustrating and overwhelming. Some of us don’t have access to the internet (19% of people in Franklin County) or to an updated computer, or just feel ill-equipped to tackle the challenge. This “digital divide,” the uneven distribution of communication technologies, is being described by some as a “public health crisis,” leaving some without access to healthcare or connections to loved ones.
We at LifePath are committed to not leaving anyone behind. We are offering telephone workshops for people who don’t have access or motivation to use computers. We are able to provide laptops, tablets, cell phones, technology guidance and support to qualifying individuals who want to get online. We have volunteers helping our participants over the phone master the skills needed, and are patiently helping each other with the inevitable glitches and frustrations. One person reassures, “If you can raise children, have a career, drive a car, and/or run a household, you’re certainly capable of working with computers.”
As we prepare for another season of remote workshops this fall, we want to encourage our community to take a risk, stretch your comfort level, and try a video or phone workshop.
Fall 2020 Healthy Living Schedule
- My Life, My Health: Living Well with Long-Term Health Conditions
- Live Video Conferencing Workshop
Six Wednesdays, 2:00-4:30 p.m.
October 14-November 18
- OR Toolkit Telephone Workshop
Six Tuesdays, 1:00-2:00 p.m.
October 13-November 17
- Live Video Conferencing Workshop
- Chronic Pain Self-Management
Toolkit Telephone Workshop
Six Thursdays, 1:00-2:00 p.m.
October 15-November 19
- A Matter of Balance–Managing Concerns About Falls
Live Video Conferencing Workshop
Eight Sessions, Tuesdays and Thursdays, 2:00-4:00 p.m.
September 29-October 22
- Written by Carol Foote, Outreach and Development Director, 413-773-5555 X2225, firstname.lastname@example.org
On Friday, August 21, Franklin County Golf Center, located at 1245 Bernardston Road in Greenfield, hosted a Gas-N-Go event with local radio station Bear Country. Todd Cromack, owner of the Golf Center and Liberty Tax Service, held a raffle and donated one third of the proceeds from the golf range ball sales, totaling $500, in support of LifePath’s Meals on Wheels program.
Across Franklin County and the North Quabbin region, LifePath delivers about 525 meals and wellness checks to elders in need each weekday. LifePath has also been delivering frozen meals to individuals with disabilities under the age of 60 during the COVID-19 pandemic.
There was a steady stream of golfers throughout the day, with the busiest time being after work. What great hosts Todd and his staff were - offering smiles, hot dogs, chips, and bottles of water.
“Elders and veterans are the reason I have a business at all, and this is one way I can give back to those groups.”
This isn’t the first—or last—show of support Todd has made for the people LifePath serves. He has sponsored LifePath’s Walkathon and is dreaming up other ways to support the agency (Spoiler alert! Watch for a spooky, fun fall event!). When asked why he is committed to supporting LifePath, he responds, “Elders and veterans are the reason I have a business at all, and this is one way I can give back to those groups.”
We are so grateful to Todd and everyone who purchased raffle tickets and buckets of range balls that benefited LifePath and those we serve on that beautiful day. Thank you so much!
- 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
- Written by Janis Merrell
Dee Lalonde is a nineteen year veteran of the Adult Family Care Program. She says it has given her and her care recipients the gift of “billions and billions of memories.”
The Adult Family Care (AFC) Program at LifePath provides care and support in a home environment for elders and people with disabilities who are age 16 and older and who have daily personal or medical care needs. AFC is available for those who need assistance with personal care and want to live in the community with a host family or individual caregiver rather than in a nursing home or other institutional setting. The host family or individual caregiver provides a private room, meals, and assistance with activities such as dressing, bathing, medication management, and transportation to medical appointments, depending on a member’s particular needs. Being part of a host family’s household gives members an opportunity to socialize, participate in family activities, and stay connected to their community.
Dee has made well over 500 masks so far, using fabric she still had from her craft store days and relying on donations.
