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Rainbow Elders Steering CommitteeThe Rainbow Elders Steering Committee: Leea Pronovost, Dave Gott, Donna Liebl, and JRSince May 2016, a panel of Rainbow Elders has shared life stories and educational tools with audiences at senior centers, home care agencies, retirement communities, and support group settings. A one-hour presentation is followed by a lively question-and-answer period, during which listeners have an opportunity to learn more about the experiences of the speakers and to relate what has been presented to their professional and personal interests.

The identities of transgender, bisexual, lesbian, and gay people are addressed by individuals who live those lives. Additional identities are also noted, including pansexual, intersex, queer, questioning, asexual, aromantic, agender, and allies. Any question is welcomed and will be addressed if appropriate to do so. A climate of safety and respect is encouraged, and follow-up resources are provided.

A goal of these presentations is to help empower people to be able to offer culturally competent services to the LGBTIQA elder community, whose members are often at increased risk for inadequate access to health care services, social isolation, substance abuse, and other high-risk experiences due to societal and internalized expressions of homophobia. An opportunity is also provided to be inspired by the resilience of many LGBTIQA folks who have long been misunderstood.

“Any question is welcomed and will be addressed if appropriate to do so. A climate of safety and respect is encouraged, and follow-up resources are provided.”

Recent questions directed to the panelists have included:

  • “What do I do when a client is expressing negative stereotypes regarding an LGBTIQA person?”
  • “Why does it matter if I show LGBTIQA-specific support when I am just in the home to help someone take a bath or balance a checkbook?”

The conversations that ensue are not to be missed! According to Rainbow Elders Group Facilitator Dave Gott, "I appreciate how both presenters and guests seem to have open hearts and minds regarding the needs of all elders."

For more information or to request a presentation, contact Dave at 413-773-5555 x1242, 978-544-2259 x1242, or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

With spring upon us, longer days and warmer temperatures bring much needed relief from the challenges of winter. This “growing“ season brings with it the opportunity to get outside and interact with nature; an activity that’s not only a joy for the senses but literally healing for the body.

According to the International Journal of Environmental Research, gentle outdoor activity has proven to greatly improve physical functioning, reduce one’s fear of falling and result in fewer depressive symptoms.

Being outside can help increase levels of Vitamin D, which often is low among older adults. Getting sufficient Vitamin D can help reduce your risk of a number of physical health issues, including rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and heart attack. In addition, time in nature may help you recover more quickly from an injury or illness.

“Studies tell us that older adults who take daily outdoor walks report significantly fewer complaints in pain, sleep and other problems when compared to adults who do not go outside daily.”

Research shows that physical activity can lead to a better quality of life as we grow older. Studies tell us that older adults who take daily outdoor walks report significantly fewer complaints in pain, sleep and other problems when compared to adults who do not go outside daily.

Like walking, gardening can also play a positive role in health as we age both physically and mentally. Older gardeners with access to a community garden report increased physical activity over those who don’t garden. They also report better health status, increased physical functioning, reduced pain and other physical benefits. And naturally, gardeners are more likely to eat more vegetables resulting in better diets than non-gardeners of the same age. A 2006 study found that gardening could lower risk of dementia by 36 percent. The International Journal of Environmental Research tracked more than 2,800 people over the age of 60 for 16 years and concluded that physical activity, particularly gardening, could reduce the incidence of dementia in future years.

Bumblebee in a flowerAlong with the physical benefits of time spent in nature, the restorative effects of nature support mental health and well-being. In older adults, studies show that physical activity in green spaces can be linked to better moods, decreased chance of depression, reduced stress levels and improved cognitive function. These benefits extend beyond physical activity. Studies show that the frequency and amount of time spent in nature correlate with feelings of mental restoration. An extra 30 minutes spent in nature increases this restorative effect and can be even more dramatic with individuals experiencing higher stress levels.

Even looking out a window into a garden or forest or viewing pictures of nature can contribute to a reduction in stress and improved cognitive health. These benefits can become especially significant in older individuals suffering from chronic stress or experiencing stressful events such as the loss of a loved one.