Dee was drawn to LifePath’s AFC Program through her natural instinct to provide care. Dee used to own a craft store called “Dee’s Country Crafts” in Athol, where she would feature local artisans. Then she saw an ad in the paper from parents asking for transportation help between Phillipston and Athol. That is how she met Katie, their adult daughter with a disability. Dee started transporting Katie to Adult Day Health before opening the store. Pretty soon Katie’s parents were asking Dee to provide more hours of care.
“At a certain point I had to choose between Katie or the store. I chose Katie,” says Dee.
That is how she came to know Brian, then in his 40’s. Katie’s parents were Brian’s AFC host family for 23 years, but when they moved to Florida in 2001, Dee chose to become his caregiver.
Early on, Dee remembers taking Brian to an animal farm in Sterling. “At the time, Brian was afraid of animals, but on that first day he went in and touched a little calf. That was the start of trust,” says Dee.
Dee also fondly recalls taking Brian with a group of other adults with disabilities on weekly trips to breakfast or lunch and then to a movie or for shopping at Walmart or Family Dollar. The group would play bingo and host cookouts for their families as well.
AFC caregivers can also provide short term respite to AFC members while their host families are on vacation. After Brian met a woman named Gail at his Adult Day Health program, Dee started hosting Gail when Gail’s usual caregivers went on vacation. This happened over the course of many years, and Gail was happy to get to spend time with her “forever boyfriend.”
Nineteen years later, Dee is still caregiver to Brian, now 63. About four years ago she also became caregiver to a second AFC member. According to Dee, Justin, 37, is “best friends” with Brian. Dee says it brings her “joy and happiness” to witness their friendship and to be able to help them through both the good times and the bad times. “Both became family,” adds Dee.
Since the pandemic began, Justin has not been able to go to Adult Day Health and has been staying home with Brian. They play games together, including video games. “It’s so easy to get them engaged,” says Dee, who is extremely careful to protect them from COVID-19 via social distancing, including maintaining social distancing herself. To pass the time while they distance together, Dee began making masks.
“I was locked in, felt helpless, and asked myself what I could do,” explains Dee. “You can’t put a price on saving someone’s life,” she says, adding that in addition to donating the masks to LifePath’s Meals on Wheels program, the Phillipston Police and Fire & Rescue Departments, and the Templeton Police Department, she has also put a sawhorse outside her house (to maintain social distancing) with a sign telling people to text her with their name and sizing information and she’ll make them one. Dee has made well over 500 masks so far, using fabric she still had from her craft store days and relying on donations. She can always use more fabric as well.
As with her AFC caregiving, Dee went the extra mile according to mask recipient Marilyn Abbot. “Like most people [my husband and I] needed to find masks to protect us from the virus. I had cancer of the voice box (no, I never smoked) that left me with a hole in my neck called a ‘stoma.’ I needed a special mask. We were driving down a country road when I spotted a mailbox with the word ‘masks’ on it. Later, I went back, and there was Dee standing among all different masks of all different colors and patterns. I explained I needed a special mask. She eagerly took on the task. A couple of days later I had my mask. Actually, she made two. It covered my stoma! I asked her how much they were and she said ‘they’re free.’ I figure angels know how to sew!” says Marilyn.
Although mask making has been a fulfilling addition to Dee’s day, her priority is always the health and happiness of Brian and Justin. While Brian is now nonverbal, he used to enjoy singing. Now Dee sings songs to him, including one of his favorites: Debby Boone’s classic “You Light Up My Life.” Brian lights up Dee’s life, and she does the same for him.
- Written by Janis Merrell
LifePath is partnering with The Concordium to provide a new intergenerational phone companionship program. It is open to any older person in the community.
The Concordium is a Harvard-based social impact venture that matches Harvard undergrads with elders from Massachusetts, based on shared interests. In this manner, they can engage in friendly and interesting conversations via phone once a week. Due to COVID-19, students and elders alike are feeling especially isolated and can benefit from additional social support.