Take advantage of the natural, restorative benefits this wonderful season offers!

Senior couple using a computerLife after retirement is a time to let go of old roles that no longer fit us, seek out new experiences, and find a renewal of purpose. Volunteering can help you to accomplish these goals.

As a young person, did you love music and art, but pursue a career that you thought was more practical? Perform with a community chorus or orchestra at fundraising concerts, or teach a painting class at your local senior center.

Did you like to play store when you were little? Try volunteering at a thrift store or hospital gift shop.

Or maybe playing school was your favorite pastime? Spend some time helping out in a classroom.

Did you enjoy playing card and board games? Set up weekly visits with a nursing home resident who also likes to play games.

Did you enjoy building things? Help out with a Habitat for Humanity project.

Do you love parties? Help organize and plan special events for a local nonprofit.

Do you like to organize? Join an advisory board or help seniors pay their monthly bills.

Do you love to read? Volunteer to broadcast and record for those with visual impairments.

“Don’t be afraid to try something new. If you don’t like it, you can try something else!”

The possibilities are endless, because the world has many needs. The opportunities to help are as varied and individual as we are. Don’t be afraid to try something new. If you don’t like it, you can try something else!

RSVP of the Pioneer Valley will take the time to get to know you. We will match you with opportunities that will help others and enrich your life. We will make your volunteer dreams come true!

To get started, residents of Hampshire and Franklin Counties should contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; residents of Hampden County should contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Volunteers attend LifePath’s volunteer receptionVolunteers attend LifePath’s volunteer receptionLast month, LifePath hosted a reception at its offices to celebrate the work of its volunteers. More than 30 people attended and were treated to hors d'oeuvres, beverages, small gifts, and entertainment.

Over 265 people volunteered with LifePath this past year, serving in programs such as Meals on Wheels, Money Management, Benefits Counseling, SHINE, Long-term Care Ombudsman, and more, providing thousands of hours of service to the community at no cost.

“The staff wanted to honor the volunteers by putting thought and work into the program. They turned a very small budget into a wonderful event where the staff served the volunteers who work so hard to serve our program participants,” said Lynne Feldman, Director of Community Services at LifePath.

Volunteers enjoyed food which was procured, prepared, and beautifully presented by the Benefits Counseling program leaders. Others purchased gifts, manned the registration table, created name tags, and decorated. Another group of staff planned a short program of remarks.

“We appreciate their work, which fills in gaps for services and supports provided to the community which we would not be able to provide without them,” said Barbara Bodzin, Executive Director of LifePath, during her remarks to the volunteers. “I personally know of two individuals who have been directly helped by the volunteers. One friend was newly diagnosed with cancer this past year and wanted to be able to go to Dana Farber for his care. Thanks to SHINE, he was able to transition to a plan which enabled him to seek out the care he needed.”

LifePath staff perform for the volunteersLifePath staff perform for the volunteersThe speakers were followed by casual entertainment. Several staff participated in the entertainment section of the program by singing, doing stand-up comedy, or reading original poetry, such as this piece written by Nutrition Program Director Jane Severance:

Volunteers give of themselves,
Sometimes unseen, like elves!
They bring joy to the people we serve,
Many, many thanks they deserve!
And think about it, if you didn’t do it, then who?
To our volunteers, we thank you, for all that you do.

Senator Adam HindsSenator Adam G. Hinds

Community supports benefit dementia patients and family caregivers

When I was in elementary school, my grandmother, whom I affectionately called Nina, moved from California to Shelburne Falls to be near our family. After school I’d walk to Nina’s apartment at Highland Village, where the two of us would watch a soap opera or golf tournament on her TV until my mom or dad would pick me up.

When I entered high school, we all noticed Nina’s short-term memory slipping. As time went on, it was not uncommon to come home to dozens of answering machine messages, all from my grandmother, all saying essentially the same thing. My mother provided the bulk of care for Nina at Highland Village, visiting whenever she could, and later at a nursing home in Shelburne.