Due to COVID-19, students and elders alike are feeling especially isolated and can benefit from additional social support.
Many engaging, caring, intelligent students are ready to speak on the phone with interested elders. Besides English, available languages include Mandarin, Cantonese, Spanish, and French. All participating students are required to attend a training before speaking with the elder they are matched with, along with filling out a weekly check-in document after their conversations. Members of The Concordium also check in with participating elders to ensure that the conversations they are having with student volunteers are suitable and beneficial. The Concordium members have received very positive feedback from the elders and volunteers they have recently paired, as well as from the senior centers and nursing homes with whom they have already partnered.
“One of our favorite stories to tell has been the beautiful friendship developed between a Harvard undergrad and a Harvard alum. They grew up in the same area and thus have much to talk about. The elder often sends book recommendations, poems, and documentaries for the undergrad to watch. Most recently, the undergrad sent the elder the memoir/travelogue On Lighthouses for his birthday, as she knew how much he loved sailing and that he was in the navy,” reports Allegra Rollo, founder of The Concordium, and A.B. Candidate in Human Evolutionary Biology with a Secondary in Comparative Literature, Harvard Class of 2021.
Rollo says she founded The Concordium because she realized the toll COVID-19 was taking on connectedness early in the pandemic. “My entire extended family lives in Italy, which, as you know, faced the brunt of its COVID-19 outbreak earlier than we did in the U.S. Because of this, I definitely anticipated the challenges many nursing homes and elder services in the U.S. would face. My grandmother lives in a town without family and friends, and she was in complete isolation for three months. From her experience, I understood the severe psychological toll that isolation would take on all citizens, but especially the elderly, who are often less adept at using technology and would normally rely on family visits or activities with other elders,” explains Rollo.
Harvard classmate Isaac Longobardi volunteered for The Concordium because it aligned with his current focus on elder care. “Elder care is really my biggest passion in life and it has brought me into the company of so many bright, thoughtful, and caring people — both elders and caregivers alike. I got started volunteering in high school at a monthly bingo dinner in my school's neighborhood in New York City, and my interest in the social and political challenges of elder experience and care has really taken off from there. Currently, I'm working as a home health aide in the Boston area as part of my senior thesis research on the intimate relationships developed between elders and care providers. So I'm really fascinated by and committed to the ways in which people connect across generations and form mutually beneficial relationships. I got involved in The Concordium when Allegra reached out — knowing my interests and work. And it has been a wonderful opportunity to try to bring some of the benefits and joy of sharing time and conversation with elders with my college-age peers,” says Longobardi.
In addition to the new partnership with LifePath, The Concordium has officially partnered with six nursing homes and senior centers in the Greater Boston area, and has matched twenty Harvard undergrads with twenty elders. “We are so thankful to and inspired by the large numbers of Harvard undergrads that signed up to volunteer with us. We have many volunteers who still remain unmatched with an elder, as the greatest difficulty we have had thus far has actually been recruiting elders,” says Rollo, who reports that one of their original goals was to eventually partner with other colleges throughout the U.S. to create a nationwide endeavor. “We have already spoken to a few students at Emory University, who are starting similar efforts with local nursing homes,” states Rollo.
Longobardi adds, “Right now, more than ever, there's such a need to connect people across distances — to give people the chance to communicate with each other, speaking and listening. I see this project as one small contribution in that larger effort, and I am confident that it is a real force for good in the world.”
Volunteers usually call elders once a week for around an hour. However, the frequency of calls can be modified based on preference. Rollo explains, “These phone calls are a two-way street. They provide mutual emotional support. The students to whom you will be speaking are incredibly eager to hear about your life experience, stories, and advice. They are also incredibly eager to talk about themselves and their future motivations. We will be matching you with someone who shares your background and interests, and your participation can be as frequent or infrequent as you'd like. We truly hope that you enjoy these conversations as much as we have.”