I learned then how difficult it is to watch a family member’s personality slip away, and I’ve seen the strain a person’s dementia can put on a family.

This past fall in Pittsfield, I was invited to visit a family member support group and heard how the disease can overwhelm patients and their families. I listened to stories of physical, emotional, and economic impact that the disease can cause family caregivers. I also saw the comfort and emotional stability such groups can provide.

Nearly fourteen percent of older adults in the Commonwealth have Alzheimer’s or a related dementia. In rural Massachusetts the challenges for those with dementia and their caregivers increase, due to lack of access to medical care, support networks, broadband Internet and transportation options.

Fortunately, our region is responding. A group called Age Friendly Berkshires is working to make the County more responsive to the needs of its aging population, including those with dementia. In March, I hosted a briefing for legislators and staff at the State House with the Mass. Healthy Aging Collaborative, AARP Massachusetts and the Executive Office of Elder Affairs where Age Friendly Berkshires was invited to share their experiences. More recently, a group of hilltowns in my district—Chesterfield, Cummington, Goshen, Plainfield, Westhampton, Williamsburg and Worthington—received the Age Friendly designation from AARP and the World Health Organization. The designation comes with a commitment by the towns to improve conditions for elders. With a grant from the Executive Office of Elder Affairs, these seven communities are working to make it easier for elderly residents to age in place while reducing isolation and loneliness.

Molly Chambers, a social worker, has been doing her part to assist family caregivers for those with dementia for more than twenty years through the support group she’s run at LifePath in Greenfield. Over the years the group has supported husbands, wives, and adult children from near and far as they help each other through tough stretches and grow as close as family. LifePath offers many other supports for people with dementia in addition to the group.

“I’ve seen the strain a person’s dementia can put on a family.”

Caregiving can wear a caregiver out, sometimes to the point of illness. Imagine, Ms. Chambers says, waking four times every night to soothe an agitated or disoriented partner. Ms. Chambers believes—and I agree—that we can do better by making it easier for family members to get breaks by providing more affordable respite care. In other cases, what’s needed, she says, are grants to support home renovations or adaptations, like ramps and safe showers, which can allow those with dementia to stay in their homes longer.

Five years ago the Pittsfield agency Home Instead Senior Care began its support group for family members of those with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, and more recently the agency started a group for those with dementia. During my visit with the support group for caregivers, facilitated by Bobbie Orsi, Director of Community Relations at the agency and also one of the founders of Age Friendly Berkshires, I saw firsthand how the support group served to validate and normalize what caregivers and their family members were going through.

Ms. Orsi, a nurse, had to navigate these struggles herself when her husband John, an electrician, was first tested for cognitive issues in 2007 and had them confirmed in 2011. She cared for him as Alzheimer’s made him increasingly agitated and sometimes aggressive. Ms. Orsi had help from a number of caregivers from her agency, including one who accompanied John on volunteer shifts at the South Congregational Church food pantry. Another caregiver helped John do projects in their yard and accompanied him fishing at the Orsi’s home on Goodrich Pond. Dementia, Ms. Orsi noted, doesn’t take away our need to keep up our interests and the roles we serve in the community.

Removing a loved one from the home for care and safety is among the most difficult decisions a family member can face. After much family discussion, Ms. Orsi had to make that decision in late 2017. John lived out his life in a number of healthcare facilities until he died in November 2018 at age 73.

What motivates Ms. Orsi today is facilitating the support group for family caregivers. Her aim is to listen to what family members are experiencing and help them to better understand and determine what they need. The work Ms. Orsi does is essential, but there is more we can do for those with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia.

These steps and others will require community support and political will, but they should allow those with dementia—and their family members—to live better lives.

State Senator Adam G. Hinds (D-Pittsfield) represents the 52 western Massachusetts communities of the Berkshire, Hampshire, Franklin & Hampden District. He serves as the Senate chair of the Joint Committee on Revenue. This is his second term in the Massachusetts Senate.